RECOLLECTIONS – PART IV
On our trip to Wichita from Colorado Springs in August 1967, there was no hurry to arrive, since the moving truck would take longer getting there than we would. We stayed a night, accordingly, in a motel on the west edge of Pratt (or was it Garden City?) It was the motel on the south side of the highway that has a small restaurant attached to it, angled out toward the road. Vickie had recently had her second birthday, and we set her up to sleep on a mattress on the motel room’s floor. In the middle of the night we found that she’d crawled off the mattress and was in the middle of the floor.
After arriving in Wichita, we were about to check into a motel near Kellogg and Rock Road when suddenly a jet airplane from McConnell Air Force Base came roaring overhead at about 100 feet. The noise was so deafening that we left and got a room at the motel (long since torn down) next to Wesley Hospital.
We rented a home at 2648 Manhattan Street, which is where we lived from August 1967 until the spring of 1971 (at which time we moved one block east to the house at 2501 Richmond Street, at the corner of Manhattan and Richmond). Al Guerra was the landlord, and a good one. Ralph and Ruth Finnell and their two daughters lived next door in the house to the east, and Ralph did most of the work in putting up the swing set for us for Vickie. Doug and Carla Walker lived around the corner behind us, and I remember how surprised I was when Doug showed me his fishing lures, which included rubber mice (a heresy for a trout fisherman, which I had always been). The Walkers’ son Mikey was a darling little guy who many years later drowned while swimming out to a boat docked in Puget Sound in Washington state. He was gutsy to swim at all, since he was born with a shriveled arm (which never seemed to slow him down but may have contributed to his drowning).
Chuck and Marty Hartwell lived down the block on the other side of Manhattan, and we recall Chuck’s 50th birthday. He died in March 2012, a few days before he would have turned 90. Both he and Marty were pharmacists, and after they retired spent many hours as volunteers at Botanica, Wichita’s world-class botanical garden. Their son Rick was a splendid diver at the Twin Rivers Swim Club, but at some later time hurt his back so permanently that the pain blocked his career as a doctor. His wife Kim, a delightful woman much taller than Rick (the Hartwells were all short, although only in physical stature), is also a doctor, and practices in Wichita. Rick was a contestant in the Optimist Club oratorical contest during the years I was the coach for the club’s contest, and his soft-spoken but articulate speaking style won him the club and regional titles and put him in the state finals. He was, in my opinion, the best speaker in the finals, but his placement in the order of speakers put him early among the ten or so, so the judges’ memory of him might have been supplanted among the fiery oratory of the later speakers (and, also, they may have discounted a quiet speech as a form of oratory). In any event, he didn’t win, but won his coach’s admiration. The Hartwell’s daughter Lynn eventually lived in Canon City, Colorado, and we visited her one time when we were returning from Ouray. It was her husband’s birthday, and she got a six-foot-long sandwich for the occasion, providing plenty for everybody. It’s worth mentioning that she became a world-class mountain climber, and almost made it to the top of Mount Everest.
I was hired as an assistant professor by Dean Fran Jabara. Although this was in the College of Business, I was brought in to teach a combination of business law and political philosophy. Dean Jabara had had a graduate student read my book “Emergent Man” and report to him about it, and said he wanted to add me to the faculty to assure the presence of a strong conservative. My class on the “Social-Political Environment of Business” was cross-listed with the Political Science department. The cross-listing lasted, however, only until the faculty there found I was a conservative. The great national tension over the Vietnam War was raging at that time, and in conversation over lunch in the faculty lunch room over in the student union I voiced my support for the United States in the war. This ran afoul of the anti-war thinking of the department faculty, and at the end of my first year at WSU its faculty voted not to renew my contract. Dean Jabara overrode their vote, and even took the important step of granting me tenure. The classes were quite large in those years, and the chairman of the Administration department (which it was then; it was later broken into three parts and I was placed in the FREDS department, which stood for “Finance, Real Estate and Decision Sciences,” with the business law professors not insisting on spoiling the acronym by including BL) decided to declare a faculty strike. When several of us on the college’s faculty met, 8 of the 9 there voted against striking, I among them; but when it came to stating their opinions and voting in a full college faculty meeting, all 8 went back on their positions and voted for it. (This reminds me of the time in junior high school when the other boys chickened out of getting a Mohawk haircut [i.e., one with just a tall strip down the middle of an otherwise shaved head] after they saw mine.) I was the only one who voted against the strike, a vote that incurred considerable wrath by most (except Dean Jabara).
All this needs to be known if my 36-year career at Wichita State is to be understood. I remained true to my pursuit of intellectual interests about society, history and political philosophy, writing several books and many articles. Most of the later deans, however, chafed at my not limiting myself to business law subjects, and, in addition, the 36 years involved a constant running of a gauntlet in the face of much of the college and university faculty’s left-wing attitudes. (The wife of one dean in another college told me, after he died and she got to know me through Ginny’s involvement with the university wives’ group , that “for several years I hated you.” And the wife of an economics professor once reprimanded a friend of mine for taking part in a breakfast discussion group once a week. “You don’t go to one with Dwight Murphey in it, do you?”)
Despite that, however, the life at the University was a good one. Most of the people were a fine bunch, whatever their political attitudes; and the University, as with most, was a delightful setting. I was in the Faculty Senate for several years, served as its secretary at one time but never aspired to be its president (since I had no thoughts about any improvements that could actually be accomplished given the conflicting interests of a varied faculty within a “multiversity”). There was a year some of us on the executive committee tried (without success) to devise and get faculty approval of a testing system to determine what students’ college educations had achieved for them. And I tried to have survey courses, such as the Introduction to Humanities course that had been so good at Colorado University, made a part of the undergraduate core. This was again without success. I’ve always thought there ought to be an Introduction to Mathematics course for the many students who will have little need for advanced math. It could give the history of mathematics, awareness of who the principal mathematicians have been, and an overview of the different branches of mathematics. That would contribute meaningfully to their general education.
In addition to the civility within the Faculty Senate, my situation was well served by occasional pockets of influential support. A faculty committee in the College of Business voted for me to receive the “outstanding work published as a book” award one year for my book on “Socialist Thought.” (The subject of that book wasn’t the reason for the award; the book gives a dispassionate history of socialist thinking, and isn’t pro-socialist.) An interim dean who had been president of two universities was very supportive and secured my promotion to full professor. And a vice president for academic affairs overrode a university committee’s vote and granted me the full professors’ salary upgrade that one of the university presidents had introduced to overcome “salary compression” (i.e., the lag in long-time professors’ salaries compared to those of new-hires). The upgrade required a five-year review of performance comparable to what was gone through before promotion to full professor in the first place. The vice president was no conservative, but had the open mind one would hope for in an academic, particularly the academic vice president. He looked at what I had published the prior year and said “Dwight, I see you had a great year.” I point to these things because they are a necessary balance to my “having run a gauntlet.”
My first day at the University was spent counseling students on their class schedules at the semester registration on the floor of the basketball arena. It’s amazing there was no preparation for this, just as there was little attention to “teaching how to teach” even though “excellence in teaching” was always given considerable standing rhetorically. I say “rhetorically” because the only thing that really counted for promotion, salary or tenure during my years there was how much publishing a professor did (provided what you published was respectable according to politically correct opinion). It was just a matter of counting publications, because the “referees” used by the journals were relied upon, and no one in the College thought it necessary to read the work or evaluate its merit. (This seemed to me an indefensible delegation of responsibility.)
One day shortly after joining the faculty in the fall of 1967, I was sitting in my office in Neff Hall reading a book. It dawned on me how remarkable that was. “I haven’t had a phone call in three hours.” College teaching, with usually only nine hours a week in the classroom, allowed plenty of time for study and writing. The mantra, as I’ve mentioned, was “publish or perish,” and I was well served along those lines by my continual writing (except that the years I spent thinking about, researching and writing my four books that were published by the University Press of America involved a long hiatus from writing articles, which were the favored thing, because of the length of the projects). It’s amazing how many professors, after gaining tenure, rest back into a comfortable, unproductive life, and, beyond that, have no interest in intellectual pursuits after they’re retired. (There are, of course, a number who do not.) Not long ago, a conservative woman I was talking with expressed a strong opinion that tenure should be abolished (probably because of the leftist orientation of most faculty). I told her, “if that’s done, there won’t be any conservative faculty on college campuses.” So it’s a mixed bag.
I was inducted into Alpha Kappa Psi business fraternity and became the chapter adviser. (This was the same fraternity Jack Deeter and his group of friends who called themselves “the Ugly Boys” had been active in at Denver University.) There were many activities connected with this. At one point, the chapter bought a boarding house near the campus as a place to meet and a source of income. I and the other adviser had to put our feet down to prevent a scandal when the young men in the group rented (or otherwise made available) a room to a runaway “hippy” girl who, I believe, was 14. There was enough questionable about it that we knew it had to end.
Ginny became active in the university wives’ group, called “The Dames.” Many years later, it changed its name to what it is now: the WSU Women’s Association. She was president in, I think, 1978, and for several years edited their yearbook (a time-consuming job each fall, but primarily a roster). Most recently, she has been “interest group chair.”
The spring of 1970 was a chaotic time in the United States. “Hippies” lay half-clothed in the hallways of the student union at WSU and a black paramilitary group drilled out front. Those things were nothing compared to the riots on 700-plus campuses, the most famous of which was at Kent State (you can read my article about it on my web site). On Mother’s Day that year, I was one of three in a discussion group on local television. In addition to myself, Jim Rhatigan, the dean of students, was one, and Nick Mork, one of the student radicals, the other. Mork came dressed wearing white pants with brown painted between his legs as though he had defecated in his pants. He may not have had a shirt on, but my recollection isn’t definite about that. (His accoutrement was part of the mocking “anti-bourgeois” “street theater” that so amused the New Left.) Such behavior didn’t cause ostracism within that generation; Mork went on to a career as director of the “Big Brothers/Big Sisters” non-profit organization in Wichita.
A national professors’ group called “University Professors for Academic Order” came together at that time, in 1970. Typically of people’s shifting attention when a crisis passes, UPAO stopped gaining new members after the campus crises faded, which they did in the fall of 1970. A group called “the National Association of Scholars” came into being, and was more successful, although never really competing in a major way with the AAUP (American Association of University Professors). I never joined NAS, since my attachment was strong with UPAO, for which I became the executive director in the 1980s and editor of their newsletter “Universitas.” UPAO eventually went out of existence as its members passed away or retired.
I never got around to writing the poem I hoped to write about the year 1968. The year had been spectacular with the orbiting of the moon, and what stood out for me was a brilliant rainbow that arced from one side of the canyon to the other up near the ghost-mining-site of “Sherman” southwest of Lake City. I had discovered there were bigger trout to be had if I went up the road to the right of Sherman and climbed down the steep canyon sides to the stream. It was there that I saw the rainbow. There’s no way I would be able to clamber down and fight my way back up those slopes today.
The moon-landing by Armstrong and Aldrin (with Collins in the spacecraft) occurred on July 20, 1969, and Ginny and I faithfully (or so we thought) followed the newspaper’s instructions on how to take a photo of the event as it appeared on the television screen. Our effort was unsuccessful, but if you see a picture of a TV set with a gray screen in our collection of photos, you’ll at least know the picture was taken at one of humanity’s most historic moments.
Brad was born at Wichita’s Wesley Hospital on March 7, 1970. His birth was right at 11:36 a.m., exactly in the middle of the solar eclipse. (Oddly, my Uncle Bud, who was into Astrology, never picked up on the astrological significance of that. Of course, I’m not a believer is Astrology, and so don’t personally assign any cosmic meaning to it.) Wesley Hospital didn’t allow husbands to witness the births, the way Penrose Hospital had with Vickie, so I first saw “Baby Boy Murphey” through the nursery window.
The heavy snow ten days later, on March 17, 1970, was the one that caused me almost to miss my oral argument in the Colorado Supreme Court in the Coonrod case. It was a wet snow, and despite its depth (reported at the time as 18 inches, but ignored in the Wichita media ever since when discussing record snows) the airport managed to clear one runway, allowing me to catch a flight to Denver. The following February, in 1971, Wichita was predicted to get only three inches of snow, but wound up with enough to tie the city in knots for a week. It had very much the same effect as the 25 inch snow that, starting an hour after we arrived in Denver for Christmas one year, created chaos for a week. With the Denver one, people couldn’t see where the roads were, and so sometimes drove over lawns. There were large “moguls” (adjacent mountains and valleys of hard snow) on the main streets.
Vickie was going on five in early 1970, and we had fun making elaborate “snowmen” (mainly figures of animals, including one dinosaur which was a favorite) in front of the house on Manhattan Street. Another of my favorites (although it may have been done later in front of our next home, on Richmond street) was of a wall with Humpty Dumpty sitting on it.
It was in 1970 that I became a member of the Kansas bar. Admission was “on motion” in light of my membership in the Colorado bar. There was a good-feeling sort of meeting (I call it a “honeymoon meeting,” the sort of thing all lawyers hope for) before the board of bar examiners. That summer, I worked as an associate at the firm of Coombs and Brick on the 7th floor of the Sutton Place building in downtown Wichita. I continued with part-time law practice (with almost no court appearances because of university class commitments), doing lots of trusts, real estate contracts, sales of businesses, etc., until I retired from it in 1999 at age 65. What precipitated my retirement at that time was a diagnosis of a Stage 4 melanoma on my left ear. If I had a terminal disease with only a few months to live, I reasoned, I didn’t want to spend the precious time on what is essentially the drudge work of law practice.
There at the Manhattan Street house, Vickie imaginatively set up a grocery store in her room. This was probably about the time Brad was born.
We had bought an old Volkswagen cheaply, and it was worth every penny, with the speed barely getting over 40 (not a good thing on the nearby highway with the semi trucks bearing down), and the battery under the back floorboard rusting through and falling to the floor of the garage. Vickie got into the VW one day and released the brake, causing the car (with her in it) to roll backwards down the driveway and out into the street. No car was coming to collide with it, and we ran out and quickly put things right.
I was in the Bar Association library on the afternoon of October 2, 1970. The librarian came and told me it was being announced on radio that I had been killed in a plane crash. One of the two planes flying the WSU football team to a game in Provo, Utah, had crashed in a box canyon near Georgetown, Colorado. Dr. Duane Murphy, a well-known orthopedist, was on the other plane, and was the Murphy the list of dead had included; but, of course, he wasn’t killed either. Among those who were killed was John Fahrbach, the WSU dean of admissions, who was a friend serving with me on the Admissions and Exceptions Committee. I did a charcoal portrait of John which Dean Jabara and I presented to John’s widow. (A side note: Craig Pinkerton, son of our friends Jim and Karen Pinkerton, was born on the day of the crash. Many years later, Craig took Ginny and me on a tour of the University of Tennessee athletic facilities, where he served as associate sports information director.)
The death of several football players and WSU supporters caused deep anguish in Wichita. A memorial service was held in the football stadium, with several thousand people attending. It was, of course, a very emotional service; but I thought the playing of the anti-war song “When will they learn?” was totally inappropriate, not just because it introduced an (anti-Vietnam war) political issue but also because the refrain in no way described anything the dead had “not learned.” The best that can be said for it is that it is a beautiful song.
Vickie and later Brad went to nursery school before kindergarten, Vickie to Woodland and Brad to Asbury. Marjorie Hartman was the teacher and director at both, and we got to know her so well that many years later we recognized each other when we attended a birthday party at Northrock bowling lanes. Marjorie is a unique personality, known by hundreds, always effusive in loving and being loved.
The nursery schools were the first of the schools Vickie and Brad attended. The next for both of them was McLean Elementary over in the Twin Rivers area of Wichita. When Vickie was about to finish the first grade there, she told us how much she looked forward to having a certain teacher the next year. Why? Because the teacher served popcorn on St. Patrick’s Day! The school-busing system in Wichita caused Vickie to go to Mueller School for the third grade. I would on occasion pick her up (the school was close to the university) and we would go to Fairmount Park for picnic lunches or to Elizabeth’s Restaurant at Kellogg and Bluff, which featured the lemonade and cake we loved. At Mueller, Vickie’s teacher told us at a parent-teacher conference that the teacher had each student enter into a “contract” about what work the student would do, and that when Vickie had finished her agree-upon work she was allowed to go under a table to play. We were shocked by that, and weren’t surprised when the teacher went on to become the head of the NEA (National Education Association) in Arkansas. When Vickie was in the fifth grade, I taught a small group of Mrs. Galoop’s students in kind of extra instruction. In connection with that, they put on a skit of the assassination of Julius Caesar. To demonstrate the passage of eons of time, I brought in a large spool of string and unraveled it, having each inch represent a thousand years. It seemed a good demonstration to me, but I’m not sure the point got across to the kids.
We had a continuing love for dogs, but not always successfully. “Twiggy” was a short-haired, beige-colored small dog we had while living on Manhattan Street. It was a sad day when l had to return her to the Humane Society compound because Vickie was allergic to her short hair. When Brad was five or six, he went with me to an Optimist Club outing up at Milford Lake, where we were adopted by a stray black dog. I called Ginny and she consented to our having him, so he rode back to Wichita with us, riding on the floor in front of the passenger seat. We named him “King.” A strange thing happened when we went to Denver for Christmas and left him with friends. While we were gone, he sprouted tiger-like long incisors. These gave him an odd appearance, but that’s not why we eventually gave him away. The reason was that Ginny didn’t want him to be an inside dog (we were over to the Richmond Street house by that time, so it must have been sometime shortly after our move there in the spring of 1971). King’s being outside led to his being bored, and that in turn led to his digging profusely in the back yard and chewing up the outside furniture. When finally we got Benji from a local breeder in about 1975 after a nearby veterinarian recommended Cairn terriers, Ginny felt it best to let him be inside with us. He was just a pup, and as pups will, ran around in the back yard with great speed. He got out through an open fence and was run over, and the same vet treated him. Benji didn’t even need a cast, despite a shattered hip, because the vet said, rightly, that his pelvic muscles would be strong enough to hold everything in place for healing. Benji was with us on Richmond Street for the ten years we lived at 2501 Welgate Circle, and for the first five years we were in our present home at 2412 Hathway Circle. In all, he lived 17 years, 3 months. In the last year or two, we saw what aging can do: he no longer could hop up on our bed to sleep with us, and struggled to get up the steps to the deck at the back of the house, until finally he couldn’t do it at all and I had to go out and carry him in. When he “threw a fit” at 17 years, three months, we made the heart-breaking decision to take him to the night veterinary office on Washington street to be put to sleep. I was there with him for it (as I was years later with Molly), but it and Molly’s are wrenching memories, so I’m ambivalent about whether it is a good thing for a dog lover to be present. Fortunately, the death is instantaneous and painless (so “put to sleep” is a pretty good description). I buried Benji in a treeline at about 53rd and Woodlawn, not knowing it is lawful to bury a pet at your own home . Tom Williams, a neighbor on Welgate Circle and a vet himself, used to tell about a time he and his wife attended a party at our house, and how tickled he was to see Benji sneak some food off the coffee table when no one other than Tom was looking. We used to put Benji out through the sliding-glass door on the west side of the house, but when he had to “go” he would let us know by sitting in forlorn dumpy posture by the door to the garage on the other side. Gold in color and weighing about 14 pounds, he was adorable. Cairns remain puppy-like all their lives, and their soulful eyes can win them any favor. He used to sit straight up, his front paws turned down, looking at us with those eyes. I can still feel his head nestled against my neck as we would sit together in our living room.
We were in Topeka on August 11, 1976, when Michael Soles went to the top of the Holiday Inn in downtown Wichita from which, as a sniper, he killed three people. In the intervening years, he’s come up for parole several times, but so far it has always been denied.
Vickie’s ballet practices were over on west Douglas, and one day in perhaps 1978 I was driving her there in our Chevy Vega when police, without explanation, directed traffic away from 21st street at Hillside. We turned north and after a block or so turned west into the neighborhood, thinking only that an accident had blocked 21st. It was the black section of town, and lots of people were standing around in their yards. Suddenly, we saw a large group of young black men running toward our car. I turned the car around in a hurry, going over a curb, and barely got us out of there. We found out later that there was a riot on 21st. In my opinion, the police were unconscionable in not telling motorists about the riot so they wouldn’t head toward it. (Their sparse willingness to communicate makes me think of the error-message writers, such as for Windows, for computers. They explain nothing.)
The little Vega was a small, inexpensive car which got by well until it had about 50,000 miles on it, after which it began to burn lots of oil. When the odometer was reaching 100,000 miles, we all piled into the car for a ride to see the odometer go from 99,999 to 100,000. I was never clear about whether Ginny and the kids were as struck by that as I was.
After we moved across town to the Welgate Circle house in 1976, Kistler was the new elementary school for us. I was there one time being given a tour by the principal, a white-hair man. A very young student, who was probably a kindergartner, asked the principal “Is that your dad?” That was either awfully flattering to the principal’s youth, or mighty deflating to me about my old age. (I was 42 at the time, but with prematurely white hair.)
When Brad was in the 5th grade (if I recall accurately), he fell on the iron stairs leading up to the temporary building his classes were in. The stairs tore a long, ugly, deep gash in his left leg. The school called me, and I rushed Brad to Dr. Paul Davis’ office on Hillside. My intention was to comfort Brad while Paul stitched up the wound, but after a couple of stitches I got woozy and had to disappear to the waiting room. I came close to dying there, or at least I felt like it, but had somewhat recovered by the time Brad emerged, smiling.
At a later time, I was the featured guest at one of the school’s assemblies. All the kids sat on the floor as I did an impromptu charcoal sketch of one of the students, a little girl. Everyone was very complimentary, but my own thoughts are that the floor must have been plenty uncomfortable for a long sit, and the drawing can’t have been very good, since I’ve had no experience as a quick-sketch artist.
During all the ‘70s, Vickie was tremendously active. Part of it was with drama at the Wichita Center for the Arts, where one of the plays she was in was “It’s a Small World,” with her playing a Dutch girl. Later, she was in the summer theater program at Collegiate School, where she played the lead role of Snow White in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” In her dad’s objective opinion, she was the ultimate in Snow White perfection! (That is my serious assessment of her performance.) Years of activity were in ballet, starting with June Landrith’s Wichita Ballet. There were many practices in the upstairs studio on west Douglas, and she was in performances of “The Nutcracker” at Christmastime and the annual spring ballet. Over time, she had several roles in “The Nutcracker”: as a soldier, as an Arabian dancer, and in the “dance of the flowers. The spring ballets included Coppelia, Giselle, and Les Sylphides. There was also dancing on the riverfront just west of Century II auditorium, in the small park that features a gazebo just east of the Sedgwick County Historical Society Building, and in the center area in Towne East shopping center. After the parents’ breakup with Landrith, Vickie danced with the school run by Stan and Sharon Rogers, dance faculty members at Friends University, and this involved Vickie’s dancing the “Can-Can” in the spring festival at Friends. When she was at Heights High School (and here I may be encroaching on the 1980s), Vickie was chosen to take part in the Kansas “Girls’ State” summer confab, but had to pick between that and having a role in the Music Theatre of Wichita’s summer production of “The King and I.” She chose the latter. She was picked as one of the dancers after a very impressive try-out with a large group of aspirants. The man leading the try-out would demonstrate a series of steps once, and then see who could perform them straight-out without anything more. Vickie passed with alacrity. Since I’ve already gotten somewhat into the ‘80s, it’s a good time to mention that Vickie was editor of the Heights school paper, the “Heights Highlighter.” She’s always had a wonderfully unaffected writing style, which I admire because it took me years to work out from under the esoterica that came with my intellectual pursuits (especially my study of Ludwig von Mises’s book “Human Action,” written with Germanic syntax).
At each of the ballet studios Vickie danced with, I wound up becoming the Business Manager. Most of the dancers’ parents were actively involved. In each case, the parents as a whole eventually had fallings-out with the ballet teacher, accompanied by bitter recriminations. Although I didn’t have any quarrels with the teachers myself, I went along with the circle of friends we parents had become. Over the years since then, I’ve come to think we acted on a misguided premise. The parents entertained the idea it was a democratic operation, with their having equal standing, collectively, with the teacher. My thinking now is that it would be a lot better for dancers’ parents to see themselves as there to help in every way they can, but to think of the teacher (whose school it is) as the authoritative voice, the “decider” so to speak. That would produce a much more comfortable, and workable, relationship.
Martha Fleming, who also taught dance at WSU, was one of the ballet teachers, and we and Vickie were particularly fond of her. When we returned home from a Christmas visit to Denver one year, we got news she had been killed in an icy-pavement accident on the highway just east of Towanda between Wichita and El Dorado. She’s buried in the cemetery southeast of Hillside and Kellogg.
Ginny and I worked at King Van Lines during the summer of 1973, not as employees but with me running an independent-contractor operation that employed her and several WSU graduate assistants. The Federal Transportation Commission had come down with a requirement that each of the national van lines police their local companies. (The van lines had historically formed as associations of local companies – thus, “United Van Lines,” “Allied Van Lines,” and the like – in order to arrange hauls both directions rather than just one, and had recognized each company as a separate business that wasn’t regulated by the national organization.) Our job was to work out a computerized system for keeping track of each company’s performance, and also to write a training manual for them.
I went to Washington D.C. to spend a week at the US Department of Transportation in its large building near the White House. I wanted to interview the commissioner who had given the speech first outlining the Commission’s desire to have the van lines police their local companies. In all, the experience there was disillusioning. The Commissioner never deigned to agree to an appointment with me. I met with the fellow who ran the “enforcement” division and asked him what was looked at in the profit-and-loss statements and balance sheets that each of the locals was now required to submit. Was the FTC interested in certain ratios, for example? I was told candidly, “We don’t look at anything,” and he showed me how he merely checked off on a yellow pad whether a given company had submitted the documents. It was all show and no substance. I had wanted the information about what was important to the FTC so I could include it in the training manual.
Ginny, Vickie and Brad came to Washington for touristing for what was my second week. We stayed at the Holiday Inn across the street from the Washington Hilton where President Reagan was later shot in the attempted assassination. My first experience with a bagel was at a deli down the street on Connecticut Avenue; the deli owner fashioned a marvelous concoction of thickly ladled-on cream cheese and strawberry preserves. Our family went to all of the museums along the Mall, and to the Washington zoo, where Brad trailed along behind us dragging a stick. I figured he and I visited every men’s restroom in all of those many venues.
One of the places we went was to visit Kansas’ Senator Bob Dole in the Senate Office Building. He gave us passes for a tour of the White House. On the tour, there was an announcement that a little boy had “lost his parents.” We found Brad sitting, well accompanied, on a chair in the Red Room. Another place we visited was Mount Vernon. Vickie got in trouble (of a minor sort) with me for taking a picture of George Washington’s tomb. (I don’t recall why I didn’t want her taking pictures; maybe we were short of film, which was required for cameras in that pre-computer age.) When we got home and had the pictures developed, it turned out her photo was the best! The videos we took were literally a “wash out.” Apparently, the camera brushed against my leg in front of the Capitol Building, changing the setting for the lighting. Everything after that was whitish, as though lye had been poured on it.
It was early the next year that another professor at the University urged me to run for the chairmanship of the Sedgwick County Republican Party. The office was vacant for some reason, and no one seemed to want the job. I hadn’t been active with the Party, but was easily elected at a meeting of the precinct committee men and women (who together formed the “county central committee”). It was disturbing to me that someone running for the county chairmanship had to be interviewed and approved by a group of ten or twelve wealthy oil men and other businessmen before the vote. I found out they were the “powers behind the scenes,” as it were.
My first action as chairman was to broadcast spots on the radio inviting people to take part in the local GOP as volunteers or to work on public policy issues. Ronald Reagan was scheduled to give a speech in Century II auditorium the next month, February 1974. There was a reception upstairs afterwards, and Ginny gave him a kiss on the cheek.
My plan was to get a structure set up that would be useful to Republican candidates in that year’s election. In a series of meetings, we set up “taskforces” on various things. The Party had operated almost exclusively on the east side of Wichita, so I set up dual activities that included the west side of the city. One of these was a couple of speeches by Senator Dole, who was up for reelection that year. I wasn’t aware that resentment was building about all this activity among those who had long been in the Party. I was invited to a meeting of the Sedgwick County GOP women’s group, and ran into a lot of acrimony, for reasons I didn’t (and still don’t) understand.
The animosity came to a head when the attorney for the county told me about corruption in the County Treasurer’s office, headed by a Republican (who was a candidate for reelection). I reported this to the Wichita district attorney (who happened to be a Democrat.) The County Treasurer also was deeply alcoholic. He phoned me one night, drunk, from the hospital where he was in for “dry out.” The result of all this was that I urged our “candidate recruitment committee” to find someone to run against him in the primary. They took great offense at this; he was well established among the courthouse old timers (many of the Republican precinct committee men and women worked at the courthouse). When the Wichita Eagle broke a story about the district attorney’s corruption investigation, I gave the paper a short statement saying that I had been aware of it and had given what information I had to the district attorney. It seemed to me this showed the public that the local Republican party was doing the right thing. But that’s not the way the activists in the party saw it. The result was a powerful anti-Murphey eruption inside the party, with the other officers calling for a central committee meeting to recall me. The recall succeeded in early June, 1974, and a week later Ginny, the kids and I relaxed by taking a trip south to Arlington, Texas, to go to Six Flags over Texas. After the Colorado Springs and Wichita fights with the party organizations, I promised Ginny (out of a mixture of my own repulsion and her outspoken insistence) I’d never get into politics again. My propensities aren’t attuned to politics, where to succeed you have to look like you’re a person of principle, while in reality you’re making sure to keep the people who control your destiny mollified. (Who those people are varies, with different parties or politicians having different constituencies.)
A much happier involvement was with Optimists. I’ve mentioned that I was a member of the club in Colorado Springs. It took a few months before I got involved with the North Wichita Optimist Club in our new city. Eventually, I was president of two clubs (the North and a new club we set up in Comotara after the Murpheys moved across town to that area), a Lt. Governor, and state chair of their oratorical contest. The North club made money for youth projects (such as soccer teams) by selling Christmas trees at 21st and Amidon and, later, running a bingo parlor over by West street. The club met at a restaurant on the lower level of the Twin Lakes shopping center the first few years, but eventually moved considerably farther west, to Speers restaurant over by Towne West. That was quite a distance away after I and the family had moved to the east side of town in late 1976. For several years at first, the motto was “Friend of the Boy,” but that was changed to “Friend of Youth” after the feminist ethos called for it. Considerably later, the Optimist clubs nationally made a radical change in their nature when they began to admit women as members. (The wives had always been very much involved, of course, in the banquets, etc.) Today, when I go as a guest I see that the number of men in the club has dwindled, with women now perhaps a majority, and with both sexes sitting and conversing separately, not because anybody insists on it but out of sheer preference. When the national organization made no political or legal effort to maintain the right of men to have their own organizations, I was disgusted by the capitulation and the double standard, and so resigned. An op-ed piece I wrote for the Dallas Morning News that appears on my web site explains my reasons.
The North Optimist Club had a project in which members would spend time in Waco School classrooms once a week, the realization being that a lot of the kids didn’t have men in their lives. I enjoyed that program greatly, and found the children delightful. Memory doesn’t tell me how many years (if it were more than one, which I think it was) that I went to Waco.
There was a “bring your dad” night at McLean School, and Vickie had me as her guest. I wore a T-shirt with a cigarette pack rolled up in my sleeve (“Fons” style, based on the cool-cat TV show character). Vickie entered a picture of me in that into a contest the A. J. August clothing store in Twin Lakes was putting on in connection with the dads’ night. I was the winner, but she gets the full credit. The prize was a couple of hundred dollars’ worth of clothes, including a suit I wore for years and a raincoat. I still have the raincoat and the sturdy hanger that came with the suit.
The day we moved across town to the Welgate Circle house was December 28, 1976. The “chill factor” was minus 34 degrees! We were helped by a tall, strong graduate assistant of American Studies Professor Ross Taylor, a close friend of mine, and you can be sure we paid for his dinner at the end of the day when we all went to “the Eleventh Frame” Chinese restaurant, which was in the front portion of the building that housed the bowling alley that used to exist at 21st and Woodlawn.
Wichita State had had a baseball program at one time, but had gone without one for several years before it hired Gene Stephenson as coach in 1979. What Stephenson wrought was a miracle, and we were rabid fans during all the golden years that continued, with some abatement near the end, until his (forced) retirement after 36 years. At first, there were no bleachers, just three or four rows of benches placed on a flatbed truck parked behind the backstop. Over time, the facilities grew to where “Eck Stadium” was one of the premier college baseball stadiums in the United States. The team won the national championship at the College World Series in 1989. Another year, it twice came within one strike of winning the championship game. Going to the NCAA tournament was virtually an annual event for several years, but this slacked off beginning in 1996. Gene told the boosters’ club the situation had changed in college baseball; the large universities got into it with lots of money and some major recruiting advantages. WSU raised the money to build a large indoor practice facility (Ginny and my names are on a “brick” that our contribution qualified us for; the brick is one of the first in a walk on the west side of the practice building.) Surprisingly, the new facility didn’t help recruiting the way everyone hoped, and although the team won the right to go to the NCAA tournament in Gene’s final year, he was forced out by a new WSU presidential administration that had (and under a successor continues to have) little interest in baseball. It’s been a middling program ever since. The recent university administrations have dropped Gene into a memory hole, doing nothing to honor him.
WSU had dropped its football program in 1986 (and hence the T-Shirts that say jokingly, “WSU, hasn’t lost a football game since 1986”). Basketball has long been the main love. (The team was excellent in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, then lousy for several years, and has since become a major power under Coach Gregg Marshall, who is in his 8th year with the 2017-18 season.) Ginny and I dropped our season tickets during the long and embarrassing “lousy” stretch. For 23 years before that, we were ardent fans, but we haven’t renewed the tickets when we’ve found the seats we’d get are up in the top row.
I was still are ardent fan, of course, but that didn’t keep me from feeling it necessary to make an honest investigation when I was appointed to the three-person internal committee to investigate the NCAA charges against the basketball program that stemmed from a series of expose articles in the Kansas City Star. My recollection is that the articles appeared in early 1981, with the investigation and NCAA charges following in their wake; but in seeking to confirm dates I am finding nothing specific on the Google search engine now about the scandal, using a variety of search topics. This is an odd absence of information, and suggests that the record has been cleansed about it. (I assumed, wrongly it seems, that I was appointed to the internal investigative committee because of my reputation for integrity stemming from the GOP chairman episode. If so, my presence would give the public assurance that we were making an objective investigation.) The Star had reported substantial cash payments to players, based on what a group of former players told it. In all, there were 104 NCAA charges. Some were serious, involving substantial cash payments, while others were frivolous, such as one charging a violation for a coach’s buying a recruit a coke at a truck stop in Texas. (The prospect never made a recruiting visit to the university, and didn’t attend WSU or become a member of the team. So frivolous a charge doesn’t reflect well on the NCAA.)
Most of 1981 was devoted to the investigation. Two of us on the committee (the dean of students and I) made a trip to St. Louis to interview the mother of one player about her son’s airfare having been paid for him to make a trip home for Christmas or some emergency (I forget which). (That that would have been an NCAA violation again reflects badly on its rules, which I understood stemmed from small colleges’ wanting to keep even those kinds of humanitarian expenditures down.) That interview took us into the post-riot burnt-out section of St. Louis just north of the downtown area, and opened my eyes to the squalor that existed there. Another trip was to Nagadoches, Texas, to interview a former WSU basketball coach, who had become the coach at Stephen F. Austin University. (An interesting sidebar: our room was on the first floor of the motel, and was crawling with crickets. Despite that, Nagadoches was a charming city, and the university there very attractive.)
The first indication I had that the investigation wasn’t on the up and up was after I went to a liquor store to follow up on a report that basketball players were cashing $100 bills there. The store owner called the Eagle, which ran a story about how a WSU investigator had been out asking questions. My own reaction to the article was that it let the public know we were doing our jobs (this is similar to the assumption I’d made in the GOP chairmanship battle when I told the Eagle I had reported the corruption allegations to the district attorney). But the other professor on our committee complained bitterly about my having gone to the liquor store to ask questions.
As the investigation proceeded, I was told by a friend that a lawyer in town said he had talked with a high school basketball coach, who had regaled him with stories about NCAA violations going on within the WSU program. When that coach came in to testify to us, however, the story he told was that everything was as pure as the driven snow. This got me to thinking that we were being sold a bill of goods by the people we were interviewing. (Pardon the clichés in the two sentences before this one, but they seem good for conveying the thoughts.) We needed a way to know whether they were telling the truth. So I contacted some student assistants in the WSU athletic department and told them “I need to know the truth from inside, whatever it is. I’ll never let it be known I talked to you.” This led to their telling me about how players would go up into the stands during practices, talk with one or more wealthy fans there, and return with hundreds of dollars, which they stuffed into their socks.
This shed a wholly new light on things, and convinced me of the truth of what the group of players whose stories had formed the basis for the Kansas City Star expose were saying. Early on, I had thought those players were just malcontents. When I voiced this new understanding in our committee meeting, the other two members became enraged toward me about it, and went ahead with an undiluted defense of the basketball program against the charges. (I figure they, the dean of students and a professor who was the university’s NCAA representative, were fully privy to the actual facts from having been insiders for so long. If that were true, it meant they were treating me as a fool.) When l wrote a confidential minority report to the university’s president, the dean of students on the committee, at all other times before and since quite an avuncular fellow, threw a tantrum. My report had little effect, because after the NCAA’S ruling on the charges the WSU president and that dean of students held a self-congratulatory press conference putting the blame on the former coach and exonerating the present one. I sent the Eagle a letter-to-the editor saying I couldn’t reveal anything but that I couldn’t concur in the clearance. When that was published, it shut the administration up for good, so nothing more was ever said about the scandal. Shortly after my letter appeared in the paper, Ginny got a letter in the mail telling her that the writer was going to kill me because of my disloyalty to the program. I reported this to the local FBI office, and our family ate our meals for several days with the curtains closed to prevent my being a target for a bullet coming through the window. Nothing ever happened; nor did the FBI make any effort that I knew of.
I had had serious nose bleeds for several years, including a bad one while I was attending a Philadelphia Society meeting in Chicago. A surgeon at the Wichita Clinic operated on my nose in what was probably early 1982, and I looked forward to having a straight nose as a side benefit to stopping the bleeds. A few days after the operation, he took the bandages off and pronounced the healing satisfactory. He seemed little concerned about whether the bleeds had been stopped, but he may have realized they were, since during the many years since then I’ve had none, only a perpetually bloody interior of my right nostril. The operation, as it turned out, didn’t straighten my nose. My mother had said my crooked nose was from my dad hitting me when I was small (though I have no recollection of that).
Brad played lots of baseball, starting at age 9 in 1979, as well as “Biddy Basketball” sponsored by the Salvation Army, starting when he was six. I formed and coached the “Bel Aire Astros” in the Wichita Heights league, and that was the baseball team Brad played on until he was 12. A particularly memorable moment for the Astros was when Brad hit a grand slam homerun that won the game. He, Shane Dart and Steve Blanton did a lot of pitching for us. The Astros did well enough to be in second place, but our dentist coached a team that always beat us. One of my favorite players was Brent Atwater, a talented black boy who later played basketball briefly for WSU. We were in a post-season tournament out in Augusta one time with Brent warming up to pitch. He looked terrible, with slow, looping throws to the catcher. That was all a put-on he had concocted to fool the other team, which became evident when he struck out the side, with no sign of the rotten pitching. There was a time I benched Brad because of some bad behavior, only to have to put him back in when I pulled our right fielder from the game for sitting down in the outfield during play.
The summer of 1980 was the hottest we’ve ever experienced in Wichita, with 44 consecutive days of 100 degrees or over, and I was careful to trade off the catchers frequently so nobody would collapse from heat exhaustion. Steve Blanton was our main catcher, and he broke his ankle sliding into home plate in one of the games or practices. Before a game out in Valley Center, Brad’s right hand was stung by a wasp, causing the hand to swell up and me to call upon one of our other pitchers. On our way home from one game, we stopped at a convenience store in Bel Aire and bought ice cream cones. Shane Dart was in the front passenger’s seat, and suddenly dropped the ball of ice cream from inside his cone. “Don’t worry, I’ll catch it.” He pulled his sock open and let the ice cream stream down into it.
There was a time Brad and I were playing catch in the back yard of the Welgate Circle house, and the ball went over the fence into the back yard next door. I helped Brad over the fence -- right into a wasps’ nest. He got several stings, and was forever leery of wasps after that (and his Valley Center sting).
Those were tough years so far as Brad’s attitudes were concerned, and largely because of that after three or four seasons I decided to give up coaching. In one of the games in a late inning while the score was still close, I put in one of our less macho kids, who wasn’t a good hitter but who stole lots of bases after he was walked. Brad sounded off to me in front of all the boys, “You jerk!,” and it didn’t satisfy him when I explained that I wanted all the kids to have a chance to play. (I don’t recall whether we won the game.)
The next year after his last one with the Astros, Brad tried out for John Dreifort’s very excellent team in the West Urban League and was accepted. (Dreifort was a history professor at WSU, but devoted virtually all his spare time to coaching Biddy Basketball, baseball and soccer. His son Todd was on the team and later a right fielder (an All-American, I believe) for the WSU team; the second son, Darren, pitched at WSU and then for several years for the Los Angeles Dodgers, though his major league career was plagued with injuries.) That season didn’t go well, though, and Ginny thinks it was likely because Brad had become nearsighted, something he wouldn’t admit for a long time despite Ginny’s continually quizzing him about how well he was seeing things along the street. John put him in to pitch out in Park City once, and Brad (despite generally having been quite a good pitcher) quickly gave up a bunch of runs while getting only one or two batters out. This resulted in an abysmal Earned Run Average (ERA) of something like 76.8. To our chagrin, that number appeared on the stat sheet maintained by John’s wife for the rest of the season. I should have asked her to remove it, but I didn’t think it proper to ask for any special favor.
Brad was on yet another team the next year. He hated that coach, though, and didn’t stay on the team long. That was the end of his playing baseball.
Before I leave the baseball stories, I should tell about the time I stayed after one of the Astros’ games to watch one between two other teams. When the coaches there saw I was watching, they asked me to umpire first base. I volunteered. After all, what can be easier than making calls at first? There was a close play sometime during the game, however, where I found that judging the simultaneous arrival of the ball from an infielder, the runner’s reaching the base, and the first baseman’s touching the base was by no means easy. I made a call, and immediately realized it was wrong. The assistant coach for the team that was negatively affected came running down the baseline and excoriated me up and down, answered only by my meek apology that I realized the call was wrong but didn’t think an umpire was free to change one. (If changes could be made, every call might become subject to negotiation between the opposing coaches and the umpire. The video reviews in major league games now do allow a call to be changed, but there’s a workable system for that because of the videos.) The head coach of that team, also black, was very temperate in contrast. It turned out I escaped what could have been a horrible result. A few days later, the Eagle reported the arrest of the head coach (the mild-mannered one) on a charge of having murdered his girlfriend by breaking nearly every bone in her body with a golf club. It reminds me of another murder case that came close. There was a rough-looking fellow, a large black fellow, who was a student in one of my business law classes. He sat in the second row to my right in a small horse-shoe-shaped classroom. He was absent one day, and the story broke in the Eagle that he and some others had been charged with kidnapping a young lawyer coming out of an “adult club” late at night, stuffing him into the trunk of their car, and killing him out in the country. (These, at least, are my recollections, the details of which may or may not be exactly right.) As you might expect, the student never showed up in my class again.
For several years every spring, I put on a week-long “arts and crafts” show in the conference room on the third floor of Clinton Hall at WSU. Students and faculty entered work of all sorts, and the variety and skill the pieces showed was surprising. One of the entrants was Jerry Burnell, who entered jewelry he had designed. He went on to have “Burnell’s Fine Jewelry” at Central and Rock for several years until his retirement about 2012. (In addition to his award-winning creativity as a jeweler, he was a fine photographer.)
It was entirely personal to myself, but it’s worth mentioning that there were many times at the University that I felt the exhilaration of intellectual satisfaction. Almost all my writing has been in pursuit of answers to social, historical, political or ideological questions that have driven my curiosity. Some of the projects involved massive effort and great patience, such as when I went through almost 200 volumes of the New Republic and 100 of The Nation, scanning and reading (and then spent weeks typing notes), as I prepared to write my history of “contemporary liberalism.” The family probably remembers my sitting many hours on the couch on Welgate Circle with one of the large volumes on my lap, the pages sometimes crumbling from age.
My involvement with the Philadelphia Society led to my becoming a member of the Board of Trustees and then the First Vice President in the mid-1980s. I’ve stopped going to the meetings since then, however, because of their expense (the meetings are held in first-class hotels, and of course there’s the airfare cost).
After I had written about the impact of non-labor-intensive technology on jobs and the need to find a substitute for remunerated employment as people’s source of income, the U.S. Business and Industrial Council’s Educational Foundation gave me its annual “American Values” award and had me speak at their banquet, which happened to be on Mother’s Day. (Ginny wasn’t happy that I had to be gone on that day.)
In 1987, a good friend Arthur Shenfield, a British economist whom I knew from the Philadelphia Society, had me invited to attend the meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society (the mainly European-based “libertarian” intellectual society) in Indianapolis. He had twice been president of the Society. We spent lots of time together during the meeting and on the flight down to southern Indiana to visit Robert Owen’s “New Harmony” colony. (I wasn’t, still am not, a very-limited-government “libertarian” of the sort that comprised the Society, and so never became a member. Shenfield told me they considered making me a member, but voted it down in a session from which he was absent.) Arthur had a delightful British accent, and after he died three years later, my new friendship with Roger Pearson, also from Britain, seemed almost a continuation, without a break, of the friendship, since they sounded identical on the phone. I knew Pearson from UPAO, and began writing for his journal “Conservative Review” early in 1990, soon becoming associate editor.
Brad was incredulous when I told about it at dinner one evening, but a student, in her thirties I should think, came into my office one day and told me how I had a mesmerizing effect on the women in my class and how she loved me. She said she was married and would be dropping my class, which she did (I never saw her again). The meeting with her posed quite a challenge: I felt the need to show empathy without reciprocating her feelings myself or in any way encouraging her. Needless to say, I admired and appreciated her decision to drop.
I had a graduate class on the “Social-Political Environment of Business,” and was surprised one night, when I had the car radio on on the drive home listening to a local talk show, that one of my students was calling in. He repeated virtually everything I had said in my lecture, as though it were his own views. That student, at least, had been paying attention.
It may have been in that same graduate class that the student president of the WSU Honors Program proved to be unable to write a single sentence coherently. I was on the Honors board, and saw a wide difference between the rosy claims made for the program and the reality of it. For one of my Honors classes, I thought it would be worthwhile to break the class into groups of four, with each group deciding on a public policy issue it would study and report on. (The idea of groups working together was a favorite in the College of Business.) After the first hourly exam, though, several students dropped the class, and this denuded the groups, making the group-project approach unworkable. I didn’t do that again. The secretary for the Honors program told me some of the students in the class had D averages, which shocked me because an Honors class was supposed to be open only to students in the Honors program.
When I had a class for Honors freshmen on “Comparative Political Ideologies,” I asked each of the 13 or 14 students to pick a book to read and report on later in the semester. (The list of books contained leading works from the broad spectrum of views.) While the students were to have been reading and preparing their reports, I lectured informally to the group, which was sitting in a circle. I had given each student a booklet I’d prepared with a brief summary of each ideology. When, however, it came time for the students to give their reports and discuss the books, they all (except one) just stopped coming. There had been no indication of unhappiness with me or the course. I invited them all to a breakfast that I would pay for at a local café, and only one showed up (he was the one who did continue; he was a fine student who had won the Barton Scholarship of, I think, $40,000 to attend the College of Business at WSU). Their absence meant they were gone for more than half the semester. One of them did turn in her written report, and I found it was splendidly written (though clearly not plagiarized). She was a graduate of the International Baccalaureate program at East High School. Incredibly, she was one who didn’t show up for class all those weeks after she turned in the paper. I wound up giving her a D (which should have been an F), and she was terribly unhappy about that, having a strong sense of entitlement. There was never any explanation from any of the students, including her or even the good Barton scholarship winner (who probably could have explained it all to me, but didn’t), about what they were thinking (if anything).
One thing I’ve always enjoyed, purely as a hobby, is to study languages. Spanish had been part of my life from my years in Mexico, and I took Spanish in the 8th grade; but I didn’t respect Mexico and lacked motivation to study Spanish. At Colorado University, my Russian professor said she was an expatriate Russian princess. (She said she’d bring a “cabbage pie” to class to show us some Russian food. It turned out to be a deliciously rich cake, with no sign of cabbage in it.) In the Marines, I took Russian in a night continuing-education class at San Diego University, but didn’t stay with Russian when the words became forbiddingly long and, even after years, the lettering remained alien. I was going to translate Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov” from Russian to English, but got interested in the story and went to reading the book in English, forgetting about the project. In about 1985 I decided to study German, which I have ever since, mainly while I’m shaving (which explains why I never make much progress). Ginny and I go to Braum’s ice cream shop for banana splits occasionally, and there’s a fun older gentleman from Germany who works there, and that gives an opportunity for at least some limited conversation.
In December 1985, my mother was on the edge of death in a Denver hospital. I had just finished writing a chapter on the history of American liberalism between 1925 and 1940 when I got word of her situation. I immediately got off the computer to catch a plane. Somehow, my computer action turned the entire file with the chapter to garbage, and I had the painful job of rewriting it after I got back to Wichita. The smog in Denver was the worst I’ve ever seen, before or since, hanging heavily in a long black cloud over the city. I sat in Mom’s hospital room as she slept, and it may have been the smog that caused my nose to run like water. (A humorist could have a lot of fun with that.) For the longest time, I couldn’t see any breathing motion, and thought Mom had died. It was a great relief when a doctor came in, shook her, called her name, and she woke up.
Mom lived another seven months. She had had a pig’s valve installed in an open-heart operation a decade or more before (an aftermath of childhood rheumatic fever), and had decided not to have it done again when told the valve was needing to be replaced. We arranged live-in around-the-clock care for her during the final months. Ginny and I were back east, seeing among other things the Wyeth Museum in Brandywine, Pennsylvania, and the DuPont Gardens in Delaware, when news came of Mom’s passing. I had visited Mom in Denver earlier that month (July 1986), which is when I showed her the bump on my right leg. I had been fishing at Rich Creek south of Fairplay, started to scramble up a slope from the stream, slipped, and fell onto the stub of a small aspen tree that had been gnawed off by a beaver. The stub didn’t puncture my skin, but did split the muscle three or four inches below the right knee, causing a bubble of air to push the skin up whenever I put weight on the leg. I still have that as a memento of that day’s fishing and of my last visit with Mom.
This would be a good time to give a salute to my mother. I kick myself for not having had the foresight to tape-record her playing on the baby-grand piano she had had for years and continued to have there in her apartment at Windsor Gardens in Aurora. She “played by ear,” and it was marvelous. She was an avid trout fisherman, and she and Clarence and I made many trips to Fairplay, hiking over the sugar-loaf mountain to go down into Tumble Creek, which is the creek across the mountain from Rich Creek. But what comes most to mind about Mom is a generalized memory: a memory of the constant love she gave Larry and me. It included spoiling me by hiding a steak under sautéed onions when the others were eating liver, which I detested (and continued to detest until I found, years later, that calves’ liver can be quite mild and not stringy).
As Brad got into his teens, Ginny took some classes on computers at WSU, learning enough to land a job as a computer systems administrator at IRS here in Wichita. She retired from the job on October 1, 2003, after 19 years. She volunteered to work the shift that started at 7 a.m., so for several years I got up at 5 to make coffee, and she at 5:30. Since we stayed up to watch the “Johnny Carson” show that started at 10:30 p.m., we got by on little sleep. One of the delights of retirement has been sleeping until 8. Ginny enjoyed the job, except for the neurotic behavior of two fellow employees, about whom she complained long and hard. I’ve used a computer to write for forty or more years, but there’s a problem that comes up about every other day that I’ve never encountered before – and Ginny’s a life saver by coming downstairs and getting the problem solved. Without her, I’d be inclined to resign from the electronic age altogether, using only “snail mail.”
For a good many years, I supplemented my faculty salary not just by part-time law practice, but by teaching classes for the College or for the Center for Management Development. Lecturing to Realtors took me to perhaps 25 cities around Kansas, as far away as Colby, Garden City, Overland Park, Leavenworth, etc. A funny thing happened at one lecture in Overland Park. A fellow three or four rows back scowled during the entire morning session. Surprisingly, he sought me out at the beginning of the lunch break and suggested we have lunch together. At lunch, he explained that the problem wasn’t with me or my lecture; he had had a bad argument with his wife just before leaving home for the class. At some of the lectures, I was introduced by a fun-loving guy from the state Realtors’ office. When he told them I’d graduated from law school magna cum laude, he got laughs when he said his own graduation had been “laudy how come?” The highest ratings I ever received from a class was in Hutchinson, where I had taught an 8-hour workshop hardly able to speak because of laryngitis. Sympathy must have been a big help there. When I was about to start a workshop to the members of the Kansas City, Mo., firm that handled the Radisson Hotel, I was told not to mind the fact that the senior member of the firm, an old man, would no doubt doze throughout. Sure enough, he did.
One of the subjects I taught about was civil rights law as it applied to real estate transactions. One such lecture was at the very attractive community college in Council Bluffs, Nebraska. Another was at a resort way of north, almost to Minnesota, in central Iowa. There was a blind black fellow who spoke up articulately from time to time, and showed he knew a lot about the subject. I wasn’t invited to speak on that subject again in Nebraska, and I heard they’d started using him instead of me. An interesting thing: part of my flying back to Wichita was by small plane. From Kansas City to Wichita, I was going to be the only passenger. I heard the folks at the airline’s counter speaking by phone to the pilot, who instructed them on what seat to have me sit in and how much “ballast” to add someplace on the plane.
Other teaching was to auctioneers, both in Nebraska and Kansas. Visiting with them before a workshop was always fascinating. They loved to practice their auctioneering patter, and to hear several doing that simultaneously was lots of fun. (It was almost like belonging to a religious group “speaking in tongues.”) The College of Business used to put on a refresher course for CPA candidates before they took the CPA exam, and I taught the business law section several times. When the dean decided no longer to have the course, one of my former students, a live-wire woman who later became the Sedgwick County Treasurer, organized a course herself, in which I taught. It met in the basement of the fire station in Bel Aire. She was the wife of a judge and mother of a boy who played on the baseball team I coached. (He was the one who couldn’t hit worth a darn, but walked a lot and stole bases well. You’ll recall Brad objected when I put him in near the end of a close game so that all our team members got to play.)
Ginny, I and the kids lived in the house at 2501 Welgate Circle from Dec. 28, 1976, until our move not quite a mile east to our present home at 2412 Hathway Circle on Nov. 6, 1986. Previously, we had lived at 2514 Richmond Street on the near-west side of town, and before that in the rented home at 2648 Manhattan Street a block further west. In Colorado Springs, the address was 1115 Westmoor Drive, and in Denver 4350 Osceola. Vickie had “left the nest” by the time we got to Hathway, but Brad lived in the finished basement there for some time before heading out on his own.
My brother Larry was killed on January 15, 1989. While we were in the Marines in San Diego, he had had a hobby of flying small remote-controlled planes. After he retired from the Army (to which he had transferred after ten years in the Marines, going to Officers’ Candidate School and eventually rising to Major), his hobby in Tucson was to build and fly “ultralights” (small motorized gliders). He flew one when Ginny and I visited him, and the flight ended with a no-harm-done crash into a country fence. Eventually, he graduated to building a “gyrocopter” from a model in bought through the mail and put together himself. (It was no more than a light-weight garden-like chair, with a pole rising from its back that had a rotor blade at the top end, and a modernistic plastic front that made the whole thing look chic.) My last phone conversation with Larry was in December 1988. He told me he was going to get a motorcycle again, and I reminded him he had given up motorcycles years before after an accident. I said “I’ll probably get a call from Joyce one of these days telling me you’ve done yourself in.” It wasn’t long before the call came on January 15, a month later. The gyrocopter had hit some power lines on the eastern edge of Tucson, and Larry was killed either by the power or the fall. Joyce had him cremated, and later she took us to visit the large Saguaro cactus that had his ashes that Joyce had put into some of the holes in its shell. When we drove up Mount Lemon north of Tucson with her, she pointed out where she had written graffiti, “Larry’s the Greatest.” Joyce got me to write a history of Larry and my childhoods, which appears on my website with the title “Thinking Back.” Unfortunately, I was able to tell a lot more about my childhood than about Larry’s.
[End of Part IV. There are five Parts]