watching the wheels

Riding the birthday merry-go-round


When I was six or seven years old and was invited to the birthday party of one of my friends, I always had one question for my mom: "Is the merry-go-round going to be there?"

Almost every time, it was. At a certain time--the 1960s--and a certain place--Knoxville--the central entertainment at almost every kid's birthday party was a merry-go-round in the back yard: a real merry-go-round, with carrousel horses and music and everything.

It was festooned with the logos of the Kerns Bakery, one of the main bread companies in town, and, as a public relations outreach to young bread consumers, Kerns allowed parents to book the merry-go-round for parties.

The merry-go-round was much smaller than the one that we would ride at the fairgrounds every fall, of course. It was small enough to fit on a trailer and be pulled behind a truck. There was a man--much later I learned his name was Corum Collins--who pulled the merry-go-round onto a flat place in the honoree's back yard and set it up and arranged the kids on it so that the sides were balanced and it wouldn't perilously spin out of control. It probably had about a 10-kid capacity, so if the party had a lot of kids you'd have to wait your turn.

But still, it was so cool. A merry-go-round, right in your yard.

But the actual merry-go-round might not have even been the best part.

When it was time for Mr. Collins to hitch the little merry-go-round back to his trailer and go to the next party, he would always go to his truck and hand every child a little plastic bag with a miniature loaf of bread, baked especially for birthday parties. It was your own loaf of bread. Until that point, you never knew you wanted your own loaf of bread, but when you got one, it was really a neat thing.  

This bread, of course, tasted way better than the regular, large loaves of bread that mom bought at the store, despite the fact that it was baked using the same ingredients in the same ovens in the same bakery. Those big loaves weren't birthday party bread.

It's hard to imagine a bread bakery doing something like the merry-go-round now. There aren't many locally owned big bakeries any more, and even if there were, I'm sure the bakery's lawyers would advise against providing a birthday party carrousel in case some child with litigious parents fell off a whirling wooden horse.

Somebody in bakery human resources would question the need for an employee who did nothing but drive around all day providing entertainment at childrens' birthday parties. "Is this really part of our core funtion as a provider of bread loaves and other tasty baked goods?" the HR professional would ask.

The Kerns Bakery, at least as a locally-owned entity, is no more. It was sold in the 1980s and its corporate descendant is now a part of, of all things, Anheuser-Busch. So I guess from a customer-relations point of view, all that good will instilled in a generation of Knoxville children in hundreds of suburban back yards doesn't mean much, since the company that instilled it doesn't exist any more.

But it was still valuable. Corum Collins is a stellar example of the unassuming influence adults can have on children. He was a representative of the kind of adult world that, as a child, you want to believe in. He was an authority figure ("Don't cut in line, son"), but he was fair. He showed up when he was supposed to and he seemed to genuinely like children.

He would take a yardful of excited, birthday-cake charged kids and patiently have them line up, would arrange them on the horses, let them ride for a few minutes, and then help them down and load up another group of kids. Later, when he was leaving, he would make sure that every child got one of the little loaves of bread, that nobody was left out.

The fact that the Kerns Bakery and its merry-go-round are a thing of the past doesn't erase all the giddy fun that all of us had at all those parties with our friends. Anything that gives children genuine carefree laughter is providing one of the most important services in the world.

The best of Watching the Wheels from the past 20 years has been collected in a book. Watching the Wheels: Cheap Irony, Righteous Indignation, and Semi-Enlightened Opinion is available from and other online booksellers; from the Medical Center Bookstore, and from the Medical Center Hair Salon.





Vanderbilt's Weight Watchers Program Celebrates Four Years of Success

In the four years since Vanderbilt's Weight Watchers at Work program began, participants have lost a cumulative total of over two and a half tons, organizers say.

"The total number of pounds lost is amazing--5,004 pounds in four years," said Vicki Daniel of VUMC's Risk and Insurance Management Department, who helps coordinate the meetings and serves as the initial contact person.

The Weight Watchers program came to Vanderbilt in May 2000, when Frieda Dilgard, an employee of Weight Watchers, started a program for Vanderbilt employees.   This initial group has now grown into four different groups, with a total of 80 to 100 members.   "[This program] has helped a lot of people, and we're happy it's been so successful," Daniel said.

Weight Watchers, an international organization, started about 40 years ago, and built its weight loss philosophy around providing information to participants so that they may make individual decisions about nutrition and exercise.  

The meetings at Vanderbilt take place in four different locations, during lunchtime and evenings.   To find out more information, call Daniel at 936-0657.


June 2004




Richard Caprioli provided the scientific details for a new novel. And the villain ends up in his car.


Living with CF: a memoir

Dana Johnson is a happy, upbeat person who happens to be living with a life threatening illness. She also happens to be News and Public Affairs' photographer.


Flat-Out Fun

The Nashville adventures of a dimensionally-challenged visitor.


Mezuza ceremony

In a solemn ceremony two rabbis visit the Vanderbilt Children's Hospital chapel and place a mezuza by its door.







Officer Kelly Wadley, left, and James Hicks helped foil a would-be computer thief in TVC.

Foiled computer theft highlights secuirty concerns

On Thursday, April 29, at about 7 p.m., a VUMC employee who works in The Vanderbilt Clinic saw something suspicious. She picked up the phone and called Vanderbilt Police.

"She said she saw an off-duty employee loading boxes onto a cart and pushing it to the elevator.   The employee checked the area and discovered several computer systems missing," said Andrew Atwood, director of crime prevention at VUPD.   Officer Kelly Wadley interviewed the VUMC employee and also received useful information from another employee working in TVC.

The would-be thief had brazenly, though conveniently, parked in the front drive-through circle at TVC.   He had stacked the boxed flat screen monitors, hard drives and other high-end equipment taken from the Medical Specialties area in the TVC first floor elevator lobby.  

When he was questioned by Detective Larry Reese and Detective Robert Watson, he admitted that he was helping himself to the computers.   Officer James Hicks, who responded to the call with Wadley, arrested the employee and took him to jail. Bond was set at $360,000.

This is the way things are supposed to work, Atwood said.

"This arrest was a direct result of employees at the Medical Center [who wished to remain anonymous] witnessing suspicious activity and giving us a call. We probably would not have made the arrest without the employees' help," he said.

The foiled theft--combined with an increase in computer thefts that, unfortunately, were not foiled--has highlighted the importance of employees taking steps to protect the equipment in their offices.

In addition to simply reporting suspicious activity, Atwood says other simple steps such as regularly locking unoccupied offices and recording the serial numbers of office equipment can either stop a theft before it happens or make it easier to get stolen property back to its owner after it is recovered.

"We ask employees to help us by being our eyes and ears, and if they see anything suspicious, reporting it to us," he said. "Our officers can respond and take appropriate action."

Office Theft Prevention Tips

Compiled by Andrew Atwood, director of crime prevention at VUPD.

  • Lock office and department doors when not in use.
  • Do not prop doors open.
  • Be aware of suspicious or unauthorized persons in your area.
  • Report any suspicious persons or activity immediately to Vanderbilt University Police Department.
  • Report thefts immediately
  • Do not leave your laptop or PDA unsecured.
  • Maintain an accurate inventory of all valuable equipment including make, model and serial number.
  • Report any broken or flickering lights, dimly lit corridors, doors that don't lock properly or broken windows to your supervisor. Don't wait for someone else to do it.
  • Notify your supervisor about security concerns that you may notice in your work area.
  • Have a safety and security plan for your area and awareness training.
  • Conduct a routine security sweep prior to leaving your work location for the day or locking up your department at the end of the business day.
  • Keep your purse, wallet, keys and other valuable items with you at all times or locked in a drawer or closet.
  • If you bring to work personal items such as a radio, calculator or cell phone mark them with your name or initials and an identification number.
  • Keep your computer access confidential and regularly change your password.
  • Always back up files.



Dermatologists screen for cancer, teach about skin at community event


Stacey Kendrick, coordinator of health promotion at Health Plus, came to the community skin screening held May 8 at VUMC with a knowledge of how scary skin cancer can be. Her younger sister Kimberly Kern had found two malignant melanomas on her body when she was in her early 30s.

"She found the [melanomas] herself--she's very attuned to her body," Kendrick said. "I also have a very good friend whose brother died of malignant melanoma, so it's touched me in a couple of ways."

Having a close relative, such as a sister, who has had skin cancer is a powerful reason to have a screening done by a dermatologist--so when the community screening was held in May, Kendrick joined the   more than 150 who attended.

"I'm a runner, so I'm exposed to the sun," Kendrick added. "I always wear sunscreen, but I didn't when I was younger." She said she wears sunscreen now even very early in the morning.

The dermatologist who performed Kendrick's screening, Carla Lee, M.D., a second-year resident, noted that few of us wore sunscreen when we were younger, but praised Kendrick's dedication to skin protection now.

Kendrick, who is the mother of two daughters, says she works to protect her children from the sun so they will have less of a chance of problems later.

That parental role in education was mirrored by the dermatologists who were giving their time for the screening. As the doctors screened their patients, education about what to watch for (changes in moles, for example) and what to do (use sunscreen, wear a hat, avoid tanning beds, and avoid being outdoors during the middle of the day) became at least as important as the actual screening.

Patients were also educated about the importance of knowing their own skin and performing regular self-exams for changes in moles. It's also important for patients to practice self skin exam on a monthly basis for changes in skin. The main thing to check for are moles that are larger than a pencil eraser, asymmetrical, irregular, or that have mixed colors.

"I've got a lot of moles on my back that are hard to monitor," Jan Rosemergy, Ph.D., director of Communications and Community Relations for the Kennedy Center at Vanderbilt, told her dermatologist, Ann Evers, M.D. Rosemergy expressed surprise at another feature of a screening: "I would never think of looking for a mole on the bottom of my foot."

Risk factors were very much on the minds of the dermatologists who provided the screenings, including peeling sunburns before age 18, fair skin pigmentation, having a number of moles or pigmented lesions, and being age 40 or above.

Physicians from Vanderbilt's division of Dermatology, other community dermatologists, nurses from Vanderbilt and the community, and staffers from the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center staffed the screening, which was sponsored by the American Academy of Dermatology and the Nashville Dermatological Society.

"I'm pleased with the turnout and with all the wonderful volunteers from Vanderbilt," said Michel McDonald, M.D., assistant professor of Medicine, who organized the screening. "It's beneficial to screen and find things patients aren't aware of early. We want people to be aware of areas of their skin and we want to point them in the right direction--what's concerning and what's not."




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