Thursday, January 20, 2011

Great American Dreamers

On January 19, 2011, we marked a milestone in American history. It was the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s Inauguration.

Just two days earlier, on January 17, we marked another milestone in American history. It was the 25th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Two Great American Dreamers.

These two men, who rose to the forefront of the American scene in the 1960’s, came from such different backgrounds, yet strove for such similar goals. One was from the North; the other, from the South. One came from a very privileged background carrying forth a very famous family name. The other, coming from a more common background, worked so hard to make a name for himself and for his beliefs.

As an Irish-American, one faced tremendous prejudices as the first Catholic president. As an African-American, the other faced prejudices, too, as an evangelical Protestant preacher.

One of these Great American Dreamers stirred emotions in many, when he asked society as a whole, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.” This inspired many Americans to step forward, believe in public service, and consider our American Society as a whole.

The other Great American Dreamer stirred emotions in many others when he focused inwardly and proclaimed, “I have a dream….” It happens to be that his dream was like many others’ dreams as they desired to be more whole in the American Society. Americans stepped forward again, yet this time in peaceful marches, in peaceful public protests, and asked the American Society to see them as part of the whole.

Each of these Great American Dreamers pursued a better American Society. Launches into space and lunch counter service were new territories for many Americans to explore. Whether it was an orbit around Earth or a spin on a stool, these leaders promoted change through peaceful means.

Both Great American Dreamers saw past barriers and boundaries for a better America. They used their cultures and heritages not as shields of protection, not as badges of entitlement, yet as strengths to be who they were and what they stood for. They brought people together for common causes while stirring emotions, tugging heartstrings, and unleashing the incredible power of belief both in one’s society and in oneself.

Ironically, both of these charismatic young leaders had short lives, brought to a close all too soon.

Due to the legacy of one of these Great American Dreamers, we not only have a designated day for him, but we also have a designated month for celebrating his heritage. Black History Month had to have been part of Dr. King’s dream. We can only imagine that President Kennedy would be very pleased that we, as a country, did this for such a great leader.

Two Great American Dreamers helped us become better Americans.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Grand Voyagers

The Grand Voyagers

It was the summer of 2003. As we—our family consisting of my wife Mary and our 10-year-old twin sons—ventured through the Panhandle of Florida, we talked about how our sons already had been in more states than my wife and I had been by the time we went to college. As we rolled along, hoping to see alligators cross the road, we began to talk. Already, we had taken our 1999 burgundy (some say purple) Plymouth Grand Voyager to 14 states in the past 4 years. How many more states could we reach in this van? How many states could we see before the guys graduated from high school?

We were in the middle of a huge loop. From Oklahoma City, we had traveled to New Orleans to show the guys where I went to college. We were now headed to Melbourne, Florida, for a combination consulting job for me as well as a family vacation. Our next stop would be to Savannah, Georgia, to re-visit where we had lived a couple of years before and visit some great friends. With a DVD player for movies (and before all had cell phones and texting capabilities), we found that we enjoyed this road trip with numerous stops along the way.

A short detour to Yankeetown, Florida, let the guys put their hands in the Gulf of Mexico for the first time. Already they had seen the Atlantic Ocean when we lived not too far from Tybee Island, Georgia. Venturing along in the Grand Voyager, our dreams of travel grew in intensity. What…just what if…we set the wacky goal to do something as a family in each of the 48 contiguous states before the guys graduate from high school in 2011? Could we do it? Then we threw in to our plans that we would see the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Gulf, and all 5 Great Lakes. The challenge was on.

Summer of 2004: We loaded the van with the plans to see St. Louis (add Missouri to the map). Along the way, we informed the guys the trip would be longer. We had packed a surprise. We would head to Toronto. (Wait, now we’re adding Canadian provinces.) The trip not only added Missouri, but colored in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Lake Huron, Ontario, Lake Ontario, New York, Lake Erie, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. We discovered a love of stopping at geological markers, geographical markers, historical markers, state parks, national parks, and any body of water. We honed our destinations. Stay as often as possible in downtown hotels. Walk or use public transportation as much as possible. Build in an “only-at-this-place” adventure. Eat at as many locally-owned restaurants as possible, trying local culinary offerings. As we dined on the 110th floor of the CN Tower in Toronto, we decided to eat at as many rotating restaurants on the tops of buildings as possible. The travel bug really got us on this trip. We could make an annual 5,000 mile trek each summer. We could see our goal.

When returning home, we printed off a simple map and posted it on the refrigerator with “states already visited” colored in bright pink. Now we knew where we needed to go. Next year’s vacation plans got under way.

Summer of 2005 became a Spring Break trip tied to a conference I attended in Baltimore. This time we added Virginia, the District of Columbia, Maryland. Mary planned side day trips to Philadelphia and D.C. After the conference, we headed to Delaware with a ferry ride to Cape May, New Jersey. We spent the day running on the beach and had a 12th birthday lunch for the guys right downtown. Our trip south let us cross over and under Chesapeake Bay.

For the summer of 2006, I had a consulting job in Laconia, New Hampshire. Now we could add New England: Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Wait? Why not venture with the Voyager into Canada? So we added New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia. By highway, bridge, and ferry, it is possible to drive from Oklahoma City to Charlottetown, PEI and Halifax, Nova Scotia!

When we colored in these states, the Great West looked empty on our refrigerator map. The 2007 vacation became a spring break trip tied to another conference that I was to attend. Route 66 west from Oklahoma City to Flagstaff, Arizona. Then we added Nevada, California, the Pacific Ocean, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. Our way home was rerouted due to a late winter blizzard. We got to Idaho, Utah, Arches National Park, and Four Corners. A few big states colored in much of our map.

We missed a vacation in the summer of 2008 for many reasons. Ironically the Grand Voyager had an altercation with two other cars that summer, so much of the summer it was in the shop. This gave us time to plan for the next year. We did have a short trip to Kansas City and added a revolving restaurant.

Summer of 2009: Head north, due north. It seems each summer trip requires going through one of these 3 states: Kansas, Missouri, or Tennessee. This year’s trip began with Kansas. Then we headed to Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, the Continental Divide (the east-west one where water flows to the Hudson Bay or the Gulf of Mexico), Manitoba, Lake Winnipeg, Lake Superior, Wisconsin, the Upper Peninsula, and Lake Michigan. It was a combination of seeing family, seeing old friends, and meeting new friends. Fun trip—46 states down (as well as DC and 6 Canadian provinces). Just 2 states to go!

For the summer of 2010, we planned to see the “other end” of a number of states we had been to already as well as color in the final states. Western Kansas; Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska; and all things around Rapid City (Mount Rushmore, Wall Drug, the Badlands, and the Crazy Horse Memorial) filled the first days as did seeing western North Dakota. For the past 6 months, we had a number of repairs on our almost-11-year-old purple Plymouth. We held our breath each day, hoping all would go well. The goal was so close—get to all 48 states—in the same car. We crossed into Saskatchewan (new province for us) and headed to Regina. Then it was on to Alberta to see both Calgary and Banff. Dining in the revolving restaurant atop the Canada Tower was complemented with a gondola ride in Banff. Another high adventure dinner and another high altitude park. Fun stuff. The trip resumed towards the final states. First, a fun stop in Butte, Montana (STATE #47). The next day, was to Yellowstone National Park. Another park, another state, another…wait! Monday, June 28, 2010. We crossed into Wyoming….our last state. We did it—48 states, DC, and now 8 Canadian provinces. Both oceans, the Gulf, all 5 Great Lakes, the Continental Divides (both of them), most of the major rivers, countless state parks and national parks. A half dozen rotating restaurants from Duluth to Kansas City to Oklahoma City including Seattle’s Space Needle, Toronto’s CN Tower, and Calgary’s Canada Tower. Just under 11 years and just over 135,000 miles, we became the Grand Voyagers in our purple Plymouth van. Our goal was met. After this significant border crossing, we saw the Grand Tetons, wound across Wyoming, dropped down to Denver, and headed home. On Saturday, July 3, we hit home. The van made it. We made it. We actually did it.

Well, the ending to this goal is most interesting. On Monday, July 12, Mary drove the van to the downtown Oklahoma City post office. There, in the middle of the city—after 4,700 miles of wilderness driving and numerous stops along the way—the van died. It was a new battery. No problem. We were blessed this didn’t happen on the trip.

Then the next Monday morning, July 19, as Mary headed to work, she took an up ramp off one street to another. Just southeast of the State Capitol Complex where she works, the van gave up. A complete stop. At the top of the ramp. Just before the rush hour of many dedicated state employees. As co-workers stopped to offer assistance, Mary waited for a tow truck driver and me. The van headed to the shop—a fuel pump this time. Quite possibly, our last trip winded the poor thing. Though it lost its charge, we got it a battery. Though it lost its fuel, we got it a new pump. However, we sensed that the poor purple Plymouth was asking us to give it a rest.

In addition to many trips everywhere, it had dutifully carried us through many seasons of weekly road trips for soccer games, basketball games, cross country meets, track meets. Monthly Boy Scout camping trips exposed the van to backroads and backpacks. It has served us well. The van had been loyal to Mary. It had been patient with Frank and Tom as they learned to drive. It had been forgiving of me when I hit another car, causing a three-car wreck. It had a few dings and dents, but overall it looked great still. Having had many kids in it and having never spent a night in a garage, it really looked close to new. However, it was tired. Our family was depleted. We were about to lose a member of our road team.

On Saturday, July 24, on a whim, Mary and I decided to start the search for a new car. By the afternoon, we found a deal that we could not pass up. Suddenly, the van was gone! We had traded it. It was not going home with us. Our guys would never see it again! Somewhere between laughs and tears, we cleaned out the van. During our trips, we kept all the maps of all the states and provinces and roadside attractions in the car. We also stuffed away the bulletins of Catholic churches where we attended Masses along the way. The pockets in doors and on seats were the archives of our adventures—complete with the receipts to National Parks, passes for ferries, and tickets for family fun.

We bought this car when Frank and Tom were just over 6 years old. They are now just over 6 feet tall. They went from booster seats to border crossings. When we bought it, they were in the 2nd or 3rd row of seats—strapped into booster seats. During the last two vacations, we let them drive us across the borders—Pembina, North Dakota/West Lynne Manitoba; Fort Frances, Ontario/International Falls, Minnesota; Fortuna, North Dakota/No Where, Saskatchewan; and Coutts, Alberta/Sweet Grass, Montana. We bought this when they were entering first grade. We traded it as they are entering their senior year.

On that Saturday afternoon, we had no baggage in the car. Yet, Mary and I unloaded tons of memories as we emptied all the compartments that carried reminders of so many road trips. Symbolic in so many ways. We met our goal of making it to all the states. Downsizing to a smaller car, we realized that this just very well may be our last long road trip as a family. It was a foreshadowing for the future—just a year away. The guys will venture out by themselves to college. The emptied van leads to an empty nest. The next stage of life is upon us.

May we be able to look at the new light green Ford Focus that will help us to focus on the next segment of Life’s Big Trip.

Bon Voyage, Grand Voyager, the great purple Plymouth van. You carried us well.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

From "Unanimous Black Eye" to One of America's Top 10 Great Neighborhoods

Are you having a tough day?

Are you wondering why you are doing what you are doing?

Do you think you’re just stuck on “neutral” on your Main Street, in your neighborhood, or in your community today?

Here’s a great story that’s going around the e-mail circles like wild fire the past couple of days. This is just great news. It is even better that such a supportive journalist like Steve Lackmeyer gets to deliver the news.

The Paseo Neighborhood, once the unanimous black eye, the crime epicenter, the embarrassment of near northwest Oklahoma City, was named as one of the best ten neighborhoods in the country by the American Planning Association.

A long time ago, I bought a bungalow. I simply wanted to save little frame bungalows in a place called The Paseo.

I learned about absentee landlords, arson, murder rates, prostitution, school truancy, children’s issues, illiteracy, stray dogs, stray cats, car theft, vandalism, drugs, public urination, loud music, and neighborhood conflicts. For 9 years I worked as neighborhood president. For 3 years, I worked on our house. (Thankfully my wife bought into this urban experiment mid-way and jumped into the process.) I now have been gone longer than I lived there. We were the 3rd owners of our house. There have been 4 families since. Many volunteers and presidents have followed in the 16 years since we moved. Recently, I had a current neighbor explain the history and the makeup of the neighborhood to me. I learned new things. Time goes on…as humbling as it may be.

What you are doing today in Main Street—or in your neighborhoods and communities—may seem to be fruitless. You may be tired, overwhelmed, frustrated, angry, or simply depleted. Today may be a good day as well. There are those days, too. On the positive side, I learned about community. There were those days (before I was married) that I would arrive to find a pot luck supper on my back stoop. “You’re working too hard. We whipped up something for you,” read the scribbly little note on yellowed paper. Under each tent of foil would be, warm, home-baked surprises. The guess for the largest (left to last) would be just what kind of pie—knowing it would be a whole pie of some kind. There was the thrill of delivering a Christmas tree—fully decorated—to a household where there had never been one. At ages 8, 10, and 12, all kids glow. There was a network of neighbors who converted garages to large dog houses. At one time, the network included about 9 households, 8 cats, and 32 dogs. Hauling food and water down moonlit, snow-packed alleys brings neighbors together. Placing homeless dogs with lonely residents only can be measured with licks and wags and squeals and loving names. The sense of community comes at you in so many ways that it takes the edge off those other days, other issues.

However, if it is a tough day today, remember, that what you are doing is most likely the best thing you can do at this time on this day with the resources at hand.

It may take 28 years before the designation comes…but realize that you, as a Main Street manager or a Main Street board member or a community volunteer or a neighborhood advocate, poured the foundation for something much bigger than yourself and your time here. Your footprints will be cast as positive change.

Hard work and good deeds do get recognition—and it doesn’t matter who or how many contributed.

It is just that you took the effort to contribute to a making a better place for your neighbors and for yourself.

As most of my Paseo comrades from those years back have since passed through The Pearly Gates, I wanted to share this with others. Many of those stately men and women remembered their neighborhood when it was “The Lawn Chair Society.” They worked so hard to accept and adapt and adopt as new neighbors and new cultures moved in next door and down the block. We dipped hundreds of cups of “Pink Paseo Punch” (recipe long lost) and passed around platters of heaping, warm, home-baked cookies during those years as we dreamt of a place that those of us who are left can now read about—and experience.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Push-up Suckers and Peace on Earth


Note: This originally appeared in the Oklahoma Main Street blog in early December 2008.

A framed photo arrived the other day in the mail. From Philadephia. A thank you note was tucked inside. The photo captured just a fleeting moment of all of our lives. Yet, as I looked at it, the meaning behind the photo spoke volumes.

Taken on November 7, 2008, the photo doesn’t capture the very windy, very cold day. What it does show is a static view of warmth and fellowship.

As part of the Eisenhower Fellowship exchange program, a group came through Oklahoma City. Created in 1953 as a birthday present for President Eisenhower, this is a global leadership network based on trust and shared experiences. There was Leigh, the coordinator, who lives in Philadelphia. Gema from Mexico. Felipe from Brazil. Maria from Chile. Gustavo from Peru. Except for one in the group, all of these very well educated, incredibly experienced, well traveled professionals were making their first trip ever to Oklahoma City and Oklahoma. As part of their study program to learn about citizens who are involved making community decisions, we headed over to the Plaza District, an urban Main Street program along a short stretch of N.W. 16th Street. Our guides, Main Streeters Kristin, Aimee, and Jeff, talked with the group before walking us down the street to visit an artisan fabric shop, a rehabilitated movie theater, and other businesses.

At the last stop, Curiosidades Guatemala Store that has a Guatemalan restaurant included, the group livened. Maria, a mother of six, was able to buy two authentic Guatemalan dolls to add to her collection. Guatemalan dolls—from her trip to Oklahoma City! In the meantime, Gema found a treat from her home country, Recargado Reloaded Mexican Candy. Excitedly, she bought one of these spicy push up suckers (as best as I can describe it) for each of us. “You must try this. It is the best.” Trustingly, we all popped the tops, pushed up, and licked this spicy chili flavored candy. The wind blew our hair and blew away our guards. We forgot professional credentials and all matters of serious concerns. We began to talk about our childhoods.

For this moment, as our tongues burned with spice and our minds yearned for an international exchange, we found the overwhelming power of common humanity—to learn, to grow, to share, to laugh. No national borders. No political barriers. No language barriers. Just a handful of people who met that morning and shared spicy push-up suckers.

The photo of our group on this corner of N.W. 16th Street and Indiana Avenue led me to these thoughts: “What if we all dropped our guards and really tried to learn about those around us? What if we were all so open and trusting to try something new offered by someone new? What if we were open to the possibilities that we used to dream about when sharing candy with our childhood friends? What if we turned to laughter and smiles to create shared experiences?”

On this brisk, windy morning we found the warmth of new fellowships, just as President Eisenhower envisioned over 50 years earlier. On this corner of a country facing major issues in a world with even bigger challenges, I saw what “Peace on Earth” is all about.

Friday, January 29, 2010

VOBO Heroes


We think we are in control of our lives. However, all it takes is one action or decision by someone else to show just what a fragile existence we all have. A car wreck. A home burglary. A credit card ID theft. An affair. A lie. A job termination. Someone else steps into our lives, grabs our day, and holds our emotions hostage—altering our future for the worse. Their actions and decisions impact our lives negatively.

Unfortunately, the air waves and cable shows are full of people who are victims—filled with grief, mistrust, and total disillusionment. Unfortunately, this is what sells. I am convinced many like to hear of others’ misfortunes as a way to feel better about their own deals.

Today, it is about not having control of our lives—but in the best of terms. This is about people who made tough decisions for themselves and, ultimately, made great decisions for many of us others. Their actions and decisions impacted our lives positively.

In mid-November 2009, our workplace received a “mandatory staff meeting” e-mail for the following Monday. On that day we learned that our agency, like so many places throughout the country, was cash strapped. The proposal was that retirement-eligible co-workers had an option—to take a Voluntary Out Buy Out (VOBO). They had to turn in their decision on the Monday after the long Thanksgiving Day weekend. Talk about actions that can fracture your every day routine! In short order, these folks had to make a major life decision. By leaving and taking the package, they added their workload to their left-behind-co-workers. By staying on the job, they put everyone’s job at permanent risks. People, including these folks, may lose their jobs and benefits. No matter what choice, each of these people showed brave actions for a tough decision. Their life-changing decision would make for a life-changing decision for us as well.

As the Day of Retirement Reckoning arrived, word spread of who decided to take the option. Enough brave public servants took the “VOBO” that the threat of furloughs was minimalized and the fear of out right job cuts was delayed. Now referred to as the “VOBO People,” our co-workers began making plans to vacate their cubicles. Those of us remaining quickly realized that our workloads would increase and our workdays would have voids. However, we also were thankful that our organizational foundation was somewhat more stable.

These “VOBO Heroes,” as I prefer to call them, will depart our workday lives on Friday, January 29, 2010. Their positions will forever end. However, their contributions will linger in our recesses of thankfulness—for both how they impacted us positively while they were here as well as how they positively impacted us by leaving.

I want to say thanks to all those VOBO Heroes—Alice, Carol, Debbie, Helen, Judy, Kim, Kristine, Ruthanne, and Walter. Your skin tones represent the rainbow of humanity. Your skills and talents represent the depth of true public service. Your friendships represent the breadth of what gives life meaning outside these worn green cubicle walls.

Your total service years to the State of Oklahoma (all 268 of them), if placed year-to-year, would stretch back to the year 1742—long before were we a state—or a country!

For this week, and many weeks to come, you will be “VOBO Heroes.” Thanks for the decisions that you made that impacted my life positively.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

God and Country and Main Street


A Trip to Granite and Hobart, Oklahoma

Note: This originally appeared on the Oklahoma Main Street blog on August 28, 2008.

It was a God and Country type of day that makes one want to sing a hymn, carry a flag, and bleed red, white, and blue.

The day started with a side trip to Granite, Oklahoma—a small southwestern Oklahoma town that bills itself as “Granite-A Hard Place to Beat.” With a north-south Main Street that dead ends on the north at the base of an actual granite mountain, this town has a solid sense of place. Granite curbs, granite trim, granite architectural elements grace stoic little commercial structures aligning Main Street and awaiting better, new uses.

I met with a native, Jeanie VanVacter, the wife of the pastor for First Baptist Church, an anchor on Main Street. Also, I met with Cheryl Daniels, a newcomer who fell in love with the front wall of what once was the Kozy Theater. As we pried open the front door to view the theater, we realized it was easier to go down the alley and view the interior of the theater from the back…which is really an open lot. Jeanie recalled seeing a very scary movie in the Kozy one time. Cheryl has the vision of movies once again.

We talked about the state of Granite—a typical little Oklahoma town that is struggling to keep a dot on the state map. As we looked at the hand-carved granite elements on the buildings (with the granite having been quarried just a couple of blocks away), we talked about ways to generate more enthusiasm. Jeanie mentioned a recent “Prayer Walk.” Yes, members of churches met and walked through town. They stopped occasionally and verbally prayed for various issues regarding this little town. I only can imagine what an evening prayer was like. During the Christmas season, on that large granite mountain at the north end of Main, a brightly lit cross shines above Granite. Complemented with a navy blue sky of twinkling stars, this event must have been a little slice of heaven right on Oklahoma soil.

Now, for the country part of this blog. Just a few miles northeast of Granite sits our Main Street town of Hobart. Their population of 3,997 seems large to Granite’s size of 1,844. Main Street manager Stephen Hobart took me on a whirlwind tour looking at half a dozen buildings. One stop was the “country” part. Meeting with director Trapper Heglin, we toured a $14 million museum that is filling 5 historic commercial spaces on Hobart’s south end of Main Street. The General Tommy Franks Leadership Institute and Museum is one of those just unbelievable things to happen to a town. His wife’s Oklahoma roots in southwestern Oklahoma are what brought this four-star, world-renowned general to this little corner of Oklahoma. We walked through amazing displays with items from around the world. Then we stepped out the back door. There sat a gleaming new 44 foot trailer with a mobile history-of-the-world exhibit inside. Over 120 Oklahoma schools are on the waiting list for this free exhibit. Just unbelievable. It is like a history course condensed into a 3-D walk through diorama. A five minute overview left me feeling slighted.

As we toured this, Stephen had a phone call. “Yes, we’ll be that way. See you at the library.” From the 97 degree hot day we went into the library. Located in a newer building, I wondered what this stop was about. As we entered, Stephen introduced me to the library staff. They wanted us to drop by and have a cool treat. There it was. A table full of all the toppings one could imagine—fudge, caramel, jelly, cherries, nuts, whipped cream. The huge ice chest had Dixie cup size servings of ice cream. “It’s our ‘Welcome back to school’ sundaes for everyone today.” Cute, tasty, palm-sized sundaes for everyone. Only in a small town like Hobart could such a wonderful event be so well done!

This was the perfect ending to the day. As I headed to the state car, I had a little “Prayer Walk” with thanks for living in such a country, in such a state, working with such wonderful Americans who double as Oklahomans.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Stairway to Heaven

Note: This originally appeared in the Oklahoma Main Street blog on August 12, 2008.


Collinsville, Oklahoma

We climbed the steps to history. Owner Snook Bayouth took us up the side stairs of the 1911 T.A. Lee Hardware Co. Building. Most people remember it as the flagship of the Bayouth’s Department Stores in northeastern Oklahoma. Collinsville Downtown Program Manager Maureen Wright, board president Brad Francis, and I followed the dancing beam of the flashlight up some 25 steep steps. Alice Johnson of the Oklahoma Main Street Center staff opted to stay behind. Not a bad idea. Come find us in 45 minutes!

Into the darkened hallway with some pools of light shining through some of the interior windows we went. Typical. Dusty, dirty, a little smelly. What a wonderful aroma. History waiting for us to find it. Old magazines, a great old Chambers stove. A hand-operated freight elevator. Clothing. Furniture. Memories.

As our eyes adjusted to a muted history of darkness, more objects took shape. So did the stories provided by Snook Bayouth. With a sense of pride, he showed us the rooms that served as a police station for a movie shot there some 20 or 25 years ago. He walked us through 19 vacant post-World War II apartments and talked us through 100 years of family history. The chapters covered the arrival of his great grandfather from Lebanon to Wichita, Kansas, and then to Collinsville. Other chapters covered the history of his grandfather Sol Bayouth’s expanding the department chain throughout a number of small Oklahoma towns—the epitome of an American success story. Through different rooms, he noted his grandfather’s chair. We looked for the matching desk. We saw his little cabinet, still full of keys and combinations, and gadgets for getting through the day—many decades ago.

As we wandered through the space, Maureen and I joked about the paranormal, having just had a very spirited (in more ways that one) paranormal presentation at a program manager training in another town the previous week. We told ourselves that we felt surrounded by those who previously were there. Little did we know the joke was to be on us!

The highlight of the afternoon was finding a leather wallet. As all of us waited for major amounts of money to fall from this, something else more valuable slid out of this leather chapter of history. A newspaper clipping from the Tulsa paper (most likely dating from 1954) floated down to the dusty floor. “Sol Bayouth Leaves $130,000 Estate” was the caption. Snook’s grandfather died from complications from a car wreck in 1954—if I remember correctly. At this point, I had chills and goosebumps. The paranormal snickers were not present as we all looked at this little yellowed message sent to us. Also in the wallet were handwritten ledgers for each child, for each department store, for each little frontier town. To the penny, without aid of a computer or program or e-mail, Mr. Bayouth was able to track the business of a small chain of department stores.

Here, in this musty, dusty space we thumbed through history of a businessman who did well.

Though it was hot and sticky up there, this made us all want to know more about who lived in these apartments, what they did, where they went. Easily I could have been lost in a simple summer afternoon—much like those of many years ago.

Listening to others tell their stories is what I find to be such a fun part of this Main Street job.