Chapter One: A Shaky Foundation:
At the age of five I attracted bullies like a cow attracts flies, but not for the same reason. For me it was because I wore glasses. The cow will have to speak for herself. In my neighborhood wearing glasses was tantamount to wearing a billboard sign advertising "Beat me up, I'm a wimp." To compensate for wearing glasses, manipulation became my access to survival. By the age of six I had organized my playmates into a mini gang. The only thing we controlled was the street in front of our homes, but it was a good start.
During my teenage years, 1948 to 1952, the educational climate available to me was limited by our school's massive number of kids and minimum number of teachers and resources. In retrospect, I surmise that careful boundaries were drawn to ensure that the 5,000 plus students attending Denby High School in Detroit, Michigan were all Caucasian. My freshman class had nearly 1,200 students of which 948 graduated. The other 252 dropped out, were expelled because of poor grades, or were females expelled because they were infanticipating. Denby High school was known as the school of young mothers. Babyitis was contagious.
The Lutheran church and street mores became my mentors. My parents required that we attend church and absorb a moral fiber of conduct. Daily survival on the street required that my acquired moral fiber be tested and my street activities be modified for consistency, when possible.
Denby High School provided a special co-op program for low achieving students with an alternate path to graduation. I followed this path. These students were most often from low income families. The program provided students with jobs, reduced the dropout rate, and provided supplemental income for families in need. Students' grades were heavily weighted by the employer's satisfaction. Most co-op students didn't learn much from their casual academic encounters.
The co-op program scheduled students for a work-school rotation -- work for two weeks then attend school for two weeks. There were a wide variety of jobs offered. I selected being a mail carrier for inter-office and intra-building mail delivery at the Michigan Bell Telephone Company in the heart of downtown Detroit. It was dull work except for a few brief moments.
On one bright sunny day, I stood on the corner of Michigan Avenue waiting for the streetlight to change. A car came over the curb and hit me. I literally flew through the air and smashed against a building. Even though I needed some medical attention I was spared any major injury because the large mailbags I carried on each shoulder served as bumper guards.
The high school co-op educational program left much to be desired, but students quickly learned to have knowledgeable street feet, an ability to understand subtle cultural nuances and respond appropriately.
In 1952, soon after graduation, having lost our jobs since they were directly tied to the school, the sixteen guys in my AFO gang considered joining the military. The Navy advertised 'Join together, Stay together.' We figured that if we stayed together nobody would mess with us. We fell for the Navy's advertisement come-on. Most of my boys joined up and were split up so fast it was over before they knew it started.
Ross Morkal and I arrived at the Navy recruiting office within the posted office hours, but later than the rest of our buddies. The recruiting office had closed early as it had met its daily quota, so we decided to go to college, prepared or not. Ross changed his mind early in his college struggle and joined the US Air Force. It was a wise choice. He became a bombardier and eventually a top-notch officer.
I not only lacked the educational foundation to go to college, but the financial means to pay for it. Determination to earn a college degree energized my 'hang in there' backbone. Perhaps my German heritage accounts for my stubbornness. Getting sufficient money became priority one with class grades as priority two. After all, that's the way it was in high school.
I worked any and every job I could get, sometimes two or more jobs at the same time. I stocked shelves for a toy store, worked in one of the first soft-serve ice cream parlors in the country, did landscaping, babysat, and at Dietz Shoe Store I became a specialist in filling orthopedic prescriptions to modify shoes for children. I worked as a lineman for Basney Surveying, delivered mail for the U.S. Postal Service, drove a delivery truck for Omar Bakery, and operated a reach forklift in the Cousin and Fern Hardware warehouse.
For my first job after entering college, I drove a school bus for a student owned business and experienced a few exciting moments. On one occasion, I did a slow 360-degree spin on an icy road, passing through a red light backward. I narrowly miss a collision with a passing truck. None of the kindergarten children fell out of their seats.
On another occasion, a child presented a creative modern day version of Jesus' birth in which Joseph and Mary drove a Cadillac and couldn't find a room at the Holiday Inn. I became so mesmerized with her story that I passed several sets of parents waiting at the curb for their children to be delivered home after school. I had to retrace my route and apologize to the irate parents.
The need for money was critical so the manipulation techniques, employed during my youthful gang days, became necessary; however, my moral fiber prevented me from telling an untruth on any job application.
Without education in drafting or engineering, and with very poor math skills, I took a civil service test to apply for a position as senior electrical engineer for the City of Columbus, Ohio. I was a major success in failing the test, achieving a score in the low twentieth percentile. Nothing was lost. I memorized the questions, asked my engineering fraternity brother for the answers, retook the test, and passed. It's a good thing the questions hadn't changed since my first attempt and application for the position which clearly documented that I didn't have valid experience or education for the job. I was hired a step lower than an engineer, thus I became a senior electrical draftsman.
I continued driving the school bus in the morning and worked for the City of Columbus in the afternoon. When working on a project, my engineering roommate instructed me on what to do. The job also included supervising the installation of underground electrical cable by prisoners from the state penitentiary, who were guarded by a team of policemen with Tommy-guns. Interactions with the prisoners were interesting. One prisoner came after me swinging a shovel. I ducked, he missed, and a police guard knocked him down. I quickly learned to give my instructions to the police officers and not try to tell the prisoners what to do.
I had a good thing going and made good money. It would have been a shame not to capitalize on my good fortune, so I applied for an engineering position at North American Aviation (NAA). Again, despite my lack of a degree, but because of my experience and a super recommendation from my boss at the City of Columbus, Division of Electricity, the NAA couldn't resist hiring a senior electrical draftsman. I increased my income dramatically, and continued driving the school bus in the mornings.
An Asian engineer, working on the drafting board next to mine, thought my story about how I acquired the job at NAA was so funny that he gladly helped me do my assignment. With his guidance, I designed the heating, venting systems, and pressurization of the cockpit for the pilot and navigator on the A3J, Vigilante, a Mach 3 atomic warhead low level Navy attack bomber. I finished my assignment before the plane was ready to be built, so I sought another project. The Heat and Vent Division supervisor told me to 'ride the bus,' and he would get in touch when he needed me.
From seven in the morning to six in the evening the company bus drove a fifteen-minute loop of the NAA complex. I rode the bus for two months, doing my college homework. It was great money and required no engineering skills.
In 1955, being an energetic buck, I didn't need much sleep so I applied for a night job at the Bonny Floyd Steel Mill. The radiography division had a position for someone to operate the Beta-tron, one of two in the world at that time. It used uranium and cobalt to x-ray castings being made for atomic reactors. These x-rays sought to locate air bubbles in the castings. These bubbles needed to be ground out and replaced with bubble-free steel. I offered to take training for a week with no pay. They agreed to hire me if, after my training, I could run the Beta-tron without any help. I did, and they hired me for the graveyard shift.
I continued driving the school bus in the morning, worked for North American Aviation in the afternoon, and worked through the middle of the night at Bonny Floyd Steel Mill. My family life consisted of my wife, Nancy, quizzing me on my homework assignments, and a few family outings on weekends.
Running the Beta-tron required my setting up a casting, positioning the uranium or cobalt, and programming the control panel to take an x-ray. This took a half hour to one hour. Taking the x-ray took an hour to three hours. This was a great opportunity to do some homework for my college classes or take a quick nap.
The only drawback to the steel mill job was that all the employees claimed to pack a gun or switchblade. I refused to carry either. On one occasion, I made a smart-assed comment to a welder who took offense and came after me with his blade. Fortunately, a couple of workers I had befriended came to my rescue. During these altercations in the plant no one was killed, only carved on a little bit.
All this experience about fanciful ways of financing my college education, while not particularly exciting or unique, made me realize how easy it is to undersell one's potential, and how important determination is in a person's career- building years. Telling the truth on job applications was one critical aspect I adhered to religiously. After nine years of higher education I graduated with a Bachelor's and Master's degree, and without one cent of debt.
During my freshman year at Capital University (1952-1953), Columbus, Ohio, I made a great deal of money and had a wonderful time outside of the formal classroom. I had a little too much beer one night and prompted by my cheerful bones, I climbed over the stadium stand's retaining wall during a pre-football game pep rally to join the cheerleaders in their acrobatics. The observing faculty members weren't thrilled with my performance, but only bestowed a verbal reprimand.
During my sophomore year, in addition to my work schedule, I played basketball on the intramural team. During a vigorous practice before an important game, I jumped to make a shot for a basket, came down sideways on my ankle, and broke it in several places. I missed making any points. A kind doctor at the local hospital put a plaster cast on my injury. The cast covered my ankle and went halfway up my leg. I was depressed since I would be out of action for several games. A little beer and visual misjudgment resulted in a tumbling trip down a winding stairway which added several bruises to my body and broke the cast in half.
My good buddies at our residence, Harmony Haven, put me to bed, purchased a box of Plaster of Paris at a local hardware, re-plastered my cast, and painted it red and white like a barbershop pole. When the doctor tried to cut the cast off with his vibrating toothless knife, the Plaster of Paris broke his blade. He then chiseled the cast off and let me know in colorful terms what he thought. If I hadn't had a strong constitution, I'd have been embarrassed by his terminology.
The crowning touch of my sophomore year was a bet with my fraternity brothers that our basketball team would lose an important game with our major rival, Otterbein College. Our team won the game and I lost the bet. The consequence required that I dress as a woman and travel 200 miles in a public conveyance. In 1954 this was considered a dangerous thing to do. Elfie Peters, secretary to Harold Yocum, President of Capital University, provided the dress, high heels, shoulder strap bag, and at the last minute painted my false fingernails and curled my hair. The Kappa Sigma Upsilon boys all kissed me goodbye at the train station. My embarrassment at the train station turned out to be mild compared with the pushy guy trying to make out with me during the trip.
When I arrived home my dad wouldn't talk to me and my mother simply giggled like a teenager. My three older brothers accepted my new-found identity as a green light to make flattering observations about my womanly appearance, and to suggest new career goals I ought to consider. A great time was had by all, except me.
My second year of college, 1953-1954, ended worse than the first. I was booted out of college because I failed English 101 three times. I'd love to say that I had neglected my studies. I didn't. I studied hard. The truth is, I had poor study habits and simply didn't understand the work assignments. English, my native tongue, challenged me in every conceivable way including vocabulary, spelling, punctuation, grammar, and sentence structure. In addition, I read slowly and lacked any literary knowledge. The only books I owned or read prior to my second year of college were comic books.
I've always been a determined person, but now determination to be educated consumed me like the fires of a crematorium. I was angry with the college and with myself. I didn't like being stupid. I wasn't going to tolerate Capital University kicking me out. I'd show them I could do it.
Nancy Chope, my high school sweetheart, and I were married at midterm of my second year of college studies. She had a decent job and our move back to Detroit stressed her considerably, but our options were limited.
I entered Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan as a non-matriculated student and signed up for two English classes, and two sociology classes, which gave me an eleven-hour credit semester. I worked hard at my studies. I didn't cheat in any way, and my grades averaged B plus. I don't know how it can be, but somehow, what I learned didn't stick. To this day, my spelling is atrocious, my punctuation is mediocre, and my sentence structure tends to be in German word order. Additionally, I require a good editor to help me polish up everything I write. Fortunately, I do have an occasional flare for creativity, and sometimes a weird sense of humor which salvages otherwise dull written content.
My attempt to re-enter Capital University by registering for the 1955-1956 school year resulted in a firm 'no thanks' response. Being a determined freak, I picked out the classes I wanted, purchased a metal house trailer for my family's comfort, attended classes, submitted term papers, took class tests, and tried to participate in class discussions. Within a month I was called into the dean's office and grilled about my unorthodox behavior of attending classes without being formally registered as a student. Several of my professors had complained about this non-student student. After a follow-up discussion with the president of the university, my matriculation for the semester was formalized on a probationary basis.
My college grades never were fantastic as I needed to work several jobs to pay my family bills and those of the university. I studied hard and never cheated on any exam. My life was work, class, work, class, work, work, study, work, study, sleep, work, class, work, class, work etc. In 1957, five- years after I began my freshman year, I completed the four-year undergraduate program, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in sociology and minor in psychology.
From 1957 to 1959, on an adjoining campus of Capital University, I attended Lutheran Theological Seminary in Columbus, Ohio. During these two years, my wife Nancy and I were hired by Capital University to be head residents of a girls' annex that housed 24 college students.
One of my responsibilities was to ensure that the girls were safely in at curfew time and to find them if they were not. Only once did this guardian role come into play. One of the young ladies, who had gone home for spring break, didn't return as scheduled. I drove to the Greyhound bus station, and fortunately, found her immediately. She was in a narrow alleyway beside the bus station being harassed by three young men I guessed to be about her age. Some of her clothing had been torn.
Without thinking, like a crazed bull I dashed into the alley, knocking one young buck down as I crashed their party, uninvited. The other two youths took flight before I recovered from my first encounter. The one I knocked down scrambled to his feet and followed the others. Later I realized that I'd been very lucky. The one that fell was likely off balance when I rammed into him and my unexpected attack frightened off the other two. The commotion brought a few people from the bus station to see what was going on. They checked with the student to be sure I wasn't her problem and that she was all right.
In my second year as a seminary student, Capital University hired me to teach a political science class on the United Nations. At the time, I didn't know anything about the United Nations so I read two chapters ahead of the class assignment. During class sessions I had students answer questions asked by other students. The culmination of the class work included the University sponsoring a two-day mock United Nations session utilizing high school students throughout the state of Ohio. It was a great success and covered by several local newspapers and radio stations.
While my seminary school life and employment went well there were a few glitches in my marriage to Nancy. Her mother, father, aunts and uncles and every relative I knew in her family drank a sufficient quantity of beer to be classified, by me, as either an alcoholic or at least heavily disposed to become one. To my knowledge, Nancy never drank beer before or after our marriage until an office Christmas party held by the physicians in the office where she worked. She became drunk and one of the physicians took advantage of her. Nancy voluntarily told me about her sexual encounter.
I had a marriage cocktail on the rocks that I really didn't want to drink. I didn't yell, shout, or treat her unkindly. I forgave her because I was a theology student and that's what God would want me to do. It wasn't fun. It was hard, but it was the right thing to do, and to my surprise, I didn't love her any less. Several months later she left her job without telling me why, and I didn't ask.
Capital University also hired me to supervise the university student lounge and recreation room. The students referred to it as the necking (suite) sweet. On the job, I learned how to play pool and spent my time teaching students how to play. I taught a game called 'Thirty-two' which might be of my own creation. I've never found it listed in any pool books I've studied. I discovered that it is true: 'He who tutors, learns more than he, he tutors.' I became a decent pool player.
In 1979 to 1982, as an adjunct instructor I had the privilege of teaching classes at Ohio State University, Department of Hospital and Health Care Administration. My teaching included health planning, federal regulations, and the relationship of politics to administration of health care programs.
Being a glutton for punishment I continued taking college classes. Education was a magnet drawing me on to learn anything I didn't know something about. At Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan in 1968 and 1969, I took parasitology, advanced genetics, and organic inorganic biochemistry classes. At the University of Cincinnati, Ohio in 1984 and 1985, I enrolled in a Ph.D. curriculum which combined three specialties: sociology, psychology, and political science. The business world beckoned and I dropped out of the program. I attended marketing classes at Piedmont Community College, Charlottesville, Virginia in 1987 and computer programming classes at Wayne State University in Michigan in 1998.
In retrospect, it seems strange that I could achieve passing grades for a year's study of German, two years of class work in Hebrew, and a year learning Biblical Greek, but failed to learn my native tongue, failing English three consecutive times. It's frustrating and beyond my comprehension.
Learning and doing new things became a foundation block upon which I've built my life. I used this building block to construct a career with many facets. Once I achieved my first executive director position, except for one time, I declined to accept bigger and better positions in the identical occupation. I changed to a similar occupation in the health field, but a different aspect of which I had little knowledge. Education became the door through which fascinating information was acquired and economic opportunities were enhanced.
I concluded that everyone, in one way or another, acquires at least three philosophical foundation blocks upon which they build their life.
My first foundation block, to my surprise, came through an English literature class. I'll paraphrase what Harry Emerson wrote. "Say today what you think today, and say tomorrow what you think tomorrow even if what you say tomorrow contradicts what you say today."
My analysis is" Think first, speak your conviction, continue thinking, have courage to be wrong and willing to speak your new conviction, thus be true to your conscience.
My second building block, which is no surprise, comes from the Christian Bible and directly relates to being willing to speak my convictions. I paraphrase James 5:12 "Let your communication be yes, yes, or no, no for whatsoever is more than this cometh of evil."
My analysis is that we should think things through as thoroughly and carefully as possible and make a decision. Responses to question such as: maybe, if you want to, I don't know, what do you think, and similar non-committal answers all result in confusion and strained conversations. After a decisive decision is made we can continue to think about it and change our mind.
Finally, my third building block is also from the Christian Bible. Again, I paraphrase the words of Jesus in John 16:33 "Life is filled with trials and tribulation, but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world for you."
Life at its best can be difficult, but don't let it bother you. Put on a happy face, and move on living with gusto. Life may seem long, but it is short and over before we know it. We have a promise of a better life after our life on earth ends. Emile Brunner says life is 'Faith, Love, Hope.' Faith is our believing in what we are told about the past, resulting in love being the way we live in the present, and thereby having a hope for eternal life in the future.