In The Beginning

The Beginning

Richard D. Cornell was born at the tail end of 1946 in a small eastern central Illinois town, making him a charter member of the Baby Boomer generation. He was an only child, and for much of his early life his maternal grandparents lived close by. His ancestry includes English, German, Dutch and Scots Irish. In other words, Anglo-Saxon to the core. Some of the nicer adjectives used to describe him have been stubborn and hard-headed; he prefers resolute.

Some ancestral studies have suggested that his purported maternal great grandfather, 29 times removed, was instrumental in William the Conqueror’s victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, which led to his being named the Sheriff of Nottingham. History indicates that he was not very good at the job, which led to his wife, Richard’s great grandmother, also 29 times removed, riding naked through the streets to protest the heavy taxation levied by the Sheriff. That would be Lady Godiva. If true, that would also make Richard’s great uncle, eight times removed, King Henry the Eighth. Not exactly the most desirable DNA chains in the gene pool.

From early on it was reported that Richard would argue with a stump. He would not surrender an argument until he was sure that he had been proved wrong—and that occurred very infrequently. Emphatically, he was never shy about asking questions—to anyone, at any time, about anything. And he never met a stranger.

His grandfather was a carpenter and Richard frequently tagged along with him to the hardware store and lumberyard, soaking up the ambiance therein. On occasion, before he started school, he even wielded a hammer and handsaw—until his mother caught him sawing off the tails of tongue and groove sheathing boards at the edge of the roof on his grandparents’ new house. If there ever was a Norman Rockwell or Currier and Ives existence, this was pretty much it.

Just after his ninth birthday his family moved to South Florida where his parents bought a brand-new small house, in a rapidly developing neighborhood of similar tract homes, which were sprouting up like mushrooms to accommodate the droves of families escaping the northeast for the sunny climes of the Sunshine State.

As a result, there were small new houses constantly coming out of the ground around him and he had numerous opportunities, which he routinely took, to walk through once the roofs were on and the framing was in place. He quickly learned to identify the rooms by the plumbing and electrical stubs, the closet locations, and the like. He developed an affinity for the building construction process generally, and for the art of framing particularly.

As he grew up his interest in building construction faded into sports, cars, and rock ‘n’ roll. He was voted Most Talented Male at his junior high school; his reputation followed him to high school. If you needed a piano player, a guitar player, or a vocalist he was the guy to call.

After graduation from high school, he took a job with a federal government department, but it was not his cup of tea. He bounced around for a while, spending a little time here and there in retail management. Then fate stepped in, and he found himself working at a good old-fashioned independent hardware store/lumberyard (not one of those impersonal big box stores) where he, again, reconnected with the building industry—this time at the materials supply level. There followed jobs both in supply, and some construction itself—doing a little carpentry sub-contracting and the like—until the Crash in South Florida in 1974 literally overnight brought the industry to a grinding halt.

He moved to a small town in Central Florida, where his parents had been living since 1966, and briefly caught on with another family-owned local building supply complex but the construction industry crash migrated there as well, and in 1976 he found himself once again working for the federal governmental agency he had left behind 10 years before. Since it was a part time position, he usually had time to simultaneously explore other fields and, once again, the construction industry beckoned. Over a period of 20 years, at one time or another, he held building contractor licenses in three Central and South Florida counties. It also became a matter of record that he had a way with words.

This arrangement continued until 1987 when Richard decided to branch out into more artistic and interesting endeavors. He juggled free-lance writing and voice work, and occasional forays into construction, with the government job, which, had become a full time (and much more constraining) position. Concurrently, he had become involved in union representation and the enforcement of contracts. But the call of adventure prevailed and, in early 1989, he left the safe job behind to see what he might accomplish in other fields.

The next few years found him publishing pop culture and technical articles in a variety of automotive publications, producing specialty programs for radio stations, voicing TV commercials (and even appearing on camera in a couple), and working for a radio station where he was the program director and morning drive personality, as well as the news stringer covering the weekly county commission meetings.  (That was an education all its own.)  He also did a little community theatre, appearing as Lt. Schrank in a production of West Side Story.  Then, in the early Fall of 1992, fate stepped in again.

A supervisor from his old government job had moved to a much larger office in the same general area and asked Richard to come to work for him there.  With every intention of helping his old boss out for just a few months, Richard again found himself back in a familiar setting that he had never much cared for.  But this time there was a new twist.  He met a girl.  He was impressed by her work ethic, frankness, and her general approach to life.  She was industrious, independent, and self-reliant.  A strong woman.  That she was a tall attractive blue-eyed blonde did not hurt.

Joyce Ann Beck was born in 1954 in a small town near Toledo, Ohio and lived her early years on a farm. She was the baby in a family of four girls and two boys. She loved horses and Bugs Bunny. And she was German. Four quarters. One hundred percent. She was inherently shy, not comfortable in the limelight, but not in any way a pushover. Just ask Richard.
Her father died in 1961, leaving her mother, a school lunch lady, to raise six kids by herself. Joyce was seven. They had a huge garden; the kids learned the value of hard work, self-discipline, frugality, and family. She helped plant vegetables, pull weeds, and generally do her chores. Canning and freezing food was a way of life.

She was also fortunate enough to have good neighbors who took her to horse shows across the country from Ohio to Colorado and many of the states in between. She saw the spacious skies, the amber waves of rain, the purple mountain majesties, the fruited plain. Mount Rushmore, the Rocky Mountains, the Continental Divide—she saw a wide swath of the land of the free and the home of the brave. It was a similar-but-different version of Norman Rockwell/Currier and Ives Americana.

Following graduation from college, in 1976 Joyce moved to Central Florida where she went to work for a state governmental agency, and then in very late 1980 she became an employee of a federal government agency. Where, in late 1992, she became aware of a new employee who was loud, brash, and acted like he owned the place.

In 1994 Richard took Joyce out on a casual date.  It did not go well.  In late 1995 Richard was assigned to work in Joyce’s duty area.  He asked her, if he would be on his best behavior, would she go out to dinner with him.  She asked him if he even had a best behavior.  He assured her that he did.  They went to a nice restaurant in Downtown Orlando, after which they walked around nearby Lake Eola Park.  She felt comfortable enough to fall asleep on the 50-mile drive home, a completely new experience for her.  From there, things progressed rapidly.  But not until she had extracted a promise from him that he would abandon his seemingly cavalier attitude toward steady employment: he would have to settle down.

In June of 1996 they were married at Theatre Winter Haven (FL) in a play—a musical—written, produced, and directed by Richard, with the chief judge of the circuit court officiating.  The play was based on their courtship.  To tell the story Richard hired a local band of professional musicians, rented a grand piano, interspersed the live performances with recorded cuts by a wide variety of artists, and wove it all together.  The vows were both insightful and humorous, including a pause to listen to The Beatles recording of When I’m Sixty-Four.  The ceremony was attended by more than 100 of their friends, co-workers, and acquaintances—and even a few people (including the judge’s wife) who got wind of it and came out of sheer curiosity.  Some 20 years later it was still a topic of interest and animated conversation—and with good reason.

When the Judge pronounced them man and wife and invited Richard to kiss his bride, the exquisite harmonies of the Everly Brothers 1983 Reunion Concert version of ‘Til I Kissed You filled the theater.  For the next three minutes, while the newlyweds gently kissed, the audience giggled and snickered; the best man provided comic relief by fanning his handkerchief to cool off the couple.  But when Richard knelt down and kissed Joyce’s feet the crowd erupted in a collective gasp and a spontaneous outburst of unrestrained laughter and applause.  It was, without a doubt, a show, an event, but it was also the beginning of a marriage and partnership which has only grown stronger over time.

In 2002, together they designed and built a house, doing much of the interior decorating along the way themselves, with Richard functioning as the superintendent on the build—all while working a full-time job, and being a very active, aggressive, and successful union steward and officer.  (Those latter experiences taught him a considerable amount about contract construction and enforcement, a perfect fit with his penchant for argument.)

This house would come to be a very important instructive part of Richard’s assimilation of a wide variety of construction disciplines, as it was by far his most ambitious building project to date.  It was with this house that his true nature as an inventor began to really emerge—his willingness to experiment, take chances, bring together and combine elements which did not readily present themselves as compatible or harmonious.  To think outside the box, so to speak.

The house comprised about 7,000 s.f., under roof, with about 4,400 s.f. of that heated and cooled.  With an eye toward this perhaps being their forever home, R & J incorporated every aspect of planning for the future that they could muster at the time, to the degree that Richard framed in anchor blocks for grab bars in the bathrooms and showers, diagrammed them, and took photos for future reference.  This would prove to come in handy later.

As the photos in The Gallery illustrate, Richard incorporated every aspect of forward construction thinking he could muster.  Special attention was given to keeping the house free from the myriad insect infestations that regularly occur in Central Florida homes, beginning with the incredible destruction that can be had by termites.  Since termites will not climb upside down, nor will they cross a petroleum-based barrier, Richard had galvanized flashing metal bent at a 45° angle and then had it installed between the sill plates with a bead of roofing tar below and above the metal.  Once the framing was finished, Richard had a lethal dose of termite-repelling chemicals sprayed liberally inside and out.

Another scourge of Central Florida living is the wide variety of cockroaches which can seem to simply materialize out of thin air.  Conventional insulation in the area is Fiberglas batting and loose pack in the attic.  Richard chose blown in cellulose.  This is a product made from recycled newspapers and treated with boric acid.  It is non-toxic to humans and pets, but it is anathema to cockroaches and virtually all other insects.  It is dampened and blown into the cavities of the stud walls and then trimmed to make for a fully filled void, thus providing an excellent R-Value as well as insect repellant.  And it works.  Impressively.

Additionally, with the soft guidance of an interior designer, Joyce and Richard roamed the greater Orlando area for finishing materials—the paint choices, window treatments, flooring materials, tile, cabinets, granite, and all the visible stuff that transforms a house into a warm and inviting place to be.  The basic initial landscaping and irrigation would, over time, be augmented and reshaped to create a lush exterior, and low voltage lighting added to illuminate it all in the evening.

They also pre-wired the house for the eventual installation of a whole-house generator, which was fortuitous.  The house was ground zero for three back-to-back hurricanes (Charley, Frances, and Jeanne) in the Summer of 2004; that convinced Joyce to spend the money to put in a generator that would run the entire house in power outages; thereafter while the neighbors suffered in the heat, humidity and darkness, the Cornell household functioned as though nothing was amiss.  They also had accordion hurricane shutters installed over all the numerous exposed windows and doors; these shutters were inconspicuous when open but were easy to quickly close when storms were approaching.  The unpredictability of tropical storms and hurricanes makes preparation for them nerve wracking.  Do you spend hours boarding up windows and doors, and then watch the storm take a different track, after which you have to undo all the boarding up, etc., or do you just let nature take its course and hope for the best?  The latter course of action, or inaction, becomes a nail-biting exercise in anxiety if the storm does, indeed, strike your unprotected home.  At best it can lead to a real mess—at worst, to tragedy.  The shutters take all that guesswork and foreboding out of the equation.

Moreover, they had the exterior glass, of which there was a lot, tinted to ward off the unrelenting and destructive ultraviolet rays of the sun; an added benefit was that it cooled the house considerably, thus reducing the load on the upgraded HVAC systems, and the attendant utility bills.  As a result, the house was virtually impregnable against the weather.  In keeping with their intent that this was their “forever home,” along the way they also improved the landscaping and exterior lighting.  The property definitely stood out in a crowd.  The remark most often made by professionals and laymen alike was that Richard and Joyce had “thought of everything.”

For the entirety of the 14 years that they lived in that house they were constantly taking advantage of improved equipment and materials which became available, always with an eye toward efficiency, weather resistance, ease of maintenance, durability, form and function, as well as always maintaining an ambiance of casual elegance.  But Richard was always thinking, in the back of his mind, of how he would change things, or improve things, or ideas he would incorporate, if they ever decided to build another house.

In late 2008, Joyce had a full knee replacement surgery done, and she did her rehab and convalescence in their house. Which was the impetus for Richard to install the pre-planned grab bars. A few months later Joyce had to have the other knee completely replaced. And Richard began to even more seriously consider the ramifications of aging and the physical challenges it entailed.

In 2011 Richard’s mother, who at that time was 86 years old (and from whom Richard got a large measure of his stubbornness), had to have partial hip replacement surgery. That changed her life markedly and focused Richard’s attention ever more vividly on the potential challenges posed by the aging process.

In April of 2013 Richard had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder, followed a few months later with major surgery to reconstruct a shredded rotator cuff in his right. Altogether he was in rehab and convalescence for more than a year, during which he more acutely contemplated the impact of the long-life genes inherited by both Joyce, whose mother lived to be 94, and himself. While his mother made it almost to 96, his paternal grandmother lived to within six months of 100. And she (his grandmother) had a brother who lived to within two weeks of 100. Obviously, significant planning and preparation for the future was absolutely in order.

By 2014, thoroughly wearied by the oppressive heat and unbearable humidity of Central Florida, R & J decided to look elsewhere for retirement. They decided that the Tennessee Valley featured about the best all-around weather to be found anywhere in the whole of the USA. And so, both retiring at the end of 2015, they began a new chapter in their lives. Richard had accumulated 37 years of service, spread over 50 years; Joyce had served 35 years without interruption.

In early 2017 they made their move permanent (along with Richard’s mother to an ALF) and set out to build a house which would accommodate them, in whatever condition of health they might encounter, in the friendly environs of Knox County, where the distinct seasons change nicely and are never harsh. But first, Richard had to perfect some of the ideas he had been formulating in his mind over the past few years, to be incorporated into the design and construction of the house. In early 2018 they attended the IBS/NAHB Show in Orlando, FL where Richard became even more adamant that he was going to pursue his desires to augment and improve the options available for the Aging in Place segment of the industry.

In early 2019 he formed abcd, jr. enterprises, LLC and began work in earnest. That year was consumed by laying the groundwork for the upcoming endeavor, which promised to be wide-ranging and complex. By early 2020 he had firmed up his ideas and determined that he needed to consult a patent attorney. And right then Covid-19 hit the world. The pandemic was a fact of life, stopping virtually everything in its tracks. Right after Christmas of 2020, his mother died just short of her 96th birthday (not Covid-related), leaving an indelible mark on Richard’s psyche and redoubling his efforts to revolutionize the world of physically challenged persons.

Over the course of 2021, fortified by a couple of vaccinations, he began venturing out into the world with his ideas. He found a reputable patent attorney with a good track record and filed a provisional patent. He then struck up a working relationship with an excellent engineering firm in the area, which assisted him in thinking through every aspect of the proposed inventions.

Richard was convinced that his products had to permit physically challenged people to live as independently as possible, with their dignity intact, which would require that his products lend themselves to as conventional an appearance as possible. He understood that the myriad barriers in a residential environment are a constant reminder to handicapped people of their disabilities and he knows that, when confronted with that situation he doesn’t want the confines of his own house to be constantly sticking out their collective tongue and mocking him with “nyah, nyah, nyah.” That meant that his products had to be capable of being assimilated seamlessly into typical residential design and décor.

This was a lengthy process, owing to ongoing Covid outbreaks and the fact that both the engineers and attorneys had clients other than Richard (a concept difficult for an only child to grasp). At any rate, despite a herculean effort all around, by the time the IBS/NAHB Show in Orlando in February of 2022 rolled around, he had no patents filed nor products to exhibit in a booth for which he had made a substantial nonrefundable investment. So, despite all of that, they went to the Show anyhow, more about which you can read under the heading “IBS/NAHB Orlando, 2022” under the heading of “Trade Shows.”

Based on the feedback they received at the IBS/NAHB show in Orlando in February of 2022 (as well as their own Germanic and Anglo-Saxon ancestries) Richard and Joyce fashioned a Brand Logo which encapsulated the entirety of the purpose of abcd, jr. enterprises, LLC: The creation of a comprehensive approach to a protective envelope to shield people from the physical challenges of life in their residences.

Shortly after the IWF show in Atlanta in August of 2022 Richard registered d/b/a Umschlagg and d/b/a Umschlagg – Transitional Building Systems with the State of Tennessee.

The Entertainer

The Wedding