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Lockport, Illinois

b. 1936

Finding my heading at JJC

Will county chorus
Will County Chorus, Art Einix conducting

My parents and I always assumed I would go to college. In 1954 when the time came, I didn't know where to go and what to major in. I put off these decisions by enrolling at Joliet Junior College.

I don't regret the two years spent at JJC. It was good to have matured to age 20 before going out on my own and to have two extra years to sort through various career choices. It was also good at that time to be able to continue on with numerous musical performance opportunities: the church organ-playing job that I had since the end of my freshman year in high school; and accompaning the Will County (Rural) Chorus, playing in the annual Lions Club minstrel shows, and leading the Jimmy Stephenson swing band, all of which I had been doing since my senior year. Except for the minstrel shows, all of these provided some welcome income as well.

Minstrel show
Minstrel Show, with Harry Hamilton & Anna Mae Longhini

By the start of my second year at JJC I felt that Chemical Engineering was a possible career choice. A career in music would be risky, and I had enjoyed chemistry in high school and had done well in Mr. McKay’s chemistry course at JJC. The trouble was: I needed to take Organic Chemistry in my sophomore year but it wasn’t offered. Instead, I took a course called “Electrodynamics.” There I learned enough about Ohm's Law to become fascinated with electrical circuits, and electrical engineering emerged as a career possibility.

With time running out at JJC, I began looking at 4-year colleges and universities. I considered Indiana University (which had a good music school) and Georgia Tech. I was also fascinated by Arizona State for some reason. In the end I chose Purdue because my father went there---he graduated in 1929 with a degree in Science---and because it was a good engineering school. It was also a pull that my friend Topper Hill was already there in his freshman year. Because I was lacking one or two prerequisite courses, I was accepted as a second-semester sophomore, which was OK with me.

Swing band
me, Burt Nelson, Tom Nelson, Marty Mlynarik, Bill Kapella

A big advantage of attending Joliet Junior Colege was that I could continue with the musical activities I had going at the time: (1) the organist job at the Congregational Church, (2) the Monday evening accompanying position with the Will County Rural Chorus, (3) being accompanist for the annual Lions Club Minstrel Shows, and (4) the Jimmy Stephenson Swing Band, which included some trio gigs at the Lone Star Inn in Channahon and Merichkas in Crest Hill. I also played piano in the JJC swing band.

By spending these critical two years doing all these musical things, I progressed to a point of ability and confidence where music could, and would, remain an important part of my life for more than the next 50 years.

the Badlands
Merichkas in the 50s