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Thursday, December 26,2013

Powers of 10

Ten who died in greater Lansing in 2013

by Lawrence Cosentino

This story was correct on Jan. 3 to include correct information for Margery Gilcrest-Hesse.

Again this year we celebrate the lives of departed friends and neighbors. What follows are their stories and the memories that framed their lives.

Robert “Budweiser Bob” Condon

One New Year’s Eve in the mid-1970s, a drunk driver ran off the road near Frandor Shopping Center in Lansing into a cyclone fence. The top bar of the fence, about 25 feet long, pierced the windshield, the driver’s chest, the bucket seat behind him, the floorboard of the car and the turf underneath the wreck. The impaled driver was alive and talking when EMS personnel arrived.

While a shocked responder stayed with the injured man, turning aside constantly to vomit, East Lansing firefighter and EMS technician Bob Condon calmly went into action. Condon led the crew that cut the pipe and pulled the bucket seat out, with the man in the seat and the pipe running through both. The ambulance cot stayed in storage. They carried him into Sparrow Hospital in the bucket seat. Sparrow’s emergency room team had never seen anything like it.

“He never panicked,” Condon’s friend and colleague, Joe Clevenger, recalled. “He used common sense and maintained command and composure. He didn’t get easily flustered.”

If a fire looked hairy, Condon would give his men perspective. “We didn’t start this fire,” he would tell them.

Condon was a top athlete at Haslett High, excelling in track, football and baseball. He joined the East Lansing Fire Department fresh out of the Navy.

He liked ambulance duty so much he kept at it for 20 years, far more than required. Later, when he was promoted to captain, he chafed at giving it up, but he had to take care of his company.

“Bob was one of the most fun people you could ever work with,” Clevenger said. “He looked forward to coming

to work.” Many firefighters laundered their own uniforms, but Condon had his dry-cleaned. He loved the camaraderie in the firehouse.

“You’re with these guys 24 hours a day,” Clevenger said.

“You go into burning buildings with them. You trust them with your life, and they trust you. It’s a unique brotherhood.”

Responding to a fire at the MSU chemistry building in the 1980s, Condon’s crew had to haul a hose up three flights of stairs, wearing 60-pound oxygen tanks into a miasma of chemicals. Condon’s bell went off, signaling that his 30 minutes of oxygen was about to run out, but he stayed on the scene until his men were out of danger.

After Condon retired, he and his friends went to a fishing lodge in Ontario for most of the summer, with 20 retired firemen from Lansing and elsewhere. They would fish during the day, play poker and drink beer at night.

Condon wanted his ashes scattered in the fountain at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, his favorite spot on the planet. He left airplane tickets for six people to make a trip of it.

They carried out the assignment on Dec. 2, Condon’s birthday. Although “Budweiser Bob” retired 17 years ago, three active East Lansing firefighters who worked under him as rookies joined the group.

“We all got a bottle of Budweiser and raised a toast to him before we spread his ashes,” Clevenger said. “We did it his way.”

Condon died in April at age 71.

Dorothy Ann Eagle Scott

Medical care was less than optimal in the Panama Canal Zone in 1919, where Dorothy Ann Eagle Scott’s father worked as a railroad engineer. Her eyes weren’t washed properly at birth, and they became infected. She kept some eyesight until 4, when a follow-up operation blinded her completely.

She was enrolled in the School for the Blind in Lansing, a boarding school, staying with her parents in Flint when school wasn’t in session.

As soon as Dorothy graduated in 1938, she started her own business, Blind Made Products. She walked from door to door, selling brooms and other household products she made herself, recording the orders in Braille and racking up big sales. When meat was rationed in wartime, she got a kick out of getting extra meat coupons for her two German shepherd leader dogs.

In 1939, she got a ham radio license and did civilian wartime duty, transmitting messages from overseas servicemen to their families. Operator W8UDA was the first blind woman in America to be licensed for a ham radio.

In the early 1940s, Dorothy co-founded the Michigan chapter of the National Federation for the Blind, a growing civil rights group fighting discrimination in workplace and public accommodations.

Dorothy’s first husband, Paul, died of kidney failure 13 months after the wedding. “He was the love of her life, for sure, from what I’ve heard,” her son by a second marriage, Terry Eagle, said.

In 1953, at a National Federation for the Blind convention, she met Donald Eagle, a congenitally blind man who worked for Pontiac Motors. Eagle was completely blind by 1960. He worked hard and was a good provider.

Scott moved to Pontiac and raised five kids (and, for many years, cared for her ailing mother) while staying active as an advocate for the blind. She was a lector for decades at church services, using Braille to read Scripture each week. She was a leader in the local PTA and deeply involved in her kids’ sports and scouting.

The rest of the time she read voraciously. The beleaguered mail carrier hauled packages heaped with Braille books — about six times bulkier than books for sighted people — to the house, along with outsized versions of magazines like Ladies Home Journal.

She taught her kids to write in Braille so they could leave notes like this: “Mom, there are clothes in the washer. Can you put them in the dryer?” “It was really cool that we could communicate with her,” Terry Eagle said.

All but one of her children ended up with jobs in Lansing, so Scott sold the home in Pontiac and moved to the capital in 1983. Her later years were filled with reading, church activities and a weekly Uno club with old friends from the School for the Blind, two of whom are still alive. She died June 10 at 93.

Clinton Canady Jr.

When Clinton Canady Jr., finished dental school in 1945, he planned to move to Detroit and set up a practice. So did several of his classmates from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., who also hailed from the Motor City.

That plan changed when he got a call from Lansing, where there were no African-American dentists in the late 1940s. Canady’s son, attorney Alan Canady, said the void was created when the first black dentist in Lansing moved out of town shortly after setting up his practice. However, Canady’s recruiters were hardly civil rights conscious.

“The white medical establishment didn’t like to treat black patients,” Alan Canady said. (Another son is Ingham county Circuit Judge Clinton Canady III.) That’s the world Clinton Canady entered, but not the world he left behind.

A quiet leader in Lansing’s African-American community and the city at large, Canady racked up a lot of firsts.

His family came to Detroit from Alabama in the 1920s as part of the Great Migration of African-Americans from the rural South to the industrial North, when his father found work at the new Ford Rouge River complex. He went to dental school in Tennessee, but struggled to pay his way, even with his father’s help, until he joined the Army. He was a member of the famous Tuskegee Airmen, but was never stationed overseas.

Canady was grateful to the Army for the tuition grants and living stipend, but black officers weren’t always respected in the Deep South. Canady walked into the officer’s club at one base with a friend, only to be told to leave. The friend was ready to throw a punch, but Canady calmed him down and told him that wasn’t the way to solve anything.

“He wasn’t a screamer,” Alan Canady said. “He was a quiet presence. That’s how he felt you could change things.”

As soon as Canady returned to Detroit, his mother dispatched him, still in uniform, to the local barber shop, where his dad’s factory buddies liked to chide Clinton Canady Sr. for throwing money away on his son’s college adventure. The sight of a young black man in an officer’s uniform silenced them.

In his 50 years as a dentist and quiet mainstay of the community, Canady recruited many other African-American leaders to the area. As the first African-American on the firefighters’ board, he helped launch affirmative action policies and recruited some of Lansing’s first black teachers and police officers. In the early 1970s, he became the first black member of the Lansing Country Club, partly to make a point, partly to enjoy the golf.

Canady was also friends with MSU football coach Duffy Daugherty and helped recruit the stars of the 1965 championship teams like Bubba Smith and Gene Washington, both from Texas, when many southern colleges like LSU and Alabama wouldn’t field black players. To make the recruits feel welcome, Canady had them at his house when they were in town.

Canady’s closest friend was Rex Weaver, a Flint dentist and old college mate. Their wives were also best friends. Both families went to Europe together when Alan Canady was 8 years old, in 1964. He remembers them laughing and staying out late, enjoying the Paris night life.

Canady amassed a vast collection of big band music.

Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie were favorites.

“He listened to that music until the day he died,” Alan Canady said. He died July 4.

Merrian “Josephine” Vail

As a young girl, Josephine Vail set off firecrackers outside her dad’s bedroom window while he was sleeping and ran off into the woods. Vail’s daughter-in-law, Barbara Vail, said she was “probably a bit of a stinker.”

But she behaved well when it counted. On May 18, 1927, she was given a day off from Bath Consolidated School in rural Bath Township for good deportment. That day, Vail walked her younger brother, Ralph, to school, and strolled off with friends to a meadow. She was picking flowers at about 8:45 when she heard an explosion at the north end of the school.

A former school board treasurer, angered over an election defeat and facing mortgage foreclosure, went on a killing spree that included blowing up the north wing of the school with dynamite. By the end of his rampage, he had killed 38 children and seven adults, including his wife and himself. The Bath school disaster is still the deadliest attack ever to occur in an American school.

“They piled all the bodies along the north end of the schoolyard out front,” Vail’s daughter Joyce Svendsen said. Ralph was among the dead.

“Her mother sent her to see if Ralph was there,” Svendsen said. “She said her mother couldn’t bear to do it. You can imagine how that would affect a young girl.”

Her brother Ralph was 7. She was 13 and lived to be 100. Vail died July 18.

She stayed in Bath, married a man who worked at the REO factory in Lansing, and raised seven kids on a farm. She never mustered the money to go to nursing school, but didn’t seem to mind. She loved working the farm and left the housework to her daughters when she could. She hung on to her independence well into her late 90s.

Josephine didn’t talk much about the bombing until later in life, after the Columbine shooting rekindled public interest and stirred memories.

“She never got over it,” Svendsen said. “She had to keep going, but I think it affected her always.”

Archie V. Tarpoff

In 1914, a massacre of male children took place in a wartorn Macedonian village. Two of Archie Tarpoff’s brothers were killed. Neighbors dressed infant Archie as a girl and hid him in a monastery. He survived, came to Lansing in 1924 and became one of the city’s most visible restaurateurs and memorable personalities. Tarpoff died June 1 at 98.

Just out of Eastern High School, Tarpoff became a major regional attraction in fast-pitch softball. He pitched 66 consecutive scoreless innings for the Oldsmobile team and over 50 no-hitters. For big games, 6,000 or more fans jammed Ranney Park to watch him. The Pittsburgh Pirates tried to recruit him, but only offered $100 a month, so he turned them down.

In 1938, Tarpoff and his wife, Peg, launched Archy’s Snack Shop in downtown Lansing. By the late 1940s, he ran three restaurants in Lansing at once: Archy’s Lounge at 111 W. Michigan Ave., Archie Tarpoffs at 124 E. Kalamazoo St., and Archy’s New Hut at 2321 E. Michigan Ave. (Archie Tarpoff spelled his first name both ways, as the mood struck.)

The most storied of these was Archy’s Lounge, near to the Hotel Olds (now the Romney Building, where the Governor’s Office is). The long, curving bar seemed to snake into infinity. The atmosphere was “casual but expectant, leisurely and exciting” with “full-measure drinks that have the ring of authority,” according to an account in Inside Lansing magazine. Legislators and TV stars like Dan Blocker from “Bonanza” and Dale Robertson of “Wells Fargo” were frequenters.

(Robertson frequently came to Lansing to get REO trucks and equipment for his Texas ranch.)

Tarpoff made the rounds, greeting customers, sporting a well tailored suit and a white carnation.

A posh 1960s successor to the lounge was Tarpoff’s, at the corner of Kalamazoo and Grand Avenue, with its famous waterfall, flowers, water lilies and wall of native Michigan rocks. At Christmastime, a special drink, the Tom and Jerry, was served warm, with a scoop of sweet batter, rum, brandy and nutmeg.

His daughter, Lori Tarpoff, kept the recipe secret and plans to keep the Christmas tradition alive.

Mark Ritzenhein

Mark Ritzenhein was a vexillologist on the side. That is to say, he studied the design of flags. It was one among many things he took very seriously.

In 2012, Ritzenhein delivered some typical straight talk when he and his partner of 30 years, Stephen Wilensky, donated a collection of 2,000 gay-themed books and other materials to MSU. “For the past 30 years, in my personal life, I’ve tried to be as out as possible and not to hide, to remind people that not everybody is a cookie cutter human being,” Ritzenhein said.

He needn’t have worried. By trade, Ritzenhein was a restorer of fortepianos, but was also a fervent advocate of native plant gardening, a poet, a textile artist and more.

Ritzenhein and Wilensky traveled together to every continent, every state, every Canadian province. In Antarctica, they slid down a snowy hill in the bright sunshine of Paradise Bay, drawing looks from curious penguins.

The travel helped make life in provincial Lansing go down easier. Back in the 1980s, Ritzenhein took offense when a Lansing Councilwoman suggested that every “queer” in Lansing belonged in San Francisco.

“I thought, ‘You go to San Francisco,’” he said. “I decided that this is my home and my community, and I have every right to be part of it and to stay here.”

In December 2011, Ritzenhein, stricken with brain cancer, emailed fellow members of the Lansing Area Human Rights network: “I bid you farewell now, as I am still able to do so. I have had a gloriously happy life, and I am content and at ease with my own accomplishment of it, together with Steve, for the past 30 years. Not many of us get the chance to actually say goodbye.”

Last year, he designed a sculpture Wilensky commissioned from East Lansing sculptor Jim Cunningham: an 8-foot-high tuning fork hitting a piano tuning pin made of stainless steel. Wilensky donated it to the MSU Library, where it stands on the second floor.

One of his last projects gave him the right to finally call himself a vexillologist. Fighting his illness, he finished a study of the five largest towns in the Canadian province of Nunavut for a 2013 book, “Canadian City Flags.” The book’s editor, Ted Kaye, wrote that Ritzenhein had the most difficult job of the book’s 10 contributors, yet he submitted his chapters before any of them.

“He produced in-depth and insightful articles on neverbefore-studied flags, now beautifully documented with their history, design and meaning by Mark,” Kaye wrote.

Typically, Ritzenhein wrote his own bone-dry third-person biographical note: “His five articles here are his first — and likely last — scholarly contribution to vexillology.”

He died June 6 at 54.

Winifred B. Olds

In the property department at Starlight Dinner Theatre, many gifts from the home of Winifred B. Olds, from furniture to earrings to clothes to paintings, are marked with a “W.”

“That’s the way to keep her with us,” Starlight’s artistic director, Linda Granger, said. “Everybody loved her, the backstage crew, the actors, everybody.”

Olds racked up an incredible 70 years in Lansing community theater. When her first husband, Robert Blackwood, was killed in an auto accident, Olds and her new baby moved in with her parents in Lansing. She immediately took roles in local plays, billed as Winifred Blackwood.

“What got her through that whole thing is doing theater,” her daughter, Julia MacLachlan, said.

She took private lessons from MSU drama instructor William “Bill” Fawcett, a TV and movie character actor in the 1970s.

In her early 30s, she embarked on a long series of TV shows, including “Today in Michigan,” “This is Your Community” and “The City Speaks.” To MacLachlan’s delight, her mother would bring TV guests like character actor Edward Everett Horton or comedienne ZaSu Pitts home for dinner after the show.

Olds’ second husband, architect J. Wesley Olds, took bit parts in his wife’s plays. They were married for 61 years. In 1958, the couple, along with Bee and Carl Vary, co-founded an offshoot of Lansing Civic Players called Community Circle Players, later Okemos Barn Theatre and now Riverwalk Theatre.

Artistic standards varied in Olds’ many shows, but fun was always top priority. Veteran director and actress Jane Zussman enjoyed two stints in a witches’ coven with Olds, in “Witches’ Brew” and “Witches’ Gumbo,” children’s plays written by Bill Helder for Riverwalk.

“There was only one scene the witches weren’t in,” Zussman said. “We all went to the front lobby, in costume, to go to the bathroom.”

Olds had a late-career bloom at Starlight Dinner Theatre, where Granger, who had known Olds since 1972, was eager to get her back on the stage and planned a show every year for her, beginning in 2006.

“Some people fade out, but I keep expecting to see her in the lobby,” Zussman said.

When Olds played Miss Marple for an Agatha Christie mystery, she had to wait for applause to die down before uttering a line. Her last role was Ouiser in 2012’s “Steel Magnolias” (played by Shirley MacLaine in the Herbert Ross film).

“I’m surprised she never played it before, because it’s written for her — sarcastic, opinionated and cantankerous but loving and caring deep inside,” Granger said.

Two days before Olds died June 20 at 88, Granger talked to her about a world premiere for October, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” For the scene in which Olds would have appeared, all five actresses wore an article of her clothing.

“It’s really hard not having her in a show,” Granger said, fighting back tears

Juan Manuel (John) Lopez

For much of his life, John Lopez carried a dictionary around and read it as if it were a novel. “You don’t understand how important words are in life,” he told his daughters.

Lopez, the owner of Lopez Bakery on Lansing’s north side, died Oct. 9 at age 60.

“He didn’t want that migrant stereotype,” his stepdaughter, Lili Marchlewicz, recalled. “He wanted more than that.”

Lopez founded a bakery dynasty and became a mainstay of Lansing’s Latino community, centered on Cristo Rey Parish and Community Center, and broke new ground as one of the first two Latinos to work for the Ingham County Road Commission and its first Latino supervisor.

In 1960, when Lopez was 7, his family migrated from Carrizo Springs, Texas, to the heart of Lansing’s barrio, on the north side of town. His father, Pedro Lopez, ran a series of bakeries in Lansing, most notably Monterrey Panaderia on North Grand River. At Pedro’s side, John grew up learning the art of Mexican pan (bread) and pastels (pastries).

Nobody could resist the Lopez version of molleta, a soft yeast bread with a baked-on sugar coating.

“Right out of the oven, that was the one all of us kids wanted,” Marchlewicz said. “It would melt in your mouth.”

“Nobody around here makes them the way they did,” Lopez’s wife, Rose Mary Lopez, recalled.

They met in 1973 at a Cinco de Mayo dance at Lansing’s Resurrection Church.

“He walked in and he had this off-white suit on, and I just thought he looked really gorgeous,” she said. “I fell in love with him at first sight, and he did with me. From then on it was the two of us.”

Anyone who dealt with Lopez, from friends to restaurant waiters to his wife, had to brace for constant legpulling. “I don’t believe you’re really the chief of police,” he once told a chief of police. “He was forever pushing someone’s buttons,” Mrs. Lopez said.

But was serious when it mattered. Lopez first became involved with migrant workers in the 1970s, visiting farms, bringing workers to clinics and distributing clothing. Later, he went to Washington with several people from Cristo Rey church to support immigration reform.

At home, he took on two jobs with boundless energy, running a bakery seven days a week while working full time for the Ingham County Road Commission.

Between work and family, he and his wife became founding members of Cristo Rey Church and Community Center, the anchors of Lansing’s Latino community. Lopez was indispensible to many Cristo Rey events, especially the Fiesta, where he set up and broke down tents, chairs and tables and manned the fajita booth.

Struck with pancreatic cancer, Lopez joked to his wife, “I’m too young to die. I haven’t collected Social Security.”

For his memorial service, his wife chose a picture she took of him from a memorable Arizona trip.

“He’s up in the rocks and it looks like a mountain in the clouds,” she said. “When I took that picture, he said, ‘I’m on top of the world.’”

B. Waneta Ouelette

Bertha Waneta Ouelette hated her first name, so she always signed it “B. Waneta Ouelette” and went by “Waneta.” Born in Lansing in 1925, she had a rough childhood, according to her only son, Kenneth. Her dad was an alcoholic. She grew up in a rough sector of Lansing’s east side, near Shepard and Kalamazoo streets. They didn’t have much money, but Ouelette’s mom had a garden, knew how to cook and never refused a hungry visitor during the Depression. Hobos riding the rails devised a special symbol that led to her house, where they were fed and sent away with home-baked goods.

Ouelette went to Pattengill Junior High, but dropped out after seventh grade. At 18, she married her first husband, Harry. An Air Force tail gunner, he was lost in the South Pacific less than a year after their wedding.

During the war, Ouelette worked at Lansing’s Fisher Body plant, riveting engine housings in B-24 bombers. Years later, she met Rose Will Monroe, who worked at the Willow Run bomber plant and was touted in a promotional film as the “real” Rosie the Riveter.

Ouelette met her husband of 63 years, Robert, at “Pop”

Gardner’s roller rink at River and Kalamazoo streets, where she worked the soda fountain. She considered him a pest and watered down his chocolate malts to discourage his advances, but he persisted. They married in 1947 and ended up together for 63 years until he died in 2010.

Later, Ouelette worked at the Adams Potato Chip Co. (“Buy Adams, Buy the Best”) at 827 E. Michigan Ave. Wanting to stay home to raise Kenneth, she ran a licensed day care center from her home in East Lansing for 27 years.

“Fortunately, she treated the kids better than their own parents did, in a lot of cases,” her son said. She mentored new parents on how to care for their kids, especially when they were sick.

“They’d call and ask her for advice,” he said. “She had a great knack to know when to step in and when to stay out of their business.”

In the early '70s, Ouelette and her husband traveled around the country in a motorhome, visiting friends and catching up with far-flung day care kids. Her husband, a horseshoe fanatic, won a few tournaments, including a state championship.

At home, Ouelette cooked killer casseroles, darned socks and lived frugally. Kenneth would find carefully folded squares of foil, ready for reuse, in his mom’s cupboard. They went far on very little. “When I grew up in East Lansing, if your parents weren’t a doctor, a lawyer, associated with the government or MSU, you weren’t anybody,” he said. “Considering the cards she was dealt, the things they were able to do, it’s pretty remarkable.”

Ouelette died Sept. 17 at age 88.

Margery Gilcrest-Hesse

Dear readers,


To my towering regret, I ended this story with a paragraph that belonged in a different profile. Here is the profile, minus the extra (and wrong) paragraph. To keep the length of the profile the same, I have restored a few details that were cut from the original profile for lack of space.

My deepest apologies to Ms. Gilcrest-Hesse’s family for the error.

-Lawrence Cosentino



Margery Gilcrest-Hesse, a compact, fiery teacher and activist, wrote a couple of unusual books. One of them was about the first man in history to give birth. The book’s hero is a doctor who successfully implants a fetus in the body of a right wing televangelist.


“It was ahead of its time,” said her daughter Ellen Beal, the former Lansing Councilwoman. “It’s pretty amusing.”


“A Short, Apprehensive History of the World,” published by Gilcrest-Hesse in 1993, is a sarcastic A to Z lexicon of world history. Under “E,” we find: “Eve’s stomach growled … and man was launched into the labor movement.”


Last week, her son Anthony Beal thumbed through his copy of the book and found a fan letter hand written on U.S. Supreme Court letterhead. “A delight, amusing, imaginative,” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote. “I enjoyed it from A to Z.” A distant relative of Margery’s had somehow passed it on to the justice.


Gilcrest-Hesse was born Oct. 1, 1922 in New Cumberland, W. Va., went to Kent State University and moved to Ann Arbor in the 1940s to be with her first husband, Vernon Lester Beale, a student at the University of Michigan. When Beale got a job in the Lansing area, they moved to a farm near Okemos.


One day, Gilcrest-Hesse s blew a harmless garter snake to smithereens with a 12-gauge shotgun. The recoil hurled her tiny frame, not quite 5 feet tall, to the ground.


“She was direct in that way,” her son recalled. “Not always the best judgment.”


When Gilcrest-Hesse divorced in 1962, she set about raising six kids alone by teaching, first in Williamston and Bath, then in Lansing’s Lyon Elementary.


She missed the farm terribly. “Most people try to move from Lansing to Okemos,” Ellen Beal said. “We moved from Okemos to Lansing.”


She married again, happily, to Russell Wolfe. Her kids recall a whirl of social activism in the 1960s and 1970s.


“We went to civil rights marches in front of City Hall in Lansing when I was in fourth grade,” Ellen Beal recalled.


Gilcrest-Hesse was so strongly opposed to the Vietnam War she got a master’s degree at MSU in Southeast Asian history, while raising six kids and teaching full time.


She liked to tell people about a party in the 1950s where she allegedly persuaded a wavering state senator to pass the bond issue that led to the construction of the Mackinac Bridge. She also took credit for the fall of the Soviet Union after she and Russ made a trip there in 1991.


“She was a force of nature,” Ellen Beal said. “She wasn’t the ‘let’s go get our hair done and go shopping’ kind of mom. She was our family’s moral compass.”

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