Lonna continues to develop her "retirement business" as a DoTERRA Essential Oils Wellness Advocate along with her full time employment at OPENOnline. The picture was taken in October. More on that later. (Some of you may recognize the "pose" used for our digital Christmas card this year.)
VIENNA, CAMERON, TALYA & ADAM
Vienna turned 7 years old September 28th and Cameron turned 6 years old Christmas Day.
WEST COAST UP & DOWN
We traveled to California at the end of May to attend our niece's High School Graduation, visit with the grandkids and a train ride for Lonna to Santa Barbara.
Abby Blasi, the youngest of two daughters for Lonna's brother David and his wife, Nancy, graduated from Los Alamitos High School on May 29th.
I had to get a selfie of us on the beach.
Once the graduation festivities subsided, we did a little sightseeing:
Then it was off to North Hollywood to visit the grandkids Vienna and Cameron, (oh yeah, and their parents, Adam & Talya), for a shorter than usual visit, primarily due to work schedules, but more on that later.
Vienna and Cameron both had graduations from Kindergarten and Pre-school on the same day. Vienna seems to be a little cold in this picture, but Cam being, well, Cam, was not about to pass up the opportunity to pose.
On the first day, Lonna took a train ride to Santa Barbara to visit a very good friend that she had not seen in many years. Looking at the front of the train station, I had no idea what type of "train" Lonna would be riding, but I soon got my answer.
Later that same day, Adam interviewed me for a video that will eventually go on the Studio Artists' website in the "About Us" section. The original footage is over an hour long and I have yet to complete the editing because of other "paying" projects in the studio, but I did put together a very brief clip so you can get an idea of what a couple of video geeks love to talk about.
The grandkids are becoming best friends with the occasional "spat" from time to time. Cam tries to get under Vienna's skin, usually with little success. Ironically, he is probably more thin-skinned than she is. All of this is of course, the observation of a grandparent who does not get to see them very often (sigh), so the reality might be a little different.
Occasionally however, we get to see them during a relatively quiet time.
I'm not sure if Cam was showing off his dance moves or he needed to pee. He is becoming quite the basketball player. Here he is making a spin move on his dad, and a "nothin' but net" basket.
As brief as our visit was, we did manage to fire up the Back to the Future Delorean TIme Machine and go to the actual house used in the movie - the house used for Marty McFly's residence.
One other thing happened during our visit: Cam LEGITIMATELY beat me on the GolfKon put-put course in the back yard. He was sinking puts that NO five year old should be able to make. And to rub it in, he made a drawing of it.
Here's a few more pics from 2019:
KENNY, BROOKE, ALEENA & GRAYSON
Kenny no longer works at Slow Motion Motorsports in Sunbury, Ohio. He has now started his own high performance automotive shop: www.KontrasPerformance.com.
He has one full time employee and the two of them work at least 6 days a week building high performance engines for all types of cars. If you want it to go fast, Kenny is your guy. He and Brooke have now been together for over three years. She continues to work at Loeb Electric's main office in the purchasing department. Her two children are Aleena (age 7) and Grayson (age 6, February 2020). All four are doing fine, although with the new business, Brooke and Kenny do not see each other as often as they would like.
Both Grayson and Aleena enjoy riding dirt bikes!
Dad is "hangin' in there" as he always says when I call or see him. And he is, for the most part. His mind is slowing down, but that's to be expected from a man who will be 89 years old in January, 2020. Here's a pic of my brother David's family, of which Dad is a big part.
Left to Right: Billy, Meghan, Dad (Bill), Carly, Gracie, Beth, Jacob, brother David (with Rocky on his lap) and Nicholas. Yup, all the kids in one place at the same time - not an easy feat. As for Dad, he has never been shy with a microphone so he did a little Karaoke in December.
PARTY LIKE A ROCK STAR
My sister Renée and her husband Aaron, are now the owners of the RnR Bar & Grill, located at 5414 Roberts Rd, Columbus, Ohio. The slogan for the venue is "Party Like a Rock Star".
Here they are displaying their sense of humor on Halloween:
Ever since Nick's wife Janey passed on November 28, 2018, Nick and I have made it a point to get together about once a month. We both realize that life can change on a dime and without notice. We'll either meet for lunch or get together for a Buckeye Football Game. Here we are eating 12oz. burgers during the OSU v Nebraska game in September.
And yes, we also know how to eat "healthy" like we've done at Panera several times. Can you tell which one of us is retired?
My cousin Denise has been like a sister to me all my life. Her brother, Nick, who passed way too soon at the age of 56, was like a brother. We visited often, thanks to our parents' yearning to keep the family ties strong. My brother Nick and I had week-long stays at their house in the summers. (They had a swimming pool near their house.) Early this year, Denise's youngest daughter Ashley, had some insightrful words to say about her mother.
To say that I really miss performing with the In Spirit Band and all the different guest artists is a huge understatement. Joe Lambert and Joanne Blum created a wonderful environment that attracted a lot of people and some great talent from around the country. Here's a video that was created by Michael Taggert, a member of Unity Church of Delaware and a big video geek (like me) of the In Spirit Band featuring nationally acclaimed singer / songwriter, Karen Drucker from 2015.
I am now in my 7th year at Unity Church of Delaware, playing piano on the second Sunday of each month. I've been blest to work with some great talent including Michael Heath, Laura Adair, and before her passing, Karla Wright. (More on that later.)
Here's a video of Laura Adair and me performing "Hold On To Love".
The church continues to grow and the comments below reflect the positive spiritual environment.
I know I sound like a broken record, but if you are seeking a great spiritual home that is very comfortable and welcoming, please stop by some Sunday morning at 10:30am. You will not be disappointed, I promise. Click the link above for the address and much more information.
My very good friend and former co-worker, John Gardner, retired after over 50 years with the same company! He started in 1969, when he was 18 years old and just out of high school.
Here he is in a pic with co-workers in the late 1970s. John is on the far right.
After surviving three different layoffs in eleven years, my plan to make this my last place of employment changed. My position as the Executive Assistant to the Senior VP, along with his position, and two VP positions, were eliminated on March 22, 2019. Truth-be-told, the writing was on the wall last year when the company decided to outsource one large department and move another department to the home office in Massachusetts. And the building being put up for sale was no small clue. This left less than 30 or so employees, not counting the IT personnel, which was already outsourced. I decided to have a little fun on my last day. (Special thanks to John Gardner for taking the pictures.)
So I was unemployed as of March 23rd and although I started applying for jobs immediately, I knew my age was defintely a deterent to getting hired. I applied and interviewed for about 8-9 weeks, doing both in-person and video interviews. It appeared that I was probably not going to get hired, not because I wasn't qualified for the positions, but because most companies want employees that can grow with their company. I started planning for what life would be like in retirement.
Just before our trip to California, I was contacted by the hiring firm for the Gordon Flesch Company. They were interested and wanted potentially three different interviews: the first with their Sales Team Leader, the second with their Sales Manager and the third with their Director of Sales and Operations.
After being out of work for a total of ten weeks, of which the final eleven days were spent on the West Coast with family, I started with the company on June 10th, just after my return.
My offical title is "Sales Coordinator". My role is to create strategic busines reviews and business proposals for the Account Executives. This is a far cry from the administrative work I was doing for MAPFRE. Although I answer to the Sales Manager, I do very little for him. My job is to make sure the sales team has what it needs to do its job.
This pic was taken from my laptop's camera so it's not as sharp as pics taken with my iPhone.
Since I now have an hour for lunch, rather than 45 minutes, I quickly developed the habit of going for a walk after eating. Depending on how long I have, I walk at least a mile or, most of the time, 1.2 miles. Unless it's raining hard, or the wind is really blowing, I'm out there.
About a week after I started, a man came up to me while I was working.
"Are you Michael?"
I turned to see who it was while I answered, "Yes, I am".
I immediately recognized the man as Tom Flesch, the owner of company. I stood up and we shook hands.
"Do you play in the band, 'These Guys Live' ?"
I was stunned. How on earth would this man know that I played in a rock band, much less know the name of that band. We don't exactly run in the same circles.
"Why, yes, I do."
I'm sure he saw the bewildered look on my face, so he asked, "Do you know Paul Bernard?"
Paul was the guitarist for TGL from September, 2011 to August, 2016.
Again I answered, "Yes. I've known Paul for nearly 10 years. Good guy!"
I put two and two together before Tom continued. Paul is a high end clothier that sells to an exclusive list of very wealthy clients here in Columbus and in Madison, Wisconsin, which is where the home office is located for the Gordon Flesch Company. He has sold clothing to the Flesch family for years.
"I'm wearing one of Paul's suits."
I smiled. "I'm not surprised. His suits are top notch."
Wanting to let Paul know who I just met, Tom was gracious enough to allow me to get a picture with him that I immediately texted to Paul.
Once again, what I thought was going to be my retirement ended up as a position with a well respected, family-owned company. So much for planning for retirement.
While I was unemployed, I decided to get to work creating a game plan for expanding Studio Artists' visibility. I rebuilt the website and although there are still portions that need to be enhanced, it is at least functional. The website address is: www.SAcolumbus.com.
With green screen technology, I can create virtually any environment for a speaker. Using Lonna as my "guinea pig", we've created videos for her DoTERRA Essential Oils business. Here's one.
TWELVE YEARS AND COUNTING!
2019 marks TGL's twelfth year on stage and my eighth year with the band. We are working about forty dates a year and 2020 looks good!
This year, the band had to make one of the hardest decisions any band has to make: ask a long time member to step down.
Rick Anderson (our bassist) was experiencing health issues for several months that were causing him to be in pain during performances. There were actually times when we had to bring a bar stool on stage so he could sit down. Although he always showed up and did his best, it was obvious he was not enjoying performing. He needed time to work on himself and performing in a band was not helping. We also knew that his wife was very concerned about his health. It was certainly not in our 2020 plans to have to replace our long-time friend.
On December 13, 2019, after nearly eight years with TGL, Rick was asked to leave.
We knew he would not understand at that moment - that he would be angry with us. We also knew that over time, he would come to understand that his health was more important than playing in a rock band. Along with his wife, he has a son and daughter-in-law and two beautiful grandchildren. "Family and health come first" has always been precedent with TGL and Rick knows this as much as anyone.
During the transition, Bruce MacLaughlin filled in for the remaining 2019 engagements. A special thanks to him for coming in on such short notice.
A quick look into 2020: On January 16th, Alan Beavers joined TGL.
Some of you may recognize Alan from a few years ago when he sat in with TGL for a few months while Rick was recovering from surgery. To learn more about Alan, click here.
A YEAR OF MUSICAL SADNESS
I realize how fortunate I am to be in good health and still able to do the one thing I love to do - play music. The orignal plan for this section was not to write that a few of my former musical partners and friends have lost their lives. There is nothing but sadness in my heart for the forthcoming words.
On January 27th, Karla lost her fight with cancer. She was a vibrant singer / songwriter that always had a smile on her face. For a period of time, she was the Musical Director at Unity Church of Delaware, and then after stepping down from that role, she recorded and released 2 CDs of all original music. It was during this time that I had the good fortune of working with her on Sunday mornings. Click on the titles below to hear tracks from her "Invitation to Joy" CD.
Unlike Karla, who I only had the pleasure of working with late in her life, Dan and I started playing music together in 1966. We were members of the musical group "The Dubonnets".
In 1981, Dan contacted me with an original music project. He wanted to record several original tunes, all in one day! It is not the way CDs are typically recorded, but he was prepared and since it was only guitar-voice recordings with the exception of one tune, everything was easily done in one day. I need to add here that Dan was NOT the guitarist in the Dubonnets. He actually taught himself how to play - well into his adult life - so that he could write music. And the tunes? Let's just say he was defintely a gifted songwriter / singer. I actually had forgotten how good a vocalist he was. Click on the titles below to hear some of his work.
All songs written and performed live by Dan Davies. Michael Kontras played keys on "Timid Hearts".
Original analog tape recording: January 21, 1981. Transfer to Digital: April 2, 2011.
At Dan's Memorial, the four remaining Dubonnets were in attendance. (Tim Groff, the drummer, passed several years ago, in his early fifties, from cancer.)
Left to right: Rick Hilliard (Bass Guitar), Ric Brantner (Vocals, Saxophone / Acoustic Guitar), Dan Westbrock (Vocals, Electric Guitar) and me (Electric Piano, Vocals). The photo below was taken in 1967 for the 1967 Northland Battle of the Bands. The Dubonnets came in 2nd Place.
Jeff was obviously best known for his role in Jesus Christ-Superstar on broadway. But the story of how Jeff and I knew each other starts in the mid 1960s here in Columbus, Ohio, when he joined the musical group "The Fifth Order" at about the same time that I joined "The Dubonnets". Below is a promo pic of the band.
Left to right: Billy Carroll, Jeff Johnson, "Muff" Comfort, Jim Hildtich and Jeff.
During that summer, I also learned that Jeff lived right around the corner from me. I spent time at his home on only one or two occassions because he was rarely there. He was always arguing with his parents about one thing or another and storming out of the house.
But as soon as he started singing, all was forgotten (and forgiven). He had one of the most unique and powerful voices anyone had ever heard at that time and maybe even to this day.
I accompanied him in a school talent show during our senior year. He sang "Woman" by Gary Pucket and the Union Gap. During the performance, he yelled "Shit!" at the beginning of the second verse because he forgot the lyrics. I started laughing so hard that I completely lost my place in the song. While we were trying to get back on track, the kids in the audience howled but the teachers were furious. We both recovered quickly, finished the song and got a standing ovation! I'm not sure if he got in trouble for that little stunt, but the standing ovation was well deserved due to Jeff's amazing voice, not my piano playing, and maybe a little for Jeff's swearing at a school function. Oddly enough, that was the only time Jeff and I performed on stage together. By the time we were out of high school, it was apparent that we were headed in very different directions.
While he was a member of "The Fifth Order", Jeff was not the lead singer, he was one of the two guitarists. He was featured vocally on a few tunes such as "When a Man Loves a Woman"' by Percy Sledge and other similar tunes that were popular at the time, but demanded a vocal range that their lead singer did not have. That's Jeff on the left playing the blonde Rickenbacker guitar.
There's one thing that has never been mentioned among all the media reports about Jeff's different careers: Jeff was in a musical duo with Dane Donohue, a friend of his from college, in 1970. It was called "Jeff & Dane". They debuted / auditioned at The Gallery Restaurant and Lounge in downtown Columbus. The "Lounge" portion was in the basement. And believe it or not, I was their sound man. I used a lot of effects to give them a "big" sound. The duo played songs from groups like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young among others. The gig started out as an audition but they were held over for many weeks after that. Here's an article on them from 1970.
Ironically, in the summer of 1971, Jeff ended up touring as Jesus for the Robert Stigwood Organization and Dane ended up touring as Jesus for the National Rock Opera Company Both were on the road at the same time. I worked with Dane's tour as a sound and light man. (I was recovering from a right hand injury and was not able to play well enough to audition for one of the two keyboard positions on the tour.) Jeff left his tour early to audition for the part on broadway and the rest, as is often said, is history. By October of 1971, he was on the cover of Time Magazine.
Backstage with Ben Vereen (Judas) and Yvonne Elliman (Mary Magdalene).
From the Whetstone High School Talent Show to The Fifth Order to Jeff & Dane to Jesus Christ-Superstar to Black Sabbath to Evangelical Preacher and Jeff Fenholt Ministries, his gift was his voice and it carried him throughout his life. He lived on the edge, was very outspoken and tempermental, had a life filled with super highs and desperate lows, and not many "middles". His turn to God later on probably saved him from dying sooner, but even his ministry was not without controversy. Below are a few tunes that Jeff recorded over the years. His discography is extensive. From hard rock, to solo contemporary to religious, his voice shines.
Mary Did You Know (Christmas)
Classic Hosanna (Ministry)
I Exalt Thee (Ministry)
I Need You (Contemporary)
Eye of the Storm (with Black Sabbath)
Dark Side of Love (with Black Sabbath)
Below are a three videos that illustrate the extreme devotion to Evangelism that came later in his life. There has been controversy about how devoted Jeff really was to Christianity including a family member that called him a hoax, saying that he was only pretending to be an Evangelist Preacher to increase his wealth. Others firmly believed in him, saying that his words changed their lives. The first two videos are years apart (1990 and 2002) and the third took place somewhere in between. I have no idea if Jeff was truly a man of God. I only have my memories of him when we were teenagers in popular bands and as two neighbors who loved music.
I created a PDF of a couple of the news feeds about his passing on September 10th. One thing that is not mentioned is that Jeff died of "natural causes". I'm not sure what that means for someone who lived a life like his and passed in his sixties. Here's the PDF.
HEY HONEY, LET'S WATCH A MOVIE!
YOU CAN'T MAKE THIS STUFF UP
WHO WAS THAT SILVER-HAIRED DEVIL?
My Drivers License was due to be renewed in 2019 and then I learned that every Ohioian had to have a "Compliant" license by the end of 2020. I was not about to renew my 2019 license and then turn around and re-renew it again in 2020, so I went for the Compliant Drivers License this year. Oh how my image has changed from 2015 to 2019.
AND 20 YEARS FROM NOW?
I had a little fun with FaceApp but Lonna would not let me do the same with her. She did say that I will still have my good looks 20 years from now. Well, that remains to be seen...
A FRIEND IS ALL YOU NEED TO GET YOU BY
David Show was the bassist for "Reflection" from 1975 to 1980. He lives in Nashville, but has a sister who lives here in Columbus. She contacted me to tell me that he was going to be in town and would make sure I knew so we could see each other again. He stopped by in February.
We caught up on life and had a few laughs about the years with the band. David is the songwriter that wrote the tune that "Reflection" released in 1978 and landed on the very first Q-FM 96 Hometown LP. The song was simply called "Friend". He still writes and he gave me a few of his tunes to listen to after he left.
A BOWLING ALLEY AND MUSTANG SALLY
I thought this should be in the At Random section because, well, what are the odds of the guy who made the two words, "We're Dealin' " famous, would join TGL and sing a song that our leader singer, Michael Doctor, said he would NEVER do on stage. What's that sayin? "Never Say Never".
I was handed this book shortly after I started working at the Gordon Flesch Company by the Sales Manager. Apparently, he gives a copy to every new employee on the Sales Team. It's a quick read with straight forward language about how to eliminate steps in your life that keep you from being all you can be.
FASTEST DELOREAN PART II
With the release of the sequel, all the unanswered questions are eliminated. It has excellent reviews and is certainly worth viewing.
ON AND ON AND ON IT GOES
On November 16th, I turned 240,000 miles on my 2000 Toyota Avalon XL. I took delivery of the car on July 2, 2000. The picture was taken on the way home from a TGL gig. This year marks the first time I spent what would be the equivalent of 12 new car payments ($300 per month with insurance). But a lot of this was routine maintenance such as new coil packs and spark plugs because the engine had this many miles on it. These were replaced the first time back when the engine had 110,000 miles on it, so this repair was not a surprise. Remove that cost, which is very labor intensive, and I'm still way ahead of new car payments.
TIME TO TOUGHEN UP... MY FINGERTIPS
In November, Lonna asked me for some money, but did not exactly tell my why she needed it. This was not her typical M.O. and I was baffled. She said it was for my Christmas gift but that was all she said and it was obvious there was going to be no further conversation on this topic. On Christmas Day, she surprised me with a gift that I NEVER expected.
She sought the advice of my good friend Geoff Pomeroy, who owns over 50 guitars and knows how to work on them. She gave Geoff the amount that I gave her and asked him to try and find a decent used guitar for me for Christmas. After I opened the package, I was in shock at the unbelievably flawless condition of the guitar. Not a mark on it ANYWHERE! Not even on the pick guard. I then texted Geoff to thank him.
I had never been on a train until October of this year. Never. So, Lonna decided to change that and we went to Nelsonville for an historical train ride through a portion of Southern Ohio.
WITH EACH PASSING YEAR
For the third time in my lifetime, a President was impeached or headed for impeachment. To those who say this was political, you're right. It was. Just like Bill Clinton's. And it would have been for Richard Nixon, had he not resigned. Although it was members of his own party that convinced him to resign to avoid impeachment.
This impeachment vote took place on December 18th. It was not a legal process and carried no criminal elements. But let's face it, if a president can be impeached for lying under oath about a sexual encounter, then a president can be impeached for encouraging a foreign government to get involved in our election process. Enough said.
With each passing year, I'm seeing more and more Republicans trying to walk a tight rope for this man. They will not publicly rebuke him, unless they simply leave the party or retire. Privately, many know or are coming to know that he is tempermentally unfit to be president. But he knows how to keep them in line: money. He helps fund their campaigns so they will align with him whenever they are needed to do so.
Nicole Wallace - a former Republican that worked in the George W. Bush White House as the Communications Director, as well as on the 2004 Bush Re-election campaign and John McCain's campaign until he picked Sarah Palin as his running mate - interviewed another former Republican, David Jolly, former congressman from 2014 to 2017. Here's the quick one minute read.
But the president poses a far bigger threat to our country than what he was impeached for. His gaslighting of virtually every situation is making many people wonder if he's not becoming mentally unhinged. It's not hard to see if you watch with an open mind. When you watch him attack a reporter for simply asking a question about something he said, turning it on them, saying they are bad people, that they don't know how to do their job, trying to make them feel like they're the problem and ridiculing them in front of others on live television, then you have someone who is unfit for the office. If there's an issue, it's the previous administration's fault. If a policy is questioned, it's the fault of the department that invoked the policy, not the person who's in charge of that department. The blame is always shifted to someone else. He takes no responsibility and he is never accountable. But when something seems to be in his favor, he takes full credit, even if there was an entire team that created the scenario that he's boasting about.
There are however, people that are not intimidated by him.
Note the look on the faces of those on either side of the president.
An article in the conservative publication, The Atlantic, written by Peter Wehner, a Republican veteran of three administrations (Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush), illustrates clearly the president's lack of mental fitness - and he felt very strongly about this as far back as 2016. Here's the article.
With all this said, I beg those of you that are still supporters of this man to take a good hard look at his behavior. Please listen carefully to what he says and how he says it. Please pay attention to his actions, which nearly always contradict his words. Please understand that his actions are not motivated by the desire to do good for this country. They are motivated by self aggrandizement, power and greed.
Some of you have already started to realize all this and I pray that enough of you do, to keep this man from getting re-elected and to send him home.
Thanks for taking the time to read and watch my year end page.
Have a great 2020!
ALL YEAR-END PAGES