Monday, December 17, 2012

My Famous Relatives: Richard Gere

Richard Tiffany Gere, born 1949.
A few years ago David and I found that he was related to many crowned heads of Europe. It was exciting. And it was one of the factors that spurred me to delve into the genealogy of my own family. For months I searched for a celebrated blood relative of my own, but without luck. At last, however, I began to turn up relatives who had made some wider mark on the world. One thing rewarding about famous relatives is that there’s usually a lot more information available than just dates and names. Perhaps the best known of the famous relatives that I’ve discovered so far is the actor Richard Tiffany Gere (born 1949).

How are Richard Gere and I related? We’re tenth cousins. Our common ancestors are our mutual great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents Samuel Rider (1601-1679) and Anne Gamlett Rider (abt. 1605-1695). They immigrated to the USA from Northampton, England, between 1636 and 1638, and I’ve mentioned them in previous posts to this blog.

With Debra Winger in An Officer and a Gentleman.
The Rider branch of the family provides the blood relationship between Richard Gere and me, but we also have a family connection through two marriages. My second cousin twice removed Charles Elwood Grant (1900-1945) married Helene Thelma Stafford (1902-1985), Richard Gere’s tenth cousin once removed. And Helene’s sister Hilda Lucille Stafford (1898-1973) married Roy Robert Grant (1897-1988), another of my second cousins twice removed. As I’ve written on this blog before, the Staffords descend from Mayflower passenger Richard Warren (1580-1628) and his wife Elizabeth Walker Warren (1583-1673). And so does Richard Gere.

Richard Gere has never been an actor whose career I particularly followed. I recall first being aware of him when the movie An Officer and a Gentleman was released in 1982. I saw the movie during its original theatrical run and enjoyed it. But I was far more interested in one of the movie’s locations than I was in Richard Gere’s leading role.

Fort Worden State Park, near Port Townsend, Washington.
An Officer and a Gentleman was partly filmed at former US Army base, now State Park, Fort Worden near Port Townsend, Washington. I spent a week at Fort Worden in 1974 when I was one of the two kids selected from Clallam County to attend a retreat for fifth and sixth graders with a talent for writing and drawing. In addition to working on the book the students all collaborated on—my contribution was a linoleum block print of Herby the Medicine Man from Ruth Plumly Thompson’s The Giant Horse of Oz—I explored, with adult supervision, Fort Worden’s spooky old, partially flooded military bunkers. And in the boys dorm I learned definitions of terms for sexual prophylactics that had previously been opaque to me. So when I saw An Officer and a Gentleman I was more interested in the shots of Fort Worden than in Richard Gere.

The poster in Judi's room.
But I continued to be aware of Richard Gere, as ubiquitous a presence as most any movie star in US culture. When I was in art school one of my female apartment-mates had a poster of Richard Gere hanging in her bedroom. His white tank top-clad torso and tight jeans so blatantly screamed sex symbol that I scoffed at the poster. Maybe I wouldn’t have been so derisive if I’d known back then that he was my cousin.

I remember hearing jokes in the 1990s about Richard Gere’s conversion to Buddhism and trips to Tibet. Why were people who didn’t even know him so concerned by Richard Gere’s religious life?

I went with a group of friends to see The Cotton Club in 1984. We went opening day because one of the friends was a big Francis Ford Coppola fan. I remember kind of liking the movie, contrary to the general reaction, but beyond Diane Lane, the Hines brothers' dancing, and a scene of someone shaving with an old-fashioned razor which I think I admired for the historical research and the ability of anyone to shave with such an instrument, I don't really remember the movie. I certainly didn't remember Richard Gere was in it until reviewing his career for this blog post. Well, it's been a while.

In And the Band Played On.
I've seen a few of his other films that I actually recall him being in. Days of Heaven from 1978. Something called Power from 1986, which I saw on an airplane.  Sommersby, a 1993 movie he did with Jodie Foster, I barely remember except for the scene where Gere quotes from Homer’s Iliad. I was impressed to see him in 1993’s And the Band Played On, a tv adaptation of Randy Shilts’s book of investigative journalism into the early years of the AIDS crisis. In that Gere played a thinly disguised version of Broadway choreographer Michael Bennett.

More recently I’ve seen him in Shall We Dance, a solid, middle-of-the-road Strictly Ballroom-wannabe, notable for Stanley Tucci’s comedic performance. I thought Gere made a perfectly respectable Billy Flynn in the movie version of the play Chicago. I have friends—many of them dancers—who thought the movie of Chicago was terrific. I'm afraid it seemed mostly like lukewarm Cabaret leftovers to me. But I don’t fault Richard Gere for problems with the material and direction. Or for the fact that Catherine Zeta-Jones—one thing in the movie I would call terrific—overshadowed everyone and everything else simply by appearing onscreen.

Richard Gere in recent days
Richard Gere married model Cindy Crawford in 1991, but they divorced in 1995. In 2000 Richard Gere and Carey Lowell had a son, my tenth cousin once removed, Homer James Jigme Gere. Homer is also the first name of Richard Gere's father, my ninth cousin once removed, Homer George Gere (born 1923). In 2002 Richard Gere and Carey Lowell married.

Richard Gere’s been in popular and critically praised movies that I haven’t seen—Pretty Woman, American Gigolo, the recent Arbitrage—so I can’t claim to be a big Richard Gere fan. But I’m certainly happy for his success and wish him the best in his continuing acting career. I also like being able to say I’m related to a movie star.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Preserving the Forest

In 1956 a few interested citizens of Mentor Headlands became aware that the obliteration of natural areas was progressing parallel with the growth of the community.
So begins an essay by my maternal grandmother, Arlene Wilhelmina Stuuri Hietanen (1917-1971), on the development of a school forest—a sort of outdoor classroom—at Headlands Elementary School in Mentor, Lake County, Ohio.

What the essay fails to mention is how vital my grandmother was to the project. Although many people were involved in making the school forest a reality, it was Arlene’s initial idea and her work at the forefront of every step that turned a leftover area of real estate into a community asset.

Diagram of Headlands Elementary School property, showing the area of the proposed school forest. This diagram may have been drawn by Martha Keltto. Click to enlarge.
In the early 1950s a twenty-seven acre plot was purchased for the site of Mentor Headlands Elementary School, but when the school opened in 1955 at what is now 5028 Forest Road in Mentor, only three acres had actually been built on. The rest of the property, a wooded area, was left untouched and was evidently regarded as useless.

Early examination of the forest behind the school.
Arlene realized that the woods behind Headlands Elementary School could serve both educational and conservationist purposes if it were designated as a permanent school forest where students could observe nature firsthand and learn about plants and animals, their growth and seasonal changes.

On September 18, 1956, Arlene wrote a letter to Warren H. Corning of the Holden Arboretum in Kirtland, Ohio, asking for advice on starting a school forest on the unused land. Corning forwarded her letter to Benjamin Patterson Bole, Jr., an assistant professor and naturalist at Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Patterson Bole was on the executive board of Mentor’s Holden Arboretum and lived in nearby Kirtland Hills. Bole’s reply to Arlene’s letter gave specific advice on preparing a school forest—“There must be at least 75% of the actual ground surface that is free from the danger of running, romping children”—and he offered to visit the forest area to judge its potential.

Progress was slow for many months, but occasional signs of encouragement popped up. At one point Arlene communicated her tentative plans for a school forest to Mr. Coupland and Mr. Shadle of the Mentor School Board. The reply was, “Go ahead.” In spring of 1958, Carol Sweet of the Horticultural Committee of Mentor’s Garden Club encouraged Arlene to proceed with her plans.

Flowers in the school forest, photo probably by Alice Sinko.
Finally Arlene took Patterson Bole up on his offer to examine the forest area behind Headlands Elementary School. On March 24, 1959, Bole walked over the land with Arlene and a group of interested people that included Carol Sweet and Mrs. Coupland. Bole determined that the land had been cut only once before, in the 1880s. He pointed out its wealth of features—high ground facing every direction, low marsh areas unique to northeastern Ohio, evidence of forty Erie Indian fire pits and a possible Indian burial ground, the only wooded ravine preserved on Lake Erie’s shores between Cleveland and Painesville, and nearly every variety of tree, wildflower, and animal that was native to northeastern Ohio. Bole judged the site an excellent choice for a school forest.

On May 15, 1959, at the invitation of the Mentor School Board, Arlene and her partners presented a short proposal for a school forest at a school board meeting. The board reacted positively to the forest’s clear educational potential. Additional advantages were that the land was unused, it was adjacent to the school, and best of all, the school already owned it. The board authorized Arlene and her committee to proceed with their plans, requesting a more detailed presentation at the July 15th school board meeting.

Arlene wrote to Robert R. Paton, Forester with the Ohio Forestry Association, Inc., requesting copies of the association’s booklet “Planning School Forests.” Using this booklet as a guide, Arlene, Carol Sweet, Harriet Forbes, Martha Keltto and others formed a committee within the Mentor Headlands Garden Club to spearhead the school forest project.

At the July 15 Mentor School Board meeting the board listened to a full presentation from Arlene and her group on the proposed school forest. The school board enthusiastically approved the plan.

Arlene and Harriet Forbes invited Arlene’s Ohio Forestry Association correspondent, Robert Paton, to tour the forest area on October 22, 1959. Also in attendance were Superintendent of Schools W. W. Zinser, Headlands Elementary School Principal Wayne L. Kihorany, teachers from Headlands Elementary School, members of the Garden Club, and other interested parties. Arlene served luncheon at her home to Robert Paton and the Garden Club committee, then they met the rest of the group for the forest tour. Afterward Paton declared that the forest had the potential to become one of the finest school forests in the state.

A meeting of some of the movers and shakers behind the Headlands School Forest. Robert Paton at upper left, Headlands Elementary School Principal Wayne Kihorany at upper right, B. Patterson Bole at lower left, and Arlene Hietanen at lower right. From an unidentified news clipping.

Planning sped onward. In January 1960, Robert Paton mentioned several experts from Columbus who were interested in the Mentor Headlands school forest project. After viewing the forest on February 2, 1960, one of the experts, Robert Finley, Supervisor of Conservation Education of the State Department of Education, said he’d seen nothing in Ohio to compare with it. Carl Johnson, professor of Conservation at Ohio State University and Chairman of the Ohio Forestry Association’s School Forest Committee, observed that the proposed school forest was “the cheapest classroom you have.” The experts proclaimed it an excellent teaching tool for not only Headlands Elementary but for all the schools in the area, as well as for scouting organizations and other groups interested in conservation. Arlene and her co-workers made sure that local reporters attended this meeting.

Press coverage increased as a School Forest Board was appointed by the Garden Club Committee and school officials. The board included all the interested parties, plus representatives from the town and school. Maps were drawn, trails marked, identification markers both permanent and seasonal were prepared, and class projects were planned. A school essay contest on the theme “Our School Forest” and a drawing contest pertaining to “a trip to the woods” were announced.

An early student tour of the Headlands School Forest. Arlene Hietanen stands at right, face partly obscured by leaves.
On February 25, 1960, the wooded area behind Headlands Elementary became a true school forest. That day Arlene led Mrs. Speece’s fifth grade class on the first Headlands School Forest walk. Over the next few months more than four hundred fourth, fifth, and sixth graders followed in their footsteps. Arlene’s speech for the class walks began: “This is our outdoor classroom; it is also something else—it’s a home, of wild flowers, birds, trees, animals, and we will enter it as guests—with respect for what we see.” She pointed out varieties of wildflowers—trillium, trout lily, may apple, to name just a few from her lists. She had the students listen to birdsong and taught them about the importance of conservation. One of the features both she and the kids seemed most delighted by was fungus.

Unidentified newspaper clipping. Click to enlarge.
Her notes on Bracket Fungus read in part: “The spore develops by protruding one or more tiny threads or ‘mycelia’ that finally penetrate into the cells of a tree and steal nutrients manufactured for the tree’s own growth. In time the tree will starve.” And, “It has its good points though: it makes a fine absorbent dressing for cuts and other wounds.” And more charmingly, “It has been called the ‘dryad’s saddle’ because long ago when people believed fairies and nymphs peopled the woods they thought these tiny ones used the growth as seats or stools.”

One letter of appreciation from Mrs. Speece’s student John Ryerson reads, “We found out about . . . wooden mushrooms . . . puffballs, fungus . . . We liked the old Indian village and the dried up Grand River. The Indian pits were very interesting.”

Class representative Douglas Pohto of Mrs. Speece's class wrote a thank you letter to Arlene Hietanen after the first day of school visits to the Headlands School Forest. Douglas Pohto is Arlene's (and my) relative by marriage. Douglas's great-uncle's daughter Hilja Pohto married Jacob Kauno Hietanen, an uncle of Arlene's husband Everett Hietanen. Used with the permission of Douglas Pohto. Click picture to enlarge.
Formal dedication of the school forest took place on April 29, 1960, proclaimed by Ohio Governor Michael DiSalle as Arbor Day. Invitations had been sent to all the Mentor Elementary Schools, asking that each send representatives to the ceremony. Arlene’s partner in the project, Harriet Forbes, was guest speaker. She recounted the steps taken in planning the school forest and stressed the importance of conservation. Among other features the winning student essays were read aloud and the school chorus sang.

Planting the tree at the school to honor Arlene Hietanen.
The final announcement of the ceremony was a surprise. It had been decided to honor the person who had led the way and contributed so much time and effort into making the school forest a reality. Headlands Elementary School Principal Wayne Kihorany announced that a tree would be planted in front of the school—a tree in honor of Arlene Hietanen. And so it was.

The plan had never been to limit the Headlands School Forest only to school groups, so Boy Scout groups and special science classes also toured it. The Mentor Garden Club led forest tours for any interested parties. Arlene enlisted her sister Alice Lillian Stuuri Sinko (1915– 2002), my great-aunt, to photograph wildflowers in the school forest for use in talks to schools, scouts, and others. Arlene spoke to various organizations about the school forest, how it came to be and the importance of teaching conservation. The October 1967 issue of American Home magazine published an article by Dorothy B. Warnick on the Headlands School Forest. Arlene continued to take an active interest in the preservation of natural features of her community, especially in the fate of Mentor Marsh, which was finally declared a Living Museum under the custodianship of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in 1971.

The Mentor Marsh portion of the Headlands School Forest. This photo was probably taken by Arlene's sister, my great-aunt Alice Stuuri Sinko.
Arlene Hietanen and Martha Keltto were involved with the Headlands School Forest until their deaths, but after they were gone, the school forest languished. In the 1970s Headlands Elementary School teacher Gwen Stephens Meissner was assigned the job of reviving the school forest and was instrumental in bringing it back for a while. But when Meissner moved on, the Headlands School Forest languished once more.

I never toured the Headlands School Forest with my grandmother Arlene. She died young while I was still a child. But I remember her interest in nature and conservation. One summer she had my sister and me catch caterpillars and keep them in old cigar boxes where they built cocoons. It was quite a surprise one morning to open one of the boxes and find a large moth inside, seemingly from nowhere. On another visit she took us walking through Mentor Marsh where I remember her pointing out Queen Anne’s Lace and the sassafras tree’s three distinct leaves, which we picked and chewed.

My grandmother was proud of her accomplishments. But nothing lasts forever—not Headlands Elementary School (it closed in 2011 due to declining enrollment, it’s now the Dr. Jacqueline A. Hoynes School housing the Cardinal Autism Resource Education School), not the school forest (it languished after Meissner’s revival), not the pine tree planted in my grandmother’s honor on Arbor Day 1960 (it was gone in the 1990s), and not my grandmother. She died in 1971.

Arlene knew that change was part of life and believed in the importance of understanding life’s cycle. As she said to the children she led through the Headlands School Forest, “As we talk here now, it is changing—there are things being born out of the ground, there are things dying and returning to the ground. . . . You can see it happening. Some are weak, some are strong, some help others, some hurt others. We can learn all this if we look, listen, and think. . . . This is the way we are citizens of our country. This is a little piece of this great country.”

Thursday, December 13, 2012

House Hunting

Both my great-grandfather, Louis Dillard Kirkpatrick, and great-great-grandfather, William Henry Kirkpatrick, were mayors of Bridgeport, Texas - and sadly over the years we have lost track of the location of William Henry Kirkpatrick's home. I do have a fine photo of the house showing William and his wife Macarinah sitting on the front porch. Please note you may click on any of the photos to make them bigger.

Home of William Henry Kirkpatrick in Bridgeport, Texas  (taken before 1908).

William Henry Kirkpatrick died in1908 and this photo predates his death, as he is sitting on the porch with his wife, Macarinah. Mac lived in the house until her death in 1921. Here she is late in life, standing in the front yard, showing the view toward the street.

Macarinah Bridges Hunt Kirkpatrick in Bridgeport, Texas.

My memory is that my mom showed me this house a couple times when I was little and finally in 1993 on her last trip to Bridgeport. As I recall, it was on Stevens Street somewhat west of my great-grandparents' home.

A couple years ago Royce Raven, a historian in Bridgeport, sent me a photo of what he thought might be the house which stands at 1400 Stevens Street.

House at 1400 Stevens Street, Bridgeport, Texas.

Now, clearly the photos have some differences - mainly that the newer one shows a house nearly twice the size of the Kirkpatrick house in the 1908 photo. However, I was struck by how similar the right-hand side of the house was to the 1908 home - the narrow window (ignore the shutters on the newer photo) and the unusual rounded porch design. Given that the two images were taken from a very similar angle and position, I couldn't resist doing an overlay in Photoshop.

Composite image of the 1908 house and the 1400 Stevens St. house.
Below is a more transparent version that better shows how the two houses align. The pointed roof and the rounded porch seem virtually identical and the window lines up exactly, as well.

Transparent view of the two houses.

The house is approximately where I remember my mom showing it to me in 1993. And given the architectural matches, I strongly suspect this is the old Kirkpatrick home. A couple of my cousins are not convinced. I look forward to examining the house at 1400 Stevens if it is still standing when I next get to Bridgeport. I heard a couple years ago it was being eyed as a future parking lot.


One of my cousins who has not previously agreed with me about the identification of this house suggested that just possibly the original photo was printed backward and that I might try flipping it. I have now done so and (if that's the case) I am more sold than ever! Here's the same overlay, but with the pre-1908 image flipped.