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June 1968
Added to website June 1, 2018


After my last exam on Monday, June 3, my junior year at Oberlin College was complete.  Most of my classmates packed up and returned home for the summer.

I, however, remained on campus until June 11.  As the incoming WOBC station director, I was deemed to have important responsibilities through the Commencement weekend.  In particular, incoming business manager Bob Steyer and I were being instructed on the station's inner workings by the graduating seniors.

I was scheduled to move down to a different single room at Noah Hall upon my return to campus the following fall.  I would be living in 109 instead of 309.

But for now, with most Noah Hall residents having departed, the guys at Buildings & Grounds wanted to keep only certain parts of the dorm open.  Room 309, where I had lived for two years, was not included.  Therefore, I was going to spend Commencement Week on the fourth floor.

On the morning I was to move upstairs, Wednesday, June 5, I got up and turned on the radio.  Ted Gest, a soon-to-graduate senior, was hosting a shift of WOBC's Classical Music Marathon.  It was from him that I learned the shocking news:  The  leading Democratic presidential candidate, Robert F. Kennedy, had been shot in Los Angeles a few hours before.  The senator would die the next day.  He was the second major assassination victim in two months.


Honoring June 8

That weekend, I wrote some blank verse about two other students looking forward to their own graduations.  My friend and lab partner Jan Olson was still on campus, too.  On Friday I dropped off a box at her dorm.

"Didn't I tell you,” the note read, “I was going to give you a new car for your twenty-first birthday?  And what a car, too!  A 1968 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray convertible, yellow with red-line tires.  And I'm even giving it to you a day early so you can enjoy driving it around Oberlin tomorrow and impressing all your friends.”

Inside the box was a seven-inch-long plastic model from my father's Chevrolet-Oldsmobile dealership, something like this.

“One problem you might have concerns the apparent small size of this car.  But using your Thomas Flexible Membrane Relativitator (in a perfectly obvious way) will enable you to reconcile any size difference between yourself and the vehicle.  Enjoy yourself!  Enjoy the car!  Have a happy birthday!”

But that was not my only gift.  Her actual birthday was Saturday, June 8, and I had arranged to have 21 yellow roses delivered to her.

She told me later her first reaction was delight, but then she immediately became worried that my gesture meant more than it did.  Was I “in love” with her, and would that lead to complications?  She already had a boyfriend, after all.

No, I merely meant to honor a good friend on a very important and meaningful day in her life.

Jan regarded “love” as a concept not to be treated lightly.  She was appalled by the lyrics of a hit single released that year by The Doors:  “Hello!  I love you!  Won't you tell me your name?”

She wrote me ten weeks later, recalling an earlier incident with another young man.  “I began to wonder whether there is such a thing as friendship between a boy and a girl of college age.  Can a girl have a good time with a boy simply because she likes him?  Is it always the case that when the girl shows interest, the boy gets designs?

“Being dumb, I don’t learn, and so I continue believing (or at least hoping) that boy-girl friendship is possible.  This allows me to continue being myself.  Otherwise I'd have to lock myself up in my room to avoid all social contact.”

To which I admitted that I had been guilty of “getting ideas” about her.  “It's inevitable with someone as attractive (in all ways) as you.  The buildup has of necessity been slow, from a raisin in 1966 to those roses in 1968, and it will go further.

“However, it's quite obvious that June 1969 will end anything that may get started, since we'll be going completely separate ways thereafter.  Therefore, it would be only to my disadvantage to get really serious.  So I don't plan to.  I admire you, I have real affection and concern for you, and I want to keep you as a friend.”


The Class of 1968 Graduates

The 135th anniversary Baccalaureate Service was held in Finney Chapel on Sunday.

As I passed by, I discovered Jan waiting outside, following along with the hymns in the program.

God of grace and God of glory,
     On Thy people pour Thy power.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
     For the facing of this hour.

Cure Thy children's warring madness.
     Free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
     For the living of these days.

The Commencement was on Monday.  I took many more pictures then.

Then I left campus on Tuesday.  We underclassmen would return in the fall.


Back to Central Ohio

I resumed my summer employment in Richwood, Ohio, filling in as an office assistant at my father's Chevrolet-Oldsmobile dealership.  It was normally an easy job.  The summer before, I had jokingly claimed that I was at the garage for 40 hours a week and worked about 20.

This year, however, was somewhat different.  Cars were selling well, I had many invoices to type, and I was also working on other projects of my own.  For example, I was writing letters concerning WOBC business, and I was preparing the organ music for each Sunday's service at the First United Methodist Church.

“Actually,” I noted, “I'm about as busy now as I was during school; but it certainly doesn't seem that way since there's no worrying about how I'm going to be graded on what I do.  This is a good way to spend the summer:  pressure off, yet enough to do to keep me occupied.”


Back to Northern Delaware

On the other hand, Jan did not resume her summer job from the year before, which had been making salads and sandwiches at the country club in Newark, Delaware.  She had also picked up free cooking tips from the chef.  “The work is fun,” she had written then, “and they say I'm the best salad girl they've ever had.  (Wow!)  The greatest part of my reward in life comes in bringing other people pleasure — and sometimes receiving appreciation for it.”

Now in 1968, she found employment much more in line with her future career as a medical doctor.

“I got a summer job immediately,” she wrote, “with the Wilmington Medical Center.  I am a nurse's aide at the Delaware Hospital.  I'll be working in the pediatrics department as soon as I finish the two weeks' preliminary training.

“On the first day of work, each of us received a folder about ¾" thick of mimeographed material describing techniques of our various duties.  Enclosed please find a partial list of these duties.

“I'll be doing shift work — mostly the 6:45 AM-3:30 PM or 2:45 PM-11:30 PM shifts. 

“Since each member of our summer family (including Ken) goes to work at a different hour, it is necessary to use three cars.  I drive a 1965 Pontiac LeMans (which we bought with 9,000 miles on it!).  It has power steering and power brakes.  After five years of pedaling around a Volkswagen, driving the LeMans is a dream!  (Amazingly enough, VW and LeMans cost me the same: 5¢ a mile.)”


Slumping GPAs and Dumbcanes

My second-semester grades arrived in the mail on Saturday, June 22.  I received a B-plus in math, but B-minus in both physics courses.  The point average was 2.833.  “My parents surprised me,” I wrote, “by not being upset by the grades, down almost a full letter from the preceding semester.  They're telling me that B's are pretty good for college, which I guess is true.”

I drew a couple of graphs which I've recreated here.  The little colored boxes indicate my grade averages as a freshman, sophomore, and junior, with gold for the fall semesters and green for the spring.  The blue line shows my cumulative GPA, the average of all semesters so far.  It drops at the end of my junior year — after I'd already made Phi Beta Kappa, fortunately — from the A region into the A-minus (horrors) at 3.708.

For the second graph, I invented a Law parodying the style of my math and physics textbooks.  “Euler's Law states that, given a liberal-arts college with fewer than fifteen letters in its name and a finite number of singularities in its student body, and given a student that is regular and bounded on any finite region within that college, then the student's first-semester grade averages will vary linearly with time, while the time dependence of his second-semester grade averages will be quadratic [varying with time-squared].

“As you can see from the graph, a straight line in gold does indeed connect my first-semester averages, while my second-semester averages lie on a parabola in green.  If we extend these two curves into my senior year, we find that Euler's Law clearly predicts that my average this fall will be 3.74 [the rightmost gold box], but next spring I will flunk out.  Oh, well.”

I wrote to Jan on June 24, “The only excitement around here so far this summer was last Thursday night, when the Dieffenbachia collapsed.

“We had this seven-foot-tall houseplant in our living room [similar to the upper photo on the left] which all of a sudden decided it was tired of being seven feet tall and just fell over.  Shshflump.

“Luckily, a new shoot had already started up from the roots, so in another couple of years the thing will be seven feet tall again.

“But until then, our six-foot rubber tree [actual photo on the left] will have to be king of the living-room jungle, ruling over the philodendron and the African violets.”

She replied in pun, “My condolences to your family on the sudden demise of the dear Dieffenbachia.  I cannot help but feel that certain rootimentary treatments might have saved the plant, and that its death stemmed from the family's leafing it alone when clearly it had to handle more strain that it had barkened for.”


COMING IN JULY:  I provide the organ music for a wedding, and you can listen to my first selection.  (No one heard it at the time, because no one had arrived yet.)  Other hometown news includes the May-June Sales Campaign and the succotash farmer's golf course.

Click here to continue.



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