Sunday, January 3, 2016

Back to the future Part II

In reading my "YIR" (year-in-review) post, I noticed that I left out one really exciting even that happened in 2015, but in a way, I'm kind of glad I neglected to mention it because now I'm writing a separate post on it. The reality, though, is it needs a separate post anyway since it really started in 2014 and I never finished the blog post about that trip I had intended to.

Long story short, October 2014 was my Grandpa Ridinger's 90th birthday and we had all sorts of fun stuff planned to celebrate. For several years I had wanted to get a sweatshirt from my grandpa's alma mater, Miamisburg High School, which is located in Miamisburg, Ohio, just south of Dayton. I finally remembered to email the school in September 2014 and they were awesome about it, sending him a beautiful royal blue hoodie. My grandpa played football at MHS from 1937-1940 (graduated in 1941 at the age of 16). In sending the sweatshirt, they also sent info about the fundraising drive to build a new stadium at the school to replace their current stadium, Harmon Field, which opened in 1923 and was the same field my grandpa played on.

From the 1941 Miamisburg High School, "Mirus". Grandpa is top left, a 16-year-old senior class president. That happened because he attended part of his elementary years in a rural one-room schoolhouse and picked up on what the older kids were doing, so when they moved back into town, he was able to skip some of those grades.
Football team photo for the 1940 team (1941 yearbook). Grandpa is in the bottom row of individual pictures, second from right.

I asked the family if they would like to donate some money to the school in Grandpa's name and everyone liked it. We were able to donate $300 to the stadium fund, enough to have his name listed in the "Blue and White Club" section on the stadium fundraiser website. He seemed pleased with the sweatshirt and when we told him about the donation and showed him a printout of the website.

A week before his 90th birthday, I went down to Miamisburg, about a 3 hour trip from Kent. My purpose was first, to personally thank the athletic director for the gift, but also to see the field itself, attend a game, and then get some pictures of various places in town to show Grandpa and for my own record. I always prefer going somewhere over seeing pictures of it. It's part of making history, even family history, more real for me, being where important events actually happened. Anyway, I was able to get lots of great pictures and really enjoyed finally seeing Miamisburg, what I call my "ancestral homelands".

With the MHS athletic director at the game in 2014. Small world, his brother coached at Ravenna a little while back
My grandpa was born in one of these two houses on Sycamore Street in Miamisburg in 1924. His dad's family lived in one house and his mom's family lived right next door. The 1920 Census lists his dad in both houses. And yes, that's my car front and center! :)
Found this headstone almost as soon as we drove into the cemetery. Sara and William "Tiff" Ginter are my great-great grandparents. I looked in vain to find the marker for my great-grandma Esther Ginter Ridinger. She died the day after Christmas in 1938 when my grandpa was just 14. 

OK, so fast forward to this past October. I find out sometime in September that Miamisburg High School was planning a big ceremony to mark the final game at Harmon Field, scheduled for October 23rd. I asked my Grandpa if he would want to go and got the expected answer: no. By then he'd be 91 (it was just 4 days after his birthday), and the combined 6 hours of traveling, walking around, and dealing with crowds didn't appeal. I didn't expect him to go.

I mentioned it to my dad and he asked him again. By then I had just assumed I would go with my dad as representatives of Grandpa and had already communicated with the school about it. Their reply was interesting in that they made it clear they really wanted him to be there if at all possible as he would be the oldest attending football alum. Dad showed the email to Grandpa and with a little help from Grandma convinced him to go since I would be driving.

Well, we went. Not only did the weather cooperate beautifully (it was close to 70 degrees and clear the night of the game...when I went in 2014 it rained the entire game), but the way my schedule worked that day subbing, I was able to leave a little earlier than I had originally, so we made it to Miamisburg with plenty of time to spare, enough time to have a nice dinner before heading over to the stadium. The school was kind enough to make sure we had a place to park close to the entrance (which is quite the coveted spot...small parking lot as the stadium is in the middle of a residential neighborhood, not at the school). My sister and her family met us at the game as they came down from NW Indiana (about as far as we drove) to see.

Returning to his old stomping grounds with my grandma and dad. When my brother-in-law asked if being back brought back tons of memories, Grandpa simply said "no." My grandma explained "he doesn't look back." Even so, he seemed to enjoy the evening and said he was glad to come.

Most of the crew that dad's face got cut off at the top...oops! 

The school invited all MHS alumni who had every played on the field, so there were hundreds of guests since that not only included all the football alumni, but soccer and track alumni when those two sports played there. The only alum there older than Grandpa was a lady who was homecoming queen in 1937 or something. As I mentioned, Grandpa was the oldest attending football alumnus, so he was one of the few individuals recognized during the halftime ceremony. I was able to walk out on the field with him and get several pictures from the sideline, so it was neat for me to actually get to walk on the same field (and let me tell was a very thin and dusty field!) he played on so many years ago. It would've been cool to do that period, but being there with him made it even more special.

One view of the crowd on the field, divided by decade. You can see me just to the left of center with my Cleveland Indians bag!
Grandpa acknowledges the crowd when he was recognized as the oldest attending football alumnus.
Just me on the sideline with Grandpa in the background
With Grandpa heading off the field. I love that he wore his Kent State hat. As Grandma says, he doesn't look back too much, but he has been in Kent now 50 years and was at KSU for 20+ years as an employee (assistant dean of the College of Business) and even longer as a donor and supporter, even though he's not a KSU alum (actually is an alum of Otterbein College and Ohio State).

Not only was the game a huge deal because of it being the last scheduled game in the 92 year history of Harmon Field, but it also had huge playoff implications on top of the great weather. There were an estimated 8,000 people in and around the stadium. My best guess is the entire stadium (4 separate stands) seats MAYBE 4,000 people if that, maybe even less. Not only were the stands packed, but people lined the inner fence around the actual playing field, and there was a sizable crowd lining the outer fence. Although we didn't stay for the entire game, it ended up being quite the thriller. Miamisburg coughed up a big lead to Springboro only to score the winning touchdown with 12 seconds left. The win ended up earning them a playoff spot and an additional home game. The funny thing about playing Springboro was Grandpa mentioned in his day, Springboro wasn't much of anything, just a little crossroads. He was also impressed Miamisburg had beaten Xenia earlier in the season, something that never happened when he played there.

Touchdown Vikings! First touchdown of the game right as it happened!

Third quarter view of the main home grandstand

Panorama showing the setup and the crowd. This was taken just before halftime while they were assembling all the alumni.

Although it was pretty tiring for him (a lot more walking than any of us anticipated), my grandma said he said he was glad he went. She also told me later it took about three days of resting to fully recover. I'm glad we were able to do that with him. Having my dad, and my sister and her family there made it even more memorable and fun. I was more than happy to be able to provide the transportation too! The school was also a huge help, not only with arrangements for him, but also accommodating my sister and her family. Such awesome people. Just as we were about to leave, I went up to see if I could get a souvenir program. One left. When they found out I was related to the "oldest living football alumnus" they gave it to me free.  Just a really special evening and something I will always remember fondly. My hope next year is to go down by myself and do some more exploring of family history sites, and attend a game at the new stadium.
On the drive home, we stopped near Columbus to get gasoline and Grandpa gave me his card to pay for it. I filled up my Honda Civic tank, coming out to about 9 gallons of gas. I handed the card back to Grandpa and he basically said "Oh, you're not going to fill it up?" I explained it's only about a 10 or 12 gallon tank, so yes, it was full and it will get me about 400 miles (40 mpg on the highway). :)

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