Yolie and Gerry Mauriz love America but appreciate their Cuban heritage

BEFORE THEY HAD TO FLEE CUBA, Loly (Delores) and Gerry Mauriz pose happily in front of their family home in Havana, which later was seized by the government and now is a hotel.

We’re blessed with good friends at Laurel Oak CC in Sarasota, FL.  Among them, Yolie and Gerry Mauriz, both of Cuban descent.  Their stories are a reminder of how one man can change history.  And peoples’ lives.

Fidel Castro took over Cuba in 1959. “We were used to changes in government,” Yolie says.  “Initially Castro was considered just another phase that would pass.”

Gerry’s Story

Gerry, then 9, and his family lived in the Havana 5th Avenue mansion, Villa Eulalia.  The home belonged to his grandfather, Gabriel Palmer Bestard, who owned shipyards, ships, a fishing fleet and dredging barges. Bestard arrived, alone, in Cuba in 1904 at 15, from Spain.   He went through many trials before starting his business. He ultimately employed thousands. As a result, Bestard’s businesses and bank accounts were among the first to be confiscated. (You’ll find more of his dramatic story at the end of this column.)

Gerry remembers being “terrified by Castro’s people,” especially when a bomb blew up in a neighbor’s garbage can.

In 1960, Gerry, his parents, grandmother and sister left for Miami as tourists. They were accepted in the US with indefinite voluntary departure status. “We arrived broke,” he says.  “Even so, we were ecstatic to feel free and unafraid.”

Gerry’s dad had contacts with NY-based shipping magnate Malcolm McLean, who originated container ships. McLean put Gerry’s father in charge of his refrigerated cargo division in NJ. Most of Gerry’s father’s family stayed behind in Cuba, thinking they could “correct what was clearly a mistake.” 6 months later, many of Gerry’s uncles and aunts arrived in Miami.

Gerry explains Castro’s rise this way: He first destroyed Batista’s army, executing officers after mock trials. He then attacked the wealthy, promoting socialist/communist ideals, accusing the wealthy of graft and corruption. Next he demanded allegiance from the masses.

Gerry says, “In a few short years, the government took over all businesses, down to gas stations and bakeries, and destroyed any means of opposition.” Gerry’s anti-Castro uncle, Atanasio (Cuco) Palmer, was imprisoned and tortured at the infamous La Cabaña, which housed a dank centuries-old Spanish dungeon run by Che Guevara. Daily, Cuco was taken outside and stood by a wall before a firing squad. Though the bullets shot at him were blanks, the experience so affected his health he died soon after. (Today, La Cabana is a tourist attraction with live bands and a full bar at the very wall where Cuco stood. Villa Eulalia is now a swank hotel.)

THE DAY BEFORE YOLIE’s FAMILY LEFT THE COUNTRY,, they posed for a final photo in Cuba on August 4, 1962. Yolie’s cousin Silvia and her parents are on the left; Yolie and her parents are on the right. The boy in front of Yolie is her little brother Emet, who arrived in the U.S. later with Yolie’s parents aboard a Red Cross ship.

Yolie’s Story

Yolie, 8, lived in Varadero Beach, about 2 hours east of Havana.  Her dad, Emeterio, had a successful architectural practice and occasionally worked for the county. Yolie attended a private Presbyterian school, La Progressiva, where her mother and great aunt had both taught.  Her school was taken over by the government and pro-Castro teachers brought in. Yolie soon realized when her teacher called on her, whatever she said was “wrong unless it was an ‘approved’ answer.”  Yolie’s parents took her out of school; she was tutored by her aunt. Her mom was threatened with revoking Yolie’s food ration card unless Yolie returned to school.

Castro began separating children from parents and sending them to “educational” camps in the country. Yolie’s family, especially her father who’d attended university with Castro, understood the danger of staying in Cuba .

After the Bay of Pigs fiasco in April, 1961, “everything changed,” Yolie says.  A CIA-trained force of 2500 Cuban exiles, the 2506 Brigade, invaded Cuba from the south at Bay of Pigs. A CIA-sponsored anti-Castro faction within Cuba was ready to fight, backed by promises from JFK of  military support once the beachhead was established. The invaders planned 3 airstrikes using B26 WWII bombers. The first attack destroyed 1/3 of Castro’s air force.  JFK stopped the next 2 planned airstrikes.  As American warships sat just outside Cuban waters, the anti-Castro forces ran out of supplies. Without promised US support, Yolie says, “the invasion was doomed.”

Yolie remembers opening the door for soldiers who searched her house seeking 2 of her uncles. They found them elsewhere and threw them into a Spanish dungeon in Matanzas. Like Gerry’s uncle, her dad’s brother was taken out repeatedly, stood against a wall, and shot at with what turned out to be blanks.

In July, 1962, Yolie’s parents learned their daughter and her cousin Silvia could obtain visas to leave.  Her cousin’s father remained in jail. Yolie, 9½, and Silvia were sent to the US on what became known as the Peter Pan Migration of 14,000 unaccompanied Cuban minors. The concept was begun by a Catholic priest in the US; other American churches joined in. 2 months later, after the Cuban Missile crisis, the Castro regime shut down the program.

Yolie lived briefly with relatives in Miami, then went to the home of her mother’s sister, Bertica, in Chicago. She knew some English from reading  Dick & Jane books. Silvia went to a way house organized by Cuban exiles in Miami and to 2 foster families before being claimed by Yolie’s family.  “We didn’t know if we’d ever see our parents again,” Yolie says.

In March, ’63, the US sent 2 Red Cross ships to Havana with medical supplies—ransom, Yolie says, for freeing captured invaders. To obtain housing for Russian immigrants, Castro returned the ships filled with refugees, including Yolie’s mom and dad and Yolie’s brother Emet. “Fortunately,” Yolie says, “there was little time to check credentials. As a ‘professional,’ my dad wouldn’t have been allowed to leave.”

Yolie’s family arrived in Miami “with just the clothes on their backs, empty suitcases and no money.” Again relying on faith-based contacts, Yolie’s father was hired by the National Board of Missions for the Presbyterian Church in NYC. He designed churches for the rest of his life. The First Presbyterian Church of Springfield, NJ, adopted the family and provided them with essentials, including housing. Her grateful mom became a full-time volunteer for the church.

Gerry and Yolie are in the center of this 2019 family photo from a vacation they enjoyed together.

Yolie and Gerry Meet

As the only Cuban families in Springfield, Yolie and Gerry’s parents met. Yolie and Gerry met later, as teens.  Yolie became a microbiologist; Gerry, a worldwide surety director for a large insurance company.  The high school sweethearts married in ’75 and have 2 adult sons.

Yolie’s become a birder, having spotted and identified 400+ species.  Both enjoy golf and photography.

Their attitude toward immigration?  Gerry says, “Billions of people around the world want to come to the US.  We’re a nation of immigrants.  We should continue welcoming immigrants, but there have to be reasonable rules and procedures.  When we arrived, we didn’t ask for free medical care or food.  My dad did whatever it took to take care of us.  All we wanted was opportunity.”

Would they return to Cuba?


Yolie says, “It doesn’t take much to change the course of a nation.  Castro promised equality, but except for the elite in the armed forces and government, Cubans got equal misery.  He promised freedom but gave us oppression and subservience.”

Gerry says, “We don’t want to provide tourist dollars to the Cuban government—an important source of revenue.”

Americans should learn from the Cuban story, Gerry says.  “Know and understand your rights.  Protect them.  Don’t be swayed by rosy promises.  If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.  No one but you will protect your family.”

Thanks, Yolie and Gerry, for reminding us how lucky we are.  As imperfect as this nation may be, I stand, cover my heart and tear up whenever I hear “The Star Spangled Banner.”  I can’t say it often enough: God bless America.

WHEN THEIR HAVANA SHIPYARDS WERE IN THEIR PRIME, Gerry’s grandfather stands at left and his brother Bartolo is at right.

Gerry’s Grandfather’s Story

Gerry’s “rags to riches” story of Gabriel Palmer Bestard, his grandfather, was so fascinating I’m including it…

Gabriel Palmer Bestard arrived in Cuba from Estellencs, Majorca, Spain, at age 15 in 1904.  In Spain he finished 5th grade and was then trained to build ships as a “Carpintero de Rivera.”  In Cuba, he did many jobs to survive, including one which required wading in waist deep dirty water for 16-17 hours a day.  He was hospitalized for a leg infection.  When the doctor planned to amputate, Gabriel waited until night and escaped out a window.

After he married, Gabriel worked odd jobs during the day.  At night he built boats on the roof of the building where he lived.  The landlord threw him out.

He met a wealthy man who saw Gabriel’s potential and helped him go into business.  Around 1919, he was able to buy the land along Havana Harbor.  The shipyard he started grew to be the largest in Cuba.  Over the years, he expanded into dredging, a fishing fleet, tugboats, real estate and a small distillery.

In the 1930s, a hurricane threw a large ship ashore in Cardenas.  US and French salvage companies declared the ship beyond saving.  Gabriel approached the insurance company with a price, offering to fix the ship.  If he failed, he said, the insurance company wouldn’t pay him anything.   Using his dredges and tugboats, he dug a channel to the ship.  At high tide when the channel filled, he pulled the ship out.  “A huge financial success,” Gerry says. In the early 1930s, the Cuban government refused to pay its external debt.  Gabriel bought large amounts of Cuban bonds for pennies on the dollar.  When the government eventually paid the debt, he made another fortune.

Gabriel returned to his small hometown in Spain every 2 or 3 years.   Each time he implemented some major project, including putting in a power plant and electrifying the town in the early 1930s.  “He was his town’s guardian angel,” Gerry says.  “He solved many problems.  To this day his name is revered in Estellencs.”

In Cuba, Gerry says, Gabriel took care of his workers, paying their medical bills when they were sick.  His wife Eulalia spent thousands of dollars sending toys and food to less fortunate families.  “My grandfather taught me to respect all people, no matter how humble their condition.”

Our sisters trip to New York City is filled with signs that the universe looks out for us

Our recent annual sisters trip to the Big Apple turned out to be a reminder that bad things can lead to good things.

Aka: Godsigns.

The lessons started when I left my handbag on the plane.  Duh.  Realized it in the LGA terminal ladies room. Raced back to the gate. Turned out I was happy to see 2 friends I hadn’t seen in a while, waiting for the return flight to the D. Happier still when the flight attendant marched out holding my bag.

Godsign #2. Because I forgot my purse, I didn’t get to the taxi line right away. A gal from my flight recognized my name on my carry on and introduced herself. Turned out Roz Blanck’s involved with JVS—the organization honoring me next spring. (April 22.  Save The Date.)  Roz and I shared a cab to the city and became fast friends.

Suzy and her sister Anne take an earlier hard-hat tour of what is now Hudson Yards.

Godsign #3.  Our cousin Howard Elkus was an architect for part of the new Neiman Marcus at Hudson Yards.  While it was under construction, on an earlier sisters trip, Anne and I took a hard hat tour of the space, arranged by Howard’s firm.  This year we headed to the new Neiman’s for lunch.  Sadly, Howard died before the store was finished, so Anne and I toasted to our cousin with our cups of consommé.  (5 o’clock rule on anything stronger than consommé.  Plus, we followed up lunch by walking the 1 and ½ mile High Line—a former elevated train track imaginatively and wonderfully transformed into a landscaped park.)

Godsigns by Suzy Farbman

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Godsign #4.  After lunch at Neiman’s, I spotted and bought a blazer featuring French expressions about the moon.  I’m a Moonatic.  The title of this blog and my book cover feature a full moon.  Since recovering from stage 4 cancer 15 years ago, I cherish each chance I get to view a full moon, still from the earth’s perspective.

Godsign #5.  Anne and I walked through the new mall at Hudson Yards.  I’m crazy about the fashion illustrations of Donald Robertson, aka Drawbertson.  The mall featured a Drawbertson mural, with words intended to express the mood of and serve as a photo backdrop for  shoppers.  Anne and I stood by “Epic” and got the best selfie of our trip.

Godsign #6.  Anne went a little overboard at Uniqlo.  (What else is new?)  She needed to ship purchases home.  I accompanied her to FedEx, but there was a line.  Stuck waiting, I Googled the Metropolitan Museum.  There were 2 must see shows at the Met.  One, a display of musical instruments by famous Rock & Roll performers.  (Anne adores music and sings well.  See Motown Fan Makes Her Broadway Debut 2013 column.)

Anne and I at the Met wearing our phases-of-the-moon scarves.

The other: an exhibit about the Apollo moon landing.  Not only did we relish both exhibits, but the museum shop had scarves featuring phases of the moon.  Guess who walked out with 2 of them.

Godsign #7.  We loved the musical “Hadestown,” a fresh take on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.  15 years ago, seeing the play “Metamorphosis” about the same theme reminded me of the need to trust in and be patient with my recovery.  The same message rang out in “Hadestown.”  With Burton’s current health challenge, the love song “Whichever Way the Wind Blows” was hazardous to my eyeliner.

Godsign #8.  We forgot to make a dinner reservation before seeing Jeff Daniels in “To Kill A Mockingbird.”  (Fabulous, btw.)  Our favorite pre-theater restaurants (Orso, Joe Allen, Milos) were full.  Concierge recommended Marseille.  A great new find with superb bouillabaisse.  With my food issues, je connais bouillabaisse.

Godsign #9.  I recently read The Flight Portfolio, a novel based on Varian Fry, a Harvard grad and journalist who ran a rescue network in Vichy, France, helping artists and intellectuals to escape Nazi Germany.  Fry lived in Marseille (Double Godsign.  See #8) and was the first of 5 Americans Israel later honored  as a Righteous Gentile for risking their lives to save endangered Europeans during the Holocaust.  As Anne and I walked back from Broadway, a couple of young men walked behind us, singing.  At a corner, I said, “Thanks for serenading us.”  One of them said he can’t sing (true) but does speak often in public, fundraising.  For what?  For an international rescue organization started by Albert Einstein.  “And Varian Fry,” I said.   Our serenader nearly fell over with astonishment.

A sisters trip filled with reminders that the universe looks out for us.  Especially when we pay attention.  We walked a lot, ate a lot, shopped a little, slept even less.   A great getaway.

I might even say: Epic.

T.S. Eliot and a friend named Sharon help Kansas City’s Mary Lou and Tom Brous write their own love story

Tom Brous reading from T.S. Eliot at Burnt Norton

While touring sites related to T.S. Eliot’s The Four Quartets, Mary Lou took this photo of Tom reading some of his poetry at Burnt Norton.

My friend Mary Lou is a quintessential survivor.  I’m  happy to see how gracefully she’s landed on her feet.   We met 30+ years ago at a tough time in her life. Our sons, Reed and Andy, were in a class at Cranbrook School, Bloomfield Hills, MI.  Mary Lou and I met at parents’ day; we bonded instantly.

Mary Lou came from Kansas City where she was a graphic artist and involved philanthropist.  She was married to a scion of a family of successful real estate developers.  She created stunning graphics for clients including the Nelson-Atkins Museum and the Junior League.  The cookbook she designed for the latter is in the Cookbook Hall of Fame.  (Cookbook Hall of Fame?  Who knew???)

Mary Lou’s then husband turned out to be a “dishonest” businessman (her tactful way of putting it).  He lured dozens of their good friends into dubious investments.

Godsign alert.  In 1987, newly aware of her husband’s travails, Mary Lou attended a lecture by Katherine and Michael McCoy at the Kansas City Art Institute.  The McCoys were then co-chairs of the renowned Design Department at the Cranbrook Art Academy.  Hearing them at what she calls “the darkest moment” of her life, she wished she’d been able to attend Cranbrook.

And then she thought: “Oh, my God.  Maybe I can.”

Mary Lou wanted her children to avoid the trauma of what became their father’s very public trial and  prison sentence. She moved to Michigan, with sons Brad and Reed, to enroll her boys at Cranbrook School.  She attended the Cranbrook Art Academy to obtain an MFA.  All received scholarships and lived in faculty housing. Later, she and her husband divorced.

After all 3 had graduated, Mary Lou moved to Chicago.  She was creative director for Arthur Anderson, which became Anderson Consulting/Accenture.  Though Mary Lou remained a single working gal in Chicago, she never lost her love for Kansas City.

Mary Lou and Tom Brous.

Mary Lou and Tom Brous.

Scene change.  10 years later, in Kansas City, well-loved Patty Brous died of lymphoma after a long battle.  Before she died, Patty asked her best friend Sharon Hoffman to “take care” of her husband, Tom.   Sharon was also friends with Mary Lou.  Wheels started turning.  After selling her house, Sharon suggested Mary Lou come for a last visit, and while in town, attend the Kansas City Art Institute Auction.  And by the way, would Mary Lou meet Tom’s daughter, Anna Brous, who’d moved to Chicago?  To help acclimate Anna to her new town, Mary Lou took her to lunch.

Unknown to Mary Lou or Tom, Sharon was executing her strategy.  She invited a few friends for “drinks in the kitchen” before the auction. She told Mary Lou who was coming, including Tom whose daughter Mary Lou had just met.  Mary Lou remembered him from high school.  He’d been a BMOC, 2 years ahead of her.  As she puts it, “We were all aware of the upperclassmen.  Tom was head of the senior class, voted Most Likely to Succeed.  An athlete.”

Mary Lou, Tom and I met for lunch several weeks ago.  She recalled Tom as “the fastest guy on the track team” in the citywide meet.  Tom said, “That means I came in 5th.”

Back to Sharon the Matchmaker’s kitchen.  As Mary Lou sipped pinot grigio, Tom walked in.  Mary Lou recalls, “I’d been single for 12 years.  I’d just met his daughter.  I wasn’t shy about walking up to him.  I gotta tell you sparks went off.”  The twosome talked all evening.

Tom, a corporate tax lawyer (now retired), was coming to Chicago the next week on business.  He took Mary Lou out for dinner, then asked for the next night.  When he came to Mary Lou’s apartment, he brought a book, TS Eliot’s Four Quartets inscribed with a note about what the poem meant to him.

Mary Lou said, “You’re not going to believe this.”  She led him to her reading chair.  Beside it: a stack of books including The Collected Poems of T.S. Eliot.  One corner of one page was turned down; one passage highlighted in yellow.  It was from “Four Quartets.”  Mary Lou had read it many times.

“I said to my soul be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.  Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought.  So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”

Mary Lou says, “After being single for so long, the poem spoke to me.”

(Personal note: It speaks to me, too.  During Burton’s current health crisis, I’ve repeated the lines over and over, working to memorize them and accept the wisdom.)

The Godsigns continued.  That same night, on their 2nd date, Mary Lou had also inscribed a book to Tom.  She said, “I’m not in the habit of giving inscribed books to my dates.”

The book was CS Lewis’ A Grief Observed about the author’s loss of his wife.  Lewis and Eliot  were both intellectuals who worried about the aftermath of World War II.  Both were featured in Alan Jacobs’ influential The Year of Our Lord 1943, which argued that Lewis and Eliot were Christian Humanists.

Tom and Mary Lou married 4 months later in 2001.  I’m pleased to have attended their wedding.  During the service, they read from the “Four Quartets.”

“…We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Tom preparing to read at their wedding.

Tom’s an avid reader, especially of books about history.  His romance with Mary Lou rekindled his interest in Eliot’s “Four Quartets.”  For their 10th anniversary, the couple visited  the sites that inspired Eliot’s poems, 3 in England, 1 in Gloucester, MA.  Their favorite site was Burnt Norton near England’s Chipping Campden.  Burnt Norton was the title of and inspiration for the first of the “Quartets.”  The current owner of the Burnt Norton estate invited them to stroll the grounds.  They sat in the box circle mentioned in the poem and read from it.

Tom’s fascination with the poem and with Eliot’s interest in mysticism inspired him to write and publish a short book, Why Read Four Quartets? “Four Quartets” was composed between 1935 and 1942.  Eliot lived for 23 years after publication and lectured often but never published another significant poem.  Tom’s working on a sequel examining why.

T.S. Eliot is also known for The Waste Land and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.  His body of work earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948.

Thanks, Tom and Mary Lou, for reminding us of the wisdom of waiting.  And for sharing your own Lovesong.

Charlevoix artist Bill Staffel finds the perfect Up North resting place

Bill and Bonny Staffel as the family of artists heads onto the road in the '60s.

A LONG AND WINDING ROAD—Bonnie and Bill Staffel head out on a journey in the 1960s with their daughter and Marell and Skippy peeking out of the roof.

Cremation surpasses burial these days.  The National Funeral Directors Assoc. predicts it will reach 80% by 2035.  Survivors scatter ashes in ways that reflect the life of their loved one. Andrew Leith dipped moistened golf balls into stepfather Doug Leith’s ashes and hit the balls into Lake Huron, propelling Doug into eternity by means of one of his favorite activities (if you missed it, here’s a link to that column).

Marell Staffel of Charlevoix, MI, came up with another creative final resting place for her father, Bill.

Bill in Charlevoix.

Bill and Bonnie Staffel, Marell’s parents, were artists in Maumee, Ohio. In 1961, they entered an annual juried art fair in Charlevoix, MI. The Charlevoix Art Fair has grown significantly since that 3rd one.  On the 2nd Saturday in August, it now features about 120 artists and draws over 25,000 visitors to a picturesque park overlooking the harbor.

The Staffels, like many of us, were enchanted by the beauty of the area. They bought an old farmhouse in the country north of town and set up a pottery studio. In the late ’60s, when Burton and I began coming to Charlevoix, we visited Staffel’s Pottery. Today the home’s occupied by the Cycling Salamander Gallery.

When Bonnie and Bill first bought in Charlevoix, she spent summers in northern MI; Bill visited on weekends.  In Ohio, he held jobs designing plaster wall plaques, instructional diagrams, Halloween masks.  But his heart was in Charlevoix, and eventually he moved Up North full time, helping Bonnie to run her pottery business.

Marell and her daughters Heather and Shannon with Grampa, 1980

For Bonnie’s studio, Bill designed and built a lift with pulleys to move objects up and down for storage.  Bill also created a small door by which wood could be brought in for the fireplace.   Marell recalls, “Every kid got to ride on my father’s elevator and crawl through the little door.  My father loved kids and made everything fun for them.”

Children loved Bill, Marell says,  because “he really listened to them.”  In his later years, Bill received a letter from Brian, a  childhood friend of Marell.  Brian thanked Bill for teaching him so much.  He wrote, “You took the time to explain things.  You told me about the stars.”

Bill loved nature and animals and especially enjoyed watching deer play in the field behind his house.  He began building a shed near the pond behind their home.  Marell says her father only worked on the shed during the fall hunting season, hammering loudly to warn the deer to skedaddle.

Bill loved discards.  In the ‘60s, he wanted some spikes from the railroad bridge being torn down.  Marell, then a waitress at the Grey Gables, enlisted the help of Dave Phillips, a chef at the restaurant.  Bill and Dave filled the trunk of an “ancient” blue Ford Mustang with so many iron spikes that the car dragged on the ground.  Her father turned the spikes into “beautiful” letter openers, Marell says..

Bill with his great granddaughter Alex

Bill was a blacksmith who created iron hardware and fixtures.  He made artworks from found materials.  He designed logos for the Crooked Tree Art Center and the Charlevoix Art Fair, both of which are  still used today.

In his last years, Bill suffered from dementia.  But when with his buddy Joe, he remembered all their escapades, including the time they spotted a house being remodeled.  Wood pillars had been discarded.  They were too good to pass up.  Bill and Joe rescued them, cut them into sections, painted them and turned them into containers.

Bill spent the last 5 years of his life living with Marell.  Bonnie, now 97, and divorced from Bill, lived with her, too, as did Marell’s daughter and teenage grandson.

5 and ½ years ago, Bill died.  He was 89.  “We didn’t have a lot of money,” Marell says.  “So we brought him back to the house in his simplest form—his ashes in a can.”

The funeral home director, Ron Winchester, asked if Marell would like to transfer her dad’s ashes to one of her mother’s pots.  She said,  “The last thing my father would want would be to spend eternity entombed in one of my mother’s pots.”   Wondering what to do with the ashes, she came up with the perfect resting place.  She put them into one of the scavenged containers Bill had painted.

Bill liked sweets.  After he died, one of his caregivers stopped by Marell’s shop, Picture This, a photo and framing business in the Olesons Shopping Plaza in Charlevoix.  The caregiver had kept candy in her car for Bill.  She handed Marell an unopened bag of M&Ms and a box of Good & Plentys.  Marell kept them on a shelf in her shop.

In January, 2018, a fire broke out in a nearby restaurant.  Picture This suffered smoke and water damage.  After, Marell was relieved to see the plastic bag with Bill’s candy remained unharmed.  She brought the candy home and created a little memorial for her dad. The container Bill painted sits with his ashes on a shelf in Marell’s home.  Beside it:  the 2 boxes of candy, 2 iron spike letter openers and a cd of Leon Redbone, one of Bill’s favorite musicians.

Joe, the friend with whom Bill had once scavenged pillars, has since moved to North Carolina.  On a recent visit north, he stopped by.  Marell put the container of Bill’s ashes on the coffee table and sat talking to Joe.  When her dad’s old buddy left, he reached over and patted the container.   He said, “See you later, Bill.”

A sweet story, in more than one way.  Thanks for sharing, Marell.  May your father rest in peace… in a piece of his own.


The story of a beautiful beach in Atwood, MI, involves author Rex Beach and developer Burt Farbman

1904 Olympic water polo team

GOING FOR THE GOLD—No, this isn’t a scene from Northern Michigan’s shoreline. This is from the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, where star athlete Rex Beach helped to lead the American team to a silver medal. Exactly where is he in this photo? The archives don’t record the names..


A stunning, stone-strewn coastline (okay, maybe I overdid it with the alliteration) extends along Lake Michigan a few miles from Timber Ridge, our farm south of Charlevoix in NoMI.

Grandson Beau & Burt Farbman at Timber Ridge, our farm in Northern Michigan

Like Rex Beach, Burton enjoys a broad-brimmed cowboy hat as he sits in the son with grandson Beau at Timber Ridge, our farm in Northern Michigan.

The lake is reached by Rex Beach Road. Most drivers speeding to or from Traverse City on Highway 31 don’t know the origin of the road’s name.

Rex Beach was a novelist and playwright born in 1877 in tiny Atwood, MI (today’s population, @1500).  Nearby Charlevoix officially bills itself “Charlevoix the Beautiful.”  Atwood residents like calling their town “Atwood the Adorable.”

Burton discovered the pristine shoreline several years ago.  The property was about to be subdivided into home parcels.  Burton decided the 156 acres, including nearly a mile of Grand Traverse Bay shoreline, should be kept in their natural state, accessible to all.

My husband collaborated with local residents to ensure that future generations would be able to enjoy this lovely stretch of forest and beachfront. Burton knew state money was available for land conservation purposes, but that the bureaucratic process would take many months. He found a foundation to buy the property from the previous owners and, eventually, sell it to the county.

Rex Beach in Wikimedia Commons image

Rex Beach looking as stern as many of the characters in his Western romance novels.

Today the Antrim Creek Natural Area features signage explaining its history. It tells about the glacier that formed the Lake Michigan basin some 12,000 years ago, about the Anishinaabeck Native Americans and later European settlers who once lived here, and about modern efforts to preserve the land for all.

Of the latter, the sign reads: “The full story of the acquisition of ACNA is as complicated and multifaceted as the many individuals that played a part in the process.”

With Burton’s memory challenged by last year’s brain surgery, I’ve appointed myself family historian.  Burton’s too modest to claim any credit for saving this beautiful area for the public.  But for the record,  my husband is one reason that today I, and many others, can walk barefoot on warm, packed sand, enjoy waves lapping  at our feet, collect rocks worn smooth by eons and admire sparkling blue vistas.

As for Rex Beach, he deserves recognition, too.  Educated as a lawyer, he was attracted to Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush.  After five years of unsuccessful prospecting, he found literary gold.  He wrote  over 30 adventure novels.

DVD cover The Spoilers with John Wayne.

Care to learn more? Click the image to visit the DVD’s Amazon page. It’s inexpensive.

His second, The Spoilers, was based on a true story of corrupt Alaskan government officials stealing gold mines from prospectors.  The book was a best seller in 1906, and was adapted into 5 movies, one starring Gary Cooper; another, Burton’s hero John Wayne.

As if his literary success weren’t accomplishment enough, Beach was also an athlete.  He played for the U.S. on the water polo team that won a silver medal in the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis.

Burton’s philosophy these days: “You’ve got to make the best of what you’ve got.”  For now, the best he’s got involves a wheelchair.  He’s no longer able to hike the sandy shoreline of Rex Beach.  I hike it for both of us.   I take special joy in coming upon castles created by children, studded with flat black slate rocks, and in knowing my husband helped make these building projects possible.

In Latin, the word Rex means King.  Strikes me as appropriate.  Rex Beach, for whom the road was named, and Burt Farbman, who helped keep this lovely area forever open to all.  Both kings among men.


Care to learn more?

ENJOY HIS NOVELSProject Gutenberg offers 17 of Beach’s novels in free-to-download editions.

GOT A KINDLE? One eBook vendor is offering a collection of his novels for Kindle, via Amazon, for only $1.99.

SEE THE MOVIE—Most of the early movies made from Beach’s novels are either “lost” or only available in grainy copies. However, Burton’s pick is the John Wayne version of The Spoilers, which is inexpensive on Amazon.

Rex Beach cabin Rampart Alaska

HE LIVED THE LIFE! This was Rex Beach’s cabin in Alaska, during the years he prospected there just after 1900.

Thanks to Burton’s efforts—what a beautiful stretch of Northern Michigan!

Share your wisdom with others, and make it as meaningful as Burton’s uncles did

“Write this down,” Uncle Max insisted.


It’s not only what you say that matters.

It’s how and when you say it.

Burton and I learned that lesson on 2 different occasions.  Each involved one of Burton’s uncles.  Both times the set up made the message memorable.

Uncle Max dancing with his daughter Judie.

Some 40 years ago, Burton traveled to Florida for business.  Flying out of Palm Beach, he got to the airport early.  Remembering his uncle Max Schuster lived in Palm beach, he picked up a pay phone.

Max: “Burt, I hear you’re doing great.”

Burton: “Uncle Max, I’ve been lucky.”

Max: “I want to tell you something about luck.  Write this down.  Do you have a pen?”


“Get one.  I’ll wait.”

Burton left the receiver hanging, sped to the gift shop, bought a pen and pad of paper, sped back to the phone.  The receiver still hung where he’d left it.

“Okay, Uncle Max.”

“Burt, write this down: Luck is on the side of the able navigator.”

It was Max’s version of the adage: Luck favors the prepared.  Because he framed the thought as he did, neither Burton nor I, when Burton told me the story, ever forgot it.  We’ve quoted Uncle Max umpteen times.  And now that Uncle Max’s daughter, Judie Koploy, has become our loyal and true companion during Burton’s health crisis, we quote her dad even more often.

Uncle Jack and Oosie Schlesinger.

The second piece of advice came earlier.

Burton and I had dinner at his Uncle Jack and Oosie Schlesinger’s home in Franklin, MI.  Burton was new to the real estate business.  Before dinner, Jack took him aside, said he had something important to tell him.

“I’ll tell you later,” Jack said.

Oosie was a fine cook.  We applied ourselves to her tender brisket.  At the head of the table, Jack caught Burton’s eye.  “After dinner,” he said.

By then I was curious, too.  After dessert, Jack led Burton into the den.  I followed.

“Okay, Burt.  Here’s what I want you to remember.”  Dramatic pause.  “Every hit can’t be a home run.”

The notion seemed obvious at the moment.   But as Burton fought to make his first deal, and over time when smaller deals came through, and even when they didn’t, Burton and I often recalled Uncle Jack’s advice.  And quoted him.

We’ve passed the story on to our sons.  Now that most of our grandchildren are athletes, and Hunter and Fischer play baseball, Uncle Jack’s words remain fresh in our minds.  I’m convinced it’s because of the lead up.

When I have a significant message to deliver, I tend to blurt it out lest I otherwise forget it.  (More and more senior moments these days.)  But words are not only how we communicate with others.  They’re how we remember them.  Uncle Max and Uncle Jack each gave Burton a great gift.  Both passed away years ago.  Their wisdom, and our affection for them, remains.

Whenever we quote Uncle Max or Jack, I’m convinced that somehow, somewhere their souls shimmer.  So take a lesson from them.  Share your wisdom with your loved ones.  Make the moment memorable.

May our wisdom be their legacy.



PHOTO CREDIT for opening image: Thanks to Wikimedia Commons and Wellcome Library, London.  http://wellcomeimages.org 

Celebrating American Ingenuity and Self Reliance, Artist John Rowland Honors His Father

CREATIVE SELF RELIANCE—John Rowland writes, “I took this photo of my father, Paul, in the autumn of 2010 as we were using his air compressor to blow out his sprinkler system before the winter. He was peering out the window of his garage to see if his old machine was still humming along half a century after he toggled it together from spare parts. As you can see, the protective cover over the top is the lid from a plastic trash can. Other components he connected were a motor, an air tank and an air-conditioning compressor he salvaged from an old Ford. Even in 2019, nearly a decade later, his compressor still hums along! Oh, and I forgot to mention the garage! He built that himself in 1968.”



John Rowland took the Fifth Commandment to a new level.

Paul Rowland and his artist son John.

He honored his father with a significant exhibition of his work.

John’s an artist who spends much of his time framing pictures for other artists and galleries at his workshop in Ferndale, MI. Though John often frames pieces by renowned artists, his dad wasn’t a renowned artist.

Paul Rowland was a talented mechanic in the experimental development garage of Ford Motor Co. He developed tools and parts for new models. The company held patents on many of them.

GENERATIONS OF CREATIVITY—John writes, “This photo was taken around 1975 as my father was in the process of building a guitar, the first of a number of these stringed instruments he made over the years. Then, as I was looking more closely at this photo, I was pleased that it also includes the violin that was made by Adonis Rowland—his father, my grandfather, who was a fiddle player. It’s the only one we have left that Adonis built by hand, probably in the 1940s. I can still remember the stories my father told about how few tools he had to finish his violins. For example, Adonis found that he could use cut glass to scrape and shape the wood.”

Paul was born in 1925. He grew up in Casey, IL, dropped out of high school, and married the girl next door. The youngest of 9 kids, Paul lived through the Great Depression. That experience, John says, taught his father values of thrift and self-reliance. Paul figured out what he and others needed and crafted it in his garage.

When Paul died last year, John wondered what on earth to do with all his dad’s handmade tools, instruments, jewelry, toys, etc.

Inspiration dawned.

John turned his workshop into a gallery and mounted an exhibit of his father’s creations. John’s friend and professional photographer Tim Thayer took images of Paul’s creations for a catalog John published, “Paul Rowland, American Artisan.  Objects from an American Garage.”

In a delightful essay that accompanies the catalog, John recalls stories of his dad’s history as a problem solver.

When Paul was a kid, his house sat across the street from a street light that shone into his room at night when he was trying to sleep. John writes, “It took him no time at all to figure out a way to run a wire from the light to his room so he could turn it off at night. Problem solved.”

Paul became a craftsman who epitomized a term that garners respect in Detroit. He was a “maker.”

STEPPING BACK IN TIME—“With this last photo, we’re going back even further into Dad’s long life of ingenuity,” John writes. “This photo was taken around 1952, when he worked at a gas station in Dearborn repairing cars. Many young adults today don’t remember when these local businesses were known as ‘service stations’ and always had a mechanic on duty. One day, a manager at Ford Motor needed service and was impressed at Dad’s skill. That encounter led to Dad’s long career as an employee at Ford.”

John writes that his father “lived in a world where problems were being solved by inventions and new contraptions, and early on he involved himself in that world of creativity and invention.” He observes that his dad’s life bridged almost a century, from the Great Depression years before World War II to the world of 21st century technology.

Paul taught himself to play guitar, then took apart a Gibson to see how it was made. He made 8 guitars by hand and over 31 dulcimers. John recalls being 10 years old when the family  camped in Mountain View, Arkansas, where mountain music played everywhere.

One Friday night the family went to the town square. Locals gathered on an outdoor stage to jam. John watched his dad get up on that stage, “picking and fingering his own hand-built dulcimer in his own special way.  I know that was not an easy thing for him to do: Dad loved playing music but he did not like performing.  He was never comfortable in front of an audience.“

John’s essay also reveals thoughtful insights about his own artistic practice and attitude.   For someone who  makes art and works with other artists, John writes about originality. “Being original is a very hard thing to accomplish. Being honest is fraught with temptations. I’m suspicious of most art I see in the world because it is usually neither original nor honest.

“Many people have talent, but few are original. The artist is concerned with conveying an idea through art; aesthetic questions are asked and aesthetic judgments are made. Then there is the craftsman, whose concern is producing a fine object, and here the questions and judgments are basically functional. Both the craftsman and the artist should be concerned with honesty and purity of expression in the work itself.  If they are in it for attention, or admiration, or financial gain, they are misguided…

“I’m not sure what to call dad. He was most definitely a maker of a diverse range of original, honest objects. And that in itself is a huge accomplishment of both creation and character. His objects represent both the quiet pride of Old World craftsmanship and the flair of American ingenuity. He is not interested in impressing anyone…

“So let me call him an artisan. A skilled, ingenious craftsman whose work expressed a powerful, intuitive aesthetic.”

John sent out Invitations to “Objects from an American Garage.” About 100 people came to the opening. No doubt, they were bowled over. For that matter, I wouldn’t be surprised if Paul Rowland made his own bowling pins.

And here’s a bonus …

CLICK ON THIS IMAGE to jump to the Henry Ford website to learn more about the exhibition.

THERE’S MORE! A curator from the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI, heard about the show and visited John’s studio. “The Henry” now has an exhibit on Detroit makers, “Break, Repair, Repeat.” It includes some of Paul Rowland’s pieces, among them 2 guitars, a paint sprayer and a sewing machine. The Henry Ford exhibit runs until September 15, 2019.

I can only imagine how Paul, a modest man who devoted his life as a mechanic for Ford Motor, is beaming down from some other dimension, having been chosen and displayed by the Henry Ford Museum.

Bravo, John, for recognizing your father’s talents and honoring him in such a special way!  It reminds all of us to remember and revere our own legacies.