Thursday, December 7, 2017

Navasota Theatre Alliance Brings Christmas Spirit with Hilarity in "A Tuna Christmas"

The mere mention that Navasota Theatre Alliance was staging "A Tuna Christmas" was sufficient impetus to grab tickets on whatever night they'd be available. Just a hint of the opportunity to enjoy this play made it a sold-out event for every performance before the debut. The brilliance of three creatives--Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard--created the characters, and I do mean characters, of Tuna, Texas, and you'll meet a total of 22 characters (portrayed by just four actors) in "A Tuna Christmas."

Hilarious writing makes for some of the most rib-splitting monologues. Four actors, J. Paul Teel, Scott McDuffie, David Brown, and Kevin Parker offered their talents and created theatre magic. They were larger than life in dead-on delivery of rapid-fire dialogue so fast that it would bring a tear to Aaron Sorkin's eyes. Director Mark Taylor was perfect in capturing every aspect of this performance to stay true to the original.

If you're a veteran of Tuna, you know the slogan of Didi's Used Weapons, you know the cause that Petey Fisk makes his own, you know the names of the two girls at the Tasty Creme, and can't stop laughing every time they answer the phone.

J. Paul Teel as Arles Struvie and Scott McDuffie as Bertha Bumiller are brilliant, David Brown knocks it out of the park as all three children in the Bumiller family, and Kevin Parker as Farley (and Phoebe!) Burkhalter had people shaking with laughter.

J. Paul Teel as Petey Fisk said it well, "...Skunks are moody, raccoons are self-centered and wild hogs have a zero success rate as yard pets."

It's hard to pick a favorite character, but of all seven that J. Paul Teel portrayed, probably Didi Snively takes the cake...you will not be able to hold it together when she sings Christmas carols, dripping in long pauses for drags on her imaginary cigarettes...when she swears, I swear you are going to lose it.

I'd always heard what a great actor he is, but this was my first time to see him in action. Scott McDuffey expertly delivered the rapid speech of Thurston Wheelis, and yet he seemed like an entirely separate actor when portraying Aunt Pearl Burras.

Costuming was brilliant, hilarious, and you will just have to see for yourself, because I'm not giving a thing away for all the rest of the sold-out audiences to enjoy if they're Tuna newbies.

Staging was genius--sets were minimalist but convincing. Transitions between scenes were nothing short of expert. I've never seen knock down and set up move so fast, and it took only two people less than one minute between acts, barely enough time for costume changes you'd think.

After the show my friends and I decided that the beauty of the superb story tonight rested in the message that all of us who exist in a small town or separate microcosm of the universe live and work here, flawed as we are, gifted as we are, hopeful as we are, and sometimes just trying to get through the day know one thing to be true....at the end of the road is always love, compassion, caring, understanding and...peace.

As Mark Taylor ends his show notes, the way Petey ends his Christmas PSA, ..."Peace on Earth, good will to everybody. I never get tired of hearing that." Neither do we, Petey. Neither do we.

Bad news: This show is sold out. 100%. Every night from here forward. All you can do is get to the theatre and pray someone is a no show. By the way, snow didn't stop anyone from getting to the theatre on time. Every seat was filled.

Special thanks to the primary sponsor of this show, Trinity Heads, Inc. in Navasota--if you've ever set foot in a chemical plant, you know that a head is an expertly designed and manufactured pressure vessel cover...Trinity Heads leads the industry and they're based right there in Navasota. Additional funding came from the Hotel Tax Revenue funded through the City of Navasota through their Arts Council of Navasota. Many individuals contribute from $35 to over $5,000 a year supporting this organization.

Special recognition is due to Navasota city leaders (and the Navasota Grimes County Chamber of Commerce) for making their population of around 7500 blow the doors off the arts...nonprofits are thriving there. You know there's something special when people will drive 30-40 mins from here to be there. They also host their annual state-of-the-art legendary Navasota Blues Festival there. Don't look now, but they are doing some serious trailblazing over there. B-CS is truly grateful for everything they offer to all of us to enjoy. You keep doing what you're doing and we'll drive over to be with you for it. We will, we will.

To join the group of people who loves what they're doing, visit www.navasotatheatre.org. Navasota Theatre Alliance and Tuna, Texas-- a winning combination.

It is. It is. It is. It is. ....It is! Bravo to all.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Walt Disney and Buddy Ebsen — Two of a Kind from Frontierland to Happily Ever After

Walter Elias “Walt” Disney was born 116 years ago today. In 1901 our country was in the Second Industrial Revolution, or “Technological Revolution,” and the United States was about to experience major changes in how things were made. At this exciting time of exploring the unknown, time, creativity, and imagination were three of the most important assets anyone could have.

The first cartoon or animated film was credited to Emile Cohl, a French animator in 1908, the same year Christian Ludolf “Buddy” Ebsen was born. In 1928, at age 27, Walt Disney released “Steamboat Willie,” featuring the product of his wonderful imagination: Mickey Mouse.

Eight years later, Buddy Ebsen would star alongside his sister Vilma Ebsen and Eleanor Powell in “Broadway Melody of 1936.” In the iconic YouTube clip, Buddy is proudly wearing a Mickey Mouse sweater as he sang and danced his way into American’s hearts, never then realizing what was to come.

In 1937, according to an article in D23, the Disney publication, “Walt Disney hired Buddy to demonstrate a dance routine; the dance was filmed, and Walt’s crew analyzed the action, frame by frame, to devise a way to animate a nine-inch figure with the same movements.”

The endeavor was called “Project Little Man” and morphed into Disney’s “Audio-Animatronics®” that would become the precursor for Disney theme park exhibits including “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.” In “To Dad with Love: Finding Buddy Ebsen,” Kiki remembers that when Buddy would take the children to Disneyland, he paused for the longest time, reflecting at the Mr. Lincoln exhibit, yet never saying a word to them about his role in the entire process.

The blog “The Wonder of Miniatures” recently shared this photo and the story from a plaque in the Walt Disney Imagineering Collection.

Buddy and Walt enjoyed a personal friendship as well as a great professional relationship. Here’s a photo where Buddy is showing Walt Disney and others a few dance steps, with Walt trying them out.

In 1954, Walt Disney wanted Buddy Ebsen to act in a new project he was developing, considered him for the title role of Davy Crockett, in a series of TV adventures about one of his favorite folk heroes. Then, Walt saw a young actor, Fess Parker, in a two-minute scene in “Them,” a movie about an army of giant mutant ants, which starred James Arness. Soon after, Fess “became” Davy and Buddy was re-cast as Georgie Russel, Davy’s right-hand man, a journalist.

In all, there were five hour-long television episodes of “Frontierland,” introduced by Walt Disney in 1954/1955). The shows included “Davy Crockett: Indian Fighter,” “Davy Crockett Goes to Congress,” “Davy Crockett at the Alamo,” “Davy Crockett’s Keelboat Race,” and “Davy Crockett and the River Pirates.”

Ultimately, they were repurposed into two feature-length cinema films (one was “Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier” (1955), and “Davy Crockett and the River Pirates”), expanding the Davy Crockett craze.

Little boys from California to New York were running around in their coonskin caps, just like Davy. Record albums featured more “Davy Crockett” songs and themes, Fess Parker “received 10% of the merchandising for Disney coonskin caps and Old Betsy toy rifles,” and Buddy continued to work regularly toward his next big break, which would come via “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

On the opening day of Disneyland, July 17, 1955, Walt Disney had Fess Parker, Buddy Ebsen, Ronald Reagan, and Art Linkletter on hand to welcome the crowd. Part of the ceremony is featured in this video.

As you’ll see, Walt read the dedication:

Frontierland. It is here that we experience the story of our country’s past. The color, romance, and drama of frontier America as it developed from wilderness trails to roads, riverboats, railroads, and civilization. A tribute to the faith, courage, and ingenuity of our hearty pioneers who blazed the trails and made this progress possible.

There’s a charming story told by Grenade Curran, who was a general factotum at Disneyland, about this picture, taken before the grand opening in July 1955 (L to R: Fess Parker, Walt Disney, and Buddy Ebsen).

Buddy also appeared as Sheriff Matt Brady in “Corky and the White Shadow” in 1956, and he was on the “Mickey Mouse Club.” All of this happened, by the way, before Buddy’s two youngest children, Kiki and Dustin, were even born.

On March 3, 1967, an article in Kittanning, PA’s Simpson Leader-Times (among other UPI papers) ran Vernon Scott’s story, noting “Buddy Ebsen will take time out from his highly rated “Beverly Hillbillies” series to star in the last picture on which Walt Disney’s name will be seen as producer. The story went on to note that “…It was Walt Disney who prepared and engineered every detail of his final movie,”…“The One and Only Genuine, Original Family Band” (released March 1968) as “the sort of family entertainment with which both Disney and Ebsen have been identified for three decades.

Aired first in December, 1988, Episode 19 of the Disney Family Album starred Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen, which you can see here, narrated by Buddy.

In 1993, Ebsen was inducted as a Film and Television Disney Legend, together with others who were honored for Animation–Voice, Animation & Imagineering, Film, and Administration contributions.

Here’s a photo by David McNew (all rights reserved to Getty Images) of Buddy with Roy Disney (at the time Vice Chairman of the Walt Disney Company), taken Feb. 8, 2001, in Anaheim, when Disney opened their California Adventure theme park.

Walt Disney was born in Hermosa, Illinois, on December 5, 1901, and died on December 15, 1966, having just turned 65 years old. Buddy Ebsen was born April 2, 1908, about 175 miles away, in Bellevue, Illinois. He died on July 6, 2003, at the age of 92. The world of fun family entertainment has benefited for over 50 years of combined creativity of young men who saw opportunities to pursue their passion for entertainment, love of music and dancing, and with dedication and hard work, two legends were made.

The opportunities that Walt Disney gave Buddy Ebsen to showcase his talents defined his future and his eventual career as an internationally beloved actor. Even more would Disney impact the Ebsen family. Daughter Kiki graduated in Vocal Performance from California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), which was founded in 1961, by Walt and Roy Disney, when they merged two schools together. The Disney family would be a major funding source to launch CalArts into its ranking as “America’s top college for students in the arts by Newsweek.”

At the time, Walt said, “CalArts is the principal thing I hope to leave when I move on to greener pastures. If I can help provide a place to develop the talent of the future, I think I will have accomplished something.” He did. The Disney Company and all of the wonderful interactions between Buddy and Walt are featured prominently in “To Dad with Love: A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen.” A brief video EPK follows:

Kiki Ebsen’s theatre show features her vocals and storytelling, with exquisite multimedia by videographer brother Dustin Ebsen. Three musicians accompany her on the songs that span seven decades of their father’s career. The show concludes with the final image of the full-page ad that The Disney Company took out upon Buddy’s passing: it’s a drawing of Mickey Mouse, shedding a tear.

Today, we celebrate the 116th anniversary of Walt Disney’s birth. His phenomenal imagination and creative live on for many generations to come and as Kiki says, “Just because someone is out of your life, doesn’t mean they’re out of your life.” Truth.

by Dawn Lee Wakefield and Kiersten Ebsen

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Remembering David Cassidy: Actor, Musician, Songwriter, Dead at 67

Late Tuesday evening, Nov. 21, the New York Times ran the story that confirmed musician David Cassidy had died. Most poignant was the (usually) irrefutable New York Times had two corrections appended at the story’s end for accuracy.

The first error was to correct the spelling of one of David’s half-brothers, Shaun, not Sean; the second was the correct last name of David’s mother, Evelyn Ward (not Wood). As sad as David’s passing is to anyone who ever knew or cared about David as a singer, actor, songwriter, and entertainer, it’s virtually incomprehensible that there was a need for two corrections to facts that any woman over 50 would have been able to answer without Googling.

An even sadder fact is that three other NYT reporters contributed to the story. What does that say about the interest and ability to chronicle a life and legacy of an individual who brought entertainment and distraction to the lives of American (and international) teen fans for decades? It was not like Cassidy’s passing was unexpected, as false news reports had surfaced on Sunday, wrongly quoting his publicist as the source of the news that he’d died that day, “surrounded by family and close friends.”

If you grew up in the 1960s, pre-teen or not-anywhere-near-a-teen yet, you knew who David Cassidy was. Hundreds of issues of Tiger Beat, 16 Magazine, Flip, and other teen-targeted publications ran ever-changing new photos against the backdrop of re-recited family facts and one factoid for fans to take away as “new, exclusive, and tells-all.” Generally the factoids revolved around David’s fave color, the name of his dog, or that he liked to take long walks on the beach as a great first date. Sadly, if you go back and actually read the stories in the archives, you’ll see that the magazines were 95% pictures and 5% text. And as David wrote in his book, he had absolutely no time away from work for long walks on the beach.

What those publications imparted, for teenage girls in those days, was a chance in a million to “meet your idol David Cassidy” or to spend time on the set of The Partridge Family. For teenage boys, the look Cassidy projected was encouraging to those who were not going to be the star athletes of their schools. You didn’t have to spend hours pumping iron; you had to have a ready smile, play a guitar, and have a good haircut and a strand of pooka shells—all four of those achievable by virtually anyone. That was a win-win for teenagers around the world, and thus David Cassidy was welcomed, into homes every week with "The Partridge Family" on television, and blasting from portable stereos, car radios, and lunchroom transistor radios. Anyone who owns a Partridge Family album knew David’s family tree. So, too, do they know many stories inherent in the good and bad aspects of Cassidy’s life, growing up in a Hollywood cocoon, nestled slightly north of reality and south of crazy.

When you’re a young creative talent who may be surrounded by other children of Hollywood celebrities, from this side of the 90210, it is possible that in life, there comes an inevitable fork in the road with two choices: you either embrace your heritage and go forward in the world of creative expression, ignoring people who accuse you of trading on the family name—-which is an entirely false premise virtually 95% of the time--and, you carve out your identity in entertainment.

The premise also applies outside the entertainment field, as the children of successful business dynasties, legendary sports figures, and those who’ve achieved milestones in public service can readily identify. It’s a blessing when you can learn from your parents to be true to yourself and ignore all the chatter around you. Chatter is low-frequency resonance jealousy. Encouragement is high-frequency energy. David learned that, at least from his mother.

Unquestionably, David Cassidy had been blessed with talent from childhood forward, but he was cursed with people always introducing him as actor Jack Cassidy’s and actress Evelyn Ward’s son and singer/actress Shirley Jones’ stepson, later half-brother to Shaun, Patrick, and Ryan. Fortunately, David had just enough magic in him to do his best to choose his own path and make his way into the business.

It’s ironic that the producers of The Partridge Family were shocked that David could sing, extremely well. In fact, there were early recordings “by” The Partridge Family that didn’t include David at all. The extremely talented studio singers (including Tom Bähler, John Bahler, Jackie Ward, and others) were the voices on the records. One of the best songs recorded before the program aired, which excluded Cassidy, was in the pilot, “Let The Good Times In.”

With the acting skills David Cassidy and Shirley Jones brought to the on-stage performances of the band (ignoring for now the collective lack of skills the youngest performers had at the time), teenage audiences were convinced the actors in fact were actually the ones singing on the tracks. Brilliant editing and massive retakes made it look seamless, as evidenced by this episode that includes “Together (Having a Ball).”

Once again, it’s the voices you love paired with the faces you adore and presto, it’s magic. Studio singers and musicians are who American teenagers owe a very large debt of gratitude to, for the true soundtracks of their lives, and yet, teen magazine covers “sold” the show. The Cowsills themselves were the inspiration, of course, for the show, as the producers have said, but when they went to observe the band in concert, only Susan Cowsill was considered “perfect” and her elder teenage brothers were already considered “too old.”

The television show could easily have become a parody of The Cowsills’ life on the road, the way teleplays can take a true story as inspiration and then ruin it, but the show was a success because it showed a happy family going on the road in show business and succeeding.

Very subjectively, the personality quirks of each sibling made the program unique—the wily con artist, Danny, and beleaguered Ruben Kincaid were worth 1% of the impact, with another 1% for Danny’s red hair. Teenage boys tuned in to see Susan Dey, so that was 3%. And then the success was 5% having the beloved Shirley Jones’ smiling face for credibility affixed to the project, and the other 90% was all David Cassidy’s ability to carry the show on his youthful shoulders.

When producers found out that David could sing, the same session singers joined him and together they blasted “I Think I Love You,” to the top sales spot over The Beatles’ “Let it Be” and Simon and Garfunkel’s, “Bridge over Troubled Water” in 1970. Yet, save for David Cassidy, and one track saved back for Shirley Jones’s voice, occasionally, it was all manufactured magic.

The “real” band included legendary session players: Larry Carlton and Louie Shelton on guitars, Hal Blaine on drums, Joe Osborne and Max Bennett on bass, with Larry Knechtel and Mike Melvoin on keyboards and harpsichord. Hal Blaine said, “We put on our teenage thinking caps when they said ‘bubblegum’ and we knew exactly where we were going bubblegum-wise.” Millions and millions of records sales later, there is a substantial discography.

How many present-day surgeons, lawyers, senators, business executives and public servants today aren’t reflecting in quiet solitude today, a little bit sadder, knowing their former teen idol is now gone? How many of them owned some of these albums? How many of the same group of people purchased teen magazines faithfully and plastered photos from inside the magazines onto your pre-teen and teenage bedroom walls? No one is looking, but hands in the air now.

Across Facebook today, if you had a dollar for everyone who has shared their remorse and intense sorrow for the loss of David Cassidy from this world, you could fund California’s educational expenses for a year. It’s hit everyone hard. Yet, why is that?

The common denominator behind the myriad of emotions surrounding David Cassidy’s death as it reveals itself through the rest of the day is: a fond, fast holding-on to the days of our youth. First crush, first love, first time you set a goal and tried to accomplish it—the successful achievement of all these elements requires someone on the other side looking back at you, telling you what you need and want to hear. You are loved, you are respected, you are appreciated.

In fact, this theme was internationally true, as seen in the YouTube featuring the photo of the Japanese pressing, “Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted.” Here, we hear the singing and spoken words of David Cassidy, who broke through young girls’ feelings of inadequacy, offering understanding, identification and validation, the most common of human needs.

Four years of David Cassidy’s life were invested, spent, enriched and wasted (depending on your and his perspectives) on “The Partridge Family.” The same contract you make with Hollywood to make you a star often has hidden clauses that can present difficult challenges in life, which primarily center around when you’re not in the same vehicle that made you famous.

Celebrity, the omnipresent two-edged sword of joy and sorrow simultaneously, brings with it great responsibility. Wherever you go in public, someone sees you and they have a reaction. Some fail to keep their reactions to themselves; instead, they feel they must share them. Publicists and publications offer normal people the opportunity to become famous. The more times you see a name and a face, the more people know you. Television propels that recognition to the nth degree.

The David Cassidy phenomenon would not have been possible without people who live in the same homes they’ve always lived in, raised their families, and mow the lawns around. TV producers, writers, musicians, songwriters, record producers, singers, makeup artists, set dressers, key grips, best boys, lighting gaffers—every single one of these television production professionals plays a key role in creating the image that people come to love.

With the right script, an actor can appear to be onscreen precisely what he or she is nothing like in real life. With the right song, an average musician can use their talents and turn the song into a good one. With the right song, superb musicians can create gifts of musical memories to imprint permanently on the minds and in the hearts of listeners around the world.

Music therapy is what it is because when words fail, music remembers. When words hurt, music heals. Where there is loss, music supplies texture and strength to fill in where there are holes. David Cassidy healed many hearts with his smile and his talents.

Years ago, I began reading David’s 2007 book, “Could it be Forever? David Cassidy: My Story.” I got through about the first ten chapters and tossed it down on my desk, disgusted with the litany of nameless, faceless conquests, out-of-control episodes and such detailed sorrow and pain that he endured as a famous television idol. Of course, he made a deal with the powers that be to be exactly that person. Yes, there were excesses that can be described typical for one given access to wealth and power too soon, but it's hypocritical to judge when I was one of those people who watched the show, enjoyed the music and have at least one Partridge Family album in my collection. I bought the softcover book for about $5.00 in a Half-Price Books & Records store. Today on amazon.com this exact edition is going for $100.31. What a difference a day, or 3,650 of them, makes.

Genetically, David Cassidy couldn’t win for losing. From his mother and his maternal grandfather, clearly now, we know his dementia was inherited, exacerbated and accelerated possibly by youthful lifestyle excesses, not my diagnosis to make. From his father, whose proclivities for arrogance, decadence, and jealousy at the successes of his own progeny was embarrassing to see play out.

However, that notwithstanding, four handsome, talented sons arrived, thanks to Jack and, aside from David’s struggles, Shaun, Patrick and Ryan have been grounded in success, but have (to the public eye) escaped the sad excesses that come when other people own your soul. And still, for Jack Cassidy, the world revolved around, of course, Jack Cassidy. Life’s tough and then you are best remembered for an episode of "Columbo" that was better than most of his body of work.

David Cassidy tried to escape the music rollercoaster, several times in fact. He tried acting and was good at it. With his adult image came stylish suits, and the days of teen idolhood were far behind him. On Feb. 27, 2013, the camera opened up on CBS’s “CSI” and there was David Cassidy, as Peter Coe, a professional poker player, entering an elevator, where he was awaiting an uncertain fate.

Beyond all irony, the music in the elevator playing in the scene was Gary Puckett singing “Young Girl.” It was hard enough that David’s Peter Coe was just about to lose his life, he had to have “the competition” singing as he got killed. Some screenwriter or producer was surely having his or her own private joke. I guess you couldn’t use “Together” or “I Think I Love You” there anyway, but still…you’d think. Perhaps not. Ultimately, though, in the past many years, David Cassidy joined tours that were considered "bubblegum" and was paired with others who were concurrent teen idols, including Micky Dolenz and Mark Lindsay, the three of them sharing time on TV and in bands that were professionally augmented for varying periods of time, until the teens gained new footing breaking out and going solo from the bands that brought them first fame.

On Feb. 18, 2017, a friend saw David Cassidy’s final concert at The Canyon Club in Agoura Hills, California. As she always shares concert fun with friends on Facebook, she often live broadcasts and that night as she did, friends saw a man on stage who looked disheveled. To be present for that final concert was something unknown to all those in the audience that night. I remember the feeling of being at what would later be called one of Davy Jones’ last three concerts in 2012 before he died. Perhaps we realize our own mortality, as defined by those whose talents were shared as you grew up.

As he announced that “2017 is the last year that he was going to be playing and touring…c’mon, 49 years…the world was a different place in 1970.” Listen for yourself. Most of the audience chalked it up to Cassidy being drunk; given that he’d had several DUIs in recent times, that was an easy assumption to make. Was he drunk? Was he fighting to remember what he wanted to say? Was he both? Not our call to make.

Importantly, he told the story of how he almost quit “The Partridge Family” because the producers wanted him to do a song with a middle, spoken part, and he thought it was absolutely not the right thing to do. Turned out to be one of this biggest hits, “Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted” and again, that was the question virtually every teenage and preteen girl could respond, “Yes, we do” to.

Producers knew their audience and market; David Cassidy knew what was cool and what wasn’t. Royalty and residual checks are not sufficient balm on the wound when you’re 22 years old, playing a high school teenager, and you want to be taken seriously as an adult, but you’re 5’6” and you look 17.

Which brings us back to February 18, at the Canyon Club. Video notes from a frequent YouTube poster claimed that “immediately after the show, the Dr. Phil television show film crew interviewed David Cassidy backstage, then recorded audience attendees’ reaction to the evening’s performance.

“The Dr. Phil Show” was broadcast on March 1, 2017, an exclusive interview and if adult businesspeople all of a sudden took a late lunch hour that day to watch this show, you’d know how many people cared about David Cassidy’s well-being. As usual Dr. Phil was probing, yet gentle, as he posed his questions, for David’s tearful answers.

The most poignant message shared (paraphrasing) was that David told his son, Beau, when you see me become like my mother (Evelyn) is now, please find a way to let me go. He didn’t want his son to relive what he had to live through, watching his mother disintegrate. Of course, Beau never took that to heart.

As I’ve checked into Facebook and Twitter, throughout this morning and now into the afternoon, it’s surprising that David Cassidy is not a “trending topic” on either social media outlet. I’m no expert on personal feeds and what shows trending to each person, if there’s a major difference, what with all their mysterious algorithms and advertisements, and yet, on Facebook, what’s trending now does not include the man who sold over 30,000,000 records.

His was an unpleasant disease; his was a decline and demise that robbed him of his soul, and while one can argue that a lifestyle lived to “beyond barriers of good sense” can accelerate and destroy chances of a normal life, you can’t fight genetics. Theoretically the dementia was inevitable. The tragedy was that it came far too soon for a young man who still had years of life left to watch his son continue to grow up.

David has a daughter, Katie, who grew up in Calabasas, CA. She’s a lovely actress (raised by her mother, model Sherry Williams, and her stepfather), who is now age 30, and unmistakably has her father’s green eyes. Her given name is Katherine Evelyn Anita Cassidy, and she’s worked continuously on the CW network (Melrose Place, Supernatural, Gossip Girl, and back for her fifth year of “Arrow”). Plus, she’s been in a few music videos.

Katie once recorded “I Think I Love You.” Hey, why not? It’s all about trying to earn a living in a town that grants approval on a temporary basis and offers the opportunity to make you a star, or a pauper, in a moment’s notice. These are the two options with success and failure that she understands well already. She watched it from the front row. To win, though, is divine, and that's what keeps everyone going in life, the quest for success.

Speaking of money, Cassidy had a multitude of financial difficulties and trials that are lesser known than the lyrics and melodies that everyone knows by heart. He battled each trial with bravery, working any job his agent could get him, to earn the money and climb back out of bankruptcy. It’s in comprehensible to the average fan that a man whose collective work sold over a reported 30,000,000 records can be bankrupt. And yet, business insiders understand well what things cost to keep up appearances. He loved thoroughbred racing and eventually married a woman he met through mutual horse friends, and while horses brought him great joy, not only did their expense and upkeep cost a fortune, so did his ultimate divorce from that unfortunate union. He exited with about $1,000 and two suitcases to his name, in his version of that experience. Still, he remained upbeat and happy to be working.

Fans did their part, though, in buying tickets and showing up wherever David Cassidy performed over the last decade. On Sunday when it was falsely reported that David had died (ah, the Internet twerps) I picked up the book that had a fairly thick coast of dust along its side, as it was being used as one of five books used to raise the level of a desk lamp, so I began to scan the book again.

I learned that even when he was at his lowest financially, he turned down the opportunity to make $500,000 because of the source of the funds. Cassidy had integrity and relevant values, even when no one was looking to applaud the choice. He met an agent who’d been a fan and explained that “he was basically a mess” but she took him on as a client and he began to work again.

His marriages are not a matter of great interest and really none of our business, but he seemed to have had his best life when married to Sue Shifrin. Sue is a songwriter who wrote (or cowrote) several successful chart hits for Cliff Richard, Musical Youth, Patti Austin, Peabo Bryson, and the Al Jarreau song, “So Good.” Shifrin is, truly, so good. [And yes, that’s Kiki Ebsen on the keyboards and vocals among Al’s on-stage galaxy of stars.]

Sue and David created a good life together, wrote songs together, and had their son, Beau, now age 25, who was their best creation in their marriage.

Their marriage lasted 23 years, through 2014, which is about when David’s public image began resurfacing as “troubled.” And yet, he still kept trying to work, pay bills, and keep on going.

That work ethic would lead him to Feb. 18th’s Canyon Club finale. He tried to tell a story; people kept up incessant chatter. He tried to perform and with a great band behind him, he made it through several songs.

In the end, though, my friend who’d adored David Cassidy and who was at The Canyon Club, couldn’t bear to keep her videos up on Facebook and took them down the next day, crushed because things were not as they used to be, not as she hoped for, not how she remembered them.

Perhaps it would be of some comfort to know that most of David’s happiest days were when he was with Sue Shifrin. Sue writes:

…in general, we’re just supposed to be together. We’re still standing after 20 years and I can’t believe it. It’s gone so fast. I just love his spirit. I love the fact that he’s a survivor. I love the fact that no matter how hard he gets kicked, he gets up. And he’s been kicked really hard. I’ve been around it, and I’ve seen it and my heart has bled for him. But he always managed to get back up. I tell him all the time, ‘You remind me of the Terminator. You’re like the steel skelton.’ He has miraculously survived a life that has been a huge rollercoaster.

Truer words can’t be found to sum up his impact in his life of 67 years, lived out loud and large on television. David’s words follow Sue’s in his book. And they are the only thing that bring tears to my eyes today as I understand them to a level that defies boundary:

The way that Sue and I evaluate someone is, Would you climb a mountain with them? And, if you were slipping, would they reach down and say, Come on, I got you? The more willing you are to care for your family and make sacrifices for the people you love, the better you become as a human being. You become a more well-rounded person and look at life from different perspectives. I had gotten myself out of debt. I had rebuilt my soul and spirit and physical and mental health. I started on a journey as a parent that’s been an unexpected gift and joy and I now find that my family is the most important element in my life. And that includes my brothers, my nephews, my nieces, my sisters-in-law, my cousins and my mother. My mother, sadly, is now suffering from a horrible disease that none of us is immune to—dementia. I support her, take care of her, see her as often as possible. I know how important she has been in my life. My heart breaks daily for her and for others who have endured this painful disease.

I had never visited David’s web site before, but today I went there and saw where his web team admin had posted news of his passing. I scrolled down to Aug. 9th’s post, and in his message to fans, it is written:

I am saddened by news of the death of an old friend, Glen Campbell. He will be missed. Glen, in the past decade, has been suffering from the disease that killed my mother and my grandfather, Alzheimer’s/dementia. Glen was a great musician, guitar player, singer and all-around great guy. May God rest his soul. David.

When Glen Campbell passed away, he was a social media trending topic. In fairness, today America remembers the assassination of President John F. Kennedy that happened 54 years ago and other items the algorithms are promoting. Missing in action, sadly though, is David Cassidy, among the trending topics. Somehow, though, that’s alright, too. David Cassidy never really wanted to be a trending topic. In fact, perhaps he would have disliked a fuss being made over his passing.

Instead, we choose to remember David Cassidy’s words: "Would you climb a mountain with them? And, if you were slipping, would they reach down and say, Come on, I got you?"

Rather than end with a 1970s version of David’s music, here’s “Tell Me It’s Not True” from the play “Blood Brothers,” a successful project that David convinced Shaun to take time away, as a busy screenwriter working on a film for Universal, and come perform with him. Fortunately, Shaun’s schedule permitted, and this beautiful song remains as an example of two siblings, climbing a mountain together.

Rest in peace, David Cassidy, and thanks for sharing your talents with us.

P.S. To the New York Times writers and editors, please take a moment to confirm the accuracy of your details in reporting. Seriously. You’re supposed to be a benchmark for journalism.

[Photo credits: Tiger beat; 16 Magazine; David and Sue; David, Sue, and Beau; David and Evelyn; David and Katie] ]

Sunday, October 29, 2017

When WAZE Takes You Back 50 Years on Your Way Back Home

Last week provided a splendid reason to travel to San Antonio to briefly revisit lifelong friendships with two schoolmates in a quick up-and-back trip. As a dear friend reminded me recently, "Never miss something important that only happens once." I've been holding fast to those wise words for weeks now. Love how that's working out. With planning, everything you need to do still gets done, but you don't have to miss things and regret them later. And a phone app called WAZE would make the journey easier and do more than that in the course of a day.

Before the fantastic celebration of the arts in San Antonio had started, as Patricia Boyd Contreras and I had seen our dear friend and classmate, Dr. Carmen Tafolla, honored by the City for Distinction in the Arts (more on that later), I sat in reflection. Only three years old in its present updated, yet historic setting, I knew the Tobin Center best as the "Municipal Auditorium."
So, I sat in the Tobin parking lot for a moment...reflecting. The outside of the building bore no resemblance to the "Spanish colonial," as a Texas Monthly writer described it--the Municipal Auditorium I'd grown up seeing. And yet, it was beautiful in its new facade, thanks to HEB Grocery Stores and other donors. Inside the design is brilliant and the iridescent colors are so attractive that it's almost possible to forget what it used to look like.

In that old building I'd first heard the San Antonio Symphony, conducted at the time by Victor Alessandro. We were excited to sit in the comfy, cushy grown-up chairs, surrounded by lush carpet, and hear beautiful music played for hundreds of area schoolchildren. I recall taking new stuffed animals to the U.S. Marines' Toys for Tots concerts there, the price of admission.

It was a precious $3.00 to see The Buckinghams, Sunny and the Sunliners (Sunny Ozona), and Archie Bell and the Drells, and others. My handwritten memo on the back of my Polaroid b/w Swinger camera noted 12/14/69. Many of my pictures that night (including The Buckinghams) had faded, but seeing this one, and the fabulous seats my Mom managed to secure made me remember how magical she was all over again (I do recall her talking to one of the Marines expressing how much I loved all the performers on stage that evening, and...you'd just have to know Mama to know how that stuff happened all the time). Another concert favorite was to hear the Grand Ol' Opry with Ferlin Husky, Little Jimmy Dickens, Miss Minnie Pearl, and Miss Skeeter Davis. That evening I got to meet Skeeter Davis in person (Mama again. Another story, another time.)

I didn't know the word "foreshadowing" at age five, but it would appear that anxiously watching the rise and fall of the red curtain would be part of a very happy future.Those early concerts began my fascination with the amazing world of live concerts by brilliant artists.

That night staring at the powerful neon lighting in the Tobin Center, I saw the past, present, and future of the lives of my friends and my own life, boundless, multiple possibilities beckoning, new challenges inviting. As girls, now women, and all those along our journey, we were told we could be anything we wanted to be. Convention never defined us, barriers were made to be broken, and we went to the school that insisted we could be more than even we had imagined we could be.

It's strange having to consult a map (or my phone) to navigate downtown San Antonio...I used to know exactly where to go by rote. For the first two decades of my life, I knew every twist and turn by landmark for downtown from anywhere. The freeways and side streets were great to navigate, before all the name changes and new routes and subroutes and boom, you're there. Because there's so much construction downtown and on IH-35, I needed options only my mapping app would provide.

For about two years I've been estranged from Google Maps as I've enjoyed the WAZE navigation app, thanks to the recommendation of my friend Nancy. WAZErs are a friendly lot, and alert you to real-time travel conditions. Starting out from The Tobin Center, WAZE offered me three choices home, the total distance traveled and trip length, so I could choose. Much data, several choices.

From the Tobin Center, the first turns would get me to Broadway and then to...oh my gosh, I knew where I was going, and found myself just 2 blocks away from the historic Witherspoon Building at 320 E. Sixth Street. Why is that magical? It's like many other buildings downtown and it's old; therefore it's historic. The apartment at the far corner of the building in the back was my Great Aunt Emma's residence for most of the years I knew her; there had been a little residence on E. Grayson Street, I am pretty sure...at least from the 1960s...all the way until 1991, when she passed away at the age of 98. Now, this is relevant and sort of fascinating (if only to me) for a number of reasons.

Great Aunt Emma and her husband Mitchell had a son, Robert, who died very young due to polio, which was devastating. It was a time of no vaccines and hard economic times. Uncle Mitchell was a house painter by trade, and he died very young, leaving Aunt Emma with no visible means of supporting herself, and no education beyond the school of hard knocks, one of the best teachers of how to work. She was, however, a great seamstress, so that is what she did in her longtime job at the St. Anthony Hotel in SA. Today it's an historic five-star international hotel, but even in the 1960s the hotel was "all that and a bag of chips" in terms of prestige. Many private residences were held by several of S.A.'s most influential businesspersons.

Early on, working at the St. Anthony, Aunt Emma knew she couldn't afford to keep the home she'd shared with Uncle Mitchell, so she decided to rent a more affordable apartment in SA, and one of her coworkers at the hotel, Charlotte, was looking for a room to rent. Charlotte was working as a hostess in the St. Anthony's main dining room. Celebrities traveling to SA always stayed at the St. Anthony, and Charlotte got to meet all of them and they would ask for her by name. Charlotte had been recently divorced from an unhappy marriage and so, as God always seems to know what people need and when, Aunt Emma became a perfect mother figure and Charlotte the good daughter.

The two of them remained friends for their lifetimes, and Charlotte became a joyful part of our extended family, too. Except we never used the term "extended," as she was true family, especially to me. She always had time and attention to share and was always interested in whatever I had to say. By sharing expenses, they managed to do well and Aunt Emma was a faithful saver of money...in her lifetime, she never believed in banks keeping your money safe, because she'd lived through the great depression and remembered when "they had one thin dime to get them through a week"...a dime was enough for bread and milk and that was about it, back then. Aunt Emma taught Charlotte how to save, and I recall, as a child, hearing admonitions, lest anyone think of not saving something that could be reused.

Aunt Emma saved everything she could for reuse, e.g., aluminum foil. She shopped at Kresge's (the ultimate parent company of K-Mart), and bought Dak brand canned hams for $2.89 or so in the 1960s. They made four or five meals out of them. As was a member of 75+ years of Farm and Home Savings & Loan...Aunt Emma received a certificate for that notation. As a child, I didn't see how that was relevant, but Mom congratulated her savings talent and I learned then how important it was to save, for when you might not have income you were counting on having. That lesson I'd learn to value sooner than I'd realize. Today's young people walk into Target or WalMart and they're used to just picking what they want. Few have cause to learn to save allowance for weeks and wait with anxious anticipation for something worth saving, and waiting, for. That saddens me, until I see contemporary parents teaching their children that lesson, and my heart is warmed all over again. It's a miracle this photo of Aunt Emma even exists, but perhaps there was a special at Corona Studios (May 12, 1956) for this beautiful photo to be taken. No matter how it happened, it's a cherished photo.

She took no vacations nor did she travel out of town....not even on the bus. Grandma Daisy came to San Antonio for two weeks, once each year and the first week she spent in SA, staying with us, and we saw her sister, Aunt Emma, every day of that week, then we drove to Galveston for every July 4th on the beach there. Great Aunt Bird (Berta) lived there, and she was Grandma Daisy's half-sister, but Bird raised Daisy in a family of 16 kids...eight from the dad and eight from the mom blending together when the widow married the widower...these brief visits kept the 'family' together.

Great Aunt Emma wasn't long on conversation but she was kind....Charlotte was more talkative and fun to be around, but Aunt Emma had lots and lots of stories about their growing up. I remember a few, a very few, but could kick myself for not paying closer attention. When you're 8 and 9 though...you don't think in those terms anyway.

In the day and time of the 1960s, their rent for that one-bedroom apartment was about $50-$75/month. If you had a down payment for a house, maybe a mortgage payment could run $70-$90/month for a small home, $400/month for a mansion perhaps. Hard to know much about pricing when you're in elementary school. Charlotte had the bedroom and Aunt Emma had her big poster bed, armoir, dressing table and sewing machine, all in the back half of the very large living room.

It seemed such a vast living area...and today's rent there, for the same place, I see online, is $895/month. It had (I hope this is a correct memory) 37 cast iron steps and Aunt Emma marched up and down those steps two and three times a day...which is how she stayed in shape. She walked to the bus stop and took the bus to the St. Anthony, as did Charlotte. It was not ever a safe neighborhood by any standards, really. But when you pray for safety, which they did, safety was there.

The Witherspoon Building was home above the Pep Boys garage underneath...the garage saw a lot of traffic during the daytime but shut down about 6 pm. You could park in the lot directly behind the building. I do remember as a kid learning to be aware of who was around when you went to get in the car, and to first walk all around the car before getting in it, lest someone try to enter from the opposite side and drag you and the car off with them. Yet, it didn't deter Mom (and me, in tow) from visiting Aunt Emma. Mom and Charlotte were both concerned when someone grabbed Aunt Emma's purse and took off one day...and they looked for another place to live.

They moved across about 5 miles to "The Rex Apartments" that were not necessarily in a better neighborhood, but it was landscaped beautifully. That lasted 5 days and they moved back to the same building that was being managed by their friend, Mary, widow of Ed, who'd been a night typesetter at the San Antonio Light newspaper. Mary welcomed them back with open arms and there they stayed. All three of them looked out for each other.

Aunt Emma never let you carry her purse, which weighed a good 30 lbs (slight exaggeration, only slight), and insisted on carrying it up and down those stairs...Mom feared constantly that the weight of the purse would send her careening down the stairs but it never did...these days if you asked me to take those stairs once a day, I'd have to think twice about the potential of tripping...but she never did worry....the best attitude.

Final thoughts...when Aunt Emma was a younger woman, early bride, Mom and Aunt Virginia would ride the Frisco Railroad (free) each summer to spend several weeks in both San Antonio and with Aunt Emma. Mom said she was lighthearted, funny, loving and kind. It was those times, I am convinced, that were some of the most special of the very hard life and times Mom's generation had, growing up in St. Louis. Ultimately, Mom would move permanently to SA, where she took a job in civil service, with a government office located on the base at Ft. Sam Houston, very close to where Aunt Emma's original house was.

It's hard to tell what a person is like by one semi-serious photo pose, but among the pioneers of our generation of strong women...you never saw her pity herself and how little she had to live on....she had faith in God, even if she didn't attend church each week, and that's the perfect example of how being in a church each week doesn't make you religious any more than being in a garage every night makes you a car...it's how you live your life and if you trust someone or something outside yourself to have gotten you here as who looks in on you at times when you don't even think you have a right to ask for help. All those thoughts came rushing back into my mind simply by driving down that street (that my Waze GPS programmed me to take) on my way back home from SA...the first hometown I ever knew.

Eventually, I arrived back home, spending those 210 minutes in deep reflection, being alert enough to avoid two standstill traffic jams along I-35 (thank you many, many exit ramps in SA), but the joyful events of the day--seeing a longtime friend after too long, and seeing another longtime friend of ours honored by the most creative and talented artists, academics and dignitaries in San Antonio, had me on the proverbial Cloud 9. WAZE got me home safely, but it took me via a small detour of five decades of my life. I had to forgo the usual Buc-ee's stop with my new route, darn the luck, and I left with no Bill Miller iced tea refills in my car, yet I had a perfect view of my childhood, thanks to a heavenly intervention of memory, and a technological invention called WAZE. Thanks for the memories, WAZE. I owe you one.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Shining Light, Wise Mind, and Loving Heart of Nelda S. Green

Nelda Smith Green

August 12, 1929 –October 6, 2017

When a dear friend called me tonight to tell me the news that Nelda Green had passed from this life today, my first thought was “Oh, how many people loved her, yet she was so modest, few people truly knew all that she did to make Bryan-College Station, and especially Texas A&M University, a far better place than when she had found it.” I ran to my scrapbook and knew what I was looking for, photos of Nelda when I first met her. Nelda was the one usually taking pictures, so it was a rare joy to capture a few images.

We were introduced through a mutual friend in 1991, as we were going to be on a committee together. The Memorial Student Center Opera and Performing Arts Society was in full prep mode to celebrate 20 years as an organization on campus. Her spirit of peace and calm was the first thing I noticed about her. “Unflappable” is the first word that comes to mind as I want to share with you that her grace and beauty overrode any kind of emotion she might be feeling at the time.

Nelda had this uncanny ability to make “you” the focus of her attention and it was disarming and charming simultaneously. It’s clearly the primary characteristic that found her in the know of every leading-edge decision and move that Texas A&M College made as its transition to University in every essence of world class was truly appropriate and real. Today, "world class" is a throwaway phrase, overused and trite, and entirely unapplicable, compared to the day and time where Nelda Green made an unforgettable, irreplaceable impact when there were no guidebooks, paved roads, or paths to follow. It was the true wild west of academe as the unprecedented growth in enrollment in the early 1970s would have cratered any other school, save ours, because of the true caliber of excellence in leadership that A&M enjoyed. Those in charge blazed the path and Nelda was right there to document it all, with precision, completeness, and irrefutable facts that were preserved for the future. Nelda always had her facts right...always.

Nelda had worked for General James Earl Rudder in the days when the all-male military college was gently transitioning into a university with female students, side-by-side in classes with ROTC cadets and non-regs, too. As a freshman undergraduate in those days, I have to say that if it weren’t for Gen. Rudder at the helm of the school, and Sen. W.T. Moore, Sr. running the Texas Senate, it never would have worked. That, and they could both count on Nelda Green taking care of so many things behind the scenes that she was valued for, but few of her friends would even know she did, as she was the height of discretion, the epitome of modesty and the embodiment of humble.

Let me explain. Nelda was the queen of organization…her files were thorough, brilliant, and the only way the CEOs can do what they do is when their first-in-commands have their backs, with no apologies for the military references because that’s what A&M’s greatness was built on.

Nelda was kind, compassionate, and she had a brilliant sense of humor. What it would take others five minutes to explain, she could say in one sentence. Her “cut to the chase” skills were invaluable in work and in life. She could make you feel better quickly when you felt clueless. She was generous in her giving of information you needed it so you’d be prepared when you entered a new situation. Nelda was also just so witty.

She restrained herself from being an entertainer, although surely she knew enough and saw more, to have filled books with all that she’d seen and heard in working for all the CEOs of Texas A&M back when we just called them Presidents and treated them with respect because their mental acumen was such that they needed no other accolades. That’s taking nothing away from recent and current leaders, because the point is, all the heavy lifting was already done by the time President Ray Bowen took the helm in the 1990s. We’re talking about the hard, almost impossible, times of restricted state funds, one third of the PUF and making do on only the generosity of philanthropic donors, all of whom Nelda knew on a first-name basis.

Back in the, excuse me, “Good Old Days” of Texas A&M, no one had to launch a campaign to meet needs. Gen. Rudder picked up a phone, called an Aggie, and one of them would send a corporate jet to pick him up and transport him wherever he needed to go to discuss what Texas A&M needed and he’d come home with a check, or a gentleman’s or lady’s word, and presto, funding secured.

It didn’t matter who was President of Texas A&M—General Rudder, President Jack K. Williams, Acting President Clyde Freeman, President Jarvis Miller, Acting President Chuck Sampson, or President Frank Vandiver, Nelda was the institutional memory for anything of any importance inside the inner sanctum, and not once in her lifetime did she ever reveal anything confidential or compromising or anything.

She was the consummate professional and thus had the respect of everyone for whom she worked. To that end, she always addressed them by full title, “General Rudder,” “Dr. Williams,” “Dr. Miller, “Dr. Vandiver” etc., when speaking of them to others during the workday. I noticed that in the time I was in various campus offices to hear others, not of the “old school” addressing those who would address their bosses by their first names. Point being, Nelda represented all that was the grand and glorious of the heyday of Texas A&M’s growth and true transfiguration into the school now constantly touted as “ours.”

Nelda worked impossible hours and made it look easy. But it was then and how and why she would ultimately meet her true soulmate and kindred spirit, Harry J. Green, Jr. ’52. Anyone who knew Nelda knew of Harry, long before they’d meet him. If ever you could pick two people at random and put them together as a “perfect couple,” that was Nelda with her “Harry J.” Ask either one of them and independently they’d both say, “I married my best friend.” That was the secret to their enduring, endearing love of live together and endless devotion to each other.

Now, the community of the Brazos Valley was equally fortunate to have Nelda contributing her time and talents, in her “spare” moments not in her 8-to-5 or 8-to-8 world at A&M. When it came time to write the history of the MSC OPAS organization, Anne Black wisely asked Nelda to write it as she was well acquainted with and friends of Wayne Stark, whose foresight and inspiration made possible what we all continue to reap, in an organization now in its (gasp) 45th season. In 1992, Nelda’s history was part of the program booklet for the 20th anniversary year, and other MSC OPAS events were strengthened by her contributions.

Nelda was equally devoted to their church, First Presbyterian, where she and Harry were greeters during the days when her health permitted. Faithful in their attendance, faithful in their beliefs, neither Nelda nor Harry was ever overtly known for talking about where they went to church but whenever a new person came to town, they were invited to join the Greens for a Sunday morning worship service. That’s not all.

Through Harry’s work founding, operating, running and managing the Aggie Club from an office with no help to the effusively staffed multimillion dollar organization today called the 12th Man Foundation, Nelda knew and was hostess for every single coach in the history of Aggie sports, all because Harry was bringing someone over, or they were going to host this or that person. When new coaches were hired for sports such as TAMU men’s or women’s golf, Nelda made sure that the new coaches and their spouses met everyone in the community in addition to on campus, so they could become acclimated. It went without saying that she was a First Lady of A&M, without the title ever officially affixed.

Time passed and retirement was something that neither Nelda nor Harry embraced, and Harry even went to work fulltime again for his dear friend, and Nelda dove into a lot of volunteer work in her new spare time. They were both, as a couple, sweet, devoted friends to some of Texas A&M’s former first ladies, particularly Mrs. Margaret Rudder and Mrs. Ruth Harrington.

There was a special sister-like kinship between Nelda and Margaret Rudder. They were twin sisters of different mothers (with credit to Dan Fogelberg for the analogy) and together they were absolutely brilliant, witty, and frankly hilarious. Never was the humor at the expense of anyone else. It was just how they saw life, and the truth is always stranger than fiction.

One trip that comes to mind was ca. 1991. Margaret, Nelda, Ann Wiatt and I traveled to see the childhood home of President Lyndon B. Johnson near Stonewall, Texas. I was the appointed driver for the outing, allowed to drive Margaret’s car, and all I can tell you is the poignancy of seeing the beautiful handwriting that President Johnson had, in the letters displayed therein, and how much of an impact a discussion we had about the true art of handwriting our communications and how important they are to preserving history. All the way back we talked of how much various letters we’d received in the mail had moved us to saving them to keep them.

As I reflect today, all three ladies in the car were primo for writing thank-you notes for things done for their efforts, and I recall how I’d vowed then to follow in their footsteps in keeping up with that time-honored tradition. I remember how beautiful, and eloquent Nelda’s handwriting was—precise, exact, and perfect. In fact, a friend asked Nelda to hand-address some key envelopes of outgoing correspondence for a fund-raiser.

Nelda was happy to be on any committee you’d ask her to, but the spotlight was not where she wanted to be, and she’d always find a reason to put someone else in it, because that’s just how she was. Gracious, a true southern gentlewoman and one about whom never an unkind word was ever said. Ask yourself this very minute, how many other people can you say you know who fit that description? Yes, Nelda was a one-of-a-kind and she was never one to accept that.

Her heart truly was as big as Texas. In 2014, the local American Heart Association “Heart Ball” committee most deservedly honored Nelda as their “Honorary Chair” for the “2014 Heart Ball: A Night Under the Stars” Gala.

As you can see from the photo of the committee members (courtesy of Tina Gandy), everyone in the Brazos Valley had known for a long time of Nelda’s support of the fight against heart disease and stroke, having helped secure attendance, funding, and awareness of the event from almost the very beginning of the event. Anyone who worked with or just knew Nelda respected her immensely and loved her dearly because of her unique talent at being kind under all circumstances.

Nelda wouldn’t like that this is so long, because she never wanted a fuss made over her. It wasn’t her nature. However, in the days, weeks and months to come many accolades will be shared about her. Each person whose life she touched will have something special to say and to add. Final arrangements are handled through Callaway-Jones Funeral Center in Bryan. Her online tribute is at: http://www.callawayjones.com/nelda-green/

Family and friends are invited to a time of visitation from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday, October 9, at Callaway-Jones Funeral Center, 3001 S College Ave in Bryan. A memorial service is set for 1 p.m. Tuesday, at First Presbyterian Church in Bryan, with Pastor Ted Foote officiating. A private burial will be in the College Station City Cemetery.
The photos I am sharing here are my own, taken at the home of mutual dear friends in 1991 and in 1992. The beauty in her face, the light shining in her eyes, and her serene countenance are all the way I will always remember Nelda. Her thoughtful remembrance of days that were important to all whom she knew, the unconditional friendship she offered those fortunate enough to call her friend, and the everlasting forgiveness she showed to all who sought it for any reason…these and so many other reasons remain inadequate to explain how dear she was.

Special prayers for comfort are sent on wings of eagles to her beloved Harry J. It’s not easy for him right now, but Harry knows where she is. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love never fails. If you had to have a photo to go with 1 Corinthians 13:4–8, the appropriate photo would be one of Harry and his Nelda, who embodied every aspect of the verse.

We’ve lost an angel among us today but, per her faith as she’d allow me to say, she’s busy greeting Margaret and Gen. Earl Rudder, Dr. Williams, Wayne Stark and a ton of traveling Aggies with whom she and Harry saw the world. That’s what I perceive the afterlife to be, one great big giant reunion of all the people in the world whom you’ve loved in this lifetime. And they’re so happy to see her again. Well done, thou good and faithful servant.

To Nelda, with love, Dawn Lee

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Remembering Monty Hall, and the Good ol’ Days of “Let’s Make a Deal”

Learning tonight that another cherished childhood icon, TV Game Show Host Monty Hall, had died today, my first words were, “Oh Monty, Monty, Monty.” What untold hours of joy and laughter and good, clean fun we enjoyed together throughout my childhood. The daytime afternoon TV show would come on my little black and white TV in my San Antonio living room and summertime was fun time whenever Monty was on the air, teaching me the true, unexpurgated “art of the deal.” Monty’s real name was Maurice Halperin when he was born in Canada, but he made a wise decision in changing it to Monty Hall.

I was not even a teenager when I started watching this NBC show, which debuted in 1963 and lasted all the way through 1977, pretty remarkable for a game show. I don’t consider myself a material person but I did learn early in life what things cost, what they were worth, and how much the possible acquisition of some of the “finer” things in life would cost me, should I one day be able to make enough money to afford them.

Each day, I looked forward to joining my friend Monty, and two new friends, one off-camera and one on-, (Jay Stewart and Carol Merrill, respectively), whenever the charming game show music began. Jay would say:

“These people dressed as they are come from all over the United States to make deals here in the marketplace of America, “Let’s Make a Deal!” And now here’s America’s top trader, TV’s big dealer, Monty Hall!”

And then I’d smile.

Onto the trading floor, the cameras would pan the festive and zany costumes with which individuals and couples would be all dressed up in hopes that their crazy wardrobe would attract Monty’s eyes. They’d scream, “Monty, Monty, pick me, pick me!” unabashedly and when Monty picked them, it was full joy mode with people jumping up and down like there was no tomorrow. They brought the strangest stuff you could ever think of to trade with Monty for a chance to play the game.

Now, you had to make choices as a contestant. You started with smaller first deals of the day, and then if you won enough in cash and prizes, Monty would invite you to keep what you had won or “to go for the big deal of the day,” hidden behind one of three curtain doors. Two finalists were selected to compete for the big deal and whoever won the most money and prizes that show got to pick their choice of number for the first curtain.

I learned that beautiful dress furs came from Dicker and Dicker of Beverly Hills. To a young girl in San Antonio, I could only dream of visiting Beverly Hills, or NBC Burbank studios, one day if I was very lucky, but I knew I’d want to have enough to visit Dicker and Dicker, ha. Then there was beautiful sterling silver from the Michael C. Fina Company.

If anyone ever doubts the value of branding, think again. Say you want to make your product a brand, a household name. Repetition works, and works, and works. Every time Jay Stewart said Michael C. Fina, I not only remembered the name, what it belonged to and Mr. Fina’s middle initial…and still do 54 years later. It’s either embarrassing or refreshing to admit what I can and cannot recall from childhood. The rivers in Texas were not half as fascinating as the possibility of winning Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco treat, as a potential contestant who walked away with a bad deal, aka, a “zonk.”

How many catch phrases did this show add to our lexicon? Seriously? Let’s think

What’s inside the box?

“Do you want to keep what you have or go for what’s behind the curtain?”
“I’ll go for what’s behind the curtain!” “It’s the big deal of the day!” “Oh no, I was zonked!” “Monty, Monty, Monty!”

Jay Stewart still made it sound not too bad if we saw someone get zonked, and Carol Merrill showed us all sorts of appliances in the most graceful and beautiful fashion with her model-like hands and gracious ways of drawing attention to the true beauty of kitchen appliances. Now you are envisioning Carol’s hand and arm movements right now? Aren’t you? You know you are!

One of the most refreshing things about the show is that there was never cause to be embarrassed in watching because it was all good, clean fun. It wasn’t until Chuck Barris entered the game show circuit that the double entendre came into fluid use on game shows.

No, Monty was fun and he was G-rated and he was so kind, so very kind, when people lost and he would always spend time in the gallery above the trading floor at the end of the show. “I’ll give you $100 if anyone brought a paperclip, eyebrow tweezers, or a thermometer….”

I'm purposely avoiding the statistical discussion and math references to "The Monty Hall Problem" because it involves three unopened doors and gives me a headache to contemplate when I'd much rather just think about the game show. But yes, we're aware of it, haha!

People showed up with satchels and purses full of obscure “stuff” just in case Monty offered $100 to anyone who brought him something he called for. The first to have it and produce it went home a winner. Everyone won by watching “Let’s Make a Deal,” and it was a pillar of my early love of competitive games. I thought I had very keen intuitive powers as a kid, especially if you’d seen my track record of knowing what curtain the big deal was behind every day. But, you couldn’t be a contestant when you were 8, or 11, or 14. And so I had to wait.

As a joke for years as a kid, when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d say “a professional game show contestant,” and I was only half-kidding. I loved the excitement of the unknown, the chase for the prize, and the thrill of victory and skillfully avoiding defeat. So, I became a chemist instead. Yes, the two fields are so close. If anyone every had to take organic chemistry, you know what a zonk is, and if you’ve ever passed physical chemistry, you know what survival is. Pretty much life is a game show and we’re all the happy contestants at different times of our lives or that’s how I rationalized it when I didn’t get to Television City for my chance at the bigtime.

(Above: Wayne Brady, Jonathan Mangum, Monty Hall; Below: Tiffany Coyne and Carol Merrill)

Today the show goes on, thanks to Wayne Brady and Jonathan Mangum. Now Wayne is one truly gifted comedian and singer, and a skilled, award-winning talk show host, and I know Jonathan from a few episodes of “NCIS” where he played a “replacement” special agent when Tony, Ziva, and McGee all turned in their badges, but frankly, it’s not the same. Wayne does his very best to continue the show into this generation and is convincing, kind, sings great with the contestants and gives away a lot of stuff.

But, there’s never going to be anything quite as perfect as the original, and the man in the sports jackets who hailed from Canada and was our faithful friend every day for many of his 96 years.

He is survived by his daughter, actress Joanna Gleason, and daughter, TV executive and producer Sharon Hall, and son, writer/director and reality show producer Richard Hall. Monty’s wife, Marilyn, passed away just three months ago in June, 2017. Marilyn was a TV producer (TV movie “A Woman Called Golda”) as well as a writer (one episode of “Love, American Style”), which rounded out the true Hollywood family, if one can verify all the IMDB information posted. The couple was married for 64 years, another part of the happily ever after story.

Thank you for adding to my childhood, Monty Hall (and co-creator Stefan Hatos) and for creating “Let’s Make a Deal.” You were such a fun part of the growing-up years of all Baby Boomers. I’m guessing that you chose curtain number one, and you’re very happy right now. "Jay, why don't you tell him what he's won!"

RIP Monty, Monty, Monty.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Reaching for the Sky, for the Sake of Dr. Ernesto Bernal

As a child, I had very few heroes. The fluidity of childhood meant growth and change, so there wasn’t a fixed amount of time to develop long-term trust in adults, save for their daily presence in your life. Thanks to Keystone School, all the educators placed teaching as their number one priority, so eventually I’d find many heroes throughout my years there.

To be clear, the founders were never my heroes; they were facilitators in my life. Aside from my mom, I do recall awarding the first title of “hero” to the future Dr. Ernesto Bernal, who taught English and Government to the high schoolers. At the time, he was known as “Mr. Bernal” or “Mr. B.” I trusted him implicitly, instinctively, and I was, and remain, slow to give my trust.

Keystone’s campus was a collective of old Victorian style homes in the Monte Vista District of San Antonio. Not only did it feel like home, it looked like home. Fireplaces in certain rooms, old-time radiators in others, a red plastic vinyl couch in the main hallway for children to sit on between classes, and a full-scale commercial kitchen smack in the middle of the building with amazing cooks preparing homemade lunches. The old carriage house was now a makeshift science lab with a classroom directly upstairs, accessed by iron railed steps. There was no gymnasium; we had an asphalt basketball court. Yes, we were home all right.

As a discerning child, clearly more skeptical than I realized until years later, I expected people to fall into one of two categories: ones who would do what they said they would do, and others whose word meant nothing.

One of the “grown-ups” I met first at Keystone was Mr. Bernal. He’d soared through Central Catholic High School and St. Mary’s University and when I arrived, he was teaching at Keystone, highly regarded as both teacher and friend by all my friends in high school. That last sentence might give you pause to doubt…a five-year-old with friends in high school? That was Keystone, though, and as diverse as we were in race, creed, and socioeconomic level, we were diverse in the ages of our friends. At the time, I was about 18 months younger than most of my own classmates. So, the high schoolers were fascinating to me, as they never talked “down” to me. Not one.

That’s how I was bold enough to address a “grown-up” and greet Mr. Bernal often, early in the morning when he arrived on campus and checked into the dining room to welcome the day. With his warm, loving smile, my eyes quickly found his and I went right up to him. He extended his hand and shook it firmly and bowed his six-foot-plus frame to meet me at eye level, without crouching down. His deep, rich voice resonated with his words.

Everyone received the same greeting, so I wasn’t any different than the others. He carefully studied all his “future” students. His senior high students adored him, and they considered him a mentor, friend, and almost equal, as he was really only about six years older than they were.

Later, Mr. Bernal would embark on master’s studies at St. Mary’s, while teaching. Although he ultimately left Keystone in 1966 to pursue doctoral studies full-time, it wouldn’t be the last time we’d see him. He’d come back occasionally to visit with some students who were now seniors themselves. Now, they addressed him as Ernie. He remained their friend and mentor, even if he wasn’t their teacher. And, St. Mary’s wasn’t that far away and we loved seeing him.

And, it wasn’t until Oct. 1, 2016, that I would learn the story behind how Ernie came to Keystone. I will quote directly from the beautiful words written by his wife, Carmen, and shared on the day of the unveiling of a most special honor, long overdue. As she writes,

“On the Monday after Labor Day, 1960, Ernie M. Bernal, a 22-year-old brand new graduate of St. Mary’s University, walked into Keystone School to start a job as high school English teacher and Government teacher. His job interview with Coach Edwin W. Eargle, Headmaster of Keystone, had been rather rushed and he was told, ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you.’ Coach added, ‘WE have a lot of applicants for this job.’ Ernie answered, ‘Not like me you don’t.’ And he was invited to sit back down and chat a while.”

Of course, he was hired.

Just as every student basically was involved in as many extracurricular activities as possible, Keystone faculty wore more than two hats. Originally asked to help grade the entrance exams screening potential Keystone students, Ernie asked if he could reach out to expand the pool of scholarship students by calling colleagues and friends at every high school across San Antonio including all socioeconomic backgrounds to send their best to try out.

They immediately agreed. It was because of Ernie Bernal that Keystone truly became ethnically diverse and seamlessly so. Throughout my entire twelve years at Keystone it was always the most wonderful learning experience everyone enjoyed. It wasn’t simply tolerance for others’ beliefs, we embraced our cultural diversity and brought out the best in one another, always with respect. That’s to Ernie’s insight and credit plus others’ good judgment.

Keystone graduated more than the usual number of future scientists and doctors, but they educated everyone to be critical thinkers and even philosophers, ready to take on anything and everything with a passion. Debate was encouraged, opposing ideas always welcome. Independent thought among students was cultivated. Spirits of creativity abounded.

For six years, from 1960 to 1966, Keystone flourished with the presence of educator Bernal. But as a child, I never knew that. While teaching at Keystone, he completed his M.Ed. in Education and had risen to Vice Principal of the High School, while teaching English and Social Studies. I only knew Mr. Bernal greeted me every morning with a smile, a bow down to shake my hand, and a lovely wish to have a great day, along with a gentle admonition to work hard. I did so willingly, with his encouragement.

As you can see from some of the yearbook photos, Russian, German, Spanish, French, and Latin were the languages taught in addition to Chemistry, Biology, English, Math, Physics, and Music. You took as many classes as you could handle, with the permission of Mr. Bernal and Coach Eargle, who assessed each student’s future college interests and gave permission.

I couldn’t wait to introduce my mom to my friend, Mr. Bernal. One day he was on campus after school let out, and my mom came to pick me up after working her secretarial civil service job at a San Antonio AFB. When they saw each other, there was a warm recognition in both of their eyes as she said to me, “Dawn Lee, I’ve known Ernie for years, since he was a young man.” Turns out, he had a first job working at the executive offices of the grocery store chain for which my mother had worked, long before she met and married my dad. She’d proudly watched him grow up.

Later that night, Mom pulled out a copy of an old newsletter she’d designed for the company, showed me his picture and told me how he was one of the young people the company hired for the summer and how hard he worked. I had long forgotten that for decades until I saw that exact same photograph in Ernesto’s tribute video Sunday night. It nearly tore my heart out as I flashed back to being five years old again, when I had just first met Mr. Bernal, and the memories flooded through as did the need to cry, but I didn’t. Not then at least.

People weave in and out of our lives, just as the beautiful “Weaving of Words: Quotations and Tributes” that were shared Sunday night by Rose Catacalos and Kevin McManus, two of his dear friends. Keystone students’ quotes were among those included. One of the most beautiful was shared by Patricia (Jeski) Goodspeed, “He was the most influential teacher I ever had.”

I smiled hearing that, as I’d been the one to read one of the most beautiful tributes Patti wrote for him just a year ago, on the occasion of a beautiful brick paver being unveiled on the campus of Keystone School, an event he attended where he was fully aware of the love of all those who’d come for that very special day and others who shared their love via e-mail.

During the Life Celebration, my mind wandered during the lovely preservice music. I reflected on meeting Mary Carmen Tafolla, when she entered Keystone’s ninth grade, the final year that Mr. Bernal was at Keystone. Carmen was one of the kindest upperclassmen, adorable with a loving personality and a twinkle in her eyes.

She always had her arms piled full of books, foreshadowing her future as 2012 San Antonio Poet Laureate (first ever) and 2015 Texas State Poet Laureate. After Mr. Bernal left Keystone, eventually Jim Klaeveman would come to teach English and fill the void Ernie left, challenging students to express themselves. It was Ernie’s destiny calling him, and he had even more powerful accomplishments ahead.

When Carmen graduated, she went to Texas Lutheran College in Seguin, then Austin College and ultimately, like many Keystone women, she’d go on to earn her doctorate degree at UT Austin. She distinguished herself as a writer quickly. It wasn’t until many years later that the perfectly magical pairing of Carmen and Ernie would be created. Manifesting miracles happens with faith, and this was ultimately just one more example of that.

In his collegiate career, Ernie taught at St. Mary’s University, the University of Texas at San Antonio, California State University–Fresno, Northern Arizona University, and ultimately became Dean of Education at University of Texas–Pan American. Carmen wrote prolifically, and no one in the world was prouder or more supportive of her than her Ernesto.

The Bernals, Carmen and Ernie, shared 38 magical, loving years together, weathered the loss of their first child, Cielos, and the health challenge that Carmen refused to give into, emerging victorious from that battle. Carmen lost her beloved mother (age 99), in January this year. Yet, she remained brilliant as an author, writing while faithfully caring for their children and providing daily loving care for Ernie, who fought Parkinson’s through Stage 5 and beyond. Never once did Carmen complain. Ernesto’s love and the love they shared was sufficient to see her through the demands of her daily life. Keystone kids are multitaskers—we insist on it. But there’s a limit, yet Carmen soared above the limit.

She has always been a hero (she-ro) to me, just because she was a published writer. I loved seeing her when I’d return to San Antonio for Keystone reunions, formal and informal, with all the upperclassmen I’d admired growing up. We were only a few years apart and class year was never a barrier to being part of a Keystone family activity. For so many years, Tommye Brennan Howard ’63 hosted a gathering in her home, or we’d meet at Jim’s Coffee Shop for a reunion burger and fries and hours of coffee and conversation.

I remember once we all came together specifically to help “save” Keystone from (I’m searching for a kind word here) less-than-gifted leadership. Many alumni were so concerned that we met with Keystone parents and board members to determine whether we could be helpful.

Ultimately the leadership continued a few more years. Independently, a few Keystone alumni and Ernesto formed the Camino School concept, and the San Antonio Gifted Education Foundation was started. This school was described in one of Ernesto’s numerous peer-reviewed academic publications.

What I never knew, even until I heard it Sunday night, was the pioneer and cutting-edge researcher that Ernesto had become throughout his educational and academic administrative positions. He never spoke of it at gatherings; he was entirely focused on what we were all doing in our lives and careers, forever the encourager who believed in us unconditionally. We thought everything was golden in academe.

My heart broke to hear on Sunday night, from two of Ernesto’s academic colleagues, that because of his brilliance and innovation and the fact that he was a natural pied piper of future educational leaders, others—often in a superior administrative position—were jealous of him. They tried to find ways and means of quashing his light, but they were not the gifted and talented educator that Ernie was, and they failed.

That they tried, though, hurt so badly to hear. But as one of his students recalled, he was merely amused at their attempts. Because he was smarter, he considered the source of the discontent and projected pity for the purveyor. Yet, you know he felt the pain of interdepartmental rivalry. Academic egos are often so fragile, and there’s such competition for the spotlight that it’s commonplace.

Ernie’s brilliance and respect garnered among his peers, from professional colleagues to students, would dwarf any insecure person. Yet, academics is supposed to be the home of sharing, interacting, exchanging ideas and getting to the best ones. However, it’s also home base for those who would prefer to argue over the location of their precious parking space.

Although those colleagues no doubt caused Ernie to seek new academic positions elsewhere at times, from those trials came the opportunities to work with even brighter minds, interacting with new students and reaching out to an even larger audience through the new works accomplished. What we heard was how Ernie had encouraged virtually every student he interacted with to become an honors student, to work hard, give back, love life, and be a good community servant. Several private “good deeds” never before heard about Ernie’s life included spending consecutive weekends chopping wood and delivering it to homes in need for winter heat across town; early on, despite a tight budget, he shared generously and often helping families in need.

One future CEO wrote about how, when Ernesto was being pushed out of a department by a jealous superior, he made a phone call to assure that young faculty would have jobs, personally placing them around the country. One younger colleague remembers he said she’d be “just perfect” for a job in company of which she is, 25 years later, now the CEO. These individual stories, loving messages and diverse testimonials formed the portrait of a man we all loved without even knowing these things.

On the 50th anniversary of Ernesto’s teaching career, many of us from Keystone gathered among the crowd in Olga and Al Kauffman’s home. The Keystone kids included: Bruce and Suzi Hughes, Bonnie Ellison, Wayne Vick, and my beloved big sister/friend, Tommye Brennan Howard. We paid tribute to the man who’d changed our lives forever with his love, of us and of education. It was wonderful to meet Father Eddie Bernal, Ernesto’s younger brother, whom he’d badgered his mother —relentlessly—to bring into their lives.

In an adorable story told Sunday, Ernie so greatly wanted a younger brother, and he asked his mother all the time for one. As was shared, Ernie’s mother explained to him that she was now a bit older and the possibility existed that it was risky and that she might have a child born with two heads. That didn’t deter Ernie one bit as he said, in Spanish, that he would absolutely love a baby brother with two heads!! We all exploded with laughter, knowing how passionate he was about his causes. Fr. Eddie was another of God’s gifts to everyone as he was the light of Ernie’s life for so many years, until a heart attack took him on May 29, 2016. Still, we were all together for Ernesto's special celebration, as lovingly created by Carmen, Olga, and Al, for all of us to enjoy.

It didn’t seem that long ago we were all together at the Kauffman home, offering our thoughts and written tributes, visiting with each other like it was 1963. It wasn’t. Sadly, illness struck Ernie and it came in the form of Parkinson’s Disease. It was a challenge he battled bravely and with dignity. In late summer 2014, Tommye and I had planned a day to bring lunch and visit with Ernie and Carmen. Tommye was bringing the food (you knew that already) and I would be bringing the Bill Miller’s iced tea (you knew that already, too). Sadly, the night before our planned day, Ernesto was admitted to the hospital, so the visit was postponed. “Soon,” we said. “We’ll do it very soon,” we all agreed.

Didn’t happen. Just two weeks later Tommye suffered a heart attack, and while in the hospital, it was discovered that she’d had end-stage cancer that had gone undiagnosed. A week later she was gone. Not bringing this up to mark yet more sorrow but only to emphasize the fragility of life and to pound it into my head to never miss a day telling people who are important in my life that they are important in my life, irreplaceable, and loved.

In 2016, when we were celebrating Ernesto’s paver unveiling at Keystone, Carmen was still reflecting Ernesto’s modesty in sharing only some information about his pioneering career work, noting that he’d “published the first research on the gifted Mexican American child, and became a well-respected scholar in the fields of gifted bilingual education, psychometrics, and test bias.”

In fact, as we learned things we’d never known before on Sunday, Dr. Ernesto Marroquín Bernal required multiple individuals speaking to share just a few of his achievements. He had been chosen to deliver the inaugural address at the Escola di Marketing, Educació, y Administració in Barcelona, Spain, because of his role in organizational change. Imagine if you will a young man from San Antonio, Texas with a passion for life and education, able to change the world with his brilliant mind. That was Ernesto.

He developed the Division of Bicultural/Bilingual Studies at UTSA in the 1970s together with Dr. Albar Peña and Dr. Tomás Rivera. The Bernals together with former Keystone students created Camino, a bilingual school for the gifted and creative child. We knew about Camino, but we didn’t know that Ernie had been honored by the College Board for his work exposing them to the testing bias of their instruments. What he showed in his research was that minority children were being mislabeled “culturally deprived” and he shone a light on the gifted Latino child, which had never been done before.

National recognition and accolades were heaped upon Ernesto in his lifetime but still they only measured one aspect of his impact. If any one area of accomplishment should be highlighted, it was his ability to teach others when statistics were actually valid and reliable vs. when they were false elements used as weapons to boost misguided precepts.

There was beautiful music incorporated into Ernesto’s life celebration, including “Danos Paz,” offered by Chayito Champion and Steve Arispe, then “Here I Am Lord,” and “On Eagle’s Wings,” with Helen Lloyd on guitar leading the congregation and the conclusion was the Champion family performing “Sevillana — an Expression of Despedida,” a final farewell.

A moving rosary was held to conclude Sunday night’s observations and reflections on his life. On Monday, Sept. 11, the funeral liturgy was held at St. Timothy’s Catholic Church with a Mass of the Resurrection. In both services, a magnificent video was shared that was prepared lovingly by David H.B.T. Marroquín. Son Israel Bernal read “High Flight” in commemoration of Ernesto’s love of flying. The Rosary Recitation, presented by so many faithful friends, reminded us to focus on giving thanks to God for his life.

It is said that angels get their wings when they transition from the earthly existence to the next life in Heaven. I’m inclined to dispute the timing on that concept, in that, upon reflection, surely we had an angel here among us for some 79 years of his life and more than 50 years among ours. We do not grieve for Ernie, who is at last free of the constraints that prevented him from communication, except through his loving, knowing eyes.

We grieve for his family and for ourselves that we had to say goodbye, but rather than wallow in yet more pity and pain of loss, it would seem fitting that we can rededicate our lives and our daily activities to doing our best, being our best, helping strangers and friends alike, encouraging children we meet to become honor students, to live lives filled with passionate pursuit of “the best,” in whatever form they perceive it. For if we can do that, and keep Ernesto’s example uppermost in our minds, then we can reach for the sky, just as he taught us, and be our most authentic selves. God bless you, Ernesto, and thank you for your love of the Keystone kids. You’re still my hero.