It’s a bountiful life: Ho-ho-ho to healthy eating

November/December 2017 California Bountiful magazine 
Interview by Jolaine Collins
Photos by Zeena Gregg

Santas Richard Eckland and Bill Swank collaborate with farmers at the Vista Farmers Market in San Diego County to encourage healthy eating and offer produce samples. Photo: © 2017 Zeena Gregg

If you’ve ever wondered what Santa and his helpers do when they’re not busy at the North Pole, the answer may be as close as San Diego County’s farmers markets. There, you’ll find red-suited characters like Richard Eckland (also known as Sustainable Santa) and Bill Swank (aka Baseball Santa) handing kids carrots instead of candy canes, and cards promoting healthy eating. Eckland leads this jolly group called Real Santas United to End Childhood Obesity.

What’s the reach of Real Santas United? Richard: It started with just my wife and me in 2013, and last year we had 16 Santas in 20 markets in San Diego County, Riverside and Northern California. We hope to be in as many as 60 markets by the end of this year. We’ve handed out more than 5,000 cards promoting healthy eating.

What’s your goal? Richard: Real Santas United are promoters of wellness. Our mission is to change the image and message of Santa to one who promotes healthy eating and living a sustainable lifestyle. We want to help make kids healthy, happy and fit for life. Our goals are to inspire a cultural change that encourages kids to eat real food, to help parents understand what is healthy and to address the diet-driven health problems our kids face.

How do you involve fruits and veggies in your outreach? Bill: I hand out carrots at farmers markets and have incorporated them when I speak in the full red suit at service clubs and other Santa appearances in San Diego. Richard: We send kids on a treasure hunt at the farmers market, looking for “Santa’s garden bites”—tastes of real food supplied by the farmers. It introduces the kids and their parents to the joy of eating things such as slices of raw bell pepper, dehydrated star fruit, persimmons, blood oranges and even probiotic fermented cabbage. We show kids how to “eat the rainbow” and give them seed packets so they can plant a garden with a rainbow of colored vegetables. We even have songs.

Sing me a line from one of your songs. Richard: “You’ll find healthy eating isn’t that hard. Your brain will grow stronger when you eat Swiss chard.”

Are kids surprised to get carrots instead of candy canes? Bill: When I give a carrot to a kid, I’m impressed by how many of them will just start chomping away. My favorite reaction from a kid was: “Santa, I thought we were supposed to give carrots to your reindeer.”

Bill Swank shares carrots with market visitor Jacob Golubev. Photo: © 2017 Zeena Gregg

How do parents react? Bill: The parents love it. Richard: In our Santas, the parents have an ally who can help their kids buy in to the joy of eating tasty, real food—and we do our best to make it fun.

How else do you spread the word?  Richard: In 2013, we formed a team of Real Santas United to compete in the Over The Line baseball tournament in San Diego. It’s our way of calling attention to the need for kids to fundamentally change their eating pattern and lifestyle choices–which includes exercise. Bill: Richard asked me to join the team in 2016. He is a persistent and persuasive guy who came to our home and discussed healthy eating with my wife and me for almost an hour. Now, I carry my baseball bat in one hand and a carrot in the other.

You’re retired. Why do you do this?  Richard: We don’t golf. This is where we get our joy, doing something useful.

Any advice for the holidays, Santa?  Richard: Let’s give our children the best gift of all: good health.


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1909 Abilene High School nine was loaded with talent

By Bill Swank


As the Boston Red Sox play the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2013 World Series, how many old-timers remember the Abilene Red Sox?

Abilene has had two professional teams: the 1909 Red Sox and the 1910 Reds. Both teams finished third in the old Central Kansas League. The Sox had a 37-30 record in ‘09 and the Reds won 44 and lost 34 in 1910. The star of the team was affable player/manager Affie Wilson who, in death, would become famous beyond his wildest dreams.

1909 was also a good year for the local high school team. AHS was loaded with future pro prospects. The most famous member of the team would become president of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower. As a boy, Ike dreamed of being “a real Major League baseball player, a genuine professional like Honus Wagner.”

The high school season began March 26 with a 4-3 squeaker over neighboring Herrington. Bud Huffman struck out 14 batsmen “with his wonderful steam and Japanese puzzles.” Centerfielder Dwight Eisenhower slugged three of Abilene’s five hits. Herb Sommers “was the ‘kandy kid’ behind home plate, pegging out four men at second.”

A week later, Sommers scored in the first inning on “Swede” (Ed) Eisenhower’s “Texas leaguer” against St. John’s Military Academy.  AHS pushed across three runs in the top of the tenth to beat the Johnnies, 4-1.

Abilene improved to 3-0 against Salina when Dwight Eisenhower led off the ninth with a base hit and was driven home with the winning run by his older brother, Ed Eisenhower. Little Ike contributed two hits in the 4-3 victory.

The locals “had an easy walk away with the Junction City aggregation circling the diamond for twelve runs to Junction’s three. McDonell (sic), (Bruce) Hurd, Ed Eisenhower, (Paul) Jolley and (Earl) Merrifield were high moguls with the big stick.”

In a rematch, although St. John’s Academy hurler Rose surrendered only a single hit, the Abilene “Invincibles” were again triumphant by the score of 3-2.

It was another tight ball game when AHS defeated Dickinson County, 5-4. “Eisenhower” got one of his team’s seven hits, but was it Dwight or Ed Eisenhower?

Abilene dropped their first game of the season, 4-1, to the Kansas University freshmen team at Lawrence. Ike blamed himself for the loss, because he misplayed a ball in centerfield.

Six McDonnell was on the mound that day and recalled the situation differently. “Well, he really didn’t, but he really worried about that.” McDonnell told Eisenhower, “It’s my fault just as much as it was yours, ‘cause I never saw a man hit a ball harder in my life, and it’s O.K. with me.”

McDonnell and the team bounced back the following week to again beat archrival Salina, 4-3.

In what turned out to be the last game of the year, Junction City avenged an earlier loss. The Reflector complained about “the Junction City bunch who run (sic) in a league player which practically won the game for them.”

Dwight Eisenhower “pasted a cracker-jack of a three bagger” in the top of the ninth inning and scored on brother Ed’s base knock. “Swede” tied the game, 3-3, on a passed ball.

But in the bottom of the ninth, with a runner on first, the ringer, Hall by name, “stepped to the pan biffing the ball for a three bagger.” Final score: Junk City 4, Abilene 3.

Torrential rains wiped out the remainder of the season. AHS finished the year with a record of 7 wins, 2 losses and bragging rights. “As a matter of fact the Abilene high school team is one of the best high school teams in the state.” (Daily Reflector, May 29, 1909)

Box scores did not appear in any of the newspaper articles (Daily Reflector, Daily Chronicle) and the line scores typically reveal more errors than base hits. It is estimated AHS had approximately 260 plate appearances and probably more based on the number of errors by the opposition.

Abilene only managed 40 hits during the entire season which would calculate to an embarrassingly low .154 team batting average. According to the Daily Reflector, the (unnamed) leading batter on the team had a .241 average.

That had to be Dwight Eisenhower. Seven hits divided by 29 at bats equals a .241 BA. No other combination of numbers average out to .241. We also know that Six McDonnell had five hits; Ed Eisenhower and Earl Merrifield each had four; Paul Jolley had two. Five other players recorded one each. The players responsible for the other 12 hits are unknown.

According to former Abilene High School football coach, Orin Snider, Six McDonnell, Earl Briney and Bud Huffman, played pro baseball. He forgot to mention Herb Sommers.

McDonnell, Huffman and Sommers all played Class D baseball in Kansas. Briney did not make the high school team until 1910 and no record can be found of him playing professionally.

It is possible that Dwight Eisenhower also played pro ball in Kansas. As the best hitter on his high school baseball team, clearly he was capable, but that’s another story. Careless sportswriters would confuse Ike with Affie Wilson years later and that is quite a story.

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A MAN AMONG BOYS: Ike played AHS football at age 20

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Eisenhower at AHS.

Left to right, top row: Ralph Lucier, Frank Madden, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Earl Briney, “Six” McDonald, Howard Funk. Second row: Orin Snider, coach Raymond Sare, Ames Rogers, G.N. Huffman and Prof. Down.

Bottom row: Dean Achers, Charles Barber, Earl Merrifield, Ron Coleman, Carl Nicolay

By Bill Swank

Special to Abilene Reflector-Chronicle

Sports : Wednesday, August 28, 2013 7:00:00 AM

How might football coach Jeff Geist respond if someone suggested Cody Whitehair would return to the Cowboys two years after his 2010 graduation from Abilene High School?

Something like this actually happened over 100 years ago.

Dwight Eisenhower graduated from AHS in June 1909. According to Tim Rives, assistant director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library, “Ike returned to Abilene High School in the fall of 1910 to prep for the West Point entrance exam; he took the opportunity to play another season of football. This is the odd part: he reportedly played under the name of Sweeney. Curious and curiouser.”

Nobody has been able to document evidence of the assumed name which comes from Merle Miller’s book, Ike the Soldier: “In local towns I would be called Sweeney. It was Sweeney this, get out of there Sweeney…. I had to work rather hard. I always like bodily contact, and the coaches, just because I loved to crash into someone, they put me in. I was fairly fast, I guess.”

The following local football history can be confirmed. On October 20, 1910, the Dickinson County News reported, “Dwight Eisenhower has entered high school.” At that time, the AHS football team record was 1-1.

The next day, the Daily Chronicle mentioned that, “Eisenhower, Merrifield and Huffman showed up well, but were unable to get going in their unusual stride” as Abilene and Dickinson County School battled to a scoreless tie.

The Daily Chronicle (October 25, 1910) noted that Ike would take his preliminary exams at Jefferson Barracks in January 1911 and added, “Mr. Eisenhower is a good student and will very likely be able to make the high grade required.”

Both the 1910 Daily Chronicle and Dickinson County News identify Dwight Eisenhower as Eisenhower in the last three games of that season against Dickinson County, Enterprise and Salina. The Reflector did not provide much coverage of football, because apparently the editor did not approve of the sport.

The Daily Chronicle heralded Abilene’s 11-0 victory over Enterprise with two sentences of interest: “Eisenhower circled left end for twenty-five yards” and “touch-downs were made by Nicolay and Eisenhower.”

With a record of 3-1-1, the Daily Chronicle proclaimed Abilene as Central Kansas champions: “Oh, you central Kansas champions!”

A Thanksgiving game was organized to play Russell, 90 miles to the west. Although Russell prevailed, 11-0, the Dickinson County News complimented the host team. “The boys (from Abilene) were royally treated in the evening at a big Thanksgiving banquet in their honor by the high school.”

The Russell Reformer listed Eisenhower at left tackle for Abilene. Neither the names Eisenhower nor Sweeney appear in the Chapman, Enterprise or Salina newspapers, so the possible use of an assumed name cannot be verified.

In December 1910, the Daily Chronicle reported highlights from the team’s annual gridiron banquet. Ike proposed a toast entitled, “Kicks,” and Orin Snyder, the team’s coach, toasted “The Bids (whatever that means?)” Snyder was a few years older than his left tackle. They had previously been teammates when both were students at Abilene.

Eisenhower would go on to play varsity football at the Military Academy. The New York Times labeled him, “one of the most promising backs in Eastern football.” In 1912, Ike and a powerful Army team lost to Olympic champion Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indians, 27-6. A football injury later compounded by a serious riding injury at West Point would curtail Ike’s athletic career at West Point.

But in 1910, the 20-year-old future president of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower, played football for Abilene High School two seasons removed from his graduation.

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Did Ike play pro before West Point?

By Diane Bell

UT San Diego, 03:03p.m. Aug 29, 2013

This 1911 Junction City team photo appeared in the 1912 Reach American League Guide. In the top row, the third player from the left was identified as Affie Wilson and was clearly not young Dwight Eisenhower. That is the only known image of Affie Wilson. — 1912 Reach American League Guide

A baseball mystery surrounding Dwight D. Eisenhower has been the subject of speculation for decades.

Did our nation’s 34th president play pro or semipro ball before entering the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, or didn’t he?

If he did play for pay, he would have been ineligible to be on West Point’s football team, which he was. Could he have violated the cadet honor code?

Now local baseball historian Bill Swank is shedding light on the controversy. He shared his research this month at the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Kansas.

When Gen. Eisenhower returned from World War II in 1945, one of his first actions was to attend a N.Y. Giants-Boston Braves game. News reports of the day contend he confided in the team managers that he had played pro baseball in the Kansas State League under an assumed name of Wilson before entering West Point.

“He always refused to give details,” said Tim Rives, deputy director of the Eisenhower Library.

So Swank, who has written seven books on baseball history, researched newspapers from that time period on Kansas State Historical Society microfilm, with little luck. A team photo of the Junction City Soldiers included a player identified as Wilson, but Rives and other historians agree it is not Eisenhower. While not a total refutation, the evidence clearly doesn’t get the pro-ball-playing contention to first base.

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Eisenhower baseball controversy is thrown out

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Baseball historian and author Bill Swank shows the team photo of the Junction City Soldiers and points to a player identified as Wilson, clearly not Dwight Eisenhower. (Photo by Ron Preston)


Abilene Reflector-Chronicle

News : Thursday, August 08, 2013 7:00:00 AM

There is no doubt that Dwight Eisenhower liked baseball. There is no doubt that Ike was a good athlete. These are known facts that have been documented by known researchers and expert historians.

What isn’t known or proven is the so-called Eisenhower baseball controversy at least according to Bill Swank, a baseball historian and author from San Diego.

Swank spoke about the controversy, his extensive research and his theories on the subject last night to a group of Eisenhower and baseball enthusiasts at the Eisenhower

Presidential Library Visitors Center Auditorium.

“If you are going to write something as history, it’s got to be correct,” Swank said about some material that has been written about Eisenhower’s baseball days.

Swank discussed the information that is mentioned in Wikipedia, as one example, where supposedly Eisenhower played pro ball or maybe semi-pro ball under an assumed name of Wilson for a team in Junction City.

Swank has thoroughly researched archives of newspapers sent to him on microfilm from the Kansas State Historical Society and could not find any mention of a Wilson in any box score or story written in the newspapers of the time period.

The so-called controversy would claim that Eisenhower got paid to play baseball before he enrolled in West Point and that he may have even lied about it, therefore breaking the Cadet Honor Code.

Swank showed the members of the audience results of his research and why he concluded there is no controversy. A team picture of the Topeka City Soldiers was shown to the crowd and by conclusion of Tim Rives, Deputy Director of the Eisenhower Library and Museum, as well as other professional historians determined the person identified in the picture as Wilson was not Dwight Eisenhower.

Swank, in his research, as a baseball historian admits that a lot of known athletes and personalities played summer league or semi-pro baseball as it was called back then under assumed names.

One of the important things to remember according to Swank is to remember that times were different in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s and that historians of today dwell on the rules and regulations of the National Collegiate Athletic Association of today. The NCAA was not even formerly finalized until 1910 and then it did not have full membership of all colleges and universities under its umbrella.

Eisenhower was a good athlete as stated before and according to Swank not only did Ike love baseball, he was a pretty good football player too. He might not have made the West point baseball team, but he did play football for them in 1912. Historical records indicate that Eisenhower was a tailback for the Cadets and during a game against Carlyle University he played against future Olympian Jim Thorpe.

Yes, Eisenhower loved sports, especially baseball. Did he play baseball for money before becoming a Cadet? That has yet to be proven and therefore there should not be a controversy at all, according to Bill Swank.

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Historian to probe Ike baseball controversy

Abilene– Historian Bill Swank will discuss the Eisenhower baseball controversy at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Visitors Center Auditorium on the campus of the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum.

Swank is a San Diego baseball historian and author of “Baseball in San Diego: From the Plaza to the Padres.”

The controversy centers around the question of whether President Dwight D. Eisenhower played professional baseball before he entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

“Ike said he did, but he always refused to give details,” said Tim Rives, deputy director. “Bill has done more research on this topic than any historian I’m aware of. I’m not going to give away his conclusions, but I will say that he has discovered many fascinating details of Ike’s baseball and football days in Abilene.”

– Salina Journal, August 2, 2013

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2013 San Diego County Fair, Home & Hobby Results

Special Award Most Unique: Bill Swank, Santa’s Beard Trimmings

Collections Other Than Listed (First Place): Bill Swank, Santa’s Beard Trimmings

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