Saturday, September 6, 2014

52 Ancestors - #33 Lionell Burris Mitchell – Brilliant and Self Taught

I am not sure when my Dad started going by Mitch as a nickname but he was using that nickname when he met my mother. She was buying a chocolate candy bar when she caught his eye, and they started talking and he asked her out. 

1940 Rosalie and Lionell

By early March 1940, Lionell was still unable to find a job in Seattle and had been thinking about heading to Texas to find work.  Needless to say, lucky for my siblings and myself, my Dad stayed in Seattle. Lionell Burris Mitchell and Elva Rosalie Tucker were married on February 15, 1941 at St. Clement of Rome Episcopal Church in Seattle, Washington. They lived in an apartment at 503 1st West in the Lower Queen Anne Hill area of Seattle. Rosalie’s brother Arnold lived with them for a while after they were first married.  Rosalie had cooked a nice, economical tuna casserole, but unfortunately, Lionell was a meat and potatoes man and was not happy with the casserole.  An argument ensued and tuna casserole was flying through the air until Arnold quietly took it away from them and said, “Would you let me dish up, before it all ends up on the floor?”

503 1st West

The tuna casserole was only the first of many such dishes over the years.  Whether it was because he had mellowed or given up, Dad later seemed to greet various culinary experiments with a look that was bemusement, resignation or a combination of the two.

They lived on 1st West until June 1941 when they moved to the 1400 block of 3rd North West in the Seattle Phinney Ridge area near the Woodland Park Zoo. They didn’t move again until September of 1941 when they moved to 112 Valley Street which was also in the Queen Anne Hill neighborhood. After Pearl Harbor, Mitch apparently was classified as 4-F by the draft due to an injury received when he was younger – a spill with a horse or something. Rosalie said that he came home and wept when he was rejected by the draft. He then went to work in December 1941 for Boeing in Seattle at Plant #2 which was building B-17 Flying Fortresses. The building was as large as eight football fields and to hide it from possible aerial attack the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers with the help of a Hollywood set designer built fakes houses out of plywood and fabric, streets and put in fake trees.  At that time the building was one of the largest in the world with some of the longest single-span trusses. The plant produced 362 planes per month. Dad started as a bucker C Rate which meant that most probably he was securing the rivet on the other side once the riveter shot it through the metal. After six or so months he was working as a riveter doing pickup work which meant he was repairing mistakes made on the line. Dad also did special work on the first three B-29 Superfortresses which were built at Plant 2.

In March of 1942 they moved to a larger apartment at 1428 Queen Anne Avenue – the Galer Crest Apartments which is now a historical building. The building was located at the crest of the Queen Anne Counterbalance which was no longer in use after August 10, 1940.

Galer Crest Apartment entrance on left

After one miscarriage, Rosalie was pregnant again and very ill so she went home to her mother’s house in Kalama in mid July for several weeks to recuperate.  Mitch and Rosalie’s first child, Marc, was born in January 1943, during the midst of a horrible snowstorm in Seattle. 

1943 Marc and Dad

Mitch quit Boeing where he was now an A Rate at the end of May 1944 to go to work for Spokane Air Material 4169 AAF Base Unit working up and down the coast on radar stations for the military. He began as a Junior Ground Electronics Repairman and worked up to Field Foreman with an efficiency rating of excellent.

Radar Installation

Dad once said that his approach to working on radar, which was completely new to everyone, was to observe as much as possible and ask questions. With his prodigious memory, he probably became very conversant with radar very quickly.

Army Air Force Christmas Party 1944 - Dad is standing to the left of door

When Mitch and Rosalie’s second son Terry was born June of 1946, the doctor was late and Terry was almost born without him.  In April 1947 Mitch went into business for himself doing work on radios. My Uncle Teck remembers Dad at some point taking a correspondence course in electronics and trying to get Teck to take it also.

In January 1948 the Mitchells moved from the Galer Crest Apartment after six years there to Northwest 92nd Street in the Crown Hill neighborhood which at that time was outside the Seattle city limits. They lived there until April when they moved in at 1214 East Columbia Street with Lionell’s mother Ruby Champlin who was a widow now. Dad had been devastated by his step-father Champ’s death.

In the summer of 1948 after Aunt Vina and Uncle Teck were married in February, Teck got a job at Sunrise at Mt. Rainier and he, Vina and Larry stayed in a tent. Rosalie came up with Marc and Terry and spent several weeks with them and Mitch joined everyone on the weekends.

Dad went back to work in August 1948 at Boeing Plant #2  as an A Rate general troubleshooter while he also worked at his radio repair business. Boeing is where Dad met Carroll V. Fontaine. Dad did not hit it off that well at first with Carroll Fontaine at Boeing so Dad started calling him “Bud” and the nickname stuck. Bud Fontaine left Boeing and went to Portland, Oregon to work for the US Forest Service in the Division of Engineering Communications Section.

They lived with Mitch’s mother Ruby until September 1948 when they moved into a two story Ballard neighborhood duplex with an upstairs unit and a downstairs unit at 1132 West 58th Street, Seattle. Their neighbors from the downstairs duplex were Viv and Gordy Nelson and they became lifelong friends.

1132 West 58th Street

For a while at West 58th, Rosalie’s sister Vina, husband Teck and nephew Larry lived with the Mitchell’s after returning from Chicago where Teck had been looking for work. Uncle Teck ended up working with the neighbor Gordy Nelson. Every pay day Teck and Mitch would buy a fifth and have a good time.

In 1949, Lionell purchased a kit to make a television set from a magazine.  He put it together and the family watched KING TV’s broadcast of a boxing match on the little tiny screen in their living room.  Every afternoon after school, the neighborhood children gathered at the Mitchell’s to watch the television. They would play in the backyard until Rosalie called them in when “Uncle Miltie” was on.  They also watched Sid Caesar as well. Television was still quite a novelty. Just the year before the Mitchell’s got their television; there were less than 40 TV stations in the country – most of them in the East.  KING TV had been the first station north of Los Angeles and west of Minneapolis.  Even before the first broadcast in Seattle 6,000 people had purchased television sets in Seattle and then waited for something to watch.

In March of 1950 Mitch quit Boeing for the second time and went into business for himself as a television repairman.  Mitch was affiliated with McVicar’s Hardware Store and had a work area at the store. He purchased a 1951 Chevrolet Sedan Delivery for his new business.  It had two bucket seats, a flat floor in the back and no side windows.  Turn signals were an extra cost option (he added turn signals of his own) but it did come with a heater.  It had the RCA dog “Nipper” on the side and also the McVicar name. The family used it for all the trips to the Stillaguamish River and just about everywhere else.  Marc and Terry used to vie for the coveted “between the seats perch” – the end of the flat platform between the seats.  My brother Terry thinks that the site at the Stillaguamish River was on a farm belonging to relatives of their neighbors the Nelsons and let both families use it any time they wanted. There was a memorable trip home from the River when Marc and the family dog, Prince, ran afoul of a skunk.  They had to ride all the way home (about 40 miles) with Marc and the dog stinking to high heavens in the back while Mitch and Rosalie chain-smoked to try and cover the smell.
Summer 1952 at the Stillaguamish River
Aunt Vina, Uncle Teck and my Mom – Rosalie
Cousin Cheryl and my brother Terry

Dad and Mom – there was always a lot of laughter and joking around at the “River”

Mitch and Rosalie were finally able to buy their first house at 14310 24th Place NE in Lake City area in July 1952. The house had been built in 1944 and it only had two bedrooms so Mitch built another room in the basement for the boys. As Rosalie always did, she painted and wallpapered.

14310 24th Place NE

This story is from my brother Terry: Service Call

It’s afternoon at a somewhat upscale residence (must have been, it had a bidet for pete’s sake, even though I thought dual toilets was a strange idea) in a nice neighborhood in Seattle.  Mrs. Convey is sitting in her living room having coffee and a chat with a new neighbor.  As they are chatting, the front door opens, a man steps into the foyer, says hello to Mrs. Convey, goes to the kitchen, gets a bottle out of the fridge and pours himself a whiskey. The neighbor lady says, “Oh, is that your husband?” And Mrs. Convey replies, “No. That’s our TV repairman.”

In those days, people got TV via antennae and also the sets needed adjusting from time to time. So part of Dad’s business involved making regular calls to adjust TV antennae and so on.  Harry kept a bottle in the fridge and told Dad to feel free to drop in anytime he was in the neighborhood. Dad was in the neighborhood, so he dropped in.

Mom and Dad bought our house in Lake City (14310 24th Place NE) from Harry Convey, who became a regular customer of Mitchell’s TV Repair and a friend of the family. He even loaned Dad his prized Hudson Hornet for one of our trips once.

(Henry L. “Harry” Convey and his wife Dorothy were living at 2100 Ravenna Blvd in Seattle at least from 1948 through 1956.)

Another friend of Lionell’s had a little girl and Lionell thought she was just enchanting so he decided he wanted a daughter.  So they tried again. I was born in March of 1953 – and I had red hair after my hair grew in. My Dad named me Maevè. When I was eighteen months old, my sister Lisa was born in September 1954.  Lisa’s delivery was the only one that Dad was in the delivery room for (unusual for the time – only 5% of the fathers were present) and it was all he talked about for the next couple of weeks. Mitch and Rosalie now had two red headed little girls. He referred to Lisa and I as his “little chipmunks.”

Dad purchased a Sunset Western Garden Book for $2.95 in March 1954 and had a green thumb. He and Mom really worked on the yard and flower beds.

Another story from Terry - Tree Climbing:

One Saturday afternoon, when I was about 7 or 8, Mom looked out the kitchen window to see me attempting to scale a pine tree at the back of the yard. This particular tree was fairly tall, and the lowest branches were 15 to 20 feet off the ground. After watching me struggle with that infernal tree for several minutes, she pointed it out to Dad and suggested that he go out and find out what was up.  Dad found me in a frustrated puddle of tears at the base of the tree. When he asked what I was doing, I explained through my sobs that I was trying to earn one of my Cub Scout badges, and that one of the requirements was to climb at least 12 feet up a tree. (I wonder if they still ask Cubs to undertake such terribly dangerous tasks in this politically correct and oh so cautious day and age?)

Not having a clue how much 12 feet was and not knowing the first thing about tree climbing, I had set out on a futile quest. Dad explained that there was nothing to grab onto and thus I was barking up the wrong tree.  He took me to the front yard where more reasonable trees could be found with branches coming down to the ground. In no time at all, I was up the tree and very happy to have completed that part of my badge requirements.

One might wonder if Dad used this as an opportunity to teach me about setting realistic goals, asking for help, and various other life lessons. One could also ask whether Dad sat down with me, went over the stuff I was doing for Cubs, and then used this as an opportunity to teach me some things while spending some quality time with the little Nipper. The answer to all this is a simple “no.”  Parenting is learned by example, and let’s face it, when Dad was 7 or 8, he was lucky if someone was home let alone there to teach him anything.  He had to figure things out for himself, and the role of parent as teacher probably never occurred to him. I am sure that somewhere he wanted to do this, but for all his intelligence, I don’t think he really had any idea what to do.

I remember when Dad and Kay came to visit when Spencer was a toddler, and there was some problem with our fridge.  I can close my eyes and still see Dad crouched down behind the fridge with Spencer “helping” Grandpa. When I remember that interaction between Dad and my son, I am certain that he was thinking of another little boy from years before.

On weekends we often went to the Stillaguamish River for picnics with family and friends.  The River of my childhood memories was magical and always fun.  I can still hear our parents’ friend Gordy Nelson doing his bull elephant impression while swimming in the river. Dad would barbeque chicken with his special barbeque sauce or bake salmon in foil on the grill with relish, onion, pickle, mayo or tartar sauce. Unfortunately, the recipes were lost with him.

Summer 1954 at the “River”

One of my cousins just has snippets of memories about my Dad.  She remembers that he swore a lot but that might be because her father never swore in front of her.  She also remembered thinking that his TV repair shop was dark and messy.

My mother’s younger sister Cleta remembers that he was a very private man and that he never said much. Always in the morning he would sit at the kitchen table and have a cup of coffee and a cigarette. Cleta also thought his shop was very messy. When she would visit in the summer she would go out with Mitch on service calls and go up on the roof and move the antenna around so he could get a good picture. Cleta also remembers Dad coming home late at night and her sister Rosalie getting really mad at him and one time she took the broom and knocked him down the basement stairs. Cleta also says that if you needed him, he was there. She had a fight with her husband Haldor and Haldor left her at Dad and Mom’s, but Dad just told her he would take her home and took her back to North Bend in the middle of the night.

(On reading the comments about the messiness of Dad’s shop, my brother Terry finally understood why his workspaces have always been so chaotic – it’s hereditary!)

Dad’s 1954 or 1955 Driver’s License #783997 described his hair color as brown, eyes as blue and weight of 135 pounds and height of 5 feet 9 inches tall.

While living in Seattle all four children were given nicknames, with Rosalie naming Marc – Marcus Apopolous, Terry – Humphrey Pennyworth (after the cartoon character) and Lisa – Dupper Do Little (she would just happily sit where ever Rosalie would put her.)  Mitch nicknamed Maevè – Poot.

According to Terry (aka Humphrey), Rosalie continued to experiment with casseroles that were a continual source of amusement and dismay.  He remembers one called a “Shipwreck Casserole” – so named because it was made of layers of different ingredients like the decks of a ship.  He remembers Mitch commenting on how the name was appropriate for more reasons than that. 

Bud Fontaine had been trying for years to get Dad to give up the TV repair business and go to work for the US Forest Service. Finally, Dad agreed and Bud helped him get a job with the US Forest Service in John Day, Oregon.

Just prior to Mitch leaving for John Day, Rosalie and Mitch repainted the truck light green on top and dark green on the bottom.  He started work in September of 1956 for the US Forest Service working as a radio technician for the Malheur National Forest in John Day, Oregon where J. Malcolm Loring was the Forest Supervisor.  Mitch was having trouble finding a place to rent. On October 2, 1956, Mitch was still looking for a house.  The family was planning on joining him October 27th. Rosalie’s brothers Jack and Arnold were driving the moving truck down and Arnold’s wife Laura and Mom’s sister Stella were driving down with Rosalie.  Arnold and Laura were to join us in the area later when they also went to work for the Forest Service. Years later I was talking to Aunt Stella about moving to John Day and she related that she just felt horrible for Rosalie when she saw “The Cement House,” but after two months of looking it was the only place Mitch could find. I remember thinking the house was dark and the shower terrified me because I thought it was icky so Mom just gave Lisa and I baths in the kitchen sink. Terry confessed that he cried himself to sleep the first night there.

While in John Day for five years, we lived in three different houses as housing was extremely limited and there was nothing available on Government Hill, the Forest Service compound. The only thing that Mitch could find was what we termed “The Cement House” which was all concrete block construction on Highway 395 at 821 S Canyon Blvd.  Living there was also our introduction to rattlesnakes and Marc would go into the hills and first hunted rattlers with a shotgun, but when that got too easy, so he switched to his Winchester 30-30. He would bring home the rattles to terrorize the women folk with. Terry tried hunting rattlers once with no success. In fact, he saw only two the whole time in John Day - one run over on Highway 395 near the cement house and a baby that had wandered into the church parish hall.

1957 Aunt Laura and Rosalie on Easter Sunday

 From there we moved to “The White House” next to the S&M Motors – a Chevrolet dealership.  “The White House” which was at 142 NE Dayton only had two bedrooms so Marc and Terry slept in a bunk bed and Lisa and I slept in a Twin/Trundle bed.  Our phone number in John Day was “235” and when you picked up the phone you told the nice lady what number you wanted.

Terry, Mom, Marc
Maevè and Lisa
Standing next to Arnold and Laura’s car behind 142 NE Dayton

My Dad always made Christmas a lot of fun. He loved Christmas! He would spend the months before checking out likely trees while out in the forest on calls. The whole family would then head out and make the final decision on the Christmas tree for our living room.

While we were still in Seattle he had made a Santa with a red blinking nose for the front door. Sometime either in the late 40’s (probably 1946 when they first came out) he acquired bubble lights for the tree. By 1956 or so the ones with the glass slug were no longer available and he would spend hours repairing them or exchanging parts. The lights were also wired in series instead of parallel so if one light went out the string would go dark – this made it even more difficult because he had to spend time figuring out which light had gone bad before he could try and fix the light.

Dad also designed something which is commonplace today – and that is a dimmer box. He wired a box that we would plug the string of lights into it. It had a control knob so we could turn the tree lights bright or dim.

Anytime anything broke, Dad was the Glue King. He used epoxy glue which first had to be mixed together. It would kind of glob up around the crack but it wouldn’t ever break again.

In the spring and summer, we spent most weekends in the Malheur Forest having picnics.  Mitch, Marc, and Terry would target practice getting ready for hunting season in the fall.  Terry gave up the target practicing in the summer once they built the city swimming pool.  Marc also enjoyed the pool and managed to break his nose when he was diving.

In 1960, we then moved to the big old “Pink Farmhouse” at 173 SW Brent Street next to the Elks Club in John Day. As with each previous house, Rosalie painted and wallpapered the inside and made new curtains. 
First Day of School September 1960
Maevè and Lisa

When I had gastro (they were not sure if I had appendicitis) and was in the hospital (this happened when we were living in the pink house) Dad came in during the middle of the day to visit me with a BIG stack of comic books – all for me- I was in 7th heaven and just couldn’t believe it and he was grinning ear to ear.

The “Pink Farmhouse” had a very nice area that Mitch used to make his famous home brew.  My sister and I loved to go out with him to check the brew to see how it was progressing. It smelled just wonderful!

My brother Terry also remembers the home brew vividly. According to him, Dad would invite people home from work to sample his home brew. They would admire its pale colour and smooth taste, commenting on how mild it was.  Dad’s brew was indeed smooth. (I know from my own clandestine samplings.) However, it had deceptively high alcohol content. He would run it through a secondary fermentation in large jugs and bottles with extra sugar before the final bottling. Once he even tried to rig up a still for it. There were mishaps from time to time, with bottles exploding, although I remember that more vividly with a batch of root beer he made for us, but Dad had it down to a science. His guests who found doorknobs rather complicated to operate and who talked about “broad feet of lumber” after a sampling could attest to that.“

I also remember Mom mentioning that Dad would sometimes save regular beer bottles and carefully sterilize them with the labels intact. He would then put his home brew in them. He would uncap them in the kitchen so his poker buddies would not see the generic caps and then bring them out to the guys at the poker table who would then drink them not realizing they were drinking the “high octane” home brew.

Uncle Teck remembers that Rosalie’s brother Jack came down once to John Day with the grand plan of starting an insurance business and making a lot of money. Jack was told that he could stay with them but he could not touch Mitch’s home brew. Jack, of course, ever the con man, pulled bottles from the back of the cupboard, drank them, filled them with water and then put the caps back on and put them back. According to Teck, Mitch then declared that Jack could only visit for three hours at a time. Jack would also get my brothers allowances away from them, but with more subtlety, he talked them into playing poker with him.

At one point when Teck was out of work he came down and stayed with Mitch and Rosalie and tried to get on at the plywood plant. He was not able to get a job so he went back home to Packwood, Washington.

Whenever there was a fire in the national forest, Dad would head out to Fire Camp to set up and maintain fire communications.  He told me that everyone strived to be the lead vehicle because everyone in all the rest of the vehicles had to “eat dust” stirred up from the dirt forest roads. Woe to the lead vehicle who took a wrong turn because it would end up at the very end of the line. He really liked the food at Fire Camp because they served a lot of steak to keep the firefighters going. With four kids at home and the two oldest boys in high school, steak was not something he got much of at home. According to Terry, beefsteak may not have been that abundant, but the venison steak we had all winter was sheer ambrosia!

Dad told me once that he woke up with a rattlesnake in his sleeping bag though, unfortunately, I do not remember how he got out of that one except that it must have been “very carefully.”

Marc graduated in June 1961; Terry had completed his freshman year, Maeve the second grade and Lisa first grade.  During the summer of 1961 we took our one and only family vacation.  The six of us piled into the 1957 Mercury and headed for the Grand Canyon and Arizona and Nevada.  The whole family (minus Rosalie who hated heights) climbed a 100 foot lookout tower while in a national forest in Arizona. The entire family decided to take a short hike in Bryce Canyon that took us hours and hours; we never thought we would ever get out of the canyon alive. We came out of Bryce Canyon about six miles from the car. Marc and Dad hitched a ride to get the Mercury.

Halfway through the hike – we only thought we were tired!

I remember the side trip to the CCC camp at Cherry Creek, Nevada just vaguely, but according to my brother Terry, Dad took us a few miles off the main road to a place that might be somewhere near Ely, Nevada. It was a classic Western ghost town with a dusty, once-prosperous main street lined with 2-story buildings and a general air of abandonment and neglect. Dad said he had been stationed at a CCC camp nearby during the Depression. While there, he had staked out a silver claim in the hills close by. Unfortunately, he found it would cost $13 to extract $11 worth of silver, so he let the claim lapse. One night at camp, a train derailed in the area. Dad and his cohorts found a carload of canned beer in the wreck. The loaded a dump truck with cans of beer, backed it up to a creek, and emptied the load.  A good time was had by all. I really didn’t understand at the time what the desolate area had meant to him until after he died and I first read Ruby’s diary from 1937. Dad had been out on his own and starving until he started working at the CCC camps.

Later that summer, we moved to Portland when Mitch took a transfer to the Mt. Hood National Forest.  Marc stayed behind in John Day for a year to work.  We bought a brand new house in a sub division in the Rockwood area – 18930 NE Davis Street, off of 188th.  Our address was Portland, but our phone number MOhawk 5-9471 was Gresham. 

I can remember Dad sitting on watching the Flintstones which was a prime time cartoon show and laughing and laughing at Fred and Barney. Dad had insomnia and sometimes I would wake up in the night on weekends and get up and watch scary movies with him – I always threw the afghan that Grandma Ruby had made us over my head and watched the monsters through the holes in it. He loved black licorice, and I remember him eating it while we watched TV.

Dad composted before it was fashionable – and as a result, our house in Portland had huge dahlias. The Columbus Day Storm of 1962 caused store windows to bow in and out from the wind. In our neighborhood various homes had different kinds of damage – fences down, shingles lost, windows broken, but we only had a few Mitch’s giant dahlias blown over.
1963 Mom and Dad in front of the fireplace

I did ask Dad if we had any Indian blood in the family and he told me about visiting and Uncle on the reservation as a child. (When he and Mom were dating in 1940, his mother Ruby had told him not to tell Rosalie about the Cherokee and the Osage which he promptly did.  Ruby refused to discuss it so Aunt Dorothy never asked her but she remembers looking at family pictures and the women looked Indian so she asked Lionell about it – he confirmed it and was surprised she had figured it out. Both Ruby and Dorothy had high cheekbones and Dorothy had jet black hair.) I asked him how much I was and he thought about it and said 1/16th.

Mitch and Rosalie split up in September 1964 and the divorce was granted on January 23, 1965 and final in July 1965. On July 28, 1965 at 8:00 p.m. Lionell Burris Mitchell married Florence Kathryn Kilwine at the Wedgwood Presbyterian Church in Seattle. Washington. Mitch gained a stepson Michael.

Mitch and Kay
July 28, 1965

I can remember going with him to Seattle to visit Grandma Ruby while he stayed with Kay who had not moved to Portland yet (the Department of Transportation had purchased her house for the new interstate highway going through Seattle.) Dad was always going 80 mph when he passed someone.

They purchased a home at 2205 NE 27th Avenue, Portland, Oregon. It was a 4 bedroom 2308 square foot home that had been built in 1924. At the time they owned it, the downstairs had been remodeled but the upstairs had two huge bedrooms with the original push button lights and sinks in each bedroom. Dad had a shop area in the basement. The mayor of Portland lived one block away and they were just a few blocks from the Lloyd Center shopping area.

In October of 1968 Dad and Kay traveled back to Missouri and visited his Aunt Dunie Harry McBride. The old Burris house in Raymondville was now a saw mill but the old family store building was still standing.
November 1, 1968
Burris Store in Raymondville, Missouri

In May 1974 Dad had a benign tumor removed from the base of his spinal cord and from that time on it varied on whether or not he would feel up to visiting depending on how much pain he was in. He had suffered a lot of nerve damage some of which he thought came from being struck by lightning when he lived in Missouri. It wasn’t too bad at first, but I think the last four years of his life it had really been wearing him down.

Mitch’s mother died at home on December 23, 1975 at the age of 73. She hadn’t been ill even though she had been dying for 35 years.

Dad and Kay

Dad’s work was his pride and joy and his life in a lot of ways. When he would start talking about a project he was working on his face would light up and he’d become very animated.

Mt Hood Office – 1970

A letter from the Mt. Hood Forest Supervisor stated that in 1958 he had been recognized for an employee suggestion. In 1959 he received an Outstanding Cash Award and in 1976 a Quality Increase Award. The letter also said that “Those of us who had the opportunity to work closely with Mitch learned that he had a real interest in the people, not just to get a job done. His strength of character and wonderful sense of humor will be fondly remembered by his fellow workers.”

Dad was really quite brilliant and was self-taught. At one point, they were using a type of radio that had a component board that was supposed to just be thrown out when it stopped working because it couldn’t be fixed. Well, Dad delighted in doing the impossible and fixing the unfix-able. He figured out how to make a simple fix to the board and then had all the other National Forest communications technicians send their broken boards to him instead of throwing them out. He then fixed a huge boxful and dumped the box out on the Forest Supervisor’s desk. He saved the government thousands and thousands of dollars and received a fairly large cash award for his idea. He once told me that his working budget was whatever he asked for or wanted. He had various inventions and ideas over the years that saved the government a lot – and he gave a few ideas to the phone company too.

According to Terry, “Dad was big on technology. I can remember him telling me around 1979 that digital was the wave of the future in communications – long before it was used for much except for some specialized applications. These days, when I see some ‘technician’ screwing around trying to fix something, I think back to Dad, the high-school dropout who could look at a circuit diagram and not only tell you exactly what it did, but could also describe several variations and their pros and cons – all from memory. Sometimes I think he could read circuit diagrams the way some people can read music.”

 1980 US Weather Station built at Mt Hood National Forest - technician Julie Rodriquez

Over the years he had a lot of assistants that he trained for the Forest Service and at the time he died he had a female assistant – very rare at that time. He did just about as he pleased and couldn’t be bothered with all the government red tape. He would not go to any of the scheduled meetings they had and had to be tricked into going to one where they presented him with his last award. I almost died laughing when Dad showed me his “Smokey the Bear” Forest Service uniform they made him get – hat included. I don’t know if he ever actually wore it; it just wasn’t him. He was very well liked and had made friends all over the region.

On April 15, 1982, my Grand Aunt Veron called me with the news that Roscoe had died at age 85 and asked me to call my father and tell him. When I called Dad and told him, there was dead silence at first on the other end of the line. It had been 46 years and one month since he had last seen his father. I don't believe that he had heard from Roscoe either. He had said before that he was going to wait a few years to retire but he had realized that his health was getting worse. He had always had a problem with insomnia, but this year it had gotten worse and he said he couldn’t keep going to work on three hours of sleep. We talked for 70 minutes; it was the longest I had ever talked to him and we had a wonderful conversation. In the spring of 1982 after he had decided to retire, the Forest Service engineers had a dinner for him. He told me that he hadn’t been able to eat much but he was very pleased by the recognition. I had planned on surprising him at the retirement luncheon they had planned for him but he canceled it when he went into the hospital.

Kay called me on May 19th and asked me to come down for dinner on Sunday, May 23rd to talk to Dad about going to see the doctor.  Dad had already purchased a work bench full of electronic equipment, had price lists and a letter made up and customers and work orders already lined up. Even though he never admitted it again in the hospital, that Sunday he told me he had “all that equipment in the basement – some really good pieces – and he was never going to get to use them.” When he got my husband alone outside, he told him he thought it was cancer – something he never admitted to anyone else.

Dad was barely able to walk and unable to eat but he went to work for a few hours the day before Kay, Lisa and I checked him into the hospital on Wednesday, May 26, 1982. I still have to smile when I think of the young doctor’s face when Dad told him that he smoked four packs of Camels a day – and that he had been smoking for 50 years – since he was 12 years old!  On Friday they gave him a radiation treatment to give him a little time otherwise he would not have made it through the weekend. On Saturday I brought the kids down and Dad watched them down in the parking lot and laughed as they waved at him. Michael also came down from Seattle to see Dad. My brother Terry flew in from Toronto the following Tuesday.

When Dad was in the hospital he told me that he had a standing job offer from General Electric Company but he liked the Forest Service so he stayed with them. Dad also told me that he was fairly well-known in his field across the country and he would get call from total strangers from some companies back East who had been given his name and number when they ran into a problem and needed help – they had been told to give “Mitch a call.”

The day he died he was still employed by the US Forest Service. He died at 6:30 a.m. on Monday, June 7, 1982. He was set to retire on Friday, June 11th. We held his funeral on the day before, Thursday, June 10th at Washington Memorial Park just south of the Sea-Tac Airport in Seattle, Washington. He had a quiet, very simple funeral and the minister even had a southern accent and pronounced Missouri the way Dad did – Missour ah.

Even though my parents had been divorced for seventeen years and both had remarried, after hearing the news of Mitch’s death, my mother cried for the next three days.

After Dad's death his widow Kay moved back to the Seattle area to be closer to her son Michael. Kay died August 9, 2002 in Redmond, Washington. Michael had this to say about Kay and Dad: “Mom was a real character and so was my step-dad. They were both very honest, no BS kind of people and I respected and admired them both very much for their principles and ethics.”

All these years later his sister Dorothy seldom goes many days without thinking of her brother Lionell. As she says, “he was such a ‘special’ brother.”

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