Interview with John Baker, 12/03/2016 (Transcript Only)

UW Oshkosh Campus Stories
Tyler Bates, Interviewer | uwocs_John_Baker_12032016_transcripts.docx
Campus Stories Oral History Project (UWO Audio Series 51) |

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´╗┐Tyler Bates: Today is Saturday, December third, it's shortly after 1pm. I, Tyler Bates, am located in Oshkosh, and I'm interviewing John Baker. Would you like to tell me where you're located?

John Baker: I'm at my house in Normal, Illinois.

TB: Excellent, so in the preliminary interview, I mentioned the deed of gift and you're going to email that to me after the interview right?

JB: Yes.

TB: So the interview is supposed to last about 60 minutes, do you have time for that right now?

JB: That would be fine.

TB: Okay, so let's get started with some background questions. In the preliminary interview, you said you are from Antigo?

JB: Yep.

TB: Did you grow up there, or did you move around a lot?

JB: No, my parents grew up there, and actually, their parents grew up there. It's a pretty deep history of being in town, and I grew up there and attended a Catholic grade school and public high school. The only reason I moved away, I guess is, I got into the service.

TB: Ah, I see. Do you wanna tell me a little bit about your father and what he was like?

JB: Well, he's the reason why all of the kids, grandkids, and his great grandkids all sorta have the, I don't know what you'd call it, imagination if you will, to do anything with anything. He's done things, as did my mom's dad, he was kind of a tinkerer, inventor. My dad was a mechanic for many years and then he became a service manager for a Chevrolet dealership. So, he learned a lot about electronics and a lot about how to rewire a car, which back then, a lot of cars caught fire because of the wiring. Somebody had to go in and tear all of wiring out. Plus they didn't come with radios, they didn't come with turn signals, they didn't come with a lot of features. So they would come to the garage and he would work on them. Some cars didn't come with heaters as options, so he learned a lot about that. My son is also into electronics. But he was an outdoors guy as most were in that area, he liked to fish, ice fish, deer hunt, and for a while he even did a little rabbit hunting, but he was mainly a fly fisherman. Yeah, that's his background. He grew up there and had family there, that's where he is today, so to speak. He passed away about four years ago.

TB: Sorry to hear. Would you like to tell me a little bit about your mother?

JB: My mom came out of a pretty large Irish Catholic family. My dad actually converted over to her family, my dad was actually a Baptist, believe it or not in that area. Anyway, they got married in '44, and he was in the service at the time, he was actually serving overseas, came home, and then went back to Germany during WWII. She was the youngest of seven kids, had a real large house there in Antigo. Her dad actually, he was involved with the Antigo power company. At the time, they had a small electric company there. He was one of the managers of that, he did other things. But she liked to be out and among people, she worked outside of the house at different jobs, just to be in the public eye, if you will. She played piano real well, she encouraged all of us kids to do that. We all pretty much did play one instrument, or two, or three. Her mom was that way, she had a grand piano in her house. She got all of her girls, and her one son to play some sort of music. She was a good cook, she had gotten a lot of her recipes and so forth from her mom, my grandma. She kept the books for the house, I think she did a real good job during a time where people weren't making a lot of money, but they were doing fine and getting by.

TB: I know Antigo is kind of a very small town, but do you want to tell me what it was like growing up in a small town like that?

JB: It was kind of interesting. It was not a place that had many secrets, everybody always knew what everyone else was doing. So anytime my dad would want to do something, he would tell us kids he was going to see a man about a horse. We all got excited because we were thinking he was going to go buy a horse, but that was just way of saying "I'm not going to tell you what I'm going to do." but eventually it happened, so then we would run out and tell the neighbors. He was kinda that way about his secret fishing hole where he liked to fish too. But word spread quickly in a small town, and everybody knew everybody. It was generally a pretty friendly place. We grew up in an environment where kids would wander off, but their ears would perk right up whenever someone gave a yell or rang a bell, you know, whatever it was to try and retrieve them from wherever they were. It seemed to work. Breakfast was at a certain time, lunch was at a certain time, dinner was at a certain time. You didn't want to be late for any one of those. But the town itself, I'd say, had a high percentage of Catholics, high percentage of Lutherans, so there were different grade schools, including public grade schools. But you all came together at the high school because there was only one high school in that area. A lot of potato farming, a lot of things happening when you're a kid. They also had a lot of vegetable farming. But with the potato fields, we'd go out with a gunny sack after they'd harvested the potatoes, we'd probably picked 3-400 pounds of potatoes up without working at because they didn't want to be troubled by trying to go back and clean the fields totally up. Eventually the frost came and would freeze, what was left in the fields would become fertilizer. But we did the same with other crops too, we'd find a corner where the trucks had to stop and pull a bunch of pea vines off. They didn't care, the drivers of the truck didn't care. [Inaudible]. People back then had large gardens, quarter of an acre gardens weren't unusual. They grew a lot of things, they didn't grow potatoes much, but they grew things they couldn't get. I think a lot of people did things for other people without paying. Like my grandpa became a chiropractor and he always come by with a crate of raspberries. "Where'd you get those?" "Well, so and so came in for a treatment and he paid me in raspberries". Or he'd come by with a few dozen eggs, "This farmer came in and he paid me in eggs". Course it was just him and my grandma, they didn't need three dozen eggs. I think a lot of kids had jobs back then, whether it was a paper route, or a summer paper route, working in an apple orchard picking apples. Even at a younger age, a lot of kids did, sort of odd jobs. I worked at a mink ranch, I wasn't that old. But here's this job, you do this stuff, that stuff, and this stuff. And they paid you, which was kinda neat. If you needed something, you had money for it. We picked currants for making currant jelly, kind of a lost thing. We got paid by my grandma, I think it was a couple cents per pint. We even got paid to pull nails out of boards, talk about odd jobs, we got paid so much per nail. It kept us busy, it kept us doing stuff, we got a little money in the pocket. The thing I remember probably most, and I don't miss it is, it seems like we had a lot of heavy snow up there. We'd actually dig into the ditches and other things where it formed real deep snow, and make snow caves. Didn't think it'd ever collapse, and I don't remember it ever did on us. And then we have a real short, small, kind of a place to ski or sled back behind our house. There was always probably three dozen kids back there after a good snowfall. [Unclear]. We got a lot of exercise, went everywhere on your bike. We'd pedal our bikes as far as five, six miles. There was a great deal of freedom, I guess. We wandered around, I don't think we ever had any issues with anything up there as far as, anybody bothering young kids. Part of it was, everybody knew everybody, so it wouldn't have worked, I don't think. It was fun, it involved fishing, and as we got older, deer hunting and different things. Kids would get along with dads and moms. It was good, it was one of those, where, you don't think about it too much until later in life you realize you had a pretty good upbringing. Everything just kinda moving you along into good things.

TB: Did your parents push school when you were a kid?

JB: Yeah, it was one of those things where I think my mom did real well in school, and my dad was a little more mechanically inclined. She did real well, I think she did have some expectations. I don't know that they ever got real upset about it. I think in my case, or my immediate family, my older brother Mike, well one fellow there said that he was the smartest fellow he ever knew. He was, he was very well read, very smart, very smart with math, any of those kinds of things. I was a year younger, I'd follow him through school. Everybody had great expectations for me, but you know they were comparing me to what he had done the previous year.

TB: Right.

JB: I managed to get through, I might have started out with A's, but I may have ended up with B's because I just wasn't quite at his level. Anyway, there was really no competition there, it was just a matter of that was something to shoot for, to try and get as good of grades, I think he had straight A's through grade school. He won a Maxwell Award or whatever it's called. And then he did just as well on things in high school. I think the only area was band. It was tough for him in band because a lot of kids in it, couldn't give everybody an A. He was into physics and that kind of things. He was the kid in town that, in high school, they wanted kids to do science experiments. So, he decided to get some Jetex engines and rockets, and put a capsule on top. Of course, we're in the middle of the Sputnik thing and all this stuff at the time, and he launched four mice up in space named John, Paul, George, and Ringo. And a couple of them didn't survive the parachuting back, it didn't fully deploy. So he took the two that didn't survive and took them to the biology class and asked them to do an autopsy on them to how come they didn't make it. It was kind of a big event, people from around town would come out and see this rocket launch. But of course, you get there and you're the younger brother and they say "Well, what are you gonna do?", "I don't know. My science is going to be a little more [unclear]". Anyway, education was, I think probably, really important and my parents did about all they could to make sure that we at least got through the first years between grade school and high school. After that, we had to kinda rely on scholarship money or, in my case since I joined the service after high school, the GI Bill. My younger brother went into a tech school, Milwaukee Tech School, or whatever it is. He's a journeyman tool and die maker, so he's really got the mechanical side of things. My sister, actually didn't go to any college, but she's a pretty accomplished pianist, she plays the organ at church, things like that. [unclear].

TB: You mentioned after the service that you got married, do you want to tell me a little bit about your wife?

JB: I don't know if I said it before, when I was in the service I went to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey for training, and then I went overseas to Vietnam and when we came home they said "Well, where would you like to be stationed because you have a year left on your enlistment?" and I said "Well, I kinda liked New Jersey, but I also had a base at Presidio in California." And I remember my dad talking about that, this is the Army. And anyway, they said "Okay" and I got my orders after I got home for a couple of weeks saying I'd been stationed in Fort Riley in Kansas. Which is, I think some guy figured out exact distances between Presidio and New Jersey and picked a spot exactly in the middle. So, I went ahead and I thought "Well, okay. That's not too far from home or whatever", so I had ordered a newer car, but it hadn't come in so, I bought an older '56 Chevy and drove it out. Every hundred miles stopped and put in oil, drove it out to Kansas, found out where I'm supposed to be. It was kinda one of those where everyone was just biding their time to get out. Some of the guys said "Well, you can drive over there (Kansas State University) and there's a place to eat or drink and so forth, and come back." It was twenty minutes to get there and twenty minutes to get back. I think I went over, just by myself and maybe one other guy and there were these two gals in the back of this, it was called The Dugout. I don't know, one of them caught my eye, they had all these big bags of books. They were clearly walking, they weren't driving, so I went over and offered to help them get their books home. So I did, and got a phone number, this would have been January of '69 and we got married in August. And 47 years later, we're still together. But yeah, that was it, we didn't want to tell people we met in a bar, so we always called it The Dugout restaurant.

TB: Oh, okay. Yeah.

JB: But, they did serve food, but it was one of those things where, it was mostly where they were coming from, her and her friend, were actually doing a last semester, little celebration, just got their books from the bookstore for the year, that's why they're in there. I don't know, I should probably thanked the guy that picked that place between Presidio and New Jersey to end up there.

TB: And then after you came home from Kansas, you decided to move to Oshkosh?

JB: Yeah, what we were trying to do was relocate and I had a couple of schools I could have gone to. But the one that kinda appealed to me a little bit, because it wasn't as big as Madison, was UW Oshkosh. I had some friends from high school, who had been, actually some of them had been through three years of school already, I was talking to them. Anyway, we talked about maybe moving to there, and she was a journalism major at Kansas State. She was the editor at the K State newspaper, and so she got a job pretty easily at Oshkosh and it was called The Paper. And, it was a rival for the Northwestern, or whatever that other paper was that they had. It was up and coming, a lot of young people applied, it really only lasted two or three years. It ended up, they just couldn't keep it going, but it was owned by Miles Kimball. So they were wanting their own paper, I guess, or trying to get into that. Anyway, she worked for them, I actually worked for them, one summer anyway, just trying to get subscriptions and things like that. They had a few high school kids, they'd go door to door to try and sign people up for subscriptions and things. I worked for the university for a little while, but that was it, that was how we got there. I was on the GI Bill and she was making a pretty good salary there. She was a reporter and just copy editor for the newspaper, we settled in there. It just wasn't as big of a school and it just seemed to lend itself more to being married and going to school, where Madison is kinda the opposite. It's focused on school and wanting to party. Oshkosh had its reputation too, but.

TB: Did you have a house here, or did you rent an apartment or something?

[23:20]

JB: Well, you can actually go look at it, it's still there today. She was in Kansas and I came back in July, and looked around for a place and I basically responded to an ad that was in the paper for the upper floor of a house. There was an older couple that lived downstairs, and we'd have the upstairs. [unclear]. They lived in 1423 North Main there in Oshkosh, we had the upstairs. We went by a few years back and I think she was still alive, their son was a minister there in Oshkosh. I don't know whether she's still living there or they sold it. It was kind of a thing where we stopped and took a picture outside standing in front of the place we lived in forty years earlier. So, that was our first place, we had the upstairs, and we had privacy. The funny thing about it was, probably not so much you don't do this anymore today, but it was fully furnished, including silverware, glassware, plates, and everything. Everything was furnished, but we didn't have any plates or furniture. People were willing to give us stuff and we had a toaster we got from the wedding. Anyways, we used their everything, their furniture, bedding, well not bedding, but beds. There was actually two bedrooms with a living room and a fairly large kitchen and then a bath, and pantry area. A lot of floor space. They were nice people, they were real nice. They liked the idea of having a married couple there, because it was less likely having six people living up there and them not knowing about it

TB: Right, yeah. What do you remember about your first couple weeks at Oshkosh, like going to the University?

JB: Well, having been in the Army for three years, it was a piece of cake. It was very simple, because when you're in the army, you'd figure things out and you'd know how to do things. When I got there, everything was pretty straight forward Paperwork didn't bother me and things like that. We had a band director up in Antigo, and his name was Joe Bauschka. And, I don't know why, but I had mentioned this in something when I was first applying at the University. And so I got there and they said "You get to register early". I thought maybe it was because I was in the service. They said "No, you have this band experience". I don't know if they were just trying to get me to sign up for band and you know, be in the UW Oshkosh band, I don't know. I never did, but I thought, "Well, okay." So I did, I think for the next couple semesters, I was always able to register early. Then by the time you got to be a sophomore or thereabouts, then you got to register early because you're a little bit more involved with classes than freshman. Anyway, it was not, really, I thought the whole place was laid out real well. You started meeting people as you went to classes, and most of the classes were, I didn't have any that had a hundred different people in it. I think over my time there, I only had one like that, some kind of sociology class. They filled one of those larger rooms with people, I think all you really had to do was read the book and you could skip all of the long lectures where people were falling asleep. Anyway, because there's no way they could take attendance.

TB: Right, yeah. The professors--

JB: The professors know that they're sleeping. But yeah, it was not too bad. I imagine for some people it was probably a real hectic thing, and some people were probably three years younger too because they were coming right out of high school. I'm a grizzled veteran with the service overseas and everything else. I had that advantage I guess, I don't recommend it, but I had that advantage. It's not for everybody.

TB: True, did they teach you stuff with computers in the Army, or is that something that you kinda had to figure out?

JB: Well, I think we talked a little bit. Yeah, New Jersey, there was a 36-week course called ADP Repair, Automated Data Processing Repair, and that was my specialty. And so, they started you out with "This is a flip-flop, it's either on or off, and here's how it's used inside the computer", and there were and-gates and or-gates, all these kinds of electronic pieces coupled together to create, sort of that logic circuitry which you needed for actually doing things. And then you actually graduated onto an actual computer, you would actually use switches to put in the programs, turning them on and off. It was basically machine language, there's probably a couple hundred people left who know how to program in machine language. Anyway, and so you learned all of that kind of thing, and that was the forerunner to actually then doing programs. And, a lot of times back then, believe it or not, there weren't even cards. We were doing it on paper tape, we'd punch holes in the paper tape and once you got your program punched in and you got to read it back into the reader and then it would actually run. We had at the time a PDP-11 which I don't think the PDP's lasted much more than, I don't know, maybe a couple more years. But, yeah, the Army was, even before that, they were using, I think it was UNIVAC or I don't think it was IBM. UNIVAC was the only company out there. But, in school, we had the PDP. Moving through all the service stuff and getting back to school, the PDP's were much friendlier when it came to your programs. That was the course, it was 36-weeks long, there was supposed to be a 16-week one after that, but we never got to it. When I got overseas, then they said, well, after all of the rig-a-ma-row, and finding my clearances and all that stuff, we worked on older IBM 360's that were actually maintained by IBM. They hired contractors, highly paid, to keep them running. We were basically operators, and there were a few people who were doing some programming when there was some extra time on some of the machines. They were for inventory over there, for just processing data, like payroll and things like that. There wasn't anything, they weren't used for artillery sighting or anything like that. They were just big clunky things kept in a 53-foot long van with two air conditioners, and this rack of security stuff. If we were ever under attack, you'd pull this cord and magnesium burned its way through all of the crypto gear, I don't know. It was crazy stuff, I mean, you were basically just an operator. You'd run cards in, and you'd print stuff out. There wasn't a lot to it, there wasn't even any magnetic tape. But anyway, my Army training sort of spans that, but then when I got back to Kansas, I'm back to zero again.

TB: So what made you choose philosophy as your major instead of something else?

JB: Well starting out, I was interested in computers the day I signed on in Antigo, and I might have ended up in the Air Force, which probably would have been a different experience for my two years. But the Army guy was here, and said, "Well, you know, you don't have to sign up for three years. You'd get a year and a half training, so it's unlikely that you'd go to Vietnam." Of course, I did go. But at the same time, at school, my best subjects were logic related, like algebra and things like that, so I was kind of intrigued you could actually use logic to control a machine how to do things, tell it how to do things. That's what it is, it's just logic, it still is. I decided, well, I'd get into that when I got out of school. They did have majors at that time at UW Madison, but at Oshkosh, they only had minors. They weren't accredited. It had to do with the number of courses you had to have, and you had to have the professors, and it was such a new thing, you know? I thought, well, philosophy involved a lot of logic, I actually, the math part, I just thought, "I'd do some of that." So I finally just decided, all of the three, I can only get a minor in Computer Science. I didn't want to be a math major, that was way too pointy headed, I didn't want to do that, because there's a lot to that major. That's more, I don't know, kind of a, you know, a real thinking kind of thing where you don't really have to do that kinda stuff working on computers. I went through that, and in terms of the major, I enjoyed all of that. Whatever, philosophy of art, philosophy of religion, it covers everything, it's such a broad thing. Of course, there was logic classes and other things, actually how to argue, what fallacies there are in arguments. It just really sorta touches on all of the stuff, so I decided that would be good. I never thought I'd get a job, doing that, teaching philosophy or anything like that. It never crossed my mind, I was more interested in when I sent out all of my resumes, back in '72 and 3, find something where somebody was going to allow me to do programming in something other than FORTRAN or machine language, what was it? Oh, and assembler was the other one. I knew how to do it, I just didn't want to do it. I wanted to get into some of the third and fourth generation languages. I just, you know, that's what I looked for, that's what I found. There were big demands for people who wanted to do that who had some background working with computers.

TB: Do you remember any of your classes really well?

JB: I remember one that I dropped, and I shouldn't even say it, someone could figure it out. You know in the math side, I took calculus and then I realized it was the same book I used in high school, and I thought, "Well, this is going to be pretty easy.", and then I took some other math courses and I finally got to a statistics course, and the instructor understood statistics and everything. He was good, but through the whole hour long class, or however many minutes, 50 minutes, he talked to his shoes, and I thought, "This is not going to work for me. I need some engagement here." Finally after about a week, I just went into the office and said, "I gotta drop this, I don't think this is gonna work out." But I do remember that class, I don't remember his name or anything. I remember a lot of the philosophy classes, I think it was more engaging. Dr. Wu, he and I would go on and on and I think put the rest of the class to sleep. We would argue which religion was best, which of course, there is none. But doing different things, and there were two or three others, I'm trying to remember, the department chair, Dr. Burr. But anyway, that's the classes. Then there were ones that I took, just to fill things in, I took creative writing classes, to help with clarity and some others, that's how I got involved with The Wisconsin Review. I really enjoyed those classes because they were not, sit in a room and listen to someone talk to their shoes or talk to you. You were engaged in those, where you'd write something, whether it's a story or poem, and then you'd sit and talk about it, and then the next person would sit and talk about theirs, and you kinda were doing reviews, if you will, of stuff people were putting together and talking about things, like style on people who were accomplished and so forth. But it wasn't let's go out and read all of Shakespeare and report on it, it was the opposite. It was like, you got out and do your best to be Shakespeare and we can tell you how you did. That's the way The Wisconsin Review was. It took submissions and then you would go through them, pick them up and read through them, make notes and so forth, and then coming to a consensus whether or not it would be included in the next issue of the magazine, which I thought was kind of a good process. Of course, the editors had the final say, but when you became the editor, you had the final say.

TB: So you collaborated with your co-workers on each individual thing? Would you like read through and then rate them and have other people do the same thing?

JB: Yeah, we had sort of a, I don't know what you'd call it. You'd sign off, we had like routing slips to make sure everybody got a chance to look at it, you'd initial the fact that you got through it. And then on that slip, there was kind of a bit of a space there, and you'd just put, "Didn't care for it." or just some comment. You got five, or there was about eight of us, if you got eight thumbs up, and there was a good chance some of your material was going to make it in. We tried to keep it separate so we weren't mixing this author with that author. We'd pick an author, some of them were just amazing, and we even had, I think Joyce Carol Oates submitted something, and she was pretty well known at the time, and we've had others who were really, I don't know, who were pretty well known, send in works, and you could tell. There was a huge difference between some student at the University of Iowa sending something, these folks, they were professionals. They were just trying to get some things published. And even Doug Flaherty, he was excellent, he even had his own magazine called Road Apple Review. I think there was another one called, I might even have an old copy around. But anyway, he kinda got involved with multiple things, it was more of a, sort of an adventure, let me see if I can find this. It had a funny name (Note: it was called Ambergris), I had forgotten it was even part of the school there. But it was a magazine that I think some of the people that worked on The Wisconsin Review who just decided would do one more, outlet if you will, outside of the control of the school.

TB: Oh, I see.

JB: Let me see if I can find it. Anyway, that was one of those things, I think it did last awhile, it kept going on. So yeah, we collaborated a lot, and it was more of a, once everything was in on something, four or five were in, we'd have a meeting. We'd say "Okay, we're going to talk about this person, and that person.", and just, you know decide what would go in. And of course, then you had to lay that out and get it into an issue. If it didn't fit and we still wanted to get it published, we'd push it to the next one. Sometimes people submitted short stories and stuff.

TB: How did you determine how the magazine would be laid out for that issue?

JB: Well, we had help from a couple different sources, I could always send you copies too or you could check with them and see if they've got the archives there.

TB: I actually was there yesterday.

JB: Did they have some there?

TB: Yeah, they have copies of every issue of it, I believe. I looked through some of the ones that you worked on and they're pretty impressive. I liked it.

JB: Yeah, we were in that time when there were even demonstrations in Oshkosh for other things, right on the edge. It was free reign though, we didn't have anybody say we can't do this or can't do that. Some of it got a little raw and got a little, you know, edgy. But anyway, there was sort of a process we went through, we'd take and use, you'll love it, rubber cement, and put it on the back of somebody's poem typed out on a typewriter, whatever we were using at the time. We had a couple, two or three different fonts I think, and we typed it out and we used that to create a galley for the magazine and so we'd fit people in, and they were physically glued onto the board and that's what the pages were gonna look like. We had a printer there, I'm trying to remember, it wasn't printed on campus, it was printed off campus. We had a small budget for printing so it changed shapes, sizes, everything over the years. It was kinda crazy actually, I think a couple years we didn't have much money so we just [unclear] bound on the back. Anyway, that layout thing, we had some people that were good at it. And actually, my wife helped a number of times, giving advice on how it looked from layout standpoint. Generally we had poems in the front, scattered throughout with the artwork. I think you'd find some art, and usually in the back, we had a short story or two.

TB: Yeah, I did notice that kind of pattern when I was looking through some of them. Did you submit poems to everyone, or did you just submit them here and there?

JB: Oh me?

TB: Yeah, you.

JB: You mean outside of this magazine? Yeah, I submitted poems to other magazines Human Voice, some others. Some of them had been printed already in The Wisconsin Review, but because it was not a, I don't know what you'd call it, a commercial magazine, you didn't have to give any credit to The Wisconsin Review when you submit somewhere else. There's about probably, four or five, they had sort of a, I don't know what you'd call it, kind of a little. It was in the, at the time, the mall there, I'm trying to remember what it's called. Anyway, Miles Kimball I think is somehow involved in that mall, it's down on the river, and it's kind of enclosed. And they went in, you'd walk through, people had submitted poems or short stories, and so you had to take every one of okay poems and actually had it on a piece of poster board, and they were displaying each these works, I don't know what you'd call them. So, there's different ways things were presented. I had some published, even newer ones, newer pieces, in The Wisconsin Sesquicentennial Magazine, whenever that came out. Probably, oh gosh, so many years ago, I forget when the sesquicentennial is. But anyway, I submitted a couple of things for that. One of them got published in there, a couple others were mentioned as well. That was kind of interesting. I think many of the people that submitted things to there, that were in the prewriting area in the lobby, I think just about any of them, or all of them, had some outside submissions.

TB: Ah, so, I believe I have one of the poems that you wrote here. It's called War Poem I, could you tell me a little bit about that? Do you remember it?

JB: Well, I do remember it. I think, yeah, it was probably one of those where you wanted to, I was trying to sorta imitate one of the other poets, one of the actually well-known poets. His was much more, I don't know what you'd call it, truer. His had to do with counting the bodies over again, maybe we could make the skulls smaller so we could fit them all on a desktop. You know, it was really, taking all of human life and sort of boil it down to war and what happened, I mean you were counting the bodies and all that, decreased the value of the smaller things. I don't know, I guess I wrote mine more from the perspective of, you know, there's just really no value in it, nothing, there's no meaning in it, you don't get anything out of it. That's the way I look at it. But, that one was probably one of my earlier ones too. And, some of those works I submitted, your works to, whoever the instructor was, it was a creative writing class, and you were graded on them.

TB: Oh, I see.

JB: Yeah, that was part of it, so. That was his way of encouraging you to do some writing. Yeah, I had kinda forgotten about that over the years. I kinda remember them, but if you were somebody who wrote a lot, you may or may not remember them.

TB: Right, yeah. That makes sense. There's another one that I read from you called, From A Sunday Afternoon Window. It was like a, four part poem, I really liked that one. I thought it was pretty well done.

JB: That was the one that ended up at that little show or presentation, with the worms and the bubbles and all that other stuff. Yeah, that one, I think that one is actually still hanging in a picture frame upstairs in the house here. Yeah, that's a very rich one. Some of the other ones are a little crazy and raunchy. I think that was the whole idea, to try and be as creative as you could be without totally confusing people. Back then the theme was really, more, I don't know what you'd call it, Earthy, sort of natural things. There was a lot of writing that was like that, more oriented towards, you know, the Earth stuff, not really the real far out, I don't know, sort of fantasy kind of stuff. There was some, a couple of people back then that were like that, this was really a, I think it was a magazine published, I'm trying to remember, maybe Brian Salchert? authored it, Alvin Turner's as Farmer, and it's pretty good. It was a small little publication. It was just a one-time thing, but it talked really about that. I wrote a little bit about a farmer myself, John Lemonski, who was a person that my wife interviewed while she was on The Paper. His line, it was the best line I've ever heard (I went with her because he was kind of a hermit, lived by himself, we noticed that there were chickens everywhere. I think he used them like my grandfather, somebody who bartered with them, "I'll give you three chickens for whatever.") But anyway, she asked him, "So John, how many chickens do you have?", and he kinda looked up and then looked at her and he says, "Who counts chickens?" He was something. Anyway, Neshkoro, it was south and maybe west of where you are. Anyway, yeah, that was a good time, and the computer stuff was fun too. I think his name was Mr. Katz, that's K-A-T-Z, I think that was the professor. He tried to make the whole computer thing interesting and engaging, maybe more than it would have been otherwise. It wasn't all just, read this theory book, or do this, or write about mechanics so much as it was, trying to play tic tac toe on this machine, and everybody writes the same program to see whose would be best. There was even somebody who tried to write one to play chess, which I thought was interesting, because I did play chess. Actually I won the chess championship in my senior year. Which, at that school was totally unheard of, because they had people at the master level and I had no background. That was kind of an interesting experience, because some of the people I played against and beat, were not very happy about it. They were friends of mine. I played in high school, one of my friends asked, "Why don't you come and play in the tournament, we need some extra people to play." I don't know there was like six or eight people. We played Chess for two days, I think it was and on the third day, I played in the championship against a guy who was a master of some sort and I beat him, so I got my name in the little Oshkosh Titan, about two square inches, you know? But anyway, they didn't give out trophies or money or anything, we just won I guess. Anyway, it's just a version of something to do. There was lots to do, between the magazine, and doing playing with computers, all these kinds of things. [unclear].

TB: Do you um, I noticed that Mary Zane Allen submitted a ton of pieces and I noticed that you to were both editors, were you two close friends?

JB: Yeah, I only got to know her through that. I was up in the, sort of the math and other things. She was sort of the creative writing side of the board. The magazine and Doug's classes were kinda what brought us together and she lived in Menasha, I think it was, and I don't know how she was making her way down to school. But, after a while, we moved to Appleton, when The Paper folded, Sandy got a job at Lawrence University. So we moved up there for her convenience, of course then we had to find some furniture. And then I drove down to Oshkosh and stay for school, and she just walked, almost like across the street to campus, to Lawrence. Anyway, I told Mary, "If you're coming into school," I can pick her up at eight o'clock in the morning in Menasha and I'd drive her down to school, and we'd turn around in the evening, whatever that meant, if that was four in the afternoon. Sometimes if one of us had a class that was later, we got back later and I'd drop her off. It gave us a chance to talk about the magazine and things. But she was still there, and then I think I even corresponded a little bit, we moved down to the Washington D.C. area after I graduated. So, I kinda lost track, and I was trying to find her, I have had no luck trying to figure out where she went. You know how you do that? You can go through Facebook and do that. The only thing about it was, she may have had different health issues that may or may not have occurred. She was a good artist, I mean from the standpoint of poetry, she was really dedicated to helping the magazine, and you know, writing. She had a lot of things published there, she published everything.

TB: Okay, do you keep in touch with any other people from Oshkosh?

JB: You know, that's a, the only people I know, this is going to sound strange, the only people I know are people that, from Antigo that went to Oshkosh when I went to Oshkosh, and I saw them occasionally because there was that one year crossover where they were in their senior year, and I was a freshman because I just got out of the service and everything. But other than that, there were two or three couples there in town that [unclear]. When the paper folded we moved off into other things, we did see a couple of them after. In fact, one of them went to work for Bill Proxmire out in D.C. when we lived out there, we'd meet up with them. We had another couple, they were from somewhere in Wisconsin, his plan was to move to Minnesota, buy hundreds of acres for a dollar an acre in the middle of nowhere. But we never did, I wasn't able to keep in touch there. I really don't, just the people that I knew that had went to school there or I saw on campus there. I think part of it was, the whole idea that I was so much older than my class, if you will. We just didn't have, didn't connect with a lot of my classmates, I was three years older than most of the freshman.

TB: What did you do for fun while you were in Oshkosh and attending school?

JB: Well, I think, being married is a lot different than being single. Actually, one of the things one of the guys and I did was we went fishing in that area. You know, just fishing from shore, and we actually caught fish and that. We'd go up by Winneconne and just different places. Now, my parents being just eighty miles away, a lot of times we'd hop in the car and go up there and do stuff in the Antigo area. And then I had a brother, well actually two brothers and eventually a sister that moved down in the Milwaukee area. So, we'd go down to the Milwaukee area. But on campus stuff, you know, 9th Street Pizza, I don't think it's there anymore, on a Friday night was probably the highlight, or someone was having a, you know, a party at their house, we'd go to that. We saw concerts, Blood Sweat and Tears, was the first one, and some other concerts were there. I don't know, between work and school and all these other things, didn't have a whole lot of, we did some kind of exploring around Lake Winnebago, you know different towns around there, just something to do, walk and observe nature. I think, this was a little before EAA and stuff like that. There weren't those big events in Oshkosh yet, and then we moved to Appleton and it was a little different. We had friends that liked to come down to Appleton, and we'd go out to different places in that area and, you know, have an adult beverage.

TB: Of course. So what did you do while lived in D.C.? How did that come about?

JB: Well, we sent off, probably a hundred different letters, and back then it was hard to do. We figured out a way to print them up that didn't look like they were Xeroxed or video graphed, and sent them off. I went in and found financial reports for all these different companies, Fort Howard Paper Company, and just different ones, Sperry Rand. I looked to see if they had a director of IT or Information Systems. I found the name that was on these things and addressed the letter to that person and just say I was looking for work and was willing to relocate, all this kind of stuff. I got interviews for Fort Howard, Northwestern Mutual, I think, I forget all the places. But anyway, Sperry Rand said they would fly me out to the Philadelphia area. Blue Cross said, "If you're in Philadelphia, we'll pay for a ticket down here and a room if you wanna come down and talk to us." We did, we were on a bus down there. That's how I got the job, and it was kinda fun because neither of us had spent a lot of time out of there. Some of it was really neat, we went to museums and things, some of it was not so great as far as the government at work. [unclear]. Anyway, we were there for three years. Blue Cross was a great place to work, it was all about training you and getting you moving forward and putting you in charge of systems for the federal employees, which there were too many of at the time, no pressure. It was the same system they gave away for free to all of the other Blue Cross plans across the United States. It was a great learning experience I guess, just too far away.

TB: So how did you make it back? Did you get a different job here?

JB: Yeah, well, basically it was the same process, sent out a bunch of letters in 1976. Horace Mann down in Springfield actually flew me out and tried to, you know, wine and dine me to come work for them. Horace Mann insured teachers and there were a lot of them. So I quit Blue Cross and went to work in Springfield. Horace Mann went through some troubles where they got bought up a couple of times. It made for a poor environment for trying to keep people, so I just came up the road, just sixty miles to this area and went to work for an insurance company here. It was somewhat different work, but it was a much more solid company. It was an Illinois Farm Bureau affiliated insurance company, of course no buyouts were going to take place. It was pretty solid, but that's what got us back. We both worked and lived here. But yeah, we retired from our respective jobs, almost eight years ago now. We are just enjoying retirement here in town.

TB: I bet, do you have any advice for students currently attending UW Oshkosh?

JB: [Silence]

TB: Probably the most difficult question.

JB: Yeah, jeez. Um, it's going to sound strange, and you've probably heard it before, I would say try to major in or study something that you like. Whatever it is, the things I studied were all things that I enjoyed. But, if you find yourself in something thinking, "You know, this isn't really what I wanna do.", then change. After school, you end up usually doing what you majored in, so if you don't like accounting, don't be an accountant. Get involved in all you can, in something that you really like to do and will really be happy doing, I guess, after school is over. There is this whole life, unless you hit the lottery.

TB: Yeah, I think that's a pretty good piece of advice. Um, so that's all I have for questions I believe and I think we're just over the hour mark.

JB: Alright.

[End Interview]

[1:07:00]

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