Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bond proves full measure of support
By Bob Welch
Register-Guard columnist
Appeared in print: Sunday, Jun 21, 2009 ,

He’s 82 and lives in Lincoln City. She’s 45 and lives around the block from me in Eugene.
Father and daughter. A relationship that, on this Father’s Day — as told by the two — sounds to me like an old vinyl jazz album: a few scratches here and there, but sweet music other than that.
Like a lot of father-daughter relationships, I’d assume. Only this one is like none I’ve ever seen.
There’s the military thing, for example, a rare bond for father and daughter. George Rankins is a retired master sergeant who fought as part of the only all-black Army Ranger company in the Korean War. His daughter, Lisa Joelle Rankins Goodwin, is an assistant professor of military science in the U.S. Army/University of Oregon ROTC program.
Then, there’s the pageant thing, which doesn’t bond them in the least. Well, maybe a touch after what happened last January.
Joelle — that’s what she goes by — is the reigning Mrs. Oregon, the first African-American to win the title.
“I haven’t been excited about this pageant stuff,” George says. “Takes too much time and money. But she points out I’m the one that got her into it. When she was a little girl in Portland, some lady in our neighborhood wanted to know if she wanted to be in this pageant, and I said OK.”
This all got me thinking about how these inter-generational relationships depend, in part, on a willingness of one person to support the other — even if the endeavor at hand leaves one of them cold.
As George’s golf outings did when Joelle was a little girl. He’d have her tag along as he and his buddies played at public courses in Portland. Rain. Sleet. Cold. You name it, they played in it — and she watched in it.
“I may have been miserable,” Joelle remembers, “but I never complained.” And hooted and hollered when her father would win.
But she learned to love the golf outings. Among her favorite childhood memories? Driving to California with her dad and a pal for a tournament. “Flying along in one of dad’s Cadillac Eldorados, singing to Sam Cook on an eight-track tape. My dad was my hero, a gentle giant.”
And a hero in other ways, not that many people, even Joelle, had heard much about that chapter of his life. How in 1950 he’d tried to join the Marines and been told by a recruiting-station captain that he’d wind up on a ship, “waiting on some white captain.” How he’d heard about this all-black Army Ranger company that was forming — paratroopers — and earned a spot on it. (Never mind that the armed services had supposedly been desegregated in 1948.) And how, in Korea, he’d won a Silver Star for gallantry, once saving a buddy who’d lost most of a leg, George using his rifle as a crutch for the two of them.
“He’s tough as nails on the outside,” Joelle says, “but a teddy bear inside.”
He taught her to be proud of who she was; his job at the Portland Urban League was about creating opportunities for minorities.
He insisted she spend a couple of years of high school in Tennessee, living with a great aunt, so she could have a deeper “black experience.”
He taught her the value of volunteerism, a love for music — especially jazz — and the ability to procrastinate. “She taught me about love and how to follow through,” he says.
And never made him prouder than, when attending the University of Oregon in the mid-’80s, she joined ROTC. (He’d been an ROTC instructor at Oregon State from 1959 to 1962.)
Joelle graduated from the UO in 1986, served in Germany, earned her “airborne” wings at Fort Benning, Ga., and returned to her alma mater to teach ROTC as a major.
Twenty-two years of military service, then this out-of-the-blue idea to compete for the Mrs. Oregon title in her 40s.
She competed but didn’t win in 2007 and 2008; George didn’t attend either competition.
Joelle decided last January’s pageant would be her final shot. George told her he wasn’t coming. Said the weather was too bad, code, figured Joelle, for his disliking pageants.
She showed up at The Broadway Rose Theater in Tigard that Sunday night with little confidence; she’d even insisted her husband, Bob, stay home because she thought her chances were so poor.
But when she came on stage, she glanced at the audience. “And who’s out there, screaming his fool head off?” she says. “My dad. And there I am, grinning ear to ear.”
Her confidence buoyed, she went on to win, of course, George hooting and hollering as only a proud papa can do.
Just as the little girl on the golf course had once done for him.
Bob Welch is at 338-2354 or

1 comment:

Buffee Ann said...

This is fantastic! I love it!