En Plein Air With Harold Pohl - The Missourian: Senior Lifetimes

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En Plein Air With Harold Pohl

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Posted: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 6:32 pm | Updated: 4:56 pm, Tue Apr 8, 2014.

Pulling up to the home of Harold “Butch” Pohl, New Haven, it’s obvious that he loves the outdoors.

The front of his home is surrounded with a large garden. Even in early spring, plants and flowers are growing, waterfalls are flowing and fish swim under a bridge and over to Pohl as he walks by.

“They think they’re going to get fed,” he says, opening the door to his home.

Inside, the walls are lined with oil on canvas artwork, all created by Pohl. Many are “plein-air” paintings, which means he painted them outside  — surrounded by nature. Pohl has traveled the United States and abroad painting and doing business for American Recreation Company, where he worked until he retired in 2000.

Painting and gardening are relatively new hobbies for Pohl, who grew up in Washington.

Pohl graduated from St. Francis Borgia High School in 1954 and went to Northeast Missouri State Teachers College, now Truman, on a basketball scholarship.

Not long after starting college, in January 1955, Pohl enlisted in the military where he worked with the Army Security Agency.

His job was to investigate internal security breeches within the military. He spent 2 1/2 years in Heidelberg, Germany.

During his time in the military, Pohl married his high school sweetheart, the late Viola, or “Vi” (nee Hilke) and she spent one year in Germany with him.

The couple were married at St. Francis Borgia Church and raised five children, Cindy, Terry, Linda, Brenda and Glen. Pohl has 14 grandchildren.

After coming home from Germany, Pohl went back to school, where he earned degrees in math and industrial arts with the goal of becoming a teacher.

He taught at Lafayette High School in Wildwood the second and third year of the school’s existence. The salary though, Pohl said, wasn’t something to raise a family on. So after two years, he left the school system.

“I enjoyed teaching. The kids were great,” he said.

Career

From teaching, Pohl went to work for a company most commonly known as American Recreation Products.

Though tent design wasn’t Pohl’s intended career, he said his background in industrial arts and math both helped him with his job.

When Pohl began his career in 1963, the company was known as the Judson Group, then later as Kellwood Company, Wenzel (a popular camping item brand name) and finally American Recreation Products.

Pohl was in charge of designing tents and worked closely with and became friends with Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to climb Mount Everest.

Hillary camping equipment was sold by Sears, Roebuck and Co. and he was the adviser to Sears.

To test the quality of the tents, Hillary, company president Bill Kelley, and many others in the camping division at American Recreation Products and buyers would embark on annual testing trips.

A photo/memory book detailing the trips, created by the company, says the trips “had the serious purpose of testing recent developments in camping and accessory equipment. It followed the highly effective formula of placing decision makers instrumental to the success of the product lines in faraway places with absolute dependence upon product and teamwork, testing rigorous and real as opposed to laboratory simulations.”

Pohl went on a total of 23 testing trips all over North America, Alaska and Canada. The group even visited Pangnirtung Fiord on Baffin Island, in the Arctic Circle.

He also has visited Kodiak Island, Wind River mountain range in Wyoming, Buffalo River in Arkansas and more.

During the trips, Pohl would hike, fish and enjoy being outdoors. One trip stood out for Pohl. During a snowstorm in Wyoming, all of the tents collapsed under the weight of the snow.

“That wasn’t a happy night,” Pohl said laughing.

Now, tents are made in a dome shape so snow will slide off the top.

Another one of Pohl’s job responsibilities was to go on buying trips in the Orient including Japan, Korea, Taipei and Hong Kong.

Pohl would check on the products that were made of nylon, as opposed to cotton and make sure products met the standards set by the company.

In addition to company travel, Pohl and his wife traveled to Europe. The couple chipped pieces off the Berlin Wall in 1990 as the wall was coming down. They also visited the Orient together.

Diving

In retirement, Pohl was certified in scuba diving and completed 120 dives in the Florida Keys, Cayman Islands and Hawaii.

He liked seeing sharks, eels, coral and other fish.

The most exciting dive, he said, was in the Cayman Islands where he went down about 100 feet and was over a wall so deep you couldn’t see the bottom.

During one dive, Pohl ran into trouble when his regulator (which helps divers breathe) began to malfunction. Pohl was 90 feet under-water.

If divers come to the surface from the depth of 90 feet too quickly, they have the possibility of getting decompression sickness, generally referred to as the bends.

“You can’t go straight to the surface,” because too much oxygen will get in the blood, he explained.

His diving buddy, Lee Capps, had to share his regulator.

“I initially liked the ability to stay underwater and see different types of life and fish,” he said. “It’s a totally different feeling — it’s nice and peaceful — except when your air doesn’t come in.”

After that trip, Pohl gave up diving. “It scared me,” he said. “I thought ‘I’ve seen enough of these fish.’ ”

Plein Air

In 2000, Pohl hung up his hat as general manager at American Recreation Products and built a home in New Haven.

Pohl also took up a hobby in painting. He took a painting class at East Central College with instructor Jim Crow where artist Billyo O’Donnell visited.

O’Donnell mentioned a painting trip he was organizing and Pohl decided to travel to Spannocchia, Italy for a plein-air painting workshop.

Plein-air painting is different than painting in a studio, Pohl said, because painters have to paint quickly to capture the scene before light and shadows change.

During the trip, participants toured mountain villages and painted one or two paintings each day.

He also traveled with O’Donnell to France, Rome, Florence, and Venice and may make future trips, he said.

For inspiration, Pohl said he looks through books and studies the works of famous artists. Many times, Pohl said he’s noticed that he likes the artists’ earlier works.

In addition to painting, Pohl enjoys raising chickens, gardening and taking care of his landscape.

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