Saturday, January 2, 2010

Our Friend and Classmate Artie Brierley

A year ago I never could have imagined writing about Artie in the past tense but here I am doing just that.

In the Spring of 2009, I reconnected with friend and classmate Artie Brierley after a great many years. He had discovered this Glen School blog you are reading and immediately understood it and frankly loved it simply because - like me - he loved his past, his friends, growing up - he had wrung life for all it was worth.

I remember meeting Artie Brierley when we were 5 years old - honestly don't ask me why, but I do have a phenomenal memory. He was as friendly and fun then as he was through Ben Franklin Junior High, Ridgewood High School and in 2009! I don't remember or know of a single soul who did not like him. He easily - with all the others from Glen School - made life growing up and going to school that much better. I mean can you imagine having Artie as a college roommate? How lucky would you be? You'd be guaranteed to have fun and you would find no truer mate than he.

Artie always had fun. Pictured here he is with good friends l to r: Tom Nepola, Artie, Paul Albus and Tom Cermack.

I remember back in Glen School that if he was appointed captain by Mr Bookstaver (our gym teacher), I'd hope he'd pick me and when I was selected captain, I'd hope to pick him!

Above is l to r: Gary Vukov, Craig Hopewell and Artie Brierley at Vuke's wedding. Gary was as close to Artie as anyone.

In 1993, we had our 20th Ridgewood High School Class of 1973 reunion in Mahwah, New Jersey. There were 14 Glen School alums attending that night. About midway through the evening, Artie took the mike and asked that all Glen School "kids" gather for a photo. I never would have shown it then but I was so pleased that someone had done that. It was obviously a group we were all very comfortable with - in fact my wife Caryn and I must have spent most of the evening talking to Cara Worthington and Karen Eide and other "kids" from Glen School. Artie simply reinforced this bond we have with each other - an irresistible bond I might add. It is indeed a tough one to explain to people. Recently someone had asked me "Why would you want to have an elementary school reunion?" (which we just recently had at the old school in November) - the only answer I could come up with was that you'd have to experience what we had to appreciate it - there were 40+ kids that went to Glen School, we had wonderful neighborhoods where we spent as much time as possible outdoors, we attended school from kindergarten through high school generally and for the most part we genuinely liked each other and I must say that I got much more out of that reunion than I thought possible.

A fuzzy picture cropped from the group photo of 1993 high schooll reunion (l to r) Jim Smethurst and Artie Brierley.

Well fast-forward to late December, 2008 when I started this blog and decided to revist and document our time growing up and attending Glen School. When Artie had discovered the blog, we began emailing back and forth and he started to send me some wonderful photos. We spent time on the phone talking about all the old names, even everybody from high school too.
Sometime around the beginning of summer 2009, through emails with Margaret Silvers, Artie, Ann Rimmer, Chic Voorhis and others - the idea of a reunion became inevitable. Artie immediately wrapped his arms around it and started helping me find more people.

In July, Artie got a group together for the Ridgewood 4th of July parade (always a classic) - and to this day I regret very much not being able to be there for that for obvious reasons.

Above l to r are: Cliff Clayton, Tom O'Connor, Artie Brierley, Cynthia Hoogland, Eileen O'Connor and Jeff Auger enjoying the great weather at the 2009 July 4th parade in Ridgewood, NJ. Photo courtesy of Cathy O'Neill.

Above are Cathy O'Neill and Corey Duvall. Sorry for all the maiden names girls - it just makes it easier when everyone searches for you! Photo courtesy of Cathy O'Neill.

Tom O'Connor and Corey Duvall enjoying the 4th of July parade in Ridgewood, NJ. Photo courtesy of Cathy O'Neill.

Well, Artie and I continued to talk about the reunion and how we needed to get some other classic people like Tom O'Connor and Tad Shepperd and Corey Duvall to come (guys whom he truly loved) and then suddenly there were other friends from high school like Jimmy Appleton, Daun Paris and Gayle Allard that wanted to come too - how it all evolved was just perfect and Artie was the biggest cheerleader!

Around the end of July, 2009, I had told Artie I would love to have the reunion in the gym at our old school but was getting nowhere with the Board of Education in Ridgewood. Living in town, Artie took the ball, went to the Board of Ed and suddenly he gave me the right names and phone numbers and we made it happen. Having it at the old school obviously made it that much more poignant and special.

Plans were moving along and people were getting excited about it, but on October 20, 2009 Artie suddenly passed away. It was devastating news - it truly was devastating. I mean I know Artie had been ill and had 2 amazing transplant operations but he really was doing quite well. The emails were flying and we all were very saddended that Artie would not see the fruits of his labors - he simply would have loved every moment of it! Can you imagine Artie's reaction as Jan Potdevin walked unexpectedly through the door that night? - like I said you can't explain these things. We had 6 teachers in attendance, we had our custodian - George McFall's - entire family there, we had 7 moms and a lot of other wonderful highlights. Artie's brother Robert came in his place that night and Artie would have just loved that, in the end, Gary Vukov came too!! (Very friendly inside joke! - Artie and Vuke were best friends). He would have been the king in his court. I miss him a great deal - what a penalty to have to pay when you reconnect with someone and then lose them all in such a short time.

Artie was born September 14, 1955 and grew up in Ridgewood, NJ - and came back to live in the town he loved so when he began his recovery. Though single at the time of his passing, he had 2 wonderful daughters - Erica and Lauren - who truly were the lights of his life. He admittedly lived for them.
Artie's daughters Lauren and Erica.

Cawtawba College in Salisbury, NC where Artie earned his degree.

After earning his degree in 1978 in Business Administration and graduating from Catawba College in Salisbury, NC, he started his own company which sold creative services for corporate meetings and special events in New York City. He absolutely loved the "Big Apple". He had a studio in Midland Park and then Glen Rock, NJ. He had a house on lakefront property in Highland Lakes, NJ which he just loved and found peacethere over the years and then his kidneys failed him in 2001. He would begin his long and successful road back. As Artie would say, he enjoyed a new and unique outlook on life - a second chance to live his life.

The lakefront in Highland Lakes, NJ.

One of Artie's favorite slogans was:

"Life shares well, A busy mind finds no peace, Like a person - and have many friends."

He was indeed a survivor and was given the miracle of life time and again over the course of 8+ years. He had both a kidney transplant AND a heart transplant which is incredible when you think about it. He even expressed his desire to find a soul mate and friend to share his life but his girls were admittedly what he lived for.

Each day that he was able enjoy the sun, he counted as a wonderful bonus. He loved his days outside and always brought along his camera. If you saw any of Artie's photos you could see this new outlook on life shining through - one album was titled "Sunny Spring Day" - he appreciated everything life gave him in his second shot at it.

He loved red wine. He was always there for his friends and always made time to laugh. He admitted that he lived his life to the fullest and always respected others. He absolutely loved to fish and the walls and shelves in his apartment were adorned with figurines and pictures of fish of all kinds. His taste in music was good old rock and roll like The Stones and he had for years loved "my man" Leo Kottke - and in particular when Leo played the 12-string guitar.

Artie's "man" Leo Kottke.

His favorite tv shows included anything to do with nature, history, science and cooking. His favortie tv network was MSNBC.

He also loved movies including "Hunt For Red October", "The Gladiator", "Braveheart", "Das Boot" and "Silence of the Lambs".

Artie as a baseball player for the Ridgewood High School Maroons.

He also was a jock at heart and in life. He was a member of the RHS baseball, wrestling and soccer teams. He loved the Yankees and he would have so enjoyed seeing his Yanks win another championship this past year.

He really enjoyed reading too and his favorite author of the moment was Paulo Coelho. He also loved "The River Why" by David James Duncan. A book about what Artie himself loved so much. The book basically conveys to the reader that you can fish all your life, but its not the fish you're after. Its a wonderful story of a man who comes to fall in love with both the wilderness and the woman who shares this life.

Life is filled with wonderful reminders of Artie's life such as the films he liked or the books of authors he enjoyed or the music he loved but I personally won't need any of that to really be reminded how wonderful a guy Artie Brierley truly was.

During the time of his recovery, Artie's daughter Lauren pointed out to Artie a famous quote written by Charles Darwin. It goes: "It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent but the ones most responsive to change." Artie adapted incredibly well to the changes in his life over the last 9 years and was at peace with who he was.

I'll end with a very simple and very appropriate quote of Artie's from the back of the Ridgewood High yearbook - "Take life as it comes!"

Ridgewood Baseball Association!

Its called the Ridgewood Baseball Association (now known as the RBSA - which includes girls softball). If you were a kid growing up in Ridgewood, NJ and loved baseball, you couldn't wait 'til RBA tryouts in the spring. Spring was all there was - no summer and fall leagues like today. For the last 8 years I have gotten to enjoy it all again as a head coach for my son in the spring, summer & fall.

Click on all photos to enlarge.

Above photo is from Paul McCubbin. This a Willard team and players include: Kevin Almquist, Mr. Almquist, Doug Place, Mac Smith, Peter Carroll, Mr. Barnett, John Krause, Ted Harrison, Bill Barnett, Rob Dible, Bill Nolan, Paul McCubbin, Mr. McCubbin, Kevin Atkins, Keith Boswell, Todd Kirkpatrick & Doug Perkins.

Paul McCubbin who authors the RHS 1977 blog, had these following memories about his dad John McCubbin and the RBA: "My Dad will always be in my mind about baseball, Boy Scouts, BBQs, and the PTA. He coached my brothers and I in baseball, and when we were through he headed up the Ridgewood Baseball Association (RBA) for a year. One of his favorite mementos was the paper weight they gave him for his long years of service."

As for me, ever since I was 4 or 5 years old I just loved baseball! I started collecting baseball cards when I was 4. My dad used to bring home 5 packs of cards every week when I was little (5 cents a pack - can you imagine?) - which he bought when he got the daily newspaper. Once I started getting an allowance I could buy my own. I remember he and I sitting at the dinner table and me asking him questions like "Is Mickey Mantle good?" "Should I keep Willie Mays?" - well, 4 years old ya know!? Anyway, my dad would tell me which ones to tuck away and not trade or flip to my friends.

I definitely got my love for the game of baseball from my dad - an old Brooklyn Dodger fan who by the way, was very upset when they moved to LA! My dad was a sports guy - he was short but he played semi-pro football in Bergen County - winning the championship one year with the Mercury's - he also played for a team called the Teaneck Red Devils. I still have his gold football which was presented to him after they won the championship!

Above is the Teaneck Mercury's semi-pro championship team. My father - Fred Flannery - is the one holding the football.

Sports was a Flannery thing - in fact my great-grandfather - John R. Flannery - was the father of american lacrosse! He owned a company that employed native americans that made wooden lacrosse sticks and he was inducted into the Lacrosse Hall of Fame in Baltimore, MD. In 1897 he established the United States National Amateur Lacrosse Association which consisted of eleven college and club teams which from 1897-1937 played for the "Flannery International Trophy" if you can believe that! It usually went to Oxford-Cambridge or Syracuse and in its final year was won back from England by an all-america team made up of college and club players. Amazingly the cup survived and now resides in the Lacrosse Hall of Fame with my great-grandfather's medals and such! The dates and all the names of the winning teams are engraved on the cup. I just had to share this as this is a piece of history I am very proud of and I realize has nothing to do with with baseball!

The above print shows the Shamrock Lacrosse Club in 1871 - champions of the world. John R. Flannery is the first player in the center row l to r. John, at the age of 21, was treasurer & secretary of the club at the time. It would be 6 years later when my great-grandfather would establish the first National Amateur Lacrosse Association.

Now back to baseball! As far back as I can remember, I would wait for my dad to get home from work and when he pulled in the driveway I would always ask him, "You wanna have a catch?" - not once did my dad ever say no! He put in long days but he was always there for a catch or to throw the football! In 1987, a movie called "Field of Dreams" came out - I'm sure most of you recall it. Well, my dad had just recently passed away at the time and watching that movie really had an impact on me. That scene at the end when Kevin Costner realizes that the player remaining on the field is his dad in his younger days - ugh, when he asks him, "Dad...wanna have a catch?" - well, I had now learned what a tear-jerker truly was! It is always the simplest of things that mean so much!

Incredibly, my mom had saved my very first baseball glove (shown above)! I remember the day I got it - 5 years old! Believe it or not I could catch a ball with it! It was a Rocky Nelson model (sorry Rocky, but hardly a name a kid would recognize then!)

In 1961, I went to my first Yankees game! How incredible that first time was - I even remember the drive into the Bronx. I remember the great anticipation of that trip and the excitement of seeing Yankee Stadium up ahead for the first time from the car - topping that of course was the walk up the tunnel to our seats - I'll never forget how incredibly green the grass was and the smells and the bright sunshine that day! What an impression it all made on me! At every game I always brought my glove in the hope that I'd catch a ball. I never caught one as a kid but I did finally catch one as an adult off Eddie Murray in the 1980's in right field - I gave it to my son recently!

The above photo was taken from the internet of Yankee Stadium - circa 1963.
One of my Dad's customers was Elston Howard the Yankee catcher. We used to see Jim Bouton sometimes at Johnnie's Barber Shop in Ridgewood. My father always brought home Yankee autographs and had taken me to some baseball dinners too. One of the special guests at one of the dinners was a young Bobby Cox (Atlanta Braves manager) - who used to play for the Yankees!

Being a Yankee fan in the early 60's was incredible! I mean going to the stadium to see players like Mantle, Maris, Ford, Berra - how exciting when you're a kid. Even my son emulates Berra (Ricky's nickname is Yogi in baseball). Dad always got box seats - and sometimes I was lucky enough to sit right behind the Yankee dugout. What a thrill to see Mantle or Maris walk up and down the dugout steps. My dad even took a home movie of Mantle (which I still have) - in the desperate hope that it would be that day he'd hit one out! I'll have to post the movie as soon as I can figure out how to do it! Margaret I will need your expertise on that one!

When I returned home from Yankee games I couldn't wait to meet up with my friends or head over to Glen School on my bike in search of some kind of baseball - stick ball, a catch, a baseball game, running bases or curb ball. Sometimes if nobody was around, I'd chalk up a box on the side of the gym and pitch against the wall in make-believe baseball games - Yanks against whoever!

In 1963, I joined the RBA - Tiny Tim league - didn't have t-ball then! I was 7 that spring and in 2nd grade. The most remarkable thing - looking back now - is that we really didn't have helmets!! (See photo of me in my living room wearing one them!) It was basically like a hard ski band for your ears - no protection for your head as it was open at the top!

Above photo shows me after a practice at Travell in our living room! Always had a bat, glove or football in my hand!
My first season was at the old Travell School before it was torn down to make way for the Travell that exists today. The field was all dirt! I think I played on just about every baseball field in town: Ridge, GW, Willard, Somerville, Vets, Glen School, Stevens Field and BF.

In the above photo you see the front of the Travell School - my Tiny Tim team played behind it.

Above is Andy Wright who lived on Salem Lane behind Glen School. He too was an RBA guy! Picture shows Andy posing in his backyard.

To kick off the season, the RBA always held a parade. We would start gathering by the train station near the George L. Pease Library and continue under the tracks, down North Broad Street, East Ridgewood Avenue and North Maple Avenue to Vets Field. I'm happy to report this tradition is still alive and well!

Above is Artie Brierley and Gary Vukov in back row. Front is possibly Steve Stewart, unidentified & Bobby Rogers. This was after arriving at Vets field when the parade was over.

Vets Field in Ridgewood as it looks today.

In the games, we proudly wore our RBA t-shirts and sneakers - in fact I lived in those shirts! My dad was so excited that I loved baseball that he threw himself into the RBA - he was at every game, helped coach and to my chagrin became a league umpire!

Before he recently passed away, Artie Brierley recalled the annual "Bucks for Baseball" campaign we always took part in every year! According to Art, "If you had a station wagon.......the RBA wanted your car!" Our dads would help drive members of the teams around town soliciting donations for the RBA. Artie loved baseball too! He played all through the various leagues and was a member of the Ridgewood High School baseball team with John Wescott among others. Artie also fondly recalled flipping baseball cards with us against the school and the pump station by the kickball black-top. Artie was also helping me to research the history of the Ridgewood Baseball Association at the time of his passing.

Above is a classic RBA photo. From l to r is Ken Merrill, Artie Brierley & Gary Vukov.
Above is the 1973 Ridgewood High School baseball team. Artie is in the middle of the front row. John Wescott is the 5th one in the second row going l to r.

After you paid your dues in the Timy Tim League - there was the regular Little League, Pony League and Babe Ruth. Everyone attended tryouts in the Spring. These tryouts were usually held at Ben Franklin Junior High School. From the tryouts, you were placed on teams based on your skill level. You also finally got a uniform once you graduated to Little League! However, you felt like an old-timer because the uniforms were so incredibly hot and huge - always bigger than you! I mean its one thing if the shirt is big, but the pants would barely stay up! Everyone needed a belt - not for looks - but to keep the pants up! You had classic stirrup socks and cleats - and in spite of how cumbersome the uniform was you finally felt like a big league ballplayer!

Above is Ricky Flannery when I played for MacHugh's. Photo was taken in front of my house.
Your team was usually sponsored by a local business. Among the teams I played for were Dairy Queen, MacHugh's, Elks Club and Marsh & Groat. I remember one of my coaches was Betsy Kline's father.
Above is Ricky Flannery when I played for Marsh & Groat. I was at the height of my pitching days on this team. Below is my old Marsh & Groat game schedule!

I played infield, centerfield and I pitched for several years. I was actually a pretty good pitcher - striking out double-digits on 3 occasions! I had a wicked sidearm pitch that guys always swung at - and missed! I always found it fun playing against friends - I was competitive but it was fun to compete against your buddies. I don't know why I didn't try out for the team at RHS - it is truly something I regret more than anything - no confidence and preoccupied!

Those of us who played ball (me, Ken Merrill, Gary Vukov, Bruce Meneghin, Jan Koper, Artie Brierley to name a few) were rabid baseball fans. I seem to recall that most of us were Yankee fans but that may not be entirely true.

Above you'll find another classic RBA team with Artie Brierley and Jan Koper in front (Artie is the tall one with dark jacket and Jan is next to him in light jacket)

Ken Merrill recently shared this memory with me:

"When I was in 3rd grade," (Fall 1963), "the Yankees played the Dodgers in the World Series. I was fortunate to be able to attend the first game of that series!" Ken also recalled that as kids we always talked baseball and he remembers us "talking about the Yankees and especially all the World Series ballgames." I'm sure we did it again in 4th grade because the Yanks played a better World Series only to lose to the Cardinals and Bob Gibson in 7 games!

Above is Sandy Koufax - Yankee killer in 1963!

The thing that stands out in particular about those World Series games is the transistor radio! In those days games were never played at night and we always listened to the games on the radio at school, on the way home or on the steps outside the house when you got home from school. While it was frustrating not seeing the game, it was terribly exciting to listen to - your ears would be glued to every descriptive detail and play-by-play. The suspense of not seeing it was such a thrill! What's Mantle doing?!

Above a classic 60's transistor radio that helped to fuel our imaginations!
Cara Worthington recently shared that she recalls Ken Merrill's special baseball glove and how much it meant to him. Cara goes on to say: "........ I grew up in NJ and all the boys had Mickey Mantle gloves - and I particularly remember that Ken had one. With that kind of Yankee pride surrounding me I really didn't have a choice but to be a fan. There really were no viable alternatives! I am not sure why I remember that Ken had a Mantle mitt - but it might be that it really meant a lot to him!"

Above is a Mickey Mantle model baseball glove - not Ken's though!

Of course one memory that stands out during the RBA years was that my teams almost always went to Van Dyk's Ice Cream after our games! This was a ritual that we all looked forward to on game day!

Our classic stop after baseball games - Van Dyk's Ice Cream in Ridgewood!
After a couple of years, my dad became an umpire. He would sometimes end up umping one of my games!! I will never forget when he called me out on strikes for the first time - I said "Dad I'm your son!" as if that made a difference! He explained to me on the way home that when he umpired he was not my dad!
Above is one of my dad's umpire schedules! How the hec did things like this survive the years? Among those he umped with included classic dads: Jim Corcoran, Gordon Brevoort, Frank Florence, Tony Pettofrezzo, Armond Stella and many others!

Those of us who were involved with Ridgewood Baseball got many years of enjoyment from it. The friendships and the sport itself were very special! While I didn't know it at a young age, sports can give a kid incredible confidence - you don't even have to be a great player to get so much out of the experience. The camaraderie can be what some kids need to help them fit in and give them confidence in other things in life.

We didn't have batting cages or pitching cages - man what we would have given to play organized ball in the summer and fall like my son does today. Today, I am a member of the board of Danbury Youth Baseball and as Commissioner I try very hard to make the experience of baseball as much fun for the kids as it was for myself when I was their age while also teaching them (kids of all skill levels) to be competetive without losing the respect for all aspects of the game. I am particularly proud to say that this past fall (2009) we established a Buddy Ball league for mentally and physically challenged kids from 5 - 18 years old. Our hope is to combine children from the neighboring towns and play in a travel format - visiting each town once for a game - this will begin in Spring, 2010. Bringing baseball to everyone who wants to play is incredibly rewarding.

As I said, I coach Ricky but I also use to coach my daughter Jennifer in girls softball before she reached high school age (2 championships by the way!). Jennie is now a junior in high school and is one of the captains of her varsity softball team and their chances are pretty good in her final 2 high school seasons. Ricky is a freshman and we are excited about him trying out for the Danbury High baseball team this spring. Here's a few pictures of their time in baseball and softball. Please forgive my being a dad with these next couple of photos!

Above is Ricky in the 2004 Spring season of Danbury Youth Baseball.

Above is Jennie in the 2001 PAL Girls Softball spring season.

Above is the last Cal Ripken team I coached before Ricky moved up to Babe Ruth. That's me on the far left and Ricky is the 3rd player in the back row from l to r.

Above is Ricky's first season in Babe Ruth (junior Babe Ruth) - this was last Fall when we won the championship - a very cold and wet night in early November 2009.

Finally, a real neighborhood baseball story! On June 18, 1967 there was a big game - a bragging rights game at Glen School - a father / son baseball game! From all accounts the boys won it fair and square but all had fun! Thanks to Margaret Silvers for allowing me to use the photos! These precious photos were taken by her father Sam and kept in his special scrapbooks. Enjoy!

I think that is Mr. Daly on the left in the hat and Jeanne Stanley-Brown clapping hands in the shades (sitting)!

Mr. Henckler up at the plate. Who did the lines?!

Mr. Nunno shown above clapping. Lis Ege is the girl standing and clapping in the center of photo and Margaret Silvers sitting in white next to her.

All the mom's taking in the game. Lis Ege doing someone's hair, Margaret Silvers in the front the girl who's getting her hair done and it looks like Trisha Daly in front.

It ended up to be quite a game but the boys beat the dads 3-2! Back row from l to r: Stan Knight, Matt Lalumia, Robbie Silvers, Bob Daly, Ronnie Knight, Hank Henckler, Rick Knies. Front row l to r: Kary Samson, unidentified and Bobby Bennett. The little boy at top left is Timmy Daly and the girls in the lower right corner are Margaret Silvers, Lis Ege and her sister Tina Ege.

Above photo shows a very respectable dad's team! from l to r: Mr. Daly, Mr. Lalumia, Mr. Samson, Mr. Silvers, Mr. Nunno, Mr. Henckler, Mr. Knight, Mr. Bennett and Mr. Terhune. One is unidentified.

The same field used for the father/son games as it looks today.
If you have anything you can add to this story including photos - please contact me at