A blessed life

by Dave LaBelle

On the eve of the second MLB game to be held at Iowa’s Field of Dreams Movie Site, I am sharing with you a piece I wrote for the Dyersville Commercial on a wonderful ex-ball player, local legend, and longtime Ghost Player named Hank Lucas. In deference to readers outside Iowa, I added and subtracted some from the original story.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is dsc3135-2.jpg
Hank Lucas, Ghost Player, 2022

Ron “Hank” Lucas said he had never been on a bus or a plane or in a cab. And had never seen Chicago’s Wrigley Field.

That all changed in the spring of 1967 when, after being signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers, 18-year-old Lucas, from small-town Holy Cross (population about with a graduating class of 59), took a plane from Dubuque to Chicago, a bus to Wrigley field, another plane to Salt Lake City and a cab to Ogden, Utah (a city over 100,000) to join a minor league team coached by Tommy Lasorda.

Overnight, the small-town country boy found himself in a different world.

“Ogden was a rough place then,” said Lucas. “At that time Washington Street (the street where the Ben Lomond Hotel was located ) was supposed to lead the nation in killings. They told us, don’t go down there.”

Lucas soon learned that not only was a bustling Ogden different from quiet Holy Cross with a population of about 325, the game he played in Iowa was also far different from what the minor leagues played out west.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is dsc7293-2.jpg
Ogden, 1967

“It was an eye-opener for a small-town kid who played team ball all the time,” he said. “I was shocked. The pitchers didn’t even room together because they hated each other. So many individuals were out for themselves and not the team. It was dog eat dog.”

“I was homesick,” Lucas admitted. “I was ready to come back home. I was a big baby. I really was.”

But under the tutelage of his new manager, an ambitious Lasorda, even more competitive than himself, Lucas adjusted to his professional baseball life and Ogden’s beautiful Ben Lomond Park.  The Ogden team went 41-25 to win the Pioneer League, and Lucas still cherishes his championship ring.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is dsc6423.jpg
Tommy Lasorda autograph



This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is dsc6550.jpg
His Minor League Championship Ring

By the end of the season, Lucas was ready to return home to Iowa thinking he was hot (stuff).

In February 1968, he was excited about his second season. Scheduled to report to Vero Beach (the famous Dodgertown facility), he was determined to work two more weeks at his meat packing job, then take a week off to rest before reporting to camp in Florida. He had just turned 19 and was working the night shift. Then, a terrible auto accident, on his way to work, barely three miles from home, changed his life forever.  It happened on Feb 2, Groundhog Day, he remembers.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is dsc6445-1.jpg
Lucan talks about his face reconstruction

 “I guess my face hit the mirror and then went through the windshield,” he said. “It shattered my nose. My nose is half plastic, and took care of a lot of the teeth.”

Though Lucas eventually returned to pitching regionally (no longer with the Dodgers), hoping for another shot as a pro ballplayer.  But that shot never came, and his dream of making the major leagues was over.

“It comes back and haunts you, not as much as it used to,” admits Lucas, thinking back to the accident and loss of opportunity.  But the Iowa legend ­– who threw his first little league game when he was just 8 years old – never lost his love of baseball, and even after the accident, he continued to pitch until he was nearly 50.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is dsc6693-2.jpg
Reflecting on the past

All who know him say that Hank Lucas loves baseball and played to win. They also said he is a lot calmer now.

“When I went to that mound, the last thing I wanted to do was see my name in the paper. ‘L Lucas.’ I wanted a ‘W Lucas.’ It meant a lot to me. And if you can’t be that way, get out. There is nothing wrong with being competitive.”

His wife Diane, who has been by his side and watches almost every game or event Hank participates in, bristles a little at the characterization of her husband being overly competitive.

“I think ballplayers would say that,” she admits. “In baseball, he’s always a win no matter what kind of guy. But I don’t think people he grew up with and his friends would say that. He is kind and thoughtful and he puts family first.”

In fact, it was Diane who recognized her husband’s strengths in teaching young players and encouraging them not to quit during hard times, which prompted her to nudge Lucas to coach American Legion baseball.

 “I have never seen a guy want to help a young player more than Hank,” said Marv Maiers, who has known Lucas since grade school and coached Legion baseball with him.  “His major concern is to help young guys. The best way to say it is, ‘his bark is a lot worse than his bite.’ He’s one of the nicest guys you would ever want to meet.”

Lucas shares a letter from the mother of a boy he coached in Little League, telling how much he meant to the young man who died recently.

In 1988, as luck, or fate would have it, Hank Lucas’ life took another unexpected turn when he auditioned for and was cast in the movie Field of Dreams, which became one of the most beloved and popular baseball movies of all time.

Soon after the movie’s success and the growing popularity of the movie site, local baseball lover, Keith Rahe, assembled a group he called Ghost Players which eventually traveled the world entertaining people. Lucas was one of the earliest players to join the group in 1990, and being on the Ghost Team extended his baseball career by as much as 30 years, Lucas said.  Rahe said, “Hank has been with us since 1990 and was one of the first guys from the movie that came onboard.  He’s just an amazing individual and has a heart of gold.”

Though a little reluctant to talk about it, Lucas feels there is definitely something special (as in real ghosts or divine intervention) going on with the Ghost Players, the movie and the Field of Dreams.  “They will be thinking I am drinking too much again,” he laughs. “Sometimes you wonder if there is or not. Being in the movie and all that stuff – and coming out of the corn as many times as we done – you are standing in the corn waiting for the song to come on and it makes you wonder,” his voice falling to a reverent whisper.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is dsc7483.jpg

Lucas, now 73, cherishes the role and recognizes how lucky he is.

“Every time I start dressing, and I put my socks on, I say a little prayer. Because two of my buddies were born with muscle diseases. And baseball was their love and they never got to play Little League. Never, ever got to do this. Now they are both dead. God almighty, that means a lot to me.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is dsc_8533.jpg
Ghost Player Hank Lucas signs a bat for a young fan

How good was Hank Luca

“He was the finest the state of Iowa had back then in the 60s,” assured 74-year-old Al Steffen, who started as a Ghost player a year after Lucas. “That is why he got drafted by the Dodgers.”



This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is dsc7296.jpg
Hank, a good hitter as well as pitcher

 “If Hank would be honest, nobody did very good against him,” assured Maiers. “If you were going to get a hit, he made a mistake. When he was on his game, there weren’t many hits.” Then addressing Lucas’ competitive spirit, Maiers said, “He was conveniently wild, effectively wild. He will tell you, ‘I own the inner half of the plate.’ If you lay out over the plate, there was a price to pay.”

He knows because Lucas hit him.

Lucas said, “The other guys are going to say ‘he was a mean sonofabitch when you played against him.’ But I was going to win. I wanted to see ‘W’ not ‘L’ next to my name in the paper. That meant a lot to me.”

From high school star to playing professional baseball for the Los Angeles Dodgers, to changing so many young lives through coaching and teaching, to his role in the Field of Dreams movie, to his induction into the Dubuque County Baseball Hall of Fame, to becoming an international goodwill ambassador and bringing joy to millions as a Ghost player — Lucas agrees he has lived “A blessed life.”

And though he said he never considered his life to be similar to the movie’s Archie “Moonlight” Graham played by Burt Lancaster, there are similarities.

Like Graham, Lucas only batted once in his professional career, flying out to deep left field. And also like the beloved “Doc Graham,” Lucas’ life after his brief professional career has likely been more meaningful than if he had made the majors, though he might not agree.

When suggested he is likely more famous for being in the movie and traveling the globe as a Ghost Player than he might have been as a professional ball player, he quipped, “That’s what kind of ticks you off a little bit. Oh, you were in the movie. Hey, you son of a gun, I played minor league ball for the Dodgers, damn it. It was more important, it’s what I wanted to do in life.”

That said, he is grateful and at peace with his life.

When it was intimated in the movie that Graham’s lost opportunity was a tragedy, the great response by Graham was, “If I’d only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes… now that would have been a tragedy,” might ring true for Lucas as well.

“I never tell anybody this, but if I had made it to the major leagues, I wouldn’t be married to Diane,” Lucas said of his wife of 45 years, his voice softening to a whisper. “I would have missed Diane. I thought I was in love a couple of times, but nothing like this.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is dsc6606-5.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is dsc3131-2.jpg
Hank and Diane

Few lives turn out the way we think when we are young. Sometimes what appears to be a tragedy turns out to be a blessing. And sometimes one dream gives way to a different, sometimes better dream.

My Three Fathers

On this eve of my 71st birthday, I travel back through the years, wondering what dreams or fears swam through my dear mother’s head and heart as her body prepared to usher me, her second child, into the world from a hospital bed in Orange, California.

I wish I could ask her.

And then, as I sweep nostalgically over the past 7 decades, I consider my three fathers, and how different my life might have been without them.

My First Father

My first father, my biological father, with whom I share both a middle and his last name, taught me practical things like how to drive a car, ride a motorcycle, hunt and work on cars, and most importantly, to love the land.  

He was a dreamer, and I inherited his wanderlust, his sense of humor and unfortunately, his blinding temper, among other of undisciplined characteristics.  It saddens me to realize I mimicked too many of his selfish actions in my younger years. 

Growing up, we lived in constant fear of my father, never knowing when he would come home late at night in a rage, pull us from our beds or spank us for something we did or did not do. I remember several times trembling as he yanked me out of bed late at night and sent me and my siblings out in the shivering darkness in our underwear with flashlights to finish chores he had set for us. I vividly remember one frightening episode when he shouted that he wished we were all in hell. I truly believed he was going to kill us all that night.   

As a teenager, I ran away from home several times, once after he chased me with a tire iron, threatening to beat me because I was having fun moving rocks in the creek driveway, something meant to be a punishment. I returned a few days later, after his rage had quieted.

Because of my fear of him, and contempt for the way he treated my mother, I almost killed him after slipping into his bedroom with a loaded pistol while he was sleeping. I pointed the gun at his head. Thankfully, I didn’t pull the trigger.

His example was confusing and often contradictory.  He was resourceful, a hard worker, and often helped others in trouble. He taught me many good things. But keeping company with his many good traits, he had a quick and violent temper, and a vengeful spirit. 

He believed in ghosts, spirits and flying saucers, and never talked of God, except to curse His name.

I remember as a boy sneaking through a dark night and helping him pour bags of sugar into the gas tank of our neighbor’s tractor because the wealthy and unscrupulous man tried to steal our property.  But my dad wasn’t always like that.

In fact, my early years were wonderful, happy times when my father was present, taking me hunting, fishing, and riding motorcycles.  We went camping and took family vacations.  But through hard financial times and unrealized dreams, a deep bitterness grew to own him.  It wasn’t until late in his life, he seemed to have found some peace.

In spite of his sometimes cruel and selfish behaviors, I think he wanted and tried to be a good father. It just felt like he didn’t know how.

He died several years ago at the age of 89.

Though sadly, we were not close much of our lives, we became friends and shared some wonderful times together his last ten years.  I told him often how much I loved him, and thanked him for raising me and my siblings in the country, away from the asphalt and noise of the city, where we could run barefoot and learn about nature.

And the man I never heard say he loved me growing up, learned to tell me often he loved me.

My Second Father

Mason French in 1974 comforting a dying Christian brother,

In most stories of survival, there is usually at least one person, an unselfish soul who offers hope and keeps us from giving up.  For me, he was a beautifully imperfect man named Mason French, an angel sent to me during a lonely and dark time in my young life.  Though I have been blessed with several mentors, no man has changed the course of my life more profoundly.  For 50 years, he has demonstrated what sacrificial and compassionate love looks like.

I was around 21 when I met Mason, a landscaper and preacher,15 years my elder. My

brother Steven was living with the French family at the time. Though he had two sons and two daughters, Mason graciously accepted stray souls in need of a home and guidance, much the way a mother cat accepts stray kittens, feeding and protecting them as her own. I immediately fell in love with this man and his family, and he soon became a second father to me, as he was to my brother Steven.   

I was jealous of his children. They had a father who played ball with them, talked with them, worked with them, spoke often about God and took them to church.  As the Biblical Timothy was to the apostle Paul, I became Mason’s son in the gospel of Christ.

He taught me what love looked like, while patiently introducing me to the person of Jesus.  When he talked about Jesus Christ, it was if he knew Him personally.  By example, he showed me the meaning of mercy and forgiveness, for others and myself.  In fact, it was through him, my second father, I learned to forgive and love my biological father.

Mason French preaching via Zoom recently

I once watched him forgive and embrace a man who had deeply hurt him and his family.

That man was me.

There is a famous Biblical seen in the book of Luke often titled “The Prodigal Son.”  It reads, “ …and he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

I have been that son more than once, and hope someday to be that father.

But of the many life-gifts he has given me, no gift has been greater than introducing me to my third Father – my real, eternal Father and Creator, of whose  offspring I am.

He is a man of great courage and even greater humility.  With a quick wit and sense of humor to match, he remains a great storyteller, powerful speaker and patient teacher.

I have met many people who love God, who would surrender their lives if need be. But I don’t know anybody who respects, cherishes or loves the Word of God more deeply than Mason French.

The Bible says of the virtuous woman, that her children will grow up and call her blessed.

So also, will the children of a good man.

My second father, turned 87 earlier this week, and he continues to contribute to the world as a loving father, grandfather and dedicated gospel preacher. 

But just as my biological father died a few years ago at 89, I realize if I live long enough, I will have to face losing my second father, too.  

A final thought

Some, the lucky ones, are blessed with caring, loving fathers – guideposts who show the best life paths, teaching their children to navigate a sometimes harsh and confusing world.

Others never know their fathers, raised instead by a single mother, a relative or even by strangers.

So, on this night, 71 years after my mother brought me into this world, my heart is filled with love and gratitude for her and the men, like Mason French, who have been a father to me. 

A pillar has fallen

I miss him already.

My friend Curt Chandler left this world Monday after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

I last spoke with him on January 9.

As I agonize over what to share in this post, I suffer with pangs of inadequacy, realizing I don’t have the words to convey how much I admired and loved this good man.  That acknowledged, I will try to give you a glimpse into the life of this lovely human.

Curt Chandler during a Picture Kentucky workshop

Like most of us, Curt was different things to different people. 

A big, friendly bear of a man with an equally big heart, Curt was a loyal husband, a proud father, an accomplished photojournalist, a talented writer and editor, and an unselfish teacher who dedicated most of his last 15 years to students at Penn State.  

A big presence

Always spilling over with enthusiasm for whatever project he undertook – whether restoring old houses, editing books for friends or leading students on out-of-country excursions – you always knew when Curt was in the room.  But he seldom talked about himself or his accomplishments, which were many.  When praised for his awards, Curt usually laughed uncomfortably and quickly redirected the conversation away from himself to celebrating the accomplishments of others. 

When we started a photography workshop for students at the University of Kentucky called Picture Kentucky, Curt eagerly agreed to make the drive from Pennsylvania to Kentucky and sleep in a less-than-desirable motel room to coach students and help us organize the new workshop.  He loved technology and was an industry leader in implementing the latest devices and software programs. Truth be told, he was a bit of a widget nerd.  But I cannot recall a single time when I asked Curt for a favor, especially if it involved education, that he did not eagerly volunteer to help.

A walking encyclopedia

Curt was intelligent, and usually the most well-read person in any room.  Blessed with a great sense of humor, he also oozed with an insatiable, childlike curiosity. He seemed to want to know something about everything. 

In budget meetings at the Post-Gazette, it seemed he knew something about every topic or subject under consideration.  Whether discussing George Washington’s uncomfortable visit to what is now Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle or the current stats of a Steeler’s running back, Curt usually shared some obscure fact unbeknown to other editors. It was as if he read books and newspapers in his sleep and remembered minutia most would pass by.  In one meeting, he excitedly (and loudly) educated us on Pittsburgh’s underground sewer systems.  I often claimed if I was ever to make it on the “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” show, Curt would be all of my lifelines.

An awarding-winning photographer in action

A non-judgmental soul

One of his life signatures was his acceptance of those different than himself, regardless of background, color, religion, gender or political beliefs.  He genuinely loved people and worked patiently with those often shunned by others.  He encouraged all, members of his family included, to be their authentic selves, even when it meant going against societal norms.  Seeing life differently was never a reason not to work together toward a common goal.

Curt reminded me of a sturdy bridge support often laboring in the shadows to hold up journalistic principles while striving to be a better storyteller. Unlike some in journalism, he was not flashy or consumed with self-promotion but rather dedicated to helping others realize their dreams. In our wonderful, yet eroding profession, Curt maintained his courage and commitment to tell real stories of real people navigating real life.  When praised for his awards, Curt usually laughed uncomfortably and quickly redirected the conversation away from himself to celebrating the accomplishments of others.

One of the many Christmas cards Curt made and sent each year.

The teacher

As a teacher, Curt led by example, often working alongside students while introducing them to new cultures and environments.  And he did what he taught.

He was respected and loved by his students, always making time for those interested in learning. Like a nurturing father, he was both approachable and available, and often was a picture of patience, not belittling students (even older ones like me) for not knowing how to use a piece of equipment or grasp a concept.  To say he was beloved, would be a gross understatement. 

A true friend

Above all, Curt was a true friend not only to me but to hundreds, if not thousands of others.  In fact, he could teach a class on what it means to be a real friend.  Someone who never met a stranger, Curt made friends often and easily and had the ability to make each person he met feel important. 

I am reminded of the time I made the move from California to Pittsburgh as the new director of Photography for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, replacing Curt.  He, his wife Stacie and their children showed up to unload the U-HAUL truck and labor late into the night helping us move in.  And when we needed to move again a month later, Curt and his family again volunteered to help.   

The line of Curt’s friends who could come forward and tell of his kindness and generosity would be lengthy.  In his brief time on this earth, he changed many lives for the better.

One time I saw him upset

The only time I can remember seeing Curt visibly upset happened on a Thanksgiving Day in his Pittsburgh backyard.  He invited my family to his house for dinner, excited to show us a new cooking procedure where he would boil the bird in oil. (Curt loved to cook and to eat.)  When the well-intentioned experiment went awry, sending billows of house-fire-like clouds of smoke across the neighborhood, Curt was visibly upset and embarrassed.  His new contraption wasn’t working as he had hoped, and the wizard of technology was losing control.  I began laughing and teasing him, asking if I should call the fire department. This further agitated chef Chandler, who was in no mood for jokes. But I couldn’t help myself, it was just too funny. 

Forever the optimist

Ever the pragmatic optimist, even in the face of death, Curt laughed loudly and thought about the welfare of others, especially his wife.  

On June 8, after mutual friend Bob Lynn shared the sad and shocking news of Curt’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis, I called Curt hoping to encourage him and get a better sense of his condition.  I confess I was a little nervous, fearing what I might hear in his voice, if he felt like talking at all.  I took a few moments in silent prayer to gather myself before the call.  

I should have known better.  He was his lovely, cheerful self, punctuating many lines with his signature laugh.

How are you doing? I asked.

 “I am doing great!” Curt cheerfully offered.

Relief flooded through me.

The he chirped, “I am actually driving to Pittsburgh right now so they can do the full body scan and see what’s up,” as if he were going to the store to pick up a loaf of bread.

He shared how he and his wife Stacie were visiting Yellowstone when she noticed he looked yellow, then proceeded in his usual analytical way to excitedly explain the procedures and latest technology involved in diagnosing his condition, laughing about the details – the valves and cords, etc.  I told him he was over my head and I didn’t know what he was talking about. He sounded like someone explaining how they hoped to get their car fixed.  He laughed heartily.

“I am doing the full body scan today and will talk to the pathologists tomorrow and talk about what future paths may be there,” he added.  I told him I would call again in a couple of days.

Three days later

When I called him three days later, he said there was a chance he would be able to teach his classes at Penn State online in the fall. 

“Were you planning on teaching online anyway?” I asked

“I was not.  I was supposed to be in the classroom, but ever since I got the diagnosis and what was going on…I think another person is going to be in the classroom and I am going to be teaching over a video link and we are going to sort of team teach the class,” he said matter-of-factly.

How many classes are you scheduled to teach? I asked.

“I think they dialed me back to two. Normally in the fall I teach five. It just depends on what I feel like.  I have been doing hour-long zoom sessions the last couple of days.  I am fine for the hour, but at an hour and 5 minutes, I am definitely running out of gas,” he admitted.

He laughed.  “But that may change once I am able to start eating like a regular person again.”

The giver

Even after receiving a grim diagnosis, and already suffering from the effects of pancreatic cancer in early June, Curt agreed to judge a photo contest.  He finished the rigorous judging of the quarterly photo competition for the Press Photographers Association of Greater Los Angeles on June 28, in part from a hospital bed.

PPAGLA president and contest coordinator Amy Gaskin wrote:

“In early June, Curt and I spoke, and he right away offered to help us.  He was in with both feet.  I was touched by his generosity.  Judging a contest can take many hours, yet Curt really wanted to help.

June 25: “Hi Curt, Thinking of you.  Dave mentioned that you are going through a really rough time right now….I’m so sorry you aren’t feeling well.  Would you like me to find a replacement pinch hitter judge this time around?   I’ll do whatever you prefer Curt.  No sweat either way!  I don’t want to find a replacement if you were almost finished with these images.


“Never fear, I’ll be done this weekend. Thanks for keeping after me.” 

“Not only did Curt judge the contest, he took the time to write thoughtful, educational judge’s notes, which we posted to help our students and members,” Amy said.

Curt via Facetime, Jan 9, 2022

Saying goodbye

Still cheerful and positive three weeks before his death, Curt talked with me for 45 minutes over Facetime.  I have attached a trimmed version from our conversation so you can hear his voice and feel his positive spirit.

I have also included links to memorials posted. 

Bob Lynn, one of Curt’s longtime friends said when sharing the sad news,  “It is shocking news and it makes me really, really sad. He is one of my favorite people of all time, and it just breaks your heart. He is just a great guy. It’s just heartbreaking,” he repeated. “He is just one of the great guys of all time, and I love the guy.  Oh boy,” he sighs.

I couldn’t agree more.

Our last words

“Well, I guess the electrons are telling us to call it a day here,” Curt said closing our last conversation.

I love you and I thank you, Curt, and thank Stacie for being such a wonderful support.

“I will do that and will also thank her for editing me on the fly,” he laughed.

 I love you guys.

“Love you, too.”

We never spoke again.

I am attaching an edited audio clip of our last conversation.

At the bottom are several links to take you to the obituary posted on Penn State’s website.

https://www.bellisario.psu.edu/curtis-william-chandler

Do Not Be Afraid

Israel, 2012 © Dave LaBelle

On this first day of 2022, I share an experience from last year unlike any I’ve ever had.  It profoundly stirred my spirit and continues to challenge me.

Sleeping on the couch while recovering from shoulder surgery,  I awoke about 2 am, sat up and quietly enjoyed the view of a clear, starry sky through our large living room window.  (Winter skies in Ohio are alive with beautiful, sharp stars.) 

Much like watching dancing flames in a campfire, we can lose ourselves in a heavenly sky, and I did.  As I let my thoughts drift and wander, I contemplated my mortality, the wonder of the universe and specifically my place in it.  It was the kind of peaceful time most of us hunger for in our loud, busy world.

Then, a message, a voice, wrapped around me and spoke to my mind and heart.  It wasn’t an audible voice – some clear, booming message from heaven – yet it felt strangely divine. My heart pounded and tears spilled down my bearded face.

What was happening to me? 

“Trust me, follow me,” the voice implored.

And then I saw a vision, a threadlike trail winding up the side of a jagged mountain.  Not one for heights, I felt a little nausea, as if I would fall. 

 “Don’t be afraid,” the voice said.  “Follow me. Step where I step.”

As I continued feeling like I would slip and fall helplessly down into an abyss, I kept my eyes on  the sandaled feet in front of me, much the way a climber might follow an experienced Sherpa up a dangerous mountain route.

Then the vision of the mountain disappeared. 

Suddenly, a bright star began racing toward me, like a scene from the beginning of a Star Wars movie. The bright, blue-white light  blocked my vision of the remaining starry sky as it grew closer, larger.  It felt like the light came through the window, filled the living room and washed over me. Then it retreated back into the heavens.

The entire episode lasted no more than a few minutes.

I sat there shocked, dumfounded, tears flowing, wondering what just happened and what it could mean.

I  got up, turned on a lamp and found something to write on.   I’m right-handed and my arm was in a sling, so I tried my best to scribble with my other hand the words given to me, before I forgot them.

As difficult as it is to read, this is what I wrote after the experience.  

Then I went to the kitchen, leaned against a counter and began weeping uncontrollably. 

Hearing me, my wife awoke, bewildered.

“What is wrong? She asked.  “Are you OK?” 

“ I don’t think I can explain it,” I moaned. “You wouldn’t believe what just happened to me; I’ve never had an experience like this.”

My wife was giddy, being a person who lives for the mystery and is most comfortable in the realm of the unknown. She claimed I’d finally experienced the mystical realm in a way I could no longer deny or ignore.

It’s important here to share though I am a believer in God’s providence, I am not one who believes God or the Holy Spirit finds parking places close to the doors of a favorite store or tells me what car I should buy. Furthermore, if someone had told me this story, I would think they were either dreaming or on mind-altering drugs.

I ‘ve wrestled with whether or not to share this most unusual experience, finally deciding to simply tell what happened and let you decide what it was or what it meant. 

I still cannot say with any certainty what happened, so the best I can do is offer my current interpretation.

That said, I confess I’d been troubled, afraid to move forward with a life-long dream project of visually interpreting scenes of Christ from the gospels, and the internal battle was heavy on my heart.

Finally, in June of last year, I decided to take the leap, face my fears and create a crowdfunding site to begin the process of making this dream a reality.  Thankfully several friends and supporters of the project sent checks through the GoFundMe site: https://www.gofundme.com/manage/david-labelle-visually-interprets-life-of-jesus

At one point, an unscrupulous online schemer pretended to be me on Facebook and created confusion for many. This has been remedied.

Here is a brief description of the project I posted last June:

Ever since I began reading and studying the Bible in earnest more than 50 years ago, I have dreamed (at times ached) to use my gifts to share what I see and feel.  To this day when I read the Bible, images still flash through my head, as if crying out to be released.  

Now, after 50 years of dreaming, I am ready to use my photographic and storytelling skills, developed through five decades as a photojournalist, to create images from the life of Christ as recorded in the New Testament. In other words, a visual commentary.

If you feel inclined, I would love to have you join me in this project. Please use either the GoFundMe site above or send checks directly to me – Dave LaBelle, Athens Book Farm, PO Box 239, Athens, Ohio 45701. You can also donate through my Paypal: labelledave@labelledave

You can also see the project definition on my website. https://www.davidlabelle.com/

Click on the tab: A Visual Walk with Christ.

We plan to begin shooting the first prototypes soon.

Thank you for following my blog over the past years.

I sincerely appreciate each one of you,

David

A Christmas gift

When my children grieve, I grieve.

Grief appears in many forms, and I have learned to respect another’s grief even if I don’t completely understand it.

When my youngest son – an animal lover since birth – lost Paco, his bearded dragon, I watched helplessly.  (Henry’s little dog Sara died years earlier and then Gus, who had been with us 14 years, passed while Henry was away from home.  Hearing my youngest son’s muffled whimpering over the phone when I called to tell him his beloved dog had passed broke my heart and started my own tears.)  

Dec 2021 Copyright Dave LaBelle OH

But never had I witnessed such a deep grief as I saw with losing Paco.  I was home that day as he spilled silent tears while trying desperately to breathe life into Paco’s failing lungs. 

They were inseparable the past four years.  Henry took Paco everywhere. When he went to school in Iowa, Paco went with him. When he left home and moved to Oregon in the middle of winter, Paco rode wrapped in blankets.  Henry took him on walks, played music for him, and even put a book by his glass aquarium so he could read and look at the pictures.  When I asked him how he could feel so deeply about a lizard he said, “Paco was my best friend. He was with me for almost every meaningful experience.”

Dec 2021 Copyright Dave LaBelle OH
Henry tries to breathe life back into Paco’s dying lungs.

We worried about Henry.  Though he put on a good face, we could see his pain, a grief that seemed unshakable.  But then, just when it seemed he would never climb out of his depression over Paco’s passing, a new animal came into his life.

A black German Shepherd mix needed a home.  Nervous, skittish, afraid of seemingly everything,  Sampson needed a lot of love and patience to overcome whatever he had endured in his early life. Though feeling conflicted, as if betraying the memory of Paco, Henry decided to bring Sampson into his life. 

Meanwhile, Henry and his girlfriend of several years were deciding to go separate ways.

Both his mother and I worried about Henry, knowing how painful and difficult a breakup can be.

But as confusing as the breakup was, Sampson seemed to be the life preserver Henry needed to stay afloat in the turbulent emotional waters. A joy returned to our son we had not seen in weeks.

Henry falls asleep near Sampson after a hard day at work.

Once again, God answered my prayers in ways I did not expect.

I am reminded when we lose loved ones, even beloved pets, others can bring us comfort and life purpose without betraying the memory or deep and unique love we hold for others.

We have the capacity, and often the need, to give our love to others.  After all, loving others – human or animal – is a basic human need.

Dec 2021 Copyright Dave LaBelle OH

Honoring my dear mother once again

I have written much about my mother through the decades, but I am reminded again after an interview with Our American Stories how her brief life continues to shape and influence my life, as it so many others.  https://www.ouramericanstories.com/podcast/life/you-can-change-your-story-how-i-coped-with-the-loss-of-my-mother​ 

My young mother holding my little brother. I am on the right.

Her life and disappearance prompted the writing of this book.

davidlabelle.com

https://www.davidlabelle.com/order

The greatest gifts

By far, the greatest joy of being a journalist and story catcher is the privilege of subjects becoming cherished friends.  

Bill and Gwin Stam, who together built the All Nations Veteran Memorial in Jefferson, Oregon  embraced me with open arms.  Even after the initial story, we stayed in touch and I visited them whenever I came to Oregon.  They always fed me and invited me to stay the night. 

Friday night I talked with Bill and he said Gwin had asked him to call me and let me know she was dying.   I had long expected the dreaded call because I knew Gwin had battled her health for years, but that didn’t make it any easier.  

Gwin Stam

There are friends, those we encounter in goodwill and share similar interests.  And then there are those friends who feel like family, like trusted relatives.  Bill and Gwinn have been that to me and my family since the first time we met nearly 10 years ago.

Her life was hard.  A broken marriage, challenging sickness (she basically died no less than three times).  A beautiful woman, toughened by life, she was fearless and focused. And though her life journey was often filled with pain, I never saw her drop her head and complain. Not once. 

She found a trusted love and true companion in her husband Bill, who adored her.

Bill and Gwin Stam with Grandma Aggie in New Mexico and the outfits she made.

She had a heart for all animals, especially horses, and for humans who suffered abuse and hardship, and dedicated her life to helping others who have suffered.  With an honest heart, she spoke truth regardless of her audience.

Her hands made beautiful jewelry, beadwork, leather saddles and outfits .  Those same hands calmed frightened animals or wounded people.  Always giving, always busy creating, always caring, Gwin was sacrificial, often doing without to help individuals and causes she believed in.

I feel blessed to walk the earth the same time as Gwin Stam and share precious time with her.  It is an honor I find humbling.

Below are two links:

The first is a link to an earlier post about Bill and Gwin.

https://www.facebook.com/allnations.veteransmemorial/

The second is from the All Nations facebook page.

I’ll fly away

By Dave LaBelle

Dan Ripley in 2015

Bittersweet.

It is a word I find myself using often when covering stories of loss.

When I was told Dan Ripley had left this life, a smile moved across my bearded face. 

He was finally free, liberated from that chair, those breathing tubes and that twisted, immobile body which had held him prisoner for most of 35 years. (Dan had Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, chained to a ventilator since he was a 12-year-old boy.)

But then sorrow washed over me and my eyes filled as I thought about his family and the pain they were surely experiencing.   I feared Dustin, two years younger, and Dan’s constant companion, would be crippled with fear and anxiety.  I was wrong.  Dustin became a pillar of strength, comforting his parents and helping them cope with his brother’s passing.

I often talked with Dan about this day – when his spirt would soar and when he believed he would go home to be with his God.  Still, when that day arrived, the reality of separation began sinking in.  I would no longer be able to pop by the house when visiting Kent or Tallmadge and hear him squawk, “Hi Dave.”  No more excited talks about sports or life with this joyful, intelligent young man.  Unmatched in his love for the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Browns, he was looking forward to his beloved Browns making it to the super Bowl (which they almost did last year).

I was introduced to these remarkable brothers when a friend asked if I would help with a family fundraiser by making pictures and writing something about the boys.   After the first meeting – as often happens when a camera leads me into someone’s life – I fell in love with the Ripley family and knew we would be lifelong friends.

The Ripley family in 2015

Dan was looking forward to his 36th birthday and a party complete with cake and ice cream. He loved parties!

Photographing his 30th birthday party, I told Dan I hoped I was alive to attend his 60th

“I will be here,” he chirped confidently.  

Then realizing he might have been a bit presumptuous, he calls to me and gurgles, “Dave, God determines how long we will be here.”

.Dan, always up for a party.

On Saturday, June 26, that day arrived. 

Dan didn’t wake up.

I visited the family one week after Dan’s passing. Dale was welcoming as always, eager to share, and Debbie was her quiet, gracious self. 

Dustin whispers “hello Dave,” above the incessant barking of two small dogs.

I remembered Bandit but not the other dog. It had been several years since I had seen the family.  They quickly share how difficult and even more confining the past year has been not being able to take the boys out because of the virus.

I ask Dustin how he is feeling.

Inseparable, the brothers sat side by side watching television day after day, year after year, sharing many late night and early morning conversations, and sleeping in the same room just a few feet from each other.

“A little better,” he says. It is difficult to hear his quiet voice above the hissing rhythm of the ventilator.

.Dustin. one week after his brother’s passing.

What do you miss most about Dan?

“His smarts.  He was really smart,” he gurgles.

“Yes, he was,” Debbie whispers, fighting back tears.

 “We learned a lot after Dan passed that Dustin knew that we didn’t know,” she shares.

“Nobody knew that they had talked about what Dan wanted, that he wanted a party.”

Then adds, “He didn’t want calling hours.”

Debbie and Dale listen to Dustin talk about his brother.

Debbie fights to control her grief. There is so much to do and the nurse they count on just quit, leaving her with the burden of caring for Dustin while making funeral arrangements.

Though she tries to be strong and not show her worry for Dustin, who has the same disease as Dan did, concern is etched on her face.

“Dustin has been a real champion, he has really stepped up, Dale inserts.  “He helped us with all of the arrangements, even went to the funeral parlor.”

I can’t imagine how different everybody’s life is going to be going forward.

Dustin says he noticed “even Bandit misses Dan.”

Dustin with the two dogs. Bandit, 15, is on the right.

The last weeks of his life

Dan had spent 12 days in the hospital with pneumonia, and had only been home two days.  He never wanted to go to the hospital, separated from his family and the security of his chair.

“Friday, he had far away eyes, while watching the basketball playoff game,” Dale said.

“I told him Friday night we will see each other again and it won’t be in 35 more years.”

Then, his voice cracking, “He went to sleep and we couldn’t wake him up.”

As I left the house, Dale came out and tearfully shared his son felt bad for not being able to spend Father’s Day with his dad because he was in the hospital.

“He told me, ‘Happy Father’s Day, Dad.’”

Wiping his eyes, he smiled.  “He will be missed but I’m sure he got his wings.”

What courage looks like

Dan taught us all many lessons about faith, courage and optimism.  But there is one lesson, one photograph I wish to share with you that reveals this amazing young man’s honest view of life.

With his blessing, I made this photograph of his twisted, deformed body. I wanted others to see the road this intelligent and loving young man endured.  And then, realizing how shocking the photograph was, I showed the picture to Dan on my laptop screen and asked if he still felt comfortable posting this picture.

“I can’t believe I lived this long, with this disease,” Dan said, his eyes widening. “I am thankful I lived this long.”  Then added, I am amazed how my body looks, how terrible this disease is.”

I asked again if he felt comfortable sharing the image.  He answered immediately. “Yes, I want people to know about this disease.”

While each person is unique, there are those we encounter whose lives inspire us and become a part of the fabric of who we are. Though his time on earth was relatively short, Dan taught us a lot about faith, courage and optimism  He was truly a loving, teaching son, brother and friend.

As Dale admits, “He carried me a lot of times.”

When I think about Dale saying his oldest son “got his wings,” the first line of Albert E. Brumley’s famous gospel song fills my heart.

“Some sweet morning when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away…”

P.S.

As I mentioned, Dan loved parties.  In fact, while preparing for his memorial service, Dustin told his parents Dan had told him, sensing his time was short, he did not want a typical funeral service where everybody stood around weeping. He wanted them to have a party. On hearing this, Dale and Debbie changed the services to accommodate Dan’s wishes.  

If you want to know more about Dan, Dustin and Ripley Family, please look at these earlier stories. Here are the links:

You can also contact them: 

The Ripleys

207 East Avenue

Tallmadge, OH 44278

Colette Mynatt: woman of faith

by Dave LaBelle

This week I share with you another amazing woman named Colette Mynatt. Last I heard this witty, feisty and charming woman is now 105 years-old and living in California, likely still blessing all those she comes in contact with. 

She still cooks, cares for herself and lives in the same house on East Brow where she has lived for the past 72 years; the same house where she raised four daughters and cared for her mother four-and-a-half years until she died just short of her 99th birthday.

Lookout Mountain, Tenn, May, 2010-Colette Mynatt. Photo by David LaBelle

At 94, Colette Mynatt is mentally sharper and more physically able than many 30 years her juniors, and until four years ago, could be seen driving her red Nissan pickup truck around the mountain.  But, at 90 she decided to quit driving.

“My driver’s license expired before I did,” she laughs.

Mynatt came to Lookout Mountain just after fifth grade when her father, Lemuel Clayton Smallwood  moved his wife and three children – two girls and a boy – to Bragg Avenue from their farm in the Chattanooga Valley.  According to Mynatt, her father, a construction engineer, built the first paved road on Lookout Mountain, the roads in Fairyland and the Presbyterian Church building on North Bragg, as well as several area bridges.

 In 1937, at the age of 21, she married Henry Grady. They were married 33 years. The well-known criminal lawyer once spent six weeks in the same court room with Jimmy Hoffa when the labor leader’s court venue was changed to Chattanooga.

“They didn’t get along too well,” remembers my Mynatt, referring to her husband and the infamous union leader.”  They were too much alike,” she adds, rolling her eyes

Though Mynatt is clearly not a woman to sit around and pine for the past, she readily admits she misses her second husband, the man she married in 1976.

“It was just so wonderful,” she said, her girlish brown eyes dancing with the memory of Tillman Ellery Mynatt.

“He ran a dental lab in cattle farm, and was a dear man who love the Lord,” Mynatt recalls.

“I ran that man down but it took a while,” she grins.

They married only three years before he passed.

“It was brief, but it was quality. We toward south America.”

Asked if she thought she would marry again, Mynatt quipped, ”No.  Men only want two things – purse or nurse. I don’t have any money, so I’m pretty safe.”

After 32 years, my net who attended GPS studying English and Latin, decided to go back to school and pursue a history degree at Covenant College, which she finished in 1969. It was there she met Claudia Peters, a 17-year-old student, and asked the younger student if she would type her papers for her.  Peters later learned she and her new friend had another connection.

”She prayed for my family, for my three brothers when they were missionaries in Costa Rica before I was born,” says Peters.

The two have been friends for 43 years.  “She is my rock,” insists Peters, now a librarian at Covenant College.

“She is the most important person in my life,” almost tearing at the recognition.  “She is amazing.”

Colette Mynatt feels the increase in population is the biggest change she has seen on the mountain 80 years.

“We lived in the woods and now we are wall to wall houses.”

When the spirited and girlish Mynatt thinks back of growing up on the mountain, she giggles with memories of riding sleds from the water tower down to the base of the mountain.  They would put their sleds on cattle on a cattle catcher on the front of the Incline car. “It only cost 25 cents to ride back then, and ran until 10 p.m.”

“You made your fun then,” she offers.

She remembers the fire department giving them an old hose that was fastened to a tree on the bluff and the boys would swing off it.

Her eyes widen joyfully she recalls the mischievous boys slipping up behind a small street car called “The Dinky” and moving the wire to break the electrical connection.  “The driver would have to get out and put it back to get going again.”

Mynatt recalls riding horses with girlfriends Ann Glass and Susan Chambliss, usually up to Jackson Hill. “Ann rode a white horse named Nell and I rode a big strawberry roan named Dog Allen.  They ruined it (Jackson Hill) by putting Covenant College on it,” she kids.

She remembers Buck Stamps, “who was so good with children.”

 “She remembers miss Frieda Carter’s kindness and the man in Columbus.

”He was a black man who taught who thought he was a train,” she fondly recalls.

We would hear a train whistle in the night, and someone would say here comes Columbus. We liked to hear the train coming down the road at night.  He would stop at our house, one of his station stops.  He endeared himself to us. Oh, he was perfectly harmless.”

The deaths of three young girls – Nan Chamberlain, Charlotte Patton and Mary Smart – in separate incidents still swim in her memory. “I still remember the day they told me Mary Smart fell off the cliff.”

What is the secret of Mynatt’s long life and good health?

Colette is “sandwiched” between an older and “baby” sister – one is 97 the other 90. Her brother, Clayton, died in a car accident when he was 25 years old. “Mentally handicapped, he was the greatest blessing on our family,” she suggested.  ”Having someone like that in the family teaches children to be loving and caring.”

“It doesn’t matter what we eat. I eat bacon and sausage. It doesn’t affect us,” she insists.

“It has something to do with our body chemistry.  My mother used to ask for the fat of the ham and she lived until 99. We live on and on.  It isn’t easy to get out of here,” she kids.

When suggested she might yet live another 20 years,  the witty Mynatt fired, “Oh, shut up. Don’t threaten me.”

 Mynatt, who says she talks with the Lord daily, “Because we are in business together.” A proclaimed Christian, she says her faith is her life. 

“It’s and ugly word these days,  so it is a good one to claim,” she adds.

She doesn’t watch television anymore, and believes the secret to her sharp mind is her daily scripture memorization, a routine she developed at a very young age.

“My time is so short and I have so much to learn,” she smiles.  “I have the most wonderful life …everyday.

Colette Mynatt: A Lookout Mountain Gem

Originally published in the Lookout Mountain Mirror, July, 2010

Another Gem

Today I share the story of wonderful, feisty, witty and given woman named Dorris Chapin Wells, the second of four profiles titled Lookout Mountain Treasures originally published by The Lookout Mountain Mirror in 2010. 

Resting in a chair on a patio adorned with pots of yellow daisies and three hummingbird feeders, her lake blue eyes move over the beautiful Chattanooga valley below as voices rise and swirl about. 

“All aboard track number one,” belts a young man over the loudspeaker.  All aboard!”

Dorris Wells

“That’s the incline,” Dorris Wells, 81, advises. “We are right next to it.”

To Wells – who has lived on Lookout Mountain in one house or another since her parents brought her home from the hospital on a winter day early in December of 1929 – the voices and sounds of the cable-drawn cars are as familiar as the humming of a ceiling fan or purr of a noisy refrigerator.  She and her husband, Ralston, 85, moved in the house on East Brow 30 years ago.

“Here I live right next door to it, and it was my livelihood growing up,” Wells says. “I have the prettiest spot on the mountain, it’s a wonderful place to be and there is not a better view.”

She grins and points across the patio.

“I’ve got a little boy that lives on the backside of the mountain that comes by in his helicopter and just stays here until I come out and wave to him. It’s so cute.” She is referring to Michael Warren. He and his partner take pictures of people in business according to Wells.

Wells adds proudly, “Of course, all the people on the incline wave to me.”

A mischievous grin moves across her face and her lake blue eyes widen.

“There was a hill down by St. Elmo that they had been digging on and getting dirt out of forever. The Wacs (Woman’s Army Corps) and the soldiers would get on the incline in the afternoon and we would say, ‘look, grab him quick, we’re going over the edge, we’re gonna wreck, we’re gonna wreck!’  Well, the WACs (Women Army Corps) and the soldiers would get on the incline in the afternoon and we would say, ‘look, grab him quick, we’re going over the edge, we’re going to wreck, we’re gonna wreck!’ Well, the WACs loved that, they just loved huggin’ those soldiers. We had some WACs that were good kissers,” she adds with a wink. “We had the best time.”

View from her backyard

The Wells’ manicured yard slopes and disappears abruptly over the historical cliffs where Civil War battles were fought a century and a half ago. 

“I fell off that cliff once, about 30 feet, but part of that was rolling,” Wells admits. 

“I had a wonderful garden down under this bluff and I was planting flowers. It was the fourth of July.  Suddenly, I looked up and the heavens were above me and I was on the ground, and nobody was at home,” Wells remembers.

“I had 40 people coming for dinner, so I crawled up and got my neighbor.  My hand was going this way and my arm was going that way and I said, I think I have broken my hand. My neighbor said ‘I think you have, too.’  And, then we had 40 people for dinner that night and it was wonderful.  I didn’t have to give a fork to anybody; everybody had to do their own thing.”

Wells said gardening is the one thing she never grows tired of.  

“I loooove it,” says the woman who belongs to two garden clubs. “I have had a garden ever since I was a child. It is my second favorite love, right behind my children, which are perfect.”  The loving grandmother also thinks her six grandchildren are perfect.

Gardening can also be therapeutic offers Wells.

“If I am mad at Joe, I can pinch his head off in the garden,” she adds with her spirited girlish grin.

“I never eaten a green vegetable, she deadpanned. I have a flower garden.  And I don’t eat healthy.”

Her mother, Dorris Carter, later Chapin, lived just three doors away until her death at 87.  Wells recalls Saturdays as a child of 10 or so, accompanying her mother as she went to sit with aunt Freta Carter.  “We would tell her what we had done, even though she couldn’t talk,” Wells fondly remembers.

Modest and unpretentious, Wells links two of Lookout Mountain’s most famous families – the Carters and the Chapins.   Her uncle, Garnet Carter, started Rock City, developed the Fairyland community and invented the Tom Thumb (miniature) Golf.  Wells’ grandfather built the American National Bank, now Sun Trust.  Her grandfather and father were both presidents of the bank and her husband, Ralston, was a trust officer before his retirement. The youngest of three children, Wells’ brother Edward, (E.Y. Chapin Jr.) lives on the mountain and sister, Lynn, who she says “is the dearest child you’ll ever meet,” lives down in the valley. 

Wells attended Lookout Mountain School, graduated from GPS and then left home for Mt Vernon College in Washington, D.C.  The former GPS May Queen married Ralston Wells on Dec 12,1950. Like Wells’ parents, the couple raised three children, two girls and a boy, on the mountain.  “One lives in North Carolina and two in Atlanta. They could hardly wait to get away.  There wasn’t much to do here. Now, they are all dying to come back.  Chattanooga is really just getting kind of cute.”

Wells admits she had a boy “that was in love with me and use to ride the incline up to visit.”

“You would date boys that lived downtown. We didn’t have cars then.  And, they would ride up on the incline and a bus to your house and you would have a date with them, sitting there in the living room.”

Wells said her fondest memories are of an “unscheduled” childhood.

“School was wonderful!  You got up in the morning.  They drove you to school and said don’t come home until six o’ clock.  We had to walk home and we had to make due until dinner time,” she remembers. “You were free to do what you wanted to do, and we didn’t have my mother picking me up and taking me to dancing,” Wells added.  “It’s wonderful what we lived. We talk about how nice it was not to be so hovered over.”

Asked if she feels we have lost anything in our present society, Wells answers quickly.  “I don’t think we have lost a single thing.”  And then after reflecting a moment adds, “Maybe our freedom.”

Though comfortable and fulfilled, Wells’ life is not without many of the challenges of aging.  She fights to maintain a positive spirit. 

“Do you mind if I grit my teeth a minute,” Wells says regarding a present concern.

She has been unable to garden after falling and breaking her wrist while planting some flowers.

“I have fallen two or three times,” she admits.

Wells laughs, “The children have taken the cars away from me and my husband.”

A member of the Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church for 55 years, 30 as their secretary, Wells says she imagines heaven as a place of “constant peace.”

One of my favorite pictures of Dorris was shot by my wife Erin.

Though she is quick to assert that being raised on Fairy Trail, she has enjoyed a “fairytale life,” Wells’ aging life is not without fears and challenges.

“I worry about my children and grandchildren,” Wells admits.  “And I worry about worrying.” 

Though Wells loves to tease – a comfortable way of masking many real concerns ­­– there is a twinge of sadness in her blue eyes.

“I just want to be content,” she shares. “I have not quite made my peace.”

Beneath the great sense of humor is a deep and introspective soul

A fun, witty and deep soul, Dorris Wells can rest in the recognition she has brought joy and comfort to many lives.

“She’s everything to me, that’s the truth.  Everything!” offered Mary C. “Caroline” Goines, 87, who has worked for the Wells family for 39 years. “She says some of the cutest things and she doesn’t lie.”

Says Wells of Goines, “She’s my best friend.”

“Their home was always a magnet because she understood kids and listened to them,” remembers Bill Chapin, Wells’ nephew, President and CEO of See Rock City Inc.

“We can really tell each other what is on our heart. That will make you a friend even if you are not related.”

Choosing his words carefully, Chapin adds, “The great thing is that we can laugh together and cry together. We have laughed together and cried together.” 

“She was like a mother to me,” he says emotionally. “My dad moved to Florida, Aunt Dossie didn’t.”

After 81 years, what advice would she offer young folks.

“Be honest in everything you do. I didn’t’ do it so good when I was little.

“The world is so small, you go to behave at all times.”

Wells chuckles, “I don’t know much about my life, I have never been interviewed.  I’ve always wanted to be interviewed, but I never have been.”

        Dorris died peacefully at her home, January 5, 2012