Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Seven Wonders of Dolores


The Seven Wonders of the World has historically been a listing of seven sites known to the Ancient Greeks as the most notable locales in their known world. 
The originalsThe Colossus of Rhodes, The Great Pyramid of Giza, The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, The Lighthouse of Alexandria, The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, The Statue of Zeus at Olympia, The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. All fine attractions.
Over the years, and down through history, others have developed their own lists. The Seven Natural Wonders, developed by Cable News Network in 1990s, The Seven Modern Wonders, developed by the American Society of Civil Engineers, and even the "New" Seven Wonders. 
But like most secondary contrivances, the second string is just that. 
I intend to remedy that by naming a new list: The Seven Wonders of Dolores, and my selection criteria follows.
7. Rope elevator in the Exon Mercantile building. 
Never has an eighteenth-century marvel been so underrated as the the platform rope and pulley system near the back of the Exon Building that drops a 10-foot by 15-foot  section of the very floor out of one building and into the basement below.  Sure, maybe it is dangerous and maybe, Yes, you could fall down an poke your eye out, or perhaps run your fingers through the pulleys (or maybe even squash something like a bug if you dropped it while someone was below) but hours of entertainment offset all the dangers and then some.
6. Painted D on the side of the hill. 
Certainly a maintenance nightmare, once again rife with the dangers of actually falling from a sandstone cliff,  and less than environmentally sound, the faded black paint peeking from the tree-line stands as an icon of Doloresdom. Not to mention, the hours beneficially 'wasted,' instead of being in school attending to regular studies.
5. Second staircase in the Taylor Hardware's shop.
I know this is an obscure reference for many, but any that have known of, and witnessed the wondrous flight that drops out of the wooden ceiling to the cement shop floor below, and the pulley and weight system that allows it to do so, then be retracted if nothing occurred, are often awe-struck beyond belief.
4. Plywood raft in Town Pond
Utilitarian in nature, the raft bounced around the edges of the town pond for many years,  serving as a de facto fishing vessel, frogging operation, mud bog vehicle, and upon occasion search and rescue conveyance.
3. The retractable basketball supports on the stage in the High School Gym.
Two bolts removed, and retraction via cable and a hand winch, allowed the complete transformation of a stinking, hardwood-floor, basketball arena, and other athletic endeavors; to a stage and auditorium suitable for graduation, plays, and all school assemblies. No one knows the transformative powers better that the wood-ribbed edifice in the center of Dolores Schools.
2. Fourth Street Bridge.
A personal favorite, long-since removed, the cast iron structure, darkened with the rust of the ages, connected the outside world with the little town in the valley, as a ribbon of highway drops off the ridge and down into the mouth of a Lost Canyon. Fish lined up in the depths of the channels below, and hobos and delinquents camouflaged in the red willows and Cottonwoods nearby.  But as Neil Young noted "Rust never sleeps."
1. Big Rock between 7th and 8th Street.
Never in the course of human events in such a small town, have so many, owed so much to a single rock in the middle of the Dolores River. Entire languages have been developed and learned in the shadow of that stone. Working on mysteries without any clues, working and practicing... Perhaps my entire lyrical base (as well as Bob Segar's)  owes such a debt. "Like a rock, I was strong as I could be. Like a rock, nothin' ever got to me. Like a rock, I was something to see. Like a rock." 
I wonder — if there are other such wonders.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Work in progress: Time now for forgiveness?



First, let me say this. Forgiveness is by far, the hardest lesson I've ever tried to learn. And I'll tell you straight out, that I haven't mastered it.
Let's just say it is a work in progress.
It is complicated for me by the knowledge, that no matter how deep the betrayal suffered —  most of the time, the betrayers didn't mean anything by it.  It was unintentional.
But life is about lessons, and we all keep learning to the grave.
Teachers are all around us.
As a kid growing up in Dolores, I embraced that life-long learning by loving school.  Not just the classrooms, books, and math instruction, and spelling education... things that I observed just by being in room (any room) or outside on the hill, or submerged in the river.
Lets think back, and visit some of the teachers.
The first clear memory (that I can place) was helping to plant two small Colorado Blue Spruce trees in the front yard of Pleasant's yard.
I am told that my dad dug the trees up on wrecker call near the Rico ball park.
Andy Pleasant and I, with adult supervision, planted them ourselves. It was a gift of sorts, or a suggestion by both of our parents, on Andy's fourth birthday, in July, if my memory serves me.
We dug a hole twice as large as the root ball,  filled it up two or three times with water, dropped in the tree, and then created a little basin around it.
We kind of took care of the trees, when we thought of it, especially during the tail-end of that summer, and then, any time we thought of it during the next few years, when we weren't careening down the sidewalk in his X-15 or my pedal-powered fire truck. Later, there were Schwinn bikes and climbing the towering Broadleaf Cottonwood that was out in front of the Spruce trees. And later still, the hill, and cub scouts, and little league baseball.
When Andy and his family moved away, just as we both were to go into fourth grade, my access to the trees was limited, as other families occupied the 'old Pleasant' house.
I was a little torqued a few times in the next few years when the Dentons tied their horses to one of the trees,  and rarely, if ever watered it; and maybe even a little more so later, when Norths put a little border around it, and took good care of those trees.
The last time I saw the Blue Spruces trees, they were over 70 feet tall.
A few years ago, I was told one of them had to be cut down because it had grown so much as to threaten structures in the area.
Lesson learned: Neglected or well-cared for,  most of us survive and perhaps even thrive. We generally grow up eventually.
Andy and I, kept in contact over the years, first closely, as he was just over in Cortez and his parents business was still here in Dolores— and then, less so, as we moved on to different worlds.
I knew, as adults,  we both worked in his family's business (newspapers), for a number of years, and then he went on to different pursuits. Quite honestly, I had lost track.
When my dad died, he apparently saw the obit, and reached out.
"So sorry to hear about your father's passing. Hope all is well otherwise," he said.
I was glad to hear from him. It meant a lot. I told him so. And we tried to catch up, if just a bit, on each of our family's whereabouts.
A few days later, I heard from him again.
"Ironically — my father passed away in his sleep last night."
Truth be known, time (and perhaps distance) had been the real betrayer in this case, but it was unintentional.
Not sure I'm ready to forgive time — at least not yet.



Sunday, November 3, 2013

Regular guy, janitor at the Academy, and Medal of Honor winner







Bill Crawford seemed like a regular guy.
He grew up in Pueblo, served in the Army until his retirement as a master sergeant in 1967.  After retirement, his life was fairly unremarkable, getting a janitor job, serving as director of the Lucretia Vaile Museum.  In fact, as a janitor at the Air Force Academy, he didn't really stand out. Went to work, took care of his custodial details, returned home to Palmer Lake in the evening.

Cadet James Moschgat described it this way.

"As a janitor William “Bill” Crawford certainly was an unimpressive figure, one you could easily overlook during a hectic day at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Mr. Crawford, as most of us referred to him back in the late 1970s, was our squadron janitor," he wrote later.

"Maybe it was Mr. Crawford’s personality that rendered him almost invisible to the young people around him. Bill was shy, almost painfully so. He seldom spoke to a cadet unless they addressed him first, and that didn’t happen very often. Our janitor always buried himself in his work, moving about with stooped shoulders, a quiet gait, and an averted gaze. If he noticed the hustle and bustle of cadet life around him, it was hard to tell. So, for whatever reason, Bill blended into the woodwork and became just another fixture around the squadron. The Academy, one of our nation’s premier leadership laboratories, kept us busy from dawn till dusk. And Mr. Crawford...well, he was just a janitor," wrote Moschgat.

"That changed one fall Saturday afternoon in 1976. I was reading a book about World War II and the tough Allied ground campaign in Italy, when I stumbled across an incredible story. On September 13, 1943, a Private William Crawford from Colorado, assigned to the 36th Infantry Division, had been involved in some bloody fighting on Hill 424 near Altavilla, Italy. The words on the page leapt out at me," said Moschgat

The citation he stumbled upon read as follows:
"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy near Altavilla, Italy, 13 September 1943. When Company I attacked an enemy-held position on Hill 424, the 3d Platoon, in which Pvt. Crawford was a squad scout, attacked as base platoon for the company. After reaching the crest of the hill, the platoon was pinned down by intense enemy machinegun and small-arms fire. Locating 1 of these guns, which was dug in on a terrace on his immediate front, Pvt. Crawford, without orders and on his own initiative, moved over the hill under enemy fire to a point within a few yards of the gun emplacement and single-handedly destroyed the machinegun and killed 3 of the crew with a hand grenade, thus enabling his platoon to continue its advance. When the platoon, after reaching the crest, was once more delayed by enemy fire, Pvt. Crawford again, in the face of intense fire, advanced directly to the front midway between 2 hostile machinegun nests located on a higher terrace and emplaced in a small ravine. Moving first to the left, with a hand grenade he destroyed 1 gun emplacement and killed the crew; he then worked his way, under continuous fire, to the other and with 1 grenade and the use of his rifle, killed 1 enemy and forced the remainder to flee. Seizing the enemy machinegun, he fired on the withdrawing Germans and facilitated his company's advance." 

Bill Crawford, the janitor, was a Medal of Honor winner. 
Though, because Crawford was captured by the Germans and presumed dead in the battle following, in 1944 the Medal of Honor was presented posthumously to his father. Later in the year, Crawford was among a group of soldiers rescued from German captivity. He had not been presented the medal himself, as was the custom for living recipients.

Years later, in 1984, the commencement speaker at the Academy was the President of the United States, President Ronald Reagan. Looking over the sea of young faces that represented the very best our Nation has to offer, he said: "America's men and women of today have made us a great Nation." And then the President turned his attention to the past, calling forward a 66-year old janitor crisply dressed in a uniform that still fit his trim frame. Forty years after his heroism at Altavilla, Italy and 17 years after his retirement from a military career, the President hung the Medal of Honor around the janitor's neck. 

The cadets themselves, had decided proper recognition of their janitor was long overdue, and had taken steps to see an "oversight" corrected. 

Crawford died at his home in Palmer Lake on March 15, 2000.  He is one of four Medal of Honor recipients from Pueblo, Colo.




Yo Hablo: It is all part of the program



“Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country's cause. Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field and serves, as he best can, the same cause.” 
__ Abraham Lincoln

At 82, Bill Frier knows about honor and service. Twenty years in the Air Force, third in a line of West Point graduates in 1954, flying C-130s, teaching at the Academy here in Colorado Springs — it is all part of the program for him.  
And the thing is, he knows about programs, too.
As the one-time Chief of Television for the Air Force, that is to be expected.
One of his proudest moments he will tell you, however, is development of his "Yo Hablo" program teaching conversational Spanish and pioneered in the early days at the Air Force Academy.
"In 1961, B. Gen. Robert McDermott (Dean of Academies, U.S. Air Force Academy and future CEO of USAA) launched a pioneer program teaching conversation Spanish over a newly-installed, close-circuit TV system to over 500 military families on base. He chose me, then an Associate Professor Spanish, to write and present, three times daily, the program — live, as there was no videotape available," says Frier.
"I was given the freedom to present my course my 'fun and easy way,' with cartoons and humor which had proven very effective when teaching the cadets. The pioneer experiment was a grand success."
He duplicated that success again in 1968 when the program was launched on CBS and later Educational Television, the forerunner of PBS, aired the program, and the president of CBS at the time, granted him use of the company's studios to put the production together. Today the course is certified in the Colorado prison system for inmates and employees.
Frier's enthusiasm for Spanish and Spanish speakers began in 1935 when his family moved to Mexico City, according to forward in the "Yo Hablo" book created to supplement the program. He returned to the US when he was 13 speaking Spanish like the natives. He also has a Master's degree in Spanish.
"Pulling from his memory of childhood cartoon characters he drew while growing up in Mexico, and using that musical language which was his second tongue, Bill devised the "Yo Hablo" show. The childish cartoons were revised, humanized, and sophisticated under the subtle hands of friend and artist Bob Dover of Colorado Springs. The artist transformed the ideas of the child into living people. These people populate the view's guide accompanying the series as an integral part of the learning experience."
Bob Dover polished his craft working with the Walt Disney Company.
"I last met with General McDermott approximately eight years ago (he was the CEO of USAA) on his last visit to Colorado Springs. We renewed old memories of the pioneer Spanish course and its successes. He strongly urged me to 'turn Yo Hablo upside down' teaching English to Hispanics — he emphasized the huge need it would fulfill, and with modern technology ... even one program could reach millions of families through the internet — and the central script already exists for 52 lessons.
"I launched in 2008, in the Hispania News, (a free newspaper in Colorado Springs) 'Y Ahora Yo Habo Ingles' one lesson per week," said Frier.
"I put together all of the lessons presented in 2008 and early 2009. Sadly, the editor of Hispania News, Bob Armendariz, died suddenly and Hispania News closed its doors."
Despite the setback, Frier hopes to share the value of his Spanish/English program that potentially could reach millions. He wants to transfer the entire course to the internet and perhaps sell, for a small fee, the cartoon text to fund future endeavors, such as editing the Spanish program "upside down" on to video, and teaching basic conversational English to Hispanics, as General McDermott suggested. 
The program, if he is successful or not, is just one more example of a lifetime of honor and service.