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Meet your Neighbor: Greg Smith

Greg Smith shows some Piedmont Boy Scouts how to clean a fish during a recent troop camping trip.

Greg Smith is the quartermaster for the Piedmont Boy Scouts. He is charged with taking care of the scouts’ gear and equipment. Smith has been involved with the Boy Scouts for 16 years.

Why did you start working with the Boy Scouts?

I started working with them because of my sons. I wanted to help.  I enjoy working with the boys. Watching them grow and do things they have never done is very rewarding. The Boy Scouts always need people to help, so helping was something that I felt strongly about.

How much time do you spend helping the scouts?

I go to their weekly meeting every Tuesday at the First United Methodist Church. I also attend their monthly camping trip. I really enjoy camping and it’s always fun. They have various fundraising events, which I always try to attend.

I still have one son who is active in the scouts, but I anticipate staying involved even after he is done. I’m also in charge of the troop bus and trailer. There are about 50 scouts in our troop, so there are a lot of things to look after and take care of.

What are some things the boys in Piedmont have been able to do?

Last year, the group of scouts went to Sea Base in Flordia. They got to snorkel, kayak; things I wish I could have done as a kid. This year, they went to Camp Alexander in Colorado. The boys got to go hiking, see an Air Force base, and spend a week at the scout camp. It was a great trip for them.

They also do a lot of work for the Piedmont community. They worked with the Wall Memorial; where they took care of the flags and directed traffic. The scouts do a lot of community service projects. Our troop is currently doing their yearly Thanksgiving food drive.

Capturing the American spirit

Photo by Ben Felder Neighbors on 112th Street in Surrey Hills have come together in an effort to break down walls which can sometimes separate communities.

The American spirit is alive and well on 112th Street.

Recently, a group of Surrey Hills neighbors decided it was time to get to know each other and come together in an effort to reignite the American spirit on their street.  Some of the neighbors, like Don Lovato, had lived on the same street for 20 years without knowing much about the people who lived next door.  Lovato felt something was missing in his country and that creating a closer community was one of the answers.

“We really just thought it would be nice to come together and reunite the American spirit by being good neighbors,” Lovato said.  “It’s really about letting everyone know that Americans aren’t going to roll over, we are going to look after each other.”

Over the past few months several residents on the street have hosted two block parties.  The neighbors share a meal together, tell stories and overcome the walls that often separate many neighbors of suburban communities.  In an era when the folks next door are strangers, the people of this street have come to rely on each other like an extended member of their family.

“I’m not always good at getting out, so it’s great to be so close to each other,” Delora Mealor said.  “I feel a lot better and feel like I could call on someone if I needed to.”

Mealor has lived on 112th Street for nearly 10 years, but it wasn’t until recently that she began to know her neighbors.  Like many on her street, Mealor has embrace the community spirit and said she hopes to see it grow even bigger.
“This is something we really want to see grow,” Mealor said.

In addition to building friendships with each other, residents say they feel a lot safer knowing everyone is looking out for each other.  The community isn’t plagued with crime, but each neighbor knows all they have to do is knock on a door or pick up the phone if they ever need any help.

“We feel really safe here,” Anne Dooley, a resident on 112th Street since 1974, said.  “It’s also been great for the kids to have a safe place but for them to also learn about being a neighbor.”

This Surrey Hills community has a mixture of people, but many of the residents on 112th Street are elderly adults.  They have benefited from the sense of community and safety that has been created, but Lovato said it has also been a great opportunity for him to hear some of the stories his elderly neighbors have to tell.  Since initiating the block party, Lovato learned about his neighbor Al Owen, a former Marine who served during World War II.  In fact, Owen has continued the American spirit on the street with a special tribute to some of the men he served with.

Photo by Ben Felder Al Owen built and placed 20 white crosses in his yard, each representing a fellow Marine Owen served with who is no longer alive.

Along the edge of Owen’s front lawn are 20 white crosses, each representing a fellow Marine Owen served with who is no longer alive.  A gold mark represents those who died in combat during World War II and a soldier’s name is on each cross.  Owen said the tribute was a way to deliver a message to others that the men and women who defend this country will never be forgotten.  It also seems to fit in perfectly with the atmosphere residents along 112th Street are trying to create.

“We want our nation back,” Owen said.  “We figured coming together would be a good place to start.

Reaching out to your neighbor seems simple and Lovato agrees.  But with this simple step, the residents of this street are hoping to spur a movement that spreads across the neighborhood and the country.

“It’s about getting out of your comfort zone,” Lavota said.  “But it’s worth it because this is important.  We aren’t doing anything new, just trying to get back to the way things use to be and reunite the American spirit.”

Serving under seas

Frank Martinez served in the Navy as a sonar technician from 1985 until 2000.

Ben Felder
News Editor

For someone who has worked as a sonar technician aboard submarines for almost 20 years, Piedmont can be a strange place to end up.

Frank Martinez is retired from a distinguished career in the Navy but he looks back fondly on his time spent defending America’s water ways and the bond he established with his fellow sailors.  A recruiting job brought Martinez and his family to Oklahoma, but despite living thousands of miles from the nearest coast, Martinez continues to feel a connection with the sea.

Martinez, a native of the Chicago area, was looking for a change and decided to make a move to California.  While in the San Francisco area, Martinez grew interested in the military and thought the Navy might provide him the opportunity to learn a new skill and see the world.  During basic training, Martinez showed a lot of promise, winning the Sailor of the Year award and was accepted into the Navy League.

Martinez spent his first few years in the Navy advancing from boot camp to electronics school and eventually submarine school in Connecticut.

“I was learning everything about the sub,” Martinez said.  “I learned different types of systems and everything you would need to know.  I found out I was good at it.”

Training to serve aboard a submarine is an intense process but the final step before serving is a visit to a therapist to test one’s mental stability.

“The last thing they do is send you to a shrink,” Martinez said.  “They have to make sure you are ready and that your not claustrophobic because it’s going to be really tight quarters.”

Eventually, Martinez was commissioned to the U.S.S. Spade Fish, a submarine capable of holding up to 160 crew members.  It was aboard this vessel that Martinez got his first taste of life on a submarine.

“On the sub everyone is expected to pull their weight,” Martinez said. “Everyone has a job for every situation.”
Cramped quarters, a low level of oxygen and maneuvers that take the submarine on a coarse resembling a corkscrew can take their toll on a person.  Martinez says you have to stay sharp on the sub and are always training to get better.  A typical shift schedule aboard a submarine includes six hours on, followed by 12 hours off.  After a few days, Martinez said you start to lose your sense of time and place.

“It gets to the point where you don’t even know what day it is,” Martinez said.

From 1985 to 1991, Martinez severed on the same submarine and continued to advance in his sonar training.  Martinez was eventually transferred to Bangor Base in Washington state where he served as a ship superintendent, overseeing ship decommissioning.  But after a few years, Martinez was back on a sub, this time serving on the Parche from 1995 to 2000.

Following his time on the Parche, Martinez was ordered back to shore duty, this time as a recruiter in the Oklahoma region.  Stationed out of Yukon, Martinez and his family settled down in Piedmont, a long ways from life on a submarine, but they felt it was an ideal place to raise a family.

Retired from the Navy, Martinez now works as an underwater surveyor.  His two sons, Max and Nick, are currently serving in the Coast Guard, and his daughter, Gabriela, is a student at Piedmont High School.  Martinez is proud of his military service and believes his experiences remain with him to this day.

“For me the best part was the experience of being a part of something,” Martinez said.  “You learn how to manage crisis really well and grow close to those around you.”

Life aboard a submarine was never easy, but Martinez said he quickly learned that teamwork is the best way to address challenges, both at sea and at home.

“There were times that you weren’t sure if you’d come back because you were in someone else’s backyard,” Martinez said.  “It got pretty hairy at times, but we relied on each other and stayed focus on our missions.”

An old Piedmont favorite

Heather Giggers and Joyce Leach manage The Old Store, which is located inside Piedmont’s oldest brick building.

Greg Evans
Staff Writer

Most people have driven down Monroe Avenue and seen the old building on the south side of the street called “The Old Store.” What most people might not know is that building is the oldest commercial brick structure in Piedmont.

Dennis and Janice Mills acquired the building from Wiedemann and Son in 1999. Their daughters, Heather Giggers and Janice Leach, are now in charge of the day-to-day operations of The Old Store, which has become one of Piedmont’s most well known establishments.

What makes this building so special?

The building was originally opened in 1907 by Mulvey Mercantile. It was then sold to Wiedemann and Son in 1926. The building housed the Wiedemann and Son store until the 1970s and was owned by Wiedemann and Son until 1999. “It was being used as family storage and even a gun range,” Leach said. “This whole block has been a number of things; including a post office, a morgue, and the basement used to host a lot of parties.” Visitors can still see the original signs for both Mulvey Mercantile and Wiedemann and Son in the store today.

What happened when your mom and dad took over the building in 1999?

“Our dad’s, Dennis, automotive business had been in seven different locations and he really wanted a permanent place,” Leach said. “He moved into the garage in the back, and our mom set up her embroidery shop.”
Now, The Old Store houses a large antique and consignment store and Embroidery by Janice. The embroidery shop has grown from two machines to seven commercial machines. “We have a lot of pre-made items, but we can do custom embroidery for just about anything,” Leach said. Urban Illusion Salon, which is owned by Mandy Wilson, has been located next door for about a year.

What does The Old Store bring to the Piedmont community?

Just walking around The Old Store will give visitors a glimpse of times long gone. “We really try to keep it original in the store. During the summer we bring out the old giant fans to keep the place cool and in the winter we turn on the big heater. We think it really adds to the atmosphere of the store,” Leach said.

“The store is a great place to just browse, listen to the stories some of the customers tell, and find some really good deals on antique furniture,” Leach said.

“If you have never been inside The Old Store, you should come check it out,” Giggers added.

The Old Store is located at 100 Monroe Avenue NW in Piedmont. They are open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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