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Published: 6/15/2003

Grandfather and me

BY ANN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Carlye Seybold, 15, says she takes after her grandfather, Herbert Gross of Perrysburg. Carlye Seybold, 15, says she takes after her grandfather, Herbert Gross of Perrysburg.
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Charles Steele and his granddaughter, Stephanie Christopher, under a maple tree they watched grow. Charles Steele and his granddaughter, Stephanie Christopher, under a maple tree they watched grow.
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Grandfathers inspire and teach us, make us laugh and feel extra-special.

And when people get a chance to pay back some of that love by letting the world know what a great guy their grandfather is, they jump at it - as The Blade learned recently after inviting readers to share a memory of the man who filled those giant shoes in their life.

In they poured.

Many of the tributes were lengthy and detailed. Some, like a letter from 11-year-old Ashley Klein of Perrysburg, were short and sweet. “He is my buddy,” Ashley wrote about her grandfather, Ron Klein, 65, of Maumee.

All were heartfelt, like the one from 17-year-old Anthony Vines II of West Toledo thanking his grandfather, W. Charles Welch, 63, of southwest Toledo, “for guiding me through life by showing how to be a respectable, honorable black man. Without your influence in my life I would not be the person I am today.”

With thanks to all who responded and apologies to those who couldn't be included, even in part, due to space limitations, here are some loving memories to help celebrate Father's Day.

WORDS TO LIVE BY

“Kick your tires, check your oil, and don't speed.”

Tamara Whitson, 33, formerly of Bowling Green, says that's the best advice her grandfather ever gave her. But the late Earl Mahler of Perrysburg, who died in 2000 at the age of 87, passed along a lot more, adds Ms. Whitson in an e-mail from Tampa, Fla.

“He gave me a love for camping, hiking through the outdoors, good food, and roller coasters. He taught me that giving is better than receiving and spending time with family should be valued above all else. I owe my appreciation for Paul Harvey, Lawrence Welk, and Bing Crosby to my grandpa. I still save wheat pennies, drummer boy quarters, and bicentennial half-dollars because grandpa did.”

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Grace Livingston, 29, of South Toledo, says she will forever be grateful for this advice from her grandfather: “Education is the one thing that no one can take away from you.”

Ms. Livingston says Joseph Slaughterbeck, Sr., 82, of southwest Toledo “is a caring and loving man with a heart of gold. The moment in my life that stands out the most is how he unselfishly took me and my children into his home after my husband was killed. At that moment, he gave me the inspiration to go back to school.”

She's now enrolled in the registered nurse program at Owens Community College.

Formerly working as a medical assistant, Ms. Livingston says Mr. Slaughterbeck told her, “There's much more out there for you.”

PARTNERS IN CRIME

When Scott Keith of Oregon got himself in a bind years ago, he knew exactly who would get him out of it - his grandfather, the late Warren “Pete” Stretchbery.

Now 42and living in the suburban Oregon house that used to be Mr. Stretchbery's, Mr. Keith recalls that when he was about 14, “I broke the key in the lock to my dad's shed and I knew I was going to get in big trouble. I called him and within minutes he was over.”

Grandpa had a plan.

They broke the lock, took the door off its hinges, then went out and bought a new lock. “We put it back up and my dad never knew about it,” Mr. Keith says. “I knew that he would help me out. I could always depend on him.”

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Grandpa Charlie Clements was the only man in a household of seven women in Hollister, Ohio, says Nora North, 58, of Temperance. “I never felt as if I belonged with the women and Grandpa always sensed that,” she remembers. So she helped him do the “men's jobs,” like hauling coal and starting the stoves. “He was way ahead of society in the way that he believed in the strength of a girl in the fifties,” Ms. North marvels.

“The day I allowed a schoolmate to cut off my waist-length hair and give me a `duck-tail' cost me a whipping with a switch

from my grandmother, but when the others were asleep Grandpa showed me how to slick it back and we giggled together when I asked him if I looked tough.”

CHEERLEADER & COACH

“I always knew I could look into the crowd and he'd be there,” says Stephanie Christopher, 31, of Temperance.

That kept her grandfather, Charles Steele, Sr., 79, of Point Place pretty busy over the years - and he's still at it now, with his great-grandchildren.

“He attended every dance recital I had as a child, every cheerleading event - football games, basketball games, competitions rain or shine - my graduation, my wedding, the birth of my three children, and now all the different events they have going on,” she explains.

“By his mere presence at every major event in my life, I hope he realizes what a gift he has given me,” Mrs. Christopher adds.

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Stacee Trader Spradling, 31, of Rossford says her grandfather loved her whether she was heavy or thin, but he made a deal to help her when she joined Weight Watchers at the age of 15, weighing 220 pounds.

“For every pound I lost, he would pay me $1. Well, 100 pounds and $100 later, grandpa was there full of pride for me. He said he always knew I could do it,” she says of the late Richard Hannan.

Mrs. Spradling remembers stopping at her grandparents' home after each weekly weigh-in and telling him how many more pounds she had lost. He'd pretend to be alarmed and say, “You're breaking me!”

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“I'm 7 years old. I play baseball,” begins the e-mail from Benjamin Roberts, a Shoreland Elementary pupil who plays coach-pitch ball. “My grandpa helped me learn how to move my mitt.”

Bernard Yancy, 70, of West Toledo, faithfully attends the games, “even when it's cold,” Benjamin adds.

TEACHABLE MOMENTS

The late Art Van Wormer of Britton, Mich., was surely a fearless man. In 1959 he packed four 12-year-old granddaughters into a Nash Rambler and set off for California.

“How many grandkids can say that as a 12-year-old, they spent 24 straight days and traveled 6,503.8 miles on the road in that time with their grandfather?” writes Pat Vandenbusche, 56, of Metamora.

She remembers such details, she explains, because he taught her to keep a journal of her adventure with him.

She adds that, “During all of the time that my grandpa spent with me, not only on this trip but throughout his life, he was always teaching, always making an impression that would stay with me forever.”

Among other things, he gave her an appreciation of nature, took her to roller-skating lessons every week, taught her how to use her first Kodak Brownie camera, even taught her to drive.

At his funeral in the fall of 1998, she wrote and delivered a tribute focusing on “Grandpa Art” as a teacher, stating, in part: “You were the one who showed us the importance of family. ... You taught us to laugh together and at ourselves, and to respect one another, and balance work and play.”

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Robin Chlebowski, 28, of Walbridge learned about unselfish, unconditional love by watching her grandfather. In fact, she sometimes sizes up new beaus by asking herself, would he take care of me if I got sick, the way grandpa did with grandma?

“I don't believe there was anyone with a kinder heart than my grandfather, George Preston,” Miss Chlebowski explains. “My grandmother was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease and my grandfather did everything he could to take care of her and keep her out of a nursing home, until it became too much.”

She says Mr. Preston, who died about five years ago, had serious health problems of his own before his wife's illness, but cared for her without any concern for himself.

“I would be lucky to find a man half as good as my grandfather, and I don't believe I ever will.

“They just don't make them like that anymore,” she declares.

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The late John B. Carr “showed me by example how materialistic things are not important,” writes Charlie Carr, 48, of Maumee. “He and my grandmother lived in a one-room cottage along the Maumee River in Grand Rapids, Ohio, during the summer months. No indoor plumbing, just an outhouse and a simple outdoor manual pump that pumped fresh drinking water.” In the winter, they lived in a small trailer in Florida.

His grandmother, Tressa, moved into a modern apartment after her husband died in 1970 at the age of 72, but, “She told me she would love to go back with Grandpa to the simple cottage with the outhouse,” Mr. Carr says.

“They taught me more than any college taught me.”

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Kelly Drake, 28, of West Toledo says she learned a valuable lesson as she watched her grandfather, Isidoro Vendemo, 80, of Sylvania struggle through a health crisis recently. “It took him every bit of strength, courage, hope, love, and trust in God he had to open his eyes and choose to live, and he did. My grandfather ... is truly an inspiration to me and helped me realize that life can sure throw you for a loop now and then, but if you try hard enough you can pull through anything when you have love and strength on your side.”

JUST KIDDING

Angie Adams, 39, of Curtice, says Edward Kury of Oregon regales her children with the same stories and jokes he told her when she was a kid. “Growing up I always knew I had the best grandfather. He always had a stick of Teaberry gum and a joke to tell,” Mrs. Adams remembers.

“He used to tease me,” she adds. Explaining that she was a skinny little girl, she says, “He'd tell me if I drank a red pop I'd look like a thermometer.”

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Darlene Keith's father died when she was 2, making her grandfather an even more important figure in her life. The late Guy Clifton of East Toledo “was the first adult male figure I remember,” she says.

One of the things that Mrs. Keith, 41, of Oregon remembers is that he was a man of great humor. “When I was little I would ring the doorbell at his house and he would holler `Who's that little boy ringing my doorbell?' ... I would laugh and laugh. It didn't matter to him if I rang the doorbell a hundred times in a day, he'd always answer `Who's that little boy ringing my doorbell?'”

AND FINALLY

As the last two stories show, a grandfather doesn't necessarily have to say or do anything profound to make his mark on a grandchild. And he can make a mark on a grandchild he never knew.

Former Swanton resident Jeremy Heidt, 30, e-mails from Nashville that his grandfather, John Baer, died the year before he was born. “The John Henry Baer Park in Waterville was dedicated to his memory in honor of his service to the community, both as a councilman, volunteer, and civil engineer,” he continues. “I went into my chosen field, journalism, with a determination to make an impact wherever I lived, to give back as much as possible to the community, and I attribute that to the example of my grandfather.”

Mr. Heidt, business editor of the City Paper in Nashville, helped install new playground equipment at Baer Park a few years ago.

Carlye Seybold, 15, of West Toledo, lists many reasons why Herbert Gross, 77, of Perrysburg is special, but she also notes that, “Even if we don't talk a lot, there is always a companionable silence between us. I take after him a lot and I'm glad that I do. I can't imagine what my life would be like without him.”



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