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The Grasshopper Boy

I'm not a huge fan of Facebook.  I have trouble navigating the damn thing, it won't allow long messages, and privacy concerns keep being discussed.  I prefer blogging. However, that is not to say there aren't some benefits, such as knowing what is going on with your friends and finding old acquaintances that, through time, get lost.  One such case is a man named Thomas Ross-Barnett who was a fraternity brother at Iowa Wesleyan College.  Tom, RB as I called him, was originally born in the African nation of Liberia.  He was also afflicted with polio.  In order to walk as a young boy he had to hop much like a grasshopper.

One day a lady from England visited his village and saw his plight.  She offered him and his family an opportunity.  Because she had the resources, she gave him the gift of medical assistance in the form of living in England and getting all the necessary treatment to deal with his afflictions.  She would take care, through a network of fellow philanthropists, of his educational needs and in return he do work to benefit society.  The gift was accepted and off he went to England.  His ravaged leg received therapy and was fitted with braces that allowed him to walk with the aid of a walking stick.

He met the Queen, and a book was written about him called The Grasshopper Boy.  He settled in LLANFAIRPWLLGWYNGYLLGOGERYCHWYRNDRONWLLLLANTYSILIOGOGOGOCH? It's a little village on the island of Anglesey, in North Wales.  It remains the town with the longest name in the world.

When he became of age to receive his college education he was sponsored in America by the Stanley family in Muscatine, Iowa.  Stanley patriarch Max and his son David Stanley were steeped in charitable activities and RB was the recipient of a college education at the greatest hub of learning in the Midwest. Thus the long journey from a small village in Liberia to Iowa Wesleyan just at the time the Blythe boys were "quenching their thirst for learning" (thanks Holly).

RB was a classy kid back then, very smart, very cerebral, not afraid to speak his mind on things.  He became a fellow pledge in the Phi Delta Theta fraternity and became quite a buddy of mine.  We showed him the American love of beer and partying and he attempted in his own way to show us a world outside western Illinois and eastern Iowa.


RB, Mark Neish and I travelled to a National Phi Delt convention to Miami one summer while we were in school.  Mark is on the left and RB is on the right. 

 I'm not sure what was going on here, but RB is in the front and, yeah, that looks like me in the #85 jersey.

There are several good stories I have of RB, one of which was the time we went to see some horror movie that had some levitation in it.  When we got back to the dorm some guys distracted RB while I tied fishing line to his walking stick and ran it up over pipes in his room.  When he retired and sleeping we snuck over to his door and I pulled on the line, thus raising his stick.  We heard him scream and he didn't talk to us for 2 weeks. 

Another time we were heading up town for something and were in a hurry.  I remember vaguely maybe hurrying to get across the tracks before the train came or it could have been something else.  Anyway, there was a procedure Tom had to go through to get in and out of a vehicle.  There were snaps on his brace that had to be done in order to climb in, then snapping again when he got out.  Because he was in a hurry, he forgot to snap his brace and punctured a beer can with a metal pin, soaking both of us with sudsy beer and the car as well.

At graduation I invited him to join our family which consisted of mom, dad, bros Mark and Phil, Aunt Gladys, Uncle Ed and Grandma Orpha.  The Iris was the nice place to go for a meal in town.  It was the place you went to class it up a bit.  Needless to say, the graduation euphoria possessed us all, but RB more than anyone.  The drinks and meal were free (thanks, Herb) and as we were in the front area after eating, drinking and gabbing he was talking one second and then went down like a tree the next.  Absolutely smashed and passed out.  Poor RB couldn't hold his liquor and I'm afraid we had a negative impact in that area. 

An amazing individual who was urbane, mature beyond us small-town country hicks, with a laugh I can here like it was yesterday, laser-smart, gracious, graceful, a leader in words and action.  Not bad for a kid who hopped like a grasshopper in a thatch-hutted village in Africa.

Pictures after a couple of happy hours where RB got very happy. Poor guy couldn't handle his beer like we Americans could, oh, and that's the walking stick that levitated.



Well, RB and I were able to get in touch with each other after many years.  He is doing well, and lives in Colwyn Bay, UK.  He received further education in England at Trinity & All Saints in Leeds, to become a teacher.  RB never married but had a son and now has three grandchildren.  He is now semi-retired and does charitable volunteering working with people and families.  His old health ailments restrict his mobility a bit these days.  The lives one affects in a lifetime of work can't be easily quantified.  Knowing Tom, I'd say the debt he owed that lady a long time ago has been payed in full. 


RB today.  Ever dapper, proud and, yup, a walking stick, but not the one I remember so well.

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