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     Andy Staley's Trip to Find Major Dinkins

      Well, I had heard from Carl Voelker about a year ago and he told me that he had been to see Major (Mr.?) Chaplin Dinkins on a then recent trip to Dunnellon, Florida.  Since I now live in Temple Terrace, which is a suburb of Tampa, I knew that Dunnellon was not that far away and made plans to go see him.  As things often do, the plans went awry for a year, but I still felt the strong urge to go and see if he was still around.  Little was I to know the emotional adventure that lay ahead.

      I remembered Carl saying that he owned a store and I recollected that the name was "Dinkins Feed Store".  I went to the good ole' internet, used the superpages for Dunnellon, and was pleased to see that there was indeed a listing for Dinkins Service Store at 11907 N. Williams Road, Dunnellon, FL   34432.  Once again I let time pass, but I kept the internet page printout in my briefcase and it kept haunting me every time I saw it, and I knew it would happen some day.

      Then, about six weeks ago I was pleasantly surprised to hear that there were some attendees trying to locate a lot of people and I got involved with my old buddy Tim Tyndall.  Now, I knew that Tim and Maj. Dinkins had a great relationship back in the sixties (and nobody can do a Dinkins impersonation like Tim).   When the May 19th get-together in Jacksonville was announced, I knew I couldn't go without having been to find out about Maj. Dinkins.  So, the plan was set in place and I was pleased to hear that my wife, Nancy, was willing to travel the 2 hours to Dunnellon with me.  We decided to go on Saturday morning, May 12th.

      Going to a feed store, we felt pretty comfortable going there in my pickup truck.  I knew we would blend in well.  A breakfast at Cracker Barrel and a couple of hours later we found ourselves in Dunnellon, pulling into Dinkins Service Store, an "old Florida" storefront on the main street of Dunnellon.

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At this point I should tell you that I didn't know if the 2 hour drive had been in vain because he may not have been around any more.  I know I should have called ahead, but I wanted to put off any inevitable bad news as long as possible.  I was very nervous as I stepped into the open front door of the non-air conditioned, wooden-floor building.  The store is pretty good in size and has quite an old-Florida charm to it.  The store was a quiet as you would imagine such a place, but neat as a pin.  Immediately to the right there was a counter with a young man standing behind it.  There were pots or other paraphernalia hanging in front of the checkout counter, mostly hiding the form of another person.  I stepped further in the store, around the corner of the checkout counter and saw Chaplin Dinkins standing there conversing with the young man behind the counter.  You have to believe me; there was absolutely no mistaking that it was him.  He really has changed very little and I felt like I had been thrown back in time.

      I turned to my wife, who was following me, and quietly said, "That's him" and pointed with a nod of my head.  I stepped toward him and he looked in my direction, prepared to answer a customer's question.  I could tell that he didn't recognize me, but that is not surprising after 33 years.  I smiled a little and said, "Mr. Dinkins?"  (I don't know why I asked that, it was obviously him)  He looked at me a little quizzically, surprised that someone he didn't recognize was calling him by name, and answered, "Yes."  I said, "I'm Andy Staley....." and before I could say, "...from Florida Military School" it was obvious that everything fell into place for him.  His jaw dropped briefly before he broke into a big grin and reached for my hand to shake it.  The handshake lasted about a half of a second before we were in an emotional embrace.

      I broke the hug and turned and introduced my wife.  He took her hand in both of hers and said, "Nancy, you know all of those terrible things he's been telling you?  Well, they're all true!" and he chuckled that same old Dinkins-chuckle where the shoulders shake a little and he almost snorts a laugh.  I really was back in the 60's for a second!  There were tears coming to both of our eyes, but, being manly men we never really cried.

      I won't regale you with a sentence-by-sentence diatribe of who said what and who responded how, mainly because I can't remember all of it.  I do know that the store became quite busy and he obviously, and rightfully, placed customer service above digging up bones.  There was the typical, "How have you been" "Fine" "What are you doing these days" "Do you hear from anyone else".  I did ask how he ended up in Dunnellon and he said that this was an old family business and it was always the plan for him to come run the store when his dad retired.  The store has been there, under the Dinkins', since 1928.

       I had taken printouts from Tim's and my websites and shared those with him.  I suspect he has looked at the lists of cadets and reminisced quite a bit.  I asked him if he had email or internet access and he said, "Oh, no, we don't have any of that", speaking as if the internet was the demon seed.   That's unfortunate for us, but I really hope that you can drop him a note when you get a chance to the store's address above.  I am sure he would love to hear from you.

      As I said, the store was getting pretty busy and I could tell he really was torn on spending time with me and conducting business, so I relieved him of his anxiety by telling him we had to leave.  I insisted on a couple of photographs before we left so I would be able to share them with everyone on the website, so we stood at the store entrance, letting a customer or two pass by, and snapped a couple of pictures.

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      Alas, it was time to leave.  As much as I wanted to sit around with him for a couple of hours saying, "Do you remember when....." and "I wonder whatever happened to......", it was not going to happen.   Even though I didn't get to spend as much time with him as I would have liked, I really cherish the few minutes we had.  As I shook his hand to leave I said, "I just HAD to come see you and let you know that life for me has turned out very good and you were a large part of making that happen."

      Then it was in the truck and heading back home.  The down-side is I can tell you about every antique store and junk yard on US Hwy 41 between Dunnellon and Tampa, but that's another story.