Monthly Archives

April 2017

DHS Classmates

Still Marching to His Own Beat

April 26, 2017

These two are just incapable of bad pictures

Somehow, Bryan can even make a selfie stick cool

A smiling pirate

Jazzy Jeff  hasn’t gotten off the leg press since HS

The dream is still alive, albeit in the next generation…

The Mitchell family enjoys snow sports!

I’ve added a number of references below to specific areas of the recording to target.  Just copy this link into your browser to listen to the audio at:

  1. ​Let’s start with the most important news I learned.  Bryan Mitchell possesses a cassette tape of recordings of the garage band, “Da Bruise Fairies”, that none of us ever heard perform in HS.  Kyle Gupton, Pat Phipps, Nathan Yanasak, and sometimes Joe Reynolds.  Now, if even one of us owned a cassette tape player…You can listen to Bryan talk about their garage band around minute 36.
  2. Are you still a garage band if you practice in the band hall?
  3. Let me say this about his pictures on Facebook.  Bryan and his wife take great pictures!  Who knew Bryan Mitchell was so photogenic?  As you scroll through, you’ll wonder like I did.
  4. Bryan’s yet another classmate with whom I never shared even one class.  Our connection was through soccer and a shared group of friends, namely Ben Neubauer, Tom Ward, and Tommy Watkins.  Cool that he and Tommy did a couple of post-grad road trips.
  5. Bryan is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.  One aspect of his character that really stood out was that, while he expressed frustration on rare occasions, he was unwilling to speak poorly of anyone.  Ever.  Even in sports contests where it is a time honored tradition for people in his role to call people out.
  6. Everybody early on my list arrived there for a reason, some shared experience or loose ends.  With Bryan, there were a couple of things.  The first was something I witnessed we were young that I never understood and of which I have been unable to let go.  The second involves guilt tied to soccer.
  7. What I witnessed with Bryan that I’d never discussed with him was his terrified reaction to his father showing up at a soccer practice.  That was one of the reasons I had him so high on my list; it was a memory that still rattles around in my brain because I experienced the feeling just by witnessing his reaction.  If you’re interested, we begin talking about this around min 22.
  8. The 70’s and 80’s were a much different time in terms of divorcing parents and impacts on the kids.  Some of you may remember when Ponder Paul’s dad “kidnapped” Ponder for a year or so.  I believe that was early junior high.  Ponder preferred to live with his dad.  He and his younger brother were willing participants.  Bryan was in a different situation.  He was living under the threat that his father would take him against his will from his mom and move away.  Must have been tough.  You just never know what people are going through.
  9. Yes, I sometimes recoil when I listen to the questions I ask in these sessions.  I have no idea why I carry some of these memories around with me and why exactly I think resolving these fragments in my mind trumps good manners.  Some of what I ask is private and buried deep in the past.  I’ve been very fortunate that people have been so open.
  10. Let’s talk soccer.  If you follow this blog, then you’ve been reminded that Dickinson varsity soccer, which would win a state championship shortly after we graduated, wasn’t great.  Or good.  Or even mediocre.  I felt bad for the talented players.  I felt worst for Bryan, who took a physical beating seemingly in every game.  The great irony is that I played “stopper” in front of him and worked off my frustration by taking a hunk of flesh from opposing teams when I probably should have been protecting Bryan.  I received some all-conference recognition; Bryan got the wind knocked out of him and cracked ribs.  How did Bryan feel about those teams?  Did he harbor any resentment?
  11. If you played soccer, you’ll want to hear Bryan talk about it, starting around 13:00.  Bryan’s recollections sound reminiscent of Ralph Youngblood’s.  Maybe what was hardest had been that the youth teams had so much success.  The reversal of fortunes was obviously disappointing.  We had fun and made the best of the situation.  Bryan remembered the pain, but didn’t seem to hold any grudges.
  12. Something I never understood and wanted to get clarity around was exactly how Bryan Mitchell ended up a goalie.  He was very good, but he met none of the expectations I have around goalies.  He wasn’t tall.  Or a peacock.  He didn’t fight or talk trash opponents or yell at his teammates. Bryan wasn’t certifiable.  Most importantly, I never heard him talking to himself.  He was was a laid back, soulful guy.  Interesting to learn he didn’t have an explanation.  Wasn’t a desire of his, exactly.  Just kind of happened.
  13. In minute 20, Bryan talks about the storm / flood in ’79, having 6 feet of water in his house, spending the night in the attic, then being rescued by the National Guard.
  14. Every call I make, I learn something new and surprising.  On this call, Bryan acknowledged that he wasn’t focused academically as a freshman and wasn’t able to march with the band as a sophomore.  House Bill 72 applied to band, too, apparently.
  15. The reason to share this story is that the experience of missing out on marching season sophomore year was a turning point for Bryan.  It’s when he discovered that his passion was for music and developed more focus academically.  He credits Don Owens and John Gossett for this turnaround.  John Gossett continues to pop up in this blog was apparently a real difference maker.
  16. Don Owens made a big difference in my life, even though I never played in the band.  I’ll save that story for another time.
  17. When I asked Bryan to name the most talented musician while we were in HS, he named Kyle Gupton.  He then spent some time talking about the person he considered the best percussionist Joe Reynolds.  Joe’s name has come up a number of times on these calls.  Joe is still a professional musician of sorts, performing with the USMC band in DC.
  18. An amazing achievement to remember is the marching band going to states three of the four years we were in HS, winning once and placing second another time.  As much as Dickinson would like to be a football town, in some objective sense we were a marching band and color guard town.  I can’t believe I just wrote that.
  19. One thing you’ll hear me say on the audio is that Bryan was the only person in our class that I thought would be a professional musician.  As I said earlier, Bryan just had a soulfulness about him.  I was kind of right, at least for a while.  His journey post high school begins around 39:30.  Includes a double major in music and psychology at SHSU.  Instead of him playing drums for a band and touring, however, Bryan’s career began as a music therapist.
  20. Bryan’s career has been interesting.  That conversation starts around min. 47.  He followed a job opportunity out of college to Camarillo, CA to work with mentally ill adults.  Includes 70 mile commutes in SoCal (can’t imagine), an injury caused by a patient.  Then moved into orthopedic sales.  Did loans and mortgages.  Earned an MBA along the way.  Now works in a divisional Business Development role.  Lots of changes and challenges, some beyond his control.  Bryan in adulthood has proven the same in adulthood as he was as  a goalkeeper…resilient in the face of adversity.  Worth a listen.
  21. As someone who has moved a number of times in my adult life, building friendships can be tricky.  Listen to how Bryan made friends.  Probably accelerated his social life by 6-12 months by sitting next to a friendly and helpful older couple.  Starts around min. 53.  Ultimately led to to Bryan meeting his wife, Kim.  Great story!
  22. Before there was “Stepbrothers” the movie, there was the odd couple pairing of Jeff Arnaud and Bryan.  Starts around min. 27.  One of my favorite series of questions I was able to ask Bryan was about his relationship with Jeff.  Jeff began attending DHS in high school.  Jeff ran with a faster crowd.  Bryan was extremely well-liked, but not as outgoing.  Jeff was a body builder; Bryan a musician.  I knew nothing of the history or logistics, which was interesting to learn.  Jeff’s dad moved Jeff from Austin so that he could be with Bryan’s mom.  Bryan and Jeff periodically switched bedrooms for a sense of equality.  Fascinating stuff!
  23. I’d also wondered about the chemistry between the two.  They seemed a bit of an odd couple and I don’t remember seeing them socialize together.  These days, these types of arrangements are common.  That doesn’t make these relationships any easier.  I know someone, for instance, who’s family had two sets of rules for eating at family dinners – children of the mom didn’t have to eat everything on their plate, whereas children of the father did.  Bryan was complimentary of Jeff and said they got along well.  Bryan just laughed when I inquired whether the parents had asked him about circumstances behind Jeff’s shaven eyebrow.  And, yes, they’re still family and still see each other periodically.  Jeff’s even been out to Cali.
  24. In minute 1: 11, Bryan and I share a laugh about, in Bryan’s words, “the most uneventful prom night in history”.  We were in the same after prom condo along with classmates like Tommy, Ben, and Kurt, among others.  Ben mercilessly beat us in cards to the point that we all just went to bed.  I’d had many later night with my church youth group at that point in my life.
  25. Tommy Watkins, Tom Ward, Karen Ganze, Michael Small…these were the names Bryan served up as future blog interviews.  Duly noted.
DHS Classmates

Kelsey Nalepa Remembered Through Her Dad’s Loving Eyes

April 12, 2017
  • ​The question I’ve been asked most frequently since last Thursday night is “how is Marcus?”  Every time I’ve had to answer that I didn’t know.  We’ve exchanged some texts, but I saw him and spoke to him for the first time last night at the viewing.  He spoke onstage about the conversations he was having with Kelsey in his head.  Marcus said he was focused on doing things just right for his daughter, Kelsey.   It was as though the whole time he was speaking not only for her but to her.
  • Marcus was gracious about and maybe astonished at the public response to his family’s loss.  The response was exactly what you’d expect if you’ve been following social media.  The outpouring of support and compassion has been powerful and uncontrollable.  For those of you who donated, he expressed humility and gratitude.
  • Marcus referred to Kelsey throughout as a “bright light”.  If you’d ever met her, you know how spot on that was.
  • A few anecdotes he shared...
    • Kellen, Marcus’ son, was apparently a perfect baby.  After his birth, Marcus and Nicole discussed having four or five children.  After Kelsey, they decided…we’re good.  
    • She was the one who challenged Marcus and Nicole as parents to become an even better team.  You could tell Marcus loved this about her spirit.
    • He imitated how she would stand in the crib and demand to be doing something other than just playing by herself in the crib.
    • Marcus talked about Kelsey knowing what she did and didn’t want.  Kelsey wasn’t interested in riding a bicycle and never learned, in spite of him volunteering to help her.  He was baffled but he respected that she clearly was hearing the beat of her own personal drummer.  She instead chose to ride her big wheel which, in his words, was “way past its prime”.​
    • Marcus relished the “good cop” role he played with Kelsey.  He regretted not recording some of her stories.​  I got the sense that maybe he had thought about it well before the accident, as he sensed that she would soon be old enough that she wouldn’t be nearly so free in what she shared with her Dad.
  • Marcus glowingly described Kelsey as “stubborn, stubborn, stubborn” and strong willed. He talked about her negotiation skills.  Even though I had never witnessed these skills in full force, I knew what he was really saying.  Kelsey had been just like her Daddy in those respects.
  • He called her the smartest member of his family.  He spoke with deep, heartfelt regret about his curiosity and desire to see her mix of brains, strong will, and incandescent personality brought to the world, to learn what she might have become.  Marcus isn’t an exaggerator.  He is very matter of fact.  So when he spoke that her absence would be felt by not just her family, friends, and community, but also the world, that registered with me.
  • Marcus asked everyone in the room to raise their hands if they thought that Kelsey was their  best friend.  A number of hands shot up.  I thought his point was that she, again, was like Marcus, who had a half-dozen to a dozen people at any point that would claim him as best friend, myself included.  His point ended up being that her brother, Kellen, was her best friend.
  • He spoke gently about Kellen’s troubled dreams at night the past two days of time traveling back in time to change the course of events and to save his sister.
  • Marcus’ tone changed from loving reflection to resolute leadership as he asked the congregation to support Kellen in the weeks, months, and years ahead.  The sweetness of his dreams of time travel bely the grief and trauma he’s experiencing.  Kellen has lost not only his sister, but also his best friend.  This message from Marcus was the one that most broke my heart as I began to process what he was calling us to do and why.
  • I’m sorry I don’t have more on Nicole.  I hugged her and muttered, “I’m sorry”.  It’s all I could muster.  I can tell you this.  Marcus talked about arriving home for the first time after leaving the hospital following Kelsey’s death.  He said to Nicole: “I don’t think I can live here anymore”.  She responded that she couldn’t live anywhere else.  Kelsey and her memories were still alive in the house.  Marcus, when he heard Nicole, understood and agreed.  I thought to myself…follow her, Marcus.
  • He spoke of the vision he and Nicole had for their house and backyard as the place where all the kids hung out.  Their intent was to build a pool.  That plan would go on for Kellen’s sake, but it visibly hurt him that he wouldn’t get to watch Kelsey and her friends live out that vision that he’s had since he was young.  This was one of only two times where Marcus appeared to struggle to maintain his composure.  You could feel and hear his sense of loss and pain.
  • Marcus kissed Kelsey’s forehead in the casket, then turned and led the congregation in a touching and spontaneous round of This Little Light of Mine”.  It’s the song he keeps repeating to himself in his head to remind him of his daughter, to put a smile on his face, and to get him through the day.
  • For those of you who aren’t familiar, it’s an old African-American spiritual.  You can listen here to an extended version of which I am I fond:
DHS Classmates

The Sound & Fury of Bernie Smiley

April 4, 2017

This is the only 80’s prom pic I can remember where I find myself talking about the guy’s hair

Crossfit Bernie

Lord Bernie

Bernie loves him some Applesauce!

Hangin’ with his high school fellas

Post DHS

The many sides of Bernie Smiley

Audio => Yes, it’s long.  Clocks in at almost an hour and forty-nine minutes.  It’s also worth it.  Bernie doesn’t disappoint.  Even with the high expectations with which I arrived, he is even more fun and fascinating than I remembered.


  1. Bernie Smiley was high on my list, but he took a while to get back to me.  Maybe that’s because we were friends, but hadn’t spoken since the first semester of sophomore year.  Or maybe it’s because the guy is kind of busy, if you monitor his many trips out of country and nights out to see live music or the performing arts.  Whatever the reason, I was glad to get reacquainted.
  2. Has anyone who has spent their entire life in Texas ever sounded less Texan than Bernie Smiley?  And, no…I don’t think he’s cut his hair since 10th grade.
  3. Something you’ll enjoy…Bernie is still slinging music lyrics and movie quotes, just like he did in our younger days.  One interesting development in the adult Bernie is that he intersperses his pop culture references with Shakespeare references and quotes.  Ron Proctor would be pleased.
  4. Why Bernie?  He’s a good spirited guy who was probably more memorable than influential, but, man, was he a one of a kind.  I also remember him being expert in diffusing conflict.  Bernie was an eccentric; he was just interesting to be around.  He also went through the most interesting social transformation I remember seeing in HS, which led me to wonder how exactly his story would go.
  5. Let’s start by debunking a myth – that Bernie Smiley had an easy upbringing.  Turns out he wasn’t born on third base.  To hear this on the audio, tune in at min. 28:30.  Bernie first joined our class in the 6th grade.  His dad was a heart surgeon.  His mother was stunningly attractive and the perfect host if you went to his home.  From anyone in Dickinson’s point of view, he was well off.  Bernie was also very smart and upbeat, even if he would occasionally veer into the bizarre.  All of this masked a difficult childhood of which I learned for the first time on the call.  The man that I thought of as his dad was actually his stepfather.  His actual dad had been a blue collar worker who died of cancer when Bernie was 8.  Bernie had to experience his mother protecting him from his own father.  He also watched his dad die at home while Bernie’s mother cared for him.  His mother had been a nurse that had supported their family through difficult times financially and emotionally.  Bernie actually had been born on the wrong side of the tracks.  Nothing about his developmental years had been easy.  His stepdad changed the circumstances and course of his life.  Maybe the best part of Bernie’s adult story is that he nurtured a spirit of gratitude for his stepdad and that as a grown man he had a chance to play that role for another.  Very touching to hear him discuss his relationship with his stepdaughter.  More on that later.
  6. Just another reminder that you never know what is or has gone on with another human being.  I will say that with this revelation about his childhood, the teenaged Bernie begins to make more sense.
  7. Not surprisingly, Bernie has had an interesting adulthood.  Listening to the audio, I may have shortchanged his post-grad life to garner closure on open questions from our youth.  Luckily, Bernie is a genius storyteller.  Bernie’s story may require follow up from me in the future.  I don’t think I even scratched the surface.
  8. If someone said Bernie Smiley attended three different colleges and earned four different degrees, including a PhD?  Believable.  If you’d suggested Bernie would work as a bartender for many of his post-DHS years, I would have bought that.  I bet he’s as good at bartending as just about anyone alive.  Similarly…if you’d told me Bernie would teach English in HS or even in a post-grad environment, I’d buy it.  Makes sense.​  It’s how he did these things that is so riveting.
  9. Bernie attended St. Thomas for undergrad and then switched to SFA for his Master’s, which included a teaching certificate.  The key turning point was when he was asked to join LaMarque as an English teacher in the second semester of a school year.  Not exactly where promising young teachers dream of landing.  LaMarque wanted him back and asked him what they could do to retain him.  He wanted to teach Literature to Seniors.  To his surprise, the principal basically made him Ron Proctor in his second school year of HS teaching.  Kind of crazy.
  10. LaMarque is 88% African-American.  Really, not surprising that Bernie was accepted there.  What is kind of surprising is where the relationships he developed at LaMarque led.  He elected to pursue and attain his PhD at Texas Southern, where many of his former students attended and encouraged him to join them.  For non-Texan friends reading this, Texas Southern is a historically black college.  Bernie’s face spent years on their marketing materials.  Great story!
  11. Bernie now teaches English at College of the Mainland (COM).  He said he most often runs into former DHS grads when their kids show up as HS seniors attending COM to earn college credits.  Bernie has a real passion for the mission of community colleges and the students that they serve.  I couldn’t agree more, something to which my son can attest.  They are an amazing value.
  12. The other fun story from his adulthood is how he met his wife, Trish, a.k.a. Applesauce.  I won’t get into the details, but he spent six months meeting her once a week for lunch and getting to know her before their relationship shifted to romance.  We didn’t invest much time talking about his marriage, but listening to the way he speaks of her just kind of makes you feel good.
  13. One of the touching aspects of this story is Bernie’s relationship with his stepdaughter, who was already three years old when he met Trish.  When a daughter is interested in vampires, how many Dad’s or Step-Dad’s take that daughter on a 1:1 European trip to see where Vlad the Impaler lived and terrorized?  Exactly one that I know.
  14. Seemingly overnight, Bernie went from popped collar preppy in jr. high and early high school to wearing all black and trench coats.  His peer group shifted from the smart and athletic to what some might have referred to as the “Dark Side”.  I witnessed this but never asked…what exactly happened?  How did you end up your core group of friends to be the likes of Jerry Garrison, Andy Powers, Russell Ralston, Rusty Bolen, and the Bros. Culler?
  15. His answer wasn’t as dramatic as I expected.  Did something happen at home that caused him to rebel?  No, something much more mundane…the DHS schedule maker.
  16. What Bernie came to understand later as an educator is that extracurricular activities also drove lunch schedules, which was the free time in the school schedule where bonding could really happen.  When he removed himself from the football program, he found himself on the lunch track with the kids whose electives were more in line with “shop” classes than extracurricular activities.  He fell in with that crowd for social rather than maybe the antisocial reasons I’d assumed.
  17. Bernie refers to that period of HS as his “reprobate years”.  If you listen to the audio, you’ll hear me refer to the crowd Bernie ran with as “The Outsiders”, like from the novel of the same name.  As a grown man, I struggle to use the unkind labels that were used in HS.  Bernie is very complimentary of what he found in this blue collar group…unassuming acceptance.  Listen to the audio in min. 41, but this conversation continues on and off for the full interview.   It was really this conversation that had kept Bernie Smiley on my mind for the past 30 or so years.
  18. Bernie was fast, but ball sports weren’t his passion.  He was into the arts.  If you’d have asked me as freshman or sophomore where I saw Bernie as far as extracurriculars, I would have pegged him as a natural to join drama and perform as a lead in school plays.  He had a larger than life personality with a voice, facial gestures, and body language that project well.  I’d have only suggested performing arts because he had never participated in choir or band.  So I had to ask…why not choir or band?  His answer again was simple…his passion was listening to music, not performing it.  He discussed a scene from “Almost Famous” and Penny Lane urging young William to stop thinking critically and just feel the music.  He discusses this starting in min. 22.
  19. If asked for a single word to describe Bernie Smiley as a younger man, I’d have said, “audiophile”.  Music coursed through him in a very visceral way.  As a middle-aged man with a broader understanding and vocabulary, the word I’d choose is “aesthete”.
  20. I once had the occasion to watch “Purple Rain” with Bernie.  It was my first viewing, whereas it might have been his 100th.  You could hear him singing every song and reciting every word.  The experience was cultish.  To me, Prince was a narcissistic, self-defeating, misanthropic character who objectified women and beat up his girlfriend.  His music was easier to like without the movie.  For Bernie, the movie was a musical equivalent of James Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”.
  21. Here was a surprise…I never saw Bernie with a girlfriend in HS, which has always seemed like some gaping hole in my memory.  Of course he had someone, right?  His junior and senior year he dated Annette Smith, Christina Smith’s older sister.  You know, the wicked smart one two year older than us who aced the SAT with a perfect score.
  22. Along those lines, Bernie and I discuss John Hughes starting around min. 37.  You’ll probably agree with me that Bernie could have been a character in a John Hughes script.  The character he most identified with?  Judd Nelson’s portrayal of John Bender.
  23. Do yourself a favor.  Go to FB.  Type in “Bernie Smiley photos”, then just sit back and look at all the sites he’s seen and the places to which he’s travelled.
  24. I never really thought of Bernie as an achiever, and yet he is.  He’s just not a climber.  He seems to have found his niche, happily moseying down his own personal path.
  25. The most powerful interview experiences are those where I’ve learned something new and substantial about the person on the call that shaped what appeared like aberrant behavior in our teenage year.  I was lucky that Bernie was so open and honest.  To paraphrase Shakespeare, the past is but prologue.