Adrian O'Connor has been the Editorial Page Editor of The Winchester Star since December 1992.

He has been writing his weekly column
"Valley Pike" since March 1997.

Adrian has written a book about Winchester -- "Winchester Remembered: The Best of Valley Pike" based on his column.


Past Pikes

'The G.F. House'
Sept. 5, 2012

Devoted 'Iggie'
Aug. 29, 2012

The Competition
Aug. 22, 2012

Bailey and Us
Aug. 15, 2012

Exhausted, but Exhilarated
Aug. 8, 2012

The World Russ Helped Build
July 12, 2012

A Title and a Challenge
July 5, 2012

One Trip Was Enough
June 27, 2012

Angry Cat
June 20, 2012

'No Day Like the Last Day'
June 13, 2012

'Loping' in Capon Springs
June 6, 2012

Catching Up
May 30, 2012

Free Beer!
May 23, 2012

Father of St. Bridget's
May 16, 2012

End of an Era . . . On Hold
May 9, 2012

On Little Cat's Feet
May 2, 2012

Search and Rescue
April 25, 2012

In Titanic's Wake
April 18, 2012

Riding 'The Circuit'
April 11, 2012

Circle Broken
April 4, 2012

Tradition Observed and Trivia Spawned
March 28, 2012

Baseball Town?
March 21, 2012

Perfection Is a Family Affair
March 14, 2012

End of an Era . . . on Hold
March 7, 2012

Eddie's indelible impression
Feb. 29, 2012

As They Remember Eddie
Feb. 22, 2012

Tribute to Eddie
Feb. 15, 2012

Scoop! Belestre in Winchester
Feb. 8, 2012

Beyond Her Pale
Feb. 1, 2012

Touchstone
Jan. 25, 2012

Gene White, New Store, Changed Concept
Jan. 18, 2012

Gene White, Pharmacy Pioneer
Jan. 11, 2012

Roy, Bill and Kenneth
Jan. 4, 2012

2011 (July-Dec.)
Pikes

2011 (Jan.-June)
Pikes

2010 (July-Dec.)
Pikes

2010 (Jan.-June) Pikes

2009 Pikes

 

What a Show
Posted: Sept. 12, 2012

WHISSENS RIDGE — Sam Lehman had a pet expression, or stock saying, he used as an all-purpose exclamation, or sign of approval — “What a show!”

If you listened to the wind long enough Saturday afternoon — or relied firmly on memories of this fascinating, multifaceted man — you could almost hear him saying it. For his Boy Scout buddies put on, well, some kind of “show.”

It was nothing elaborate, just a simple, heartfelt ceremony, followed by hot dogs and drinks, to dedicate a new pavilion at the little ballfield Sam built on his property off Wardensville Grade.

But, most of all, the event was held to honor the memory of Sam, a little dynamo of a man who came to western Frederick from the D.C. ’burbs in 1972 ostensibly to retire, but ended up immersing himself in the culture of his new home.

For the many fortunate enough to have known Sam, who passed away in November 2009 at the age of 78, he was impossible to forget. And not just because he seemed to have knowledge of — or an opinion about — everything, but because he was interested in people. He loved taking folks under his wing.

I was one of those people. I had not been here a week when, in mid-December 1992, I met Sam, bedecked in a tux and red bow tie, at The Star’s Christmas party, which he regularly attended with his wife Priscilla, our newsroom secretary.

Well, no sooner had I stepped in the door of the Old Post Office than Sam made a beeline for me, the new “editorial guy.” Within a month, he had me meeting folks he felt I needed to know, such as former Winchester Mayor Stewart Bell and longtime Apple Blossom executive director Tom Baldridge. Sam was just that kind of guy.

And he was that way toward the Scouts as well. A Scout leader as a twenty-something in suburban Maryland back in the ’50s, Sam made his spread in Frederick County available to local troops for camping as soon as he cleared the land and carved out a lake, which he named for Priscilla.

To the boys who spent many a weekend on Whissens Ridge, he was a presence, a font of information in a golf cart, ubiquitous cigar in hand. As Scott Alt, Scoutmaster of Troop 22 in Stephens City, remembered Saturday, Sam never paid a visit to the campers without something else in hand — a snakeskin, maybe, or some wood hollowed by a woodpecker. Or one of the pamphlets he compiled detailing the area’s flora and fauna. He was a veritable Pied Piper.

“We’d come here with new Scouts,” Alt said. “This was an easy camp, close to town, and a good place to teach. And Sam was great with the boys.”

Thus, after Sam died, Alt and his fellow troop leaders went to Priscilla and asked if there was anything they could do to honor Sam. Priscilla happened to mention that he once had a makeshift pavilion near the ballfield.

“We started our wheels turning,” Alt said. And so with the adults providing supervision and the boys from Troop 22 and Troop 2 in Winchester doing a lot of the manual labor, a pavilion took form over a year’s worth of Saturdays. Alt remembers the day they dug the holes for the vertical posts being similar to this past Saturday, with rain coming down in buckets.

Still, by late afternoon on Dedication Day, the skies had stopped pouring water and tents ringed the ballfield. At 5 p.m., the Scouts marched in behind their colors and memories of Sam began to flow, courtesy of the troop leaders.

After dinner, a flag retirement ceremony was held. Priscilla called the moment “magical.” A rainbow had appeared, the western sky burned fiery red, and a flock of geese, bound for the lake on their journey south, flew noisily overhead, their honking momentarily shattering the stillness and solemnity of the ceremony. Sam would have loved it.

What a show!

'The G.F. House'
Posted: Sept. 5, 2012

Old city directories are a marvelous research tool. With an ample number of these editions at your disposal, you can almost thread together the narrative of a person’s life, particularly if this person earned his or her daily bread within the city limits.

These books are also a fine resource for doping out little local mysteries. But, before embarking on such a task, let me say what a pleasure it was returning to the Handley Archives to plumb these directories for information.

OK, OK, I admit that, over the summer, Valley Pike assumed a slightly different tone — what with all my talk about our vacation, our new dog, and even my golf game.

But summer break is over. The kids are back in school, as is my wife the social studies teacher. Time for me to hit the books again, too — those city directories.

And precisely what was my reason for such perusal? George Norton and the “Norton Hotel.” Mr. Norton figured tangentially in a feature story, published Tuesday, about an old workbench fashioned from a piano crate.

As Star staff writer Laura McFarland explained in the piece, after the piano — property of his daughter, Esther Norton Shumate — was uncrated, Mr. Norton used the wood to make the bench, which stood for decades in the cellar of the old Norton home at 431 N. Braddock.

The bench became an object of curiosity when Sally Neff, who’s lived in the house for 30 years, discovered writing on the boards — including Esther’s name and “Winchester, Va.” — when she had it dismantled. This prompted Sally to contact Esther’s daughter, Margaret Berryhill, in Richmond.

Now, my part in all this stems from my longtime interest in the old hotels and restaurants of Winchester. I’d never heard of a Norton Hotel, nor even of George Norton. My ignorance of the latter is particularly egregious, in that Mr. Norton was editor and publisher of one of The Star’s earliest competitors, the turn-of-the-century Evening News-Item, and later the proprietor of a print and stationery shop at the corner of Boscawen and Braddock.

But a hotel owner?

My only lead from Laura’s story was that the hostelry was located at 19 N. Main (Loudoun) St. So off to the archives I went.

I started with the oldest city directory on the stacks, the 1898-99 edition. Winchester boasted a mess of hotels back then — including the City, the Evans, the Hart, the Shockey House, the Winchester Inn, and, of course, the Taylor — but no Norton. Mr. Norton, by the way, then resided at 525 S. Braddock.

Directories from 1903-04, 1905, 1914-15, and 1921-22 likewise yielded no mention. But I did learn that ol’ George had moved to 104 S. Loudoun in 1905, and that he and wife Ella had a daughter named Margaret. In the 1914-15 directory came the first mention of Esther and of residency at 431 N. Braddock. By then, Mr. Norton had opened his printing business.

Not until the 1927 book did I spot anything that suggested Mr. Norton was a hotel owner. And then the reference — to “The G.F. House” — was, at best oblique.

OK, I thought, weren’t Mr. Norton’s initials G.F.? That they were and, yes, this hotel was, in fact, located at 19 N. Main, right alongside the J.C. Penney store.

The 1929 directory indicated that George was no longer affiliated with the printing business — the ’27 book showed he was partners in the enterprise with a Thomas Hiltzheimer — but listed him as proprietor of “The G.F. House.” Esther, though, no longer appeared as a resident of 431 N. Braddock.

By 1936, the year she married J. Tilman Shumate, Esther was back at home, living with her mother who, I inferred, was a widow. There was no mention of George in that directory — and 19 N. Main was officially listed as “vacant.”

Devoted 'Iggie'
Posted: Aug. 29, 2012

Mark Brown knows my affinity for the arcane, those micro-bits of history that often prove illustrative and educational, not to mention entertaining — which is, I hope, what Valley Pike is all about. Especially the entertaining part.

So Mark, the former mayor of Middletown who runs a Main Street antiques emporium with his wife, June, thought of me when he uncovered a story in a copy of The Literary Digest (May 9, 1931) that had come into his possession. He even delivered it to my house when I told him the subject of the story he plumbed was worth a column.

This column, in fact, as I had yet to arrive at a definitive topic when Mark rang me up Monday night.

What caught Mark’s eye was a “Personal Glimpses” piece penned shortly after the passing of a being we all know rather well. Or at least that some of us — i.e., those who work in downtown Winchester — see every day but pay little heed.

That’s because he doesn’t call much attention to himself — except, maybe, through his unique posture. Then there’s this: Best I know, he’s never made a sound, at least none anyone has heard.

OK, I can’t keep this up much longer, so I’ll conclude by saying this notable figure, a global sojourner, doesn’t get around much anymore. You’ll see him most days — that is, if you care to notice after all these years — at the back entrance to the Joint Judicial Center.

By now, you’ve figured out — or maybe not — that I’m referring to a statue, a figure memorialized in bronze. Arctic explorer Richard E. Byrd, maybe? Right statue, wrong likeness. I’m talking about the dog clinging to the admiral’s leg.

Yes, The Literary Digest devoted a whole two pages to “Iggie,” short for Igloo, Adm. Byrd’s loyal companion. And the story answered a lot of questions about this faithful canine friend.

For starters, that pose which has inspired a derisive nickname in these parts — “Humpy.” Igloo, you see, was not an “Eskimo dog,” bred for Arctic climes, but rather a humble albeit rather “cheeky” fox terrier. Genetics did not provide pads able to withstand biting cold, so, as the article states, he stood on his haunches whenever possible, which granted relief to his front paws.

And, make no mistake, “Iggie” made many friends on these expeditions — Byrd made five trips to Antarctica — though none of the canine variety. The rugged sled dogs looked down on “Iggie” — especially when he sported tiny shoes and a furry coat custom-made by Byrd’s sailmaker — and twice sent him to “Little America’s” infirmary after painful maulings.

But “Iggie” persevered, even on those days and nights at sea described by Byrd when he “hardly dared venture out on deck alone” and retreated, shivering, behind a box in his master’s cabin when the big dogs commenced “their melancholy (nighttime) singing which can unseat the composure of an imaginative man.”

“Poor Igloo, I do not blame him,” Byrd continued. “Those primitive dogs, who kill for sheer lust of killing, would assassinate him on the spot, as he was shrewd enough to realize.”

So “Iggie” was, above all, a survivor, and a proud one who stood at Byrd’s side not only through the Arctic chill, but also all the ticker-tape adulation thereafter. But he could not survive a bout of acute indigestion that felled him when the admiral was away on tour.

Upon hearing of “Iggie’s” plight, Byrd canceled his next speaking appearance and prepared to fly back to Boston. But before he could get home, the game little terrier had died.

Visibly choked up, the admiral, as the article said, “was too deeply moved to say more than this: “I have lost more than a friend.”

Now perhaps I know why sculptor Jay Morton included that little dog in his rendering of Byrd that graces the entrance to the JJC.

The competition
Posted: Aug. 22, 2012

It all started rather innocently, just two guys — hackers, duffers? — who’d known each other for years getting together for a weekly, and friendly, game of golf.

Ooh boy, has it ever “evolved,” as they say. The “friendly” part still holds true, but it has become a competition— and so much that weekend schedules are arranged around it, playful barbs are exchanged among family members, biweekly after-church updates are provided a Grand Inquisitor/Instigator, and one bald head was nearly lost as a result of it, at the hands of a justifiably angry spouse.

Yep, the Saturday-morning clash at the Appleland Par-3 — The Bald Guy vs. The Coach — has attained a life of its own. Complete with records, and up-to-date scoring summaries. Funny, but it didn’t start out this way when Walter Barr and I discovered we both enjoyed playing golf — and especially with, and against, each other.

Over the past year and change — we started The Competition last summer — I’ve learned a lot, but not so much about Coach Barr. Anyone who knows him well — and we’ve been buddies for about 15 years — understands that he, even at 76 (a “young” 76), thrives on competition. And the man simply does not relish losing.

But here’s the thing: My competitive fires, at least athletically, had not been stoked in some time. They’d been dormant ever since I stopped playing pick-up basketball, seriously, many moons ago.

So it’s come as a shock that, even at the advanced age of 58, I am capable of tossing a club, or two, when properly — improperly? — provoked by my own substandard play. Also that I hate losing, almost as much as Walter Barr.

And, as the 2012 records show — yes, we do keep track, fastidiously — I’ve lost more often than not. We’ve played 22 times, and Coach has won exactly half. We’ve tied six times, and I’ve won on but five occasions.

It hardly requires a degree in rocket science, or golf mechanics, to grasp why the record stands as it does. Coach is metronomic in his consistency on this short course. He doesn’t hit the ball a ton, but strikes it straight, and is an excellent chipper and, on his better days, a good putter.

Me? Oh, I may look pretty off the tee, but I absolutely must land my shots on the green — or at least the fringe — to win or halve a hole. For, you see, any chipping skills I may possess are wayward, subject to extended vacations. One or two holes with adventures in chipping can doom me — and usually do.

Still, we have fun — and now so do our family and friends. Gleeful digs fly as quickly as compliments, such as the time my dear wife, following one of my infrequent victories, rang up the Barr household to see if any “anger management” assistance were needed.

And ritual must be observed every other Sunday when the Inquisitor/Instigator — otherwise known as Rudy Telek — attends Mass at Sacred Heart (as opposed to St. Bridget’s). We gather afterward at McDonald’s in Sunnyside and await the inevitable — Rudy demanding a report on the last fortnight’s golf doings (neither Coach nor I can bring the subject up ourselves). Then the needling commences.

All harmless stuff, and fun — save for that time I almost lost my head over the Atlantic. En route to Ireland for vacation, I — casually, I thought — informed my wife I had played golf earlier that day.

The response (roughly paraphrased): “You did what? We just got a new puppy, you insisted on mowing the grass, you still had that Turner Ashby story to finish, and you hadn’t packed a thing. And you played golf? I can’t believe you sometimes. What possessed you?”

Well, I considered mumbling something inane about “love of the game,” but wisely decided against it. A few moments of silence passed before Toni turned to me and said, “Well, how did you do?”

Ah yes, it always circles back, somehow, to The Competition.

Bailey and us

Posted: Aug. 15, 2012

It’s bad form, not to mention poor parenting, to compare your children — even those of the four-legged variety. That I fully realize.

And yet, over the past six weeks, or ever since we picked up Bailey, our 14-week-old puppy, it’s been hard — for me at least — not to measure our new dog against her late and much-beloved predecessor, Heidi.

To be sure, time distills and, if there’s such a word, “selectivizes” memory. Heidi was such a sweet constant in our lives that we tend to forget, or conveniently overlook, the excesses of her puppyhood.

Oh sure, there are a few indiscretions, as it were, that we’ve committed to memory — like when Heidi chewed a hole in my wife’s favorite dress (the one she wore to our engagement photo), or when she similarly chomped on a particularly comfortable pair of Toni’s shoes, or when she feasted on Christmas balls her little brother, Paperboy the cat, conveniently swatted down from the tree.

Still, for the most part, I never did shake the feeling, not that I wanted to, that Heidi, an abused stray who wandered onto the property of Star colleague Priscilla Lehman, was forever grateful to us for simply taking her in.

Bailey is a dog of a different color, literally — she’s a Yellow Lab mix while Heidi had a lot of Black Lab in her — and figuratively. We love her, we truly do, but it’s been a trial. For Bailey is part “diva princess,” to use her mom’s terminology, and part canine terrorist.

Her sense of entitlement is so overwhelming that Wilma Jennings — mother of Ahnna, our housesitter while we were away — took to calling her “Lola,” playing off the song lyrics “Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.” Sometimes.

Want a “fr’instance”? We grasp that growing pups are forever famished, but Bailey wants our dinner in addition to her own — or simply doesn’t want us to eat at all. Good parents that we are, we’ve resisted giving her table scraps.

Then there’s the biting. Again, we realize pups want to chew everything in sight — sticks, electrical cords, pillow cushions, Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” — but Bailey’s lust for human flesh, when she gets into her RTM (Ripping and Tearing Mode) — is as relentless as it is seemingly insatiable.

No amount of chastising — she must think her name is “Bailey No,” not “Bailey Jo” — or swats on the snout with a rolled-up copy of the newspaper (another good use for The Star), or relegation to the kitchen (our version of “Time-Out”) seems enough to thwart the fulfillment of her demonic appointed rounds. Especially when she fancies herself an unguided missile. On one recent occasion, she hurtled across the ottoman in our sunroom and, if I hadn’t moved my head, there would have been a snout-to-nose collision.

Not surprisingly, her, ahem, “training” has been spotty and rather a chore. We’ve finally gotten to the point where, when Bailey needs to “go,” she plants herself at the back door. Sometimes though, perhaps out of spite for some perceived slight, she’ll forget. One time, she stared right at me ... as she piddled on the kitchen floor.

The most recent of such episodes featured all the aspects of a slow-motion train wreck — you know, the kind of thing you see coming and yet are frozen, powerless to stop it. Smack-dab in the middle of a fang-bared frolic, Bailey suddenly stopped, assumed the position, and let fly on the foot of a house guest. Adding to the indignity was the fact our buddy Mike was wearing open-toed sandals. The Olympic sprints were on TV at the time, so Mike, duly inspired, started calling her “Insane Bolt.”

To her loving but frazzled parents, though, she’s alternately “Bailey Jo bin Laden” — please don’t take offense, as the name, uttered in exasperation, just popped out one day — and “The Cutest Dog in the World.” Albeit the latter is employed sparingly — and mostly when she is sleeping.


Exhausted, but exhilarated

Posted: Aug. 8, 2012

Ever heard the saying, “I need a vacation from my vacation”? Well, here it is, more than a week since our return to accustomed climes, and Toni and I are still jet-lagged and weary from our whirlwind run through Ireland and Scotland.

Sixteen days gallivanting hither and yon through castles and cottages, burial sites and bogs are difficult to squeeze into 15 inches. So I’ll just hit upon the highlights.

The “business” end of our trip, as it were, was the Piedmont Singers’ weeklong residency — their third since 2007 — at one of the notable Anglican cathedrals, this time St. Patrick’s in Dublin, where Jonathan Swift held sway as dean for more than 30 years.

While the singers, of whom my wife is one, are the stars in my book, a word must be said about the venues. Liturgical music simply sounds better in these grand old structures, even to tone-deaf “pilgrims” like me. The key, so John Hudson of Berryville told me: unparalleled acoustics.

While in Dublin, I took a walking tour to sites of the 1916 Easter Rebellion — a real treat considering that the guide was one of the city’s true characters, a fellow named Lorcan Collins, writer-editor of a biographical series dedicated to the 16 patriots executed by the British for their role in the “rising.” The tour started in the basement of a pub. Need I say more?

The Book of Kells and the Guinness brewery are listed among Dublin’s top tourist attractions, but, for my money, the No. 1 destination for anyone visiting the city is Kilmainham Gaol, where many of those aforementioned patriots were held in the wake of the Easter Rebellion. The one-hour tour starts in the prison chapel where Joseph Plunkett married Grace Gifford mere hours before he faced a firing squad. Chilling.

If Kilmainham gave me goosebumps, Toni was “all a-tingle,” as she says, after visiting three castles in Scotland — Balmoral, Glamis (childhood home of the Queen Mum), and the Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh. Short of entering Buckingham Palace, this was Holy Grail stuff for such a dedicated Anglophile as she.

Light years from the standard tourist crush were three days spent in County Clare with Kathleen Locke, a friend of our traveling companion (and longtime friend of Toni’s) Terri McCallister. Kathy’s life story is a Valley Pike in itself, but the Cliff’s Notes version is this: She, a church missionary, has inherited (along with her sisters) her mom’s childhood home on the Clare coast, a whitewashed cottage straight out of “The Quiet Man.” We were treated to tea beside a turf fire, a ride through a genuine peat bog, a walk along the naked Clare cliffs, and a concert of traditional Irish music in a church dating back to the days of Brian Boru. Wow!
Speaking of tea, I drank 73 cups on our trip. I don’t know why I count such things, but I do.

On one of the singers’ free days — no church services — Toni and I headed north to Downpatrick, where St. Patrick is said to be buried. Of added interest is how we got there — by rental car, which meant I had to drive on the wrong side of the road. The first hour was tough — knotted stomach, hands clenched around the steering wheel. I did clip a traffic cone, but we made it back in one piece (us and the car) — no dings, no nicks, no errors.

On our first day with Kathleen, we took a boat trip to Inisheer, one of the Aran Islands, where pony-and-trap drivers wait at the end of the dock to offer tours of the island. Wouldn’t you know it, but one of the first drivers we saw was sporting a Boston baseball hat. Red Sox Nation lives, in one of Ireland’s most remote locales. I love it!

We returned home wondering whether our new puppy, Bailey, had grown considerably and, more importantly, would remember us. No worries on the latter score and, as for the former, her only growth spurt came in precociousness and deviltry. More on that next week.

The world Russ helped build

Posted: July 12, 2012

When Russ Potts left Winchester to plunge into a newly created — and untitled — position in the athletic department of his alma mater, the University of Maryland, some 42 years ago, the National Association of Collegiate Marketing Administrators could have held its convention, he says, “in a phone booth.” Literally.

Yes, literally. And it would have been Russ in that phone booth making a call to some radio station or prospective corporate partner.

So imagine his amazement late last month when Russ, the first sports marketing director in the history of collegiate athletics, traveled to NACMA’s convention in Dallas, where he was inducted into the association’s Hall of Fame. Some 3,000 folks attended.

“It was heartwarming to see this profession that once didn’t exist and now has grown so much,” Russ told me last week.

He was especially “flabbergasted” to look out at a sea of 1,800 mostly young faces at a NACMA function he addressed and realize half of them belonged to women.

That the landscape of this world, his world, has dramatically changed is hardly news to Russ.
Nonetheless, he was surprised by the number of questions posed to him that started with “You mean to tell me that ...” and ended with references to collegiate marketing staples now taken for granted, like corporate partner programs.

All that was futuristic stuff when Russ landed at Maryland in August 1970. Not only, as I noted last week, did he take a 50 percent pay cut to go to College Park, but his salary — $12,000 — also doubled as his budget. In time, he would be given a paid budget of $25,000 with which to work. That eventually grew to $200,000 annually, but at the beginning, there was nothing but Russ, his wits, and a bottomless reservoir of persistence.

If he waxes romantic about those days, he has ample reason. He was a pioneer of sorts, and his vehicle was sports marketing’s Newtown wagon. Before him lay untrod ground, virgin territory, an unmarked canvas. The best part? It was “fun” unencumbered by the heavy “burden of expectations.”

With free rein given to his creativity, his (and Maryland’s) “firsts” came quickly — the first commercial scoreboard at a college facility, the first corporate partner program, the first school to have its basketball team play in weekday primetime, the first Super Bowl Sunday college basketball game (N.C. State-Maryland in 1973), and the first nationally televised women’s basketball game (Immaculata-Maryland in 1976).

Russ was also instrumental in the exponential growth in the size of the football and basketball game-day programs — from 40 pages (32 for football and eight for basketball) to 240 pages total. He also orchestrated the McDonald’s Kids Day event as a way of increasing attendance at Byrd Stadium.

Five kids got in free with each paying adult that first Saturday for a game against Villanova — and the concessions “take” was bigger than when Penn State came to town. By the way, the “Ronald McDonald” that afternoon? None other than a young Willard Scott.

All this activity translated to success, on many levels. Terrapin sports, nothing to write home about in the late ’60s (or watch while on campus), became the hottest ticket in town. Coach Lefty Driesell, who arrived a year before Russ, built a collegiate basketball powerhouse around the likes of Tom McMillen, John Lucas, and Len Elmore. And, in football, Jerry Claiborne, hired in 1972, coached the Terps to six straight bowl games in the ’70s.

Heady times in College Park, not the least for its hard-charging sports marketing director whose Midas touch prompted an invitation to address the prestigious Yale Club and answer questions from the membership. “Talk about high cotton,” Russ says with a laugh.

The Yale Club, needless to say, never met in a phone booth.

A Title and Challenge

Posted: July 5, 2012


“The greatest fun is in the chase, in the building . . .”

— Russ Potts

“It was hard work. I’m always telling people, ‘If you’re impressed with the list that said yes, you’ll really be impressed with the list that said no.’

— Russ Potts, again

Russ Potts knew it was going to be, well, a challenge when he walked into Jim Kehoe’s office and the University of Maryland athletic director said, “What do you want your title to be?”

It was Russ’ first day on the job at his alma mater. The date was Aug. 3, 1970.

“What about sports marketing director?” he replied.
The rest is history.

I’ve known Russ going on 20 years. He was one of the first people I met when I myself started a new job, here at The Star. At that time, he was but a year into his first term as state senator.

Over these two decades, we have, as they say, “cussed and discussed” a lot of subjects — politics, of course (and sometimes at high decibels), local and national sports (in volume), and any and all things Handley. But, oddly enough, never had I really grilled Russ about “the business” — his business, sports promotion — until Monday.

To be sure, I knew the basics of Russ’ resume in this regard — Maryland, SMU, the Chicago White Sox, and Russ Potts Productions — and I knew he had made national chops putting together the U.Va.-Georgetown (Sampson vs. Ewing) college hoops extravaganza in 1982. What I hadn’t heard were the stories about those days, as only Russ can tell ’em.

So, shortly after his return from Dallas, where he was inducted into the collegiate marketing administrators’ Hall of Fame, I took a cue from his two current sports-promotions assistants, Zach Franz and Pepper Martin, and sat down with Russ for an hour of story-telling.

Hard as it is to believe, Russ took a substantial — try 50 percent — pay cut to become Maryland’s (and the nation’s) first collegiate sports marketing director.
Not only was he still sports editor at The Star, but also had his own radio show and was executive director of the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival. He and his wife Emily had just moved to a home on Country Club Lane.
In other words, life was good — but Maryland beckoned. He had a chance to build something from the ground up — and that, actually, may be understating it a bit.

When Russ arrived, Maryland sports were down, and its electronic media reach all but nonexistent. A single radio station carried Terrapin sporting events.

So, the energetic Mr. Potts hit the road, often in tandem with another relatively new (and equally voluble) Kehoe hire — basketball coach Lefty Driesell, who had landed in College Park the year before. “It was,” Russ says, “a marriage made in heaven.”

In the space of a few months, he says, the number of stations broadcasting Terp games had increased to 17. The “crown jewel” was WBAL in Baltimore, a 50,000-watt megastation that, on a clear night, could be heard as far north as Maine and as far south as Florida.

But getting WBAL did not come easy. The station’s general manager was a “Dapper Dan” named Al Burke. Russ visited him 10 times; Burke said “No” to his entreaties each time. And yet Russ decided to try again.
“On the 11th time,” Russ laughs, “I walked in and Al threw up his hands and said, “I give up. I’ll do this, but only if you promise never to walk into this office again.”

In time, the Maryland radio network grew to 55 stations. And, to this day, you can still hear Terp games on WBAL.

Next Wednesday: Russ engages the corporate world, and is invited to the Yale Club to discuss his work.


One Trip Was Enough

Posted: June 27, 2012

Louis Ebert can’t believe it’s been 65 years, but can remember the weekend “like it was yesterday” — right down to the pimento cheese sandwiches.

Now 81, and no less voluble than he was “back in the day” when he hawked advertising for this newspaper, Louie was but a teenager, playing cards and enjoying the company of four buddies at the Rouss Fire Hall, when an urgent call came in from Bluemont.

Life, in a macabre way, imitated art and channeled cliche that evening. Not only was it Friday the 13th, in June 1947, but was also truly “a dark and stormy night.” The caller said a DC-4 Capital Airlines passenger plane, en route to Washington with 50 people aboard, had crashed in the mountains somewhere near the West Virginia border. Search parties were needed.

So, after calling home, Louie and his four teenaged friends — Wade Emmert, Bob Dale, George Williams, and Johnny Butler — piled into a car and headed for Bluemont. There they met “a little fella in a Model-A pickup.” Louie, a slip of a lad, squeezed into the front seat. His pals jumped into the bed of the truck — and off they went into the “miserable” night. And found nothing.

Several similar searches proved unsuccessful, but, in clearing weather on Saturday, Don Patton — noted by Louie as “owning a dance hall in Winchester” — piloted the plane that finally spied the wreckage. And so a similar call went out — this time for parties to trek up the mountain for the grisly task of searching for and then removing the bodies.

Sensing “adventure” and “excitement,” Louie and his friends, this time joined by Sonny Cooper, returned to Loudoun County in an Omps Funeral Home van filled with generators, floodlights, and stretchers donated by the Sarah Zane Fire Company.

They arrived at what Louie believes was an old one-room schoolhouse near Hillsboro that served as headquarters for the retrieval effort. A woman offered the group pimento cheese sandwiches and coffee, but advised Louie not to put cream in his coffee, as it might induce vomiting when he arrived at the wreckage. (Why the pimento cheese spread would not have done likewise mystifies me in the wake of hearing Louie’s account.)

Night had again fallen when Louie and company started up the rutted and twisting mountain roads — worse than in Korea, he says — in a Jeep with those stretchers lashed to the top. A few miles seemed like a few dozen, but then the blacktop came to an end. Time to unload the stretchers and, flashlights guiding the way, follow the trail to the top of the mountain.

“We started down the other side,” Louie says. “The first thing I saw was a huge tail, still intact.”

Several airline officials were there — and a contingent of National Guardsmen, too — looking for bodies. Directed to the remains of a man whose legs had been sheared off, Louie and three of his friends tied the body on a stretcher and started back down.

“On the way, the man’s arm fell out and hit Sonny,” Louie says. “Boy, did that give him a fright.”

By the time they returned to the Jeep, the Sunday-morning sun was just coming up — and so too, Louie recalls, a “sweet smell, almost like honeysuckle,” from bodies yet to be discovered.

Louie and his buddies got back to the schoolhouse and unloaded. And headed back to Winchester.

“One trip up, that was it,” he says. “We got it out of our system ... It didn’t bother me, though. I didn’t know anyone. It was an adventure, exciting. In Korea, when I was 19, it was the same thing ... until I heard the artillery.”

Back in Winchester, Louie and his pals saw a copy of The Washington Post lying at Nelson Page’s front door. News of the crash was splashed across the front page.
“It was a big thing back then,” Louie says. “Sixty-five years later, I can still visualize it, clear as day.”

Angry Cat

Posted: June 20, 2012

There’s trouble on Valley Pike in Stephens City. Our cat, Paperboy, has been in something of an extended snit.
He’s “mad” at us.

OK, OK, I realize I’m halfway attributing human qualities, like powers of cognitive thought, to a lesser form of life. But don’t animals, especially those who live with us, have something akin to feelings, or emotions? Or, with them, is it all instinctive, reactive?

Sometimes, I wonder. Haven’t you looked at a family pet and said to yourself, “What can he be thinking about? Is there anything going on inside that little pea brain?”

I’m forever kidding Toni that when Paperboy goes off on one of his elongated sojourns, he’s departed for his own Lake Isle of Innisfree to commune with nature and write some poetry (volumes of which he has stored somewhere). Standard eye-rolling on the part of my wife ensues, followed by the inevitable “You and that cat.”
Well, that cat’s world has gone topsy-turvy of late. Ol’ “Papes” has endured a rough few months.

It all started, of course, when his canine “sibling,” Heidi, died back in late March. If you recall from an earlier column, Paperboy was the first to “know,” or at least intuitively sense, that something was wrong. He met us coming up the stairs as we were coming down that sad morning. He looked as if he had something to tell us.

Theirs was an interesting relationship. Heidi was first on the scene, so when “Papes,” just a kitten, joined the household a few months later he had to scrap for what he considered his rightful place. He succeeded rather well in that regard, with a minimum of snarling and baring of claws.

In fact, it always amazed us how infrequently — maybe two or three times over the 13-plus years they were together — Paperboy let Heidi “have it,” as they say. He’s seldom showed such patience with others, human or otherwise.

Over time, there emerged a “peaceful coexistence” between “sister” and “brother” — or, rather, a studied indifference on Paperboy’s part. Heidi was there, and he dealt with it, jealousy and all. Heidi never let him forget who was No. 1 child. He pretended not to care.

Now, he misses her, we believe, or at least is certain there’s something amiss — namely that she is gone and maybe we had something to do with it. And might do the same thing to him.

So, he’s kept his distance — which, as we think about it, may also be attributed to the onset of warm weather. Perhaps, without another “child” to worry about, we’re just noticing his absences more.

We do know this, though: Paperboy’s petulance has been exacerbated by the appearance, albeit intermittently, of another dog — Oscar, a rambunctious terrier and boon companion of Toni’s friend, Terri McCallister, who’s been in town frequently to rehearse with the Piedmont Singers. Let’s just say when “Papes” gets a first whiff of Oscar he heads for the hills.

Critical mass, in this regard, was reached two weekends ago. Oscar paid us another weekend call and then, on successive days, Toni had gatherings at the house for two sets of teacher friends. “Papes” doesn’t care much for “strange” company either.

We didn’t see him for a few days, and when he returned his disdain was palpable. He’d come in to eat and “talk” to us reproachfully, his meow almost a bark.

On Sunday, though, a corner was turned. “Papes” met me at the pool and commenced his lounge act for the petting and scratching.

But there’s trouble on the horizon. The vet’s coming soon for his yearly checkup, and “Papes” can “smell” Dr. Debbie Frank’s van a mile way. This necessitates us trapping him in the sun room an hour or so ahead of the visit.

And, sometime this summer, another pup will be arriving. Not Oscar, but a permanent addition to the household. Too much for “Papes” to handle? We’ll see.

'No day like the last day'

Posted: June 13, 2012

“I’m ready to do something else . . . but I’m not ready to understand what it will mean not to do this.”
— Mark Whittle


Properly serenaded by a quartet of budding choristers, and with a birthday lei around his neck and his office duly glittered and bedazzled — a trademark courtesy of phys ed teacher Kim Maxwell — Mark Whittle braced himself for a typically hectic final day of classes at Admiral Byrd Middle School.

“There’s no day quite like the last day,” he confided en route to presenting perfect-attendance certificates to a score of Huskies.

Especially when that “last day” is really your last day, at least with kids. After 35 years in the Frederick County school system, Mark — teacher, coach, and principal — is retiring at the end of this month.

Mark is also a friend, so that’s why I arose earlier than usual last Wednesday and hustled over to Byrd to see his heartfelt but understated sendoff. We go back nearly 40 years, to our days as frat brothers at Randolph-Macon College.

But, rest assured, my intent here is not to tell tales out of school, so to speak, although if you were to drop the words “midnight janitor” or “dashiki” in Mark’s presence, you may get a raised eyebrow. Or even an explanation.

No, my reason for sallying over to Byrd was, simply, to share a milestone with a buddy and, perhaps, get a sense of what it’s like to stand on the brink of a major life change. Hey, you know that time is slip-sliding when a contemporary — in fact, someone a year younger — is trading the workaday world for, well, something else entirely. But what? And why?

“I’m ready to do something else,” says Mark, who opened Byrd as its principal seven summers ago. “After 35 years, I want to have the opportunity to change part of my life.

“I did not make this decision lightly, but I’m not ready to understand what it will mean not to do this. It consumes you, and you have to devote time to it, if it’s to be done well.”

I understand, or at least I think I will — some day. So it resonated with me, if only in a theoretical sense, when Mark added, envisioning his first few days off his internal clock, “I’d like to figure out what not to do for about 30 days.”

In this vein, he fancies things somewhat prosaic, but wonderfully so, pursuits heretofore pinched by the presence of that clock — like yardwork (“planting things”), golf, reading, even cooking. “I like grocery shopping,” Mark says, as I sense his wife, Cindy, nodding in appreciation. “It’s relaxing.”

Nonetheless, he will miss what most “challenges” him about his job, namely its unpredictable and oft-frenetic nature.

“There’s never really a down moment,” he says. “Each day you may have a plan, but something inevitably happens to divert you from it. How well you stay centered, and how well you behave when pulled away from the center is critical.”

To be sure, Mark will also miss the relationships forged with students and staff. He and Assistant Principal Margie Maphis, for example, have been together since their days at Frederick County Middle School. Now they’re retiring together, along with Byrd’s other assistant principal, Sadie Nelson. That’s more than 100 years of experience leaving the system.

Still, “bittersweet,” Mark says, does not describe his emotions as his time at Byrd grows short. “Fortunate” is his adjective of choice.

And “lucky,” too — lucky to have chosen a career in which he could “make a difference.” Of course, it didn’t start out that way, but then, for most of us, it seldom does. But, in time, comes a realization, as it did for Mark Whittle.

“Over 30 years,” he says, “you get your reward, the recognition that you have impacted people . . . That, for me, is the best part. Your’re not looking for that, but you realize you can have an impact on people’s lives.”

'Loping' in Capon Springs

Posted: June 6, 2012

“Many of our guests describe a feeling of being at home at Capon. That Capon is a place where they can let go, slow down, and be their true selves.”

— Capon Springs & Farms website

In and around Capon Springs, W.Va. — My dear departed friend, the late Harrington Smith, was famous for what were called his “bonelopes” — forays through Frederick County that drew their hybrid moniker from a combination of his nickname “Herringbone” and, I suppose, that penchant for long “lopes” around the county he served for so many years as a supervisor.

I savor the opportunity to “lope” around myself. But whereas Harrington’s meandering sojourns centered, if I recall correctly, on visiting friends and constituents, mine are more geared to driving around to places I’ve never been to, but have long heard about.

On Tuesday, this wanderlust, my desire to “lope,” took me here, to Capon Springs. Well, that’s not totally true. I did receive a “cold” letter chockablock with Capon Springs lore, titled “Valley Pike idea,” from a certain Jonathan Bellingham, whose phone number (as provided) is precisely that of the resort noted in the lead quote.

Whatever, my interest was piqued. I had long heard about the healing waters — Cacapon means “medicine waters” — of the springs in that part of Hampshire County, but never knew for certain if the resort dedicated in June 1851 by none other than Daniel Webster (and which catered to the likes of President Franklin Pierce) still existed in any way, shape, or form.

So, Jonathan’s letter not wholly digested, Tuesday morning still found me “loping” down W.Va. 259 toward Capon Springs. After cruising through Highview, Lehew and Yellow Spring, I paused for a moment at the ancient Whipple Truss (think of the bridge seen in the opening credits to “Hoosiers”), now a WVDOT historic site, that once took motorists across the Cacapon. I then turned onto W.Va. 16 not really knowing what I would find. And when I passed the “Capon Springs, Unincorporated,” I suspected it might be nothing.

But, as I crested a hill on the far end of the community, I saw cars and then a grand old white building cut into the side of a hill. And finally a town-square layout, complete with a classic gazebo and recreational venues (volleyball, shuffleboard, the pool) all around. I couldn’t help but think I had stepped through a time tunnel, or the “Twilight Zone.” Decades melted away, and then I remembered Jonathan’s letter.

Capon Springs & Farms, he had written, is currently celebrating the 80th anniversary of its present iteration. When Lou Austin, a public works administrator from Philadelphia, and his wife Virginia purchased the place in 1932, it was in a state of general disrepair. In fact, a consulting engineer suggested he tear the 19th-century buildings down.

One thing Austin did have was the water, the distribution rights to which he had purchased nine years earlier. U.S. Olympic teams trained with the water during the 1920s, Jonathan’s letter said, and the U.S. Senate contracted for its use during the ’30s.

Nonetheless, Austin struggled in making the nettlesome water business a going concern, and so decided to purchase the whole kit and resort kaboodle, deteriorating buildings and all.

His energies turned to reclamation, and the hospitality business. Guests started coming, and began to tell their friends. And 80 years, and three generations of Austins, later, they are still coming to partake of the resort’s unique charms — three home-cooked “squares” a day served family style, myriad recreational outlets (including golf), those healing waters . . .

And that unmistakable sense of time stopped. Even for an itinerant inter-“loper” just passing through.


Catching up

Posted: May 30, 2012

Whew!

For the better part of a year, as you well may know, I’ve been deeply involved in the planning and preparation for the 20th annual Newtown Heritage Festival, which took place this past weekend in Stephens City.

Despite the heat — which, at times, achieved blast-furnace intensity — the festival went well. Very well, from what folks have told me. And for that I must thank not only the indefatigable members of our festival committee, but also the folks who braved the 90-plus temperatures to partake of our charming little slice of Americana.

But, in directing so much of my energy and thoughts to the festival these past few months, I may not have been quite as attentive to things on the Valley Pike front. Fortunately, the NHF is a finite endeavor — it has both a beginning and an end — and the stuff I like to write about is seldom so time-sensitive that it can’t lie fallow another week. So, here’s to catching up.

George’s trains — In case you haven’t stolen a glance at this month’s edition of Classic Toy Trains, a local enthusiast’s sprawling O gauge layout is featured starting on Page 48. The fact that my all-things-historical buddy, George Schember (along with wife Jeanne) is the subject of a national magazine article is newsworthy in and of itself, but, for me, the piece is rendered more special by its author, a fella named Roger Carp. This story has legs and tentacles.

Roger and I went to history grad school together in Chapel Hill. And if memory serves me correctly (and it may not), we both studied, at least for a while, under Revolutionary-era military historian Don Higginbotham, who wrote the seminal biography of Gen. Daniel Morgan, in whose Amherst Street home George now resides. I told you this was knotty to the point of being downright eerie.

Well, in any case, here’s a fine howdy-do: Roger writing about trains (something he’s done for the magazine since ’88) and me writing about him. Shoot, it’s all history of a sort, I suppose.

But it’s also funny, as I could sense Roger doing everything he could do to focus on the trains and not the 18th-century house where Morgan died. Likewise, having studied at UNC, I’m sure he found George’s tribute to Jeanne’s dad — the miniature Yadkin Hotel with the Cheerwine (“Nectar of the Carolinas”) logo on the side — a bracing reminder of our time spent along Tobacco Road.

Charlie’s reminiscences— ’Round about the time George sent me a copy of Roger’s article, I had a visit from one of Winchester’s grand old gentlemen, former Mayor Charles Zuckerman.

With all the latter-day action along the 300 and 400 blocks of North Cameron Street — e.g., the Our Health campus, a new site for The Laurel Center — Charlie wanted to remind me his family’s business long had a presence there.

The Winchester Department of Social Services is currently located at the East Baker Street site where Charlie’s dad opened the first iteration of the Zuckerman junkyard. He moved the business down to Kent Street in the early ’40s before Charlie went in service. In 1966, the operation left Winchester for a site north of the city along U.S. 11, where it still stands.

Robert’s letter — Finally, I received a letter, meticulously handwritten, from a semi-frequent pen pal, Bob Orndorff of Bunker Hill, W.Va. Bob wished to put a bug in my ear about his family’s — the Miller-Orndorff-Nesmith contingent — third annual reunion in Yellow Spring, W.Va. on July 28.

I’ve never been to one of these affairs, which this year will celebrate the sesquicentennial of the birth of Bob’s great-granddad, Dr. Philip Setzer Orndorff. Talk about a patriarch: He was father to 13 children.

Sad to say, I won’t be able to make this event, as Toni and I will be away on vacation. But, as Cubs fans say, there’s always next year.


Free beer!

Posted: May 23, 2012

Got your attention with that headline, didn’t I? Sorry, a latter-day take on an old fraternity ruse — which, in adult parlance, might be called the ol’ bait-and-switch.

But baiting and/or switching is hardly my intent here.
Nor is the consumption of adult beverages, as the subject of today’s column — the Newtown Heritage Festival — is a family friendly, alcohol-free event, and has been for 20 years.

So, by process of elimination, let’s focus on that other word. Music and movies have told us that “the best things in life are free.” There’s some truth in that, and I offer the Heritage Festival as proof.

OK, it’s not Apple Blossom, but our annual Memorial Day Weekend get-together down Stephens City way is a rather charming — charmingly humble — little slice of Americana. Norman Rockwell, I think, would love it. And did I happen to mention that it’s free?

I happen to be president of the festival this special year, our 20th anniversary. Unlike, say, Tom Scully over at Apple Blossom headquarters, I did not rise slowly through the committee and vice-presidency chairs, but rather received, as Stephens City Town Manager Mike Kehoe told me Saturday, a “battlefield promotion.” You see, I’ve only been a member of the NHF committee for four years. Still, that rapid rise hardly speaks to my qualifications for leadership, but rather to the smallness of the volunteer group that, for years, has put on a festival highlighting the essence of community, and the joys of small-town life.

And what a group I’ve been most fortunate to fall into. Donna Steward, for example, orchestrates our parade, and has done so for a decade or more. Ditto Janet Davidson, who’s responsible for our food vendors, and Pam McGregor, who oversees the craft show. Gretchen Meade and Patty Corey handle concessions, and Angela Mohr, author of this year’s commemorative cookbook, is the face of the Newtown Local Market.

And last but hardly least are the Four Originals, anchors of the festival since its inception. Tootie Rinker has been president no less than three times; this year, she’s carved time in her busy schedule to serve as vice president. Sue Grim, through her family business (Commercial Press), tends to our printing needs. Betty Wymer, longtime recording secretary, does all our signage, often at the drop of a hat. As for the aforementioned Mr. Kehoe, his official NHF handle is treasurer, but he’s really our jack-of-all-trades, our indispensable man. Need something? Call Mike.

Together, these folks, duly assisted by the staff at the Newtown History Center, somehow make it all happen. And, by somehow, I mean that all the pieces manage to fall in place with a minimum of anxiety (except on the part of this year’s president). We take the endeavor seriously, but not ourselves. It’s a great bunch to work with.

This festival, being our 20th, we wanted to be special. And we hope it will be. We’ll have all the usual staples — food, crafts, and the best fireworks a small community can buy. And, of course, the parade.

We’ll see some traditions renewed. For example, Butch Fravel, town councilman and repository of local knowledge, will tell the town’s history Saturday in two of his walking tours (slated for noon and 4 p.m.). And our Concessions Tent will feature, for the first time in years, a Newtown commemorative from Grandville Pottery — a trademark blue-and-gray flower pot. We’ve commissioned 150, and we expect they’ll go fast.

Finally, we’ve kicked our entertainment up a notch for this 20th edition with a concert by the nationally acclaimed bluegrass band The Boxcars. Showtime on the Commons is Saturday at 7 p.m.

In the interim, I’ll be channeling John Rosenberger, my Apple Blossom — by praying for good weather. But rest assured, even if the skies do open, the raindrops, like everything at the festival (save concessions), will be free.

Father of St. Bridget's

Posted: May 16, 2012

“It’s never hard to be a Catholic. All you have to do is make a desire for it.”

— Chester “Chet” Hobert


Some time back, Vince Guiliano, a fellow parishioner at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, came emailing with a question. OK, well really sort of a request.

St. Bridget’s of Ireland over in Berryville — still listed on the Diocese of Arlington’s website as a “mission” church, but in truth a community and parish unto itself — had just broken ground for a new social hall. And so Vince got to thinking: Had I ever written a Valley Pike about the gentleman known as “the father of the St. Bridget’s community”?

That, of course, was Chester Anthony “Chet” Hobert, and, no, I had never devoted a column to him — though doing one, I quickly figured, would be a snap. Chet lived to be 100, and most of that century — as the Rev. Stanley Krempa, longtime pastor at Sacred Heart, told me — was “dedicated to church, community, and family.”

In truth, I had made Chet’s acquaintance back in the ’90s when the fate of Coiner’s Department Store in Berryville was hanging fire. I paid an “editorial” visit to Coiner’s, which Chet owned since 1946, and summarily fell into the store’s appealing time warp. I marveled at the cashier’s desk, elevated above the selling floor, and at the pulley-run “contraption” by which the cashier dispatched change and receipts to customers.

Unique, to be sure, but none more so than the store’s owner.

Few men, I dare say, have made such an imprint, and quietly so, on their respective communities — church and civic — as did Chet Hobert on Sacred Heart (and then St. Bridget’s) and Berryville.

“Instrumental” is a great word to describe Chet, and in a developmental rather than musical sense. Translated: He was on the ground floor, a driving force, of so many worthwhile endeavors — for instance, the Clarke County Parks and Rec Department (the county’s recreation complex is named for him), and the Sacred Heart Boys Club of yore, and Valley Council of the Knights of Columbus (of which he was the first grand knight).

And, of course, the community now known as St. Bridget’s.

When Chet moved to Berryville in 1948, Sunday Mass could have been held in someone’s living room, so few were the number of Catholics in town. Chet, in time, obtained the use of the old Opera House for Mass — at which he regularly served as lay reader and altar boy — and then, when it was razed, Grace Episcopal Church.
The aim, through all those years, was to build a sanctuary in Berryville, a dream realized in 2002 — when Chet was 98.

He and his family — son Mike now chairs the county Board of Supervisors — contributed money for one of the church’s glorious stained-glass windows. And every Sunday before his death on Aug. 19, 2004, as Father Krempa recalls, Chet would sit in his wheelchair beneath that window.

When the time came to name St. Bridget’s social hall, there was talk of honoring the Rev. Paul Henry Stragisher, a favorite of the Berryville community. But few of the current parishioners remembered him. So, as Father Krempa wryly says, “In a great moment of insight, I said, ‘Let’s call it Chet Hobert Hall.’”

The suggestion, he says, was greeted “with immediate unity.” And for good reason: “(Chet) was so very well-respected . . . He was a very, very, very fine man.”
In fact, Father Krempa adds, it may behoove Berryville to christen that whole corner of town for Chet. After all, the church hall will sit diagonally across Va. 7 Business from Chet Hobert Park. “We could name the street leading into the church for him, too,” he says.

Not a bad idea — a connecting thread linking the three great passions in Chet Hobert’s life — church, community, and family.

End of an Era . . . on Hold

Posted: May 9, 2012

“The old wood stove would kindle and try to dry the rain;
I know the times are changing,
but it won’t be the same . . .
But Herky, Wright, and Whitey still sit outside the door
Waitin’ for that quart of beer
at Bill Jones’ General Store.
— Jud Strunk, “Bill Jones General Store”

The Royal Lunch on North Kent is not, as the lyrics above suggest, a general store. But the unassuming, no-frills eatery is a general clearinghouse of wisecracks, boasts, opinion, local lore...

And, oh yes, good food — daily specials of the “blue-plate” variety (meat loaf, hamburger steaks, hot roast beef sandwiches) as well as burgers, subs and, if you get there early enough, a stack of Larry Wadsworth’s trademark buckwheat pancakes.

If “The Royal” is not the last of a dying breed in these parts — part “joint,” part hangout, part home-away-from-home, and, overall, a place in the heart — it’s close. Not that it’s going away, mind you, but its proprietors are.

After more than four decades in a demanding business, Larry and his wife Ann are hanging up their aprons and ladles for good — that is, once the business’ future owners get their paperwork (ABC licenses and the like) done and approved. That could happen in a week, 10 days, or maybe a month.

Until then, life goes on as usual at the corner of North Kent and Halifax Lane. Walk into “The Royal” and you never quite know who’ll see. “Suits,” as they’re called, mix easily with men in “camo” and overalls, and share gossip and good-natured barbs around the counter and beneath a shelf crammed with dusty “dead soldiers” — empty beer bottles of every brand known to man.

“You do see a wide range of people here,” Larry says. “But everyone gets treated the same.”

In other words, it’s the most democratic of establishments — no one gets cut any slack, but all are received like long-lost friends.

For many patrons, lunch with Larry and Ann is an essential part of their weekly routine — Larry Ambrogi and the courthouse crowd on Mondays, Gene Babb and friends on Tuesdays, the Clarke County connection (Charlie Kackley, Donnie Fuller, John Harris, Rudy Telek, Terry Hayton) on Wednesdays. George Forney, a one-man octogenarian gang of memories and quips, holds down a stool most Fridays.

For others, “The Lunch” is almost a daily port of call. Drop in around noon most days, and Soupy Hillyard is holding court, Jerry Headley is working a crossword, Frenchy Shoemaker is needling someone, and Bugs Moffett is back in the kitchen chatting with Larry. And you can pretty much set your watch on Jimmy Funk. If it’s 1:45, “Mr. Patton Movers” is pulling in.

You see, “The Royal” is not just a “joint,” but part of life’s chain — and Larry and Ann are the links.

Theirs is a unique pairing. Larry, a Handley guy (Class of ’62), grew up in the North End. Ann (James Wood, Class of ’68) is old Frederick County; her dad, Tom Rosenberger, chaired the Board of Supervisors. They met when Larry was best man at the wedding of Ann’s sister Barbara.

Since 1969, when Larry decided he wanted to be “his own boss,” they’ve run no fewer than nine eateries (in three states). Space hardly permits me to list ’em all, but the Terminal Tavern, the Robert E. Lee, Wit’s End, and the wonderfully named Third Base (“Last Place You Stop Before Home”) should ring more than a few bells.
They’ve been on North Kent since 1986.

Now, alas, it’s time to say good-bye. Both are in their sixties, their four children are long grown, so the day has come, as Ann says, for “someone younger” to carry on the “Royal” traditions.

Larry and Ann, understand, have reached “third base.” Time, at long last, to head home.

On Little Cat's Feet

Posted: May 2, 2012

For some reason, selecting a Pike topic this week proved somewhat of a puzzle — until I swung onto Handley Boulevard early Monday afternoon and saw a pink-and-green-clad John Rosenberger standing by the expansive grandstand, cogitating over logistics.

Geez, “The Bloom,” creeping in this year as if on little cat’s feet. Or is it just me thinking it has, so accustomed as I am to the rhythm and tenor of this time of year?

That got me to thinking some, but not too much — until I walked out of The Star later Monday with two of our reporters, Becky Layne and Melissa Boughton. Becky mentioned that this festival would be her third. Melissa, though, is a “newbie,” poised to experience the joys and (for Star staffers) hard work of her first Apple Blossom.

It was then that I started doing the easy math, and it hit me: This festival will be my 20th — and, by some standards, I’m still a “newbie.” That is, when you consider that our Star patriarch, Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr., was in the first festival back in ’24, and, as he’s often told me, has missed but two since then. From what I hear, the senator fully intends to take in the Grand Feature Parade again this year.

Still, I guess I’ve been here long enough to have made some realizations and pick up some knowledge. Like, for instance, about queens.

Imagine, if you will, young women coming to town not knowing what to expect, and emerging from the Queen Shenandoah experience as wide-eyed as they are foot-sore and dog-tired — after three full days of being feted and fawned over. What a rush! Small wonder so many say they wish to return to Winchester some day. And some actually do.

Then there are the grand marshals. Gone are the days when the late Tom Baldridge had an “in” out in Hollywood and could woo the likes of Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Lucille Ball to Winchester — at the top of their respective games.

Nowadays with schedules, contracts, and whatnot being what they are, getting a grand marshal to swallow whole our delicious slice of Americana is a crapshoot. Some are whisked in on the red-eye and stay less than 24 hours, time enough to appear at the Saturday-morning receptions and ride in the parade.

Every so often though, we hit the jackpot — Dan Aykroyd, with in-laws in the area, doesn’t count; he’s in a class by himself — as we did with George Hamilton and Erik Estrada. Regarding the latter, I recall walking over to “Bloom” headquarters on some Star errand that Festival Friday and running into the star of “CHIPs.” He was there, pink socks ablaze, just hanging out, talking to the staff, and thoroughly enjoying his time here.

And so this realization: Apple Blossom, more than anything perhaps, is an amalgam of such pleasant memories. And, for me, the memories of my earliest “Blooms” are clearest, perhaps because I brought my late mom — someone who really did love a parade — to two of them (1993 and ’95).

On a more dubious note, the ’96 festival stands out — for the ride I received Saturday night, from the Winchester police. I had been stopped on Valley Avenue, ostensibly for speeding, but perhaps for something else. Let’s just say I had to walk the line. The encounter ended, though, with the young officer driving me home. Statutes of limitation run out, but not on gratitude. Sixteen years later, I still feel I owe the WPD one.

Later “Blooms” register now as a blur, maybe because I’m involved in the festival, albeit marginally. I’m on a committee (Concessions), I’ve ridden in the parade (three times), and, as a semi-official escort, I got to help squire around ESPN chatterbox Dick Vitale, who once coached high-school basketball in my corner of New Jersey.

Great memories. I haven’t missed a festival since landing here — and don’t plan to. Sen. Byrd needn’t worry, though; his record is safe, at least from me.

Search and Rescue

Posted: April 25, 2012

“It was a lot of fun.
I enjoyed the devil out of it.”
— Ed Lawrence Sr., on charting icebergs and logging search-and-rescue missions as a member of the U.S. Coast Guard


’Round about 1954, when Ed Lawrence Sr. of Winchester joined the Coast Guard, “everyone,” it seemed to him, “was in service.”

“I don’t think I would have done as well in, say, the Marines or the Army, where all they did was train, train, train,” says Ed, now 76. “I wanted to have a job. In the Coast Guard, I had a job.”

And what a job it was for a lad of 20 with a certain sense of adventure. Based in Argentia, Newfoundland, Ed, as I explained last week, engaged in search-and-rescue and, as a flight engineer on an eight-man crew, charted icebergs from the cockpit of a World War II-vintage B-17.

As fortune would have it, the 18 months Ed spent in Argentia were a banner time for ’bergs. Normally, he says, about 200 to 300 of these mysterious, largely submerged sea obstacles annually find their way to the North Atlantic shipping lanes from the Greenland coast, swept there by the Labrador Current. But over the full season Ed helped track the icy behemoths, the ocean was littered with more than 500.

“It was a record year,” he says, which translated to long flights, myriad missions, and many hours in the air for Ed and his mates.

Nonetheless, iceberg-tracking was “extra duty” for the Guardsmen in Argentia. Their primary stock-in-trade, as it is throughout the service, was search-and-rescue. And though hair-raising instances of same were far and few between during his stint there, Ed does have a few stories to tell.

For instance, there was the time a freighter went down in the ice close to Sable Island. Let Ed pick up the story from here.

“Navigation was not sophisticated, and they weren’t where they said they were. We found them in lifeboats. It was really foggy, and they were waving their oars. We directed a tanker to them.”

Ed still laments he left behind, back at base, the small camera he usually carried on such missions. “It would have made a helluva picture,” he says.

Oddly enough, his mother back in the Northern Valley had read about the rescue before Ed had a chance to write home about it. But she didn’t know he was involved in it. The Coast Guard, you see, hadn’t issued a press release. “We didn’t want to be seen as beating our own drum,” Ed says.

On another occasion, Ed and his crew “intercepted” a DC-4 Flying Tiger experiencing mechanical problems en route to Shannon, Ireland. And on yet another, they were sent in search of a B-47 co-pilot who had ejected from his plane before it blew up. They found him.

So many flights were routine though, which offered Ed a chance to observe and amass memories, such as the time his B-17 took a Life magazine photographer to snap pictures of boats coming out of the Northwest Passage.

He recalls as well seeing the great fishing fleets, whose mother ships would send out dories of men to “hand-fish.” And he remembers flying over Russian trawlers, with their hammer-and-sickle flags. “That got your attention,” he says, noting the reality of the Cold War.
Upon completing his four-year hitch — he was also stationed in San Diego — Ed returned home, attended Virginia Tech, and later worked at the Clear Brook Woolen Mill (run by his dad) before opening his own welding shop. He and son Ed Jr. now operate a metal and machine shop on Baker Lane.

From his days in Argentia, Ed retains a “sense of history,” notably of those B-17s that he sensed “flew over Berlin” in World War II.

“Up there in that aluminum skin,” he says, “you’d think you would not have wanted to be shot at. It was a real slow plane, but never a worry.”

In Titanic's wake

Posted: April 18, 2012

“It’s a life-saving service. I didn’t save anyone’s life, but I know it made a lot of people more comfortable.”
— Ed Lawrence Sr.


Imagine seeing an iceberg, glistening in the sun, some 400 feet beneath your feet.

Well, Ed Lawrence Sr. of Winchester has — from the cockpit of a B-17, the “wing-and-a-prayer” bomber of World War II fame.

Mention the word “iceberg” these days and you pretty much know the genesis of the reference — the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. That’s certainly the case here: Pat Goodman and I were exchanging emails on the ill-fated White Star liner when he suggested I give a call to Ed, who (with son Ed Jr.) runs Lawrence Fabrications, a metal and machine shop on Baker Lane.

Before any of you Titaniacs get any ideas, Mr. Lawrence has no connection to the doomed ship, but he does know a thing or two about icebergs, and North Atlantic search-and-rescue, gleaned from his days as a Coast Guardsman stationed in Argentia, Newfoundland.

For 18 months back in the mid-’50s, Ed was a flight engineer aboard a B-17 that charted iceberg activity in the frigid North Atlantic around Greenland. Yes, there is a Titanic link. Such duty was carried out as part of the International Ice Patrol, established in the immediate wake of the Titanic’s demise.

Ed, whose dad William ran the Clear Brook Woolen Mill, left Winchester in 1954 to join the Coast Guard.
Dispatched to the service’s Boston District after attending aviation machinist mate’s school, he asked to go to the naval air station in Argentia. None of the district’s other choices particularly suited him.

In many ways, it proved the (extended) ride of a lifetime. Argentia not only meant standard search-and-rescue, but Ice Patrol as well.

As Ed told me, Greenland is not “green” at all, but 80 percent covered in ice. The island’s glaciers move down its mountains and “calve” in the sea, some years forming as many as 15,000 icebergs. A normal “season” will see 200 to 300 make it to the open sea, swept around the west coast of the island by the Labrador Current and into the North Atlantic shipping lanes.

These were the icebergs Ed saw, as they say, “up close and personal” from those B-17s, by then “World War II hand-me-downs” but nonetheless the perfect plane — strong, steady, slow-moving — for the duty at hand.
There were few better places to view an iceberg than from the bombardier’s nest in the nose of a “Flying Fortress.”

As flight engineer — “a glamorous title for what we did,” he says — on a crew of eight, Ed flew standing up, between the pilot and co-pilot, watching the instruments. Radar was still in its primitive stages, and as Ed, now 76, says, “we couldn’t tell an iceberg from the Queen Mary.”

That meant descending beneath the cloud cover, to altitudes as low as 400 feet, to properly chart the iceberg. Each B-17 crew boasted an observer, often a cadet from the Coast Guard Academy, who would sketch the ’berg to track it for future reference.

On each flight, some as long as 14 hours, the crew would meticulously scour a particular area, employing the “creeping ladder” search method — flying in a straight line for, say, 100 miles, then turning for a specified distance, and then turning back for another 100 miles.

“Icebergs don’t move that fast,” Ed says dryly. “They won’t get ahead of you.”

Rest assured, Ed was not in the cockpit the entire flight. Sometimes, he would take his turn cooking for the crew on a two-burner stove. But then there were the times the plane would drop to 400 feet, and he’d find himself staring at the top of an iceberg.

“At 20 though, nothing much bothers you,” he says.
Next Wednesday: Ed gets specific, recalling rescue missions of note.

Riding ‘the circuit’

Posted: April 11, 2012

This past Sunday, Toni and I did something we hadn’t done in quite some time. We took a ride in the country.

Our schedules are so crazy, even on weekends, that we seldom have time for such niceties. Often, it seems, we’re like those proverbial ships, forever passing in the night.

Sunday proved different, perhaps because it was Easter, blessed with a high sky and warm (but not overly hot) weather. So after a splendid brunch at The George, we decided to heed the advice of my ol’ buddy O.C. Whitacre — however belatedly — and go out beyond Gore to see if the apple blossoms were still in bloom.

Alas, they were largely done, save for a few pockets of trees in the Hidden Valley Orchard just a short hop from Va. 259. But Toni did snap a few pictures, and I felt largely proud of myself for negotiating what I call “the circuit” — O.C.’s circuit — up Parrishville Road to Old Trone (in whose mill O.C. would sleep as a boy “until the rats run me out”) and then over through Cordell Watt’s ever-expanding spread (Timber Ridge Fruit Farm) and on down past the ol’ Gold place to 259.

You see, Sunday was the first time I had driven the circuit, and the first time I had done it with anyone but O.C.. Usually, my octogenarian friend is behind the wheel, chattering a mile a minute as I frantically try to keep up, scribbling away on a legal pad as his car bounces along the rutted paths of Cordell’s farm.

This last time we “danced this dance,” as William Byrd II would say in his 18th century diary, it was on a day far different than Sunday — a Wednesday morning (March 21) so foggy that Flatt and Scruggs could have provided signature background music to our trip.

O.C. figured it was high time I saw the apple cycle from the opposite end, from blossom time rather than pickin’ time. Plus, he wanted me to see how much Cordell had done since we last made the circuit, back in early September.

On this morning, spring’s first, the fear of frost certain to come despite an early run of warm temperatures hung in the air, as heavy as the dew. The trees, as O.C. told me, were already budding. But first, he had some history to pass on.

So, instead of wheeling right onto Parrishville Road, we crossed the state line, bound for the top of Bear Garden Mountain, “the hill” overlooking Capon Bridge, where O.C. showed me the precise site of Grover Crane’s fruit stand. Folks, even passengers on Greyhound buses, would stop to purchase fruit (apples and peaches) and cider from “the old man on the hill.”

On the way back along “50 West,” O.C. noted other points of interest — for instance, where Patsy Cline lived for a brief spell during her childhood (yes, anotherPatsy site). All that remains of that house, he says, is a pile of bricks.

He also pointed out the location of Sid Webster’s store. Sid, O.C. informed me, sold enough “hamburgers and cheeseburgers to buy a new ’57 car.” And every day just before 8 a.m., he would set out a breakfast plate for Doug Whitacre, who would arrive on the hour for his morning repast.

My “apple education,” as it were, resumed shortly thereafter, dense fog notwithstanding. Yes, much had changed since late summer — land freshly cleared, and new trees already planted; Cordell’s telltale wooden “sticks” already carefully assuring the proper separation of branches on second-year growth. The promise of a new season, everywhere — “early” apples already budding, the later ones waiting their turn — and signs of expansion, too.

“Others (orchardists) are going out, but Cordell is building up,” said O.C. of his friend, with pride as well as appreciation.

For my friend, now in his 84th year, there’s no place he’d rather be. And I’m growing rather fond of “the circuit” myself.

Circle broken

Posted: April 4, 2012

This past Saturday, I cut the grass “inside the pool fence” for the first time this spring.

It was rather high — no surprise there, given my propensity for procrastination — but I labored through it, even without my accustomed help.

Or should I say “company”? Because our beloved dog Heidi was, in truth, more hindrance than help, forever throwing her Glow-Ball in the path of the mower. That is, after she tried biting its wheels as I pushed it out of the garage.

That was our routine — one of many — as constant as our friendship. I pitched, she fetched. Now she fetches me more.

Heidi passed away, peacefully we believe, last Tuesday night. Toni, who has pretty much always had a dog in her life, noticed the first signs of decline months ago. I thought our sweet 14-year-old pooch was merely getting old. All one and the same, I suppose.

Though she did, almost to the end, patiently wait for table scraps, Heidi stopped eating anything the previous weekend. And on that Tuesday, she crawled into a corner of the family room after an afternoon lolling in the sun, and by nightfall had turned inward toward the wall. She knew what we feared. And there was where we found her the following morning.

Now, in her wake, I struggle to say something original. But it’s all been said before by folks far more eloquently insightful than I — how losing a treasured pet is like losing a family member, or even a child.

In some ways, it can be even more searing because a dog is so dependent on us, and so loyal, and so unconditionally loving. I think that last attribute is what we dog-lovers miss more than anything when an animal dies. I know I do, perhaps because I’m such a late “convert,” as it were, to that cultural genus “dog person.”

Not only was Heidi, a Black Lab-Border Collie mix, my first dog, she was also my dog — an irony not lost on her mistress. After all, it was I who, on our second date, had mumbled something about an inability to “commit” to a dog.

That was long forgotten, at least on my end, a few months later when Star colleague Priscilla Lehman told me a little black stray, abandoned and hungry, had wandered onto her property. By then, Toni and I were engaged — no commitment issues there — and I knew she, still missing her cherished Clancy who had died a year earlier, wanted a dog.

I insisted that we take a look at Priscilla’s new friend. Toni was hesitant, for good reason. She knew if she laid eyes on the dog she would want her. And she worried some about leaving me alone to “raise” a puppy while she was home in West Virginia that summer caring for her mom after knee surgery.

Whatever fears Toni had proved unfounded, as the little pup — which then resembled a Koala bear with floppy ears — worked magic of a transformative kind. I became a doting dog daddy. So much so, I recall, that I was given to grating off-key riffs of that old B.J. Thomas standard “Rock’n’Roll Lullabye”: “We grew up together, my Heidi dog and me.”

That was nearly 14 years ago, and yet it seems like only yesterday. The following fall, Toni brought home a pair of big eyes peering from a fluff of pumpkin-colored fur — the orange kitten I long desired. Together the four of us formed a tight family circle.

Now that circle has been broken, and our big old pile on Valley Pike seems strangely empty. The even tenor of our ways has been disrupted. Even Paperboy the cat seems at sixes-and-sevens.

We know Heidi is gone, but we still reflexively look for her at the edge of the driveway when we come home, or near the foot of the bed to greet us in the morning.
That, we fully realize, will pass. But it still doesn’t make it any easier. Not now, when there’s grass to be cut. And balls to be thrown.

Tradition observed and trivia spawned

Posted: March 28, 2012

“Anyone who puts a lifetime into coaching, well, he’s special.”
— Former Musselman High football coach Steve Ripley


INWOOD, W.Va. — It doesn’t take long, in the presence of Denny Price, to be reminded of “the tradition” that is Musselman High football. For many in south Berkeley County, the veteran coach is that “tradition.”

With this in mind, I didn’t quite know what to expect of a luncheon held Saturday at the “historic” C.H. Musselman plant cafeteria. Neither I nor my traveling companions, Wendell Dick and Rudy Telek, knew much about the event — except that coach Price would be in attendance.

I initially wondered whether Denny, after 40 years at Musselman, was retiring. After all, what a way to go out ... as the all-time winningest coach — 268 victories — in West Virginia football annals.

Then again, as fit and trim as Denny, now residing north of 60 years young, looked the last time I saw him, I dismissed that thought. What’s more, with so many youngsters returning from last year’s playoff team, the coach, I concluded, was not about to pass up a run at a fourth state championship.

As it turned out, in addition to pizza and apple products, the eat-and-greet featured standard Musselman fare: tradition observed. Or, in this case, the igniters of that tradition — athletes from the ’50s and ’60s — honoring the keeper of the flame on his new state record at a quarterly get-together known as the Coaches (Steve) Ripley and (Bill) Isherwood Sports Luncheon.

Switching metaphors, Denny is the ultimate bridge-builder in this regard. His tenure, as both he and others noted Saturday, has spanned the generational gulf between salt tablets and copious water breaks during practice, between Single A competition and AAA, between 150-pound guards and 300-pound tackles. He is the knitting agent, the glue.

“In 1949,” Denny said, addressing the Old Guard, “you had no wins and yet, four years later, you were undefeated. That’s what makes Musselman different ...
“Here you have a group of people who support everything their kids (and grandkids) do. That’s what makes this place so special.”

Denny Price himself has a lot to do with that. And will continue to do so, for example, as long as he’s there to end each workout with a “handshake” practice that stresses a firm grip, strong eye contact — and a commitment to employ both when greeting coaches and mentors, past as well as present, whether in school or outside.

That, too, you see — turning boys to men — is part of the Musselman “tradition.”

Speaking of local lore, I may now be the answer to a trivia question (if it’s ever actually posed): Who was the last customer served by Larry and Ann Wadsworth, longtime proprietors of the Royal Lunch on North Kent?

Yep, that would be me, by sheer coincidence. On Friday, I wandered into the Near North End eatery for an accustomed late lunch. Larry and Ann were tying up loose ends, poised and ready (at long last) to hand over the “Royal” reins to new owners Todd and Ericka Nicholson and Chris and Megan Thomlinson.

I placed my order — grilled cheese (with onions and green peppers), and a sweet tea and some apple crisp. Ann placed my Lenten repast in front of me and said (roughly paraphrased), “You may be the last person I serve here.”

So there, by utter serendipity, I may be the answer to a local trivia query. This much, though, I knew for certain: After more than 40 years of such work, Larry and Ann have earned the right to simply kick back and chill.

So from all of us you’ve served with a smile over the decades: a hearty hail and farewell.

Baseball town?

Posted: March 21, 2012

One of the bigger issues to hit this town in some time — whether or not to build a minor league baseball stadium in Jim Barnett Park — darned near made me a hypocrite.

How so? If City Council had decided to move the project along and such a stadium had been built, you would have seen me cheering on the home team many summer nights — even after I, as opinion writer for this newspaper, had written myriad editorials questioning the wisdom of such a proposition.

I love baseball — and minor league baseball in particular. And I’ve always wanted to live in a city that had a minor league team.

That said, my personal feelings on whether the plan presented to council was a good fit for Winchester meshed neatly with the institutional view of The Star.
Examined from most any angle — location, available fan base, economic viability — we, this newspaper and I, did not consider it a capital idea.

I, personally, just could not envision folks pouring into town for games. And so, in making the argument editorially, I wondered, in print, if Winchester were, in fact, a “baseball town.” I didn’t think so.

On what did I base this conclusion? A gut feeling? Yes, but also on experience. The summer before I left Danville for Winchester, my former stomping grounds decided to dip its toe anew into the minor league scene. Never once did I, or my old newspaper — the Danville Register & Bee — question such a move.

Danville, you see, is a “baseball town.” For many years, starting in 1905 and running through 1958, it had hosted a minor league team — the last being the Danville Leafs, the Carolina League outpost of the San Francisco Giants.

The Southside/Piedmont North Carolina area had such a rich tradition — sending a number of players to the majors or high minors, most notably Hall of Famer Enos “Country” Slaughter — that it never occurred to me that bringing baseball back in the early ’90s would be anything but a success. And that, the Danville Braves, an Appalachian (Rookie) League team, certainly seem to be.

Truth be told, I just couldn’t visualize the same for Winchester. Not that our city is devoid of any baseball tradition, but nothing ever suggested, at least to me, that the Northern Valley could pack upwards of 3,000 folks in the stands for 70 games a season over the 22 years requisite to paying off a $15 million stadium in full.

Baseball (or derivatives thereof, such as fast-pitch softball) has a mixed history in Winchester. As my friend Jimmy Dix, repository of all local diamond knowledge, tells me, fans did flock to the old Rouss ballgrounds (where Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre now stands) to watch the independent Winchester White Sox play, say, the Martinsburg Blue Sox before the war.

And, yes, the city long has had a vibrant youth program, as last year’s Cal Ripken 10-Year-Old World Series aptly demonstrated. Jimmy himself was one of Winchester’s first Little League “graduates” back in the ’50s.

On the flip side, though, the stands and other infrastructure at Rouss Field went the way of the bulldozer in the late ’50s. And, for extended periods, neither Handley nor James Wood fielded ball teams — which may explain why fast-pitch softball was so popular in the post-war years. City ballplayers had no other outlet, following Pony League and American Legion competition, to indulge their passion.

Bad weather — i.e., extended winters — Jimmy says, was one reason why the two high schools mothballed their baseball programs until both opted to reinstate them in the late ’70s. The popularity and success of track and field, particularly at Handley — which went 42 years (1935-77) without baseball — may be another.

So, given this uneven history, is Winchester truly a “baseball town” or not? You be the judge.

Perfection is a family affair

Posted: March 14, 2012

RICHMOND — No sooner had his team’s plane — back from Atlanta and the ACC tournament — touched down on Virginia tarmac Saturday than Erick Green was off and running.

The Virginia Tech standout raced back to campus for a quick change of clothes and then piled himself and Hokie teammate Cadarian Raines into his car for the long ride cross-state to Richmond.

Greater love hath no big brother for a little sister poised to eclipse him in state titles won. Erick has two such notches on his belt — one at Millbrook and a second at Paul VI — while sister Courtni was ready to claim her third that night as a Pioneer senior. And no way, short of a Tech appearance in the ACC semifinals that afternoon, was Erick going to miss it.

“If she beats me, I’ll be a little mad,” Erick said with a grin before adding, “but really, I’m proud of her — very, very proud.”

That’s the way it is — and should be — between two stars who are more than just siblings.

“She’s my best friend,” Erick said. “I talk to her almost every day, and not just about basketball, but other things. When she comes down to Tech, we hang out, go places, do things together.”

Erick, who knows a thing or two about big-game pressure, saw his sister before Saturday’s state finale against Courtland and said she was “nervous — excited nervous.”

“It’s her last game here, and I know she’s gonna miss it,” he said. “I told her, ‘Just relax and play like you’ve been playing all year.’”

And that Courtni did, closing out her luminous high-school career with a double-double (21 points, 13 boards) as the Pioneers cruised to their 80th straight win.

The Pioneers’ pursuit of perfection — truly a family affair...

... As it has been, seemingly forever, for the Mead family. David and Laura Mead have watched son Daniel, a sophomore at Tech, and daughter Sara chase the bouncing ball, well, at least since the latter, a four-year starter at point guard for Millbrook, began playing 10-and-Under AAU ball back in 2005.


Not only, as David said, has the Millbrook/AAU experience “pulled us together,” as a family, but it’s also resulted in the formation of lasting friendships among the parents.


“We’re all a family,” he said. “We’ve followed each other’s kids for six years.” To which Laura added, “These families, we genuinely care for each other.”


The Meads fully understand what a “great gift” they and the rest of this close-knit contingent have been given. And while it all may be lost on the girls, existing wonderfully in the moment, one day they, too, will realize how “blessed” (Laura’s word) they have been.


“This is bigger than what the girls imagine,” Laura said. “But when they get back together, 10 or 15 years from now, it will be really important to them. They don’t see it now; even we don’t see it now.”

For David Sovine, Frederick County school superintendent, it was tough to imagine the future being any more sweet than the present, given past allegiances ... and where he slept Saturday night.
One of David’s last acts, as assistant superintendent in Spotsylvania County, was hiring a new principal ... at Courtland High. What’s more, his brother-in-law, now working in Hanover County, was principal at Spotsylvania Middle, feeder school to Courtland where he knew many of the girls who would take the floor against Millbrook at the Siegel Center.


And, wouldn’t you know it, but that’s who David was bunking with Saturday. When he arrived earlier that day, his brother-in-law met him at the door ... wearing a Courtland shirt.


“They were all giving me a lot of grief,” David said with a laugh.


Even in the den of the opposition, Millbrook basketball is a family affair. Well, kinda.


End of an era . . . on hold

Posted: March 7, 2012

“The old wood stove would kindle and try to dry the rain;
I know the times are changing,
but it won’t be the same . . .
But Herky, Wright, and Whitey still sit outside the door
Waitin’ for that quart of beer
at Bill Jones’ General Store.
— Jud Strunk, “Bill Jones General Store”

The Royal Lunch on North Kent is not, as the lyrics above suggest, a general store. But the unassuming, no-frills eatery is a general clearinghouse of wisecracks, boasts, opinion, local lore...

And, oh yes, good food — daily specials of the “blue-plate” variety (meat loaf, hamburger steaks, hot roast beef sandwiches) as well as burgers, subs and, if you get there early enough, a stack of Larry Wadsworth’s trademark buckwheat pancakes.

If “The Royal” is not the last of a dying breed in these parts — part “joint,” part hangout, part home-away-from-home, and, overall, a place in the heart — it’s close. Not that it’s going away, mind you, but its proprietors are.

After more than four decades in a demanding business, Larry and his wife Ann are hanging up their aprons and ladles for good — that is, once the business’ future owners get their paperwork (ABC licenses and the like) done and approved. That could happen in a week, 10 days, or maybe a month.

Until then, life goes on as usual at the corner of North Kent and Halifax Lane. Walk into “The Royal” and you never quite know who’ll see. “Suits,” as they’re called, mix easily with men in “camo” and overalls, and share gossip and good-natured barbs around the counter and beneath a shelf crammed with dusty “dead soldiers” — empty beer bottles of every brand known to man.

“You do see a wide range of people here,” Larry says. “But everyone gets treated the same.”

In other words, it’s the most democratic of establishments — no one gets cut any slack, but all are received like long-lost friends.

For many patrons, lunch with Larry and Ann is an essential part of their weekly routine — Larry Ambrogi and the courthouse crowd on Mondays, Gene Babb and friends on Tuesdays, the Clarke County connection (Charlie Kackley, Donnie Fuller, John Harris, Rudy Telek, Terry Hayton) on Wednesdays. George Forney, a one-man octogenarian gang of memories and quips, holds down a stool most Fridays.

For others, “The Lunch” is almost a daily port of call. Drop in around noon most days, and Soupy Hillyard is holding court, Jerry Headley is working a crossword, Frenchy Shoemaker is needling someone, and Bugs Moffett is back in the kitchen chatting with Larry. And you can pretty much set your watch on Jimmy Funk. If it’s 1:45, “Mr. Patton Movers” is pulling in.

You see, “The Royal” is not just a “joint,” but part of life’s chain — and Larry and Ann are the links.

Theirs is a unique pairing. Larry, a Handley guy (Class of ’62), grew up in the North End. Ann (James Wood, Class of ’68) is old Frederick County; her dad, Tom Rosenberger, chaired the Board of Supervisors. They met when Larry was best man at the wedding of Ann’s sister Barbara.

Since 1969, when Larry decided he wanted to be “his own boss,” they’ve run no fewer than nine eateries (in three states). Space hardly permits me to list ’em all, but the Terminal Tavern, the Robert E. Lee, Wit’s End, and the wonderfully named Third Base (“Last Place You Stop Before Home”) should ring more than a few bells. They’ve been on North Kent since 1986.

Now, alas, it’s time to say good-bye. Both are in their sixties, their four children are long grown, so the day has come, as Ann says, for “someone younger” to carry on the “Royal” traditions.

Larry and Ann, understand, have reached “third base.” Time, at long last, to head home.

Eddie's indelible impression

Posted: Feb. 29, 2012

Long before Eddie Siebert took over the reins from Hunter Maddex as head football coach at Handley High, he was already a molder of men — offensive and defensive linemen, to be exact.

For seven years, starting in 1954, Eddie worked with the gridiron grunts. It mattered little if they were standouts with a future in the game, like the Class of ’59’s Bill Shendow, or kids just trying to “survive” the rigors of a demanding sport, like Jerry Grimes who graduated a year later. Eddie, you see, made an impression on all.
He was not averse to stepping in and showing his charges how to block, how to fire off the ball.

Shendow, who went on to play at Wake Forest, remembers. “He was a super line coach,” he says. “I learned a lot of technique from him. I feel he was instrumental in me getting a full scholarship to a Division I school.”

And so does Grimes, who, at a smallish 5-10 and 170 pounds, considered himself “cannon fodder.”
“He helped me learn to survive,” he says. “He taught me how to exist out there.”

Come the fall of ’61, Eddie was doing more than that. Maddex, the school’s athletic director, decided to give up football and coach but one sport — basketball — full-time. He turned over the program to Siebert — and with a fully stocked larder of talent, no less.

Eddie’s first season — he would coach five years — proved to be his best. Though it hardly started out that way. The Judges lost their opener, 13-6, to what quarterback Jim Wilkins Jr. says was the most unimposing team on the schedule — Harrisonburg.

“We didn’t know we could beat anyone,” Jimmy adds.
They learned they could do so — in a hurry, rolling over eight of their remaining nine opponents.

“We came back,” Jimmy notes, “and blew everyone else out.”

Save for one team — state power James Monroe. Jimmy recalls the game vividly. The Yellow Jackets completed a long pass on the game’s first play, but Handley’s Richard Wolfe ran down the receiver short of paydirt.
Then, with less than a minute left, JM had a first down at the Handley 1. The Judges held fast, and the hard-fought contest ended in a scoreless tie.

Handley, champions in the old pre-playoff District 10, capped off an 8-1-1 season with a 20-0 drubbing of arch-rival Martinsburg.

For Eddie, the next year was nearly as sweet. He had to re-tool a backfield that featured speedsters Woody Harper and Charlie Glover, but with Wilkins, back under center, either handing off to the bullish Dennis Hinkle or mighty-mite Frenchy Shoemaker, or whistling spirals to stellar ends Larry Bell and Gene Fisher, the Judges fashioned a 7-2-1 mark. Included in that victory total was a 25-6 conquest of James Wood in the first football game played between the schools.

But, as Wilkins recalls, defense and special teams, rather than offense, were Eddie’s strong suits. The Judges worked hard on their return game and, as the ’61 whitewashing of Martinsburg demonstrated, he always had a defensive wrinkle up his sleeve — in that instance, a “roving” linebacker.

Another trademark: Eddie’s teams were close-knit. No matter where in Winchester they lived, whether near Handley Hill or in the North End, his players practiced together, played together, and, on fall Sundays, worshipped together — each week at a different home church of one of the players.

One day in the late ’80s, they came together as a unit one last time — at Jones Funeral Home for Eddie’s funeral. He had died, suddenly, of a heart attack at age 62.

“We came in from all places,” says Took Kern, a ’65 grad. “We all just showed up.”

And they can do so yet again, at least figuratively. An endowment in Eddie’s name, brainchild of former coaching colleague Soupy Hillyard, has been established at Shepherd University, his alma mater.

As they remember Eddie

Posted: Feb. 22, 2012

“Some people, with no thought of reward for themselves, keep you on the straight-and-narrow. They
lead you in the right direction . . . You always knew there was someone there for you . . . He was definitely one of those people in my life.”

— Jerry Grimes, Handley Class of 1960
“Stop pussy-footin’ around.”
— Eddie Siebert one-liner

Short and squat, built like the catcher he once was, with a square face topped by the standard buzz cut of the day, and a “twang” straight from the hills of his native Western Maryland.

To a generation, or nearly so, of Handley High students, Eddie Siebert was memorable if for no other reason than his appearance.

But countenance, or mien, alone hardly explains why so many of these aging Judges remember the late Coach Siebert so fondly. Or why a goodly number seem so eager to open their hearts — and pockets — now that one of his football assistants, Soupy Hillyard, has decided to establish an endowment in his memory at their mutual alma mater, Shepherd University.

Eddie Siebert, you see, was more than just a coach — an assistant for seven years under the legendary Hunter Maddex, head man for five — he was also a “mentor,” a “father figure,” a friend. It says something when a class dedicates their senior yearbook to you. Handley’s Class of ’59 honored Eddie in that fashion.

Class president (and standout halfback) Benny Butler explains:

“He was such a nice person. And he was so much younger than Coach Maddex that it was easier to talk to him. He was always accessible to the students. He could really relate to kids.”

Eddie was a curious mix. Blunt and plain-spoken — “He said what he meant, and meant what he said,” says Dennis Hinkle, a star on Siebert’s ’61 and ’62 teams — he was also affable to the core, blessed with a dry sense of humor and a propensity for dropping one-liners, hilarious as well as insightful, out of the side of his mouth.

Butler recalls one such instance during a particularly tense JV basketball game at Luray’s bandbox of a gym in the late ’50s. Eddie coached hoops and track as well as football.

Handley had the ball with about a minute left when Eddie called time. An insistent Reggie Baker wanted to get the ball and run. Eddie, as Benny recalled, finally turned and said, “Reggie, if you fast-break, you’re gonna have to pay to get back in (the gym).”

OK, maybe you had to be there, but it cracked everyone up, broke the tension. That’s the kind of guy Eddie was.
He also knew whose “buttons to push,” and when, says Jim Wilkins Jr., quarterback on Siebert’s District 10 champs of ’61.

“He knew how to motivate you,” Jimmy says. “He knew who he could chew out in front of everybody, and he knew who he had to chew out in private. He had that great insight and understanding.”

Such empathy was not confined to the football field and locker-room, as Jerry Grimes recalls.

“Off the field, he was a tremendous influence with, you know, personal teenage problems growing up,” says Jerry, an undersized lineman on Maddex’s later teams and now a local veterinarian. “He was a father figure to me, and I know I wasn’t alone.”

Wilkins can attest to that as well. On a blank page in the back of Jimmy’s ’63 Handlian, Eddie penned a long note, praising his senior standout for his contributions to Handley athletics. He then offered these sage words of advice:

“Also remember, Jimmy, you will not be in athletics all your life, so start showing the same kind of determination in your studies, so you can make a profession ... that is fitting to your ability. Always remember, ‘Judges first.’”

Next Wednesday: Eddie and that championship season of 1961.

Tribute to Eddie

Posted: Feb. 16, 2012

“Eddie possessed a magnetic personality that drew the young athletes to him, and it was a common occasion to see him in the midst of 10 or 15 young people laughing, talking, and imparting wisdom . . .”
— Jerry Kelican, assistant football coach to Eddie Siebert at Handley High

Soupy Hillyard saw the obituary last month, and immediately felt he had to do something.

On Jan. 13, Virginia Siebert, widow of former Handley football coach Eddie Siebert, passed away. Mrs. Siebert’s death prompted thoughts of Eddie, under whom Soupy had served as an assistant coach back in the early ’60s.

Perhaps surmising that Eddie — jovial, ebullient, good-natured, and funny — has been largely forgotten over the passage of time, Soupy, in his own inimitable way, decided to rectify that situation. He wants to see his old friend recognized as the coach and empathetic human being that he was.

Siebert is, if anything, a curious case study. Some coaches, by dint of circumstance, follow in the footsteps of legends. Not Eddie, whose gridiron tenure atop Handley Hill as fate would have it, was sandwiched between those of two larger-than-life figures, Hunter Maddex and Ron Rice. As a result — and forgive the use of a time-worn cliché here — he has fallen through the proverbial cracks, all but overlooked.

Soupy wants to change all that — and so do many of Eddie’s former players at Handley.

“There is a gap,” says Dennis Hinkle, a pile-driving fullback and ’64 grad considered by many as the greatest ever to don the Maroon and White. “I’ve always felt he deserved more recognition.”

Likewise, says Took Kern, a halfback from the Class of ’65: “Eddie has always gotten his due from the people who played for him. People really wanted to play for him ... (and) he absolutely gained the respect of any player who played for him.”

But, for Soupy, a question persisted: Where should Eddie be recognized — here in Winchester or at Shepherd University where he was a standout two-way lineman in football and a catcher in baseball? In the end, after much “consideration and thought,” he opted for the latter, where a memorial endowment is in the works.

Siebert — as “compassionate” as he was “straightforward,” Soupy says — taught phys ed and coached at Handley (track as well as football) for a dozen years, leaving in 1966. His record on the gridiron was modest by Judges’ standards — 23-24-3 over five years — though his first team, in ’61, claimed the old District 10 title with an 8-1-1 mark.

So, whether in Winchester or Shepherdstown, it matters little where Siebert is memorialized. For wherever Eddie went — says Soupy, himself a Shepherd grad — he “touched a lot of lives.”

Next Wednesday — Funny stories and sharp one-liners: Eddie, as remembered by his players.

For information on making a gift in memory of coach Eddie Seibert to support Shepherd University student-athletes and programs, please contact Aaron Ryan, director of athletic development, at 304-876-5527 (office) or 304-671-1985 (cell), or email Aryan@shepherd.edu.

Contribution checks may be made payable to the Shepherd University Foundation, P.O. Box 5000, Shepherdstown, W.Va., 25443. For assistance in making a credit card gift, please contact Meg Peterson by phone at 304-876-5021, or email mpeterso@shepherd.edu.

Scoop! Belestre in Winchester

Posted: Feb. 8, 2012

As editor of The Star’s opinion page, I seldom, if ever, experience the joy of a “scoop.” Commentary, not “breaking news,” is my thing.

Still, I’ll take a scoop when I can get one — even if it’s 255 years old. Which this one, courtesy of retired history professor Carl Ekberg, is.

Carl, who resides on Jefferson Street, emailed me late last year, with news, largely unreported over time, of one Francois-Louis Picoté de Belestre, ensign in the French Marines and scion of a storied French-Canadian military family.

Belestre, as Carl, who taught French history at Illinois State, discovered while researching a book on the early history of St. Louis, spent upwards of 15 months as a prisoner at Fort Loudoun.

Hmmm. St. Louis and Winchester are miles apart geographically, and light years removed in terms of history — or so it would seem. But in scouring the papers of Sir William Johnson, the British superintendent of Indian affairs in the Northern colonies, Carl, also a devoted member of the local French & Indian War Foundation, scanned the index for any mention of Winchester. There he found Belestre — and a great story.

Though a freshly minted ensign, Belestre, as Carl told me last month, was “just a kid” when he and a party of 12 French soldiers and 40 Indians sallied forth in mid-May 1757 from Fort Duquesne, site of present-day Pittsburgh, on a mission of early “terrorism.”

Their destination: Fort Cumberland in what is now western Maryland. Their intent: to reconnoiter, set ambushes, take prisoners, and, in short, make general nuisances of themselves along the sparsely settled Virginia frontier.

He never made it back to Fort Duquesne. Somewhere between Fort Cumberland and the Forks of the Ohio, as Belestre later told inquisitors, the tables turned on him and his party, by then sans Indians who had left the column to seek “scalps and prisoners.”

Reading through the lines of Belestre’s account when questioned, he and his men walked into an ambush on May 30, in which five of their number (including two officers) died. Belestre himself was taken prisoner and sent to Fort Loudoun here in Winchester.

As Carl interjected (though not in these words), the kiddish Belestre sang like a bird on June 20, telling his interrogators — Edmund Atkyn, superintendent of Indian affairs in the South; George Croghan, Johnson’s deputy; and Col. George Washington, post commander — all they wanted to know. No John McCain was he, said Carl with a laugh.

And what did he say? Among other things, that Fort Duquesne boasted but 300 in its garrison, only half of whom were regulars; that reinforcements had long been expected from Montreal, and that the French’s Indian allies, numbering roughly 1,500, hailed from “more distant Nations” rather than those, by then neutral, who had previously engaged in such activities. It was a mother lode of information.

In time, which Carl pegs at more than a year since this “examination,” Belestre left Fort Loudoun following a prisoner exchange and apparently re-joined his unit. In March 1762, he married Joachine Coulon de Villiers, also of a renowned military family. Her uncle — Joseph Coulon de Villiers, Sieur de Jumonville — as Carl noted, was the French officer slain at the hands of Washington’s party in the engagement that ignited the French & Indian War.

By the late 1760s, Belestre and his wife were living in St. Louis where, Carl said, they are considered among the “first aristocracy” of the city that became the gateway to the American West.

There’s the rub, you see. Carl knew of Belestre prior to that impromptu scan of the index to Johnson’s papers. There he uncovered the French officer’s unlikely, and little-known, link to Winchester. And therein lay my “scoop,” some 255 years in the making.

Beyond her pale

Posted: Feb. 1, 2012

“Old dogs care about you even when you make mistakes . . .”
— Tom T. Hall, “Old Dogs, Children, and Watermelon Wine”


The phone rang shortly before noon last Friday, and the voice at the other end surprised me.

It was our next-door neighbor, Carol Kula. She had called to inform me that one of my children was out gamboling on Valley Pike.

Now, those of you familiar with our familial situation know that our “children” have four legs rather than two. But “children” they are — or at least members of the family — and the elder one was frolicking where she had no business to frolic. Especially at her advanced age.
Heidi, our black lab-border collie mix, turns 14 next month. And though her spirit remains forever willing, her body, still lean and lithe, is betraying her somewhat.

Her muzzle has turned to gray. Her legs are wracked by arthritis, but she still insists on chasing her ball, and sprawling in the dewy grass for hours on end, even on the chilliest of days. She is, plainly and simply, the proverbial “old dog.”

And because she is I dropped whatever it was I was doing and raced to the car for what proved to be an anxious — very anxious — 15-minute drive to Stephens City.

As I pulled onto the Pike across from The Alamo, the trepidation heightened. And when I crested the long hill just beyond Shenandoah Valley Baptist Church, I fully expected to see a still black form along the side of the road.

Instead when I pulled up to our driveway, all I saw was Carol, standing outside our stone wall. I didn’t know what to think.

Carol’s news was encouraging — Heidi was last seen ambling through one of the back yards on our side of the Pike — though not promising of quick resolution.

Time was, when we lived in Winchester on Allison Avenue, that Heidi escaping the surly bonds of captivity darned near required mobilization of the National Guard to catch her. No matter our efforts, she never returned to her fenced-in confines until she was good and ready. Or very tired.

When we moved to the Pike 10 years ago, we realized the only way to corral her waywardness was by virtue of an Invisible Fence. But, as Heidi’s high-spiritedness waned, we grew complacent.

This past December, we took off her fence collar in favor of what Toni calls “her Christmas clothes” — a new holiday-themed collar — and allowed her to roam our expansive yard as usual. After all, she knew her bounds, knew where she couldn’t go. Or so we thought.

When I got out of the car, Carol told me she was alarmed by the sound of dogs barking and, upon going to a window, saw Heidi out on the Pike, dodging traffic.

She apparently had responded to the sight of another dog, and curiosity had gotten the better of her.

Well, even though Heidi’s growing ever more deaf, I called out, and then started walking north, slipping in the mud in my “city shoes” as I did. Lo and behold, Heidi came strolling out of a yard two houses down. She trotted up to me. I reached. Her old ways kicked in.

Next thing I knew, I was chasing her up the Pike, toward our house (thankfully). I caught her just as the first in a long line of cars rounded a blind curve. The driver was greeted by the sight of me holding Heidi with one hand and signaling “Stop” with the other.

I then started dragging a reluctant albeit tired dog back to the house, as Carol rushed inside to get a leash. My first order of business: find that fence collar . . . and a fresh battery to keep her in line.

It was a wistful drive back to The Star, as I reflected on the fact that, for our entire married life thus far — 13-plus years — it’s been the four of us: Toni, me, the sweet and excitable black dog, and the snooty and reserved orange cat. On Friday, that tight little circle had nearly been broken, prematurely.

Touchstone

Posted: Jan. 25, 2012

It was my intent to devote this week’s column to a “scoop,” albeit one more than 250 years old, that came my way courtesy of historian Carl Ekberg about an all-but-forgotten prisoner at Fort Loudoun.

But that will have to wait as I struggle with this realization: I cannot envision a world — my world, at least — without Joe Paterno.

Melodramatic? Maybe. Over-the-top? Perhaps. But I suspect I’m not alone. The Penn State football coach, who died Sunday at the age of 85, was as constant as Ol’ Man River. He was the gridiron game’s Rock of Ages and, for me, a touchstone. I’ve been a Nittany Lion fan since I was 11. I am 57 now.

Funny, but I’m neither a Penn State grad, nor have I ever resided in the Keystone State. But sports-mad kids like me growing up in New Jersey back in the ’60s had no big-time state team to root for, so the Nittany Lions filled that void — especially when everybody who was anybody, football-wise, up there was recruited by Penn State, or wanted to be.

And then there was a fella named Jimbo Manning. Jim coached Little League baseball with my dad, and I remember him telling us, back around 1966, that a buddy from, I believe, his Brooklyn Prep days had just been named to succeed Rip Engle as coach in Happy Valley. That man? Joe Paterno, and Jim said he was a great guy.

So my dad and I became fervent Penn State fans on Jim’s advice. It sure didn’t hurt that Paterno’s teams were populated by kids with names that had a familiar ring to anyone who lived in the ethnic enclaves of the Northeast — Onkotz, O’Neill, Laslavic, Hufnagel, Parlavecchio, Zapiec, Kwalick, Cappelletti, Cefalo. Even in remote State College, Joe’s teams had a neighborhood feel.

Plus, as soon we would learn, Joe was doing it the right way. His players graduated, many in real academic specialties. What’s more, he seemed content to stay put, spurning the offers of many NFL teams to remain at Penn State. My dad really liked that.

And so our fervor, if possible, grew with each passing year. Mine reached its apex in the ’80s — just as I was starting what I thought would be a long sportswriting career — with Joe’s first national championship in ’82 and then with his second, in ’86, that was largely unexpected because the defensive-minded Lions, led by linebacker Shane Conlan (my all-time favorite Nit), were so undervalued.

But in what (in my opinion) was one of college football’s greatest upsets, the Lions topped mighty Miami. The Sports Illustrated headline — “Guts, Brains, and Glory” — remains etched in memory, but in the O’Connor household, the game is recalled with a different cascade of G-words: “Giftopoulos at the Goal-line,” for linebacker Pete Giftopoulos’ game-saving interception as Miami knocked on the door in the waning seconds.

As the years passed and Penn State joined the Big Ten, I came to see JoePa as the enigma that he was — the former college quarterback who often could not settle on a starting signal-caller, the supposed offensive strategist whose teams more often than not won with defense, the English scholar whose speech never lost the trademark “dees, dems, and dos” of his Brooklyn heritage.

But I marveled at his steadfastness. He was no slave to fashion. His game-day attire (black cleats, rolled-up khakis, tie, windbreaker) never changed, nor did his team’s elegantly simple blue-and-white uniforms. And, most importantly, neither did his approach: Even into his eighties, he still believed he could reach kids, and connect with them.

Now he is gone, his last days shrouded in grief, sickness, and scandal he could not fathom. In his wake, I am left with a question: Am I a Penn State fan, or a JoePa fan?

Tough to say, but this much is for certain: I no longer have a stone to touch. Rest in peace, JoePa.

Gene White: New store, changed concept

Posted: Jan. 18, 2012

“He put people, not his title or his pharmacy, at the center of his universe.”
— Dr. Alan McKay, on the late Eugene White


Shortly after Gene White, Berryville’s “revolutionary” pharmacist, wrote a letter, dated Nov. 11, 1960, informing patrons that change was coming to the drug store he had just purchased at the corner of Main and Church streets, he delivered on that pledge.

He gutted the interior of his store.

Gone were the lunch counter and its stools. Gone were the shelves filled with Russell Stover candy and Hallmark greeting cards. In their stead, White fashioned a pharmacy that, in no small way, resembled a doctor’s office, complete with a consultation room and files of prescription records.

It was an “office-based pharmacy,” and Gene White, in a small Virginia town, was its pioneer.

The response of the clientele ran the gamut from somewhat perplexed to outright upset. After all, the store was an “institution,” notes Alan McKay, founding dean of Shenandoah University’s Bernard J. Dunn School of Pharmacy and eulogist at White’s funeral last month.
It was not just a drug store; it was where they went to fraternize over a BLT and a Coke.

If White’s patrons were moderately irate, then his disciplinary colleagues, as Alan suggested during an interview last week, were absolutely livid. How dare he, they sputtered, pretend to be a doctor.

“But he wasn’t pretending,” Alan told me. “He was saying, ‘Ditch the old way, and start something new.’”
And that “something” was indeed revolutionary at a time when a certain inertia gripped the industry. Truth be told, as Alan said, pharmacists may have desired a new business model, but they also wanted to hold on, often for dear life, to the “product” — that of the traditional drug store — they had.

It was Gene White who dared to be different and, as his widow Laura told Alan, he took “took a lot of grief” for it. But the Cape Charles native was well-suited to endure the proverbial slings and arrows. His genial demeanor, accentuated by a “soft (Virginia) accent . . . belied a backbone of steel,” Alan said. Those verbal brickbats? Well, “he did let it all get to him.”

White’s concept of the “office-based pharmacy” evolved over time, Alan added, but he instinctively knew that transforming a “self-serving” profession into a “consumer-oriented” one would require “one bold move.” Hence the letter and the complete overhaul of his storefront.

So, if White, who died six weeks ago at the age of 87, wasn’t “pretending” to be a doctor, he also wasn’t pretending to be the traditional pharmacist/entrepreneur. His intent was not merely to “push pills,” but to be more “forceful” in seeing that the medicines he “dispensed were actually working.” Thus, he would engage his customers, seek input, ask questions.

“Gene was always willing to talk,” Alan says, “and have heartfelt conversations. He put people, not his title or his pharmacy, at the center of his universe. And they appreciated that, and reciprocated. He overcame people not wanting to open up.”

And so, over the course of 38 years in Berryville — or since the day he sent that letter to an initially querulous clientele — White changed not only a profession, but also people’s concept of what that profession should be.

A true pioneer, he may have taken away folks’ grilled cheese sandwiches and vanilla shakes, but he gave them, as Alan says, “something of far greater value” — his time as well as his expertise. And by so doing, he engendered a measure of trust in his profession.

For Gene White knew, as Alan concluded, that “we must have time for them, or they won’t have time for us.”

Gene White, pharmacy pioneer

Posted: Jan. 11, 2012

“Gene had faith in a future that very few individuals at the time could see.”
— Dr. Alan McKay, eulogy of Eugene White (Dec. 17, 2011)

Alan McKay clearly recalls the first time he spoke with Gene White. It was back in 1995. Alan had already accepted the position of founding dean at Shenandoah University’s Bernard J. Dunn School of Pharmacy, but was still residing and working in Arkansas when the phone rang.

A “soft Virginia voice” at the other end of the line said, “Hello, I’m Gene White, you’ve probably never heard of me . . .” The voice’s owner then went on to say he owned a pharmacy “seven miles away” from where Alan would be playing a major role in starting a pharmacy school from scratch.

Never heard of him? Alan remembers responding rather effusively that White was “mandatory reading” for anyone wishing to enter the field of pharmacy.

And so he was, this kindly man from Berryville who, one day in November 1960, changed that field forever — and for the better. Testimony to his pioneering, transformative role can be seen today on the first floor of the Dunn School where his “office-based pharmacy” has been meticulously preserved as both a museum and classroom.

So what did Gene White do? As Alan says, he “revolutionized” the concept of what a pharmacy — and a pharmacist — should be.

Time was, when those very words conjured images not of pharmaceutical care offered, but of soda fountains and grilled-cheese sandwiches prepared by the same person — think Mr. Gower in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” or Ellie Walker on “The Andy Griffith Show” — who dispensed the prescriptions for what ailed you. In other words, the pharmacist of yesteryear was, in many venues, equal parts “pill-pusher,” soda jerk, and entrepreneurial small businessman.

Gene White changed all that — and how. And because he did, Alan says, he was less a “reflection” of his times, but a “vision” of what the future might hold — and now does. He introduced minute records-keeping and what is known as “office-based care” to his profession.

His “vision,” bold as it was, evolved through experience. Born in Cape Charles on the Eastern Shore — hence the “soft” accent — White fought in World War II with the Army and Army Air Corps and then entered pharmacy school at the Medical College of Virginia.

Alan hastens to point out that his friend, who died on Dec. 9, did not have all the “pre-requisites” for admission, so it must be inferred that the folks at MCV saw something special in the young man from across the Chesapeake Bay. If so, how prescient they were.

At some point after graduating from MCV, White, a newly minted registered pharmacist, headed north — to positions in Luray, Front Royal, and then Winchester, where he worked at Miller’s, the oldest continuously owned family pharmacy in the United States. Opened as an apothecary by Godfrey Miller in 1764, it was a Loudoun Street mainstay for decades on end. The building (107 N. Loudoun) is now home to the Village Square Restaurant’s piano bar.

From there, it was on to Berryville, to another traditional corner pharmacy — at Main and Church — whose pharmacist, in poor health, eventually asked White to take over the business.

On Nov. 11, 1960, White wrote a letter to his new customers, saying: “In order to devote virtually full time to the profession (of pharmacy), we are eliminating most of the commercial activities of our pharmacy, namely: the fountain, candy, stationery, billfolds, milk glass, toys and all gift items.”

The “vision” offered in this elongated sentence would alter the landscape of pharmacy, forever. Initially, it did not go over well.

Next week: How Gene White “revolutionized” his profession.

Roy, Bill and Kenneth

Posted: Jan. 4, 2012

Columns can fall together in odd and mysterious ways. Take this one, for example: The three men you’ll read about below share — or, in two cases, shared — nothing in common save their appearance together in this Valley Pike.

And it becomes odder still when you consider I know, or knew, none of them well — neither Roy Nester, radio voice and Town Crier; Bill Devries, onetime “Washingtonian of the Year”; nor Kenneth Seldon, beloved small businessman.

Nonetheless, serendipity and coincidence, not to mention a certain tardiness on my part, have conspired in such a way that this column is devoted to all three.

Roy

Back in the fall, Jim Wilkins Jr. stopped by with a note — and a gentle request. Jim had just heard from Roy, with whom his family — starting with his dad, Jim Sr. — had enjoyed a long relationship. For years, Roy had cut the radio ads for Wilkins ShoeCenter.

Even after moving to Chambersburg, Pa., Roy would come to Winchester to carry on the tradition. Hence the content of this note that Jim shared with me:
“I’m sorry about the lateness of the bill — but I’ve been sick off and on (mostly on) since last Thanksgiving [2010].

The first client I met in Winchester was your father — and the last one is you. In between we had the kids. It was pleasant working with the Wilkins, and I hope you feel the same about me. I’ll try to stop by every now and then.

Goodbye,
Roy

The note so moved Jimmy that, knowing my proclivity for highlighting the “good old days,” he suggested I consider Roy as a possible column topic. ’Tis better, he said, to acknowledge a man’s contributions while he’s still living than to do so in memoriam.

I agreed, only to let the subject of Roy uncharacteristically sit on the so-called back burner until now. But with a new year comes fresh resolve, and so let it be said that, to that post-war generation of Winchester youngsters, Roy Nester was the voice that livened up the night on WINC, where he spun the latest rock sounds.

Later, he became a fixture at myriad community events — most notably Apple Blossom — as the Town Crier. And, for one local business, the voice of its radio spots.
Roy, you’re not forgotten, and we hope you’re doing well.

Bill

For the better part of a year, I received regular emails — robustly conservative, with all the latest Tea Party doings — from a certain Bill Devries of Berryville. And then they suddenly stopped.

Not until last week, when his son Tom stopped by with a suitcase full of clippings noting his dad’s accomplishments, did I know why. Bill died on Dec. 14.

A human resources executive, Bill was named “Washingtonian of the Year” in 1985 by the Downtown Jaycees after spearheading a grassroots fundraising effort to provide bullet-proof vests for D.C. area law enforcement. After moving to the Valley in 1989, he lent his skills to the Help with Housing organization in Berryville.

Kenneth

In May 2002, I ventured to Yellow Spring, W.Va., for Kenneth Seldon Day, on which an entire community turned out to honor a kind and simple man who, for more than 50 years, ran its general store, aptly named “Riverside Service.” Later, the bridge over the Cacapon River, hard by this local gathering place, was named in his honor.

On New Year’s Eve, Kenneth Seldon passed away at the age of 95. He will be greatly missed.