Statement of Charlie Disney for 50th class reunion at Edina High School, 2010

September 2010

Who am I now? I had a heart transplant on October 24, 2009, at University of Minnesota hospital. The doctors and nurses saved my life four times. Whose heart is in me? A wild kid? A hell’s angel? A radical? A liberal? I’m lucky to be alive.

I’m still a legend in my own mind. Aren’t we all? We’re still alive. Maybe we accomplished a few things.

You could say I got into sports. As a tennis pro, I ranked 13th in the Northwest Tennis Association. I was ten-times state table-tennis champion, also known as “ping pong”.I was nationally ranked in that sport and was president of the United States Table Tennis Association. I led the U.S. team to Calcutta, India, for the 1975 world championship.

I owned and managed Magoo’s Table Tennis club on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis and Disney’s Table Tennis club on Lake Street. This was one of the largest table-tennis clubs in the country. We held tournaments, promoted leagues, and did coaching clinics. One of the tournaments was the 1972 “Minnesota Classic” at Dayton’s department store. The prize money amounted to $7,500.

Remember “ping-pong diplomacy”? I had my “brush with history” that year. I was with the U.S. team at the 1971 world championship in Nagoya, Japan, when the Chinese government invited the U.S. team and its officials to visit China. I relayed the message from the playing floor to the then president of the U.S.T.T.A. that the U.S. team was invited to China.

I didn’t go to China because I thought I had to get back to work at Dain Kalman Quail, an investment-banking firm. (My boss, Wheelock Whitney, told me that I should have gone.) Headlines in the Minneapolis paper said: “Disney rejects Chinese tour.” But all my close table-tennis friends went and were featured in major news magazines.

I started buying rental properties in 1985 and 1986. Minneapolis housing inspectors harassed me after I spent lots of money and time renovating a property located at 26th and Grand, where I later lived. Minneapolis police had raided the house in search of drugs six months before I owned it. City inspectors wanted entry into the house to look for code violations but I would not allow this.

This experience motivated me later to start a landlord group in 1994 to fight inspections harassment. The group became known as Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee. It is still in existence. We did the unthinkable: fight city hall.

Initially, this involved a lawsuit against the city. After the suit was dismissed, we developed a public-relations campaign to inform the public how Minneapolis city government was shifting the blame for crime to property owners said to own “problem properties”. We had our own cable-television show on the regional cable station aired on four channels. Members of the group also created a free-circulation newspaper.

One of our techniques involved conducting the “Minneapolis crack tour”. Posing as would-be purchasers of drugs from the suburbs, another landlord and I drove around in a van through the Phillips neighborhood. We would arrange to buy crack cocaine and then renege on the deal. In the back seat of the van would sit an official such as a City Council member, judge, and even a Congressman. The point was that, while city officials railed against “drug houses” owned by landlords, it was easy to buy drugs on the street even as police cars drove by.

In short, we became famous as one of the few groups willing to challenge the one-party clique at Minneapolis city hall. Victory came in the 2001 municipal elections when Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, Council President Jackie Cherryhomes, and several other council members were defeated and replaced by officials more to our liking.

On the negative side, I ran for Mayor of Minneapolis myself that year but had to withdraw from the race when I suffered two major heart attacks. I operated at a fraction of my blood-pumping capacity until I got my heart transplant.

Now that I have the possible heart of a twenty-year-old, I’m eager to get back into competitive sports. Failing that, I’ll settle for a few rounds on the golf course and maybe hit my old stride in the low 80s.

Sorry that some old friends won’t be there: Dick Broeker (died), Dr. Pete Dennison (moved to Florida), Dave Hoffman (in Tennessee), Don van Dale (North Carolina), and Ted Franks.

I live half the time in Rio Verde, Arizona, and half the time in Roseville, Minnesota. Looking forward to seeing you all at the reunion.

Hint, hint, ladies, I’m single again


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