Part 1 — Part 3
My first real job, almost full time and at minimum wage, was as a second-shift computer operator with Morley-Murphy. Morley-Murphy was a long-time fixture in Green Bay, a wholesale distributor with a history of hiring people early in their careers. Vast numbers of Green Bay residents over several generations worked, for a while, at Morley-Murphy.
I got my degree in midyear, January of 1973.
That was the middle of a recession,
and I searched vainly for a job for several months.
Nobody was looking for a recent graduate with a
I got the computer operator job on the grounds
that if I could run the public schools' IBM 1130
I could certainly run a System/3 Model 10. As far as
I'm concerned, my whole career has been a paid hobby,
with a certain price to be paid back to the employer
for the privilege of not having to take a real job.
Shortly after I was hired as a computer operator,
I was also offered a job in journalism, as a news editor
for the Ironwood (Michigan) newspaper. But Ironwood was
so far away, not to mention being next to Hurley,
and I had just accepted a job in a different hobby.
I turned the newspaper job down with regret,
feeling as though the rowboat that could take me away
was drifting off into the fog.
The editor in Ironwood said,
Maybe you aren't cut out to be a journalist.
It hurt to say no, but I couldn't say yes.
As it turned out, I wasn't cut out to be a computer operator. To be successful in operations you need to focus on the activity immediately at hand, whereas I constantly took a longer view – much to the detriment of the printing of monthly statements. So when the opportunity arose, I was promoted into the ranks of the Morley-Murphy programmer/analysts.
The highlight of my programming adventure at Morley-Murphy was rewriting the boss's program the first week it was in production. Ed Tarrance wasn't that good a programmer, but he had enough class as a manager not to yell at me until he found out from the lead operator that his program had been failing. Regularly. Every time it ran.
There are reasons why vast numbers of Green Bay residents have worked for Morley-Murphy only for a while. After about a year, the prospect of a 50% pay increase, more competent professional colleagues, a bigger, faster, better computer system, and a mild dose of adventure induced me to move to Madison, Wisconsin, for a civil service programming job with the University of Wisconsin campus.
At UW-Madison I learned most of what I know about system analysis, walk-throughs, language translation, and wiping out development libraries that are used by scores of programmers. I also learned assembler language (from the manuals and the COBOL compiler's detailed output option). The people at Administrative Data Processing were both competent and congenial. The projects ranged from the ordinary to the intriguing. Had I been older or wiser I might have stayed for years, but I was young and impatient.
One day I was walking past Madison's Marquette Middle School (later renamed for Georgia O'Keeffe). A strong sense came to me that I needed to be in a school, although not necessarily that particular school. While still employed by the university I began taking classes to get a teaching license. Eventually I went to part-time employment and finally quit in order to do student teaching.
Which was the worst experience of my life. That is, the first part at a middle school in Racine was pretty horrible and educational only in the broadest sense. (At least I learned that the school situation has a profound effect on the teachers working there.) After I switched to a different situation at Racine's Horlick High School it was better. Life at Horlick, working with teacher Charles Bragg, would even have been fun if I hadn't still been recovering from the prior weeks.
I never did teach under the license I earned,
but I did land a job as a sabbatical leave
replacement in business data processing in
Wausau, Wisconsin, at the North Central
Technical Institute (later
But a sabbatical leave lasted only for one
year, and so the replacement position ended
after two semesters.
Having worked through my teaching contract,
I cast about for another job.
I found an opening with Wick Building Systems,
a central Wisconsin company which was in the
process of moving its headquarters to Madison.
(For awhile. Wick eventually moved back to Mazomanie.)
This position was as a systems programmer. I was
able to play with the operating system, support
the operations and development departments, and
translate between the technical terms in DOS/VS
VSE) and the MVS jargon that our
department director understood.
The Wick position was interesting and challenging while there was a three-person systems department. After they lost both the technical manager and the other systems programmer, I was left not only with all the technical work but also with the politics of dealing with managers. Our department director was faced with hiring limits resulting from another economic downturn, and so I decided to move on after a year.
Back in civil service, I worked in the very heart of the state bureaucracy: the Budget Operations Team of the state Budget Office in the Department of Administration. My team leader was Larry Eisenberg, the best bureaucrat and the best manager that I've worked for. Since then, I often held him up as an example as I've trained my other managers in subsequent jobs.
Working on the state budget office applications, I didn't only learn about budgets and bureaucracy. I was able expand my range of technical programming and learned most of what I know about demographics and US Census data. What we did with electronic publishing and office networking was nearly state of the art at the time and nearly a joke a few years later.
After I completed the task for which I was hired, and after Larry Eisenberg left for new challanges, teaching called to me again. The Delta-Schoolcraft Intermediate School District was looking to create a brand new data processing course in Escanaba, Michigan. They already had a community advisory committee and hired me as the founding instructor.
The job had several special advantages. First, in order to allow for transportation from all the area high schools, my schedule consisted of only two classes with double-length (110 minute) class periods. Second, as the first instructor in the program I was able to design it to fit my way of teaching. Third, during the first year the program was housed in the Escanaba High School building. That was really a double benefit: it kept me a little separated from my own administration while the Escanaba principal, Jerry Cvengros, was one of the very few who both understood and supported the new program.
High school students are pretty fun to teach, for the most part. And, much to my surprise, I found that I enjoy lecturing.
It turned out, however, that my immediate supervisor
was the lone objector to the decision to hire me,
not really the best relationship for starting a job.
Guidance counselors in the various high schools
were telling their best students not to sign up
because my program was
Then the district built their own school building
and the space designed for business education
was not close to what I believe would have been best.
Still, I would likely have lasted more than three
years if not for for a state-wide movement for
excellence in teacher documentation.
Most of the ISD vocational teachers were teaching
under an exception that was seen as a loophole.
My license was to teach math in Wisconsin,
not data processing in Michigan.
Michigan would give me a license to teach both
math and English (for which I had no training)
but not for a hobby in which I was an expert.
While the district had to offer me a math position
in the alternative high school,
I preferred to stay with the subject matter I knew
— if I could get an offer.
The pen was in my hand, and my hand was hovering over the alternative high school contract, when the phone call came from St. Vincent Hospital back home to a house in Green Bay, Wisconsin. With some relief I wrote the ISD that I couldn't resign, since I had never signed. (That technicality didn't keep the Intermediate School Board from accepting my resignation, however.)
The computer applications at the hospital often had obvious benefits for the patients and their families as well as to the employees we were supporting – in addition to often being technically interesting. Many people at the hospital were excellent, but there was always a dark cloud in the management of the data processing department. There was mistreatment of employees, simple mismanagement, slander, false charges of conspiracy, and even anxiety about physical security. St. Vincent Hospital should have been the ideal position. I stayed ten years, six months, three weeks, and three days.
ShopKo Stores, Inc., hired me away.
I have a letter that proves it was ShopKo's job offer
but the first question I asked my boss was,
Who do I really work for?
That's hard to say.
ShopKo hired me to support a business entity, ProVantage,
which later became a wholly-owned subsidary,
then was spun off as ProVantage Health Systems, Inc.,
which was bought by the drug company Merck
on behalf of its subsidiary, Merck-Medco Managed Care,
with which we were merged and which later was spun off
as Medco Health Systems, Inc.
For a while we changed corporate employers every
year without having to change jobs.
The applications at Medco often had no obvious benefit to anyone, even when the concepts seemed plausible, and despite sometimes being technically interesting. But the people on the team were always among the best, so I stayed another decade.
I explicitly kept myself out of management my whole career. I never felt I had the right skill set for management, and, in any case, management had never been my hobby. Once my father commented that he had not done any engineering for so long that he didn't miss it any more. I wasn't ready to follow that path.
At one point at St. Vincent Hospital I did have a title.
No sooner was I made a
than the department director undercut my authority,
bypassing me to make assignments to my staff
and contradicting my direction.
When one of our analysts quit to move closer to home
I requested a transfer to the open slot.
Computer programming as a business profession can be dated from 1968 to 2004. D.E. Knuth's The Art of Computer Programming was first published in 1968. That's also the nominal year for a mature COBOL language (the 1968 standard) and the year I became involved with computers. Before that, programming tasks were assigned to engineers or other employees, who maintained their professional identity. I don't believe management ever liked having a distinct staff for computer programming, nor did we technical specialists ever develop the competence and consistency to justify that status permanently. Gradually, the hardware grew more powerful and the software tools became sophisticated enough that many tasks could be reassigned to other employees — back to the engineers, among others. By 2004, the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College had stopped offering a degree in programming.
Beginning when I was a teenager, I read the entire Bible from Genesis through Revelation several times in different translations. (Reading straight through isn't necessarily the ideal method for Bible study, but it is an excellent way to make sure that you actually read everything in the Bible.) Later I applied this approach to reading individual books. When I was asked to teach the Book of Revelation, I found that reading was the best preparation.
My Bible study was enhanced when my father, who was then a volunteer for the American Bible Society, bought me a copy of the New Testament in Greek. Even without a real ability to read in Greek, having the original language in front of me helped me to identify some themes and unity that otherwise was hidden from me.
One tangible result of these studies is the set of outlines and comments on the books of the New Testament.
Being a reader since before I could read, it was only natural that I would pick out classics from the theological traditions. One of the earlier selections was Moses Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed. I read a library copy and afterward I felt that I needed to keep a copy on my own shelves, even if I didn't ever read it again, because it had influenced me so much. In fact, I did reread the book years later and eventually led an adult study based on the work.
On the spiritual side, I read and reread The Ascent of Mount Carmel and The Dark Night of the Soul by John of the Cross and supplemented them with medieval spiritual classics including The Cloud of Unknowing and John Climacus' The Ladder of Divine Ascent.
I was greatly impressed also with the sections De caritate (and De spe) in Thomas Aquinas' Quaestiones disputae which I read in Latin. Reading Aquinas in Latin proved to be no problem (showing that Andy Adams was right back at North Central College to put me in third year Latin), but translating the key points in De caritate proved more difficult than reading them. Tertullian's Apologeticus inspired many insights. It also inspired many chuckles and few guffaws – but only in the original Latin. Elegant, educated sarcasm is apparently not a translatable literary form.
Other works from the tradition which influenced me strongly included Martin Luther's Lectures on Romans.
While I was living in Madison the first time, Proverbs 30: 7-8 began to have a special attraction for me. It wasn't until I was teaching a Moravian confirmation class many years later that I realized this was, in effect, my confirmation text – given to me a bit later than usual but more directly from the Chief Elder.
For my reflection on other occasions of experiencing the powerful presence of God, I defer to my sermons.
I was surprised at the end of college to realize that I wasn't called to ministry. I was surprised again to discover that I was called to preach. While I was a permanent guest at the West Side Moravian Church, Rev. Wendy Beck gave me my first chance to preach. The elders called on me more when Wendy and Rick Beck were called to a church in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. I continued to preach occasionally in the years since.
Although I was surprised, I wasn't entirely unprepared. After all, I had majored in religious studies at college. In addition, I audited the core courses of the Master of Theological Studies at St. Norbert College. My original idea was to take the entire program and earn my MTS degree. I repented of that on the first day of the first course. I didn't want to spend my time learning what one theologian had said about what some better theologian had said about what God is like. By auditing I had the benefits of the professors' expertise and the graduate-level discussions in class while also being selective about what to read. Karl Rahner's Foundations of Christian Faith was one that I chose to read (and outline) in its entirety, ignoring the excerpting and the secondary sources.
In line with my personal tradition of following common but never dominant ways of living, my family expanded by wholesale incorporation. I first met Travis (according to Travis) when he was in fifth grade and his mom Marchia (a colleague at St. Vincent) brought him and his sister Tracie to my house on Halloween. Marchia later recruited me to take care of Travis during a Fourth of July parade Tracie was riding in. Marchia was going to ride in the parade with Tracie and since the parade route was on Dousman St. right behind my house, it seemed a natural plan. When Marchia married Mark (another hospital colleague), I was a witness at their wedding. I taught Travis to drive; my recompense was that he drove me to Baraboo and Cave of the Mounds. In the meantime, I provided the extra vehicle for numerous trips to Marchia's parents in Michigan; Travis would get to drive, I would get to eat.
Tracie and Travis were deeply involved in vocal music during high school, resulting in my attending a large number of shows and increasing my musical appreciation. Once I also served as a substitute parent at parent-teacher conferences. Tracie went to UW-Stevens Point where the emphasis moved to dance performances. Travis and I often drove to Point together. (He drove; I provided the truck again.) The basis of most artistic dance is impenetrable to me, but every once in a while there was a gem amongst the stones – by which I mean a work that even I could understand.
From college through my days in Madison, Buffy was was my canine companion. She was a gentle, protective, Roman Catholic spaniel mix. When I first got her, she was afraid of going down the hill in the woods. Besides getting over that, Buffy was the biggest swimmer in the Devil River. She also travelled with me to more locations than any of my other dogs.
Joshua was the smartest dog I owned, but he grew up in a disfunctional family in Escanaba. Escanaba is a little city, and we walked a lot, so it isn't too surprising that we came across the kids he used to live with. Two of the boys came regularly to visit him. Joshua knew every trick of dominance and threat; I had to work to establish my position as alpha male. He always worried me a little bit around small children because he didn't trust them and was quick to jump or even hit with closed teeth. (He was also adept at the open-mouth slash.)
Once after moving to Green Bay, I was in the back yard and suddenly realized that the dog had vanished. I found Joshua on the front porch, his front paws happily resting on the shoulders of the letter carrier. They remained good friends for many years.
Joshua understood cat better than most dogs. In Escanaba he would let a neighborhood cat rub its back under his belly when we walked past the cat's house. Then in Green Bay, on my birthday, a young cat strayed into our driveway and Joshua adopted it. Smokey lived with me, but until Joshua died Smokey was really Joshua's cat. One evening Smokey ran away, and both the dog and I were concerned and searched for him. Night came on, and no cat. But Joshua relaxed. I couldn't figure out why. I went to bed still worried. In the morning when I opened the door, Joshua came trotting happily from his dog house with Smokey trailing sleepily behind him.
Pepper was my second black-haired dog; he looked a lot like my first dog Skippy but he was a Yooper through and through. Travis' grandparents helped me find him and Travis and I picked him up in Iron Mountain, Michigan. Dumbest dog I owned, but he could find a stick thrown in the woods and never bring back a substitute. I had to teach him to be cute. That seemed to be his best chance at being liked, and it served him well.
A neighbor gave me a kitten that he wasn't able to keep. Sadly, Tiger was a hidden hemophiliac and died as a result of spaying.
My expanded family bought me a replacement kitten. When Wheatley arrived he went immediately to my shoulders. I couldn't even see him for several hours but I knew that he was warm and soft. He remained a shoulder cat. He also took to lying under the front bushes. It took a while for Smokey and Wheatley to accept each other but in Smokey's later years they'd spend winter days curled up together. Wheatley encouraged Smokey to brush up on mousing, so that when they went outside I had to check both of their mouths before letting them into the house.
After Pepper died, my first cousins twice removed helped me pick out Ruby from the Manitowoc shelter. Ruby was a wonderful, smart German shepherd, but she was also old, arthritic, and suffering from a deep-seated infection. We gave her most of a year of caring, walking, and visits to the woods. Ruby died quietly in the driveway after one last walk around the block. She was the third of my pets to die within a year (Pepper and Smokey preceding her).
Just after Ruby was buried, the vet's office called.
I know it's only been a few days,
but we have this dog …
And so Buddy the beagle arrived.
All my pets benefited from their relationship with my father. He built all their dog houses, the scratching post, and various other accessories to make life easier. When living in Green Bay, my dogs often got rides on trips to the bank or other errands. As long as he was able, he took care of my animals whenever I went out of town. My dad also helped to care for my houses, building sets of shelves and putting up new molding on the kitchen cabinets when I had removed a false ceiling.
My mother gradually came to appreciate my pets, and she contributed a variety of yarn balls and other toys. But my mother more often talked with me about my ideas and issues with teaching or society.
Of course, during these years my parents gradually got old. Eventually they needed to receive more help from me than they could provide to me and my animals. The need for help from me lessened somewhat when they moved into an assisted living apartment, but their need for visits from my dogs and cats could not be supplanted.
My father died in the evening of July 26, 2006. Travis' mother Marchia died the morning of February 27, 2007. My mother died in the afternoon of my father's birthday, April 10, 2007.
This page is valid HTML.