Happy 60th Wedding Anniversary Jim and Lenore McKinzie

Six decades ago, what started as a simple wedding in Chicago between a man and woman created a circle of love that goes round the world. J&L wedding

Your love taught us to honor our elders. As children we watched how you helped your parents age with dignity. Together, you kept the Wisconsin retreat a lasting legacy of Grandpa Mac and Grandma Betty McKinzie’s love of nature and people by welcoming family and friends. You made Grandma Olson part of your community when she moved from the East coast. Together, you rediscovered our missing Norwegian heritage on trips to Norway and connected us to fjords filled with cousins and a rich ancestory. IMG_2014_copy

Your example of love showed tolerance for the differences in others. You were the first to acknowledge and accept my uniqueness. When my unusual talents drove me overseas in pursuit of a professional basketball career, instead of disowning me, your love followed. You opened your home and heart to guests of every nationality and all walks of life including accepting your French son-in-law as your own.

Your love was selfless in time and money. Though as children, we drank powdered milk and shared rooms, we never went without hugs and praise. You forfeited expensive dinners and extravagant presents in order to save for children’s college educations. When your four children became self- sufficient, you started bank accounts for your six grand children. You shower your grandkids with gifts – the greatest being time. Time to read books, play games, toss balls and create memories.

Your love is resilient. You withstood the trials of demanding teaching careers, rose to the challenge of raising four children five years apart, coped with aging parents, fulfilled community obligations, adjusted to changes invoked by illness.

Though your love for one another always came first, there was always enough left over to give to others. Those around you bloomed in the warm glow your love effused.

Your grown children looked to your relationship for inspiration in their own marriages and child rearing. As adults, we appreciated even more the power of your love. A love that never gave up when times were hard. A love that never turned away when money was short. A love that never wavered in life’s transitions. If I have been able to overcome the obstacles of living in a foreign country, raising two children abroad, while struggling with chronic health problems, it is in great part because of your love. A love that made me respectful, tolerant, selfless, resilient, compassionate and, most of all, strong. IMG_3067_copy

Through your children, grandchildren, countless friends you supported and all the “adopted” others that you nurtured, your love now spans two continents and four generations. We, rich and poor, black and white, young and old, American and European – the links to the circle you started together 60 years ago today – celebrate your love, a love that graced our lives.

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Inspirational Speaker Humbled by Dynamic Participants at the Senior National Games

Pat with Shellie Pfohl Executive Director President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, Angela Gorsica Alford, film maker Granny's Got Game

Pat with Shellie Pfohl, Executive Director President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, Angela Gorsica Alford, film maker Granny’s Got Game

 

 

In July, I was invited to speak at the Senior National Games about my memoir Home Sweet Hardwood, the story of a woman’s struggle to fit in society and play basketball in college, professionally and overseas at a time in America’s history when women’s sports was  taboo. My intent was to motivate the participants, but I was the one that left feeling inspired.

As a guest of the National Senior Women’s Basketball Association, I met the lively participants in the women’s over 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s competing in the 3 on 3 basketball competition in Cleveland, Ohio, home of Rock n’ Roll. But I was taken aback when I found out I would be speaking at their socials held at the Hard Rock Cafe. Hard Rock Cafe, a venue for geriatrics? Pitch out whatever preconceived notion you once held of senior citizens.These ladies could play and party with the best of ‘em.

They weren’t just feting basketball, and competition, they were embracing life. They cheered, chanted and celebrated just being together.

Unlike addressing the quietly attentive business-suited businessmen and civic leaders at the Rotary as I did earlier in July, this event required hollering over the din of  a crowd like during the « 3rd half » of a rugby match where opposing teams put rivalry aside, shared a meal and tossed back a beer together.

I tweaked my speech to hold their interest, opening with a few phrases in French. They glanced up from their meals.

« We grew up listening to a language as foreign as French, » I said and they set down forks. « In our hearts, we heard run, jump, play, compete.»

« When society was telling us, cook, clean, cheer, sit, sew, smile, bake, be mommy’s lil’ helper, daddy’s lil’ princess, when what we really wanted to be was fighting warriors on competing America’s playing fields. »

The rowdy crowd stopped socializing.

« WE grew up hearing a language so foreign, no one understood it yet. But they do now! Women can be doctors, lawyers, CEO’s even Secretary of State. »

Cheers erupted. I strode from table to table shouting into the microphone like a union leader as the audience clapped and roared. When I saluted them for staying in the game, they humbled me by rising in a standing ovation.

As a first generation Title IX athlete, I came of age in the infancy of women’s rights to participate in sport and benefited from the controversial bill mandating equal opportunities for women in all public institutes. Many women at the Senior Games grew up pre Title IX and never had the opportunity to compete, or played the old-fashioned 6-a side game where you broke your toes stopping at center court, limited to playing only one half side on defense or offense.

A lady on the Chicago Hot Shots, a 65+ team, told me, “I started playing at age 66.”

Another spunky guard, Carol Strickler, on the Memphis team drawled, “I survived cancer twice and just had hip replacement. Basketball keeps me mobile.”

They endured personal setbacks, career changes, job losses, and family crisises. They recovered from cancers, heart surgeries and joint replacements. Many, like me, stared down death, and refused to quit, “No! I ain’t done living yet.” They found not only a way to remain active, but to be competitive.

100_2021Basketball has become a way of life defining their days. They may have admired me for blazing a trail, but my awe of them was greater. My career ended at the age of 26 in a car accident that should have taken my life. Here were gyms full of women, past the half-century mark, who refused to give up. They were setting picks, blocking shots, knocking down jumpers, taking the charge and still walking off the court upright.

Against all odds, they found a way to stay in the game.

“Never again will we question our right to belong on the Home Sweet Hardwood,” I said.

East Cost players still got game

East Coast players still got game

« I came here to share my uplifting story and encourage you to read my book, » I told them,  « but I am the one leaving the Cleveland Senior Games 2013 feeling inspired. I raise my glass. »

« You rock, ladies. Fitness for Life. Basketball Forever. »

We’ve come a long way, baby !

Amen, sister, amen !

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Mürren Switzerland, Last Stop Before Heaven

IMG_3617_copyIn a country where every mile is beautiful, it is difficult to choose a favorite spot, but Mürren rates at the top of my list. Perched precariously on a narrow balcony 5,397 feet above the Lauterbrunnen Valley, the highest resort village in the Bernese Oberland offers the best view of Switzerland’s most famous trio, the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. Mürren is as close to heaven as it gets.

Part of the splendor is the journey upward on the Lauterbrunnen to Grutschalp funicular. Opened in 1891, it was once the steepest funicular in Switzerland until they replaced it with a gondola. After riding up a sheer incline, we stepped out into a station and boarded a train that crept even higher until the line ended in Mürren.

At first, British tourists invaded Mürren, accessible only in summer months. As early as 1869 a British visitor complained, “It is crowded to excess with English.” Archbishop of Canterbury was appalled to see people playing tennis within view of the Jungfrau. He considered it sacrilegious to participate in such an artificial activity when surrounded by such a spectacular natural sport arena.

In 1910, the hotels persuaded railway lines to open lines for winter season. In 1928, the first Inferno Ski Race from the summit of Schilthorn mountain (9,744 feet altitude) put Mürren on the map. Mürren has also been associated with ballooning since the 1910 crossing the Alps ended in Turen.

Sports enthusiasts aren’t the only ones to enjoy Mürren, one of the larger car free resorts. Every day tourists love strolling through one long main streets where bakeries, boutiques, hotels and resorts perch on a ledge of Switzerland’s most famous Alps. Every 50 yards, red benches beckon gawkers and walkers to sit a spell when the panoramic views take one’s breath away.

One step out onto the terrace of our Hotel Alpenruh overlooking the tips of the Eiger, Jungfrau and Munch in full splendor and felt like we’d tumbled into Heidiland. Several hiking trails offered excursions. We chose the children’s adventure trail, which required more dexterity than my old body could muster. Even with my adjustable walking sticks with three different tips for snow, mountain and road surface, I struggled to maneuver the sheer ledges.

We climbed up a peak where half a dozen chalets – abandoned in offseason -looked like a mountain ghost town. The trail disappeared again in heavy wet snow. The only way back was straight down a sheer drop off that even a skilled skier would have trouble descending. Never daunted, my husband bounded ahead sideways like a billy goat and forged our own trail. My knees screamed in pain each step downward, but I pushed ahead fearing that if I misjudged one step, I would roll into another valley and be lost forever.

We finally saw the village below although it took another 2 hours to reach it. Once back at the hotel, I collapsed on the trundle bed under a fluffy duvet enjoying my hiker’s survival high. I admired the show outside my window as the setting sun illuminated the rugged mountain trio in various shadows and shapes. Meanwhile, much to my chagrin, my husband watched a football (soccer) match on a mini TV. In a land offering this kind of splendor just outside one’s window, television, like tennis courts, should be banned.

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Transformative Travel- Kids’ Greatest Education Family Road Trip 1962

My parents and grandparents, all teachers, believed in education, but the best schooling I received was from the smudged windowpanes of our used 1962 Rambler station wagon when we left our Midwestern flatlands for the summer trips across the Wild West and sun-baked south. The best book I ever read was the one I wrote in my mind, as we crisscrossed the endless blue highways of America.

Most families would never attempt to take four children five years apart anywhere in the car, but my parents loved to travel and my grandparents, having survived the Depression, developed a habit of saving money only to indulge their grandchildren.

“Turn left at the next intersection,” Dad would say.

“Reckon it’s right,” Grandpa would argue.

“I’d go straight,” my nine-year-old brother said, studying the map as navigator. My sisters and I thought he was spoiled because he got the front seat.

We turned left. Then hung a U and turned right. Finally we followed my brother’s suggestion and got back on track. While my brother resolved arguments in the front seat, my sisters and I  bickered in the back seat that faced backwards until dad yelled, “Stop that squabbling or I’ll make you walk home.”

Four thousand miles forced us to be creative. We smoked candy cigarettes behind our plastic sunglasses and waved at truck drivers. We invented names for the inhabitants of the houses we passed, told knock-knock jokes and made up songs.

We learned to survive without air conditioning by sucking ice cubes and sticking our bare feet out the back window and how to hold our needs by crossing our legs.

Like all children we had an innate curiosity until an adult interfered. Whenever we passed a famous site, Dad would command, “Sit up and look girls, we are passing Mt. Everest (Lake Tahoe or whatever.)” That is how I missed seeing most of America’s greatest wonders. Out of simple rebellion at authority, I refused to look up from my Archie comic books.

After we completed our 300-mile daily quota, Dad let us study the Mobile Guide Book and find the cheapest motel with a swimming pool. The next day, like little tin soldiers, we were dressed, packed and in the car by the 8:00 hour departure time. Lunch was a soggy baloney and cheese sandwich from the big, red ice chest. Dinner, a hamburger and fries, in a family diner.

Later as adults, we would forget the impact of seeing the Grand Canyon or the Great Sequoias, but we remembered the color of the underwear that flew across the highway when our luggage fell off the rack and the name of the town where we accidentally left Susie in the gas station restroom.

My grandparents instilled a wanderlust and though I missed the significance of Mt. Rushmore and Cape Canaveral, I understood more about my country than the textbooks divulged. Our trip to the Deep South left a far greater lasting impression than Disneyland or the Hollywood Studios.

“How come the Negroes live in shacks?” I asked with the innocence of a seven-year-old.

“Because they are so poor.”

“Why are they so poor?”

“Because they don’t have any land.”

“Hey, I see lots of land,” I said pointing towards a sprawling plantation with stately white pillars. “The whole town could fit in that house; it’s bigger than a hotel!”

At Piney Woods School, where my grandparents volunteered to teach after their retirement, my brother and I played basketball with the black boys on a dirt court in a sun-baked paradise surrounded by pine and honey-scented pink and white magnolias. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

“Isn’t it great how well they get along?” my dad asked.

“If only we could remain children in our hearts,” my grandma replied.

As we piled suitcases on top of the Rambler to head back North, a young girl peeked behind her big sister’s cotton skirt to stare at the first white family she’d ever seen.

sisters-at-Piney-Woods

sisters and new friends at Piney-Woods

“Schootch together,” Grandma said, “so I can take your picture.”

I stood by my new friend and beamed as the camera clicked.  Then I reached over and took her soft, brown hand in mine. It fit just perfect.

Photographs of my childhood remain etched in my soul forever.  Just as my grandma had hoped, I remained a child in my heart, befriending people from all four corners of the globe in my international community in Switzerland where I now teach.

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There is no place like home

The warm reception that I received from my hometown after the release of my book, Home Sweet Hardwood, was magical and filled with surprises.

My old college roommate planned to drive out from Chicago, but her  job interview ran late and she knew she would miss my talk at the library. Amy drove out anyway and came to the house after my speaking engagement. We picked up right where we left off 25 years ago.Image 2

Rocky, a Native American, was the first journalist to write about the first sanctioned girls’ basketball games in Illinois in the early 1970s, at a time when media coverage was nonexistent. He read the book and rated it right up there with his favorite book,  To Kill A Mockingbird

My friend, Phil, told me that he stayed up all night to read it. « The Willie Mayes story and the Pat McKinzie story were the only books I ever finished. » He ranked me right up there with the greatest.

Ray Torres saw the write up about me in the paper, called the house, and asked if he could bring his 12-year-old granddaughter, a talented softball player, out to meet me and sign a book. He brought the whole family. Madison told me about how she trained year round for her sport and  I got to shake hands with an AAU champion, who reminded me of me at that age.

At a lunch date at Angelos with the friends I made in gradeschool – and still keep in contact with today – my oldest, most loyal supporters cheered for the success of my book in the same way that they once applauded my efforts on the court.

the Home Team

the Home Team

My family attended every function with me. One sister drove out from Chicago, another from Minneapolis. My parents, in their 80s, beamed from the front row as I spoke. Sue ran the powerpoint, Karen sat at the back of the room and waved if my voice faded. They made cookies for the library social, carted books to events, picked out my wardrobe, listened to me stumble through my speech umpteen times and shared in the joy and celebration of my life long dream.

The members of the Rotary Club and Kiwanis Club honored me by inviting me to speak at their organizations. It tickled my funny bones to think that the very groups that had denied women access  until the 80s gave me center stage to recount my history of growing up in the 1970s and being excluded from America’s playing fields, but today’s members were welcoming and supportive.

Readers of all ages and walks of life told me how they laughed and cried as they turned the pages and felt inspired by my fighting spirit.

“You can’t know where you are going until you understand where you have been.”  I said in my speeches. “In all my wanderings I have always known that I am a McKinzie, a Sterling Golden Warrior, a product of the Land of Lincoln.

After hearing me speak, reporter Ty Reynolds wrote in the Sterling Gazette, “Meet the woman. Read her story. Tell me she wasn’t as good a storyteller as she was basketball player. I dare you.”

All these touching tributes reminded me that the real reward in writing a book is not the fleeting fame or  any financial success, it is about connecting with people one word at time.

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Woo hoo,school in Switzerland is out for the summer

I am flying back to the Midwest. Keep your fingers I make it, that my flight will not be cancelled due to storms, mechanical problems, air traffic controller strikes, missed connecting flights, terrorist threats, security breeches, or passenger rage.

The moment my feet hit the tarmac I will begin a book promotional tour. I’ll be telling spinning yarns, swapping jokes, and kicking back with the folks at home.

Here is my itinerary.

  • Sterling (Illinois) Library Monday July 1 – 6:00 p.m.
  • Kiwanis Club breakfast  -Ryberg Auditorium CGH Tuesday July 2 – 6:45 a.m.
  • Rotary Club – YWCA downtown Sterling Tuesday July 2 -12:00 noon
  • Book Signing Northland Hills Mall July 3 -9:30 a.m.
  • Friday evening, July 5,  I’ll be crashing SHS Class of 1978 Reunion at the Precinct Downtown as my little sister’s date!
  • In July, I am heading to the Senior National Games in Cleveland as a guest of National Senior Women’s Basketball Association (July 25-29).

In between speaking gigs, I will be escaping to Wisconsin.

If anyone is in these areas at the above dates, c’mon down. Would love to see you!

Hope to see you soon.

As we say in France, a bientôt!

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