What we’re looking at above is 525 years’s of earthly experience. No small thing.
This year I attended a fund-raiser for an organization arranging for WWII veterans to visit the Washington DC memorials and to tell their stories while they are still here to share them with us.
It occurred to me that the story sharing would be a fitting goal for the somewhat colorfully self-annointed MBOF group—Mission Bay Old Farts. It’s an ad hoc group of us members of the Mission Bay High School Class of 1961. I think the F word was affixed by LTC John Quesenberry, USA, Ret., as an appropriately informal designation for what some might refer to as a bunch of aging beach bums. Anyway, every couple of months varying numbers of us get together for lunches JQ got us started on.
Sadly, JQ, an Army aviator, has “Flown West,” pilotspeak for passing on, and that has figured prominently in this Quixotic quest of mine to have my fellow classmates share their reflections, observations, and stories in their own words from this perspective of three-quarters of a century since our first breaths. Man, that sounds ancient, and I’m pretty nearly clueless as to how I got here. Anyway, I’ve had no idea what each of them would say, and I didn’t help by providing any outline as to what I was looking for, not wanting to skew their thinking into sharing what they thought I wanted to hear. In fact I had no idea even as to what I would say. For all of us, our own voices have come forth on their own wings. At any rate, our early years were a time of great turmoil, then a uniquely halcyon period, followed by more tumult over the decades. These years have had an impact on us, and vice versa.
Herewith, our sharing, in reverse alphabetical order, maiden names for the ladies. I’ve edited these only as to obvious typos or inadvertent misspellings, but the vocabulary, syntax and grammatical construction are all as provided me.
In September 22, 1943 my sister Janet Stephany and I, Janice Stephany, were born in Paradise Valley Hospital. My sister came home first. Due to complications I came home later. We had a older brother Gary Stephany.
We lived on Market Street across from Greenwood Cemetery in which I drove my daughters to see and found out is now a offramp of a freeway. We attended Chollas Elementary lived on a cul de sac and had block parties.
After elementary we attended Pacific Beach Junior High after moving to Pacific Beach. My parents bought a house there for $10,000. My sister and I worked in the school library under the supervision of Mrs. Green during the summers and went to the beach.
Went to Mission Bay High and graduated and was member of the drill team.
After that my sister and I went to work for the Pac Bell Co. We both worked there and bowled at Aztec Bowl. That is where my sister met her future husband. The wedding took place in the back yard and that’s where I met my future husband Gary Thomas.
We were married later on in Las Vegas. We had two beautiful daughters Char and Tina 9 1/2 years apart. Since he was in the Navy he came home earlier than expected. We had what I thought was a happy marriage. We moved to Mississippi and Pennsylvania and came home with my daughters.
I found a job at Industrial Indemnity. No longer there. I joined our volley ball team, ended up with a broken ankle and tibia. My daughters both went to Mission Bay High School.
In the year 2000 I brought in a liver transplant after being on disability for five years waiting. All went well. My church even stood up and applauded according to Tina.
Now I have been retired for a while. I am just taking it easy doing some volunteering, exercise, walking and crocheting and enjoying life.
Joan Purdy Ritter
I was born in San Diego, CA, and a 3rdgeneration native San Diegan. I was born one day before my father left for boot camp during WWII. Thank goodness I was one week early. My dad lost his hearing a couple of days before leaving for Germany. He received a medical discharge, and returned home. He was a San Diego Fireman, but was unable to return to duty, even though some of his hearing had returned. Since a lot of the men in San Diego were away at war, he went to work as a fireman for Convair, and the airport. After several surgeries, his hearing improved. He was with Convair/General Dynamics for 38 years. My father and mother were wonderful parents, and influenced me greatly. We moved to Pacific Beach when I was 7 years old, and I attended Pacific Beach Elementary School. My sister and brother were born a few years later. I had a good childhood, and loved playing outside, roller skating, riding my bicycle, climbing trees, and playing at the recreation center. I even rode my bike down Loring Street hill. Very Scary! I enjoyed high school, my friends, drill team, school clubs and the beach. When I was about 14 years old, I was at the dentist, and he let me assist with the young patients. I knew then that I wanted to be a dental assistant. After high school I attended San Diego City College, and received an AS degree in Dental Assisting, and later an R.D.A. I also met my husband in college, and we were married in Oct. of 1964. My husband became a San Diego Police Officer. We welcomed our first daughter in 1968. In 1974 when our second daughter was 3 years old, my husband was critically injured in the line of duty. Through the grace of God he survived. In 1975 we welcomed our 3rddaughter. In time my husband returned to law enforcement. I have participated in many activities over the years, a Girl Scout leader, taught swimming, softball mom, youth director, Sunday school teacher, taxi driver for 3 busy daughters and their activities. Built loft homes in Mexico with our church, went on a Medical Mission trip to Honduras, where I cleaned over 200 children’s teeth, and taught them how to brush. I also helped in a hospital with very sick children. It was a wonderful experience, but also heart breaking, and something that I will never forget.
Now that retirement is here, and life has slowed down, Ha Ha, it’s our time. We love to travel, and enjoy learning the history of different places and countries. Cruising is our favorite.
We also enjoy our 6 grandchildren, aging from 2 to 24 (3 boys and 3 girls). They are the joys of our lives. Overall, I feel I have lived a wonderful life. I have a great husband, wonderful daughters and son’s-in-law. I thank God every day for my blessings.
A Few Thoughts From Nick, by Nick Pasich
Wow! Time sure has flown by. It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I was getting ready to attend a dance at the PB Rec featuring the “Ramblers” with “Cookie Taylor” singing songs by “Little Richard”. Gosh, that was all the way back in the 7th grade!!
Well, times have certainly changed. It seems like kids “now a days” have been cheated of the opportunity to have fun like we did. We weren’t “tied down” to cell phones and computers. We had a wonderful time together, whether running through the hills (North PB), going to the beach, RecCenter dances, shooting our 22 rifles and shotguns at Miramar (then it was wide open), roaming together down Garnet Ave, etc.
After graduation from Mission Bay High it was time for more fun. George Negus and I spent a month on Catalina Island. We came back and promptly left for Mazatlan Mexico and I returned home after 3 weeks. Me, Danny M. and Dick B. started working at the Burger Chef to make some money to travel to Alaska. We bought a 1948 Chevrolet panel truck and painted it black and white with an Igloo on the side. We made it as far as Seattle WA. The truck was falling apart, so we sold it. We ran out of money after 3 weeks and returned to PB via freight trains (what an adventure that was).
I began experimenting with various drugs which later became a very controlling part of my life. It started out with using Marijuana and Pills (uppers and downers) and later graduated to Cocaine and Acid.
My good friend Bobby Foster and I joined the Air Force with the main focus of staying out of jail, traveling and learning a trade. I always loved electronics and was able to get training in radio maintenance. I was able to control my drug usage during my Air Force days. The Air Force was great, but I turned down the opportunity to re-enlist.
After my tour in the Air Force, I ended up interviewing with PacBell and taking an aptitude test for electronics knowledge. After the test they called and said they had a job for me and I could start “right away”. I then began a career which lasted over 23 years. I started out as a telephone installer and quickly advanced to a PBX installer and then to a PBX repairman. I then went into management and was responsible for a PBX installation crew. I was on staff for awhile and then went into the Field Services Control Center where I was selected to be a Systems Administrator for a newly developing computerized order system. This involved delving into the UNIX computer world which was just being developed by AT&T. I learned several software programming languages and got “hands on” experience with computer hardware.
I was able to control my drug usage during working hours at PacBell, but after work and weekends was a different matter.
During my early years with PacBell I got married and because of my selfish drug seeking ways, we were divorced after 7 years. A wonderful blessing came from that marriage, my daughter Heather.
The combination of my drug usage and the divorce had a very negative impact on me mentally and I spent a month in the old Vista Hill Hospital in Chula Vista. During my stay at Vista Hill, I met an occupational therapy aid by the name of Barbara. Her and I got along very well and ended up getting married. She had a wonderful daughter, Lenora whom I adopted. Heather and Lenora were very happy to be sisters.
I was still under the bondage of drugs and alcohol and it was starting to take a toll on our marriage. While I was a service order routing supervisor at PacBell my hours were from 12 noon to 9pm. I watched TV before going in to work and one day I ran across a program called the 700 club. It was a Christian program telling of lives being changed by Jesus Christ. The stories were all depicted by a short video enactment. Many of those stories were of people that were in the same situation as me. There was a guy at work, Jerry L., who used to be very heavy into alcohol and he was changed by accepting Jesus into his life. Well, the combination of seeing Jerry’s life changed and all the different stories on the 700 Club, I decided to ask Jesus to change my life also. At the end of each 700 Club program, an opportunity was given to invite Jesus Christ into your life. It was a very simple prayer….
“Jesus, I admit that I’m a sinner and ask for your forgiveness. I believe that you are the Son of God and that you died for my sins on the cross, were buried and rose from the dead on the third day. I ask you right now to come into my life and be my Lord and Savior. Thank you for the gift of eternal life… Amen”.
That was the best decision that I have ever made. The power of God is overwhelming. He removed the desire for drugs and booze. This isn’t something that was done by attending meetings or going to church. It was done supernaturally through the Love and Power of Jesus Christ.
Eventually, the whole family believed and received the Love and Forgiveness of Jesus. Our life’s direction changed forever and it’s all because of Jesus Christ.
Growing up in Pacific Beach by Carol (MacLeod) Mulcahy
When I was born in 1943 my family lived on the Pacific Beach side of Mt. Soledad in San Diego, California. At that time there were 11 homes between our house and the Cross, which sat at the top of Mt. Soledad. My father and mother, Ken and Elaine MacLeod bought Kate O. Sessions estate on Los Altos Road in 1942. After WW ll, he divided the property, selling the big house with an acre and keeping an acre of land on which he built our family home in 1949.
In the 1950’s, living up on the hill, was like living in the country with our dirt roads, nurseries, a dairy and even an egg ranch. Also, a neighbor on Los Altos Road had horses in a corral and a barn, which I would pass by on my walk to Pacific Beach Jr. HS and home again.
I think most kids walked to school in the 1950’s. In kindergarten I walked to Crown Pt. El. from our home on Crown Pt. to the elementary school on Ingraham St. Miss Curtain was our teacher for the half day. There were at least seven other classmates in her class with whom I would go through all 12 grades of school. I also walked to PB El. from 1st grade through 6th grade. By cutting through vacant lots on well worn foot paths, it was less than a mile to either school. It didn’t take much time to get to school because half the distance was down hill. Coming home it took me much longer as I trudged up the short steep hills.
By the time I was 15 I was determined that I would have my own horse in our own back yard. The neighbors had moved their horses out to their ranch in Poway and my father said the zoning now prohibited having horses. I wasn’t sure he was right so I called the City to discover that we could have up to two horses if I could provide a 10,000 sq ft corral which had to be at least 75 ft from any neighbor’s home. Dad agreed with my calculations and gave me a post hole digger and said if I wanted a corral then I could build one! So I set my plum line and started digging. My sister was dating a man that worked the lines for the telephone company and he brought me old 4X4 cross beams with holes about every 20 inches which I intended to use for posts. I acquired old used lead water pipes that would fit through the holes of each 4×4 post. I didn’t have all the material I needed to complete the corral, but I would handle that problem when I came to it! I was digging the last post hole when dad walked down to tell me he would help me assemble the post and pipe corral and buy what was needed to finish my quarter acre horse corral. Before long the corral was finished. All I needed now was a horse!
We bought the first horse we looked at in Del Mar. Sheba was a 14 year old Morgan/Arabian, red chestnut mare with a white blaze and two white hind socks. She was spirited and known to run away with inexperienced riders or even experienced riders if she could get the bit between her teeth. To correct the problem of her running away, I replaced the bridle and bit with a roping hackamore.
Towards the end of my senior year at Mission Bay HS a classmate, Bill Costello and I started running together as buddies along with his friends Vic Rogers and Kenny Prudhomme. Add my girlfriends to the mix and 1961 was a summer of parties, going to the beach and part time jobs as we waited for college to begin. I introduced Bill and his friends to my two pretty blonde cousins Deena and Gail who had their own horse. Deena lived in Solana Beach and she would ride down and meet me at a cafe on Torrey Pines Road (where UCSD campus is now) then we’d ride up to her house or back to my house.
While together at Deena’s we rode our horses on the beach by going under the railroad tracks and HWY 101 using the trail the thoroughbreds took from Del Mar race track when they exercised their race horses in the salt water, and of course, we raced our horses on the dirt race track when it was closed for the season.
One early morning when Deena was visiting me with her horse Sue, we rode down to the ocean. Bill rode double with Deena. We knew the law: no horses are allowed on San Diego beaches south of La Jolla’s Scripps Pier. It was 8:00 am and the PB beach was mostly empty of bathers. So, being teen-agers, we thought we could get away with a ride on the beach. As we rode our horses out from under the south side of Crystal Pier, a lifeguard yelled at us from his station to get off the beach. Bill waved to the guard to acknowledge we’d heard him, and we turned the horses around to leave the beach. Apparently, the lifeguard mistook Bill’s wave as a “finger salute” and called the cops. When we reached Tourmaline St. exit, a San Diego police Officer was waiting for us and gave all three of us a ticket. We went to court and told our story to the judge. We were stunned when he fined each of us $50! But, thankful when he suspended $45 of each fine.
The summer of 1962, my cousins and I were visiting my grandparents’ ranch in Shelton, Washington when Bill and Kenny surprised all of us by driving up to visit. For two weeks they made themselves at home sleeping in our old unused bunkhouse on the ranch. Well, my grandfather had enough of us girls being distracted from our summer chores. We picked gallons of wild blackberries when visiting in the summer from which we made dozens of jars of jam as well as blackberry pies which were put in the freezer for my grandparents to eat over the winter. Another way we would help my grandfather was to go with him into the woods (he owned 200 acres of prime fir trees) where he would use a winch on the front of the jeep to pull out dead fall trees, and using a chain saw (to this day when I hear a chain saw running I think of Shelton and I can almost smell the scent of evergreen forest) he cut the logs to size for use in the kitchen and living room stoves. Our job was to throw the cut wood into the back bed of an old army jeep truck , deliver loads of wood to the wood shed and then stack it up in cords for my grandparents to use in the coming winter.
Bill and Kenny had moved off the property and set up camp down an abandoned logging road. There they lived out of their car in a small clearing. Bill was hired at the big saw mill in town. Kenny never did find a job in Shelton. Shelton was known as “The Christmas Tree Capitol of the World! At summers end we girls returned to San Diego and college in the fall. It wasn’t long after our return that Bill and Kenny came back too.
Over the next few years our friendships grew deeper among some of us while other friendships faded as we went our separate ways. I sold Sheba to a local man who rode her in several Rose Bowl Parades. I was one semester shy of earning a AA degree in commercial art when I married Jim Young and moved to Durango, Co. I lost track of Kenny, but Bill married and owned a dive shop here in Pacific Beach. Upon my return to San Diego in 1988 I was given the sad news that Bill had had a massive stroke that eventually took his life.
So much has changed since growing up in the 1950s in PB compared to today. In 2018 most children do not walk alone to grade school. Most children don’t work hard to get what they want before it is given to them. Children now have instant communication with their parents or other responsible adults, unlike the freedom we had as children exploring the backcountry on foot or horseback. Still, some things never change: love for our children, love of our parents, love for friends and love of the life God has given us.
Bill’s Letter, by William Horn
My name is William G. Horn. I was born on February 18th, 1943, in my grandfather’s home on the corner of Second and Elm Street in downtown San Diego. World War II was in its fourth year and U.S. Marines had just scored a huge offensive victory in Guadalcanal. My father was in the Army Air Corps and my mother took a job at Convair where she was a real life Rosie the Riveter. We didn’t have much money but we had a happy childhood.
I guess you can say I’m about as Southern California as they come. I spent my early years in South Mission Beach until my family moved to Pacific Beach. I attended Pacific Beach Elementary, Pacific Beach Junior High and Mission Bay High School. When I wasn’t in class, you could find me in and around the water. I was your typical blond-haired, blue-eyed, perpetually tanned beach boy who surfed just about every day at the end of Law Street. It was great fun, didn’t cost any money and there were always plenty of pretty girls hanging out at the beach.
I learned at a young age to appreciate the satisfaction and independence that came with making my own money. At 12 years old, I was offered a seasonal job at Lloyd’s Bike Shop on Garnet Ave. They needed help assembling bikes during the holidays. I loved having my own money to spend, but I also enjoyed saving money and watching my savings grow. I landed a job working as a janitor and every Saturday, I cleaned medical suites in a doctor’s office. I kept that job through high school and college. Over time, I earned enough money to pay for my own flying lessons at Montgomery Field. I also discovered I could make extra cash by offering to wash the airplanes. By the time I was 14 years old, I had earned my pilot’s license.
In high school, I joined the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC). I graduated from high school in 1961 and attended San Diego State University where I double-majored in history and accounting. At 19, I had the opportunity to buy the 7-11 convenience store where I had been working while attending school. It was the first of many businesses and properties I would eventually own and manage. I graduated from college in June of 1966 and was drafted by the Army the following week. I decided to enlist in the Marine Corps so I could go to Officers Candidate School (OCS). In January, 1967, I began my military service in OCS on the Marine Corps Base at Quantico. I married my college sweetheart, Kathy, on July 2, 1967. We just celebrated our 50thwedding anniversary.
My years as a Marine Corps Officer were a defining time in my life. The experience made me who I am today. I was exposed to other cultures and countries including Cuba, Japan and Vietnam. I was one of the legendary ‘Boys of ‘67’; a group of Marine Corps officers who trained together, went into combat in Vietnam in 1968, and suffered the most casualties. My class lost 39 officers. One of the greatest honors in my life, and most humbling, was to command 270 Marines in combat for one year during the Vietnam War in 1968. I was 24 years old. When I finally made it home, I was a Captain with decorations that included a Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and four Vietnam Crosses of Gallantry. Semper Fidelis.
After active duty, I served in the Marine Corps Reserves for seven years. I also welcomed my three children into the world: Julie, Angie and Geoff. In 1975, I started a real estate business, managed property and built houses. In 1985, I travelled to Israel to drill water wells for three years.
In 1989, I was elected to the Escondido Union High School Board. I also served as President of the Escondido Rotary in 1995. At about the same time, I was in a land battle with the County of San Diego. The County wanted my land for a park but I didn’t want to sell it. I sued them and won. I decided I could do a much better job managing County business. I ran for a seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, representing District 5, and won in 1995. I have been Supervisor for the past 24 years and Chair of the Board five times.
In 2013, I met a young African named Moses who changed the path of my life. He told me how he and his wife have paid for six children from their village in Uganda to go to a Christian school. He described the severe poverty and the large number of orphans in his village. His story moved my heart so deeply that I decided to go see for myself if this was true. I traveled to Uganda in 2015 and after touring the village, I purchased 10 acres to build an elementary school. In 2016, I purchased 19 more acres and built a high school. Currently, I have 735 students enrolled in the elementary school, 150 students attending the high school and 42 Ugandan teachers. I have also built a corn processing plant to help sustain the school and also employ 15 local villagers. My work in Uganda has been one of the greatest blessings in my life.
I currently own and operate a number of apartment buildings, businesses and homes. I am also an avocado and citrus rancher. In 2015, I purchased a hotel in Solvang called the Atterdag Inn. I am in the process of expanding the hotel and adding on a second building with 33 new rooms.
I will officially retire from the County Board of Supervisors in January 2019, after 24 years in office. At 75, I still have a lot to keep me busy with my properties, businesses and work in Africa. I also plan to spend more time with my family, including my 8 grandchildren, and I hope to travel.
From the earliest years in my life, I learned the undeniable value of hard work, saving and investing. It has been the foundation for all of my financial decisions. I am honored to have served this great nation during the Vietnam War and I deeply respect all service members who choose to make that sacrifice. I am proud to be a Marine Corps veteran and to call the United States of America my home. I am also very proud of my years on the County Board of Supervisors and that we are recognized as one of the best run counties in the nation. Finally, I am blessed with the ability to continue my work in Uganda. That, and my family, fill my heart with purpose and joy.
Gayle (Myers) Gordon [Editor’s note—I am using Gayle’s name as it appears in our high school yearbook, “Taroga.” Her maiden name is Myers, but she and Larry Gordon married before graduation. They went on, with Floyd Smith, to build the famous surfing brand of Gordon and Smith. Larry, who was a couple of years ahead of us at Mission Bay, has also passed on, yet another reason for trying to collect and share these missives.]
I remember going to the movies with some of my girlfriends. It was about this country called Vietnam. It was 1959. We all looked at each other and said where is that place?
Little did we know how our early adult lives would be radically changed because of a war that would last over a decade.
In my first year at State College I can remember giving up classes so guys could qualify for their deferral to keep them out of the war so that they could finish college.
The brutality of war on our generation created great discord between generations and our age group suffered in many ways. The increase in types of illegal drugs changed our communities in many ways. Our class of 1961 grew up real fast. [As to] the war in Vietnam, you have to know that our fathers had fought the kind of wars against evil forces that most of America agreed needed to be stopped. There was a universal commitment which the war in Vietnam did not inspire. It was also generational in that our WW2 dads were fighting for freedom all over the globe for all of mankind and Vietnam was a failed war started 20 years before which the French could not win against the communists. So our country was divided. There were demonstrations against the war and riots. Every cause, from drugs to black power, to ignoring and not understanding our returning soldiers or our college kids being drafted right before graduation. It all fed the chaos. I for one will never forget the fall of Saigon. I also will not forget the influx of Vietnamese in San Diego in the 70s. Life for our generation was altered and our class of 1961 was in the front lines from the beginning, and some, through to the end. The thing I learned through it all is that our class hung together. We learned that by drawing on the strength of those who knew us best, we could make it. Friendships are valuable. Friendships that last a lifetime, irreplaceable. We have been blessed, haven’t we? Thank you class of 1961!!
Years later, the week before our High School reunion we had 9/11
It was again a time to come together and to be strengthened
by those we had grown up with. This class of 1961 is still holding together and I thank you all for your steadfast friendship through the journey we have made together.
You are all very special people.
My Take on my History, by Tom Close
The sea and I have shared a pas de deux for longer than I have memory, surely hearing the sea’s ceaseless sounds while still in the womb, born to and raised in my home at 703 Zanzibar Court abutting the concrete boardwalk in north Mission Beach. I remember evenings as a toddler staring from my upper bunk at effervescent ocean reflections dancing on the ceiling of the bedroom I shared with my brother Ted. There were times when winter storm waves broke over the seawall and deposited kelp and sand along the boardwalk, down the court sidewalk and in our front yard. Our unofficial front yard was the beach itself, and my folks devised the use of loudly tweeting a coach’s whistle so we could hear over the sound of the waves when they called us home for meals or to end our day of outdoors play. Mission Bay used to be mudflats we could walk across towards Crown Point during minus tides, prior to the hoses and pipes crossing Mission Boulevard to transfer sand to the ocean beach when the bay was dredged to form the aquatic playground it is now. There were times when the Marines made training landings on the sand, coming ashore in olive drab Ducks at the foot of Pacific Beach Drive. We had a Flatty sailboat that Ted and I would sail. And when we started surfing in elementary school, it took three or four of us kids to collectively carry a twelve-foot varnished balsa and redwood plank borrowed from neighbor Ed Stotler (an early San Diego lifeguard, later police detective) into the water. We went to The Army/Navy Surplus down by police headquarters (near today’s Seaport Village) and bought WWII Kapok-wrapped Navy rafts, harvesting the balsa within and gluing together pieces to form the blanks from which we hand-shaped our first boards. This was before polyurethane foam, before wetsuits. I remember surfing in the winter in just trunks until we were so cold that we literally couldn’t stop our teeth from chattering. We’d come in and build a fire on the beach, hovering close enough to warm up, then head back into the water and start the next cycle. In summer we’d surf from first light until about 10 AM, when we’d come in and consume an enormous breakfast, then head back into the waves until 2-3 PM when we’d have lunch, then back out until darkness, followed by dinner and collapsing exhausted in sleep. Every day, except those days we were free-diving for abalone, which we’d thin slice, batter and bread-crumb, then sauté in a pan over an open fire on the beach along with corn on the cob and baked potato cooked in the coals. And, in adulthood, I’ve added SCUBA to my aquatic repertoire. I’m a water guy, through and through.
Living with the ocean has taught me reverence and humility. I love nature, which I deem a God-given gift. I learned early that I could not overcome the ocean, but could get along with her if I attuned myself to her moods and forces, accepting that I’m a small part of a much bigger picture. This is probably foundational to my religious beliefs now. I do not see this earth and the forces and processes of life as a cosmic accident. I don’t understand all the details of nature’s blueprint, but I have no doubt that there is a design and a Designer. This isn’t to say that I’m oblivious to Darwin’s theory, but consider the described process as just one of God’s chosen tools. And His time frame isn’t ours.
I imagine most of my fellow graduates of Mission Bay High School, Class of 1961, share with me the sense of appreciation about our time and place as youngsters growing up. Born in the midst of WWII, to bring us into the world, our parents must nonetheless have felt a sense of hope in spite of the immense political forces at play. My folks were both high school teachers—my mom, Rea, of business courses and my dad, Frank, of music. Dad was always a musician and an oil painter. He was too young to serve in WWI and too old for WWII, but he made up for it by being in charge of musical entertainment at the Armed Forces YMCA on Broadway in downtown San Diego. Mom took a child-rearing break from her business work and teaching of business courses, to which she returned as I matriculated to junior high school. This is what our parents did, finding ways to contribute and hold down the home front—no small feat with my sister Andrea, brother Ted and I.
We grew up in a time of richly abundant love and the unquestioned presumption that we could accomplish anything to which we set our hearts and minds. That’s not just our family background, but a sign of the times, our country having fought the righteous fight and prevailed against forces of profound evil. This time of great expectations and opportunity buoyed us when we were youngsters like the proverbial incoming tide.
Nowadays you hear youths complain about being unappreciated, misunderstood, or abused by their family while growing up. I haven’t a clue what that could be like. I had great parents and questioning their love and guidance would never have made the least sense had anyone asked. Their abiding love and have-our-back guidance was an a priori given. These were not times of affluence, at least if affluence is defined by today’s instant gratification consumer indulgence. More than once I went to school with cardboard between my foot and holes in my shoe sole because it wouldn’t be until payday that we could afford the cobbler’s repair. Socks were darned. Hand-me-downs from Ted were just part and parcel. But never did I feel poor.
I was a member of a self-reliant family, and began work in elementary school working odd jobs in the neighborhood, and biking my dawn paper route delivering the San Diego Union. I think a personal vignette may illuminate the positive vibe of this period of my youth. Weekdays I folded papers in the carport at home, stuffed them into canvas bags and climbed up a wooden stair that I’d hand crafted to allow me to get high enough to place that heavy saddlebag over the rack on the back of my bike, then head out for my deliveries. For reasons I can’t remember, the baled stacks of the big Sunday edition were delivered for me at a real estate office a half mile away on Mission Blvd. I’d be there on the sidewalk by myself before dawn folding the papers into the saddlebags and then off for delivery. Before dawn? Elementary school boy? Hooey, my fingers ache now just thinking about how cold they were on some of those bone-chilling winter mornings. Can you imagine kids doing this now, or their parents being okay with it? And, of course, there was the going door to door each month to collect for that month’s already-delivered subscription, the accounting for which I had to keep track of, and with any non-payment coming out of my pocket. I believe these themes of self-reliance and a strong work ethic were a result of coming out of the WWII crucible, and also a byproduct of parents who had lived through the great depression—need to do, can do. At any rate, it shaped our lives as a family, as kids growing up, and to this day, as adults.
I’d wager that most of my contemporaries remember their first day in elementary school? I can still feel my mom’s hand holding mine as we walked between the chain link fence and the northwest building of Mission Beach Elementary, rounding the corner and into the kindergarten classroom. Next up, Pacific Beach Junior High, with shop classes, band, and English with the famously strict Mr. Shepherd.
I now see that I didn’t immerse myself as fully in the high school experience as I now wish that I had. I’m a bit of a lone wolf, and a shy one at that, plus the ocean and surfing exerted that siren call. Furthermore, looking back, I apparently took graduation from high school as just another day in the life. I belatedly decided, probably with gentle urging by my parents, to apply to college, doing so as near as I can remember just in time for the ‘61 fall semester registration at San Diego State. I really have no recollection of planning this out, nothing like the concerted efforts of students and families today, spending years in aligning the planets for the perfect school, driven by a clear idea of major study emphasis. I stumbled in and found time to study while catching waves, working in various jobs to earn spending money. I took five years to graduate, but with enough semester hours for a baccalaureate and a master’s degree, a byproduct of changing my major three times—zoology, chemistry and philosophy.
The pure luck stumble methodology seems to have been a theme. When majoring in chemistry, I needed to check off a general education requirement, and decided psychology sounded about right. In those days, class registration was in the library with volunteers at tables taking hand-written cards from student applicants. The line in front of psychology was inordinately long, and I am inordinately impatient. I looked in the catalog and discovered that philosophy, which had no line, on the adjoining “P” table, also provided the GA credit I needed. Just like that. When I wandered into my first philosophy class, professor Harry Ruja, PhD, was physically uninspiring, with thick glasses tilting at a 20-degree list to starboard, probably a result of his one gimpy leg several inches shorter than the other. Physically underwhelming, but when he opened his mind, I found that thinking of the nature of things had an unparalleled beauty and majesty. I never knew it growing up, but I was dark loamy soil for philosophy. My view of life to this day runs along these lines—to both my great appreciation and angst. Not a switch I can turn off, for good or bad.
What do you do with a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and Chemistry? Here’s another chapter in the stumble history. In college I worked in a men’s store in Ocean Beach and at Christmas time, needing additional help, the store hired a Navy submariner who had free time while his boat (submarines are boats, not ships) was in dry dock at nearby Ballast Point. He had enough free time to take flying lessons, and a day came when he asked me if I would like to come along on a cross-country training flight with his instructor, delivering a chief petty officer to LAX to catch a plane home for the holidays. Immediately bitten by the bug, I started lessons during the following semester break, and continued building hours and getting first my private, then commercial license. While a senior at San Diego State, Ted saw an add for interviews by United Airlines in the old Jim’s Air offices atop the original Lindbergh terminal on Pacific Highway. He told me I should give it a go, but I demurred, not confident that I was what they had in mind. Ted was both bigger and faster than me, and when he said he’d kick my ass if I didn’t go, I acceded to diplomatic agreement. I guess they liked what they saw. I am one of those unbelievably fortunate people having spent my entire adult working life pinching myself daily to make sure I wasn’t dreaming the dream vs. actually living it.
So here I am at a story juncture not to miss sharing. As you can see there’s more than a little good luck in my paddling through life. I’ve no doubt that a fair amount of that was stage managing and marionette string pulling from the Big Fellow upstairs. My dad grew up in the western plains of Colorado and graduated university there, then added advanced music degrees from USC. My mom graduated from Cal with her emphasis in business subjects. When dad was a young boy, his father took him a few miles over yonder to a farmer’s field from which a biplane was sortieing with barnstorming flights for the locals. When they arrived at the field, the “official” pilot had gone into town, but the mechanic taking care of the plane shyly allowed as how he was also a pilot and could take my young dad up if they wanted. Sure enough, and up they went. Years later, in 1927, while working at the music store in Greely, the store’s sound system interrupted the normal radio programing to announce that Charles Lindbergh had just landed in Paris, which pretty much stopped dad in his tracks, because that was the mechanic/pilot who had taken him up barnstorming. It gets better. The Spirit of Saint Louis was made at Ryan Aeronautical at the aerodrome subsequently renamed Lindbergh Field. My mom worked in the business office while the plane was being built there. Ryan’s hangar was just a stone’s throw across the approach end of runway 27 from where I had that interview Ted insisted on. Kismet?
Flying, it turns out, is remarkably similar to surfing. Both are driven by fluid dynamics, the physics for both being essentially the same, not to mention the almost infinite variety both the sea and the sky can provide from gentle to powerful. If you like variety in life, and an appreciation of developing nuanced and agile footwork in dealing with nature’s curveballs, then one couldn’t find a more rewarding career path. I have to say, it was a privilege to be able to take all those passengers to their appointed rounds—newlyweds, grandparents, worker bees, sports teams, soul-liberated bodies to their final resting place, military types, vacationers, old, young, you name it. I’ll share s few highlights along my aviation way. As a new copilot at United Airlines I had to take command of a flight when the captain became subtly incapacitated, which we learned later was due to blocked carotid arteries. I chose to divert for an unscheduled landing at Chicago’s O’Hare field. The subtlety of his symptoms was so equivocal, I had to wonder whether I was ending his career if he was truly ill, or mine, if he was not. He received treatment and medically retired, and later humbled me, coming to my home with his wife to give thanks for what I had done to get him on the ground for treatment, while assuring our passengers’ safety. My love of the palpable joy of flight was such that I built my own single seat aerobatic aircraft in which I competed for several years. For a few years I was a Check Airman at United, and at one point received an award as the Los Angeles Captain of the Year. During my time on the B747, I enjoyed multiple years of doing human factors research flying for NASA. Present day, I contribute, serving as an Angel Flight West command pilot taking people to and from distant locations for medical care that they cannot accomplish by car. In sum, I have enjoyed a lifetime of meaningful work held in favorable societal esteem.
And, of course there’s the visceral joy of flight. You know how fun it is to stick your hand out the car window and flip your wrist to have your hand fly like a wing up and down? The stuff of kids’ glee, and I got that for the kid within every day at work—the connection with nature’s thrumming forces, palpably alive in my fingers on the control yoke, my feet on the rudder pedals. And oh, there have been so many magical moments aloft—a B767 night flight to Paris passing north of Hudson Bay, and out my left side window, comet Hyakutake and it’s glowing iridescent tail doing a dance of the veils peeking in and out of a translucent curtain of the northern lights. Cathy and Torrey were aboard, and somehow seeing that show, knowing they were safely back in the cabin made it all the more special. Then there was the time descending into Sydney, New South Wales, the first hint of dawn’s light filling in from behind my left shoulder, arcing into a left turn over the Opera House, Circular Quay, and the filigree of the Harbor Bridge, then heading for a landing on Runway 16 Right, banking playfully left and right either side of the southerly course to dance clear of dawn-lit towering cumulus in mirthful abandon. I can and do savor a lifetime of work and exhilaration being one in the same—putting their stamp on me, and vice versa.
At the end of my first year on the line, flying the DC6 (does anyone remember what that was?) I got that infamous “Greetings, your country needs you” missive—a two year draftee hiatus for the U.S. Army, including an all-expense paid year’s visit to the Republic of Vietnam. The stumble factored in here, as well. I was made an OJT (On the Job Training) weatherman right out of basic training, stationed at Libby Army Airfield at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, southeast of Tucson. I guess the Army figured that if I used the weather in flying I could probably figure out how to collect and disseminate it for others. From there I got orders to the 3/18thArtillery Battalion in I Corps, the northern portion of South Vietnam, with postings outside Chu Lai and a bunch of firebases known only as hill XXX, where XXX was the hilltop elevation in meters. I was supposed to send up weather balloons to determine winds aloft, for refining the projectiles’ trajectory. However the Army just called the Air Force for the data. Not knowing what to do with me, and our battalion unable to get medics, officially trained ones “attrition”-dedicated to the infantry, the surgeon in charge started me on OJT for that gig for my year in country. I survived the year, and came home with all the body and mental parts with which I deployed.
Vietnam was a seminal pivot point in our country’s history, and there are a couple of observations I choose to share from my perspective. Fair to say the conflict was low in the popularity ratings, and large swaths of draft age males were unabashedly of the mind that we had no strategic national interest in being there, and the Domino Theory was pure nonsense. I wasn’t exactly thrilled to get the call, and take a leave of absence from my life, marriage, and career, but citizenship isn’t free, and this was a time to pay for all the advantages our country had provided me. I was called. I went. Some will hold that it was an unwinnable war, and I’d agree at least from the perspective of too much meddling by the policy-makers inside the DC beltway, wet fingers held overhead in the political wind. But as to the Domino Theory, I had a bit of an epiphany years later on a United layover in Singapore, unaffected by political correctness or U.S. media-think. I stumbled on a regional history museum in that strategically important spot at the tip of the Malay peninsula, astraddle the shipping lanes between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, vital to the transport of petroleum and goods. The museum’s carefully researched and conveyed history left no doubt that in the period, the Chinese and Russians were doing their level best to turn all of southeast Asia into a communist redoubt that would have made today’s meddling among the Spratly Islands comparative small potatoes.
That’s big picture, but I also had a much more personal moment in the winter of 1991. Captain of a regular passenger flight into Spokane, Washington, we had on board a dozen or so soldiers in desert camouflage returning from the arbitrarily ceased 100-hour Desert Storm stomping of Saddam Hussein. We arrived at the gate, and I stood by the cockpit door saying goodbye as our passengers deplaned, and a special goodbye and thanks to the troops. Then I walked the jetway into the terminal, and found the gate area swarming with loved ones and dignitaries, balloons and welcome home signs, a band playing patriotic music, flags, flowers, ribbons and garlands, the whole shebang of worthy and heart-felt appreciation. In that split second I was viscerally slammed with the comparative remembrance of my return home from Vietnam. I had arrived back stateside at Fort Lewis, to be mustered out of the Army, a process that took nearly a full day, and which was completed at about midnight local time. A jeep drove me to SeaTac airport and dropped me, in uniform, unceremoniously in front of the terminal. There would be no flights until the morning, so I was forced to sleep on the floor in the gate area shown for the first flight in the morning, on which I’d be trying to get a space available seat home to San Diego. I wasn’t spit upon nor did people scream “baby killer” in my face, but it was a disdainful unappreciative finish to serving my country just the same. Fortunately these days, society is waking up to the short shrift we Vietnam vets were given at the time. Watching that welcome home in Spokane was a humbling, bittersweet gut-punch I hadn’t seen coming, and I’ll not soon forget.
Life resumed, moving up through the fleet at United until FAA-mandatory retirement at age 60. That’s blatant arbitrary age discrimination by the very government that sues companies for age discrimination. Go figure. Now, as then, I have a wonderful and supportive wife, three terrific daughters (Alicia, Paisley and Torrey) and three fabulous grandkids (Izabella, Emma and Matty). Cathy and the kids extend my timeline beyond the day to day. They’ve put up with, and helped reshape my quirky ways. As a family we’ve done a lot of travelling of the world, to all of the continents except Antarctica, which is on the bucket list with enough other spots to fill out my days. Like others my age, I’ve got 400,000 rough road miles on a 100,000 mile human chassis warranty, so the parts are wearing out, but I’m still fit enough to board and body surf, and hike and bike, dive and fly. Hanging in there in spite of the rust and creaks.
For several years now, I have embraced digital photography, both with stills and with time-lapse video clips. It appears that my dad’s right hemisphere apple has fallen not far from the tree. I should add that while art creation seems a byproduct of my dad’s genes and influence, the choice of photography as the medium surely reflects on my maternal Uncle Cap, an engineer and life-long still and movie photographer. Many’s the time he helped me snap away, then delve in the darkroom to bring forth the images. Anyway, I find the creative process essential to my being and integral to my appreciation of life, with great satisfaction received from sharing beauty with others. This is very much in keeping with dad’s views. It may sound too high falutin’, but he felt, and I agree, that beauty, which is all around us, is God’s gift to us mortals. To the degree that we embrace it, we embrace Him, and to the degree that we try to render our own creations of our hands, hearts and minds, we both give flight to our soul and in our small way render homage to Him as our creator. Creativity is letting free his breath within us. Sorry, too much for some perhaps, but that’s where I’m coming from, and it’s right there with my philosophical and theological inclinations trying to make out, and make of, the Grand Blueprint’s details.
While my dad’s seed was creative, my mom’s was practical and analytical. It’s the basis for my fiscally responsible side, the side that says if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right and doing until finished. And keeping an attentive eye on the technicalities reaps benefits as a pilot, knowing in depth the aircraft systems, the operational procedures, the weather details, and so on. In short I’m a happy amalgam of both parents.
I’m a child of God, though I’m a little blasé with the elements of liturgy. Nor am I a serious student of the bible or a proselytizer, but I have enjoyed modest studies of the historical perspective of the biblical stories conveyed in the gospel. Through the natural world, I daily feel God’s pulse in His creation. While I embrace the admonitions to revere Him and to treat others as I would wish to be treated, I’m the poster boy for brokenness. As the saying goes, Christians aren’t perfect, only forgiven. Good thing for me. Under the heading of “Walking the Walk,” we Del Mar Closes put time and effort and resources into outreach, volunteering around our community, building houses for the poor in Mexico, working alongside the Mixtec indigeños of mountainous Oaxaca, supporting a young boy trying to steer clear of gang violence in El Salvador, contributing time, funds and skills for Angel Flight passengers and so on. The hope is that this glorifies God and makes a difference in the world one family at a time, Jesus’ heavenly rubber meeting the earthly road.
I’ve gone on long enough, while barely scratching the surface, yet I am compelled to add one more observation from this three quarter’s of a century vantage point. I’m a patriotic guy, who can be stirred to tears by our flag, the nobility of soldiers or first responders, or ordinary Joes or Janes who have sacrificed themselves for others. From this perspective, our country troubles me greatly these days. Identity politics, and ideological extremism don’t look like anything I saw growing up in the forties, fifties and sixties, and it ill-serves our country and the world. In the lead-up to the 2016 elections, I kept thinking “Is this the best we can do?” Sadly, at present it seems so. Self-interest and a me-first mentality have us sliding rapidly to a has-been event horizon for this greatest country on earth in which I grew up. I’d dearly love to hand over to my grandkids a functioning government and civility within society where it’s okay to politely disagree and rationally address common issues for the betterment of all. I don’t know the answer, but what I’m seeing at present isn’t it.
Lastly, I miss John Quesenberry. John inspired the MBOF (Mission Bay Old Farts) group of us 61’ers that meet now and then for lunch and cammaraderie, and his spirit lives on in it. John’s passing is personal motivation for my seeking my classmates’ telling of their stories while we’re still here to share our voices. I salute you, JQ. Save a place at the table for me.
As ever, Tom.