Selected Essays – People

People Essays

General Washington

General George Washington

We Met the General
Dennis C. Orvis

My wife and I were visiting colonial Williamsburg in Virginia with our daughter, son-in-law and our oldest granddaughter.

We had an early lunch so we could get to the theater to hear General George Washington speak at twelve-thirty. The theater was small and antique. I don’t know if it had been saved or if it had been reconstructed. Either way it was quite beautiful.

As twelve-thirty neared, the theater quickly filled. Shortly before starting time, someone came on stage and advised the audience that General Washington had not yet arrived. The audience waited with respectful patience.

Then about twelve-thirty that same person again appeared on stage and apologetically announced that the General still had not appeared. “This,” he said, “had never happened before and we must therefore cancel this performance.” He made reference to later schedules and refunds.

About eighty percent of the audience in the theater got up and with some grumbling, left the theater. We waited for the aisles to clear, avoiding the rush and then we also started up the aisle to the lobby.

We entered the lobby and about halfway towards the exit, the front door suddenly opened and to our surprise, in walked General Washington.

We were the first to greet him. He asked us, “Where is everyone going?”

We told him his performance was scheduled for twelve-thirty and we were told because he had not arrived, it was cancelled.

Then he told us his performance was always scheduled for one o’clock and he had not been told of the time change to twelve-thirty.

He asked us to wait while he went to see the person in charge of the performance. We followed him back into the theater. The other people still in the lobby followed also.

In a few minutes he took the stage. He briefly made some comments about what happened. He asked everyone to please take their seats and he proceeded to deliver his speech as publicized for his performance.

I made a quick count. There were less than three-dozen people still in the audience including our family of five.

I do not know the name of the actor who gave the speech. But I do know he gave a brilliant performance as he delivered one of General Washington’s great speeches. He spoke to us as if the entire theater was filled to capacity, as it had been only forty-five minutes earlier.

It ended with a standing ovation.

About an hour later the five of us were standing in one of the colonial streets looking, I’m sure, at one of the old buildings.

I happened to notice, General Washington walking on the street in our direction. When he got near us we told him how much we enjoyed his performance. I asked him if I could take a picture of our granddaughter with him. He said yes.

Our granddaughter was wearing a head-cover of colonial days that she bought in one of the gift shops earlier. As you might guess, we cherish this picture.

General Washington Accompanied

It was a very special day during a memorable weeklong visit to Colonial Williamsburg Virginia.

June 2010

Morley Safer
Dennis C. Orvis

I did not know Morley Safer personally, but I attended a banquet one time and witnessed an interesting Morley Safer happening.

I was the chief paid executive of the Fall River Area Chamber of Commerce in Fall River Massachusetts. Our chamber had a very successful annual project which was a huge banquet honoring a Citizen of the Year. The banquet was always attended by over a thousand people.

Fall River has a large percentage of Portuguese citizens. It also had a Portuguese newspaper.

One year this newspaper announced it was sponsoring a banquet to honor a Portuguese citizen of the year. Shortly thereafter the paper announced that Joe Raposa would be the honoree.

Joe Raposa was one of the individuals that started Sesame Street on television. He was very talented. He wrote the theme song and one of the favorites, “It isn’t easy being green.” He had an extensive list of shows and songs to his credit.

We later learned that Morley Safer was flying in from New York to attend the banquet and introduce Joe Raposa when he receives the award.

I was at the banquet with my wife. I remember clearly when Morley Safer was called to the microphone to introduce Raposa.

Morley looked at the large crowd slowly and then he spoke these words.

“Many people hear music in their heads. Joe Raposa hears music that nobody else has ever heard.”

Then he looked at Joe Raposa. He nodded his head. Joe Raposa got up, walked to the mike and gave a short talk to everyone present after he received the award.

Meanwhile, Morley Safer had quietly returned to his seat at the head table and listened with the rest of us.

I suppose like everyone else, I was expecting Morley to introduce Joe Raposa with some glossy words about his accomplishments. I never heard any explanation of Morley’s short introduction. As one who has been involved with setting up hundreds of banquets, my first thought was probably different than other people.

I thought it was a long way to travel to deliver so few words.

But, on the other hand, that was about forty years ago and I still remember it.

I saw on the news today, Morley Safer, 84, passed away. His passing triggered my memory of this event. It reminded me also, that Joe Raposa died at a young age of 51 years. We are better off because of their time with us.

Meredith and Me
Dennis C. Orvis

The Meredith here is Meredith Willson, a native Iowan who grew up in Mason City. I suppose my title might seem to be a little more than presumptuous but there are enough threads of coincidence as you will soon learn, I think, to make it acceptable.

My hometown in Iowa is about sixty-five miles from Mason City. My association with that city was limited to those few high school sports that brought us together from time to time during the school year. Mason City, being three or four times larger than my hometown of Waverly, usually won the football and basketball games.

In 1947, when I was a one hundred and twelve pound wrestler on Waverly’s first high school wrestling team, the District tournament was held in Mason City. I was fortunate to win my first match, but I lost my second match to a kid from Mason City.

However, my first knowledge of Meredith Willson happened in late 1962 in the small Iowa town of Chariton. I had moved my family there in September of 1962 when I was hired as the first full-time Chamber of Commerce Manager for that town.

There was an adult singing group in Chariton called the Aeolians and in the fall of 1962 they performed the first amateur production of the Music Man, written by Meredith Willson. They did it brilliantly. Meredith Willson did not attend, but his aunt who lived in Des Moines, was in the audience. That was over forty years ago and I can still tell the names of six or eight actors in the play that became good friends while we lived in Chariton.

We lived in Chariton almost three years and then moved to Gary, Indiana, as I was beginning to move up the Chamber profession ladder. In the front office of the Gary Chamber where I worked there was a framed record hanging on the wall. It was Meredith’s song, Gary, Indiana, from Music Man.

It seemed that Meredith’s music was following my career. We only lived in Gary for one year and as I have often said later, “I don’t believe Meredith ever visited Gary.” So be it!

From Gary we moved to Mason City Iowa, believe it or not when I was hired to manage the Mason City Chamber of Commerce. We moved there during the first week of June, 1966. On our first Tuesday in Mason City we saw the famous Marching Band Festival. There were over one hundred high school bands from three states. It was wonderful. The bands were loud and talented. The parade was very colorful and exciting.

And What’s more, Meredith Willson was the honorary Grand Marshall. He had come back to his home town for this event. As the new manager of the Chamber of Commerce, I had the opportunity to meet him and along my wife, spend some time that day with him.

Meredith, throughout his life, always claimed to be an Ambassador of Mason City and its Chamber of Commerce. He was so gracious and so very friendly. And he kissed my darling wife on the cheek!

Because of Meredith Willson, Mason City became “River City” of Music Man and that continues still today, over forty years later. Before we moved from Mason City in the fall of 1969, we were privileged to be involved in and enjoy four music festivals. One of them in particular I remember. The Music Festival was under the umbrella of the Chamber of Commerce and as the Chamber manager, it was one of my major responsibilities. One of those years the weather was horrendous. It rained all day. We had over ten thousand band members from over one hundred high schools with their instruments. It was that day we learned that Plan B did not work.

It was impossible to get that many musicians and instruments into the coliseum. I had the first Music Festival parade cancellation in nearly thirty years. Some legacy!

However on the plus side while managing the Chamber I met a man named Jack Leaman. He was the City Planner. We worked together on many projects for the benefit of Mason City. I remember one time we were trying to find and/or create a new logo for the City. By luck or coincidence while searching through some printing books at Murray Lawson’s printing company, we found a small parade of six or seven cartoon musician characters. One of them was playing a trombone. What a great find! It was perfect for Mason City. During the next few months that little trombone player became quite famous. He almost looked like Meredith Willson. Later he was given the name of “Mr. Toot!” His image was soon found on business cards, letterheads, welcome flags and even the city water tower. It was a wonderful match that lasted for over twenty-five years.

A few years after we moved from Mason City to Massachusetts, we returned for a visit during vacation. Unfortunately, it was after Meredith Willson had passed away. But we were thrilled again to see the Music Festival as spectators and even more thrilled to meet Rosemary, his widow at a reception to which we had been invited. She had returned to Mason City for the festival and grand opening of the new Meredith Willson museum.

Thumpthin Thpecial
Several years later, while visiting our daughter and her family in Connecticut, she surprised us by taking us to New York to see the Music Man revival on Broadway. The theater was packed, but I doubt that anyone there could have been more thrilled than we were. It was remarkable.

So as I said in the beginning, there are enough threads of coincidence that I can confidently claim an association with the great Meredith Willson. It has been a beautiful experience and I am proud to further claim, I am a River Cityan!

I can close my eyes today and still see the parade and hear the music. It is still thrilling.

Written May 2007

“In the year 2000 I had the great pleasure of seeing the Music Man on Broadway. This writing describes the impact it had on me.”

“Thumpthin Thpecial”
Dennis C. Orvis

Thumpthin Thpecial
The four of us had been standing and applauding since the curtain came down the first time. We were the first ones to our feet. Then the curtain raised again as each member of the cast took a bow and the applause grew louder as the performers’ role merited greater appreciation, reaching rhythmic thunder for MARION and HAROLD HILL.

Many minutes later, who knows how many, the curtain came down again and then suddenly went up for a carefully planned encore for a surprised and joyous audience. And the thunderous applause grew even louder as a full marching band appeared on stage, including all or most of the cast members and surely all of the major players in full dress band uniforms with nearly everyone playing a “trombone”.

With the melody of 76 TROMBONES ricocheting and vibrating off the rafters of the old, beautiful, sold out, Neil Simon Broadway theatre and a wildly enthusiastic audience approving with mega applause until the last member of the marching band, the star, Harold Hill himself, strutted off the stage.

I have never seen such a tribute. I don’t know how long we had been standing there applauding, five, ten, twenty minutes or maybe more and it did not matter to anyone in the theatre.

MUSIC MAN !!! What a great show. And for me, the emotion I felt was nearly impossible to contain. My wife, Edie and I had the rare privilege of attending the first amateur production of the Music Man play in the early l960’s. I remember Meredith Willsons’ aunt from Des Moines came to see the show in our little town of Chariton Iowa, which was my first Chamber of Commerce challenge.

Our attachment with Music Man continued when we moved the following year to Gary, Indiana, where I was hired as the assistant Manager of the Gary, Indiana Chamber of Commerce. I recall we had a framed music record of the song — Gary Indiana—hanging on the wall of our reception office.

Then one year later, June 1966, we moved to River City, Iowa, Mason City, the very week of the Band Festival, when I became the new General Manager of the Chamber of Commerce. It seemed like the parade was for me.

It was during another band festival when we met Meredith Willson. He was a most talented and gracious person. He was proud to say he was a full time Ambassador for Mason City and our Chamber of Commerce… and he certainly was. What’s more, he kissed my dear wife, Edie, on the cheek.

And now, I am standing here, applauding with abandon, as all these things are racing through my mind. Standing next to me are three of my great loves, my wife, my youngest daughter LeAnn and Emma Rose, my youngest granddaughter.

We are in the balcony; way up in the “nose bleed” section according to our daughter, who said, “these were the best seats available on such short notice…less than two weeks.”

My nose was not bleeding, but my eyes were very moist.

Less than three weeks ago we were in Mason City. We met Rosemary Willson again and many “old” friends from Mason City. We attended the barbershop show in the “Madison High School Gym”, we toured Meredith’s’ home, we cheered the band festival, this time as spectators and attended the ribbon cutting for the Meredith Willson Museum.

How could my eyes not be moist? Once again, we were “gosh darn stubborn Iowans” from River City!!!

How my heart is pounding as Harold Hill marches off the stage and quickly returns for his final bow.

We are still applauding. I looked at my family. Each wearing our music man pins… Professor Toot…I was there when he was born…and now he is famous.

The applause has finally ended and we are working our way down the steps. My wonderful wife has stopped to show her Music Man pin to one of the pretty young lady ushers and proudly said, “We just came from River City”. The young lady was quite impressed. And my wife was beaming, like Meredith had just kissed her again. Maybe he did.

As we leave the Neil Simon Theatre and head toward the parking lot, several blocks away, I thought to myself, what a wonderful connection we have had with Meredith and his hometown of River City.

The progress of Mason City has been tremendous. Mason City should be really proud. But I can tell anyone from Mason City, you cannot fully appreciate this progress until you leave and return years later and then try to envision the changes over Thirty Years. You see, I have done that and I know it to be true.

As Harold Hill said to Winthrop “You wanted me to tell you the truth and now you have to listen”.

I, too, have done that. And now my eyes are moist again. I can close my eyes almost anytime and still hear the trombones. I’ve been able to do this for over thirty years now. I am sorry for anyone who cannot share this wonderful experience. I have truly been blessed 76 times or 76 times 76 or more in my lifetime.

To paraphrase Meredith….

I have seen them winging,

I have heard them ringing,

I have heard them singing,

I have felt the love all around me.

I, too, got my foot caught in the River City door. How fortunate for me and maybe, just maybe, a little bit for River City, my adopted hometown.

It really is Thumthin Thpecial!!!

Written in 2000


Dennis C. Orvis

As I write this small piece, our Country is in mourning of a great American servant, President Gerald R. Ford. He was the only person who ever served as Vice President and President without being elected to either office. Furthermore, he did not seek either role, but as a dedicated public servant for a quarter century in Congress, he simply could not refuse the calling.

He was ninety-three when he died, several days before the new year of 2007 began. He was our oldest living President.

Over thirty years earlier I met this great man. My wife and I were in Washington and we were walking with our Congresswoman, Margaret M. Heckler, towards the Congressional dining room where we would have lunch.

Congressman Gerald R. Ford was coming toward us in the hallway. Margaret said, “Hi Jerry, I would like you to meet several friends of mine from Massachusetts.”

He stopped. He shook our hands. She told him I was the Executive Vice President of the Fall River Chamber of Commerce. He was very gracious as we shared a couple moments of small talk.

We could not know then, he would be the next President of the United States on August 9, 1974. Nobody did. Not even President Richard M. Nixon, the man who would make it happen.

As the Nation mourns today, its’ leaders and the media are praising Gerald R. Ford as an honest man who worked with Republicans and Democrats for the good of the country. His style of cooperation, of which he excelled, is one that apparently no longer exists in Congress and our Nation is poorer for its absence.

Thirty days after he became the 38th President he pardoned the man he succeeded. This action was highly unpopular. Many Democrats were claiming it was a prearranged deal with Nixon, which Jerry Ford quickly and publicly denied. His long reputation of honesty carried him through this turmoil.

Many claimed his pardon of Nixon cost him the next election, which was very close. It may have, but I believe if Jerry Ford had known that or believed that before he gave the pardon, he would have done it anyway. That’s the kind of man he was.

We saw President Ford some years later when he was playing in the Jackie Gleason Golf Tournament in Florida. Others in his golfing foursome were Jackie Gleason, Jack Nicholas and Foster Brooks, the famous “drunk impersonator.”

Jerry Ford loved the game of golf and one of his frequent golfing companions was the one and only Bob Hope who never missed an opportunity to create laughter over Jerry’s’ golfing adventures. One of the more famous Bob Hope quotes was, “President Ford doesn’t know which golf course in Palm Springs he is playing until his first tee-shot comes down.”

President Gerald R. Ford. Over thirty years ago I shook his hand. It was an honor then and today that honor is even greater. He was one of those rare individuals who put his Country first and became a truly great American leader.

I remember.

January 2007

Paul Newman

An Essay
By Dennis C. Orvis  

I never met Paul Newman.  I could have once, I suppose, but I did not.

Paul Newman was a fine actor over many years and especially liked several of his movies.

Paul Newman was a leader in “giving back” through his company Newman’s Own.  The “Hole in the wall gang” camp he built for children can only be admired.  He also inspired additional camps to be built.

Our paths crossed briefly twice.  Once in 2003 when we were visiting our daughter and her family in Weston Connecticut she gave us her tickets to the famous, old theatre in Westport Connecticut.  Paul Newman was the star in one of his favorite plays.  It was called Our Town.  It was a marvelous evening.  Sometimes later I saw his same performance on PBS television.

Incidentally, his wife, Joanne Woodward was chairperson of the effort to rehab the Westport theatre.  I have not seen it since that effort, but I’m sure it was quite successful.

Several years later we were again visiting our daughter and family in Weston.  About a half mile from their house toward the center of Weston, there is a small white Church just up the hill from the towns Library and Fire Station.

Every summer that Church has an old time “County Fair.”  There are many booths where food, antiques, flea market stuff and art items are sold.  There are other booths with enough games for kids to keep the young ones busy.  It is a real nice funfest.

I was walking with our daughter, my wife and several grandchildren and I happened to notice Paul Newman walking not far from us in the crowd.  He lives in Westport with his wife only a few miles from this Church.  This Country Fair, I might add is well known and attracts people from all directions.

Newman was dressed in country-style, striped, bib overalls.  He was also wearing a few days’ whiskers.  It would have been easy to miss him, except he was Paul Newman.

He was walking with a young girl, probably a granddaughter and she was having a great time.

I had my camera with me as usual but I did not take his picture.  Perhaps I could have, with or without his approval, but honestly, I could not do it.

Any picture I might have taken that day of him would not be the Paul Newman we have admired for decades.  It would have been an old grandfather in overalls enjoying the fair with his young granddaughter.

It was their personal time.  I could not let myself intrude on that.

I didn’t need a photograph, but I still have that wonderful picture in my collection of memories.  It was another good day!

April 2009

Joel McCrea, Actor

An Essay
By Dennis C. Orvis

In 1957 I shook hands with Joel McCrea.  He was a big man.  He had big hands.

Wow!  That was over fifty years ago!

Joel McCrea was an actor, a movie star. His career started in 1927 and in 1976 he appeared in his last movie.

When I met him in 1957 his popularity was riding high.

I was, at the time, the president of the Waverly Iowa Jaycee Club, which was enjoying its second year since it started.

I had a phone call from my good friend Don Huston, editor of the local paper and also a fellow Jaycee.  He told me Joel McCrea was in town and he was going to visit the Lutheran Children’s Home, a local facility, to visit the kids.  Don told me to go thee if I could get away.

It happened that I could and I did.  I met Don and several other Jaycee members who were waiting.  Mr. McCrea arrived soon after.  My job was to welcome him and thank him for visiting Waverly and the children’s home.  So I did my job and then we toured the facility together.

As we walked through several of the buildings he shook hands with every kid he saw.  I remember as we were walking past one open door to a room, we heard a young child crying.  We were told the young boy had the measles and he was crying because he would not get to meet Mr. McCrea.

I recall, Joel McCrea saying, “I’ve had the measles, let’s go in!” And he did.

His visit to the children’s home and my hometown of Waverly was very short, but also very special.

After fifty years I still remember its importance, not to me, but to many young people who had the thrill of their lives.  I imagine they never forgot meeting that big actor, Joel McCrea, the movie star.

Nor have I.

April 2009

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