Settling in at Purdue
Here I was in the fall of 1956, enrolled at Purdue as an EE major and away from home for the first time. My dad, the social person that he was, had belonged to the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity at Purdue, and he expected that I would also become an ATO. I had spent a weekend in the spring of 1956 at the ATO house so we could look each other over. They probably would have taken me in because I was a legacy with no serious blemishes. But it didn’t feel right. I wound up spending three years in the residence halls and never regretted it.
Writing this paragraph caused me to think about this decision again. I am a very independent person. I like being in control. Or maybe it's better to say that I dislike not being in control. In the context of the fraternity decision, I'm left wondering if my desire to avoid not being in control caused my lack of comfort with fraternity life. Or, did not becoming an ATO put me on a path to being more independent?
Anyway, I had a room in Cary Hall. The Cary Hall complex is laid out as a quadrangle and was known as the "Quad." On the south was one long building that had four interconnected units labeled A, B, C, and D. There were four more buildings named Cary West, Cary Northwest, Cary Northeast and Cary East. I was in Northeast. Dining facilities, located in the lower level of each building, had dark mahogany tables that gave a nice touch of elegance and feeling of warmth.
In Cary, we were two to a room, and my roommate, Roger Robison, was a Korean War vet. The bathroom was down the hall and there was little privacy. The stalls didn’t have doors and the showers didn’t have curtains. You learned to time your visits.
The football stadium was across the street to the north, and on football Saturdays in the fall there was excitement in the air. The crowds came and filled the stadium, and the band, with its giant drum, marched through the streets on its way to the stadium. I remember sitting in my room on one of those first Saturdays describing that scene in a letter to Elda Trask, my friend from church bulletin days. I had promised to write and tell her what my new life was like.
Cary had its own radio station which broadcasted through the power wiring that ran through the buildings. I joined the radio staff as an engineer and learned how to operate the equipment. Hours were assigned each week where I was responsible for selecting suitable background music for dining and studying.
Near the start of the second semester Topper asked if I wanted to move in as his roommate. He was in Cary D and his roommate then was Mike Birck. Mike didn't like it that Topper smoked. I told Roger that I’d be moving out, and he seemed to be OK with that. I roomed with Topper for the rest of my Purdue days. His smoking didn't bother me since I grew up in a house where both parents smoked. The coal fire in the furnace of my parents' house also contributed some smoke to the air I breathed.
Three new men’s residence halls were under constructionin the spring of 1957. Each was in the shape of an “H.” The crossbar was the common area. Upstairs was the office and lounge area and kitchen and dining room. Downstairs was the post office and study and practice rooms. The sides of the “H” were called NW, NE, SW and SE. The buildings were named in accordance with order of completion: H-1, H-2 and H-3. They are now called Owen, Tarkington, and Wiley, respectively.
H-1, the northernmost hall, was completed first and was ready for occupants in the fall of 1957 (right after my summer at Hammond Organ). Topper and I had applied for a room in this new hall and were assigned one facing east in the NE wing. It was from this place that my new friend Fred Glaski and I launched the Freddie Mitchell orchestra that year.
The next year found us living in the newly constructed H-3. Topper and I were on the bottom floor of SE in a room facing west. Fred Glaski and his roommate Ken Genoni were on the next floor up in SE facing east. Aside from the Freddie Mitchell orchestra, I had a few other musical things going. One involved a little student church located in a house a couple blocks from campus. I played the organ from time to time. The instrument was an electrified reed organ. My other involvement was a huge amount of fun. I was the accompanist for the musical theater production of Guys and Dolls. This landed me in the pit orchestra for maybe as many as eight performances. It was a blast! I loved every minute of it and would have gladly done twenty more performances. I used to wish the conductor would get sick or something so I could direct the pit orchestra. But he hung in there. It was still, as I said, a lot of fun. Go, Sky! Go, Adelaide!
I did have some classes I remember the lab class about motors and generators. I remember the classes that taught more about vacuum tubes "load line" than you ever wanted to know.
I remember a psych class where the professor seemed to be obsessed with sex.
I remember a math class where the teacher seemed very nervous and scared and always stuck to his notes, wrote on the blackboard with his back to us, and never, ever, looked us in the eye.
I remember a class about Laplace transforms that was a challenge to understand, but it was important because it tought you how to mathematically analyze the frequency-domain behavior of circuits containing inductance and capacitance.
I remember the course that used the book called “Switching circuits and Logic Design.” This was a course on Boolean Alegebra and was an epiphany for me. It was my favorite course of all time! I loved learning to think about things in logical terms of ANDs and ORs. It was this course that got me thinking about how to design an electronic organ and caused me to write a paper on the subject that got me an Eta Kappa Nu first-place award and a prize of $5. What a course!
That last semester of my senior year I had fortunately only needed a couple credits for graduation. I signed up for two courses: Swimming and Business Ethics. Timing is sometimes everything and I decided it was time to slay the fear-of-water dragon that had been with me since I was five.
In the summer of 1941, we had vacationed at Sugar Lake in Minnesota with the Kehoe family. There were two or three cabins by the shore of this beautiful little lake. The bathrooms were outhouses and there was no electricity in the cabins. Kerosene lamps provided light in the evening. One day, Mary Kehoe, who was four at the time, and I were alone on the dock playing with toy boats in the water. I reached a little too far and fell off the dock. The next thing I knew I was lying on my back in the water staring up at the underside of the dock. Mary went to find a stick to fish me out. I finally had the good sense to just stand up, but the damage was done.
One night a half dozen or so years later my dad informed me that I wasn't going to bed until I ducked my head in the bathroom wash basin. For hours I stared, with equal parts of defiance and fright, at that full basin. I gave in around 3 a.m.
So here we are, many years later. It was a class of four guys, and we were given the choice of wearing swim suits or nothing. We all showed up for the next class in swim suits. It was a good class. My fear of water went from 10 to 5 (on a scale of 1 to 10) and I did learn to swim.
Then there was that course in Business Ethics with Professor Bowman. I received a “D” in this course. You were allowed three absences, and after that your grade dropped a grade for each additional three absences. I missed the class nine times because I was gone on so many interview trips.
I connected up with Mike Birck 28 years later. We were both invited to receive awards from Crains and Peat Marwyck for starting high-tech companies in the Chicago area. Mike was the founder and CEO of the very successful Tellabs. Even though Tellabs is only 12 minutes away from KineticSystems, I hadn’t seen him since Purdue days.
Topper was the first of our high-school group to pass away. He died in January, 1990, of a massive heart attack. His funeral on a cold snowy January day was very sad. He was divorced from Elaine and had two sons. You wonder about the role that his early smoking played in his subsequent early death.