Six-O

Another day older, another year older, another decade older, and as I cross this threshold, I want to go back and reflect on some of the amazing things that have happened in the last twelve months. I am also going to reflect on some significant memories from my past, because a lot of things have happened in the last sixty years.

The Fifties…
I was born on February 23, 1956 in Springfield, Illinois. Less than two years later, we moved to Greenville, South Carolina. I still consider Greenville my “home-town“.

The Sixties…
I grew up with the space-program, and like many boys, I dreamed of being an astronaut, but that dream was foiled by my less-than-perfect eyesight. Only the best of the best were allowed to become astronauts. We moved to the St. Louis area in 1964, and moved back to Greenville in 1966. We lost grandpa McFarland on my eleventh birthday, February 23, 1967. We moved to the Atlanta area in 1968, and then to Smyrna, Georgia in 1969.

The Seventies…
I started high school in 1970, at Campbell High School in Smyrna, Georgia. Right after school was over in 1972, I went with the Cobb County Honor Band on our trip to Toronto, Canada, where we played a joint-concert with a local band and did some touristy-things. We moved to Oklahoma City in 1972, and I immediately went to the University of Kansas for the Midwestern Music and Arts Camp. After Music Camp, I went to Colorado for church-camp. I entered my Junior year of high school at Northwest Classen High School in OKC.

I graduated from high school in May, 1974, and went into the Army in June, 1974. Between graduating from high school and going in the Army, I drove up to Denver, Colorado to spend some time with Rev. Ben Male and his wife, Dee. That was a super-special time. Ben and Dee now are in heaven, so we will have a joyous-reunion when I get there.

After graduating from Basic Combat Training at Fort Polk, Louisiana, I was sent to the Joint-Services School of Music at Little Creek Amphibious Base in Norfolk, Virgina for six months. After completing music-school in February, 1975, I moved back to Oklahoma, to Fort Sill and joined the 77th Army Band. I was at Fort Sill for the balance on my three-year enlistment.

After my service in the Army ended in June 1977, I moved back to Oklahoma City, and took a job as a welder at CMI Corporation in the Rotomill and Finish-Grader mainframe division. I passed my Fitter-B test about six months after I started at CMI.

I met Connie, my first wife, in late 1977, and after a brief courtship, we got married on April 15, 1978. We bought our first home in Tuttle, Oklahoma, and moved in shortly after we got married. It was about half-way in between where Connie was working and where I was working and would soon go to college.

I started college at Oklahoma State Technical Institute (OSUTI, now OSUOKC) in September 1978, and graduated with an Associates Degree in Electronics Engineering Technology in August 1980.

The Eighties…
I was recruited right out of college to work at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and started working there in early September 1980. We bought our first home in Albuquerque in early 1981.

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In May 1981, I got my Amateur Radio (Ham) license, and shortly thereafter, I joined Albuquerque ARES, which supported Search and Rescue (SAR) missions with communications. Within a couple of months, the group voted to make me their President, much to the chagrin of “Mr. ARRL” because I wasn’t a member of ARRL. A few months later, some of the members approached me about forming a new team, a team which would provide field-communications and base-camp support for SAR missions. New Mexico SAR Support Team came into being. We still cooperated with ARES, but while they were doing home-based communications, we were in the field.

In about 1984, several people I knew were in the process of forming another team, the National ELT Location Team (NELT), so I joined that effort also. The NELT mission was to locate downed aircraft by means of their locator-beacon (ELT). Some of our members were top-scientists and engineers at Sandia and Las Alamos, and they got busy designing affordable equipment and the techniques to use it effectively. There was equipment for locating ELT’s available, but it was neither affordable nor was it particularly accurate. With equipment in hand we started practicing to learn how to use it, and use it effectively. Needless to say, we practiced a LOT.

Most of us had joined Civil Air Patrol (CAP), so we worked cooperatively with CAP aircrews. I flew one mission with CAP as an ELT-Location Specialist. We flew from Albuquerque to Tucumcari, New Mexico, where a signal had been heard by a search-satellite. The “ELT” turned out to be one of the transmitters at Tucumcari Airport. The transmit-relay had stuck “closed” causing it to send out a continuous signal. Airport staff had to get special-approval to turn that transmitter “OFF“, but once they did, the signal went away.

I worked over two-hundred missions with either NMSAR or NELT between 1981 and 1993. Yes, I found quite a few dead bodies from aircraft-crashes, and even though every find was tough, the “reward” was giving the grieving-families closure. What is particularly tough is when children die as the result of their parent’s stupidity. I have seen that too. I did have one “find” with a “happy-ending” which resulted in a “save“, and that made it all worthwhile. We were fortunate that a member of both NMSAR and NELT was the Director of Security at Sandia, since it was his responsibility to approve our paid-time-off for emergency-services missions. He was usually out in the field with us, so approval was almost-automatic.
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Our first child, Rebecca, was born in September 1981.

Our second child, Carrie, was born in November 1982.

We lost my mom’s step-father, Grandpa Anderson, in February 1984. We lost my wife’s father, Dad Shepperd, in September 1984. Our third child, Jonathan, was born right after Thanksgiving 1984.

We bought our second home in Albuquerque, which was quite a bit larger to accommodate our growing family, in early 1985.

Our fourth child, Miriam, aka “Micro“, was born in July 1989.

The Ninties…
After 12-1/2 years in Albuquerque and at Sandia Labs, we decided that we wanted to move back home to Oklahoma. I moved my family to Minco, Oklahoma just before Christmas 1992 and we put our home on the market. After Christmas in Oklahoma, I went back to Albuquerque to sell our home and finish out my time at Sandia Labs.

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My time at Sandia Labs was very interesting. We were constantly growing our technology to keep up with evolving requirements for our testing services, which meant that I was constantly working on designing and implementing those new testing capabilities. I also had to keep pushing our instrumentation suppliers to provide us with more capable instrumentation. We were doing things that no other lab in the US, and maybe in the entire world, was doing. I was also responsible for the instrumentation on a couple of multi-contractor long-term test projects. That was the most technically and professionally challenging AND rewarding time in my career, but the handwriting was already on the wall, as programs were being cut along with the funding. Within two years, the department had been disbanded and the facilities were moth-balled.
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At the beginning of April, 1993, with our home sold, I moved back to Minco also. I took a job as a welder and mechanic in a brother-in-law’s welding and truck-equipment shop, and we started looking for a piece of land to buy out in the country.

By June 1993, we had bought five acres of land and a mobile home, and gotten the mobile home moved and set-up. That was our last family home.

In September 1994, I took a job as the Maintenance Foreman and Safety Manager at Exiss Aluminum Trailers in El Reno, Oklahoma. That job lasted almost exactly three years before Exiss eliminated all first-line managers, including me. I found out later from one of the men who used to work for me that management had assigned three people to do various parts of my old job but they didn’t have a clue what they were doing. Some “streamlining“…

On October 22, 1997, my wife sat in the living-room of our home, put a pistol to her head, and pulled the trigger. Our oldest and youngest daughters found her dead on the floor when they got home from school. She was buried a few days later on a wind-swept hill in a nearby country cemetery. Those were some of the darkest days of my life. I have written quite a bit about suicide and her death in “No Easy Answers” and “The Faces Of Suicide“. Connie is in the arms of her Lord, waiting for me to get there too.

A few months after my wife’s death, I sold both the mobile home and the land because there was no way I could have continued to live there. Our faithful shepherd-husky mix, Fussy, also died not long after Connie. Dad and I buried her where she died, in her favorite spot in front of the home.

Early in the Spring of 1998, I met Sandy D, who lived in Phoenix. After emailing for a while and talking for hours, I flew to Phoenix to meet her. We got married in Phoenix in August 1998, and I moved her to Oklahoma City, where I had bought and remodeled a mobile home for us to live in.

In December 1999, we flew to Florida to spend Christmas with Sandy’s parents and visit her brothers. During Christmas week, we strolled the beach in shorts and a T-shirt while Oklahoma was suffering from a brutal Winter-storm. I asked Sandy if she would be interested in moving to Florida, and without any hesitation, she agreed that would be a good idea. Before we got on a plane to fly back to Oklahoma, she had two job-offers, one with a firm reporting-date. We were moving to Florida.

The 2000’s…
We arrived in Florida on Valentine’s Day, 2000. It didn’t take us long to find an apartment that we could rent by the month, because we were planning to find a piece of land to buy and a mobile home to put on it. We moved into our new, custom-ordered home less than ninety days later. Over the next two or so years, I built a covered-deck on the back of the house and a twelve-by-twenty-four shed.

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In early 2001, I joined the Coast Guard Auxilliary. Even though I enjoyed being out on a boat, I have never owned one. For the uninitiated, the acronym B-O-A-T means “break out another thousand“, because boats are very expensive to own, operate and maintain. Not to worry though, several other people in my Flotilla owned boats so I could hitch a ride often enough to obtain necessary certifications and maintain my competencies. I ultimately got Boat Crew, Coxswain and Personal Watercraft certifications, along with Communications and Navigation.

Several of the members were also members of a small Volunteer Fire Department, and since I had had an interest in becoming a firefighter since I was in high school, I also joined that Department. I quickly discovered that, in addition to having tattered, worn-out gear, they also didn’t have much of a training program. I knew enough to know that I didn’t want to fight fires with no training.

Fortunately there was another Department close-by that DID have a training program, so I went there for some training. It was also much closer to where I lived, so I joined it. From Basic-Firefighter, I was able to progress into Fire Fighter I, which, by then, had become the minimum-requirements for new members joining the Fire Service. Basic FF was a 40 hour course, and FF1 was a 160 hour program.

In July 2003, I became certified as HAZMAT Technician. In August 2003, I completed Firefighter I training and also became certified as an Emergency Vehicle Driver. I went through in-house Driver-Engineer training with our Captain, passed my check-ride with our Assistant Chief and became an Apparatus Driver-Engineer. To say that we trained constantly is an understatement.

In July 2005, I successfully-completed the Fire Instructor I course at the Florida State Fire College, and became an NFPA-Certified Fire Instrusctor in August 2005. I went through training to get certified to maintain and repair our new Drager SCBA’s (air-packs). I was promoted to Lieutenant in early-2006.

After I lost my eye in April 2007, I stepped-down from being a Lieutenant because I didn’t want to be a safety-liability to any fire-suppression team I might lead. The Chief asked me to become the Department Safety Officer, which I was happy to do. I retired from the fire-service in December 2012 when I moved down to the Orlando area.
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In August 2004, we rode out Hurricane Charlie in Daytona, Florida. We also rode out three other hurricanes that year, Sandy at her work, and I at the Volunteer Fire Department I belonged to. Even though there was some damage in our area, nothing on our property suffered any significant damage.

Over the next couple of years, we saw our property-taxes and insurance go up significantly. Property insurance companies raised rates to help cover their losses from four hurricanes, and mobile-home owners were hit hardest by the rate-hikes. As a result, we decided that we couldn’t afford to keep living in Florida for much longer, and we certainly weren’t going to be able to retire in Florida, so we started looking for property in the Carolina’s. Even though we liked some land in northern South Carolina, we weren’t able to put a deal together. We finally found a home in Mount Holly, North Carolina that we liked and was in our price-range. Sandy was able to get a transfer to a facility in Charlotte, so we celebrated Thanksgiving 2006 in our new home.

Even though Sandy had a job, I needed one too, particularly since we had not been able to sell our home in Florida before we moved. The same housing price-slump that had made the home in Mount Holly affordable also trashed home-values in Florida. I had been working in a bicycle shop, but none in Charlotte were looking for help. I had also spent quite a few years doing facility maintenance, but all of those jobs required knowledge and experience with the newest programmable machine controllers, which I didn’t have. Finally, almost in desperation, I called the old bicycle shop up, and they wanted me back.

In early 2007, I went back to Florida to work, and hopefully sell that home. Then disaster struck. On April 8, 2007, Easter Sunday, I woke up blind in my right eye. I had had an eye-stroke. My dad had already had two eye-strokes, so I was familiar with them. That nixed my plans to go to my church’s Easter sunrise service. I was able to get in to see an eye specialist the next day, and after taking pictures of the inside of my eye, he gave me the bad news. The likelihood of getting my eyesight back was slim-to-nil. I also had sky-high blood pressure, so he told me to go to an Emergency Room, which I did that evening. I was admitted to the stroke unit at Monroe regional Medical Center in Ocala, Florida, where I spent four days getting tested and medicated. My wife didn’t come down to see me in the hospital, and didn’t even send me a “Get Well” card. That was the turning-point in our relationship. She filed for divorce just a few weeks later. I was no longer an “asset“. I had become a “liability” she wasn’t willing to deal with. Our wedding-vows had become a joke.

In the divorce, she got sole-title to the home in North Carolina and I was stuck with the property in Florida, which I couldn’t sell and couldn’t afford to keep. It went into foreclosure a couple of years later. I also lost my vehicle because I couldn’t afford it either.

The ink was barely-dry on the divorce-decree when I met Tammy, who would become my third wife. We dated for several months before getting married in June, 2008. In the mean time I had bought a thirty-six foot travel trailer for us to live in. She filed for divorce in September, 2010, after going to Wisconsin on an “extended-vacation“.

2010 to present…
I had moved back in with my parents in early September 2010 because my dad was sick and declining-rapidly. We put dad in a Hospice facility, but he didn’t die there, so we had to put him in a nursing home. Dad died October 1, 2013. Dad is in Heaven, so I will see him again.

In July 2011, my brother Darrell lost his battle with cancer. On the way out to Oklahoma City for his memorial service, I stopped and spent some time with Rocky, my baby brother. I hadn’t seen Rocky since 1974, and since then, he had become a semi-quadriplegic. He was injured in a motorcycle accident while responding to a fire-call. During the memorial service, which Darrell had planned in advance, we got to hear from some of the people who had worked with him about his impact on their lives. Even though Darrell wasn’t openly-religious, he had a deep reverence for God’s Word and studied it a lot. That I will see him again in Heaven was an immense comfort to me. During the service, someone asked about the mysterious “Three Musketeers“. The remaining two of us were there to honor the memory of our departed-brother. After the service, I was able to spend some time with Tammy, my younger sister, and Don, my older brother. I also got to spend some time with Joe, the third member of our “Three-Musketeers“. I also hadn’t seen Joe since 1974. It was great to be able to spend some time with my “other” family. Not all “blood-family” is truly FAMILY, and not all FAMILY is blood-family. Those of you who have friends who have become FAMILY understand what I mean. Tammy had put me back in touch with Darrell, who I also hadn’t seen in many years.

That trip ultimately lasted thirty-one days and covered fifty-two hundred miles. From Oklahoma City, I drove west to Albuquerque to visit my dear friend, and former work-partner, John and his wife, Sue. John and I worked together for about eleven years while I was at Sandia Labs. They treated me to lunch at La Salita, the Mexican restaurant that we had frequented while I was in Albuquerque.

From Albuquerque, I traveled westward towards Gallup, New Mexico to see my dear friend and brother Rich and his wife Phyl. Rich and I go back to about 1982. I was his best-man when he and Pat got married in 1988. Rich had lost Pat to cancer in 2008, just shy of their tenth anniversary. Rich was my best-man when I got married to Tammy in August 2008. I was again Rich’s best-man when he and Phyl got married in early 2002. To say that we have a lot of history between us is an understatement. I spent almost a week with Rich and Phyl, and we had a great time seeing the sights in western New Mexico and eastern Arizona. Rich was my partner on several SAR missions.

From Rich and Phyl’s place, I headed back east into Oklahoma. After staying overnight in Oklahoma City, I headed to Muskogee to see an old high-school buddy. Emery and I played in the band together, but after high school, we lost track of each other for several years. Emery was pastoring a church in Tuttle, Oklahoma when I caught up to him in the mid-90’s. By 2011, he was the District Superintendent of the Muskogee District of the United Methodist Church. How he became a pastor rather than a lawyer is a fascinating story. Emery was in college in a pre-law program, on a collision-course with law-school, when God directed him in a much-different direction, to Bible college. I got to visit and have supper with Emery before I checked into a motel for the night.

Then I headed up to southwest Missouri, to Rolla, which is the home of the Precious Moments Chapel Center. I have been to the PMCC a couple of times before, and even though they have scaled-back some parts of the Center, I thoroughly-enjoyed my visit there. Then I headed northwest to Springfield, Missouri to spend a couple of days. While I was in Springfield, I went down to Branson, Missouri and toured the Veteran’s War Museum. They have memorabilia from World War I to the present. Particularly impressive was the life-size bronze statue of the fifty-soldiers from the Vietnam era.

Then I headed up to St. Louis to spend a few days, see some sights, and catch up to another old friend. I went to the Gateway Arch and went down into the Museum of Westward Expansion, which is under the Arch. Not even pictures can do that museum justice. I also went to Missouri Botanical Gardens and spent a full day there until my arms couldn’t take any more of wheeling my wheelchair around. I only saw about a third of that magnificent place. On my last day in St. Louis, I got to eat lunch with Gene, my old choir director. I sang under Gene in the choir at Seven Rivers Presbyterian Church in Lecanto, Florida before he moved on to St. Louis. It was wonderful sharing a meal together and reminiscing about our times together. I was also in his church the Sunday before we met for lunch and got to hear some of his superb piano and organ playing.

I finally headed back south towards Florida, expecting to be home in two days, until disaster struck. I was two hours south of St. Louis when a young lady didn’t see me as she was entering the interstate. She clipped the right-rear door of my Durango and sent us into a 270 degree spin at sixty-five miles and hour. When we came to a stop, we were rear-end-first into a very-deep ditch. I wasn’t hurt, but my Durango was much the worse for the accident. I finished the trip in a rental car, with a friend calling me every hour to make sure that I was okay. Thank you Deb! You were my travelling-home Angel. The insurance company totaled my Durango.

In May 2012, I went up to Greenville, South Carolina to visit another brother, Steve, and his family. Steve and I go back to about 2003 when we were both in the same fire department. In 2010, after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil-drilling rig, we put together a forty-hour HAZWOPER course to teach to people who were going to Alabama and Louisiana for spill-cleanup. Great minds really DO think alike, because when we got together to put iron-out the curriculum, our rough-drafts were almost identical. While Steve was getting our curriculum approved and a course-number assigned by the Florida State Fire College, I was putting the over-eight-hundred Powerpoint slides together. By the time we were done, the presentation was up to nine-hundred slides. Whew! I spent two weeks in Greenville, staying in a motel at night, and working with Steve during the day. Steve was working as a radio-repair technician in a small radio shop, and since I have a background in radio communications, it was an interesting two weeks. One Sunday, we all packed into my vehicle to do some sight-seeing. We found a beautiful state park to explore, which also gave us some nice photo-opportunities. One night Karen cooked steaks on the grill, and that was the best steak I have ever eaten. She knows how to do it right. I have known their daughter, Allison, since she was a baby, and she is growing up to be a very smart, talented and beautiful young lady. Allie is a joy to be around. I must mention that we almost lost Steve in early 2012. He had got bitten by a brown-recluse spider on his foot, but hadn’t received proper care for the bite, and it became massively-infected. He had a massive heart-attack while undergoing a bariatric-chamber treatment, and only quick bypass-surgery saved him. He still has many ongoing health-problems, including kidney-failure from all the antibiotics he was given for the infection in his foot.

I met Sandy N in late 2012, and after a very brief courtship, we got married December 6, 2012. I moved my trailer down to the Orlando area and we set up housekeeping. Less that six-weeks later, she moved out while I was away for a doctor’s appointment. By the time I got home, all she had left was a note. She moved back in briefly in June 2013, for two weeks, but I haven’t seen her since October 2013. So much for our wedding-vows.

In late March 2013, Liz moved in next door to me. Over the last two and a half years, we have become like brother and sister, as I have taken care of her and she has been there for me. Yes, I have another sister. I have mentioned Liz and her challenges in other posts.

I posted the first two articles to this blog on December 31st, 2013, kicking it off with “The Old Knight” and “Who Is YOUR Jesus Christ?“. It is a labor-of love because I can’t see me writing for a living.

The last twelve months…
Early last year, I started getting a “vision” of a ministry at Cypress Cover. It was something I couldn’t shake, and now I know why.

Last spring, our pastor preached a series of messages on the theme “If you are going to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat“. Maybe that was the “nudge” I needed to start working towards starting a ministry at Cypress Cove. It was also part of the inspiration behind a few of my posts.

I went to the Christian Naturists Festival at Lake Como Resort last July, and it was an incredible blessing. It was where we launched the dream of a Christian ministry at Cypress Cove. You can read more about that event at “Christian Naturist Festival 2015 – Lake Como Resort“.

The Bible study ministry was launched at Cypress Cove on November 8th, 2015. A dream had become reality.

On December 6th, 2015, the Bible study ministry was recognized as an official organization by Cypress Cove management and we were given our own time and space to meet. That was another significant milestone.

We held our first public Bible study meeting at Cypress Cove January 3rd, 2016, which was a milestone in this ministry, because up to that point, it had been a private, in-home Bible study. Our attendance has been up and down, but there is a lot of enthusiasm among the regulars.

I went up the following week to spend some time with my mom and get checked-over by a dermatologist. The dermatologist said that I look good.

I had my episode of tachycardia January 26th, 2016, and spent 23 hours in Heart Of Florida Hospital. That is chronicled in “Invincible“.

Finale…
This is by no means comprehensive, but I am not writing a book about my life. In some ways, this is just the tip of the iceberg, a window into what my life has been like for my sixty-year journey through life. For more of the “back-story” on some of these events, I invite you to check out “Why Am I Here?“.

God is THE most-important Person in my life, and serving others is part of serving Him. I have devoted a lot of my life to serving others, and even though I haven’t done a very good job of showing God how much I love Him, I hope that He is pleased with my service. I am still very-much a “work-in-progress“, but I know that God isn’t done with me yet.

I pray that God uses me in extending His kingdom for many more years.

In Christ,
Steve

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