Nov 18, 2015

Walter W. "Chip" Squire... Not Forgotten

Courtesy of the Palm Valley American Legion Post 233
in Ponta Vedra Beach, Florida

In 1972, I accepted a job offer at the Ingalls Shipbuilding Division of Litton Industries in Pascagoula, MS.  The shipyard had grown very rapidly as a result of two huge contract wins – the design and construction of 9 amphibious assault ships, so-called LHAs, and thirty Spruance-class destroyers, the DD-963 program.  Each of these programs had an initial value of over $2 Billion!  Hiring for the shipyard was very aggressive.  I ended up having to commute from Biloxi, as that was the closest place I could find decent rental housing.  I lived in a small house on Pinewood Drive, off of Beauvoir Road, only a couple blocks from the beach.  The house belonged to an Air Force non-commissioned officer stationed at Keesler Air Force Base.

A few months after I began working at Ingalls, my organization, the Integrated Logistics Directorate, under the leadership of retired Navy Captain Ken Beyer, hired another gentleman named Walter Squire, who went by the name “Chip.”  Chip had been living and working in Jacksonville, FL, was about my age, was a navy veteran, and needed a temporary home.  I told him I had a couple spare bedrooms and that he was more than welcome to move in with me and share expenses.  We were soon roommates.  We lived together for several months while he looked for a more permanent housing arrangement.  Eventually, Chip commissioned a home to be built by the talented Carroll Ishee, but that’s a subject for another blog entry.

Chip made friends very quickly, and soon he was in a close social circle that included Clayton and Nettie Coffey as well as Ivan and Phyllis Foster.  Clay and Ivan worked very closely with Chip as Logistics liaison with the Navy customer.  The Navy customers seemed to warm up to Chip quite readily.  He was a very social creature, an active golfer, and made friends instantly.  I seem to recall that he focused primarily on the Destroyer program.  He was a terrific asset to Ingalls in maintaining favorable relations with the Navy.

Even though we were roommates and close friends, Chip was fairly close-mouthed with regard to part of his Navy experience.  Although he had not made the Navy his career, he had stayed on active duty longer than his initial obligated service.  His first tour of duty was as a riverine boat commander in Viet Nam, an assignment that was a very high risk endeavor.  After his tour ended (and he had some amazing stories!), he returned to the continental U.S., but he refused to tell me about the remaining couple of years, simply saying it was something he didn’t want to talk about.

Then one evening, after a few drinks, I guess Chip felt like sharing, and he wove the most amazing tale.  He described how after Viet Nam, he had advised the Bureau of Personnel that he wanted to continue in small craft, if possible.  He liked the intimacy of a small crew, the variety of duties required of all hands, and the informality of small craft duty.  He received orders to report to a certain hotel room in Miami on a certain day, wearing civilian attire.  When he knocked on the door, he was invited in, and was greeted by a gentleman at a desk.  An interview ensued during which Chip was asked if he had any problem working for “The Company.”  He realized that this was a reference to the CIA, and indicated that he had no issues working for them.

His assignment was to work as a tennis pro at a club in the Fort Lauderdale area.  He appeared to be a young, fairly wealthy individual who, in addition to being a very good tennis player, also had an affinity for ocean boat racing.  In fact, he had a Donzi cigarette boat moored at the club’s docks.  Not too many miles away, according to Chip, was a secret boat house with an identical Donzi, identical down to the last serial number, except equipped with machine guns, rockets, and grenade launchers.  That was his boat for special assignments.  He ferried members of the Cuban exile forces in and out of Cuba.  That was the “Navy” duty that he had been so reluctant to talk about.

I think that the years of working under pressure had taken a toll on Chip.  He was extremely high strung.  He was hyperactive and had noticeable tremors much of the time.  He was, like myself at the time, a heavy drinker.  He never dated anyone during the time I knew him.  He was a loner, but extremely loyal to those colleagues whom he befriended.

A few years after I left the coast, I had returned for a visit and heard that Chip had died.  He had come to work one day, said he wasn’t feeling well when he went home at lunch, and didn’t come back in the afternoon.  Clay Coffey, a close friend, had gone to check on him and found him dead of a heart attack.  He was 47 years old -- way too young to be gone so suddenly.

A recent search of the Internet for any trace of Chip yields very little.  Before moving to Pascagoula, he had been the President of the Palm Valley American Legion Post 233 in Ponta Vedra Beach, Florida, not too far south of Jacksonville.  I also found a record of his burial in the Crestlawn Memorial Park in East Ocean Springs, MS, where his marker simply reads, “Walter W. Squire  1936 to 3-3-1983.”

And there was a tantalizing bit of information -- incorporation information on a company called Logistic Management Service, Incorporated.  The company was formed on 12 January, 1983, less than two months before Chip’s death.  The other participants in the corporation were the agent, Harry B. Kelly, and a Thomas L. Stennis (the same name as an attorney currently practicing in Ocean Springs, MS).  I seem to recall a Harry Kelly who worked with Chip at the shipyard.  One can only wonder what this company might have become had Chip not passed away.

Nov 17, 2015

Robert "Bob" Alfred Rutledge (May 23, 1925 - September 16, 2015)

A few weeks ago, the following notice appeared on the Obituary pages of several Alabama newspapers: “Robert A. "Bob" Rutledge, 90, Huntsville, passed away on Wednesday, September 16, 2015.Mr. Rutledge was a retired Major, U.S. Army. He served as a combat engineer in the South Pacific during WWII, an infantryman during the Korean War, and as an Ordnance Missile Officer from 1956 to 1966. He was a mental health worker in Huntsville and retired from Crestwood Hospital. Bob was a faithful member of First Christian Church in Huntsville. He was preceded in death by his wife, Bobbie Rutledge and a son, R. Michael Rutledge. He is survived by his daughters, Theresa Kay Furnas of St. Petersburg, FL and Melody R. Arrington of Fayetteville, TN; two granddaughters, Callie Rachel Arrington of Murfreesboro, TN and Olivia Grace Arrington of Fayetteville, TN. Bob was a devoted and loving husband and father. He spent his life serving and helping others, throughout his military and mental health careers. He is deeply missed by many. The family will receive friends Sunday, October 25th from 2:00 - 4:00 p.m. at Berryhill Funeral Home followed by a 4:00 memorial service. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to First Christian Church. Berryhill Funeral Home is assisting the family.”

There were no pictures, no fancy embellishments, just a simple notice.  What the notice didn’t inform its readers was the nature of Mr. Rutledge’s “mental health” career.  I knew Bob Rutledge as an alcohol and drug counselor in the special A&D unit at Crestwood Hospital in Huntsville, AL.  I first met him the day I was admitted to a 28-day treatment program in early August, 1983.  And I didn’t particularly care for him at that time.

Bob would describe himself as a “recovering drunk and dope fiend.”  He didn’t mince words.  He had 28 days to convince the people under his care that they had a serious problem but that there was a solution.  He had been a hopeless chronic drunk and dope addict whose life had been transformed by a simple program of recovery built around twelve simple steps.  Bob’s way of communicating this crucial message was to be absolutely, brutally frank.  He never danced around the facts.  Any patient in that unit who tried to make excuses for his behavior or minimize the notion of being dependent on their drug of choice was instantly confronted with Bob Rutledge’s reality lesson.  He was a relentless bearer of truth and a powerful example for all of us “drunks and dope fiends.”

Bob became my friend and counselor during that 28-day stay.  Later, I would occasionally run into him at various AA meetings around town and sometimes at church.  He always had a kind word and the demeanor of a man at total peace with himself.  His life, in spite of some turbulence in his early years, became a life very well spent indeed.  Bob, I’ll see you at the Meeting in the Sky, my friend.

Nov 8, 2015

Father George Mathis, Artist…

The Website of the Glenmary Home Missioners includes a page dedicated to Glenmarian George Mathis.  It includes the following tribute, “CINCINNATI (August 29, 2012)—Father George Mathis, 84, a native of Euclid, Ohio, and a Glenmary Home Missioner for 61 years, died peacefully Aug. 26 in Kingsport, Tenn. Father Mathis was ordained in 1955. He served in a wide range of roles as a Glenmarian—including pastor of Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky missions; council member; department director; and liturgical environment artist, designer and consultant.

"Father Mathis was a deeply spiritual, faithful and artistically talented man who never hesitated to share his gifts with others," said Father Chet Artysiewicz, Glenmary's president. "He was a brother to us all and will be sorely missed."

He grew up during the Depression in a financially struggling family, the third of four brothers. "My parish church provided something very important, good and beautiful in my life," he said in a 1977 interview. He said he always had an appreciation for and desire to bring out the inherent beauty in people and things—and discovered he had innate talents in these areas.

"Ministry and priesthood are easy and natural ways to respond to the fractures and brokenness in people," Father Mathis reflected in that interview. "Through ministry I can help others discover or uncover their own forgotten or doubted beauty and value."

Following his ordination, he served as an associate pastor at missions in Franklin and Guthrie, Ky., and Swainsboro, Ga., before moving on to his first pastorate in Claxton, Ga., where he ministered from 1960 to 1965.

Father Mathis served in leadership roles in Glenmary for the next 13 years—as a council member, promotion and mission office director, and formation director—before pastoring missions in Pulaski and Fayetteville, Tenn. (1979-83). Following these assignments, he was appointed Glenmary's personnel director (1983-87) before returning to mission areas to pastor two more Kentucky missions—Vanceburg (1987-88) and Grayson (1988-93).

Even as a young associate pastor and pastor, Father Mathis also used his art and design skills to enhance the liturgical settings where his Catholic communities worshiped, as well as advising other missions on design. His talent enabled him to carry out these efforts with no formal training.

However, during a one-year period of renewal from 1978 to 1979, he took courses and worked in various art media, developing and refining skills that would eventually change the course of his ministry. To cap off the year, he learned stained-glass art and design from a master craftsman in Assisi, Italy—and found out he loved it.

Providentially, as pastor of the Fayetteville, Tenn., mission (1979-83), he was able to put his skills to work in helping design a new church building. He also helped create 10 stained-glass windows and introduced a collaborative process he later used at many other times and places.

First he created the designs and then trained mission volunteers to cut glass and assemble the windows. This method, he said, allowed the financially strapped congregation "to bring color, beauty and inspiration into their worship space" for about 10 percent of what a professional studio would have charged. Most important, he realized "the windows were only a byproduct. What we were building was community between mission members."

Father George at a drafting table designing a panel
In 1993, Father Mathis requested and received Glenmary senior-member status at age 65 so he could have more time for his art and design work. "God gave me these talents, too," he said, "and I wanted more time to use and share them." As a senior member, he also served as a sacramental minister for Glenmary and diocesan congregations near his Kingsport home.

Before his death, Father Mathis completed 15-20 stained-glass projects—at Glenmary missions, other Catholic churches, a Christian church, and more. He employed the group method on the majority of jobs, an approach that, to his knowledge, no one else was using. In addition, he served as a liturgical design consultant for a number of Glenmary missions and other rural parishes with very limited budgets.

"I feel very blessed," Father Mathis said in 2010, "that with the support of the Glenmary community, I've been able to do pastoral ministry and be a spiritual leader, as well as having the opportunity to use some of my other talents to serve God and other people."

Father Mathis is survived by nephews, nieces, fellow Glenmary missioners and friends.
Memorials may be made to Glenmary Home Missioners, PO Box 465618, Cincinnati, OH, 45246.”

I first met the man I knew as “Father George” in 1981 when I first moved to Lincoln County, Tennessee.  At that time, there was no separate Catholic church building in the county.  A unique Christian community had taken root that was a cooperative venture between the Presbyterians in the Parks City area, and the county’s Catholics.  The sign in front of the church read, “St. John’s Presbyterian Church – St. Raphael Catholic Church – Christians Cooperating.”  Each Sunday, Father George would celebrate Catholic Mass at 8:30 AM.  At 10:00, we would have a joint Sunday school with both Catholic and Presbyterian leaders.  Then, at 11:15, the Presbyterian congregation would hold their Sunday service.  It was a remarkable relationship that had resulted in a truly wonderful worship environment.

Unfortunately for that cooperative community, the Catholic population of the county was expanding rapidly and needed its own facilities.  It fell to George Mathis to lead the construction of a new building on land that the congregation had acquired years earlier.  As is told on the Website of that congregation, “In 1968 the parish purchased a small lot on Wilson Parkway, which was to be a potential site for a new parish location.  …As a group, the parish worked diligently to raise sufficient money to purchase land and to commence construction on the church building itself. Foundations, funds, and individuals were solicited for contributions. During the fund raising phase a woman contacted the church, and offered a very large donation, to be granted anonymously, provided that the new church was named for St. Anthony. Her wish was granted in June 1982, and the change of the parish name to St. Anthony was approved. In June 1982, the parish purchased approximately five acres on the Huntsville Highway, subject to the approval of Bishop James D. Niedergeses. The property included a small frame house that would provide a residence for the pastor, and a four-car garage to use as a work and storage area, and provide meeting space for gathering after Mass. The parish sold the property on Wilson Parkway, and on Sunday, August 8, 1982, ground was broken for the new church, the first Catholic Church ever built in Lincoln County. The next month the Parish Council voted to include a new rectory in the building program. In the meantime, renovation of half of the garage area was being done by volunteer labor to provide a space for meetings and small socials.”

"Prayer Rising as Incense" and "Pentecost"
Windows at St. Anthony of Padua, Fayetteville, TN
Image courtesy of Flick River: SouthernBreeze
Father George worked closely with the new building’s architect.  He reminded him that the Hebrews were a nomadic people, and that their original places of worship would have been tents.  He wanted the building to have that “feel.”  And so the building became a structure of large flat planes, like those of a tent, and appeared to be anchored at its corners.  And in ten locations throughout the sanctuary, provision was made for stained glass windows.  George informed the Parish Council that he was planning to use parish volunteers to build these beautiful windows!

He had been hatching this idea since he had studied stained glass art in Italy.  He felt certain that he could instruct the volunteers in the craft of cutting and mounting the individual colored panes.  He would perform as designer and adviser.  What could possibly go wrong?

George began by submitting several sets of ideas for themes that he had sketched out on paper, showing all ten panels in miniature.  The parish council selected one set as their favorite, and Father George then rendered each of these ten selected panels in full scale on large sheets of craft paper.  These would serve as our life-size patterns.  We set up a couple of large work tables in an old, drafty, dirt-floored garage that existed on the property, adjacent to the site where the church was already taking shape.  A group of volunteers was assembled to receive training from George.  We proceeded with the windows in the order that they would be needed in the building.  One of the workers who contributed most was Joe Bonin.  He was married to one of the members of the church and had gotten recruited.  He was the only member of the crew with any experience!  George even recruited his brother Bill to come to Fayetteville for a few weeks to help out.

A beautiful window George designed
for Holy Trinity Church in
Swainsboro, Georgia
Within a few weeks, the windows were completed.  They were spectacular and remain so to this day.  And they remain to this day a tribute to the artistry of their author, George Mathis.  The subjects, Prayer Rising as Incense, Pentecost, Holy Spirit, the Elements of Communion, are all intended to inspire and enhance the worship experience.  George knew exactly what he was doing.  We were all especially blessed to have known him.

Not long after we had completed the church’s construction, I was beginning to come to terms with my alcoholism.  Margo and I went to talk to Father George and we met privately in the new sanctuary.  When I shared that I thought I might have a problem with alcohol, George told me that I had a sickness and then he surprised me by anointing me with Holy Chrism, a ceremony of healing.  He then told me I was in luck.  It seems that he served two churches, the one in Fayetteville and the Immaculate Conception Church in Pulaski, Tennessee.  And in Pulaski, he was assisted by an ordained Catholic deacon named Art.  And Art just happened to be a recovering alcoholic with over 35 years’ sobriety.  And by the way, Art was in his office that day and would be happy to talk to me.

I went and talked to Art that day.  It would be a few more months until I finally established my own sobriety date, but the events of that day were very much part of my recovery story.  Thanks, George, for life itself.  Rest in peace, my artist friend.

Nov 1, 2015

The Get-A-Way Skateboard Park...

Photo courtesy of the Huntsville Old School Skate Project

Last Sunday I got on a plane in Huntsville to go to Texas as part of my job.  A gentleman sat next to me and we began to chat.  He was headed to Kwajalein for his job.  He indicated that he works for the Army Corps of Engineers and he lives in Kwaj with his wife and one son while he is supporting an Air Force construction job.  He asked how I happened to come to Huntsville and I explained that I originally came to Huntsville to manage a teen recreation center and skateboard park.  He shocked me by saying, "You're Bob Mead."  Therein lies a great story.

In the nineteen seventies, I worked for a shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi.  One of my colleagues was a fellow named Bill Gibbons.  He and his wife, Claire, had five kids.  I often visited the Gibbons family, and on occasion, I had babysat the children.  Eventually, the Gibbons family moved to Huntsville, Alabama, where Bill got involved in making films and videos for the Army at Redstone Arsenal.

One day, Bill called and asked me if I might be interested in moving to Huntsville to take over the general managership of a project that he and his business partner, Mr. David Jacobsen, were undertaking -- a teen recreation center involving a state-of-the-art skateboard park.  My fiancee and I flew to Huntsville for a visit, liked what we saw, and decided to take the opportunity.  That's how I ended up in Huntsville, Alabama.

When I arrived, the park was under construction under the management of a general contractor named Paul DeMent.  Paul was very competent, was a graduate of Auburn's construction technology program, and had previously built a skate park in Columbus, Georgia.  However, within a few weeks of my arrival, Mr. DeMent and Mr. Gibbons got into a disagreement and Paul's business agreement became history.  I was left with a lot of dirt, a design for a park developed by prominent local architect Lloyd Kranert, and not much else.  Bill asked me if I thought I could get a contractor's license.  Within a couple weeks of studying, I felt I was ready to take the test.  Soon, I had a certificate saying I could legally build things in Madison County, Alabama.

Bill had shared the details of the budget with me.  When I looked at Mr. Kranert's design, I was convinced it couldn't be built for anywhere near the initial estimate.  But Bill didn't have any confidence in my cost estimating skills.  So I suggested that he get a prominent local contractor to work up an estimate for the building, even if he had to pay for the estimate.  He did so, and the result shocked him.  It exceeded even my estimate.

I offered my employer, Unicorn Enterprises, an alternative.  It was now too late to pour concrete before Spring.  We had time to change course.  How about letting me come up with some suggested design concepts and build foamcore models of them to present to Bill and David for their consideration?  I knew the general requirements.  The building would have to contain a skateboard pro shop, some office space, a pinball gallery, snack bar, rest rooms, and a teen discotheque with a DJ's booth, lighted dance floor, and built-in light show.  I would include those features in the designs I would suggest.  They agreed and I was on my way to designing a building.

In the meantime, we hired a professional skateboarding champion (national freestyle champion, 1977) named Bill Underwood to reexamine the design of the skating area of the park that Mr. Kranert had designed.  Bill moved from Atlanta to Huntsville and became my assistant for design issues.  He recommended sweeping changes to the design.  He knew what skaters want in a skating venue.  One of the most important contributions Bill made was the recommendation that each of the "bowls" have a different wall angle and therefore degree-of-difficulty.  We ended up with 30-, 60-, and 90-degree bowls that became standards of excellence in skatepark design.  Bill also recommended changes to the allocation of space to the various features of the park.  In addition, as the design and construction advanced, Bill Underwood became kind of my quality assurance assistant, bringing to bear his experience and technical knowledge to evaluate the surfaces and concrete finishes of the park's features.

The original building contained the
four round modules and their "connectors."
More recently, the extension on the
upper left was built to serve the needs
of Huntsville's Chinese Christian Church.

I presented my building design concepts and the corporate leadership selected a design involving four circular 13-sided buildings tied together with broad connecting walls.  All the "pods" were free-standing and required no internal structural supports, so I had complete freedom in the interior design.  Each pod was about 38 feet in diameter, or a little over 1,100 square feet.  I made sure that the design met all requirements under the Southern Building Code for a "commercial" building.  It took about a month to complete all the detailed drawings -- structural details, plans and elevations, roof design, cross-sections, electrical, plumbing, foundation/footings, grading plan, etc.  The next challenge was to get a licensed, state-registered architect to bless and "stamp" the drawings, a requirement due to the commercial nature of the planned use.  Fortunately, I was able to find an architect willing to work with me.  He told me it "broke his heart" to take my name off the signature block and replace it with his.  I was humbled by his comment.  He made no changes to my design.

On about March 16th, 1979, we began pouring the foundations.  The foundation for the discotheque module included a large recessed area in which I would construct a lighted dance floor to be controlled by the DJ in his booth.  Soon, we were erecting walls and placing the roof structure.  The roof beams extended from the wall to a "compression ring" at the top center of the conical roof.  A steel cable ran around the top circumference of each of the circular modules, pulling the entire structure together.

One interesting challenge arose with regard to the lighting of the pro shop area.  The owners wanted a chandelier-style lighting fixture to illuminate this large open space.  I researched the commercial standards to determine the light requirements for retail space and wrote a requirements document for the desired lighting fixture.  We invited a representative of a prominent commercial lighting manufacturer to meet with us to review the requirements.  A few days after that meeting took place, we were informed that the custom-built lighting fixture would set us back about $18,000!  I informed Bill and David that I could light the shop with a perfectly fine hanging light for less than $1,000.

The pro shop.  At the top of the picture, you can see part
of the rough-finished cedar "troughs" in which I placed
fluorescent light fixtures to illuminate the area. (Photo
courtesy of the Huntsville Old School Skate Project)

They really had little choice but to let me give it a shot, since we were stretching the budget already.  I suspended an inverted turned porch column from the center point of the cone-shaped ceiling.  From this post, I extended rough cedar "troughs" in which I installed 4' fluorescent tube commercial fixtures.  The troughs were lined with reflective aluminum foil to focus the light toward the ceiling.  There were two layers of these spokes, the top layer being 8' in overall length, and the bottom layer 16' long.  Each layer had 8 of these "light troughs" and the outer ends were supported by chains which I painted flat black.  It ended up costing around $900 and maintained the overall casual atmosphere of the pro shop.  And my lighting calculations worked -- the light levels at the floor were exactly as predicted and because all the light was reflected off the white ceiling, it was an even, glare-free environment.

Excavation and rebar placement for the feature known as the 3/4 pipe.
All the features were hand dug by a crew of college students.
(Photo courtesy of the Huntsville Old School Skate Project)
When we started sculpting the dirt (We had brought in hundreds of truckloads to elevate the park above the local flood plain.), we hired several college students and they were supervised by Bill Underwood.  We attempted to use local concrete finishers but the quality of the finishing was not up to the standards required for a top-notch skatepark.  Some research led us to a company out of the Tucson area that built swimming pools and enormous storm drainage systems.  The owner, Dwayne Bigelow, had developed a reputation for creating the finest skating surfaces on earth.  We brought him to Huntsville to look at the features we had already sculpted and to give us an estimate on completing the
The completed park.  It included carefully planned walkways
with safety railings, abundant lighting, and an extensive
sound system placed strategically in the landscaping.
(Photo courtesy of the Huntsville Old School Skate Project)
park's skating surfaces.  Mr. Bigelow and his crew, combined with Bill Underwood's design acumen, would result in what many believed at the time was the finest skateboard park in the world.  Probably the three contenders for that title would the Cherry Hill, New Jersey park, the Get-A-Way in Huntsville, and the Apple park in Columbus, Ohio.  Dwayne Bigelow and his team did the concrete work in all three parks.

All these activities were proceeding somewhat in parallel -- sculpting dirt, shooting or pouring concrete and finishing it, in addition to installing lighting and sound systems, creating walkways and landscaping, and all the other myriad details of creating and opening a new business.  It was a very exciting time.  We were granted our Certificate of Occupancy in time for a Grand Opening on the Fourth of July weekend of 1979.

Buddy Rawls gets vertical
in the 90-degree bowl
(Photo courtesy of the Huntsville
 Old School Skate Project)

The local skateboard community had visited the park from the very first day.  There was an abundance of talent in the Huntsville area in 1978-79.  A glance through the skateboarding magazines of the time would often reveal names like Buddy Rawls, Kurt Jose, Dave Cobb, Pat Wachter (we hired Pat as our resident pro), Tyler Ledbetter, Greg Williams, Todd McDonald, Scott Zekanis, Robert and Kevin McMahan, Ed and Ralph DeSanctis, Paul Gierow, DeLourdes McCoy (a very skilled young lady), and many others too numerous to mention.  When the park opened, we had plenty of talent to fill its many features.  In 1981, Thrasher Magazine stated, "The Get-A-Way has fostered some of Alabama's best vert skaters. Buddy Rawls (SIMS), Paul Gierow and Kurt Jose are just a few whose skate talent has excelled since the park opened its doors in '79."

An article in Thrasher magazine
featured this image of Pat Wachter
going past vertical in the park's
amazing 3/4 pipe.
(Photo courtesy of the
Huntsville Old School
Skate Project)
The park contained an amazing variety of features -- a cloverleaf bowl, keyhole bowl, 30-, 60-, and 90-degree bowls, a slalom course, free-style area, the so-called "snake run," a sinuating course that sloped for its entire length, a half pipe, and an amazing 3/4 pipe that had surfaces beyond vertical.  This was a park of remarkable flexibility and quality.

There's a remarkable archive of words and pictures of this period in Huntsville's skateboarding legacy at a Website called "
The Huntsville Old School Skate Project."  It includes over 350 images of the fabulous skaters of the time.

I stayed until the grand opening but had decided to move on to become a self-employed general contractor.  The park operated for a couple of years, but that skateboarding period drew to a close and the park became a victim of the times.  It closed and all those beautiful sculpted concrete features were filled in and covered over.  The building which I had so much fun designing and erecting is still serving, however.  It is currently the
Today, the choir of the Huntsville
Chinese Christian Church practices
in the building that I had the privilege
to design and construct.
(Photo courtesy of the Huntsville Chinese
Christian Church Website)
Huntsville Chinese Christian Church.  I'm happy with that.

So my airplane ride to Texas, sitting next to Robert McMahan, one of those talented skateboarders, brought back a flood of wonderful memories and reestablished a friendship that I hope will take new root.  Thanks, Robert.

An interesting footnote:  As Robert and I went our separate ways at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, I suggested he look at my blog, where he "might find some interesting material about the Get-A-Way."  I've written over 300 entries on this blog over several years and I felt sure that I had included some information about the skateboard park.  I was absolutely wrong!  I've searched on several key words, but I think that this entry is the first on this subject that dominated my life for more than a year, is the reason I came to Huntsville, and was one of the most fulfilling creative enterprises I ever enjoyed.  I wonder what other experiences I've overlooked???