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Meet Jeff Caminsky

Jeff Enters the Universe

First Day of School

Jeffrey Wallace Caminsky was born in a brick-and-mortar hospital in Detroit, Michigan in November, 1951, the eldest son of Wallace and Alice Caminsky and the first grandson of immigrants from Poland and Russia named Walter and Mary Luniewski, and Wasil and Antonia Caminsky.

After living for more than two years in the northern suburb of Royal Oak, in May 1954 the family moved to Redford, Michigan on the western edge of the city. Jeff’s earliest memory is of standing across the street in a field, and being told (he presumes by someone he knew at the time) that the family would be living there before very long. His brother Chris was born later that same year, and there have been Caminskys inhabiting the western suburbs of Detroit ever since.

At the age of 4, Jeff began attending Bulman Elementary school in Fall, 1956. During the next few years he did quite well in a wide variety of subjects taught there, particularly recess, gym, and music, and received average marks in only one of his subjects—handwriting. Unfortunately, elementary school was the high water mark of his handwriting accomplishments, and his penmanship has suffered a marked deterioration in the years since.

The Young Athlete-Scholar

Future Menace on the Mound

In the summer of 1962, Jeff began another of many life-long affiliations, this one with the sport of baseball. The star pitcher for the Minor-B Orioles, he struck fear and terror into the hearts of opposing batters. This came about largely for two reasons: He could throw the ball very, very hard; and neither he, nor anyone else, had the slightest idea where it would go after he released it. In fact, he faced one of his best friends in the years to come, a future sports writer and radio talk show host, on the ball field in the very first game he pitched for the Orioles. The two boys met near home plate shortly after his new friend squared around to bunt and both boys discovered that a fast ball to the solar plexus was not a very pleasant experience.

In the Fall of 1963, Jeff began attending Lola Valley Junior High. A good, though uninspired student, he began to distinguish himself in a growing variety of subjects. Nevertheless, he found a few that he could not quite master—including arts and crafts, where his attempts at making a ceramic ash tray was rumored to have led to crafts teacher’s decision to retire at the end of the year. He did, however, have a growing affinity for music, playing in the band and orchestra, and singing with the school choir. He played tuba, string bass, and piano, and won several music awards for the tuba. But as his voice changed, he showed considerable promise as a singer, a pursuit that has lasted for his entire life. He played on the school football team, winning starting spots as a pass receiver and defensive guard, as well serving as the team’s punter, but decided after his junior high years that it was more fun to play the sport on the sandlots with his friends, rather than suffering at the hands of the grown-ups who ran the football program for the schools: He liked playing quarterback and pass receiver; and on the sandlots, the teams would actually pass the football.

By the summer of 1964, Jeff had begun to mature as a ball-player. Now the best hitter in the league, he was also throwing harder than ever and beginning to hit the plate with enough consistency to be regarded as one of the area’s most promising young pitchers. He threw his first and only no-hitter during the season, and hurled a one-hitter in the local Little League tournament for the Redford American All-Stars, a team that would boast several talented high school athletes in the years to come. In the years that followed, he would also appear in the Pony League all-star tournaments in 1965 and 1966, and the Colt League tournament in 1967, as well as winning a spot on the Redford Union High School baseball team.

The Young Musician at Camp

Women, Whining, and Song

Starting high school in the Fall of 1966, Jeff was maturing in many ways, but remained painfully shy as he struggled with the typical teenage problems of girls and adolescence. He did, however, begin to excel as a student, finishing near the top of his class in all subjects. In addition to baseball, he continued to participate in the band and choir, earning a trip to Interlochen as a member of the All State Choir in 1968. He graduated in 1969, finishing his senior year with straight A’s and moving to Ann Arbor in the fall to attend the University of Michigan, where he also made straight A’ least for his first semester, after which he realized that he could do nearly as well by attending class and otherwise goofing off (or, as he rationalized at the time, agonizing about all that was wrong in the world, and worrying how to spread Truth and Beauty throughout the Universe).

Young Know-it-all at 17

Among Jeff’s activities at Michigan was a conversion from baritone to tenor, and a four-year engagement with the Men’s Glee Club. This took him around the country and also to Europe, where the Glee Club won first place at the 1971 Llangollen music festival as the best men’s choir in the world. (Actually, a few other choirs might have something to say about that, but that was what the Glee Clubbers all said when they came home). Majoring in political science, he graduated with honors in 1973, and spent the summer gadding about Europe.

Love, Law, and the birth of Jeff the Prosecutor

After taking a semester off from school, Jeff started law school in January, 1974 and devoted the next three years to the study of law, graduating with honors from the Detroit College of Law in 1977. Jobs for young lawyers being scarce at the time, he opened his own office in Livonia, Michigan later that year, and spent the next three years in private practice, until a long-forgotten job application with the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office in downtown Detroit surfaced just at the time a county-wide hiring freeze began to thaw. He joined the staff as a fledgling prosecutor in May, 1980, and has worked there ever since, becoming a well-known and respected appellate attorney. Now an officer supervisor, he has argued hundreds of cases in the state court of appeals, more than three dozen in the state supreme court, and took one appeal all the way to the United States Supreme Court in Washington, DC. Among his unofficial functions at the office was his twelve-year term of service as the captain and manager of the office softball team, where he sported a lifetime batting average of .604 before retiring from the game and turning his attention to the sport of soccer. On the Supreme Court Steps

While a senior in law school, in 1976 Jeff happened to meet a young lady from across town named Nonie, who was also something of a musician. They soon fell in love and, after a whirlwind courtship, were married...four years later. Realizing that they each had a problem with procrastination, they resolved to work together to help one another move through life without putting things off endlessly. And they will get around to doing it, one of these days.

Shortly after Jeff and Nonie married in September of 1980, Jeff’s grandparents began to pass from the scene. Mary (called “Busia”) died just before Christmas in 1981, and Toni (“Grandma”) died just before Easter, 1982.... without ever learning that Nonie was pregnant, and that their great-grandchild would be born before the end of the year. Walter, also known as “Dziadzi,” lived to know Jason, who entered the Universe on December, 1982, as well as Julie, who was born in April, 1986. Walter died in 1991 at the age of ninety-six...almost ten years to the day after his own wife died, ten Christmases earlier.

The Author at Work

The Budding Author

While working at the prosecutor’s office, Jeff’s work in the appellate department honed his writing skills, and made him feel restless. Feeling constrained by the often-ponderous style or legal writing he confronted every day, he began to turn each of his briefs and pleadings into writing exercises, trying to find new or creative ways of expressing himself in his work. Sensing that judges and their law clerks would not appreciate lawyers who took too many artistic liberties, however, his mind soon returned to a project he first conceived during college—an epic science fiction adventure story, set many years in the future.

Beginning to jot notes or write short scene sketches on his lunch hours in 1981, the project soon took on a life of its own, growing far beyond its original conception and requiring many hours of thinking and writing and an endless stream of discarded early drafts. Finally beginning to take shape in 1983, the book quickly took the working title of The Guardians of Peace. Part I, originally called “Loomings,” was completed in 1984; Part II, called “Storm Clouds,” was finished in 1989. These two books would come to be called The Sirens of Space and The Star Dancers respectively. Part III, originally called “War” and later renamed Clouds of Darkness, was interrupted by Jeff’s Supreme Court adventure in 1992, and was not finished until the following year. The concluding episode, Part IV, has always been called The Guardians of Peace, and was finished in early 1994. After spending a decade trying to get someone to read his manuscript, Jeff decided in early 2006 to stop relying upon others and to explore the possibility of releasing his books himself. Later that year, he formed a publishing company he named the New Alexandria Press, after the capital city on the home planet of the protagonist of his first books, and began the slow, laborious process of bringing his work to print.

Jeff the Ref

World Cup Rejects

In the 1970s, Jeff’s mother started teaching classes in English as a second language at the Redford Union Schools. One of her students, an renowned soccer player from Malaysia, invited Jeff to join a men’s soccer team. Jeff, ever the would-be athlete, eagerly accepted...and quickly became the weakest player on the team, owing to the fact that Americans simply did not play soccer at the time. He persisted, improving to the point of showing occasional and ever-more-frequent flashes of mediocrity, but family concerns soon intervened and, with a number of other interests competing for his attention, he soon he found himself unable to stay focused enough to remain on the team.

A few years later, after Jason was old enough, Jeff and Nonie enrolled Jason in the local youth soccer program; Julie followed in due course, a few years later. Both parents helped coach as the kids progressed through the ranks, and after Jason turned 13 he and his naive parents enrolled in a soccer referee class, hoping to help Jason earn some extra money. Their first season together they spent much of the summer doing adult women’s games, invariably making the women gush over how cute it was for their referee crew to come from one family. Over the next few years they often refereed together as a crew—Jeff usually in the middle, with Jason and Nonie along the sidelines. Soon, Jeff was doing high school and adult men’s games, while the saner members of his family stuck with less dangerous pursuits.

By his second year as an official, Jeff was asked to be the referee assignor for his local soccer club—either from an accident of timing or a lack of discretion: He was once overheard complaining about the fact that there seemed to be a lot of games taking place without officials at the fields, and then happened to miss the meeting the club was deciding on a replacement for the old assignor, who was stepping down. By dumb luck, the local club happened to include the Michigan Wolves and Hawks, a nationally-ranked club that hosted some of the best youth soccer in the entire state. With well-honed instincts for self-preservation and no alternative but to do many top-level games out of sheer necessity, his reflexes on the field slowly began to improve, and before long he was a recognized and welcomed face at most local fields—recognized as the man responsible for anything that was going wrong with the officials, and welcomed to try explaining to one side or the other (invariably the losing team) why the officials had cost them the game. Over time, though, the local program managed to establish a measure of order and civility at their games. Jeff always enjoyed working with kids, whether as a coach or a referee, and he helped give many young people their first jobs as officials at the local fields. With the help of a growing number of adult officials, some of whom he recruited to the club, the younger officials seemed to be thriving, and Jeff had the privilege of working with and helping to mentor a large number of gifted young officials—some of whom are on now their way to becoming National Referees.

Jeff the Ref

As the years passed, Nonie and Jason lost interest in officiating. As the father of two teenagers, however, Jeff had a number of natural advantages as an official, and for some reason being screamed at by irrational people never seemed to bother him. Within a few years he had advanced to upper division matches, and was promoted to the rank of state referee—a tribute more to his stubbornness and capacity to withstand abuse than to any small gifts he possessed as an official.

After many years of running up and down the pitch, and being on-call whenever a game was short of officials, Jeff began considering easing up some of his soccer activities and concentrating more of his attention on his other interests. He stepped down as the club assignor in 2005, and began to consider whether to move to “emeritus” status as an official, concentrating less on and more on teaching some of the younger officials. He became an assignor that same year,and over the winter decided (with a big push from his wife, who was worried about keeping him busy and out of trouble) to write down some of his thoughts and ideas about soccer, learned mostly by trial and error (mostly error) over the years, to try to convey to beginning officials some of the concepts they would need to master to succeed as referees. The ideas grew into a book, entitled The Referee’s Survival Guide, which became the first book published under the imprint of New Alexandria Press.

At the end of the 2006 season, Jeff became a state referee emeritus, and is also a referee assessor.

A Family of Troubadors

Music is an important part of life with the Caminskys, and Jeff and his family have always been involved in a wide range of musical activities. At a very early age, Jeff taught himself to read music, and studied piano, tuba, and string bass. He has also sung in various choruses, choirs, and ensembles throughout the years, and has been a soloist with most of the group he has performed with over the years.

The Family Singers

A basso profundo just after his voice changed, Jeff migrated from bass to baritone in high school, and began singing tenor as a freshman in college. Still possessing a three-octave vocal range, he can sing any male part from bass to counter-tenor, but due to the chronic shortage of men in most amateur musical ensembles, he has enjoyed singing tenor for the past thirty years. Beginning with the Bulman Elementary School chorus, Jeff has performed with many musical groups over the years, including the Michigan Men’s Glee Club, the Rackham Symphony Choir, and the Schoolcraft College Choral Union, and the Orchard Ridge Choral Society. He presently sings for the Madonna College Chorale, under the direction of Dr. David Wagner.

The rest of the family is equally talented, if not more so: his wife, Nonie, studied trumpet at college, and now plays the hammered dulcimer and other folk instruments in her own musical group (which would probably get more gigs, if they could decide on a name for themselves). Jason, a gifted drummer, pianist, and amateur composer, is also a fine singer, and occasionally performs with his father's choir. Julie is a talented mezzo-soprano, and singing merrily away to her baby daughter Alana—who appears to have inherited the family’s lungs and decibel-production capacity; time will tell if she shares their ears and resonant voices.

Hiking in the MountainsMaking a Point

The Family Today

Jeff and Nonie presently live in Livonia, a house getting lonelier by the day: Julie married and left the nest in 2004, returning intermittently since then; Jason, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, and presently living in Ann Arbor. But the family has always loved to travel, and the newest excuses to see North America promises a host of new adventures for all of them.

Jeff and his wife have always loved camping, and many of their most memorable vacations have been camping trips—in and around Michigan, and from the hills of New England, to Colorado, Wyoming, Canada, and the Canadian Rockies en route to Alaska. Due to the miracle of modern photography, they managed to capture many of their most cherished adventures on film...providing a wealth of treasured memories for their family, and reminders of the beauty of Planet Earth for their friends. With retirement from his long-time job as a Wayne County prosecutor coming in early 2009, he is looking forward to having time to share with friends and family...getting the chance to catch up on his reading...and having time to write, travel, and explore.

Website ©2009 by Jeffrey Caminsky