A serendipitous encounter

One of the great side benefits of serving as garden scout for the Yards of the Week and the Dunkirk Garden Delights Garden Walk is that I meet some pretty fascinating people. Here is one such serendipitous encounter which occurred on Dove Street in Dunkirk.

A turquoise green picket fence encloses a lively little garden with a fountain, (lighted at night), and a wonderful mix of flowering plants, even a cactus with yellow blossoms. The bird house is a replica of the White House. When I approached the door to inquire about the garden I was met by a large, barking, German shepherd. She was told to quiet down in English but it was not until a firm “Sitz du!” was ordered that the dog responded promptly. I was told this is a very talented and beloved retired police dog and, yes, Sabre, responds mostly to German commands.

I was greeted next by a tall, handsome man with long shoulder length hair who introduced himself as Dr. Richard Forrester. He and his spouse, Deborah Richardson, talked to me about the garden and agreed to participate in the Garden Walk.

Richard said he is Native American. Deborah is of the Lakota faith, but not Native American. “Doc” Forrester is of the Mingo tribe which is sometimes referred to as the Ohio Seneca. According to Forrester, by 1750 the Mingo had left their New York homeland, and migrated to Ohio. The Mingo were warriors who banded together with the Miami and then the Shawnee hoping to stop the westward migration of the white settlers. Ultimately they were unsuccessful and in 1831 the United States Government forced the Ohio Seneca to move onto reservations in the West.

Forrester’s brother, David, traced the family ancestry. According to Forrester, their father was a full blooded Native American, but his mother was not. For this reason he cannot live on the reservation since Native American tribes are matriarchal, counting only the mother’s lineage. Richard is related to the Native American Ernie Ford, but he is most proud of his relative who was a guide for Daniel Boone, among a group of 30 who were hired to improve the trails between the Carolinas and the West. In 1775 the trail took them through dangerous Indian Territory in Kentucky and the Appalachian mountains to the Cumberland Pass known later as the Wilderness Road. These trailblazing efforts resulted in a passage for thousands of settlers moving West.

Richard showed me the peace pipe he made and beaded eagle feathers he has been awarded. He is progressing along the path to become a Seneca Shaman. He has been asked to join the honor guard in the closing ceremony at the Salamanca Pow Wow, where tribes gather every year in ceremony. This is not the first time Forrester has been awarded an honor in the eagle category.

“Doc” Forrester reports that he served in the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam known as the “Screaming Eagles”. He signed up before he turned 17, having earned a NYS Regents diploma ahead of his Dunkirk High School classmates. He returned to a Class of 1969 graduation party in uniform. Forrester served two tours of active duty, earning the Purple Heart for serious shrapnel injuries and four Bronze Stars. Always ready to learn new skills and take on new challenges, he even became credentialed to serve as a Unitarian Universalist chaplain. He has on display an entire collection of badges and certificates won in this war effort of which he is obviously very proud, in spite of feeling he and other Vietnam veterans have never been officially welcomed home.

‘Doc” Forrester spent his career as a professional musician. He never had formal lessons and cannot read music but can replicate by ear any piece of music, on practically any instrument. He said he has a photographic memory. While playing with Archie Bell of the Drells, the band had three gold records including “Tighten Up” and “Glad I Can’t Stop Dancing.” He toured Europe with the group Trilogy, playing lead guitar, and writing most of the music. He also played for Moe Jackson’s Blues Band until he was hired by the late Danny Joe Brown to play drums, and then guitar, in the Molly Hatchet Band.

According to internet descriptions, The Molly Hatchet Band is a southern Rock/hard Rock band formed in Jacksonville, Florida in 1975, and best known for the song “Flirtin’ with Disaster.” The group took its name from a prostitute who allegedly mutilated and decapitated her clients. Most Molly Hatchet album covers picture fantasy heroic themes. When lead singer Danny Joe Brown left the band and died soon afterwards, the group attempted to restart a tour, but for Doc it never was the same, and he retired from playing.

He tells of a missed opportunity when Ringo Starr, referred by Leslie West from the group Mountain, twice called the house saying “This is Ringo Starr, looking for Doc Forrester” His spouse answered saying “Yes, and I’m the Queen of England” and hung up. When Ringo called back she repeated “And I am still the Queen of England” and hung up again. (Doc and Deborah are still in a happy relationship in spite of this incident and can laugh about it today).

Richard Forrester celebrated his 45-year reunion with his high school class this month. They were the first class to graduate after having attended school at the then new building each year of high school. (Editor’s note: The high school moved into its present building the second term of the Class of 1969’s freshman year.)

Forrester and “The Vandals” played for the very first dance at the new Dunkirk High School.

For Richard, it’s been a long road with many interesting experiences. I am sure he had many stories to tell at the recent reunion.

I am happy to share these with you about the Class of 1969 rock star and soon to be shaman, “Doc” Forrester, and I hope you find them as interesting as I did.

Skeeter Tower writes monthly for the OBSERVER. Send comments to lifestyles@observertoday.com