And each one flew to Austin on a commercial airliner whose flight crew outnumbered its passengers. It was the week after 911 and no one wanted to fly, but the Fearless Flyers spent an amazing 3 days together.
From left to right:
Dr. Kevin Ryan, a famous writing coach from Utah.
Dick Taylor, a radio station GM from Massachusetts.
Chet Young, a big salesman with a booming voice from Burlington, Iowa.
Akintunde Omitowoju, a senior programmer of Nintendo games from Kyoto, Japan.
In their class photo, the Fearless Flyers stood on 4 different stair steps so that Chet and Akintunde wouldn’t tower over Kevin and Dick.
Back then, Wizard Academy was a 600 square-foot open room originally built to be a private gym for my employees.
In one exercise, I assigned each of the 4 men a poem and asked them to look for interesting combinations of words. “I’m not asking you to interpret what the poem means, or to speculate about what the poet is trying to say, just make note of any words or phrases that surprise you.”
A few minutes later, Dick Taylor walked to the front of the room, told us the page on which his poem could be found, then pointed out the words and phrases that delighted him. Everyone clapped and Dick sat down. Akintunde walked to the front of the room and did the same. We clapped and he sat down. Then it was Dr. Ryan’s turn. Did I mention his Ph.D is in creative writing and that he is slender, soft-spoken, and brilliant? We clapped and he sat down.
Finally, it was Chet’s turn. Watching him walk to the front of the room, I was reminded of those TV ads for Dinty Moore beef stew back in the 1970s. With his big biceps and rumbling bass voice, it was easy to imagine Chet flinging a 100-pound bale of hay onto the top of a 20-foot stack in Burlington, Iowa, with just one hand, then flinging a second bale to land on top of it with the other hand.
Chet identified his favorite words and phrases in the poem he had been assigned. We clapped and he just stood there, staring at the book in his hands.
Sitting alongside the other 3 students, I said, “Well done, Chet.”
He looked up at us with a serious expression and asked, “But what does it mean?” We hesitated, so with a puzzled look, he asked again, “What does the poem mean?”
That’s when Dr. Ryan stood up and walked to the front of the room. Seeing him standing next to Chet, I thought of Billy Crystal and Jack Palance in City Slickers. Dr. Ryan quietly took Chet’s elbow and guided him to a window that looked onto a field behind our classroom. He twisted open the mini-blinds and said, “Look out there, Chet, and tell me what you see.”
Chet looked out the window and said in his husky, deep voice, “Oak tree. Big one… I’ll bet that sucker’s 300 years old… Couple of squirrels playin’ chase up in it… Bird on a branch… There’s a house back there with an Olds Cutlass 442 in the driveway… a ’71, I believe. I’d like to have that…. And there’s an ice chest next to the picnic table where we’re about to have lunch. Prob’ly got cold beer in it.” Chet looked back at Dr. Ryan.
Dr. Ryan pointed at the window and said, “Did you like it?”
Chet looked out the window again, then back at Dr. Ryan. “Yeah, I liked it.”
Dr. Ryan looked at Chet and asked, “But what does it mean?”
Chet cocked his head and thought for a moment. “You sayin’ a poem doesn’t have to mean anything, you can just like it?”
Dr. Ryan smiled a happy smile and said, “Yeah, Chet. You can just like it.”
When Chet came to another class a few months later, he pulled me aside during a break and began telling me about all his favorite poems and poets. “You were right,” he said, “reading poems is making me a better writer. I’ve read my favorite poems so many times I’ve got’em all memorized. But if you ever tell any of my buddies that I read poetry…” he said with a smile, “I’m gonna kick your ass.”
A couple of days ago I was walking down the stairs from the conference room when I noticed Corrine Taylor walking toward me. She met me at the bottom of the stairs.
“Do you remember Chet Young?” she asked.
I smiled, “How’s Chet doing?”
“She said he passed away earlier this year.”
I’ve told stories of the Fearless Flyers and the delightful days they spent together in that small, converted gym at least 100 times. So when Marley Porter showed up the next morning with drawings of Wizard Academy’s amazing new cantilevered gym that will hang off the hillside near Spence Manor, Pennie and I decided to donate $5,000 in the name of “Chet Young and the Fearless Flyers” so that his name will appear on a bronze plaque with 19 other people who will donate $5,000 each* and 50 people who will donate $1,000 each** to build this fabulous new gym for the students of Wizard Academy.
Your name can be on that plaque, if you want.
Just email firstname.lastname@example.org
We miss you, Chet.
But you will always be remembered.
Roy H. Williams
* $5,000 donors will also be invited (+1) in the spring to an epic, 2 day/3 night private event at Wizard Academy when the gym is completed. Did I mention that Brian Clapp has already purchased new, state-of-the-art gym equipment for us? It’s pretty much everything you’ve ever seen or heard of. Your $5,000 cash gift also confers “major donor” status on you, giving you a room on campus (provided we have no classes in session) anytime you are in Austin. NOTE: We rarely, if ever, have classes Fri-Mon. Most Wizard Academy classes are Tues-Thurs.)
** $1,000 donors: this bronze plaque, with your name on it, is going to be awesome. We have big plans for its presentation at our new, landmark gym.
Click the image of the Fearless Flyers at the top of this page to see Marley Porter’s drawings of the gym.