My Grandfather’s Place seems to double as a barbershop and a small baseball gallery, as owner Lou Gambill proudly shares the stories behind the 40-year-plus photos and other treasured memorabilia in his shop.”See that hat, there?” he asks, pointing to a baseball cap hanging on the wall. “That hat, believe it or not, is that hat,” he continues, pointing to a black and white picture of a grinning boy wearing the cap and standing next to a taller man. “That’s me and my dad when he played semi-pro ball.” Lou’s genuine passion for baseball is evident in his shop, his stories, and his life.
It was that passion that earned him State Volunteer of the Year for the Georgia Recreation and Parks Association late last year. Lou recalls when he was nominated as the 2015 District 2 Volunteer of the Year (Richmond Hill and 26 other recreation departments, including those in Liberty and Chatham Counties, make up District 2). “I was tickled pink,” Lou says of the announcement. “I was surprised. I was honored.” District winners went on to compete at the state level. Lou was not expecting much, but he took home the state award.
When he learned the news by phone from South Bryan County Recreation Department (SBCRD) then Director Kay Green, he could not believe it.
Lou Gambill was surrounded by his family when the state leaders made the announcement during the Georgia Recreation and Parks awards banquet hosted on Jekyll Island. Besides feeling honored, Lou was apparently also greatly deserving. Kay Green nominated Lou for the district award. Out of the estimated 1,000 volunteers at SBCRD, she said Lou stood out, stating, “He does well in helping the players build strong character, values, and sportsmanship. Lou volunteers because he loves the sport. When you’re on his team, it’s a whole family. He’s all about community. He’s kind of the central nervous system of the town,” Kay added, speaking of his barbershop, My Grandfather’s Place.
When talking to Lou, his accent makes it easy to tell he is not from around here. But even more, it is easy to tell his dedication to baseball has strong family roots. Hailing from Baltimore City, Maryland, he moved with his family to Richmond Hill in 2007. His grandfather, his shop’s namesake and who also named Lou, was a barber for 40 years in Baltimore City.
When young Lou graduated high school in 1974, he went to college for a year. “And it [college] just wasn’t for me. I remember telling my grandfather, I wouldn’t cut hair if it was the last thing on Earth to do.”
“He never knew I cut hair,” Lou added. His grandfather passed away shortly after Lou graduated from high school, and his shop was rented out. Young Lou worked a few other jobs after high school, before training to become a master barber. He opened My Grandfather’s Place in Locust Point, Maryland where he ran the business for 32 years, right up until moving to Richmond Hill.
Water and warm weather attracted Lou and his wife, Linda, to the area. They did not know anyone and Georgia was not at the top of their list. “We wanted to be somewhere close to the ocean. My wife loves the ocean,” he said. “We knew we wanted to come south because of the weather and the cost of living is a little cheaper here, too, so we just decided, Let’s give it a shot.”
The couple took “little excursions,” and started looking at North Carolina and South Carolina. Then, one of his customers at his Maryland shop told him about Richmond Hill. “So, my wife and I got in the car and we came down for a weekend.” Lou had a good business in Maryland and half of his customers couldn’t believe he was leaving. “Customers of mine said to me, ‘Do you have family down there? How can you just pack up and go to a place you’ve never been before?’”
Lou not only brought his barber skills with him when he moved to Richmond Hill, but also his passion for baseball. The self-proclaimed “baseball nut” said, grinning, “I still remember the day I got hooked.” His recollection included reciting the street address of his childhood home near Memorial Stadium, once home of the Baltimore Orioles. “I remember my dad taking me to my first Orioles game. I remember it was a concrete jungle. We got the popcorn and as we were walking up the causeway I couldn’t see anything, yet. All I could hear was the crack of the bat,” he says, describing his grade school memories. “Crack, crack, crack. They were taking batting practice. And when I came up to the very top and looked over the ball field, there was the grandest, just the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”
At this moment, Lou stops short, and corrects himself. “The second most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” he laughed looking at Linda. “I saw the green of the field. And I saw Brooks Robinson, who was my idol at the time, taking batting practice at Memorial Stadium.”
Besides watching the game, Lou loved playing the game. “I grew up just like the movie The Sandlot,” he said, reminiscing on his childhood where he never stayed in the house. “During the summertime, I’m telling you, from the time you woke up to the time you went to bed, you played baseball with the kids in the neighborhood, he laughed. “That’s all you did… and then when it got cold, you put the baseball equipment away and you brought out the football. And that’s how I grew up. It was just a great experience. You get older, then reality sets in and (you say], ‘I gotta get a job,’” he said with a laugh. Lou started his barber career while beginning to coach and run the baseball program at the recreation department in North Harford, Maryland. He ordered uniforms, trophies, made sure the fields were ready, and a list of other tasks. “And I did it because I enjoyed doing it.”
He brought that same enthusiasm and dedication to SBCRD in 2007. “Even until this day, I try to bring in the wow factor for the kids… I try to make sure that it’s all about them and that they have fun. I want to bring the fun experience that I had, and I try to bring that to the kids, either through teaching them how to play the game or just being there to help any way I can.
“I was the Yankee coming in, he said about how he got started with SBCRD. “All I wanted to do at this point was just coach.” It took some warming up to, but Lou eventually started kid-pitch, in-house all-star games, fall baseball, and “Sandlot Sundays.” “It worked out fine and people love it.” Lou applauded SBCRD for maintaining the fields and county officials who set aside the needed funding.
“They’ve done a great job. They really have.. You wouldn’t believe how many times we have games here, and kids who don’t live here are in awe,” he explains. “Sometimes I think people take for granted the beautiful, beautiful fields here.”
The SBCRD baseball program hosts close to 700 children, ranging from 4 to 15 years old. “The fun thing is, over my eight years, I saw these kids when they were this big,” he said motioning roughly 3 feet from the ground. “And now, they’re driving and they still call me Mr. Lou; or Coach Lou… It makes me feel good when they reminisce, ‘Hey, Coach Lou, you remember that time?’… and that’s what it’s about,” Lou smiled. “It’s important for them.”
Lou Gambill enjoys recreating the fun he had during his childhood. Some 10 years down the road, he sees himself driving in his restored 1962 Corvette to watch his grandkids play baseball. Whatever happens, he will be doing something involving baseball. “It’s in my blood!’