Thursday, March 26, 2009
There are places I go in my dreams, when I can't get there in real life. If I close my eyes, I can leave the home of my childhood in the tiny little town of 500 people, cattle and oil, in southwest Wyoming, and wander two blocks up the street to the corner where the drug and hardware store were, turn left down the main street, past the post office and library, the florist, and the old Gaiety Theater, and turn right at the grocery store, Burney & Company. The main street, the only paved road in my childhood, makes a couple of switch turns until it comes to the place where I went to high school.
And right across the street, was the Scherbel home.
The Scherbel home was the first home I remember being in as a child, other than my own, and my grandparents' next door, growing up in Big Piney, Wyoming. Paul Scherbel was the County Surveyor, and he and his wife, Rachel, had four children, a son Paul A., daughter Annette, and two sons Scott and Marlowe who were closer to my age. Rachel and my mother took turns babysitting for each other when I was younger, and I would go over and stay and play with Marlowe in their enormously warm, comforting and fascinating home, central to which was a wood-burning stove in the kitchen. It was the first wood/coal-burning cooking device I'd ever seen in a kitchen, since we cooked with gas. There was a comfy banquette in the corner of the room near the stove, and conspicuously absent from the home was a television, any television. As children we knew that the Scherbels didn't eat cold cereal like lots of other kids did, and they didn't watch, or own, a television. But somehow we didn't really feel sorry for them, because they were extraordinary kids. The boys were all Eagle Scouts, exemplary in the community, and leaders in school. The home was well furnished in rust-colored wool carpeting, built-in woodboxes in the livingroom, board games and books and puzzles, things to keep us occupied well into the night when the youth would gather for the end of a progressive dinner over the holidays. They had a wonderful oversized swingset in the backyard, and Annette would push me and Marlowe higher and higher in the swing, overlooking river, and cottonwoods in my mind's eye, ladybugs everywhere. Across the lawn, just steps away, was the surveying office, filled with maps and charts, the smell of mimeograph ink and work, to delight a child's imagination.
In the kitchen were peanut butter and honey sandwiches, glasses of milk, tomato soup, stepstools to be pushed when no one was looking, corners to explore in a child's free time.
The Scherbels are firmly fixed in that childhood memory, from birth through college, swimming trips to Jackson Hole and the Hoback, church trips to Salt Lake City, sitting between Paul and Rachel in the front of their car, dozing off, on the way back from Utah, or riding with Scott on the way home for the weekend from college, hitting a steer on open range on the Cumberland Flat late at night in a Ford Torino, wrapping chains on tires going up Emigration Canyon in the snow, having lunch in Jackson, ending up with Scott in a hospital with tick fever, riding on the back of their tandem bicycle, watching Scott play chess at Scout Camp near New Fork Lake, singing with Marlowe in church about the hills of Tennessee when he returned from his mission there, making homemade ice cream with rock salt in their ice cream freezer, waiting on the steps of the church for Mutual, or getting up at the crack of dawn for early morning Seminary. Which their mother taught.
There was a funeral earlier this week in my hometown of Big Piney, Wyoming, which I wanted to get to, but couldn't, so I'm going there in my dreams.
That funeral was for Rachel.
Rachel Anderson Scherbel.
As much as anyone growing up, Rachel was enormously good to me. Of course, like most children, it took me years to fully appreciate it. As a Seminary teacher she was extraordinary, knew her material, and every morning just after six o'clock. we were all huddled together in the chilly linoleum floored meetinghouse to study it. Now that I think of it, we should have had Seminary in their home; more kids would have attended. But the handful of us high school students who did attend learned a lot from Rachel, more than Scripture Chase, more than the history or theology of the church of our pioneer ancestors.
I think of Rachel always with her fashionable wing-tip heels and pumps, far too fashion forward for rural Wyoming, and her crisp suits, her Katherine Hepburn/Annette Bening good looks, and her New England sensibility. She'd occasionally substitute in the schools when one of our regular teachers was sick. I remember her being a frequent fill-in for my English teacher Harvey Graham. She knew her stuff. She knew how to keep a classroom in order. She commanded respect with her copper well coifed hair, her striking features, her presence.
I knew she had a brother who was a physician in Salt Lake. I'd visited their home once with Scott when for some reason we couldn't get anywhere else. I knew Rachel was well educated, had studied and taught outside the area, places like Cornell, the University of Vermont and the University of Utah, and had a view that extended beyond Big Piney, where her husband Paul N. was frequently mayor, or Sublette County, where they were both well respected, or even the western slice of Wyoming, where their hands and tools had touched much of the landscape, measured and charted it. Other people we knew had worked for Surveyor Scherbel, people like Rulon 'Shrimp' Woffinden and Maurice Zardus. When Annette married, her husband Bob Priddis came to work for Surveyor Scherbel, and later, Scott and Marlowe returned to work with their father as well. Now everyone is gathered back in the area, from Star Valley to Big Piney, continuing the legacy, a legacy that at last count includes 32 grandchildren and 42 great-grandchildren, who combined can speak over 17 languages, and who came to a little church in southwest Wyoming earlier this week to honor her.
I will miss Rachel. And I must pay tribute to her. I don't think of her as much older than I am now, a woman permanently frozen in my mind between her thirties and her fifties, striding confidently into church, well groomed, head held high. Paul N. always made sure everyone found a seat in our little hodgepodge of cold metal folding chairs and hymnbooks, then took his place comfortably in the rear to survey the congregation.
When I was younger, Rachel showed me books to read, and gave me odd jobs, like cataloguing them at the church library, to make extra money in a family where money was a more precious commodity than I at that time realized. She'd come frequently to my grandfather's house to borrow the odd book from him that had been acquired at Sam Weller's Bookstore in Salt Lake, or pick his brain. She'd send me notes of encouragement growing up to help me stay focused on what was important. She gave me a copy of 'W' magazine that had the most obscure article on "Quality" in it, and the notion and meaning of quality as it related to aesthetics. That single act had a more profound influence on me than most people will ever know or appreciate, as it came at a time in my own formative consciousness where being able to discern things of quality, and sharpen a critical eye, was important. Wool carpet. Parquet floor.
Rachel was a person of quality, a force of nature, a beloved wife, a revered mother, a cherished grandmother, a treasured friend, mentor and teacher. She will always remain in that place in my dreams, making ice cream, and sandwiches, walking into church, or school, arms around us all.
Monday, March 23, 2009
When I think of Suzanne Stensaas, I picture her with a brain bucket.
Every Friday around lunchtime during the years I worked at the University of Utah, the staff, residents and medical students in the Neurology Department of which I was a part would gather up their lunches and head to brain cutting--literally--where various interesting brains from (yes) dead patients would be sliced for viewing and scientific research.
Suzanne was the neuroanatomist in the department. Brains were her thing. Neurologists thought nothing of doing this over lunch.
Parkinsons brains. Alzheimers brains. Brains with bleeds. Normal brains. Abby Normal brains.
Suzanne was well known as an enthusiastic, larger than life character, extremely proficient in her field.
In 1986, a few years after I knew her, Suzanne gave up scientific research for teaching, and in 1990, she left the University of Utah, where she had been since 1969, and headed to New York City to teach at Cornell. She served on the medical college faculty at Cornell University until 1999, when she returned to the University of Utah to direct the neuroscience block in what was then the new curriculum of the medical school. She has remained in Salt Lake City at the University of Utah Medical Center since.
Suzanne was instrumental in the creation of the Slice-of-Life project, a multimedia medical education and information sharing project spearheaded at the University of Utah, and for over twenty years travelled the globe giving Slice-of-Life workshops to multimedia developers and medical science educators. She is also on the board of directors of the Health Assets Education Library (HEAL).
Over the years she has published numerous articles in medical journals on neuroanatomy, neuropathology, medical education and multimedia, and is well known and respected internationally as an authority, educator and speaker on the same. She has made an enormous contribution to the University of Utah health care system and neurological education, as well as the use of multimedia in the health care sciences.
Me, I always think of her at lunch. On Fridays.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
In the rural countryside of southwest England lies an airfield, long abandoned, where decades ago rows and rows of C-47 Dakotas lined up for parts unknown.
There's little left to mark the spot. A few of the original buildings are still there. The Jaquet Weston Plant memorializes those who previously called it home. A local pub fills pints and bellies not far away.
One of the great honors of my life was to be the dinner companion of a handsome, well spoken gentleman at a celebration in St. Louis, Missouri, a dozen or so years ago in the company of several hundred others. The ballroom of the hotel was filled with round tables of eight as far as the eye could wander in any direction, men and women in their finery gathered together in common purpose.
That gentleman, my dinner companion, was guest of honor.
The men in that room had all served under his command, fifty years earlier, in the fields of England and France in World War II. Men like Hal Read, and Marty Wolfe. Bill Elmendorf. Gale Ammerman, and Larry Riordan.
Adriel N. Williams.
Born in Shelby County, Kentucky, in 1916, Adriel Newton Williams went directly into pilot training following his high school graduation, received his wings in 1939, became an officer, and in 1942, assumed command of the 436th Troop Carrier Squadron (79th, 80th, 81st and 82nd Squadrons) of the Army Air Corps, a position he held through the end of World War II.
Primarily towing gliders and dropping paratroopers into combat in battlefields of England and France, the 436th TCG participated in major operations of the European theater, including the Invasion of Normandy (D-Day), Operation Market Garden (Nijmegen-Eindhoven), resupply of the 101st in Bastogne, and crossing the Rhine.
Following the end of the war in Europe, then Lieutenant Colonel Williams returned with the 436th Troop Carrier Group to the United States awaiting reassignment to the Pacific, but during their time back in the States the war happily ended, and the 436th was inactivated.
Colonel Williams subsequently attended the Air War College, graduating in 1953, and the National War College, graduating in 1959, assuming command along the way of several assignments, stateside and in Japan. In 1961 he was promoted to Brigadier General and served from that time at the Pentagon, rising to the position of Director of Transportation, U.S. Air Force Headquarters in Washington, D.C. in 1966.
Brigadier General Williams was decorated during his military service with the Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, the Distinguished Flying Cross with three oak leaf clusters, the Air Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation, the French Croix de Guerre with Palm, and the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant, Thailand.
He was witness to some of the most moving and profound events in recent human history. He was there for D-Day. He was there for Market Garden, when the eyes of Dutch schoolchildren turned upward to witness a sky filled with Allied paratroopers floating earthward. He was there for V-E Day. He was there for hundreds of young men to lead them into dangerous missions far away from the warmth of home and hearth, in the cold hills of southwest England, huddled in tents in France. Membury. Melun. Paris was a whispered promise away, on liberty, with bottles of champagne and daredevil pilots, French farmers who'd trade eggs for rationed cigarettes.
I am happy for the life of General Williams, happier still that he was there for those men of the Second World War, and happiest of all that a half-century later I had the great honor of becoming acquainted with him, sharing his stories, and seeing him be rightly honored by the men of the 436th--pilots, navigators, radio officers, businessmen, husbands, fathers, grandfathers--who paid tribute on that memorable autumn evening in a glittering ballroom in St. Louis.
For further reading about the 436th Troop Carrier Group, I can highly recommend two books written by members of the 81st Squadron:
First, from Martin Wolfe, a radio operator during WWII: "Green Light: A Troop Carrier Squadron's War from Normandy to the Rhine," 1993, Center for Air Force History (U.S), and
Second, from Gale Ammerman, a glider pilot during WWII: "An American Glider Pilot's Story," Merriam Press, Military Monograph MM65.
Monday, March 16, 2009
When I knew Bill Kent, he was a Safety Officer aboard Princess Cruises. Somewhere on board the Pacific Princess in Tahiti, I first remember him standing in dress uniform in one of the ship's bars regaling others with tales from cruising and a life at sea. I remember him recasting anecdotes--misbegotten burials at sea that involved sacks of potatoes, ships' propellers, and the inevitable persons-who-go-missing-from-ships-and-are-never-seen-again. As a Safety Officer, he was in a position to have seen and experienced just about everything there was to experience at sea. Somewhere between French Polynesia and the Hawaiian Islands there was Valentine's Day, a luminous full moon, and the requisite Crossing the Line ceremonies when we passed over the Equator.
The last time I saw him, it was Alaska aboard Sky Princess in the last days of summer 1992. We spent an evening in a bar in Juneau together after the ship's two senior officers, David Lumb and Roger Knight, couldn't agree on something. On a rainy Juneau night, Bill escorted me into town and we had a lovely evening standing up at a downtown tavern watching others shoot pool. Bill was first class company and a lot of fun. I remember him trying to protect me from the rain as I clip-clopped my way back to the ship in blue suede heels, magnificently inappropriate footwear for the Juneau rain.
William (Bill) Kent, of Lincolnshire, England, joined P&O (Peninsular & Orient), Princess Cruises' original parent company, in 1974 as a deck cadet, and served on a number of P&O/Princess ships over the years following. After training in Liverpool, he was promoted to the rank of Third Officer, and moved up the chain of command from there. As Safety Officer, he was in charge of passenger and crew safety drills, abandon ship procedures, crew safety training, and supervision of ships' tenders.
Since 2004, he has been elevated to the position of Captain aboard Princess Cruises, taking his first command aboard the Regal Princess. He holds the rank of Commander in the Royal Navy Reserve, specializing in amphibious operations and surface warfare. Currently, Captain William Kent has command of the Royal Princess as she does her 2009 World Cruise.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
If you wander halfway up the globe from the Equator, then a quarter way around the globe from the Prime Meridian, 45' N 90' W, you find yourself nestled in the pines of north central Wisconsin in a community that might be a million miles from anywhere, a place where lumber barons established empires and insurance companies dot the landscape, where dairy farmers mingle with industrialists.
Wausau. The faraway place.
It was in that faraway place, on a quiet street atop a hillside overlooking the city, that I became familiar with a tall, stately woman who would change the landscape of the community forever.
Caroline Schumann Mark.
Caroline could be unassuming, but she was compassionate, powerful, a force of nature, a force for good. She was the widow at the end of the street, and we frequently enjoyed her company for cocktails with mutual friends, now gone. There, perched above the twinkling lights of the city in little jewel boxes, we'd talk about times past, people past, ice in cocktail glasses on crocheted coasters, little bowls of nuts. Deer grazed beneath picture windows. Spring gave way to fall.
Sadly, Caroline is also now gone. But her legacy in the community is permanent.
Caroline Schumann Mark was born to Florence Ford Schumann and John J. Schumann, Jr. of Montclair, New Jersey. Her father was president of General Motors Acceptance Corporation, and her mother's father was one of the founders of IBM. Together, her parents formed The Florence and John J. Schumann Foundation (now the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy), whose primary stated purpose is to renew the democratic process through cooperative acts of citizenship. One of the directors of that foundation has been journalist Bill Moyers, who has served as its President. Caroline graduated from The Madeira School for Girls in Maclean, Virginia, in 1936.
Like her parents, Caroline's legacy is one of committed philanthrophy, unparalleled in the community. Along with her late husband, William (Bill) Mark, they worked tirelessly for the local Red Cross, the Boys and Girls Club, and countless other organizations in Wausau and elsewhere. The Wausau Conservatory of Music, the Performing Arts Foundation, and the Community Foundation were all enriched by her generosity. There's a Caroline S. Mark Recital Hall at the Conservatory, a Caroline S. Mark Gallery of Art at the Grand Theater, and a Caroline S. Mark Center for Students with Disabilities at Northcentral Technical College.
In the shadow of Rib Mountain, at the confluence of rivers, a community will never be the same because of one woman, whose name is literally everywhere, and whose memory, hopefully, will never be forgotten.
Caroline Schumann Mark, 1918-2002.
(Special thanks to the Wausau Daily Herald for the Caroline Mark photograph.)
Thursday, March 12, 2009
It's amazing the number of places a person can live in during college days. . .dorm rooms with six people, dorm rooms with two, apartments off-campus, hanging off of hillsides or just around the bend, basement apartments in old brick homes, and nice duplexes a drive away.
I did all of that, at one time or another, harvesting a number of fascinating roommates.
I won't soon forget the first day I met Mary K. Stout. She was living already in an apartment where I moved in, sort of a basement for five, six if you really pushed it.
She had a room filled with shoes. Imelda Marcos truly had nothing on her. And she had a yellow duvet cover on her twin-sized bed, with butterflies on it. The room smelled of shoes and duvet. She seemed an unlikely candidate for any particular fame, but she was clearly a lovely person, a few years older than I, working on an advanced degree in organizational behavior and business.
I didn't take much particular notice until another roommate told me that I should pay attention to Mary Kay's purse.
It was a Coach bag. I'd never seen one before, being a neophyte from the sticks of Wyoming, where I'm sure at that time Coach bags were a fairly endangered species. Wait. To be endangered they'd have to have been there at all. Pretty sure that wasn't the case. Wyoming was then a Coach-free zone, I can almost with surety swear.
Anyway, roommate #2 said Mary Kay's father had been someone famous, part-owner of the California Angels, a famous attorney, and Mary Kay was reasonably well heeled.
I wouldn't have known it. I was lost in a maze of shoes and duvet.
But, as I said, Mary Kay was lovely, salt of the earth. Would take her shirt off for you if you were cold. Would pay for an airline ticket for you if your father was dying, and not expect repayment.
Yes, Mary Kay. I haven't forgotten.
Mary Kay never really seemed Provo. She was really all East Coast meets California, but not the places in-between. Washington, D.C.? Yes. LA? Yes. But not Provo.
Well, I had a lot of adventures with Mary Kay, and she was very much like a big sister to me for the time I knew her. But that was a lifetime ago. I learned a lot observing her. She wrote the numbers on her own checks, so not to pay a monthly service charge. She was the first person I knew who had a money market account. She knew who was consulting for Mars, and how they were paying for their homes. She had a brother-in-law on the Anthropology Department faculty at BYU, for whom she frequently housesat. And paid bills in their absence. She worked on handicapped accessibility for businesses. She was a good friend to those who knew her.
Mary Kathryn Stout.
There's a scene from the movie "About a Boy" that always reminds me, in the oddest of ways, of Mary Kay. It's the scene where Hugh Grant's character admits that his claim to fame, and his means of support, is that his father wrote a very famous Christmas song, "Santa's Super Sleigh."
I randomly associate that fictitious anecdote with Gene Autry, who was for all practical purposes Mary Kay's godfather, since her father, attorney Clair Stout, was Gene Autry's personal attorney and business partner, famous in both D.C. and L.A. at one time or another, vice-president of The Autry Foundation.
Mary Kay disappeared from my life. Last I knew she was in L.A., doing consulting. Her mom had built a huge new home.
But perusing the pages of a Salt Lake City newspaper some months ago, I came across this article, about a woman, celebrating her 100th birthday: "Spry, Stout Lady Marks Milestone." The story was later picked up by USA Today.
It was my Mary Kay's mother, Iris Stout. Mary Kay, if you're out there, I wonder, like I do about the star, where you are. I'm here. And I'm okay.
Oh, and I know a lot more about Coach bags now. A lot more.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
When I knew Lisa, she was part of a set.
A newlywed. Lisa Bickmore. Part of Steve and Lisa Bickmore. Salt and pepper shakers.
Part of a set.
One never saw the one without the other. One never thought of the one without the other.
Of all the people who made up that wild assemblage of characters I loosely refer to as the "Fifth Floor Study Group" from my college days in the late '70's, Steve and Lisa were the only couple we thought of entirely in the singular.
Lisa was married to my roommate's cousin. Although they were both studying English, they seemed an unlikely pair. Lisa was far more bohemian, and Steve was all about Vegas.
The most notable thing about Lisa was always her irreverence. For the time and place, it was striking.
I still have a very vivid image stuck forever in my mind of her telling all of us what her new favorite word was, a four-letter word that was very out-of-place for the the university in which she'd chosen to study. To hear it now in the wider universe might not be as jarring, but there, in the late 1970s, in Utah County, Utah, it was a pistol shot. It wasn't The Big Lebowski. It was Provo. She was audacious, and amazing.
I remember the last time I saw Lisa, with her Steve. I had one piece of a mystery, and they had been given the other, by the same person. Apparently, the person who shared half-a-gossip with them didn't count on them running into me with the other half-a-piece. Mystery solved. Was that cryptic enough for you? I hope so. There were baby carriages, and state fairs, and literature, and stories.
Lisa's personality seemed to me far too large for the salt-and-pepper set, far too large even for the corner of the omniverse she inhabited. She should have been in the Village during the Beat Generation, or San Francisco in the Summer of Love, Paris as an expatriate.
She left the set. But not the name.
Lisa Orme Bickmore.
Lisa Orme Bickmore is a published poet, especially well known for her collection of poems published as "Haste" in 1994 by Signature Books. Her works have appeared in scholarly and literary publications, including Quarterly West and Mudfish. She is a professor of English in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Lovely bohemian. Lovely Lisa.
I still remember your favorite word.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Less than three short weeks after my seventeenth birthday, I gave the valedictory address at my high school graduation in Wyoming.
Two weeks later, I was off to college four hours away, as a very young freshman studying Interior Design and Philosophy at BYU, green, naive, impressionable, and very wide-eyed about being on a campus of 25,000 students when I had just graduated top in a class of 29.
I was a last-minute addition to summer term that year, having been awarded a scholarship to come early, in addition to the Presidential Scholarship they had already given me (at the time, the top scholarship, historically named after the current LDS Church President, was offered only to men, much to the chagrin of my father).
On the recommendation of a friend, I moved into an apartment at Campus Plaza for the summer, just off campus, where six of us, two from Boston, two from Salt Lake, an Arizonian and I, were crammed together in a very small space, with four beds in one bedroom and two in the other. One of my roommates, somewhat older, had graduated from Hillcrest High School in Salt Lake City, and thought it would be a splendid idea if I'd write to a friend and former classmate of hers from high school who was at the time serving as a missionary in in upstate New York, Rochester and Palmyra.
She pulled out her yearbook and showed me a picture. He seemed nice enough, with strong, chiseled features and piercing eyes; her description of him as a friend was equally persuasive, and I was happy to oblige.
I enjoyed the letters exchanged for the next few months. Sterling was a gifted writer and a faithful correspondent, and clearly had leadership skills. He was at the time assistant to the president of the mission, and when then LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball made a visit to the mission, Sterling had much to do with the arrangements. I still recall his words from that time.
Sterling returned to BYU after his mission and completed his studies, active in student government. He went on to get a master's degree in business and entered the world of finance.
In his lifetime, Sterling has been a financial analyst for Ford Motor Company and Portfolio Manager for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Investment Department, in addition to managing trusts and investments for various other firms. He is currently Regional Managing Director for Wells Capital Management, a division of Wells Fargo & Company, responsible for over $4 billion in combined assets under management. He is recognized as a leading investment and finance authority in the Intermountain West.
Sunday, March 1, 2009
At the corner of US Highway 189 and the main street in my hometown of Big Piney, Wyoming, there's a garage that opened in 1912 or thereabouts, when only two motorcars had even made their way to that particular corner of the sagebrush, A. W. Smith's Pierce Arrow and Gull Whitman's Ford.
In its strategic location at the corner of the two most important roads in the community, it served a growing population of those who'd given up four-legged transportation for that powered by the treasured fossil fuels under their feet.
Along the way, one of the proprietors of the Big Piney Garage was Irwin Covey, who'd taken over from Walter Yose, Sr. after he'd taken over from the original owners, Lawrence Bess and Gull Whitman. Along with his wife Louise, he ran what we all affectionately called "Covey's" at 101 Front Street.
At some point, he offered his son-in-law the chance to join him in his business, but his daughter Patti's husband decided to take a teaching job instead in a Utah school district, and the rest, as they say, is history.
La Vell Edwards.
Saying the name "LaVell Edwards" in Utah is like saying the name "Vince Lombardi" in Wisconsin. In 1972 he was offered the head coaching position at BYU football, a role he filled until 2000. At the time of his retirement, the team ranked sixth in all-time victories. He moved the BYU Cougar football program into a passing-dominated game, and had such notable quarterbacks as Jim McMahon and Steve Young under his wing. He completed the 1984 season 13-0, and was named National Coach of the Year that year after he led the Cougars to a National Championship. Prior to his final game in 2000, the BYU football stadium was renamed LaVell Edwards Stadium in his honor.
LaVell could have joined his father-in-law at the garage in Big Piney. But he chose a different path. College football will never be the same.