Friday, July 20, 2018

Murfin Mid-Summer Memoir—Cheyenne Far Away and Long Ago

Cheyenne's 16th Street a/k/a Lincolnway/U.S. Highway 30.  My destination most Saturdays when I had money to spend.  That Army surplus store on the corner was a favorite.

It is an unsettled day in McHenry County, Illinois.  A short streak of picture perfect summer weather with brilliant skies but without oppressive heat and humidly, has given way to leaden skies and periodic thunder storms.  The next two days look tempest tossed and soggy as well.  A newly retired old man idly wonders if the Cubs at Wrigley Field will get in their afternoon game against Division rivals the Cardinals or what it might mean for tomorrow’s rare twi-night double header.  The prospect of a baseball void encourages the mind to wander to other summers long ago and far away.

Take those in Cheyenne, Wyoming a more than half a century ago.  Which one to pick?  Each was a little different as I drifted from childhood into my early teens.  Let’s pick, say, 1963 for no good reason other than it popped into my head first.  I would have been 14 years old, between years at Cary Junior High.

We lived, as we had since a traumatic move in second grade, in a ranch house with a single car open carport on Cheshire Drive, the last block after a steep hill before the town suddenly ended in open prairie.  The long runway of the airport ran on the other side of a barbed wire fence along the alley behind our house.  You could while away hours some days watching the National Guard play with their Air Force hand-me-down F-86 fighters, or United Airlines 707 and Caravelle jet liners from Denver practicing take offs and landing over and over with their pilot trainees.  But except for the jets, which did not fly every day, and the ever-present wind, it was a remarkably quiet neighborhood where the Meadowlarks sang their sweet song from the fence wire every morning and evening.
A Wyoming Air National Guard F-86, already an obsolete jet fighter, takes off from the long runway of the Cheyenne airport which ran behind my house

That summer the old neighborhood gang that had spent our summers in endless imaginary games of backyard war, or cowboys and Indians with a little hide-and-seek and backyard baseball with red rubber balls thrown in, was drifting apart.  My twin brother Tim, the good looking one, had gone off with the older boys led by King Van Winkle.  I was allowed, grudgingly, to tag along occasionally, but was not really welcome.

That summer they resurrected a half tumbled down dug out they had built the year before in a futile attempt to turn a stretch of prairie burr, sage brush, button cactus, and tumbleweed into a ball diamond.   This year by scouring/looting construction sites for 2x4s, 1x6 planking, and plywood they had built the most elaborate two-story fort ever from which to base their operations, which were not always as innocent as Little Rascals  short.

There was a crawl through door with a school combination lock on the hasp—I was never trusted with the combination—leading to the dug-out first floor.  Then a trap door led to the second level, which was divided into two small rooms.  Since the first floor would fill with water after a rare thunderstorm, the second floor was where they kept their treasuresgirly magazines and liquor pilfered from their parents—and did their most secret stuff.  Which was mostly smoking.  You could see clouds of smoke ooze between the ill-fitting wall planks and smell the place a hundred yards down wind on a good day.  I was told King knew certain girls who would come over and put-out for booze and cigarettes.  This may or may not have been true.  There was also card playing, the stakes often being stuff shoplifted from local stores or liberated from open garages.  It was that kind of place

In late summer, just before school started, some irate neighbor, maybe the father of one of those legendary girls, pushed the place down with his pickup truck.

Meanwhile the younger kids, led by Joe Miranda from just down the block and his hoard of siblings, were still playing the kid games that had lost interest for me most days.  Or they were busy afternoons with Little League.  I had washed out of baseball—the only organized sport that ever interested me—a couple of years earlier after I suffered the humiliation of being sent down to a lower age group because I was ball shy in the outfield, slow on the bases, and unable to connect at the plate except for dribbling ground balls that faster kids might have beaten out, but which I never did.

My Dad, who used to play lazy catch with me and my brother after dinner on summer evenings, was mostly gone that summer.  He had finally been forced out of his job as Secretary of the Wyoming Travel Commission, the last Republican agency head hold-over after the Democrats took over the Governor’s mansion.  He had converted the bed room my brother and I used to share into the office the important sounding Willard Murfin and Associates—but there were no associates, just Dad.  He was busy running from Omaha to Salt Lake City trying to organize the Highway 30/Interstate 80 Association, recruiting motel and restaurant owners, local Chambers of Commerce, and the operators local tourist attractions.  The Association would hire his fledgling company to promote tourism along the route.  It was a struggle and he was clearly worried that this venture would not work out.

Mom, no-longer a Den Mother, had immersed herself in one of her new projects.  That year I think it was making copper jewelry, or maybe it was reupholstering all of our living room furniture with nubby, uncomfortable nylon fabric and then moving on to recover the neighbors’ living rooms.  She was too busy to be much concerned with me as long as I was home for dinner.  Which was good, because after one of these manic spurts of activity was over, the depression took over and she went, well, crazy taking a keen interest in my many deficiencies and embarrassments to the family and meting out discipline with beatings with the sharp wire handle of a flyswatter against by naked ass.

So I was pretty much on my own that summer.  Which suited me just fine.  My nerdiness was ready to come full flower left on my own.

Since Dad had taken over our upstairs bedroom, Tim and I were happily ensconced in the unfinished basement, which Dad had been puttering on ever since we moved in.  He had managed to get up the paneling on half the exterior walls of the basement and studded out the future rooms.  These were now divided by hanging up some of Mom’s evidently endless supply of chenille bedspreads.  Dad had also got around to putting up pegboard on the furnace room walls to hold his tools

Tim made his bedroom in the windowless corner of the basement on the other side of the peg board.  He had painted the walls black and illuminated his room with strings of Christmas tree lights and decorated with his collection of vintage monster movie photos and model cars.  He had custody of the record player.  He was officially the hippest 14-year-old in Cheyenne. 

My room across the bedspread had the light of a window well in the morning.  My books were on steel shelving and a little steel study desk with an attached lamp from Woolworth’s sat in one corner.  I had the family’s old wood cabinet Atwater-Kent radio with shortwave band which I used mostly to listen to far-away night baseball games or to try and pick up foreign stations like the BBC or Radio Havana.  
When our parents got a new set for the Livingroom, we got the old Motorola console circa 1955 in the basement.

The rest of the basement was divided between the laundry room and the Den where we had the old Motorola console TV and a couple of chrome and Naugahyde chairs dad had got from some friend when his office closed.  My personal collection of Time Magazines was stacked on a low table.  Our old toy box sat neglected at the far end of the room.  Mostly we watched the Tonight Show down there after our parents had gone to bed.

On a typical summer morning I rose late—9 or 10 and made my own breakfast, usually a bowl of Cheerios and buttered toast with strawberry jam.  I had to attend our black Dachshund Fritz Von Schlitz.  I usually unchained him from his dog house and took him for a walk then policed the yard for poop.  

My other summer chore was lawn care, for which I was paid $5 a week.  Mowing had become easier that year.  Dad had finally replaced the old push mower with power mower from the Coast to Coast store.  It was powder blue and I could get it started after a struggle.  With this improvement I was able to finish the whole lawn in two or three hours.  Previously I would work about two hours a day doing part of the lawn and when I was finished I would have to start all over again.  This freed up my days considerably
Setting up and moving the long hose tracks for a cast iron lawn sprinkler tractor was one of my regular chores.

In the evenings I had to water which meant putting out little sprinklers in the small front yard, but setting up a major irrigation project in the long back yard that stretched toward the airport.  I had one of those rotating sprinklers that turned every time the stream of water was struck by a little arm—you know the type.  And on many hoses strung together I ran a cast-iron crawling tractor.  I would have to move the hoses every couple of hours.

But all of that left my day mostly free and I was on my own to roam Cheyenne at will.

Picture me that summer as I set off on one of my daily trips.  I had outgrown the old gray felt hat pinned up on one side with an Army insignia in honor of my childhood hero, Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders.  And Dad’s World War II oversees cap that I had worn during a later period of re-enacting the old war movies I saw on TV.  I was going for a more grown up look.  The hat of choice that summer was battered white Panama straw with a snap brim I had obtained at some thrift store.  My glasses were plastic tortoise shell with thick lenses.  I was wearing last year’s warm weather school clothes.  Mom had bought six identical short sleeve sport shirts in pale green, tan, and powder blue at J.C. Penny for a couple of bucks apiece.  They were getting a little ratty and too tight.  In the breast pocket I had a plastic pocket protector from a gas station in which I carried a Schaefer cartridge fountain pen, and a Scripto mechanical pencil, a little leatherette covered notebook, and a pocket comb.  I was surely the only kid in Cheyenne who went abroad on a summer day ready for school.  My jeans were by then worn out at the knee and repaired by Mom’s iron-on patches.  I had a coin purse and a Cub Scout pocket knife in one pocket and a bill-fold in a back pocket with a picture of Ava Gardner still in the little widow containing, if I was lucky, a dollar or two.  A dingy white handkerchief hung limply out of the same pocket for wiping my face of sweat on a hot day.  In the other back pocket I jammed a paperback book.  The look was finished off with black Wellington boots, the toes by then nicked and scuffed, the heels worn down.
The Carnegie Public Library--the first one built by steel magnate--was a favorite haunt.

Sometimes I hopped on my red and white Firestone coaster break bike with the wire basket on the handlebars, especially if I planned to bring anything home.  But usually I set off on foot.  I always enjoyed walking, just ambling along gaping at anything that caught my attention.  Among my frequent destinations were downtown for a visit to Woolworths and maybe pie at the Luncheonette if I had money to spare or to the Carnegie Public Library to drop off or search for books.  Both of these were a good walk from home, close to two hours at my pace.

But most days I headed over to Holiday Park over by Lincolnway where Highway 30 came through town.  On the way I would likely stop at Hoy’s Drug/MainDiner to look at the magazine racks and check out the rotating paperback book rack for new arrivals.  That summer I was spending a lot of my money on those booksBantam, Cardinal, Dell, Gold Seal, and Fawcett editions, mostly 35 cents each but 50 cents for a big fat one.  That’s where I procured the books I stuffed in my jeans.  While there I might, if flush and the day was warm, get a black cow at the soda fountain

It was a good hike to Holiday Park but on a hot day I was rewarded by the ample shade of many mature trees.  If there were no little kids at the playground, or any adults to see me, I would stop to push the merry-go-round with the diamond plate deck, each pie wedge shaped section painted a different color.  When it was going as fast as I could make it spin, I would jump on and lay on my back looking at the arching cottonwoods and the puffy white clouds against the blue sky whirl.  I might amble over the swings, too and pumping as hard as I could swig up even with the bars, leaping off at the very top of the arch when I was finished.  But never if anyone could see.  It would have spoiled my new adult image.

That was the summer that they rolled the Big Boy locomotive, one of the biggest steam engines ever built, down Lincolnway from the Union Pacific yards and shops putting rails down in front of it and picking them up from behind.  I had watched that operation and watched them push the engine down a slope into a corner of the park where it was put on display.  Back then it was not fenced off and I could go over and climb aboard, lay my hand upon the throttle and poke my head out the side window of the cab.  As a much younger boy I had seen these huge engines come through town and make up the two mile trains they carried over Sherman Hill.  I had watched them take water from the tanks and waved at the conductor and brakeman in their yellow caboose.  
Lake Minnehaha in Holiday Park--a muddy pond in reality.  The outstretched branch of an ancient willow was my perch for an afternoon of reading and day dreaming.  

But those things were a distraction to my real destination—a certain ancient willow tree that stretched a comfortable, sturdy arm over the muddy waters of the pond the city grandiosely called Lake Minnehaha in the center of the park.  There was a perfect perch.  I settled in with the book from my jeans for two or three hours of uninterrupted—except by occasional day dreaming—reading.

And what was I reading that summer?  Well, I remember Horn of the Hunter: The Story of an African Safari by Robert Ruak, a memoir with—the boy sang hallelujahsex scenes as well as hairy chested hunting in the Hemingway mold.  Indulging my taste for history and war there were editions of Bruce Canton’s Stillness at Appomattox and The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan.  On the fiction side of the same interest there was Fifty-Five Days at Peking with the cover featuring the lovely Ms. Garner and rugged Charlton Hesston, and Hemmingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls from my mother’s bookshelf, not the drug store rack.  I also enjoyed a good laugh.  Nothing did that better than Leonard Wimberley’s The Mouse that Roared and Jean Kern’s The Snake Had All the Lines.  And I picked up some show business memoirsJack Parr’s I Kid You Not comes to mind.  There were more—I plowed through a lot of books, good and bad that summer.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Hillbilly Who Wasn’t—Walter Brennan

Walter Brennan as Stumpy in Howard Hawk's 1959 Rio Bravo with John Wayne and Dean Martin.

Walter Brennan, the most honored character actor in Hollywood history and often cast as a hick, cowboy, and/or a toothless codger, was born on July 25, 1894 in Lynn, Massachusetts.  In real life he was anything but a hick—he was a well educated New Englander with a keen business sense.   
He was one of three children born to lace curtain Irish immigrants and raised in Swampscott.  His father was a successful engineer and inventor.  Young Walter meant to follow in his father’s footsteps by training at Rindge Technical High School in Cambridge.
While still in school, to his family’s disapproval, he became interested in the theater and began to occasionally perform in vaudeville at the age of 15. He continued acting, off and on after graduating, perfecting a comic routine as a stutterer which he would later use in some of his earliest speaking roles in movies as comic relief.
Brennan also took jobs as a bank clerk, and even as a lumberjack.  But prior to enlisting in the Army for World War I, he was back in the theater, touring with a third rate musical company.  
After front line service in France in the Field Artillery, he immigrated to Guatemala where he operated a small pineapple plantation.
In 1920 Brennan married Ruth Wells who stayed by his side until his death 54 years later.  He moved to Los Angeles in the early 1920’s and began speculating, very successfully, in real estate.  He was soon a wealthy man.
But with time on his hands and the acting bug itching, Brennan began working as an extra in pictures and occasionally even as a stunt man.  By late in the decade he was getting small walk on parts as well and sometimes, if rarely, got screen credit.  But he never shied from continuing to take work as an extra, unlike many actors who came to regard that as beneath them.  In fact he would continue to do so well into the 1930’s when he was beginning to get established as an actor.
The Los Angeles real estate bubble burst after the 1929 Stock Market Crash and Brennan was wiped out.  He then had to rely on his film appearances, which he pursued relentlessly.  By the early 30’s he was beginning to establish a persona.  Because of his thinning hair, slender build and the loss of most of his front teeth in a 1933 auto accident, Brennan found himself routinely cast much older than his yearsCompletely un-vain he would work without his dentures if a part required it.  He played an astonishing range of parts, but his appearance got him cast more and more frequently in westerns or as some kind of rustic.
Brennan with the first ever Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1936 for Come and Get It--the first of three such trophies, so many that the Academy worried that it had become "Brennan's category" and moves were made to keep him from being nominated for even better films yet to come.

In 1936 Brennan got his first co-starring role, billed third after Chester Morris and Lewis Stone in the original version of the western The Three Godfathers. More and more important roles soon came his way.  Later that year he was cast as lumberjack Swan Bostrom in the troubled production of Come and Get It based on Edna Ferber’s novel and directed by Howard Hawks, who was fired, and William Wyler who reluctantly completed the film.  Not a great critical success, it was a hit at the box office.  Brennan was nominated for the first ever Best Supporting Actor Academy Award and walked away with the trophy.
A parade of memorable roles followed and he was awarded the Best Supporting Actor Oscar two more times within the decade, for the race track drama Kentucky with Loretta Young and Richard Greene in 1938 and as Judge Roy Bean with Gary Cooper in 1940’s The Westerner. After the third win, the Academy ended voting privileges for member of the Screen Extras Guild who tended to come out en-mass to vote for the actor who had toiled so long among them. As a result, when Brennan was nominated again the next year for one on his best remembered parts, the preacher/shop keeper who counseled Cooper’s Sergeant York, he failed to take home the statue.
Despite many more memorable parts he was never nominated again.  But his three Oscars tie him with Jack Nicholson for the most awards ever given to a male actor.
He worked frequently with Cooper, who regarded him as his favorite co-star.  Their other films together included The Cowboy and the Lady, Meet John Doe, The Pride of the Yankees and Task Force.
Brennan,, Spencer Tracy, and Robert Young in Northwest Passage

Other memorable films of the late ‘30’s and early ‘40’s included Cecil B. DeMille’s original The Buccaneers; as Muff Potter in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; as the befuddled professor in They Shall Have Music; and Stanley and Livingston and Northwest Passage both with Spenser Tracy.
By the late 40’s Brennan was aging into the roles he had been playing for a decade and turning in some of his best performances.  In 1944 he played the thirsty side kick to Humphrey Bogart in To Have and to Have Not. Two years later he played one of his few villains as Ike Clayton opposite Henry Fonda in My Darling Clementine.  In 1948 he made his first appearance with John Wayne as his side kick Nadine Groot in Red River. That’s a pretty impressive trifecta of film classics right there.
Brennan with Humphrey  Bogart in To Have and Have Not.

Unlike some leading men, character actor Brennan was able to roll along with a successful and busy career for the rest of his life.  In the ‘50’s he appeared in Along the Great Divide with Kirk Douglas, The Far County with James Stewart, re-teaming with Tracy in Bad Day at Black Rock, with rare top billing in the boy and dog yarn Good Bye, My Lady, and most memorably of all as Stumpy in Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo with Wayne and Dean Martin.

Always eager to work, Brennan had no qualms about also jumping into the new medium of television.  He appeared regularly in popular anthology programs like The Schlitz Playhouse Ethel Barrymore Presents, Cavalcade of America, Ford Television Theater, Zane Gray Theater, and Colgate Theater.
With Richard Crenna and Kathleen Nolan in the hillbilly sitcom The Real McCoys.

In 1957 Brennan began playing the part for which a generation most remembered him, as Grandpa McCoy on the comedy series The Real McCoys which costarred Richard Crenna.  The show ran for five seasons on CBS and for a final year in 1963 as The McCoys on ABC.  He went on to star in three more TV series—The Tycoon in 1965 in the completely different title role, The Guns of Will Sonnet from ’67-’69, and From Rome With Love in 1971.

All the while he continued to guest star on other TV shows and continue to act in movies, by then playing almost exclusively eccentric old men.  Among his more popular late career roles were in Support Your Local Sheriff with James Garner and the two Over the Hill Gang TV movies.

Brennan also had a late recording career. He recorded two albums of semi-spoken word songs in his old codger persona, The Dutchman’s Gold in 1960 and Old Rivers in ’62.  The title song from the second album climbed to Number 5 on U.S. pop charts.

Brennan made several successful spoken word albums and the singe Old Rivers made it to #5 on the Billboard pop charts,

Active until the end of his life, Brennan’s last film was the forgettable Smoke in the Wind in 1975 which was directed by his son Andy.

Brennan died later that year on September 20 of emphysema at his Oxnard, California home.

In his fifty year career he appeared in 239 known films and television roles and probably appeared in dozens more films as an extra that are unknown. That’s what is called a working actor.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

This Week Tree of Life Mourns then Celebrates with Music

Ann and Bob Tirk in their Choir tour T-shirts.

It is going to be very busy at Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 5603 Bull Valley Road in McHenry.  First, Friday evening and Saturday afternoon we bid a fond and emotional goodbye to a long time beloved member and then at regular Sunday worship services will be inspired by great music performed by an internationally admired classical guitar duo.
Bob Tirk died on July 3 just days after entering hospice care.  He succumbed to pancreatic cancer after a long battle.  Most of us last saw him in June as he made his way with his beloved wife Ann to the annual Barn Service at the Tinkler barn.  A large man, he looked frail and needed a walker to get up the gentle slope to the barn.  But he wanted to be with us one last time.  During the joys and concerns part of the service he quietly stood up and announced mater-of-factly that he would be entering hospice.
A visitation will be held from 7 to 8:30 on Friday July 20 and celebration of Bob’s life will be held on Saturday July 21 at 2:00 pm, both at Tree of Life.  In lieu of flowers, donations in Bob’s name can be made to the Congregation or Land Conservancy of McHenry County, 4622 Dean Street, Woodstock, IL 60098.
I first met Bob maybe 25 years ago or so in a different context.  I was helping organize my first big event for the Democratic Party of McHenry County—an election rally with our county candidates on Woodstock Square.  It was one of the years when the Party made a big push to have candidates in almost all races that were often left uncontested in what seemed like a hopelessly Republican territory.  I was new to this sort of thing and had neglected to arrange for candidate posters and yard signs to festoon the Gazebo—an important visual.  The candidates themselves were coming off a day long tour with several stops in the county.  I was in a near panic when someone called Bob Tirk, who was a precinct committeeman in Marengo.  Bob showed up with a carload of signs for all of the candidates and helped get them up in a nick of time for the event.  
Bob Tirk, fourth from left singing with the Frothy Boys.
As I would discover, it was typical of Bob’s eagerness to pitch in where ever needed.  I would witness it time and again over the years first with the Party and then at church.  Bob was a beloved figure even then in Marengo where he had been a long-time music teacher and Band Director at the High School and where he had since become Director of the Park District.  Despite not having ambition for elective office or much taste for the sometimes ugly side of running for office, when the Party told him that only someone with his deep connection to the community and universal respect would have a prayer, he agreed one year to run for County Board in probably the most deeply Republican district in the county.  As always in those days, it was an underfunded candidacy and could not overcome and entrench GOP organization, but he did succeed in elevating the Democratic profile in the area.
Not long after that Bob and Ann moved to Woodstock where they both quickly became huge parts of what was then the Congregational Unitarian Church.  Both musicians, they sang in the Choir and Ann sometimes subbed at the Piano.  Those were the days of the annual Dille’s Follies shows, large-cast musical reviews that played to sold-out houses for several performances every summer and raised money for both the Church and local charities.  Bob was always a member of the ensemble and also pitched in helping to assemble stage platforms and build sets.  Always a good singer, he would be the first to admit that he was not much of a dancer.  But you could always spot him in the back row of elaborately stage production numbers shuffling along gamely alongside to other rhythmically challenged big men, the Rev. Dan Larsen and Whit Sears.
In addition to his regular presentence in the Choir under the direction of Kathy Brunke, Tom Steffens, and Forrest Ransburg,  Bob enjoyed singing in barbershop quartets and choirs and especially with the Church’s men’s a capella group the Frothy Boys who performed in their signature matching bowling shirts and raised money for charities at numerous public performances.  When he and Ann began wintering in Florida he lent his voice to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Sarasota choir as well.  But the highlight of Bob and Ann’s long association with our church choir was going on the 2016 concert tour to Transylvania in Romania.
In his element--Bob Tirk cooking outdoors with his Dutch oven.

Another of Bob’s passions was cooking—preferably for a lot hungry people.  He was a proud and active member of the Black Hawk chapter of the International Dutch Oven Society and participated in their regular events and picnics.  Bob also was a dedicated volunteer with PADS, the McHenry County church-based rotating homeless shelter.  The Woodstock church was long a host on Wednesday evenings to PADS guests and Bob liked to cook them big, hearty breakfasts of bacon, eggs, and sausage the likes of which they never got at any other site.   When we began our weekly summer Compassion4Campers to help the homeless during the May-September months when the church shelters are closed Bob became the regular grill master.  He also frequently cooked for the monthly Thursday night gatherings of the church’s informal Men Group at members’ homes.

There is no way to recount all of the ways Bob volunteered at church and in his community.  He would often just show up ready to work when jobs that needed doing were hard, dirty, and thankless.  He did it without expectation of praise or glory.  

Bob at a 2017 Inaugural protest in his winter home town in Florida.

If he sometimes ducked attention, he reveled in knowing that if a poll were taken he would have been voted the church member any one would mostly like to sit down and a have a beer with, or share some of his favorite gin and tonics.
Here is some more background on Bob from his obituary.
Robert “Bob” James Wescott Tirk was born May 29, 1943 in Boston, MA, the son of James Wescott and Marguerite (Greb) Wescott. James Wescott died while serving in the Coast Guard during World War II. Marguerite married Richard “Dick” E. Tirk, who adopted Bob at age 4. Bob grew up in New York and also spent time with the Greb family in Wisconsin.
Bob graduated from Briarcliff High School (NY) and was one of many family members to attend Lawrence University in Appleton, WI, where he majored in music education. There he met fellow music student Ann Uber, who was performing the opera double bill of Gianni Schicchi and Die Fledermaus. Bob and Ann married in her hometown of Hartford, WI on June 19, 1965 and spent 53 happy years together.
Bob and Ann both taught in McHenry County where he served as a music educator for 29 years in Huntley, Woodstock, and Marengo. Early in their teaching careers, they lived on farms in Woodstock where they raised pigs, chickens, and got into the hay baling business. In Marengo, Bob took his band students on many grand adventures including trips to California, Florida, and Churchill, Manitoba. After retirement, he continued to teach part time and worked for the Marengo Park District where he created the “Summer with the Arts” program and helped to build the town pool. As if those activities weren’t enough, Bob enjoyed many hobbies including ham radio, model railroading, family history, National Park stamp collecting, bee keeping, and serving as a den mother for his son’s Cub Scout Pack.
After Bob’s time at the Park, he returned to teaching with Ann at Huntley. Once Ann and Bob both retired, they continued their travels visiting all 50 states, Mexico, and all but one of the Canadian Provinces hauling their fifth wheel (except for Hawaii). At home in Woodstock and Florida, Bob enjoyed singing with several barbershop groups, the Tree of Life Church Choir, and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Sarasota Choir. He was an expert chef at Dutch Oven Gatherings, for P.A.D.S. and Compassion for Campers, and for his grandchildren who loved his bacon and pancakes. Always up for a party, Bob loved Friday night fish fries, hot dog roasts, and any opportunity to gather with his family and friends.
He is survived by his beloved wife Ann, his daughter Liz (Brian) Yanoff, Niskayuna, NY; his son Richard (Suzanne) Tirk, Norman, OK; his brother Kirby (Veronica) Tirk of West Chester, PA; and grandchildren Eliana and Jacob Yanoff and Simon and Malia Tirk.
Classical Guitarists Bert Lams and Fabio Mittino.

Classical guitarists Bert Lams and Fabio Mittino will perform at a musical worship service at Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation this Sunday, July 22, at 10:45 pm.  The worship is part of a Sumer with Music series and will also feature a message of community and wisdom by Worship Committee Chair M.E. Tanabe.
Lams and Mittino will present a program from their album Long Ago featuring compositions by G.I. Gurdjieff and Thomas De Hartmann arranged for two steel-string acoustic guitars by the duo.
Mittino is Italian and began his study of classical guitar at age 13. In 1998, he attended a Guitar Craft course presented by renowned English guitarist Robert Fripp. Since then, he has continued studying and playing with the Guitar Craft technique.
Lams is originally from Belgium. In 1984, he graduated with honors from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Brussels, where he studied classical guitar. Shortly after that, he became involved with Fripp and the Guitar Craft school where he met Mittino. 
They successfully perform as a duo internationally and record their unique guitar stylings.  This is their second visit to Tree of Life.
The exotic music they will feature Sunday features the work of G.I. Gurdjieff, a philosopher of Russian/Armenian descent who had the remarkable gift of remembering music he had heard during his travels in Asia and the Middle EastArmenian songs, Hindu melodies, Kurdish melodies, an Orthodox Hymn, Sayyid dances, and others.  Many years later he sang and played the melodies to Russian composer Thomas De Hartmann.  Together they created over 300 pieces between 1918 and 1927.
The service is open to the public.  Coffee and refreshments will be shared in a social hour after the service.
Child care for infants and toddlers is available.
For more information call the church at 815 322-2464, e-mail  or visit