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Training, Credentials, Awards and accomplishments
Boot Training: After the vision, (the dream) was created in my heart, I headed off to spend the winter of ‘74 in Lynn, Massachusetts, attending the Lynn Independent Industrial Shoemaking School. The director of the school, Ben Tenagalia, was supportive and sensitive to my needs (actually he told me that I was crazy wanting to be a custom bootmaker). There were 18 instructors, with all of them having spent a lifetime in shoemaking, and having a real eye and desire of doing things just right. Each of them had a wealth of information to share. I came home with certificates in a half-dozen subjects. Lynn was a cold place to spend a winter, but not as cold as being 2000 miles distant from my fiancee. We were married that August.

The winter of ‘76 was spent in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, attending the boot program at Oklahoma State Tech and coming away with a certificate as a Bootmaker. The program was conducted by Earl Bain, a peach of a guy. He loved his students, and he would bend over backward to help them any way that he could. (I encountered Earl a few years ago in Texas at a gathering of bootmakers. He had been keeping track of my progress.)

Then came the real training—the hard years of striving to solve problems, working with problem feet, trying to figure out how things really worked. Keeping sewing machines sewing. Working to understand the secrets of lasts and of patterns. A fair amount of book work.

An interesting challenge arose: There is an unwritten rule among shoemakers (which I judge to be a very stupid rule) that you don’t share what you know. And there is an old standard among shoemakers in Italy—you never teach an employee or an apprentice all of the steps involved in making a shoe because, sooner or later, that individual will open his/her own shop across the street from you and become your competition. There have been times when I have had an “old-timer” purposely give me erroneous information just to send me down a dead-end street. So, I had to carefully choose who to listen to. And I chose to set that unwritten rule aside and honor those that blessed me with their knowledge by willingly passing it along.

Teaching: By ‘82 I was feeling pretty confident (and competent) and launched into the adventure of teaching a two-week Bootmaking Seminar. It was intended to be a one-time thing, but with only a couple of small classified ads in Shoe Service Magazine, three classes were filled with registered students before the first was held! The need and potential was enormous. Kind of like what happened when I started making custom hiking boots!

From June of ‘82 through July of ‘05 (totaling 23 years) we conducted 77 two-week bootmaking seminars. The school came to be called “The R. I. Merrell Institute of Bootmaking.” Of the 422 individuals attending, 15 percent came from Canada, 15 percent were ladies, five men came from Australia at different times, and one gal came from Hong Kong. We had students take their notes in Spanish, French, Greek and so on. There were an additional seven classes of students returning for advanced studies. In time I began to question the financial viability of small custom boot shops. Yes, it can be done, but only by an individual gifted in business, in the craft, and in bio-mechanics of the foot—which is an incredibly rare individual. Secondly there was my growing understanding of the necessity of Pedorthics. With the shift of mainstream manufacturing of footwear to the Orient, footwear retailing in the U.S. was now artificially low-priced. An ever increasing number of individuals seeking custom boots were actually at my shop because of problem feet—problems that typically needed a solid understanding of the bio-mechanics and patho-mechanics of feet and legs and the solutions thereof. I just could not see how to put all this into the two-week format, and few students could attend for longer than two weeks. So the decision was made to stop while we were still strong. I lived with a secret desire that the seminars could be rekindled, which desire was dispatched when I contracted the West Nile Virus.

The 23 years teaching bootmaking was a glorious part of the Merrell career. Lots of new friends; lots of joy watching these new friends grasping new concepts and skills. Not just fun and joy for Lou Ann and I but for our four sons who were an integral part of the program as well. (Late one night during one of the courses, a student was working to get a pair of boots lasted—the leather upper stretched around the last to dry for the night—and had been struggling with a wrinkle on the toe that would just not go away. My second son, about nine or ten at the time, went into the shop to sweep and was asked, “what should I do with this wrinkle?” My son surveyed the problem and said, “first make a pull right here; then pull here.” It was done, and the wrinkle disappeared.)

We still get e-mail and phone calls with individuals hopeful that we are planning a seminar, or that I can be persuaded to teach. The answer is always “sorry.” Then the question: if not with you, who, where? We don’t keep an eye on the possibilities; we have no recommendations.

The one who learns the most is the instructor, and this was a great learning time for me. In front of a group teaching something that I am passionate about, I come alive! This is one of my gifts. Undoubtedly I have taught the art and craft (and business) of custom bootmaking to more individuals than any other single man in the U.S.

Pedorthic Training: At one point I became convinced of the necessity of including Pedorthics in my repertoire of skills. First I attended the Orthopedic Shoemakers Technician course at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, in ‘82 and became a certified OST. In ‘92 I attended a course in Parachute, Colorado, conducted by Gerhard Rill and Paulette Miller dealing with orthotics, pattern making and last making. Then came the required course work to “sit for the exam” to become a Certified Pedorthist which happened in ‘96. The real working knowledge of Pedorthics came by spending days and days “seeing patients” with Gerhard Rill in Grand Junction, Colorado, and with Peter Morin in Idaho Springs, Colorado. These two men were and are my Mentors! They have given more than they can imagine, asking nothing more than friendship in return. Another individual that greatly changed how I look at feet is Dr. Ed Glaser.

A few other significant events: With regards to my Training and Credentials, I have been invited to present/lecture at five different National Shoe Service Conventions, in Los Angeles, California; Burlingame, California; Salt Lake City, Utah; Nashville, Tennessee; and Arlington, Texas. Additionally I lectured at the 52nd Annual Symposium of the Pedorthic Footcare Association in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

An interesting sidebar: during 2011, I became trained as a “Kenisio Taper.”

For several years we enjoyed an association called CBSG, Custom Boot and Shoemakers Guild. Annually they presented the Dennis Rowley Award—essentially their “Bootmaker of the Year Award”—of which I was the first recipient. The annual CBSG convention always included competitions, of which I won first place in knife sharpening every year!

Press: Articles by and about me and my work have appeared in: Shoe Service Magazine, The Leather Crafters Journal, Backpacker Magazine, The Salt Lake Tribune, The Deseret News, several times and in our local papers, The Vernal Express and The Uintah Basin Standard. Early in ‘77 a staff writer from the Los Angeles Times flew to Vernal to interview Lou Ann and I as they had planned a feature article about Artisans and Craftsmanship. The article ran on the cover page of the paper and was picked up by United Press and subsequently reprinted in the Houston Chronicle, Arizona Republic, Minnesota Star Tribune, the Provo Herald and many others. Recently KSL TV in Salt Lake City did an article about our work for the evening news. A year ago an article that I had written appeared in Current Pedorthics.

Outside of my craft: I have been involved in Boy Scouts of America since I was a boy myself, well over 30 years tenure, having been presented with their Certificate of Appreciation, Key Scouters Award, District Award of Merit, and in 1982 I was given the Silver Beaver Award by Boy Scouts of America. In ‘2001, I was awarded Business of the Year by the local Chamber of Commerce;in ‘01 and in ‘04 given an Award of Service by the local Rotary Club, and in ‘09 was presented with the Ron Herring Award of Service by the ManKind Project.

Consulting: I don’t remember the year—a long time ago—a couple of young women from the Bay Area of California contacted me asking that I spend a few days with them teaching them what a good boot looked like and acted like. These ladies were equestrian competitors, and business consultants, and they dreamed of launching their own brand of equestrian boots which became a reality. Ariat. They have set the long-entrenched Western boot market on its ear!

Later I worked for a couple of years as a consultant for Chaco building prototypes for their first foray into what they called “closed footwear.”

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