Friday, August 29, 2014

Domonkas Library Article – Sept. 20, 1963

The Domonkas Branch of the Lorain Public Library in Sheffield Lake (my town) is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Hard to believe it's been there that long.

Many people in Sheffield Lake may not know the story of Stephen and Ruth Domonkas and how their generosity and love for the city made the library possible. That's why I'm posting this article (below) written by Ron Royhab that originally appeared in the Journal on Friday, September 20, 1963. It tells the whole story of the "big reveal" of the previously unidentified donor.


Library Benefactor Revealed
Stephen Domonkas Donates $100,000 To Sheffield Lake

SHEFFIELD LAKE – The "great mystery" of the unidentified donor who has offered to give $100,000 for the construction of a library in Sheffield Lake was revealed Thursday night at the Lorain Public Library.

The donor, Stephen Domonkas, 3719 Lake Rd., agreed to donate the money under two conditions – that the library be built on the Kennedy F. Green property, adjacent to the present Community Park, and be given his name.

In April Sheffield Lake City Council authorized the purchase of the Green property for $36,000 when it learned of Domonkas' offer.

At the meeting, C. Paul Stocker, president of the Lorain Library Board, gave the reasons for keeping the name of the donor unpublished.

"This pleasant occasion took months of behind the scenes work," Stocker said, "and there were so many things to settle before we could take this gift for the Sheffield Lake Library."

Monday night City Council passed an ordinance authorizing Mayor Frank Duguid and Service Director Jack Schaffer to sign and execute, on behalf of the city, a contract of lease with the Lorain Library Board.

The contract stipulates that the Lorain Library Board Trustees of the Lorain County Extension Center will lease the city-owned property for 99 years at the rate of $10 per year.

The library will be called "Domonkas Public Library."

According to Stocker, the library should be completed by next September. The donation should cover the cost of the building, but books and materials will be purchased by Lorain Library Fund.

Alfred L. Fauver, Lorain architect, drew up the master plans for the library.

The whole plan started when Domonkas contacted Stocker and asked, "How do you get a library in this town." Domonkas held a meeting of the board in his home and announced his donation to get a library in Sheffield Lake.

Domonkas, born in Hungary, came to the United States in 1896. He was the owner and operator of two car lots in Cleveland. One was on the East Side and the other was on the West Side. He was with the General Motors Co. for 42 years.

He and his wife, Ruth, have traveled the world six times. They have been in every country in the world. They just recently came back from Alaska.

This 75-year-old man told the group why he made this donation.

"I have always been interested in education. A library is the best medium for educating youngsters and adults – you're never too old to learn."

"Actually," he went on, "the motive in back of this whole thing is that I am glad to do this for the group of people I live with."

The Domonkases have lived in Sheffield Lake for 40 years.

Mrs. Domonkas said, "We don't have a family, we found Sheffield Lake, watched it grow and wanted to do something good for it."

She remarked that her husband always enjoyed reading. "When he was a boy," she said, "he would spend his allowance on books and pay for them by the week."

Mayor Duguid remarked, "There is no statement that could show our appreciation. This library will benefit our community – children and adults alike.

Miss Marion M. King, who has been with the Lorain Public Library for 26 years, said that the new library would be able to house 25,000 volumes, but would not be stocked with that many at first.

Sheffield Lake City officials including the mayor and Council President Earl Barnhart were present at the meeting.

To find out more about the history of the Domonkas Library, as well as information concerning some special 50th anniversary events, click here to visit the library's website.)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hoolihan & Big Chuck at Brookside High School – August 1975

Heather Feather
I already covered Ghoulardi's 1963 appearance in Lorain (back here) so it makes sense to do a post on a personal appearance of his late night TV successors – Hoolihan and Big Chuck. They appeared at Brookside High School as part of a night of big time wrestling action on August 24, 1975 – 39 years ago this month.

Headlining the show was Flying Fred Curry versus "Mad Dog" Zarnoff. Also on the card was "Wild Bull" Curry going up against former Ohio State football star Bob White.

A special tag team match featured female wrestlers teamed with midgets: 389-pound Heather Feather and Little Joe versus Marcia Rainbow and Pat Kennedy.

The McGuire Twins – listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the World's Heaviest Twins (each weighed more than 700 pounds) also made a special appearance, taking on The Assassins.

The McGuire Twins
Pound for pound, it sounds like quite a night of entertainment for a measly one dollar general admission ticket. Plus, you had the comic stylings of Hoolihan and Big Chuck.

Did anyone out there attend this gala event? If so, be sure to leave a comment!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Prehistoric Forest Revisited in Early 1960s Articles

Vintage postcard of Prehistoric Forest showing original building and tram
(Courtesy of ForwardLook website)
Summer is rapidly drawing to a close, and it's making me wax nostalgic (whatever that means).

It's hard to believe that it's been four years since Prehistoric Forest out near Marblehead closed. You might remember that back in 2010, I blogged extensively about both Prehistoric Forest and its companion attraction, Mystery Hill, back in this post, as well as my multi-part farewell series, and my postcard sampler.

Anyway, mentioning this gives me an excuse to post some vintage Sandusky Register articles about the late, great attraction. They provide a detailed history of the park that isn't available anywhere else.

First up is a short article that appeared in the Sandusky Register on July 13, 1963 – apparently shortly after Prehistoric Forest opened in May of that year.

Next is a collection of articles and photos that appeared about a year later in the Sandusky Register on August 22, 1964. One article introduces the reader to the wonders of Mystery Hill.

Lastly is an article that appeared in the Sandusky Register on October 8, 1965. It was written by Sue Hively, the newspaper's Women's Editor, and explains how James Q. Sidwell constructed and maintained the prehistoric "pets" for his park.

Wonder whatever happened to all the dinosaurs? As recently as last week, I visited the Prehistoric Forest/Mystery Hill website in preparation for this post, and noticed that the owners were still selling off various dinosaurs and items from the park.

But today, the link is as extinct as their beasts.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Late 1960s Champion Map of W. Lorain County

Yesterday I mentioned how for many years, the new Route 2 freeway ended at Baumhart Road. Here's a page from a Champion Map Atlas map showing that area and much of the northwest portion of Lorain County.

It's a lot of fun to get lost in these old maps. This one includes some of my favorite areas, including Route 6 west of the undercut.

Unfortunately, the map has no copyright date. However, you can still kind of get a rough idea of the time period in which it was printed.

It has a zip code listing in the back, so that puts it after 1963. The map also has the Penn Central Railroad tracks on it, so that puts it at least around 1968, since that is when the New York Central and the Pennsylvania Railroads merged. Strangely, it still includes Black River Township, which ceased to exist as of August 1964 after its remaining portion was annexed to Lorain.

Nevertheless it looks like a late 1960s map, even if some out-of-date elements were retained from earlier versions. (By the way, I had to scan the map in sections, so there's a bit of a seam in the middle of it.)

The map shows why Cooper-Foster Park Road jogs around the way it does today. Another interesting element of the map include the old bypassed stretch of Lake Road shown winding its way through the Beaver Park area. The old roadbed is still there today (most of it, anyway) but you can't drive it. (Several years ago, I tried to drive down into Beaver Park on the old Lake Road alignment, but a nearby resident – anticipating my intentions – quickly cut me off on foot.)

Monday, August 25, 2014

August 25, 1975 – Section of Route 2 Opens

Although it might seem strange to someone too young to remember, there was a time when State Route 2 west of Lorain (the freeway, that is) was completed in various chunks over many years.

I can still remember when Route 2 ended at Baumhart and you had to get off.

But that era eventually ended. The photo and caption above – which appeared on the front page of the Journal of August 24, 1975 – announces the opening of the section from Baumhart Road in Lorain to State Route 61 (Ceylon Road) in Berlin Heights on August 25, 1975 – 39 years ago today.

As the caption notes, the section of Route 2 from State Route 61 to State Route 13 in Huron was not built yet. I can't remember what the delay was all about; I thought it had something to do with environmental issues or acquiring land or something. Does anybody remember?

According to this Wiki history of Route 2, the section from Huron to Ceylon was upgraded to freeway in August 1990. No wonder it still seems new to me.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Arby's Ad for Cartoon Character Glasses – August 28, 1975

Remember those cartoon character glasses that were available at select local fast food restaurants as part of a Pepsi promotion in the 1970s?

Of course you do. You might even have tried to assemble a complete set of the glasses (dated 1973) featuring the Warner Brothers Looney Tunes gang.

But it was almost impossible to accomplish. Often the store would not have the advertised glass of the week, and instead of Daffy Duck, you might end up disappointedly with Beaky Buzzard.

And even if you did manage to get a pretty good collection going, it was very likely that it would never survive the dishwasher.

Anyway, the Arby's ad above ran in the Journal on August 28, 1975. I wonder how many people were excited to get the Cool Cat glass?

I didn't go to Arby's to get my glasses. Hardees on Oberlin Avenue had the same glasses, so that's where I went. I even remember riding bikes there with a girl I liked so she could get the (ugh) Tweetie Pie glass, since the obnoxious canary was her favorite character.

We had several sets of glasses going in the Brady household, much to my mother's annoyance, I'm sure. They certainly cluttered up the bulging kitchen cabinets for a while, until the dishwasher started inevitably thinning the inventory. Then the rest of them that survived went off with us to college. (I have no idea whatever happened to mine.)

I always liked those original 1973 glasses, though, because they featured (for the most part) the definitive designs of the characters used on posters and in advertising in the 1940s and 50s.

Here's a complete set of the 1973 glasses (below), courtesy of Etsy.

A 1976 series of glasses featuring the characters interacting with each other just weren't as well drawn, and we didn't feel as bad when those broke.

Today, several generations of kids have grown up who never watched The Bugs Bunny Show on Saturday mornings – which is too bad. But for those of us who grew up in the 60s and 70s and enjoyed those cartoons, the Pepsi glasses were a lot of fun to collect.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

O. A. Hafely Ad – August 23, 1930

Here's an ad for O. A. Hafely Home Building & Financing that ran in the newspaper on August 23, 1930. The ad announces a new office that was opening at 1815 Oberlin Avenue.

I was a little surprised to see this ad, since I mainly associate Hafely built homes on the east side of Lorain. I lived in one myself back in the late 1980s on Nebraska Avenue.

I've blogged about O. A. Hafely before, including posting this 1969 article that included an interview with the man himself.

So is the little building shown in the ad still there on Oberlin Avenue? Sure, it is!

I wonder if the people living in it are aware of its connection with a company that helped transform Lorain?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

More Davidson Musings

That's East Skyline Drive running horizontally across the photo, south of
the Davidson property. You can see where Marshall Avenue dead-ends.
I received an email asking about the status of the Davidson house today. It's still there (as shown above) – the estate is as beautiful as ever in its unique setting, sandwiched between the working class homes of Meister Road and East Skyline Drive. I believe it has been enlarged over the years.

In yesterday's post, I forgot to mention a few things. First, the peacocks. I can remember their unique squawks coming from the property on many a morning in the 1960s.

I also forgot to note that my father's favorite uncle – Uncle Ben – was in the same graduating class of Lorain High School as Everett Davidson.

I'm hoping that members of the Davidson family notice this post. Why? Because Lorain dairy farmer William Neuman's daughter (Phyllis) married Lorain attorney Everett Davidson. I'm hoping that a descendant may have access to some old photos or information about the farm, which was located just down Meister Road to the east.

I'm hoping someone in the family has a photo of the Neuman farmhouse being moved, or perhaps any other interesting tidbits about the Davidson home and how it came to be located on Meister Road.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Davidson Home Article – August 20, 1959

For those of us that grew up on the west side of Lorain near Meister Road, the Davidson home always instilled a sense of wonderment. It was a real mansion, set back far enough from the road that you couldn't get a real good look at it. We could only see part of the back of it from Skyline Drive.

But it was probably our earliest introduction to the concept of being "rich."

After all, the Davidsons employed a gardener that many kids liked to provoke by sneaking onto the property to steal apples or whatever.

Anyway, the article above written by Lou Kepler – which appeared in the Lorain Journal on August 20, 1959 – profiles the family and gives a nice description of the house and property circa 1959, for those of us who have always wondered what it looked like.

The article includes a few interesting tidbits, including the fact that "two creeks, Martin's Run and Horn Creek, bisect the Davidson property."

Monday, August 18, 2014

Vintage Lorain County Fair Ad – August 18, 1946

Here's an ad for the great Lorain County Fair that ran in the Lorain Journal on August 18, 1946 – 68 years ago today!

That's some great looking illustrations of the farm animals. It looks like the artist actually studied some photos of the real thing before creating his rendering. (That's pretty rare these days; even now, if I had to draw a horse, he'd probably look like Quick Draw McGraw without the hat.)

Anyway, according to some vintage online newspaper articles, a record 4,500 people attended the fair on the opening day that year.

Courtesy Billboard
And in case you're wondering about the evening programs, Klein's Revue consisted of "breath-taking aerial acts," and the Congress of Daredevils was an automobile thrill show (which you can read about here).

The WLS Circus featured its famous White Horse Troupe (see ad at right).

Quite a difference from the fair fare of today.

Anyway, I hope to make it out to the Fair later this week. Gotta get my Rutana's Apple Dumpling fix for the year (extra sauce, please, and hold the ice cream).

Thursday, August 7, 2014

It's Vacation Time!

Vintage comic postcard with art by H. Dean
Well, it's that time of year again when I take a much-needed break from work – and blogging too! So I'm very sorry to say that I won't be posting anything all next week.

But please do check back here on Monday, August 18th when I resume my normal schedule. Hey, that's Lorain County Fair Week!

In the meantime, enjoy the summer – it's fading fast!

By the way, that's one strange looking rabbit on that postcard – Bugs Bunny he ain't. He kinda resembles Curly of the Three Stooges!

"The Creator of Bugs Bunny" Comes to Midway Mall – August 1969

Here's the ad promoting the 1969 appearance by Les Barker, "Creator of the World Famous Cartoon Strip Bugs Bunny" from August 11 thru 16 at the Midway Mall in Elyria.

It looks like Bugs is saying, "Ehhh, who is dis guy anyway? Never hoid of him!"

August 20, 1960 article
from the Ottawa Citizen
It's not surprising that the wascally wabbit looks confused. What is this guy's relationship to Bugs Bunny?

I'm still not sure that there is one. But strangely enough, Barker had enough fame and accomplishments as a comic book artist that he didn't really need it.

According to this Wiki entry, Les Barker's real name was Leo Bachle. He was a talented Canadian comic book artist, best known for his World War II hero character Johnny Canuck. Johnny Canuck – with no super powers at all – battled secret agents and fought for democracy, becoming an important national symbol credited with helping the war effort.
After the war ended, Leo Bachle changed his name to Les Barker and became a comedian, giving up his art career. He achieved a certain amount of fame as he traveled around the United States, rubbing elbows with movie stars, and performing a nightclub act in which he entertained using an overhead projector.

And that's exactly what he did at Midway Mall back in August 1969.

From Friday, August 8, 1969 Journal
We caught one of his Saturday performances.

My autograph of Les Barker
His show consisted of him doing drawings on clear overlays that were projected on a screen as he talked and made jokes. It took him a while to actually get around to drawing Bugs Bunny. If I remember correctly, he did a very rough sketch of Elmer Fudd as a hunter getting attacked by bees coming out of a hive manipulated by an even rougher sketch of Bugs Bunny. He drew them all on separate overlays, so he could manipulate the drawings to achieve a sort of primitive animation.

I remember being very excited to see him, and being slightly disappointed that Bugs Bunny was such a minor part of his show. That didn't stop me from getting his autograph, though!
It wasn't until I began to pay attention to reading the animation credits on Bugs Bunny cartoons that I noticed that the name 'Les Barker' was suspiciously missing. Maybe Barker drew some Bugs Bunny comic books or advertising art at some point to legitimize his claim. But it doesn't really matter – I had a lot of fun at the Mall that day.

Les Barker was immortalized when his beloved creation – Johnny Canuck – was featured on a postage stamp issued by Canada Post. Here's a live interview with Les Barker that appeared on CBC Television at the time back in 1995. He was justifiably proud (and he didn't bring up Bugs Bunny, either).

He passed away in May 2003.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Midway Mall Ads – August 1969

Here's a pair of ads for Midway Mall that appeared in the Journal in August 1969.
This one (below) ran in the paper on August 3 and celebrated the 50th Anniversary of 4-H Clubs with a special exhibit.

This full-page ad (below) ran on August 6 – 45 years ago today. I guess the back-to-school ads started just as early back then as they do now.

That vaguely British-looking crossing guard seems to be giving that cocky kid the evil eye.

Anyway, it's interesting that Midway Mall – in its early years at least – positioned itself as sort of the community gathering place for Lorain. Various community events – such as Lorain City Schools art shows – were always held there. With the decline of Downtown Lorain, and the disadvantage of the Sheffield Shopping Center being open to the elements, Midway Mall stepped in and took advantage of its opportunity to become the 'town center' of Lorain.

If you look closely at the newspaper ad, you can see all sorts of fun attractions designed to appeal to kids, including a visit by Scollon's Famous Marionettes, as well appearances by Les Barker, the creator of Bugs Bunny, and…

The creator of Bugs Bunny? Les Barker?

I thought Chuck Jones, Tex Avery and a bunch of other guys contributed to the creation of the Oscar-winning rabbit. Who was Les Barker – and what kind of show did he do at the Mall?

Well, the Bradys caught one of his shows – and I'll tell you about it tomorrow!

In the meantime, click here to learn about Scollon Productions. They're still around, but instead of creating traveling puppet shows, they have shifted their creativity to the production of costumed characters. (Here's a link to their history page, which mentions their mall shows.)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Deer Park Article – Sept. 3, 1969

September 1959 newspaper ad
Summer is winding down, so you'd better stop putting off some of those fun things that you waited all winter to do – such as a trip to Deer Park near Castalia.

A friend of mine took their daughter there a few weeks ago and it sounds like it hasn't changed since my family went there in the late 60s  – which is refreshing.

The article below – which appeared in the Toledo Blade on September 3, 1968 includes a little bit of history about the place and what the idea was behind it.

Cougar Calls Castalia Home
Bottle-Fed Cuddly Cub Dubbed Tabatha Lives in Park
Blade Staff Writer

CASTALIA, O.  – A mountain lion has taken up residence in Castalia.

However, the mountain lion came by invitation and presents no danger to residents.

The cat, also known as a cougar or puma, lives in Deer Park, owned by Herbert Nielsen. Mr Nielsen's daughter, Debbie, had always wanted a mountain lion cub at the park, so Mr. Nielsen arranged to have one flown here from a Bismarck, N.D., zoo.

The mountain lion, named Tabatha by Miss Nielsen, is about one foot long and weighs about four pounds. She has been rendered almost totally harmless to humans, at least for the present, by the removal of her claws.

Fed By Bottle
Mr. Nielsen said that his daughter feeds Tabatha with a bottle. Scratches and cuts from Tabatha's claws marked Miss Nielsen's arms until the claws were removed. Tabatha eats baby formula fortified with pablum and occasionally canned cat food.

Miss Nielsen makes sure that Tabatha gets the proper exercise
(Blade Photo by John Collier)
Her eating habits have improved considerably since she arrived at the park several weeks ago. The Nielsens were unable, at first, to hit on anything the cat would eat which would give her enough vitamins and minerals.

Tabatha was cared for by two Bellevue veterinarians, Drs. John Maike and Duane Mansperger, until she would take food naturally. She was force-fed goat's milk through a nose tube, similar to those used to feed premature babies.

Tabatha is about three months old now and in about three years, when she is full grown, she will weigh about 175 pounds.

Variety of Residents
Miss Nielsen, 16, a student at Margaretta High School, said Tabatha was weaned from her mother one day and arrived at the park the next day.

Tabatha joins a large variety of residents at the park. Mr. Nielsen's park houses llamas. mountain sheep, deer, elk, bison, reindeer, blue goats, Abyssinian donkeys, rare four-horned sheep, and even a baby elephant.

The elephant is 39 inches tall and will be traded back to an animal dealer at the end of next summer for another baby elephant.

Mr. Nielsen, who originated the children's park 12 years ago, said that Tabatha will be tamed by handling as she matures. He said that she will present no danger to park visitors.

The park was originated to provide entertainment for the families of fishermen. Mr. Nielsen said that he operated stocked lakes for several years. He began to realize that when the husbands went fishing, there was nothing for their wives and children to do.

He saw an advertisement for a deer park in Michigan, visited it, and liked it enough to start his own park. His modest beginning with 38 deer and 2 llamas has expanded to a well-known family entertainment spot in an area known for its vacation advantages.

Here's a vintage image of Deer Park to rekindle your memories. The photo and caption below are courtesy of the Arcadia book Castalia, Cold Creek and the Blue Hole.

Seven varieties of imported foreign deer inhabit the park and roam about
among the visitors looking for food handouts. Deer Park was started in 1956
by the Nielsen family, which continues to operate the facility. The park's
12-to-18-foot-deep lagoons are fed by the existing water table and were dug
by steam shovels. The dinky trains traveled past the lagoons to transport
the yellow clay to the Bay Bridge cement mill.
The vintage photo must have been used extensively for publicity, because it seems to be the source of the illustration shown on the Deer Park souvenir plate shown at the top of this post.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Emerald Valley Country Club Article – August 3, 1969

Here's an interesting article that ran in the Journal on August 3, 1969. It's the story of the well-known Emerald Valley Country Club and the people that built it and ran it – Emil and Emily Kucirek.

The story was written by Staff Writer Bob Cotleur and includes a nice history of the iconic Lorain golf course.

Emerald Valley: A Golf Course and Nightclub
The Country Club Emil and Emily Kucirek Built
Staff Writer

EMILY KUCIREK'S formula for success is work
EMERALD VALLEY is a golf course built around a night club at 4397 Leavitt Rd., Lorain.

In its nine year history thousands of area people have played at one, the other, or both. It is owned by first generation Americans whose families came from Czechoslovakia – Emil and Emily Kucirek.

The Kucireks have battled the city, the elements, time and their own inexperience at the beginning. They've suffered many setbacks, which were serious, but the answers to a few of them were as hilarious as they were practical.

For example: "We started right in with banquets and parties, back in those early 60's," Emily said, "even though we didn't have city water. We trucked water in and it was expensive. People complained there wasn't enough water to flush the toilets. But we didn't tell them anything except there must be something wrong with the plumbing, some trouble.

"And they never did know, for a long time, that we didn't have city water."

EMERALD VALLEY IS the indirect result of a meager $235 Emily saved before she and Emil were married, "on September 4, 1939, Labor Day. And I've labored ever since," she laughed. But it wasn't a joke.

Shortly after marriage, Emil was laid off at the (then) National Tube Company. Emily read an ad for construction help with the Rahl (homes) Construction Company "and I told Emil to answer it."

Emil did. "He got 50 cents an hour to start then worked himself up to the boss," she said. "Then after a couple of years he started into business with the $235 I'd saved."

The money merely bought the license for the Kucirek Construction Co. Emil had a partner, Steve Balacz, now of California, and even Emily helped "by pounding nails and painting."

Emil said, "The turning point in our lives came a few months later when my partner said the concrete made his feet swell. He said he'd handle the books if I handled the outside work. I mentioned it that night to Emily.

"She said, 'you handle the outside work and I'll handle the books.'"

"That ended the partnership with Steve."

Emily said, "We started with one house, sold it and built another. We worked up to ten a year, then 20, then a subdivision on W. 27th Street. After that came another subdivision on W. 37th Street where we built some 90 homes.

THEN THEY BOUGHT the farmland that was to become Emerald Valley. They wanted to build more homes, but it had been zoned for a golf course and recently annexed from Black River Township to Lorain.

The city wouldn't give us water or sewer lines, so Emil said, 'well, let's build a golf course.'"

Emil had caddied from 1930 to 1935 at Cherry Ridge. He loved the game "but I gave it up for 14 years after marriage. I had a family to raise."

"At the time, I was against it," Emily said. "I was managing Kucirek Construction Company and E-K Development Co. (excavation work) and then I had to learn the golf business."

Rumors flew around that they were broke. "I didn't pay any attention to them," she said. "I was too busy raising money. We never went broke."

But she admits they bent a good bit, and in a couple of ways. Everything about golf, the golf business, the clubhouse and the bar were new to her. Work had begun on the course but switched quickly to the clubhouse when a low-powered liquor license became available.

SHE DIRECTED construction of the bar and bar furniture, which were custom made, while the walls were going up and the roof didn't yet exist. They had "an August 15th deadline to meet, or lose the chance for the license. We made it."

Then she had to learn "how to mix drinks. I had to learn all of that at the age of 40."

Did she have trouble mixing drinks?

"Well, I was afraid. But I usually know what I am doing. At first, when we had this low-powered liquor, the drinks weren't as strong. People would complain they didn't know what it was about the liquor, but it was something. But they thought because I had a nice club I had the right liquor. You know, regulation liquor."

How did she explain the problem?

"I wouldn't tell 'em the answer because I wanted the business."

She's candid. She picked the right time, too. The license for the past several years has been a full night club type and you can order any kind of drink.

EMILY INSISTS her biggest love is people. "Before we got into Emerald Valley I belonged to 25 different organizations and I've been president of all of them. This helped a lot when we started…"

The facts are: "I organized the Squirettes and later the Squires, the teenage organizations of the Knights of Columbus. I organized the Candy Stripers of St. Joseph Hospital and the Danny Thomas ALSAC (Leukemia) group and the Retarded Children's organization which I became the first president of. I was Lorain Woman of the Year in the 50's, so honored by the Quota Club, and last year was named one of 30 outstanding Women of the Year by the Danny Thomas group."

Emil only built homes, in those years. "He's a sportsman. He only likes those that play various sporting things with him," she said.

How does Emerald Valley work?

"I handle the clubhouse and the inside stuff," Emily said, "and Emil handles the outside work. My son Joe, 28, is the club pro and Albert, 26, my other son, is assistant greenskeeper. My daughter Marilyn, 25, is expecting her first child in January but her husband, Dan Makuski of South Amherst, repairs the big machinery. He's mechanical-minded."

But Emerald Valley is incorporated. Emil is president, Emily is vice president and treasurer, Attorney Leslie Burge is secretary.

"Who's the boss?"

"Emily. She's it. She handles the business, the contracts and the money," said Emil as he studied a difficult shot on the fourth hole.

"I WORK HARD though. In fact, harder than when I ran the construction company. Then I gave orders. Out here I do all the work myself. Run all my own equipment."

Emily agreed. "He gets up early and gets in his four or eight hours, then plays golf the rest of the time. He gets his eight hours sleep and sometimes a little nap as well.

Emil agreed. "Yes, I average about 18 holes a day."

Emily starts working early, at 6 a.m., then quits about 3 a.m. the next day. How does she operate day in day out on three hours sleep?

"I don't really know," she says. "I can't explain that really."

Emil offers a hint. "She wants to run it all herself. So she does."

But Emily has motive, too. "If you want to succeed, you've got to work. And I don't mind working as long as I succeed. But it's too slow, this success.

Ever since we started in this business we've had setbacks. I mean, first we couldn't get water so we booked parties without water. Then after we got on our feet a bit, the new road (SR 58) went by in front and knocked us for a loop. Not a loop, a setback, where you couldn't get to the top as fast.

"Then two years ago Emil put the weedkiller on the greens and that really did a lot of bad to the greens. But in a month's time, he had it controlled. But there's always something. Now the lake. If we don't get that mud out of there we'll worry about watering the greens and fairway."

SHE WAS TALKING about mud caused by enlarging the drainage ditch for Williamsburg Heights in conjunction with seasonal and recent heavy rains. But she also fights a running battle with the kids of Williamsburg Heights.

"They come on the course and do damage to the ball washer, greens and steal golf balls from players. We have an old timer's league, one day a week, and they can't afford it. The kids come and steal their golf balls after these fellows have hit their drives."

She hollers at them from the course loudspeaker. She's never been further out on the course, since it has been built, than the bridge by the last home. And she never swung a golf club once.

June 1972 Journal ad
"When my Al was working at the bar and Joe was working at the shop I was here all the time starting at six a.m. I couldn't keep those two inside to do the work. One day both were on the putting green so I grabbed the first putter I could find. They saw me coming and asked, "What are you doing?"

"I said 'I'm going to learn to play golf.' They said, "Aw, you don't want to learn golf.'"

"Joe, the club pro then, was having trouble with his putting. My luck was every putt I made went right in the hole. So the first thing you see is Al getting his putter and he goes, then Joe gets his putter and goes.

"But I stood there and kept putting. I'd put the point across."

EMILY WAS a Zahorec. Her brother Joe, "Big 'Z'" ran for mayor of Lorain in the last election. Her father was a car inspector for the B & O Railroad. The lack of money as a child, she says, gave her the drive she has today.

"From the time I was four or five, I didn't like to live poorly, not having the things I like. So I made up my mind I was either going to be a teacher or be in business. My folks didn't have the money to send me to be a teacher, so I'm in business.

"It's just nice to get somewhere to enjoy a little bit of nice things in your lifetime. I learned it's a lot of work."

Her pet peeve at the moment, she says, is mud. Her like, is people.

"But the only thing Emil gets provoked with, is when he's expecting rain and it doesn't rain. And he's expecting sunshine and it doesn't shine. He gets mad at those things. When he's fertilizing he's got to have rain."

DOES HE STOMP around and raise cain with the rainmaker?

"He pouts. He's a pouter. And he takes it out on me. But I have my own problems," she laughed. But again, it wasn't a joke.

How's your golf game, Emil?

"I'm known as one of the shortest shots in town. But I get in as well as the next guy," he said while heading toward the tee on number 5.


Emily Kucirek passed away in 1985, and Emil in February 1990. According to his obituary, his involvement with Emerald Valley Country Club ended in 1985.

(I've mentioned the Kucireks and their construction company on this blog before, here and here.)

Today, Emerald Valley Driving Range and the lounge are still open (below) but are currently for sale.

The view on Sunday morning
The golf course was sold and became the location the Brad Friedel Premier Soccer Academy in 2007. Today the facility is the Rival Sports Indoor Facility.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Tribute to James Garner

It didn't feel right to let the passing of actor James Garner on July 19th go by without at least mentioning him on this blog. He was truly one of the last of the great old-time movie stars, right up there with John Wayne, Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood in my book.

James Garner was a longtime Brady family favorite. Although we were too young to have seen Maverick when it first came out in the late 1950s, my brothers and I watched Maverick reruns on WUAB-TV on Saturday nights in the 70s (along with The Wild Wild West and Star Trek).

I vaguely remember watching the offbeat Nichols, the Western series Garner did after Maverick in the early 70s. The only reason I remember it is that the easygoing Garner character was actually killed off in what became the final episode. (The plan to improve ratings was that his more heroic twin brother – also played by Garner, of course – was going to take over the title role in the series in the upcoming season. But the show ended up being canceled, and that was that.

Like many families, we watched The Rockford Files when it was part of NBC's Friday night lineup during the 1970s. (Dad always referred to Garner as "Rockford" after that, no matter what show or movie he was in.)

After I came home from college, I watched the Maverick revival series, Bret Maverick, in the early 1980s. Unfortunately it really wasn't all that much like the original series (or as good). In the new version, Bret Maverick was always pulling some kind of get-rich-quick scam. But James Garner was in it, so I watched and enjoyed it (although not enough other people did for it to last more than a season).

A real movie highlight in later years was seeing Space Cowboys with Garner and Eastwood. It was a fitting wrap-up to his longtime film career (although he made a few more movies after that).

My spouse isn't all that crazy about James Garner, which kind of surprised me. She even confessed to me recently that she preferred Jack Kelly as Maverick, since she thought he was better looking! I almost fell out of my chair when she told me that.

I couldn't be too upset with her, because years ago she had purchased for me one of my all-time best Christmas gifts from her, a hard-to-find video of the movie thriller 36 Hours (1965) with Garner. In the movie, which takes place just before D-Day, he plays an army intelligence officer with knowledge of the invasion plans who is captured by the Germans. The Germans manage to drug and trick him into thinking that the war has been over for six years, in an attempt to get him to reveal the D-Day invasion details. It's a terrific movie that still shows up on TV once in a while.

The spouse also bought me a DVD of The Great Escape, another Garner classic, as well as DVDs of the first two seasons of Maverick. Now that's a lot of good, manly entertainment.


Bret Maverick and Waco Williams (Wayde Preston)
In honor of James Garner, last week I spent an evening watching a classic episode from each of his two hit series, Maverick and The Rockford Files (which is on Netflix). The two episodes I chose are linked forever in James Garner lore, because the Maverick episode – The Saga of Waco Williams – was used as a template for the Rockford episode – White on White and Nearly Perfect.

In The Saga of Waco Williams, Maverick spends the episode unsuccessfully trying to keep his friend Waco Williams (Wayde Preston) from getting into trouble. Waco is a classic Western hero who is brave, stalwart and the best shot around, who never runs from a fight despite the odds. Maverick tries to give him advice (like telling him to sneak out the back door of a saloon rather than face some dangerous gunslinger) that would help him live a lot longer, but Waco never listens. In the end, Waco gets the bad guys, saves the day, marries the rich girl and is going to be elected sheriff – much to Maverick's disbelief.

Lance White (Tom Selleck) and Rockford
The hilarious Rockford episode – White on White and Nearly Perfect is very similar to the Maverick episode. It features Tom Selleck as Lance White, the handsome, lovable, perfect detective with a heart of gold who can do no wrong. He seems to have heroically saved the life of everyone he knows at some point. Women swoon over him and policemen – even Lt. Chapman, who hates Rockford – consider him a close friend.

Lance does everything wrong in Rockford's book, especially putting himself and Rockford into dangerous situations, and they almost get killed trying to save a beautiful kidnapped victim.

But the big difference between this episode and Waco Williams is that Rockford doesn't like Lance White at all. He's genuinely annoyed with him and considers him a pest. At the end of the episode, Lance White ends up marrying the rich girl that Rockford helped save. Rockford gets stiffed out of the reward money too.

It was that element of personal likability that Garner injected into the roles he played that made him so successful. No matter what part he played in a movie or TV show, the viewers always liked him – and that's a rare quality for a performer to have.

I liked Garner so much that I wrote him a fan letter in the early 2000's. He was getting older and I just wanted to let him know how much pleasure his performances brought my family and me over the years.

He responded back by sending me a signed photo of himself in a still from The Notebook. 

It's a nice souvenir of a favorite performer and one of the all-time greats.