The Colgate Scene
November 2004

People on the go
Tim Walsh
Tim Walsh '87
[Photos courtesy of Tim Walsh]

Don't say no to Tim Walsh '87.

It won't do you any good. The game inventor and author has an uncanny ability to turn rejection into opportunity.

Consider this: in 1990, he and two Colgate classmates -- Ed Muccini and Dave Yearick -- invented a board game called TriBond. It was initially turned down by every major toy company in America. To date, the game, which was recently picked up by Mattel, has sold more than 3 million copies in 13 countries. In 1994, another of Walsh's games, Blurt!, received a thumbs-down from the top toy people, but has sold more than a million copies and was also eventually picked up by Mattel.

Walsh's travails in the world of toys sparked his curiosity about the origins of some of our most enduring playthings. The result: a coffee-table book that tells the behind-the-scenes stories of 75 top toys of the 20th century and the people who invented them.

And, you guessed it, The Playmakers: Amazing Origins of Timeless Toys has so far been rejected by the major book publishers. That hasn't stopped Walsh, who self-published the book that took him nearly three years to complete.

"I took my time, talked to everyone I needed to talk to, and sought out all the rare toys I needed to find. I already had quite a few stories of people in their kitchens or basements inventing these classic toys," said Walsh.

He conducted some 150 interviews by phone and in person. He researched patents, hired a designer and a photographer, and tracked down folks like Norman Stingley, who invented the Super Ball -- "the most fantastic ball ever created by science." Stingley mentioned to Walsh that he had recently moved to a new house in California, and while gardening out back he found a Super Ball.

About four weeks after the interview, Walsh received a brown envelope with no postmark. Inside was the Super Ball Stingley had found, much like the one Walsh had told the inventor he used to play with as a kid.

"He doesn't know how much of my childhood he stuffed in that envelope. I was immediately sent back to when I was bouncing my Super Ball over my house."

Walsh also talks about the origins of everything from Play-Doh to the Slinky to Monopoly to Uno. Publishers Weekly has called it a "fun book that feels like it should accompany a museum exhibition."

Why this fascination with toys? Walsh said he grew up in a middle-class family of six kids who enjoyed sports. But if the Wiffle ball splintered or the basketball popped, they were on their own for entertainment.

"All of a sudden it was, what game could we make up with a deflated basketball?"

Now Walsh is working on a screenplay about his experience playing in 1988 for the Indianapolis Clowns -- the baseball equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters. He has been told that the Clowns, originally part of the Negro League, was one of the last barnstorming baseball teams in America.

In addition, Walsh, Yearick, and Muccini may be testing new versions of TriBond with Mattel soon, and they are trying to sell a TV game show. He said the trio is a bit like a rock band, working together to some degree while pursuing solo projects. Yearick has invented the games This Vs. That and Kuduuk; Muccini, an attorney in New York City, has a cartoon he's trying to get placed.

Walsh, who has been touring the country to market The Playmakers, has a couple of nibbles from big publishers.

If the publishers say no, it's no big deal. He has faced -- and overcome -- that before. And once The Playmakers hits, Walsh says he'll probably go back to inventing more fun and games. — Tim O'Keeffe

Vietnam Children's Fund board member Tom Kennedy '53 officially hands over a new school in Phu Da to its administrators. [Photos courtesy of Khoa Kennedy]

Kennedy, always seeking out little hands to shake.

In 1978, ten years after losing his parents and five siblings to a grenade blast as they were huddled in the cellar of their farmhouse in the Vietnamese village of Phu Gia, Khoa Bui landed on the shores of Malaysia as one of the thousands of "boat people" looking to escape political turmoil in Vietnam.

At about the same time, Tom Kennedy '53 was at home with his family when his wife, Joan, raised the idea of adopting a Vietnamese child. The family embraced the idea and, just one year after his arduous voyage to Malaysia, Khoa was living with the Kennedys in Basking Ridge, N.J. He was adopted soon thereafter.

"He was a blessing to our family," said Kennedy. "From day one, he was a son to us and a brother to our children."

Khoa's adjustment to suburban American life was slow at first -- he slept on the floor so that he wouldn't dirty the sheets -- but in time he embraced his new country.

"Little by little, I was amazed by how America is so free," said Khoa, an IT professional living in Worcester, Mass., with his wife, Maria, and their son, Charles. The location is ideal for Tom and Joan, adoring grandparents who now live in Hampton Falls, N.H.

Over the years, the Kennedys searched for ways to honor Khoa's parents and siblings. Naturally, they were enthusiastic when, in 1999, Tom's friend Pat Lomma, a Vietnam veteran, told them about the Vietnam Children's Fund, which since 1994 has been building new Vietnamese schools in memory of those lost in the war.

Working with considerable help from the VCF, the Kennedys raised enough money to build not one school but two -- one west of Danang in Khoa's hometown of Phu Gia and another near Hue in the small town of Phu Da. In the spring of 2003, Tom and Khoa made the long trip -- by plane, boat, bus, canoe, and foot -- to be on hand for the dedication of the two schools, which now serve about 900 students.

"When we arrived at the school we were overcome by about 150 smiling students," said Kennedy. "As we toured through the school, joy radiated through the classrooms -- it's a joy that will remain with me for the rest of my life."

Kennedy speaks with purpose about the need for the schools, citing the urgency with which new schools must be built in order to meet the needs of the next generation of Vietnamese children. "Twenty-six schools have been built since 1994, and the aim is to build one for each Vietnamese province, bringing the total to 64," said Kennedy, who notes that six schools are currently under construction.

"He is so genuine and sincere about how he wants to help," said Khoa, who was impressed by how the Phu Gia students embraced his father. "The children just loved him. They didn't even speak the same language, but they understood that he cares."

Kennedy's enthusiasm for the school-building project hasn't gone unnoticed by the VCF leadership, who invited him to sit on the board of directors -- which includes Terry Anderson, the former Associated Press Beirut bureau chief who was held hostage for seven years, and Air Force captain and former prisoner of war Pete Peterson -- earlier this year.

"I've found that each school built is a wonderful gesture of reconciliation between America and Vietnam," said Kennedy. "There is a great sense of camaraderie being forged."

Khoa agrees.

"In a time when our country is once again at war," he said, "this project shows that the two countries can find common ground." — Charlie Melichar

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