Looking Sideways – Queen’s gift shows perks of position

Mark Luetke

Lost in the funeral coverage following the passing of Elizabeth II last month was a small sidebar that proves one more time that it was good to be queen.

It involves famed jazz musician Duke Ellington, who in 1958 was at a high point of his long career when he had an audience with the 32-year-old monarch—just seven years into her reign.

“I was so thrilled by the beauty, wonder and splendor of it all that I told Her Majesty that I was sure something musical would come of the moment,” Ellington is quoted as saying in the New York Times. The Duke proceeded to write a full orchestral suite that he recorded, but made just one copy of the record–just for her. Called “The Queen’s Suite,” it was not released to the public until 1976…two years after the maestro’s death.

I’d like to think that was a high point in the lifetime of a queen, but I suspect she had many. Which leads me to wonder about other high points, such as those for some of the most accomplished local leaders in our community.

Joe Napoli, for example, has been President and CEO of the Toledo Mud Hens and Walleye for nearly 24 years. He also developed the strategy behind building Fifth Third Field, Huntington Center, and Hensville in downtown Toledo. Yet the high point he mentions is more personal: a 20-year relationship with baseball great Al Kaline.

When they met, Kaline had already been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame (in his first year of eligibility) and was well on his way to exceeding 3,000 hits (including 399 career home runs) for the Detroit Tigers.

“It was opening day 2002 and the Hen’s first game in the new downtown stadium,” said Joe. “Dave Dombrowski, the general manager of the Tigers, brought Kaline down to visit. My first reaction was how young he was.” Kaline went right into the majors when he was 18 and never played in minor league baseball, he said.

That first day, Napoli and Mike Miller, chairman of the Mud Hen board, talked about golf and their families with Kaline. “Because we really didn’t talk about baseball when we’d see him, Al would go out of his way to visit. It was always about hobbies, interests and family. When he passed away, we were heartbroken. He was the neatest guy … it was like hanging out with your grandfather. I can’t say enough about him.”

Time and circumstances set the stage for one of Pamela Schaefer’s many lifetime achievements, too. British born, PJ moved to Sylvania with her American husband in 1956 and quickly gained dual British-United States citizenship. In addition to raising a family here, she participated in philanthropy for non-profits that include Sylvania Area Family Services and International Institute, and Daughters of the British Empire (comprised of women of British ancestry).

Just after Queen Elizabeth passed away last month, she organized the planting of a sugar maple tree on behalf of DBE in a small and simple ceremony on the bank of Olander Lake. The tree honored the Royal Family’s “Green Canopy” project, an environmental effort created to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee of 70 years on the throne.

“I was honored, grateful and relieved at the divine timing of the planting of this beautiful tree,” PJ said. “Since we were unable to honor the Queen’s Jubilee, the timing allowed us to honor the end of her Reign of her subjects.”

Occasionally, a noteworthy achievement can happen early in a career and remain tucked away for decades in the private memory of a very modest man. An achievement like Pacesetter Park.

Back in the early 1980s, hundreds of young families were moving to Sylvania. Many of the kids pursued sports, and soon teams were competing for practice and playing facilities. It was then that a young engineer (and father of five sons) named John Crandall joined Tom Crothers, the general manager of Tam-O-Shanter, and brought together the city, township and school district to study the community’s recreational needs. This led to approval of a small tax to purchase 80 acres at Mitchaw and Sylvania-Metamora roads and construct Pacesetter’s first soccer fields and baseball diamonds.

Of course, Pacesetter has grown since then into a 138-acre multi-use sports complex that features practice and competition soccer fields, baseball and softball diamonds, a skate plaza, walking trails, and more. It draws more than 200,000 players, spectators and community visitors each year.

John Crandall went on to become the first president of the Sylvania Area Joint Recreation District, executive director for 20 years of the Sylvania Area Community Improvement Corporation, a member of the board of education and the Lourdes University Board of Trustees. He’s currently a township trustee.

Yet he still remembers the ceremony marking Pacesetter’s first phase in 1989. While three others spoke at the dedication, John gave the keynote address. “There was never just one person who was responsible for Pacesetter,” he said modestly. “But I’m pretty proud of that achievement. And the ceremony has always had a special place in my memory.”

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