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Sam Waterston�s Remarks at Monticello, July 4th, 2007

It’s wonderful to be here and a privilege, indeed, to congratulate you, the heroes of the moment in the great work of making and sustaining a government that derives its authority from individual liberty.

My father came to this country from Scotland via England, and became a citizen.  He knew beforehand that the ceremony was going to be a significant event.  Even so, he wasn’t prepared for the emotional power it had for him.  He became a citizen in a group like this, neither very large nor very small.  The ceremony’s power multiplied with their numbers.  Everyone in his batch of new citizens was moved for themselves, my father included, but they were all overwhelmed by each other, new members of a centuries old tide of migration here ‘to the empire of liberty’.  It lifted them out of what we mistakenly call ordinary life into the realization that properly understood, life is grand opera, as one is sometimes made aware by a wedding, or the birth of a child.

Something like that, momentous and every-day, is afoot here.  Brand new Americans are being made, and I’m delighted to be here to celebrate my father’s becoming an American citizen through your becoming American citizens, and your becoming American citizens through celebrating him, and through all of you, the rest of us, who were lucky to be given what you reached for and took.  It’s delightful.  We are all lucky, the old citizens in what we got for free, and you, the ones, in knowing what it’s worth.  We have a lot to tell one another. Congratulations.  Bravo. Yay.  The conversation begins now.

Monticello is a beautiful spot for this, full as it is of the spirit that animated this country’s foundation: boldness, vision, improvisation, practicality, inventiveness and imagination, the kind of cheekiness that only comes with free-thinking and faith in an individual’s ability to change the face of the world — it’s easy to imagine Jefferson saying to himself, “So what if I’ve never designed a building before? If I want to, I will.”) — to make something brand new out of the elements of an old culture, be it English Common Law or Palladian Architecture. With its slave quarters and history, it’s also a healthy reminder that our old country, your new country, for all its glory, has always had feet of clay, and work that needed doing.

So it’s good that you’ve come, fresh troops and reinforcement. We old citizens could use some help.

It’s a glorious day, making allowances for the heat. It’s the Fourth of July, the 181st Anniversary of the deaths of the second and third Presidents of the United States, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, the individual who impertinently designed this house. It’s a double birthday, of the country, and of your citizenship. A great American Supreme Court Judge, Oliver Wendell Holmes, describing a similar day, said that it looked as if “God had just spit on his sleeve and polished up the universe till you could almost see your face reflected in it.”

We know all the beauty of this day wasn’t arranged exclusively for those of us gathered here, we’re reasonable people, but you who are about to become citizens here, are within your rights to look at it all and see your own faces reflected there, as Justice Holmes said, because it really is a place and time made for you. You’re joining a country already in motion that looks for your effect on it, so that it can better know what it needs to become, for tomorrow.

Welcome. We need you. There’s much to be done.

My talk is, effectively, your graduation address, and every good graduation address begins with a call to the graduates to help the world they are entering discover its future. Consider yourselves called. And if the sea that’s America looks large in comparison to the size of your ship, don’t be dismayed. Let Thomas Jefferson be our example:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”. The words are so familiar, so potent, so important, so grand and fine, it’s hard to believe that a person, any single person, actually wrote them, picked up a pen, dipped it in ink, and, on a blank white sheet, made appear for the first time what had never before existed in the whole history of the world. By scratching away at the page, he called a country into being, knowing as he wrote that the country was no more than an idea, and the idea might, at any instant, be erased and destroyed, and the United States of America become just another sorry footnote in the history of suppressed rebellions against tyranny…. And went on writing. You can’t help but be impressed by all that that one person, and the small group of individuals around him, not much larger than your group of new citizens, won for so many.

I guess you can see where I’m headed.

Abraham Lincoln called ours “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.” I claim that the word ‘people’, as used there, stands for a great many individuals, rather than for a collective. It wasn’t a mob, but individuals acting in a group that made this country up out of whole cloth. These are just the sort of people the country needs now, individuals acting together for the common good.

How apt, how opportune, that you should come to join us just now.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “The foundation stone of national life is, and ever must be, the high individual character of the average citizen.” That understates the case: the United States — a participatory democracy is one way political scientists describe it — counts on its citizens turning out to be above average, like all the students in Lake Woebegone.

And that’s where you come in.

Thomas Jefferson’s fragile idea looks pretty solid now, with all the history and highways and airports, and webs of all kinds tying us together. But for all the building and bulldozing, the wealth, and the resources, the United States is still a contract among individuals around an idea. If the saying is, ‘contracts are made to be broken’, we want this one to hold, which requires all hands to be on deck.

That’s where you come in. You come in from Togo; Bosnia-Herzegovina; Canada and Peru; Afghanistan, India, and Mexico; China, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom; Croatia, El Salvador, Ghana, the Philippines, and Vietnam; Argentina, Bangladesh, Belgium, Chile, Colombia, Congo, Guatemala, Iran, Italy, Jamaica, Poland, Romania, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sudan, Sweden, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, and Turkey — The names themselves a poem about all the migrating peoples who come here. The United States may seem like a fixed star, but it isn’t. It is a relationship between citizens and an idea, and, like all relationships, it changes with the people in it. Its past is always up for reargument; its present is constantly unfolding, complex, a continuum of surprises; and the future is yet to be written. A country is alive, or it’s history. As long as this country endures, it will always be in search of how to understand itself and where to go from here.

That’s where you come in. That’s where we come in.

We all need to exercise our lungs in the discussion: what does our past mean, what are we to do now, and what will be our future? This is not a job just for the talking heads on TV and the politicians. Nor for moneyed interests, nor for single-issue movements. As the WWI recruiting poster said, “Uncle Sam needs you”, needs us.

You just heard John Charles recite the three cardinal rights that no one may take from us, to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”. As newly minted citizens, they were already familiar.

But my question is for the rest of us, the ones who are citizens already. In the midst of the interests and pressures of our own lives, don’t we leave a good deal of Life and Liberty to the Government to attend to, so we may concentrate full-time on the Pursuit of Happiness?

Don’t we too often think of our part as being to vote, occasionally, not in very great numbers, and only if there’s time and inclination, to keep up with the news, if it’s amusing and entertaining, but, like the man in the song who was hardly ever sick at see, never, never, well, hardly ever interfere, as individuals, with the work of the politicians?

But if this be so, or partly so, would that be a reason to be concerned? History shows that America is the all-time greatest self-correcting nation. It almost seems to be both a perpetual motion machine and a self-righting machine. Why would any sensible citizen and patriot want to throw a wrench in the works, or try to fix what isn’t broken?

I would like to suggest that if we think this way even a little, we have the wrong idea. We are greatly mistaken to think sharing our views with the television set and our husbands and wives, and voting a little, is enough. Don’t you who are new pick up these bad habits from us.

America has been marvelously able to correct its course in the past because the founding idea — of individual freedom expressed through direct representation — has stirred its citizens to participate, and interfere. Information from the people makes the government smarter. Insufficient information from us makes it dumber. Or, as Abraham Lincoln more elegantly expressed it, ” Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world?” Leaders, if they are wise, will be patient. But we mustn’t try their patience too much. For us, finding that ultimate justice means thinking and talking until we reach it, and continuing to speak until the politicians understand it.

We may not leave it to the three branches of government to sort things out, to bring us the right questions for decision, to make the right decisions themselves.

Never has that statement been truer than now. Our national politics have stalled over a quarter of a century over very large issues, including immigration, social security, health care, and especially, since it affects the countries you’ve left, the country you’re joining, and all the countries in between, the health of the planet. War has both parties running to extremes.

If you think the problems are not any more urgent, or the discord any worse, than normal, then, well, I disagree, but my point remains: in our country, things are ‘normal’ only when your voices are clearly heard. The old model of our citizenly relation to politics was of a group of people under a tree, taking turns on the stump all day, discussing the issues of the time. The old model was the town meeting where every citizen can have their say. Old citizens like me hope that between you and the Internet the old model will get a new lease on life.

Whether you work within the Democratic or Republican parties, or join in supporting a bi-partisan ticket for 2008 as I have, in an effort to drive the parties to work together and to show them how it’s done, do do something.

From your first breath as an American citizen, make it known what matters to you.

We can’t let ourselves become mere units of statistical analysis. It appears to be so, that if you ask any 1000 Americans their views on anything, you’ll have a pretty good idea what all Americans think. You might almost conclude that individuals didn’t matter at all anymore.

But then here you come in, and prove the opposite.

By individual choice and individual effort, you traveled the miles, and did the work required, to arrive here today to join the country whose whole monumental structure rests on personal freedom. Will you make yourselves content to become a mere grain of sand in a vast statistical ocean?

Don’t be discouraged by the odds. It isn’t all determinism and the tide of history. An individual can up-end what is determined, and speed or reverse the tide. The man on whose estate we stand, by pushing his pen across a blank page, proved that.

Besides, the science of statistics has another aspect. It appears that the most reliable way to know who will win the next election or whether the stock market will go up or down is to ask as many people as possible to make a bet about it. Their bets often tell more than all the opinions of the pundits and economists, politicos and market watchers. It turns out Lincoln was right about the ‘ultimate wisdom of the people’. But here’s the catch: if you don’t make yourself heard, your bet can’t be counted.

“Men may be trusted to govern themselves without a master,” as Jefferson predicted. But will we, by our silence, indifference, or inaction, give the trust away, cede it to the wealthy, present it to the entrenched, hand it off to the government, entrust it to any process or procedure that excludes our voices? It could happen.

“As a nation of freemen,” Abraham Lincoln said, “we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

That’s where we all come in.

As graduating citizens, you will know how the government is set up: the justly familiar separation of powers, the well-known system of checks and balances, and the famous three branches of government: the executive branch, the judicial branch, and the legislative branch.

If these are the branches, what is the tree? Do not think it’s the government.

We are the tree from which the government springs and spreads into its three branches. Every citizen is part of the root system, part of the trunk, no mere twig or leaf. Help our government never to forget it.

We have to bring energy, action, participation, and money to the three branches, or they get no nourishment, and nothing will prevent them from becoming brittle and dry, and unfruitful.

I hope you don’t waste all the time I have in figuring out how a citizen should relate to his government. Talk to it. Tell it what you like. Tell it what you don’t like. Vote, of course. Think about what you want our future to look like. Let the government know. Roll up your sleeves, stick out your chin, sharpen your elbows, get in the middle of things, make them different.

You will be bound to get a lot of things wrong. That’s what we do. But the possibility of error is no excuse for being quiet, and I say this on the good authority of past Presidents:

“Man was never intended to become an oyster.”

That’s Theodore Roosevelt talking.

“Get action. Seize the moment,” he said, and he also said, “The credit belongs to the man…. who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who… spends himself for a worthy cause”

And President Thomas Jefferson wrote,

“The evils flowing from the duperies of the people [— that is, the ignorant errors of folks like you and me —] are less injurious than those from the egoism of their agents [ — that is, the arrogant errors of those who speak and act for us].”

So it turns out citizenship isn’t just a great privilege and opportunity, though it is all that, it’s also a job. I’m sorry to be the one to bring you this news, so late in the process. But don’t worry, it’s a great job. Everything that happens within this country politically, and everywhere in the world its influence is felt, falls within its province. It’s a job with a lot of scope. You’ll never be able to complain again about being bored at work. As we multiply our individual voices, we multiply the chances for our country’s success.

Which is where we all come in.

May your initiation here be a reminder to us all to put the participation back into ‘participatory democracy’.

May all our citizenship be individual, unflagging, and vocal, and may our old country, your new country, so prosper.

There’s lots to do.  All hands on deck.  Members of the class of 2007: Congratulations.  God bless you.  Let us hear from you.

Everything has its season
Everything has its time
Show me a reason and I’ll soon show you a rhyme
Cats fit on the windowsill
Children fit in the snow
Why do I feel I don’t fit in anywhere I go?

December 31st is always a day for reflection, and this day seems particularly meaningful… several additions to our family… several farewells… wonderful students and their families… several students moving on to college while many former students moved to New York City or into teaching positions… and always, more personal growth.

Rivers belong where they can ramble
Eagles belong where they can fly
I’ve got to be where my spirit can run free
Got to find my corner of the sky

The first four months of 2010 were difficult.

Just a few days into the new year a dear cousin, who had been somewhat of a hero throughout my childhood, passed away with pancreatic cancer. Steve Daughterty was an incredible individual, and is sadly missed.

Life brings on a natural drama, but often, people prefer to create drama.  Those are the individuals with whom I can do without, and through the course of this year, I have distanced my self, and my family, from those who prefer to infest their poor life choices and hideous personal drama into my family’s life.   The events of the first four months strengthened us as a family, and secured the understanding that our family does come first.  And life has been grand!  However, we were greatly aided last April by several loving, caring, and dedicated family friends.

Every man has his daydreams
Every man has his goal
People like the way dreams have
Of sticking to the soul
Thunderclouds have their lightning
Nightingales have their song
And don’t you see I want my life to be
Something more than long….

Sadly, I cannot remember much about this past Spring and Summer.  I know we had a ton of fun going to musicals, concerts, visiting family in Indiana, spending time with family friends here in Dayton, and kicking off Jose’s fourth, and final year of marching band.  We enjoyed visits to  Carillon Park, as well as many hours of hiking, and canoeing at Old River Park.

Rivers belong where they can ramble
Eagles belong where they can fly
I’ve got to be where my spirit can run free
Got to find my corner of the sky

June and July were somewhat busy with graduated students prepping for college.  I was also updating my home study through ACTION Adoption, half-heartedly, as I was not as hopeful of finding the right son to adopt.  Those roads seemed hopelessly closed.

The first of August I delivered Jose to his final marching band camp.  It was a tad bit wistful, but I also knew that the fall would bring on several more endings… so this was just the first.  Mother drove over to Dayton to celebrate the end of band camp with the parents’ show.

Then tragedy struck… August 24th, our beloved dog, Flyer, became gravely ill, and was suffering from pancreatitis.  We were told she would only have a few days with us, but through combined determination from our family, dear family friends and students, and tons of nursing, Flyer pulled through it.  By Labor Day she was acting as though nothing had ever happened.

The annual Labor Day Haasienda Celebration had adjustments due to my sister-in-law having three weeks remaining in her pregnancy.  Still, Mother made the trip, and Monday we enjoyed the parade and what has become our traditional potluck at the Lockharts’ home afterward.

With the start of school, the marching band season kicked into full gear. There were football games on Fridays and competitions on Saturdays through November.

The highlight of September came on the 21st and the 24th.

September 21st, my sister-in-law, Stacia, gave birth to a beautiful niece, Carolyne. Fortunately, that Saturday, my 46th birthday, was marching band contest-free, so Jose, Mother and I spent the day in Fowler with Destin, Stacia, Parker, Freddie and Carolyne.

September 24th, I spoke with a case worker from New Mexico who wanted to consider the prospects of matching me with a 15 year old Navajo boy on whom I had sent an interest form.

So many men seem destined
To settle for something small
But I won’t rest until I know I’ll have it all
So don’t ask where I’m going
Just listen when I’m gone
And far away you’ll hear me singing
Softly to the dawn:

Marching band and adoption took over my life throughout October and November.  As marching band began to wind down, the adoption process began to wind up.

October 22nd, Jose and I, along with several other matching band parents of senior members, walked across the football field for senior night.  Two Fridays later, I was fully matched with Quintin, and two hours later, with my full support, Jose was enlisted with the Ohio National Guard.

Life was changing, and what blessings these changes were becoming.  A new son was joining our family, and Jose was establishing the start of a childhood dream – to be in the military.

The following week, Jose performed in his last marching band competition at Lucas Oil Stadium, and completed his last band concert.  Thanksgiving was spent with Mother, and then on to Fowler for Freddie’s birthday celebration.

Within five days, Jose and I flew to Albuquerque, New Mexico to meet Quintin, his foster family, and the wonderful folks at Red Mountain Family Services.  We had one of the most remarkable, and memorable trips.

December 10th, Quintin and his foster dad, Jun, joined us in Dayton for the weekend.

And then December 20th finally arrived… Mother, Jose and I drove to Dayton International Airport to bring Quintin home.  We had a beautiful candle lighting ceremony led by New Mexico worker, Janis Melendez, witnessed by family and members of our god-parent team.

The past eleven days have been so fulfilling with the arrival of Quintin, many kindnesses shown our family by my students and their families, Christmas in Indiana, fun times with family friends here in the Miami Valley, and now, our final day of 2010.

Our family is finding its own corner of the sky as we journey into 2011.  I am thrilled for the prospects of this coming year, and am eager to get it started.  I have my own personal goals, and corners of the sky I will establish, and will continue to assist my sons in establishing their own corners.  Jose will graduate and leave for basic and advanced training with the military.  Quintin will start a new life entirely with many promises of new adventures.

Rivers belong where they can ramble
Eagles belong where they can fly
I’ve got to be where my spirit can run free
Got to find my corner of the sky

So here is to a new year… a continued journey with many opportunities and thrilling adventures… the continuation of my family… the continuation of my brother’s family… and many more wonderful experiences – those anticipated, and those unexpected.

Many blessings to all our wonderful family and friends…


Darin, Jose & Quintin

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Once upon a time I was a part of The Pepsi Generation.

Now, honestly, I have no idea what that meant, but as a young child, the commercials told me I belonged to this exclusive fraternity of young, vibrant individuals. Even before Michael Jackson added his own twist to the New Pepsi Generation, I generally had a ‘Pepsi Day’ because I was hip.

At forty-six, I still consider myself a member of The Pepsi Generation, knowing that in several decades I will probably be a part of The Poligrip Generation. God knows I often have Metamucil Moments in the middle of Kroger.

As a forty-six year old, hip, vibrant dad, I am sadly removed from The Texting Generation. In fact, I don’t know that I wish to be a part of this generation as I am just finding it somewhat rude.

Last night, while attending a wonderful holiday concert at the high school, I looked around where I was seated and eleven students had their phones out, texting away, while their fellow students/musicians were performing. They may as well have been talking openly during the music (and some were).

First of all, the lights from the cell phones were distracting, especially when the phones were whipped out. It was like a field of fire-flies!

Last month, my eldest son encouraged me to get unlimited texting on our family plan since he generally had to pay hefty fees back to Dad for extensive texting. I have tried to encourage more “voice time” rather than texting, but I am clearly non-texting/voicing to a stone wall. I am not trying to lead a revolt against texting, mind you, but I do hope to instill a strong sense of etiquette, especially when in public.

I, like so many other parents, see the cell phone slide out of the hoodie pocket, and under the table as though it is not noticeable. With a second teenage son arriving in two days, I will be addressing the new Cell Phone Generation at the Haasienda. I did express to my teenage private students that cell phones are forbidden in lessons, and now, it is time to address it on the home-front.

I have some trepidations about enforcing cell phone etiquette because so many adults abuse it, as well. I think texting is a fantastic means of communication for short messages providing it is completed in the right place.

One of my favorite examples is my friend, Valerie Lockhart. Through marching band season, I was Darin Jolliffe-Haas-Lockhart, and was always seated next to Mike & Val at games and contests. If I was arriving after they had selected seats, Val would text me to let me know where they were. Even last night at the Holiday Concert, Val sent me a text to let me know where they were seated. How convenient is texting for these moments when it would be impossible to talk over several hundred people!

What has been irritating lately is how insensitive, and even rude some of my son’s friends are when they know we are sharing family moments. While in New Mexico visiting my new son, the current son’s cell phone was whipped out of his pocket like watching gun-slingers in an old John Wayne movie. These teenagers knew we were on an important family mission, yet it did not matter. I suggested, several times, that my son remind his friends that we were trying to enjoy some family time and that his friends could wait… but it fell on deaf ears. I would look around at other families in the restaurants, and their teens (even the parents) were glued to their cell phones.

This may be acceptable for some families, but I have decided that for the Jolliffe-Haas family, we need to adopt cell/texting etiquette. After all, cell phones are a privilege, and do not fit in with the guidelines of what we, as parents, must provide our children: food, shelter, education, medical care, and love.

This morning, I looked up cell/texting etiquette, and discovered I am not alone. Here are some of the suggestions from fellow parents:

  • Common courtesy still rules.
    • Contrary to popular belief, composing an SMS while you’re in a face-to-face conversation with someone is just about as rude as taking a voice call.
  • Teens (and adults) need to understand that they should never, ever, text one friend while they are spending time with another.
    • That’s rude and can make for hurt feelings.
    • Text messaging and cell phone etiquette requires teens to think about how their actions make other people feel.
  • No texting while in:
    • class
    • church
    • a movie
    • a concert/show
    • funeral
    • wedding
    • public dining out (or home, for that matter – a family dinner is a social event and not an ingestion event)
    • public setting where one’s attention should be focused on others
  • Texting should be for simple, quick messages to provide information – not to be engaging in full conversations.
    • If that’s the case – call the other person and have a conversation.
  • Along with cells, IPods will be addressed, as well.
    • During face-to-face conversations, or in family/public gatherings, the IPods are turned off and earphones removed from both ears… no single earphone wedged into one ear while the other dangles down the chest.


I know this all sounds great on paper, but I am sure will be a slight revolt from the teenage sons… and maybe not.

I just keep reminding myself of something my mother said to a friend who complimented my two older sons and nephews when they were eating at a local hometown restaurant. The friend told Mother how polite, and well-mannered her four grandsons were. Mother smiled, and said, “Thank you. I raised their parents.”

The adventure began at 9:00am this morning as we crossed to northwest Albuquerque to hike through Petroglyph National Park – a dead volcano with 6000 year old Native American drawings on the rocks. The two hours of hiking was so enjoyable, and breathtaking. Looking out over the canyon, and seeing mountains in the distance was a terrific.

As we got ready to get into the car, Jose turned to Quintin, and asked, “Hey Kitten, you want to ride shot gun with the Old Man?”

So, all day long Jose called Quintin “New Guy,” or “Kitten” – but mostly, “Kitten.”

We left Petroglyph National Park and drove a mile over to Quintin’s middle school – wow! Impressive!

We drove over to Old Town – the historic section of Albuquerque, settled in 1706.

We went into the old cathedral that was filled with beautiful artwork, and then walked to a great tiny diner that was in the rear of an art/jewelry store. One of the neatest things was that one of the resident artists was a student of famed glass artist, Dale Chihuly. The hot dog I ate was filled with green chili and dill pickle spears – quite tasty!

We moved right on to the zoo which we thoroughly enjoyed. We spent a good deal of time taking photos, and just simply enjoying the sites while spending great quality time together. As the afternoon continued, it was apparent that Jose and Quintin ARE brothers.

We returned to the hotel for about 90 minutes to unwind, and freshen up.

As we drove to Nina & Jun’s, Jose and Quintin talked on the telephone to Mother. I was quite surprised how talkative Quintin was. I think he was more talkative with Mother than he was with me on the telephone for the first time.

And then we arrived at the Campo home!

I got to spend a good deal of time talking with Jun & Nina, and the more time I spent with them, the more and more I loved them. We were brought together for Quintin, and I think our families shall be close for many years.

After dinner, which included the adorable Red Mountain Family Service treatment coordinator, Valerie, the four adults sat at the table for several hours talking. One of those magical moments when hearts are joined together for a common purpose…

We took photos, and then it was time to say the farewells. My new son clung to me in a tight hug, for several minutes, not allowing me to go. He was happy, and smiling, but nonetheless, he was hanging on. He looked up and said, “I know – it is part of the process…” (he catches on quickly).

After dinner, Jun drove me to the top of the western ridge where you can see all of Albuquerque at night. It was indescribable…

I had far more difficulty saying farewell to Jun & Nina, and their 6 yo son, Neal. I know we shall see one another again, but what an incredible experience to come together via Quintin.

So, our Albuquerque adventure has come to an end. Jose and I fly out tomorrow at 3:45pm Sunday afternoon. I will miss Nina, Jun, and all those fabulous people at Red Mountain Family Services!

But I know I shall return… I now have family in New Mexico!

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By the time I finished blogging, and uploading photos, it was 12:30am here in New Mexico. However, I was wide awake at 4:30am Ohio time (2:30am NM time).

Around 9:00am Jose and I were fully stirring, and planning the day. We decided to check out the Sadina Tram since Sandy Focht recommended it.

What a fantastic time!

The drive was about 45 minutes through gorgeous countryside – sand, wonderful architecture.

We hopped on the tram which took us 10,300 feet up to the top of Mount Sadina in 15 minutes. Great ride up, and the beauty of the mountain range was breathtaking.

After taking more photos at the top, we decided to hike 1.5 miles up to Kiwanis Cabin – a cabin made entirely of stone by the Civilian Corps in 1930. The hike was over rocks – both smooth and jagged, ice, snow, and dirt – and through a forest that matched a Bavarian fortress from ancient tales. We arrived at an open area where the wind was fierce, and biting. We decided, due to time, to not proceed up to the stone cabin which, even after a 45 minute hike, was still quite a distance.

Jose and I had a light lunch of green chili stew and the best chips and salsa I have tasted. The green chili soup was delicious, and was so soothing after the hike.

The tram returned us down the mountain, and we set off for the party in Quintin’s honor.

I am in awe of the people who are with Red Mountain – the staff, the foster parents I met, and the children who were there for services. It was definitely not a clinical feeling, but always one of warmth, welcome, and a passion for helping one another. Even the foster parents were so warm to one another, and the entire atmosphere is focused on family.

We had a great selection of tasty pizza. With the large crowd, Quintin was quiet. He brought his acoustic guitar, and I was very impressed! He is self taught, but he really played beautifully, and musically.

Quintin left for a school Christmas dance – his first! Until recently, he never invested in some of the social fun with classmates.

Jose and I spent time talking with some of the staff, and I truly hated bidding farewell to these fine folks. They have been such an inspiration, and I am greatly honored to have known them.

Jose and I drove along Unser Drive to take in the sparkling spread of Albuquerque from the ridge. We found a Dollar General Store near the UNM, and then stopped for some donuts.

The neat part was that we were driving on Route 66. We remembered walking on the slab of Route 66 at the Smithsonian in 2006.

Tomorrow morning, I will meet Quintin across the street when his foster mom heads to a morning prayer meeting. I will spend the entire day with Jose and Quintin, checking out Old Town, and the Petroglyph National Park. Later in the afternoon, we will return to the foster home for dinner.  I love this foster family, and am so looking forward to spending time with them.

Another wonderful day. I was so glad to share the hike toward the mountaintop with Jose for two reasons. It seemed somewhat symbolic of our own adoption/father-son journey, as well as Jose’s own personal journey. And it was one of our last moments together before Quintin officially joins us.

Now I can say that I hiked toward the top of a mountain with one of my sons… and what a memorable hike it shall always be.

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We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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Although I am a passionate historian, I must admit that I was rather lazy in my study of Dayton history. Normally, I am on top of my historical surroundings, and learn as much as possible. However, when I moved to Dayton, Ohio in 1990, I was not at all certain I would remain here more than 3-5 years. I anticipated moving to New York City, or even to Virginia near Williamsburg, or Washington, DC. Perhaps I had an unaddressable fear of learning too much about the Miami Valley for fear of it gluing me here.

Twenty years later, I still feel slightly negligent in knowing Dayton’s history. I seem to know more about the Wright Brothers than I do most of Dayton, and the surrounding area. Still, it was not until the summer of 1999 that I even gave the Wrights a second thought. I had been to the Air Force Museum when my parents visited in 1992, but I found it agonizingly boring. My dad had to stop and read every placard, and photograph nearly every plane. Mother, still with tints of red in her hair at the time, was photographed in front of the plane painted with the title, “Strawberry Bitch.” Each visit to the museum still prompts a photo with a family member standing in front of the plane.

Seven years later I was on my three week vacation that took me to:

  • Niagara Falls (ugh… another story)
  • a drive through the Adirondacks
  • a pass through Schroon Lake
  • Stowe, Vermont to visit the Trapp family members (THE SOUND OF MUSIC) at the Trapp Family Lodge
  • Manchester, Vermont to visit Robert Todd Lincoln’s home, Hildene
  • FDR’s home/grave in Hyde Park, NY
  • Val-Kil, Eleanor Roosevelt’s home & retreat near Hyde Park
  • New York City
  • Flushing Meadows – the site of the 1939 and 1964 World Fairs
  • Teddy Roosevelt’s home, Sagamore Hill
  • Montauk Point Lighthouse at the tip of Long Island
  • Assateague Island to see the wild horses because my fourth grade teacher, Diana Lane, read us the book, THE MYSTERY OF ASSATEAGUE ISLAND in 1974
  • A brief trip through DC – only driving and looking, no stopping
  • A trip across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge & Tunnel
  • A visit with my aunt and cousins
  • The Outer Banks
    • Wright Memorial (merely drove around it and left)
    • Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (which had just finished its hydraulic move the day before)
    • Ocracoke Island
  • A visit with my grandfather and family at Grandpa’s mission program in Southeastern Kentucky
  • Gatlinburg for three days with family
  • Lexington, Kentucky
    • Mary Todd Lincoln
    • Henry Clay home
    • ice cream at Cheapside
    • Lexington Cemetery

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I took advantage of this East Coast vacation, packing as much in as possible. I knew that once I began adopting children, this kind of vacation would be on hiatus.

The memorial at Kitty Hawk meant absolutely nothing to me. I drop past it, only to return since it had a Dayton connection. I took a photo, and drove on not wanting to indulge any time in listening to a (biased) NC park ranger talk about airplanes.

September 1999, while roller blading in Centerville’s Stubbs Park, I was resting on a rock when I noticed a tiny sparrow hopping in the parking lot, picking at some food dropped by patrons from the previous evening’s concert. I had always been terrified of birds growing up, so I had never considered how they got their bodies into the air, supported by seemingly fragile wings.

As I watched the sparrow my eye caught a jet floating through the sky as it prepared to land at Dayton International.

“How did that thing get into the sky?”

As I continued to watch the bird and the plane (no Superman), I heard voices of two young boys arguing. I even turned around, expecting to find two lads arguing.


The voices continued.

Finally I heard the one boy call the name of the other, and there was no doubt as to who they were, and why I was privy to their aggravated conversation.

The next day, I returned from the USA Air Force Museum with nine books on the Wright Brothers. I had received “my mission” while resting in the park.

Prior to that September day, I had never given the Wrights much thought. By April 2000, I was finally sketching out plots, scenes, and characters.

July 2000, I drove to Kitty Hawk, stood on the Wright Brothers’ Memorial and flew a kite to toast the start of what would be a fascinating journey for the next decade.

My goal was to finish the musical, then titled, TWELVE SECONDS TO THE MOON, for the 2003 anniversary.

Gail Whipple - lyricist-composer

In 1998 I got a new saxophone student, Lucas Whipple – a neat 10 year old boy with a wonderful personality. I eventually began teaching his sister, Andra, piano and voice. Their mother, Gail, a fantastic musician (vocalist, pianist) was teaching music at South Dayton Preparatory School and asked if I’d please teach beginning piano there.

In January 2003, Gail and I were chatting about the Muse Machine musical we had just seen. Her husband, Tim, was the Muse board president. Gail and I began discussing musical scores, and she played a few of her own songs that were clearly “musical theatre.” I promptly asked her to assist me with TWELVE SECONDS TO THE MOON, and she agreed.

Leslie Merry, Composer

A month later, I hosted the first read-thru of the book with approximately 20 theatre friends at my town house. Gail attended, and brought her friend, Leslie Merry, introducing her as “a musician friend of mine.”

Within a few days, the trio of Gail, Leslie and Darin were embarking on our collaboration. Other than directing, this was my first collaborative effort, and I did not know what to expect with our first work session. I had tossed out ideas for styles on several songs. Quietly, Gail and Leslie tossed them back, presenting something completely different from what I was hearing… and it was magnificent. Throughout the years, I continued to toss to them what I was hearing in my head, and they provided something different… entirely different, and much more clever, and exciting!

As with any project, it evolved. The history of flight anniversary flew by and we knew that we still had a product. However, the Wrights’ story had changed. Their sister, Katharine, was now an integral part of the story, and it now began five years after they first flew at Kitty Hawk. We had uncovered more drama, and depth to their story – the story after the story with most are most familiar.

The working title soon changed to THE BIRD LET LOOSE, and the underlying theme was about “control.”

  • The secret to flight was in “control”
  • There was an international race to “control” the sky
  • There were battles over financial “control”
  • There were internal issues of “control” within the family circle

It was the right path for this musical.

Now, the 99.5% completed project is a grand mixture of our theatrical forefathers’ creations… there are hints of RAGTIME, SOUTH PACIFIC, THE SECRET GARDEN, EVITA, SUNDAY IN THE PARK, CAMELOT… the musical is dramatic, comedic, filled with suspense, interwoven with political intrigue (well, nothing that would arouse the interest of James Bond, but remember, it is 1908-1945)…

I was blessed to find a lyricist (Gail) who could arrange lyrics as wonderfully as Hammerstein, Lowe, and Rice, and a composer (Leslie) who could immediately whip out a strong melodic line rivaling Rodgers, Lerner and Webber but with a heavy flavor of Sondheim. And the score is, perhaps, more Sondheimesque. The lyrics, in many places, are simply too good to be true due to the clever, concise arrangement of thoughts and words. I would hand Gail a paragraph of thoughts, and she would return lyrics that made my jaw hit the floor. The lyrics and music, together, are outstanding, and I honestly believe their contributions to this project far surpass my work on the book. The three of us, each being musicians, have also contributed to one another’s individual assignments – which has been a splendid delightful process for we each trust one another, and are, too often, like one mind.

I humbly bow to my two collaborators, and will always be grateful for their magnificent contributions to the future success of this musical.

My personal journey with this project began a decade ago. The three of us were also working professionals, raising children, involved musicians, busy volunteers, and confronted with personal, and professional experiences that sometimes kept as from moving ahead on the project consistently. Before Gail’s family moved to California, we had many fantastic work sessions, and reading sessions (about six, in all). Now, Leslie and I will work together, and collaborate with Gail, using all the modern technologies.

What a thrilling journey it has been!

Cellars Contain Evidence from the Lives of the Washington Family

STAFFORD COUNTY, Va. – Archaeologists working at the site of George Washington’s childhood home have located and excavated the remains of the long-sought house where Washington was raised.  The site was the setting of some of the best-known stories related to his youth, including tales of the cherry tree and throwing a stone across the Rappahannock River.

Digging at the Ferry Farm site near Fredericksburg, Va., the archaeologists say that evidence unearthed over seven season of excavation has positively confirmed the foundation and cellars that remain from the clapboard-covered wood structure that once housed George, his parents and siblings.      
     “This is it – this is the site of the house where George Washington grew up,” said David Muraca, director of archaeology for The George Washington Foundation (GWF), which owns the property.  Fredericksburg lies about 50 miles south of Washington, D.C., and Ferry Farm is just across the Rappahannock River in Stafford County, Va.  
     Muraca, working with historical archaeologist Philip Levy, associate professor of history at the University of South Florida, found from the evidence that far from being the rustic cottage of common perception, the Washington house was a much larger one-and-a-half-story residence, perched on a bluff overlooking the Rappahannock.  The evidence also shows that a fire that struck the home on Christmas Eve of 1740 apparently was small and localized.  Historians had long believed that the fire had driven the family to live in out-buildings while waiting out repairs.  


“If George Washington did indeed chop down a cherry tree, as generations of Americans have believed, this is where it happened,” said Levy, whose research is partly funded by National Geographic.  “There is little actual documentary evidence of Washington’s formative years.  What we see at this site is the best available window into the setting that nurtured the father of our country.”   
     Although the 113-acre National Historic Landmark site called Ferry Farm was known to have been the former home and farm of the Washington family, several attempts by others to locate the house among remains of five farms that once stood on the land had failed.  In their search, the GWF archaeologists excavated two other areas on the property, uncovering remains of one house that predated the Washingtons’ home and one from the 19th century. 


Most of the wood and other elements of the original Washington structure are long gone – many of them “recycled” by builders of houses later built on the property or destroyed by Civil War troops who once camped there – and part of the house foundation has eroded away.  But as they dug through layers of soil, the archaeologists came upon the remains of two chimney bases, two elegantly crafted stone-lined cellars and two root cellars, where perishables once were stored. 
     Excavation of the four cellars yielded thousands of artifacts – pieces of the house’s ceilings, painted walls and family hearth; fragments of 18th-century pottery and other ceramics; glass shards, wig curlers and toothbrush handles made of bone.  The cellars constituted a time capsule of evidence that helped the archaeologists confirm that they had indeed found the long-lost residence.  (Complete press release available here…)


* * * * *

Stafford is honored to be home for the George Washington’s Boyhood Home, Ferry Farm.   George Washington moved here to Ferry Farm at the age of six, and lived here until the age of 19.  Here, young George grew to manhood, developing his morals, as we know through tales of the “chopping of the cherry tree.”  Though no structures remain on The Washington Family Farm site, archaeological digs are on-going to locate the foundation of the original house.  Self-guided walking tours of the property are open to the public. 

  • Website:
  • Hours of Operation:  10am-5pm, daily
  • Admission:  $5.00 Adults, $3.00 Youth (6-17).  Free for kids under 6.
  • Closed:  Thanksgiving Day, Dec. 24, 25, 31
  • Group Tours:  Available any time by appointment at group rates
  • Archaeological Dig Site:  Open May-September
  • Address:  268 King’s Highway, Fredericksburg, VA  22405
  • Location:  Stafford County, VA (east of Fredericksburg on State Route 3)
  • Phone:  (540) 370-0732
  • Fax:  (540) 371-3398

    Staff & Visitors really “Dig George” at Ferry Farm!

Last year, we were standing at Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, during a naturalization ceremony… this year, was more personally nostalgic.Jose and I left Chicago this morning at 7:30am, lost an hour through the time change, and my family in Warsaw, Indiana.

Mother, along with my great-aunt, Norma (Grandpa Barmes’ younger sister), and Uncle Jack (Norma’s husband), and my Uncle Danny (he is actually my grandfather’s younger brother – 22 yrs younger, and 9 months older than Mother!) went to lunch, and then paid a nostalgic visit to Dewart Lake – the retirement home of my great-grandfather (Aunt Norma and Uncle Danny’s father). The home was purchased somewhere between 1959-1962. Grandpa Virgil added on to the house, and built a garage, and workshop.

The house is up for sale, and Uncle Danny pounced on it! Within 20 minutes he was discussing the matt! er with the Realtor.

We peaked inside through windows and I took some photos of the original cabinets Grandpa Virgil built. The garage door was open, and there we found even more cabinets!

Uncle Danny, Jose and I walked to the lake and spent some time talking to folks who lived there. The lake, with the island and Grandpa’s pier, was one of the most peaceful, beautiful moments of this trip.

Over in the swamp lived the famed WOOFENWAFUS.

Grandpa Virgil lost two fingers on one hand in an accident with a table saw. To keep all the grandchildren, and later, great-grandchildren from wandering to the lake alone, he created this creature who lived in the lake – the Woofenwafus. Mother said she even use to sit on her hands for fear the creature would chew her fingers off her hands.

One Christmas, when I was about 5 or 6, Grandpa Virgil pulled me on to his lap and told me a hunter had caught the Woofenwafus out of the lake one morning and shot him… the creature died. However, I was assured there wou! ld be mo re baby woofenwafus clamouring out of the nest that following spring… sadly, the creator of the Woofenwafus, known to countless others beyond our family, passed away that September… Grandpa Virgil is no longer with us, but the Woofenwafus lives on in the woods at Uncle Danny & Aunt Bonnie’s farm, and one cousin told me it is sometimes in the trunk of her car when a son wishes to not behave.

Once, my grandfather drove me up to Dewart to go ice fishing with Grandpa Virgil. On the ride up, I was told that Grandpa Virgil was chopping a hole big enough for the boat to fit in… of course, we arrived to the ice house, instead.

So you see, Dewart Lake, to me, is truly Grandpa Virgil. Many gatherings were held here, and many wonderful times.

We left the family and ventured around the lake to Quaker Haven. I knew of the location while growing up, and was re-introduced to the camp in 2005 by Amanda Berlon and her family. Jose and Caleb Berlon went to! camp there for a week, and this was fun for Jose to visit. He took some photos, and eagerly told me of the fun things he had done while at camp… it was finally a break from stories of being with Uncle Destin and Aunt Stacia…

We left Dewart Lake – and for some reason, I believe I will be returning… I arrived thinking of this as sort of a farewell visit as there did not seem any reason to return… however….

We headed north to Syracuse, about 15 miles away, and there I visited one of my most favorite places from my high school and early college years… Smith-Walbridge Drum-Major Camp.

In 1979, I became one of the first freshman drum-majors in the country. Tudy Smith, the nationally known baton instructor was our choreographer at Elwood, and she insisted I attend this camp… and I did.

Four remarkable years as a student, and several as an instructor. Last week, I wrote Gary Smith, the son of the camp’s founder, and he cautioned me that it was run down in appearance… and it is… but still, enough of the camp was still standing.

Twenty-nine years ago on July 7th, I arrived at Smith-Walbridge Camp, and my life changed…

Today was just the best way to end a few fun filled days with Jose, and ending it with family, and wonderful visitations to sites deeply carved into memories from youth….


After leaving Navy Pier, we took the bus to Shedd Acquarium and Science and Industry Museum at the southern end of Grant Park… wow. I forgot just how much I missed this place.

After these visits – including a fantastic 4-D movie in Shedd, we traveled along the lake watching folks set up for the fireworks that evening. Incredile.

We wandered through Grant Park (tons of walking!!!), and then headed to eat at a KFC. We ventured back out to Grant Park and talk about tons of humanity – most of which I did not care to roam into… it was PACKED. The estimate was 1.8 million people to watch the fireworks… 150,000 in downtown Dayton is too many for me, so you can imagine that the wall to wall flesh was disgusting.

While wandering through the park (yes, I could have used the word “strolling” just to amuse you), we came across the USArmy site… Jose was in heaven. The sign-in was quite lengthy, but we had time. They really know how to schmooze! What great recruits…

“Sir, would you like to sign up for information?”

“No, I am 43 years old.”

“Get out of here… you don’t look like you are past your early thirties….”

And it was then my concerns grew…. if young privates are lying to me, can you imagine what it must be like at the Pentagon???

We then ventured on the Army Jazz band performing during Taste of Chicago.

We settled in a nice area on the northeast corner of Grant Park, across from Millenium Park. I decided this would be the best place to watch, and to run when it was over. I figured I would rather have 1.8 million people following me rather than me trailing behind them. The Chicago Symphony was right next to us… delightful evening.




DAY TWO – July 2nd, 2008 – was spent at Six Flags Great America…. WOW!  Started at 10:00am – longest lines were 15 minutes max – except for two – and they were over an hour…. walked on rides…. 

DAY THREE – July 3rd, 2008

Morning – University of Chicago….

Took the commuter train from Mount Prospect into the city… hopped on the above ground train, and took the Green Line train to the University of Chicago.

While waiting for the train, we began chatting with a couple who had just moved to the city… long story short, she is an actress – and she and her fiancee grew up in Dayton… his next door neighbor was Jim & Jerry Lake from North Riverdale Lutheran Church!

We got off at Washington Park, and walked through it, arriving at the UofC hospital where Nathaniel Stevens was born. We walked through the campus – one of my all time favorite campus! es, and saw where my good friend, Rick Donichar, lived while working on his graduate studies. Ironically, Monte Stevens lived in the same area while attending seminary. After he and Chris married, she worked on campus. The Stevens and I realized we had been attending the same churches between 1986-1990!

After that trip down memory lane, we hopped on a bus and headed to the Green Line, and another bus which deposited us at Navy Pier! One of the most beautiful places in Chicago. We ate lunch, walked the pier, and enjoyed our time…




Tuesday morning….Left Dayton, Ohio at 6:30am. Arrived in Fowler, Indiana at 9:30am. Chatted with my sister-in-law, Stacia, for a few minutes, and of course, Parker (Frederick was asleep); packed Jose’s items and we were off toward Chicago by 10:30am. As we were heading to the school we passed Destin – pulled over on the side of the road and chatted for a few minutes.

For the next two hours to the hotel, Jose was animated about all the fun he had with Destin, Stacia, the boys, Stacia’s mom, Norma, and all the work he did while there for three weeks. Had Flyer been with him, I believe Jose could stay there all summer.

We had a terribly easy trip into Chicago, all the way up Route 41, and then on to I-90 – and on to our hotel north of O’Hare in Elk Grove Village. We were checked into our room by 12:30pm (we gained an hour), and I took a nap. We drove over to this lovely little place called Mount Prospect to catch the train into the cit! y – the only way to travel in a large city. The train station is very 1900’s, and across the street was an attorney, named Haas.

Chicago is beautiful, and as you will see, the architecture captured me.

Our first stop was Sears Tower… what an impressive view. I have been up in the World Train Center and Empire State Building but not Sears. Amazing… and a clear, beautiful afternoon.

We hiked further into the city, towards Lake Michigan, stopping to eat at McDonalds.

We walked through half of Grant Park where the Taste of Chicago event was just getting under way…. it was crowded, but the crowds were yet to come!

Millenium Park is a must for any visit to this city… the tall fountains had faces that spit water – but the spitting had ceased while we were there.

The kidney shaped mirror was neat, as was the amphitheatre.

Back through Grant Park, and up to Buckingham Fountain – nothing to do with Queen Liz II and her hou! se – just a wealthy patron. You may recognize this fountain at! the beg inning of the television show, MARRIED WITH CHILDREN.

The Lincoln Museum from Springfield had a trailer with some Lincoln items – no originals… but I had a taste of Lincoln.

The street lights caught Jose’s attention – and once you see the globes, I assume you will understand why.

Then, at the bridge was a column with lights… something struck me but the image was in black and white… and then I remembered seeing a photograph of my grandmother, Donna Clary Barmes, standing on the rail for a photo – when she was visiting her uncle and aunt, Alphie & Clara Jones.

The last photo was of the marquee for JERSEY BOYS where a former student is playing.

Orville, Katharine & Wilbur Wright. 1909

It was August 1999 that I was on the tale-end of a three week vacation when I ended up on the Outer Banks.  The previous weeks I had been to:

  • Niagara Falls
  • through the Adirondacks
  • Stowe, Vermont to visit with the surviving von Trapp children
  • down through Manchester, Vermont to visit Robert Todd Lincoln’s beautiful estate, Hildene
  • Hyde Park to visit FDR’s home
  • Manhattan to visit friends and race taxi cab drivers (um… no joke)
  • Long Island to visit Teddy Roosevelt’s home and Montauk Lighthouse (I also sat and chatted with Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg and her daughter, Tatiana
  • Assateague Island – because in 4th grade Mrs. Lane had read us The Mystery of Assateague Island
  • Chesapeake Bay Bridge & Tunnel
  • Jolliffe Road & Methodist Church
  • and down to the Outer Banks – one of my sanctuaries
    • Currituck Lighthouse
    • Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
    • Ocracoke Island

I drove by Wright Memorial, but gave it little thought. Big deal. When Mother and Dad came to Dayton, we went to the Air Force Museum. Dad loved it. I was bored.

As I drove past the huge pylon on top of the hill from which they flew, I glanced, but continued on. As I passed it again, I decided to at least get closer – after all, I was now a Daytonian. What would others think of me if they discovered I had not paid homage to the Miami Valley’s most popular brothers?

That following September, I was roller blading through Centerville’s Stubbs Park. As I sat on a rock resting, I watched a little sparrow flitting about the parking lot, nibbling at food dropped from some event.

“How did that little fellow get his body up into the air, and maneuver to another location?”

I had never really considered this… well, I had never really cared.

I looked up to see a huge plane jetting across the horizon, heading for Dayton International Airport.

“How does that big thing get into the air?”

My eyes went back and forth between the sparrow and the plane… and then… from somewhere came the voices of two young boys. I looked around.

I was alone… or was I?

Again, the voices began – and after a few minutes it was clear I was listening to a conversation between Wilbur and Orville Wright.

But why? And furthermore, why me?

And then it was clear: a musical!

The following day I was in the book store of the Air Force Museum, purchasing books on the Wright Brothers. When I research projects, I always buy books as I like to make notes and have them at my disposal 24/7.

Wilbur Wright

It has been almost nine years since I began researching the Wright Brothers, and their remarkable sister, Katharine. In January 2000, I set down in my own handwriting the first few scenes. Within a year, I had the book completed. The Wrights had become an obsession, and I scoured Dayton for every piece of information.

One day I tripped into The Kettering-Moraine Museum, and was met by the director, Melba Hunt. A fascinating, somewhat eccentric lady that knew her Wright history. In the museum, I was introduced to many relics belonging to the Wright family. A year later, after a friendship had developed, I was invited behind the velvet ropes…

  • I touched the quilt made by Susan Wright, the mother
  • I held Bishop Milton Wright’s spectacles
  • I glanced through the family Bible with all the notes pertaining to births, marriages and deaths
  • I held several of Bishop’s canes
  • I touched Orville’s bed
  • I sat at Katharine’s desk
  • Melba handed me a jacket to hold while digging through a closet; the white dinner jacket, covered in a clear plastic cleaning bag had a note: “Orville Wright wore this jacket to a dinner at the White House with Franklin Roosevelt, 1942.” I reached up under the plastic and held the jacket’s sleeve
  • and then, Melba handed me a little box which I opened… I pulled out two relics – a sliver of wood and a swatch of material from the very first Wright flying machine that flew at Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903. The one that hangs in the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum has been completely restored, and most of the wing covering is now at the Dayton Air Force Museum.

What a great day!

In 2003, two wonderful ladies joined me as my co-writers: Gail Whipple, my lyricist, and Leslie Merry, my composer. These two have been the most marvelous colaborators, and I cannot say enough for what they’ve brought to this project.

Orville Wright

So, here we are in June 2008. It has been a long haul. In the mean time I have continued to teach, raised two sons, shared my home with five foster sons, endured countless trials with all these boys, performed in several shows and major concerts, directed ten shows, worked with show choirs, traveled, buried two grandparents, welcomed two new nephews, and countless other moments in life – joyful and trying.

The past three weeks, my youngest son has been with my brother and his family in Indiana, and I have tackled one of the most amazing experiences withthis project. I completely isolated myself, with the exception of two ball games for the Lockhartfamily, and a movie night with Sophie Lockhart. I would teach all day, Mondays through Wednesdays, and then work until 2:00am. Thursdays through Sundays were spent working in the yard, spring cleaning, and writing. No matter what errand was at hand, the Wright project consumed me as I battled so many moments where I just could not budge anything.

Katharine Wright

Finally, something clicked earlier this week, and everything began falling into place. The past few days have been intense, exhilarating and fulfilling. I completely rearranged the outline, deleted a few characters (gulp), cut one of my favorite scenes, and strenghtened the musical for what may be the final rewrite.

Over the past nine years, I have become so fond of Wilbur and Orville Wright, and their sister, Katharine. What an interesting family, an inspiring family. One of my favorite places to visit is Woodland Cemetery and the Wright Family plot containing the remains of Bishop and Susan Wright, Wilbur, Katharine and Orville, and the remains of twins born between Wilbur and Orville, Ida and Otis (they died shortly after birth). There were two other brothers, Reuchlin and Lorin, both older than Wilbur.

Katharine entertaining crowned heads of Europe, 1909.

Katharine is the most fascinating. She graduated from Oberlin College in Northern Ohio, and taught Latin and Greek at Steele High School in Dayton. Katharine was the only Wright child to graduate from high school. In fact, neither Wilbur or Orville graduated from high school.

 In September 1908 (nearly one hundred years ago), Orville was injured in a crash while demonstrating a flyer for the United States Army. Katharine left her teaching position to nurse him, never returning to her career. Instead, she served as her brothers’ social secretary, and accompanied them throughout Europe, charming kings, queens, princes and other notable figures. Spains’ King Alphonso said she was the “ideal American woman.”

Katharine & Wilbur – Katharine’s first flight – note the modesty cord on her skirt.

One day, Wilbur took Katharine on her first flight. Her voluminous skirts were tied with a “modesty cord.” With the flight completed, she scooted away from the plane, the modesty cord still in place. Katharine’s playful moment had surpassed her charm and wit. A fashion designer from Paris’ House of Paquin captured the moment – thus was born, the Hobble Skirt!

Wilbur died in 1912, and Orville was devastated. He did not possess Wilbur’s understanding with business, and especially, the ability to tackle the endless court battles protecting their patent. Katharine was at his side. They retired to a beautiful home, Hawthorn Hill, in Oakwood (less than a mile from where I live).

Katharine Wright Haskell

In 1925, Katharine fell in love with Harry Haskell, a fellow graduate of Oberlin. Harry and his wife, Isabelle, were both great friends of Katharine, and had Harry asked her, Katharine would have married him. In 1923, Isabelle died from cancer. Katharine, always the true friend, sent endless letters and gifts to Harry, now the editor for The Kansas City Star. Within a few years, they had fallen in love.

However, Katharine was terrified to tell Orville of her engagement. Orville imagined this unspoken, unwritten pact that they would always remain together. Finally, Katharine and Harry told Orville, and he exploded, refusing to speak to Katharine. 

On Nov. 20, 1926, Katharine, 52, and Harry, 54, were married in the Oberlin home of friends. Katharine moved with Harry to his home in Kansas City. She told friends that her new life as a wife was a fairy tale come true.

The Wright sister would never see her brother again – until he came to her bedside the day before she died.

Orville Wright lived until 1948, but Katharine and Harry Haskell had just two years and three months together. Despite a bad cold, Katharine was planning a trip abroad with Harry in the winter of 1929. It had been 20 years since Katharine’s first trip to Europe, when she had flown in her brothers’ magical flying machine and met King Edward VII of England, King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy and King Alfonso XIII of Spain.

A couple of weeks before Katharine and Harry were to board a ship for their trip abroad, her cold turned into pneumonia. The death watch began. Harry asked his wife if she wanted to see Orville.


Orville arrived on a Saturday. Harry asked Katharine if she recognized her brother.

“Yes, of course,” she whispered. She died on Sunday, March 3, 1929. She was 54.

Katharine Wright had been revered by kings and presidents. She had been to the White House – walked right up to Presidents William Howard Taft and Calvin Coolidge, and shook their hands boldly. Like the royals in France, the presidents were charmed.

Katharine Wright might be just a footnote to history, but author Richard Maurer said she was far more than a footnote to the lives and achievements of her brothers.

“You can take the airplane out of the lives of the Wright brothers, and they would have been pretty insignificant and uninteresting people,” Maurer said. “That’s not true of Katharine. She did not let the airplane define her.”

If the life of the Wrights were a movie, Maurer said, the sister would be the star:

“Katharine has a bit part, but she’s the character you remember. In the story of the Wrights, she gets the Academy Award for the best supporting actress. Katharine Wright steals the show.”


In March 1929, Orville received word that Katharine was dying from pneumonia. He was finally convinced to visit her, arriving the day before she died. Katharine was 53. Orville requested her body be returned to Dayton where she now rests between Wilbur and Orville – a fitting place for the sister who gave so much of her self to the brothers who taught the world how to fly.

Orville Wright. 1945

In 1948, Orville suffered a heart attack and died. That following December, the original Kitty Hawk Flyer was installed in the Smithsonian following a thirty-three year battle which finally resulted with the institution’s recognition that the Wrights were indeed, the first to fly.

So, my journey with the Wright family is nearing an end. There will be additional re-writes, eventual rehearsals and performances, but my intimate work with the Wrights will be over. Once a director steps in, it is much like sending your child off to school for the first time… the acorn can not be closed once the oak begins to grow.

I have several projects on deck, crying to be written:

  • The Mink Story
  • finishing Love Is Eternal: Mary Todd & Abraham Lincoln
  • Eleanor Roosevelt
  • King Edwards VIII & Wallace Simpson
  • a musical on the ghosts of five first ladies, The Sorority
  • and so many more…

But in the meantime, I am enjoying this time with the Wrights… they have been wonderful companions these past nine years.


Footnote: Katharine’s husband, Henry “Harry” Haskell, went on to marry a third time, outliving his third wife. Harry received three Pulitzer Prizes for his editorials – one of which warned the world about the new German chancellor, Adolph Hitler.

I am hoping everything now goes as planned.

I finished teaching this evening at 5:30pm, just as a major 30 minute downpour ended. It was a nasty storm, and it looked like a fog settling in.

This morning I spent four solid hours on the Wright Brothers’ musical – major, major changes. I sent an email to my wonderful co-writers to receive their blessing on this over-haul, as it is slightly large.  At this juncture I hate making major changes without their input, and this overhaul is loosing four characters (not major ones), and an entire scene that was my absolute favorite because other playwrights and theatre folks said it was one of the funniest scenes; however, it did not advance the plot any longer.

Tonight, Thursday and Friday I will dig in and complete as much as I can.

Saturday morning until 3:30pm I will be in training for the update of my adoptive license. A pain in the butt, but something that needs to be completed.

Sunday, I will do as much as I can to prepare for the trip to Fowler, and the on to Chicago the remainder of the week. Mary Tarlano, from ACTION, will come by Sunday morning to do a walk-through of the house so she can complete the adoptive license update. The remainder of Sunday I hope to mow the lawn, and pack.

Monday (June 30th), I will teach about five lessons to students I missed this week due to camps and vacations – I do not want them to go two weeks without a lesson.

Tuesday morning (July 1st). I will head to Fowler, retrieve the boy from the Haas home and head 100 miles due North to Chicago. I hope to take in a lot that first day.

Will post the remainder of the itinerary as we get closer. Am keeping a close watch on the weather forecast.

 Favorite Photo of the Day… my nephew, Frederick Lee Haas, six months old June 30th, 2008

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July 2020
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