Thursday, March 31, 2011

Article 3

Ralph Ugo, Leader and Friend
By Candice Black

            Ralph Ugo is an Army veteran, a Gulf War survivor, a Purple Heart receiver, a pastor, a former teacher, the founder of C.A.Y.A. ministries in Dallas, Georgia, and a true man of God.
            Born in Nigeria on December 31st, 1948, Ugo remembers his childhood fondly, despite coming from a small impoverished village.
            “I grew up in a difficult environment,” he said. “We didn’t even have shoes. I remember walking home from school and the ground was so hot that we looked for any shade to step in. In spite of that, I remember it being fun, my time growing up as a young child.”
            Ugo has an especial fondness for soccer, which didn’t come without consequences during his childhood.
            “We would use anything that was a little bit soft as a soccer ball,” he said. “I would spend my time playing soccer instead of what I was supposed to be doing. I got a lot of spankings for that,” he laughs.
            Ugo attended college in Madrid, Spain, where he studied photojournalism. Even though this did not pan out into a career, due to the immigration policies in this field, he still has a love for photography.
            Ugo met his wife Marie in Madrid during his time in college. A Queens, New York native, Marie was on a study-abroad program in Spain from St. Louis University. On her own in Europe, and just 18 years old, Marie was uneasy about being around men.
            But when she met the charming and polite young man in a restaurant, she struck up a conversation with him and his friend.
            “His friend did more talking than he did,” Marie said. “Actually, his friend took my number. My husband was just kind of like peering at me, like, who is this girl from New York?”
            For seven days, Ugo persisted calling the young lady from Queens. On the seventh day, Marie finally decided to accept her suitor’s call.
            “He asked me on a date,” she said. “He was so polite, opening doors for me, and doing all the right things to impress me. But that’s how he really was. And that just began everything.”
            Ugo traveled to Germany where he received his coaching license, and continued the passion for soccer from his youth. He became a semi-professional soccer player for his home country of Nigeria.
He even received a nickname for his superb soccer skills. “They called him ‘Torture Pelé,” laughs Marie, referring to Brazilian soccer champion Pelé.
In December of 1979, Ugo was able to come to America with his wife. He joined the United States Army, with which he served for 20 years.
            During the Gulf War, Ugo was the only member of his unit to be sent to Saudi Arabia. “My husband went to the bathroom to take a shower. He stuck his hand in the water, and it was cold, so he went back to the open bay. And that’s when the sirens went off.”
            A scud missile had hit the building, and the bathroom collapsed, burying Ugo underneath the rubble. The only man under the running water of the shower was electrocuted to death.
            “If that water had not been cold,” said Marie, tearing up, “my husband would have been in that shower, and he would have been dead too.”
             Although he buried beneath a building, bleeding profusely, with a collapsed lung and shrapnel in his body, Ugo never went unconscious, nor never needed blood transfusions in the aftermath of his injury.
            Upon digging himself from beneath the debris, he saw flames and a frantic swarm of people. While others were screaming, crying, and cursing, Ugo began to exclaim, “Thank you, God,” in his gratitude to have survived the attack.
            “He repeated it so much, that others began to say it with him,” said Marie.
            Even with a large piece of flesh hanging from his side, Ugo picked himself up and began to load injured people into Red Cross trucks.
            “My husband cares so much about people,” said Marie. “He had no sensation [of his injury]. He didn’t even know he was injured.” A look of amazement passes her face. “How could you not know that? It was because God was protecting him.”
            After the war, Ugo appeared on The 700 Club for Veteran’s Day. In full military dress, he gave his testimony about his miraculous experience. He was chosen for this opportunity in part for receiving a Purple Heart.
The Ugos have two children and five grandchildren. Ugo’s daughter Ebony David, a freelance writer and mother of four, remembers her parents never hesitating to lend a helping hand to anyone.
             “Our house was always welcome to other people,” she said. “[My parents] are constantly giving. From letting people stay at our house that they didn’t know from Adam, I saw it constantly growing up. It was never alarming. It really resonated with my brother and me how selfless they are.”
            While the family was living in Korea during Ugo’s military career, David’s brother made friends with a young man with whom he caused trouble in high school, and had to stay behind in Korea when the Ugos moved back to the United States.
            “When they got back,” David said, “[my brother’s friend] asked if he could stay with us. And he lived with us for a year.”
            The Ugos gave the young man direction and guidance during his stay. “My dad had rules,” said David. “If you want to live in the house, you have to go to church on Sundays.”
            Skeptical about God, but willing to follow the rules, the young man began to turn his life around by following the Ugos’ example.
            “He saw their lives, and it really changed him,” David said. “He was not on good terms with his parents, and my dad became like a father to him.”
            After serving 20 years in the military, Ugo’s retirement ceremony was held in Ft. McPherson Army Base in 2000.
            “Before his military service ended,” Marie said, “he told God, ‘When I finish my 20 years with Uncle Sam, I’m dedicating the rest of my life to you’.”
            With a love for missions work, having done mission throughout his entire military career, Ugo began to pray for direction on what to do. In a dream from God, he received revelation to start a ministry. In 2002, Come As You Are Ministries, also known as CAYA, came into inception. 
            CAYA ministers to low-income citizens, assisting them with paying bills, delivering food and clothing, and spiritual counseling. The ministry has also officiated funerals and marriages, and given counseling to single parents.
            “What I have learned from life,” Ugo said, “is that everybody needs somebody, no matter how rich or poor you are. Ralph is somebody who is always in need. My intelligence, my ability, they can only go but so far. They can always run aground. That has driven me more to be more dependent on God.”
            CAYA’s mission work is currently in Kenya, for the fifth year. Outside of Nakuru, CAYA has built Happy Revival Church and is in the process of building a school.
            In Kenya, the ministry has established medical and feeding programs for adults and children. Money from the ministry has helped to build businesses for people to have jobs and establish themselves.
            Tony Calhoun, a close friend of the Ugos and member of CAYA, testifies to Ugo’s generous nature.
            “He has a total dedication to the ministry,” Calhoun said. “Every year he manages to give away between 700 and 1,000 Thanksgiving dinners.”
            Two or three times year, Ugo collects donations of furniture and appliances and organizes a charity event. “It’s like a free yard sale,” Calhoun explains. “It really brings the community together. What’s leftover, he donates to the Warehouse of Hope.”
            At these events, Ugo transforms them into a community block party, providing hamburgers and hot dogs to participants and holding raffles for the larger items, such as living room suits.
            “I’ve seen him lead a lot of people to Christ,” said Calhoun. “He shares the gospel wherever he goes.”
            Though Ugo has come a long way from his humble beginnings, he has not lost his humility and modest nature.
            “I try to divorce myself from thinking that Ralph has done something,” he said. “I want to make sure that everything I do, I realize it is God that is doing it. It’s not because Ralph is so good.
“If you got to know me, you would think, ‘That’s not the man that everybody thinks is great.’ I cannot say that this is what I’ve done that makes me great, because it is God that is doing it through me.”

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Article 2

Photo credit: Joe Pape (
Pinball Wizards
By Candice Black
The days of coin-operated arcade games seem to have been long forgotten about, but one group in Atlanta hopes to revive the lost art of pinball.
“I hated pinball when I was kid,” said John Latimer of Dawsonville. “I couldn’t stand the bells and chimes. But when the early ‘80s brought BlackOut, Firepower, and Eight Ball Deluxe, and  they talked, I was hooked.”
            Latimer, a customer care representative, cofounded the Georgia Pinball Appreciation Society, along with Akzo Nobel Coatings senior technical representative Joe Pape.
GAPAS began as a trading and selling website for machines, with listings for pinball parties and auctions.  Today it also serves as a message board for “pinheads”, as they’ve coined themselves, to talk about anything pinball-related.
“GAPAS was started with John having access to web host through UGA,” said Pape, “and I had a list of about 30 pinball collectors’ email addresses in the Atlanta area. John designed the site and I contacted everyone with the link. I put up on GAPAS the first invite to my first pinball party.”  
            Latimer estimates that GAPAS currently has around 100 members.
             But with all the advancements in modern gaming, why pinball?
For some “pinheads”, pinball holds an element of nostalgia. David Spake, an IT contract recruiter in Atlanta and owner of seven machines, remembers his first pinball machine, a Captain Fantastic that was waiting for him on Christmas morning when he was young.
            “Bands on tour would come through and stop by the house to play pinball,” he recalls. “I remember my sister and her friends having sleepovers, and they would have a pinball competition. She would play [the machine] with her feet, and still beat them.”
            Spake learned of GAPAS in 2002 through an advertisement for a pinball and video game auction. It was here where he learned of a group for collectors. Since then, Spake has hosted annual parties for his fellow pinheads.
            With 54 years of pinball experience, retired Air Force officer Carl Lizza still fondly remembers the first time he played pinball with his grandfather. Lizza was just 4-years-old when he joined his grandfather at a local “beer joint” to earn money by playing pinball.
            “In those days, the bar paid off when you won,” said Lizza. “After a while the bartender told my grandpa I could come in the bar, but 'no more pinball for him'. I won him too much money!”
            Lizza, whose family was in the vending and gaming business, received his first pinball machine, an Olde King Cole (one of the first pinball machines to have flippers) in 1957 for his 5th birthday. He now owns six machines, three of which are vintage.
            “Having the game room takes me back to days spent as a kid on military bases in Europe,” said George Hay, a GAPAS member and owner of 10 machines. “I’d play some 45s [vinyl records] and some pinball. Maybe that’s what I really get out of it.” 
            For others, the hobby is an addiction.
            Jeff Stoutamyer of Atlanta has turned the basement of his home into “Jeff’s Pinball Palace”, which even has its own website. The “palace” currently holds 32 pinball machines and is the site of Stoutamyer’s annual pinball parties.
Stoutamyer’s pinball obsession began innocently. “I lived in a house with an unfinished basement for 10 years,” he said. “I thought I’d put in a pool table. After it was completed and furnished, I decided the room was a little sparse and that it could use something, maybe a pinball machine.”
Stoutamyer purchased his top choice machine, Theatre of Magic, and describes himself as “mesmerized” by it.
With room for more, he purchased his second machine, an Addams family, and realized he spent more time with the pinball machines than the pool table he originally wanted.
“I dreamed of how many machines I could fit if I got rid of the pool table,” he said, “so I did. Many people self describe the pinball collecting process as an addiction. For me, this was quickly becoming the case, too.”
            “Gaming doesn’t interest me much,” said Stoutamyer. “I feel that is mostly a matter of luck, and the odds are against winning in the long haul. Pinball is therapeutic for me. The reward from having a good game after four or five bad ones is a kick.”
Latimer also disregards video games for their lack of entertainment value.
“Pinball is chaos,” he said. “While you can memorize shots, every game will be different, unlike [video games].
“The best thing is when kids gather around to watch me play. I always leave a couple of games for them to play and tell their parents to keep pinball alive.”
            There also seems to be a creative aspect to this hobby, from customizing machines to caring for broken-down ones and giving them new life.
            “Some people like beat-up old cars,” explained Spake. “They want to get it running and make it perfect. When you’re poor,” he laughed, “you can afford the broken machine and make it work.”
            “I like fixing things,” Pape agreed. “I enjoy the satisfaction of taking something apart, replacing broken stuff, putting it back together, and watching it come to life. Video games never break. I have two left from once a collection of maybe six or more, and they don’t have parts that readily break, which is no fun for me.”
            Others enjoy modifying their machines to their own personal tastes.
            Stoutamyer modifies his pins “to the max.” Such modifications include adding spotlights, toys, illuminated backboards, mirror-polished balls, gun handles to control flippers, sound and hardware upgrades, and replacing the glass with a no-glare glass.
            The world of pinball is also an opportunity for new friendships.
            At first, Stoutamyer was hesitant to take his GAPAS connections offline. “It felt scary at first to consider driving to a party hosted by strangers,” he said. “But they were fun and everyone was nice to me, a total stranger. Having broken the ice, I continued this pattern and started making some good friends.”
            For Spake, it was this social interaction that sparked his interest in GAPAS. “I joined for the comradery and meeting people with like interests. I have friendships with a group of people I wouldn’t have met in my daily life.”
            So what makes a pinball machine enjoyable?
            Spake expresses an interest in the Monster Bash machine. “It has multiple rim shots, and it said clever things,” he said enthusiastically. “The game itself has a campy feel to it. It takes primary movie monsters and puts them in a rock band. The animations are very funny.”
             Latimer was drawn to pinball machines of all kinds. “I’ll play any pin at least once. Just seeing one will make me put money in and play.”
            Entertainment value is at the top of Lizza’s list of qualities. “It has to be interesting and fun to play,” he stressed. “Then comes challenge, complexity, and theme.”
            “What I look for are a deep rule set,” said Stoutamyer, “and most importantly it has to be fun. If it doesn't get me excited, why buy it? My suggestion is to be sure and give a certain machine anchor shake before making up your mind.”
            He claimed the “untamed” Simpsons Pinball Party as his favorite. “It has a very complex set of rules and can never be tamed. And very funny sound bites.”
            Hay owns a 1967 Bally Wiggler, a machine he played as a child. “It’s a little beat and it doesn’t look that great, but it has a zipper flipper and three-ball multi-ball in a four-player game.  Ya gotta love it.”