Jowers and son share fun of autograph collecting

Former Baltimore Colts football player Raymond Berry was a hero to Ronnie Jowers at age 11. That hero status was so compelling to Jowers, associate vice president for Health Affairs, that he began writing to Berry. To Jowers' surprise, Berry not only began writing back, but also sending mementos, such as an autographed 8 x 10 photo of himself.

Not having much inhibition at the age of 11, Jowers wrote Berry back telling him of his troubles in getting autographs of other famous sports figures, such as Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas. Berry then sent Jowers an autographed photo of Unitas. After receiving that photo, Jowers asked for a team photo of all the Baltimore Colts (who have since moved to Indianapolis), and Berry sent a team photo.

Continuing the tradition
After those initial successes, Jowers continued collecting sports memorabilia for a couple of years, but didn't have as much time to devote to it when he reached his teen, college and early married years. Jowers' interest was rekindled in 1985 when his son Ryan was about 7. The family was living in Greenville, S.C., at the time, and Jowers and his son joined several other father/son groups in forming a baseball card club in which they traded and collected the cards of their favorite players.

That club was the beginning of what is now a huge collection of autographed photos of mostly sports personalities, but also actors, models and political figures. Although Jowers has a number of autographed baseballs, bats and footballs, his collection consists mostly of several huge volumes of autographed photos of his son Ryan with famous sports figures taken by Jowers himself.

"When we moved to Atlanta nine years ago," Jowers said, "we started going to the hotels where the Braves' visiting teams were staying. We asked them to let us take a picture with Ryan or maybe sign a baseball." They also went early to Braves games to try and get photos of Ryan with them. "That was good for Ryan not only to get to meet the players and get over any shyness he had about talking to them, but it also brought the sport more alive for him. Then when we watched games on television, he would know a little bit about each player that he wouldn't have known otherwise."

Another opportunity to meet celebrities comes each October when Jowers coordinates celebrity transportation for the Beat Leukemia Golf Tournament sponsored by Egleston Children's Hospital. "I get to meet them at the airport and drive them around," Jowers said. "That's one way that we've been able to have Ryan meet so many of these people. That's an opportunity that most people don't have."

Once the photos from such meetings are taken and developed, Jowers has some of the better pictures blown up, framed and placed on his son's bedroom walls, which are now almost entirely covered with photos of sports icons such as former Atlanta Braves Hank Aaron and Dale Murphy.

The appeal of collecting
In addition to meeting hundreds of celebrities, Jowers also has learned a great deal about collecting. He subscribes to a few autograph collectors magazines that give addresses to request autographs from particular celebrities. "You never send anything to a celebrity that you can't afford not to get back," Jowers said. "But I have been amazed at who does send things back. I sent a photo to Muhammed Ali once. It was gone for about a year to 18 months. I thought I would never see it again. Then he sent back the autographed photo, plus all these pamphlets about Malcolm X and how to avoid AIDS and about his being a Muslim. He signed every one of them; he sent back about eight autographs at one time."

Recently Jowers has begun requesting more autographs from Hollywood celebrities as opposed to sports stars. "The challenge is that it's harder to find things about them that I can send than it is for sports people," Jowers said. "Sometimes I'll just send a 3 x 5 index card and ask them to sign that, and then ask them to send a picture if they've got that. The key to doing anything through the mail is to include a personalized letter. Talk some about their career and let them know you took time to know them and care about them. And you've always got to send a self-addressed, stamped envelope."

Despite the excitement of meeting, talking and corresponding with celebrities, the most enjoyable part of autograph collecting for Jowers has been sharing the experience with his son Ryan, who just began his first semester of college at Furman University. "I work a lot of hours here and I wasn't ever able to coach a Little League team or anything like that," Jowers said. "So this was something that he and I could do together. If any fathers are looking for a good hobby to do with their sons, I couldn't suggest anything better."

--Dan Treadaway

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