Patriots’ flag flies, in fast times and not
Cathy and Jerry Coolidge’s love for the American flag is the same as their love for each other and for racing, and they have been showcasing all three since the mid-1950s.
Jerry was drag racing in the mid-’50s in Lima, long before he met Cathy. When they started dating in the early 1960s, Jerry was driving a 1961 Corvette, and when he realized Cathy was the one for him, he sold the Corvette for an engagement ring.
They were married April 24, 1964.
Two years after they were married, Jerry and two buddies went to look at cars, and all three bought or ordered the same type of car, a 1966 Corvette.
When their first daughter, Stephanie was born in May 1967, they decided they should do the grown-up thing, so they sold the Corvette and bought a “regular” 1968 GTO.
In 1967, they bought their first house, on Hedges Street, and now they had the chance to show their love of country by flying their flag proudly on the front lawn.
In September 1969, their second daughter, Sheri, arrived, but family man Jerry couldn’t get racing out of his blood. He bought a 1963 Corvette, with a split rear window, for $1,100. Now that he had a car to race again, they drove it to a parking lot event in Piqua. The tires were rubbing against the fiberglass wheel wells, so in the parking lot, he cut the wheel wells with a hack saw and went racing.
In the early 1970s, Cathy was getting the urge to race, as well. She was trying to master “power-shifting.”
When she felt comfortable enough with it, they took the corvette to Dragway 42, some 70 miles away in West Salem. Well, her comfort level wasn’t as good as she had hoped when the Corvette’s transmission was soon in full view of everyone in the grandstand.
Soon, they fixed the transmission, and they learned to have it placed on a trailer when they took it to the racing venues. This way, they always had a ride home, and they saved a lot of money in towing charges.
They kept the Corvette and, over the years, added a lot to it. They flared the wheel wells, molded the headlights, added a spoiler, added a third taillight on each side and painted it red, white and blue.
They attended Corvette conventions every year and, wherever location they were held, they would usually have a road course and drag strip either on the location itself or nearby.
Jerry and Cathy participated in both, and they have accumulated more than 100 trophies for their efforts. During these years, Cathy was second in the nation in total points accumulated at these races. During these years, they also had a chance to meet Zora Duntoff, the designer of the Corvette, and Cathy had a picture taken with him.
The racing came to an end in 1979 on a road course in Indianapolis. Cathy was in the control tower to watch Jerry cross the finish line. She saw him approaching it, then she saw dust flying everywhere. She raced down the long infield of the track only to meet Jerry as he was waiting at the side of the ambulance.
Jerry had hit the guard rail protecting a phone booth with the back end of the Corvette. He was fine physically, but the Corvette suffered major damage, with the gas tank being left behind at the track.
They had moved to their new house that same year, so they put the Corvette repairs on hold. The racing stopped for good at that point.
Soon after Cathy’s father bought a boat, and a new interest was born. They began to spend their time on Lake Erie. In 1982, Cathy’s father bought another boat, and the home for the boat now moved to Port Clinton.
In 1986, Jerry became a charter captain, and now he takes fishermen out on Lake Erie two or three times a week.
Nov. 10, 2002, everything changed. It started out as a normal day, just a little warmer than most. It was a Sunday and, per usual, the children came out to visit.
Soon after they left around 5 p.m., Jerry said to Cathy, “come look at this” – and it was a tornado, heading right for them.
Jerry dropped everything, yelled for Cathy to head to the basement while he grabbed their dog, Oaffie. Cathy had a batch of cookies in the oven, so she went to turn off the stove, then she joined Jerry and Oaffie while they were huddled in the basement.
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There was no roaring train noise, no wall of wind, just the sound of the ceiling tiles in the basement fluttering. After less than a minute, they decided to leave the basement, but they couldn’t find the stairs. The stairs had moved about 2 feet east.
It was dark, the power was out, and water was running all over the basement.
Jerry decided to find a way out of the basement, and while he was doing so, a neighbor came to the top of the stairs to help. The neighbor went to get his ladder, but the tornado had blown the ladder away. So Jerry and Cathy began to climb their way out of the basement, only to be shocked at what they saw.
Their house was destroyed. The roof was gone, the house had moved off its foundation, the bathtub was gone, never to be found again. Cathy’s favorite Cobalt Blue refrigerator was on its side, and the oven had sunk into the floor, with the cookies still inside.
Amidst all the destruction, the flag was still flying in the front yard, even though the flag pole was cut in half. Jerry taped the flag to what was left of the pole.
The next day, construction crews came in with backhoes to crush what was left and take it away. With the basement being all that was left, they built their new house on top of the basement.
Thanksgiving 2003, just a little more than a year later, the Coolidges moved into their new home, with a new flag and flagpole, and on that day they were thankful to have all of their families and friends back together again.
Cathy and Jerry feel we always need to remember how lucky we are to have a flag to proudly fly, and that we need more flags flying high and proud.
John Schupp is an assistant professor of chemistry at Tiffin University. Email him at schuppjd@tiffin.