Michael Rhodes – Opera Singer, Vocal Coach to Stars and Music Teacher to American Military Dependents

Michael Rhodes teaching Music to American Military Dependents in Bitburg Germany

March 20, 2013, the Associated Press big story was:


I was surprised but pleased when the obituary of Michael Rhodes was carried in papers across the United States.  Michael Rhodes was truly deserving of this final tribute.  Sadly, most who read the obituary had probably never heard of Michael Rhodes. Permit me to share his story.

Michael Rhodes was born on August 13, 1923 in Brooklyn, one of the five boroughs of New York City.[ii]  Michael Rhodes was an American opera singer and highly sought after vocal coach. He may be best known to American opera fans for being the vocal coach who helped make German tenor Jonas Kaufmann the star he is today. In interviews Kaufmann has credited Rhodes with helping him find his voice.[iii]  Michael began his own singing career singing in a church choir.  In time he would study under Robert Weede and Giuseppe de Luca. Rhodes began his professional singing career in 1947 at New York City Opera playing Jochanaan (John the Baptist) in Salome.  Radio was king in those days and in 1948, NBC gave Michael Rhodes his own show: “Music for an hour.”  From 1948 to 1951 Rhodes worked with musical greats like Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland.[iv]

Michael Rhodes was on his way to a great career in America, then in 1951 he was invited to visit Trier Germany.  Trier is a relatively small town but it is the oldest city in Germany and is something of a cultural mecca. Trier has a fine opera house and a knowledgeable, appreciative audience. The German people seemed to love Michael Rhodes as much as he loved them. In 1951 Rhodes moved to Trier Germany and later that year became the first American after World War II to sing at Berlin’s Deutsche Opera.  Among the more than 100 major roles that he sang during his 35-year stage career, “Falstaff” from Verdi’s opera of the same name was his favorite role.

While Michael Rhodes was content to focus most of his career on teaching and coaching others he was truly a world class talent and made guest appearances in leading roles with the greatest operas in Europe including Berlin’s Deutsche Opera, Opéra National de Paris and La Scala in Milan.  Peter G. Davis, an American opera critic, scholar and writer for the New York Times and New York magazine, met Rhodes and heard him sing on a visit to Trier in 1962.  Davis wrote, “I can confidently say that Mr. Rhodes might well have pursued a major career had he wanted it.”  Davis described seeing Rhodes in Puccini’s “Tabarro:” “Mr. Rhodes’s cannily manipulated big, burly voice practically blew the audience into the nearby Moselle River.”

I was blessed to have known Michael Rhodes in the 1970s and to have felt the power of his voice on many occasions. My family once shared a memorable Christmas dinner with him and other family and friends at his home in Trier.  I was just a teen at the time and knew him more as a choir director and family friend than as an opera star. On one occasion we were going to see him in an opera in Trier and Michael promised my little sister a special song. She was about nine years old at the time and she asked, “how will I know which song is for me” and he said, “I will just wink at you.” During the opera there was a scene where he was drinking in a tavern and appears to pass out. A second or two later he lifted up his head, looked at the audience and winked. The entire audience cheered as he started to rise from the ground singing a wonderful fun song.  To this day I do not know whether that was a regular part of the opera or something he did just for her. Either way it was another wonderful night with Michael Rhodes.

I don’t know why Michael moved to Germany. I would not be surprised if it was nothing more than his love for Trier. There was no mistaking his love for his adopted hometown. He also loved performing and directing in the wonderful opera halls and cathedrals of Germany.  He loved Germany but he also never stopped being American. He devoted countless hours to working with American service men and women stationed in Germany and their children. I was in choirs and had minor roles in musicals he conducted for American service families at airbases near his home in Trier.  Being directed by Michael Rhodes was a joy. He was never temperamental; he never became frustrated or angry. He gently pushed us to be better than we ever thought we could be.  I and many other American youth not only had the chance to work with Michael Rhodes, we also had the opportunity to perform in historic venues like the High Cathedral of Saint Peter in Trier and the Cologne Cathedral, in Cologne.  Wherever we went with Michael, we were always greeted warmly by the German people.

The first youth musical Michael directed was “Lightshine.” Lightshine was a musical telling of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.  The year was 1974, I was 14 years old and I had a small part in the musical and sang in the chorus. That is me with my arms out below. This picture was taken at a rehearsal for Lightshine. We were working on a lighting effect. The flash photography has ruined the effect but with proper back lighting I appear to be a man seeking Christ and my shadow looks like Christ on the cross.   1975 - Lightshine Rehearsal 01aIt was a great experience. After “Lightshine” the youth, supported by the adult chapel choir and directed by Michael Rhodes, put on a production of “Amahl and the Night Visitors.”


Michael Rhodes directing the children’s choir at Bitburg Air Force Base Chapel (1975)

Michael Rhodes with Children’s Choir at Cologne Cathedral, in Cologne Germany

Being a teen I also had the opportunity to sing with adult chapel choirs and a US vocal ensemble. In 1974 the Choral Society of Bitburg and US vocal ensemble presented the “Messiah” by Georg Friedrich Händel under the direction of Michael Rhodes.  The final production of the combined choirs was presented at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Trier.  St. Peter’s is the oldest church in Germany and is known for looking more like a castle than a church.  Football and wrestling practice got in the way of me making all of the rehearsals so I did not sing in the combined choir performance of the Messiah at St. Peter’s Cathedral.  However, I was fortunate enough to be in the cathedral for the combined performance and also to sing an abbreviated version of the Messiah later that month at the airbase chapel.

I have referred to the Messiah as a performance and as a production and in deed it was both but if Michael were here he would remind all of us that it is first and foremost a worship service. Michael loved the Messiah and wrote his doctoral thesis on Georg Friedrich Händel. He reminded all of us repeatedly that the Messiah was the gospel set to music.  It is the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

On the night of the combined German-American service, my family wanted to get the best possible seats so we arrived very early only to find hundreds of people already there – so many, we feared we might not get in.  Eventually we got in and got a seat toward the rear of the Cathedral.  The acoustics in the massive stone structure were amazing and we had no trouble hearing.  It was a magnificent night I will never forget.  There are no words that can truly describe what I heard that night. On that evening the audience stood for Hallelujah not out of custom or tradition but because the story and music drove them to their feet.

I have heard portions of the Messiah, often just Hallelujah sung many times since 1974, and when it is over I always think the same thing: that was wonderful, but that was not the Messiah. To sing the Messiah, in my mind, you need an ancient stone cathedral, at least a 150 member choir (300 is better), professional soloists, and most of all, you need Michael Rhodes.

Michael Rhodes deserves to be remembered as an Opera star but more than anything he was a great teacher.  He taught opera stars like Jonas Kaufmann, Katharina Bihler and Joshah Zmarzlik but he also found time to share his love of music with the children of American service men and women. As a former military dependent I want to say: thank you, Michael Rhodes, for the thousands of hours you spent working with the youth of the American Air Force Bases at Spangdahlem and Bitburg Germany.

Michael Rhodes died Sunday, March 20, 2013, in Trier, Germany.

[i] http://bigstory.ap.org/article/opera-singer-teacher-michael-rhodes-dies

[ii] http://magazin.klassik.com/news/teaser.cfm?ID=9940

[iii] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/arts/music/jonas-kaufmann-as-siegmund-in-die-walkure.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

[iv] http://www.volksfreund.de/nachrichten/region/kultur/Kultur-in-der-Region-Was-bitte-ist-Trier;art764,220680


Delusions and False Memories: Roadblocks to Competency to Stand Trial


This post is off topic. That is to say it is not about my family. A few years ago I decided to add being published to my bucket list. My focused was on writing a professional article about some aspect of my job and experience as a criminal defense attorney. I started several articles only to lose interest. Eventually I began to collaborate with Dr. Bhushan S. Agharkar, M.D. and earlier this year our article Delusions and False Memories: Roadblocks to Competency to Stand Trial was selected and included in a paper symposium on mental health law edited and published by the Law Review at the University of Missouri – Kansas City.  If you are interested the link below will take you to my first article.


Amanda Michelle Weir, Kenneth Lloyd Warford – Wedding

Wedding Combo

At 7 p.m., Saturday, March 20, 1993, at Park Hill Baptist Church in North Little Rock, Arkansas Mandy Weir became my bride. We were surrounded and supported by many friends and family.  We have many fond memories of that night.  The church was decorated with greenery, draped white netting and candelabra and the music was presented by organist Patty Tanner and soloist Curtis Cook.

Mandy wore a formal candlelight-satin sheath gown with a V-neckline by Bridal Original, accented with Venice lace, seed pearls, and iridescent. The cathedral train, highlighted with lace appliques, was edged in scalloped lace. Her cathedral veil of illusion, sprinkled and edged with pearls, was secured by a tiara of re-embroidered Alencon lace, accented with a pouf of illusion. She carried a cascading bouquet of ivory-color roses, accented with dianthus and ivy.

Mandy’s sister Cami Weir was her maid of honor. The bridesmaids were Mrs. Richard Palmer and Mrs. Rick Pierce, Natalie DeAngelis and Mrs. Mike Sheehan. Junior bridesmaid was Melissa Warford, daughter of the bridegroom. David Warford, brother of the bridegroom, was the best man. Groomsmen were Richard Palmer, Chris Tarver, and Danny Broaddrick.

The reception was held in the Officer’s Club at the Little Rock Air Force Base. Assisting were Lee Bell, Susan Harvey, Marji McNeil, and Amy Lively.

We honeymooned in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  We wore a little rental car out driving from Atlantic City to Gettysburg and back. Most importantly we caught our first glimpse of New York City. New York City has been a big part of our life together and the source of many of our favorite memories.

Mandy, if you see this thanks again for being my bride.

The Warford Band – KBBA – Radio Pioneers

In the summer of 1976 I was spending the weekend with my grandparents.  I was ransacking my Pappaw’s dresser drawers and digging through his hunting coats looking for ammunition for the 22 rifle. My Pawppaw hollered, “look in that old shoebox in the top drawer.” Sure enough I found several rounds of ammunition in the shoebox but I also found a heavy spool of silver wire. I had never seen anything like it and I could tell from the information on the outside of the spool that this was some kind of recording device.  I have always loved history and old things and I was in old stuff heaven at my grandparents’ house.  My grandparents never threw anything away and in their home you might open any drawer or a closet and find something that had not been used or even touched for years. At different times each of my grandparents gave me old keepsakes.  I suspect they gave them to me because they knew I would take care of them, and I have.  One of these treasures was this spool of silver wire.

When I found the wire I carried it out to the living room. My Pappaw said, “let me see that” and I handed him the spool. He inspected the spool closely and said, “Kenneth Lloyd,” (My Saline County family all call me by my first and middle name) “that is a recording of your Dad and the Warford Band makin music on the radio a long time ago.” He said, “if you can find a silver wire recorder I bet it would still play. I will give you that if you promise you will take care of it and try to find a recorder to play it on.” I of course gave my word and took the spool of silver wire. My Pappaw passed away a few months later in April 1977.

Years later when the internet came into existence I began to periodically search for information about silver wire recordings and to try to locate a silver wire player that worked so I could hear what was on the wire.  I doubted there would be anything on it after so many years but I could not give up.  I had to try to hear what was on that wire. Every few years I would dig it out and search the internet again until finally in 2004, I located a man in Lansing, Michigan who rebuilt silver wire recorders. I contacted Steve Gwost and he agreed to try to play the silver wire on one of his recorders and if something was on it he would make me a digital audio file.  Putting that spool of silver wire into the mail and sending it off to a total stranger was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. The one thing I knew was that Steve Gwost was a kindred spirit a lover of all things old and historic. I hoped I could trust him to take care of it and get back to me.  It was worth the risk to see if something might still be on that wire. A few weeks later I received a package from Steve and true to his word not only did I get my spool of wire back but I also got a CD.  I ran to the computer like a kid on Christmas morning, and there it was – the Warford Band on KBBA.

The quality of the recording leaves a lot to be desired for sure but the content of the recording is priceless. It just sounded like noise at first but the longer you listen to it the better it sounds.  It is like your brain figures out how to filter out all the static.

The attached audio clip is of the Warford Band playing live on the radio in about 1953. The station was KBBA Benton Arkansas. The station is still on the air but it is now called KEWI.  You can read an interesting history of the station on Saline 24/7. HISTORY OF BENTON RADIO  The history was written by Preston Bridges the station’s first Chief Engineer.  The Station went on the air in April 1953. KBBA was an AM radio station that broadcast at 690 kilocycles from their 280’ tower in Benton Arkansas.  KBBA broadcast in half hour or hour segments. Many artists played live shows on KBBA and a few went on to fame and fortune. The most famous was probably Charlie Rich who is best known for his recording Behind Closed Doors.  The Browns also played on KBBA and later played and became part of the Grand Ole Opry.

The Warford Band would never make the big time but they were radio pioneers and had one of the first weekly shows on KBBA. We do not know the exact date of the recordings on the silver wire but we know they were made between April 1953 and October 1953. We know this because before Chuck Warford sings on the recording, Floyd Warford, asks his age and he was 11.  The Warford Band’s show was sponsored by L.C. Parsons and Elmer Lewis – Parsons and Lewis Grocery and Service Station, located on the Malvern Highway.

The Warford Band was made up of Floyd Warford on guitar and vocals, Kenneth Warford on guitar and vocals, Lloyd Roland Warford on the fiddle and Nina May Elliot on the piano.   At times Otis Elliot, Chuck Warford and Homer Graves also played and sang with the Band. The Warford Band like most bands only lasted a short time. The band broke up when Lloyd Roland Warford and Kenneth Warford went to college.

KBBA Blog PostB

This audio recording last about 20 minutes and I promise the longer you listen the clearer it will sound.  I don’t have any pictures of the Warford Band playing but I have posted a few pictures of some of the members taken when they were young.  If anyone has any pictures of the band or the members playing music please share.  All of my Warford digital files are available to any family member, just ask. I would also be interested in posting pictures of KBBA station in the early days or even pictures of the sponsors, L.C. Parsons and Elmer Lewis and Parsons or Lewis Grocery and Service Station if anyone has pictures they are willing to share.

Please enjoy the Warford Band brought to you by KBBA of Benton Arkansas.

KBBA Blog PostA

Maintain A Healthy Skepticism of Science

When I was seven, I visited my grandparents and found a science textbook in the attic. The dated text belonged to my uncle, and I found it fascinating. My favorite chapter was about the future, and it included predictions of what “scientists” expected humans and our environment to be like in the year 2000. Scientists in the 40s and 50s, or at least the authors of this science textbook, believed that by 2000, science would solve most of the world’s problems. The book had drawings of people driving flying cars, standing on moving sidewalks, and harvesting food from hydroponics labs in our homes. They predicted we would all have a Dick Tracy watch. For you young folks, Dick Tracy was a futuristic comic strip detective with a cell phone watch. I think the latest Apple watches surpass the vision of Dick Tracy’s creator Chester Gould.Dick Tracy Watch

I found most of the textbook’s predictions fascinating, especially the phone watch, but one prediction shook me to the core. The textbook’s authors believed that as humans evolved, we would have less and less hair. There was a cartoon-like drawing where the entire family was bald. Wow, that was terrifying. I did not want to be bald and was not interested in having a bald wife. I began to warn all the adults in my life about this impending tragedy, but none seemed too concerned. Then it hit me; none of them worried about this because they would be gone, and I was going to be the one stuck with a bald wife.

Something happened in the late 1960s, and the attitudes of scientists changed. The scientists of the 40s, 50s, and much of the 60s had an overly optimistic belief that science would solve any problem faced by man. By 1970, many scientists became whiny doomsday prophets. Some came to believe man is the problem and not the solution. I was eleven when we celebrated the first earth day, and every school kid in America was bombarded with terrifying predictions about our environment. It was up to us kids; we had to save spaceship Earth. The predictions of a coming ice age and worldwide mass starvations were terrifying. That is right; when I was in school in the 1970s, scientists believed we were headed into an ice age and not facing global warming. In the 70s, scientists claimed the evidence was clear. If we did not take drastic measures, we would all freeze or starve in the coming ice age. I remember dreaming about how I planned to survive with my bald wife and two bald kids. Later, in school, I was taught that almost all scientists agree that we would use up fossil fuels in 20-25 years.

When I was about ten, I told my Papaw, “Papaw, did you know scientists have proven that we evolved from chimpanzees?” He looked at me, grinned, and said, “I know they think they have.” My Papaw loved science and history, just like me. Papaw did not have a formal education, but he read every Reader’s Digest cover to cover and read all the condensed books they published. What he knew about the world was amazing for a man with very little formal education. He loved science but he was also skeptical. In any conversation about science, he often said, “well, we will just have to wait and see.”  

Some in society now demand we accept science as absolute truth. It might be okay if these people would distinguish between scientific knowledge and theory. Today, much of what is passed off as scientific knowledge is simply the prevailing scientific theory. People who question the dominant theory and say, “let’s wait and see,” are painted by society as ignorant fools. If you can say, “most scientists believe…” then whatever comes after that must be true.

This blind faith in prevailing scientific theory completely ignores the fact that throughout history, the prevailing scientific theory has been proven wrong repeatedly. Every new generation of scientists believes they have finally figured out a host of mysteries, only to have their theories shattered or at least rewritten by the next. In the 1700s, doctors thought bloodletting was a good idea, and in the early 1900s, many believed lobotomies might be the cure for some forms of mental illness. When I was in High School, I was taught dinosaurs were killed by a volcano; it was unlikely there were planets like ours in space, and Pluto was a planet. We were taught evolution just like today, but virtually all the factual details have changed. Forget anything you learned in school about Neanderthals before 2000. It was all wrong. Oh, and get this, DNA has also proven that we did not evolve from Chimpanzees. Yes, most scientists still believe in evolution and that we have a common ancestor with Chimps, but DNA evidence has forced text to be rewritten. We did not evolve from Chimps. Neanderthals were not dumb; they did live and breed with humans, and many humans from Europe carry the DNA of Neanderthals.

5-25-23 Update: The Hubble telescope was named for Edwin Hubble. Hubble spent his life trying to prove the Big Bang theory. Early reports indicate that the Hubble telescope has found old galaxies on the outer edge of what we can now see. This discovery is exciting, but based on the current big bang theory, these mature, fully developed galaxies should not be where they are. I suspect a lot of textbooks may need to be “adjusted.” I doubt the Big Bang Theory will be abandoned; it, after all, has its own TV show.

I am now the Papaw in my family, and like my Papaw before me, life has taught me to be skeptical of new scientific theories. In time, many scientific theories and conclusions our children are being taught in school today will be proven partially or entirely wrong. Why do I think that? Because that is the history of science. It is more than that, it is the scientific process at work. It is the very nature of science to challenge and test the prevailing view. Every new generation of humankind believes they have got it all figured out, only to have the next generation come along and prove much of what they thought was only partially correct, or in some cases, just plain wrong. If you don’t believe me, well, let’s just wait and see.

You Are Who Your Friends Are off?

It was 1976, the first day of my junior year in high school and my first day at a new school. My mom was dropping me off in front of the school and just as I am about to shut the door my mom hits me with one of her old sayings, “you are who your friends are.”  She was waiting for me to respond but I was now a junior in high school and I was hip to her game. That’s what she wanted me to do. She wanted me to ask what are you talking about so she could give me one of her little mini-lectures. I wasn’t going to bite. I shouted, “love you mom” and headed toward the school.

Unfortunately her words kept floating around in my head all day long. That’s the way all of the best old sayings are they stick in your head whether you want them to or not. This one was a doozy.  Eventually I decided this old saying meant I would have the same reputation as the friends I decide to hang out with, and therefore, at least in the minds of other people I would be the same as the people I hung out with.  Thinking I had it worked out I told my mom and she said I had part of it right and then she explained that not only will you have the same reputation as your friends but in most cases you will make the same choices.

This is of course the kind of old people saying that young people hate. Young people want to believe they can run with any group they want but maintain their separate identity and more importantly make their own decisions.  I didn’t care much for this saying and my mother had other sayings that were also designed it seemed to limit my freedom to associate with other people. Have you ever heard someone say “one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.”  Again, according to my mother’s way of thinking this means if there is one bad person in my peer group that could destroy all of us. Man that is harsh stuff and hard for a teenager to accept. My school was teaching tolerance and saying treat everyone the same, don’t be prejudice but my mama was saying “guard your heart.”   That one she drug straight out of the Bible, now that is really getting old school.

This really is one of the more difficult things we have to learn in life.  Freedom of association is after all enshrined in the first amendment of the Bill of Rights and some of these old sayings have been used as a means of maintaining inappropriate class or racial barriers. On the other hand birds of a feather do in deed flock together.  Deciding who to be friends with is not easy and sometimes we are not in a position to pick our friends.  Sometimes events seem to conspire to place us together with other people.

I think all of these sayings serve to remind us that we are responsible for making positive decisions about our associations. We can be tolerant and open minded but we must also learn to say no and when to get up and leave. Not easy for an adult and perhaps impossible for a teen. The best we can probably hope for is to make our children stop and think about what they are doing and make deliberate and thoughtful decisions about whom they associate and under what circumstances.

Proverbs 4:23 says, “above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

English Channel Crossing – June 22, 1975

Hoverlloyd Ticket Hoverlloyd Ticket

From 1973-1976 my father was an Air Force Chaplain stationed in Bitburg Germany. During those years I was able to see many historic sites in Europe and I was always particularly interested in anything to do with World War II.  In June of 1975 my family drove to France boarded a ferry and crossed the English Channel to the United Kingdom.

The ferry crossing would be a chance to experience an exciting combination of new technology and to re-live a little history.  In 1975 the Hovercrafts were a relatively new technology that had cut the time it took for a ferry to cross the English Channel in half. The history to be re-lived would be crossing the English Channel.  In preparation for this trip I had re-read a couple of books, one on D-Day and the Normandy Invasion and the other on the battle of Britain.  Yes, I was a bit of a history nerd even in High School.  It would have been really cool to have crossed the channel on the June 6th anniversary of D-day but we were a couple of weeks late and crossed from France to England on the 17th of June.

We crossed on smooth seas in a high-speed hovercraft operated by Hoverlloyd.  All the way across the channel I was thinking about the soldiers and sailors packed in thousands of ships not knowing what awaited them on the coast of France. Of course we were headed in the wrong direction and I look forward to the return trip as it would be a more realistic illustration of the soldiers experience in World War II. I could not have imagined just how real the return trip would be. We spent the next few days in London and headed home on June 22.

In June 1944 the Allied Expeditionary Force Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower had originally designated June 5, 1944 as D-day but on June 4th the English Channel was covered with high winds and rough seas that made the landing impossible.  Most of the ships could have crossed the channel safe enough but they would never have been able to launch landing craft. The troop convoys already at sea were forced to weather the storm along the coast of England. The soldiers and sailors were trapped on these ships and were at the mercy of the sea.  The book I read on D-day graphically described how rough the channel crossing was and how sick most of them men were.  On 5 June, Eisenhower’s chief meteorologist (Group Captain J.M. Stagg) had good news.  Stagg forecast a brief improvement for June 6th and Eisenhower ordered the invasion to proceed.

Hover Lloyd 03 L-R Lloyd Warford, David Warford and Karen Warford Stewart

When we were waiting to board the Hoverlloyd for the return trip to France the wind was blowing hard. We were dressed for spring and the cold damp wind cut into your clothes and forced you to hold your breath.  On the trip from France to England we had been allowed to roam around the boat but when we boarded on the way home they asked us to move to a seat.

We were headed for the coast of France in rough seas.  This would be a very special kind of living history.  When we left the beach the crew began distributing stacks of five gallon paint buckets around the hovercraft and asked anyone who felt sick to raise their hand or otherwise signal for a bucket.

There may be writers gifted enough to describe a storm at sea but I suspect there are few and I am certainly not one of them.  Before this trip I had read about waves crashing over a boat or ship and I had an image in my mind of how that would look.  I had imagined the sort of waves you experience in the surf, waves rising up, moving across the water, and then collapsing.

This was very different.  As we passed across the surface of the sea, giant caverns would open in the sea in front of our boat.  The hovercraft would struggled forward, surging out over the watery cliff until finally it reach a point where it would tilt and dive down into the enormous pit.  For a split second the boat is submerged, and then it explodes up through the water and on to another precipice, pausing a moment and then down, down, down again into the sea, over and over again for hours.

More and more people were sick and the ship was closed tight. It was hard to breathe. I sat with my head pressed against the cold outside wall of the boat trying to ignore the sights and sounds around me.  I thought of the men who landed and fought at Normandy focusing on their sacrifice seemed appropriate and it seemed to help me keep from getting sick.  I enjoyed my trip to England immensely and I am glad I got to feel what it was like to cross the English Channel in a storm but I would never sign up to do it again.

When I began writing this blog post I was focused on sharing a little about D-day and my own channel crossing experience as it related to World War II but I discovered that the hovercraft ferries are no longer in service and they have gone the way of the steamboat and are now as much a part of history as World War II.  I salute the men and women of D-Day as well as those who served on the hovercraft.  It was an exciting way to travel.

A Zugspitze Adventure

This post card reflects the Zugspitze as it was when I visited in the 1970s.

The Zugspitze is the highest mountain in Germany. The peak sits at 2,962 m (9,718 ft) above sea level. It lies south of the town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and the border between Germany and Austria runs over its western summit. You can stand near the peak with one foot in each country. Everything about the Zugspitze is amazing. There is a plateau with several glaciers south of the peak that is perfect for skiing most of the year. My family was blessed to ski the Zugspitze several times in the seventies.

Just getting to the top of the Zugspitze is an adventure. Skiers and sightseers get to the top of the Zugspitze on either a cogwheel train that cuts through a tunnel in the mountain or a massive cable lift. Both of these modes of assent are truly feats of German engineering.

In the early 1980s the cog train route was changed so that it now goes directly on to the plateau where the skiers ski but when we skied the Zugspitze in the 1970s both the cog train and primary cable lift loaded and unloaded in a station near the peak. Skiers then took smaller lifts down to the ski area on the plateau. The plateau and the other surrounding peaks formed a bowl in which several thousand skiers could ski on glaciers when there was no snow on the hills below. When the sun was shining the Zugspitze was a beautiful place to visit but when the weather turned bad it could quickly become a forbidden and desolate place.

One day we were skiing in beautiful sunshiny weather when a little gray cloud appeared right at the peak of the mountain and begin to grow. Within fifteen minutes it covered the entire bowl and temperatures dropped dramatically. Then it began to rain, not snow or sleet, it rained and it rained hard. This rain would have of course frozen long before it reached the tree line but we were way above the tree line only a few feet from the highest point in Germany. The rain would hit your ski suit, run two or three inches, and freeze into a sheet of ice. Every time you moved large sheets of ice broke off your clothes and fell on the ground around you. It was a very strange and scary situation.

The people running the mountain immediately began an emergency evacuation. We all followed instructions and rushed to get in line for the lifts up to the main complex where you could catch the cog trains and primary lifts off the mountain. At this point many people started to become alarmed. The lifts to the top were small and could only carry about 10 people at a time. It was immediately apparent that it was going to take at least a couple of hours to evacuate the mountain. There were only a handful of small wooden structures in the bowl itself and there was only one way out and that was to wait your turn for the lift.

My father, brother and I carefully assessed this very dangerous situation and made a decision, we kept skiing. That’s right; with all those wimpy people standing in line the ski lifts were wide open. The T-bar lifts were eventually so coated with ice they would not stay behind you but since we were the only people skiing we road them as singles by just hooking both arms over the bar. For the next two hours we skied our butts off until we were physically exhausted. I remember I fell and I was so tired I just laid there for a few minutes. A U.S. Army ski patrol guy came along clearing the mountain and said the lines were getting down and we had to go.

Other than people who worked there we were some of the last people off the mountain. Workers were cramming as many people on each lift as they could and as we loaded the small lift up to the station I was crushed into the corner. I was nauseous and I think I probably passed out then but we were packed in so tight that there was no way for me to fall. A lady that was pressed against me asked if I was okay and then cracked a small window for me to get some air. I was feeling better before we got to the top but I still couldn’t wait to get out of that car.

When the door open and a blast of cold air came in I thought I’m going to be okay. Now in between the cable car and the station there is a grilled steel floor that is porous and you can see straight down to the mountain below. This is there so the snow kicked off of peoples boots will not build up and become a safety hazard. The grill is also designed in a way that will keep it from being slick. I had never really paid a lot of attention to this grilled floor before that day but as we began to get off the left the last thing I remember was this grilled floor moving toward my face.

When I woke up I was lying on a bench with people trying to ask me questions in German. They had taken a lot of my clothes off and there was a man with my feet against his belly trying to warm my feet. I was told later that these people were members of the German mountain team. Then one of them offered me a cup and motioned for me to drink it. I’m not sure what was in that cup but I am pretty sure that two or three cups of whatever it was would make you intoxicated. I don’t know if I passed out again, fell asleep or what but the next thing I knew I was in an infirmary or medic station of some kind. I was on an army style stretcher and wrapped in an army blanket. Several young American soldiers were taking care of me. They picked me up and put the stretcher on the cog train for the ride down and encourage me to go back to sleep.

One of the soldiers was a cute young female and just a few years older than me. I talked to her on the train ride down. My mom teased me later in the car that she knew I was going to be okay when I started trying to fix my hair and talk to that girl. When we got to the train station we all got a lecture from the head of the ski team about the dangers of hypothermia and how easy it can be to freeze to death. I still had the Army blanket wrapped around me and I started to give it back to them but all my clothes were wet and they insisted I keep it. I still have that blanket and I plan to keep it as long as it makes me smile when I pick it up.

Featured Majorette – Melissa Warford Freeman

My oldest daughter Melissa has done many things to make me proud but I have to give her mother and other family credit for many of her good genes.  What Melissa and I do share is a focus and intensity that borderlines on being obsessive and maybe at times a little reckless.  Whatever labels you want to put on it, my oldest child has it, and she came by it honestly.  There are many stories about Melissa’s drive. One of my favorites happened at a football game in 1998. Melissa was to be the featured majorette in the halftime show. Clouds were gathering as we drove to the game and by the time we got there it was pretty clear we were going to get wet. I was just hoping that maybe the rain would hold off until she got to perform. We made it to halftime with just a few sprinkles but as the band lined up to march on the field the wind picked up and the rain began to fall.  By the time the band reached mid-field it was pouring. Melissa was out front and when the band set to play suddenly Melissa held up her hand and then she broke ranks and ran to the sidelines. I was disappointed for her because she had worked so hard getting this routine ready for homecoming.  I of course was assuming that her part in the halftime show was called off.  To my surprise Melissa ran to one of the football team managers and got a towel to wipe her hands. The band waited on her as she ran back on the field.  She setup and signaled that she was ready. Now, there is no way that she should’ve attempted this routine in a driving rainstorm but even from 20 yards away I could see the focus in her eyes.  I just knew right then that she was about to nail that routine and it did not matter how hard it rained. Most people would never have been out in front of a crowd like that in the first place and most of the rest would have called it off when it started to rain. Not Melissa, she was ready and 100% focused. As she went through her routine she threw that baton as high as she could, not once, not twice but five times catching all five. Wow! Now, Momma couldn’t do that, that there was Daddy’s genes! Okay, well, her momma was a majorette too but she would never have performed in a driving rainstorm. It still makes me smile just to think about it. That’s my girl!

Melissa Warford Freeman Melissa Warford Freeman

Souvenir Football – Kristina Warford

Homecoming 2003

Homecoming 2003

There are many things that Kristine and I have in common but more than anything else Kristine and I share a love of nostalgia. We like old stuff, old music, old books, and especially old photographs. Although she gets it from both sides of her family we both love taking pictures.  A picture captures a moment in time that will never come again. When you take a picture, you create tomorrow’s nostalgia. We will always have that in common.

Another thing we both have in common is we were both high school athletes. I was a pitcher in baseball season and a quarterback come football season.  I was never as good as I thought I was, few athletes are, but I was pretty good and I loved to throw the ball.  Kristina also loved to throw the ball. Kristina was also a fast pitch softball pitcher.

When she was not playing softball Kristina was a cheerleader. During football season every time the Marshall Bobcats would score the cheerleaders would throw souvenir footballs up into the stands.

It was homecoming 2003 and I had told Kristina be sure and throw me a ball for a souvenir.  We were a few minutes late to the game and as we arrived I saw the cheerleaders throwing balls into the stands.  Now girls these days throw a lot better than the girls did when I was a boy. All of these girls were doing a pretty good job arching these balls up into the stadium.  Unfortunately I wasn’t in the stadium and I was still a long ways off. I saw Kristina standing with a ball looking side to side like an NFL quarterback searching for the open man. I let out a hollered, “Kristina,” the second Kristina spotted me she step toward me and let rip a bullet that would’ve hit me square in the chest had I missed it.  No arching, that was a straight shot.

Yes sir, that there was daddy’s genes. I grew three inches on the spot. Kristina has accomplished so many things of far greater importance than throwing me a bullet pass with a plastic souvenir football, but you see, for me that pass was nostalgic.  Like a photograph that pass was a reflection of my own childhood. Thanks Kristina for the souvenir ball and so many other wonderful memories.