Category Archives: history

Brian’s Blog: Grandpa Keller

 I don’t really know how common this is or not. It is not one of those things that naturally pops up in conversation with friends. But I was a lucky little kid because, for a while, I had my great-grandfather in my life.

 His name was Harry Keller. He was my grandmother’s father. And I remember him. He died when I was about 5-years-old. But for a time while I was young, he and I lived in the same house. We were around each other every day.

 He was always good natured. I remember a lot of hugs and a lot of butterscotch candy that he would slip me when no one was looking. It was good. I think it is why I still like them to this day. I remember doing silly dances for him to make him laugh. I remember a lot of Summer afternoons in the backyard, looking at rose bushes that he attended to. I remember drinking lemonade with him at the kitchen table when it was hot outside.

Harry Keller was my great-grandfather. He is pictured here in either the late 1960’s or early 1970’s. He was an exceptional man.

 He was such a dear man. Such a sweet man. The story that I don’t think I will ever forget was the afternoon he and I were in the backyard. I had an oversized set of golf clubs and I hit the big plastic ball that came with them over the backyard fence. He hoisted me over the fence so I could get the ball, but half-way through the hoist I ended up getting stuck on the fence and he couldn’t get me off. He had to run inside for help and I remember thinking “Where are you going? I am stuck on a fence!”

 I remember the winter’s day where a storm had moved in. It was snowing a lot. And he decided he was going to walk one block to the grocery store. I told him I wanted to go with him and he said no, that he would be right back. I remember standing at the kitchen window, tears streaming down my face as he walked into the snow. I did not want him to go alone and didn’t understand how anyone else thought it was OK for a nearly 80-year-old man to walk into a winter storm alone.

 Eventually, he got sick. Really sick. It was Cancer. I didn’t understand that then. What I remember of the time is going to an old brick building on the campus of Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines and showing him my new Star Wars figures. I explained who each character was and if they were a good guy or a bad guy. He sat there and indulged me, smiling and making comments where he could.

 When Grandpa Keller died, my life changed. His was the first death I ever had to deal with. I was shielded from it. I did not go to the visitation or the funeral. My family was worried that it would lead to nightmares. They wanted me to remember him with the memories I had of his life..and not memories of how he appeared in death.

 He was a kind, patient and loving. He was gentle and tender. He was hard working. In short, he was everything a man should strive to be. My Grandmother always said he was the perfect father; something I am sure my Aunt Penny would agree with. As as for a great-grandfather, he was so sweet. His hugs were full of emotion and they provided the exact type of emotional security blanket that every child should have and deserve.

 It would not be until years later that I learned that Grandpa Keller was an amateur writer. In his later years, he wrote poetry and short stories. He even gave his hand to drawing and captioning cartoons. All for his pleasure and ultimately the pleasure of his family. I began writing short stories on an old 1932 Royal typewriter when I was about 8-years-old. I had no idea Grandpa Keller and I shared a love of the written word until years later. And when I did learn of that connection, it really meant something to me.

 Harry Keller was an amazing man. The only regret I have involving him is that he and I did not get to have more time together.

Brian’s Blog: Lessons From The Past

It is amazing how you can find out so much about yourself, by taking a look at those who came before you.

One of my growing hobbies is genealogy; the study of family history. At first, I did it for myself out of curiosity. I wanted to know who came before me; who those people were and what they did. Now I continue the work for the benefit of my boys. I never want them to be in the dark about who their immediate ancestors were as well as those who names and faces have been all but lost to history.

Through my work, I have found that I am related to people whose names are household words: writers, politicians and the like. But the two people whose lives continues to touch me time and again and those of my maternal grandparents: Perry Weatherly and Alice Lorraine Keller.

I had the benefit of growing up with them in a very real way. Grandma and Grandpa weren’t people I visited only on the holidays. I grew up with them in the same house. They were always there. By the time I knew them, they were older. My grandparents were 55 years older than I was. A full generation (and then some) separated me from them.

One thing I always try to find in my research is what they were like when they were younger. What made them tick when they were in their teens and their 20’s? What were they like when they were the age I am now? These are very specific pieces of a very specific puzzle that I am trying to put together.

So I was thrilled when I was able to come across a picture of Perry and Alice Lorraine when they were in their early 20’s and not yet married. I do not know exactly when the picture was taken. I also do not know exactly where but if I had to venture a guess, I would say Des Moines, Iowa…where both of them were born and raised.

Perry & Alice Lorraine

This picture of Perry Weatherly and Alice Lorraine Keller was taken sometime in the last 1930’s or early 1940’s, likely in Des Moines, Iowa.

I look at this picture and I think so many varied and different things. This is, to a large degree, how I remember them: standing firm and standing together, side by side, two of them against the world.

It is interesting to look at them and see something that resembles youthful optimism. I suspect Alice Lorraine is standing on something, because Perry was nearly a foot taller than she was.

I look at them, standing together and I know that at this time they had already discussed early plans of marrying and making a life together. But what they did not know when that picture was taken, but what I do know thanks to the hindsight of history, is what their life together would hold. Within a few short years, Adolf Hitler would threaten the world. They would marry and then Perry would leave for four years of overseas service.

When he came home, they resumed building their life together. They held the reins of their own business and eventually started a family of their own.

There would be weekends at Rock Creek near Kellogg. There would be races at Knoxville. There would be births. There would be deaths. But the constant through all of their decades together was that they had each other.

My Grandfather was the toughest man I ever knew. I had him in my life for 24 years and I saw him cry once; on the day my Grandmother died. She was my best friend growing up and it is amazing to me that I have now lived more of my life without her than with her.

Perry and Alice Lorraine never gave up on each other. And they were about as opposite as they come. They held similar beliefs and similar goals. But the differences were real and stark. He loved to laugh. So did she…but not as often as he. He would occasionally have a drink. She never touched alcohol. She had patience. He did not. And when they would argue, it would be something to see. I clearly remember her saying to him, “Perry, sometimes I think I need a 2 by 4 to get you to understand what I am saying”. And during arguments….he would get so flustered that he would run through the names of everyone in the house when he was trying to say only hers. “Brian…Kathy…..uh…Lorraine…..”.

But there was no doubt they loved each other. They were such a team. They were such a superb team and wonderful people. And when I look at this picture of them, it makes me feel happy….because I know that they accomplished what they wanted to: a happy life together. But at the same time, I also feel sad. Sad because with Perry and Alice Lorraine…life has done what it was supposed to do: if gave them a period of time to be together and then eventually….first her….and then him….that time came to an end.

Perry lived six-and-half-more years without his bride. But I wonder what those years were really like. I benefitted from more time with him. But I wonder if he was really happy. I wonder what he thought about his life without her. I wonder if he ever silently closed his eyes and relived the past in his mind. Because in the past, he could still be with her. In the present, he could not.

I know they are together now.

Thanks Gene Kelly, For Reminding Me About Class

 Stay with me here people, because this blog is going to be pretty random at first but then it will get specific pretty quick.

 The other day, while looking through the TV Guide on my television, I came across a listing for the movie “Xanadu”. For those of you unfamiliar, it’s a musical starring Olivia Newton-John, Michael Beck and Gene Kelly. It is a whirlwind of a music adventure. You get to here music big band music from the 1940’s, rock music from the 1980’s, some pop from the 50’s. It really is something else.

 The movie was made in 1980 and I can remember seeing it with my Mom at the old Plantation Drive-In on 63rd Street in Des Moines. I was about 7 at the time. I was fascinated by the movie and the music…to the point where we bought the soundtrack album. Right now, some songs from that soundtrack are tucked safely away in my I Pod for my listening enjoyment.

 Anyhow, back to seeing “Xanadu” on the TV Guide listing. I of course set it up to record and then decided to watch it at a later date. Turns out I had a bout with insomnia last Thursday night and decided to watch “Xanadu”. Watching it made me realize soemthing about class and the increasing lack of it in our society.

American entertainer Gene Kelly (1912-1996)

 There is an amazing sequence in the movie where Gene Kelly (who, in 1980 was 68 years old) dances up a STORM with Olivia Newton-John. Please take time to watch this clip I found on YouTube.

 Sitting on my couch, watching this display, my eyes weren’t so much on Olivia Newton-John but on Gene Kelly. Watch his smile, his grace, the way he is dressed, the way he carries himself. You can tell he is not acting, he is simply being himself; a man who has a talent for dance and loves to hear some good music. As I watched, I marveled at how a 68-year-old man could pull this off with seemingly no pain, no stiffness, nothing. What a guy and what a pro. Age and time seemingly did not dim his abilities. Check out this clip from the 1955 film “It’s Always Fair Weather” where Kelly sings, roller skates and tap dances (with the roller skates on).

 Watching Kelly perform and comparing it to what we see today and there really is no comparison. The big movies right now are either dramas that are so depressing you want to hang yourself when you’re done watching them or slapstick comedies which tend towards the gross side of life. “Xanadu” was never in danger of being an Oscar winner but it tapped into something that we really do not see anymore: the idea that life can be about good music, good dancing, good feelings and a sense of class and happiness. Where did that go?

 The final scene of “Xanadu” heralds back to the golden days of movie-making. The movie ends with Michael Beck speaking with Olivia Newton-John in silhouette, then a big musical flourish and the words “The End….Made In Hollywood USA” come up on the screen. Nice ending…classy if you will.

My Infinite Love For Broadcasting History

 I will admit it: I am a buff, an aficionado, a fan of broadcasting history. I love listening to old Top 40 radio airchecks and I have spent hours of my life watching old TV newscasts from the 1960’s and 1970’s. I’m not sure what the attraction is. Maybe it’s a longing for a simpler, possibly better time.

 Old Top 40 Radio has a style and a class all it’s own. Music radio, any more, has become an I Pod with a transmitter. There is no real personality injected into radio anymore. I will listen to airchecks from Robert W. Morgan, The Real Don Steele, Dan Ingram, Ron Lundy, George Michael (God rest his soul) and others of that era. They all had an excitement about playing music and being on the radio. They would talk up to the post of a song and get it right every time! They would interweave jingles to connect songs together while adding pace and tempo to the entire presentation. These were the days when every radio station had a news department. Now, it’s just a rare few who have live people in a newsroom reporting the local news. Back then, newsrooms would have several reporters out on the street, following a beat. I was amazingly fortunate to cut my teeth in radio news at WHO in Des Moines. What I learned there allowed me to branch out and have the career I have had. But I feel like I was the last guy out of the room who had to turn off the light. Radio has been so consolidated and radio newsrooms have been used as a way to balance the company budget.  Anymore, colleges with broadcast journalism departments focus mostly on TV and not radio. Which is too bad. Radio can be an art form when the proper time and attention is given.

 I enjoy watching old TV newscast clips that I have either picked up through collecting or been able to watch on YouTube. Again, there is something magical about watching those old newscasts from back in the day. Maybe it’s because I remember watching TV news when I was a young child and I remember clearly thinking to myself how cool it would be to be able to tell people what was happening in the world around them. Locally, I remember watching Russ Van Dyke and Paul Rhodes on KCCI and Mike Keen and TJ Beer on WHO. I was in awe of what they did. When I was in Kindergarten, while everyone else was running around playing cops and firefighter, I was running around with an imaginary microphone asking them what was happening.

 I sometimes think I am too young for nostalgia. Then I remember the world we all live in: a world which moves at the speed of light and where new information is old in the blink of an eye. A world where every day is filled with pressures and deadlines and concerns about content. A world where technology is rapidly forcing journalists to change the way they do business. Maybe the reason I am drawn to things of the past is because they are nothing like the things of the present. Perhaps there is a peace and a calm about sitting down and listening and watching people who did their work in an entirely different way than it is being done now. Is the past better? I would like to think not. But now, a lot of what is happening in the world around us is like that old saying about a tasty steak: you don’t want to see how it is made.

 Some nostalgia for you to enjoy now. For starters, this 1975 video from KCCI in Des Moines:

 Then there’s this legal ID used the 1970’s from WHO in Des Moines:

 How about this 1974 newscast clip from WNBC in New York. It’s a tongue in cheek report about President Nixon:

 And finally, this news promo from WBBM in Chicago from 1977. Watch for Bill Kurtis!

 All clips from a simpler time. A happier time? You be the judge.

 Random Thoughts:

 (1) I heard a guy talking the other day on TV about how e-mails and text messages will hurt future historians who want to study this time period. So much of history is researched through the written word because it “lives” on paper. Texts and e-mails are  here now and deleted later, never to be seen again. Maybe this guy has a point.

 (2) A new study released today says sleeping in on the weekend will not help you make-up any sleep you may have lost during the week. Maybe not, but it’s fun to try.

 (3) Why don’t any of the networks have a “retro” night where they re-run old programs that made them popular? Can you imagine if NBC make Thursday a “Retro” night and showed old episodes of “Family Ties”, “Cheers” and “Night Court”? I would watch. I think it would be kind of neat.

 That’s it for tonight. Thanks for stopping by. If you get a moment and you’re not doing anything else, feel free to check out my other blog over at KSFY.COM.