When you were 17, what did you want to be?
I grew up in a small town about 40 miles east of Cincinnati, a town of about maybe 1,200 people. It was a perfect place. That was in the 40s and 50s. It was a great place for kids to grow up in. You could ride your bike anywhere you wanted to. Everybody in town knew you. It was very comfortable. We went swimming in the creek. We played tag. I worked at the Kroger grocery store. It was pretty much a traditional Midwestern town in the 1940s and 50s with parades and all those kinds of things.
I had a high school basketball coach who was also an American history teacher. He had come to the school when I was a freshman in high school. He was young and easy to talk to. Our first year, our record was 3 and 13 - terrible. We didn't know which end to shoot at. But we came along. By the time we graduated, we were much more successful, and it was fun. So I thought I wanted to do that. I really like American history, I really like sports, so I thought I’d be a teacher.
My dad was not particularly excited about me being an educator. He had his own business, a savings and loan bank that he had inherited from his father. It had been in the family for a couple generations. I tried to be fair and say maybe I could do that, but I had no interest in it really. I'm sure my parents were a little disappointed, but it all worked out.
How did you decide to attend Ohio University?
There was no doubt that I was going to go to college. My parents were both college grads, so I never thought about it much. My parents told me I was going to go to Ohio University, so I never looked at any place else. My uncle had a PhD and had been involved with the government in DC. His son, who was the same age as me, had gone to private schools on the East Coast, so they had eastern influence. My uncle knew the president of Ohio University and said that I should go there. That's the crazy, true story.
How did you choose your major?
I went in as an education major. It was comprehensive social studies, so I got a lot of history, geography, and economics. Because of my dad's wishes for me, I decided maybe I should go into business administration. In my sophomore year, I took some business administration courses, and I hated it. My dad was very happy that I was going to try it, but I tried it and I hated it. So I switched back to education.
How did you get from college to where you are now?
I graduated with my teaching credentials, but I went into the Army as soon as I got out of college. I graduated young, I was always the youngest one in my class, and I just decided that I wasn't ready to settle down. Kids take gap years nowadays. Well, gap years weren't around then, so I signed up for the voluntary. I was in for about 18 months. There was no war going on at that time - I was very fortunate. I was mostly at Fort Hood, Texas, Camp Carson, Colorado, and Camp Polk, Louisiana. We were learning how to drive the tanks, the gunners, and all those kinds of things, playing soldier.
When I was in Fort Hood, I was in a truck wreck and I screwed up my knee. After that, I was assigned to a nurse, Major Lad. She was the head of the pharmaceutical places at Fort Hood. She was really tough; she knew more bad words than I could even think of, and she kept me in line. The reason I got the job working for her was because I could type. Not very well, but it was good enough for Major Lad.
I spent almost a year with her. It was an easy job. I didn't have to wear khakis. I didn't have to show up for morning drill, or anything. I just went to her office and worked in the pharmacy. It wasn't bad at all. Then I came out and started teaching.
I went back to Ohio, to Hamilton which is just north of Cincinnati. I took a job coaching and also teaching what they called adjustment classes, or special education now. That's what I was hired to do, but I didn’t have a clue. They didn't even have certification for it yet. I said, "I don't have any training," and they sent me to a two-day workshop in Columbus. I went and I was the youngest person in the room by probably 40 years. I got some training then, but I had no skills. I was worn out every day. We did okay, but I don't think anybody had a clue what to do with special kids.
I was there three years, and then I went to another school in Hamilton. I was coaching and I taught physical education for two more years. By this time, I was starting to get the message that I needed to get my master's. I started on my master's at Miami University in Ohio, which was an excellent school.
After I got my master's at Miami, I went to Bowling Green and picked up a specialist degree, which was two more years. Then, I was going to get my doctorate, but at that point, you had to give up your present job and income, and be a graduate assistant. I couldn't afford to do that because I had two kids. But I did get a two-year National Science Foundation grant to go to Stanford where I met great people.
After I got my degree, I started applying for principalships. I was not impressed with what I was doing as a teacher, and I thought I could do a better job as a principal. I became an assistant high school principal, then a junior high school principal over a five or six year period. After I'd been a principal, I applied for supervisory jobs and I moved up to a director of instruction position, then a supervisor, then an assistant superintendent of schools.
When I got to assistant superintendent for curriculum instruction, I stayed in that job for 18 years. I was in a district that had about 700 teachers, which was a pretty good-sized district. This was the Lyndon Johnson era, and Johnson got a lot of money for schools. It was called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Some of it was for teachers' salaries, and a lot of it was used to get updated audio-visual equipment: slide projectors, tape recorders, the kind of stuff we laugh at now.
I stayed in that role for 18 years because it was great. I got a number of National Science Foundation grants to go places to learn about what was going on. I went to Stanford, University of New Hampshire, Michigan State, and met some of the leaders in the field. Then I used some of the money in our district to get those leaders to come to Mansfield, Ohio to work with our teachers.
We got a lot of recognition from that, and we were written up in a lot of journals. We were working on how we could reorganize classrooms, so they worked better for kids; making things interdisciplinary, putting different courses together that complement one another like social studies and literature, or science and math. Our staff was so excited. These consultants would work with us all day, and then they would hang out. It was really relaxed atmosphere. To be involved and see teachers get better was a real thrill.
I retired from that position in 1985, and then I started my own company. There were small, mostly Catholic schools throughout the Midwest that were going bankrupt because they had no money. The reason they had no money is that they had no graduate programs. Graduate programs make money. A friend of mine and I, we decided that we could help those schools. We would go in and write their curriculum, and get it approved by their state Department of Education and the North Central Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges. Then we would hire people to teach the courses.
We brought graduate education to where the people were, rather than having to take the graduate students to the home campus. For example, in Wisconsin, the University of Wisconsin's a great school, but you have to go to Madison. There are people throughout the rest of the state that didn't have higher ed at that time. So we set up programs all over the state, and then did the same thing in Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana. We did that from '85 until I bought out my partner in '94 and then I sold the company in 2003.
I also started a company with a woman I knew from Ohio State. She and I wrote a learning style inventory that students could take, and we could identify their learning strengths. The teachers could then adjust their teaching to the strengths of the student, and they could learn more. Simple concept, but hard to do.
There had been a few done before, but there had never been any that were normed. I was doing the practical part and she was doing the database stuff, tabulating numbers and looking for trends. We did a lot of work with schools that had foreign students who came to the US for higher ed. And we did a lot with industry too, like General Motors and Bell and Howell.
I bought my partner out in 2000, and I kept that company and ran it until 2013. I was done traveling, flying someplace every week. So I sold it and retired. I miss my jobs. I had to retire, but I miss it, the connection with people, the enthusiasm. I've never been one to say, "I can't wait to retire."
Looking back, what seems clear to you now?
Professionally, I think I was blessed. I was at the right place at the right time. I got breaks that I don't know how I got, and I was really excited about it. I wouldn't change anything in my professional career. I really wouldn't. Eventually, I got tired of traveling, but I felt so full. I had something to help people with.
One of the advantages I had was that I was the first person to hold that particular position in most of the places I worked. So I got to organize what I was going to do. They basically said, "Here's what we want to have done," and then I would figure out how to do it. I never had to follow anybody. My advice is to find something you have enough confidence in that you think you can make it work, and then go for it.