Musings, Thoughts & Commentaries
Osnaburg Township is where my roots are planted and I wanted my daughters to see and feel the earth that one week in early Spring after the weather is too cold and before it becomes too hot.
We stopped in East Canton to get gas and fast food, across the street from the high school I graduated from in 1959 and where my son Tommy played when he was 2 years old in 1969. We lived near here for 2 years before moving to Vienna, Austria. I walked around the four corners of the town center, past the old and long-closed office of the first dentist who treated me, by the red brick stagecoach stop (the road was once the stagecoach route from Pittsburgh to Canton and onward West)—now a closed antique shop--back to the gas station. We loaded up and circled around town to the Kountz Cemetery across from the empty lot where once stood the Osnaburg Township School building, downgraded to an elementary school when I attended and later the auditorium where “Sparetimers” was held Thursday nights while I was in high school and teenagers could dance with each other. Many hearts lie broken on that empty lot.
My Kempka grandparents went to the Kountz Church (they were Lutherans from Prussia and the original Osnabruck) and are buried in the cemetery behind where the church stood until it burned down in 1968. When I was in grade school, during recess I could hear its bell ring. We found the Kempka graves and took photos while I told these stories to the girls. Uncle Henry, made humpbacked by his difficult birth and never married, is buried by his parents. We left East Canton, going east on Route 30.
Jean Peters was born in 1926 in East Canton, Ohio, and was raised on a small farm along Route 30 east of town. She became Miss Ohio in 1945 and went to Hollywood to work for 20th Century Fox. She made many movies, became famous and married Howard Hughes. My school bus route followed Route 30 and in the 1950’s I liked to sit beside Jean’s younger sister, Shirley. She was in high school and I was 10-11 years old but I liked her. She told me stories about her sister in Hollywood. One day Shirley showed me a huge diamond ring she had received from this guy named “Howard Hughes” who was marrying her sister.
I drove my girls along that bus route out of East Canton and showed them where the Peters had lived…a tiny little house. When she was married to Howard, Jean was the richest woman in the world.
We passed the Clearview Golf Course that was opened about 1950 by the parents of Bill Powell, my high school classmate. It is still a nice public golf course. I became friends again with Bill after I got out of the army and was working for Firestone while studying at U. of Akron for my MBA in International Business. Bill was fascinated with the scene in Cleveland, the “Big City,” and took me there to show me the night clubs where he had something going on and I recalled my days in "Little Italy" while I was at Case Tech. But the other black guys did not accept Bill, the black outsider from Canton and murdered him a few months later. I met his sister when I coincidentally sat beside her on a flight from New York to London in 1980. Renee told me what she knew about her brother’s murder. Renee was only the second African American to play on the LPGA Tour, from 1967-80.
We passed the junction where Route 44 leads south to Dover and I saw Marion Dick’s farm. Dad and Marion were good friends and we went there often to have dinner and play cards. I also met Dave Thelen there, a high school hero. He went on to become the second best football player from East Canton and was inducted into the Canadian Professional Football Hall of fame.
We turned off Route 30 onto the dirt Sam Krabill Road. In the 50’s the school bus stopped at the corner to pick up some kids who walked up the hill, including Rita the majorette and my friend Lee Harrington, and the three Page kids: Twila, Howard and Alan, who walked down from their home up on the hill. Twila was in my Latin class; the tall skinny boys played in the band and we on the football team called them “band boys” implying they were not tough. By the time the boys reached high school they had put on some weight and deserted the Osnaburg Township school system to attend Canton Central Catholic. I never saw the Pages again. My senior year in high school the football team I played on went 0-9. Howard and Alan became All-Ohio players at Canton Central Catholic; Alan was later named All-American at Notre Dame, All-Pro defensive tackle for the Minnesota Vikings and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, located back where we had started our day today.
We continued on Sam Krabill Road alongside a very small creek on our left that will grow into the Little Sandy as it flows south. When I was 11-14 years old I trapped muskrats along this creek, rising at 4:00 AM, riding my pony, Tippy, along my trap line, killing the trapped muskrats and an occasional coon to bring back to the farm where I would skin them, nail their hides to boards to let them dry and then get myself ready for school, after feeding the cows hay.
In the near distance to the left, a hill dominates the terrain. The unnamed hill was surveyed by the National Coast and Geodetic Survey as the highest point in Stark County. The hill is a part of the continental divide; the natural boundary created when a glacier of the most recent ice age reached this point, dumped its load and receded north. The NCGS erected a high tower on it to survey and planted a concrete benchmark there to verify the actual point on the ground with the maps they would print. The hill is in the middle of the farm I grew up on. I rode Tippy around the tower just for fun while the surveyors surveyed.
I know that hill—it is on the farm where I grew up.
Imagine a snow flake falling exactly on the summit and melting—half of its water would trickle south and becomes the Little Sandy Creek, the other half north across Kiko’s fields into Swallen Crick and then north into the Nimishillen.
San Antonio, Texas, has been one of my favorite places since I drove there in my new black Corvette after graduation from West Point to visit my ex-roommate, Gary Walk. We had graduated the week before from West Point and had a month off before we reported to our first duty stations. It would be 25 years before we would see each other again.
After stopping to visit my parents back on our farm near East Canton, Ohio, I drove to Chicago, then along the Mississippi through Memphis, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Beaumont, Texas and on to San Antonio. Looking around where I thought Gary lived according to the address I had, he suddenly came running up to my car. He flagged me down, threw a loaded pistol onto the passenger seat and said, “Drive around. Hide this. Come back later.”
I said, “See ya later,” and drove away. When I came back Gary and I went to a bring-your-own-bottle bar his mother owned --bars in San Antonio did sell liquor in those days--and we reminisced about our time at West Point. I returned the pistol; his mother’s boyfriend was not to be trusted with it.
Gary was an American Army “brat” who had gone to high school on a US base in Germany. I studied German at West Point and had been assigned to an officer exchange with the German Military Academy in Muensterlage, near Celle in Germany, for a summer and my German was very good. Gary felt it was his duty to fix me up with my first “girlfriend”--if you know what I mean--Rita, who had been his girlfriend in high school; a very nice and good-looking young German lady about our age. He thought it was time for me, knowing all the effort I had put into finding a girl during the time we were exiled in our Rock-Bound Highland Home, sequestered from society while we were cadets. I met Rita near the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof and we stayed a few days at a small hotel while she showed me around town and taught me a few things. Details in reports to follow-maybe.
Gary had also visited me in Ohio and stayed with me at my uncle‘s home in Ossining, New York, where one night we drank a whole bottle of my uncle’s finest scotch.
After San Antonio, I shipped my Corvette ahead of me to Europe and went off to Ranger School at Fort Benning.
I was later assigned to the 1/77 Field Artillery, direct support to the 2nd Brigade 1st Air Cavalry Division in Vietnam. I later resigned from the Army and spent a career in international business.
A generation later Gary commanded that same unit, the 1/77. The First Cav was now stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, just up the trail (in Texas terms) from San Antonio, where Gary later retired as a Colonel and together with his wife, Coella, retired from service.
Gary finished his military career afflicted with cancer of everything due to Agent Orange. His mobility was also affected, but not his mind. One time while my family and I were staying with him and Coella, we told our old stories and he honored me by telling about how he never forgot how I helped him prepare for his wedding on the day of his graduation from West Point. He had to lay out his uniform, work on his brass and pack up for wedding, departure and honeymoon. I told him to use my bunk as a bench to arrange things and I just slept on the floor out of his way so he could get all his wedding paraphernalia ready. This was just a small courtesy that I forgot about.
Gary never forgot. On my last visit with my entire family to San Antonio, he shared these and other stories with Coella and my wife and daughters.
In his last days while I was visiting one time by myself, Coella told me he wanted to talk to me one-on-one in his bedroom, where he was surviving with oxygen and liquid tubes running in and out of his body. He was saying goodbye and we both knew it.
Gary passed away after I returned to California. A few days after his death, two pairs of boots, a Lucchese Black Lonestar Classic handcrafted in San Antonio and a Tony Lama Pecan Caiman with hand-tooled tops made in El Paso were delivered to my home. Coella had sent them to me, knowing that Gary would like me to have them and that we happened to have exactly the same boot size.
I wrote a thank you note to Coella telling her that I could fit but never fill Gary’s Boots.
Stark County, Ohio, is where my roots are planted.
I wanted to show my daughters where I came from. I had taken my wife, Mailyn, back to visit in 1998 when we returned my father’s ashes and poured them on the ground beside mom’s grave in Union Cemetery in Louisville, Ohio. Now it was time for all of us to make the sentimental journey.
We loaded up into our Budget Rental Chrysler SUV with sliding side doors and headed out from our hotel in Richfield. I drove my Kalifornia Grlz south on the Interstate, around Akron, and cruised down I-71 through Canton. We passed the Football Hall of Fame on the right side directly opposite Aultman Hospital where I was born. Downtown Canton looks smaller than I remember it but the same; a miniature version of my memory. The same Dave Towell Ford Dealership with the same sign. The same Bender’s Restaurant (including a polite “Ladies Bar” with separate entrance) but boarded up and then there's President William McKinley’s home. He rests in a nearby tomb in the park. (My family got one of his high silk hats somehow, but Dad sold it in his farm auction, probably for a few dollars.) On the opposite corner is the Frank T. Bow Federal Office Building. Frank T. Bow was the congressman who appointed me to West Point. I wrote him a letter every year starting with scrawling, hand-written letters on lined, grade school tablet paper when I was 9 and continued through high school with typewritten letters on fine bond paper. On our high school class trip to Washington DC, I excused myself for an afternoon to knock on his door at the House Office Building (you could do things like this in 1959.) His secretary, seeming to know me, announced, “Congressman Bow, Tom Anthony, a constituent from your district is here to see you.” I had no appointment. Congressman Bow answered, loudly, “Send that boy in!” He knew me. I might or might not have had the highest score on the exam given to the hundreds who applied and took special government exams to earn his appointment that year, but he appointed me. He knew me.
The County Seat and Courthouse looks exactly the same, where Uncle Holland Anthony had worked for the County Auditor, Joe Yoder (a cousin) and where I networked with politicians (like Kenneth E. Motts, the country recorder who recorded birth and deaths and has a cemetery named for him and former Congressman, Jimmy Secomb) to get appointed to West Point and the old Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner and Smith office where I opened my first stock portfolio when I was 12; investing and trading stock on money made in my rabbit business. I still trade stock. The first stock I bought was Anaconda Copper; I thought people would always need copper. People still need steel too, but the Republic Steel mill in south Canton is a pile of dusty rust.
We circled around and across railroad tracks no longer in use and came back to Tuscarawas Street by the First Evangelical and Reformed Church, where my mom took me--but I didn’t like the monotone church music. That could have been a reason I became Catholic. We continued East past Wyler’s Dairy where dad delivered our milk, 35 gallons per day, past Tom Tolles’ home. Tom went to church with me and became my roommate at Case Tech in Cleveland before he moved to Florida and fathered Tom Tolles Jr, the famous golfer.
When religiously persecuted Germans settled the area in the late 1700’s they named the town and township “Osnabruck” after their home. But the name of the town was changed to “East Canton” 100 years ago when the German language was deemed politically incorrect during W W One. The township name is now spelled an anglicized “Osnaburg.”
I was back home when west of Canton on Route 30 we passed a green roadside sign, “Osnaburg.”
To be continued...
Tom Anthony is a West Point Graduate and combat veteran who spent his professional civilian career in global business all over the world. He has lived and worked in Austria, Italy, Spain, England, Iraq, Israel, and throughout Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Anthony also lived in Mindanao for seven years.
Copyright 2017 Tom Anthony.