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March 28, 2003  (Bellingham, Washington)

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My Father

 

Hi folks.  I know it's been a while since my last entry, but a lot of things have been going on.  As I described in my last entry, my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in early September of 2002 and as a result, I put off my plans to go back to my old job in Portland.  Instead I decided to stay at his house in Bellingham to help take care of him -- and I'm very glad I did.  I'd like to think that I helped make my father's last few months as pleasant and comfortable as possible.  

 

I've dealt with family health crises before:  my nephew and, 12 years later, my Mom were both in hospitals for several weeks before they passed away.  However, I'd never dealt with a terminally-ill person before -- let alone a terminally-ill parent.  In many ways, it was an introspective and thought-provoking experience.  

 

My Dad and I have always been close and he was definitely a unique, one-of-a-kind person (more about him later), so it was difficult to lose him.  Looking on the positive side, though, he hardly had any pain during his illness.  In fact, he wasn't really depressed about his prognosis because, as he said numerous times throughout the fall, he had lived such a rich life.  Another reason he wasn't depressed was that he was aware of his slowly failing health, and because he was looking forward to joining my Mom, who passed away a few years ago.  After she died in 1999, he never quite had the same sparkle in his eye.

 

Spending the fall with my Dad  was something that I can't really put into words, other than to say that it was hectic, stressful, and immeasurably fulfilling.  In a way, all of us in my family, including my Dad, looked at his diagnosis as a blessing because each of us knew that he would only be here for a specific time, which gave us all (including him) a chance to make the most of the remaining time.  The alternative of course is not knowing exactly when someone will die.  In that situation, things are often unsaid and undone, replaced by regrets after the person is gone.  Thankfully, I can say that that didn't happen.

 

During the fall, my father got to see each of his five kids one last time and we each spent quiet time alone with him, moments that we will treasure for the rest of our lives.  By spending time with him here, I was also able to do things to make him more comfortable.  My Dad, sister and I did something almost every night during the fall, either making popcorn and watching a movie, going to a college volleyball game, watching a slide show, or eating at a nice restaurant.  

 

Knowing his prognosis, I videotaped several interviews with him throughout the fall and asked him about his childhood, the Great Depression, his experiences during World War II, and his career afterwards -- something that I probably wouldn't have done if he hadn't been diagnosed with cancer, because none of us likes to believe that our parents will ever die.  Altogether I taped about 14 hours of interviews, something that he really enjoyed doing as well.  I was also able to go through several old photo albums with him with the videotape rolling as he described the stories behind the pictures.  Recording this family history was extremely important to both of us.  

 

I also spent many hours printing out my website for my Dad to read.  My Dad didn't have Internet access but he wanted to read my website and see some of the pictures that I had taken during the past 18 months.  As a result, I printed out my entire DelsJourney website for him to read -- all 391 pages of it.  He read them all, too, and told me that he really enjoyed it... although perhaps he was being more kind than honest.

 

My father passed away on November 30, 2002.  He had hardly any pain during his illness and, except at the very end, he never showed any symptoms of the cancer.  He was a wonderful man and we all miss him.

 

 

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Above left:  Carving the pumpkin with my sister Doti the night before Halloween.

Above center:  Typical Sunday scene:  Dad cooking up French toast.

Above right:  Looks good, huh?

 

Right:  Dad and Doti sharing a laugh.

  2-4860_Dad_and_Doti_With_Talking_Teddy.jpg (46746 bytes)   Right: There were a few less presents under the tree this year.   2-4869_Christmas_Tree.jpg (45327 bytes)

 

   

My Plans Now

I was supposed to go back to my job as a transportation planner in Portland last September.  That was, of course, before my Dad got diagnosed with cancer.  Now that he's passed away, I've decided to stay here at my Dad's house in Bellingham for a while and work on several "family history" projects. 

 

If you've been reading my website, you know that I'm very interested in genealogy and family history.  For several years, I've wanted to put together a "Leu Family History" and document all the stories I have for future generations of Leus.  It seems that most of us, at one time or another think, "I should write down these family stories some day," but few of us ever get around to doing it.  I've always wanted to sit down and put this together and I decided that I'll never have a better opportunity than right now. 

 

Over the next few months, therefore, I'll be sifting through all our old photos, 8-mm film, and videotape while putting together a family history in both a written and video format, along with other family history projects that I'll be working on.  I started working on this in December and have been at it 7 days a week ever since.  By the way, I won't be updating my website for at least another month, maybe two.  But I'm not done yet with DelsJourney, so please be sure to check back.  

 

As for this page, I'm going to devote the remainder of it to my Dad.  So if you'd like to learn more about him, please read on.

 

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Donald J. Leu  (1923 - 2002)

 

Without a doubt, my Dad was the most amazing person I've ever known.  After growing up in hard times during the Great Depression, he fought in World War II and then, through desire and hard work, became one of the leading educational planners in the U.S., developing dozens of public schools in the U.S. and in third-world countries around the world.  He never bragged about them, but his awards fill the walls of his den from which I'm writing this entry.

 

He had an insatiable curiosity and was adventurous, traveling to all seven continents during his life, including Antarctica just a few years ago.  When he was 67, he sailed alone from Washington to Alaska, and as recently as last summer at age 79, he went backpacking in the mountains with his kids and grandkids.  He was very kind, compassionate towards others, had a great sense of humor, and was modest.  In fact, I'm sure he'd be embarrassed at me writing this entry about him.  

 

Despite his lofty accomplishments, though, my Dad hated pretension and anything smacking of elitism or snobbishness.  He wasn't real keen on fraternities, sororities, stuffy golf clubhouses, or the D.A.R., but instead was very down-to-earth.  He strongly believed that people should be judged based on their character and on their accomplishments, not on how much money they had, what they looked like, what family they came from, or what color their skin was.  I would like to think that I share these attitudes, and hope I always will.

 

Audio

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Here's a video clip of my Dad.  We were sailing from Alaska to Washington in 1989 and stopped one afternoon in Port Hardy, British Columbia.  The marina here was really noisy and dirty, there was garbage on the dock, and I had to shout into the camcorder.  Click to hear my Dad's humorous comments.  His 40-foot sailboat, the Ilikai II, is in the background. 

(48 seconds) 

Requires a RealPlayerIf problems, see Help.

Video

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The Early Years

My Dad was born in 1923 and grew up in Ballard, Washington, near Seattle.  His grandfather, Georg Leu (pronounced "Gay-org Loy") had emigrated from Switzerland to Ohio in 1880.  My Dad's father, George Leu, was born in the U.S. and had once played baseball with the Cleveland Indians, unbeknownst to his stern parents who disapproved of that roguish sport.  Unfortunately, young George got beaned in the head one day with a fastball, was sent to the hospital, and his gig was up.  A few years later, around 1910, George hopped on a train and headed out to Seattle in search of his brother Cliff, who had run away from their home in Cleveland after a family dispute.  George found Cliff working at the Pike Place Market in Seattle and both decided to stay in Seattle.  A few years later, George married a woman named Minnie May Plane, and they eventually had six kids, my Dad being the youngest.

 

George Leu, my Dad's father, was a quiet, studious man who loved kids (and of course, baseball), and he worked hard to support his growing family.  At one time, he was a traveling salesman, then a butcher, then finally a grocer in Ballard.  In fact, during the 1920s, George became the first president of a group of independent grocers named P.S.Q. (Puget Sound Quality), which later became the I.G.A.  A kind man, George extended a lot of credit to his customers, but after the stock market crashed in 1929, his customers weren't able to pay him back and his grocery store went bankrupt.  

 

The Depression hit my Dad's family's hard.  During the 1920s, the Leu household was solidly middle-class, but by the mid-1930s, they were barely scraping by.  Desperate for work, George moved his family up to the small logging town of Skykomish, Washington, deep in the Cascade Mountains sixty miles east of Seattle, and there he set up a grocery store called "Leu's Market," which would operate for the next 30 years.  At that time, the family, including my Dad, lived in a shack near town with barely enough money to live on.  As my Dad recounted years later, they lived in extreme poverty during those early years in Skykomish.  He enjoyed living there, however, and went fishing and hiking through the mountains, worked with the C.C.C. during later years, and starred on the Skykomish High School basketball team, leading them to a 27-7 record during his junior year.

 

Back in those days, the job opportunities in tiny Skykomish were limited to either logging or working on the nearby railroad, neither of which appealed to my Dad, so after graduating from Skykomish High School in 1941, he scraped up enough money to attend Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington.  A few months later, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the day after, my Dad hustled down to the recruiting office in Bellingham to sign up for the U.S. Navy.  The recruiter, though, suggested that since my Dad was in college, he stay in school for another year and then enlist in Navy Officer Training School (remember "An Officer and a Gentleman"?). 

 

My Dad took his advice and, in 1943, was shipped to Dickinson, North Dakota, where the small college there had been converted into a V-12 Naval Training School.  At a welcoming dance in Dickinson the night after the new recruits arrived, my Dad met my Mom and they married a year later.  They had to keep their marriage a secret, though, since officer candidates couldn't be married.

 

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Above left:  My Dad (left) was the youngest of six kids.  This is in Seattle in 1929, before the Great Depression.

Above center:  He got his first airplane ride in 1932.  That's him in the front, next to his older brother Bill, who later fought at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack.  Dad's father, George Leu, is on the far left.  This was when the Leu family was still prosperous.

Above right:  Skating with my Mom near Dickinson, North Dakota in 1943, shortly after meeting her and a few months before they secretly married.

 

World War II in China

After finishing his work at Dickinson in 1944, my Dad was sent to Midshipman's school at Northwestern University near Chicago.  Cadets here mockingly called themselves "90-day Wonders," because they attended school here for only three months instead of the four years required at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.  After graduating in 1944, Ensign Leu was sent to Fort Pierce, Florida, where the Navy had set up a special training school called "Scouts and Raiders," an outfit which later became the Navy SEALS.  During his six months of training in Fort Pierce, Dad learned underwater demolition, espionage, hand-to-hand combat, and, for reasons that would become apparent later, Chinese.  

 

He also nearly drowned one night.  When paddling with a group in a rubber raft, he got smacked in the nose with a paddle and tumbled unconscious into the black ocean.  Fortunately, one of his buddies dove down into the water, flailed around while searching for him, and found him 10 feet down and sinking fast, before pulling him up.

 

In March of 1945, my Dad, now a Lt. Commander, was shipped overseas and spent the last few months of World War II engaged in one of the least known theatres of the war:  China.  A few years earlier, the U.S. Navy had established a unique agreement with the Chinese government called SACO (Sino-American Cooperative Organization), which eventually involved about 3,000 U.S. sailors and Marines working side-by-side with the Chinese armed forces while training them in guerrilla warfare.  I've learned a lot about SACO recently and plan to devote a few web pages to this fascinating story at some time in the future.  Like most people who've fought in combat (and unlike those who haven't but have pretended to), my Dad never talked much about his combat experiences.  However, during the last few months of his life, he told me a few stories.

 

One afternoon last November, a few weeks before he died, my Dad and I were driving back to Bellingham and he wanted to stop at a coffee shop for a bite to eat.  While we were waiting for our sandwiches in the coffee shop, he told me about his first combat experience, a story that I'd never heard before.  Since the Japanese had closed all the seaports in China, Dad had to go into China the "back way," on an Army truck over the newly-constructed Burma Road, an important supply line linking China with Burma and India. 

 

His convoy stopped one night in the jungles of Burma near a bridge which, according to the American soldiers there, was besieged every night by an elusive Japanese sniper.  My Dad offered to stay up that night to wait for the sniper, and early the next morning, when the sniper started firing, my Dad raised his rifle and shot him.  He ran over to the sniper, who was lying dead on the ground, and searched the sniper's body.  He found a locket with a picture of a young Japanese woman inside, evidently the sniper's bride.  "That," my Dad told me somberly, "was when I learned that war isn't fun."

 

After arriving in China, my Dad was placed in charge of training 1,200 Chinese guerrillas just outside of the capital of Chungking, at a place called Happy Valley.  He had become fluent in Mandarin by this time, which he used with great effect years later in the U.S., especially when phoning ahead for reservations for "Leu" at very popular Chinese restaurants.  Imagine the look on the face of the maitre d' when he saw seven Caucasians named Leu walking into the restaurant, including one who spoke Chinese.  Thanks to Dad, we always got great tables.

 

One of his duties was to infiltrate Japanese lines and report back on what he saw.  Actually, there really weren't any formal "lines"; China was simply too large of a country for the Japanese Army to occupy.  Instead, the Japanese controlled the major cities and rail centers, while leaving the rest of China to the Chinese.  In his role, my Dad dressed up as a Chinese laborer (we used to say "coolie," but that's not PC) complete with conical hat and sandals, and wandered through Japanese-controlled towns spying on the enemy.  How he was able to successfully disguise himself as a Chinese, I'll never know.  He also helped Chinese troops engage in guerrilla warfare, such as blowing up railroad tracks.  My jaw dropped last fall when I heard some of these stories for the first time.  

 

My Dad stayed in China for several months after the end of WWII, working with the Chinese Nationalist troops.  In fact, the leading military commander in China, General Tai Li, offered him a lucrative position, preparing the Nationalist troops to combat the Chinese Communists who were threatening the Nationalists from northern China.  My Mom, however, was in the U.S. and had no desire to move to China, so my Dad returned home, which is fortunate since General Tai Li died in a plane crash shortly afterwards and within a few years, the Communist forces had taken over.

 

China left a lasting impression on my Dad, and throughout the rest of his life, he thought very fondly about China and about the Chinese.  Not having seen the country since World War II, he returned to China in 1997 with my Mom on a guided tour with about 20 other people, and one afternoon they stopped in Chungking.  He walked into a museum there, explained to the curator that he had been stationed in Happy Valley with SACO during the war, and the curator told my Dad to wait there, then the curator quickly left, which puzzled my Dad. 

 

About 20 minutes later, the curator returned with an elderly Chinese gentleman who, as it turned out, was one of my Dad's 1,200 guerrilla students back in 1945.  Although my Dad didn't remember his former pupil, the Chinese gentleman remembered my Dad quite well and he started to cry because he was so happy to see my Dad again.  My Dad told me that it was wonderful to see China again and that seeing his former student was the highlight of his memorable trip.

 

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Above left:  Ensign Leu in Fort Pierce, Florida training for the Navy "Scouts and Raiders" (later the SEALs).  This was in 1944, just before he was sent to China.  That's my Mom (right) and her mother (left).

Above center:  At Michigan State University, where my Dad was a professor of education after the war.

Above right:  An appearance on the "Today" show in 1965.

 

From the Navy to Michigan State... and Beyond

After my Dad returned to the U.S., he and my Mom moved to Bellingham, where he finished his degree, got a job teaching at an elementary school in southern Washington for a few years, then went to Columbia University, where he got his doctorate in education in 1953.  Shortly afterwards, he landed a job as Professor of Education at Michigan State University, where he taught until 1968, when he became the Dean of Education at San Jose State University in California.  Although I didn't want to leave Michigan at the time, I'm now glad we did because my life wouldn't have been nearly as interesting, I'm afraid, if we had stayed in the Midwest.  

 

As with Michigan State, he enjoyed his years at San Jose State.  After 12 years there, however, he took the position of Dean of Education at Portland State University, and in 1990, he retired back to Bellingham, though he continued to work on educational projects and even served on the Bellingham School Board in his late 70s.  Public education was his life.  Indeed, during his last four years, he worked (for free) on a plan to set aside a site in his community for a future elementary school, a study that he worked on until, literally, the day before he died.

 

During his career, he helped establish dozens of public schools in the U.S. and around the world.  He worked extensively in Belgium, Germany, Thailand, Burma, Guatemala, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras, and probably a dozen other countries that I can't recall.  Rather than imposing American attitudes on others and on the schools he established overseas, he learned about the local cultures and integrated their needs and values into the schools, reflecting his general approach to life.

 

In addition to his career, of course, he also helped to raise a family.  He was an adventurous person who led us on many family expeditions which we (mostly) look back on with great fondness.  Each summer, he and my Mom would load our station wagon with the five kids and an occasional pet, and we'd go charging across North America in search of new adventures, camping almost everywhere we went.  Indeed, it was his constant desire for adventure that inspired me to take a break from my job in March of 2001 and hit the road on DelsJourney.

 

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Above left:  This was one of our many family trips, a four-day hike over Park Creek Pass in the North Cascades of Washington in 1967.  That's me in the front carrying a bottle of ketchup (don't ask me why).  My Mom is fourth in line.

Above center:  Our family moved from snowy Michigan to sunny California in 1968.  Here's our Christmas Card photo that year (I'm on the right, Dad's on the left).

Above right:  My Dad had a great sense of humor.  Here he is enjoying himself on a toilet in Sausalito, California.

 

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Above left:  The last photo of my Dad (left) and all of his siblings, in 1973. 

Above center:  Dad (right) floating down the Salmon River in Idaho with his grandson Myles (left).

Above right:  Being attacked by a parrot in Portland.

 

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Above left:  In 1989, my Dad sailed alone from Washington to Alaska.  I flew up and joined him for a 6-week sail back to Washington and we had a great time.

Above center:  Sailing in Glacier Bay on the 40-foot "Ilikai." 

Above right:  Accepting a "Distinguished Alumnus" award from his alma mater, Western Washington University, in 1994. 

 

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Above left:  "Before and After."  That's my brother holding up my Dad's 1947 graduation photo from Western Washington University.

Above center:  My Dad on a backpacking trip at age 73 in the Cascade Mountains with his 40-lb pack.  The trip went well -- until I slipped on a rock and broke my arm.

Above right:  My Mom and Dad on their patio in Bellingham.

 

'Twas The Night Before Thanksgiving

I could cite dozens of examples of my father's compassion and humanity, but I'll describe here only one, a story that I haven't thought about in years.  The night before Thanksgiving in 1975, my Dad came home from work and during dinner told us what had happened to him earlier in the day.  

 

At that time, my father was the Dean of Education at San Jose State University.  That afternoon, the university president had stormed into my Dad's office and told my Dad that someone in the auditorium was causing a disturbance.  The president ordered my Dad to evict the person, using the campus police, if necessary. 

 

My Dad walked into the empty auditorium and saw, there on the stage, a disheveled man in dirty clothes who was playing the piano -- if you could call it that.  My Dad walked up to him and in a friendly tone asked what him what he was doing.  "My name's Fred, and I'm a piano player," the man said.  It was obvious to my Dad that Fred had mental problems but it was also apparent that he was having a good time.  "Why don't you go home, Fred?," my Dad gently asked.  "I don't have a home," Fred said sadly, "I live on the street."  My Dad looked at Fred and said, "Well then, Fred, you can stay here and play the piano for as long as you like."  Fred smiled and resumed playing the piano, and my Dad left.  

 

That's the kind of person my Dad was.

 

 

My Dad's Obituary 

(from The Bellingham Herald)

      Donald J. Leu, age 79, passed away peacefully at his home in Bellingham on Saturday, November 30, 2002. 

      Don was born October 10, 1923 in Ballard, Washington to George and Minnie May (Plane) Leu and grew up in Ballard and in Skykomish, Washington.  During WWII, he became one of the first Navy SEALS (then called Scouts and Raiders).  While attending Officer Training School in North Dakota, Don met Anne Reinhard and they married in Florida in 1944.  Shortly afterwards, Don was sent to China Donald_Leu.jpg (66988 bytes)where his unit, the Sino-American Coop-erative Organization (SACO), was integrated into the Chinese army and engaged in guerrilla warfare.  Following WWII, he completed training as a submarine officer.

      In 1947, Don graduated from Western Washington University and began a lifelong career in education.  He taught middle school in Stevenson, Washington and in 1953 earned a doctorate from Columbia University.  Later that year, he became a Professor of Education at Michigan State University.  In 1957, Don served as the Deputy Superintendent of Education for the State of Michigan, and he was a visiting scholar at U.C. Berkeley in 1964.  In 1968, Don became the Dean of Education at San Jose State University, and in 1980, he became the Dean of Education at Portland State University.  During his career, he established many schools and universities in the U.S. and in developing countries around the world, and he wrote several books on educational administration.

      After a life of travel and adventure, Don and Anne moved back to Bellingham in 1990.  In 1994, Western Washington University presented Don with a Distinguished Alumnus Award for his work in education, and from 1999 until 2001, he served on the Bellingham School Board.  During his final years, he traveled throughout China, Africa, the Himalayas and Antarctica.  He especially enjoyed sailing, golfing, and backpacking with his grandchildren.   

      Don was a mentor, colleague, and friend to hundreds of educators around the world and he took pride in furthering the careers of others, especially women, minorities, and the disadvantaged.  He will be remembered as a dedicated teacher, visionary, and humanitarian, as well as a devoted father.  Don’s gentle, unassuming nature, his compassion, his sense of humor and his unbounded spirit of adventure touched many.  His simple words of advice: “Enjoy life – I did.”  

 

 

 

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June 18, 2002  -- Part 1  (Port Orford, Oregon)

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March 1, 2002 -- Part 1  (Robe, Australia)

February 18, 2002  (Bega, Australia)

February 7, 2002  (Auckland, New Zealand)

February 2, 2002 -- Part 2  (Taupo, New Zealand)

February 2, 2002 -- Part 1  (Taupo, New Zealand)

January 25, 2002  (Hokitika, New Zealand)

January 20, 2002  (Geraldine, New Zealand)

January 16, 2002  (Te Anau, New Zealand)

January 12, 2002 -- Part 2  (Dunedin, New Zealand)

January 12, 2002 -- Part 1  (Dunedin, New Zealand)

January 1, 2002 -- Part 2  (Christchurch, New Zealand)

January 1, 2002 -- Part 1  (Christchurch, New Zealand)

December 24, 2001  (Wellington, New Zealand)

December 21, 2001  (Auckland, New Zealand)

December 14, 2001  (Aitutaki, Cook Islands)

December 10, 2001  (Rarotonga, Cook Islands)

December 3, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bellingham, Washington)

December 3, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bellingham, Washington)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 3  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 6, 2001  (Fort Lincoln State Park, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 15, 2001  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

August 30, 2001  (Webster, South Dakota)

August 18, 2001  (Watertown South Dakota)

August 17, 2001  (Walnut Grove, Minnesota)

August 14, 2001  (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

August 10, 2001 (Battle Creek, Michigan)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 2)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 1)

August 6, 2001  (Manlius, New York)

July 23, 2001  (Middleton, Massachusetts)

July 22, 2001  (Boston, Massachusetts)

July 20, 2001  (Pomfret, Connecticut)

July 18, 2001  (Denton, Maryland)

July 16, 2001  (Cumberland, Virginia)

July 14, 2001  (Roanoke, Virginia)

July 9, 2001  (Sevierville, Tennessee)

July 8, 2001  (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)

July 5, 2001  (Manchester, Tennessee)

June 30, 2001  (Hohenwald, Tennessee)

June 29, 2001  (Corinth, Mississippi)

June 27, 2001  (Natchez, Mississippi)

June 24, 2001  (Austin, Texas)

June 20, 2001  (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)

June 18, 2001  (Clay Canyon, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 2  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 1  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 14, 2001  (San Diego, California)

June 11, 2001  (San Jose, California)

June 2, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

May 19, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 30, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 19, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

April 5, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)