Home

Kaiser Permanente, Popeye, my Grandfather and Me

6 Comments

Like a Dickens novel, life is full of surprising associations that best come into focus in hindsight. In today’s exciting blog entry, we explore the relationship between Kaiser Permanente; Popeye’s friend the Eugene the Jeep; my grandfather, James P. Page, Sr.; and me.

Years ago, when we first moved to Maryland, we lived in a suburb of Washington, DC, known as Calverton. Patty and I would drive by the nearby Kaiser Permanente Silver Spring Medical Center and wonder what it was.  At that time, the sign just read “Kaiser Permanente” with no indication of what the purpose was of the site.

Henry J Kaiser

Henry John Kaiser (1882-1967) was an American industrialist who became known as the father of modern American shipbuilding. He established the Kaiser Shipyard which built Liberty ships during World War II, after which he formed Kaiser Aluminum and Kaiser Steel. Kaiser organized the Kaiser Permanente health-care system for his workers and their families. He led Kaiser-Frazer followed by Kaiser Motors, automobile companies known for the safety of their designs. (Info swiped from Wikipedia)

The name indicated a relationship with the brilliant industrialist Henry J. Kaiser, of dam-, ship- and auto-building fame, but the Permanente part of the name seemed odd to me. Little did I realize that they would later become our health-care provider or that I would one day be working for the firm. The Permanente part of that name, by the way, comes from the name of a creek that ran by the lodge of Henry and Bess Kaiser in Santa Clara County, California; in 1945, Mrs. Kaiser thought the name would be fitting for the new health system they had started for their shipyard employees. Here’s a recent view of that beautiful creek:

Image

Probably named Permanente Creek by the early Spanish settlers of California because it didn’t dry up during the year.

So how do Popeye’s friend and my grandfather and I come into this? Kaiser, with his business associate, Joseph Frazer, began making wonderful cars just after World War II. The autos of Kaiser-Frazer, as their company was called, were very innovative and attractive, and they also made cars called Allstates, which were sold by Sears Roebuck in the 1952 and 1953 model years. Yes; you could buy a car (and houses, for that matter; my 1926-built house is an example!) from a Sears catalog in those days.

Image

Great-looking car; a good many of these were made into hot rods after mom and dad passed them on to the kids!

Image

This amazing Kaiser car, like the Corvette which came out the same year, was made with a huge engine and a fiberglass body.

Image

Ahead of its time and still looks stylish 60 years later.

1951 Kaiser Ad

Typical of the innovations that Kaiser-Frazer autos were known for, this Traveler model would be useful for toting things around in the days before SUVs and minivans.

My grandfather, who was never one to ignore a business opportunity when he saw it, opened what was likely the smallest of Kaiser-Frazer dealerships, on U.S. Route One in Callahan, Florida. Here’s a photo of the then-brand-new dealership; my grandfather is second from the right. The little fellow next to him is my Uncle Ronald, who went on to a 35+ year career as a special agent with the FBI and now lives in New Mexico!

Image

Here’s a recent photo of the Page Building in Callahan, which we still own and rent out to various businesses. To my knowledge, this property has never generated a thin dime in revenue, but there are those in the family who have an emotional attachment to this old building and we guess it pays for its upkeep.

Page Building, Callahan

Until today, I had identified the wrong tacky building as the Page Building. John H, a Callahan historian, kindly pointed out my error. Thanks, John!

Now, let’s get to Popeye, shall we? In the pre-WWII United States, the newspaper comic strip, Thimble Theatre, by Elzie Segar, was a big deal. The best-known member of the strip’s zany ensemble, Popeye the Sailor Man, was a stroke of genius, but Segar had many such strokes and his creations caught the country’s imagination in a big way. Another inspired Segar creation was Eugene the Jeep. The Jeep was a made-up word Segar used to describe his little creature, who had the ability to pop through time and space and do wonderful things for his friends.

Image

The original Jeep!

The Jeep character became a big fad, especially among children, and there were books, stuffed toys and cartoons about this loveable character, as shown by this great movie poster from 1938:

Image

Moving forward a few years, into the Second World War, the Willis Corporation developed a General Purpose, or GP, vehicle for the U.S. Army. This rugged and unpretentious four-wheel-drive car was manufactured by the hundreds of thousands during the war, and the GIs of the day dubbed it the Jeep, because, as one soldier said, the thing was “small, able to move between dimensions and could solve seemingly impossible problems.” That, plus the GP designation sounded like the word “Jeep.”

Jeeps On A Flatcar, 1944

Sixteen of the over half-million GP vehicles or Jeeps head to war on a railway flatcar in 1944. Legend has it that you could buy a war-surplus Jeep in the late 1940s for $50.

After the war, Willis was not making too many Jeeps and Kaiser’s autos needed engines; Kaiser bought Willis and used their engines in the Kaiser-Frazer autos. Production of the Kaiser-Frazer line stopped for various reasons in 1955, but Kaiser kept making Jeeps of different types and styles until 1970. They sold that part of their empire to American Motors in that year, and American was later purchased by the Chrysler Corporation, who continue making Jeeps today. My grandfather’s Kaiser dealership closed after his death in the mid 1950s.

Image

The Kaiser line of Willis Jeeps; I’d love to have one of those Utility Wagons.

Kaiser Permanente, of course, has thrived as the nation’s largest, most esteemed and (by my family, at least) best-loved managed-care provider, and I work as manager of marketing and creative operations at their Mid-Atlantic Regional Headquarters. Wonderful place and I’m proud to help in its mission in my small way!

Thus the connection between Kaiser Permanente, Popeye, my grandfather and me!

Kaiser Jeep

One of the last of the Kaiser-built Jeeps romps over rocks.

Dasheen Dreams . . .

4 Comments

If you’ve never heard of dasheen, don’t feel like the Lone Ranger; I hadn’t either. My daughter, Colleen, is the historian of our family and is always finding, archiving and annotating old family photos. Here’s one she found from 1923, showing my grandfather, James P. Page, Sr., and his dad, James Graham Page, at a meeting of the Nassau County (Florida) Dasheen Growers Association in the little town of Callahan:

Image

My grandfather and his father were very active in that organization, or at least they had leadership roles. My grandfather was a heck of a businessman, and owned a lot of businesses that did well. I can’t say how well he and his dad did with dasheen; it put some of his land holdings to productive use, I suppose.

According to what I’ve been able to find out on the Net, dasheen is another term for a type of taro root, and, in the early 1920s, the Florida Secretary of Agriculture was promoting the cultivation of this plant for areas of Florida with boggy land not suited for growing much else except snakes (this part of Florida has 31 types, including six or seven “hot” ones, as the herpetologists call venomous snakes), alligators and pine trees. Here’s a Google satellite photo pinpointing the town of Callahan in Nassau County; my brother, Jeff, and I were born on Amelia Island, where the town of Fernandina Beach is located:

Image

The red arrow points to Callahan, Florida. The dark area to the left of Callahan is the Okefenokee Swamp. The Okefenokee is the largest blackwater swamp in the U.S.; a shallow, 438,000 acre, peat-filled wetland straddling the Georgia–Florida border. Okefenokee is an Indian word meaning “trembling earth.”

Since the area our family is from borders the Okefenokee Swamp that hugs the Georgia line, it’s ideal for such an effort. Here’s a photo of a dasheen plant, and also a photo of the edible root.

Image

Looks like an elephant ear plant, doesn’t it?

Image

Can these make good French fries? America waits for the answer!

This enterprise probably didn’t amount to much, but it’s kind of a nifty idea. Another Net resource mentions that at the height of the dasheen-growing effort, ten boxcar loads of the roots were shipped from Callahan, where we still have a family farm. I don’t think any dasheen is grown on our farm now, though I did see that someone else has a dasheen farm in the area nowadays. Good luck to them!

UPDATE:

Thanks to my daughter, Colleen, for finding the letterhead below from the Dasheen Growers Association in a history of Nassau County. There’s also a little paragraph describing the operation. You can see from the annotations that the photo above, showing the intrepid dasheen growers in Callahan, was from this same book, which was published some years ago.

James_Graham_Page_info_on_Dasheen_Growers_Assn__from_WNCPH

Inside Hitler’s Bunker

5 Comments

These stills are from a YouTube video. They show my dad in one of Hitler’s underground bunkers. I thought all this time that the bunker my dad had been in (and grabbed some souvenirs in the process) was the Berlin one; the caption on this video says it was the bunker under Hitler’s private home, called the Berghof. The caption also says that Dad was the first American G.I. to enter the bunker. Whether that’s true or not, I can’t say.

Just after the war, my dad was temporarily assigned to the 101st Airborne Division; in the video, you can plainly see the Screaming Eagle embroidered patch on his shoulder. Why he was chosen for this little film, which is in an early version of color, is not known to me. Maybe it was because he was a photogenic person or maybe it was because he was persuasive and talked his way into it. Don’t know; my dad never mentioned any of this stuff to me, other than to say he had grabbed a bunch of junk in Hitler’s bunker after the war. Anything I learned about his wartime experiences was from overhearing his conversations when a couple of other WWII vets visited our home in the mid-1960s.

Anyway, he sent home a roll of about a dozen water colors and a larger oil pastel that Hitler, an artist earlier in his life, had stored in that bunker. I gave away the watercolors to some friends in Naples in the early 1970s and burned the painting in the early 1990s. I reasoned that destroying an artist’s work is the biggest insult one can do him. All the paintings were of street scenes or of buildings; I guess people weren’t important to Adolf Hitler.

So here are some images illustrating one tiny portion of the aftermath of a hideous episode in the history of our world.

War Trophies

3 Comments

I just submitted this photo to Shorpy.com, my favorite web site, and figured I’d post it here, too.

My dad served with the 82nd Airborne in WWII, and sent home an enormous batch of trophies, as seen in this photo taken on the front porch of our family farm after the war. Many of these guns, flags and uniforms were loaned to a museum in Fernandina Beach, Florida, and went astray. We were able to recover a few of them in the early 1970s and the automatic-weapon stamps from the ATF cost us a fortune; I believe it was $500 per gun. You should have seen it when the Naples police chief, my mom, two of my friends and I carried this stash of weapons into the Bank of Naples to store in their safe-deposit vault!

They were all sold or given away long ago, except for a 7.65mm Walther PPK I’ve kept. Dad picked that pistol up in the bunker in Berlin where Adolph Hitler had committed suicide with a pistol of the same make and caliber. Now, that model pistol is much more famous for being the pistol that James Bond keeps under that well-tailored suit jacket of his. [Edit: just learned that the bunker may have been the one under Hitler’s home, not the one in Berlin. No way of knowing for sure.]

My dad even brought back that dog in the photo; her name was Beulah.

Here’s a photo of Dad showing the campaign ribbons and such that he had earned in that war. I guess he was about 21 years old in this photo taken after the war.

My grandmother had an 8″ x 10″ glossy of the following Associated Press photo on the wall in her den. It shows my dad in WWII; she also had the yellowed newspaper clipping which identified him in the photo. Its headline, I remember, was Local Trooper Advances Under Enemy Fire.

On the 82nd Airborne site, it has this caption:

An infantryman from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division goes out on a one-man sortie while covered by a comrade in the background, near Bra, Belgium, on December 24, 1944″

The three-week battle, of which the above photo illustrates one brief moment, was later called the Battle of the Bulge or the Ardennes Offensive; one of the last desperate efforts of Nazi Germany to survive. I think that’s a Thompson submachine gun in one of my dad’s hands; those might be wire cutters in the other.

Pretty grim situation for a kid just out of his teens. No helmet, either. No one likes to wear a helmet on Christmas Eve.

This Sausage is the Best!

4 Comments

I’ve never flat-out endorsed a product on this blog before, but, hey– it’s my blog and who’s to stop me? I encourage those of you who enjoy good old country-style sausage to try the Homestyle brand, if you can find it.

Here in Maryland, we’ve only found it at our local Giant store. It comes in mild and hot flavors, and the hot is indeed hot, but I love them both and so does Patty. Here’s the website for the company; there are some good recipes there:

http://www.homestyle-foods.com

Having grown up in North Florida, where folks take pride in the sausage they serve their families and friends, we hadn’t been able to find anything like a home-style sausage since we moved to Maryland. When we visited Callahan, where our family farm is, we’d bring back a stash of the good stuff made and sold locally in that little town, but that was not a convenient or permanent solution. Once we discovered the Homestyle-brand sausage, we were so pleased.

If you enjoy old-time country sausage, I bet you’ll enjoy the Homestyle brand sausage. Their website says that the company was started by a Georgia state senator and, since his death, its been a family-run enterprise. They offer a great product and deserve to succeed.

What they are offering for sale is the real deal.

Fernandina Beach Long Ago

Leave a comment

Here are some old photos of Fernandina Beach, Florida, where my brother and I were born, and where we lived during the summers as kids. Our family’s farm is on the mainland, in Callahan, which is about 25 miles away. My grandmother lived there and there were always a few uncles, aunts and cousins around. These photos are from about 1958.

First we have a random street scene from the late 1950s. Most of these homes are now gleaming jewels, but in those days many Florida beach towns were more hardscrabble, rather down-at-the-heels compared to what they are now.

Here are some fishing boats at the Fernandina docks. These are probably shrimp boats, because about the only time my mom would take us to the docks was when she was buying shrimp.

Speaking of my mom, here she is walking to the car from the old Post Office, which isn’t shown in this photo. I’d love to have one of those old cars in the background!

Another dock scene. I don’t know what that building is at the end of the dock, but the electric sign says it’s open for business. Probably a seafood shack.

Last photo: Here’s the old Fernandina train depot, which I believe is now a visitor’s center. This photo isn’t as old as the others; probably from 1977 or so. By the time this was taken, the city fathers were snazzing up the place; especially the downtown area. They renamed the main drag Centre Street and the shops began trading to the increasingly large number of tourists.

Fernandina was a cool place to grow up, as it had an old pre-Civil War fort, Fort Clinch, on the north end of the island. It was closed to the public in those years, but my great-uncle was the curator and administrator for it and he’d let us in to play and explore as long as we were careful. Outside the walls of the fort was the best place to crab using chicken necks on a string. At night it was spooky sitting there waiting for the crabs to bite; the abandoned fort’s walls looming behind us creeped us out.