Friday, June 5, 2015

The Dorothy and Elbert Carpenter Family scholarship

Tonight, the first Dorothy and Elbert Carpenter Family Scholarship will be awarded to a graduate of Maple Valley High School, through the scholarship foundation my grandparents worked so hard to establish. For each named scholarship, the family donating the money can give a note to the scholarship recipient telling a little about the person their scholarship was named for. The following message is what I wrote on behalf of our family. 

For Dorothy Carpenter, teaching was more than a profession. It was a lifestyle. After graduating from Albion College, she started a teaching career that gave her the chance to teach around mid-Michigan, including the sleepy farming community of Waldron where she met her eventual husband Elbert.

When her father became too ill to tend to his farm alone, Dorothy and Elbert moved back to the family farm, and she began teaching at Maple Valley High School. She was purposefully a tough teacher because she believed every person in her classroom deserved the best possible education to prepare them for life after high school.

While back in Vermontville, Elbert settled into a career with the Grand Trunk Railroad. He was a dedicated member of the Brotherhood of the Railway, Airline, and Steamship Clerks, eventually serving as the General Secretary and Treasurer of the BRAC. He was especially fond of his service to the BRAC, in particular his role in negotiating contracts, because he wanted to ensure a fair deal for his members.

Vermontville, and the Vermontville United Methodist Church were never far from their minds. Countless kids who wanted to go to church or band camps but didn’t have the funds were given anonymous donations to make sure they could attend. Dorothy faithfully played the organ and/or piano every Sunday morning until her arthritis made it too difficult to carry on.

After retiring as an English teacher at MVHS, Dorothy’s dedication to teaching and the community she loved guided her to found the Maple Valley Memorial Scholarship Foundation with her good friend Junia Jarvey, herself a newly retired teacher from the Valley.

With the support of their husbands, Dorothy and Junia guided the scholarship through several Kiss-The-Pig fundraisers and attended as many alumni events as humanly possible in order to raise money and awareness for the scholarships. As retired educators, they also took the time to mentor other scholarship boards so students from around the state could have a shot at earning much-needed scholarship money.

One principle they always worked toward was making sure the most deserving, regardless of grades or class standing, had the opportunity to earn a scholarship. Part of the reason scholarships are awarded to MV graduates attending trade schools is to make sure they were honoring that principle.

Our family is proud of the service Dorothy and Elbert gave to the community they loved so much. We are excited their memory will last through the MVMSF, and their story told to deserving MV graduates, like you.

Monday, December 22, 2014

My 2014 Davemas letter to Gumpy

Dear Gumpy,

It has been five years since we've been able to talk on Davemas. While I think of you everyday, especially now that I'm a father, you're always in the forefront of my thoughts on my birthday because you insisted my birthday made you feel older than your birthday did.

My heart is a little heavier this year because it will be the first time I can't pick up the phone and call Ema. I miss my grandmother too, and I am grateful that The Kid and I could spend a day with her when we were in Tampa last year. In some ways, I think that was the first day Ema accepted that my little girl loved her Ema The Great and couldn't wait to see her. That time with Ema and The Kid gave me comfort the day we flew to Port Charlotte to be with Ema during her final moments before she died, and still reminds me that sometimes an inconvenient trip is the right trip to make.

I tried to keep up my end of our bargain when it came to Ema, but she was a tough customer, as you know. You wanted me to make sure my Mom didn't move back to the farm with her, which was easy because I think my Mom new it wouldn't work. You wanted me to make sure she didn't sit at home and mope. That was a little tougher given the distance that separated us, but it was fun trying to get her out of the house.

Your granddaughter-in-law was a saint with Ema. There was the time she agreed to spend a weekend with Ema and I as I attempted to uphold my end of our bargain. We drove up the east-coast of Michigan, exploring lighthouses from Tawas Point to Presque Isle. It was a rare trip where none of us had been on that side of the state, and I think we all enjoyed the adventure. It was also a chance to get the kind of time with Ema that I missed having with you, time where we could interact as adults, not as grandchild/grandparent.

We ended up having several of those moments, and I was able to appreciate them because you helped me understand her a little better. That isn't to say they were all fun, they certainly were not, but they were necessary for me to make peace with Ema's death. I was able to see more for myself what you had been telling me for years, she was proud of me even if she couldn't say it to me.

I want you to know that I took my final promises to you very seriously, which is why I couldn't agree to move back to the farm. I never wanted to disappoint you and I knew I would if I agreed to move back. Now that the farm has been sold, I know I will miss it but I am glad I stayed in Detroit. My life and heart are here. I hope you understand.

Gladys and I have been able to find a house in the city you would have appreciated because there is room for the entire family to come together during the holidays. You would have enjoyed our fireplace, and I think you would have agreed that your workbench is the perfect piece of furniture in my library. Maybe most importantly, we have room for my Mom to move in when she wants, which I know you would have appreciated because you always worried about her so.

My job working for the Mayor of Detroit would have thoroughly fascinated you too. You would have found the mechanics of my job tedious and boring, but the issues I work on and the people I work with would have provided endless entertainment for you. I miss talking politics with you, especially now that I am in the middle of so many issues you would have enjoyed learning about.

The biggest reason I'm glad I didn't move back is The Kid. I don't know that Gladys and I would have found her if we didn't live in the city. You would have loved her, just ask Ema. She's a little light for light work, but she tries like Hell to be a good kid. My current favorite is her insistence that she hands me firewood, mostly because she's a little too small to bring me the wood she wants but she won't stop trying. She is a determined, strong-willed kid.

I'm trying to teach her the right things in life, like how to give and receive a good ribcage massage or to appreciate the occasional Boxcar Willie ditty. I will wait to teach her some of my favorite phrases however, because I know Ema wouldn't approve. Mostly though, I'm trying to remember how you made sure your kids and grandkids knew you loved them so that I can emulate your example.

It's been five and a half years since you passed away. The need to hear your voice has faded, although I can still hear you clearly in my mind. I look at your wedding band and I'm reminded I need to laugh more. I look at your anniversary band and I'm reminded that I need to love my family more. I sit on the workbench and I'm reminded I need to nap more. I put on a suit and I'm reminded how privileged I was to have you as my grandfather, friend, father figure, best friend, and mentor. I look at my wife and I'm reminded of how you and Ema were indivisible. I look at my daughter and I'm reminded of the great responsibility it is to be a father and much you enjoyed that responsibility.

Thanks, Old Boy, for being in my corner for so long. I am truly blessed to have such strong memories of our time on Earth together, if only they help me become the man you knew I could be.

Much love and many thanks,

Best Buddy and Number One Farmhand, Vice President and General Manager of Outside Affairs

Friday, November 28, 2014

A new home for Gumpy's workbench

Gumpy and I working on The Workbench.
My grandfather loved his click clack couch. While it was never intended to be a focal point of any decor, especially not after it was reupholstered in a hideous golden mustard fabric, it ended up being the focal point of the front room of my grandparents' farmhouse. During my lifetime, it never moved out of that room, or from its usual position against the west wall of the room unless we were vacuuming underneath it.

I remember Gumpy telling me on a few occasions that he named that sofa The Workbench because that is where he did his best work. And he considered his daily nap some of his best work.

Gumpy worked hard at all three jobs he held down, and certainly deserved to nap. When he would conk out, nothing would wake him up. My Uncle Jim helped my sister and I prove that by helping us tie Gumpy's chest hairs into knots one afternoon. When he woke up and stretched, the painful howl caused by the chest hairs ripping out could be heard throughout the house.

When he wasn't napping, The Workbench was in the middle of all the action. It was positioned so you could lay down and still watch the television. It was across the room from a Ben Franklin stove that Gumpy loved stoking with wood until the stove itself seemed to glow. If I was spending the night with Ema and Gumpy, I loved to sit under the hanging lamp that was positioned just above it, reading until Ema told me to turn off the light.

The farm was sold a few weeks before Gladys and I closed on our new house. A lot of the furniture we inherited works well in our 1926 Colonial, especially the dining room table my great-grandparents had received as a gift when they were married.

But the one piece of furniture that feels like it's right at home is The Workbench. The library in our house is lined with a light wood panelling that just needs a few more coats of lemon oil to really stand out. The beautiful wood doesn't make The Workbench look any better, but it feels like it belongs in a room like this. With books lining one wall, it makes a great place to curl up and read for a few hours, or to type out another blog post.

I claimed the library as my room. I don't need a man cave, I just need a place with my books and a desk to feel like I can get things done. The Workbench is a perfect compliment, even in its golden mustard glory, for as hideous as it looks, it will always remind me of my grandparents. I just hope I get the chance to do some of my best work on it for as long as Gumpy did.