Thursday, August 27, 2015

Mom's memories: Wearing the yellow star

    We were pleasantly surprised last week to see Mom's picture on the Amsterdam page of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum web site.
    My sister Elsa, researching in advance of training to become a docent at the Holocaust museum in Cherry Hill, N.J., found the photo by Googling "Amsterdam" and "Holocaust."
    The first link is, and it had this photo caption: Rozetta Lezer Lopesdias-Van Thyn, left, and a friend, with the compulsory Star of David on their clothing. Amsterdam, the Netherlands, May 1942-1943. 
    Hey, Mom.
    I posted on Facebook and sent e-mails  telling of the photo with the link to the page. We received many nice comments in reply, and we appreciate that.
    I have a few details to share, answers to some questions I received, and a quote from Mom about wearing the yellow star, which is the significance of the photo and -- although I did not receive verification in a message to the Holocaust museum -- almost certainly the reason it was selected for that page.
    It is touching -- two young Jewish women, wearing that star, posing happily, not knowing of the horror that was ahead.
      Among the comments we received was "amazing" and "you must be proud" and "were you aware that this photo existed?" and "who was the other woman?"
      (Some thought that might be my mother's older sister. It is not.)
      Yes, it is amazing. Yes, we're proud. Yes, we have seen the photo before. It is here in our album of dated Van Thyn and Lopes-Dias family photos; in fact, when I went to look for it earlier this week, it was on the very first page.
      On the bottom of the photo, Mom had written "Amsterdam, 1940." So that is a discrepancy from the museum-page caption ... and it's not the only discrepancy (see below).
      Also, I felt that I had seen the photo published previously -- and I found it. In I remember the difficult times ... (subtitle) World War II recollections from Shreveport, Louisiana, Chapter 7 is entitled "It's The Best Country In The World." It's the story, Holocaust-related, of Louis and Rose Van Thyn.
      (The book, published through the R.W. Norton Art Gallery and written by Gary D. Ford with Phil Lynch -- director of the Oral History Project -- as the interviewer, was graciously sent to us by former Centenary College President Dr. Donald Webb.)
      There are four family photos included in the chapter, and this photo is on page 93 with this caption: "Jews had to wear the Star of David. Rose Van Thyn, left, walks arm in arm, with her friend, Lena Green, as they enjoy a stroll in Amsterdam in 1941. 'Lena, Rose says, did not survive the concentration camps.' "
        That is a tough last sentence.
       Lena Green: one of the six million Jewish Holocaust victims.
       We are certain that Mom provided the family photos for this book, and I am fairly certain (but not verified) that she provided the photo for the U.S. Holocaust Museum.
        Several people noted how beautiful Mom looks in this photo. She is about 22 (if it is 1941) and while later in life she would have laughed at being called "beautiful," I think it is one of the best photos of her.
     In her 1996 interview on the Holocaust for the USC Shoah Foundation, Mom talked about the yellow star and I find it significant that she refers to being "marked," which is also the term Dad used in his interview when asked about having a number tattooed onto his arm.
     The interviewer asked Mom: " Do you remember the first time you put the yellow star on and you walked out on the street?"
     "I sure do. I sure do," Mom answered. "And I felt almost inferior, I really did. This was ... I was marked. ... The Jews in Holland had been regarded as first-class Jews. I mean there was no job you couldn't get. Every job you were capable of doing -- in government, city or state government, you could get. [When the Nazis took over] this was over with, and you felt mistreated.
     "It was terrible."
      Interviewer: "Did it create fear?" 
      "Oh, absolutely, absolutely," Mom said. "Not as much as that we would eventually leave Holland, but still, you were marked. In the neighborhood, [it] was at least 75 percent Jews, [and the Nazis] started having raids. ... We lived on a main street, and there was a highway and they would put up barricades and they would stop all the people wearing Star of Davids and ask for your ID because on your ID you had a 'J.' People would say to me, 'Why did you get a 'J' on your ID?'
      "But it was really too dangerous not to [wear it] because when the Germans came in, they went to the City Hall and to the Jewish Community Center in Amsterdam ... so they had all the lists of all the names and if they would stop and you were not wearing your Star of David or (didn't have) your identity card with a J, you would go to prison.
      "[We were] not even thinking yet of a concentration camp."
       In her interview, Mom talked about "no rational explanation" why she survived the concentration camps and so many -- including most of her family -- didn't and she cited one neighborhood raid when the Nazis were arresting people.
      "They stopped all the people with a Star of David," she recalled, "and I walked through. They never stopped me. I walked through and the [German] soldiers were there, checking people. I walked through without ever being stopped. That's not by accident you know. This, for me, was a sign, really."
       That was one day of survival. There were many more, even through her two-plus years of captivity in the camps and the woods of Poland and Germany.
       In the caption on the U.S. Holocaust Museum page, her name reads Rozetta Lezer Lopesdias-Van Thyn. Let me explain and confess.
       Lezer was her first married name. Lopes-Dias -- two words, hyphenated, not one word combined -- was her maiden name. She never used Lopes-Dias and Van Thyn together. And her first name was Rozette, not Rozetta.
       The confession: In her obituary, I mistakenly wrote it as Rozetta. She always pronounced it that way, and I assumed that's how it was spelled. It was one of the worst cases of checking-the-facts in my life. Found it a few days later as Rozette on her U.S. citizenship paper.      

     But there is Rozetta again. Maybe they got it from the obit.      Mom kept a yellow star at home, through the post-war years in Amsterdam and then Shreveport. I don't think it was her original yellow star -- don't see how that's possible -- but it was a replica. 
     Mom wore it for a 1995 photo with Dad to accompany a story in The Shreveport Times. That same photo was part of The Times editorial page column entitled "Van Thyn's work must continue" two days after Mom passed away in 2010.
        The yellow star: a haunting memory. But Rose lived to show it off for decades long after she was forced to wear it.
         Page link:


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Reclusive and reluctant: Skipping the reunion

     I did not attend my high school class' 50-year reunion last weekend.
     Considering how much that class, that group of people, and that school meant to me -- as I said in a blog piece last week -- my absence might surprise my regular readers ... as it surprised the Woodlawn people who knew me over the years.
     Or thought they knew me. I tried to hint at it in that blog -- reunions and sports banquets are off my agenda ... for now. I have passed on a half dozen in the past couple of years.
     Why? It's complicated, and I will try to explain. But I am not apologizing, nor -- and I stress this -- am I asking for sympathy or attention. Please, please, do not post "you were missed" or any other such message in reply to this.
      Don't need it, don't want it.
      Which partly is the reason I didn't go to the reunion: I didn't need it. Can't say I didn't want it because so many of the Woodlawn students, teachers and supporters are still good friends; some are great friends. Loved them then, love them now.

      Maybe I love them too much. Maybe I'm too sentimental or emotional about those times.
      There are lots of reasons I didn't go, and some -- most -- are personal. Don't want to get into all of that. I want to be clear on this, though: It has very little to do with the many, many good people of my past.
       Sports banquets are out because (1) I went to so many early in my sportswriting days that I've done my time and (2) they take too darned long.
       Reunions are not for everyone; some people feel out of place, or uncomfortable. And that discomfort is how I felt after the past couple of reunions.
       Had nothing to do with the reunion organizers. Every time I've been to a Woodlawn reunion, they have been well-organized -- it's not easy -- and I heard and read that the one this past Friday-Saturday was the best our Class of '65 has had.
      If I remember correctly, I was on the organizing committee for our first reunion, in 1975, and helped some on the 1985 reunion. Skipped one or two -- lived too far away or the timing wasn't right -- but in 2001, I was an organizer of the 1960s Woodlawn Football Reunion ... and that was a grand couple of nights.
       I wanted to attend those reunions. But the thrill of it mostly has gone for me, 50 years after graduation. That's not my world now. 
       (Nor have I gone back for The Shreveport Times' Oldtimers luncheons or any Louisiana Sports Writers Association/Hall of Fame activities, and I've been invited.)
       A year or two ago I told one Woodlawn friend that I was cutting back on reunions; I don't think he believed me. Another friend, telling me about a reunion in Bossier City a few weeks ago, said I would have enjoyed it and said someone said I would have been there "if it was a Woodlawn thing."
      Not so.
      Don't have the want-to. People know I like talking about the past and, certainly, if you've seen the blog pieces, I like writing about them. From the feedback I receive, the nostalgic pieces are popular.
       But we don't like traveling as much any more, unless there are grandkids at the destination. Don't like driving much any more, not even in town and not at night. And this would have been an eight-hour round trip by myself because Bea wasn't interested.
       I made that trip to Shreveport-Bossier by myself in April to speak at the Holocaust Remembrance Service because Bea, who wanted to go, couldn't then.
      We have plenty of trips to Shreveport-Bossier we'll need to make in the next several years as older friends -- some friends of my parents -- leave us. So I felt that to make this trip was frivolous.
       But on the reunions ... here is perhaps the main reason I found it tough to go this time: I come away from them feeling so sentimental, it's almost a sad or depressed feeling.
       I can't explain it. I know people think I'm kind of crazy anyway and unpredictable, but I said 30 years ago in a column before the 1985 event that the reunions leave me with a bittersweet feeling. Sweet to see those people again; bitter because it's only a few minutes here and there; it seems superficial and fleeting to me.
      I know that I came away from the reunions, and it didn't feel great.
      So I ask, do other people feel that way? Or am I an exception here? Am I turning into a recluse? Do I need a mental exam about this? (Don't answer that. I know I need that about other matters.)
       I'm not a recluse; still enjoy being around people. I see friends from the past in one-on-one meetings or in a small group. Do it quite often for lunch or, unfortunately, at recent funerals.
       I have a pretty good memory of events and individuals, and I don't mind spending a short time rehashing the old days. But -- and I have written this several times -- I don't want to live in the past; I'm much more about today.
      Some of my past I'd be happy to forget. But I relish a lot of it; I just don't want stay there, re-tell it or hear it retold for very long. The stories are too old.
      I have enjoyed seeing the pictures from this reunion, but even then at times it made me feel a little down when I look at how much some people have aged or changed. With others, it's remarkable how little they've changed ... and that's great. I have changed physically and mentally, but I'm OK with that. I'm at a good time in life.
      I fought hard with myself about this reunion; I'm still fighting as I write this. My heart said go; my head, remembering the depressive aftermath, said no.

      I gave it a heartfelt effort in my blog about the Class of '65 last week. I don't need face-to-face time with people to stay connected; I don't share everything in my life, but I am out there a lot on my blog, Facebook and by e-mail.
      Saw where one person on Facebook commented, " ... Our time at Woodlawn was very special. Can we go back?"
       No, we can't go back, except for one weekend every five years (or more if you are invited and choose to attend other classes' reunions). So the "Once a Knight, Always a Knight" sentiment remains, always, but this year those nights weren't right for this Knight.  

Friday, August 21, 2015

Don't make a race issue out of this

     "Mr. Parish, although a worthy consideration, would not be a 'close call' with Terry Bradshaw if the hypersensitive racial climate was not a reality, thanks to our beloved potus."
Robert Parish, "The Chief," had a career
that was hard to top (photo from Getty Images)
     Read that Facebook comment above, and what does it say to you?
     That Robert Parish was nowhere as good as athlete as Terry Bradshaw? That he only is so highly regarded because he is an African-American? And that it is President Obama's fault?
     That's how I read it. And what else do I read? That it's an offensive remark. Yes, I do.
     There's no place for it here. It's an ignorant comment. It's a comment that belongs in the past. Unfortunately, it's in the present. And that stinks.
     The background: A week ago when the Louisiana Tech Football page on Facebook posted a congratulatory note about Terry Bradshaw being selected No. 1 in The Shreveport Times' poll of the greatest athletes with Shreveport-Bossier ties, I posted a comment saying it was a close call between Terry and Robert at No. 1.
     I made the same statement in the first blog piece I wrote about The Times' poll and my vote in it. I didn't name Bradshaw and Parish then because it wasn't time to reveal my vote, but they were clearly Nos. 1 and 2 for me in that poll.
     And, not necessarily in that order. I can make a very good case for Parish being a greater player than Bradshaw.
     I would have had no quarrel if the rest of the panel had decided to put Robert at No. 1. I think that much of both guys, and I was proud to have played a small role in their careers (compiled their stats when they were in high school and college, wrote about them for various newspapers).
     But, damn, let's not make this a racial issue.
     Race had absolutely nothing to do with the way I voted in this poll, and I'd like to think it had little or nothing to do in the way I wrote about athletics or the way my papers covered them.
     My theory: Best to try to be color blind when it comes to athletics.
     Of course, there were times when I was accused -- one way or the other -- of leaning toward one race. I'm sure that's happened to a lot of writers at a lot of papers. Ask my friend Buddy Davis how often people in Ruston, La. -- home of Louisiana Tech -- chided him for his coverage of nearby Grambling State University athletics.
     I've written about race and my coverage in athletics previously, about the days when high schools and college programs integrated. Earlier this year I wrote a four-part series on the first black athletes in football and basketball at Louisiana Tech. I enjoyed doing those, talking to some of those former athletes.
     And so, it was a bit stunning -- and disappointing -- to see that comment on a Louisiana Tech page. I know the name of the person who posted it, but it's not worth posting for you.
     But (1) I think it reflects badly on Louisiana Tech, where he apparently has ties to the school, and that's too bad because Tech, like a lot of universities, has done a good job mixing its black athletes with the whites; (2) it is not at all fair to Robert Parish and (3) why bring President Obama into this?
     I think, I hope, Louisiana Tech has come a long way since the May night in 1968 when I heard cheering -- enough to tee me off -- when the death of Dr. Martin Luther King was announced on television in the dormitory. 
     On Parish, he -- like Bradshaw -- played on four championship teams in the pros. Robert's high school and college careers were sensational, and he played more games than anyone in NBA history. He played 21 years in the NBA and was chosen as one of the all-time top 50 players.
     The only reason I gave my No. 1 vote to Bradshaw was he was the MVP in two Super Bowl victories, and Parish did not earn that type honor in the NBA Finals. But I can argue that on a game-to-game basis, Robert was more consistently a star than Terry and certainly for much longer.
     In a blog piece last week on The Times' top-20 greatest Shreveport-Bossier athletes poll, I criticized the exclusion of Willard Brown, a baseball star of the 1930s, '40s and early '50s, mostly in the Negro Leagues. But I don't think he wasn't in the poll because he was a black player; I think he wasn't in it because voters weren't aware of how good he was, and his ability -- some felt -- was hard to measure.
     Without a whole discussion on race -- I don't profess to have any expertise; I am a sports writer, not a social commentator -- it's obvious we still have a tremendous racial divide in this country.
     Sure, we have come a long way since the 1950s and '60s when I was a kid, but you see the many situations in the news today -- Ferguson, Mo., New York City, Baltimore, white cops killing black people (as in nearby Arlington, Texas, recently), a black man killing a white cop in my hometown -- and we have plenty of problems still.
     Blame President Obama? Too easy. When is the President, any President, not blamed for everything by one party or another, by one race or another?
     The anti-Obama sentiment, sadly, crosses racial lines far too often. At least that's what I see on Facebook, and I don't like it. It's acceptable to be critical of one's politics; it's unacceptable to be personally hateful. I can't go there.
     There are athletes I think are punks, it's because they act or talk like self-centered fools. But it's not a black-white-Hispanic thing, and some of them even play for teams I love. But hate? No, they're people, with families -- and fans -- who love them.
     Back to the comment at the top: When, exactly, since the 1950s when black people seriously began standing up for themselves, have we not had a "hypersensitive racial climate?"
     Abrasive, pointed, uncivil remarks don't do anyone any good.
     I would suggest the world, and America, would be a better place if we were color blind. That's just too idealistic. Reality says we should keep working on solving the racial divide, not split it open.
     To make a racial issue of a newspaper poll that was fun to think about and discuss, a poll that is innocuous but debate-worthy, that's just really out of place. It's not fair.
      Don't diminish Robert Parish's career. Better to recognize -- and not be ignorant -- that "The Chief" was every bit the equal athlete, if not better, than "The Blond Bomber."

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A 50-year journey: Woodlawn to now

      My old friends -- and we are old, no longer middle-age -- will be getting together Friday and Saturday in Shreveport for the Woodlawn High School Class of 1965 50-year reunion.
      I loved all those '60s classes at WHS, but this is my favorite class, of course. It's my class.
      The past two years, as the classes of '63 and '64 held their 50-year reunions and invited members of other classes, I wrote blog pieces about those days at Woodlawn (see links below). 
      In short, we loved that place and those days -- it was a special time -- but Woodlawn isn't the same, hasn't been for decades, and neither are we.
      Because I am cutting back on attending reunions -- I did not make the previous two -- and sports banquets, this is the last reunion piece I'm planning for a long while.
      Unfortunately, there are more and more memorial services and funerals to attend these days. As my wife pointed out last week, what we have to look forward to is aging and dying.
      Can't do much about the aging process, except handle it mentally and try to do the right things to stay well physically. But when people suggest that I haven't changed much in 50 years, here is my answer: bull (shortened version).
       All I have to do is look in the mirror. As for attitude and approach to life, I've also changed quite a bit. It's not just only a sports-minded world anymore; my social and political views are expanded and probably not what the great majority of my classmates want to hear.
       So it is a long way from Sunset Acres, Oak Terrace and the new school on Wyngate Drive in the Sherwood Park neighborhood ... and the Knights of old.
       But it's sweet memories, and good friends -- some of them for 55-60 years, about 10 that I went to school with from fifth grade through college graduation -- and that's what the reunion is about.   

The headline under this photo in the front section of the 1965 Woodlawn
Accolade read: "Two Knights Win All-State Honors" and the cutline
detailed Ken Liberto and Trey Prather's athletic careers. Three years, and
nine or 10 letters for both -- and the manager-statistician who tagged along.
       The Class of '65 is -- for those of us whose '60s world revolved around athletics -- the class of Ken Liberto and Trey Prather. As long as I live, and my mind is well, I will think of those guys. 
       They left us too soon -- Trey, much too soon, less than three years after graduation -- but as we come to this reunion, from a class of 581, we look at the "in memoriam" list, and count at least 101 names, and there are 40-plus on the "missing" (no contact info) list.
       And that's not even counting faculty members. When I think of Woodlawn reunions, the person I most remember is J.W. "Bubba" Cook, assistant principal in the '60s and then principal through the '70s and '80s. He made all the WHS reunions, although I'm not sure how it went when they conflicted with LSU football. Looking at the pictures of our 2010 reunion, there he was ... wearing a Woodlawn blue shirt.
       Among those we lost -- and I don't mean to slight anyone -- in the past year and a half was Tommy Watson, a friendly, tall, lean guy who started at center for our (woeful) basketball team in our senior year, and just a few months ago Pamela Parker (I was her nemesis in our sixth-grade year). She became a college English professor (Dr. Parker), and I probably could have learned some Southern Literature from her.

       We have too many graduates whose spouses have passed away. That's sorrowful, and a recent one really hurt. Billy Laird (Class of '62), WHS' first quarterback/hero and friend for many of us, died in June; just after the '65 graduation, he married our class' Brenda Boyette (Sunset Acres, cheerleader, homecoming queen, yearbook "beauty").
       What's neat is that many of the all-Woodlawn marriages survived the long years; first true loves do last. Some didn't, but at least they gave it a shot.
       I know how I feel; I think other do, too: grateful to still be here after 50 years. We know people with cancer, heart problems, strokes, Parkinson's ... and we are rooting and praying for healing and comfort.
       I mention Watson because he laughingly reminded me at our 2010 reunion about something I wrote in a Shreveport Journal sports-page column before our 1985 (20-year) reunion: "We knew Terry Bradshaw when he was a second-string quarterback who sometimes struggled in B-team games."
       Yes, we did. What happened to that Bradshaw kid anyway?
       (In fact, one of the people in our class was Gary Bradshaw, Terry's older brother by a year, and -- like me -- a team manager in football. We also were at Louisiana Tech -- Gary as a trainer, me as a student sports information assistant.)
       In that 1985 column, I named many of the senior athletes and "I'm proud to say they're my friends and my heroes." I still feel that way.
       Beginning with my two years at Sunset Acres Elementary, we all picked up new friends with each step -- junior high, high school and college. I've said it several times, I thank those kids for accepting me and making me feel at home. We had been in the U.S. only 1 1/2 years when we moved to Sunset Acres.
       When I think of the Woodlawn days, I mostly think of the fun we had, the pride we had in that school, strong administrators, teachers that we (mostly) respected and liked, a five-man coaching staff that was outstanding (and people I was honored to come to know as friends), intense and exciting football seasons. Loved the cheerleaders, the pep squad, the pep rallies, the band (I can sing the fight song and alma mater, and it'd be nice hear The Stripper again), and the colors scarlet and royal blue.
       One lasting memory is how many truly smart people we had in our class, in our school. I was smart, if you wanted to know about World Series, NBA and NFL champions or Mickey Mantle's batting averages in 1956 and '57, and important stuff like that.
       Another memory: Woodlawn is where my newspaper/writing career began, with the Herald (school paper) and Accolade (yearbook). Always thankful for that path.
       The world isn't quite the same, as we're not. Much pride as I had in Woodlawn, it doesn't compare to the pride I have in Beatrice, our kids and our grandkids. My classmates must feel that way about their families.
        But Woodlawn, yeah, those were beautiful days. It was the place of our dreams, soon to turn to life's realities. The seniors of '65 are now senior citizens of 68 -- and we've tried to be good citizens. We have that school and especially those people in our hearts forever and ever.
         (Thanks to Beverly and Mike Harlan for providing the scanned photo of Ken and Trey.)

Saturday, August 15, 2015

A top-20 list that isn't legit

     This is the "I told you so" follow-up to my July 29 blog piece on The Shreveport Times' top 20 list of "greatest" athletes in Shreveport-Bossier history.
     In the best tradition of Jerry Byrd's two-cents-worth second-guessing (cue up the Byrd voice), to The Times sports staff: You ... blew ... it!
      The 12-member voting panel -- and I was one -- blew it. My opinion: This is not a legitimate top 20 list. I tried to tell you that some big names were not even made available for the voters: (
      Tommy Davis not among the top 20? It's not legit.
      Gary "Big Hands" Johnson not among the top 20? It's not legit.
      Bo Harris not among the top 20? Maybe it's not legit.
      Willard Brown not among the top 20? Definitely not legit.
      My friends at The Times did not do their homework before they sent out the nominations ballot. Davis wasn't listed. Big Hands wasn't listed. Bo Harris wasn't listed.

Willard Brown
     Willard Brown was listed ... but only after I suggested him. Here is what I said in my July 29 piece: ... You are not likely to guess who I voted for at No. 4. You might have never heard of him. But I will be surprised if he even makes The Times' top 20 list.
      Thank you.
      In my opinion, he is the best baseball player to come out of Shreveport-Bossier. He is in the Baseball Hall of Fame. If he's good enough for Cooperstown, he's good enough for me.
      Much more on him later.
      Look, I can see the cases for the athletes who made the top 20 list. But I don't happen to agree they all belong; 14 of the ones I voted for made it. Doesn't mean you have to agree with my opinion.
      Six made the list that I did not vote for (I had my reasons): Joe Delaney, Rogers Hampton, Freddie Spencer, Josh Booty, Kathy Johnson-Clarke, Leo Sanford.
      Six I voted for who didn't make it: Willard Brown, Tommy Davis, Gary "Big Hands" Johnson, Bo Harris, Joe Reding, Roland Harper.
      If I had to vote again, maybe -- maybe -- I would drop Reding and vote for Hampton, or I'd give a nod to a fine man and terrific linebacker-center in his time (the '40s and '50s), Leo Sanford, over Troy Edwards.
      But about a re-vote, read on ...
      I made my case for Tommy Davis in my July 29 blog. I know Rogers Hampton was a great all-round athlete at Fair Park High School in the early 1950s, but Davis was the best player on the 1952 state championship football team -- the only one in school history.
      His LSU career, interrupted by a two-year U.S. Army stint, ended after the 1958 national-championship season when he was (1) the Go (offensive) team fullback and (2) as his sketch on the American Football Kicking Hall of Fame site said "his placekicks provided the winning margin in two games (10-7 over Florida and 7-6 over Mississippi State), and his booming punts assured great field position for the Tigers throughout the season—an essential ingredient in [coach] Paul Dietzel’s conservative style of play."
      Then he went to the NFL for 12 seasons, set a record for consecutive extra points (234), missed two PATs out of 350 in his career, and left with a career punting average of 44.7 yards, second then only to Sammy Baugh's 45.1.
      So I'll take Tommy Davis' whole career over what Hampton did. How was he not on The Times' ballot?
      Stan Humphries was a heckuva QB at Southwood High, Northeast Louisiana University and a good one for six seasons with the San Diego Chargers. Gary "Big Hands" Johnson was a great defensive tackle in high school (at Charlotte Mitchell in Bossier City, before integration) and certainly at Grambling State University, and I'm saying he was a better Chargers player than Humphries.
      From his obituary story in 2010: Johnson played with the Chargers from 1975 to '84, before being traded to San Francisco, where he won a Super Bowl ring with the 49ers. He was a first-team All-Pro for San Diego in 1980 and ’81 and made the Pro Bowl four times (’80, ’81, ’82 and ’83). In 1980, he recorded 17½ sacks, still a Chargers record.
      How was he not on The Times' ballot?

      Bo Harris, as a Captain Shreve end in 1970, was as good a defensive player as I saw in Shreveport-Bossier over my 25 years there. He was a starter at linebacker for three years at LSU, a third-round NFL draft pick by the Cincinnati Bengals, and a tough, enthusiastic regular for them for eight seasons, including one Super Bowl year.
      Maybe Bo is a marginal top 20 choice. But how was he not on The Times' ballot?
      Three baseball players made The Times' top 20 list: Albert "Joey" Belle, Todd Walker, Cecil Upshaw. I voted for all of them, but not until I had voted for Willard Brown.
      Now about Willard ...
      Of course, I never saw him play. He was "Home Run" Brown, one of the great sluggers in Negro League baseball in the 1930s and 1940s. He spent less than a month in the just-integrated major leagues in 1947 -- a couple of months after Jackie Robinson began playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers -- but the intense racism he found as he played for the St. Louis Browns left him unhappy, and the Browns soon released him.
      One of the voters on The Times' panel questions Brown's credentials and notes that he made the Hall of Fame with an asterisk (the Negro Leagues selection committee picked him in 2006). Another question: How strong are his Shreveport ties?
      If you read this story (, a good biographical look at Brown, I'd say his Shreveport ties -- in his growing-up days -- are strong enough.
      I'd also say his credentials are strong enough. He is considered one of the great talents of Negro League baseball and a superstar in the Puerto Rico winter leagues, and the biggest knock on him was that he only played really well when he felt like it.
      As my fellow voter pointed out, it was difficult to compare athletes from different eras, and that's especially true for all-white baseball vs. all-Negro Leagues baseball.

      But I base my Brown-at-No. 4 argument on this:
      -- He had to be as good as Belle, Walker and Upshaw, and probably was better.
      -- If he was as great as they say in the Negro Leagues, he was comparable to some of the Negro League stars who came to the majors in the late 1940s and early 1950s and were huge stars -- Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Monte Irvin, Satchel Paige, Don Newcombe, Roy Campanella, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, etc.
      -- From 1953 to '56, Willard Brown played in the Texas League, and those were his ages 38-41 years. He was still a productive .300-plus hitter with plenty of power, and the Texas League was a strong Class AA league.
       He played 535 Texas League games (for five different teams), and he must have played often against our Shreveport Sports. But, because of the Louisiana law prohibiting integrated games, he never played a game in his hometown.
      The times weren't right for him in the major leagues. But again: Willard Brown was one of Shreveport-Bossier's greats. Obviously, not many panel voters know that, or agree with me. He was a man before his time.
      The top-20 poll was a good idea, and the stories were well done. But I suggest we take a re-vote ... and this time do our homework and put all the names on the ballot. Make it a legit list.
      My ballot: 1, Terry Bradshaw; 2, Robert Parish; 3, Joe Ferguson; 4, Willard Brown; 5, Albert Belle; 6, Hollis Conway; 7, Alana Beard; 8, Hal Sutton; 9, Cecil Upshaw; 10, Tommy Davis; 11. Carlos Pennywell; 12, Gary "Big Hands" Johnson; 13, Tommy Bolt; 14, David Toms; 15. Todd Walker; 16. Bo Harris; 17, Joe Reding; 18, Roland Harper; 19, Troy Edwards; 20, Stan Humphries.
     The Times top 20: 1, Terry Bradshaw; 2, Robert Parish; 3. Albert Belle; 4, Joe Ferguson; 5, Hal Sutton; 6, Hollis Conway; 7, Alana Beard; 8, David Toms; 9, Joe Delaney; 10, Todd Walker; 11, Rogers Hampton; 12, Tommy Bolt; 13, Carlos Pennywell; 14, Stan Humphries; 15, Cecil Upshaw; 16, Freddie Spencer; 17, Josh Booty; 18, Troy Edwards; 19, Kathy Johnson-Clarke; 20, Leo Sanford.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Cousin Maurits: A driving force ... in journalism

(Part II on Maurits Kopuit, our cousin)
"The death of Mau Kopuit has left many in Jewish Netherlands stunned. Many had deep differences of opinion with him, yet he was appreciated and respected by everyone. Not in the last place because Mau Kopuit with his inexhaustible energy, humor and unrelenting hold of other people eventually stuck to his convictions and made the New Israelite Weekly what it is today: an independent, critical news and opinion magazine in which the entire Jewish community knows he represented them. A newspaper, his newspaper, high-level journalism plays a vital role in the Jewish community. Jewish Netherlands without Mau Kopuit is hard to imagine."
   -- NIW tribute story, February 1992    
     Before I detail the impact of Maurits Kopuit's life and newspaper career, I will write about his driving.
My mother (right) and her older sister, Annie,
with their first cousin, the young Mau Kopuit.
     Behind the wheel of his compact car, Maurits was a madman ... and a magician. Riding with him was an adventure.
     One of my mother's favorite memories of her first cousin was Maurits, at about age 8 or 9, riding up to Mom's family's apartment on his bicycle ... without his hands on the handlebar. "He was a daredevil," she would say, laughing.
     Before Dad and I went to Amsterdam in 1991 -- my first trip back in 36 years -- Mom warned us about Maurits' driving. She had ridden with him on several trips back to The Netherlands.
      Amsterdam has many small streets strung alongside the numerous canals. Not much room there, and then there are the roads with streetcar tracks down the middle. No matter; Maurits raced up and down those streets; not speeding per se, but not being all that careful. He knew exactly where he was going.
      Don't know about others, but I was holding on.
      Then there was the day we were on a four-lane loop around Amsterdam, heading out of town. Suddenly Maurits realized we were not going the right direction for our destination. No problem. No traffic was coming from the other direction, so at 45 miles per hour -- or maybe 60 -- he simply U-turned the car.
       I think we were nearly back in downtown Amsterdam when I began breathing again.
        Don't know how many traffic tickets, wrecks or dents Maurits had driving. But I do know that auto racing's loss was journalism's gain.
        Fortunately, he was as fearless as a journalist as he was behind the wheel.
Always the dedicated, tireless, opinionated but fair journalist
     He worked as a proofreader, then a writer at the Algemeen Handelsblad -- the liberal Amsterdam-based paper (published 1828-1970) that employed his father before World War II. From early on in his writing career, he also was a correspondent and contributor of articles for newspapers in Israel and the United States.
      But the New Israelite Weekly (NIW) editor position is the one he wanted, and he took the job in 1971, but not until after nine months of negotiations as he sought -- and received -- full control of editorial direction.
      The paper, still in operation, has been in existence since 1865, and Mau held the editor's position longer than anyone in the last 97 years.
      When it reached the 120-year mark in 1985 -- commemorated by a 120-page special edition and a series of grand events in Amsterdam -- Maurits was granted knighthood in the Order of Orange Nassau, a prestigious honor given by the Dutch government to people for their work for the good of society. 
      In a 1985 interview, he described the NIW as "a stern paper in which nothing and no one is spared."   
      After he took over as editor, the staff was expanded, the number of pages each week expanded and, significantly, the circulation jumped 40 percent.
     Mostly, from what I surmised reading the tributes to him after his death, he was fair -- the paper did not shy from controversy within the Jewish community, presenting both sides of issues, and thus often irritating people -- religious leaders, politicians/government officials, regular readers -- on one side or the other.
       And one great attribute was that he could handle criticism, could deal with it -- that is an admirable trait in the newspaper business (or any business).
       He did not have great belief in Jewish-Christian dialogue, although his paper always had a page of news from the Christian sector. In an interview he called the so-called Jewish-Christian dialog "spielerie" (games-playing), "the kind liberal Jews are interested in."
       He was vigilant about anti-semitism; it was one element he fought in print and in person. He had seen enough before and after World War II to last a lifetime.
       If at times he had a sharp writing style and a sharp tongue, it was only part of the job. Because in reality, Maurits was -- as I noted in the previous blog -- a compassionate soul.
       From the "Goodbye to a Friend" tribute written by G. Philip Mok: "Mau seemed hard. But really, he was the opposite; he radiated so much feeling that was not possible to think of him without feeling. There were people, readers and listeners, employees and opponents, notables and what not, who ... were upset when he brought out painful truths about the limelight, when he "hung out the dirty laundry.
      "... But Mau spoke nicely. He was a gentleman, small in stature, [cheerful and lively], but in the end a gentleman. And above all, he was a journalist, with an unerring nose for news, a keen understanding of people and a sense of reality that, for one example, brought many an ambassador of the State of Israel to anger and despair."
      And, yet, no question, as the editor of a Jewish newspaper, he was a staunch supporter of Israel. But that fairness principle held true.
      Mok's column again: "... Mau loved Israel, felt at home. His son Philip lives there -- Mau joked that he was merely 'on the other end of the telephone line' -- but the deep love he [Mau] felt for the Jewish state did not give it a blank check with him.
       "Mau stuck to his own standards, and to the realization that people are enemies, you must connect people with peace, and that peace can require a price. He reminded that in a free world he could reserve to have an opinion on those enemies and even about the price he could deem reasonable for peace."   
October 1955: Henny and Maurits,
newlyweds in Amsterdam
         Mau was sensitive to the plight of the Jews, especially in The Netherlands. Mok recalled Mau telling him that, "I know the social problems, so I deal with the trauma and wounds of our Jewish people with caution in my newspaper. Otherwise the outsiders think we are only just nebbisj (victims) of war. But we are brave, we are a proud community, for centuries."
       And that pride came through in a book Maurits wrote late in his life and career, a collection of short stories based on his experiences during the Holocaust years and afterward.
Henny and Mau: Some 2 1/2 decades later
 at their daughter's wedding.
     Mok quoted him as saying, "I'm proud of Israel as I am proud of The Netherlands. The Netherlands is my fatherland; Israel is my motherland. What else can I be but proud. Without The Netherlands, I can exist because Israel is there. That made me a different person than I would have been. Israel is my Jewish insurance, the policy of my identity. In Israel I have grown, by generations before me."
      What my parents most remember, and what my sister Elsa and I recall, was Maurits' sense of humor and fun. Like my mother, he could break into song; he knew so many tunes.
      He would laugh outrageously -- "infectious" is how one tribute piece described his laugh -- and, even after arguments about newspaper work or the world situation, he was quick not to hold grudges and brought the people around him to even keel.
      His sense of humor was recalled by Rabbi Lody van de Kamp, who conducted his funeral service at the family's request: "Mau always said, 'As long as I work at the newspaper, I will get a big lewaje (burial).' "
      Van de Kamp said Maurits' vision of the NIW and the way he managed the news derived from his experiences in World War II: "I once went into hiding. No more. From now on, I will say and write what I will."
      NIW's presentation often did not please its readers, they did not like what they saw in the mirror. "What they did not realize," Van de Kamp said, "was that Mau himself held a mirror."
      There are now seven Kopuit grandchildren; the three oldest boys -- born before February 1992 -- were the ones Maurits knew. Most of them now are based in Israel, even a couple of the (daughter Heleen) Boorgenicht family in Belgium.
      Those grandkids have been told, and reminded, how proud their Opa Maurits was of Henny, Heleen and Philip -- and the family they built. The Van Thyns, in Louisiana, far from Holland, Israel and Belgium, are privileged to be an extended part of that family.
      And all of us are proud that Maurits Kopuit was for Jewish Netherlands, as one tribute put it, "one of its most memorable personalities."