July 16, 2016
HAPPY DAYS IN HIPPYLAND
My exwife Anne would have just turned age 70.
Not long ago, a Kansas City cousin sent me a copy of Anne's obituary. She died in 2006 of breast cancer.
We were college sweethearts. She, sharper than I, graduated first in her class at a large regional university.
We married while I was on leave from the Navy and had a cool place on one of the rolling streets in the Twin Peaks area of San Francisco. 1968-71.
Janis Joplin lived just several blocks up from us, and she would whiz by in her psychedelic painted porsche, as we sat on the steps, with her then boyfriend, Joe McDonald, of the music group Country Joe and The Fish ("Don't Give A Damn, Ain't Going To Vietnam"), and marveled at Janis' drinking habits and capacity.
We would stroll down to Golden Gate Park on my free weekends, and watch outdoor gigs by Joplin, Canned Heat, BB King, Cream, Jefferson Airplane.
While I was in the Pacific, away on an aircraft carrier that was attacking North Vietnamese trails into the South, Anne met new friends in San Francisco.
When our carrier returned, she met me at the pier with another young woman, introduced us, and told me that while I was gone she'd realized she was gay,. We divorced not long after,
Over the decades we stayed in touch by phone or coffee shop visit about once a year -- I never completely getting over her.
In Kansas City during 2003 for my Mom's funeral, I was surprised when Anne showed up at the funeral and then lunch afterwards. We chatted briefly.
It was a terrible snow storm, and I was anxious to get on the road back to Michigan. I cleaned my car windows off, got in the red VW bug,to start the trip, when I heard a knock on the car window.
It was Anne. She got in the car.
"Jim," she said, "do you think we might try to start all over again?" (I didn't know she was seriously ill.)
"No,it's too late, and times are too different for that," I said to her, not unkindly, but thinking about the 33 years that had past, and the way we parted as a couple emotionally on that Navy pier.
She opened the door and got out of the car. It would be our last contact.
Calling her with a sudden urgent feeling in 2006, her sister answered. "Jim," she said, "Anne died yesterday of cancer."
Thinking back on that snowy evening in 2006, that brief chat in the car, I wondered what I might have said or done differently if I'd known she was ill. And perhaps needed my help or company desperately.
The question and the memory stay with me today.
But so, too, do the good times and laughs in San Francisco with Anne in '68-71. A very unique, short window of place and social change. And more than a little heartache and pain.
I hope, if there's a Heaven, Anne is happy, remembers me with affection -- and those pseudo hippy, happy times -- as I do her, and that chapter in our lives..
But I dont know anyone who has been able to go back and recreate the past. We learn from it,and move on.
July 14, 2016
Chris and Betty Christ: Quiet Battle Creek Leaders for Decades
By jim richmond
Battle Creek’s history of the past six decades is replete with well-known names of people who’ve stepped up, spoken out, or provided funds for efforts to make this a better community. But there are few – perhaps none – who have done more for Battle Creek, in their quiet way, and sought less personally in return, than one couple: Chris and Betty Christ.
Chris, the son of Greek immigrants and who could not speak English until age 5, now 87, is considered by many as the dean of attorneys who specialize locally in corporate, probate and trust administration, as a partner and one of the owners of the law firm of Vandervoort, Christ & Fisher.
Wife Betty, talks about raising their four children, Kristi, John, and Scott and the tragic loss of their daughter Teri at age 21 in a car accident, a loss as fresh today, for both parents, as it was that day it happened in 1983.
They are quiet, soft spoken, direct and unpretentious people, with fine-tuned listening skills that reflect their approach to life and civic service. (They’ve lived in the same home for 55 years.)
“My Mom instilled in us three life principles,” Chris said during a recent interview, “We were Americans – first -- with Greek heritage. We needed to develop a relationship with God to be productive and live a happy life. And, three, we had a responsibility to help other people.”
Chris worked as a youth in his dad’s business, the Holsum Bread Company near the corner of Porter Street and East Michigan Avenue, and grew up in the area.
He attended Battle Creek Schools and later Culver Military Academy in Indiana, which had a great influence on his life. Betty graduated from Lakeview Schools and Western Michigan University. Chris finished his undergraduate degree at Albion College.
Chris had just graduated from law school at the University of Michigan, when he met Betty on a blind date. They were engaged in 6 weeks and married within a year.
“We went to the Hart Hotel for lunch on our first date,” Betty recalled, with a laugh. “I was shy. But we were so taken with each other. ”
Chris started his law career working with Creighton and (later Michigan Supreme Court Judge) Mary Coleman, before branching out into private practice. He refers to the Colemans simply as “my inspiration.”
Over all the decades, Chris Christ has been one of the “go to” civic leaders for leadership and problem solving.
He recalled spending countless hours with other civic leaders and constituent interests to resolve the differences and difficulties that finally lead to the merger of Community and Leila hospitals – a decision that has improved the quality of health care over time in Battle Creek.
And while Christ’s name was rarely mentioned in the newspapers, other civic leaders were watching his people and problem solving skills.
“Chris was the first person I thought of, when we started considering adding more local people to the Kellogg Foundation Board,” noted retired Foundation CEO and Chairman Dr. Russ Mawby, in a recent telephone interview. “Chris is a wonderful man, with good listening and problem solving skills. And most of all, he has always really cared about people.”
Chris would go on to serve 19 years on the Kellogg Foundation board, and also on the Board of Trustees of the Elizabeth and Guido Binda Foundation, and as trustee and Chairman of the Battle Creek Community Foundation.
Betty said she used early volunteer and leadership experiences with the Battle Creek Junior League to become involved in development and services of the SAFE Place Domestic Violence Shelter, Nursing Clinic, Volunteer Bureau, Family Y Center, Sexual Assault Services, and with the Lakeview Schools Educational Foundation.
Betty and Chris have also found themselves called upon to work as a “team” for civic projects.
“I never wanted to be out front on projects, but that was hard not to do, being married to Chris,” Betty added with a wry smile.
They first chaired a United Arts Council Campaign. And then were approached to co-chair what they consider their most valuable and challenging civic leadership project: developing the North Pointe Woods senior living community, now located on a scenic rise overlooking North Avenue and Roosevelt Avenue in Battle Creek.
“What we learned beforehand is many seniors were going to Kalamazoo to live in assisted communities -- away from their families, their friends, their social groups, their churches – because we didn’t have a quality independent and assisted living facility for seniors right here in Battle Creek,” Betty said.
Development of North Pointe Woods solved that problem. And today it is one of a number of similar options for area seniors in need, but remains the only such facility on the northside of Battle Creek.
From their childhoods, religion continues as an important, central part, of the Christs’ life. They have been members of First Congregational Church for more than 50 years.
In January 1977, the Church asked Chis to give a lay sermon one Sunday. Two excerpts from that sermon sum up Chris and Betty Christ’s 60-plus years of service and leadership in Battle Creek.
Christ told the congregation that day:
“Problems are unique only in the sense that it is ‘me’ and not ‘you’ … in sharing our problems, we develop an awareness that helps us put the problem in perspective and thus makes it easier to resolve… I realized it is just as important , just as workable and really more attainable, to work within my limitations and perhaps within my talents and just try to do something meaningful with my life every day – nothing spectacular, nothing earth-shaking, but maybe helpful to those who sought my counsel.”
Helping other people.
Reflecting on the Christs’ decades of contributions to Battle Creek, might answer the question:
“What better life and legacy can one lead and leave?”
July 03, 2016
BATTLE CREEK WILL MISS
Battle Creek lost a great personality and civic leader this past week: Velma Laws-Clay. (Photo, on right.)
I served on several nonprofit boards with her, and we laughingly shared tales of what it was like, both of us having grow up as twins.
Her passing reminds us how important and valuable volunteers and nonprofit Board service can be in a community.
The best board members bring all or one of the historical "Three Ws" of effective board service: Work, Wisdom, Wealth.
Velma Laws Clay wasn't wealthy. But she was loaded with passion, commitment --- work and wisdom.
Effective board service means: doing your homework before board meetings, participation, listening, volunteering and being a positive influence and role model on the entire Board..
Perhaps most of all it means following my Irish immigrant mother's reminder that "there's a reason God gave us two ears and one mouth."
With that engaging, always ready smile, with her passion and service, ability to listen as well as to speak out, Velma Laws-Clay taught us much.
And gave Battle Creek much.
Photo above is of Velma (right) with her twin sister and "best friend" Vivian outside their historical family home on Manchester Street in the Washington Heights area of Battle Creek, Michigan.
July 02, 2016
June 27, 2016
EVERY STEP YOU TAKE
June 19, 2016
By jim richmond
It was mid-afternoon yesterday, hot, and three of us over-the-hill volunteer types, in our bright orange event shirts, and young art sparkplug Kimber Thompson were in the “Welcome Tent” at Leila Arboretum’s Fantasy Forest Art Carve.
It’d already been a long day, and we were just taking a break, sharing life stories, laughing, but also talking about “Why Leila?”
Because each of us 65-plus types – although from different life and career backgrounds – has developed a special, almost unique love for our time and our efforts at Leila Arboretum. The other two are daily/weekly volunteers. Me -- a part-time employee and volunteer.
Because there is something special about the Leila Arboretum.
What it is and how it operates.
A small number of people who work really hard – and well together. Who have opportunity to uniquely see the “fruits” of their labor, in terms of the growth and development of the Arboretum, and especially the seasonal changes in tempo, intensity and type of effort that is immediate, meaningful, concrete, visual -- from tending plants in the greenhouse, to watching the 3,000 Leila trees and dozen flower gardens, and their variety, change with the seasons.
And, we agreed, a feeling that we were enjoying life, making a difference with our labor at Leila. No matter what our roles.
For me, this love has been a bit of a surprise. I've traveled and lived the world. Run large organizations. Had corner offices and titles.
But none of that, as I look back today on yesterday’s conversation with my Leila friends and colleagues, was as rewarding or matters as much as my rather small, minor p/t job and some volunteering at Leila Arboretum.
Perhaps, I cautioned myself in thinking about this post, it’s just I’m old and better today living in the present, living in the moment.
And while I’ve done many types of work over 71 years, I’ve always considered myself a writer and author, an observer and a commentator on the human condition, and especially on the goodness we find – when we look and listen -- in everyday people, and in our friends.
Leila, also more than any place I’ve known, has a platoon-size group of truly passionate volunteers who set good examples and high standards for the rest of us.
We call them simply The Tuesday Group. They work every Tuesday morning year round and do all the work for the front entrance of the Arboretum. But they, really, along with the small staff, impact all aspects of the Arboretum—and especially its growth, and beauty in recent years – 70,000 visitors this year.
So, there is something special about Leila.
If you live in the Battle Creek area, it is your Arboretum – all 85 acres and today recognized as among the five most beautiful public gardens in the State of Michigan.
So stop by, drive the loop around Leila and meander through the gardens, check out the Children's Garden, Urban Farm program, Fragrant Hill Pavilion, Fantasy Forest sculptures, disc golf course, and much more.
You’ll fall in love with Leila, too.
To learn more about Leila Arboretum, view my blog: http://ragstorichmond.blogspirit.com/archive/2014/08/26/l...
For some of the activities of The Tuesday Group, and perhaps even whether you want to join it, go to: http://ragstorichmond.blogspirit.com/archive/2014/07/29/t...
June 06, 2016
REMEMBERING BOB DOLE IN BATTLE CREEK
Now at aged 93, Bob Dole is the last of the three WWII war heroes still living, whose names grace the elegant facade of the historical Federal Center in Battle Creek, Michigan.
As a young Vietnam vet and adult in hometown Kansas City, I volunteered on Dole's US Senate campaign in 1975.
Many years later, I was then honored to have opportunity to pick him up at the Kalamazoo airport for a Battle Creek speaking engagement.
We talked about that early Senate campaign, but more about the 3 1/2 years he spent in the Battle Creek Army Hospital during WWII, recovering from devastating battle wounds incurred when he tried to rescue an Army buddy against withering machine gun fire in Italy while a U.S. combat infantry officer.
He would forever more carry a pen in his paralyzed right arm and hand, remnants of his war wounds.
I tried to politely ask questions about his years recuperating from injuries and while in Battle Creek. He was not expected to survive. But did, and met his first wife, an occupational therapist at the hospital.
Always ready with a wide, engaging smile and light chuckle, Dole recalled walking downtown Battle Creek, and sitting quietly in a wheelchair in McCamly Park.
In our crazy, topsy turvy US political climate today, I try to remember those who were so different, and gave so more to this wonderful country of ours.
Thank you Bob Dole. Battle Creek remembers.
May 23, 2016
WAKE UP W. K. KELLOGG FOUNDATION
Broken families, hopelessness leads to, breeds violence, and both relative and absolute poverty.
Why are we not addressing the terrible terrible problems faced by black youth, and youth generally, in our Battle Creek neighborhoods?
Where are the systemic-focused programs with existing churches, social service agencies and others?
Where is the money, and the boots on the ground, to use a shopworn but accurate phrase?
When do we quit spending millions of dollars on outside consultants, and start supporting programs at the community level?
Where is the W. K. Kellogg Foundation?
At my last count the Kellogg Foundation has now spent NINE years, and gone through two CEOs, trying to figure out what to do to make a systemic difference in Battle Creek neighborhoods, and especially in the lives of children, and particularly children of color.
While it has thrown millions of money at countless planning organizations, consultants, conferences, busy work and marketing, in order to delay action and wash its hands of responsibility.
It was more comfortable, for a time, to spend its inherited fortune in South Africa and South America, than on South Washington or South 20th streets.
And what a seemingly rudderless ship since 1995?
Mr. Kellogg must be turning over in his grave.
Of course, it's not all about the Kellogg Foundation. All the planning, however, is an excuse to let the terrible local problems slide.
There's a lot of racism, bigotry, misogyny and lassitude from Goguac Lake to Gull Lake.
This weekend, I heard one of these same well off folks who doesn't live near or see the problems, have the guts, temerity to criticize what Rev. McCoy is trying to do with New Level Sports on W. Michigan Avenue.
We need more Rev. McCoys.
More Clifton Bullocks. More Jack Mawdsleys. More William Baileys. More Sojourner Truths. More Bill LaMothes. More Maude Bristols. More Russ Mawbys.
And more leadership AND ACTION from One Michigan Avenue East. (Take a look at what the Kauffman Foundation is doing in its hometown Kansas City.)
I should take a long walk and burn off this anger.
"Relax more about (that) stuff (at age 71)," a long time Battle Creek female friend urged me recently.
When they shovel dirt over the top of my grave.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: These are strictly my personal views. But I spent almost 9 years on the Kellogg Foundation staff, including as its Vice President for Battle Creek Programming, and later as President/CEO of The Frey Foundation, and President/CEO of the Battle Creek Community Foundation.
May 17, 2016
THE LAST FREMONT SCHOOL BELL
TOLLS FOR THEE AND ME
by jim richmond
I drive by Fremont School two or three times a day, and its students and parents walk by my apt daily. Happy together.
With the trees and shrubs coming out now, the School -- one of the oldest in the Battle Creek system -- is elegant, stately, beautiful -- and small.
It is one, if not the only, socially, economically, racially and inclusive elementary schools left in the BCS District.
So next month, it will close. And its students stuffed into busses to another larger elementary school next fall.
Perhaps, I was misguided to think small schools, small classrooms are what we wanted for our children? For their success. For their futures.
In the end, as in so much, money talks.
Educationally? I'm not so sure this was such a wise, thoughtful decision. For the Fremont children.
So soon the last school bell will ring at Fremont.
Nunc Lento Sonitu Dicunt, (Now this bell, tolling softly for another, says to me.)
And indeed the bell tolls for me, for thee, and for our children.
May 09, 2016
Trash Talk and Scamming at the VA Hospital:
"I JUST SLAP-SHIT OUT OF HER"
by jim richmond
Sitting for several hours the other late evening in the "Urgent Care" waiting area of the VA Hospital here in Battle Creek, Michigan, I was having trouble breathing.
But figured the other 15 or so in this large waiting area, with chairs ringing the wall probably were having their own health challenges as well.
I tried to curl up emotionally and mentally, but still was ruminating between reading a Kindle version of a Doris Kearns Goodwin book, and turning increasingly incensed at the loud, profane talk of a group of other vets waiting in the area.
No, not young Iraq vets. Old men like me They weren't watching the TV on the wall, or minding their own business.
Instead -- whoever listening be damned -- they were Mother-fucking this, kiss my ass that, laughing how they were conning the VA to get higher disability payments, exchanging tips on applying 40 years late for PTSD compensation linked to their Vietnam era service, self righteously complaining about waiting too long, about the poor quality of VA care, and telling oneupsmanship tales of kicking the shit out of women for holding back money or keeping their legs tight together.
I and one other vet moved as far away from the the group of about 15 or so as possible, almost down the hall to the photos of Michigan Congressional Medal of Honor winners.
I finally got up, walked to the intake worker behind the glass screen and told her to take "Richmond" off the waiting list.
"Where ya going?" I asked the other vet who had moved over away from the noise.
"Trying to get a ride to Community Care (senior home) by Dickman," he replied.
"Come on," I said, "let's get the hell out of here."
I'm not snichin or telling stories out of class in this FB post.
This morning I called the Patient Advocates office at the VA and went over this tale. A vet herself, she agreed with my criticism, assuring me it was quite different during normal clinic hours in the waiting room..
I hope that as she suggested, my experience was just anomaly.
If not, there's probably a lot of folks scamming the VA system.
As I told the lady on the phone this morning, I may have hated serving during the Vietnam Conflict, but I appreciate what I get from the VA.
Serving your country is a duty and a responsibility.
It doesn't "entitle": you to scam the system for every dollar you can squeeze out of it.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Turned out I probably had pneumonia and was treated the next day at the same VA Hospital, by my Primary Care Team Leader and Nurse Practitioner Lisa D., who made a place on her schedule to see me right away, and got me started on a 5-day dose of "overload antibiotics." That's the kind of thoughtful care that has been the "norm" of my experience the past 15 or so years at VA facilities in Battle Creek, Kansas City, Albuquerque and San Francisco.
May 02, 2016
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN IS BACK
by jim richmond
Few, perhaps, would have Doris Kearns Goodwin as one of their near lifelong professional heroes.
Tainted somewhat by claims from several authors that two of her books used their passages without citation, Goodwin disappeared from the PBS News Hour 15 or so years ago.
She is back. Aged 73, and now on the Sunday morning TV political roundtables.
Like George Will, you at minimum must admire her range of knowledge on American political history.
And her shared loved of and writing about American baseball.
The range of her Pulitzer-winning biographies stands with the best.
I've read them with admiration, inspiration, and gained new understanding about our leaders and our political process:
-- Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream.
-- The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys: An American Saga.
-- No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II.
-- Wait Till Next Year:Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.
-- The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism.
As some of you know from my past newspaper columns, ragstorichmond blogs, and FB posts, I look for and write about personal unselfishness and goodness in people and their relationships, if I'm often lacking in those qualities myself.
Goodwin taught for 10 years at Harvard. Then made an unusual, unselfish choice. She resigned from Harvard.
With small children, Goodwin decided she wanted to be home with them in their growing up years. So she reserved mornings to research and write.
She was at the school bus when her children came home. Afternoons and evenings were for her family.
As a result, Goodwin spent 10 years writing the Fitzgeralds/Kennedy opus.
From Irish immigrant stock, she goes to 50 Boston Red Sox games a year.
Goodwin still has the same husband after 40 years; and describes how she cherishes that relationship and her children.
She is not a perfect role model. (Is anyone?) But she is all I wish I could have been, and more as a writer and a person.
And yesterday morning, as I watched Doris Kearns Goodwin on one of the TV roundtables, her analysis, knowledge, attitude and smile lit up the discourse.
How delightful it would be to have dinner with her some time.
April 20, 2016
“THANKS, BATTLE CREEK!"
Paul Singh moved to Battle Creek 23 years ago, after driving a cab and working in a New York City convenience store.
"I wanted to find a quiet, friendly place. That's Battle Creek," Singh told me this morning, who now owns 8 area gas and convenience stores, including a new one at the west side intersection of Van Buren and Michigan Avenue.
He is also proud of being President of the local Sikh Temple.
Singh said it took him eight months to build and open his latest convenience store, which is always spotless, with an unusually large offering of food, pop and liquor.
He sells Mobil gasoline. "See, it's $1.95 today," he said, pointing with pride to an outside pump. "Mobil costs me a penny and a half more, but it is very good gasoline."
He was pitching in this morning, he said, because his regular morning clerk, Amber, had called in sick.
Amber always has a smile when I drop in each morning.
April 05, 2016
Leila Arboretum Gets Set for Big Changes, Attractions in 2016
Yesterday, I took my first spring walk around the 1-mile loop at Leila Arboretum here in Battle Creek, Michigan. A favorite activity for many others, especially seniors like me!
A bit chilly but sooooo refreshing to view the more than 3,000 trees, dozen-plus gardens, and to chat with Arboretum CEO Brett Meyers about lots of exciting music, art and nature education happenings, plus physical changes for the year ahead!
This view along the pathway, looking east from the Arboretum's unusual Peace Labyrinth, will be transformed dramatically in coming months, as phase 2 of Battle Creek's three-.day Fantasy Forest art carve takes place this June, adding 10 to 12 additional fantasy themed tree sculptures, a new musicial stage and landscaping. Thanks to many generous Battle Creek donors and volunteers, Myers said.
The West Michigan streetscape of the Arboretum will also be opened up, improved and enhanced towards downtown Battle Creek, spotlighting the Children's Garden, and for the first time visually uniting the total Arboretum streetscape along busy W. Michigan Avenue.
An exciting year ahead for the 85-acre Arboretum, Battle Creek's "Westside Gem," that draws 80,000 visitors a year -- many from out of town -- and recently was recognized as one of the top 10 public gardens and arboretums in the state of Michigan.
Hope to see you and say "hey" on a walk there one of these days.
We're ready for spring in west Michigan, aren't we? :-)
For more information about the Arboretum, and the Fantasy Forest art carve:
'CHANGLING LAB' A PLACE OF ART AND INCLUSION
by jim richmond
Photo: Sabine Ledieu (l) and Kimber Thompson are lead artists in Battle Creek's free form "Changling Lab' where all kinds of people, from all kinds of backgrounds and ages are creating art projects, many from recycled materials.
Here they proudly display one of their own creations, a Little Free Library (crafted by Thompson) that will be one of hopefully many to be located throughout Battle Creek, Springfield, Marshall, Albion, Athens and neighboring communities.
The small libraries are stocked with donated books available free, with a volunteer "steward' from the neighborhood or other nearby location who helps maintain each library.
This project -- one of many Sabine and Kimber are engaged in as volunteers -- is part of a national program of "Little Free Libraries", that now are in more than 32,000 locations around the world.
The Changling Lab is at the Burma Center, which is a former Springfield school and first site of the Battle Creek Math and Science Center on Upton Avenue.
The Center is open each Monday evening for visitors and those who want to get involved. Tonight, projects and people kept this large, former school building buzzing with the laughter and art activities of children and adults.
It is managed by and a cultural home for the more than 3,000 Burmese residents of greater Battle Creek.
Stop and visit on a Monday!
It's the kind of place that makes you happy and hopeful to be living in and part of a diverse, inclusive Battle Creek.
And it's going to be a good place to send my charitable donation to help them cover rent and other expenses!
For information: http://www.changlinglab.net
January 17, 2016
Seems everyone but the city dog catcher has a"doctorate/doctoral degree", mostly earned over the past 15 to 20 years .
And there is an inverse relationship between where and what people get their degree in, and those who insist on being called Dr. so-and-so.
For several early years in my career, one of my jobs was to try to make sense out of and then rewrite concepts and copy written by people with doctorate degrees from well-known universities.
The work almost drove me insane and I started lighting novena candles when I moved on and up from that responsibility.
It's gotten worse.
Now we have thousands of people getting doctorates from places like Phoenix University and they run around the streets, highways, worlds of academe and nonprofit management with Dr. on their car license plates and, in my opinion too little intellectually, or work/world wise, behind the wheel or in the backseat.
Maybe getting any doctorate is a good thing.
But, I'd suggest you have a science-based Phd from somewhere like MIT, Stanford, Michigan State, Harvard, Michigan, Brown, Northwestern or Chicago before making too big a hoot and holler about your doctorate. (Of course, these people don't.)
Unless cornered or required to be politically polite, I don't call anyone doctor unless I think they have an earned one from an American or European allopathic or osteopathic medical, dental or veterinary college.
"Doctors" of Chiropractic have made a fortune wearing heavily starched white smocks, twisting people's spines, and persuading patients to have weekly $65 treatments until put in the grave. (They also allegedly rival only the MEA for political clout in Lansing.)
In the field of primary health care, I'm happy being treated and cared for by a nurse practitioner or physician's assistant. They don't practice or bill in 15-minute patient intervals.
These folks know how to listen, diagnosis and help people get well. And when and where to send people for specialized medical care. (In various ways, we have literally run all but the most dedicated real doctors out of specializing in primary care/family medicine. Another topic.)
James Madison Richmond, BA, MA
P. S. May I burn in hell if I get caught listing degrees on my business cards or correspondence.
January 16, 2016
What Makes Jim Haadsma Run…
and Run…and Run?
by Jim Richmond
At age 58, with kids in college and high school, a busy law practice, plus a host of civic and church interests and commitments, what makes Jim Haadsma run so hard for the Michigan 62nd State House, after his 4th term as Calhoun County Commissioner, and facing a financially well-healed opponent?
We were sitting early this morning at Ritzee’s restaurant on W. Michigan Avenue, and Haadsma was a bit taken aback by the ‘run’ question, pausing for a minute, then going back to restate, to massage his thoughts and his answer.
“It has to be my parents; both missionaries. I spent most of my high school years with them in Africa – Rhodesia, a violent time of civic war, when the Europeans and Africans were fighting each other. I saw my parents subordinate themselves to the needs of other people, to public service. And when you’re around that as a young person, it seeps into your heart, spirit, values, and your sense of purpose.”
Returning to the United States in 1976, Haadsma graduated from Michigan State University, attended graduate school at the University of Denver, earned his law degree from Wayne State University, and then practiced what he called “street law” in hometown Muskegon for three years, before joining the McCroskey Law Firm in 1987.
He runs the firm’s Battle Creek office, specializing in workers disability compensation.
Haadsma says, yes, he feels the time pressures of busy personal responsibilities, career and civic engagements -- of “knowing what to keep in and what to leave out – it’s always a challenge.”
But what he hasn’t and doesn’t leave out, is a grassroots engagement and commitment to community, neighborhoods, residents, and needs.
All the energy he spends at civic events and activities is multiplied by the long-term canvassing, "you can’t understand people’s problems unless you dig down, visit with people, and not just at election time.”
Laurie Sullivan, a northside neighborhood leader and former Battle Creek City Commissioner,
“I’ve yet to meet another individual who is so dedicated, so ‘present’ – physically and mentally – as a public servant as Jim (Haadsma). Approachable, compassionate, engaged. We couldn’t ask for anyone better," Sullivan commented.
Many, many people who know Jim Haadsma agree.
December 06, 2015
DON'T CALL THE POLICE, SAY A PRAYER
The police two days ago tell me to call 911 when there is drug activity on Frelinghuysen Street, the next apt over on my shared driveway.
So 15 minutes ago, `1:23 a.m., there is a stream of cars and people on foot coming into the driveway. I call 911 and wait. The officer pulls up so I go out and explain what I see.
"Well," Police Officer Brown tells me, " How do you KNOW they are dealing drugs? They could be going in there for lots of reasons?"
(The drug dealer's wife also takes care of kids during the daytime. Perhaps a nice "cover" but is THAT the right environment for kids......around a drug dealing husband?)
"I hear them out my bedroom window, talking about drugs," I say to Officer Brown. "At 1:30 in the morning and staying for 2 minutes each. Do you think they are going in there to pick up kids or for prayer services?," I reply, sorry, but a bit sarcastically to Officer Brown.
"Well, you have a good evening," he tells me, getting back in his patrol car and driving away.
I think I'll get out my Rosary. Because Its too early in the morning to attend a prayer service. At least saying the Rosary will do more good than calling Officer Brown and, tonight, the Battle Creek police.
ERRATA: I've meet and/or interacted with some fine, helpful Battle Creek police officers, including Chief Blocker, over this problem during the past six weeks. But all it takes is contact with one or two "puffed up or professionally detached" Officer Browns to ruin a lot of good community contact work by his police colleagues...and city commissioners who go out of their way to be responsive to citizen complaints.
November 01, 2015
TIME FOR YOUTH, NEW ENERGY
ON BATTLE CREEK CITY COMMISSION?
by Jim Richmond
Kate Flores isn't much concerned that her opponent and the incumbent for the City Commission's 3rd Ward has his campaign posters and signs plastered all over the Northside of Battle Creek.
She is one of two high energy, feet on the ground, door bell knocking young professional women who hope to be elected and bring a new level of energy, listening skills and strategic experience to their roles as Battle Creek City Commissioners after next Tuesday's election.
The other is Kaytee Faris, who ran as an at large candidate two years ago, and came within a breathe and a prayer of being elected as one of the four at large Commissioners.
Only a few votes can make huge difference in City elections.
“I'm spending all my time knocking on doors and just listening to people in the 3rd Ward,” Flores commented, describing a diverse area that stretches from the Post Addition, to Bailey Park and as far west as Fremont Elementary School.
“Yard signs and posters aren't as important as getting out and talking with residents.”
She admits to not “knowing all the details” about current city issues like the Battle Creek Unlimited/City/TIFA scuffle.
“I'll have steep learning curve. But I'm a quick learner, with experience in policy level decision making – which is the primary role of the Commission,” she said. “And I'm a good listener.”
Flores is a graduate of the University of Michigan with a degree in social sciences and international development, and earned a masters degree in community development from the University of Toronto.
Bilingual in English and Spanish, she has worked at the grassroots level in poor areas of eight Central American countries.
She was the founding director of Voces, a Battle Creek nonprofit organization, which works to improve health care access and inclusion of Hispanics in community life and leadership.
Flores and her husband, Ifrael, have two children.
“The Commission should bring the voices of all segments of the community to the table in decision making and planning. I can help make that happen,”she said.
Like Flores, Kaytee Faris is a wife and mother, and radiates energy and excitement about being elected next Tuesday as an at large member of the City Commission.
Faris is a graduate of the L'Universite Laval in Quebec and Eastern Michigan University.
She grew up in Urbandale and Lakeview, and moved back to Battle Creek five years ago. “I wanted to be a cheerleader for the community, to get involved and make a difference,” she said.
Faris has: from chairing the Fremont/McKinley Neighborhood Planning Council to serving on the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Grant Committee, which is focused on what is driving crime in Battle Creek. It is a collaboration of the Battle Creek Police Department, Battle Creek City Staff, Neighborhood Planning Councils and the Urban League.
The current “Visioning” going on in Battle Creek with Kellogg Company and Kellogg Foundation support is well and good, but Faris wants to make sure it results in concrete changes in the quality of life, the employment, the educational opportunities of everyday people in Battle Creek.
“I'm impatient to see things start to happen,” she said with a smile.
Both Flores and Faris are steeped in community development experience and would bring a younger, and some say, fresh perspective to the Battle Creek Commission, which has been plagued recently by much publicized high absentee rates by some of its members.
Voters will decide on Tuesday if they think its time for greater diversity, youth, energy and community development experience on the City Commission.
October 24, 2015
When Autumn Leaves Begin to Fall in Michigan
Autumn is my favorite time living here in Michigan.
Bright color of the leaves.
Chill in the air.
The innocent enthusiasm of college football.
But it’s also a bittersweet season.
Each year, as red leaves turn to yellow, fade and fall, I’m reminded of the story about the little girl, losing her Mother to a rapidly advancing and incurable disease.
The doctor, and the little girl’s father, try to prepare the child for the loss.
“When will my Mommy die?” the child asks the doctor, who replies: “When the leaves begin to fall.”
Six months later, in late-October, the father looks out the window of their home.
There, in the front yard, is the little girl, trying to paste fallen leaves back on the Maple tree.
Of course, we can’t paste leaves back on a tree. Any more than avoid death of those we love.
Still, at the end, we have our memories to cherish.
My tiny, Irish mother doing the family wash by hand – with crooked arms broken in childhood.
Her saying, late in life and lonely, “Come on Jimmy, let’s go sit on the porch and talk.”
Yes, I remember.
When autumn leaves begin to fall in Michigan.
(Photo below: Jim Richmond with his Mom, Mary Honora McNamara Richmond, shortly before her death at 88, in 2003. Hometown Atchison, Kansas family gravesite.)
September 17, 2015
PUBIC HAIR AND PUBLIC DANCING
I was listening over lunch to a female friend the other day, unhappy with the sexual interest and performance of her boyfriend.
"My God, Jim, he even shaves his PUBIC HAIR! How many men shave their pubic hair,?"
Thinking: 'Way-Too-Much-Information-Here,' I successfully steered the conversation to more pleasant, topics -- nuclear holocaust, famine in Sudan, lung cancer rates.
Then, early this morning, the BBC World Service radio is running a program on -- guess what -- not the origin and proliferation of atom bombs -- but women and men shaving their pubic hair.
Now, I wonder how long before this topic gets to the Sunday Morning Talk Shows? Chris Wallace: "SENATOR, DID YOU, OR DID YOU NOT, QUIT SHAVING YOUR PUBIC HAIR?"
Turns out, women and men started shaving (all or most of) their hair with the Egyptians. Every other day, so they'd be ready to party with the Gods, according to the BBC story.
I remember living in San Francisco in 1969, when my wife suddenly decided she no longer wanted to shave any hair. (As an always horny U.S. Navy sailor, home on leave just every 9 months, she could've demanded wearing spurs and copulating standing up, and I'd gone along with it.)
So, just as, over the years, I've learned to GET USED to body hair everywhere, it's going out of style again.
The BBC says shaving of both male and female pubic hair is linked to the rise and spread of Internet porn -- where, allegedly, 30 percent of all online viewers are now women. And where a body with pubic -- or any other hair -- is getting to be as rare as a Kansas City Strip Steak.
That's probably a vicious, mean spirited lie, propagated by the folks at Bob Jones University, where there allegedly is a rule against students having sex standing up, because it might lead to dancing.
I don't think public hair or dancing have much to do with the rise in pornography.
One suspects my friend's relationship problem is about something more than her boy friend's pubic hair.
I'd bet a good counselor would advise her to take him out on the dance floor more often.
August 09, 2015
Humorist and author David Sedaris, in his latest book, says he finds most short story topics in his own life.
“No one could be as bad, as crazy as I’ve been,” he told THE STRAND on BBC World Service Radio early one morning.
David Sedaris (photo) Sedaris continued:
“I wrote a short story about my Mom dying 17 years ago.
Then I wrote another one.
And then I wrote another one.
I realized I was writing too many stories about my mom dying. My readers were probably getting bored listening.”
Truth is, our family life, colleagues and our friends form the core of our experiences.
Many of my own blogs, short stories and newspaper columns over the past three decades are based on people, places and personal experiences.
And some of those are as indelible today as death and dying.
For example, I loved my red-headed little Irish Mom telling, and retelling, the story of her delivering early morning papers, as an 8-year old, on the neighborhood streets of hometown Atchison, Kansas in the early 1920s.
“Want some ice tea? Come on, Jimmy. Let’s go out on the porch.” I knew she wanted to spend some time, at age 82, talking about her childhood.
My Mom was a GOOGLE MAP and a Wikipedia long before their time.
And she enjoyed the telling and the listening. It was therapy. A way to stay connected. To talk. To care. To bond. To help others.
Whether your Mom, or a friend, real listening, too, is an art and part, of loving or caring for someone.
And it’s not always easy.
Other priorities, distractions try to crowd in the mind and the day. (Photo: Jim with his Mom, Mary McNamara Richmond, shortly before her death in 2003.
Another of the most vivid examples of such listeners was Dr. Robert Sparks, a distinguished physician, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Nebraska system and dean of the Tulane University Medical School. (He grew up on a small farm near Newton, Iowa where he is buried this day.)
Dr. Sparks was, when I first knew him, a program director in health for the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, and later its president and chief operating officer.
No matter how busy, he had time to discuss your work and, in an informal way, your health problems if they were interfering with your professional performance.
I remember the total attention, the listening skills, he applied and gave to people in work discussions.
About ten years ago, I had the pleasure of spending several days with Bob, who had retired on the West Coast, but returned to Battle Creek for a speaking engagement.
In failing health, he wanted to, so we travelled by car throughout Battle Creek. He talked about his volunteer and career efforts with the Battle Creek Symphony, as chair of the Lakeview School Board, as a volunteer helping to revitalize the local health department, efforts to attract new family practice physicians to Battle Creek and, his role in development of what has emerged into the comprehensive Family and Community Health Center at Washington and Emmett Street.
Much of what he advocated, the positive changes he helped make happen in Battle Creek were never recognized publicly. He was not that sort of person.
But he enjoyed retelling those stories and difficulties from the '80s. And I ended up admiring him even more, for his many questions about my own life, my children, changes in Battle Creek, and other topics.
I kept in touch with Dr. Sparks fairly regularly over his last decade, and we talked on the phone three or four times from his hospital room in the final weeks as death approached him.
We learn so much from others, if we take the time to truly listen and communicate with them.
Today, I try hard to listen to those I love and care about. Even when they repeat themselves.
And, almost without exception, my real friends and loved ones have the capacity to listen when I need an ear, a smile, a word of encouragement.
There are many people with no capacity to listen. They only know how to talk.
How boring that must be.
July 25, 2015
VOLUNTEER GROUP HELPS MAKES ARBORETUM MAGICAL
Today will be Leilapalooza, a 6 outdoor stage, 35-music band festival rockin, rollin, jazzin on the 85-acres of Battle Creek's Leila Arboretum. Located near downtown on W. Michigan Avenue.
Almost to the day last year, I published a blog about a group of Leila volunteers called "The Tuesday Group," which puts in hundreds of hours almost weekly to not only make Leila's front entrance extraordinarily beautiful, but also to help on events like Leilapalooza; and the first-ever incredibly successful Fantasy Forest Art Competition several weeks ago, which drew close to 6,000 visitors.
(I ran across the following blog this morning -- there are more than 200 blog posts on my site from the past 10 years at ragstorichmond.blogspirit.com.With about 6,000 readers each month.)
But in all my years of working with volunteers (and being one), never have I seen a bunch like The Tuesday Group, dedicated, hard working, persistent, fun and funny... who are not only central to maintaining the Arboretum, but helping it expand and transform itself into the "nature, arts, education and recreation campus" that Mrs. Post envisioned when she donated the property nearly a century ago.
I've worked a couple days a week at the Arboretum for 3 years, and I get to casually watch these volunteers, in the way I watch everything after nearly 50 years as a newspaper columnist, writer and author.
So, here's a link (below) to my story about The Tuesday Group. You'll be amazed at what they do.
And come on out today to the Leilapalooza music festival!
I'll be pouring beer from 6 to 9:30 at the Fragrant Hill Pavilion, up on the overlook.
As they say down south, "Just stop and say 'hey'!"
July 22, 2015
FIRING OF SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT
JUST A SYMBOL OF CIVIC LEADERSHIP PROBLEM
First: I agree generally with Commissioner Helmboldt.
(See link: http://www.battlecreekenquirer.com/story/news/local/2015/07/21/frustrations-bubble-wake-hicks-resignation/30481031/)
The problems didnt start with School Superintendent Hicks and wont end with her departure.
They are systemic. I did not know Hicks. But I had occasion to watch how she (mis)treated her staff during the setup for a BCPS building principals meeting. She was unsmiling, rude, dictatorial, near abusive. You can tell a lot about how a CEO treats his/her people at all levels.
Of course we need school district consolidation.
A friend lamented to me recently that there are 500 students at Battle Creek Central, in a building that used to serve 1,500 (and now not including 9th grade), and questioned why voters approved a $68 million building expansion.
All of the districts have rushed pell mell to building new high schools--as if trying to make sure they are the last one standing, if and when consolidation occurs.
Seems closing schools is the equivalent of getting dealt the "death card" in Tarot, if you are a school superintendent. Facing that prospect, a school superintendent should start looking for a nice retirement home in Costa Rica.
And most of us thought charter schools were such a "swell" idea. We should have spelled it s-w-i-l-l.
None of this is funny. Is is extremely sad and discouraging.
Change will not occur until we have another crisis like the City/Township merger or we-will-take-our -marbles -and -leave -home that occurred in the early 80s.
Ain't gonna happen.
Times change. Kellogg Co is treading water. See anyone there with Bill LaMothe's guts and leadership (on both the profit and community sides)?
A Kellogg Foundation program staff person is harder to reach by phone than Vladimir Putin. Some of us remember the days with the WKKF CEO answered his own phone and you could get 15 minutes with him to talk about almost any local, serious issue or problem.
Things are not all bad, all doom and gloom.
I feel the breeze, a rising wind of change in Battle Creek -- for the good.
It will not be painless. A few weeks ago, a Lansing friend and I had dinner and then walked through downtown."Oh, this is so lovely. Much nicer than Lansing!," she exclaimed.
But the really tough issues of disparate educational access and opportunity, of poverty, of largely ignored Northside neighbohoods....the list goes on.....remain.
I understand lots of private sector money is going into "planning" on how to deal with these issues. At Barnes & Noble, S.W.O.T. lists and flip charts sell faster than hotcakees at Ritzee's.
I'd rather see a few real leaders with guts and resources step forward.
Maybe that will happen.
It happened once-- long, long ago Virginia. Maybe it will happen again, and not just for a day at Christmas time.
July 20, 2015
Part Caine, Part Abel?
Are we all part Caine, part Abel?
Certainly I've been over a lifetime. Some of us are like milk: skim, 2%, 5%, whole Caine, little Abel.
It's 3 a.m.., my body hurts, and I leave to drive to Chicago in a couple hours. But I have fed the cats...who are chasing each other around the apartment. And I am looking forward, later today, to seeing a friend from 40 years ago.
But for some reason I have laid awake, consumed with the Caine and Abel analogy -- The following story on Bill Cosby is, in my book, about a man more Caine than Abel.
Yet we held him up as Abel, as Jesus-like on the tv screen for decades and consumed his public morality statements. How can ANYONE be such a wolf in sheep's clothing?
But there are the true Abels among us.
For decades, I've disliked and distained President Jimmy Carter, even while several of my friends near Deify the man
In a long PBS interview recently. he explained the options presented to him by hs military leaders at the time of the hostage taking. ALL recommended destroying, wiping out Iran.
Looking back, one can still argue whether that might have been the best choice.
But Carter chose another less violent option. -- I believe the Abel option. And of course has paid the price for doing so, the rest of his life.
Carter was a mediocre President at best. But he has been a wonderful spokesperson and"doer" for peace and for helping others since leaving office.
But supporting, advocating for this world of evil and random violence only begets violence and evil. And we need role models; people who choose to be Abel over Caine.
Caine will always be walking in our shadow. And we can't let him consume the world....like Iran, China, North Korea and others are still doing today, even if that requires maintaining and using our own military strength.
but we can try our best to be more like Abel in our lives and toward others.
On the phone last night, I told my son that I'm working on that..... as I near the end of a wonderful life.
Still it is difficult to do, especially if we lack self examination and self awareness, as we have sadly learned with Mr. Cosby:
July 10, 2015
LUCY AND ETHEL IN THE CANDY LANE
Did you know we spend more time watching porn on the Internet than reading The Bible,The Big Book, checking FACEBOOK and all the other combined books, all the other words in print?
Of course, I (capitalize that "I") have never, never, never watched any porn.
AND I know YOU have never watched ANY porn on the
So who are all these people?
Could Uncle Al be watching porn?
GOD FORBID, as disgusting as it seems, could Dad or Mother or Father Tim be watching porn?
Could President Obama AT THIS VERY MOMENT be watching porn instead of finishing that 13 inch briefing book on whether the European Central Bank is going to again provide emergency liquidity assistance for the Greek drachma?
JUST THINK. If we all stopped watching Internet porn, we'd probably have time to solve the world's greatest problems.
In the course of full disclosure, let me ADMIT I've watched a little Internet porn in my day.
But I keep looking in the girls' eyes and seeing thinly veiled pain, shame and the very worst kind of abuse we can inflict on each other as human beings.
Maybe some people just can't get enough of it.
For me personally, watching Porn very quickly is like watching Lucy and Ethel in the candy production line.
Without the candy.
SEE NETFLEX's hour long documentary and interviews with young women who find themselves caught up in the porn production business.
May 10, 2015
"SIR, CAN I ASK YOU TO SIT IN THE EMERGENCY EXIT SEAT?"
Twelve years ago this week, I took my last 14-hour direct flight from China. I had done so each quarter, for three years -- traveling from either Hong Kong or Shanghai to Chicago, Detroit or Newark. Living in both worlds -- China and the U.S. Doing marketing here.
But my life had changed. And this was the last of these grueling flights. Never a problem on any of the flights.
We'd been in the air 12 and a half hours. Stiff backs, stale breath, stuffed into economy seats.
Sitting about 5 rows forward from the back of the plane, I suddenly hear a stewardess, who I knew from previous flights, lean over to ask: "Sir, can I ask you to sit in the emergency exit seat?"
"Of course," I replied, getting up and walking to the back of the 747 stretch plane with her, where she motioned to sit in the seat next to the Emergency Exit.
She whispered: "Are you SURE you're comfortable handling the exit door and ramp? The pilot has informed us we've lost primary hydraulic controls. We're approaching O'Hare (Chicago airport) on backup. The runways and approaches have been cleared for our emergency landing."
I told her yes and within 30 minutes, the plane's nose was pitched up, and the pilot came on with emergency instructions for passengers as we made a shuddering final 40-minute approach.
There was no sound but that of screaming engines, shaking seats and loose luggage in the overheads.
No crying. No weeping. No anger.
No sound from passengers.
We hit the runway like a wall, stopping just short on the very last 50 yards of cement.
And broke out in applause for the Captain and crew.
Merry Christmas to all.
And to all a good flight
Mother's Day Reflection:
My mom died 12 years ago.
But, it could've been yesterday.
Because yesterday -- last night -- I came back from a business meeting and thought to myself: 'Think I'll call Mom.'
Something I did almost every night into adulthood, even with my own family, a busy career, and across the long distance phone lines.
Of course, I couldn't call her, yesterday.
But it's like she isn't gone; it's like I could. And I have that sudden urge many evenings.
I told my grownup son about having this random thought; he gave me a stare and said: "You OK, Dad?"
I may be 70, but I'll never forget my Momma.
I'll always be a Momma's Boy.
I remember my 4'11" red headed Mom -- not far removed McNamara/Begley Irish immigrant family, -- cooking the turkey in a bag overnight, the fresh cranberries, her special dressing and especially the pumpkin pies this time of year, and at Thanksgiving
I love pumpkin pie the way The Cookie Bear loves .... cookies.
And, at Thanksgiving, Mom always made two large pumpkin pies PLUS a small one....just for me....just for Jimmy.
I'm still a Momma's Boy.
And I'm thankful for all she gave me....not just the special pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving time.
Think I'll call her in my mind. Just to chat about the day; perhaps share a tale or gossip about others in the McNamara-Begley clan.
"Can you hear me, Mom?"
January 25, 2015
"I DON'T UNDERSTAND YOU."
"I don't understand you," a friend of some 45 years said to me recently, referring to his difficulty in pinning down my political views.
I voted for Obama in 2008, but over the years have become critical (like many of his early supporters) at the gap between his rhetoric and results as President.
But in the past 6 months, I've dialed back my criticism and am, today, more open minded, more supportive, of him.
Why? Obamacare is proving to be a good thing. Universal, free child care is long overdue. The Keystone Pipeline is an environmentally dangerous, unneeded project. Undeniable facts show a growing economic riff between the rich and everyone else in America.
But I might change my mind about Obama again.
I'm not a liberal or a conservative. I don't like labels on people. I spend at least 3 hours a day reading and listening to a wide range of news and opinion stories, from The Guardian to The Atlantic, The New Yorker to The New York Times, the BBC World Service to the Battle Creek Enquirer.
I'll never be too old to learn. Never too old to change.
And I don't care if that leads to being misunderstood.
January 14, 2015
“Richmond, this is an AUTOCRACY, not a democracy!”
There are some life experiences, stories, you do not tell. They are often clouded in a confusing mixture of pride and shame.
“You need to tell this story! It says so much about you,” my partner said last night, after hearing my very first telling of the story, to anyone, since it happened 36 years ago.
Here it is.
The USS Coral Sea, an aging, post WWII aircraft carrier, had left its Alameda, California home port jammed with a ship’s company and air wing of about 4,000 sailors, pilots, marines and about 80 aircraft, missiles, bombs, including a nuclear bomb; the aircraft mostly the famous F-4 A Phantom attack jet, and assorted onboard delivery planes and helicopters.
I was a Navy reservist, called to active duty, and assigned to the Coral Sea. I served in the Navy reserve to avoid being drafted.
My wife, Anne, and I had a small apartment across the Bay from Alameda, in the Twin Peaks area of San Francisco.
There were high expectations as we completed carrier “trials” and got underway for Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and then on to the Tonkin Gulf, to spend 7 months launching air strikes against North Vietnam targets, mostly the trails and railroads that were transporting North Vietnamese soldiers and equipment to fight the Americans in South Vietnam.
I did not believe in the war. I did not want to be there. No patriotic fervor.
I was assigned to the Aviation Supply Department, where we managed all the parts necessary to keep the planes flying. I had worked as a newspaper reporter before joining the Navy. But I sorted parts, moved boxes around, typed work orders in the Department’s office.
We had just steamed out of Pearl Harbor (known in the Navy simply as “Pearl”), when a friend of mine, an E-4 Second Class Petty Officer who was assistant to the full Commander of all ship supplies, shared a memo one evening. It revealed that the Coral Sea would only return to its home port of Alameda for a few days after the current 8 month deployment, and then head to Bremerton, Washington for two months of routine maintenance. It would deploy again off North Vietnam for 9 months.
I was incensed because there was a Navy Shipyard available to do the maintenance in San Francisco, and these orders meant that ship crew members, like myself, who had family living in Alameda, Oakland or San Francisco, would only have a few days with their family before the next deployment.
I decided to do something about it.
So, I wrote a long, uncritical, but questioning letter, addressed to the ship’s Captain. A friend in the Public Affairs Office, who edited the ship’s daily newsletter, copied and inserted my letter in about a thousand copies of the next newspaper, distributed through the ship early the next morning.
All hell broke loose.
Captain Ferris had every typewriter and every one of its keys, on the ship, checked in order to find out the location of the typewriter that had been used to write the original letter.
He started by examining every typewriter in “Officer’s Country,” on the ship, and told several officers: “I thought an officer had to write that letter. It was too well written for any enlisted person (to author).”
They tracked down the typewriter in the Aviation Supply department. They tracked me down in two days.
And I was literally dragged out of my chair up to the Captain’s at-sea quarters near the quarterdeck of the carrier.
The Captain stood, with two Marine security guards, before me. “RICHMOND,” he screamed, with face red and bushy eyebrows near waving in the breeze, “This is an AUTOCRACY, not a democracy!”
He was in charge. This was his ship. And he wasn’t going to put up with any letters like mine to the crew.
Strangely, I did not end up in the hole, the brig, far far down in the lower bowels of the carrier; with shaved head and guarded by Marines.
I received no punishment.
Strangely, The Captain had me transferred from Aviation Supply to Public Affairs, and made editor of the daily newspaper.
He went on speaker and told the crew that yes, we were going to Bremerton for repairs. But he promised there would be weekly free flights between Bremerton and San Francisco for those crew members who had family there, before we again deployed to the South China Sea.
He also grew to love the way I changed and edited the daily newspaper.
I started writing front page stories in the middle of each night; interviewing returning jet pilots about where the air strikes were done again North Vietnam; what the bombing results accomplished. What happened in terms of pilot returns and aircraft mechanical and weapon problems.
I also started writing short features with photos on all kinds of different ship mates – their family, their jobs on the carrier, how they felt about Navy service.
I added poetry to the newspaper that was submitted by crew members, and coverage of stateside news I thought important and of interest.
About three times a week, my phone would ring an hour or so after I’d distributed the daily newspaper very early in the morning. “HOLD FOR THE CAPTAIN!” his Marine guard would bark into the telephone.
And the Captain would come on, and want to chat about the newspaper content, the interviews, and the stories about crew members. “Great job, Richmond!” he’d say many times.
I went on to serve on the Coral Sea for two combat tours.
Captain Ferris left the ship after that tour, and was promoted to Rear Admiral – a rare promotion for an officer who had not graduated from the Naval Academy.
For all the ensuing years, I have kept track of Admiral Ferris.
He soon retired after his promotion, and lived out his life in Alameda, California. His obituary in 2006 noted that he had been a volunteer deliveryman for “Meals on Wheels” for more than 23 years after retirement.
A great man. A great leader who was loved by every shipmate.
Should I feel shame, or pride, for speaking out on behalf of myself and other shipmates on the Coral Sea, by writing that letter? By breaking Navy regulations.
“No, I really don’t feel shame,” is what I told my partner last night.
Thankfully, I left the Navy in 1970, to travel other life roads, that have always taken me back to the written word, and to watching and writing about people and life experiences and to speaking out when it seemed necessary.
But you never know what the consequences of doing so will be. Often far different than in this strange story of Navy service during the Vietnam conflict.
December 07, 2014
Michigan Deer Season:
ALONE IN THE TESTOSTERONE ZONE
A damp, dark cloud of human male testosterone, hung over the Shell Station on N.E. Capital in Battle Creek, Michigan at 5 am this morning, more stifling than any car pollution cloud along 5-Ring Road in Beijing, China.
Fifteen to twenty mud caked F-150s, F-250s and F-350s were parked butt to booty, more Ford decals than in a Dealer display lot.
Their owners, most dressed in speckled brown camouflage bib overalls, were strutting their stuff like peacocks, as they filled tanks.
Some leaned again truck beds, telling war stories about yesterday’s game-on against the enemy in the woods around Battle Creek.
And they seemed ready for a repeat roust and joust this morning.
"Jesus," I thought, "Bambi wouldnt last five seconds around this crowd.
I got coffee. Paid for my gas.
I'm sure many are out for much needed "harvesting" of deer, and fill their food lockers, or those of homeless shelters, with perhaps much economically needed and appreciated protein.
But this isnt my kind of sport or my way of thinking about hunting animals.
I know....my view is shared by about as many people in Michigan as root for the Ohio State Buckeyes.
“HEY!, HAVE A GOOD ONE!,” I lied in artificial baritone, bumping into one of the hunters, as I headed out the gas station door.