Bob's memories of growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana

(highlighted topics are on this page)

Places I've Lived

Courtland Avenue Greenwood Avenue Ossian, Indiana 1026 Third St Greenwood Avenue 1929 Third Street
  1925 Courtland Avenue 629 Putnam Street Entrepreneurs Drug-Store & Bee Supplies Turkey Lake Grandma Stearns & Great Grandpa

Early Memories

First Love The Altekruse farm Turkey Lake Chicago World's Fair Meeting Jean The 1937 Trip East
NorthSide HS Jean Marriage Early Working Life Mark Purdue and Graduate school Dave's Arrival
Education, School & Teaching   Flying Learning to Fly at Smith Field War, University and Flight Instructing The Navy Experience  

Education, School & Teaching

First memories of school include my crayon drawing of a sailboat; it was critiqued by my kindergarten teacher as: not enough red somewhere to brighten it, and I obvously made the mast too thick (likely as a response to shaky fingers not being accurate enough–followed by my ingenious attempt to make the mast thicker so no one would notice the defect). In first grade I participated in my first criminal activity: I was lured into a small conspiracy as part of a group who planned to hijack one of the girls in our class outside of school. The plan was to grab her (I was part of the holding group) and make sure she did not wriggle free while the main culprit was intending to bestow some kisses. I only remember we did follow the plan which I believe was successful—if that is what it could be called.............only the whole gang was soon called to the principal’s office (a most dire and threatening result, filled with humiliation and the potential for unknown negative sanctions brought down on the miscreants.

I remember the lecture and stern warnings about any future such behavior on our parts leading to severe trouble; I have never forgotten the episode–but did it forestall any such future escapades? Stay tuned! This all happened at Nebraska school on Third street. Our move to 1929 W. Third then put us in the Franklin school district, about one and one-half miles to walk twice each day. These days were before anyone was driven to school; if weather or other reasons were present, the choices were to walk or stay home–which rarely–to never–occurred

Many memorable events happened at Franklin school over the rest of my grade school years; Mabel Fry’s breaking a chair over her desk in anger at coming into the classroom because we were noisy, Miss Hetrick’s being confined to Irene Byron sanatorium for TB (once we visited at Christmas time, sang and played music outside her window–as we were not allowed inside–whereupon the valves on my baritone horn froze making no music possible). Jean can verify these items as she was there as well. baritone

Spelling bees were common in the classroom. Although I never won, I was always one of the last two or three to be eliminated—likely contributing to my self concept as a second or third place person.

I did receive some attention during times in the gym when we were allowed to bring flying model planes or gliders to school. A couple of girls were admirers of my skills—which also were third rate (lower than that when I consider the extraordinary skills of my cousins Max Altekruse–who still has a most admirable collection of model planes he made–and Neil or Kenny altekruse–who were as well experts in that field).

I played for a few years in the Ft. Wayne all- city orchestra, directed by J.C. Cafaro, the Italian clarinetist who slapped me repeatedly on the side of the head–followed by pulling my ear lobe. He was a good teacher and made sure I got to concerts all over town by picking me up in his 1932 Plymouth. These days he would likely have lawsuits galore for such discipline; the mystery is why did I put up with it? Answer likely is that kids expected that kind of behavior and nothing was to be done about it.

School was not exactly fun but it was at least very tolerable and not too hard for me; besides there were lots of friends and activities that made it good. Writing was always easy for me and I liked to read; one of my favorite pastimes during these years was to find an interesting library book, make a stack of peanut butter crackers then find a secluded spot to read and snack.........maybe not much has changed during the years.

My father and shop teacher both tried to teach me about electricity when I was about seventh grade—neither was very successful! I spent a semester making a small wooden footstool–did not get it right the first couple of times— but it was around the house a long time.

We had moved in 1932-33 to 1824 Courtland Ave. Across from Bob Vachon. I continued to play the baritone, and along with Jim and Marshall all three of us were in North Side High school band. It was at this time my interests shifted from music to flying and girls (not necessarily in that order)–all the while in school.

My first teaching experiences occurred at Smith Field, where I taught ground school courses for the Ft. Wayne AERO Club. Since I had recently passed the written work for a pilot’s licence, I knew the written work well and began my teaching career at age 16. I continued teaching ground school till I obtained my commercial license in January 1941 #51418-41-my CAA number.....still valid if I pass annual physical. In addition to the FWAC teaching was added a couple of classes of CAP volunteers. The Civil Air Patrol still exists, I was a charter member, having joined when it was first formed. It began as a totally volunteer organization, the government asking private pilots with their own planes to be on call for whatever civilian duties a plane and pilot were asked to perform. Ground school was offered to those interested on the presumption at that time (late 1940) that many pilots were going to be required for the almost-certain war that was at that time seeming inevitable. In 1941 I began teaching flying as well to new CAP recruits who at that time had signed up for further military training after receiving primary training at places like Smith Field in Ft. Wayne. Some of our trainees were later reported lost in the India-Burma China theater. This time was when the horrors of war began to sink into my young mind as I had become good friends with some of our trainees and still have a poem given me by one of my students.

Later in 1941, Milt Fry had purchased a Bellanca biplane, a Myers trainer and a couple of Waco UPF’s for secondary training. I was teaching in these noisy planes 8-10 hours a day and going to Indiana University extension classes at nite–where my ears would ring till late at night sometimes......perhaps partly explaining my hearing loss now.

In the early summer of 1942, Tom O’Rourke and I flew his 55h.p Taylorcraft to Fort Morgan, Colorado to teach glider pilots to fly—many of these young men piloted the Waco gliders holding 20 fully equipped soldiers being towed across the English channel on D-Day and beyond. The news was not good about their survival and we knew of the danger as a DC-3 with a glider with that load behind would be perfect a target–slow as they would be. Many of our student trainees there did not survive the war.

Tom and I came back home due to poor maintenance of aircraft at Ft. Morgan, Tom taking a job at Ft. Smith, Ark. With an army flight training group (he later became a Captain in Air Corps flying P51's).

I went back to flight training with a state department program and was sent to Stillwater, Minn. At that time, this program was training pilots from all over South America, ostensibly to aid in the war effort with the Allies if needed. The program was moved to Lafayette, Indiana at Purdue University airport when I made a trip to Chicago to enlist in the US Navy in a special V12 flight program. I continued to teach the South Americans at Purdue while waiting to be called up.

After being west, Al Shurtz and a couple of others from Ft. Wayne had found instructing jobs at Bush Field, Augusta Georgia. I went down, checked out in Vultee BT-13's (maybe 13 was not good luck as I came close to spinning out of control on one occasion before learning the tricks of dealing with the plane). The instructor with me at that time was later credited with saving the lives of an eastern airline plane where he was pilot.........his name was Brown–incident I think in either 60's or 70's. Georgia was not my idea of a place to be so I was able to go back to teaching at the program in Ft. Wayne while awaiting navy callup.

After the war, Jean and I decided to move back to Ft. Wayne looking for work or school. I undertook a course to be an assistant to an architect,–stayed for one year but the apprenticeship part of the course never worked out. By that time I had decided it was not for me (lack of talen)–and went back to Ft. Wayne airport as chief pilot for Marcy Gettle who ran AIRGO flight service there. After nearly two years or so there, we moved to Peru, In. To take a sales job with Peter Eckrich when there was an opening. We stayed in Peru for eight years 48-56 and saved money to pursue school at Butler University in Indianapolis where I got a B.A. in education and Sociology, 1959. While there, I worked for Jim Peeling, department head doing interviewing in downtown redevelopment areas on near NE side of the city. A real learning experience in a poor area.

After looking for offers to help with grad school expenses, we went to Purdue University with the intention of getting a master’s degree only. I was soon persuaded to go for a Ph.D. to make job opportunities better. Graduate school required focus and hard work, which I did gladly but always fell short of my own expectations of what I ought to be as a father and husband...a strain that never eased during my whole academic career.

On entering Purdue in summer of 59 after three summer courses, I was somewhat surprised that as a new student they gave me a text and told me I was to teach introductory sociology. I soon found that I was being called ‘professor’ and given status I felt was unearned—but I learned. In part it was made easy by my attending Gerald Leslie’s large into section and taking notes before I went to my own class—picking up both info and notes to help ease the way.

My master’s thesis was a part of a larger survey that had been done involving high school family life teachers all over Indiana. The main work was reworking the data and writing up findings about relationships of value orientations and what was being taught. Likely never read seriously by anyone. Both Glenn Harper and me however had what we needed from the study–to write a thesis.

In the meantime I had been doing odd jobs anywhere I could to make some money. Jean worked at Sears in credit or accounting, later moving to head offices at Purdue, working for a Mr. Flynn, financial head of Purdue. I mowed yards, scrubbed floors, painted and did other odd jobs and met a few nice older women who needed jobs done.....one whose husband left her an ice cream factory, the other’s husband owned the Burma Shave company..........both were widows.

In late summer of 1962, I had finished course work for Ph.D. and was working on my thesis (a comparison of working mother and non-working ones in a poor neighborhood in Lafayette). It was a n unanticipated amount of work but once completed I never saw it as anything but useful preparation for what was to come. Later in summer of 1962 I took a teaching job at Bowling Green State University. I liked the people at BGSU but Jean did not care much for the small town or the town-gown aspect of the campus life. Also, by the summer of ‘63 I was finishing my thesis and had no promise of a raise in rank or decent salary increase so moved back to Ft. Wayne to teach at Indiana University center. The first year there we taught at the old downtown building–perhaps on Clinton St before they finished the new campus building on US 30 by pass. After teaching for six years at IU/PU campus, we moved to Windsor where I accepted job as Associate Professor of Sociology. Seems like we always could use extra money for something and I was able to teach at some nearby places as an extra person.
My first outside teaching was at Defiance College, Ohio. The Dean was Aaron Kurtz and I taught a variety of course over the next six years. At one evening class we presented Nathan Leopold who was involved in one of the greatest crimes of the 20th century–the Leopold-Loeb murder. Leopold had, since his prison release, been involved in medical research in the Caribbean. Students found his stories about prison and crime interesting but he did not talk about his personal involvement in the crime.

Before moving to Windsor, we had spent 10 weeks at an anthropology seminar series at Boulder, Colorado–including a bus tour of the evolutionary route of the Anasazi Indians. It was a nice summer -lovely place to spend the time. Also, in the summer of 1966 I had arranged to teach some summer courses at Brooklyn college. It worked out well, we found a summer apartment vacancy across the street from the athletic field and my classes were finished just past one p.m. every day so we had time for sightseeing. It was also a matter of great interest to me to teach several Israeli Kibbutzim in classes relating to personality and culture.

The move to Windsor was partly political as Ft. Wayne was a rather stifling over-conservative-racist environment, even though I liked the campus life there. Also, having two boys, the elder of whom was close to draft age—I at least wanted to give them the potential of not going to Viet Nam to fight an irrational war (maybe they all are).

I found the move to Windsor easy and much more accepting of diversity,making it more lively for me............Jean did not find Windsor an easy place and it took her much longer to adapt.

On arriving in Windsor, the old need to take on extra teaching duties did not disappear, so I taught summer sessions and classes for U of W at Leamington, Chatham and Sarnia as well as regularly doing the same at Wayne State U. This provided me with a variety of experiences, some of which would best be forgotten (one black woman threatened me with her big black boyfriend if I did not change her grade).

As I look back, it is likely that many mistakes were made and we should have opted for a bit more poverty instead of so much work, but we did survive the times which provided a range of experience many academics never get.