by Al Spiers, Times-Union Correspondent (in two parts)
To a columnist who likes real people, Fred Olds is great copy. Trouble is, where to begin? His warm story could start like this: "If Warsaw ever lets kids vote, Fred Olds could be Santa Claus for mayor. Or this: "Fred Olds is never sure how his next bill will be paid--but he laughs off big-paying jobs that take him from home and family."
Perhaps a catch-all kick-off would do: "Fred Olds is a man of many facets-teacher, artist, lecturer, horse trainer, singer, craftsman, athlete, soldier, coach, counselor. But his greatest talent is for living-and giving."
Or I might say, "After one enchanting evening with Fred Olds and his delightful family I felt like an old friend..." But somehow tricky leads seem unsuitable to a guy as likeable, humble, sincere and generous as Olds. So let's just start at the beginning and let his story roll as he's lived it.
Born in Ohio
Olds was born April 27, 1916, in Fremont, Ohio. A year later his dad, the late Fred, Sr., an osteopath, moved the family to Warsaw. In boyhood, Fred acquired a love of music from his dad, who often led the family in songfests. Summer spent with grandparents lured him to horses.
"Dad's folks bred trotters in New York, and Mom's people raised horses and mules in Missouri," Fred grinned. "So I was riding almost as soon as I could walk." In high school, Olds, a lean, agile, rugged six-footer, played football (guard) and ran the track dashes well enough to win an athletic scholarship at IU. There, with some uncertainty, he begin pre-medical studies in the fall of 1935.
A jarring belly butt in spring training ended his IU career in the spring of 1937. The resulting hernia needed surgery. Sent home to convalescent, Fred brooded. "I decided I wanted to b a cowboy, not a doctor," he grinned. So off he went, hitch-hiking west. His money ran out in Dallas, Tex., and he got a ranch job. But instead of happily riding horses he found himself jockeying an old jalopy and stringing fence.
Disillusioned, the prodigal returned and enrolled at DePauw, determined now to pursue a life-long talent for art. Two years later 1940's gathering war clouds changed Fred's mind again. Eager to fly, he enlisted as an aviation cadet.
Not for Southpaw
An odd thing nipped Fred's pilot career in the bud. He's left-handed. Airplanes aren't tailored for Southpaws. After seven struggling hours, Olds' instructor said sadly: "Sorry, Fred-it's no use."
Sent home, Olds promptly reenlisted as an Air Force Kiwi and in time became a gunner and bombardier aboard A20s. After Pearl Harbor, his outfit was swiftly shifted to the East Coast for sub hunting. "I never saw a sub-but at least I was flying," Fred grinned.
Presently destiny tossed a new low curve at Fred. Shifted to a B26 outfit bound for Africa, he badly dislocated a knee running an obstacle course. Grounded, he took a supply job to stay with his outfit. Overseas, Fred Scrounged supplies, sketched, dodged bombs and pestered the brass until he finally got back into the air as an observer on 15 missions.
Discharged in 1945, Fred finished college at Ohio Wesleyan, majoring in art, minoring in physical education. When he got a job as teacher and coach at a Long Island high school, Olds knew he'd found the right career at last. He loves kids-and they love him.
There ensued three incredibly busy years. Fred taught, coached, played semi-pro football, got a master's degree at Columbia, worked summers as an Adirondacks dude ranch counselor and somehow found time to woo and win pretty Flora Connor, a girl who shared his love for children. Soon they were expecting.
Overjoyed, Fred scouted for a new job from the stifling New York area-no place to raise kids. He found one in the best possible place-back home at Warsaw. So in August, 1950, shortly after their Kathleen was born, the Oldses came back to Indiana.
Warsaw Times Union, Tuesday April 16, 1957
by Al Spiers, Times Union Correspondent (part 2)
In 1950 Fred Olds, a great guy in any kid's book came home to Warsaw to teach art, help coach footbal and track and rais a family. Olds returned to Hoosierland with two wishes-to own a place in the country and a horse or two. Unexpectedly, he got the horse first-a sly old trickster named Dash, bought for $100 from a rodeo performer.
"We kept him in the garage," laughted Fred, a lean, likable six-footer with an amiable face and gentle eyes. "Sometimes I'd take him to school and display his tricks to the kids. They loved him."
Dash had one trick neither Fred nor his pretty wife, Flora appreciated. He'd unlatch the door and go adventuring through Warsaw. He did it once when Fred was out of town and Flora was eight months pregnant. The police called and I had to lead him home," smiled Flora. "It was quite a parade-pregnant me, frisky Dash and a flock of happy kids trailing along behind."
In 1952, the Oldses got their other wish-a place in the country. It wasn't much-five acres, a barn, sheds and a ramshackle old farmhouse that needed oodles of fixing. But it was ideal for kids, horses and easy living and that suited Fred and Flora perfectly.
Wife is Decorator
Since then, five years of hard work and all their spare cash have gone into what Fred dubbed Olds' Fertile Acres.
Flora, whose hobby is decorating, did most of the painting, wallpapering and planning-in between tending Kathleen, now 7, Laura, 5; Eric, 4; and the new Olds' offspring, another girl. Fred's main contribution was extra money earned as a commercial artist and mural painter in what scant spare time his busy schedule allows.
"We still have much to do," he grinned. "It'll get done in time. Meanwhile we're comfortable and happy."
There is, of course, a horse on the farm-Skeeter, a superb Appaloosa stallion, Fred's favorite breed. "It took some trading and frenzied financing to get Skeeter," Fred laughed. "But now I'm set. Some day we'll raise Appaloosas. Meanwhile, I'm training Skeeter as a roping horse."
Fertile Acres is also the home of a dog, sundry cats, a pet goat, some banty chickens, wild mallards, and a Brahma steer on which Skeeter will be rope-trained. "We had a cow-but she panicked and died in a bad thunderstorm," said Fred sadly. "We may get another-and of course, a pony for the kids."
Gives up Coaching
The Oldses are scarcely dollar-rich-partly because Fred gives so generously of his time to others. He's had to give up coaching and besides teaching he sings in their Methodist Church choir, gives several chalk talks (usually for free) a month, conducts weekly adult education classes in oil painting and leathercraft. Above all, he believes firmly in spending ample fun time with his family-especially the kids.
Only when the wolf raps insistently at the door does he paint for profit. "And that, I must confess, happens all too often, " he laughed. "We rarely know how our next bill will get paid. But somehow it does, and we go on enjoying life." Recently, a friend, aware of Fred's many talents, offered him a job at about double his present income. There was one hitch. Fred would be away from home several days a year.
"No thanks," said Fred firmly. "I'd be miserable away from Flora and the kids." Summers, Fred works as a counselor at a small-frey dude ranch in New York's Adirondacks. The whole family goes along--and has a barrel of fun. How well Warsaw's small fry like their gentle, easy-going art teacher was aptly displayed one recent Sunday.
Emerging from Methodist services, a little girl turned to her mother and said: "Now let's go to that other church."
Startled, Mom asked why.
"Because," said the bright-eyed lass, "Mr. Olds is singing today in their choir, too."
As he says, Fred Olds may never be sure how his next bill will get paid--but he's one of the richest men I know.
Warsaw Times Union Thursday April
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