Feb 22, 2015

A Master Calligrapher...

Mr. Louis A. DiGesare
I attended Mont Pleasant High School with a classmate named Richard DiGesare.  We were fairly close friends at the time, but like so many high school friendships we have lost touch over the years.  I believe that Richard went to work for the General Electric Company and moved to Pittsfield, Massachusetts after our paths separated.  But the other day, out of the blue, I thought about Richard (amazed that I remembered his name!) and his father's unusual occupation.  His dad, Louis DiGesare, was a professional handwriter.  He worked full-time at the General Electric plant in Schenectady writing formal documents -- certificates, awards, recognitions, diplomas and the like.

I performed a Google search, which resulted in the following newspaper article.  It appeared in The Morning Record of Meriden, CT, on Wednesday, January 27th, 1965.

"Calligraphy is Fast Becoming a Lost Art in the U.S.A.
By Joy Stilley
SCOTIA, N.Y. (AP) – The ancient art of calligraphy isn't yet a lost art, but it’s losing fast to modern machines and techniques.Calligraphy is a flowery, ornamental kind of penmanship much favored in bygone years for fancy documents.
Among the most skilled practitioners of the craft of beautiful writing is Louis DiGesare, at 57 still a youngster among the few remaining members of a profession which is attracting no new recruits.

A Lost Art
“It’s becoming a lost art,” laments DiGesare.  He estimates there are only about 20 master penmen left in this country.  “Most are well along in years, and when the present group is gone there will be nobody to take their places.”
With the costly and time consuming handwork falling out of style, the very-narrowing group pursuing it are finding it harder and harder to buy supplies such as fine papers and fine inks.  “My pen point supplier recently informed me that they were ceasing production because there are so few left who do this sort of work,” said DiGesare.
“I ordered five gross of points and I have about that many on hand, so I should have enough to last a lifetime.”

Mr. Louis A. DiGesare, surrounded by the tools of his trade, circa 1965
Work in Demand
However, as an expert at illumination, ornamentation and engrossing as well as producing the hairlines and shades of fancy penmanship,  DiGesare’s work is still very much in demand.
His is the hand that fills in names on diplomas, as well as creating original diplomas for photoengraving.   His work includes producing certificates, scrolls, resolutions, testimonials, mottoes and banquet name cards.  
The artist has a large assortment of oblique pen holders to which the point is attached at an angle in order to make the light and dark lines and swirls which form the letters.

Favorite Pen Holder
His holders are of all sizes and shapes for different work, mostly of hand-turned wood except for a few plastic ones.  His favorite is one he has used for about forty years.
DiGesare makes his own inks from powder and water, which he boils, strains and bottles.
As a youth, DiGesare became interested in handwriting and took a course in business and ornamental penmanship by correspondence from a school in Kansas City.

Practices Constantly
From there he went on to learn the more difficult calligraphy by reading, talking to experts, studying others’ works, experimenting and practicing.  He still practices constantly to keep his touch.
As a past president of the International Association of Master Penmen and Teachers of Handwriting, DiGesare is happy to see a resurgence of interest in penmanship in the schools today.  He advocates a return to the old push-pull and ovals exercises.His four children, now grown, practiced what he preaches.  During summer vacations, they worked on penmanship an hour a day.
As for their father – when he writes to them nowadays, he uses a typewriter, pleading lack of time.
But his signature and the addresses on the envelopes are always hand-done works of art."

A further search yielded this gorgeous hand-lettered certificate presented by the IAMPETH in 1968, declaring him to be the "World's Best Ornamental Penman."  

According to Dr. J.M. Vitolo, "Louis DiGesare, an early IAMPETH member was considered by his peers in the to be the last of the great Ornamental Penman shown here in the 1950's with pen in hand. The specimens were penned by him. Taken from the HJ Walter Scrapbook from the IAMPETH Archives."

I further found an article in the Schenectady Gazette in 1973, in which is described the wedding of Louis' son Lawrence, and by that time Louis had passed away.  His was a life full of self-discipline and remarkable creativity and beauty.

The Marathon Birthday Celebration...

I recently celebrated one of those "milestone" birthdays -- three-quarters of a century.  How does a person ever make that sound smaller?  I guess it is what it is.  All I have to do is overextend myself on physical activities and I can feel the proof of the number.  I was not eager for people to make any big deal out of this event.  It was as if I thought if we let it pass quietly, maybe it wouldn't really be true.

The Balloon Corsage - Wow!
Some people apparently didn't see it the same way.

On my 60th birthday, the folks at work had ambushed me by having a Dolly Parton impersonator (a couple of her features did, in fact, remind one of Dolly Parton.) enter a conference room in which I was holding a meeting with my customer at the time.  This robust lady proceeded to take up residence on my lap and serenade me with "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby" while my co-workers streamed into the room.  One gent even video recorded my embarrassment so they could extend their appreciation of my birthday.  I decided that this year, I'd simply take the day off.  There'd be no way my colleagues could pull another caper like that.

I fully expected Mary Ann to outdo herself in the gift department.  She is, after all, the Ebabe of Ebabe's Gifts.  She didn't disappoint.

The first surprise occurred on the day before my birthday.  When I showed up for work, I found my office bedecked with streamers celebrating the aging process.  The floor was covered with little confetti cutouts of the number 75.  There were cards on my desk.  The Mary Ann elves had been at work.  Later in the morning a bouquet of balloons was delivered.  More laughs.  Then, I heard my co-workers gathering in the conference room and was summoned to hear the almost-all-male-IT Department-choir sing it's rendition of Happy Birthday.  We all enjoyed the cake that Mary Ann had arranged.  So much for secrecy...

Mary Ann's Gift Trove
The next morning, the day I had taken off, was no disappointment.  As I entered the kitchen I was greeted by the Sesame Street gang singing their version of the birthday song.  On the love seat where I normally sit to watch the morning news, there was a mountain of gifts topped by several cards.  I slowly opened each card and gift so that Mary Ann and I could enjoy the moment.  We spoke of gratitude for health above all things.  There were clothing items, shirts, gloves, and even a baseball hat that says "HEMI," referring to my under-construction hot rod.  And there was a new, larger GPS for my truck.  There were gifts from family members and lots of thoughtful cards.  After the gifts were opened, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and I spent much of the day in my shop working on woodwork projects.  I thought my birthday was over.

Part of the feast in preparation by
Master Chef Noe Morin
As they say on the TV commercials, "But wait! There's more..."

The following week I was going to be working in Corpus Christi, Texas.  Unbeknownst to me, the Corpus crew was planning even more festivities.  I flew in earlier than planned because of threatening weather in Huntsville.  I went to work on Monday unaware of the celebratory plans being worked in the background.  At lunchtime, I was summoned to the conference room where a feast had been prepared.  The Corpus Christi crew knows that I love Mexican cuisine.  There was a spread of home cooked food fit for a three-quarters-of-a-centegenarian!  Home cooked fajitas, stuffed jalapenos, salads, guacamole, casseroles, and spectacular desserts, were all laid out in a beautiful presentation!

And on a table separate from the rest of the feast was a gorgeous cake with an image of me in my 1932 Plymouth coupe.  Next to the cake was a framed "Fact sheet" of all the interesting things you could ever want to know about 1940, the year I was born.

To everyone involved -- Thank you sincerely!

Feb 15, 2015

Remembering Dick Roberts...

The book that started it all...

About a year ago, I was involved in interviewing a young man for a position that my employer had available.  One of my co-workers was interviewing him at the same time.  Near the end of the interview, my colleague made a couple of recommendations to the young fellow whom we were interviewing (and ultimately hired).  One of these suggestions was that the fellow read How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.  That suggestions brought a flood of memories to me about my very personal experience with the Dale Carnegie program in the mid-1960s.

I was sent to Norman, Oklahoma, in August of 1965 to teach in the Naval ROTC program.  One day in the following February, I saw an ad in the Norman Transcript for a free demonstration of the Dale Carnegie course in Effective Communications and Human Relations.  I decided to attend, as I was interested in doing anything I could to help me become a better instructor for the Navy.  I called the number in the ad and signed up for the free meeting which was to be held on a Sunday afternoon at the local Holiday Inn.

I arrived a few minutes early and was greeted by a most gregarious individual, short, heavy-set, and an absolute bundle of enthusiasm.  "Hi, I'm Dick Roberts. I'm going to predict that today's presentation will change your life!"  He also exuded self-confidence without being the slightest bit arrogant.  This was my introduction to Joseph Richard "Dick" Roberts, whom I would eventually learn owned the Dale Carnegie franchise for all 58 counties of the state of Oklahoma.  He also was to become my friend.  Dick asked a few questions about my background and how I came to be interested in the class and then pointed out some refreshments that had been provided.

Gradually, the room filled up until there were perhaps 75 people present.  After we were seated, Dick introduced himself and then stunned us by going around the room and introducing everyone by name and sharing a fact or two about each of us.  "This is Bob Mead, currently a Lieutenant in the Navy.  He's recently been sent here to teach naval engineering in the NROTC unit.  And Bob is originally from Schenectady, New York."  Wow!  We realized that as Dick was introducing himself to each of us and asking about our interest in the class, he was also memorizing our names and the facts we had shared with him.  And he remembered these things and associated them with our faces!  I think everyone there was impressed.

Dick went on to describe the course, its contents and format.  He spoke of the benefits and long term life-changing potential of the classes.  And I signed up to take the next class, which was to begin in mid-March.

I arrived on the night of the first session, in which we were asked to introduce ouselves and briefly explain why we had decided to take the class.  There was a Catholic nun who had been selected to head up her convent.  There was a football coach who had coached under Bear Bryant and had recently been hired by Oklahoma Head Coach Gomer Jones.  A local veterinarian had signed up based on the recommendation of his brother.  The class was diverse to say the least, and each of us had our own unique reasons for signing up.

Over the next several weeks, we told stories, explained processes, or made impromptu speeches, a new assignment every week.  But we also learned memory techniques and other useful skills, following many of the writings of Dale Carnegie.  As we neared the end of our course, disaster struck for me -- I received orders to report to UCLA for a summer teaching assignment.  I was heartbroken.  I had come to love my classmates and the course itself, and our teacher, Dick Roberts.  I wanted to finish with my class.  I called Dick and told him the bad news.

Dick didn't even hesitate.  "When you get back, we'll put you in a different class.  And if you want to start back at the beginning, that's just fine.  Nobody should miss out on the whole experience."  And there was never the remotest suggestion that this would cost anything.  I had paid my tuition, and that was that.

I went to California, and when I returned at the end of Summer, I did enroll in session 1 of a new class.  I completed that one with my fellow class members.  Dick asked me if I'd be willing to be a "Graduate Assistant" to assist in other classes.  I eagerly accepted and assisted with three or four classes in the Oklahoma City area.  Even though I eventually had to give that role up due to time constraints, Dick Roberts and I stayed in touch for several years.

As I got to know Dick personally, I recognized that he was a very special individual.  He was a devoted family man.  He and his wife, Mary, had ten children and 2 foster children.  They had adopted two special needs kids who suffered from cerebral palsy.  He used to joke that his house had so many bedrooms, it fel like a dormitory.  He would sometimes introduce himself as "Dick Roberts, the father of twelve beautiful kids.  You know I'm either a conscientious Catholic or a careless Protestant!"

The Dale Carnegie course had a profound impact on my life.  I still, some fifty years later, employ many of the principles I learned.  I sometimes reflect on my classmates and wonder what ever became of them.  I hear the echo of Dick Roberts in his cheerleader role, "Act enthusiastic and you'll be enthusiastic!"

Dick passed away in 2007.  A portion of his obituary notice speaks volumes about this caring, loving, wonderful man: "He is survived by his wife, 10 children and 2 foster children: Paul and Rosa Roberts, Martha and Ken Vass, Rick and Cathy Roberts, Anna Marie Forbes, Teresa and Bill Holt, Rob and Linda Roberts, Russ Roberts, Michael Roberts, Chuck Roberts, Greg and LaDeana Roberts, Curtis Faust (foster son), Corinne and Bill Blankenship (foster daughter and spouse) and Mary Leal Roberts. He cherished his 22 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Memorial contributions can be made to United Cerebral Palsy of Oklahoma, 10400 Greenbriar Place., Suite 101, Oklahoma City, OK 73159"

Rest in Peace, my friend.

Feb 10, 2015

A Musical Adventure...

USS Northampton (CLC-1) Home of my first midshipman cruise
In the summer of 1959, I went on my first midshipman cruise.  I had just been awarded a NROTC scholarship and received orders to the USS Northampton (CLC-1), home ported in Norfolk, Virginia.  It was to be an 8-week cruise that was designed to introduce first-year midshipmen from both the Naval Academy and the 52 NROTC units to the ways of the Navy.  We would reside on dozens of ships on both coasts (and even in the Great Lakes, as some vessels participated in the formal opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway).  We would rotate through each of the departments on the ship -- engineering, operations, gunnery, supply -- and be introduced to the ways in which a ship operates.  We would stand watches alongside the enlisted crew, chip paint, clean bilges, perform scullery duty, and stay very, very busy.

But all was not work.  The Northampton participated in New York City's Hendryck Hudson festival, a public celebration of the 350th anniversary of Hudson's discovery of his namesake river.  Around the 8th of June, we proceeded from Norfolk along the east coast to Manhattan Harbor, anchored in the Hudson River around 60th street, and spent nearly a week participating in parades and festivities and hosting VIPs on the ship.  And of course there were opportunities for shore leave when I didn't have a duty assignment aboard ship.

On my first day off, I and a couple of my shipmates took the shuttle boat ashore and decided we would check out Greenwich Village.  None of us had ever been there, and we had heard it was a great place to find entertainment and good food.  We took a subway to the general area of Washington Square Park and emerged on the surface with absolutely no agenda except to explore.  As we wandered through the narrow streets and alleyways of the Village, we heard some jazz coming from some open windows of an old, very run-down hotel, the name and location of which are long lost to me.  Curious to see where it was coming from, we investigated.  We entered the empty lobby of the decrepit building, found an elevator, and ascended creakily to the top floor, where we exited into what had once been an elegant ballroom.  In one end, sitting informally on folding chairs, were about 6 or 7 musicians improvising and obviously working on an arrangement.  We listened, standing near the elevator in our white "sailor suits" and dixie cup hats.
The young Sidney Bechet

Finally, during a break in the music, the apparent leader came over to us and asked if we needed help.  We explained that we had been exploring, heard the music from the street level, and had come up to find the source.  He explained that they were practicing for a concert in Carnegie Hall the next day in honor of Sidney Bechet, a great New Orleans musician who had died in France a couple of months before.  He then asked if we would like some free tickets!  He instructed us to come to a specific stage door in the back of Carnegie Hall on the day of the concert at a certain time.

The next day, none of us had "the duty," so we went ashore and proceeded straight to Carnegie Hall.  At exactly the appointed time, the door opened and there was our musician friend.  He handed us three tickets to seats in a loge overlooking the right side of the stage.  What a fabulous vantage point!  We entered at the front of the theater, found our seats, and were seated well before the tribute concert began.  Needless to say, we were awed by the size and beauty of the auditorium.

John Chilton's biography, Sidney Bechet: The Wizard of Jazz, describes that event: "A month later, on 14 June, 1959, at New York's Carnegie Hall, Sidney's old friends Sammy Price and Noble Sissle organized a tribute concert to Bechet's memory, the proceeds from the event being donated to cancer research.  The turn-out of musicians included Henry "Red" Allen. Vic Dickenson, Omer Simeon, Eugene Sedric, Edmond Hall, Teddy Wilson, Noble Sissle, Wilbur De Paris, and Sidney De Paris.  The guest of honour was Coleman Hawkins, who had been a friend of Bechet's ever since their legendary battle of music had taken place in the early 1920's."

The concert was incredible -- an endless tribute played with passion by extremely talented musicians.  Other than Coleman Hawkins, I was unfamiliar with the individual artists.  I had never been a close follower of the jazz scene.  But it was evident that we were in the midst of some very well-known and highly regarded talent.  And we three midshipman fell into it because of a little curiosity.

The woodwind master late in life

Feb 7, 2015

There's a New Sheriff in Town...

7-month old Raylan Hendrix is introduced to his new, all-maple rocking horse.  He's not 100% sure about his new mount, but I reckon he'll grow into it.  Gotta get those legs long enough to reach the stirrups.  Mary Ann did the bow with gen-u-wine cowboy boots on the ribbon.  We hope the sheriff wears this pony out!