Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Happier than I could've ever imagined

     When I began my journey to find the identities of my my biological parents, just over a year ago, I did so with the blessing of my mom, who told me she thought I needed to do it. She thought it would make me happier. I honestly can't tell you if I was unhappy--about being adopted, or about anything. Perhaps her motherly instincts told her this was the case.    
     She was right. 
     I don't think it was a case of being unhappy, per se, but rather, feeling incomplete on some level. Unfinished. Unattached. Not sure what I was supposed to be or do. To a degree, we all take after one or both of our parents, or even other family members. This goes for both physicality and quite often strengths and weaknesses. It's certainly not a hard and fast rule but it's evident in many families. 
     When I was growing up and became intrigued with the art of radio, I know my parents scratched their heads wondering where all the energy and passion came from for radio and performing. Neither had any real interest in such endeavors and at times it caused strife and even hurt feelings. My dad was a successful businessman and didn't quite see the point at first. I know he was concerned radio didn't seem like the most reliable way to make a living. Well, he was right on that point. He and mom both came around eventually but it was never completely embraced by him. That's why when I found my biological family and discovered I was a chip off the old block, so to speak, many things began to fall into place and for once in my life, make sense. I made sense--at least to me. 
     Recently my Uncle Jerry, my late birthmother's brother, was in town with his wife Kathy visiting her family in Arcanum. One afternoon Jerry and I drove around Dayton and I showed him all the radio stations I worked at. There were several--I told him I didn't always play well with others when I was younger. Of the four we looked, I'd been fired from three of them. One of them, twice.
     Fortunately, my Uncle Jerry understands the trials and tribulations of working in radio. He did it for a few years when he was a younger man. He gets it--completely. He can talk about it, relate to it, and offer great advice on how to technically put things together. This is something I never had growing up: someone who understood my passion and could appreciate my desire to succeed. Again, my parents were generally supportive of my career track and I'm thankful for that. However, it was a foreign language to them. I couldn't talk about segues, jingles, audio-processing, multi-tracking, mic processing, console boards, or anything, without their eyes glazing over. Much like my wife, now. 
     About a year ago, my Aunt and Uncle came to visit me and stopped by the community radio stations I was working at in Troy, Ohio. They hung out in the studio while I did my show. My uncle hadn't been in a radio studio in a long time and was thrilled to see how far technology has advanced. Then he suggested maybe I could operate my own radio station for the communities in Greene County. I had thought about it before but the obstacles seemed immense, not to mention expensive. Then out of the blue, he offered me a computer server he had in storage, which would be ideal to store all the music and software needed to operate an online radio station.  
     Running my own radio station is all I ever wanted to do. I never got to that point in my previous professional broadcast career. Of course, before now, building your own "over the air" station was nearly impossible unless you had a lot of money to invest in equipment and space. And though I'd been out of the radio biz for quite sometime, the desire to run my own station never left. I guess it just went dormant until technology caught up. 
     Eventually he sent me the computer and started putting it all together. Now, here we are almost six months into the process, and MyGreeneRadio.com is growing every day. We're gaining more listeners (than just my family and friends), we have sponsors, and we're adding new podcasts and programs almost weekly. None of this would've happened without the encouragement and support of many people. But it was my Uncle Jerry who finally threw the right kind of fuel on the fire to push me to do it. And I couldn't be happier. So, I guess in the end, without even knowing why or how, my mom was right.

     Last year when I began my journey I began this blog to share my adoption story with family and others interested. I've decided to turn the blog into a podcast series about my story and adoption information in general. Keep listening for details on the Two Kinds of Love Podcast on MyGreeneRadio.com

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Reflections and a tough question

     It's been almost a year to the day since I sent my official request to obtain my original birth records. It's also been quite awhile since I've written about my adoption story. Over the past many months I've been working on other things and my attention has been directed elsewhere. But with the anniversary of my discovery approaching I've been thinking a lot about what the past year revealed.
     Last summer it seemed I was learning something new about my birth mother, my birth father, my birth family, or myself, nearly every week. It was an emotional period which culminated with a visit to my aunt and uncle's Pennsylvania home in September for my birthday. My first birthday with my first family. Trying to digest everything I was told about my birth mother by her family and friends was at times exhaustive and exhausting. My appetite for information was unquenchable but everyone did a great job of not overloading my circuitry. We were riding a wave and no one wanted to stop.
     If learning about my birth mother wasn't emotionally draining enough, I also started building a relationship with my birth father, who lives in Florida. He's not much on writing, preferring to talk on the phone. I'm the opposite, so we've been sporadically communicating over the past ten months. We've gone months without chatting but when we do we seem to pick up right where we left off. All is well.
     I can't think of a single dour note throughout the entire process. But to be candid, while I have taken some emotional risks in reaching out to people, the path was already prepared before I began. After discovering my mother's identity and Googling her name, I found my uncle had already been searching for me. That made contact with him an easier risk to take. And through his searching he managed to track down my birth father, who assured him he'd be open in reconnecting with me. This laid the ground work and gave me confidence I wouldn't be rejected. And while initially they were both shocked to hear from me, my birth mother's step-sons were very charitable with the information they shared about their mom. They knew about me but certainly never expected me to find them.
      I feel so blessed to have these long lost family members back in my life. And I'm thankful I finally got most of the answers to long held questions about my beginnings. My adopted family, especially my mom, have all been incredibly supportive of my investigation and discoveries. I couldn't have done it without their support.
     The one piece of the puzzle which still alludes me, however, is the one piece which might not turn out the way I would like, if I were to pursue it in earnest. My birth father has a daughter who is just a bit older than me. For various reasons, which I want share for privacy reasons, have a strained relationship--they don't communicate with each other. And I've struggled on whether I should reach out to her. Part of me wants to reach out to her to let her know she has a half-brother. The other part of me says let sleeping dogs lie.
     By the way, I've talked to my birth father and he's giving me his blessing on contacting her if I chose to do so. I wouldn't be betraying his privacy or confidence in any manner.
     I've pondered many scenarios and outcomes since learning about her last summer. Perhaps on some level, discovering she has a half-brother might help to begin healing her relationship with her father. Maybe she'll find it as an incentive to work things out with him. However, I think this notion might be a bit naive and wishful thinking on my part. Perhaps the opposite would occur and she'd reject me out of spite or indifference. Which, by the way, would be her right entirely but would have nothing to do with me personally. Though, I'd still feel the sting of her rejection. 
     I've also wondered if it really even matters whether she knows about me or not. There could be very valid reasons why she feels the way she does and my interruption in her life could cause painful feelings she's not interested in confronting. People keep their distance from others for a reason. However, I can only say if I had a half-sibling somewhere in the world I would want to know. But that's coming from someone who hasn't experienced the relational parental strife she's experienced. Maybe she's left that part of her life behind.
     I've thought about sending a cryptic message through Facebook inquiring as to whether she'd be interested in knowing details regarding her father. It would really come down to the wording of the message. I don't want to reveal too much incase she's not interested but I don't want to be too vague as I would fear appearing as though I'm some sort of scammer. 
     The bottom line is I'm less concerned about my feelings than I am those of my half-sister and father. In an ideal situation it would be his job to tell her about me but given the circumstance of their relationship and the backstory I'm aware of, I don't think this is a viable option. The last thing I want is to hurt anyone or further damage their relationship.
     Your thoughts and comments are welcome. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

What a year it has been!

     It's a bit of a cliche, to say, "If you would've told me a year ago I'd be where I am today...." Honestly though, as 2015 begins to wind down, I can't think of a better way to explain how I feel. When I read in the Dayton Daily News in late 2014 the State of Ohio was going to open their sealed adoption files this year, I faced the possibility of learning the identities of my birth mother and father with both eagerness and trepidation. Not all adoption stories have happy endings and at the time I wasn't sure it was worth opening a potential can of worms. How much havoc and heartache was I willing to put myself and others through for a selfish bit of closure? Was I strong enough to face the possibility of monumental rejection? I couldn't definitively answer these question at the time of the article.
     My biggest concern was hurting my mom's feelings. I never wanted her to feel as though she was being left behind or I was ungrateful for the motherly role she's played in my life. But when she told me she thought it would be a good idea for me to find my roots, a great weight was lifted from my shoulders. Though my mom isn't terribly demonstrative, I know early on there were some moments of wincing. When I would share new details about what I was discovering I could tell it was bothering her a bit. Over time though, her selflessness prevailed. This whole experience would be very different if she weren't in my corner rooting for me--as she has always been. And through this my relationship with her has strengthened and my appreciation for all she and my dad provided me has deepened considerably. Their choice to love me, accept me, and commit to raising me may not be rare but it certainly is remarkable.
     My mom's support was vital in prompting me to request my original birth certificate but it was my Uncle Jerry and his family, carrying the torch lit by my late mother, Rosie, who are really the people who have made this journey possible and pleasant. They didn't have to care about my curiosity. They could've chosen to do nothing after Rosie passed in 2005.  And when I found them they could've closed ranks and rejected me, like many other adoptees have experienced when finding their birth families. But they didn't do any of these things. They not only immediately accepted me but they have embraced my family and for that I'm eternally thankful.
     When I was eventually ready to reach out to Rosie's two boys, whom she raised with their father from the time they were little ones, Joe and Dan were both open to sharing stories and personal mementoes. They're perspectives, as her sons, have been the most interesting, revealing and personal to me. She may have been my mother but she was their mom. I don't think there are two better people who could shed light on the kind of person she was than her boys. Everything I've been told, witnessed in videos, or surmised in pictures, tells me she was full of love with plenty to share with everyone who knew her. I've spoken to a few of her friends and they confirm my impressions of her; Rosie was love.
     Throughout this process I've also been cultivating a relationship with my birth father, Darrel. As we do not live close to each other it's been a real challenge to connect on any deep or meaningful level but I am grateful for the effort he's making. Darrel told me from the very beginning he didn't want to try to replace anyone or step on toes and he's been a man of his word. I appreciate him letting things evolve at my pace. It's hard for me to reach deeper emotionally because I had an amazing dad and this experience has brought to the surface unresolved feelings I have in dealing with his 2002 death. I suppose we can all be better sons and in the new year I will strive to do better on my end.
     My emotions well up when I think about was has transpired over the past year. The love I have uncovered is profound. I so look forward to learning more about my birth families, discovering more truths, and hopefully meeting some of these long lost relatives in person. It's been a rewarding journey and I've tried to share as much of it as I can on this blog. Sometimes I can't write everything because when you're in the midst of the journey you have to hold some things back. Not necessarily in an attempt to be furtive but rather to be respectful and gracious. I've learned this journey doesn't only belong to me but also everyone I've come to know along the way. It's very easy to get caught up in the human drama and become obsessed with one's own desires or emotional needs. I've tried hard not to fall into that swamp and I hope I've handled myself and this story respectfully. I will continue to do so in the new year and I'm anxious to see what else unfolds.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Listing #208296

     Recently a friend asked me what I've gained from finding my biological roots and I had to stop and ponder the question. I am certainly fortunate everyone I've met and talked to from my birth mother's family and my birth father's family have been supportive, accepting and generous with stories, photographs and personal mementoes. After reading so many accounts from other adopted children, I could never have imagined it would've been this positive. I am truly blessed. However, I believe what my friend was getting at with his question were the intangibles. Rather, the deeper meaning of it all.
     When I received my original birth certificate in April, I uncovered the identity of two strangers: my birth mother Rosemary and an infant child named Joseph Paul. Of course, Joseph Paul, or "J.P." as he's become known in our house, was me before I was given up for adoption. I was quite surprised to find I had been given a name. Not all but many children of blind adoption, especially during the period of the 1950's and 1960's, were simply named "baby boy" or "baby girl," in order to keep the transaction as anonymous and as impersonal as possible. I couldn't understand why Rosie would've given me name but after discovering a letter written by her in my adoption file, her reason become very clear. After I was born, it was at least a week (probably more, but I'm not sure exactly) before she finally decided to put me up for adoption.  In the letter dated eight days after I was born she conveyed her frustrations in not being able to get the support she needed from her family and asked the social worker to set up a time as soon as possible to sign the adoption papers. I believe during that week, before she wrote the letter, she was still hoping she could figure out a way to keep me. This is why she gave me a name. If she hadn't wanted this I don't think she would've bothered.
     When I met my mother's family, my Uncle Jerry revealed "Joseph Paul" was a family name. Joseph was my grandfather's middle name and Paul was Jerry's Confirmation name. At first the notion of having another name, or quasi identity as it were, was kind of amusing. I thought the name "J.P. Higgins" sounded rather regal and would make a great pen name or literary character. I even joked I could begin a new life as J.P. and no one would be the wiser. My paralegal wife was quick to remind me that sort of ploy is considered fraud and I probably wouldn't fare well in prison.
     I've mentioned this before but as a recap, after I received my birth certificate I Googled the name and found a posting from someone looking for Joseph Paul Higgins. It turned out the message was posted by my Uncle Jerry in 2012. It's listing #208296 and I have a vague recollection seeing it (or something similar) at one point during one of my periods of searching. But honestly, it could be my mind tricking me into believing I came across it. If I did see it, I can almost promise I would've discounted it since my name isn't Joseph Paul. Again, it never dawned on me I might have been given another name at birth. But since learning about this "J.P." person, I find myself thinking about him quite intently at times. To be candid, the mere fact he (I) had a name and existed for a week or more before being put up for adoption give his identity a little bit of credibility. Sure he was an infant who was ill-equipped to understand what was happening but that doesn't negate him. He was a person beginning life like everyone else does; vulnerable, dependent, and unaware how his life would unfold. A like many of other children who wound up in adoption at a very early age, he faced the proverbial fork in the road and had no control over which path he would travel. Boy, this would make a great Twilight Zone script. A troubled soul is given the chance to go back to the beginning and take the other path. What will he find? See, this J.P. has some real literary potential, but I digress.
     I suppose if I knew nothing of my roots I wouldn't give much though to this divergent path. However, as I learn more and more about Rosemary's life and the path she traveled before her passing, I can't help but think what J.P.'s life would've entailed. I certainly think of the milestones and experiences he might of had in comparison to those in my life. Where would he have gone to school? Would he have been a better student? What sports would he have played? What career would he have chosen? I'd love to be able to lay down the two timelines side by side and see how they compare.
     On a more personal level though, I've also contemplated if he would've had a better sense of who he was as a child and young adult. At times I struggled trying to figure that out and looking back I think subconsciously I was probably dealing with issues resulting from my adoption. I wonder if he would've have felt more confidence or had a greater sense of belonging by being around people he shared DNA. Adopted children do not always feel this way--I didn't. Sometimes I even felt like a guest. I'm not suggesting anyone attempted to marginalize me. My adopted clan accepted me with open arms and loved me. However, when you're standing in a room full of family member who look nothing like you or share any of your mannerisms or traits, it's a frequent and glaring reminder of possessing an alien pedigree.
     For those who aren't adopted it may be a tough concept to wrap the mind around but trust me, adopted children often internalize the observations very deeply and it can have a negative effect on the psyche. Many adoptees, especially children, aren't sure who they're supposed to be and struggle to find footing. A child might have an inclination to feel or behave a certain way that are opposite of what the adopted family finds acceptable. It's not necessarily some major thing like religion or some other belief but it could be as simple as a talent or nagging desire for something. Often they try to emulate those around them but then blame themselves if and when they fall short. They may also feel disingenuous in their attempts which can result in problems with identity development. As difficult as it might be to understand, some adoptees (even as adults) might feel as though if they don't fall in line with the perceived expectations of their adopted family, someone they hold dear may stop loving them or reject them. For a child who may already feel rejected this is a scary notion. Many have an incredible need for acceptance, attention, and a sense of belonging. I can relate to these feelings and I doubt J.P. would've ever had to deal with them on this level.
     That being said however, we all have challenges we must endure throughout our life. And I'm not saying my life experience has been any tougher because I was adopted; it's quite the opposite. It made me stronger and as I've gotten older it's allowed me to know my self-better. And after meeting my biological family I feel as though I've found my place in this world (apologies to Michael W. Smith). I love both of families endlessly and feel so fortunate to have had this experience. My heart wells up whenever I think about everything that has transpired over the past year and I can't wait to see what's around the corner. It keeps getting better and better and I only wish Rosemary were here so we could pick up where we left off all those years ago. I wish she could've met my mom. So regardless of whether at my core I'm Joseph Paul or Todd Alan, I'm always going to be a proud and thankful son to both my mother and my mom.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A family of pilgrims? Sort of

     The connection is distant. Very distant. But it exists nonetheless. Today my Uncle Jerry sent me a photo of a stained glass window my 2nd great aunt bought and donated to St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Glynwood, Ohio where her family attended. Her name was Catherine Higgins and her name appears at the base of the window. Eventually Catherine married a man by the name of Frank James Carey. 
     Upon receiving this information I decided to do some quick research on Ancestry and discovered Catherine's husband, Frank, was a sixth great grandson of a man named John Carey/Cary, who was born around 1612 in Somersetshire, England. He came to America in 1651 and is widely known in many genealogy and historical circles as John "The Pilgrim" Cary. Here's a short youtube video about Mr. Cary
     Well, as it turns out, my wife's 9th great grandfather is also John "The Pilgrim" Cary. While she's a direct decedent, my biological family married into the Cary line. Regardless of how, I suppose this very distant connection makes up kissin' cousins, multiple times removed. Which at this moment is no real consolation to my wife who honestly feels a bit weirded out. 
     I tried to do the math to figure out exactly what our connection is and how far removed we are as cousins but the math hurt my head. Uncle Jerry, please help!

Uncle Jerry did the math: Frank Carey, the wife of my 2nd great aunt, Catherine Higgins, is my 6th cousin 3 times removed. Frank's 6th great grandfather was John "The Pilgrim" Carey/Cary. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

It's in my blood

     I've written a number of posts regarding the dichotomy between NATURE Vs. NURTURE. Perhaps my struggles with weight gain, the gap between my front two teeth (before my dentist got ahold of me), or my flat feet can be attributed to my genetics. But how about the ability to string words together well, or sing a tune in-tune, or be comfortable performing in front of people, on the radio or on camera? Are these gentic traits or were they constructed by outside influences during my formative years? In other words, nurturing. It's hard to tell and it's an argument researches still quibble over to this day. If we could clone some of Elvis Presley's DNA would we create another megastar easily or was his environment the greater influence on his rise to fame? That's the question some ponder. 
     As I've shared before, my biological mother was a writer who wrote short plays, penned a few poems, and probably other interesting works or letters I'm yet to uncover. She also loved singing and performing and from the photos and home movies I've seen she didn't shy away from the spotlight. While I am not attempting to vouch for my own abilities, it's not too farfetched to say I'm a chip off the old block. My experiences and abilities certainly mirror those of some of my mother's.
Hosting a college TV show called Miami Valley Performs
     Many people who read this blog know I worked in radio and TV, both behind scenes and hosting a number of radio shows. I even hosted a few episodes of a college TV show (hopefully those tapes were long since destroyed). I related stories from the news, my life, or from people who wanted to share their story. One of my favorite aspects of hosting was the opportunity to interview people. Whether it was some rockstar or actor, or a local person with something important to say, I enjoyed talking to them and helping them relate their own stories. 
     I've been interviewed myself a few times throughout the years and it's always fun. I like the give and take of an interview and often discovered things about myself I perhaps hadn't thought about through their questions. One person I would've loved the chance to be interviewed by was my Grandpa Higgins. Why my own grandpa not Charlie Rose (my favorite interviewer on TV)? Let me explain. 
My mother Rosie, Grandpa Higgins, Uncle Jerry
     Since reuniting with my birth mother's family, from time to time I receive emails or notes in the mail that often include little tidbits from my biological past I was unaware of. Certain memories will come back to them and they share whatever detail that comes to mind. The email I received from my Uncle Jerry yesterday was quite unexpected and surprising. It seems my Grandpa Higgins hosted a local TV show in Greenville, Ohio during the late 1970's. Now, Donald wasn't a professional broadcaster or anything of the sort, to be sure. He was a retired gentleman who attended church and was involved with the Christian Business Men's Association in Darke County, Ohio. Through his community connections he found plenty of guests eager to be on his show and from what I've been told and observed on family home movies, he had an agreeable and friendly disposition. An ideal host, I suppose. Don't know if he did an opening monologue, though. 
     My uncle reports he was once a guest on the show to talk about his experiences in the Navy. Jerry recalls the entertainment for that episode was a woman from Greenville, Ohio by the name of Virginia Bollinger. She was a family friend who lived in the same trailer park as grandma and grandpa and was a local celebrity of sorts for her ability to whistle with the beauty of a song bird. Apparently she was in high demand and performed at local schools, churches, nursing homes and appeared on Grandpa's TV show, probably to promote her debut record Whistling Melodies
     I'd be curious if Grandpa Higgins ever had ambitions as a young man to pursue a career in broadcasting like I did. Having hosted both radio and TV shows I certainly know the appeal. Though, unlike when I began working in the mid 1980's, Grandpa Higgins was deciding what career to follow when TV was still in its infancy. The thought of working in TV was probably the furthest thing on his mind. In fact he was only 16-years-old when the first TV show appeared over NBC on July 7, 1936. Not very many people saw this as there were only a handful of TV receivers in homes at the time. I encourage you read the info on the youtube page about this historical broadcast.
      My Uncle Jerry also revealed about himself, after he left the Navy in the early 1970's he auditioned at the Columbia School of Broadcasting in Los Angeles, CA. He passed the audition with flying colors but decided to pursue a career in electronics instead of a broadcaster. Though for a short time while in school and before we joined the NAVY he worked as a disc jockey at WDRK in Greenville, OH and then later at WGLM in Richmond, IN. 
     I think it's clear broadcasting and entertaining is in my blood. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Four inspiring people from my life

     In my quest to better acquaint my biological family with experiences from my life they've missed, I thought I would put down on paper a few short sketches of the people who have most inspired and influenced my life, besides family, of course. There have been many people who have taken a special interest throughout the years and have left an indelible impression on my soul. These are a few of "adults" who inspired and helped during my formative years. 

Sharon Busch
     When I entered 7th grade I was excited to be in the choir. I had been in elementary school choir for a few years, had a few solos, and even performed in the school talent show, but junior high chorus was the real deal--especially with Sharon Busch. With Sharon, choir was no longer the cutsie activity where you showed up in your best outfit and sang whatever notes you could eeck out at Christmas time. In 7th grade we actually had to learn our parts and were held accountable. That's what I learned from Mrs. Busch; if you're going to sing, sing it correctly with punctuality and vigor. 
Sharon Busch
     I enjoyed choir through my 7th grade year but ran into a bullying problem my 8th grade year and dropped out of choir. The summer before my 9th grade year I had a job as a Dayton Daily News paperboy and a number of members of the Ferguson Jr. High show choir, Guy's and Dolls, lived on my route. One day in the middle of August a few of them stopped me and said the group was still in need of a tenor. Having not been in choir the previous year I knew nothing of the show choir as it had taken a several year hiatus when I first started attending Ferguson. I was a tenor and was interested in getting back into choir. I went and auditioned with Mrs. Busch the next day and promised I would stick with it. I guess I hit enough of the notes and demonstrated to her I could dance, because she offered me the final part in the show choir. 
     Throughout the year we did a great number of shows. I remember performing inside the old Dayton Arcade, Kings Island's Winterfest, the Dayton Mall, and countless churches and senior centers around the area. We also performed in a state choir competition and to this day I know a good portion of Ava Maria. Guys and Dolls was great fun and I made some really good friends that year. Towards the end of the school year she inscribed my yearbook with, "Someday your name will be lights." She was an amazing teacher and inspiration but right before the end of the year I let her and the rest of my choir compadres down.
     Besides being in choir I played soccer and towards the end of the spring season there was a tryout for a select soccer team I wanted to play on. The tryouts conflicted with the final performance of Guys and Dolls and I made the decision to skip the finale to try out for the soccer team. Mrs. Busch was none to happy with me and rightly so. I made the team but this was not one of my better decisions and I realized it right away. I never bothered trying out for any of the choirs in high school or any of the plays because I really felt like I fouled up and let people down. I regret those decisions deeply. 
Note from Sharon Busch
     Fast forward twenty plus years and I find myself working in radio and television. At some point I decided to get back into performing and began doing improvisational comedy. I did that off and on for a few years and then decided to begin taking acting lessons. Through lessons at the Human Race Theatre in Dayton, I met an amazing acting coach named Carrie Ellen-Zappa. She too became very inspirational to me through our classes and friendship and she pushed me to tryout for a production of Oliver! she was directing. I was cast as Mr. Bumble and I was thrilled to be part of a such a high quality production.
     Shortly before rehearsals ended and the show was about to go up, I decided on a lark to invite Mrs. Busch to the show. I hadn't seen her in years but I wanted her to know I had finally managed to make it back to the stage. I didn't know if she had gotten the message or was able to make it until I received a note from here following one of our performances. She spotted me in the lobby, still wearing my costume and makeup, and came up and gave me a big hug. I think the tears were streaming down both of our faces. Unforgettable, to be sure. 
     She retired from teaching at the end of last school year. From the send off she received from past students and colleagues, it's clear her love, concern, and dedication touched countless others through her years of teaching. 

Joette Gates (Sommers)
Joette and me
     I met Joette Gates sometime before my Senior year in high school. Some how or another I found myself in her classroom with a friend of mine, as she was prepping her room for the upcoming school year. She mentioned she was the supervisor for the school newspaper and that caught my attention. I recall writing a short piece for her review and her allowing me to sign up for the newspaper staff when classes began. Newspaper met everyday like a a regular class and gave students the opportunity to write, edit and layout the newspaper on a monthly basis. As someone who eventually worked in TV news, I can attest we had the same vigorous conversations about high school news stories as we did about local news at WHIO-TV. 
     I do remember one caveat Mrs. Gates insisted on was that I also had to take a journalism class she taught during first period. I remember going to the counseling office on the first day of school and changing my schedule for the year. It also turned out I had a study hall that semester and I managed to talk her into letting me be her teacher's aid that period. Poor Joette had me in her class three times a day, including first thing in the morning. Teachers must have more patience than anyone in any profession anywhere at anytime.
     Joette taught me how to write well and with confidence. It's something that I had never really considered before that year in school because I didn't like to read. It bored me to no end but I loved to write. I remember writing a few articles about the soccer team but the one I remember the most was one I wrote about the school's new library security system. I wrote I didn't think it was very good because I figured out how to bypass it. Mrs. Beecher, the school librarian, was none to happy about my reporting. It was then I began developing a thicker skin. 

     Beyond her teaching me to be a better writer, her greatest influence came from her love and care during that school year. My younger sister was having some problems and it was causing my family great stress. I remember staying after school frequently because I didn't want to go home. My parents and sister fought all the time and I was stuck in the middle. It was hard and Joette sensed something was wrong. She was there to listen and offer both guidance and solace, which I appreciated more than I could express.
     After graduating I began working in radio and TV news, she had me come back to speak to a few of her classes and it always made me feel special. But in reality it was because of her I found my voice and set me on the course I still follow today. 
     Years after she had retired and moved out of the are we reconnected on Facebook and I enjoy our occasional conversations and emails. A few years ago I had the great honor of being her guest at her mountain home and my son and I had a blast. I'm fortunate to have such a supportive and thoughtful friend and mentor. 

Vern Burk
     When I was young and playing youth soccer in Beavercreek, Ohio I remember noticing this tall, bearded gentleman, sauntering about the fields where we played our games. He wore glasses, had this sly smile, and sideburns. I assumed he was a parent or a coach but he was never involved directly with any of my teams so I didn't know for sure who he was.  
From the RAF Lakenheath Base Paper, 1973
     My Sophomore years in high school I made the Reserve B men's soccer team and one of my teammates was Dave Burk--it turned out his dad was the man I recalled seeing at the soccer fields years before. Though I finally made the connection of who he was, I didn't get to know Vern until the following year after being cut from the men's team. On the encouragement of some of my friends, I volunteered to become the equipment manager of the women's varsity team. Vern was one of the assistant coaches. Shortly after the season began, Vern saw I had some soccer skill and had me begin working with the goalkeepers. It meant a lot to me to be part of a team. 
     Vern was and remains one of the most interesting people I've ever known. Among other things, besides having a great soccer mind, he was also a chess master. He won the Dayton Chess Club Championship in 1969, 1977, 1981, 1982, and 1991. He also served as the club's president three times throughout his long involvement. 
     He was a scholar and historian who worked at Wright Patterson Air Force Base and wrote papers on whatever subject his work steered him to. He and his family had previously lived in England and being a soccer fan I enjoyed listening to him talk about English Football and how we could improve our play. 
My mom, dad, me, and Vern; BHS graduation 1988
     Vern was very involved with Beavercreek soccer and all levels which is one of the reasons we became friends. While managing the women's team I was basically his shadow; before the game, during the game and then usually at Noble Roman's Pizza after the game. I became involved with the Beavercreek Celtic's and went to board meetings while I was still a student and Vern, who at the time I believe was serving as the board president, welcomed my thoughts and comments on the goings on. Afterwards we would hang around Marion's Pizza (where the Celtic meetings were held) and talk about history and other subjects over a pizza. When he could he put me on his team as a guest player and I got to travel and play in many out of state tournaments. In fact, it was because of him I was recruited to play in college. I ended up rooming with his middle son David, while at college. 
     I learned a lot from Vern about soccer and a great many other things and always enjoyed seeing him. In some ways I connected with him more than I connected with my own father. I'm not sure why but we just seem to hit it off. He had a lot of interests and a very dry and ironic sense of humor. I remember one night after a soccer meeting he randomly asked if I wanted to go see a movie; we saw the family friendly Full Metal Jacket. Sometimes when our soccer team was traveling, back at the hotel after a long day of games, while my teammates were swimming or goofing off, Vern and I were sitting quietly somewhere as he taught me the game of chess. I never studied the game to become a high quality player myself but I've kept a board ever since. 
     One of the saddest days of my life was when he past away from diabetes on December 20, 1991. At his viewing, his wonderful wife Judith told me Vern always enjoyed my company. That meant a great deal to me that day and twenty-three years later it still means at lot. Over the years I've seen his family around town and we stay connected through Facebook. He was a great man who influenced many people throughout his life and I'm fortunate to say I was one of them.

Mike Peters
Mike's alter-ego. 
     Many people have heard of Mike Peters. He is a Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist and creator of the comic strip Mother Goose and Grimm. While working locally at the Dayton Daily News his backyard happened to butt up against my backyard in Beavercreek, Ohio and I spent a lot of time at their house, annoying his daughters and jumping on their trampoline. 
     My friends and I also did a fair share of TP'ing their house and if I recall correctly, Mike and his daughters returned the favor in kind, more than once.
Getting a Grimm T-shirt for my 17th birthday
     His drawing table was positioned in front of the sliding glass doors on their back patio and I could see when he was sitting there working on his art. On occasion I would go over and watch as he would create his magic and he was always welcoming and friendly. I recall during one visit, around the time I was 13 or 14 years-old, he commented he thought I would do well working in broadcasting when I go older. He went on to say he thought I had a good personality and would probably be a natural communicator.
     At that young age nothing of the sort had ever dawned on me and his words were intriguing. I certainly was fascinated by radio but I didn't understand what it took to be on the radio. Not long after I began saving my money and bought some DJ equipment from Radio Shack and began broadcasting from my bedroom. Eventually I also started volunteering at the Miami Valley Cable Council and a career in broadcasting became a real possibility for my future. 
     I was never a scholarly student and always felt if I would be a success in life I would have to achieve it using my own talents and communicative skills. Mike's kind words that day helped frame this idea in the mind of a wandering and carefree child. And as it turns out, he was right. The business surely has its up and downs but I've always felt most comfortable working in that kind of creative environment.