Wednesday, June 19, 2013

In Memorium: Thomas "High Pockets" Turner, Negro League Ballplayer and Community Treasure

Brown County and SW Ohio have lost an amazing treasure.  Thomas "High Pockets" Turner passed away this week.  Mr. Turner was a veteran, a Negro League Baseball player, a pioneer, a civil rights champion, as well as someone who sought to impart wisdom to future generations....Here is his obituary from the funeral home:

Thomas “High Pockets” Turner, age 97 of Georgetown, Ohio died Monday, June 17, 2013 at the Villa Georgetown Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Georgetown, Ohio. He was born June 22, 1915 in Olive Branch, Tennessee, the ninth of thirteen children born to Samuel and Ada (Wilson) Turner. When Thomas was 10 years old, his family moved to Glendale, Ohio where he attended school. Upon graduating from Glendale High School in 1934 , he attended the Tuskegee Institute for two years on a football scholarship. In 1936, Tom played shortstop for the Cincinnati Stars, the only black team in the Indiana/Ohio Baseball League. In 1940 he was drafted into the United States Army and spent five years at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona where he was an expert marksman with the rifle and taught marksmanship on the range for six weeks at a time, as a result, he lost his hearing and that kept him from WWII overseas military action. On the base, Tom applied leadership skills to organize competitive women’s sports and recreational teams. He played basketball, roller skated and was captain of the football team and the baseball team which he played first base for Army’s 9th Service Command Unit (SCU) team, which swept the 1942 military World Series. The SCU team played all over the Southwest and Northern Mexico. As a result from Tom’s reputation he was offered to play professionally in Sonora, Mexico. He played outfield, first base and pitched for the Hermosillo team in Hermosillo, Mexico from 1945-1947. After a short stint in Mexico, Tom returned to the U.S. to play for the Chicago American Giants in the Negro League. It was with that team that he hit his only home run. When his pay was cut in half, he returned to Cincinnati, Ohio to play for and manage the Valley Tigers from 1948-1954. He worked at Shillito’s Department Store and General Electric Aeronautical Plant. Tom organized the first women’s softball team in Lincoln Heights, Ohio. He participated in the Civil Rights Movement, attending Dr. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington in 1963 and two years later he drove from Ohio to Selma, Alabama for the Selma to Montgomery March. In 1966 he and his three children moved to Seattle, Washington where he worked for Boeing. After three years with Boeing he went to work for the City of Seattle in Parks and Recreation as senior supervisor. Tom taught and coached softball, basketball, tennis and many other sports. He retired in 1982. Tom and his second wife, Betty moved to Georgetown, Ohio in 1984 and Tom conducted exercise classes at the Senior Citizens Center. He quickly became involved in other volunteer activities at the Villa Georgetown Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and the Locust Ridge Nursing Home. Tom was awarded the “John Horn Memorial Roll Up Your Sleeves” award in 2000 by the Alzheimer Association as outstanding volunteer. In 2001 he was chosen Volunteer of the year by Points of Lights, an organization set up by President Reagan to honor worthy volunteers. He was honored by The Ohio House of Representatives as one of the Negro Baseball League’s finest athletes and received the Heart of Brown County Award from the Brown County General Hospital Foundation. Tom was a member of the Fairview Chapel where he was active in teaching Sunday School and organizing Vacation Bible School. Mr. Turner is survived by his wife of 46 years, Lora E. “Betty” (Jackson) Turner; two daughters – Dr. Ana V. Thorne of Los Angeles, California and Olga A. Turner of Chicago, Illinois; one son – Glen T. Turner of Los Angeles, California; six grandchildren; five great grandchildren; one brother – Otis A. Turner of Cincinnati, Ohio and a host of nieces and nephews. Funeral services will be held at 2:00 P.M. Sunday, June 23, 2013 at the Georgetown Church of Christ, 149 Hamer Road, Georgetown, Ohio. Rev. Lee Shafer will officiate. Visitation will be from 4:00 P.M. – 7:00 P.M. Saturday at the church. Interment will be in the Maplewood Cemetery in Ripley, Ohio with military services by the Carey-Bavis American Legion Post #180 of Georgetown, Ohio. The Cahall Funeral Home in Georgetown, Ohio is serving the family. If desired, memorial contributions may be made to the Thomas Turner Patient Recreation Fund, c/o Villa Georgetown, 8065 Dr. Faul Road, Georgetown, Ohio 45121.

Mr. Turner lived an amazing life.  I had the privilege of speaking with him several times over the last few years.  Even though we disagreed about President Obama, Mr. Turner was a kind and decent man who worked hard all through his life for civil rights and equal treatment.  I loved hearing him talk about playing baseball against and with some of the all time greats.  He was always giving with his time and his gifts.  He was a fixture at local sports events. Said former Georgetown High School Principal Perianne Germann:
 Georgetown High School has lost their biggest supporter, fan, and a true friend. Mr. Tom Turner never missed a sporting event. He was such a role model to the students, always speaking to them about respect and manners. He seldom attended a girls' game without a big bag of Hershey bars. He was a true gentleman. He will be very much missed. RIP Mr. Turner.

A kind and gentle man who was always quick with a kind word and encouragement.  God bless him and his family....