Halloween Parade

dice

One of my favorite autumn memories was a North Baltimore Halloween Parade, either 1970 or 1971.  My friend, Dolly (DeVaul) Smith (NB ’78), and I decided that we would make matching costumes for the parade:  a pair of dice.

Our quest began at Griffith’s Appliance on Main Street.  We asked for two matching boxes.  Foster Griffith had the perfect boxes for us.  Next, we stopped by Weith’s Store to purchase white poster boards and black construction paper.

After we dragged our supplies to my house, work began in earnest on our dice.  We cut holes in the boxes for our heads and arms.  My dad helped us attach internal straps so the boxes sat comfortably on our shoulders.  We used the poster boards on the outside of the box to create the white background.

We used dinner plates as patterns for the dots on the dice.  After marking the construction paper with a pencil, we cut out many, many dots and attached them to the dice with Elmer’s Glue.

Later that week, Dolly and I met at the beginning of the parade route at Powell School.  Judges wandered through the costumed contestants making their scoring notes on their clipboards.  Soon the high school marching band began to lead the parade down Main Street and we were off, two matching dice walking side by side along the Main Street.  I remember feeling proud about our dice costumes and even prouder that we made them ourselves.

At the end of the evening, our pride in our costumes was replaced by joy when we learned that we had won a prize.  Dolly and I each received a five dollar check and the following week our names were in the North Baltimore News.

The following year we attempted for a repeat of our award-winning self-made costumes in the Halloween Parade.  Since dice had worked the prior year, we decided to follow the theme of games of chance.  That year, we made sandwich boards that were a king and queen of hearts.  It took a lot of work to draw the faces of the cards with markers on poster boards.

As we walked together in the parade, we were proud of our playing card costumes and even prouder that we made them ourselves.  And we’re not going to lie, we were a little sad when we didn’t win an award that year.

Postscript:  While writing this article, a lot of great memories about growing up with Dolly came flooding back into my mind.  I clearly remember one of Dolly’s birthday parties, likely in second grade, when her mom turned on Bozo the Clown on the television and Bozo actually wished Dolly happy birthday on air.  Having a television personality talk to us seemed magical.  And speaking of Dolly’s mom, she made the best M & M cookies ever.  And Dolly was the first kid my age to learn the words to the national anthem.  She knew them because her brother played on the varsity basketball team and she sang the anthem at his games.  But mostly, I remember the DeVaul house being a welcoming place to visit, always full of laughter.

Rhonda (Reynolds) Nye: Second Generation Golf Coach

RRRTomReynoldsTrophy

One of the best things about growing up on East Broadway was living across the street from Tom Reynolds, likely the happiest person I have ever known.  Tom had that unforgettable belly laugh that brought joy to anyone who crossed his path.

In addition to teaching science in Findlay City Schools, Tom was the long-time golf coach for Findlay High School, a perennial state powerhouse.  Tom reached the pinnacle of his coaching success when the Trojans won the 1984 AAA state championship.  Even while Tom coached one of the state’s best programs, he always stayed humble.  His most famous quote was, “I was selected to coach the FHS golf team because I was the only teacher with a station wagon big enough to haul the golfers and their golf bags.”

I always suspected that Tom was being overly modest about his role in the successes of his team.  His positive attitude had to inspire positive outcomes.  Stu Bauman, captain of the 1980 FHS Trojan golf team, recently shared, “Coach Reynolds didn’t even play golf, but he didn’t have to. We had talented players in Findlay; we knew how to play. He helped us with the mental aspects of the game and he brought out the best in us.  Coach Reynolds was fair and he played the kids who should play.  He was the best coach for me as he challenged me to not only be the best player, but to be the best person I could be as well.”

On September 30, I had the opportunity to spend some time at the Sycamore Springs Golf Course near Arlington with Tom’s daughter, Rhonda Nye (NB ’78), who has been the varsity coach of the Van Buren High School girls’ team since 2008.  Rhonda’s team was competing in the district tourney at the conclusion of a banner season that included finishing first in the Northwest Ohio Girls’ Golf League (Southern Division).  Just like her dad, Rhonda has coached in the state tournament as her Black Knights represented northwest Ohio there in 2011.

Rhonda is blessed with the same great laugh as her dad.  Her optimistic energy was displayed by the Van Buren golfers who always acknowledged each other with a big “thumbs up” as they passed each other on the course.  Rhonda said that Tom had coined the phrase “thumbs up golf” during his coaching career.  Tom and Rhonda both believe it infuses positive team spirit into an often lonely individual sport.

Rhonda mentioned that she asks each potential team member why they want to participate on the Van Buren golf team.  Rhonda said she can’t remember one survey that didn’t include the word “fun” as one of the answers.   Carol Rowe, a recent Findlay High School golf coach, remarked that “Rhonda is like a second mom to her team.  They love her!”

As I observed so many similarities between Tom and Rhonda during the golf match, I asked Rhonda why she decided to become a golf coach.  She said that her sons, Drew and Devon, had both competed as golfers for VBHS and she had become comfortable with the format of golf tournaments so when Van Buren first offered girls golf as a club sport, Rhonda volunteered as a coach that season.  She smiled when she told me that her dad, Tom, was able to share that first season with her.

It’s obvious that Tom’s greatest legacy, his optimistic spirit, lives on in the form of his daughter, Rhonda, as she continues to inspire high school golfers the same way that Tom inspired his golfers “to be the best person they could be.”  And so does his sense of humor, as Rhonda joked that both she and Tom worked as golf coaches, but only her son, Devon, and brother, Jeff, ended up with a hole-in-one.  And then she laughed that contagious Reynolds laugh.

 

Slippery Elm Trail FAQ

bbbslipperyelm

My husband, Byron, and I have a personal goal of walking the Slippery Elm Trail from start to finish at least once each year.  Last Saturday, we looked at the calendar and noticed it was turned to mid-September already so we jumped in the car and headed to the trail head in Bowling Green to start our walk. 

When we started our walk, it was 41 degrees but the skies were that magical clear blue that we only see in northwest Ohio in early fall.  By the time we completed our walk three and a half hours later in North Baltimore, the temperature had risen to 63 degrees.  In summary, we picked possibly the nicest walking day of the year for our adventure.

Upon finishing the walk, my dad, Larry Slaughterbeck, drove us back to our car in Bowling Green.  Byron and I celebrated our accomplishment with a stop at Myles’ Pizza before heading home to Findlay.  Unfortunately, we probably ate more calories than we burned on our walk.

At the end of the trail, I posted a celebratory picture on Facebook and was bombarded with questions about the trail.  Since so many folks have questions about the Slippery Elm Trail, I thought I would answer a few frequently asked questions here.

How long is the trail from end to end?  If you walk from the Montessori School in BG to East Broadway in North Baltimore, it is 13.5 miles long.  Oddly, the trail is marked with mileage markers that measure the distance from the city limits of NB to BG that total 12 miles.  The first time Byron and I walked to BG, we thought that the zero mileage marker would be the end of the trail only to learn that we had nearly another mile to walk.  That might have been our longest, saddest mile ever.

Are there restrooms on the trail?  Besides the nice restrooms at North Baltimore, there are port-a-pots at the trailhead in Bowling Green, near Portage, and in Rudolph.

Is there any altitude change on the trail?  No, this is an incredibly flat trail.

What is the best part of the trail?  My favorite parts are the two miles north of Rudolph.  Surprisingly, much of this walk is through a mature stand of trees and the trail is shaded by the tree canopy.  If you can’t walk the entire trail, consider parking in Rudolph and walking north a couple miles and returning to your car.  It won’t seem like you’re in the open prairies and fields of Wood County.

Are there traffic rules on the trail? Yes, walk or ride on the right side of the trail.  If you are passing someone, announce your intentions by saying “Passing on the left.”  Also, always follow the main imperative on the trail: smile and greet folks you encounter.  We’re from Ohio; it’s our job to be friendly.  And no matter how tired you are, it doesn’t take any effort to smile.

We hope to see you on the Slippery Elm Trail soon!

Mackinac Bridge Walk 2013

30,000 walkers on a cold day

30,000 walkers on a cold day

The Mackinac Bridge holds many happy memories for me.  There have been the bridge crossings to the Upper Peninsula for adventures to Isle Royale, Tahquamenon Falls, Pictured Rocks and the Soo Locks.  There have been nights spent on Mackinac Island looking out at the beautifully illuminated bridge.  Mostly, there have been many crisp clear days spent in Mackinaw City beside the bridge:  chasing seagulls along the shores of the Straits, visiting historic Fort Michilimackinac, and of course, eating too much fudge.

 

One thing that I had always hoped to do was walk across the bridge as part of the annual Labor Day Bridge Walk.  Unfortunately, the Bridge Walk always conflicted with our children’s school schedules so it never happened.  This year, Byron and I were planning an end of summer visit to northern Michigan so we decided to schedule it over the Labor Day weekend so we could walk across the bridge. 

 

We arrived in Mackinaw City at 6 a.m. on Labor Day.   After parking in the Star Line Ferry parking lot, we followed the crowd to the nearby marina.  The marina parking lot was full of hundreds of yellow school buses representing school districts from central Michigan to the Upper Peninsula.  We were soon on a bus heading north across the Mackinac Bridge to the starting point in St. Ignace.

 

The sun was just beginning to rise as we jumped off the bus anxious to start the 7 a.m. walk.  Unfortunately, the weather was less than ideal.   The temperature hovered around 50 degrees with a gusty north wind.  As the morning dawned, the clouds over the Straits of Mackinac looked much more like November than September.  No one can question the hardiness of Michiganders though, as many of them were sporting shorts.

 

Tradition dictates that the governor of Michigan is the first to cross the bridge.  As soon as his party was off, we were able to start our 5 mile walk.  The walk was very crowded.   Over 30,000 walkers participated this year.  The Mackinac Bridge Walk is not the venue for a fast pace.

 

The slow pace does allow for more time for people watching though.  The wide variety of folks on the bridge was amazing.  There were infants in strollers and a 101 year-old completed the walk.  It was obvious that many multi-generational families cross the bridge together each year.  The seasoned bridge walkers were sporting numerous arrowhead-shaped patches on their jackets, each patch representing the year of a successful bridge crossing.

 

The bridge approaches account for more than half of the total distance of the walk.  In this area, all of the lanes of the bridge are paved.  Once we stepped onto the bridge mainspan, one lane was paved and the other had an open grate allowing the walkers to see the water below.  It quickly became apparent which walkers were afraid of heights, myself included, as we congregated in the paved lane and which walkers were unaffected by the heights, including Byron, as they bravely walked on the see-through grates.

 

While we were on the bridge, a freighter passed directly beneath the bridge and loudly blew its ship’s horn.  Also, the cars and buses driving in the two lanes of the bridge still open for traffic were waving and honking at the walkers.  On the bridge main span, it was easy to feel the swaying motion of the bridge and those 15-25 mph wind gusts occasionally caused the walkers to stagger  like drunken sailors.

 

Soon, our walk ended on the Mackinaw City side of the bridge.  Byron and I added more distance to our walk as we hurried to the west side of town to our favorite restaurant, Darrow’s.   Per Urbanspoon, Darrow’s  is the highest rated restaurant in town and is known for its affordable home cooking.  If you stop at Darrow’s, “Save your fork because there’s sure to be pie.”

 

By 11 a.m., we had walked across the bridge, eaten a hearty breakfast, purchased our first successful bridge walk commemorative patch, and even picked up a box of fudge for the road.   We were headed south happy to have one more check on our bucket list and planning how we can get back to the Mackinac Bridge for next Labor Day.  Maybe you can join us.

 

Almost Fall

There is a short season in northwest Ohio that doesn’t have a name; it is the in-between place that separates the official start of fall and the unofficial end of summer.   Let’s call it “almost fall.” When I was a child growing up in North Baltimore, it began right after Labor Day and aligned with the annual return to school.

 

One day, we would be at the Quarry watching our friends perform in the water ballet extravaganza.  The next day, “almost fall” would arrive and we would find ourselves overdressed in our new school clothes and new leather shoes.   In the cool mornings, the new school clothes seemed appropriate but by the end of the school day, we were sweltering hot and couldn’t wait to get home to change into our summer shorts and tennis shoes again.  I honestly don’t remember feeling hotter in my childhood than those “almost fall” walks home from school. 

 

Even though “almost fall” is a very short season, it is clearly delineated in my mind.  Brain science shows that our most vivid memories are attached to the sense of smell.  To this day, one of my favorite scents is a new box of Crayola crayons.  Whenever I catch a whiff of that aroma, my mind instantly returns to the “almost fall” days of North Baltimore in the 1960s as I enjoyed a new box of sharpened crayons that came with the start of each school year.

 

“Almost fall” also had a special accessory.  We each returned to school carrying the year’s new lunchbox sporting a popular television or cartoon character.  For a day or two, the Thermos inside our new lunchbox was still intact and we could carry a cold beverage to school with us.  I can’t remember the Thermos lasting more than a week though.  One accidental drop or bump and the glass mirror on the inside shattered and we needed to buy milk at school the rest of the school year.  I’m almost positive that none of my Thermos’ ever survived the “almost fall” season.

 

The “almost fall” season has flora and fauna that signal its arrival.  Walks to school during this period always involved catching caterpillars, or wooly worms as we called them, and grasshoppers.  I’m pretty sure that the brown liquid that grasshoppers left in our hand was not tobacco juice as we believed in our childhood. 

 

“Almost fall” also brought us the joy of milkweed pods that we loved to open and blow the parachute seeds into the wind.   Other botanical highlights of “almost fall” included buckeyes and acorns.  For the Beecher Street gang, the best treat was black walnuts, often used as ammunition in across the street throwing battles.  Unfortunately, the black walnuts left indelible stains upon contact.

 

For such a short non-season, “almost fall” has created powerful memories for me, memories that are as hard to erase as a black walnut stain.

 

 

Up, Up and Away

balloon ride

Normally, I like to follow the mantra of Peace Pilgrim who once said, “Keep your feet on the ground and your thoughts at lofty heights.” Yet today, I find myself, scared of heights, and floating over Findlay in a hot air balloon. There are no lofty thoughts coming from the primal side of my brain that is sending messages of fear like “If you drop your phone, don’t dive for it” or “I wish the basket was higher so I felt safer leaning on it.”

Luckily, the analytical part of my brain is sending a stronger message that allows me to fully enjoy this experience. My pilot is Phil Clinger, a Findlay native and current Battle Creek, Michigan resident, and his hot air balloon company, Aerial Endeavors (http://altitudeendeavors.com/index.html), provides aerial advertising. Throughout the summer, Phil competes in various balloon fests across the Midwest proudly displaying a banner that says VisitFindlay.com to encourage folks to visit Findlay. This balloon is sponsored by the Hancock County Convention Visitors Bureau.

Today, through a serendipitous turn of events, I have the chance to join Phil as he competes in the morning launch of the Findlay BalloonFest. Just last evening, I had been walking with my husband near sunset and received a text that said there was a cancellation if I wanted to fly at 6:30 a.m. I was so excited last night that I barely slept. It’s exciting to think about checking one more thing off the bucket list.

Also along for the ride is Betsy Decillis, social media content manager for visitfindlay.com, who began the flight by saying, “I looked it up and very few people actually die in a balloon accident.” Both sides of my brain are happy to hear Phil say that no one is dying in a balloon accident today.

Soon Phil is busy maneuvering the balloon over four targets that are scattered throughout the town. Points are awarded based on the proximity of a beanbag thrown by the pilot to the target. Prior to today, I had no idea that the balloons were competing at BalloonFest. I thought they were just on a joy ride.

Betsy and I find ourselves in an extremely rare state: speechless. It is so calm and peaceful in the balloon. We can clearly hear the passengers of other balloons chatting. Below us, I see my husband Byron driving. I can even see my dog, Ike, looking out the truck window. Many familiar landmarks pass below me. At one point, I can see my house. As we approach the landing spot, we get closer to the ground and are even able to talk with people below us.

After two hours of total tranquility, we touch down near the Country Inn and Suites in Findlay. Once we are reunited with Mother Earth, we are anointed with a bottle of bubbly. I can now call myself a veteran balloon rider and my bucket list has one more check on it. Les Brown once said, “Life has no limits, except the ones you make.” I’m still afraid of heights, but today I overcame that to make a dream come true.

Dreams Really Do Come True

cindybregel

 

Do you remember the great wintertime fun we had skating on creeks and ponds when we were kids?  Cindy Monasmith Bregel (NB ’77) was blessed to grow up on Bairdstown Road where the banks to the ditch were deep thus creating a great wind block that allowed for long expanses of smooth outdoor ice.  As a teenager, her parents added a pond in the backyard that allowed for more ice skating fun.  Skating is one of her favorite childhood memories.

 

Fast forward to 1998. Cindy and her young daughter, Taryn, are in their Findlay home watching the winter Olympics and cheering on 16 year-old Tara Lipinski to a gold medal in figure skating.   Cindy’s mind is recalling her own childhood delight in watching another American, Peggy Fleming, win a gold medal a long time ago when Taryn looks at her mom and says, “I want to do that.” 

 

Cindy’s heart sinks because Taryn is diagnosed as developmentally delayed with impaired motor skills so there are no local opportunities for her to learn to skate.   Unfortunately, local programs such as Silver Blades and Learn-to-Skate programs do not cater to Taryn’s needs.

 

Neither Cindy nor Taryn give up on the skating dream though.  Finally, two years later, Cindy receives a call from Helen Stahl, a Special Olympics coach, asking if Taryn would be part of an exhibition ice skating program for individuals with disabilities that will be piloted in Findlay.  Soon, Cindy is sitting in the UF Ice Arena bleachers watching Taryn on the ice, fitted with skates, helmet, a small walker, and assisted by a college volunteer.  In disbelief, Cindy watches Taryn moving her feet correctly while being supported by the walker.  As Taryn glides across the ice, Cindy knows that Taryn’s dream to ice skate is still alive!

 

Cindy and Dr. Jean Folkerth, from the University of Findlay, were so impressed with the pilot program that they committed to do whatever it took to get Elizabeth O’Donnell from Buffalo, NY, the leader of the national model of this program, to start a similar program in Findlay.  Cindy soon found herself on the advisory committee focused on raising $25,000 to start the program.  And what donor could say no to a passionate mother who wants to see her special needs daughter’s dreams come true? 

 

Like a snowball rolling down a hill, the program quickly gained momentum.  By 2002, the first Findlay ice show highlighted the talents of 27 stars, including Taryn who was accompanied by two volunteers, both the daughters of another NBHS alum, Mike Bucher.  By 2005, the ice show had outgrown the UF Ice Arena and moved to the CUBE.  Taryn was skating with only volunteer by that time who was her best friend since first grade, Brooke Larsen. 

 

The following year, 2006, was tough for both the program and for the Bregel family.  Cindy’s dad, John Monasmith, was terminally ill and Cindy was busy with hospital visits.  Only a couple days before John passed away he said to Cindy, “You know that the best thing you have ever done is working with that skating program.” 

Only three weeks after losing her father, the Gliding Stars advisory committee decided that due to the loss of skating instructors, the program would need to take a year’s hiatus.    Still focused on Taryn’s dream, Cindy volunteered to find instructors to save the program, which she did. And as always, no good deed goes unpunished, so her reward was a role as co-coordinator of the ice show.

 

The following year, 2007, was especially poignant as Taryn was chosen to skate a solo in memory of her Grandpa John Monasmith.  By this time, Taryn had begun to skate independently.  Her dream inspired by Tara Lapinski was now a reality!

 

The Gliding Stars momentum has continued through annual shows with titles such as Pirate Island, High School Revue, Skating the 70s, Time Traveling, and Findlay’s Bicentennial.  The club has grown significantly as the last show featured 57 Stars and 120 on ice volunteers, including 40 UF students. Taryn continues to skate as a star; she skates independently and also helps create costume ideas.  Cindy has taken many active roles within the club including show coordinator. 

 

For the most inspirational event of the year, mark your calendar for next year’s Gliding Stars spectacular called “Let’s Go to the Movies” on March 16th at 2:30 pm at the CUBE in Findlay. 

 

In the near term, I would like to invite you to join us for a free Gliding Stars premiere of a short documentary on September 16 at 7 p.m. at Winebrenner, 950 N. Main Street, Findlay.  To view a trailer of the documentary, called “Go Jackson Doll!” visit http://vimeo.com/71460834.  Also follow Gliding Stars on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/GlidingStarsofFindlay.

 

But most importantly, help me celebrate a NBHS grad who had the vision and tenacity to make the dreams of hundreds of local children come true:  Cindy Bregel, and also to honor her daughter, Taryn Bregel, who dreamed such a big dream that it changed a whole community. 

NBHS 76: Friends Forever

nb76 et al

Some high school classes are lucky enough to have one committed classmate who values his NBHS friends enough to invest the time to keep them connected.  For NBHS ’76 that person is Dan Davis and his lovely wife, Anne. 

 

Last Saturday, Dan and Anne hosted approximately 25 folks with ties to NBHS at their home in Bay Village.   Saturday afternoon was spent enjoying snacks and chatting in their beautiful backyard.  Next the group carpooled downtown to Progressive Field to see the Indians lose possibly the ugliest baseball game ever:  four errors and nearly four hours long.  But, even the Indians’ poor performance couldn’t limit the enjoyment had by the NB group.

 

The evening ended with an amazing fireworks display at the stadium called “Rock n Blast” set to the backdrop of Rolling Stones music.  The only downside was hearing the lyrics to “Mother’s Little Helper” that reminded the group “what a drag it is getting old.”  Wasn’t it just yesterday that the Rolling Stones were talking about us when they sang “time is on my side?”

 

For all in attendance, the highlight of the weekend was seeing Kevin Sterling reunited with the group.  Unfortunately, Kevin had a tough health year.  Due to a cardiac infection, he had a stroke and he has spent most of the last year working very hard to be healthy enough to attend this year’s gathering with his classmates. So not only did Dan Davis’ positive energy keep old friends together, it gave Kevin a goal for his healing.   What a gift to see a year of prayers for Kevin and his wife, Nadine, answered! 

 

Dave Koppenhofer and his wife, Lisa, traveled the farthest to join the group as they drove from the Charlotte NC area.  The most popular attendee was their four year-old son, Houston, who was a real trooper at the Indians game and he was even able to stay awake throughout the fireworks display.

 

Sue Crouse served at the unofficial class historian and she brought picture albums complete with photos from elementary school, high school, past class reunions and even copies of the NBHS newspaper from 1975-76 era called “Tiger Paws.”   In the current movement towards anti-bullying cultures in our schools, it was shocking to see the cruelty in many of the articles printed in “Tiger Paws.”   One would have to wonder about the adult supervision that enabled that type of behavior.

 

Luckily, the high school bullying is now long gone, and the group was just happy to be together talking about kids, grandkids, jobs, retirement, vacations, and best of all, old childhood stories.  The most common start to any sentence was “Do you remember when?”  And the end to almost every sentence was shared laughter. 

 

 

 

As the weekend wrapped up with a Sunday brunch overlooking Lake Erie, our host Dan Davis summed it up best by saying, “It is extra special spending time with childhood friends.  Even if we haven’t been together in several years, it is easy because we know each other’s history:  parents, siblings, and even the same stories.  It is like we have never been apart.”

As the brunch concluded, we drove away with shouts of “See you next year” resonating in our ears and a smile on our faces, knowing that we’re lucky to still have such great NB friends and leaders like Dan and Anne Davis to keep us connected.

 

Free At Last

little julie

Recently, a long lost memory came back to me when I watched a five-year old girl learning to ride her bike in my neighborhood.  Her dad ran alongside as she began to pedal her brand new pink bicycle complete with pink streamers flowing from each bike handle.  As she began to gain momentum, dad was jogging alongside trying to protect her from a potential fall.  When I looked beneath her pink bike helmet into her eyes, it was there that I glimpsed that long-forgotten feeling of brand-new independence that comes with the ability to ride a bike.

 

I learned to ride a bike on North Third Street in North Baltimore.  Once I mastered that bike, I had the freedom to travel the length of an entire block.  Better yet, I had faster access to all of the neighborhood kids.  I lived right across from the Paul family:  Becky, Connie, Tom, Linda, and Kenny.   Down the street, there was Danny and Mary Stimmell.  Sometimes, Laura Smith and Lynn Cameron and their siblings visited grandparents on our block so that added even more fun.   And on my little red bike,  fun was always close at hand.

By the time we moved to the corner of Broadway and Beecher Street in first grade, I was an accomplished bike rider allowed to even ride around the corner as opposed to just up and down the block on Third Street.   Bikes were critically important to many of our activities on Beecher Street.  Always, our freedom was linked to our bikes.  First, we were able to visit one another’s houses on our bikes.  Soon, we were going to the library or the IGA.  As time passed, we were able to ride to Powell School, to the Little League field, and eventually all the way across town. 

Besides transportation, our bikes provided other entertainment.  As example, a bike, a deck of playing cards and a clothespin created the best neighborhood noisemakers.   Sometimes we used the garden hose to wash our bikes.  Usually, this activity ended with more wet kids than clean bikes.  And when all else failed, we would try bike stunts like riding with no hands or standing on the seats.  This occasionally ended in bike accidents that caused bumps, bruises, and probably a few stitches.

When my neighbor, Ron Bean, started a paper route and purchased an olive green Schwinn Collegiate bike with his earnings, I was jealous of his new ride.  Eventually, I was able to buy the girls’ model of the same bike in bright blue.  This was the era when we finally achieved our highest level of bike freedom:  the privilege of riding our bikes to the Wixom Quarry.  Armed with a beach towel around our necks and a dollar in our pockets, we pedaled two miles for a day of fun and sun with our friends.   I cannot remember feeling more free than on those bike rides to the Quarry. 

My final memory of complete freedom provided by our bikes was pedaling the five miles to Stuckey’s near I-75 at the Van Buren exit.  Zipping along Angling Road seemed like the ultimate adventure.  Once we got to Stuckey’s, we loved looking at the display full of gag gifts: a fake ice cube with a fly in it, whoopee cushions, and chewing gum that turned teeth black. 

 

Sadly, this is my final memory of liberty on our bikes.  I suspect it was then that we began to dream of new adventures that could only be obtained with a driver’s license and a car. 

 

NBHS Alumni Banquet Speech

When I graduated from North Baltimore High School, I might have been voted the least likely to stand here and sing the praises of our alma mater before you tonight… because I was pretty sure that other kids in other places were getting a better education.

When I went to visit my cousins in Findlay during my junior high years, it seemed like they had a lot of opportunities that we didn’t:

  • They could choose from several foreign languages and we had Spanish (and for those of you who were in high school in the late 1970s, you can attest that barely qualified as a Spanish class.)
  • My cousins even had accelerated classes and kids in Findlay were graduating with knowledge of topics such as calculus that we never even knew about at North Baltimore High School.
  • That was also an era when Findlay High School had some great sports teams too.  I always thought it would be fun to cheer for teams that were so competitive.
  • And then to top it off , Findlay had cable television and pizza, and to me North Baltimore just didn’t seem to measure up.

I also went to church with kids from Elmwood and Van Buren and they were always bragging about their new school buildings while we were in an old outdated building.

So as a student at North Baltimore High School, I always suspected there was something bigger and better out there and when I graduated, I went out to find it as fast I could.  I hurried down to the Ohio State University and quickly became immersed in the excitement of the Buckeyes and the accounting education I was receiving there.  Before I knew it, I graduated from college…. and three days later, I started work at a large accounting firm.  Life happened fast…. like it always does….and eventually, my husband Byron and I settled in Findlay and raised three children.

During this period, I did spend a lot of time in North Baltimore visiting my folks and Byron’s family and going to church at St. Luke’s , but I really didn’t think much about my North Baltimore High School education until my kids started taking college visits.  And oh did we take college visits!  I would guess that between three kids, we conservatively visited 50 schools throughout the country.  All three of our kids were drawn to colleges focused on the liberal arts, which is the notion that an undergraduate education is the time to explore new things so students are exposed to a wide range of academic subjects, including sciences and the humanities.

On these visits, college admissions counselor after admissions counselor, from schools all across the country, boasted about why our kids should attend this specific college.  Regardless of the college, this is the sales pitch:

  • FIRST….This is the time of your child’s life when he can try new things.  An artist can play a new sport.  A science student can learn a new language.  A musician can write for the school newspaper.   This is a safe environment to take risks and often, a student will learn that he loves something that he never tried before. 
  • SECOND… There are adults here that will care deeply about your child.  Before he graduates, your child will eat dinner at the home of a professor.  The university president will know your child on a first name basis.  Your child will graduate from college with a cadre of adults who are willing to serve as his references and will remain his friends or mentors for life.

It sounds great, doesn’t it? 

After I heard variations of this same speech a few dozen times, I began to realize that quite possibly I had undervalued my North Baltimore High School education.  Here I was, sitting on the campus of a fancy college helping my kids try to find the very thing that Byron and I had at North Baltimore High School and we hadn’t even realized how important it was.

In hindsight, I now understand that North Baltimore High School provided us so many risk-free opportunities to find the things that we loved.  When I was in high school, I was on two sports teams for sports I had never even played before:  volleyball and golf.  Byron got to sing in the choir and participate in class plays and he never had a voice lesson.  I was in the marching band and barely ever practiced my saxophone at home.  I wrote articles for the school newspaper. 

NOW…..Think about all of the opportunities you had at North Baltimore High School, chances to be a team captain or a class officer or be a cheerleader or march in the band.  I would contend that those opportunities made you who you are today!

This is very different than the experiences our kids had at a bigger high school.  Our son wanted to play hockey when he was 3 because his sister was a figure skater and he was stuck spending hours at the ice rink.  We signed him up for skating lessons and he was on a travel hockey team by the time he was four and hockey was his sport.  The end.  Boom.  There was no way he could have decided to jump onto a basketball team or a baseball team in high school since he hadn’t practiced that sport since a very young age.

Here’s another example.  If you watch the TV show, Glee, you see how competitive show choirs can be.  At our kids’ elementary school, students were getting cut from the fifth grade show choir because they hadn’t taken dance AND singing lessons yet.  Kids, at a very young age, are locked into one or two activities at a big high school.  Maybe that’s why there is so much need for them to attend a liberal arts college where they can finally explore….for the first time…. at age 18.

In hindsight, I think even more important than the opportunities to lead, follow, and participate that we had at North Baltimore High School are the caring adults that were always there for us.   In larger school districts, there are very few teachers that a student has for more than one year so there really isn’t time to build long-lasting, trusting relationships.  At North Baltimore, we often had the same teachers year after year and I believe that was a great gift.

For those of you who weren’t in high school during the 1970s, bear with me because I’m sharing my memories from that era, but I guarantee that each of you can substitute similar names and similar memories from your time in North Baltimore Schools.

Close your eyes and think about a school staff member that believed in you during your time in school.  I bet there are almost too many to remember. 

For me, I remember Mrs. Mong in first grade and the excitement of actually being able to first read a Dick and Jane book under her tutelage.  In second grade, I had Mrs. Bockbrader, who was a jolly soul.  It was almost like having Santa Claus for a teacher.  She smiled and laughed the whole year.

My favorite elementary teacher was Emma Apple in fourth grade.  She made us believe we could do anything.   I was in her class two months after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.  She put a paper moon near the ceiling and a path leading to the moon that was measured in pages read.  I never thought reading was more exciting than when I was trying to race to the moon.  She also let me serve as a safety patrol-girl which seemed like the biggest responsibility ever.  I was so proud to put on that reflective vest and even more proud that she believed in me.

Soon, we were in junior high and that brought us into Jim Dennis’ English class.  Much of my work today is focused on writing so barely a day passes when I can’t hear his voice in my head repeating a grammatical rule.  I hated that class when I was in it, but I’m sure happy now that he laid that important grammar groundwork for me. 

Does anyone remember how he would calmly walk to the door when we heard someone get a “whack” in the hallway?  Without interrupting the lesson, he would say the student’s name who had received the whack and the teacher who had delivered it.  He was wise enough to know that we would never refocus on sentence structure until those questions were answered.

Speaking of whacks, junior high was the time when Melody (Blake) Drewes and I learned that when Don Lang said, “The next person who says ANYTHING is going down to the office to get a whack,” he REALLY meant it.  The next thing we knew, we were both were sitting in the principal’s office worried, not about the upcoming whack, but if our moms would find out.  Stella and Nancy, that’s tonight’s surprise for the two of you.

I had Don Lang as a social studies teacher during a presidential election year and remember how exciting he made the most lopsided presidential election ever seem.  I still carry that passion for a good presidential election cycle thanks to Don.

Once we entered high school, there were so many teachers and coaches who were consistently positive role models in our lives.  Obviously, my list is in no way complete, but I wanted to share some thank you’s to some of those solid folks who were there for me:

  • Gwen Mauk was my basketball coach for four years and gym teacher for 6 years.  I’m not going to lie, I’m still scared of some of the 8th grade girls who could throw that dodgeball at incredible speeds when a bunch of us scrawny 7th grade girls shared a gym period with them.  When I see those ladies at Krogers, I slink down another aisle for fear of a rocket dodgeball.  But seriously, Gwen was a teacher who I always knew had my back.
  • Fran Weith.  Show of hands.  How many of you are Fran’s Facebook friend?  If not, why aren’t you?  She’s still encouraging us and supporting our endeavors.  How cool is that?  Also, Fran taught me how to write my first term paper.
  • Tom Gohlke taught us about literature and made us read tough, complicated books that we thought were old and boring.  Little did we realize he was teaching us how to analyze and synthesize information.
  • Dick Schemmer taught us about biology.  Oh, in case anyone is still wondering, I know who let the fruit flies out ….
  • Beryl Heminger taught us about bookkeeping which inspired me to major in accounting.
  • Carol Reed made math the funniest subject ever.  How is that even possible?
  • And then there was Vern Bame.  What didn’t we learn from Vern?  I actually remember a lot of driving lessons  from Vern.  They were usually in the genre of “when it’s a tossup between a car and a semi truck, the law of physics will be on the side of the truck so you better look twice before you pull out.”  We learned about Ohio State sports, past and present.  Who knew there was so much to know about Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek and Hopalong Cassady?  Mostly, we learned about the trajectory of softballs in flight.  Yet somehow, in between all of that, he managed to teach us about physics and chemistry in a very down-to-earth way.

It’s impossible to thank every teacher individually, but I hope you know that each of you made a big difference in our lives.  You were those trusting caring adults that each kid needs to succeed.  Thank you to each and every one of you.  How about a round of applause for all of the teachers here tonight??

Growing up in North Baltimore blessed us with another important gift that I initially overlooked.  In my current role at a community foundation, we spend a lot of time and energy trying to invest in programs that build strong youth. Research shows that there are 40 developmental assets that contribute to the healthy development of youth into strong adults.  OK, Don’t panic, I’m not going to read all 40!  There are two developmental assets that we were rich in during our childhood in North Baltimore even if we didn’t appreciate it at the time.  I know they helped us become who we are today.

The FIRST external developmental asset is “other non-parental adults model positive behavior and encourage children to do well.”  I just mentioned the teachers who supported us, but there were other school staff members who always encouraged us too.  I still remember Bob Mong, the bus driver, saying each day when I got off the bus in fifth grade, “Make sure you learn something new today.”  There were also school secretaries who were so kind to us.  The best thing about going to the dentist was the chance to chat with Cay (Smith) Andrews in the school office when we signed out.  I also remember the smiling faces of the lunch ladies even as we were openly complaining about the food they were serving that day.

We were surrounded by positive adults throughout the town as well.  Whether it was the ladies at the library, Sunday School teachers, old guys at the golf course, Dr. Roberts, the ladies at Weith’s, Bill McMahan at the Food Center, Gene Swartz at the SOHIO station, they knew our names and took the time to see how we were doing and encouraged us to succeed. 

 NOW….Think about those people that were part of your life and were always cheering for your successes.  Heck, think about those people that are still encouraging us.  Bonnie Knaggs was my softball coach one summer about 43 years ago and a year ago she gave me the opportunity to write articles for the North Baltimore News.  As another example, Clair Blackall taught my husband, Byron, calculus over Christmas break in college.  That’s the kind of commitment and lifelong support that North Baltimore provides that you don’t find elsewhere. 

The SECOND external asset is “neighbors take responsibility for monitoring young peoples’ behaviors.”  OK, who in this room can’t remember doing something bad in North Baltimore High School and your parents knowing about it when you walked in the front door?  Seriously?  I don’t know how they communicated but it seemed like it was faster than the internet.  I remember one day when I took my lunch money and ate at the B and N……  OK, I ate at the B and N almost every day…. but this particular day I got busted.  That evening, when Dad came home from work, he said, “Did you really eat a Hostess yellow cupcake and a can of Mountain Dew for lunch?”  Seriously guys, how did they find this stuff out?

So, this is just another example of something that seemed annoying about growing up in North Baltimore, but really was a blessing in disguise and helped us turn into better adults.    

There’s something special about every small town.  That character is why people love their towns.  It’s why they live there.  It is the heart and soul of a community.  It might have taken me 53 years to figure it out, but I know now, what makes North Baltimore so unique.  It really just comes down to people who support each other ….day in and day out. 

For a long time, I suspected the grass was greener on the other side of the fence.  I know now that I grew up in the greenest pasture and I am thankful for that gift.  I’m proud of my personal evolution from least likely to most likely to speak at a North Baltimore High School Alumni Banquet.

 

Now it’s our job to pass that gift on to future generations, to celebrate what makes North Baltimore so unique, to be the heart and soul of this community.  If you live here, continue to do what I suspect you do every day:  support and encourage local kids and take a minute to thank those folks who encouraged you when you were a child here. 

 If you don’t live in North Baltimore, take a little North Baltimore spirit and share it on your world.

Finally, stay connected with your childhood friends.  I know….it’s complicated.  Our lives are busy and people have scattered….. but thanks to social media and Google, there are ample opportunities to find and connect with them.  They are your first ….best friends.  Find them.  Share your old memories. Together, we represent the heart and soul of North Baltimore.  Let’s keep it strong for generations to come.