Monthly Archives: August 2013

Dentoning….JFK assassination connection

Denton is a sum of all it’s parts and a sum of it’s history. I’m not great at math, but I think the summation has turned out alright. A city like ours is what it is because of a plethora of historic building blocks that form it’s foundation, it’s walls and it’s being. We’ll look at many of those blocks as this blog moves forward, but one of those historic happenings has to do mainly with Denton’s proximity to Dallas and to the events of November 22, 1963.

I’m not going to say that anyone alive on that date remembers exactly where they were when they heard the news that President John Kennedy had been shot just 40 miles away, or that America’s innocence died that day. It may have, but I’m not going to say it, because it has been said so much that it has become clichè. You’re welcome. What a lot of people don’t know are the many Denton ties to the assassination. Probably the one that people here DO know is that the brother of beloved DISD Coach, Bill Carrico, was the first physician to attend the dying President at Parkland Hospital. From what I heard long ago from the Carricos, their brother/uncle didn’t like to talk about the experience much, but his testimony regarding JFK’s wounds did not agree with the Warren Commission’s claim that all shots came from the rear. Another Denton physician present that day was Dr. Bill Midgett. I have always been interested with the events of the assassination and was astonished to find out from the good doctor’s daughter, Diane, that he had been at Parkland that day. I have known the Midgetts since I was in high school, but didn’t hear about this until a couple of years ago. I subsequently had the opportunity to discuss Dr. Midget’s experience with him and was fascinated to hear his story.

JFK assassination

John F. Kennedy

In 1963, Dr. Midgett was an OB/GYN resident at Parkland Hospital. On the day JFK was shot, Dr. Midgett was in a lounge for residents, when around 12:40pm, someone from the hospital burst through the doors and yelled for him and another intern to immediately go to the ambulance bay. Dr. Midgett said that there was normally no rush to get to the bay because most mothers-to-be did not come in ready to give birth as soon as they got there. Because of this, Dr. Midgett and his associate sauntered down the hall with no sense of urgency. It was when he threw open the doors to the outside that his world temporarily turned upside down. In front of Dr. Midgett sat the convertible Presidential limousine and more men with guns than he had ever seen in one place. He ran to the side of the limo where the President was slumped in his wife’s lap. His friend ran to the other side. Dr. Midgett helped remove JFK from the limo and place him on a stretcher, his friend helped Jackie out of the limo and followed the President inside. Once the group was in Trauma Room One, Dr. Carrico took over the initial, yet futile, care of the dying President.

As we know, JFK died at 1pm that day and the news flashed around the world. A friend of mine, Metroplex newsman Bill Mercer, co-wrote a book entitled When The News Went Live a few years ago about the event and how it forever changed the way we get our news. On November 22, 1963, a man named Robert, was having lunch at Jay’s Grill on Ft. Worth Dr. in Denton. As Robert left the restaurant, his car radio informed him that the President had been killed. He drove to his office at Acme Brick and an hour or so later learned that his brother, Lee Harvey Oswald, had been arrested in Oak Cliff for the murder of a Dallas Police officer and was a suspect in the assassination of the President. I told you at the beginning of this blog, that I’d had many strange life experiences…………at the time of the assassination, Robert Oswald lived at 1009 Sierra, just off of Sherman Dr. in northeast Denton. My family lived nearby on Heather Lane and Robert’s daughter, Cathy, was in my first grade class at Woodrow Wilson. As I mentioned above (or not), I remember that day well. I vaguely remember Cathy, but the main thing I remember about her is that she never came back to class after that day. Mr. Spratt, the principal at Woodrow Wilson came over the speaker and told us what had happened, but none of us knew that Cathy’s uncle would go down as one of history’s vilest villans. I still have a recipe book put together by the mothers of our class with a recipe from “Mrs Robert Oswald”. The Oswalds moved to Wichita Falls in 1964 and still live there today.

In the very early 1980s, I worked for FEMA and worked in Wichita Falls after a flood there. My job at the time was to interview people affected by the flood and direct them to the government and private agencies which could provide assistance. I had developed a routine in which I asked everyone I interviewed for their driver’s license in order to get the neccessary information correctly and quickly. One day I was at my desk when a man sat down across the desk from me and said he’d had some damage to his house and wanted to see what was available. I glanced up at him, introduced myself and asked for his driver’s license. I began filling out paperwork (pre-computers) while the man pulled out his license. When I glanced at the license, I was amazed to see that it said “Robert Lee Oswald” and had a very familiar picture on it. I have read numerous books about the assassination and knew what Mr. Oswald looked like. I wanted to talk to him about his brother and tell him that I had known his daughter years before, but I was a Federal employee and I decided not to invade his privacy………….though I really wanted to. This year is the 50th anniversary of that day…..hard to believe.

Just a little trivia there, but part of Denton’s history. I have personally had many encounters with others involved in one way or another with the assassination, but those don’t really have any roots to Denton other than my fascination with the story. (and just for the record, I don’t think Oswald fired a shot that day. I think he was exactly what he claimed to be……..a patsy.) Talk amongst yourselves…………

Enjoy Denton and enjoy life!!!!

Dentoning….Building blocks

Crowd sourcing, crowd funding, kick-starting whatever term you choose to use, is the modern day version of barn raising. People of the greater community joining hands, minds, backs and pocketbooks to achieve something for the greater good (in most cases). Anything from businesses to parks, to gadgets, to heart-joining trips. It’s basically gorilla venture capitalism.

Recently, another Kevin Roden project was presented to a large group of Dentonites. As you probably know, Kevin is one of our City Councilpeople and is known for brainstorming ideas which tap the creative soul of Denton. THIS idea, which will hopefully come to fruition, would transform Denton one block at a time. The idea revolves around crowd sourcing ideas, materials, labor and vision to transform entire strategic blocks of our fair city in an effort to enhance Dentoning.

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Mr. Roden, waxing wise…

The forward-looking approach to urban renewal would start with a vision of any number of ways a block could be improved…from dedicated bike lanes, to the planting of trees/grass/shrubbery to food carts, street artists, covered seating, to repurposed building use, to making the block pedestrian traffic only. The possibilities are limited only by the imaginations of Dentonites and City rules and regulations. The former of these is unlimited, the later can be dealt with by the imaginative, status quo interrupting City government now in place.

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The project presentation included input from an excited citizenry. Many ideas were put forth, with visions of change for all parts of Denton. Part of the meeting included ideas from a pair of guys who have done this in other cities and countries. This is just another personal, correct opinion of mine, but I think Denton is shoulder-deep in just the talent needed to pull off multiple versions of this ideas in areas throughout Denton.

The particulars of these block transformations begin with an idea, followed by the implementation/changing/relaxing/or ignoring of City laws, regulations, and bad ideas. With that groundwork set, the materials needed would be obtained through donations, gifts, deeding, grants, repurposing…….ie, however possible….THEN community work days would allow volunteers to reinvent a block of our town.

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If you have been to Europe, think of the bustling pedestrian town centers on a smaller scale…… alive with vegetable/fruit vendors, tiny shops with personality, buskers, bikers, and well-supervised pets. Or think of Pearl Street in Boulder, CO, or Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco………all retaining the “feel” of Denton……. areas changed one block at a time.

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I would love to see the four streets surrounding the back side of the Square (Cedar, Walnut, Austin and Pecan Streets) turned into green, shady, pedestrian-only areas where people could rest while shopping, eat, walk and loiter. I mentioned this scenario to my good friend Karen Meredith, owner of Sweetwater Bar and Grill, and she wasn’t too keen on the idea due to the loss of parking, so I do understand there will be different points of view and ideas, but vision has to start somewhere. It seems to me that this overall plan could be a creative, inexpensive way to make Denton an even better place to live than it is already…

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There will be follow up and, hopefully follow through on this unique idea. I will keep my ear to the ground and report here as things move forward. In the meantime, what are your thoughts?!!

Enjoy Denton!!

Dentoning….perspective

Recently, I was discussing the possiblity of Syria using chemical weapons and that I thought President Assad might be getting WMDs ready so that in the event it looked like he was about to be over-run, he could take the people of Syria with him. A friend of mine wondered if maybe Assad has “Jim Jones” syndrome. It had been a long time since I’d thought of the horror which took place in Guyana when “Pastor” Jim Jones convinced 900+ of his cult members to commit suicide. I remember listening to the radio that day about the tragedy in Guyana as I drove to ski in Ruidoso. The first reports mentioned Congressman Ryan and some others being killed at an airstrip, and as the day went on that some of the cult members may have died. With each report, the numbers grew until the unimaginable announcement that 900+ people had committed suicide.

I have had a life full (well, so far) of unusual experiences. A connection to the Jim Jones story is one of them. From 1980-1986, I worked for FEMA as a disaster assistance specialist. During that time, I did several things for FEMA, but for the last 3 years or so of that time, I was on the staff of the Federal Coordinating Officer, Bob Broussard. I was part of a small group of people who were always the first on the scene following a Presidentially-declared disaster. This small group of people was comprised of FEMA employees along with a few from the Small Business Association, Red Cross, etc…. The group was always the same, and we all grew close due to long hours, close quarters, and long periods of time on the road. I made some really good friends and got to know most of them very well.

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One of those people was a woman who worked for SBA. She and I often worked closely together in the weeks and sometimes months following a natural disaster and I felt like I knew her very well. One day, during a disaster-related visit to southern Louisiana, I noticed that my friend (I’ll call her Joan) was not being herself. Joan was normally very out-going, funny and upbeat. This day, Joan was quiet, sullen…….depressed. I asked her that morning if she was feeling OK and she just brushed it off as being tired from the long hours and to not getting enough sleep. Her demeanor did not improve as the day went on and I got worried about her. I finally asked her again if she were OK and she again brushed it off and then thanked me for asking. I thought I knew Joan pretty well, what she told me late that night made me realize I didn’t….

That night, after an exhausting 16 hour day, Joan asked me if we could talk. This wasn’t unusual, and I said “sure”, not thinking anything of it. All the people I was working with were staying in the same hotel, so Joan and I found a quiet place in the lobby and sat down. What she said next sent shivers down my spine. She thanked me for being concerned about her and said there was a reason other than being tired for her mood that day. She asked me if I knew what “today” was. I had heard no news that day, nor did anything special come to mind, so I told her no. She told me that it was the anniversary of the Guyana Tragedy. I thought about how horrible that story was, but I didn’t understand why that would be enough to make my friend have such a bad day.

Joan went on to tell me that before Jim Jones had moved the “church” from San Francisco to Guyana, she had been his personal assistant. She told me that she was closer to him during that time than anyone else in the church. I knew Joan well enough that I knew she was telling the truth. I, of course, found it interesting as she went on to paint a word picture of a good guy gone bad. She told me that she was completely devoted to him in the beginning and was definitely under his “spell”.

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Jim Jones

Joan said that as the months and years went on, she began to notice disturbing things in Jones’ behavior. She mentioned alcohol abuse, drugs, dalliances with women of the church and financial improprieties. Jones’ paranoia grew as more people discovered his secrets and Joan said that was the main reason he decided to relocate his church to South America. A few months before the church left San Francisco for Guyana, Joan left the church and her boss, Jim Jones. Jones was furious about her leaving and threats were made. Joan found another job and stayed clear of Jones and the People’s Temple, though she remained closely tied to them from a distance.

During her time at the church, Joan’s mother and all 5 children joined the church. When Joan left, her family stayed. Like many of the cult members, they stayed because of their belief in the church but also out of fear of Jim Jones. Well, as you can probably guess, Joan went on to tell me that her mother and all 5 of her children died that day in the jungles of Guyana. I was stunned to hear the reason for her mood that day. I could not fathom the horror of such a loss. I was the first work-related friend she had told about her past. It was an honor that she trusted me enough to confide in, but it was almost something I wish I had never found out. I had no clue of what to say. None…

This was in the early ’80s, so I was in my early 20s. No matter what their age, who is prepared to comfort someone who has experienced such a horrific event in their life? I mumbled something I’m sure and Joan went on to fill in details of that time…… going to Guyana, bringing her family home, the funerals, and of her hate and disgust of Jim Jones. We continued to work together for another 3 years or so until I left FEMA. We talked occasionally about her family during that time, but Joan was strong and did not dwell on it or seek attention because of it.

I have lost touch with Joan, but when I look back, I’m always flabbergasted that she could be so normal after something like that. She was a person you would think did not have a care in the world, yet she had survived something incomprehensible. I think about Joan occasionally when things aren’t going my way. Even my worst problems pale in comparison to what she endured/endures. I hope Joan is doing well and hope to see her again someday. I think all of us can learn to judge the severity of our problems as they relate to Joan’s.

Life is good…….no matter what.

Dentoning….Mentor Denton

Denton is a great place to live purely because of the people who live here now, and those who have in the past. There’s not much we can do to influence people of the past, but we can certainly positively influence people of the present.

It is estimated that 10K young people would benefit from ONE HOUR, ONCE a week to provide guidance, a role model and hope. We are all busy with our own lives, but is one hour a week too much to ask? I think not, so I am asking you……….please sign up for this program and make a positive impact on a local youth’s life. You won’t be sorry, and they positively won’t be. Give of yourself………

Sign up at:

mentordenton.org

Dentoning….The Opera House, preserving history

Other than THIS:

Denton County Courthouse

What is a more iconic of Denton than THIS?

Wright Opera House  & Recycled Books

The Opera House building, which in addition to its namesake, formerly housed the Boston Store, an office supply store and now… the book Mecca of North Texas, Recycled Books, was put on the market yesterday, Aug.14th, for just over $2.5 million. Fear not……..Recycled Books is going nowhere. The ginormous book store just signed a new lease and is safe for the length of the lease. It is not known if anyone has expressed interest in the building, but I’m sure minds are spinning.

Just before the time of the last sale of the building, Recycled Books was given a long term lease assuring its occupancy for over a decade. It looks like it is here to stay this time too. The building also houses several top-floor condos, and a few smaller businesses. What might be done with the building is anyone’s guess at this time. It is at times like this that those of us who care about Denton need to make sure that our historic buildings, such as the Opera House, are preserved. In spite of the gaudy color (the result of an” in-your-face” move by a previous owner), the building is a unique, historic and important anchor for downtown Denton. I can’t imagine a new owner tearing it down, but other buildings on and near the Square are in jeopardy of being bulldozed to make room for new, GENERIC edifices…..

Barney’s Auto on East Hickory, was just sold. Barney’s owner, 90 year old Jimmy Normile wanted simply to live out his remaining days in the chair he’s occupied daily since 1959. He finally gave in to the red tape that goes hand in hand with keeping a 77 year old building in compliance with modern safety/health codes. What will happen to the brick fasçade under the exterior stucco of Barney’s once the new owners take over? Will they preserve it or demolish it for another block of cookie cutter condos?

Just to the west of Barney’s sits Travelstead, another historically unique structure which is barely escaping the wrecking ball by putting a new roof on one of the three buildings making up the former Model T dealership and auto supply store. I might have been born yesterday, but I stayed up all night, and I realize that an East Hickory St. without Barney’s and Travelstead would look too much like South Lake for my tastes. Towns like South Lake, Frisco, and McKinney come to Denton to get ideas for NEW buildings to make their towns have the feel and ambiance that we have with our EXISTING buildings. If you have a good thing, why change it?

I did a quick check on the Opera House building and could not find any historic designation. Hopefully, I have overlooked something ……..and hopefully any future owners of the building will preserve the beautiful corner of history which is such an important part of our awesome Square.

Preserve and Enjoy old Denton!