‘With great affection for Urbana, Ohio’

More often than not we spin our wheels in this fast-paced society earning a living, building on our careers, and simply forgetting to smell the roses as we pass by. One forgets the world outside of our own and relationships seem to melt away once high school or college days are done. We engage those we work with and those we must associate with, teachers, police and firefighters, our church family, the tax man. But occasionally we may touch the life of someone when we least expect it.

Along with writing about golf, travel, and associated bunkers and bad scores, I have these past 4 years worked in the City of Pittsburgh as the Project Manager for the Pittsburgh Parking Authority (no, I cannot fix your tickets). Coming from the private sector I wonder many times how anything ever gets done, as with any large city, the navigation of local politics can be and often is burdensome.

A year ago I was in search of an artist to perform restoration work in a parklet owned by the Authority. My search led me to a place and to a name familiar in your neck of the woods, Mike Major. After a road trip to visit his studio a decision was made to commission the restoration work to Mr. Major. The past year went by in a blur, the work was completed, and a friendship was forged. One afternoon I made a simple statement to Mike, “One day I’ll be at your door step and we will go play golf.” His reply was “Come on.”

My wife Karen and I arrived in Urbana on a beautiful Monday afternoon, we met Mike at his studio and were soon shuffling off to his home that he shares with his wife just outside of town. Mike took the rest of the afternoon to show us additional work he has done in the area. We took in the sights and sounds of Springfield along with the sculpting works of Davey Moore, George Rogers Clark and Oliver S. Kelly to name a few. The evening approached and we found ourselves in downtown Urbana at the quaint, yet quit rambunctious Café Paradiso. What a place, families and friend gathered along tables, laughter and merriment abounded into the night. If some of the best Tuscany has to offer is on your mind then this is the place. The joy of Day One was drawing to a close and we could only hope for a Day Two that could meet our desires to enjoy all your town has to offer.

Tuesday morning; 6:30 a.m., Mike and I headed to Grimes Field, Urbana’s Municipal Airport, we had a date with a cloud. Mike made a pre-flight check of his 1949 Beechcraft Bonanza and I’m wondering if I might need some olive oil and a shoehorn to fit. As we taxied down the runway I could not help but think about my childhood days when I once had a neighbor in a trailer park in Prescott, Arizona who worked on planes and owned a small Cessna, it was happy thoughts. I was also keenly aware that it was a great idea to leave my wife under the watchful care of Jane back at the house; Karen will not rock on a porch swing and this occurrence may well have initiated divorce proceedings. Mike rumbled down the runway and soon enough we were slipping the surly bonds of earth. Our flight took us over Indian Lake where islands with such names as Turkey Foot, Wolf, and then the city Bellefontaine were clear in the distance. The weather was clear and bright and all too soon we were making our final approach. Mike touched his wonder bird down with skill and precision and I was once again looking for that elusive shoehorn in which to extract myself from my fairly tight surroundings. (Note to self: Eat more salads.)

The ladies joined us for a cheerful breakfast at the Airport Cafe – famous for their homemade pies – and we were off to the world famous Urbana Country Club. In case you ever wondered why Pinky Dye decided to build a golf course in the first place, you have only to look in Pennsylvania to a small resort near Uniontown along U.S. Route 40. In 1922, The Summit Inn was the accidental napping place for one Mr. Dye while a transmission issue was being resolved in Uniontown. He fell in love with the game like so many of us have and when he returned home he hustled together several other investors and the Urbana Country Club was born – and what a gem it is. I have longed to play the club for many years and meeting Mike allowed me the opportunity to do so. The Head Pro Bill Unger and his staff could not have been nicer. Mike, Jane, Karen, and I swatted our way around and had the time of our lives. I had a putting streak and Mike almost chipped in for a birdie. I’m thinking he’s a sandbagger; you have to watch him. The round was finished with drinks in the clubhouse and onward to our next adventure.

What can I say about the Simon Kenton Inn, if it’s not heaven then it’s a close second. The grounds just make you feel welcome as one pulls into the parking lot – fairy gardens, outdoor seating, and a beautifully restored home into which resides a fanfare of gastronomical indulgences. The four of us had seating in the library room, which made my school teacher wife very happy and the wine and stories flowed. Theresa Siejack made us all feel welcome and the food was beyond scrumptious. Day Two was drawing to a close. Back at the ranch, more stories and libations and the nefarious escape of Bill the Cat wandering the cornfields. Our day ended with tired bones and great memories and a special feeling of grace being allowed to have such a wonderful experience in central Ohio.

Wednesday morning at 7:45 .am., the Tahoe is loaded and there is a Dead and Company concert in Cuyahoga Falls at the Blossom Music Center – we cannot keep Bob Weir and Mickey Hart waiting. We bid farewell to our friends and we pull out of the driveway with not only a sense of appreciation but a tinge of sadness as well. We know the joy a small town brings and the sacrifice our friends have made to make sure we felt welcome and the effort they made to share the wonder of Urbana with us. We look forward to a day when once again we can see the smiles of our friends and share in the selfless joy they bring into the world simply by existing in it.

With Great Affection for Urbana, Ohio,

JD Smith

P.S. Bill the Cat finally made it back home.