Today, November 26, 2018 loved ones gathered at Elliott-Hamil Funeral Home in Abilene, Texas to celebrate the life of Marshall Flippo, and what a celebration it was!
Lin and I arrived at the funeral home forty-five minutes early, and the reception area already overflowed with callers and dancer friends. We greeted dear friends from all over the country who had come to honor a true legend. We were ushered into the chapel early. The majority of the people present were professional callers from all over the United State–the cream of the crop for sure. We continued greeting each other with hugs and subdued smiles.
I looked for Mary Sheehan Johnson, a dear friend of Flip’s who took him to Asilomar in April for his last visit. Asilomar was his favorite festival in his career with its beautiful beach side setting and the organization of Bob and Becky Osgood. We found each other and felt like we were old friends–our common denominator–Flippo.
Kayla Jones began the service with beautiful soft music. Reverent David Hargrove officially opened the service with a warm greeting, Flippo’s obituary and a prayer.
Then Jon, Deborah, Vernon and Kayla Jones sang a beloved hymn, “The Old Rugged Cross.” With the majority of attendees being callers and singers, many joined in the singing. What a beautiful start!
Gary Shoemake gave the first eulogy with heartfelt stories. His longtime friendship with Flippo shined through his words and tears. We laughed and cried in response to his stories. I cried with my dear friend and his raw emotion. Afterwards, we recited the familiar Twenty-Third Psalm.
Wade Driver, Mike Seastrom, and Gary Shoemake sang, “Amazing Grace,” another beautiful hymn that many in the audience sang. What a delight to have of these callers sing!
Melton Luttrell, Flippo’s long-time best friend, did a second eulogy with stories of Flippo’s early years. Melton’s deep love for Flippo grabbed my heart–they were best friends for decades. Then Reverend Hargrove shared several Scripture verses and a message of hope, personalized with Flippo stories–many that highlighted the precious father-son relationship that Flippo had with his dear son, John. He ended this part with us saying The Lord’s Prayer.
Ken Bower, Tony Oxendine, and Melton Luttrell sang the last song of the service, “Just A Closer Walk with Thee,” another song that made me cry. I loved hearing all of Flip’s dear friends give tribute to him through music and song.
Stan Jeffus shared a beautiful video presentation honoring “Precious Memories” of Flippo that had us laughing one minute and crying the next. Stan had Flippo’s songs playing in the background with photos of Flippo with so many friends through the years. The highlight were videos of many of the skits that Flippo was famous for: The Boxer and “I Don’t Look Good Naked Anymore.” Again we laughed and cried.
Reverend Hargrove ended the service with the Benediction, then we drove to the Wagon Wheel Hall, a square dance hall that Flippo and Neeca helped build many years ago. The Abilene Square/Round Dancers provided a delicious dinner.
Then friends spent a couple hours telling Flippo stories–full of love and admiration for Flip and lots of humor. Jon Jones started the sharing with playing Flippo’s first recorded song, “The Auctioneer” and a square tried to dance it but had trouble with the figures because we don’t do some of them in square dancing anymore. Jay Henderson played Jerry Story’s tribute to the three legends in square dancing that died in the last month: Frank Lane, Marshall Flippo and Lee Kopman. Lin and I danced that time and it was so precious.
The end came–people lingered. Stories continue out the door. It was hard to leave this festive day. To me, this was the best celebration of someone’s life I’ve ever been to–lots of stories, laughter and tears about a man we all loved dearly. John and Shelly and Neeca–you did a great job in honoring Flip. I will never forget this day!
I wrote the following article for the June issue of Square Dance Magazine–enjoy!
“Why don’t Lin and you ever come to CALLERLAB?” Eric Henerlau asked me four years ago as I drove him to the airport after the Spring Fling festival in Albuquerque, NM.
“I’m not a caller” was my quick response. He explained CALLERLAB wants dancers to attend and would welcome us because we have promoted square dancing locally and nationally and would have ideas to share.
When I heard that CALLERLAB was coming to Albuquerque in 2018, I remembered Eric’s suggestion and made the commitment to attend. The decision was worth it.
As I tentatively stepped in the hallway Sunday night for the Social Hour to kick off CALLERLAB, I felt at home immediately as I scanned the room and realized how many of the callers I knew. Different callers and their wives warmly welcomed me, and not once did I hear, “What are you doing here?”
When Denise Hogan saw me, she rushed over and hugged me, and we reconnected after not seeing each other for a while. Mike joined us shortly and told me that our local club, Duke City Singles and Doubles Square Dance Club, would be mentioned in his keynote address the next morning.
And so he did—we were one of the case studies mentioned. Mike had me stand up and be recognized as being on the board when major changes happened for our club. After his speech, I was shocked; women quizzed me in the bathroom. I just happened to have the postcard we used to promote our lessons with me, and they
took a photo of it. Throughout the week, people stopped me and wanted a quick summary of what we did. We had several old postcards left over, so I gave them away.
I so appreciated that CALLERLAB provided a strand of marketing and promotional seminars because that’s my passion. I also attended a couple of caller seminars, and my respect of what callers do before they go on stage increased 1000%.
I was thrilled with the Marketing Manual created by the Marketing committee and plan to use it this year when we promote our lessons. In fact, we’re having Mike Hogan do a Marketing Seminar in Albuquerque, NM, the Sunday afternoon of Hot August Nights this year.
I thoroughly enjoyed the panel of the Legends and enjoyed the presenters’ stories, but was so sad that Bob Brundage couldn’t attend.
At each one of the marketing and promoting sessions, I gleaned an idea to incorporate into our advertising plan—great strategies from a variety of presenters all over the United States.
One caller workshop I attended was on Sustainable Square Dancing, facilitated by Vernon Jones. For the last five years, I have been involved in promoting our lessons, and it breaks my heart to see how many people we lose each year. We have to make the lesson sequence shorter to retain more dancers. Hearing the success stories from the panel and attendees convinced me that this might be a viable solution.
I’m writing the authorized biography of Marshall Flippo. In my weekly interviews with Flippo, in describing his lessons experience, he said, “We had 10 lessons and then we were square dancers!” Do we need to rethink what we are doing—could
Sustainable Square Dancing be the answer? After the workshop, I was excited with the possibilities.
I had the privilege of meeting Jim Mayo, Elmer Sheffield and Melton Luttrell. Since CALLERLAB, I’ve interviewed Jim Mayo and Melton Luttrell for the Flippo biography. I also had a special time with Flippo to work on his book.
I relished the conversations about square dancing and promoting shared at any meal time. It was rich conversation and an opportunity to network with like-minded people from around the world.
One highlight for me was the banquet Tuesday night. I sat at Mike Hogan’s table and had the pleasure of visiting with Mike and Denise Hogan, Mike Seastrom and Lisa, Andrith Davis and Michael Turley. At this banquet, I witnessed Jim Mayo receive the Lifetime Achievement award—so deserving. Jim and Marshall Flippo are the only two members who have ever received this award!
Tuesday night during the square dance, a couple of young women and a man stood outside in the hall, and they asked me what was going on. They were fascinated by the square dancing—a perfect opportunity for the promoter that I am. We talked, and I encouraged them to go in the hall and watch. I also found out where they lived and assured them that there was square dancing in their area.
The three days were jam packed with activity, but my most noted observation was the fraternity CALLERLAB is for callers—many special relationships that have spanned many years.
I highly recommend CALLERLAB to any dancer.
What do you do for fun with your spouse? Where do you go?
Quiet surrounds me. A canopy of a clear blue Colorado sky covers this warm spring day. I’m in a small ranching community in southeastern Colorado–the home of my childhood.
Since my mom died five years ago, I visit here monthly to check things out. I forgot to bring my Ireland/England travel journal and hard drive that has my pictures, so I’m going to take a break from the travelogue and update you on my current writing project.
I’m writing the authorized biography of Marshall Flippo, the most famous square dance caller in the world. He’s 90 years old and visiting Asilomar, CA this week, the site of his favorite square dance weekend and week that he did for years.
How did this project start? My husband and I remember its inception differently, so I’ll tell you my version.
We were at a square dance festival last year in the early spring–it was Saturday night after a jam-packed two days of dancing. A group of friends enjoyed a leisure time late in the evening and Flippo (that’s what we call him) came up.
Someone said, “Someone needs to write his biography.”
My husband, Lin, leaned my way and stated, “You’re the writer in the group. Why don’t you do it?”
Nothing more was said that night, but the reoccurring thought surfaced regularly. I was coming to the ranch about this time last year alone, so I brought up the idea to Lin and shared my serious consideration of taking on this task. I suggested we both pray about it and when I returned, we would share what had come up.
Again the idea intrigued me–in the last four years, I had self-published four books and three cookbooks, but the topics had been personal for me. I wrote two memoirs, a historical fiction from a story I had heard my childhood and a non-fiction about our family ranch. Could I write about someone else?
When I returned home, Lin and I both agreed it would be a worthwhile project. So Flippo was fulfilling his last contract at the New Mexico Square and Round Dance Festival in mid-May in Albuquerque, so I called him in mid-April to query if he was interested.
His first comment was, “No one would want to read a book about me, but I do have a topic of a book that would sell–all the stories of traveling callers, but it would be X-rated.”
Seriously, Flippo said he would give me his answer at the festival in May. Friday evening during a break, he was surrounded by several local callers and dancers. I didn’t have to bring it up–he did.
“Larada wants to write my biography. Who would want to read it?” He queried. They all raised a hand, and I think it shocked him.
In traditional Flippo flirtatious manner, he said, “OK, come over to my hotel room tonight at 1:30 am and we’ll talk about.” Laughter exploded and then he said, “Yes.”
During the summer, I started gathering resources. I talked to several close caller friends of Flippo’s to start gathering their stories and information about him. In October, I went to Tucson, AZ for a Women Writing the West. Flippo lives in Tucson, so we planned to meet together on Thursday night.
He called and wanted to change nights because the Houston Texans were playing in the World Series and he wanted to watch the baseball game, so we moved it to Friday night. Before interviewing him, I didn’t realize Flippo had a strong connection to baseball–he was so good, that’s what he did in the Navy.
Lin and I met him for dinner, and Lin started him talking immediately. I was going to wait until we moved to his home so I could record it, but he was off and running, so I grabbed my notebook and started writing. He picked a the Texan Steakhouse which had TV multiple screens on every wall, so he could watch the baseball game as we talked.
After dinner, we went to Flippo’s house, turned on the TV and muted it, and he continued our first interview, watching the game. He sent me home with three scrapbooks/photo albums and three photo albums as resources.
Since then we have talked weekly for an hour, and I have recorded each interview. What a delightful experience this has been. The hardest part is transcribing the recordings; we talk for one hour, and that one hour takes three to four hours transcribe.
Flippo’s last calling event was a New Year’s Eve square dance in Green Valley, AZ. Several caller friends encouraged Lin and I to go, so we did. Twenty-five professional callers and friends from all over the United State supported Flippo on this monumental evening of his career. He announced from the stage that I was writing his biography, and the chair-woman of CALLERLAB (the international organization for callers) said to me, “How are you going to edit out the X-rated stuff?”
During the night I watched several of the professional callers’ eyes riveted on their hero on the stage–expressions of respect, love and admiration for their mentor and teacher covered their faces. I also witnessed traces of a deep sadness at the loss of such a great caller and friend. He ended his final dance with the song, “I’m Leaving Here a Better Man.” I’m sure he selected that carefully.
I’ve spent the last six months doing the work: weekly interviews, research online and reading books. Flippo stands pivotal in the history of square dancing, and I have had confirmation from many callers and square dance historians that this book needed to be written–I’m glad the muses chose me!
I’m collecting data to see if a hard back book is a viable option. Here’s your opportunity to pre-order the book, go here Pre-Order Flippo Book