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Saturday, June 16, 2012



My brother, Chris, recently found a letter he sent to my Aunt Nancy years ago to be read at a reunion he was unable to attend.  It gives wonderful insight to my dad and I thought it a perfect post for Father’s Day.  As it is somewhat longer then my usual posts I have divided into two parts.

Part I “The Ultra-Intelligent Dad” and
Part II “The Human Dad.”

Dear Aunt Nancy:

I am so sorry that we will not be able to join you and the others at the Hagy reunion later this month.  Carolyn asked that I drop you a line with a few stories about Dad that you might rehash or read to the group as a reminder of whom he was, and who we are.

Dad was an exceedingly bright individual with an insatiable, intellectual curiosity matched only by his confidence that he could do anything.  But he didn’t just read about it or think about doing it, he did it.

When we lived in Tulsa after WWII he read about hydroponics, a then developing field fueled by the belief that plants could be enhanced and prolific if they were fed directly the nutrients they needed rather than having to extract them from the soil.  A chemical engineer, this inspired him to believe that he could grow the world’s biggest vegetables if he grew them in a greenhouse in gravel and fed them chemicals by injection at their base.  But he just didn’t think it, he did it.  While raising 3 boys and working full time at Sun Oil, in his spare time he built a large (30' x 100') greenhouse and installed an injector system throughout the rows of hip high boxes that he installed in his greenhouse.  He then developed a chemical container system, determined what nutrients, and how much, each type of plant would require, filled the boxes with gravel, planted lettuce, tomatoes, corn and other vegetables, fed them injected chemical nutrients and, in fact, grew the biggest vegetables imaginable. 

Mom and Dad kept busy harvesting his crop year round and sold to grocery stores.  When we moved to New York the property (a 4 acre “farm”) was sold more for the greenhouse than the house, and my recollection is that the purchaser became a full time grower and made a nice living off of Dad’s greenhouse. 

(As an aside, we hated to leave that farm because we had a pony, black haired and sassy, and appropriately named “Nancy”.  You will recall that you took her and kept her on your farm and renamed her “GG”.  She was so much fun that I think she was more aptly named after you, and to me she will always be Nancy.) 

A Cranky aside – Aunt Nancy’s real name was Eleanor, but that is a different story.

When we left Oklahoma Dad got out of gardening and into boats, and he struggled long and hard sanding and painting first a sailboat on Long Island and then a “stinkpot” in Southern California.  He spent more time working on them then using them, and I think that is why he became infatuated with the possibilities of building boats of fiberglass. 

Unfortunately, unlike wood, fiberglass boats sank like a stone if capsized and that stunted the initial appetite for them.  But Dad conceived of the idea of building a hull inside the hull of a fiberglass boat and filling the core with foam.  Tests demonstrated to Dad that this construction would not only  give the boat a firmness not present in initial fiberglass boats, which felt like you were sitting or standing on eggshells, but, more importantly, it could make  fiberglass boats even more buoyant than wooden ones.  He then set about making a fiberglass boat. 

He designed a racing sailboat that fit the allowable dimensions of the moth, a type of 1-2 man 11 foot racing sailboat then popular at the Ocean City Yacht Club, and set about building it in our basement on Long Island. 

He did this from scratch.  It required building a wood frame, upside down, then covering it with chicken wire and ultimately plaster.  A separating compound was then spread on the plaster and fiberglass on top of that.  When it set, the fiberglass was popped off the plaster mold and it became a mold for the actual fiberglass boat that was built inside of it so that, on its removal from the mold, it would have a smooth exterior.  He then built a second, smaller hull, installed it within the larger outer hull, filled the gap between the hulls with Styrofoam, and eureka, he had created one of the first (if not the first) fiberglass boats that would not sink. 

This is now essentially the method used in constructing all fiberglass boats even to today.  Not only would the boat not sink, his design was so good that the boat dominated the moth class for some time. My brother Jim sailed it to third place against far more seasoned competition in the first regatta the new boat was entered in, the International Championships, which had more than 100 entrants.  Because it was fast, and would not sink, there was a demand for the boats and we made and sold 10-15 over the next few years as a hobby for Dad and summer job for Jim and me.

And then came the computer and digital age.  Dad was just a little early for it.  Too bad, he would have reveled in all that has come in the past 20 years.  But he was fascinated by what he did see of the new developments and the potentially powerful new tools that could be developed. 

I remember how he applied his intellectual curiosity and “can do” attitude when Aunt Phil came to live with him and Mom as she battled cancer.  She was bedridden and helpless at times.  That distressed Dad, but he was intrigued with the then developing use of electric garage door openers and remote TV channel changers.  He wondered how that might help Phil, and he developed a remote for her that she could use to turn on and off lights in the room, summon them and, I think, control the radio.  All pretty standard stuff now, but he developed it from scratch.

To be continued:


  1. Wow! A true Renaissance man your dad was. Looking forward to Part II.


  2. What an amazing man. As someone who lost my Dad when I was a little kid, your Dad sounds like the one I would have wished for myself. Lovely post.

  3. How lucky you were to have such a man in your life. Fortunate indeed.

  4. so interesting! what a role model!