Playing Through Adversity

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I am constantly amazed at how frequently history comes walking through our doors. Today a client brought us some films that were part of his dad’s collection. He then began to tell his story.

His dad was Paulino Caron, a Cuban musician turned dissident during the height of the Castro regime. He was an active participant in the disastrous Bay of Pigs “invasion” and as a result was captured and imprisoned by the Castro forces along with nearly 1200 other members of Brigade 2506. While in the prison camp, he was shot twice – once in the chest and once in the arm for being “uncooperative.”

What he was doing was trying to build morale among the other prisoners. He fashioned and led a prison camp band. They had no traditional instruments so they improvised. Broken bottles became horns, trash cans became drums. And they played music. It became so popular amongst the other prisoners they performed weekly shows. They took to calling it “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

After JFK finally arranged for their release in late 1962, the real Ed Sullivan, who had heard of their inspirational story, invited them to appear on his actual show with their makeshift instruments to play to his national audience. The video clip survives and can be found below. Paulino Caron is the one leading the band.

As the son was telling his father’s story, the pride in his voice and the glow in his eyes told me all – this was a story I needed to retell. I am thankful that he allowed me to do so.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

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Finding the Key

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As you may know, Kate and I recently returned from a vacation in the UK with our granddaughter. We arrived in London on a Monday morning but could not check into our flat until late afternoon. With nothing scheduled for the day, we dropped our suitcases off at a holding station and looked for something to entertain us.

We walked past the British Museum which was not on our list of sites to visit during our stay so we entered on a whim – without knowing what was contained in their exhibits. It turned out to be a  delightful surprise; especially for someone who makes his living preserving memories.

As we walked through room after room, we became fascinated with the many items of antiquity that were displayed and then we turned the corner to find a rock encased in a glass box. We had rediscovered the Rosetta Stone.

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The stone was originally discovered in 1795 but dates back to 196 BC (nearly 2 centuries before Christ). Engraved on the stone were words from an ancient language… 3 languages to be precise which is what made the discovery so significant. The engraved texts spoke of a decree issued during the reign of Ptolemy V Epiphranes. While the decree was nothing extraordinary, the fact that the same decree was engraved in ancient hieroglyphics, ancient demotic script, as well as ancient Greek gave researchers the ability to finally decipher the lost language of hieroglyphic symbols thereby increasing our understanding of ancient Eygptian life.

History is all around us. You never know where it will turn up. Although, come to think of it, museums would be a fairly obvious place to look.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

It Was a Very Good Year

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At the close of every Home Video Studio season, we indulge ourselves a bit and take a look back at many of the projects that we and other studio owners around the country feel best represent the work that was done throughout the year. Then, in an Academy Award style gala event, we go head to head for top honors. This year, three of our submissions were chosen as being the best in the nation within their classification.

Best Documentary

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The Lucy Evelyn: From Ship to Store was a delight to work on. We interviewed ten family members and, using their words, told their story of how, from 1948 through 1972, they owned and operated the most unique gift shop in the world. The Lucy Evelyn was a 166-foot, 3-masted wooden schooner built in 1917. When the family was looking for a solution to keep their retail store from continually flooding during the high tide season of Long Beach Island NJ, they bought The Lucy Evelyn at auction, had it towed and beached it on the shores of Beach Haven. It was refitted, filled with high end merchandise, and it remained as a landmark, gift shop, and tourist attraction for many years. It was a great story to tell with a wonderful family who told it well. We were also blessed to have available a lot of archival footage that we were able to insert into this one hour movie. Best of all, the family now has this section of their family history preserved in a narrative and cinematic form that is sure to become a treasured keepsake to be passed down through future generations.

Best Photo Keepsake

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We were honored to have been asked to build a memorial tribute for Canadian country music legend Ronnie Prophet. We worked closely with Glory Anne Prophet, Ronnie’s wife, duet partner, and a Juno-award winning singer in her own right, to somehow capsulize the talent and charisma of a man who was once dubbed “the entertainer’s entertainer.” Once the project had been completed, Glory-Anne stopped by to show us a newspaper clipping that she had found among his archives. In it, an interviewer was commenting on how Ronnie had accomplished nearly everything in his industry: Juno Awards, Gold Records, Male Vocalist of the Year, Hall of Fame inductee… and yet he was still performing. When, the reporter asked, was he going to retire? He replied in his inimitable style, “It has always been my plan to sing at my own funeral.” Thanks to Glory-Anne and the work we did for her, he did just that.

Dr. Strangelove Award for unique video

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When the Mount Dora Boating Center and Marina needed a video centerpiece to introduce their Godfather theme for the upcoming Orlando Boat Show, they reached out to us. Their initial concept would have required building a set, hiring actors, and finding period costumes, all of which would have pushed costs beyond their budget. Our solution was to use a little green screen magic and merely insert one actor into a scene from the original Godfather. They played their film on a repeating loop as they manned their booth all dressed as gangsters inviting Boat Show attendees to “Make Us An Offer We Can’t Refuse.” I’m told it was quite a draw.

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While winning awards is always fun, our main reward is the satisfaction we receive from helping our clients and members of our community with their video and media needs. Whether it is preserving memories through digital transfers, creating memorable video gifts, or using digital media to promote a service or product, Home Video Studio of Mount Dora stands ready to help you.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

 

Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds

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I really do love getting to know the people who walk into my studio. Just the other day I was privileged to meet a woman who had a VHS videotape of a amateur video interview she conducted of her friend Ken Carson.

Ken was a member of the internationally known and multiple award winning group Sons of the Pioneers. For my younger readers, you can think of them as an early version of a boy band (without the choreography and with a western twang). Roy Rogers, as Leonard Slye, was one of its founding members in 1933. Ken joined the group a little later and it is his voice that is featured on the songs Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds and Cool Water. He appeared with the Sons of the Pioneers in 22 of Roy Rogers films. The group exists and performs to this day, making it one of the longest surviving country western music groups.

The interview I transferred to a DVD was made in Ken’s home with his wife in 1994, shortly before he died. It was enjoyable to hear him, in his own words, reflect on his life and career. And, even at 80, his tenor voice had not lost any of the crystal clarity for which he was known as he was taped singing many of the songs he made famous, accompanying himself on his guitar.

What a treasure to have and pass on to the next generation of western music fans.

Little known fan note: My client shared with me some memorabilia she has collected through the years. One was a picture of Ken with an early girlfriend. It was none other than Dale Evans, back in the days before Ken introduced her to Roy Rogers.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

The Bells Are Ringing

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Church bells ring for all sorts of reasons: Call to worship; special celebrations; or alarms to alert citizens of impending storms or attacks. Church bells have been rung both to commemorate a marital union as well as to ward off devilish attacks. The first record of a church bell used in such fashion took place in AD 400 (some 1620 years ago) and it has grown in popularity ever since.

Suffice it to say that residents of any small town with a church possessing a bell tower have become accustomed to hearing the regular chime of its tones. So whenever a small town’s bells become silent, people take notice.

When the First Congregational Church in Mount Dora (which is the oldest structure in our downtown area, having been built in 1883) discovered its bell tower was in such a state of disrepair that it required the discontinuation of its ringing, the church leaders immediately put out a call to action. Setting up a GoFundMe site, it requested the help of the community it served to try to raise the funds needed to repair the bell tower.

Our small town community responded in spades. Aided by a matching grant from our local Community Trust, we were able to quickly raise the funds needed to effect the repairs and get our bell ringing again.

There are small stories and there are big stories. But small stories can often make a big impact. The chiming of a neighborhood church bell is no small matter. We sometimes don’t realize how important it is until we no longer hear it. Because it can  and does serve as a unifying force. It reminds us that we are all part of the same community. This may sound corny but it is a message we would all do well to heed. We need to keep the bells ringing… not only in Mount Dora… but also in our own hearts.

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Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Owie, Maui… What a Gift

 

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We love our clients. And sometimes we get an inkling that they kind of like us too. The object pictured above was a gift – given to us by a client who appreciated the job we did for his family.

We recently completed an hour-long, documentary-style movie about their unique nautical story. And in appreciation, they gifted us with this desk set designed in the Maori style of hei matau.

I had to do a little research to learn the significance of this gift and I have to say that I am both touched and honored to have received it.  A hei matau is a stylized carving in the shape of a fish hook and is most closely identified with the Maori people of New Zealand. The carving is said to represent strength, good luck, and safe travel across water.

In Maori cultural tradition, it is said that the North Island of New Zealand was once a huge fish that was caught by the great mariner Maui using a woven line and a hook made from the jawbone of his grandmother. The Maori name for the North Island, Te ika a Maui, literally means “the fish of Maui.”

To own one is a great treasure. To own this one, which was hand carved by my client, an incredible craftsman by anyone’s definition, makes the treasure even more dear.

We only hope that they treasure their family video to the same degree. I know we do.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Jernigan FL… Future Home of the Mouse.

 

jernigan.jpgYou never know on any given day who is going to walk into the studio. Today, a member of one of the most prestigious names in Central Florida graced our doorstep. Today, we got to meet a genuine Jernigan.

No, that is not an heir to the hand lotion empire… that would be Jergens as my wife was so quick to remind me. For those who have not brushed up on their local history (like me apparently), up until 1857, the city of Orlando was known as Jernigan, named after the area’s first white settler.

Aaron David Jernigan moved to Orange County FL in 1843 and settled on the shores of Lake Holden in what is now downtown Orlando. He raised cattle and planted corn, cotton, rice, sugar cane, pumpkins and melons. He grew so influential in the establishing of the community, his family home was even designated as the post office.

In fairness, my client was more closely tied to Aaron’s brother Isaac who also moved to Central Florida at the same time and settled in at the same time. Why Aaron is given all the accolades for being the first settler and not Isaac is probably due to some sibling rivalry thing but, be that as it may, being a Jernigan in the area that your ancestor helped to settle is a pretty impressive thing.

How the city came to be known as Orlando is up for debate. There are multiples theories:

  1. Judge James Speer who worked hard to designate the city as the county seat named it Orlando after a man who once worked for him.
  2. Speer named it after a character in Shakespeare’s As You Like It.
  3. A man named Mr. Orlando was traveling through the area with oxen, became ill and died. He was buried on the spot and as people passed by they would say, “There lies Orlando.”
  4. The most commonly accepted story is that the city was named after Orlando Reeves, a soldier who, during the Seminole Wars, spotted an Indian assault upon his camp. He warned the camp and in doing so successfully drove back the invaders but was felled during the skirmish. He was buried on the shores of Lake Eola. And the area was subsequently named after him.

Whichever version you accept, it is always a thrill to welcome these reminders of the past into our studio. If you ever choose to trust us with your family memories to preserve, I hope you’ll be able to stay for a while and tell us some of the interesting back stories that make up your history. It is one of the perks of our business and it really does help to put things into perspective.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Devil Boats

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My reference points regarding PT boats have always been restricted to two sources: JFK’s exploits described in his book, Profiles in Courage; and the TV sitcom McHales Navy. Needless to say, neither really explained much about this unique and highly specialized craft. While the stories I read or watched regarding PT 109 and PT 73 captured my interest, they did not shed a lot of light upon this particular type of warcraft.

I have been working on a documentary for a nautical family and one of the facts that came out during the interviews was that the patriarch of the clan fulfilled his WWII service by building PT boats for Vetnor Boatworks in New Jersey.

I was surprised to learn that the PT boats were made from plywood, not steel. They were fast, highly maneuverable, and relatively inexpensive to build. The PT stood for Patrol Torpedo Boats. They were nicknamed Devil Boats by the Japanese or, as a whole, the Mosquito Fleet because they were small, fast, and a continual nuisance to the Japanese Navy.

A little research shows that the PT boats came into existence because in 1938, the US Navy sponsored a design competition for companies to devise a highly mobile attack boat. When the US entered into WWII, there were no less than 12 companies designing and building these attack boats for the US government. As time went on, the design became more standardized and two companies stood out among the rest: Elco, based in Bayonne NJ; and Higgins, based in New Orleans.

When I learned that the boats were wooden, I expected to discover a high casualty rate among them but instead found them to be surprisingly resilient. Of the 531 ships that were put into wartime service, only 69 (13%) were lost. And of the estimated 63,000 men who served on the PT boats, 331 (less than 1%) were killed in action. There are only a few of these boats that remain in existence today as most were destroyed at the end of the war due to the high maintenance that wooden boats require.

My client attributes his woodworking skills (which are considerable) to those days in the Vetnor Boatworks. This is just one story among many that were revealed while interviewing family members for this documentary. We are honored that they have chosen us to tell their story.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitizing of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Mr. Trumpet Man

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Passion can be both inspiring and contagious. It is also immediately recognizable. I saw it for myself recently as I was transferring some videotaped footage for a client.

The footage was of her father, renowned Grammy award winning jazz musician Doc Cheatham, who at 91 was still traveling the country, touring and playing to packed venues. He died while doing what he loved, playing the music he loved to play.

Doc’s career spanned over seven decades during which he played with such notable talents as King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Bessie Smith, and Benny Goodman. He continually worked at perfecting his technique and successfully managed the transition from lead trumpeter within various bands to having a career as a soloist – a feat he accomplished at the tender age of 60.

He didn’t begin singing, in addition to his playing, until he passed 70 but it was well received and he continued the practice until his death. His final performance was at the Blues Alley Club in Washington in 1997. He died two days later, eleven days short of his 92nd birthday.

That is an accomplishment we should all believe to achieve – to be able to work at what we love right up to the time we take our last breath. To continue to learn and grow, developing our passions and providing them with the fuel that keeps them burning strongly within our souls.

Thanks Doc, for the music and the memories.

PS. His passion was certainly contagious. His grandson, Theo Croker, is an accomplished trumpeter in his own right having just been named as one of the top jazz artists to watch in 2019 by Jazziz Magazine.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digital transfer of film, videotape, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

A Personal History Restored… Never To Be Forgotten

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Dear Readers,

I apologize for the long blog absence. I kind of got caught up in the holiday season/rush and fell out of the habitual practice of writing about the memories I am privileged to capture and preserve.

I had always planned to get back into the swing of things but the longer I waited, the more difficult it was to find a topic that somehow justified breaking my unintentional silence.  Until today.

I am not often surprised when I do videotape transfers. Over the years, I have observed that we, as a people, all record the same kind of events – birthdays, vacations, sports, school concerts, etc… But every so often something comes along that just floors me. And it reminds me that people are always more than they appear and have histories that run deep and wide.

Today, I transferred to DVD a videotaped interview of one of my clients. It appears to have been recorded in the early 80s. He was born in 1934… in Berlin Germany…of Jewish parents. So as a young boy he was witness to and victim of some of the hateful, unconscionable acts that occurred in Nazi Germany.

The interviewer took him through his earliest memories and into his families’ experiences during WWII. It was horrifying but at the same time riveting. I could not imagine living through what he was describing… and yet, he had little choice but to live through it.

Memories are not always pleasant but they are always important. The past informs our present and can help to shape our future. The quote attributed to George Santayana says it best: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I am honored to have been able to have heard and preserve this slice of personal history. I would like to think that we, as a people… as a culture… will remember and learn from it so as to be spared from having to repeat it. As I look at the world today and hear the hateful rhetoric being spewed daily across the airways and internet… I’m sad to say that I’m not so sure we have.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.