Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Tuesday, June 13, 2017


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter

Yesterday I posted the official biography of Tony Shipley. This is an unofficial follow-up.


Tony Shipley called. We are supporters of his school.

Tony was one of two black students at Garrett Theological Seminary, at Northwestern University, when I was a student there. One was PhD student, James Cone, who became the famous professor of “black theology and black power” at Union Seminary in NYC. I knew Jim primarily as a great backhand, since we both played table tennis at lunch time. [Raydean Davis and I always said that we were ping-pong majors in seminary.]

I was impressed with Tony, and I followed his career. I was also impressed with his wife, Barbara.

When they came to Garrett, she did not have a college education. She worked at an insurance company to pay the bills. She decided to start college part-time. Her work supervisor said, “You know, Barbara, even if you have a college education, you’ll still be inferior.” She decided, “Well, if I’m going to be inferior, I’m going to be inferior with a college education.” She got that education, multiple degrees. At our 40 year seminary reunion, she was one of those elegant mature women who, even on a cane, glides through a room like a tall ship. She became a distinguished educator in Detroit.

Detroit was where Tony ended his pastoral ministry. In between, he served as the Conference Council Director [chief administrator] of the Detroit Conference of the United Methodist Church, which included all the UMC churches and institutions [colleges, hospitals, etc] of the entire eastern half of MI’s lower peninsula and all of the upper peninsula. He served a term as a District Superintendent, the sub-bishop for churches in a geographical area. He served the entire denomination as a General Board administrator. After all that, he asked to be assigned to the UMC congregation in the poorest part of Detroit.

There he and his congregation went to work. They bought and refurbished houses for single mothers. Those women went through a year of training before they got a house. Most importantly, he started Chandler Park Academy. The neighborhood was so poor that 90% of its students qualified for free lunches.

They started with one kindergarten class. Each year as a class moved up, they added another under it, until they finally had a graduating class.  Every member of that class went to college on scholarship. Now they have added a branch of a community college to their campus so “When 3:00 comes, the high school kids who want to go around the corner and they are in college.” In a dangerous neighborhood, that’s a real plus. This year, five kids graduated high school with 2 years of college already done. This fall, they added a pre-school.

Three summers ago, Helen and I signed 8th grade grandson Joe up for a week’s hands-on camp at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI, just outside Detroit. Then we found out it was a day camp, not a residential camp, so we got a room in a motel, right down the street from a new mosque. During the day we hung out at Greenfield Village and Joe spent the suppers and nights with us.

I had not had any contact with Tony for years, but I knew he was in Detroit, and I thought it would be nice to have Joe meet the Shipleys, just because they are interesting people, and since he hardly ever saw people of color in Iron Mountain, or anywhere else in the UP. I emailed Tony and invited him and Barbara to supper. He accepted and took us to the 1917 Bistro, a really neat restaurant near his house. Helen and Joe and I were the only white people there.

Tony was alone, though. As we chatted and got reacquainted and ordered meals, he said, “Last spring our only child, our daughter, got married, in Atlanta. Our retired bishop friend, Woodie White, did the service. She left on her honeymoon, and the next day, Barbara died.”

I was struck dumb. Tony, though, had a way of coping with dumbstruck people. He concentrated on Joe. In fact, he told Helen and me to shut up and not interfere so he could talk with Joe. [He said it much more diplomatically than that.] He drew Joe out, learned his interests, told him about how to get college scholarships.

We talked for a long time. Finally, Tony said, “Since Barbara died, I’ve been so depressed. I know I need to be raising money for the school, but I just can’t do anything. But here you are, with this bright and handsome grandson, people I’d forgotten I even knew, but you know all about my career, and you thought enough of me to want to see me and to have him meet me. I feel like you are angels sent from heaven. I can get back to doing what I need to do. How would you like to make a contribution to Chandler Park School?”

So that is how we came to be monthly contributors to Chandler Park.

When Tony calls, it’s usually to thank us for our support of Chandler Park, so when he called this time, I assumed he was updating us on the school, and quite possibly suggesting that we increase our pledge. After all, there is a cost to being an angel. We did talk about the school, but he had more important things than money to talk about.

The first thing he did was ask about Joe. The second thing he did was say that he got married last Christmas eve, to a woman who is a psychologist by profession but has spent her career in the prison system. I said she should be perfect for him. He said she is ten years younger than he but looks forty years younger. I said that since he looks to be 100, that’s not saying much for her.

[Men express affection that way. When I told Helen about this, she said, “What’s his new wife’s name?” I said, “I was too busy insulting him to ask.” She gave me one of those looks.]

Tony said, “I told her she treats me like her grandson, but I know she loves her grandson, so that’s okay.”

As we closed the conversation, he said, “You know, you helped change my life. You came into my life just when I needed you to. And I love your grandson. He’s such a neat kid.”

Tony doesn’t have a grandson, but he understands about them. Yes, Joe is a neat kid, and he’s even neater because he knows Tony Shipley.


I tweet as yooper1721.

Joe’s mother is the delightful YA author, Katie Kennedy. Her novel Learning to Swear in America is a great read for grandsons and grandfathers of all ages. So is her What Goes Up, which will be released July 6, 2017. She is published by Bloomsbury, which also does lesser writers, like JK Rowling.

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