Sunday, February 27, 2022

Behind the Photograph - A Chat with Jerry Pressley


1984 was a remarkable year.   Prince and his band, the Revolution, released his film and the album Purple Rain; The Soviet Union boycotted the Summer Olympics being hosted in Los Angeles;  Michael Jackson’s hair caught on fire while filming a Pepsi commercial;   The movie Ghostbusters hit the silver screen and went on coin an iconic phrase (who ya gonna call?);  The longest game in Major League Baseball history was played between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago White Sox; and the National Brotherhood of Skiers celebrated their eleventh year of formal membership in the United States, soon to become one of the largest organized ski clubs in the nation. 

Behind the energy, love and passion of skiing stood two icons: Art Clay and Ben Finley.  The two friends had collectively brought together one of the most respected, copied and envied organizations to grace the mountains across the world. 

Jerry Pressley, a savvy and experienced skier, was a member of a Chicago Ski Club affectionately called ‘The Gang’ and then later a member of the Chicago Sno-Gophers.   Vail, Copper Mountain, Aspen and Heavenly Valley were stomping grounds for the annual black ski fests that in the early years commanded between 6000-10,000 members in attendance.    

He was also a commissioned photographer chronicling the community activities of Operation Push and Operation Breadbasket also photographed pictures for Budweiser, one of the earliest sponsors for the National Brotherhood of Skiers, which were, to the delight of Black America, featured in Ebony Magazine. 

Always brainstorming, promoting and taking it to the ‘next level,’ one blustery winter evening Art made a phone call, gathered some friends, and asked Jerry to capture the attitude, character and “Badassfullness” beauty and persona of the African American Skier.  

Though it appeared to be captured on a summit or the base of a slope of an exotic locale, the picture was actually taken in the Seven Hills area of Washington Park on the south side of Chicago. 

It may be coincidence, or purposeful that Art chose this section of Chicago, a community rich with significant history - With its proximity to the former site of the 1893 world’s fair and a prominent African American history museum, the Washington Park community area has a deep history at every turn.  The entire eastern portion of the community is a large park of the same name that connects to the Midway Plaisance park, the University of Chicago, and the Hyde Park community area. The Midway Plaisance runs all the way to Jackson Park, the site of the Museum of Science and Industry and the former site of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. Washington Park, Jackson Park, and the Midway Plaisance were all designed by famous landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux.

Irish and German immigrants who worked for the railroad and meatpacking industries first settled in the area in the 1860s, according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago. Starting in the early 20th century, African Americans moved into the community as the Great Migration brought in those leaving the Jim Crow South. (WTTW)1

The picture became Art’s calling card.   He had business cards made with the picture to promote the National Brotherhood of Skiers.   In the early 2000s Jerry reached out to Art and asked him if he would mind if he used the photo to market a shirt with its likeness.   Art didn’t mind at all, and the picture is still in regular rotation, (with staged attempts to recreate the scene) but most of all adored and respected by snow skiers young and old. Thanks to Jerry Presley and Art Clay for their indelible stamp and vision in their contribution to chronicling Black History.  

Contributed by Robyn Gant


Citation: Wingard, Monique, “The Story of Washington Park.” 

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Is It Summer Yet?

 Whenever I eat like a vegetarian, I lose weight.  Summer is around the corner and I want to get back into those Venus bathing suits of mine, so I looked up a few healthy recipes to meal pack. 

 I got excited when I found a recipe for veggie burgers - less than 200 calories.  Black beans, brown rice, asssorted roasted veggies and herbs.  I assembled, mixed and grilled them in just a touch of olive oil.  I was happy at how they turned out - but something was missing.  I dug through the freezer and there it was - lonely, nearly hidden behind freezer burnt ice cream - glaring at me and darn-near confrontational.  

“No! I shouted!  You’re the reason I want liposuction!”  I slammed the door, walked away, then slowly turned back shaking my head.  And hence the veggie-bacon burger was born.  And I’m full.  ☺️

Sunday, February 28, 2021

New Surroundings, New Attitude

It's been quite a while since I last wrote an entry to my blog.   A lot has changed in three and a half years.   I moved to Hawaii for two good reasons -  to start a new job and write more books. 

So now with two new books signed, sealed and delivered (Masquerade Dot Com and The Notes In Her Grandmother's Library)  starting a new job in an industry new to me (aviation industry) has become a dream.  New industry to learn, new people to get to know, new rules in a new state to become familiar with.  One of the most fun parts is the other offices are on different islands, so I've had the opportunity to visit and work on four different islands in just a short length of time. 

Hawaii is not only a beautiful state, but its culture is beyond amazing.  I've learned the importance of respecting Mauna Kea - a mountain on Kona where the natives go to pray.  A consortium of colleges and businesses were approved by the state to build a thirty meter telescope, one of the largest in the world on the top of Mauna Kea.  Thousands upon thousands of Hawaiian natives continue to protest the building of this telescope, so much that they blocked the roads to prevent construction workers from traveling to the mountain to start the actual building of the project.

On the week of my birthday this past July, I paid Mauna Kea a visit.  I didn't understand the hype until my friends and I actually approached the Daniel K. Inouye Highway entry and amidst hundreds of tents and canopy pop-ups there they were in the thousands - Natives, supporters, Ohana and friends, singing, playing music, sharing food, drinks and sharing the history.  I was beyond moved and touched - I initially felt ashamed. I was a looky-loo in a sea of people pained at the disrespect and betrayal of their beloved place of worship. 

But as they welcomed me and my friends, I quietly listened at the passion and the love they shared for Mauna Kea, both its sanctity, its purpose and its history.   Mauna Kea is sacred to the Native Hawaiians and is the zenith of their ancestral ties to creation. The upper regions, Wao Akua, are the realms of the Akua (creator) and the summit is a temple of the Supreme Being in not only Hawaiian culture but also in many histories throughout Polynesia.

I traveled back to Oahu several days after my cultural lesson with love and new respect for this beautiful state that I now call my home.  

I continue to hike the hills of Makapu'u, I enjoy watching the surfers ride sixteen to twenty-foot waves on the North shore, I watch in fascination the wind-surfers on Kailua beach while I dig my toes in the soft white sands.  

I've found an amazing church to worship, and fell into place as I participate in volunteer projects to feed the homeless, pass out blankets and design and sew costumes for our plays.  I'm very happy here and currently at work on another novel.   

On March 5th, 2021 my brand new website will go live.  When you have a moment, please visit at  and leave a comment - is it user friendly?  Easy to navigate?  Interesting?  Please let me know!   

As always, thank you for your visit.  You'll be hearing from me again soon!    

Robyn Gant

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Overdue Library Book

On Saturday mid-morning, I was running the typical weekend  errands (cleaners, shoe repair man, grocery store) and as I was passing the library I remembered that I had an overdue book in the back seat (don't judge me, Yes I still check out books from the library).

I made a sharp right, pulled into the parking lot and hesitantly climbed out of the car. I'd been immediately transported back to my Pomona days when an overdue book meant a fine, no more books until you paid that fine as well as a stern look from the librarian or clerk, shaming me to be more timely.

It had been years, but I didn't want that look again. I started to drop it off in the book drop box, but then I looked around at the parking lot. There were only three cars there. I first became sad, and then angry as I thought about the new generation of parents who were more than likely depriving their children of the privilege of the age old institution of the library: perusing through hundreds of bookshelves, the musty smell of a used book, the bridges to other worlds and of course the responsibility of securing a library card.

I lamented as I slowly walked up the steps. The wind was blowing my hair in my face as I became critical of the world in those short moments - digital games, book downloads, the internet and hundreds of available channels on cable TV that have stolen precious time and moments from a building that housed history, references, novels, religion and music.

I became angry and I quickened my pace, suddenly eager to share with the desk clerk my heartfelt sentiments as a fellow bibliophile. And as I reached the door I saw the sign - The library is closed on Saturdays.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Breast Cancer Awareness

As we close out Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I decided to post some reflections and a personal experience.  At first I was reluctant to share this because I don’t want sympathy, and I don’t want anyone staring at my chest when they run into me (ha ha) but the importance of getting checked regularly and consistently outweighs all modesty.  

This past August I made my annual trek to my favorite trip of the year, Houseboat on Lake Mead.  Sitting shotgun with one of my best buds, Jan, we agreed to cut the trip short so we could return home earlier than usual for more parties and events during the Labor Day weekend. 

Skipping details on how I ended up on a mechanical bull that weekend, I ended up in the emergency room with a miniscule tear to a leg ligament.  The nurse assigned to me fussed a bit as she reviewed my medical history – there was no recent record of a mammogram.   I laughed it off and told her I was too busy and that I was headed to a barbecue, with crutches. 

I remember her raising one eyebrow at me and saying, ‘My screen is flashing.  Get off my screen and go downstairs and get a mammogram.  It will take fifteen minutes.’   Like a little bad ass kid who has to go inside while his friends are still playing outside, I stomped as well as I could and headed down to radiology. 

Thirty minutes later I was home free to run the streets for the rest of the weekend.  So when I received a call several days later requesting another mammogram, it didn’t faze me in the least.  There was no medical history of anyone in my family with breast cancer, and besides, I exercised regularly, drank only bottled water, was very conscious of my intake of certain types of meat and occasionally ate like a vegetarian (my mindset).

A couple of days later I received another call. “Nothing to worry about,” said the nurse on the other line.  “Just a routine biopsy to check out a couple of abnormal cells.  There’s an 85% chance its nothing – probably just calcium buildup.” 

Now I felt just a tinge of nervousness. I arrived at my appointment and for the first time the possibility began to run through my head that I could be diagnosed.  I shook it off, went in for my procedure and went about my business.

So when I received the call a couple of days later that the abnormal cells were cancer cells, I felt sucker punched and stunned.  I also felt ashamed of myself that I was so na├»ve to think that a clean family history and occasionally vegging out would save me from the C word. 

I was diagnosed with a Stage 0 in situ carcinoma.  That means it was sitting in one place and there was the likelihood that it had not yet spread because it had been detected so early.

Two weeks ago, with a massive amount of prayers circulating (and my direct prayer to God asking for healing) I underwent surgery to remove the cancer cells.  Last week the surgeon informed me that there were no other cancer cells in the surrounding tissue they removed. My prayers and the fervent prayers of the saints were answered.  I may still have to undergo radiation and I’ve got to take meds, but I’m cancer free. I was overwhelmed with the support and love from my daughters, family members and friends and I share this story simply to communicate that it doesn’t matter what your history is, one in ten women are susceptible to breast cancer.

I encourage every female to get regular check-ups.  If you don’t have insurance, Google free mammograms in your area.  Please don’t think that because you are generally healthy, run, jog, ride your bike, ski, white water raft, climb mountains, eat like a vegetarian and have no history that you are not prone.  I mean, you are a super woman, no doubt, but breast cancer does not discriminate.   Get checked out. Annually. Please.



Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Lighter Side of Christmas - A 2014 Christmas Story

I was visiting my nine-year old grandson one cold and overcast December Saturday. Delighted to see me, he gave me a warm hug and immediately displayed his newest app on his smart phone - a Santa meter. He held it up to my face and explained, "The Santa meter decides whether you've been naughty or nice." As he pushed the meter activation button, my eyes became wide with anticipation. We both watched as the meter needle swung to the naughty side, bounced and then suddenly became very still. Then the app crashed. He looked at me, confused, and then he cried out, "You broke it!" I smiled and nodded as he ran away. Cuz that's how I roll Santa. The End

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Happy Veteran's Day

Happy Veteran's Day! I had the honor of hearing Mike Ehredt speak today. A touching and honorable story. He ran a marathon every day for 81 days and placed a flag at each mile he ran with a war veteran's name attached to the flag.

Behind the Photograph - A Chat with Jerry Pressley

  1984 was a remarkable year.    Prince and his band, the Revolution, released his film and the album Purple Rain; The Soviet Union boycotte...