Bob Hulsizer was 4 years old in 1937 when his parents, Lou and Theodore (called Thee) started their annual fall color trips to the hills of Southern Ohio with Mae and Paul Ballentine and Stanley and Rose Bedford.
“It was always around Dad’s birthday, which was in late October,” Hulsizer recalled.
He has a more vibrant memory about the car his father drove that first year the three families caravanned from Springfield’s West End to Pike County or thereabouts.
The 1929 Willis Knight’s ah-OOOOO-gah horn might have been striking enough to a preschooler. But it was only one third of the reason Hulsizer’s voice amps up its expressiveness when he says “that was a strange car.”
“You blew the horn, turned on the lights and started the car all from the same switch in the center of the (steering) wheel.”
Pushing the button sounded the horn, pulling it up started it and twisting it to the right turned on the lights.
Annette Belford Theopolis, born three months before the first gathering, doesn’t remember the car. But when she turned 80 this summer, it reminded everyone involved that the gathering descendants of the original travelers held last Saturday at John Bryan State Park would be the 80th installment.
“I’ve got four albums (of pictures) but I just brought the oldest ones,” Mrs. Theopolis, the event’s historian said at table with her husband, Verne, Bob Hulsizer and his wife, Flossie, a few days before the event.
Verne Theopolis’ take on the coming excitement was expressed in four droll words: “I can hardly wait.”
Still, the West Ender gathering has a history worth celebrating.
Hulsizer’s older brother, Jim, 91, recalls a trip north to Indian Lake
That year, the caravan ended up parking side by side by side by side and “we passed the food from window to window” because of the downpour that prevented a picnic.
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Snow rained on the parade one year when a lead group headed south on a Friday evening and those who woke up in Springfield Saturday morning did so to more than half a foot of snow and canceled their travel plans.
That may have been the same year that the Hulsizers’ son Billy, as he was called in his youth, made family history by overdosing on pizza flavored crackers and throwing up on his mother.
“I bet he’s never eaten another one,” said father Bob.
Mrs. Theopolis, who spent the night with the Hulsizers that evening contributed a telling detail: “It was a small trailer.”
Her own favorite memories – and there are many — involve reflections of colors off the placid surface of Pike Lake.
Other stops over the decades have included the New Carlisle Sportsman’s Club, Kiser Lake, the Lawrenceville Community Center and, for the past decade or so, the Day House built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps at John Bryan.
It has always been a “bring your appetite” occasion with family carry-in fare like ham, family favorite recipes like calico beans (three kinds of beans seasoned with bacon and stiffened with hamburger) and pie – apple this year, because Flossie Hulsizer found apples on sale for 69 cents a pound.
Tradition calls for a color walk after the meals, “for us younger ones, that is,” Mrs. Theopolis said with a touch of pride.
The event also provides time to reflect on the ways the combined family history has part of community history.
Mrs. Theopolis’ father worked first at Springfield Leather Products, later at Crowell-Collier Publishing, then after its demise at Springfield Gravure printing. And just as the softball he played on shop teams at Lagonda Field is part of that history, his first and middle name speak to his father’s interest in sports a generation earlier.
Stanley Ketchel Belford was named for world middleweight champion Stanley Ketchel, the “Michigan Assassin,” a son of Polish immigrants whose accomplishments included knocking down historic black boxing champion Jack Johnson in one of a series of fights in which the best white fighters of the time tried to bring Johnson down.
Johnson, as some may recall, made two visits to Springfield.
On the Hulsizer side, both Bob Hulsizer’s parents went only through the ninth grade at Snyder Park School when that was the norm. His father went on to work as an engineer at another steady area employer, Wright Field, later Wright Patterson AFB.
Although it’s now a single-day event, accommodations were considerations in past years.
“Of course we were in trailers and cabins,” Mrs. Theopolis said.
When she added that “the older we got the more we went to the cabins,” her husband perked up and contributed another quip: “I joined them when they went to the motels.”
The past couple of years, the gathering has included a silent auction with two practical goals.
“It’s a good way to get rid of junk, and it pays for the next year,” Mrs. Theopolis said.
She acknowledged the inevitable about long-running traditions: there have been deaths over the years.
But with 62 descendants of the founders and a few extra friends attending a week ago Saturday, the tradition is still alive.
“There always seems to be a new baby,” the baby of the 1937 gathering added.
This year, there were three.