An interview with Frank C. Dawson
Conducted by Cal Courier, June 23, 2016
Conducted by Cal Courier, June 23, 2016
What are your thoughts about writing a book?
Winston Churchill once said, “Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.”
No one could have expressed their thoughts on writing any better than Sir Winston, the foremost citizen of the 20th Century.
So why, then, would anyone want to become a writer?
For me, that question would have seemed like something from another planet while growing up in a double house on lower Lincoln Avenue in East Liverpool, Ohio, prior to World War II.
Despite the efforts by a pair of dedicated parents, I never quite “got it.” My mother, Mildred Dawson and the other Ruth Kincaid, whom we all called “Aunt Ruth, were both college educated and each was committed to bringing out the best in their children, but somehow I kept ducking under the radar.
For the Kincaid brothers, Bob and Jim, it happened, especially for Jim, who went on to become a prolific author, college English professor and story teller of renown. With a well-earned PhD in his pocket and a brain that always seemed to be working overtime (he once tried to copy the East Liverpool phone book to improve his vocabulary), he would go on to teach literature at several major universities, including Southern Cal, the University of Colorado and Pitt.
While all three of us would one day earn college degrees in the Northeast Ohio higher education corridor – it was Jim who led the pack into the literary field, while Bob became a pilot with the Navy, and I was more interested in sports than putting my thoughts on paper.
So what was the turning point for you?
Things changed when I was introduced to a course taught by Dr. Grayson Lappert at Baldwin-Wallace College. The subject was “Creative Writing,” and since every assignment I submitted was about golf or football or some other jock strap activity, Dr. Lappert suggested I become a sport’s writer for the school newspaper.
The college pulp, The Exponent to be exact, had a sports page which was informally anchored at a local watering hole called Dick’s Oasis, owned by Glenn and Shirley Hankinson. While Shirley diligently did all the work, Glenn or “Hank”, as he was known (who always seemed to have a Marlboro wedged between his front teeth) philosophized from the last seat on the bar with the likes of Glenn Sutherin, Bob Beech, Arthur “Bud” Collins and Bill “Curley” Morrison.
Sutherin, who would eventually become the football coach at East Liverpool High School, was unquestionably the best story teller of the crowd, while Beech went on to a career journalism in Boston.
Collins, who was as flamboyant as Beech was conservative, became the best known of the crowd as a world famous television commentator. From Wimbledon to the Australian Open, “Bud” covered the best of the best tennis matches and even showed up doing the Westminster Dog Show from Madison Square Garden on a couple of occasions. His columns in the Boston Globe were masterpieces of humor, tennis savvy and tutorials about the Back Bay environs.
Morrison went from becoming an equipment manager in the college’s athletic department to sports editor of The Exponent, a path I would also follow. Our parallels stopped there, however, when I went into the funeral business and “Curley” became the sports information director for B-W.
While we weren’t exactly the Algonquin Round Table, there were more game-winning TD passes caught and baskets swished at the buzzer in that stinky smoke-filled tavern than ever were scored on the fields of play.
So what happened following Baldwin-Wallace?
By the time graduation from B-W came in 1956, our nation was facing a crisis in the Suez Canal region of the Mediterranean Sea. Faced with the uncertainty of choosing between a career in our family owned funeral business versus sports, I made the brainy decision to join the Navy.
Somehow, however, I couldn’t get away from athletics and eventually was assigned to special services at the Naval Station in Bainbridge, Maryland, where I covered sports for the base newspaper while serving as a trainer/equipment manager for the athletic teams. It was an around-the-year sports calendar experience, which ended when I was discharged from the Naval Amphibious Base at Little Creek, Virginia, and returned to East Liverpool in 1958.
It wasn’t long, however, after my nepotistic employment began at the Dawson Funeral Home that a dynamic football coach at East Liverpool High School, Lou Venditti, talked me in to lending a hand with his football team, and I was off and running. Quickly, I became immersed in ELHS football, mortuary school, the local Jaycee chapter, and above all my marriage to Gretchen Beede - to no one’s surprise, a football coach’s daughter.
What was the attraction with the local team?
Since 1945, when I saw my first East Liverpool High School football game, I admit to having been hooked on “Potter” football, ending up serving the team over the years in a variety of capacities, ranging from student manager to athletic trainer and historian.
In what is now approaching 75 years of association with the Blue and White, I have been deeply involved with booster organizations, banquets, cards sections, pep rallies and fund raising, seldom missing a practice session or game, and still enjoy riding the team’s yellow school bus to away contests on Friday night providing a written account at Frankdawson1.com.
But involvement with the school system didn’t stop there. In 1986, I was approached by a pair of newspaper men, Glenn Waight and Bob Popp about returning the community’s 126-foot high Clock Tower to the downtown business district, while developing a scholarship fund for current students.
As a result, since its inception, the East Liverpool High School Alumni Association has raised nearly five million dollars, granted more than $400,000 in scholarships to deserving graduates, and has established an impressive office/museum complex in conjunction with the Clock Tower, which was dedicated on July 4, 1992.
Getting involved with two of the East Liverpool Review’s best, Popp and Waight, was no mistake, I had already stolen Roberta Pennybaker, my shrewdest move ever, from the paper to serve as my personal assistant, and was ready to get into the brain of the top dogs on the editorial side who soon encouraged me to write a chronology of how we formed the ELHS alumni association to restore the Clock Tower and develop an imposing scholarship fund.
The result was Keep The Spirit Burnin’, a book tracing the formation of a high school alumni association, and the building of the Clock Tower.
So, how many books have there been since Keep the Spirit Burnin?
KTSB was followed by: We Are The Potters, a 600-page history of the first 100 years of East Liverpool High School football from 1898 to 1997.
Then came: Picking Elderberries, completed and released in July of 2010, it recalls the history of East Liverpool from its founding in 1798 to present times in a narrative entertaining fashion. It is currently out of print, but available in a DVD format.
Following a tour of all 30 major league ball parks with grandson, Tom Dunlap, between 1999 and 2014, we two “partners in crime” (actually our only crime came in Grant’s Pass, Oregon, when Tom was pulled over for using excessive bright headlights) compiled: Across the Fields of Yesterday, which chronicles our adventures, mishaps and experiences as a grandfather watches a little boy grow into a man.
Number five: Transformational Funeral Service, is a text book for mortuary school students, as well as serving as a staff training manual for business owners. It was released in October of 2015.
This has been an ongoing-question from Roberta each time we complete a project. Wrapping up 75 years of being part of East Liverpool Potter football in 2020, Blue and White Forever, book number six, will be completed featuring, game-by-game reports of every ELHS game played since We Are the Potters was published in 1997. The book will also include 27 pages of records and a special section: The Ghosts of Patterson Field.
Finally, Cut to the Chase is in the works with a schedule completion for the ELHS All Class Reunion in 2022.
I’ll cut right to the chase,” were the words spoken on the morning of Friday, November 6, 2015, that gave me the inspiration for the title of what will, in all likelihood, be my final book. Funny how I never had given much thought to that statement, presumably lifted from the silent film era when Buster Keaton and Clara Bow ruled the silver screen.
I was in the midst of fulfilling my appointment with Dr. Robert Thompson of the Greenbrier Clinic at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. This was a follow-up meeting to my annual physical held at the facility over the previous 24 hours.
It was at that time that the good doctor informed me that I had a lesion in the lower lobe of my right lung that was suspicious. He rated it about the size of a kidney bean. Dr. Thompson offered to call our son-in-law, Tom Graham, which he did. Tom, who at that time was Chairman of Cleveland Clinic Innovations and Vice Chairman, Department of Orthopedic Surgery, took the ball from there.
In addition, I immediately called our daughter, CeCe Graham, along with our other three children. Within minutes, I received a call from Jeanne Murphy, executive liaison in the office of Dr. Delos M. Cosgrove, CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, who set about the task of placing me in the hands of Dr. Humberto Choi, a pulmonary and critical care specialist.
With my CT scan from the Greenbrier in hand and my gratitude for the efforts of Jeanne Murphy and Dr. Cosgrove in mind, along with our son, Frank Dike Dawson, I showed up at Dr. Choi’s office at 9 a.m. on the morning of November 12.
Following some preliminary procedures, I was greeted by Dr. Alex Teeters, a fellow in the Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care. Dr. Teeters viewed the CT scan from the Greenbrier with us, and excused himself. He soon returned with Dr. Choi, who also reviewed the scan of my lungs. Both gentlemen felt that the growth should be watched.
They suggested that I wait until January for another CAT scan at their facility to see if there were any changes. An appointment was set for the scan at 8:30 a.m. on January 7, 2016 to be followed by a visit with Dr. Choi.
As the fraught expression goes, “When you are about to die, your entire life passes before you”.While the lesion eventually disappeared, the chase was on! What a great idea for book number seven.