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SPARKY. A Wonderful Life, Part 2

SPARKY. A Wonderful Life, Part 2

Sparky: Part 2

About eighteen months into managing Sonoma County HEALTHSOUTH Physical Therapy Clinics, I was asked to write an article on Charles Schultz (aka Sparky), his association with the community and, of course, with HEALTHSOUTH. The article was never submitted, but my 1997 notes fell out of a folder just last week during a spring clean.

To get some focus for an article, we went to lunch one fall day in Santa Rosa, Sparky and I. Goofy-me brought a tape recorder, which was very Peppermint-Patty of me, but he didn’t seem to mind.

Much has been written and recorded about the comic strip and Sparky himself. A visit to the wonderful Charles M. Schultz Museum will give all the statistics you might want to know. Much has also been written or speculated about the internal matching of Charlie Brown and Charles Schultz. The life of rejection; the melancholy that has been connected to the cartoonist, was not what I got this day, nor during the brief time I knew him. I knew a smart and subtle wit, and an active, gentle gentleman, engaged in life with strong ties to friends, family and community. He managed to fit in golf and skating and rollerblading with friends. That was not a depressed artist, disappointed with his life. If he was melancholic at times (and I only observed this as a body language, when he was eating alone for example), it was, in my opinion/experience, where he went mentally for that wry humor, for the next Charlie Brown moment. He was reticent in nature, and lacking the ego you would expect from such an icon, and much more interested in recounting stories of family and childhood than any Hollywood-esque encounters.

I don’t know, personally, I think he kicked the football.


ry=480Here’s a little more from the ‘interview’, for the more detail-oriented Charles Schultz fan:

That day, I heard about a life of diligent focus, a career that started with rejection that was, in the end, his path to success.

As a late teen, Charles would take cartoon ideas to the Minneapolis Correspondence School (MCS). After his three years in the army, he returned with more ideas and was offered a temporary fill-in job. He ended up staying at MCS for five years. There he tried out different ideas. He took the train to Chicago to visit the newspaper syndicates. “

I’d get rejected and go home. That’s how it all started.”

Over the eighteen months I worked in Santa Rosa, I witnessed a devotion to the comic strip that didn’t allow for a trial five-week sabbatical.

“There’s no such thing as inspiration. I draw every day. I keep the good stuff and throw out the bad stuff. That’s just what I do.

At seventy-five, Sparky was amazingly active. He worked out regularly – often three times per week,  he played golf, he skated at least once per week, and rollerbladed as his schedule allowed. At seventy-five! I don’t think I grasped that at the time.

The most difficult part, he chuckled, was getting the skates on and off.

We talked about his pride in his family including beloved daughter Jill in Santa Monica, the youngest, Amy, figure skater who liked to inline skate and ice skate, Craig, motor cross fanatic and ‘the best pilot in the area’, Monte – ice hockey player and assistant coach of roller hockey team, Meredith, the ‘country’s foremost expert in raising and training mules’. But for the most part, that day, we talked about working out, about staying active in sports.

>>Workin’ Out

His introduction to regular strengthening and aerobic exercise was via post-operative Physical Therapy for the knee ten years prior. After an unlucky ice hockey injury, Orthopedic Surgeon Dr Degenhardt removed the torn ACL and Physical Therapy was with Jack Rockwell, revered Physical Therapist, Athletic Training and Healthsouth Hall of Famer.  He and Jack became fast friends. 

“I thought, why stop now? Another fellow who used to work in my studio and I – he was retired and worked for the United Press – George Pipal – starting attending three mornings a week at 8am. 

“At the arena, for a while, we had all sorts of exercise equipment and aerobics. After a while I discovered that George and I could not do the exercises that the young ladies that were leading the classes asked us to do. We couldn’t even come close. Ten years at (the gym) and I should think that this has enabled me to continue doing al the things I do.  Also, I think mild bench pressing and things like that prevents muscle pulls if you are playing golf or hockey or tennis.” 

>>Playin’ golf

Charles had been fascinated by golf since eight years old. 

“At fifteen, I met another fellow, borrowed two miserable set of clubs, road bikes at 5.30 in the morning all the way up to Highland Park Golf Club before anyone else was there. We played, and I really liked it, and we did the same thing the next week. I became pretty good at it immediately. We had no one to help us – no lessons. Later, I signed up to be a caddy and could play free on Tuesday mornings. our rates were 75 cents. but we never received more than one dollar.”

>>Ice Skating

Raised in Minnesota, the young Charles Schultz was an avid ice skater, a skill he passed down to his entire family. 

“Growing up, I felt there was a lack of places to go, a lack of organized programs, like LIttle League for example. We were just a bunch of kids who played in the back yards with no interests. We never had good places to go.

“There was a Catholic Boys School in our neighborhood and during vacation at night when they were closed down, we would sneak over there and climb over their big chain link fence, drop down into the snow and then we would play hockey on their big outdoor rink by the light of the moon.” 

Sounds heavenly, said I. And he agreed. Those nights were something to remember. But in general, he was sure to add, skating outside was “vastly over-rated.” 

Ice skating was one of the few things missing for Charles Schultz and his family when they moved to Santa Rosa in 1958. He discovered the indoor ice skating rink across town. 

“We started to skate there. The two girls took to it right away. The two boys: not so sure of themselves.”

>>The Redwood Empire Ice Arena

After this skating rink closed, Charles felt that ‘it wasn’t right for the community not to have one’, and the Empire Empire Ice Arena was opened in 1969.  His ties to the staff, and the community, are strong, and personal.

“When it opened .., Peggy Fleming was the guest star. .. We used to just have amateur shows in the summer time. It occurred to me once – we should have a good professional show and have it at Christmas time. Against opposition, we started having the (Snoopy) Christmas Show. It is all professional. Karen Kresge is our Choreographer and Skate Show Manager and she calls all around all over the country and tries to recruit skaters who are willing to devote about a month at Christmas time. The Senior Ice Hockey Tournament is organized by a wonderful lady named Cecilia Short. She is a retired school principle. Her boys played hockey at the arena right from when it opened.”

You only have to pick up a pamphlet at the Redwood Empire Skating Rink on West Steele Lane in Santa Rosa to see the many events and services offered to the people of Sonoma county. The upcoming Senior Ice Hockey Tournament, with 56 teams, is a week -long event that not only entertains the crowds eager for some respite from the July heat, but benefits the businesses in the area like no other. Teams fly in from US, Canada, Finland, Australia, Austria, Switzerland and Norway. Setting a record this year are four teams of age 75 and older. The lowest age is 40 and you never play against anyone who is more than five years younger than you.The 56 teams play three games each and the action goes from 6am to 1.30 the following day. 

“We give them a good time. Every player gets a beautiful jacket, hockey jersey, souvenir mug. We give them an enormous barbeque. We take them to the Burbank Center and give them a show, and dancing, and they are treated royally. They go through a lot of expense to get here so we should make sure that they are treated well and give them a good time. We fill up every hotel and motel in town. The Chamber of Commerce told me recently that we are the biggest thing to hit this city and that all the players that come here spend at least a million dollars during that week.”

>>Roller Hockey

The latest contribution to the neighborhood youth is a roller hockey park. What brought you to that endeavor?

“Well, because they shouldn’t have to play in the parking lot. 

“We investigated surfaces .. (and) built it for what seems to be lacking for children these days. Go have fun. No rules, no parents yelling at kids.”

>>A Quiet Life

Why live in Sonoma County?

“It doesn’t matter where I live. But Sonoma county is wonderful. Luther Burbank believed that it was the chosen spot on the earth as far as nature is concerned. “

>>It is what it is

Like adulation over his workCharles greets praise for his generous contributions to Sonoma county with a matter-of-fact style.  Just as the comic strip is ‘just what I do’, the skating rink was built and opened ‘just because we felt it wasn’t right for the community not to have one’, a roller hockey park was established for the neighborhood youth because ‘they shouldn’t have to play in the parking lot”.  I wished I’d asked him about lending names to NASA – meaning the 1969 lunar module “Snoopy.” and the Apollo command module labeled “Charlie Brown”. I’m pretty sure he would have said ‘because NASA has better things to do than make up names’. 

>>I’m okay you’re okay

Most photos of Sparky show him (appropriately) drawing, or posing for a still shot. But if you could have seen him on the ice, or  bench pressing, or red-faced after a hot and testing golf game, you would know that Charlie Brown and the entire Peanuts cast of characters will grow up to be okay. At least by the time they’re seventy-five.





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