Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Homedale Elementary and the Wild West

UPDATE: Readers have written in to the comment section with more information on the Wild West house. It was owned by Roy "Gypsy Jack" Steffenson Jr., a local legend who lived in the cowboy shrine on Davison Road near Olive Avenue for more than two decades. He clearly was not a hippie, but when I met him as a kid I was prone to throw anyone with a beard into that category. He inspired a song by The Travelin' Bluesman, "a track in which the Bluesman describes his relationship with Flint legend Gypsy Jack, a person he credits talking him out of doing something that would have ruined his life forever." (And it's not about taking a job at GM.) The album cover just might be a photo of Gypsy Jack's house, but I'm not sure. NBC's "Real People" show may have profiled him as well. Gypsy Jack reportedly died on September 8, 2003. Sadly, his house appears to have been abandoned and picked over by looters.

There's more information in the Comment section for this post, including some memories on the East Side's infamous Adolf Moses.

Anyone with more details or a photo of Gypsy Jack should feel free to pass it along.

Homedale Elementary School Class of 1973

Homedale Elementary School Class of 1974

I guess I shouldn't be surprised anymore when I hear about another place that means something to me in Flint getting shut down and left to rot, but I was still depressed to learn that Homedale Elementary School is closed.

My grandparents lived nearby on Illinois Avenue. My mom attended Homedale before moving on to Whittier and then Central. I went to pre-kindergarten at Homedale for a few months when we were all living at my grandparents' place before moving to a house near Bassett Park.

I remember there was a big house near the school — perhaps on Olive Avenue near Davison Road — that had been transformed into a sort of Wild West museum by two hippies who owned the place. Now were they actually hippies? All I know is that they had huge beards and long hair, which was not a look my Grandmother
McFarlane — who grew up on a 40-acre farm in Maple Leaf, Iowa, during the depression — would take a liking to.

One day grandma and I were walking past the house after a visit to the Homedale playground, and one of the hippie dudes was out in the yard, near the covered wagon they'd installed. My grandma struck up a conversation, complimenting him on the house. When he invited us inside, I was stunned when she said yes.

It seemed like the weirdest place in the world to me. There were wagon wheels and all kinds of other cowboy/wild west paraphernalia everywhere. These guys didn't just have a few things scattered around; the house looked like the prop room for a Sam Peckinpah picture. The hippie took us down to the basement and, as I clutched grandma's hand, revealed a built-in replica of a frontier jail, complete with a mannequin dressed as a sheriff and outlaw dummy in a small cell. (Of course, I now realize there must have been a lot of pot smoked down in that basement.)

Very strange, and mildly terrifying...but amazingly cool! And we made it out alive. On the way home grandma remarked, "Those fellows have too much time on their hands."

I hunted around for some material on Homedale, and I came across a website by a Flintoid now living in Arkansas named Kevin Watkins. He attended Homedale from 1970-1976, and his mother, Wanda Watkins, was one of the playground teachers there for several years. He posted the class photos above and the shot of the auditorium below. (Click on the class photos to enlarge them; several names are handwritten on the photos.) He asks for more information on Homedale, but my email to him got bounced back.

No idea what happened to Kevin Watkins or the Wild West boys of Olive Avenue.

Homedale Elementary School Auditorium

Homedale Faculty in the early '70s

  • Mr. Walter Behm, Principal
  • Mr. Gary Sullenger, Community School Director
  • Mrs. Finch, Secretary
  • 6th Grade - Mrs. Carpenter, Mr Field, Miss Porter, Mrs. Patten
  • 5th Grade - Mr. Bonno, Mr. Ervin, Mrs. Graham
  • 4th Grade - Mrs. Cleveland, Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Princing
  • 3rd Grade - Mrs. Converso, Mrs. Harrington, Mrs. Robart, Mrs. Leflore
  • 2nd Grade - Miss Green, Mrs. Pagel, Mrs. Tucker, Mrs. Ghattas
  • 1st Grade - Mrs. Bader, Mrs. Hanley, Mrs. Weatherhead
  • Kindergarten - Mrs. Helber, Mrs. Keedle, Mrs. Hans, Mrs. Geiger
    Other faculty: Miss Berden, Mrs. Guerin, Mrs.Katzenberger, Mr. Langley, Mrs. MacKinnon, Mrs. Ray, Mrs. Riggs, Mrs Ryan, Mrs. Benjamin, Mrs. Jarvis, Mrs. Taylor, Mr. Bill Hubbard, Mrs. Linda Munoz, Mr. joe Munoz, Mr. David Dobin.


  1. Flint is dying, period. The eastside is barely thriving, and the closings of longtime stabilities such as St. Joe's Hospital, Homedale Elementary, and Brown Funeral Home have only added to the decaying of the area. Homedale in its "heyday" was prime education, and now the building sits, cold, aloof...

    The late Roy O."GYPSY JACK" Steffenson, Jr. was that curmudegon that owned that wild west museum at 1458 Davison Road for more than 25 years. I had the pleasure to meet him on several occasions and seemed very cordial. He obviously liked to hoist a few which he didn't hide from others. When he died on September 8, 2003, a small piece of the good old eastside died with him.

  2. http://www.google.com/search?q=%22gypsy+jack%22&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a#num=100&hl=en&safe=off&client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla%3Aen-US%3Aofficial&hs=ohv&q=%22gypsy+jack%22+flint&btnG=Search&nochrome=1

    He was called Gypsy Jack, and I see a lot of things talking about him always driving a hearse, but in reality he was usually driving a flat black painted beater pick up truck. Very colorful guy, his family ripped anything of value out of his place when he died and it current sits in a state of advanced decay. But everything from the old Brown Funeral home (They moved to the White Suburbs) to Kearsley Park along Davison is rotting now.

    1. Some of his true friends and family Like Jack Holt his real son and the man on the left in the photo still hold on and cherish some of his relics when Jack was alive he gave me a ten Gallon stetson which 2 this day i still wear im the guy in the center of album photo Happy Birthday Gypsy

  3. A friend of mine used to live on Indiana, between Olive, and the road that runs next to Brown's. We walked up to Jenny's lounge a few times, and would walk by Gypsy Jack's place. One night my friend was walking home, and found Jack laying intoxicated in a snow drift, and under his Xmas tree. Now this was March, and I guess he had decided it was time to take out the tree. My friend helped him up and back inside. The place has been picked over by relatives and looters since he passed. Speaking of the East side, does anyone remember the crazy white haired santa looking guy who would scream at cars, and give the Heil Hitler salute? I remember seeing him around the area or Dort, and Davison.

  4. Hey!!! I was jumped at Homedale back in the day. Ahh, the memories...

  5. As to the white haired guy, he was dubbed Adolf Moses. The poor man looked like something from biblical times while possibly had been trained in the Hitler Youth. He would walk Davison Road at all hours. So help me, his beard was of a rusty color at the roots. I believe it's a safe bet that Adolf is now with his maker.

  6. I remember Adolf Moses! And I vaguely remember that Wild West house, too. On a sad note, however, I was also disturbed recently to see my old kindergarten - Merrill School over on Moore St. and Fleming Rd. - in a photograph in the Flint Journal with the caption: "At least 32 registered sex offenders less than 0.2 miles from school." How utterly frightening.

  7. I can remember when NBC's "Real People" did a segment about Gyspy Jack and it kind of shined a light on the mystery that his house was to a lot of people.

  8. Does anyone out there have a picture of Gypsy Jack or his place?

  9. Gordie, you've done a superb job of research concerning the "Gypsy Jack Project" posted here. I'm quite sure without much doubt that the photo on the album cover is a true picture of what would be the east side of his home at the time; the side which faced Olive Avenue. Getting back to a previous post about what vehicles Jack drove, I don't remember the herse, but what comes to mind was that flat black Chevrolet truck with red painted rims. A middle aged lady with long blondish-reddish hair (whom I guessed to be his woman...) was driving that truck on the many occasions I saw it.

  10. My name is Gerry Godin and I knew Jack well. He was my blood brother and I still have the scar to prove it. I partied with him numerous times. I seen his truck mentioned but not his Harley.His harley was painted all black also. I see most things already mentioned. My mother even knew him back in the 60's. He had a jail cell in his basement.We became blood brothers at Jennys lounge after Jack was cut off for the night.Well I always had a bottle of Jack and kept passing it to him under the table.Well long story short Gypsy got too drunk and really cut him self bad and the waitress would not let us leave until we cleaned the bathroom. He worked in factory #36 at Buick. He also participated in the "Bay of Pigs" invasion of Cuba. I have my own blog also called ALL THINGS BUICK. I'll check back when I find his picture around here. My daughter bought me two tee shirts that his family put together.

  11. I remember this house and I remember the Real People show. What stands out in my mind about it is that Sarah Purcell nor Byron Allen appeared in the segment, which I thought was odd. It was just film of Gypsy Jack talking. Guess the "stars" didn't want to come to Flint, even then. However, what stands out most for me about this house is that our good friend, Gar, was born in that house in 1932.

  12. Thanks for all the updates. I have to ask Gerry for more details on Jack's involvement in the Bay of Pigs invasion...what the hell? And if anyone does have a photo, I'd love to post it.

  13. Well to report to those of you who have made it out, I am reporting from the trenches as I gaze out my office window on S. Saginaw St.

    I haven't seen anything about the West side and some of the things that provide some fond memories of life on the West Side.

    Of course we had Zimmerman Penitentary or I mean Jr. High. When I got there in 1974 there were guys in 9th. grade that had been there so long that they were driving to Jr. High and had full beards. We had a "head shop" across the street from the school, and one of the teachers was openly dating an 8th grader who he later married.

    At Southwestern we had the "Block" which we painted for numerous reasons. We also had some pretty hip teachers, one who routinely had house parties on the weekends and others who made it a "Ridgemont High Experience"
    Happy Hollow was actually a park, but we spent most of our time at Flushing Park.

    But we did manage to make our way to the east side to hang out at Davison Rd. McDonalds and take in a little illegal street racing on I-475 before it was completed.

    Wow, there are so many things that are specific to Flint that it's just a grin. Hey we need something to smile about.

    What, carry a knife I'm from Flint I carry an ice-pick. It's far less scary than it gets portrayed in the media. It always makes for interesting conversation when traveling though.


  14. Back in 1994 I was a crossing guard (an employee of the FPD) at Lewis and Broadway. I'll never forget the day Gypsy Jack stumbled into the intersection and proceeded to moon cars in three directions.

    An old rumor I used to hear involved him pretending to "slip and fall" at Angelo's in hopes of extorting a free meal.

    Adolf Moses... wow. Another classic colorful Flint street person. Rosie, Big Red Fred, Damn!, East Village Ted, Richard Roosevelt Banks, Ponytail, Trinity... the list is endless.

    Does anybody remember northside legend Captain Bubblegum? A crazed maniac who dressed as a super hero and terrorized school children for years? The last story I heard about him involved the good Captain chasing three teenage boys while wearing his trademark cape and mask... and riding a moped.

  15. Unfortunately I didn't have the pleasure of witnessing Captain Bubblegum in action, but I wonder if East Village Ted isn't the same person referred to as "Teddy" or "Terrible Teddy," the latter name hardly apt since he was basically a peaceful person. Back in the mid- to late seventies, later too, long-haired Teddy could be seen walking or standing downtown wearing an old poncho and using what appeared to be rubber cut from tires as the soles for his shoes, which he then tied on with rope.

    Also in the mid-seventies there was an older man from the northwest side who would occasionally turn up at Sunday mass at St. Lukes after hoisting more than a few and attempt to preach. I think he tried directing traffic a few times downtown, too. I can't recall his name though.

  16. I grew up on the eastside of flint and attended homedale from 85-90 when mrs.bea was secretary and mrs.linda cainsmith was principal.Oh yeah and i'll never forget my wonderful kindergarten teacher mrs.evans.
    My parents have quite a few pictures of homedale from when i went there,i also have a yearbook somewhere.
    I was excited when my son was able to go to the same school as i,then he wasnt there very long and had to go to washington because homedale closed down.That was a bummer!
    I also remember gypsy jack,although i always seen him walking (on lewis st.)dont recall ever seeing him drive)or i walked past his house to get to my friends house by kearsley park.He always seemed very nice.

  17. Anonymous:

    Thanks for the comment. So where are you now? Are you still on the east side. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the changes the neighborhood has gone through. Are your still there? Have you moved? By the way, my mom grew up on 1515 Illinois near Iowa. My grandmother lived there until she died in 1987.

  18. I remember Rosie. She used to sing all the time. She crashed my cousins wedding... hitch hiked to Fenton. She had a big heart. :)

  19. Wow... unbelievable. I just happened upon this page... with my name on it! I fixed the email link today on the homedale website. Since Gypsy Jack's passing some folks (as of 2006) were still trying to keep the place alive. I have a newspaper article from the summer of 2006 that i will try and find and post. I loved that old place. Mom and I walked to the the laundry mat next door every week and i was always over there!

  20. Info and pictures on Gypsy Jack and the house just recently sold.


  21. Im dying to get a hold of Anonymous, the one who went to Homedale Elementary between 1985-1990, there is alot of us looking to get ahold of old pictures, we also went there around that time, my name is Jo Ann Tedhams, There is Keri Affeldt and Delila, kari Weaver Tiffany Ellis just to name a few even Jeff Lipp, So if you could please just drop me a line my e-mail is jojo122572@yahoo.com. Thansk looking forward to hearing from you if you even get this.....

  22. I grew up at 2013 Dakota Ave in Flint. I knew Gypsy Jack, he was a real nice person. Every now and then I would have a drink with him at Old Franks bar on lewis street. My husband and I moved to Arizona last month, but in my minds eye I can still see his old west style house. It was awsome years ago. I will never for get Gypsy Jack. I think he would it here in Arizona.
    That is his house on the album cover. Long live his memory.

  23. Dana, thanks for the comment. If you search for Gypsy Jack, you'll find several other posts about him.

  24. i didnt rele meet him but he was my uncle on my moms side they still live in flint his niece who used to saty over there all the time works at shermans loung on fento road a very nice bar

  25. Wow...what a rush of memories! I went to Homedale Elementary School, and would have been a 1974 graduate if my family hadn't moved to East Lansing. (Incidentally, I lived on Illinois and Olive, I believe.) It was GREAT seeing so many familiar names and faces from my youth - including my first boyfriend in second grade. Thanks for posting the information.
    Laurie Nichols

  26. Wow...what a rush of memories! I went to Homedale Elementary School, and would have been a 1974 graduate if my family hadn't moved to East Lansing. (Incidentally, I lived on Illinois and Olive, I believe.) It was GREAT seeing so many familiar names and faces from my youth - including my first boyfriend in second grade. Thanks for posting the information.
    Laurie Nichols

  27. Laurie, glad you liked it. Sounds like you grew up close to my grandparents, who lived on Illinois between Indiana and Olive.

  28. someone burned homdale down sat 8/12/2010.

  29. Homedale may have been burned down by some anonymous arsonists, and torn down so that the space it once occupied is now a memory of a school now only bathed in the shadow of the sun. It will always be the place where the moral foundations of my life as a Flintoid were taught to me as an elementary school child. I received an excellent education from teachers who really cared about their students, and parents who volunteered for Brownie and Girl Scout meetings. and I will never forget Friday afternoons when we could rollerskate for a quarter, and buy popcorn for a dime. My experriences at Homedale served me well...I earned Masters of Divinty degree and am now a Pastor. (I moved in the early nineties to seek work since the workforce opportunities were becoming VERY limited due to the shop's downsizing)

    Although I live out of state now, my family still lives in Flint. My heart aches when I visit since so much of the East Side resembles a war zone, and I miss Flint when it was in it's glory days.

    My grandparents built a home when Grandpa got a job and worked for Chevrolet and supported his family until he retired.I'd be willing to bet he never imagined when he was a part of the sit down strike fighting for fair wages and treatment of the workers that Flint would end up as it is right now.

    Unfortunately the auto industry that promoted so heavily the ideal of "buying American" snubbed their noses at those individuals (and the community) who helped them build their fortunes in the first place. It's a disgrace the way the automakers used Flint and the community to fulfill it's own needs without even so much as giving Flint the respect it deserves.

    My prayer is that Flint and it's residents can somehow rebound and rebuild iself once again when the dust settles. And shame on the automakers. Flint deserves better.

  30. I 1st met Gypsey Jack in 1992, (I think). Although I had grown-up Dreaming about that Beautiful House's mysteries. My Friend, Florence Boven took mee there 2 meet the famous Gypsey. She had been friends w/Him 4 many years. Played w/Her band @ the House, & indulged in "Festivities" @ His bar also. (No 1 has mentioned Gypseys after hour bar located in the basement). I cried w/My Mom called Mee 2 inform Mee of Jack's passing. & 2 day as I read the memories I cry again. But not 4 sadness. 4 the Joy of the Memories.
    But, Flo said: January, U want 2 meet Gypsey Jack & go N2 His Home??? Well, We'll go. This afternoon after supper. But We must bring something of "Homage" w/Us 4 Him.
    Florance rummaged through some things & decided on a "Funky" wrieth you'd hang on your front door @ Christmas. We had recently saved it from a trash can.
    I thought that was a weierd way 2 meet some-1. You know, giving garbage 2 a person U have been intrigued w/4-ever. Hahaha.... But Flo Knew Her stuff.
    That w/the Best Day N My life. Getting 2 meet Gypsey Jack & being invited N2 His Home. I got the Ultimate Tour.
    That w/when He had His Black flat-bed truck, w/the red rim's & the smoke-stacks.
    He sung Happy Birthday w/Mee & My girlfriend Jennifer & My Daughter Aura. (She w/1yr.) @ "Ol Franks Bar on franklin ave. Gypsey just happened 2 B there. My step-father, Mike, says Gypsey used 2 ride His Harley down Lewis st. wearing Only His CowBoy Hat & Boots!!
    4 All Those who Looted His place after He passed I hope it w/2 keep His Memory Alive. Because I know that B4 Any of Us were informed of His death His surviving family had already STOLEN anything the market considered valuable.
    Wee Miss U Gypsey Jack
    But wee will Never 4getU....

  31. A friend of mine used to live on Indiana, between Olive, and the road that runs next to Brown's. We walked up to Jenny's lounge a few times, and would walk by Gypsy Jack's place. One night my friend was walking home, and found Jack laying intoxicated in a snow drift, and under his Xmas tree. Now this was March, and I guess he had decided it was time to take out the tree. My friend helped him up and back inside. The place has been picked over by relatives and looters since he passed. Speaking of the East side, does anyone remember the crazy white haired santa looking guy who would scream at cars, and give the Heil Hitler salute? I remember seeing him around the area or Dort, and Davison.

  32. I remember Adolf Moses. Does anyone remember Roast Beef? An older gentleman who lived in a group home - I think on Jane or Hamilton. He would always stop us on the way to Gil's IGA. He would tell us the exact same story each time. He said he went to the Statue of Liberty and climbed the stairs to the top where he would get a roast beef sandwich for $.35 and coffee for a dime.

  33. Wow, Gypsy Jack. I met him at the Varsity drive- in back in the late 60's. I was a starry eyed teenager, fascinated by his Harley, and his wild appearance. He evntually asked me to go for a bike ride, I was nervous, so had my best friend follow us in her car. He was such a GENTLEMAN. Treated me with the utmost respect. The cops at the Varsity thought he was trash, judging by appearance only. They, however were the ones who were wrong. Have always loved Harleys and strange guys ( Ha) ever since. Too bad about his house being looted, no respect out there for people anymore.

  34. Just stumbled upon this site. What a flashback. I lived exactly 1 block north of "Gypsies" house from 1971 to 1980. As a young child he would let us play "Cowboys and Indians" in his yard, this was before he enclosed his back yard. I remember pretending to tie off my imaginary horse to the post by his back porch.
    As I got a little older I sometimes cut what little grass he had in return for being able to hang out.
    I remember that in his basement he also had a room with a coffin in it. He also had a mock teller station to cash in your gold.
    Gypsy had hundreds of interesting stories of his life, I also got to witness a couple of them first hand.
    I also know the true story of the 2 (yes 2) cannons he had. One sat in the corner of his yard and the other on his porch roof.
    What a wonderful place the Eastside used to be.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at www.teardownbook.com.