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Jim and Karin Billings’ true story of ‘Planes, Trains and—a Wheelchair, too.’

Vacations are supposed to be relaxing, fun or exciting, right?  For Karin and Jim Billings, this year’s annual trip to Europe proved a little too exciting.  Their European holiday turned into a European nightmare.

Karin invited friends to wear a hat to her 80th birthday celebration. I created a hat with a brown papier-mâché pony on top, reflecting Karin’s love of horses.

Readers of this column met Karin in March, 2020.  I featured a story on the gay Jewish cat wedding Karin, who loves cats, once hosted.

Karin, 82, is German by birth.  She and Jim travel abroad every year.  This past summer, Karin, a painter and retired equestrienne, decided to take a special painting for each of her seven great grandchildren. She also wanted to gift them much of her formal silverware and some expensive Meissen pottery. The couple agreed to hand-carry the pottery and check everything else in four suitcases.

When their plane from Sarasota to LaGuardia was delayed, Jim got them rebooked on a flight to Atlanta. He knew there were regular flights from Atlanta to LaGuardia. Arriving in Atlanta, the couple rushed to the Delta gate to learn their flight was canceled. Delta couldn’t book them on any other direct flight. What seemed a better option: an American Airlines flight to DC, connecting to LGA with a midnight arrival. That meant racing to the Delta baggage claim office and having their four checked bags off-loaded.Though the Delta manager advised against it, Jim insisted.

The couple opted for a flight through Miami where they arrived at 2:15 am. In the mostly empty airport, they met a fellow traveler. They joined him in the Turkish lounge for breakfast at 5am when the lounge opened. Meantime, they attempted to snooze in massage chairs.

Their flight from Miami made it to LaGuardia. The bags were another story.

With five hours before they needed to take a taxi to the ship, they weren’t overly concerned.  The first Delta flight arrived. No bags. They hustled to the Delta baggage claim office at LGA, which called the baggage claim office in ATL. No answer. The second Delta flight arrived. No bags. If the third flight arrived on time, they might still be able to claim the bags, take a taxi and board on time.

No such luck.

Karin Billings with with her painting of Dior, an Andalusian that belongs to her dear friend Eva in Wellington, FL. Eva just went through a rough chemotherapy treatment. Karin did the painting as a Get Well gift.

Jim and Karin boarded the Queen Mary 2 with the clothes on their backs, the Meissen porcelain and a few garments they bought in the ship’s store.

“We decided to keep smiling,” Jim said. To retain their senses of humor, Jim says, they kept telling themselves “how lucky we were not to be bothered by all the unpacking endured by our fellow passengers.”

Arriving in Hamburg, Karin’s hometown, they were greeted and hosted by family members and Karin’s old friends. One friend, Christian von Humboldt, introduced them to a journalist for “Horse” magazine. She wrote a feature on Karin’s silver medal win in the Munich Olympics 50 years ago.

Their two-week stay in Karin’s “beloved” hometown proved “delightful,” Jim says. It was time for a flight to Paris, a train to Le Havre, a two-week cruise back to NYC, a flight to Tampa and a drive home. Any frequent traveler knows the travel experience can be challenging. Self-proclaimed “seasoned traveler” Jim misread the itinerary for the flight to Paris, confusing check-in and boarding times. Missing the flight, the couple hustled to the train station to catch a fast train to Paris. No luck. It was a Friday; no room on the train. Next best option: a train to Kassel with a two hour wait for a train to Frankfurt, then Paris. They needed to race to catch the first train.

“That’s when the trouble began,” Jim says.

The couple each had two carry-on bags. Running, Karin tripped over a bag. She picked herself up and though in pain, Jim says, “in typical Karin fashion, she toughed it out.”

In Kassel, they had a long walk to the main station. In Frankfurt, another long walk to catch the last train to Paris. That train stopped some 40 kilometers short of Frankfurt while rocks were removed  from the tracks. In Frankfurt, another long walk. The couple arrived in Paris just after midnight. “Karin was really hurting,” Jim says. After a night in a hotel, the next morning they caught a train to Le Havre.  By now unable to walk, Karin needed a wheelchair. When they finally arrived at the ship, the ship’s doctor deemed it “too dangerous” for Karin to travel. After “much discussion,” he agreed to let Karin stay on board if a local doctor approved. They found a clinic; X-rays appeared negative. All aboard.

The first port of call was St. Milo, France. Karin stayed in bed. The next stop: Ferrol, Spain. There “out of desperation,” Jim arranged for an MRI at a local hospital. It, too, appeared negative.

Though Jim calls Karin “one of the toughest people I’ve ever known,” her pain became “unbearable.” In Lisbon, an ambulance sped the couple to a hospital. Karin’s oxygen was low; her heart showed signs of A-fib; she had a fever.  A CT scan revealed a broken rib and a crack in her D-12 vertebra.

Karin spent two weeks at Hospital Da Luz in Lisbon. A tube in her right lung drained excess fluid from pneumonia. Strong antibiotics stabilized her condition. Though the couple wanted to return home, Karin would need continuous oxygen, regular injections of antibiotics, and the ability to lie flat. Two options: air evacuation on a private jet with a doctor and paramedic for $250,000. Or a lay flat first-class seat on a commercial jet accompanied by a paramedic for $50,000. They chose the latter.

Arnold, the paramedic, told the purser Karin might need supplementary oxygen during the flight. Had he arranged for it? No. The purser ordered the threesome off the plane. Arnold promised oxygen wouldn’t be necessary after all. After much more discussion, they were allowed to stay on board. At cruising altitude, Jim noticed Karin’s oxygen was dropping. Luckily, a doctor on board was a cardiologist. He ordered the purser to provide an extra oxygen bottle.  During the nine-hour flight, Karin’s oxygen bottle was replaced three times. 40 minutes from Miami, Karin needed another bottle. The purser refused, saying the plane was descending and Karin’s oxygen concentrator was “adequate.”

“’Adequate’ wasn’t good enough,” Jim says.  He sought out the cardiologist who ordered the purser to provide another bottle.

At last, the couple landed in Miami. Jim refused to get off the plane until a wheelchair and more oxygen were available. Wheelchair: no problem. Oxygen? The purser insisted they’d find a medical office “somewhere in the terminal” to supply it. In “a rather tense moment,” Jim—whom we all know is a consummate gentleman—refused to leave the plane without oxygen. The purser was “livid,” Jim says. She called the captain. He insisted the plane had a quick turn-around. Passengers were ready to board.

“Are you willing to risk the health of my wife?” Jim demanded.

30 minutes later, oxygen arrived.  The Billings left the plane.  But Karin’s ordeal wasn’t over yet.

Back in SRQ, Karen says she “suffered” through two and one-half weeks at Sarasota Memorial Hospital undergoing various tests and receiving IV antibiotics through a PICC line.  Finally released to go home, she continued receiving antibiotics for a total of eight weeks.

The couple had both looked forward to “returning to our house, friends, community and cats,” Jim says.  They were grateful to sleep in their own beds and “sneak into the kitchen for a snack.”  Their view through the lanai had been altered.  Hurricane Ian had demolished their pool cage.  Half ended up in the pool; the rest was spread around the yard—some on the front lawn.

For Karin, coming home was “unsettling.”  Though happy to be home, she felt insecure.  Having been in a hospital for over four weeks, she’d become “comfortable” knowing she was cared for.  “She was even beginning to like the food,” Jim says.

There are two heroes to this story.  Jim sent friends a write up of what the couple endured.  His advocacy for Karin was nothing short of heroic.

I was honored to be among the first friends Karin allowed to visit.  I’d survived Stage 4 cancer, a crisis I described in my 2012 memoir, GodSigns.  Prayer played a significant part in my healing.  Karin requested I pray for her. I was glad to do what I could to bring her comfort.

Though Karin’s not sure she’ll play golf again, I’m confident she will.

Meet you on the first tee, girlfriend.  Thanks for the inspiration.  You’re a rock star of recovery.

For Maureen Kaiser, age is no barrier to chasing her dreams as a singer/songwriter

That’s Maureen in the broad-brimmed hat. This is the cover of her 2020 album. Click on this album cover and you’ll visit the Amazon page where you can listen to the songs and purchase her music, if you like it.


Some lucky people can sing.  Some join choirs.  Others enjoy karaoke.  Some merely dream of life behind a microphone.  It takes a rare, brave person to become a singer/songwriter when she’s pushing 50. That takes chutzpah!

I met Maureen Kaiser when she owned and operated an American Speedy print shop in Bloomfield Hills, MI.  25 years ago, she married Joe Kaiser, a friend Burton and I knew through a business-related organization.

Married to Joe, Maureen opened an event planning business.  At a conference, Maureen participated in a team building exercise.  She suggested writing a theme song for the conference.  What seemed like a good idea was “stalling out,” Maureen says.  A line “just popped into my head and out of my mouth,” Maureen says.  “Make a right hand turn on Mayhem Lane.”

Spending about an hour on the exercise, Maureen contributed most of the lines for the song.  Enjoying the exercise, that night at the resort she sat in the bathroom and wrote four songs—melody and lyrics.  The next day she sang her theme song for fellow conference members, who applauded her efforts.

When Maureen returned home to Scottsdale, AZ, she registered Mayhem Lane as an LLC.  Her next thought: “What to do with my newfound lust to write?”

Maureen decided to take her newfound hobby seriously.  She participated in several songwriting boot camps in Nashville.  These were “deep dives,” she says, into songwriting, recording and the logistics of the music industry.

Needing an accompaniment, Maureen bought a guitar.  She signed up for private lessons in her home, five days a week for six months.  She practiced every day and most nights, she says, “Until it clicked and my right hand was talking to my left hand.  I wasn’t great, but I was good enough to show a real musician what I wanted.”

Maureen worked with eight studio musicians on her first batch of studio recordings.  She “kept joking” they should form and band.  They rehearsed for over a year.  Three albums later, after the group had learned most of Maureen’s catalog, “We made it official and became Mayhem Lane.”  Last year, Maureen and her band performed at six gigs.  They have six more on the books for the next year.  As if that weren’t enough, this gutsy gal has started teaching songwriting workshops at corporate events.

By the time a conference is over, Maureen says, the groups she’s engaged with will have written a theme song and learned the lingo and etiquette of songwriting.  She says her workshops “are designed to engage and enlighten the participants while they enjoy a creative experience.”

During COVID, Maureen says, “I realized Keith Urban or Miranda Lambert weren’t going to call.”  She decided to do what she could to increase the chance that some professional singer would like her creations.

She put together a band of professional musicians she found from Nashville studios and in her home town of Scottsdale.  They’ve recorded dozens of Maureen’s songs that are professionally produced and released on most streaming platforms.  She hopes some of her tunes will be picked up for commercial use.

Maureen’s songs have a country vibe and usually convey a message.  One of her favorites is “Fly Like Amelia,” about Amelia Earhart.  Maureen cut it with a male vocalist, Jacob Morris from Nashville, and 14 year old Evie Clair, a female singer from Season 12 of “America’s Got Talent.”  One line from the song, “Be firm like Rosa,” references Rosa Parks, an African American Detroiter who refused to sit in back of a bus.  Maureen wrote the song with her granddaughter in mind.  “I don’t want anyone bringing her down.”

Maureen has produced 3 and ½ minute homemade videos of a few songs. Another personal fave: “Brothers Together,” a song she dedicated to fire fighters and first responders.

All Maureen’s songs are on her website, musicbymayhemlanelyrics.com, and many streaming platforms including Pandora, Spotify and Apple Music.

Maureen keeps coming up with “cowboy one-liners” and makes notes whenever they strike.

Maureen’s husband Joe is “100% on board” with her new career.  She calls him her “biggest cheerleader.”  As a thank you, Maureen wrote “I Dreamed of You” as a birthday gift for Joe and gave him the song rights.  She starts every set with the song, she says,  “It fills my heart with gratitude.”

Maureen has partnered with Detroit-based Taja Sevelle, a singer/songwriter who co-wrote with Prince and has her own private label.  Taja’s best known for her 1987 single “Love is Contagious” and for the non-profit organization, Urban Farming, she founded in 2005. Maureen says Taja’s and her “personal styles of writing blend together, and we’re creating a new vibe.”

Maureen finds people in the industry “kind and willing to help.”  Lately, she holds songwriting meetings on Zoom. One songwriting partner, Nashville-based Sherrie Austin, co-wrote “Bad for Me,” the title track to a Blake Shelton album, and songs for George Strait, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.  Another partner, Will Rambeaux, has had songs recorded by Faith Hill, Dolly Parton and more.

Maureen was thrilled when 17-year old barrel racer and up and coming country singer Abigayle Holt included two of her songs on her EP.  Maureen was first drawn to Abigayle when she viewed film of her singing the National Anthem at a rodeo. Maureen calls Abigayle “the poster child of the person I dreamed would want to do my music.”

Maureen continues to take voice lessons, though she’s “most comfortable” singing background vocals.

About her later in life career, Maureen says, “I wish I’d started sooner.  But If I had and it didn’t work out, I might have given up.”  She continues to stay up late writing songs and to take voice lessons.  She believes “everyone has a song in them.”  She’s doing her best to bring all of hers to life.

You go, girlfriend. Thanks for the inspiration.  And the gift of knowing it’s never too late to be what we might have been.

Click on this photo of Maureen and you’ll visit here website, featuring a 3-minute introductory video about her musical career.

Santa Barbara’s Suzanne Duca and ex-monk Ross Quigley share funds and philosophy in a modern non-marriage

Another first in my quest, dear reader, to introduce you to fascinating people: My first ex-monk.

Ross Quigley and Suzanne Duca

Raised Catholic, in 1978 Ross Quigley, then 28, sought “a contemplative, monastic life.” He lived at the Franciscan Retreat in Danville, CA. The next year he joined the “Spiritual Life Institute,” a Catholic Carmelite monastery in SW Nova Scotia. Later he spent time at monasteries in Sedona, AZ; Crestone, CO; and County Sligo, Ireland. Ross was what he calls “an apostolic hermit.” For 23 years he lived “in solitude and community” with men and women, aiming “to be personally, passionately present.”

Eventually Ross realized that while he’d learned to meditate and focus his mind, he was a workaholic. He decided he’d been spending too much time working on publishing projects and doing tasks around the monastery. He’d sought a contemplative life but had gotten too busy to stay disengaged.

“I’d lost my way,” he says. “Instead of going deeper, I kept focusing on another To Do list. To be me, I needed to go somewhere else.”

Ross left the monastic life and decided to go home again. He returned to Santa Barbara, CA, where he’d grown up and where “the air felt like home.” In this next phase of his life, a yoga teacher introduced him to Suzanne Duca.

Suzanne was on a break from teaching Art History at Moorpark, CA’s Moorpark College.  She was in San Francisco, working with the Making Waves Education Foundation. The program empowers and educates “historically underrepresented and underserved people.”  Suzanne is devoted to improving educational opportunities for others.  She and former husband, Reece Duca, had created and sold The Learning Company, an internationally recognized developer and marketer of educational software. Suzanne and Reece set up a family foundation to support human services, open spaces and recreation. They fund scholarships for inner city and local schools in Carpinteria, CA, and Taos, NM.

Suzanne lived in Carpinteria, near Santa Barbara. While she was in San Francisco, Ross watched over her home. On her return, Suzanne became friends with Ross. Inviting him on hikes with her girlfriends and introducing him to potential dates. When nothing developed between Ross and Suzanne’s prospects, Ross says, “she started introducing me to her gay friends. Nothing happened there either.”

Despite failing to spark Ross’ romantic interest in anyone else, Suzanne, now 73, and Ross, now 72, became good friends. Eventually very good friends. They realized they shared an interest in walking the Camino de Santiago spiritual trail through France and Spain. They headed overseas together and “became close,” Suzanne says, while walking the 1000-mile trail.

Ross sums up their relationship. “Suzanne started seeing me herself and hearing my stories.  Along the way we became romantic and committed lovers.”

But marriage was not in the picture. Suzanne says, “My first marriage ended in divorce. I didn’t want to risk another failure.”

The couple are now 22 years into what Ross calls “a friendship/lover relationship.” He says, “With my Catholic upbringing, I told Suzanne I couldn’t promise to spend the rest of my life in a marriage. I have nothing against it; it’s just not necessarily for me. But Suzanne and I live a committed life. If we’re still together in our 80s, maybe we’ll get married.”

Suzanne admires the effect Ross has on others. “He’s like the Pied Piper,” she says. “He gets together with informal groups of men for coffee and meaningful conversation. He helps a lot of people to be more honest and in touch with themselves. In that aspect, he’s still really a monk.”

I sense Suzanne’s meaning. Ross radiates a kind of inner peace. He says, “So many people live in fear. I’m not afraid to be simple, humble or foolish. I’m happy to carry around a kind of joy and to share it with others.”

Part of Ross’ commitment to Suzanne included nurturing her through a horrific accident four years ago.  An expert, lifelong skier and one time ski instructor, Suzanne was skiing at Red Mountain in British Columbia north of Spokane.  She was gliding down a trail at the end of the day when another skier merged from a much steeper trail without looking and head butted her.  “It could happen to anyone,” Suzanne says.  “My helmet probably saved my life.  I don’t remember anything about it until a doctor stood above me and said 99% of my face was damaged.  Luckily the crash didn’t harm too much of my brain.”

One long surgery and prettily restored face later, Suzanne’s back to leading an active, productive life.  Her home sits on a bluff in Carpinteria.

Several years ago, Suzanne and Ross took over a monthly singer/songwriter program they’d enjoyed attending.  Hearing the program was about to cut back, Suzanne protested.  “You’re filling a huge void in our lives,” she said.  The organizer suggested Suzanne and Ross take over the event, and they did.  (The founding couple still help out.)

With lawn space for 140, Suzanne and Ross invite a singer/musician of Americana music to perform in their front yard.  Suzanne sends out an email inviting guests to each monthly summer concert, first come/first served.  The setting, overlooking the ocean with horses grazing in paddocks, plus complimentary buffet dinner and beverages, render concerts quick sell-outs.  Guests make cash donations to performers.

Suzanne and Ross are especially excited to have Nashville Hall of Fame, American country music singer/songwriter/musician Marcus Hummon as their latest artist.  Hummon’s “Bless the Broken Road” won the Grammy for Best Country Song in 2005.  Hummon is currently working on “American Prophet,” a pandemic-delayed Hamiltonesque musical about abolitionist Frederick Douglass.  (After checking it out on You Tube, I prophesize “American Prophet” will net an American Profit.)

Thanks, Anne Towbes, for introducing me to this terrific twosome.  And thanks, Suzanne and Ross, for all you do to make California, and our world, a more harmonious place.

 

Getting lost at the Detroit Institute of Arts led the Rev. Keyon S. Payton to find something special with friend Brenda Rosenberg

From left:  Rufino Lin, Davona Boyd, Brenda Rosenberg, Keyon S. Payton at Mumford High School in Detroit

I love how the universe, or God, or Source or whatever you call it presents astonishing coincidences when we’re open to them.  BFF Brenda Rosenberg and her new friend Keyon recently had such an experience.

Brenda knows what it feels like to be shot down in her efforts to create peace among people of different faiths and backgrounds. Ever hopeful, when one approach doesn’t work, she tries another. Having once managed fashion apparel for 900 Federated department stores, in the last 20 years Brenda’s turned her formidable focus on a thornier problem. With partner Samia Bahsoun, an American citizen born in Senegal, Africa, of Lebanese descent, they’ve created and presented programs around the US.  And in spots as far flung as Haifa U. in Israel and as guests of King Abdullah in Jordan.

Brenda describes her peacemaking work as fostering “relational equity.”  She’s lately teamed up with the Rev. Keyon S. Payton, lead pastor of Pontiac, MI’s New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church.  They hope to create an Institute for Trauma and Economic Justice (ITEJ). Keyon, with degrees from Morehouse, Princeton and more, is working on his doctoral studies.

He recently came to the Detroit Institute of Arts to support Brenda at a signing of her new book, Charmed. That visit—Keyon’s first to the DIA—sparked a series of Godsigns.

Nature called.  Keyon asked a security guard for directions to the loo.  Unsure whether the closer restroom was open, the guard sent him to a farther one.  Keyon took a couple of wrong turns, eventually finding the loo on the other side of the DIA.  On his way back he noticed a display of photos by Detroit students.  He walked up to them.  In the middle of the grouping, he spotted a photo of a hand holding a silver medallion inscribed with the Lord’s Prayer. Studying the photo, Keyon realized the hand was his own. The photo was borrowed from a mailer Keyon produced for Michigan United, a group promoting justice for underserved communities.

Keyon’s a friend of Rufino Lim, an art teacher at Detroit’s Mumford High School. “Mr. Lim”  focuses on photography. The image Keyon discovered was submitted by Davona Boyd, a teenage student of Mr. Lim. Keyon told Brenda about the photo he’d come across after making a couple of wrong turns. Seeing the picture, Brenda concluded, “Two wrong turns made a right turn.”

In the description accompanying the photo, Brenda learned Davona was a student at Detroit’s Mumford High School.

Several decades ago, Brenda herself was a student at Mumford.  Her drawing of a dragon had won first place in an art contest and been exhibited at the DIA.  That honor, Brenda says, “empowered me to see myself as an artist.”  Brenda became an accomplished photographer, as readers of her new book Charmed will attest.

Brenda and Keyon visited Mumford and met Davona Boyd, a bubbly senior.  Visiting Mumford had yet another benefit for Brenda.  She’s been producing stunning wallpaper panels from photos she’s shot around the world.  In Nevada, horseback riding with husband Howard, Brenda had taken a photo of wild mustangs racing through valleys and over mountains.   The Mustang is the mascot for all Mumford sports teams.  Brenda’s mural of mustangs will soon enhance the lobby of her alma mater.  It will be installed the last week of July by the Detroit Wallpaper Company.

Brenda’s determination has amazed me for more than 50 years.  Godsigns readers have met Brenda before.  Keyon’s story is equally amazing.  Stay tuned.  Your ECC (ever curious columnist) has another humdinger in store.

An ex-Catholic priest, Floridian Dino Silvestrini is now a married pastor

Dino with his wife Dee.

Attending a memorial service, I was intrigued by the engaging clergyman who conducted the service.  I caught up with him in the parking lot.

Pastor Dino Silvestrini, 65, grew up in a rural Catholic parish and “felt a vocational call” in second grade.  ”I’m not sure what compelled me,” he says.  He attended mass at 7:30 every morning.  A pastor noticed his regular attendance and asked him and another student to meet him in the sacristy.  “I thought we were in trouble,” he recalls.

Quite the contrary.  The pastor invited him to become an altar server.  Dino lived near the church and began serving at weddings, funerals and holy hours.  By high school graduation, he says, “I was sure I wanted to be a Catholic priest.”

In 1984, Dino was ordained.  For over 25 years, he served as a Catholic priest.  As time went on, “I didn’t feel challenged to the extent I’d hoped.  Being in the priesthood was meaningful but lonely.  I’d spent eight years training for the priesthood, but after my staff left at 4pm, the walls began to cave in on me.  I felt attracted to women and didn’t want to spend the rest of my life by myself.   It was a confusing time.  I fought my feelings for years, but finally realized I could reinvent myself as a chaplain.  Same circus, different tent.”

As a chaplain, Dino, performs many of the same rituals.  He counsels people, visits patients in hospitals, performs burials and preaches sermons.  Having undergone an official process of laicization, he no longer celebrates Mass or administers Catholic sacraments.

Dino officiated at a memorial service for Faith Storm Graves, the105 year old mother of my good Florida friend Phyllis Keyser. Faith and her husband, Ellis Lee Graves, were missionaries in Brazil.  Ellis died in 2015.  At the time, Phyllis found a coin etched with the numbers from John 3:16, the beloved Bible verse that promises eternal life for Christian believers.  The discovery comforted Phyllis who still treasures the coin. (See my 2015 column, “Beloved Presbyterian minister lives well, loves well, and leaves well.”)

Faith, a longtime breast cancer survivor, outlived Ellis by several years.  She demonstrated the spunk daughter Phyllis inherited.  Each year, Faith reported on how she was faring.

“98: Feeling great.”

“99: Doing fine.”

“Don’t you laugh: I’m 99 ½.”

100: “Please bow; I’m 100 now.”  Phyllis decided that occasion merited a parade.   She decorated a golf cart from the home to resemble a carriage.  Phyllis’s son played the horse.  Faith wore a tiara and a cape.  A red carpet lined the parade route which was populated with residents from Westminster, Faith’s continuing care retirement community in St. Pete, FL.

By 104, Faith was done.  She announced, “104. I want no more!” She got her wish a year later.

Pastor  Dino sent her off with a lovely eulogy.

Service to others has been a hallmark of Dino Silvestrini’s life.  An athlete, he grew up in Iron River, MI, a town of under 3,000 in the U.P., and coached JV basketball at a Catholic school in nearby Marinette, WI.  As Pastor of St. Rita’s in Trenary, MI, his assignment was affiliated with St. Therese, in Au Train.  The small mission church was in danger of closing.  To support St. Therese, Dino came up with a fundraiser and ran 23 miles from from Trenary to Au Train.  Sponsorships produced $14,000 for St. Therese.

In 2010, a month after leaving the priesthood, Dino moved with his mother to Florida.  Out to dinner with a friend, he noticed a woman on the dance floor, introduced himself and called her the next day.  He and Dee have been married for 11 years.  At the time, Dino thought his clerical career was over.  He began applying for civil jobs; he was a groundskeeper for the Baltimore Orioles and a teacher’s aide.  His perceptive wife suggested he was “wasting” his time and should resume his pastoral duties.  So encouraged, Dino became a chaplain for Suncoast Hospice in St. Pete and was later hired as chaplain for Westminster.

His favorite part of the job?  “Sharing in the joy of peak moments like baptisms and weddings.”  The toughest? “Helping people cope with death.  I try to offer solace, encouragement and guidance.  It’s a privilege to share in a person’s faith life.”

His thoughts about the celibacy requirement for Catholic priests?  “Many Catholics forget celibacy wasn’t imposed on priests until the 12th century.”  Before that, he explains, when a married priest died, the church property reverted to his wife.  He says the Pope mainly introduced celibacy to protect property rights.  In recent years, a shortage of priests has led to more discussions about dropping the requirement, he says. “But I don’t see things changing any time soon.”

Regarding pedophilia scandals in the Catholic Church that broke in the early 90s, he says, “The hardest part was all of us were tarred and feathered for the sins of a few.  To wear my clerical collar in public at that time was not a pleasant experience.”

Wife Dee’s a real estate broker.  When possible, Pastor Dino joins her in conducting open houses to make sure she’s safe.  These days, this one-time altar boy is on the job by 6am and “excited” to come to work. He’s a happily married and happy man.

An entire community contributes to bringing golf pioneer Ann Gregory’s life to the screen in “Playing Through”

Ann Gregory in her prime.

“One hundred years ago, there was a poor nine-year-old Black girl in rural Mississippi, an orphan, fixing to turn 10 come summer.  Could she possibly have imagined that she would someday have a biographer (in a manner of speaking) from a prominent white Southern Family who now lives in a gleaming high-rise with a view of the Gulf of Mexico?”

So begins a recent post on Golf.com.  And so begins the inspiration for “Playing Through,” a movie written by a novice and mostly filmed two years ago at Laurel Oak Golf Community.  The filming process intrigued me and my fellow (make that: sister) LOGC golfers in Sarasota.

The orphan cited by Golf.com was Gary, Indiana, resident Ann Gregory.  In 1956 she became the first black woman golfer to play in a US Women’s Open and, at 44, in a US Women’s Amateur tournament.  The story’s astonishing on two counts.  The golf world was notoriously male dominated.  It’s joked the term golf was an acronym for Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden.  And, before Tiger Woods, the sport was overwhelmingly a Caucasian affair.

“Playing Through” premiered at Ringling College in Sarasota.  I was lucky to attend that premiere with some golf buddies. We had fun figuring out which scene was shot on which hole.

Curtis Jordan with Julia Ray, who plays the character Babe Whatling.

At the premiere, I met producer Curtis Jordan and followed up with a conversation.

For 30 years Curtis coached rowing at Princeton U.  He also coached several Olympics rowing teams.  His mother, Josephine Knowlton Jordan, had been a golfer as well as a harness-racing driver.  Curtis knew she’d competed in a 1959 US Women’s Amateur at Congressional golf course, but she’d spoken little about the experience.  In 1991, after Ann’s death, a friend forwarded a Sports Illustrated article mentioning African American golfer Ann Gregory as a pioneer in women’s golf.  The article referenced a match she’d played against his mother.

The article “sparked my imagination,” Curtis says.  He began writing about the event “as an exercise.”  In retirement, for about four years Curtis had “slowly, painfully” worked on a movie script. He mentioned it to a friend from Princeton.  That friend’s son, Peter Odiorne, is a producer and director.  His company, Unbounded Media, wanted to produce sports films with inspirational messages.  Odiorne was in.  His company took Curtis’ rough script and “structured” it.

Curtis and Peter spent five months looking for two lead actresses.  Those they wanted weren’t available at the same time.  “We knew this would be a low budget film,” Curtis says, “but we still weren’t sure how to pay for it.”  They changed their approach and started looking for women who could play golf, act and had a social media presence.

On Instagram, they found Andia Winslow, a black woman who played golf and was a voice over actress.  They were “relieved” when Andia, with no on-screen experience, proved comfortable on camera.

As for the fictional Babs Whatling character, Peter had previously worked with TV actress Julia Ray.  He knew she played golf.

“We didn’t have a lot of money or time,” Curtis says.  “But Andia and Babs turned out to work well together.  They put in long days and adapted on the fly and were invested in each other’s success.”

Curtis says the film represents “a collaboration of the Sarasota community.”  That collaboration included Ringling College, which provided tech facilities and student labor.  It included the West Coast Black Theatre Troupe, which brought in cast members including founder Nate Jacobs.  It included the Sarasota Opera which provided housing.  And local residents.  LOCC members Audrey Robbins and Harry Leopold, hearing about the project, introduced Curtis to Larry Thompson, the dynamic president of Ringling College.  The Leopolds also arranged for the filmmakers to have access to Laurel Oak’s two golf courses for ten days.

“The whole community can feel proud,” Curtis says.

Ringling College had built a state-of-the-art film production department with two sound stages and pre and post operations, hoping to attract commercial business.  But tax laws in Florida changed, restricting Ringling’s ability to affect commercial collaborations.  During the pandemic, the facilities weren’t used.  Ringling president Larry Thompson was delighted to cooperate.  He deemed the experience his students received “as good as cash in their pockets.”

The film’s about 95% finished, Curtis says.  The project has consumed the past five years of his life.  What’s next?  “I look forward to spending time with my wife and my dog and playing some golf.”  But he considers the project “worth all the time, effort and expense.”

“Playing Through” was shown at the Sarasota Film Festival and has been accepted by film festivals in Montreal, Durban and Martha’s Vineyard. Curtis hopes others will include it as well.

The moral of the story:  Never underestimate the power of a woman to play golf.  Or of one man’s determination to tell an inspiring tale.

Celebrating the creative life that sprang from Detroit’s First Generation Cass Corridor Artists

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page. ABOUT THE COVER: Dining room of our Franklin home. Brenda Goodman, Untitled, oil on canvas, 1985, from the Edward Thorp Gallery, NY. Ellen Phelan, Untitled standing cross, 1976-77, oil on plywood, from the Susanne Hilberry Gallery.

‘How we welcomed Detroit’s first avant-garde art movement into our home’

I thought about calling this book Love Stories for the Angels of Detroit. The phrase comes from a collaboration between poet John Yau and painter Archie Rand referenced in the text. Art appreciation has been a love affair for me. And my life has been blessed with many angels.

This book was dreamt up—literally—by some personal angels. Well into the coronavirus pandemic, I’d been quarantined for months. With my husband’s brain surgery and resulting stroke and my history as a stage IV cancer survivor now deemed—cough, cough—elderly, we were both high risk. On a Zoom call, girlfriends Brenda Rosenberg, Peggy Daitch and Sandy Seligman perceived my lackluster condition. The four of us had visited Paris in 2018, joyfully sipping champagne and nibbling foie gras. Joie had turned to blah.

My girlfriends knew writing was and is a lifeline for me. I’d written two books about previous crises: my earlier marriage problems and my later cancer diagnosis. The morning after our Zoom call, Brenda phoned. “I dreamt you wrote a coffee table book about your collection and your interest in the early Cass Corridor,” she said. “I want that book. I have a place for it on my coffee table.”

Brenda was right, I thought. I had a happier story to tell. With no end to the pandemic in sight, I had time to tell it. If Brenda had a place for such a book, and Sandy and Peggy were vying for the book launch party, who was I to deny them?

I hung up the phone and turned on my laptop.

There’ve been other angels as well. People who’ve shown up with encouragement that stirs me, support that keeps me going. My sister Anne’s a personal angel who volunteered to read this manuscript twice and drew smiley faces on parts she loved.

Another personal angel is Beth Singer, my friend and partner for five years with Better Homes & Gardens, etc. Beth shot most of the professional photos in this book several years ago, when our house looked pristine, before ramps and grab bars were installed. Recently, Beth returned to take several more photos, helped by her capable assistant Patrick Tunison. I’m grateful to them both for the main visuals in this book.

Lauren Holder, a Marketing Executive with Farbman Group, has been another angel. I’m about as tech savvy as a shoelace. Lauren has helped me convert photos to printable form, figure out graphics and been cheerful and generous with moral and technical support. As has Farbman Group’s tech wiz, Rodney Lange, who has helped me through innumerable technical glitches.

The professional photos come first; the candids later in the book. The latter are mostly from my iPhone, a few older ones reshot from paper prints I saved in albums. They don’t compare with the professional images but represent meaningful memories. Historically, I’ve taken pictures of friends and events. At Kingswood, I was photo editor of the “Woodwinds,” the school yearbook, my senior year. If I’d known this book was in my future, I’d have shot more photos all along. I’m grateful for those I did take.

Since I long ago accepted the truth of the adage about pictures versus words, the story of my collecting adventures follows the photos. Captions often provide fascinating insights beyond the aesthetic equivalent of name, rank and serial number—if I say so myself.

Other angels in this endeavor are Grace Serra, curator/coordinator of the Wayne State U. art collection and a chief cheerleader. Fayez Hammoud and Angela Askew, caregivers whose devoted and professional help with my husband has freed me up to focus on remembering and relating my art adventures. Rick Carmody, who shared some of the photos shown here, my interior designer and friend. Judie Koploy, a fine storyteller, cohort and cousin. And most of all Burton, who has generously and selflessly encouraged and supported all my writing efforts.

I appreciate the cheering me on of my family—sons David and Andy, daughters-in-law Nadine and Amy, grandchildren Hunter, River, Fischer, Beau, Alexis, Camryn and Lindsay. Their support and love have also kept me going during these challenging times. Thanks, too, to Michael, Roger, Barry, Curt, Artie, Danny, Jerry and Sandy and Sue, who check in often.

The Detroit art world has been blessed with angels, too. Jackie Feigenson and Mary Preston were angels who influenced collectors including me. They did everything they could, including giving up their own artistic practices, to boost the careers of other highly talented Detroit artists.

I’ve had other angels as well. If you’re among them, please know how grateful I am.

This book begins with photographs of our collection in Franklin. Additional images come from our home in Florida. There are also art related photos from trips I’ve taken and events I’ve attended.

They add up to a story of joy. The joy of collecting.

Though viewed as backwater, flyover country by connoisseurs on both coasts, Detroit has an art history worth respect. Many talented fine artists got started in the D. Some stayed and continued to produce exciting work. We’ve been blessed with top-notch galleries and dealers, knowledgeable art writers, first rate art schools, dedicated collectors and art advocates, an internationally renowned museum and, more recently, an exciting contemporary museum. Credit where credit’s due.

This book is a story of the art world I knew. An art world less destabilized by politics and political correctness. Not forced into months of seclusion by a deadly virus. A world where people felt comfortable in crowded galleries and museums. Where we relished squeezing together for the taking of a toast and tea.

This is the story of the Detroit I knew and wrote about, mostly in the 1970s and 80s, the art world I experienced, the joy I had in collecting.

And here again is a link to Detroit’s Cass Corridor and Beyond on Amazon.

Care to see a few of the images?

Historic photo of early Cass Corridor members. L to R: Bradley Jones, Ellen Phelan, Ron Winokur, Nancy Mitchnick, Doug James. Artwork: On wall at left by Ellen Phelan; construction (foreground) by John Egner; Flower painting on wall by Nancy Mitchnick.

Snapshot of artist Bradley Jones and me at Bradley’s opening. I wear a jean jacket Bradley embellished. (I still have it.)

Untitled standing cross, Ellen Phelan, 1976–77, oil on plywood, from the Susanne Hilberry Gallery.

Portrait of Jim Duffy by Nancy Mitchnick.