Ham hobby keeps Scott City couple close

Monday, January 5, 2009

When John Frye of Scott City decided to earn an amateur radio operator's license in 1958, his wife, Irma Frye, had five children to look after. She didn't mind the hobby.

Amateur radio operators are nicknamed "hams." In 1998, well after their children were grown, Irma Frye studied to become a ham, learning Morse code well enough to transmit five words a minute.

"It's a way of making friends. Hams are usually willing to do anything to help you," she said. "It's more than a hobby, it's a way of helping people. We need more of that."

The Fryes belong to the Southeast Missouri Amateur Radio Operators Club. Irma, 73, is the treasurer, but spent much of 2008 as acting club secretary, too. In December, club members voted her Ham of the Year.

These days the Fryes keep busy using the Internet and communicating with other hams. They will be ready in an emergency, Irma Frye said.

"I hope we never have anything bad," she said, "but we don't know the future."

It's easier to get a ham license these days because the Morse code requirement has been dropped, she said. Several nurses recently signed up for the club's free classes.

The hams meet at 7 p.m. today in the basement of the Cape Girardeau County administration building, 1 Barton Square, Jackson, and will plan training sessions for future hams. The meeting is open to the public.

"We welcome new members," she said. "In case of emergency we might be the only ones who can communicate."

In addition to five grown children ranging in age from 45 to 54, Irma and John Frye have 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. None have picked up the radio hobby. Yet.

Volunteers are being recruited to tell stories during the 2009 tourist season at the Red House Interpretive Center, 128 Aquamsi St., on Cape Girardeau's riverfront.

Margaret Dement, who coordinates the center's publicity, said docents must be 21 or older, prompt and interested in local history, but wouldn't have to be on duty every weekend.

"It would be very flexible. Right now we're planning on being open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.," she said. "Later in the spring we'll know if we'll be open during the week or not."

Depending on the number of volunteers, training will be done individually or with small groups with videos and scripts, she said.

Docents dress in period costumes, and some are available. They welcome visitors and tell stories of Cape Girardeau history illustrated by the Red House items and the riverfront as it was when Meriwether Lewis and William Clark blew through town back in 1803.

To get the details on training and volunteering, call Dement at 334-6954 or e-mail her at mrdement@bigrivertel.net. For special preseason tours, call the Convention and Visitors Bureau at 573-335-1631.

The Cape Girardeau County road and bridge advisory board meets at 7 p.m. today to elect officers and start planning for 2009 hard surfacing. They'll also likely talk about the county commission's discussion this morning on suspending chip-and-seal paving for at least one year. The advisory board meets in a second-floor conference room of the county administration building, 1 Barton Square, Jackson.

Speaking of the county, Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones celebrated his 69th birthday Sunday.

Questions, suggestions or tips for Lost on Main Street? E-mail pmcnichol@semissourian.com or call 573-388-3646.

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