Remembering The Barn at Saint Joseph's College
Sat. 14 Sept. 02
By Bill Wall, R'63
With additional discussion from Dan Folliard and Jim Nice (also R'63)
Greetings from Ashland.
Here's something for you to look over and hopefully enjoy. If you don't enjoy a section, skip that part. If you do, pass it along or forward it to anyone else in our class whose email you possess. If you want to pass it along to anyone else, that's fine, but remember YOU have to explain the strange anomalies of The Barn.
Bill Wall was reminiscing one day. That single cogitation started the following letters.
Bill Wall starts this memory lane meander.
Jim Nice responded to my last E mail as you saw, and he asked in that E mail what happened to the old barn where we used to play basketball at St. Joes. You know me; ask me a question regarding an historic or hysteric fact about St. Joes, and I will reply.
The Barn: We all played basketball there in the old days, and as I recall, those courts weren't quite regulation size. They were probably long enough but narrower that a regular basketball court. There was a court on each side of the barn, and kind of a dark area in the center of the barn that was kind of weird. In 1966-67 they built a nice, new gymnasium across from the pool where the old basket courts were. After that, the barn was pretty much abandoned, and it fell into disrepair.
I remember walking by the old barn on my occasional St. Joes walks in the 1970's and 80's, and I noticed that the roof of the barn was starting to sag a bit in the middle, and place looked pretty shabby. It was all boarded up to keep people out of there. In 1990, we had one Hell of a blow in the Bay Area, and it wasn't the old St. Joes Newspaper. There was a big storm with winds up to 90 miles an hour, not that common for here. 25 percent of the trees in Golden Gate Park came down, big storm, People in the mountains were without electricity for a week or two.
Well, the old St. Joes Barn came down with a bang in that storm. I didn't know that at first, but I walked by the barn a couple months later, and all I saw was a big pile of rubble, with a broken up sheet metal roof on top of it. Somebody told me that the big storm had blown the barn down. I noticed another thing that day. There were some guys there with pick up trucks and chain saws and they were letting people cut up the wood from the barn and haul it away as free firewood. I should have gotten a few souvenirs that day. I even thought of coming back that weekend with my truck and chain saw and getting some wood, but I didn't.
About 3 or 4 months later, I was on another of my St. Joes walks, and I walked by where the old barn was, and there wasn't a stick of wood left there or anything. It was like the barn had never been there. I think they had to clean all of that debris out of there, because it was an eyesore and a hazard.
That big storm also knocked down a huge, dead tree that was by the handball courts that I described before. That tree, which had a five foot diameter, was to the right of that bridge by the handball courts. There was a barbecue pit in that area, and some tables, remember that? When that monstrous tree came down, it almost took out those power lines that were there. Remember those? Oh well, enough history.
One other thing, just for a laugh. Does anybody remember Mike Strange? Different name. Well, Mike was in the Poet year when we were in First High. Jim, I think he was in Mike Dreiling Class. Anyway, Mike Strange was ordained in 1965, and he was a parish priest for awhile, and then he became a Sulp, and ended up teaching at St. Joes in the late 70's. In 1989, right before the big earthquake at St. Joes, Fr. Mike takes off for Zambia, Africa, where he taught at a seminary there for 10 years. He is back here now. The reason I know all of this is Mike has been helping on Sundays for years at St. Victor's Parish in San Jose, where my Family attends Church. I recognized him from the old days, and I used to talk to him after Mass sometimes, and he and I had breakfast several times before he went to Africa. He used to keep me up on what was going on at St. Joes at the time. He is a very nice guy.
Well, he is back now and still helping out at St. Victor's on Sundays. Several months ago, I saw him after Mass, and I asked him if he would want a copy of a story I wrote about St. Joes. He said sure. This last sunday, after the 9:00AM Mass, he found me and he told me that he read my story twice, and it sure brought back a lot of memories. He couldn't believe all the detail. He asked me if if it was alright if he sent a copy of that story to the Archives at the Main Sulp House in Baltimore. He thought it ought to be archived there. I said sure. That blew me away and I laughed. It is always nice talking to Mike. Jack Olivier is now retired and is living at that "Big Sulp House in the Sky" in Baltimore. I think Sarge Strain sent him a copy of that story. He and Sarge are close.
Ed. Note: There is now also a copy of Bill's Seminary story in the archives of the San Francisco Archdiocese thanks to Gerry Coleman, the present rector of St. Patrick's. Congrats Bill!
More thoughts about the barn
From: Jim Nice
I am sitting under that tree with you, Bill. I took up handball and spent allot of time in those courts. Bill, I really appreciate your point of view. You left in 2nd high so memories of those times are clear to you. The rest of the St. Joes years have blurred the early memories.
My guts still remember those try out days when we knew the scouts were sizing us up. My hopes were high for a short while, 'til I realized there were some pretty hot athletes in our class. Then I just wanted to not be embarrassed too badly. In St. Matthew's elementary school I spent plenty of time on the bench while captains picked around me. I was usually in the last lot of guys who were divvied up. I hated that. I wasn't any good in sports until I worked in my junior year at Chimney Rock Ranch in Cazadero and built some strength. After that I could run distances really well. Doing one thing well was good enough for me.
I walked those grounds a couple of years ago with my son, Chris. Strangest tour I've ever given. "There was a basketball court here, and a swimming pool there, and a ..." He was patient and showed interest but I think he sometimes thought I was putting him on. I couldn't find a splinter of the barn, which for some reason I thought would persevere. It didn't.
Did you feel any guilt or private glee for having a beer in your hand while sitting under that tree? That would have bought you a ticket home. The glee for me is something to savor.
For years in my early twenties I would dream of being at St. Joes and seemingly inadvertently violating a big no-no, like being late for chapel, sleeping in, or squaring off with Dillon, feeling utter terror, and then realizing I am no longer under their dominance. I would awake feeling free and in charge of my life. Great empowering dreams.
Thanks again, Bill, for the memories.
Another "Greetings" from Ashland
Bill, what cosmic alignment of the planets got you to decide to stroll down memory lane? You definitely enjoyed a walk around the park, knowing that all the joggers and people with baby carriages strolling by hadnÕt a clue as to this land's HISTORY. I remember those trees along the creek, and especially the handball court where I first learned the sport and especially how to hit it high and far so the other fellow had to drop way back to get a shot at it and I could catch my breath while someone else ran all over.
And then of course the barn. I don't know how many unbelieving expressions I've engendered and how many conversations IÕve stopped with my explanations about the barn and how we played basketball there.
One of the best games ever I played there. It was in second or third high and they needed another for a pickup game. I was drafted. We played half court, with lots of players on each side from college fellows to this lowly peon. The play was fast and furious, the ball was passed all over the place, shots were taken from anywhere and everywhere on the court, and I had a great time. No matter what I did or how I played, the emphasis was on the game.
The most remarkable thing about the whole adventure, something I've always remembered and often used, is how they kept score. (For some odd reason they did keep score.) However, the object of the game was to have a good time, work up a sweat, and play some basketball. The score ran from 2 to 10 then reversed back to 2 then up again to 10. By that time we had to quit to get a shower before late afternoon classes. The score ws probably 6 to 8, one way or the other and no one cared. We had a great game, and IÕve used that "keep score but not keep score" technique with my classroom kids for years.
The crowning point though, and I have to agree with Jim here, is the opportunity of getting to sit down, relax, and drink a beer on the old homestead! Well done!
As I was reading your thoughts and then Jim's, I got to thinking about the St. Joe's sports system. Over the years I have come to really appreciate the sports situation we grew up in where there weren't enough players to fill out the roster -- that meant that the jocks didn't get it all to themselves. Others had to fill in, and thus they had to train us in all the various skills and techniques for the different sports. I certainly learned how to play soccer, catch in hardball, bat and play second base in softball, screen and drive in basketball. I could never stop Bernie Erwin's drives in basketball. He just went through me as if I were butter and then somehow he was on the basket side of me going for the shot.
Learning how to do one thing well, as Jim stated, really transferred over into just about everything. That success seemed to give us the strength to try other sports and other activities. Maybe, we were just experiencing the learning curve that's built into these activities. That was before the term came into use. Way back then we had the answer sitting in front of us. If we had only only known what the question was! Maybe that's the essence of adolescence.
From an e-mail discussion, August and September 2002
Photo Credits: "Thank you!"
Paul Feyen, R'61 - for the color barn picture
Dan Folliard R'63 - for the black and white barn photo
Paul Feyen, R'61 - for the game action photo in the barn