Franklin Spencer III: A Man who Greatly Influenced My Life

People come and go in our lives. We often don’t think about their influence upon our lives;  however, God has a purpose for each person that He places in our lives. For this reason I thank God for every person that He has placed in my life. One of those people was  Franklin M. Spencer III.

I never knew Franklin Spencer as Franklin, but as Mr. Spencer. Mr. Spencer was my high school guidance counselor at Highland Park High School. When I told my wife (Sharon) that I was writing about the impact Mr. Spencer made upon my life, she said: “But high school guidance counselors don’t really have much influence over our lives.”  Mr. Spencer was different.

 “This is what I think we should do.”  I was on the other side of Mr. Spencer’s desk as he was mapping out my future. “You will go to summer school and take some classes to get ahead. As a senior, you can then take classes at Highland Park Community College.”  Taking Second Year Algebra  during the summer was not my idea of fun, but I became a willing summer school student.

I didn’t realize that those few minutes in Mr. Spencer’s office would have an immense effect upon my life. I followed his plan completely. As a result, I was able to graduate from college (with studying each summer) in the summer of 1975. This was two years ahead of schedule.  If I had graduated in 1977, I would have never met my wife. I would have never taught in Baltimore. South Africa and Portugal would just be places on the map instead of places where we have left our hearts and many friends.

Mr. Spencer also affected my life because he encouraged me to go beyond my own expectations. He helped me to see that I could do well in college and beyond. He didn’t speak down to me, but he spoke as through I could actually make some responsible decisions as a high school student.

I also learned from Mr. Spencer leadership skills that have helped me to this very day. As a senior, I was elected president of the National Honor Society. Mr. Spencer was our sponsor. He didn’t lead the group, but he guided us.

He allowed me to take the initiative on some projects. One project was bringing together all the National Honor Society chapters in the Detroit area. We had the first meeting at our school. Mr. Spencer helped, but several of us students worked together and we saw forty-two schools represented. Mr. Spencer gave me the chance to lead, but he also taught me that a real leader allows others to use their talents and abilities to fulfill projects. As a pastor, I still see the importance of the principle of delegation.

Mr. Spencer would leave Highland Park High School in 1973 to teach in South Korea.  Unfortunately, he would die of cancer shortly after his arrival there. His death would be a great loss for the cause of education.

 I remember the last time I saw Mr. Spencer.  We had an Honor Society banquet the night before graduation.  I never thanked him.  I never communicated with him.  At the time, I didn’t know what a great impact he would have upon my life.  When I heard he had died, I was saddened by the news, but it wouldn’t be until later that I truly appreciated why God had brought him into my life.

 I thank the Lord that He placed Franklin Spencer in my life.  I can’t imagine what my life would be like today if it wasn’t for those few minutes that Mr. Spencer laid out a plan that made all the difference in my life.


My Friend, Mike Bartnikowski (Long-time teacher at Ford School)


My visit with Mike in 2011

Today (February 5th) would have been Mike Bartnikowski’s birthday. Unfortunately, he is no longer with us to celebrate. While I was living in Highland Park, Mike was a great influence in my life during my teenage years.

The first time, I ever saw Mike was while I was a student at Ford Middle School from 1966-69.  Mike was a seventh grade teacher, and I would see him walking down the halls with his class. You couldn’t miss Mike because of his size. Many of his students would affectionately call him “Big Bart”. I never had Mike as a teacher; so I really didn’t know him or even speak to him.

My opportunity to meet Mike was when he started to work at Ford Park in the summers.  I spent a lot of time at Ford Park even as a young teen because there wasn’t much else to do. I would play shuffleboard with the old men, play some table games, and play a lot of tennis. It was during these summers that I developed a friendship with Mike.

Mike treated me as an adult though I was only a young teen. He would listen to what was going on in my life and he would share things that were happening in his life. I remember that he was quite excited when his daughter, Barb, was born. Unfortunately, I didn’t really appreciate Mike’s friendship and kindness until later in my life.

One of the things that Mike greatly enjoyed was playing war games (mostly board games).  Mike and I would spend time each summer playing some of these war games at the park.  Eventually Mike started a war gamers club that met at Hackett Field House every Saturday morning. He loved the competition. One of his most favorite games was Diplomacy. He loved the deceit and backstabbing that was part of the game. Because of Mike’s very competitive nature, Saturday morning was the highlight of the week.

Mike also enjoyed playing practical jokes. One evening at Ford Park, I was playing tennis when I heard this voice over the loudspeaker say: “Mark Booth, your mother is calling you!” Many of those playing were laughing as I ran off the courts to see what was up. Mike then comes up to me laughing because he had pulled off a brilliant prank.

After I graduated from Highland Park High School in 1973, I never did see Mike again until 2011.  Like many people, we were able to get reconnected through Facebook. I enjoyed spending a couple of hours with Mike and his wife, Barb. He talked about Ford School, the teachers in the school, some of his students, and he also wanted to relive his prank that he played upon me forty years before. I am glad that we had that chance to get acquainted again.

During my last visit, Mike was surprised that I was a pastor of a Baptist Church. I shared how God had used him to greatly influence my life. I reminded him how through his advice, I was able to convince my parents to transfer me back to Highland Park High School after a very miserable ninth grade at U of D High School. This decision enabled me to eventually finish college early. If I hadn’t, I would not have met my wife, Sharon. I would not have gone to South Africa and Portugal. My two sons would not be in Portugal now. I could just go on and on.

During my high school years I didn’t know how God was working in my life. I thank God for having an adult friend like Mike with whom I could talk. I am sure Mike didn’t know until my visit two years ago how important his role was in my life. Yes, Mike is missed by many, but I will not forget Him. God is still blessing me by having placed Mike in my life.

P.S. Here is an article about the Wargamers Club that Mike started:

 If you are interested I have another blog in which I write about about spiritual matters such as “God’s Prescription for Pain” and “Verses for the Valley”. Here is the link:

Christmas Memories of Growing Up in Highland Park

Though I wrote this last year, the memories are still vivid! Thanks for subscribing to my blog. I am sorry that I haven’t written any new posts lately. I do hope to get started again soon. May each of you have a Blessed Christmas.

Growing Up in Highland Park, MI

“The helicopter is coming!”  This would be one of the greatest highlights of my young life.  Yes, I had sat on Santa’s lap at Hudson’s and Sears and Roebuck’s, but this would be special.  Santa was arriving at Ford Park in a helicopter.   The helicopter soon landed and there he was!  Santa  climbed out of the helicopter as gracefully as possible for a man of his girth.  He then gave a hearty “Ho Ho” and passed out candy to all of us children.  I couldn’t wait for Christmas to come.

Reflecting back upon my Christmas memories, takes me to a time where life was quite simple for me.  My parents helped make Christmas the special and joyous time of year that it was.  Here are several random memories of my Christmases as a child growing up in Highland Park.

Our Christmas season would begin on Thanksgiving.  Dad would make…

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I am sharing this post by Marsha Lynn Battle Philpot, aka Marsha Music. She does a great job of writing about my Latin teacher at Highland Park High School. How can I forget a teacher who invited me and a couple other students to her home for dinner! She was an excellent teacher who cared about her students. I am sure you will enjoy this essay by Marsha!

Marsha Music

Latin was one of my favorite studies in high school. It seems odd, in this day of sorely challenged school curriculae, but believe it or not, in those days – the 1960’s – Highland Park, Michigan had one of the best school systems in the whole country. This was before the disintegration of the city’s tax base with the decline of the automotive industry that was headquatered there -the city’s core of support.

In those days many of us took Latin, and many of us who took Latin truly loved the subject –  due, in no small part,  to our teacher – the dear, genteel Mrs. Banton. She looked a little like Rosa Parks, and though she was surely younger then than I am now, she seemed really old to us, even back then – for she joined none of the other teachers in their late-60’s’ efforts to be hip, slick, cool or even “relevant”.

She wore her hair in a…

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A History of Highland Park Textbook (Part Two)

In third grade, we were introduced to a small book called: “A History of Highland Park” by Ellen Hathaway.  I only found this book again a few months ago thanks to Doug Kalish.  It is on a child’s level, but it is still a great way to relearn the history of Highland Park.  Here is the second half of the book. Enjoy it as I have.

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Winter Memories in Highland Park

My friend and I in 1959 (Candler Ave. between Brush and Oakland)

My friend and I in 1959 (Candler Ave. between Brush and Oakland)

In spite of being in my fifties (I do hate to admit this), I still have a love for winter that I had as a child. Winter was not only Christmas, but it was also a special time of year for me.  My memories of winter are probably similar to other people who grew up in the fifties and sixties.

The memory of snow coming down excited me. The snow meant making snow forts, snowmen, and having snowball fights. Unfortunately, the snow in the playground at Midland School was wasted during recess because snowball fighting was not permitted.    I never tried to break this rule; so I never did discover what the punishment would have been.  It was one of those rules that I didn’t understand in elementary school.

Winter also meant cold weather. As a Safety Boy, my corner was at Brush and Ferris. It was the furthest post from Midland School. The winter meant cold mornings doing what I thought was a very important job. When the temperature reached ten degrees, all the Safety Boys would get free hot chocolate in the gym. This may not seem like a great perk, but at the time the hot chocolate sure tasted good.

One day, in second grade, the temperature went down to minus twelve degrees.  Mom didn’t see a problem with the cold; however, she did drive me to school that day. There were only four other students in our class. This made for a very long day for the five of us as well as our teacher, Mrs. Schlabach (sp?).

One year, we experienced a big snow storm.  I am sure that we had a couple of rare snow days. When we returned to school, several of us on our walk home took a detour through Ford Park. We were quite pleased to see that the city had dumped a lot of the excess snow by the track. These dumps made perfect snow mountains where we could play, hide and toss snowballs from our hideouts. This lasted for several days, which made for a very slow walk home.

Whenever we had snow, the city would do a great job of taking care of the snow on the streets and even in the alleys. Dad didn’t appreciate the snow being thrown upon his car, but we didn’t have a garage. There was also the small snow plow that plowed all the sidewalks. This was an expensive luxury which in my later teen years had ceased to exist.

As I became older, I also learned that winter meant work.  I soon would be recruited to shovel snow on our sidewalks.  To me, it seemed like our sidewalks never ended. Obviously, shoveling the snow was not my favorite part of winter.

Winter also meant that I would spend more time inside the house, watching more television than I should.  Of course, there was Captain Jolly at 6:00 P.M. and then there were the Hanna-Barbera cartoons at 6:30 P.M.  My favorites were Quick Draw Mcgraw, Yogi Bear, and Huckleberry Hound. I felt fortunate that there was an alternative to the 6:30 P.M. news. Living in the Detroit area meant that we had access to Channel nine out of Windsor, Canada.

Captain Jolly

Captain Jolly

Besides watching television, we would have family game time. We enjoyed playing Jeopardy, Password, and especially Scrabble.  I always enjoyed trying to make up my own words with the tiles given to me.  My favorite sentence was: “Is this a word?”  My mother was quite patient with me during these games, though my older brother was not amused.

One last thing about winter that I remember was how cold my bedroom would become. The heat from the basement barely made it up to my second floor bedroom.  After reading me a story mom would cover me up with several covers and give me a kiss goodnight.

The winter appeared to go on forever. The snow stayed on the ground for three months. However, the snow would eventually leave the ground. The temperatures would rise, and spring would arrive. The snowballs would be replaced by baseballs. The hot chocolate would be replaced by Hires Root Beer. With the warmth, we would return to the alley to play our favorite games. However, the joy of winter would come again.


The McGregor Library-A Highland Park Treasure

The McGregor Library as I remember it.  (Postcard provided by Pat Wion Hammond)

The McGregor Library as I remember it. (Postcard provided by Pat Wion Hammond)

Before there were computers, smart phones, video games, I Pads, and DVDs, there were books. Growing up, my mother tried her best to instill a love for reading in her children. Before going to bed, she would often read from a book.  I remember her reading a biography of Albert Schweitzer, the Great Locomotive Chase, and my favorite, a biography of Lord Nelson!

Because of Mom’s love of books, I became very familiar with the McGregor Library at an early age.  As a child, the first thing I noticed was the building itself.  It was the most beautiful building in Highland Park.  There was nothing in Highland Park that compared with the grandeur of the McGregor Library.  Even when the library was closed, the golden doors with the two figures on it were very impressive.

The Outer Doors of the McGregor Library: Photo by Courtesy of Anthony Lockhart

The Outer Doors of the McGregor Library: Photo by Courtesy of Anthony Lockhart

Once we would enter the library, I would be awestruck by the size of the library.  I would look left and see the periodical section and the adult section. Straight ahead was the checkout desk, with shelves of books behind the desk. As we entered the library, Mom would remind me that I was to be very quiet in the library. Mom didn’t have to tell me because the building itself communicated that this is a place of quietness, study and reflection.

The interior of the library (in the 1920's) Source unknown

The interior of the library (in the 1920’s) Source unknown

My section of the library was to the right of the entrance.  Mom would direct me to the bookshelves for children.  I would dig right into the books.  The first books that I would check out of the library were by Dr. Seuss.  I just couldn’t get enough of his strange type of humor and bizarre illustrations.

My favorite part of the visit was to look through the stereoscope that was in the children’s department.  The old black and white photos seen through the stereoscope appeared in 3D.  Not only was the 3D effect exciting, but the old photos gave me a glimpse of life in the past.  I would imagine going back into time and visiting the people and the places in the photos.

A stereoscope (Photo from Wikipedia)

A stereoscope (Photo from Wikipedia)

Also, in the children’s section was the famous doll house.  I didn’t spend a lot of time there, so I have this description by another former Highland Parker. “The doll house was absolutely fabulous! It was just to the right in the lobby as you entered the library. The house was a cut-away so that you could look straight ahead at all the floors. I believe it was a tri-level house (but it may have only been two). All of the rooms were furnished; bedrooms with beds; a living room with a sofa and chairs. The house had all the fixtures including miniature people and pets. The house was inhabited by what appeared to be a nuclear family.” (Pamela Galloway)

As I grew older, I left Dr. Seuss behind and the other children’s books.  As a result, my visits to the McGregor Library became very infrequent.  It shouldn’t have happened, but I became interested in sports and other activities.  Mom must have understood this because our visits to the library had stopped.

In the eighth grade, I became reacquainted with the McGregor Library.  Mrs. Smart, my eighth grade English teacher assigned us a research paper.  She mentioned that we needed eight to ten references.  The subject that I choose was the All-America Football Conference.  This football league competed with the NFL during 1946-1949.  However, I had the problem of where am I going to find these references


In 1969, there was no Google; so I had to become acquainted with the adult area of the McGregor library.  The librarian was kind enough to explain the “Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature”.  This was a handy book that catalogued all the articles each year that were written on a certain subject.  I would write down the name and date of the magazine that I needed.  The librarian would take the slip. Soon, she would return with a satisfied smile and the desired magazine.  I spent several days studying dusty, old magazines with articles on the All-America Football Conference.  I was quite happy with my time in the library, but Mrs. Smart wasn’t very impressed by evidence of the grade I received.

Readers Guide of Periodical Literature (From the City College of San Francisco)

Readers Guide of Periodical Literature (From the City College of San Francisco)

This would be my last major foray into the McGregor library.  In high school, I would study at the Highland Park High School library or at home.  I also enjoyed looking through the dusty old books in the used book store across from McGregor Library.  Yes, I would drive past the library, but the wonder of Dr. Seuss, the stereoscope and the Readers’ Guide to Periodicals was gone.

Looking back, I realize how fortunate I was to have lived in a community with a library such as the McGregor Library.  It still is my favorite building in Highland Park.  The modern libraries lack the grandeur of the McGregor Library both on the outside and the inside of the building.  Perhaps, one day, people will again frequent this treasure that many Highland Parkers once enjoyed.

P.S. Here is a link of an interview that Al Jazeera did with Danny Glover inside the McGregor Library in 2009.  They give a twenty second view of the inside of the library at 1:20 minute mark of the video.

P.P.S. Please visit my other blog:  I write about spiritual topics such as: “When I am Afraid” and God’s Waiting Room”.

Thoughts about My Dad (Arthur T. Booth) 1906-1993

Dad and me

Dad and me

January 5th is a day that I never forget. It is my Dad’s birthday. Twenty years ago, I was leaving with my family to return to Portugal. Dad and Mom were at the door of their house waving goodbye. Little did we know that this would be the last time, we would see Dad.  He would die later that year at eighty-seven years of age.

We don’t choose our Dad, but I am thankful for the Dad that God gave to me, because Dad was a very unique person. His uniqueness was seen in many different ways.  Those who knew my Dad would say something to the effect: “There is only one Art Booth.”

Dad worked two jobs for most of his life and he didn’t really retire until he was eighty-four years old (three years before his death.)  He made sure that we as a family had everything we needed including a mother who could stay at home with the children. Through all those years, I never heard Dad complain about working and taking care of us.

Dad may have been busy with work, but he had time to take me to all of my Highland Park Chargers Little League Football games. He also would take me to Ford Field and hit baseballs to me.  I can never forget the many times we went to see the Detroit Tigers play.  He especially liked to take us to the giveaway days, like Free Bat Day or Free Ball Day.

Dad also was never too busy to make us his “famous” pancakes on Sunday morning. I still  remember the taste of his pancakes with Log Cabin syrup poured over them. Dad also on occasion would make popcorn. He didn’t believe in Jiffy Pop or a popcorn popper.  He made his popcorn in a saucepan. After finishing one batch, he would pour the contents on the kitchen table and we would fill our bowls. This was a real treat.

Dad specialized in doing the little things that made others happy. One year for Christmas, Dad looked all over Detroit for a football game that I wanted. Later in life, when Sharon and I would come to the house, he always made sure there was Dr. Pepper in the fridge for Sharon. Our daughter loved strawberries. Dad made sure that there were fresh strawberries in the fridge. He showed his love with deeds of kindness.

When I was studying in Seminary, Dad went to the trouble of buying me a 1970 Plymouth Fury III.  He drove it all the way down to Chattanooga, TN and then flew back to Detroit.   When the car was totaled (no fault of my own), he once again came down to Chattanooga with another big car. This time it was a baby blue 1972 Chrysler Newport with a white vinyl top. As you can tell, Dad loved big cars.

Our yearly family vacation with Dad was a great adventure. Dad treated our vacations like “The Amazing Race.” Dad would choose a destination and we would drive long distances each day to get to our destination. After seeing what we came to see, Dad would say “It’s time to go.” I think we might have spent two hours at the Grand Canyon. For Dad, it wasn’t the destination, it was the driving to get there. Dad loved to drive. Because of all those trips, Dad gave Wayne (my brother) and me a love for travel to this day.

Dad never was one to talk a lot about himself. He was a man of action who kept moving and kept busy. If he wasn’t busy, he was napping or watching Big Time Wrestling. I did learn a few things about him. He ran track in high school, and he almost made the 1924 Olympic track team.  He managed an A&P for awhile. He also knew and worked for Garwood of the racing boat fame. However, I never really knew my Dad. I should have asked questions about his life, instead of living in my own world. I missed out in learning some important family history as well as the history of the early days of Highland Park.  Dad spent about sixty years in Highland Park (1916?-1977), but I wasn’t interested to hear about this history until recently. Now, it is too late.

Dad never sat me down and had a deep conversation, but I did learn a lot of lessons by watching him. He taught me the importance of never getting into debt, as well as the need to work hard. I also learned generosity towards others.  He also taught me that if something needs to be fixed, duct tape is the answer.

Was my Dad a perfect dad? Of course not, but he loved his family. He provided everything
we needed. He also would go out of his way to meet many of our wants. He also encouraged me to go out and fulfill my goals. The Bible says: “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.” (Psalm 139:14)  God’s plan for my life was to make Arthur Booth my father. I thank God for the Dad that he gave me. Dad is greatly by all those who knew him.  He was one of kind!

Dad and Mom
Dad and Mom

My Childhood Memories of Our New Year’s Celebration

New Year's Eve-1937 (Before my time)  from the Mail Online (12-30-12)

New Year’s Eve-1937 (Before my time) from the Mail Online (12-30-12)

New Year’s was always a special time for our family.  Our celebration wasn’t a big affair, but it was a special time to be together as a family.  It was also the only time of the year I could stay up past midnight.

Our celebration would begin with food.  We didn’t have any special food, but we had plenty of munchies to eat.  It was also the rare occasion when we could drink pop (soda).  The only other occasion was when we were sick.  Dad believed that Vernors could cure any ailment that came our way.

While munching on the snacks, we would wait for the ball to drop in Times Square.  The only show to watch in our family was Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians.  I know that there were other shows, but Dad insisted that it wouldn’t be New Year’s Eve without Guy Lombardo and his special brand of music.

Guy Lombardo (New Year's Eve)

Guy Lombardo (New Year’s Eve)

Soon, Guy Lombardo would take us to Times Square and we would join the crowds via our television set.  I always marveled at the big ball coming down, then we would hear Auld Lang Syne being played.  Finally, the New Year had arrived.   My parents would give us each a kiss and I would be off to bed.  Another year had passed.

New Year’s Day would provide only one “highlight”.  Dad insisted that we watch the Tournament of Roses Parade.  We would all sit in front of our black and white television, and watch the parade with Dad.  Every year, Dad would remind us that each float was covered with fresh flowers.  This fact was impressive, but with our small black and white television it was difficult to watch this parade for what seemed like forever.

1962 Rose Bowl Parade

1962 Rose Bowl Parade

The one exception to the above routine was in 1966 when Michigan State played UCLA in the Rose Bowl.  Instead of watching the game on our black and white television, we went to my Uncle’s house on Winona Avenue, because he had a color television set.  The quality wasn’t great, but it was a unique experience to watch the game in color.

I am thankful for the memories of being with my family during New Year’s Eve and Day.  Dad and Mom made this time of year filled with great memories.

P.S. Please visit my other blog where I write upon spiritual topics: