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Archive for June, 2018

The relatively obscure case in southwest Missouri where David Jungerman’s two-year run of criminal activity got underway has now landed on the dog pile of dead-and-gone criminal cases.

It’s no great loss, because this loathsome individual faces much more serious charges here in Jackson County. It is important, nonetheless, because it played a pivotal role in Jungerman getting charged with the murder of Kansas City lawyer Thomas Pickert.

A couple of weeks ago, Vernon County Prosecutor Brandi McInroy dismissed an attempted burglary charge that had been pending against Jungerman since June 2016.

Jungerman’s attorney in that case, S. Dean Price Jr. of Springfield, confirmed the dismissal in a phone call today, saying, “The state made a good, economic, well-reasoned decision.”

His use of the word “economic” goes to the fact that the expense of pursuing the case further would not be worthwhile, considering that the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office has two stronger cases against Jungerman — one for Pickert’s murder last October, the other for threatening two people with a handgun in March.

**

The southwest Missouri case consumed a lot of people’s time — that of judges, clerks, sheriff’s deputies, witnesses, attorneys and others — in both Barton County (Lamar, MO) and Vernon County (Nevada). And, like a goodly number of criminal cases, it never got to the plea or trial stage.

The case turned on typical Jungerman behavior: He was pissed off at a guy who was renting a house from him near Nevada, so he went to the home on June 28, 2016, and kicked at the door. When the tenant answered, Jungerman demanded to know when the guy would vacate the premises…Wouldn’t have been much of a problem, except Jungerman was swearing and had his hand on a .40-caliber Glock in his waistband.

If the tenant, a man named Jerry Doyle, had been the only person at home that day, charges might never have been filed — or the case might have been dismissed a long time ago because it would have been Doyle’s word against Junegerman’s.

But two other people were present, and they confirmed Doyle’s account to sheriff’s deputies. According to a sheriff’s office report, witness Angela Schlup began crying during the incident because “she thought that he (Jungerman) was going to use the gun on Jerry Doyle.”

**

The attempted burglary case was pending when Pickert was shot last October in the front yard of his Brookside home after walking his two young sons to school. Jungerman immediately came under police focus because Pickert had recently represented a man who had won a $5.75 million civil judgment against Jungerman.

In 2012, Jungerman had shot the plaintiff and another man when they were on the grounds of — but outside — a business Jungerman owns in northeast Kansas City. (Jungerman told me after a court hearing in March he firmly believed in “the castle doctrine,” which he described as follows: “You come in my house, I’m going to blow your ass away.”)

Jungerman at a May 3 court hearing in Jackson County

During the five months police were investigating the Pickert case, Jungerman was free on $10,000 bond in the attempted burglary case, and it was the only legal threat hanging over his head.

I covered developments in the case closely, mainly because I knew it might be Missouri prosecutors only chance to get Jungerman behind bars, in the event they were never able to develop sufficient evidence in the murder case.

Before and after a court hearing in Nevada in January, I spoke with Jungerman at length. In the course of our conversation, I said, “Did you do it? Did you kill him (Pickert?)”

After a slight hesitation, he smiled and said: “My attorney has told me not to answer any questions, so I’m not going to say I did, and I’m not going to say I didn’t.”

Those were the words — and attitude — of a guy who believed he’d gotten away with murder.

As it turned out, words he had uttered two months earlier, after another court hearing in southwest Missouri, had opened the way for Jean Peters Baker to charge him with Pickert’s murder.

Jungerman, fool that he is, had recorded the Nov. 16 court hearing, but he failed to turn off the recorder afterwards.

So, the recorder picked up this bit of conversation between Jungerman and an employee of his, as the two men were in Jungerman’s vehicle.

Jungerman: Hey, you know, uh, people…people uh know that I murdered that son of a bitch.

Employee: Why are you saying it like that?

Jungerman: Because that’s what…because of what the media done, see. And but they…they…they just nobody can figure out what’s going on, you know?

Kansas City police came across the recorder — with its shocking contents — while executing a search warrant following Jungerman’s arrest in March for threatening two people he thought had stolen iron piping from him.

**

And so, the curtain has fallen on the obscure burglary case in southwest Missouri.

A bigger act will be playing out in Jackson County, however, where a man who loved his family and the law got killed for successfully representing a client who had run afoul of an evil, arrogant man whose sense of right and wrong revolves around his distorted interpretation of “the castle doctrine.”

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I’ve got a pretty good bead on exactly what happened outside the Wyandotte County Court Services building the other day.

A person who is very familiar with Wyandotte County law enforcement laid it out for me.

I can’t vouch for it 100 percent, and it’s a sole-source account, but when you hear it, you’ll see that it smacks of logic and insider knowledge.

First, here’s a screen shot of the overall scene where the action occurred.

We are looking west on Ann Avenue from Seventh Street. At the right is the Wyandotte County Court Services building, formerly the federal courthouse in Kansas City, Kansas.

At left is the north side of the main Wyandotte County Courthouse. Farther down the block, with the narrow, horizontal windows, is the Wyandotte County jail. (Note: Earlier I said the first building on the left was Memorial Hall; that was incorrect.)

The shootings took place in a gated area behind the court services building. Inmate Antoine Fielder had appeared in court and deputies Theresa King and Patrick Rohrer were walking Fielder and another prisoner back to a van, from where they would go back across the street to the jail.

The gated area behind the courts service building, called the courthouse annex, has a raised loading dock. The routine is that the transport vans park below the dock, and the deputies and inmates then walk up several steps to the dock. The lead deputy unlocks the door to the courthouse, and the group goes in single file.

When leaving the building, the procedure is reversed.

Like all prisoners being transported, Fielder and  the other inmate were wearing leg shackles and were handcuffed in front, with the handcuffs attached to a belly chain that goes around the inmates’ midsection. Thus, they cannot run, and they have limited extension of their hands.

Now, my source’s account:

“The front deputy (could have been either King or Rohrer) unlocks the exit door (to the courthouse), opens and holds it while the inmates and other deputy walk out onto the dock…The inmates walk down the steps and are basically between the two deputies. At some point, while the first deputy (my source believes this was Rohrer) is opening the side doors of the van, Fielder makes his move. He is a big man and has maneuvered his belly-chain and cuffs so that he can have more movement. In that moment, while the deputy (again, believed to be Rohrer) is focused on opening the van doors, Fielder makes his move and goes straight for the deputy’s weapon, unsnaps the holster while simultaneously knocking the deputy off balance. Once he has the firearm, Fielder delivers a fatal shot to the deputy’s head.

“In the meantime, the second deputy (King) is walking down the steps, or just getting on ground level. She draws her firearm and the other inmate is running back to the dock to get out of the way. She has to maneuver around the fleeing inmate and begins firing at Fielder as he turns and starts firing at her. She empties her clip, hitting Fielder five times. Fielder also empties his gun, but his last shot hit her in the head. Both fall. The deputy’s wound is fatal, and Fielder lives but is paralyzed.

“The whole thing is over within 10 seconds or so.”

A secondary source told me King’s weapon “stove piped” after she shot Fielder — meaning a bullet casing was stuck in the slide after not fully ejecting — and that’s when Fielder shot her.

**

That is a terrifying account. And it’s the kind of spontaneous, horrifying experience that rarely happens but which transport deputies have to be anticipating all the time.

As my source said, “An inmate has 24 hours a day to plan ways to escape, and we try to prepare for every scenario but, as we saw here, sometimes that doesn’t work.”

One of the ironies here is that even after shooting the deputies, Fielder faced more hurdles before he would have gained even temporary freedom…The shootings occurred in a fenced-in area, so he would have had to find and manipulate the key to open the gate to the holding area. He also would have needed the key to his shackles, and, finally, he would have needed a key or remote to start the van.

All in all, according to my main source, Fielder’s gambit amounted to “a totally ignorant, stupid move on his part.”

**

A couple of things about the account came as a surprise:

  1. That Fielder ended up paralyzed. Officials have not divulged that information — or any detailed account of what happened.
  2. It was Rohrer, not King, whom Fielder overcame. My initial thought was that Fielder would most likely target the female deputy. But the way my source describes it, the seconds of greatest vulnerability are when the lead deputy is opening the van doors, with his (or her) back to the inmates. In those moments, the gender of the lead officer is immaterial, for the most part. It’s just a matter of whether the inmate can move quickly and surely enough to get the officer’s handgun out of the holster.

Fielder, as we know by now, is an extremely violent individual — having probably killed at least two people previously — and he has no regard for human life.

**

Now, how to fix this situation.

My first thought was, “Why have the inmates’ hands handcuffed in front of them? Why not behind, where no one could do what Fielder did with his hands out front?”

My source addressed that question this way:

“The courts have been loathe to allow us to put incarcerated inmates in handcuffs behind their back. The reason is that inmates have to have their hands in front to sign documents and hold their defense materials, not to mention having to sit with their attorneys for long periods of time in a chair in the courtroom.

“Handcuffs leave marks and are extremely painful when you must lean back in a chair. During jury trials, we even have to let them dress in their own clothes and we have to remove any shackles, chains and cuffs when the jury might see them and become prejudiced seeing a ‘chained monster,’ as the attorneys describe it.

“We do handcuff arrestees behind their backs when first arrested on the street and taken to the jail, where they are strip searched for hidden weapons. Once in the jail, the rules are changed for court appearances.”

**

According to my source, after the Wyandotte County Unified Government acquired the former federal courthouse, the sheriff asked for funds to build an elevated, secure walkway over Ann Avenue between the jail and the annex. (A similar walkway links the jail and the main courthouse building, both of which are on the south side of Ann Avenue.)

My source said the Unified Government, rejected the request as too costly, and, as a result, inmates initially were walked across the street to the annex.

“It didn’t take long before an incident or two occurred on this walk,” my source said, “so then it was decided that it was safer to load the inmates into a vehicle and drive across the street.”

**

One of the benefits of a walkway, my source said, is that secured walkways are considered part of the jail and guns are not allowed, “so there is no danger of being disarmed.”

In addition, my source said, “The walkways are monitored by the jail control center and, in the event of a fight breaking out or other trouble…the control center announces it over the radio and a dozen deputies come running from the jail to assist.”

As it is, however, deputies are required to carry their firearms when they go outside, in public spaces, with inmates, in case an inmate attempts to break out of the van or makes a move on a deputy, as Fielder did.

**

Looks to me — and my source and probably every person connected with the Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Department — that it’s time to build a secure walkway over Ann Avenue.

I would think construction of such a walkway would cost less than $1 million.

Is another deputy’s life worth $1 million?

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Kansas City vying for an NBA or NHL team  

I’ve got a suggestion for The Star’s two sports columnists: Stop flapping your wings trying to stir up interest in Kansas City getting either a National Hockey League or National Basketball Association team.

What a waste of time.

There are good reasons why Kansas City area residents are becoming increasingly attracted to Sporting Kansas City and soccer in general. Here are two:

:: Kansas City has a chance to land one or more World Cup games in 2026.

:: You can get a good seat to a Sporting Kansas City game for $25 to $35. On the other hand, the average cost of a ticket for an NHL game in 2014-15 was $62, and the average cost of a “non-premium ticket to an NBA game in 2013 was $51. (The average cost of a Chiefs’ ticket last year was $128, and the average cost of a Royals’ ticket this year is $33.58 — but what kind of value is that for a team possibly on track to lose 100 games?)

And yet, The Star’s Sam Mellinger and Vahe Gregorian each has had a column this week in which they were basically pushing for either an NHL or NBA team.

Cliff Illig, Cerner co-founder and vice chairman

After a 5-inch introduction to his column in Sunday’s paper, Mellinger posed the question, “So, Cliff, any interest?”

Illig: “Candidly, no.”

Then Mellinger devoted the next 31 inches trying to goose up Illig’s interest. He didn’t get anywhere.

Gregorian’s column was more measured and realistic, focusing on Kansas City’s 2026 World Cup prospects. Yet, he couldn’t refrain from pumping Mayor Sly James about the farfetched prospect of Kansas City landing an NBA or NHL franchise. Like Illig, James wasn’t biting, saying: “If Sprint Center was sitting there and we couldn’t get anybody to come and it operated five days a year, that’s one thing. But it’s kicking it. It’s a very, very busy venue…”

I’m not a soccer fan, but I guess it’s possible I could become one. And considering the respective cost of tickets to major league soccer, basketball and hockey games, there’s no way I’d consider paying market-rate prices to see an NHL or NBA game. And I think a lot of people sitting in my section of the grandstand feel the same way.

A front-page story and a business-page story in today’s Star 

The headline on one of three stories in today’s Star read, “Parson no longer blocking users on social media.”

My first reaction was our new governor was heading in a refreshingly different direction than the hide-and-seek former governor.

And yet, the first 15 inches of the story were about how Gov. Mike Parson used to block critics on his official Twitter account when he was lieutenant governor. It wasn’t until the 15th paragraph that reporters Tessa Weinberg (whose work I’m not very familiar with) and the usually solid Jason Hancock got to the news, saying:

“But in the time since Parson became governor on June 1, his staff has created new official accounts that they insist will no longer block anyone.”

The way that story was written, you couldn’t blame Parson and his staff if they went to the editors alleging the paper was trying to twist the story to make Parson look bad.

…Put simply, The Star was guilty of “burying the lead,” that is, putting the newest and most important development relatively low in the story. If The Star wants better access to Parson than it did to former Gov. Eric Greitens, I would suggest the editors concentrate on presenting straightforwardly the positive developments related to the governor’s office.

**

On Page 5A, reporter Allison Kite — who, like Weinberg, is relatively new to The Star — had a story about a committee of the Kansas City Council recommending that the city give Cordish Companies 100 percent property tax abatement for 25 years to build the “Three Light” apartment tower downtown. Two problems:

  1. She didn’t say which council committee took the action…(I assume it was the Planning, Zoning & Economic Development Committee.)
  2. The committee recommended the controversial action on a 3-2 vote, but Kite didn’t report which members voted “yes” and which voted “no.” (I can’t help you because I couldn’t find it anywhere, including on the city’s website.)

There’s nowhere else Kansas City area residents can get reports on matters like that, and it’s a damn shame when The Star doesn’t report basic information on significant developments where millions of public dollars are at stake. This is another example of how McClatchy’s’s (and The Star’s) ongoing process of trying to cut its way out of debt is backfiring.

It also makes me think that if Mellinger had his head on straight, he’d be asking Illig if he was interested in buying The Star rather than an NBA expansion team. That would be a much greater and longer-lasting contribution to his community.

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:: I’ve not been a regular reader of Jenee Osterheldt, but I definitely admire the fact that she’s been very successful in Kansas City and has now parlayed that success into a job at The Boston Globe.

Osterheldt

She is very smart to head East, where the best newspapers are concentrated, and get out of the McClatchy whirlpool. She could have done better only by landing at The New York Times or The Washington Post. By going to The Globe, she is headed for a paper that is doing very well at transitioning from print to digital. Where The Kansas City Star has fewer than 10,000 stand-alone digital subscriptions, The Globe has more than 100,000.

Osterheldt bided her time here, honed her skills and is now entering a significantly bigger market, where she will make more money and potentially become widely known…We’ll be looking for you under the arc lights, Jenee.

Ryan

:: I don’t know if you read it, but Kelsey Ryan had an excellent take-out Monday on the fishy doings within Clay County government, where, it appears, two of three county commission members (one Democrat and one Republican) have frozen out the third commissioner (a Republican) and have steered the government into a state of mismanagement. Ryan was hired about 15 months ago from the Wichita Eagle, another McClatchy paper, and is getting a chance to write some big stories.

::  I’ve long had my doubts about the quality of the Independence Police Department, and the most recent horror story makes me want to steer clear of that city as much as possible, despite the fact it’s got some good restaurants and other stores around the town square.

Terrifyingly, the department is about 20 years behind the times on police pursuits. The Star had a story today quoting a University of South Carolina criminologist as saying, “In the mid-90s we came to the conclusion that it’s not worth chasing anything other than a violent criminal.”

On June 1, two Independence officers chose to chase a stolen Jeep west on 23rd Street, and the Jeep — going as much as 90 mph — crossed into Kansas City and crashed into a Dodge Avenger that was probably turning into a gas station on Television Place. Three of four people in the car that was hit were killed, as was a passenger in the fleeing Jeep.

The Star story today said an eerily similar crash occurred on January 13, 2014, when a speeding driver fleeing police on 23rd Street also crossed into Kansas City and crashed into another car, killing a 35-year-old man and injuring two passengers. The city of Independence had to pay out more than $750,000 to settle lawsuits that resulted from that fiasco.

I trust and hope that in view of the carnage resulting from those two cases, the department will quickly change course and adopt 21st century police-pursuit procedures.

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I was deep in horse country — Kentucky — last week, and I stumbled on an event I never attended or paid any attention to when I was growing up in Louisville.

Adjacent to Louisville’s second largest park, Seneca, is a riding club called Rock Creek. The club is next to a widely used section of the park that has baseball diamonds and soccer fields and is encircled by a 1.2-mile walking path.

I knew about Rock Creek, but I didn’t know the club held an annual horse show that attracted competitors from far and wide. One day while walking on the path, I saw a sign promoting the 2018 Rock Creek Horse Show and that it was scheduled to start last Tuesday night, my last day in Louisville.

I went back to the club Tuesday morning and took some photos of the build-up to the show, including riders putting their horses through last-minute training sessions.

Here are some of those photos…

Just outside the ring is a path where riders can walk or cantor their horses.

This young woman was putting her horse through its paces inside the ring. Behind her was a horse and driver preparing for the “roadster” competition.

No, this is not Justify — even though the horse resembles the Triple Crown winner with its white blaze.

The groomer (maybe owner?) was kind enough to let me take these photos.

Stables that compete in big-time horse shows haul around a lot of equipment.

Several buggies were parked on the periphery of the stables.

**

That night, Tuesday, I returned to the club for several categories of competition.

This horse and rider prevailed in one of the gaited categories.

This woman participated in same event…The riders face the spectator area while waiting for the results to be announced.

Trainers, like this man, stand outside the rail and call out instructions to the riders of their horses as they pass by the spectators’ boxes.

This was one of the entries in the roadster competition

**

The roadster category was the last event I stayed for, and it yielded a surprise.

The drivers wear caps, goggles and colorful outfits. As I watched this event, one driver stood out, mainly because he was significantly older. He was wearing a black outfit with gold trim and a funny-looking cap. The driver looked to be at least my age, and as I watched him, I tried — but couldn’t — envision myself whipping around the ring in the driver’s seat, going what must have been about 25 mph.

When the event was over, the show announcer came on the PA system and announced the winner and other top finishers. I knew the winner was the older guy, but either I didn’t hear or pay attention to the man’s name and place of residence the first time the announcer spoke.

The next time, however, I heard the announcer say, “And the winner, again, is William Shatner of Beverly Hills, California.”

The words started to sink in…William Shatner…Beverly Hills, California.

I thought, William Shatner? Star Trek?

Then I thought about that little guy who had whirled by me several times and realized that, yes, that could be William Shatner behind those goggles and under that funny hat.

I followed the buggy outside the ring to a darkened area by the stables, where a couple of attendants unhooked the buggy and Shatner stepped out.

“Whew!” he exclaimed with a big smile. “That was fun!”

At that point, I said, “Mr. Shatner, have you been here before?”

He glanced at me and said, “I’ve been here a time or two” — in a tone I understood to indicate he had been to the Rock Creek show many times.

So, while he stood in the dark, several steps away from a black dumpster, I took his picture.

When I got back to my place of lodging, I checked him out on Google, and, sure enough, he breeds, owns and rides saddlebreds.

…Here’s the kicker: He’s 87 years old.

Good show, Captain Kirk!

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The great joy of a high school or college reunion is, of course, reconnecting with former classmates and exchanging memories and life experiences since graduation.

It’s also a time, though, for taking stock. And I’m not talking about casual observations like, “Gee, you sure haven’t changed much,” or thoughts like, “What the heck happened to him?”

It’s an occasion ripe for taking stock of one’s self.

And so, last weekend, at the 50-year reunion of my 1968 graduating class at Bellarmine University, Louisville, KY, I spent a lot of time not just enjoying the company of former classmates but also thinking about how I had changed from 1968 to 2018.

The reunion consisted of three major school-sponsored events — a reception last Friday evening, a campus tour and dinner Saturday, and a brunch Sunday. About 40 of us graduates, however, had a reunion within a reunion. We were the charter members of a social organization that sprang up on campus in my sophomore year, 1965-66. We called ourselves Podiceps, after a species of bird.

We started out as an intramural, touch football team, but it blossomed into a social club, complete with a “clubhouse” in an unused church rectory near downtown Louisville. A few of our out-of-town members (the “day-hops” lived in town; the “dormies” were from out of town) lived in the rectory, but its highest and best use was as a party venue. One member was good with sound systems, and we’d dance late into the night in the rectory to songs like “Do You Believe in Magic” by The Lovin’ Spoonful and “In the Midnight Hour” by Wilson Pickett.

But let me back up and tell you how I came to be a Podicep…Back then, as a freshman and sophomore in 1964 and 1965, I was coming out of a period of depression — undiagnosed but significant — that had enveloped me in about my junior year in high school. Coming out of the depression, I felt a sense of release and newfound excitement, but I was battling other demons, too, including a go-it-alone personality and a totally unwarranted superiority complex.

At Bellarmine, as in high school, I didn’t participate in any extracurricular activities and, living near campus, I would go to class and come home. (As I came out of the depression, I also became emboldened enough to start striking up flirtations with girls who were attending Ursuline, an all-girls school with which Bellarmine, an all-boys school, was in the process of merging.)

It came as a surprise to me, then, when the Podiceps approached me in my junior year about joining the club. I was flattered but by no means had my heart set on becoming a Podicep.

There was no grooming period or hazing. All you had to do was sit for a group interview, following which, the members voted. In my interview, I remember being edgy and accusing the group, in so many words, of exclusivity. After that performance, I thought I’d be blackballed for sure, but, lo and behold, they voted me in.

Even in the fold, however, I kept my distance. As I recall, I didn’t participate in events other than the parties and didn’t become close friends with any of my fellow Podiceps.

After graduation, I never looked back and rarely thought about the Podiceps…until earlier this year.

**

One of our 27 founding members — a retired general with the Kentucky National Guard — came up with the idea of having a Podiceps reunion in conjunction with the Bellarmine reunion. He began sending out group emails, and the idea immediately took root. In an Easter Sunday conference call, it was decided that we’d have a Podiceps reunion dinner after the official Bellarmine “welcome” reception.

As the weeks passed and plans firmed up, I got increasingly excited about the prospect of the Podiceps reunion. Even though I had been just a marginal member, I found myself thrilled that I had been a part of this group within a group. A half century after the fact, my sense of identity as a member of the Podiceps was swelling.

At the same time, I was also eager to redeem myself with at least some of the 27 founding members of the Podiceps and show them I had changed, that I had shed the inflated sense of self-importance I lugged around back then.

The Friday night Podiceps dinner took place at the Louisville Boat Club, where the retired general is a member. It was a wonderful event, with several former leaders of the group speaking about their memories of the Podiceps and why being a member had been special to them.

One of the speakers was Mike Nabicht, who was Podiceps president when I became a member. Mike was three years older than the rest of us, owing to the fact he didn’t start college straight out of high school. All of us looked up to Mike because he was extremely intelligent, had great organizational skills and was blessed with premature maturity. I had not been close with Mike in college but had always recognized and respected his level of maturity and knew he was the essential bonding agent for the entire group. Without him, we would have been far less of an organization than we were.

Friday night, I sat at a table with Mike and his wife Mary Jane but didn’t get a chance to talk to him because he was on the other side of the table.

The next day, though, in passing before taking our seats at the Bellarmine reunion dinner on campus, he said, “Let’s talk.” I was flattered that he wanted to talk to me and, although we were at different tables, I determined to seek him out during the course of the evening.

When I saw he was free later, I pulled up a chair, and we began talking. He told me about his main health problems — including an arthritic spine, which limits his mobility — and about his career as owner-operator of a company that produced religious educational films. His most significant production was a film about Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who was later awarded The Bellarmine Medal, the school’s highest award.

But Mike didn’t do all the talking. He asked me about my career and family, and I told him about Patty (who couldn’t make the trip) and her business producing liturgical garments and about our children Brooks and Charlie.

The next morning, Sunday, we talked at length again, just he and I, at a reunion brunch. That conversation got more personal, and at one point he noted that I had been something of a fringe member of the Podiceps. “You seemed kind of angry,” he said. I readily acknowledged that and said, “Chip on the shoulder.”

“Yes,” Mike said, “that was it…But you’re different now. You’ve changed.”

Mike Nabicht (right), his wife Mary Jane and another Podiceps member, Vinnie Linares

On Sunday night, the retired general and his wife hosted a closing party at their home for the Podiceps and their spouses — those who had come, anyway. Once again, Mike and I talked one on one before heading to different tables with our plates of lasagna. As the sun set on an unusually cool June evening, we chatted on the deck, happy to be in each other’s company one final time before wrapping up a special weekend and resuming our everyday lives.

As I was leaving, I walked into the dining room, where a group of six or seven people were sitting and talking. Mike was among them.

“So long, fellow Podiceps,” I said. “It’s been great being with you.”

They smiled and waved. As I started for the front door, Mike pointed at me and, with a big smile, said, “You’re a better person than you were in college!”

I tell you, I left that party walking on air.

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