and Sharon dated briefly as teenagers back in 1971, while in
high school in the small northern California Sierra Nevada foothill
town of Grass Valley. After a 3 week romance, the youngsters
went their separate ways.
25 years later, when Tommy lived in Texas and Sharon lived in
Oregon, they made contact via a simple postcard at the suggestion
of Sharon's oldest brother, Dennis. Tommy and Sharon were both
divorced parents of grown daughters (Charity, Maiya, Jessica)
at the time and they were reflecting on what they wanted to do
with the next chapter of their lives. Tommy had many careers
since being in Cuba serving with the US Navy... including managing
a Texas dairy farm and full time caregiving to critical care
patients. He was also a mechanic and electrician (his passions).
But he was ready for a change. Sharon was living in northern
Oregon, restoring an isolated horse farm in Estacada for her
California parents, John "Pat" and Claire O'Brien,
and commuting to Portland for her job at an Exhibit House (trade
show displays). She was enjoying her life but knew it would have
to change once the property sold.
Soon after receiving that life-interrupting postcard in Texas,
Tommy called Sharon and what they thought would be a renewed
acquaintance gradually turned out to be falling in love. They
began a telephone and greeting card courtship (this was before
the internet) and were on the David Brenner radio show numerous
times. The comical Brenner broadcast from New York but with their
phone bill reaching the thousands talking to each other so much,
they used Brenner's toll free number to broadcast messages to
each other. So many greeting cards filled each others PO Boxes
at their respective small towns that they became an item with
the postal employees in both little towns in Oregon and Texas.
So familiar were their correspondences that they tried sending
each other cars with just a name and zip code and both of them
were delivered! They found themselves buying and sending the
same identical cards, too. After 3 months of this, Tommy proposed
to Sharon over the telephone (of course). In a very romantic
next step, he packed up and drove from Texas to Oregon to marry
Sharon. They had not seen each other in person for 25 years till
the day he arrived to marry her!
Tommy and Sharon's
wedding Day.. April 7, 1996
together, and after the Oregon property sold, they traveled the
west coast in a motorhome for a year... from Astoria to Santa
Barbara and living in both Oregon and southern Nevada, doing
contract graphics for large corporations at high tech trade shows.
Tommy sold his home in Texas, and they became working vagabonds
during this time, traveling along the Pacific Ocean coastline
and throughout the West with just their cat (who loved motorhome
life!) creating custom trade show graphics and selling their
Keiko (Free Willy) coloring book to gift shops along the Pacific
left is Tommy in front of a 16' graphic he and Sharon made at
the Las Vegas Convention Center to simulate a giant speaker.
At right is Sharon holding up their Keiko coloring book at the
Oregon Coast Aquarium in front of Keiko (he really DID look at
it!) just before he was moved to the Norwegian Fjord where sadly,
he did not survive.
Tommy and Sharon found free time while working in southern Nevada,
they headed for the remote desert, hoping to glimpse some wild
horses and burros. They spent many long hours quietly waiting
amidst sagebrush and cactus for one or more to appear. The result
was a special collection of photos to forever remind them of
their brief but memorable encounters during that time in their
lives, some of which are pictured below...
bay stallion, mare and foal, and two donkeys
photographed by Sharon in the Nevada wilds
Tommy and Sharon grew aware that it was time to plant themselves
and grow roots. They yearned to return to their their childhood
home town of Grass Valley, California, so Sharon could be near
her family and have horses again. It had been too long and she
couldn't stand it anymore! Tommy also had family in the area.
So they returned to Grass Valley and commuted to Las Vegas 4-6
times a year for trade show work to sustain themselves financially.
the meantime, Sharon had been drawing horses since she was a
child as they are her lifelong passion (honest people call it
an obsession). One day in 1997, while still in Nevada, she had
created a small painting and poem inspired by an aged wild palomino
mustang stallion she and Tommy had met up close one day in the
desert by chance. This stunning old horse had survived the most
extreme of elements for many years and Sharon was compelled to
put his spirit to words and image. She printed the result on
a shirt and it sold. Following that, she made a humorous donkey
design inspired by wild burros and it sold, too. At this time,
the internet was coming to life fast and furious and Sharon struggled
to learn how to put her designs on the web. Once online, she
began to discover the huge community of fellow horse lovers who
were joining the world wide web, too. Encouraged by the positive
response met with her first two designs, she began this journey
of intense creativity, which eventually became HorseDesigns.Com.
||The aged wild stallion
who became Sharon's first horse t-shirt design
I've ever wanted to do, since as far back as I can remember,"
says Sharon, "is to be with horses and if I couldn't be
with them, I consoled myself by drawing them while in their absence.
I have hundreds of designs still inside waiting to get out, as
I will never tire of expressing the love that I and others have,
for these wonderful equines. Being with a horse is as close as
I can come to feeling the essense of all that is good, real and
natural in this Divine gift of life." A very real side benefit
Sharon also enjoys are the many wonderful people from all over
whom she's felt privileged to meet due to the internet.
Tommy and Sharon enjoy the passions of patriotism and on 9/11,
they transformed their sorrow to a series of designs that promoted
unity and endurance by connecting the deep love of our country
with the passion of horses. They also lost their business contracts
in Las Vegas due to widespread corporate losses in the tech companies,
generated by the attack, and saw it as an invitation to change
direction. They committed themselves to promoting the love of
horses for their full time work. They also expanded into a line
of firefighter air attack shirts,
too, inspired by Sharon's brother, Tim O'Brien, and his detailed
art plus his love of aircraft and respect for airtanker pilots
who risk (and sometimes lose) their lives saving ours while attacking
fires from above.
did rediscover her dream of having horses again. Here are pictures
of some of the cherished horse and mule pals who have entered
Above: Sis, Sunny and Sydney became one of the HorseDesigns.Com logos
this is "big Sarah," their belgian draft mule mare
who will be starring in some of the new mule designs
Tommy and Sharon work together in the production of shirts, Tommy
has rekindled some of his own favorite activities in life, too,
like the old Massey-Ferguson tractor he named Mr. Fred. Sharon
referrs to Tommy as a "Truck Whisperer" because of
his mechanical prowess. "Our work is not the corporate buzz
it once was," she says, "but the peace we get returning
to our original roots, being close to family again, involved
in our hobbies and with each other, enriches us meaningfully."
Sadly, both of Sharon's parents passed away within a few years
of their moving back. But they are eternally grateful that they
had some wonderful years with them and decided to stay in the
area, to be closer to her beloved brothers (Dennis, Sean, Tim
and Brian) and their children. Tommy built a small home on 5
acres in Penn Valley, California, a quiet rural town in the Sierra
Nevada foothills only 5 miles from Grass Valley. Here, they have
wonderful neighbors all around, a horse community and are never
far from family.
can come home again... and even marry your childhood sweetheart!
Fred and Tommy
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