Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Guest TigerBlog - Tad La Fountain

TigerBlog's maternal grandmother Judy stood a robust 4-10 or so. It made her the taller of his two grandmothers. 

Somewhere around the time TigerBlog was way too young to remember, Judy introduced him to Yoo-hoo, and a lifetime love was born. TigerBlog has never had a sip of coffee or a glass of wine, but he's probably consumed a few truckloads of Yoo-hoo.

These days, though, it's a tough choice for him. If you offered TB a Yoo-hoo or a Diet Peach Snapple, he'd probably lean to the Snapple. 

Remember last year when TB went through his phase of writing about what he saw on his Snapple caps? Well, he got past that, until the other day, when his cap said that the closest U.S. state to Africa is ... Maine.

What? Maine? Yes, Maine juts out way to the east of Florida, but it also is pretty far north. Can it really be the closest to Africa?

TigerBlog needs some time today to figure this out, so he's not going to be able to put any other thoughts together. Fortunately, Tad La Fountain, Class of 1972 and an ardent fan of Princeton Athletics, has offered to take TB's place for a day.

TigerBlog has a standing offer to turn the blog over for a day if someone has something to say. Almost nobody other than Jim Barlow or BrotherBlog has ever taken him up on it. 

And now, you can add La Fountain to the list:

Back in the 1880s (seems like just yesterday), two alums and another gentleman from Princeton purchased some property down on the Shore at the top of Barnegat Bay. 

They organized the Bayhead Land Development Co. (which a sign painter for the railroad station mistook as “Bay Head”, which it has remained ever since) and began to sell properties to people who realized that the afternoon seabreezes offered a welcome respite from the summer weather of New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia. 

About 20 years later, my maternal great-grandfather moved there from inland and began a small grocery. At about the same time, the Philadelphian Society (an evangelical group on campus) initiated a summer camp for disadvantaged youth.  

Quickly outgrowing the town, the camp moved to the north shore of the nearby Metedeconk River, and thereby led to the road along that shore being named Princeton Avenue. Eventually outgrowing even that facility, the camp found acreage up in Warren County outside of a small town named for its long-time postmaster, who was also the leading railroad magnate of his time and a good friend of Princeton trustee Moses Taylor Pyne – John Insley Blair.

In 1927, the spring my father was born, his father purchased a lot and built a house on Egbert Street in Bay Head. A few years later, my maternal grandfather built a house on the bayfront right next door, alongside his older brother’s house and adjacent to lots on which his two younger brothers would eventually build.   

When my dad turned 14, he was given a Delta lathe (my grandfather was a contractor and my father joined him in the family business, which went on to build all of the buildings on the NJ Turnpike and several edifices in the Princeton area) and a new 19-foot Lightning sloop. Two years after getting the boat, he won the Barnegat Bay Yacht Racing Association Lightning championship and finished third in the Lightning Internationals.  

The Colonel didn’t allow my dad to apply to Princeton (the “country club”) after graduating from Blair, so he went to MIT and won the freshman intercollegiate championship before being drafted into the Navy right at the end of the War.  He married the girl next door in 1949, and I came along the next year.

When I turned 8, my grandfather gave me and my sister a Duckboat (the junior trainer at Bay Head), which I named “Sitting Duck.” Appropriate, since my inability to swim led to a fear of water that meant she never left the dock for three summers. In one of those ironies that makes life hard to figure out, my grandfather died on June 1st the next summer; two weeks later, school got out, we went to Bay Head, I got in the boat and basically never got out.   

The next six summers led to numerous Club and Bay championships, including making it to the semifinals of the Sears Cup (the North American junior championship) before losing to the defending champ on the last leg of the last race.  The next spring, as a high school senior, I was on the practice crew for Gardner Cox ’41 in the American 5.5-meter sloop for the ’68 Olympics.   

Having seen the boat unused for three years, my grandfather never got to see what an important component of my life he had given me.

The other interesting thing that happened that Sears Cup summer was walking past the tennis courts and being stopped dead in my tracks by a girl whom I didn’t recognize at first – in fact, the younger (much younger) sister of the girl who crewed for me. Tica Simpson and her older sister Nancy were the daughters of Jim Simpson ’38.   

Twenty years later, Nancy married the third member of our Sears Cup crew, Monte Franklin (whose father – Bud Franklin ’33 – was a doctor at McCosh Infirmary and for years served various Princeton teams).  In 1990, I was asked to be their son’s godfather; his godmother was his Aunt Tica.   

Two years later, I convinced her to move to Princeton from South Carolina, and we were married in the Stony Brook Meetinghouse in 1995.

Two years ago, Tica took a job teaching at Chatham Hall in Chatham, Virginia – an Episcopal girls' 9-12 boarding school far away from Princeton and Bay Head.  For someone who has lived his entire life within 60 miles of Trenton, it’s been an adjustment – not bad, mind you, but an adjustment.  A few times a year we head back to the Garden State. Once such time was last Christmas, when we were able to attend the Christmas Eve Day party in Pennington thrown by Doug Kabay ’71 and his wife Anne. As at previous parties, I ran into men’s swimming coach Rob Orr.  

In another supreme irony, the kid who couldn’t swim (and passed the Dillon swimming test by quickly heading to the shallow end and renaming himself “Bob”) had ended up married to the daughter of a former Tiger swimming captain. I mentioned to Rob an idea I’d had, and he was enthusiastic about it. So over the past couple of months, I’ve figured out how to go about turning the conceptual into the actual. And it’s working.

What’s “It?”  Well, in July of 2010, Gary Walters ’67 invited me up to his house on Cape Cod for three days for a retreat with himself, Ray Close ’51, Bob Booth ’67 and Chris Thomforde ’69. A family matter cropped up at the last minute and Bob couldn’t make it, so Gary went to his bench and called in Dick Kazmaier ’52 (not a bad reserve!).   

We each were to give a 90-minute presentation on what we’d found meaningful and significant in our lives. Try to figure out what you’d parse your life into for such a group. I ended up talking about “The Three Strands of an Interwoven Life” and how sailing, stocks (I’d spent my career in the investment business) and spirituality were constants over the years that had led to lessons in each area being applicable to the others, even with no ready connection.   

In toto, these efforts had led to two paramount concerns: success and stewardship. With the former, I’ve come to the conclusion that defining success is harder and more important than attaining it. With the latter, it’s my belief that life is not a destination or a journey, but rather a relay race – except that we don’t what the baton will look like, who will pass it to us or whom we’re supposed to pass it on to. What I do know is that the worthwhile life will have that nature, and it’s best to be open and prepared for it.

So for Princeton Swimming, I’ve been making two batons, which will be passed each year from team captains to team captains.  For the men’s team, the name of Jim Simpson ’38 has been burned into the inside.  For the women, it’s the names of Cathy Corcione ’74, Carol Brown ’75, Jane Fremon ’75 and Barb Franks ’76 – the members of the national championship relay team.   

The batons are made of alternating staves of orange-dyed figured maple (“Tiger Maple”) and jet-black ebony. How were they made? The staves were cut on the table saw, then passed through the router table to give them the necessary profile for what’s called a “bird’s beak” so that they nest into an octagon.  But of course, they’re squared and only remotely resemble a baton at that point.   

They need to be rounded and smoothed, which is an operation performed on the lathe that the Colonel gave my father 75 years ago this spring – downright poetic, in several ways.

And my other grandfather? Otis Strickland followed his older brother Arthur to Penn, but only lasted a year.  Then went to Columbia, but only for a year. Ended up going to ‘Bama, but even that only lasted a year. But while in Tuscaloosa, his closest friend took him to play golf, and he was hooked.  Despite never getting his degree, he became a successful real estate developer and was able to spend much of his later years golfing at his courses – at Manasquan River in New Jersey, Jupiter Hills in Florida, Muirfield and Prestwick in Scotland and at his beloved Pine Valley, where he had one of the 13 houses inside the course.   

He loved me even though I went to Princeton and was a sailor. He paid my way through business school and didn’t get to see me attain success (as I defined it) on Wall Street.  And now I coach the golf team at Chatham Hall – go figure. He’d no doubt be tickled about the blind leading the visually challenged.  But even when I play by myself, I’m never alone – he’s out there with me, just like my grandfather La Fountain when I’m out on the boat.  They’ve passed batons onto me, and I’m still trying to figure out how to best keep my end of the bargain.

The attached picture shows the assembled and glued women’s baton alongside the finished men’s baton. Note that the dyed maple clearly shows the “tiger stripes.”  What’s not visible from that perspective is the hollow core created by the bird’s beak design – which was originally used to make light but strong spars for sailboats.  

This opening is just wide enough for a small USB flash drive, on which the captains can add anything they’d like to pass along. I’ll start the process, though, with the third verse:

“And when these halls in dust are laid,
With reverence and awe,
Another throng shall breathe our song,
In praise of Old Nassau.”


Unknown said...

Thoroughly enjoyed reading this post, Tad ... Well done, my man!


Billax said...

As did I, Tad!