Wednesday, December 22, 2010

An Afternoon with Margaret Hill


Any conversation with Margaret Ann Hill is always filled with laughter. She said to me, “I always know how to have a good time.” Her quick wit is complemented by a sharp and analytical mind. As a teen she had a series of jobs, working for Graybar Electric in the accounting department for 2 years and then American Fire and Casualty Insurance Company for 3 years. She was proud of these early jobs that she had during and after High School. A true Orlando native, she was born in and grew up in the same two story home on Evans Street, that her father built. Her mom, Josephine Graff married Joseph Zapp in Indiana, where they met. Her parents farmed there for a short time. Joe Zapp was a gifted carpenter as well as a stern disciplinarian. Her mother instilled the love of nature, family and people in Margaret while her father provided structure and determination. Margaret is of German descent and the youngest of nine children in a devoted Catholic household. The necessities were provided for, yet luxuries were not plentiful. Margaret does remember the excitement of seeing her first movie at The Beachum when she was 16 years old.

When I asked Margaret about her marriage to Duane, she said with a school girl grin, “That was one of the happiest days of my life.” Margaret met her husband Duane at Swift Packing house. She had an accounting job and Duane worked the meat cutting equipment. As their romance blossomed, they would write letters to each other at night and trade them at her desk in the morning. Margaret worked at Swift for 5 years until their wedding and the birth of their first child. The newlyweds moved to an apartment on Hyer Street in Orlando. This was a small 2 bedroom apartment and they lived there for 4 years. They bought their first home in 1958, which is the home Margaret is happy to live in today.

Margaret was proud to have raised four boys and a girl. Another of her happiest days was when her daughter Mary was born. She was so glad she finally had a daughter. This was a major victory after having all boys for so many years. Margaret enjoyed gardening and sewing, so now in addition to sewing pants for all her boys, she could finally make dresses for her daughter. She delighted in being a Mom and proudly talks about a trip she took to the bank where she had all her children in the back seat of the station wagon as she went through the teller line. In those days, the bank tellers still gave out lollipops. As the teller was counting out the 5 lollipops, he said that his wife would feel blessed if she was able to raise their one child with the apparent ease that Margaret seems to be raising her five children.

Margaret’s daughter Mary entered the room and she joined in on the conversation. She started to tell a story about how proud she was of her Mom ‘doing’ a 5K with her about 15 years ago. Margaret walked it and Mary ran the distance in record time for herself. While Mary was waiting at the finish line for her Mom she mentioned to the spectators around her that her mom was walking the course, that it was a challenge for her and asked them if they would cheer with her for her Mom. Those spectators then told two friends who told two friends and so on…and before she knew it 50 or more people were all waiting for Margaret Hill to cross the finish line. When Margaret rounded the corner to the finish she was more than shocked by the huge crowd of people shouting, “Come on MOM you can do it! Yeah, Mom!!!” Some spectators even dashed onto the course to meet her, hugging her and shouting further encouragement. Yes, Margaret knows how to have a good time, making the most of every moment and embracing each day.

- Thomas Thorspecken

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Around the World with Homer Whittaker

“I’m not trying to make the world over. What happens, happens. Nothing I can do about it. Life happens and it shapes you and the world. You don’t shape life,” replies Homer Whittaker when asked what advice he would pass on to people coming along behind him. Instinctively, I know that listening to Homer share about his life, is going to stretch and shape my very own. Born in Brooklyn, New York on August 27, 1920, Homer Whittaker, is just two days shy of his 90th birthday. Homer is introspective yet surprisingly light-hearted. Although he easily displays the depth of emotion which comes from experiencing the serious side of life, he believes life is best not taken too seriously. He shares and jokes with ease.

Homer describes his early life in Brooklyn as typical. His father owned and worked a lumber yard and his mother ran the house. He is eight years older than Mae, his only sister. His father was strict and very much about business, while his mother was the ‘touchy feely’ one. With a mischievous grin Homer laughs, “She was so touchy feely she broke her wrist across my back as she and my father were going to meet with my teachers.” She was none too happy about being called to talk to his teachers. After that she resorted to chasing him with a broom! Not because he misbehaved mind you, merely because he enjoyed life! “Didn’t you enjoy life at that age?” he teases. Homer’s enjoyment of life didn’t stop him from scoring the highest marks in history and math on the New York Regents exam. He credits his older cousin Dorothy for having his back and keeping him out of trouble. They were very close and always knew what the other one was up to. “Everybody needs someone like that and I was lucky to have her.”

At 17 years old, Homer decided to leave Brooklyn and Kelly’s Bar behind. He joined the US Navy with the clear goal of becoming an aviator and earned his wings at 22 years of age. The next twenty-three years found Homer ‘going to sea,’ flying countless combat related missions, piloting myriad seaplanes and bombers. When asked about the responsibility of commanding planes and people, he says, “I didn’t think about it. It can be a grueling day, 18 to 20 hours, with a B5M patrol plane strapped to your ass…” In a flicker it appears as if people and experiences march swiftly through his mind and across his eyes, “If I’m safe, they’re safe, so we were sure as hell gonna be safe,” he adds with his unique mixture of seriousness, care and humor.

While Homer was in the Navy, he married and had four children, three boys and one daughter. “I credit their mother to really doing a beautiful job raising them… I was always out to sea.” His children have gifted him with wonderful grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. When asked what makes for a successful life, he says that generally being pleased with one’s life. What pleases Homer? “My kids. I didn’t get all gooey over them, but I like them. They’re all very different and they’re nice people. I want them to know that I do respect them and their thoughts and I’m sure I don’t always get that across.” Acceptance is what Homer believes makes life and relationships easier and more enjoyable. “But don’t expect it to happen over night,” he adds dryly.

Acceptance has been a deep and important theme throughout his life. Mag, Homer’s wife, enters the room and when asked what keeps them together after 26 years of marriage, they both have quick and different answers. “Old age, neither of us can run away,” laughs Homer. “Inertia,” Mag delivers with comic excellence. Yet, they both agree that acceptance of each other and the other’s ideas and purpose is essential. Homer adds, “It’s important to accept what your partner feels and encourage and support that.” Homer is an exceptionally warm and inviting man, with an openness and ability to touch and be touched on many levels. Life has indeed happened to and around Homer during these 90 years. It has touched and shaped him and he continues to gift others with his touch. Happy Birthday, Homer!

- Mary Hill

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Captain for All Ages

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Captain Pete Peteprin was born 100 years ago today on October 29, 1910 in Caro, Michigan. And so his purpose began. Captain Pete feels strongly that it is essential to live a purposeful life and he knew that his purpose was to lead. He believes in Christianity and that he is here to love and help other people when he can. “There are 5 words that are very important to me: Christian love, hope, courage, faith and wisdom of selection.”

He grew up in a lumber family amidst the strong personalities of his father and grandfather. His mother was very loving and provided not only a strong educational foundation, but prophetically enough, a make believe captain uniform when he was just 8! Her death, when he was only 11 years old, was the single most difficult thing in his life. A pastor mentored Pete, solidifying his strong faith and giving him the courage to pick himself up and persevere. He knew he had something to offer when he was asked to be the Captain of his high school football team. He went to Michigan State on an athletic and academic scholarship, completing 2 years before voluntarily enlisting in the Navy in 1931. He re-enlisted again in 1935, honorably serving in the US Navy for 41 years, retiring in 1972. Before retiring he completed his BA and MBA in Business Administration from the Univ. of Michigan. In 1938 he met and married a wonderful woman and research nurse named Emily Hoffman. They wed in the Valley Forge Chapel and shared 60 years together before her passing. They have a terrific son and daughter, four grandchildren and a great grandson.

Captain Pete’s military career is historic. He believes in liberty and that a person or country must be willing to sacrifice and even die for the right to that liberty. Pete was willing and is a Pearl Harbor survivor, returning to battleship row on the USS Helm, a destroyer that shot down 2 Japanese planes and remained afloat with 3 holes blown in her side. His attitude is remarkable and humbling. “It’s an interesting thing. When you are in the war, you just think about winning the war. If I’m killed it was meant to be, if not, wonderful!” Wonderful indeed! Pete has sailed the world, served NATO in Paris, France from 1959 to 1964, recruited European engineers for the space program, evacuated 747 French Foreign Legion and Colonial troops with chest wounds out of Indo China, served in Washington, DC…the list is endless.

As remarkable and as endless is Pete’s love, wisdom and generosity of spirit. He enjoys working out, heart-felt conversations and lunch with friends. His most recently accomplished goal was that all of his grand kids graduated from college. And, Pete is lucky in love! He and his delightful wife Louise have been married for 11 years and his goal is to make her as happy as he can. Captain Pete looks forward to each day with contagious optimism and to eternity with inspiring devotion and love. Happy Birthday, Captain Pete and God bless you always!

- Mary Hill