Monday, January 21, 2019

That's the old ballgame Shreveport -- Chapter 1 (Ken Guettler)

His 62 home runs in 1956 for the Shreveport Sports a Texas League record that stands is the greatest legend in the city's baseball history.
It was his only Shreveport season, he turned 29 that May, and he never did much in his three remaining pro seasons, and never made the major leagues. But, even for a seventh-place team, he was easily the TL’s “Most Valuable Player” in 1956.
He batted .293, scored 115 runs, drove in a TL-best 143, and broke Clarence Big Boy Kraft's 32-year-old league home-run record with his 55th on August 13.
A quiet, compact 5-foot-11, 190-pound right-handed slugger nicknamed “Muscles,” uniquely his right arm was two inches shorter than his left because of a childhood hockey accident in Bay City, Mich. He had poor eyesight — bottle-thick glasses — and he was considered a mediocre outfielder, with limited throwing ability because of that short right arm.
But he was the league home-run champion in eight of his years in the minors.
   Starting in 1945, he played 11 years before Shreveport, six in the Class B Piedmont League with Portsmouth, Va., where he hit 41 home runs in 1955 as the team’s player-manager. When the league and the team folded, he needed a place to play. Hence, Shreveport.
As he did with so many players, Sports general managing partner Bonneau Peters knew of him, did his research, and signed him to a contract.
   On Opening Day at home, he homered against Houston, then hit three the next night (although the Sports lost in extra innings). By the end of May, he had 18 home runs, including another three-homer game on May 28, and he soon had a new nickname: Kenneth the Menneth.
    In Shreveport's Texas League Park, his trademark was high fly balls that -- mostly -- cleared the fence in left. He had only six homers in June, but cranked up with 24 in July and had 48 total going into August.
    He hit very few cheap home runs, Mel McGaha, the player-manager that year, told a Shreveport Journal columnist in the 1970s. He hit the kind of fly balls that looked like the outfielders would catch. But pretty soon the outfielder would have his back against the fence and the ball would keep going.
    McGaha recalled Guettler as “a quiet guy, unassuming. Almost an introvert, really. He took everything in stride … I never saw him get too mad.”
    “He didn’t have much personality,” said Jack Fiser, sports editor/columnist of The Shreveport Times in the 1950s who regularly covered the ballclub. “He was very reluctant to talk … he almost never talked about himself much.”
    Guettler’s sister, Selma Pett and her husband Ollie, came to Shreveport in the  spring of 1988 to visit the old ballpark where Ken had starred in 1956.
    “He was a good-natured person,” Mrs. Pett said then. “Out in public, he was shy. In a crowd, he would stand back and hold back. But he was very close to his family. He was a fun-loving fellow. He enjoyed doing things like playing cards and just being with the family.”
  In 1957, Guettler had a brief shot in Triple-A ball (with Wichita), but was overmatched and hit only one home run there. Back in Double-A with Atlanta, he had only two more home runs the rest of that soon. And he kept moving -- seven teams in three final seasons, and only 12 home runs total. That included a stay back in the Texas League with Dallas in 1958.
    Why his hitting skills left him after the ’56 season “is something we have always wondered,” said his sister. “There was no honest answer for it.”
  He played 21 games in the Mexican League, and played his final pro games at Charleston, S.C., in 1959.
    “I don’t think he was bitter that he didn’t make the big leagues,” Mrs. Pett said in 1988, “but if they’d had the designated hitter when he played, he would have made it. He always said he had been born 10 years too soon.”
    After baseball, Guettler worked for the U.S. Postal Service in Jacksonville, Florida, and he died there of a heart attack on Christmas Day 1977 at age 50.
    “He talked often of Shreveport and the year he had here,” his sister said as she stood on the diamond where Ken Guettler made Texas League history with 62 in ’56. “He was very proud of having done what he did here.”     

Friday, January 18, 2019

Virtual Reality, and a small-world connection

     Went into the Virtual Reality world Thursday night, and made -- what else? -- a Shreveport connection.
     Go ahead and laugh.
     This is the result of being "drafted" as a volunteer from our seniors retirement community for a tiny role in a promotional video -- a potential fund-raiser -- for a local young doctor's study as part of a national "Mynd VR" program.
What the Mynd VR headset experience looks like (photo credit: Adobe Stock,
from the web site
    So I was asked to put on a Mynd VR headset, move my head to activate the videos, and then watch and listen for a few minutes.
     (Wish you could have seen the looks on the people walking past as we recorded this little bit near the front lobby in early evening. Know I looked more alien than I usually do.)
     These Virtual Reality videos, with sound, are right there in your vision, it is like having a front-row seat at a movie. The screen appears huge.
     First picked the "animals" category, which brought up a video of two (cute) kittens exploring a living-room area, complete with three litter boxes (where one kitten only sniffed). Then saw a backyard scene with a dog -- a boxer-looking type -- and his master/trainer -- first chasing a treat, stopping to lift his leg (not in a litter box), and then returning to the man to sit and beg for another treat.
     Next, I selected the "entertainment" section, and among the choices, I went for The Lion King. And so, up came the opening number from the on-stage (Broadway?) play: 5 minutes, 35 seconds.
     A "wow" selection, right there jumping at me (and sometimes, a view from above the stage).
     It was, as I said in the interview afterward, a fascinating experience. And a surprising one; I had no idea of what I was to do, other than to be told I would be wearing a headset for a video, but there would be no speaking part.
     Not sure what they will use, but the doctor did sit to my left afterward and asked questions, and another young man recorded this session.
     Hope it is, in fact, a tiny role.
     But I can tell you this -- and I said this in the interview -- if the purpose is to spur a recollection or get a person's mind moving, especially for those seniors with memory loss, I can see how it would be beneficial.
      Here from the web site is what the program is about: 
      MyndVR is a national health and wellness company providing Virtual Reality solutions to Assisted Living, CCRCs, Veterans homes, 55+ living communities and home-health care providers. The company is intelligently curating a vast library of VR content and creating original programming designed to create happy, calming and memorable experiences.
    In addition, MyndVR is working with leading U.S. universities and researchers to study the potential cognitive health benefits for our dynamic and aging population using VR.
    And the site's next headline reads: How VR can benefit the lives of seniors.
    Now, about the two young men who came to visit and record the video ...   
Dr. Tariq AlFarra
     Dr. Tariq AlFarra has a name of Turkish descent, but he is all American, a TCU graduate who went to high school in Mansfield, Texas, then did medical studies at the UNT Health Science Center and is working on this project in affiliation with MyndVR.

     In our visit, he was bright and enthusiastic, informative ... and we had fun talking about the TCU campus and all its changes (we lived in that area for 11 years, and saw the campus transformation).
      Two asides: (1) At the UNT Health Science Center, he was part of the Seniors Assisting in Geriatics (SAGE) program which Bea and I have been involved with for several years (and so are many of our fellow residents here); (2) in high school -- Legacy -- he knew now-New York Mets pitching star Noah Syndergaard. 
     (Had to get some baseball in here. There is more coming.)
     Dr. AlFarra is part of the national Mynd VR science team. The co-founder and CEO, Chris Brickler, is based in Dallas. 
     (You can judge Dr. AlFarra's judgement on this: He asked about my age and when I told him 71, he said, "You don't look that old." He also said -- laugh here -- that I looked fit. That is because he has not seen the numbers on the scale, with the 6 -- not 5 -- in the middle.) 
Paul DeHondt
     Also on the team is the videographer, whose first name is Paul. He, too, is a TCU person, a potential 2020 graduate who is studying film, television and digital media.
     He is from Allen, Texas, and Allen High School, which football fans around here know as one of the powerhouse programs in the area and state (along with Aledo and Highland Park).
     While I asked about a viewing a sports video, and Paul was searching for it, Dr. AlFarra asked about my career, and the talk turned -- as it usually does with me -- to Shreveport.
     With that, Paul brightened up. "My whole family is from Shreveport," he said. 
      "What's your last name?" I asked. When he replied, "DeHondt," my memory bank was triggered.
      "You any relation to Rene?" I asked.
      Paul: "That's my granddad."
      Rene DeHondt, who died four years ago, was the "little" quarterback for Fair Park High School in 1953, but more well-known as a standout right-handed pitcher who was signed by the Shreveport Sports in '55 and pitched for them briefly in 1957, part of his four-year pro career.
     He was a lifelong resident of the city and, as Paul reminded, Rene's son Danny, Paul's dad, was a wide receiver for Southwood High and Louisiana Tech University in the early to mid 1980s. Took a moment, but I did recall Danny, and in fact, covered some games in which he played. And he was a very good receiver.
     He and his family live in Allen.
     For you Woodlawn people, Danny's head coach at Southwood was Ken Ivy, his head coach at Louisiana Tech was A.L. Williams -- so two state championship, legendary coaches at our high school in the 1960s and early 1970s.
     Further connection: Rene DeHondt was a junior on the only Fair Park football team to win a state championship in school history (1952, when senior halfback A.L. Williams scored all five of the team's playoff touchdowns).
     It is all connected. Virtual Reality tied in to my small-world connection Thursday night.    
    Virtual Reality has many benefits, and it is a fun experience. If you get the chance, take a look.
Paul DeHondt and his friend Grace Payne
 show off their Mynd VR devices.
They also look good without them.


Monday, January 14, 2019

That's the old ballgame Shreveport -- Introduction

     It is a stretch to call Shreveport, Louisiana, a great professional baseball city.
    An interesting baseball city, yes. A historic one, certainly. And great does apply to two decade-plus periods -- 1946-55 and 1986-97 when fans filled the ballparks and Texas League championships were won.
Shreveport Sports jersey, late 1930s/early 1940s
    When you consider the noteworthy baseball names -- players, managers, officials -- who either were affiliated with the Shreveport teams (Gassers, Sports, Braves, Captains and, yes, Swamp Dragons) or came through as visitors, or for exhibition games, it is a strong legacy.
    Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees had their spring training in Shreveport in 1921 before the team had ever played in a World Series, and the Babe hit three home runs in one exhibition game.
     Several teams trained in the city in the early 1900s, and spring exhibitions were a frequent treat for Shreveport fans for decades.
     Dizzy Dean pitched in Shreveport (for Houston) and made many promotional appearances at the ballpark in his broadcasting days.
     Bob Feller, Robin Roberts, Sal Maglie, Hoyt Wilhelm, Don Larsen and Gaylord Perry pitched here. Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Pee Wee Reese, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Reggie Jackson batted here. Honus Wagner and Joe DiMaggio made visits as coaches.
Shreveport Sports road jersey, 1960
(from Ebbets Field Flannels)
     Four Hall of Fame inductees played for Shreveport teams -- from 1908 to 1932 -- and one Hall of Famer grew up in the city in the segregated days of the 1930s and 1940s.
     Four Shreveport players -- Bill Terry, Dick Howser, Bob Brenly and Cito Gaston -- managed World Series-winning teams; another one, Dusty Baker, managed a runner-up.
    One umpire from Bossier City -- Alaric Smith -- called in a World Series.
    A good number of the game's prominent players were from Shreveport-Bossier and across northwest Louisiana.
   And many, many players -- and some managers -- went from wearing a Shreveport uniform to action in the major leagues, some as legitimate stars, some as "cup of coffee" participants.
    Still, consider these other facets ...
   • With the exception of the two periods mentioned above, attendance at Shreveport games was among the worst in its league ... and in Double-A baseball.
    • Although there were many competitive, contending Shreveport teams, league championships were rare -- a 23-year gap, then a 35-year gap). In all, nine Shreveport teams won titles in 86 seasons.
    • Eight times in its history, Shreveport lost its franchise ... sometimes for only a year, such as 1958 because a Louisiana law against integrated games forced the team to leave town. That -- and lagging attendance -- was much the same reason for another abandonment after the 1961 season.
     • Shreveport has been out of "Organized Baseball" since 2002 and, after an independent-league era, altogether since 2011.
     Chances for another minor-league affiliation are slim in the foreseeable future. Because, as of 2018, there is no viable, usable  ballpark.
    Shreveport baseball, at least in the "modern" era, also is the story of two ballparks -- Texas League Park/Braves Field/SPAR Stadium, which went from new (1938) to practically falling down (1985), and Fair Grounds Field, new in 1986 and old much too rapidly.
     Still, what was great about Shreveport baseball was the pride many people took in rooting for those teams and those players, and the entertainment, the excitement, the fun they provided.
     It is a legacy worth researching and exploring, and reliving. Enjoy the history.

Table of contents 
      Introduction ...
      Chapter 1: Ken Guettler
      Chapter 2: Baseball Hall of Famers
      Chapter 3: Major players
      Chapter 4: Exhibitions/The Babe
      Year-by-year chart 
      Chapter 5: The early years
      Chapter 6: The managers, Part I
      Chapter 7: Homer Peel
      Chapter 8: The Sports (1925-42)
      Chapter 9: Mr. Pete
      Chapter 10: Building a ballpark, Part I
      Chapter 11: Salty Parker
      Chapter 12: The managers, Part II
      Chapter 13: Mel McGaha
      Chapter 14: The Sports (1946-57)
      Chapter 15: The Sports (1959-61)
      Chapter 16: Segregation, integration
      Chapter 17: The S-Braves (1968-70)
      Chapter 18: Revolving door (1971-78)
      Chapter 19: Life at the old ballpark
      Chapter 20: Giant steps (1979-2002)
      Chapter 21: Building a ballpark, Part II
      Chapter 22: The final decade (2003-11)
      Chapter 23: The contributors
      Chapter 24: Champions, near-misses
      Chapter 25: They played and stayed
      Chapter 26: The minor players
      Chapter 27: Short subjects
      Chapter 28: A personal journey

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Book? What book? Try a series of blogs

     That's the old ballgame Shreveport.
     OK, the goal was to publish a book on the history of professional baseball in Shreveport and North Louisiana.
     So much for this goal.
     On October 3 last year, I posted a blog about the research process, the idea for the book, and where it stood. 
     It is no longer standing. It is not going to happen, not from me, anyway. Maybe someone else. Good luck.  
This is what the inside title page would have been.
     But two years of research and of collecting photos are not going empty. So -- if you care to read and look at what I have -- stay tuned. It is going to turn into a series of blog pieces.
     This will take a while. There are 28 chapters ready, plus an introduction, and acknowledgements. Some of the material has been on my blog previously, so if you have seen it before, forgive me.
     If we post one a week, say on Mondays, that should carry us into August -- and then it will be time again for football. 
     True, many of the people on our e-mail list and Facebook "friends" won't care about baseball, period, and even moreso about baseball in Shreveport and the area.
     For the ones who do care, hope you enjoy it. It is a walk -- a free pass -- back into a time when Shreveport and North Louisiana mattered in baseball.
     Still does in a sense through the great names who came through town and in the players from our area who made it in the game -- many to the major leagues -- and those who are still active.
     So, why no book? First, too expensive. Wanted to do color, and there is a big price for that. Might have been too much even in black-and-white. Second -- and perhaps the main reason -- the use of photos. 
     Many photos I collected -- off the Internet, from newspaper clippings, and many from the Texas League office in downtown Fort Worth -- are copyrighted. 
     For instance, there are a great number of photos from The Shreveport Times, while ended up with the Shreveport Captains. When the longtime ownership group sold the team, those photos -- and even championship trophies -- were donated to the TL office.     
This is what would have been the cover photo
of the prospective book: Ken Guettler, right,
rounding third on one of his Texas League-record
62 home runs for the Shreveport Sports in
1956, greeted by Sports manager Mel McGaha
(No. 29). (The Shreveport Times photo)
     So use of those requires permission and, likely, payment. Just don't have the time and energy to chase down all the proper parties and don't have the resources.

     The friend -- a newspaper editor -- who formatted the book on my parents and our family looked at the baseball material and we talked about the possible copyright problems. 
     It did not take me long to make a decision: no book.
     Hoping that using photos on my blog will not cause problems. In six years of blogging, I have never had an issue in that regard. I will credit the sources when I think I should. 
     Knew that what I had in mind for a book likely was overreach, and too expensive -- afraid of what the printing cost might have been, even in a black-and-white format -- and the fallback position always had been to present the material on my blog.
     That's what I am going to do. The material is ready and if you want to say this is the easy way to do it, I am fine with that.
     Presented proposals to four publishing companies -- three based in Louisiana. No takers.
     A company in South Carolina that has published a series of historical books, including on baseball in cities comparable to Shreveport, did show interest. But their baseball books, while very interesting, were more photo-based than I preferred. And, again, I do not have photo rights than I can verify (or possible pay for, if needed).
     Plus, and pardon the self-interest view, I like the written material I have gathered. Hopefully, some others will like it, too.
     Professional baseball in Shreveport -- since 2011 -- is dormant. Thus, the prospective title: That's the old ballgame Shreveport.
     So there is not much updating to be done, except for the active major leaguers from our area (Seth Lugo, from Parkway High in Bossier City and Centenary College, is one).
      And who knows if pro baseball will return there? It does not seem likely right now. We have to live with the history of the Gassers, Sports, Captains and -- yes -- Swamp Dragons.
       It is, to me, an interesting history. And if one wants to check my blog pieces from now through about 30 weeks, it will be there.


Tuesday, January 8, 2019

He ran into history, and lived a life

      He was one of our "Cinderella" Knights, a significant one who made a run into history.
      For me, James Rice was the older kid who lived in the next block on Amherst Street in Sunset Acres, a nice guy, always friendly. And he could run fast.
      He was one of my heroes, like so many on those first two Woodlawn Knights football teams. But we especially loved our guys (and gals) from Sunset Acres.
      So it was with some sorrow when the well-after-the-fact news came -- from a couple of sources -- that James Dewayne Rice died October 23, 2018, at a nursing home in Shreveport, age 74.
      Had not seen an obit in the paper. What we did see, confirmation of his passing, was a "findagrave" post.
      James Rice -- football halfback and safety (even at 130 pounds), track sprinter, hard-working and dedicated in athletics and as a longtime hotel/motel employee and manager, responsible older brother, husband, father, grandfather ... friend.
      Another loss from "The Team Named Desire." Don't like those. That team, as a whole, was among the biggest winners we have ever known.
      And it is with some surprise to learn that James' life wasn't a Cinderella story, that what followed after the "Camelot" chapters was an often mixed journey.
      As with many of us, most of us, there was success and struggle. Happiness, and sad times. 
      Turmoil at home in his early life. Love, a lengthy marriage (to Phoebe), and divorce. Two children (a daughter and a son who is a Notre Dame graduate), and then estrangement. Good jobs, steady ones, and then failure. Several moves -- to points east. One grandson, and although there was distance, monthly financial aid almost to the end.
      In the last few years, there was dementia/Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes, alcohol, a move back to Shreveport, a place to live and with two women (his younger sister and her best friend) looking after him, stays in hospitals and nursing homes ... and the final decline.
      But our memories, and those of good friends, are sweet.
      "He was very reserved, quiet, and very smart," said Jerry Downing, one of his closest friends in the Sunset Acres years, a teammate on many athletics teams.
      "He was, to me, the golden boy," said Andra Wilson, who in high school dated James steadily for a year and then on-and-off after that. "He was supposed to have had a successful life, not only financially.
     "He was disciplined, made excellent grades ... worked a  parttime [filling station] job."
      Johnny Maxwell, a longtime hotel/restaurant operator in Ruston (and other places), was one of James' benefactors, and his longtime boss. 
     "I thought a lot of James," said Maxwell, 81, still a Ruston resident. "He was a good guy, a kind guy; he would do anything for anybody if he could.
     "I loved him like a brother. I tried to help him along."
     Connie Reed Roge' literally loved him like a brother. She was his youngest sister (nine years younger), a premature baby (1 1/4 pounds at birth), and so there was a bond.
     In Sunset Acres, their mother worked, the stepfather was in-and-out and difficult, and James often was in charge of the four younger children (whose last name was Reed).
     "He took care of all of us, babysat us all the time," Connie recalled. 
     She mentioned that the teenage James, while Mom worked, liked talking on the phone to his girlfriend, perhaps a little longer than what was acceptable.
     "Don't tell Mama, don't tell Mama," he instructed his siblings. But to be sure that would not happen, he promised to make oatmeal cookies for them. A bribe.
     He had the recipe, perhaps from home ec classes, and kept the recipe for years. "He could cook," Connie recalled.
     When their mother died in 1969, Connie was 16, James was working in Ruston, and he helped her move in with an aunt and checked on her often.
      "We were always close," Connie said, "but after a while, he moved away. So we kept in touch by phone, but didn't see each other much because of the distance."
      Her payback to him would come decades later.
     When we knew him, he had gone through Sunset Acres Elementary, then Midway Junior High, a sophomore year at Fair Park High and on to Woodlawn when it opened in the fall of 1960.
     Which brings us to football.   
     On October 19, 1960, junior halfback James Rice -- small, thin and fast -- made history: He ran 57 yards for the first varsity touchdown in Woodlawn history.
     After the Knights had been shut out in their first four games, James hit the end zone -- and he did it against the school that would become our arch-rival, Byrd, and against a Byrd team that was ranked No. 1 in the state and would go unbeaten that regular season. I won't bother to give you the score of that game, but Woodlawn had 6 points.
     (Bobby Glasgow, a sophomore that year, will tell you that he scored the first Woodlawn touchdown -- and he did ... but for the B-team a week earlier. It was a varsity game, but only for Haughton.)
      James had been a B-team back for Fair Park in 1959, then came to Woodlawn with a rag-tag bunch of players -- a few seniors, but a lot of juniors (transfers from Byrd, Fair Park and Greenwood) and sophomores fresh out of junior high.
     Wrote about that team in the first year of my blog, almost 6 1/2 years ago:
     James started two seasons for Woodlawn -- the awful first season (0-9 record), the second (his senior year) a glorious, astounding district championship -- a 9-2 regular-season record in which they kept winning games with fourth-quarter heroics. The Knights' first playoff game followed.
     That very small physical team -- Rice at 140 by his senior year had lots of company in the "lightweight" category; an offensive guard weighed 145, a tackle 165. Only one starter, a tackle, had any real size (for then) -- 195 pounds.
     This was a quick, supremely conditioned, mentally tough -- and talented -- team. The Team Named Desire. The "Cinderella" Knights. A Cinderella story.
      There were a half dozen future college players -- some all-conference ones -- on this team. Not James (too small), but he was one of the top stars. Check the clippings. And he scored the final touchdown of the season -- in the state playoff game. 
      Downing was the 160-pound center on those teams (and the starting catcher in baseball), and always James' friend. He lived two blocks away on Sunnybrook, across from the well-known scout hut on the Sunset Acres Elementary grounds.
      "He was in my first wedding," Downing said, "and we each delivered newspapers, we had newspaper routes. We would go near the A&P store in the Sunset shopping center early in the mornings to pick up our papers, and vendors would leave us honeybuns and chocolate milk. The store manager was OK with that, as long as we cleaned up the area. We were barely teenagers.
     "We played on a lot of teams together. Everyone knew he was a fast runner."
     And in high school, they often joined with [end] Ted Bounds for, well, some joy rides in Ted's Rambler.
     Downing, too, was at Louisiana Tech at the same time as Rice, and "we had a great time playing flag football.
     "What a great loss, and I hope to see him again on the other side. ..."
      Ronnie Mercer, at 135 pounds, was James' partner at safety in football and also a good friend through the La. Tech years.
      "When we were in Ruston, we lived in a four-plex and James and Phoebe were our next-door neighbors," Mercer recalled. "I don't think I ever saw him angry, which was a complement to the angry person I was.
     "He deserves to be written about. He was a man of tremendous heart."
     Mercer remembered one football incident at State Fair Stadium (now Independence Stadium)
      "Don't remember who we were playing, but we were on defense and James made a tackle and it knocked him goofy," Mercer said. "He actually went and lined up in the other team's huddle. I don't think anyone noticed until they broke the huddle to run the play. Then one of the referees noticed. But I guess he was going to run the offensive play for the other team."
      In the long run, Woodlawn football was a memorable experience for James Rice, for all of us 1960s kids. The long run of his life -- a little more than 57 years after that 57-yard run -- was a bigger test.       
      College was in his plans, but money was short. His stepfather promised to pay to start his education ... if James would work at his filling station that summer. But the deal fell through, and helped was needed.
      It came from then-Woodlawn counselor Mary Higginbotham, who had Louisiana Tech and Ruston connections (and a year went to work at Tech).
     Mrs. Higginbotham called her friend Johnny Maxwell, recent new owner/operator of the Holiday Inn near the Tech campus, and asked if he could find James a job and a place to live.
     "I can do that," Maxwell told her. Some of us remember James working at the Holiday Inn during his college years and then becoming a fulltime employee, first as restaurant manager.
     He met Phoebe, married and soon they started a family.
     After some years, it was time to move on. After a job for a food company in Jackson, Miss., James knew Maxwell had bought the Holiday Inn in Oxford, Miss., and asked if he had a job for him there. He did: manager.
     He was a neat dresser and he learned to do the maintenance job required to keep a hotel/motel in top shape.
     From there, it was on to another hotel managing job in Augusta, Georgia -- home of the Masters golf tournament. One year Maxwell took his son and grandson to the tournament, and James arranged tickets and a place for them to stay.
     After the divorce, as Maxwell recalled, "he went off the radar for a number of years" and moved to Meridian, Mississippi. 
     Some years later, Connie got word that there were gaps in James' managing his life.
      She and husband Harold went to Meridian, packed up his belongings and brought him back to Shreveport. Contact with his ex-wife and children ended, but his grandson remained in his thoughts.
     He loved going to church, loved the dog "Lil' Man" he was given, took him for walks every day at the Southern Hills recreation park. He worked in gardens and tended to roses he planted.         
     Over the past couple of weeks, Connie and Shirley Weaver have put together memories of James for the memorial, which will happen two days before what would have been his 75th birthday.
     "I am glad that he did not suffer long," said Connie of the last part of James' life. 
     "He was such a kind, loving person," said Shirley, "... He was loved by many." 
      And in the final year, some old friends -- Maxwell, some of James' working employees, and a few Woodlawn buddies -- came to visit him.
      Long-ago girlfriend Andra Wilson, reflecting on James' final years, said the stories she heard "have kept me aware; I have had nightmares ... James was kind of a naive guy, but he was sweet."
      As Connie worked to arrange a memorial, she said, "Talking to all of ya'll [James' old friends] has helped me with closure about James."
      Because he loved the song The Rose, the Conway Twitty version, that will be part of his memorial.   
       He will be -- he is -- fondly remembered by many of us. He not only ran into history, he ran into a place in our hearts and memories.
     A memorial for James Rice (WHS Class of '62) is scheduled Saturday, January 19, 1 p.m., 11055 General Patton Avenue, Shreveport (Connie Roge's house). Please contact Connie at 318-453-4902 or 318-687-6369 if you plan to attend, and share your thoughts at the memorial.