Moments and Memories of WHS
Gail Potter, a trumpeter in the Hugh Adams-Jack Taylor Whitesburg High School band days of the 1950s, was born in 1937 to Henry and Eva Dale Jones Potter. Gail grew up in Whitesburg and attended school at WGS and WHS. A recent interview with Gail Potter gives a great perspective as to the impact that WHS teachers and programs had his life.
Gail Potter said, “Whitesburg was a wonderful town where everyone knew either your parents or you or both. So, if you got into trouble, everyone knew it. Guess that is why the people, who grew up with me rarely got into trouble. We loved to swim at the ‘Bill Doug Hole’ and ‘The Peach Tree’ and fished every spot on the Kentucky River. About the only place to buy fishing gear was the Home Lumber Company and I probably spent way too much time wishing for every lure, line, reels, and rods. I would say that most of the kids knew every inch of the mountains and streams in the area. Hunting and climbing and fishing came at the drop of a hat.
“Life was hard for everybody during the war and afterward, but I don’t remember anyone going hungry. I’m sure the people got really tired of me selling Blair, Raleigh Products, and also every seed I could find in the comic books. In fact, I earned my first Lone Ranger BB gun by selling seeds. We were taught to work from childhood at whatever needed to be done, a lesson that served me well through the years.”
Gail Potter was the nephew of great WHS and college football greats Sam and Lexie Potter. He was a stepbrother of Glenn “Porky” Polly, the All-State end, and his younger brother, Doug Polly, was also a great football player. But, competitive athletics were not for him.
As a WHS freshman, Gail Potter took an interest in music and joined Hugh Adams’s band as a trumpet student. He describes Hugh Adams as an interesting fellow who handled his band members with no frills and no exceptions, but a great individual and bandleader. When Jack Taylor took over in 1953, the entire look of the band and music program changed.
“Jack was unforgiving, hard, and wanted the best from us. I became first chair in the trumpet section and was given my first show experience by Jack and made the best of it. Jack brought jazz to the music program and gave students the opportunity to broaden our horizons. It was really because of him, I went to college to study to be a band director, just like him. We had other great teachers in high school, too, but Jack was a favorite Jack always pushed me to be better. He was a great teacher and is still a great friend of all of those of us who knew him from WHS days,” said Potter.
After graduating WHS in 1955, Gail Potter followed Jack Taylor (who was by then band director at Garth High School) to Georgetown and attended Georgetown College on a music scholarship for a year.
“The music director at Georgetown had heard me play at Corbin that spring and had offered me a music scholarship, but I didn’t accept it until I found that Jack Taylor was there and that my old friend, Harlan Collins, was going to school there that fall. That sealed it for me! Jack was band director at the high school but his lead trumpet player was playing football so I played in the Garth High School band on Friday nights just to help Jack. Nobody noticed that I was not a high school student.”
After that first year, Gail left to study music education at the University of Dayton. Gail worked part-time for Payne & Co., one of the first Midwest manufacturers to fabricate urethane foam for the upholstery and other related areas. This part-time job would prove to be a career builder for Gail in the next few years.
In a recent interview, Gail Potter related many stories about his life as well as his music and business careers.
“After leaving Georgetown College, I moved to Dayton where I had an uncle and aunt. I need a job to help pay my way back into school. I still wanted to be a band director just like Jack Taylor so I went with Payne & Co. I finally saved up enough money to get a couple of classes in the University of Dayton Music School and started practicing in one of the practice rooms in the band building. The music director heard me one day and came in and asked why I wasn’t in the band. I told him what I wanted to do and he offered me a scholarship. But the problem was, I had to work a half a day every day. So, he gave me a break on some piano lessons and some books and that was my start with the Music Department.
“As it would happen, the football season was beginning and I became a member of the band. The UD band director, Maury Richard was an old trumpet player and played in some of the dance bands in the area. He helped me with jobs with some of those bands to help with my expenses. This really helped me develop some of my big band skills, but I still had to work and go to school at the same time. That was no problem because I had been taught to work since an early age.
“The freshmen football team had nobody going to their games and didn’t have any entertainment, so I got some of the band to show up and play at halftime and during the game. The football coaches loved it because we were getting lots of kids down to the game. I made up the halftime shows from what Jack Taylor had taught us at WHS and we put on some pretty good shows.”
That spring, the Music Department had a variety show to raise money for the band. A small group was put together to play for the show. The tuba player was Jim Scofield; trombone player was Brian Goode; the piano picker, Gerry Lonsway; and Gail Potter played trumpet. In a rehearsal, they heard two banjos players, Jerry Kuntz and Jack Froning, picking a song who sounded good so they were ask to join the group. Jack was made the drummer, and Kuntz the main banjo picker. Now they had a band and called themselves the Dixie Dynamos!
Gail explained, “Our music was whatever we heard and felt. All we needed was the name of the song, key and away we went. By the end of the spring, we had over 100 songs that we regularly played. That summer most of guys went home, except me. That summer I got as few jobs around the area with really good Dixieland musicians.
“The following year, with all the guys back, we were asked by the school to see if we can get into the Collegiate Jazz Festival at Notre Dame. The Dixie Dynamos made a tape and sent it in and were accepted. That spring we drove to Indiana and played the show at Notre Dame. Some of the judges were Stan Kenton, editors from the Down Beat magazine, Woody Herman and more giants of the industry. We did very well by winning the showmanship award for best bands in the U. S. A. They made some tapes of the band and put it into the magazines and suddenly we were famous.”
Now the Dixie Dynamos had offers to play almost anywhere a Dixieland band was needed. They played clubs in Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus and college campuses, like Miami University, Bowling Green University, Ohio State and practically all of the colleges and universities in Ohio. The group became known in the mid-west, which opened up jobs in Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Louisville, St. Louis and Chicago. They once opened a show for Bob Hope in Dayton.
The Hitching Post, a Dayton club, was the Mecca of Dixieland music in the area. All the touring Dixieland groups played there including Gin Bottle 5 + 2, Dixieland Rhythm Kings, Queen City Jazz Band and others. Some members of Louis Armstrong’s band also played there from time to time and stayed with the owner and his family. Gail and his group wanted to be a part of this club.
Gail recalled, “I went in to see the owner and offered to play for the ‘house door receipts’. We would receive the cover charge that patrons paid to get into the place. We packed the house and afterwards the owner said we only made $68. So the next week, I sat by the lady who collected at the door to make sure everybody coming in the door paid. Within a month, we were booked for every Friday and Saturday night.”
As it turned out, the lady who was in charge of the money was Katherine Angnos, the daughter of the owner of the Hitching Post. Katherine and Gail began dating and were married in August of 1959.
( Katherine and Gail have two daughters, Deborah and Laura. Deborah received a scholarship for flute at the University of Kentucky, left and studied business management at Ohio State University, was graduated and became chief officer of Sapperstein Associates. Laura attended OSU and became stenographer for the courts of Columbus, Ohio. He has two grandsons from Deborah and a grandson and granddaughter from Laura.)
After graduation from the University of Dayton in 1961, while continuing to work at Payne & Company, Gail continued his parttime music career and went on to play dates with several national groups including Gene Krupa, Ray Anthony, Wing City Jazz Band, Queen City Jazz Band, the Kracker Barrel 5 plus 2 and others.
But, working full time while playing two nights a week and traveling every weekend soon became too much for Gail. In 1965, he stopped playing with bands and put all of his energy into raising a family and his career job in manufacturing.
Gail became a part of management at Payne & Company and in 1966 was named plant manager. In 1969, Gail left Payne to open a new urethane plant in Mansfield, Oh., for International Foam of Chicago, which at that time was one of the largest manufacturers of urethane foam in the industry. This major career change left little time to pursue his love of music as that career was replaced by entrepreneurial ambitions for the Letcher County native.
The next two years of manufacturing and management experience with International Foam gave Gail the impetus to start his own small manufacturing plant in New Washington, Oh., in 1971 under the name Ohio Foam Corporation. Four years later, Ohio Foam opened another plant in Youngstown, Oh. The company expanded again in 1981 by adding a plant in Columbus, Ohio and then another in Statesville, N.C. in 1999. The corporate headquarters for Ohio Foam has been in Bucyrus, Oh. since 1999 and the business is still entirely family owned.
All of these operations are fabrication facilities and sell urethane foam to Bassett, Ethan Allen and other furniture manufactures. Most all of the heavy trucks interiors such as Freightliner, Volvo, Mack, Peterbilt, and Kenworth use Ohio Foam products which are sold through companies such as Commercial Vehicles Group, Superior Trim, Findlay Industries Other major customers include Honda, GM, Ford, Chrysler and Toyota. Ohio Foam also fabricates for the medical industry, neck braces, arm and leg splints, shipping carriers for medical containers and an assorted other products. Each plant has a specialty in product areas such as furniture, bedding, truck interiors, automotive, medical supplies, and packaging materials.
Ohio Foam Corporation holds the patent for the ‘Perfect Seat,’ a special designed seat for dinettes, chairs, bar stools, recreational vehicles, etc. (A corporate web site can be seen at www.ohiofoamsales.com.) It is reported that corporate sales exceed $22 million annually.
During recent years, Gail’s primary hobby changed from Dixieland Music to raising and racing horses, some of which are well known in the equine industry. These include Laughing Is An Art, Sir Royal Pride, Travelin’ Bill, Romola Forever, Village Ways, C’est Mattnifque, Our Ms. Annabel and The Rocky Express. His first Kentucky Derby eligible horse, Call Me Mr. P, has been successful although not in the ‘big one’ — the Kentucky Derby. “Racing horses in my home state of Kentucky is a big thrill for this old Kentucky boy,” Gail added.
Gail Potter still gets back to eastern Kentucky to visit the old homeplaces from his youth. He is speaks glowingly of Craft’s Colly where he lived with his grandfather and grandmother, Oscar and Minnie Jones, during his high school days. “Some of the old places are still standing, but others are simply memories of bygone days. Main Street is different than the one that I knew so well. And, the new Letcher County Central High School that replaced dear old WHS is a showplace. I hope the kids learn as much about life as we did growing up in Letcher County,” Gail said.
Gail never misses a WHS reunion or get-together if he can possibly make it. This summer he joined with almost 100 other alumni and friends of WHS in Lexington for lunch, saying that the four hour round-trip from Dayton was well worth the time and effort just to see some of his old buddies once again.
“Just to visit and mingle and tell tall tales of our youth is great. You can take this boy out of the mountains, but you can’t take the mountains out of the boy,” said Gail. “Fortunately with hard work, risk taking and excellent employees, my business grew along with that of some of my customers and by the end of the ‘90s Ohio Foam was the largest independent fabricator in the Midwest. By 2011, I felt that I had pretty much reached the goals that I had and I have started to turn some of the reins of running the company over to others. I am still directly involved. But, at age 73, it is now time to stop and smell the roses and enjoy my family and friends while I can,” Gail added.
Gail Potter is another product of the old Whitesburg High School and Letcher County who rode his WHS training and experiences to a successful music and business career.