By Paul W. Barada
---- — Not too long ago I received a large white envelope from the Culver Academies, which isn’t all that unusual an event. As regular readers know, I had the privilege of going to Culver for four summers in my youth, specifically the Culver Summer Naval School. I was in the Class of 1962. More recently, I also had the privilege of serving as President of the Culver Summer School Alumni Association and as a Trustee of Culver for a couple of years.
My connection with the school goes much deeper than just my summers there, however. As close friends know, my father was Chairman of the Fine Arts Department at Culver during the 1930s and 1940s. He also directed the Glee Club and was coach of the Company C intramural football team. As a matter of fact, his untimely death occurred while he was coaching a game on Oct. 13, 1945, just eight days after I was born. My mother died at Culver just 17 months later, in March of 1947. They are both buried in the cemetery just south of the town of Culver.
My uncle, the late Bill Winship, was a Culver graduate, Class of 1939. My cousin, Bill Winship Jr., was also a Culver Summer School graduate, although he was a member of the Black Horse Troop, Class of 1964. All three of our sons are also Culver Summer School graduates. So, one way or another, my association with the school goes back a considerable distance.
Getting back to the envelope I received, when I opened it I was more than a little surprised and pleased to find a photo of the actor Hal Holbrook, with the inscription “In memory of your dad, Hal Holbrook.” Holbrook, for those who don’t recognize the name, has a long and distinguished career as an actor of both stage and screen. He was also a Culver graduate, Class of 1942, so he knew my dad!
Doing a little research on Mr. Holbrook’s career, I discovered that he was originally from Cleveland, Ohio, and graduated from Denison College after his years at Culver. One of his most famous roles was a one man live show, “Mark Twain Tonight” for which he won a Tony in 1966. Some of his movie credits include “Into the Wild,” “All the President’s Men,” “Magnum Force,” “The Star Chamber,” “Capricorn One,” “The Firm,” and one of my personal favorites, the 1976 movie, “Midway,” in which Holbrook plays the part of Commander Joe Rochefort. Commander Rochefort was responsible for breaking the Japanese code which helped pinpoint Midway as their target which, in turn, led to one of the greatest naval battles in history. It’s a great movie, if you like that sort of thing.
A five time nominee for an Academy Award, Holbrook in 2003 received the National Humanities Medal from President George W. Bush. His first Academy Award came in 1974 as “Outstanding Lead Actor” in the movie “Pueblo.” He won a second Academy Award in 1976 as “Outstanding Lead Actor” in “Sandburg’s Lincoln.”
Holbrook’s latest films include “Water for Elephants,” “Promised Land,” and a new personal favorite, “Lincoln,” in which Holbrook plays the part of the irascible Preston Blair, a journalist and politician who tries unsuccessfully to initiate peace talks between North and South. His remarkable film career began in 1966 and extends to this year.
Ed Sullivan, (another name a few may recognize), gave him his first national exposure doing a portion of “Mark Twain Tonight” on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956. The one-man show appeared next on Broadway in 1966, and again in 1977 and 2005. When Holbrook played Mark Twain in 2005, he was older, for the first time, than the character he was playing. He was 80 at the time. Holbrook still maintains a busy life, but also enjoys his home in McLemoresville, Tenn.
Having written all that about one of my father’s former students, you can imagine my excitement at receiving an autographed picture of Hal Holbrook. Culver does a very good job of staying in touch with its winter and summer graduates, needless to say.
In an unabashed attempt at self-promotion, if you would like to know more about Culver in novel form, you might be interested in “The Lullaby Lost,” which you can get on Amazon.com If you would like some facts about the school itself, just do a search of the word “Culver” and you’ll find their rather dazzling website. Over the years, there has been a steady stream of local young people who have gone to Culver. There haven’t been any, I don’t believe, since the 1990s; but if you’re interested in what the school has to offer, winter or summer, there’s plenty of information out there.
When I was there, I learned a whole lot about leadership, being responsible for yourself, self-respect, respect for others, self-discipline, and doing what you’re told to do without complaining – all very good lessons for every young person. Culver has been teaching those lessons to young people for a very long time.
That’s -30- for this week.