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Jenny & Me: Introduction
Compiled January 2020

 


Jenny was a friend of mine.  I have fond memories of this bright young woman from the Chicago area:  Jennifer Louise Wagner (1949-2003).

Her home was only four miles from Northwestern University, so she could have chosen that school for her undergraduate work.  But for some reason she came to Oberlin College in Ohio two years after I did, and for some reason she gravitated to the student-operated radio station WOBC.  That's where I met her.  I never got around to asking her why she made those choices.

Jennifer would complete a double major in only three years.  Then, eaning her Ph.D. from Northwestern in 1976, she became a Professor of Management and Information Systems at Roosevelt University in downtown Chicago.

At Oberlin's WOBC, academic subjects were rarely discussed; instead, we talked about the station and its people, especially during my senior year when I was Station Director.

By November of 1968, just three months past her 19th birthday, Jenny was hosting the classical music program Evening Concert every Friday evening at 7:30.  She sent me a Christmas card.

She began assisting the Program Director and helping in other ways.  For example, when I chaired a meeting of the station's Board of Trustees on April 15, 1969, she took the minutes and typed them up.

By the next fall, after I had graduated, she was the editor of the Program Guide.

We kept in touch through her senior year (1969-70) and on into 1975, mostly through the now-archaic medium of U.S. Mail.


This was before email or texting or anything like that, and long-distance phone calls were quite expensive, so we wrote actual letters on paper, put a stamp on them, and sent them off.   I preserved that correspondence, and the retrospective that follows quotes large parts of it.

On this timeline, the blue marks are for the handwritten letters I received from Jenny; the red ones, for the carbon copies I saved of my own typewritten missives.

At one point she asked, “Why do you make carbons (or copies) of your letters?  It's unnerving.”  I must have known I'd want to relive those days half a century later.

In fact, elsewhere on this website I've already posted parts of what I wrote to her and to others.  When you encounter a green peridot you can click it for more details.








 

On the other hand, some of what follows is less about personalities and more about the operational minutiae of our little radio and TV studios.  Those sections begin and end with gold brackets in the left margin, in case you want to skip over them.

To avoid embarrassing certain of our acquaintances (even fifty years after the fact), I've sometimes replaced their names with random numbers like 00.

“I never say all I want to in a letter,” Jenny wrote, “and I really don't like the lack of immediate feedback.”

“It would be nice," I observed, "if we could just sit down and talk for a few hours.”

In what follows, therefore, I've tried to simulate an actual conversation or modern-day text messaging by breaking many of the letters apart and rearranging the sections so we seem to be replying immediately to each other.

This collection of correspondence, supplemented from other sources, has been divided into four chapters.  You're reading the first one now.

1.

Introduction

2.

JW @OC, TT @SU

3.

Moving On in 1970

coming in April

4.

The Next Few Years

coming in May


In the final months before I graduated, Jenny and I both enjoyed hanging out at WOBC.  She was a casual friend to all the guys, referring to herself as their Earth Mother, and I was one of the guys.  We sometimes talked late into the night, an activity which she would later describe to her parents as “studying.”

I don't believe in extra-sensory perception, but when I was away in Cleveland one weekend, I concentrated on trying to send Jenny an ESP message.  She didn't receive it, of course. 

Aside from the radio station, we shared no classes, so we each had our own groups of acquaintances.  She was majoring in mathematics and psychology.  I was a physics major who had already taken all my required math courses, and I would be in another field entirely as a grad student.

I do recall one day walking through a building with another physics nerd; we unexpectedly crossed paths with Jenny, and she greeted me with a big smile.  The other guy was impressed that I knew such an attractive young woman.

However, the larger share of my attention had long been directed toward a different young lady, Jan Olson, who was not connected with the radio station.

Nevertheless, some WOBC folk were romantically involved with other WOBC folk.  For example, I believe 61 was thinking about 14 when he wrote the dream-poem on the right, which I found discarded in the teletype room on Saturday, May 17, 1969.

But Jenny and I weren't lovers.  We had no physical contact, except for the one time I accidentally gave her a slight concussion by closing the Inner Office door without noticing that she was walking through the doorway.

However, one of our male colleagues, 15, had recently discovered the joy of sex.  He highly recommended it and urged Jenny to try seducing the introverted Station Director — yours truly.

She brought up the subject one evening in the Snack Bar, three floors down from the radio station.

This is what the Snack Bar had looked like 20 years earlier,
when skirts were longer and men wore jackets and ties.

I recalled later that she seemed to be “losing her mind“ that night, trying to communicate just exactly what it was that 15 was suggesting.  I think we traded metaphors, such as daring to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

Jenny hesitantly got around to suggesting a couple possible courses of action.  Maybe she and I could “do it” but not tell anyone.  On the other hand, maybe we could not “do it” but pretend we had.  Nothing came of either idea; I was much too shy, and we laughed it off.

On Sunday, May 25, Jenny's final exams were over, although she still had to finish some papers and mail them to her professors.  Richard and Alice Wagner arrived to drive their daughter home to Skokie, Illinois.  She planned to take some summer courses at Northwestern before returning to Oberlin in the fall for her senior year.  Because I would graduate on June 2, future communications between us would have to be in written form.

I didn't meet Jenny's parents that Sunday, but she left me a farewell note at the station.  WOBC's semiannual Classical Music Marathon was still on the air.  However, due to a shortage of live hosts, our automated disk jockey Igor was required to take several five-hour shifts.

 

 
J1969 Sun 5.25

 

 

 

Dear Tom —

I rewound Igor at about 3:30 — see Igor sheet.  My parents are here and really like the station.

I haven't mentioned the last week to them, so I may get away with it.  I do hope you “recover” to use your word — would you care to elaborate?

If we'd had more time, this might have been solution #3 — say it and do it.  Pretty sneaky, hmm?

OK — now you're totally confused — I'll write a real letter and explain.

Love, Jenny

 
One of our acquaintances had once closed a letter with “Love” followed by an asterisk to explain how that word should be interpreted.  Jenny saw no need for explanations.

The next day, I took my one and only final exam.  I was done with physics, forever!  But I needed to wait another week on campus before the Commencement ceremony, so I started a long letter to Jenny.  I didn't finish it until the following morning.

 

T1969 Mon 5.26

Monday, May 26, 1969 

In the wee hours of Saturday morning you addressed a general query to Larry and me, “Who's going to be up here tomorrow when my parents get here?”  Neither of us said a word.

Okay.  Explanation of why I declined to meet your parents.  Number one, I wasn't sure I would still be functioning well at that hour of the day after being up and working all night; number two, I preferred to bid you goodbye in private.

Somehow it seemed quite fitting the way it all ended on Saturday, with the two of us staggering through the halls of King, blabbering nonsense, tottering on the brink of exhaustion.  Acting just as we had been all week, only more so.  That's the way to go out in a blaze of glory.  Had your parents been around when I saw you last, it would have seemed terribly artificial.  I would have had to have been sane.

I'm sure you realize that a large part of my interest in you lately has arisen from my frustration about Jan Olson.  There was a real need for someone to attract me away from this pursuit which no longer had any chance of ending happily.  And there you were.

I admire you for many things besides your good taste in showing some interest in me.  To name just one, you're extremely considerate of other people.  You appreciate my humor, now have more things in common with me, don't complain about your own problems all the time, etc. etc.  But I didn't want to admit defeat with Jan, so I just kept on trying.  Stupid.

Tuesday, May 27, 1969 

Now, about this “recovery” business.  I think I'm happier now than I've been for many months, so it doesn't make much sense to talk about “recovering” from my present state to a better one. 

This, uh, friendship we had, brief as it was, is the first of its kind which has ever ended so amicably.  The major cause of the downfall of all the previous friendships was the arrival on the scene of another fellow in whom the girl was more interested than in me.  From situations like that, one does need to recover.

Such a situation might have come about in our case, but my graduation chopped the friendship off cleanly at a point in time where both its first and second derivatives were still positive.

(For those who didn't study calculus, that means the friendship was not only continuing to grow but its rate of growth was accelerating.) 

One problem does still need to be resolved, though.  I find it much easier to sit here writing a letter to you (I know I won't be hurt doing it) than to go out and try to get some sort of response from Jan (which could be dangerous to my ego).

So far I've been semi-intentionally avoiding her.  I've spoken to her only twice since the end of classes, one of those times being when she called the station Friday night to request something on the Marathon.  (By the way, how is it that you recognized her voice when she called?  Had you been in a psych class together or something?)  I guess I should get up my courage and go over to see her one last time.

I'm now sitting in my room listening to Igor play a tape I made last night.  We've been having a lot of trouble getting people to take the Marathons' 8-to-12 morning shift; I think this trouble was in evidence when you were still here, but it's getting worse.  The all-night person turned off the transmitter at 8 o'clock both Sunday and Monday morning because the Igor tape was expended or because they didn't know enough to put it on, and both mornings it was after 11 o'clock before someone signed back on.  Interest in the Marathon seems to be at its lowest ebb since the idea was instituted 4½ years ago.

(Incidentally, most of the all-night shifts on that first Marathon back in 1964 were handled by a guy who had been off-campus for the semester and therefore had no finals, although he was on campus for the final week.  Much of the credit for the Marathon idea apparently must go to him.  Just one of the interesting historical tidbits a Station Director picks up from going through the old files.)

 

 
This letter has gone on long enough; later I'll have more to write, but I should get this in the mail first.  I'll leave off the “complimentary close” in order to avoid having to modify it with an asterisk; at this point I'm not sure I could define just what I meant by any closing, not even “sincerely,” when applied to you, so it's safest not to close at all.  More epistolary communication forthcoming.

 

The following Saturday, still two days before my Commencement ceremony, we simultaneously happened to compose letters to each other.  (Below, I've interleaved my later replies to what she wrote.)

My letter was typed at WOBC on station letterhead.  I also mentioned a clear-channel Chicago radio station I assumed she'd know about; earlier I'd alluded to nationally-syndicated Chicago radio personality Paul Harvey, and Jennifer had been surprised I knew about him.

 

T1969 Sat 5.31

Dear Jenny,

Hello again.  Since I have much more time for such things now than I will during the rest of the summer, I thought I'd get another letter off before leaving Oberlin.

During commencement week here, I really don't have that much to do other than write letters.  This noon we had the Alumni Luncheon ... at the skating rink.

One item of old business:  I did get together with Jan for four hours last night.  Turns out that during the time you and I were staying up all night frequently, she was staying up most of the night herself working on papers and finals and the like.  So that episode ends happily, if not with any great burst of enthusiasm.

 
However, thanks to the good old U.S. Mail, the episode was actually far from over.  It lasted more than 46 years.




I've been listening to WCFL at night the past few days; they seem to have good musical taste, I enjoy the voice of that Barney (or Marty?) Phipp (?), and their newscasts are interesting to a student of the art:  nice and compact, getting maximum information into as few words as possible.

A lot of things have been done here at WOBC, too.  I've redone the mailboxes in the outer office, putting new name tags up for the Exec Board boxes but removing all the other tags.  I've made a series of theme tapes, complete with mahogany-and-yellow labels to replace the old red-and-white ones.

I've rearranged the alphabetical oldies file by subdividing the more popular letters (rather than S, S, S, we now have S-SH, SI-SPE, SPI-SZ, for instance).  Did you know that The Rascals are filed under Y?  Because they were once the Young Rascals?  Tradition.

I discovered the Winter Term program logs in the Program Director's desk drawer.  Some pages had no dates on them, only times and signatures, and it was like putting a jigsaw puzzle together to get all the pages back into the proper order so they could be filed away.

Ollie Cass got this idea in the past couple of days that we should be on the air this weekend to show off to the alumni, so he put a sign downstairs inviting people to come up.  He signed on for three hours this afternoon and did a pop show.

A few alumni did drop in, including the chief control engineer of 1964 (the year the move was made from Grey Gables to Wilder).

I tend to agree with Ollie that it might be a good idea to plan something like this beforehand next year, get it included on the official commencement program, and make a big thing out of it.  You'll be around, Marc Knight will, Gary and Jackie — all sorts of WOBC personalities to make it go.

 

J1969 Sat 5.31

 

Dear Tom,

How does it feel to be an Oberlin College graduate?  Congratulations.  I hope you're back on some sort of normal schedule — like during the day awakeness.

 

T1969 Tue 6.10

I haven't had time to do much of anything since Commencement, actually.   I got back here on the evening of June 2, Monday, and at 7:45 on Tuesday morning I was hard at work [as the assistant to my father's bookkeeper] at Vernon M. Thomas Chevrolet. 

 

J1969 Sat 5.31

The first night I was home I slept 13 hours.  I finally had to explain it all to my parents (that is, studying all night — not the rest of it....)  Which reminds me:  did you and 15 ever get to talk about what happened (or rather didn't happen)?  He was rather upset the last time I spoke to him.

 

T1969 Tue 6.10

I talked to 15 for several hours total between the time you left and the next Wednesday, when he left.  I don't think he thinks that I was put out about his suggestion to you.  In fact, I'd probably tell him that his making the suggestion has had some rather pleasant results.  For instance, letters might not be going back and forth like this if it weren't for the Niagara conversation in the Snack Bar that night.

 

J1969 Sat 5.31
           


My parents really enjoyed seeing the station and hearing the tape of that very weird show.  They also enjoyed Igor (I hope you saw the note I left for you about Igor).  Did the Marathon stay on until the bitter end?

 

T1969 Tue 6.10

 

The Marathon died prematurely at 11:00 pm Tuesday (17 hours ahead of its scheduled death).

Randy began to realize that it was no fun for anyone any more to keep the thing going, and since the only person signed up to any shifts after 11:00 Tuesday (Dan Barber had to leave early) was Greg Fulkerson, Randy phoned Greg and told him we were calling the thing off.  Greg answered something like, "That's too bad."  Hardly anyone but seniors was left on campus by Wednesday, anyway; if our listenership is so small, what's the use of being on the air?

Ah, WOBC!  Without thee, my life at Oberlin would have been unimaginably dull and tiresome.  Thou wert my true love at Oberlin, not any woman.  Thou hast changed my life, set me in a new direction, turned a hobby into a career.  Hail to thee, WOBC!

All right, what brought that on?  Somebody mentioned Igor, I guess.  But what I'm getting at is a strange feeling I had when leaving the station for the last time as an undergraduate, Sunday night June 1.

 
It didn't give me any particular pangs to say goodbye to you; I knew I'd be writing you and hopefully seeing you again.  I didn't get emotional at all about seeing any of my other Oberlin acquaintances for the last time, including all those who worked at the station.  But I was very sad to leave WOBC!  An inanimate thing, an organization, and it's harder for me to say goodbye to it than to all the people I knew.

The reason, I think, is that WOBC is all the people I knew, and then some.  The great majority of my friends have some connection with the station; if they don't work there, they listen at least.  (How'd I slip back into the present tense?)  And because of the things I can do — could do — at WOBC, I'm able to interact with them much more easily than I could without this common interest to share.

Without WOBC, I never would have had anything to do with such diverse people as Tom Witheridge, Shira Rosan, Ted Gest, Greg Fulkerson — and you, you co-opper.

(Jenny dined not in the dorms but at a co-operative house, and co-op folks were stereotyped as radical hippies.  These photos are from the 1968 Hi-O-Hi.)

Nor would I have had the personal-accomplishment pleasure of doing an Oberlin Digest or a pop show or a plug cart and having it praised by people whose judgment on such things I respect.

WOBC is the summation of all of this, the source of the greater part of my happiness at Oberlin.

As for persons, they will pass away; but the Oberlin College Student Network endureth forever.

 

J1969 Sat 5.31

Incidentally, I'm trying to get used to my contact lenses again.  Not wearing them for almost a month was a nice rest for my eyes, but getting used to them again is almost as bad as the first time.  Anyway, I can't see what I'm writing, so good luck trying to read it.

Well, I still have three papers due before Friday.  Guess I'd better get to work.

Please write and have a nice summer (in that order).

Love, Jenny

 

T1969 Tue 6.10

Since I'm not used to working a steady eight hours with an hour break for lunch (in general, my college schedule was actually much lighter in terms of time if not in terms of brainpower required), I need to take a nap after dinner, waking up in time to go to bed.  Work and sleep is about all I do.  Meanwhile the spare bedroom is piled high with my books, homework papers, lamps, briefcases, and other junk.  I'll get it put away some day.

But you, last week, were still working on papers!  Good grief.

Well, enough of that.  It's now midnight, and since I'm doing my sleeping at night now, I'd best get to bed.

 

With my May 31 letter, I had enclosed the Commencement issue of the student newspaper Oberlin Review plus a scrap of recording tape that had somehow gotten stretched into an almost unrecognizable stiff brown thread. 

 

J1969 Sun 6.8

8 June 1969 7:30 pm

Dear Tom,

Thank you for the Review, letters, and piece of tape (?).  You're sweet to think of me (that sounds very strange).

I'm sorry about the letter I wrote you [on the same day you wrote me].  Maybe it was ESP or something, but I felt literally compelled to write, even though I had absolutely nothing to say. 

I sent in my psych papers (more or less), so now I have nothing to do until school starts in 2 weeks.  Well, almost nothing.  I'm working as a secretary for the Skokie Park District.  And I babysat last night (and wrote 13, who is in Washington D.C. and desperately lonely).

And I've almost finished The Group, which my father had and which appeared rather mysteriously on my bookcase. 

Very interesting novel, especially to an almost-graduate with a very closely-knit group of friends.  The interpersonal relationships (secrets, etc.) are fantastic and quite realistic, unbelievable as it seems.  Most of it, however, is really way-out.

When I finish it, I'll choose one from:
     Convention
     Boys and Girls Together
     Lord of the Rings (etc)
     Catch-22
     The Annotated Alice (2 more chapters!)

Boy, is that exciting.

I just met my sister's boyfriend — for the first and last time.  He's enlisted in the Army and leaves Tuesday.

10 June

Now I've done it — stopped in the middle of a letter.  I can never return to them with any degree of coherence, so I'll stop now and start again another day.  Mail it now or forget it.  Be good, write, have fun.

Love, Jenny

P.S.
Ellice [Forman '69] arrives
for a week next Monday —
Shira [Rosan '72] the next
Sunday.  Company is great (?).
Well, at least it's interesting.

 

T1969 Tue 7.8

Dear Jenny,

Greetings!

The use of that word may have been Freudian.  I've just finished today getting my draft situation resolved:  I flunked the physical exam due to poor eyesight.

For persons who wear eyeglasses, the maximum strength they'll accept is 8.00, and my glasses check out at 9.25 and 9.50.  That means I'm practically blind without them, which I knew already.  More important, it means I won't be drafted.

I'm relieved about that, of course.  I can't quite say I'm jubilant, because a good friend of mine (he with whom I stayed for a couple of days in Cleveland at the end of May) passed his physical, and he definitely would prefer to stay in grad school.  Now he's got to try to figure out how many months of freedom he has left, and whether it might be better to enlist than be drafted, etc.  But I can now go on planning the future with a little less uncertainty.

I've run into my first old college acquaintance here in the outside world.  Mark Stewart (OC '69, late of WOBC) was at the physical exam center today; he lives only thirty miles or so from Richwood, and we both happened to be called on the same day.  We talked about all sorts of things while sitting around waiting, which was what most of the day consisted of.  Your name even came up once, in connection with one of his B&G Smog Reports and the reasons why Randy relieved Mark of his show.

 
Buildings & Grounds, supplying steam heat to the campus from a building just west of the station, had a smokestack that created noticeable local air pollution under certain weather conditions.

 
If things are going as planned, you and Shira should be taking a course or courses at Northwestern University.  But what course or courses?  And how well are you taking them?  And what of Shira's cat?

 
. . . End of 1st Chapter (Introduction)


In September, Jenny returned to Oberlin as a senior while I went to Syracuse University as a graduate student.  But we missed each other.  And we did see each other again on Thanksgiving weekend!

Some of our correspondence from that year will be included in next month's second chapter of this retrospective.

 

1.

Introduction

Next

2.

JW @OC, TT @SU

3.

Moving On in 1970

coming in April

4.

The Next Few Years

coming in May

 

 

TBT

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