Archdeacon: The colorful epiphany of UD fan Mark Haufe

Three years ago he pulled into a drive-through coffee shop – Tastefully Roasted Coffee – on Oakwood Avenue.

Mark Haufe was looking for a cup of joe.

He got an epiphany.

And a world where – at age 72 – Obi Toppin, Roger Brown, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, who’s known as the Lily of the Mohawks, Saint Maximilian Kolbe, The Martyr of Auschwitz, and several other figures of prominence and admiration are now with him every day.

Haufe grew up in a well-respected family tied to Oakwood and Kettering. He was schooled at St. Albert and played basketball at Wonderly Park in Oakwood. He was part of the second graduating class at Alter High School and then bounced through the local colleges.

There was a stint at the University of Dayton and, while at Sinclair, he was briefly part of the Sinclair Satans, as he basketball team was known back then. Several years later he finally graduated from Wright State with a degree in sociology.

“I always kind of marched to the beat of a different drummer,” he said.

He said he went to Woodstock and, with a smile, added: “I just got blown down the river for a while.”

But through it all, a couple of constants remained in his life:

There was UD basketball, which he began to follow in the mid-1950s and there were his Catholic roots and later a deep interest in Catholic mysticism.

That all coalesced in colorful fashion when that Oakwood barista handed him his coffee that day.

“The guy had a colorful tattoo on his arm,” he said. “I remember the vivid blue and green. It was spectacular.

“I said ‘Wow! Where did you get that!’

“He told me it was a tattoo place in Centerville called Aisle 9.”

Eventually, Haufe went looking for the place with a modest plan of possibly getting an inked replica of the old UD logo he had on a side window decal on his 2013 Kia Optima.

At age 69, it would be his first-ever tattoo.

“The guy told me the place was just past Bill Donuts, but at first I couldn’t find it,” Haufe said. “Then one day, all of a sudden, I look up and there it is!”

As he thought about it, he started to laugh: “I remember that Christmas movie with Chevy Chase (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation) where he plugs in the lights on his house and when the whole place finally lights up, you hear ‘Hallelujah!... Hallelujah! Hallelujah!’

“That was what it was like for me that day. It was like a beam shined down on Aisle 9.”

Evan Chandler, one of the shop’s top artists, remembered Haufe coming in and approaching him:

“He’s a talkative dude and it was a half hour of him explaining how he wanted the old UD logo on his shoulder.

“He even took me out to his car to show me the old sticker he had on the window.”

Chandler inked a palm-sized red UD logo on his shoulder. But if he thought that would be the end of it, well, he didn’t know Mark Haufe.

He’s not a one-and-done type guy.

“About three weeks later he was back saying, ‘Evan, I’ve got another great idea,’” Chandler said with a laugh. “And in the two or three years since then, he’s been here for something every few weeks.”

In fact, three days from now, Haufe will be back in the chair as Chandler – who has become his primary portrait artist – puts in another eight-hour or so session to finish the second half of the Toppin tattoo that’s on his right upper arm.

Haufe said he’s had “a lot of epiphanies” in his life, but none quite like what’s happened since he came through the door at Aisle 9.

And it came at good time for him. He needed a diversion, an uplift, a dose of good medicine.

In 2016, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. A year later he had a robotic prostatectomy.

“I might have waited too long to pull the trigger on that, but everything was good for a few years,” he said.

“But then my PSA started to creep up again and when it continued to rise, my doctor said he wanted to set up an appointment with the urologist.

“But at that point I didn’t want to go through that. Not all the radiation and chemo and what it does to you. I decided the horse was out of the barn. I was going to let it go and if it catches up to me, I’ll go down swinging.

“Right now I feel fine. Every day is a gift. I feel like Ernie Banks: ‘Let’s play two!’

“My plan is to live life to the fullest.”

And, in part, he’s doing that at Aisle 9, which he calls ‘the Cadillac of tattoo places,’ thanks especially to bearded owner Matt Clemmer, whom he called “one of the most earth-moving people I’ve ever met. He’s the genius behind it all.”

Haufe now has over a dozen major tattoos and lots of other smaller sayings and totems etched on his arms, legs, chest and sides.

A lot of it is UD-centric, including “Las Volantes” inked in distinctive script on his right inner arm. It’s in the style of Mark “Mr. Cartoon” Machado, the well-known tattoo and graffiti artist from Los Angeles who has appeared in music videos and more recently in a Modelo beer commercial on TV.

But Haufe’s two prime images of the Flyers are his tats of Toppin and Brown.

When Haufe and his older brother John – who died in January at age 74 – were kids, he said they were “mesmerized” by the spectacle of Brown, who, arguably, is the greatest player ever to wear a UD basketball jersey.

“I saw him play with the freshman team in the Fieldhouse and then, when he got blackballed, I remember going to the Fairgrounds Coliseum and sitting right under the basket, eating popcorn, as he played for Jones Brothers Morticians,” Haufe said.

Brown played just one season for the Flyers before he unfairly got ousted from UD and NCAA basketball because of his association as a high school kid with the gambling figure Jack Molinas, who had approached him and others on an New York playground.

Brown was never charged with anything and later went on to star in the ABA and ended up in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Three years ago, UD finally made some amends and launched the Roger Brown Residency in Social Justice, Writing and Sport.

Haufe, who has both a portrait and an action shot of Brown as a UD freshman, said: “I loved his story of redemption.

“I am a prodigal son, too.”

‘I’m proud to have it’

You realize Haufe’s “different drummer” beat as soon as he hands you a business card.

On the front is a picture of Saint Kateri, a reference to Classics Illustrated comic books, a mention of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Gene Pitney and a small photo of Toppin winning the NBA dunk contest.

His Kia further enforces the different drummer image. On the door is a large picture of The Divine Mercy of Jesus with red and pale rays pouring from his heart.

The real peek at Haufe’s persona comes when you visit his apartment off Dorothy Lane. It’s like walking into a crowded, mini museum of unexpected topics.

His late brother was a real collector and there still are reminders of his pursuits.

He had one of the world’s largest Pitney collections, was an aficionado of Classics Illustrated, had large collections devoted to baseball player Billy Williams and TV cowboy Hopalong Cassidy and he had a special connection to John “The Wreckless Russian” Rudometkin, who had a storied hoops career at USC and appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

There are several UD items, including some Vatican stamps Haufe said Donnie May gave him.

“John and I grew up idolizing Donnie May,” he said

There’s a front-page Indianapolis Sunday clipping – with a big bold headline and three photos -- telling how their dad, John, stopped his car along a road in Indianapolis and pulled two drowning boys out of Fall Creek in 1942.

And there are several photos of his mom, Rosemary, a blonde beauty. He told how, as a young woman, she’d once been in the front row at a Frank Sinatra show.

“She said Old Blue Eyes looked right into her eyes,” Haufe grinned. “I said, ‘Mom, our last name could have been Sinatra!’”

As it was, the Haufes had three sons. Michael, the youngest, “did it all right,” said Mark. He said his brother is an engineer. He and his wife Marilyn live in Columbus and have two successful sons.

Haufe said he and John – who also heard the different drum – had an unwavering passion for their pursuits. And Mark’s current venture has been made easier, he said, thanks to Pope Francis:

“At one time the Catholic Church didn’t want you to have a tattoo because of the sacredness of the body. But I read somewhere that Pope Francis said it was OK as long as it was positive.”

Haufe’s artwork is all presented in the vain.

He has a large Star of David and he has the word “Ukraine.” On his stomach is a large, colorful portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

But, for me, the most haunting tattoo, was on his left upper arm.

It was the very real likeness of Saint Maximilian Kolbe with his long beard, round, wire rim glasses and balding pate. Concentration camp barbed wire swirled up on both sides of him.

He was the Polish Catholic priest who volunteered to take the place of a condemned man – a tearful Polish army sergeant who had a wife and children – at the Auschwitz death camp.

When a prisoner had escaped, the Nazis chose 10 men to teach the others a lesson. They planned to put them in a pit without food or water until they died.

Kolbe took the Polish sergeant’s place and was still alive after two weeks. The other nine were dead. The Nazis pulled him up and, in front of everyone, injected him with poison.

In 1982, Pope John Paul II canonized him, declaring him the martyr of charity.

“It is some of Evan’s finest work,” Haufe said of the likeness. “I’m proud to have it.”

‘An expression of what’s in my heart’

Haufe said he was smitten by Toppin right off:

“I’ll never forget when they played in Maui and he came down the court in that red and blue jersey. He was like a bird with those arms.

“I just fell in love with Obi then. He’s the smiling warrior. There’s his charisma and how he just loves everybody.”

He said Toppin – who ended up the consensus National College Player of the Year in 2020 and a first round pick of the New York Knicks – was “an easy choice” to be his first Flyers portrait.

Toppin sent Haufe a note saying he could feel the love.

Such intricate work, though, doesn’t come cheap.

Work from a top tattoo artist can run $2,000 to $3,000 a day without the tip.

But without a doubt, Haufe said it’s worth it to him.

He said he’s found a sense of camaraderie with the Aisle 9 artists, especially Chandler.

And it’s given him an outlet for expression.

“It’s almost like an addiction now,” he laughed

He once thought about inking his “Top 5 Flyers of all time” on his body, but said “there’s not enough room” because he has other images he’d like to add.

Donald Smith might be one UD player who makes the cut and one day Donnie May might be added, too. And he’s thought about Dorothy Stang, the Dayton-raised nun who was murdered in Brazil in 2005.

“Look, I’m not sure how this cancer is going to end up,” he admitted quietly. “I may have a few years. I may not be here next year. I don’t know. But I’m living life.”

Is he frightened?

Shaking his head, he said: “Not with my faith.

“I remember the old saying Pete Rose had: ‘I’d walk through hell in a gasoline suit for Sparky Anderson.’”

For Haufe, rather than hell, the task is heavenly:

“Even if I went into a coma and couldn’t talk, I still could evangelize with my body. It’s kind of like a stained glass window you see in a church. It tells a story.

“Although I couldn’t speak and the message is just on the surface of my skin, it’s an expression of what’s in my heart.”

And it all came out because he once asked for coffee and instead got an epiphany.

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