From the roots of a Pennsylvania Dutch family with accompanying lineage of the Irish, Barbara moved to California at a young age in the 1950’s with her new husband Howard. A great fascination and enthusiastic pleasure that she learned was a pursuit of flight. She loved flying in her new Cessna aircraft through the Los Angeles area and beyond. Flight was a great escape from the pressures and stresses of her other love: the Schwinn Bicycle dealership that she owned in Redondo Beach, California.
Aside from being busy with a family of two daughters and a husband, Barbara’s other activities including motorcycle touring, bicycling, swimming, ballroom dancing, and flying. It was the bicycle business, though, that proved to be a money tree. She could nurture it, water it, and help it grow, resulting in the plucking that would provide her with the fruit to indulge in the things that she loved. Her husband, Howard, was a nuclear engineer, and a pilot also. For a short stint they even had a small dealership selling Cessnas, but they learned the hard lesson that when people take the hobby they love and turn it into a business, they often lose the love they had for it, and that is what happened with the Cessnas. It then happened with the bicycles. Losing interest in motorcycle touring was more due to how rough it was on their bodies. But at least the bicycle business remained her continuing thread for income.
Barbara continued selling bicycles and bike products, and does to this day. When Howard was transferred to Biloxi, Mississippi, she sold the store in Redondo Beach, and opened a new one in Biloxi. A year later, that store was sold when they moved to Pensacola, Florida, where they opened yet another new store. [Side note: in Biloxi, the same owners operated it from the early 70’s until it was completely destroyed when Hurricane Katrina blew through town. The owners were never seen again, either. Their fate is still unknown.]
“Barbara had finally learned how to mix business and pleasure and saw the passions she had for these activities brought great joy and accomplishments into their lives.”
For three years they led the Pensacola community in bicycle appreciation and awareness before once again moving on and finally settling in Mobile, Alabama. Barbara and Howard started with a store in a shopping center, and eventually had a store built to their specifications. In Mobile, tragedy befell when Howard unexpectedly died, leaving Barbara to shoulder the business on her own until she met Tom, and gained not only a store manager, but a partner, companion, friend, and a eventually a new husband. He had even been a pilot, too, and loved bicycles.
Tom now was able to accomplish a goal when his son, who was recently liberated from the U.S. Navy in San Francisco, CA in 1982, sparked an idea. Talking to his son on the phone, Tom and Barbara asked him what his plans were after leaving ‘Uncle Sam’s Canoe Club’ (as he referred to his Naval experience). In his usual, facetious manner, he said: “I think I will do something crazy, like ride a bicycle cross-country, from San Francisco to Mobile.”
A mist glazed over Tom’s 60 year old eyes, and he said, “That has been my life-long dream.” His son only smiled, thinking it would blow over. The only blowing over was the 60 mph east bound tale winds in The Banning Pass of Southern California headed towards Arizona on Interstate 10 on two custom built touring bikes nine months later. Barbara offered her full support and turned it into a marketing campaign for the store as well. Mobile Schwinn Cyclery, (today, Bicycles of Mobile and still owned by her), became the talk of the town on radio, newspaper and TV. Barbara had finally learned how to mix business and pleasure and saw the passions she had for these activities brought great joy and accomplishments into their lives. Seeing Tom fulfill his dream renewed Barbara’s drive to integrate more of her beloved activities back into her life.
One day in 1991, she decided to take one of her employees, (and good friend) Angel Irby, out to the small-craft airport. Although Barbara had flown commercially many times since giving up the Cessnas, she had not gone up in small aircraft for many years. This time she was not going to pilot. This time she was going to jump!
Early that Sunday morning, Barbara, Tom, Angel, and Tom’s’ son were all off to see Barbara and Angel strap themselves to one experienced skydiver each and jump out of what seemed a well running airplane. Tom saw no logic in this, having been in World War II and jumped out of many perfectly good airplanes on Air Force Intelligence missions, and even a few that were not so good. His son did not see the value of a $300 investment for a one minute freefall, so he was to remain grounded. Barbara told them that if they could ride cross country on their bikes then she was going to jump out of this plane.
Grounded is what they thought that the pilots and skydivers should have stayed after arriving at the crack of dawn. The small rural airport quaintly sat nestled in the woods near the Gulf Shores area (affectionately referred to by the locals as ‘The Redneck Riviera’) in Robertsdale, Alabama. When the four disembarked, they were barely able to decipher what they saw in the morning light. Upon closer inspection, it became clear that the lawn next to the hangar was littered with bodies. It was also littered with varying degrees of emptied Jack Daniels whiskey bottles, beer bottles, and various other assorted emptied beverage containers. The snoring of the now passed-out, and soon to be hung-over pilots, skydivers, and crew was a chorus of distress to the four sober new arrivals. The fragrances of an all night party permeated the morning air.
Tom found one that he believed to be a pilot and managed to rouse him into some semblance of being awake. From there, it became a snowballing concerted effort to wake everyone else. They were all sufficiently cheery and somewhat alert by the time the training was over, and the planes were set to take off that afternoon. Barbara and Angel stood determined, while Tom and his son remained skeptical. Much like the telling of ghost stories the crew recounted horrifying skydiving accidents. A skydiver/photographer with a movie camera strapped to his helmet that always jumped with his dog strapped to him forgot to strap on Rover and… well, you get the picture… dog gone. Another man, so much in his comfort zone that he forgot his parachute, jumped out without even realizing it.
This day of parachuting was uneventful however. Barbara still wonders if perhaps the key to successfully skydiving is Jack Daniels. Tom assures her that that is just crazy. He does not believe in drinking and driving, flying, or jumping out of airplanes, [sober or otherwise]. But, if he did, he assures me that it would be nothing less than Chivas Regal.
Thank you Barbara, for sharing your Story with us.
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© 2008 by Jason Bradford and Story of My Life®