This week we are pleased to introduce a Southern Gables writer who is traveling on a wide-ranging adventure. Brooklynn Rich is “on the road,” experiencing these United States and meeting wonderful people while attending college classes, holding down a journalism responsibility, and pursuing a faith avocation. We are hoping she will continue to let us in on her travels across this great country we share. 

By Brooklynn Rich

Growing up in Southern Gables, small acts of kindness surrounded me. Whether it was a graduation party saved by a neighbor who spent her morning picking up blown-away invitations or a smile and a wave from a passing dog-walker, these moments created the feeling of home in my neighborhood. Adjusting to being alone on the road has been a sharp learning process. One of the things I am most grateful for is the continuous interactions that remind me of the kindness of home. Often these conversations are so sporadic that I don’t catch a name, but their welcoming presence remains in my memories.

The Penny Man, Cocoa Beach, Florida

Living in a van in Florida has its ups and downs. Long days at the beach swimming in the water make up for the particularly hot days spent searching for an air-conditioned place to catch up on homework. On one of these sweltering afternoons, I stopped at a gas station to momentarily ease my overheating body with a cold soda. As I stood in line waiting to check out, the older man in front of me reached down, almost falling over, to grab a penny he had spotted near the register. Turning around, he asked, “Do you want a lucky penny?” Smiling, I accepted the penny and reminisced on the family tradition I have attached to pennies. Pennies on the ground represent my Nana thinking of you, reminding you she is watching out for you and ensuring it will all be okay. What a lucky time to have needed a cold soda.

Liz and Konrad, Dallas, Texas

My college dorm room, classroom, dining hall, and transportation system.

Texas greeted me with an ice storm that reached the headlines in the national news. One thing about driving in my van is that I’m not only driving my brand-new car but also my brand-new home. So when the weather gets bad, I’m stuck wherever I am to fend for myself. Unfortunately, I also run off solar, so I’m in quite a pickle when I’m stuck for multiple days with no sun. Lucky for me, I met just the right family in Dallas who took me in and gave me a home away from home for the week. For four days, I spent my mornings, afternoons, and nights inside the Eysink home, drinking hot coffee, eating soup, petting three dogs and three cats, and hearing stories about my host family’s lives. The generosity of the Eysink family to welcome a stranger amidst a storm is quite an example of sacrificial love. Having nothing to offer, I was the lucky stranger crashing a sweet family’s home.

60th Birthday Girl, New Orleans, Louisiana

My first Mardi Gras was spent on the streets with my new friend, Karen, celebrating the first day of the parades and her 60th birthday. Being in New Orleans for Mardi Gras might have been one of my more dangerous adventures, but it has also become one of my favorite memories from the road. That night standing on the street alone amidst a bunch of really under-the-influence people, Karen took no time to find a spot for me in the crowd’s front row and begin to get to know me. Karen is a New Orleans native with three kids and a few grandkids. She constantly reminded me of how proud she was that I was traveling alone and how worried she would continue to be when I picked up and left again. I spent a safe night next to my new friend, gathering way too many beaded necklaces, magnets, pins, coins, and stuffed animals. I’m not sure I’ll ever make it back to see Karen, but I can be sure I’m in her prayers, just like I’m in the prayers of so many of my sweet neighbors back home. Until I return, I’m grateful for all the people who remind me of the friendly streets of Southern Gables.

Brooklynn Rich is pursuing a degree in journalism through Liberty University. By taking her classes online, she plans to spend her college years traveling across the country in her self-converted Ram ProMaster van. In addition to her classes, she works as a journalist for The Borgen Project, a nonprofit that fights against extreme poverty. Brooklynn tells us, “I enjoy learning more about how I can best support those in greatest need. I also spend time visiting churches across the country, exploring what the body of Christ looks like in different places in the US.” 


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The Hanover Avenue Boy

The Hanover Avenue Boy

In our series on interesting characters we have met, we’ve often strayed from the Southern Gables neighborhood. This week we feature a story from far outside our boundaries, adding in a book review with a harrowing tale of survival, and “almost” meeting a much-admired character. 

“A boy doesn’t need a yardstick if there’s a man about the size he wants to be.”

Joe Lewis, 1926-2023. “He was never without a smile and a kind word for all he encountered.”

I heard that somewhere when I was in school. It made me think of my dad and my uncles. My uncle Joe Lewis, for example. He lived a long and exemplary life, a life that was ideal to hold as an example, a high standard for aiming to measure up. A perfect yardstick. He was the model of a hard-working, smart, funny, loving man. His passing was marked by a gathering of his large and happy family including his children, grandchildren, and great-grands. A good number of his nieces and nephews were there too, telling stories.

Uncle Joe knew of my interest in genealogy and family stories. He had a book of family tree information, and shared it with me about 20 years ago. His mother’s maiden name was Boehling. I added some Lewis and Boehling twigs to my tree, and filled in some of his blank spots on the McDonald side.

Lt. James Boehling (Photo from the book)

Forward to last year. A friend from my high school days sent me a book. She thought I would like it just because it was about flying and I had been a pilot. The book was A Heavy Bomber at War: Memories of World War II by James W. Boehling. “Hm, Boehling. I know that name.” The book was a memoir, a first-person account of wartime experience as a B-17 Navigator in the Army Air Corps. It didn’t take much to start noticing other familiar names in the story that made me realize there was indeed a family connection. Jimmy Boehling had graduated from my old high school, the same as Uncle Joe, my other uncles, my dad, my brothers and some cousins. I asked Uncle Joe about him, and he knew they were “some kind of cousins” but Jimmy was two years older and they didn’t spend a lot of time together. Joe hadn’t heard of the book. I sent it to him.

The Book

James William Boehling was born in 1925 and grew up on Hanover Avenue in Richmond, Virginia, across from that same high school. His mom and dad bought the house when he was 10 months old and Richmond’s West End was a burgeoning new development. It’s now the Museum District, busy with tourists, but back then before the museums there were vast empty spaces, ideal for bike riding, baseball and all the games kids play. He was the firstborn of a large family, and everybody knew the Boehling kids of Hanover Avenue. After graduating in the Class of 1942, doing a freshman year at Virginia Tech and working for a time at his dad’s feed company, he turned 18 and signed up for the Air Cadet program. Passing through the battery of tests and exercises for pilot qualification, he was relieved to get through the 1-in-3 washout rate and get selected for a pilot slot. Then the “needs of the service” dictated a change. Everyone in his class who met the requirements for becoming a navigator was sent out on that track.

Frank Bell’s crew. Photo taken in Florida during training. Left to right, front row: Guy Fitts, radio operator; Alfred DeVoto, right waist gunner; Paul Head, toggelier-gunner. Back row: Seth Wagner, flight engineer; Jim Boehling, navigator; Oddist Murphree, co-pilot; Unknown, bombardier. Bell and Pringle, substitute co-pilot not shown. All except Boehling, Murphree, and unknown were lost on mission of April 21, 1945. (Photo from the book)

We follow the cadet through his intensive training in the science and art of navigation using all the tools and techniques of the time. Then overseas, training and more training, learning the ins and outs of the B-17 bomber. On his first combat mission, Boehling’s aircraft was part of a large formation that took off from England, assembled with others over Rheims, France, and then headed for their assigned target deep in Germany. All according to plan.

B-17 (USAF Photo)

Things unravel

The book describes the scene in detail. We feel the anxiety in the cramped forward compartment, see the deadly weather front forcing the pilot to maneuver through a hole in the clouds. Losing sight of others in the formation, drifting downward and banking into the blinding white mist. The plane lurches upward, then down and falls into a stall, a deadly diving spin. The nav signals across the compartment to his crewmates, Something’s wrong, we’ve got to get out. No response, immobilized, expressionless. He makes his way to the hatch and jumps. He lands within sight of the burning wreckage. Sole survivor.


The crash put him in Allied-occupied Germany. A group of German youths gave him a bicycle ride, encountering a squad of French soldiers who took him for a while until they met up with some Americans who had room in their Jeep. He eventually strolled into his old base in England, with a reception along the lines of, “Hmm, thought you were dead.”

The war in Europe was over not long after that. We ride along at the Navigator’s station following all the nav calculations on the way back to the States, and then getting set for cross-training to the B-29 to finish the war in the Pacific. That assignment was called off with the announcement of V-J Day, and Jimmy returned home to Richmond.

Home then

The home on Hanover Avenue was where Jimmy had lived since he was 10 months old. He returned there after the war. When my friend sent me the book she told me he had lived there all his life. Richmond TV station WTVR had done an article in 2018 marveling that he was a local legend, having lived in the same house for 92 years. All the neighbors knew him of course. Well liked, well respected. I sure would have liked to have met that man. What a story, what a life.

And now

At Uncle Joe’s funeral last week, as the large crowd filtered out after the ceremonies, I talked with someone who said she was a member of the Boehling family. “Hm, Boehling. I know that name.” With a little hesitation, I asked in a low voice, “Is Jimmy Boehling still living?” She answered yes, he is. “Didn’t you see him? He was here! He just drove away a few minutes ago.” And yes, he still lives on his own, going on 97 years in the house on Hanover Avenue.


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Heroes – 3

Heroes – 3

Our last story in this series from neighbor Ken Fischer involves having coffee, but not the congenial visiting kind. More like the hunkered-down-for-a-long-tense-wait kind. Tense and dangerous, with lives at stake. It would take an audacious move, a heroic move, to protect the innocent.  

By Ken Fischer

From 1980 to 1985, I was a member of the Lakewood SWAT team. Among the most critical and sad calls we covered was a barricaded gunman just inside Edgewater. This was beyond their capability as they had no SWAT team. We deployed at about eleven o’clock PM to a three-story apartment building.

In a top floor corner apartment a crazed man was holding his two young daughters after shooting and killing his wife in their presence. This action was the end point in a bitter custody dispute.

Upon our arrival, we were briefed and my reflection was that this operation had a whole lot of negative elements and it was getting worse. We could not evacuate the two bordering apartments and there was access to them via ceiling crawl space. In addition, the suspect had a 270 degree vision with window access to a kill zone. He could pick off any desired target. We would have to close off blocks to his north and east. Manpower would be stressed. Troops would be held over and possibly more would be called in. This would be a long siege. It would take a whole lotta coffee….

It was at this point, as assignments were being made, that the commander was informed of a highly irregular occurrence which gave us a huge break.

One of the first responding agents to back the two (and only) Edgewater officers was Agent Tom Ritchie. Tom held immense respect among his peers as a “people person,” who continually defused hot situations, treated all with respect, and was firm in his religious faith. Tom was a giant of a man with a slow methodical manner. This served him well as a juvenile detective, DARE officer and a variety of coaching and teaching assignments. He was rarely flustered and he maintained his “country” personality through all his assignments.

This one would test him to the max.

Without direction and after a breathless briefing by Edgewater units, on his own, Tom broke perimeter and went to the suspect’s door. He knocked and announced himself. After a brief face to face exchange, Tom convinced the suspect to release his daughters.

Most of us would term this suicidal. It was way beyond any tactical consideration. Negotiators would be in awe over this approach and this policy/procedure violation could result in severe discipline up to and including termination. To our amazement, he got it done prior to SWAT or supervisor arrival.

In the process, the children had to step over their mother’s body which lay in the entryway.

The call ran through the night. Wild mood swings resulted in shots fired at us down the hallway. This coupled with pathetic weeping to negotiators. At daybreak, fatigue or remorse impelled him to give up.

The arrest was textbook. As we moved him to a waiting squad car, a woman approached asking about her sister inside (the second victim of this tragedy). She did not know. One of the detectives directed her to an area better suited for hearing really bad news.

You try to never be surprised in this work. Many times folks say, ”you’ve seen it all.” In truth, you never see it all and this ending had a terrible twist. As the suspect was being put in the transport vehicle, he calmly advised that we should respond to a south Jeffco apartment. He gave the address as if he were reading a label. There we would find another deceased woman – his girlfriend. He had shot her earlier prior to returning home to Edgewater.

Tom Ritchie never got a medal but only tacit acknowledgement for his effort that night. This action was exceptional, but that fit right in with this man who served and protected those less fortunate. Of course it could not be encouraged or repeated under policy, but I can say for myself and his legion of partners —

Well Done Agent.

This is Part 3 of a 3-part series about heroes. Part 1, Part 2.

Ken Fischer holds a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Iowa and was involved in organizing Iowa’s first Law Enforcement Training Academy. He was on the SWAT Team in the Lakewood Police Department, and retired as a Senior Sergeant. A longtime resident of Southern Gables, he is an experienced woodsman and now runs a firewood business.

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