A new era began when John and Jane reunited at Shoreham, Detroit Lakes, on September 7, 1945.
There was a brief honeymoon, to be sure. Memories crowd in It was a warm afternoon, and we went swimming in Lake Sallie, in front of the cottage. A dry, subtle cold front passed while we were in the water. Then the weather turned cold. We burned the entire pile of firewood in the following week keeping the cottage warm with its pot-bellied stove. We walked the beach neighborhood in the chilly air, visited with friends of Jane who were still in cottages awaiting their husbands, went out for dinner and a little dancing at a roadhouse on the west edge of town the first night, played with Dianne a lot, embraced a lot, reviewed our history a lot (we had known each other 52 months of our lives, and had been apart 37 of those!), and talked a lot about what the future might hold.
At the end of the week, with the woodpile exhausted and the weather still cold, we decided it was time to leave the lake and get on with it. We loaded Dianne and our personal property into the Borchert family Studebaker and headed for Indiana. The next couple of weeks would be packed with portentous explorations, interviews, and decisions.
A Near-Miss with Northwest Airlines
The morning we left Detroit Lakes the Fargo Forum ran a brief. page-4 story about Northwest Airlines just receiving authority to fly to New York. This meant they now would fly transcontinental-Alaska-Japan. John reflected that he had always been interested in the transportation business; he had all this experience in aviation meteorology. We agreed he should stop at Minneapolis and talk to the NWA people.
After an overnight at the slightly seedy old Vendome Hotel in downtown Minneapolis, we stopped the next morning on the way out of the cities at the general offices of Northwest Airlines. They occupied a small one-story building not much bigger than our Cedarcliff house today, at Ford Parkway and Mississippi River Boulevard in St. Paul. While Jane and Dianne walked along the river bluff watching birds, I went in and introduced myself to the receptionist, gave her a three-sentence summary of what I had been doing in the air force (I was in uniform, with insignia of rank), said I had just read of Northwest’s authorization for route expansion, had a life-long interest in the transportation industry, and, if someone had the time, would like to talk about the possibility of employment. She said, "Mr. Stelzig, our vice president for operations is in. Let me see if he has time to talk to you."
She returned in a moment and ushered me into his office. We talked for half an hour about my experience and interest and about the future of Norhwest Airlines. He said he’d like to hire me. But he wanted me come on as a dispatcher, not a meteorologist. He said the opportunity for advancement was much greater for a dispatcher. He would have to make an opening, and that would take a few days. He’d be in touch. It was a very cordial, encouraging meeting. I came away sold on joining Northwest. I particularly wanted an opportunity to go to Alaska. I had some romantic idea about that part of the world and the chance to be in on its transition from frontier to urbanized region.
Our little family climbed back into the Studebaker and headed down U.S. 12. We took the short detour into Camp McCoy, where I verified my separation orders and found out the procedure and about how long it would take. As we were leaving the base, Jane and I got a sudden insight into Dianne’s understanding of her relationship to me. We were driving slowly along the crowded street, and throngs of Gis were walking the board walks to the mess halls and barracks. Dianne pressed her face against the window of the Studebaker and pointed at the hundreds of men in uniform and said excitedly, "There’s a daddy and there’s a daddy and there’s a daddy and there’s a daddy . . . ."
We stopped overnight at the ancestral Carleton House in Tomah, and the next morning, as we were going through Madison, Jane said, "My family lived here for a year when I was in sixth grade. I’ve always thought it would be a nice place to live." Thinking about a Northwest Airlines career, I said, "It’s probably among the least likely places for us." A month later we’d be living there and two years later we’d be building a house there. So much for my forecasting skills!
Our stay in Crown Point was tempered by John’s desire to get going on a civilian career as quickly as possible. We took a brief "honeymoon" in Chicago. Spent a couple of nights at the Allerton House hotel on the gold coast, a day shopping on State Street, with dinner and an evening at the Black Hawk restaurant--I think Sammy Kay and his famous big band were playing there at the time. Even then we took time to do some further investigation of possible work in the airline industry. A former Crown Point high school friend, Ed Glover, worked in TWA’s Chicago office. TWA was a major contractor for the army’s Air Transport Command, and he had spent the war years as a TWA agent at Prestwick, Scotland. Jane and I went up to his office in a LaSalle street tower and spent an hour learning what he did, how he liked it, and how we might fit into the business.
On another day, Grandma Borchert took care of Dianne while we drove the family car to Urbana. We visited former geology professors at Illinois and also looked in on the geography department--harking back to my thoughts while reading Finch and Trewartha’s Elements of Geography back in England. Discussing our experience as we drove back to Crown Point, we agreed that I did not want to go back down to the low rung on the ladder in geology; and geography, at least at Illinois, seemed moribund.
Yet another day we drove to the University of Chicago. The main purpose was to talk with Prof. Carl-Gustav Rossby, an international figure in meteorology who headed the department at Chicago and had directed one of the five aviation cadet training programs, comparable to the one I attended at MIT. But while we were on the campus, we stopped in at the geography department. Rossby felt that the competition in meteorology was going to be very tough because of the thousands of men who had come into the field through military training. And the geography department, again, seemed moribund. On the way back to Crown Point we were tilting still more toward a career in the airline industry.
Stumbling into Geography
Next day I took the train to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, to be discharged from the army. As I was leaving Crown Point, Jane urged me to stop en route and see Professors Finch and Trewartha. See what impression of geography I get from them. Get a little more data before I reject the idea of an academic career in geography. My reaction was, "The train from Camp McCoy doesn’t go through Madison, and besides I think we’re pretty well committed to the airline business."
The following day, I had cleared the military separation process and was in the waiting room outside a small office where I’d sign the final papers. My eye fell on an army B-4 bag stencilled with "Major John W. Carlisle". When the owner came out of the office and picked up his bag, I spoke to him, told him I thought it might be possible that he had once known my wife, Jane Willson, in Fargo. Indeed, it was the John Carlisle who had once given his fraternity pin to Jane. We visited cordially and briefly, and went our ways. But I felt that both Jane and I--especially I--were lucky things had worked out the way they did. I went into the small office, signed a sheaf of papers. And now I had forty-five days with full pay for "rest and recuperation". Then we’d be on our own.
A short time later, walking back to the barracks to get my knapsack, I overtook a couple of officers on the boardwalk and asked them the time. In response to a question, I told them I was catching a train to Chicago. They said they were leaving in a few minutes to drive to Detroit and I was welcome to ride along. They offered to deliver me at Crown Point on the way, so I joined them. Unlike the train, their route, U.S. 12 (no freeway in those days), took them through Madison.
Late in the afternoon, as we were passing the Wisconsin campus, we got a red light at Park Street and University Avenue. I thought, Jane would be really upset if I went right past the campus and didn’t stop to see the geographers as she had suggested. So I got out, went to a downtown hotel, and back to the campus next morning to find the geography department. At the top of the stairs to the third floor of Science Hall I spotted the offices of Professors Finch and Trewartha. Since Finch’s name came first on the book jacket, I went to his office first.
Professor Finch was a gracious, warm gentleman of about sixty. We had been talking for half an hour about my background and interests and the past and future of geography in his view, when he looked at his watch and said apologetically that he was going to have to go to meet a class. Then he paused and said, "It’s the introductory physical geography course. Today’s lecture is on the Marine West Coast climates. You’ve been working in that kind of climate and have a lot of practical experience with it. Would you like to give the lecture?"
I accepted the invitation. As we walked up Bascom hill to the classroom, I reviewed highlights of the Marine West Coast climate as I remembered them from Prof. James Austin’s course at MIT, recalled some mission forecasts that illustrated the characteristics of that type of climate, and walked into the class room. I was shocked to see 200 students in their seats. But I went ahead. Fifty minutes later I concluded. The blackboard was filled with an outline and diagrams. The class applauded. And I was hooked.
After the class, I met Professor Trewartha, who was enthusiastic and straightforward. He gave me a strong sell on coming to Wisconsin for graduate study but, with his characteristic objectivity, urged me to look into Northwestern, Syracuse, and Michigan before I made a decision. He invited me to join the grad students and faculty for a bag lunch and listen to a guest speaker, Professor Wellington Jones from the University of Chicago. Universities were just beginning to recover from their war-time malaise; so it was a small group--only half a dozen graduate students and three faculty members in residence.
Jones discussed his research in progress on agriculture in the Punjab region of India. It was an eye-opener. He had contour maps that looked much like our weather maps--"highs", "lows", steep and gentle gradients. And he had maps in sequence or successive times to show changes, just like our weather maps. He could then interpret the changes, just as we did when we prepared a forecast. Only difference: the data on his maps were for hundreds of small areas rather than weather stations, and they represented production of various crops rather than elements of the weather. And his observations measured changes by seasons and years rather than by hours and days. Furthermore, he placed each local area in its larger regional and world setting, just as we analyzed local base weather in the context of the European and Northern hemisphere charts. And he used field observations to bring reality to his numbers, just as we looked out the window and debriefed air crews to bring reality to numerical weather observations.
It struck me, in a primitive way, that there is a geogaphic method using time series of maps at multiple scales, along with field observation. The method can be applied in many fields, but it dominates geographical study and gives geography a rich variety of applications. The notions were vague at this point, although they soon became my guiding philosophy of the field. It was a decisive moment. I talked about geography with Jones. Told him I was seriously considering going into graduate work and wondered where to look. He told me to stay right here at Wisconsin; it would be the best department in the post-war years. For years after that, when I saw him at the annual meetings of the Association of American Geographers (AAG), he would identify me as "the young major" and congratulate himself for pushing me into the field at Wisconsin.
Back in Crown Point that night I told Jane about meeting John Carlisle and my feelings. And I recounted the visit to Madison, thanks to her intuition and advice. Next day a telegram came from Northwest Airlines with a job offer--in New York. We looked at each other for a moment and said we should go to Madison and pursue a graduate program in geography. If it had been Alaska, we might possibly have spent our life with Northwest. But not New York. I wrote Vice President Stelzig at Northwest with regrets. He sent a kind reply, saying that geography’s gain was Northwest’s loss and urging me to contact him if circumstances changed.
To "Slumless" Madison
It was now early October of 1945. Jane was newly pregnant with our second child, who would eventually be Bill. I was registered--a few weeks late--for fall semester classes at Wisconsin and scheduled into a couple of courses and a seminar. We needed a place to live, immediately.
Mrs. Kolb came to the rescue. She was the wife of Professor John Kolb, the very senior, distinguished head of Rural Sociology. Ed Willson had studied under him sixteen years earlier. The Kolbs traditionally treated his students like members of the family, and Mrs. Kolb treated us the same way. No doubt we had special status because of Edwin and Gertrude.
She came up with an arrangement for us to live with Professor E. A. Ross in his home in the Shorewood Hills district of Madison. Ross was 79 years old, an emeritus professor who could be considered founder of the field of sociology. He was a prolific writer, had served on congressional and white house task forces and special committees on public policy questions from the 1910s into the 30s. He was articulate, opinionated, and self-assured. He was also a recently remarried widower.
His bride was 55 years old, and this was her first marriage. She was a stereotype southern belle who had spent much of her career as a fund raiser for the Rockefeller Foundation, hosting banquets and receptions for the rich and famous, at the Waldorf and comparable venues all over the world. She reminded us of that through endless name-dropping. When she spoke casually of Franklin, Winston, Henry, and George, for example, you would infer correctly that she was talking about Roosevelt, Churchill, Stimson, and Marshall.
In return for a room for our family, Jane was to do the housework, cooking, and serve the meals. First thing each morning, Jane gave Dianne and me breakfast and made my bag lunch. In the midst of that, invariably , Professor Ross would come into the kitchen with urgent demands for Mrs. Ross’ breakfast in bed. Her soft-boiled egg was never quite right and had to be re-done and re-done. She always had a migraine headache and needed an ice pack--not too cold but just cold enough. That was the start of a routine that continued through the day’s housekeeping, lunch, and on to dinner.
Mrs. Ross had been spoiled all her life and had more unpredictable, immutable, immediate needs than Jane could possibly deal with. She could not help treating Jane as a servant. Professor Ross would interfere, in well-meaning efforts to help Jane interpret Mrs. Ross’ wishes, and only make matters worse. We ate dinner together, and I recall an example of his fatherly concern about Dianne’s childhood development. We had all sat down and begun to eat. Jane thought the green beans needed a bit more salt, and she sprinkled some on her serving and also on Dianne’s. Professor Ross pulled up to his full stature, looked at Dianne in her high chair, and said, "I am 79 years old, have published 26 books, and I have never used condiments." Maybe Jane got the message, but not Dianne.
On the other hand, there were dinners and evenings with interesting guests from many walks of life. I think the Ross’s liked us and wanted us to be comfortable. She always called both Jane and me "honey"; in fact Dianne soon began most sentences with ‘but, honey". But the adjustments were too much. At the end of the first month, Jane said unequivocally that this arrangement had to end. She’d live anywhere but here. I agreed, and so did Mrs. Kolb.
Somehow we learned of an apartment that was becoming available. Life magazine had just run a feature article on "slumless Madison, Wisconsin". Well, this apartment was in the only slum in slumless Madison. It was on the first floor of an old, dirty Victorian mansion, across the alley from the backsides of the stores on State Street, on the edge of downtown. The place had once been the home of the modestly wealthy Fauerbach brewing family, But it had deteriorated to a low-grade rooming house in the 1920s and had gone further downhill during the depression. During World War II it had been taken over by the Federal Emergency Housing Administration, and a little makeshift remodeling had converted it into five apartments. The units were rented at cost to defense workers in an effort to ease the desperate housing shortage.
Now, at the end of the war, the housing shortage was even more desperate. The FEHA had turned over the management to a local real estate firm, and they rented it to veterans’ families. As such, we were eligible to apply. I interviewed the manager, and we were accepted. Our unit occupied one half of the first floor. It included a bedroom--the former parlor, a living-dining room--the former library, a shower and lavatory converted from a closet, and a kitchen which was evidently part of the original kitchen. The living room and bedroom floors were covered with torn carpet padding which was utterly filthy. The kitchen walls were covered with a film of dirty grease. The bathroom drains were packed with an greasy amalgam of hair and broken razor blades. The wall paper was festooned from the walls, from which it had gradually separated and torn.
There was some furniture in the place. We could buy it for next to nothing from the Hipples, the departing tenants who were leaving their jobs at the Badger Ordnance works and returning to their home in a small town in South Dakota. The furniture matched the general condition in which the Hipples were leaving the place. They were from that sizeable part of the U.S. population on the rural fringes, as recently as the 1940s, who had never experienced modern amenities and not only didn’t know how to maintain them but often had no idea how to use them.
We could rent the unit for $42 a month plus my service as janitor of the building; and the housing agency would provide us with free materials for any cleaning and refurbishing we did on the unit. Given our situation, the whole deal was not a gift from heaven, but it looked pretty good on balance. We said farewell and thanks to Professor and Mrs. Ross and moved into 212 North Carroll Street.
Graduate study didn’t come easy at first. I was committed to make an "A" record and to get out of school and into the job market as quickly as possible. During the first semester, that took a lot of adjustment and hard work. We added to that a frenetic schedule of late night and week-end labor on the clean-up and redecoration of the apartment. The place was probably in its worst mess at Christmas time of 1945, when we were just getting started with the cleanup. We left for a short rest to spend the holiday with the Borchert family in Crown Point.
When we returned and emptied the mail box at 212 North Carroll, we found a letter that eased the pain of our back-breaking task. A brown government envelope contained a check for about $3,600. It was my bonus for volunteering for the aviation cadet program--$3 a day for every day of active duty. I had applied for the program back in 1941, before the U.S. entered the war, and the bonus aimed at attracting volunteers under peacetime conditions. It was abolished in 1942, and my class was the last to receive it. I had no expectation that it would be honored; so this was a pure gift from heaven. It brought our war-time savings to a total of more than $7,000--a sizeable sum for those days.. We were nursing it all in a bank account, looking ahead to the day when we’d settle down with a permanent job somewhere and become homeowners. We had no doubt we’d be leaving the slum of slumless Madison.
Gradually we got on top of the cleanup and redecoration job. By July, we had papered the living room, painted the floors, cleaned up the bathroom, painted the kitchen walls and ceiling, and cleaned and repaired the furniture. Meanwhile, we came to know other married graduate students--notably Allan Rodgers and Wilbur Zelinsky, both of whom would some day become distinguished faculty members at Penn State. We entertained grad students from Sweden and Brazil. We went to a few grad student parties and dances and even chaperoned a dance at the womens’ dorm. Lake Mendota was just a few blocks north of our place, and we found time for picnics in nearby Brittingham Park in mild fall and spring weather and sledding with Dianne on the ice in winter.
The Family Grows and Fits into Madison
On July 4th, 1946, Bill was born. We had intended to borrow Kolbs’ canoe for some paddling and a picnic on Lake Mendota. But Jane began to get labor pains about midnight, got up and did her ironing, and went to the hospital. John was studying for his M.A. orals and took some books to the hospital to review while we waited for the delivery. The next week was a time for Jane to recuperate while John studied and painted the kitchen walls and ceiling--last of the redecorating jobs.
When Bill was born, John took Dianne to Crown Point to stay with the Borchert grandparents until Jane and Bill returned from the hospital and got settled. When I brought Dianne back a couple of weeks later, we quickly realized that we had created a crisis for her. She was suddenly one of two children, and we had to help her figure out her status and how to behave. But she adjusted quickly, and so did we. Before long, she gave Bill special treatment as at least partly her property and took a lot of pride and pleasure from helping Jane and me to care for him. She took responsibility for the baby buggy and the sled outdoors, for the bassinette and learning to play with blocks indoors. We have many memories of Jane and Dianne, with Bill and a picnic lunch in the baby buggy, on nice days, walking from North Carroll Street down the Langdon Street hill to the lake-front terrace at the Student Union, to join me at mid-day break. We’d enjoy a family outing on the lake shore before I had to get back to work and the kids had to get home for their naps.
Either in the fall of 1946 or the spring of 1947 we passed another landmark. Bill outgrew the bassinette. Now he had to move into the crib, and Dianne had to move from the crib into her own bed. She had no bed, so one Saturday, I made one. We bought a child-size matress at Hills’ department store, conveniently located across the alley from our "slum", facing State Street. Then I got some clear white pine boards delivered to our back yard, and made a frame to fit the matress. Incidentally, that was the last clear white pine I ever saw in a lumber yard; the post-War building boom exhausted the supply. We moved the new bed into our family bedroom, put it next to the crib, and returned the bassinette to its owner--so many things we had were borrowed. That night, when we put the two little children down in their new beds, Jane looked at me and said, "Our first graduation."
Making outside play space at 212 was a challenge. The place was jammed against the front sidewalk and curbing; so there was no room there. There was a small back yard. But the back yard adjoined an alley that served the loading docks of the public libary and stores on State Street; so there was a lot of truck traffic. What’s more, two of the tennants had automobiles which they had to park in the back yard because there was no garage. One of the couples upstairs had two little girls about the age of Dianne. He and I decided to create a communal sandbox for our kids. One Saturday we brought in some lumber, build a 5-foot-high picket fence to enclose an area about twelve feet square, to keep autos out and the kids in, and built a 6-foot square sandbox inside the enclosure.
While the sandbox was a great success, it didn’t entirely protect Dianne from the hazards of her inner-city environment. Centerpiece of her 1946 Christmas had been a new tricycle. One spring morning in 1947, Jane noticed Dianne and the tricycle missing. She was sure Dianne would not cross the street. So she began to walk around the block on which our house stood and look for some sign of our 4-year-old daughter. State Street--a busy thoroughfare connecting the Capitol with the Campus--formed the south side of our block. There on the crowded sidewalk, in front of Hills’ Department Store, Jane spotted Dianne’s tricycle. She went into the store. While thinking about what to do next, she saw the elevator door open, and there stood Dianne with a boy slightly older than she who lived on another side of our block. They had been going up and down between the top and bottom floor, watching people get off and on, and marvelling at the mechanics. Dianne, who was nearly four now, saw Jane and called excitedly, "Mommy, this little boy is giving me a ride!"
February of 1947 brought signs of important changes. The geography department was authorized to add two new full-time instructors in the fall of that year. In those days, successful performance as an instructor meant consideration for promotion to assistant professor and subsequent advance through the rank of associate professor, to full professor. It was what’s now called a "tenure track" position, an indication that the department saw you as a likely permanent member. Trewartha told me the senior faculty had canvassed the crop of possible candidates around the country and concluded that fellow grad student, John Alexander, and I were more promising than any of the outsiders they had seen. So they offerred us the positions. The offer came as a great surprise and compliment.
Suddenly, Jane and I had the opportunity to make long-term plans on the assumption of a career in Madison, and short-term plans with an annual income which would rise from about $1200--teaching assistantship plus student veteran’s payments under the "GI Bill"-- to $3000 as an instructor.
Without any delay, we decided to do something about our housing. Living in the slum, with John working as janitor, and foregoing a family car, we had been able to live on our $1200 annual income and protect most of our war-time savings. (In fact, the only invasion of our savings had been to buy Jane a new fur coat when we chaperoned a student dance.) We decided the time had come to own a decent house in a decent neighborhood. In the spring of 1947 we looked at several houses on the market and were disappointed with what we saw. Suitable places were too expensive. And affordable places fell short in size, quality, design, location, or all four. We thought, if Gert and Ed could build a really nice home at an affordable price, so could we. So we turned our sights to vacant lots. The post-war boom was beginning, and a few new subdivisions were sprouting on the outskirts. But, in the combination of accessibility to the campus and quality of the environment, nothing compared with Shorewood Hills.
Shorewood Hills was an incorporated village adjacent to the west edge of Madison and the campus, on heavily rolling terrain along the shore of Lake Mendota. It had been laid out in the 1920s and was almost entirely built up. But we found one of the few vacant lots, at 3405 Viburnum Drive. It looked like paradise to us.
It was pie-shaped--about 90 feet wide at the street and 50 feet wide at the rear, and about 120 feet deep. Viburnum Drive ran down a long hill, dropping about 200 feet from west to east in about half a mile. Our lot was near the bottom of the slope, near the east end of the street. Its drainage was adequate. It had a couple of large black cherry and box elder trees and considerable brush. The back yard opened on a small village playground. And the village beach on Lake Mendota was just two blocks from the front of the lot. The Shorewood bus line to the campus and downtown stopped two doors away.
We bought the lot for $2400 cash--a fairly expensive property in those days. We didn’t realize what a bold move we were making. Shorewood was the domain of senior, renowned scholars such as the Kolbs or the Ross’s. The only geography faculty living there were Finch, Trewartha, and Hartshorne. Until now, there were no graduate students or even junior faculty in that neighborhood. Kirk Stone, a rising figure in the application of aerial photography to geogaphy, had just joined the department as an assistant professor. He bought a modest, 75-year-old house in an old neighborhood. Jane learned later through third parties that his wife had spoken some bitter words to Kirk in comparing their location with ours, and some unpleasant words about Jane in comparing our respective locations and ranks. Nevertheless, in May of 1947, with great enthusiasm and energy, we began to clear brush and occasionally meet our future neighbors. The clearing projects were excuses for family picnics, and other grad student couples sometimes joined us.
Meanwhile, with apartment decorating and pregnancy behind her for a while, Jane was finding time for more social activity. She put on dinner parties for the married graduate students--especially Cotton and Julie Mather, John and Betty Alexander, and John and Miriam Brush, who had returned to their war-interrupted studies in the fall of 1946. All would eventually become distinguished members of the Association of American Geographers. There was Fritjof Isaksen from Norway, Orlando Valverde and Fabio Guimaraes from Brazil, and their wives. When I was invited to join the staff, she entertained Glen and Sarita Trewartha and Dick and Lois Hartshorne for dinner. Crummy as the surroundings were, we had managed to turn our apartment into a bright, colorful oasis. The home-made bed, soap-barrel lamp table, office-desk dining table, and inexpensive but tasteful covers Jane had made for the Hipple’s broken-down sofas--all gave an impression of creative, skilled, frugal home management worthy of her profession.
Jane also became quite active in the local Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority alumnae chapter, was elected secretary. After we decided to build a house, she came home with many Kappa ideas about where we should look for a lot. I remember clearly a party to which husbands were invited. The location was a lovely home on a hilltop overlooking the University farms, west of Madison. Jane had been there before and wanted me to see the area so we could think about it as a possible place to buy some acreage.
The party was well attended--alumnae of all ages and walks of life--business, university, government. One was Mrs. Warren Knowles. She had brought her husband, a state senator from New Richmond, in northwestern Wisconsin. He was a prominent force in the state Republican party and later became governor. At one point, conversation had turned to Senator Joseph McCarthy, who was at the peak of his "red-hunting" career at that time. One of the spouses, a history graduate student at the university, was critical of McCarthy’s attacks on respected public servants and scholars. Senator Knowles reacted strongly. "Joseph McCarthy is a good, sound American!" A spirited discussion followed between Knowles and the graduate student. It was the first time I had thought about the fact that a big public university is woven into the fabric of the whole community, with all of the richness and all of the vulnerability that implies.
We made some lasting friendships through Jane’s Kappa connection. The best of those were Diana and Tom Webb. Thompson Webb II had come to Wisconsin in the fall of 1946 as new director of the University Press. He was son of a private school headmaster, product of private schools and Princeton. They were our age, with two little boys about the ages of Bill and Dianne. They had bought a house in the Vilas Park neighborhood, where Jane had lived when she was in sixth grade. They owned an automobile. We occasionally played bridge and went with them on at least a couple of picnics in the country. I remember one Sunday afternoon when we were negotiating a rough hiking trail with our children in Tower Hill state park. It was tough going--four adults getting four little kids over some of the humps. Tom said, "I think the ratio of one child per parent is optimal." Diana shot back, "Just remember that!" They did indeed follow "Tom’s law"; we did not. Our friendship endured after we left Wisconsin. Tom died in 1998, and we have kept in touch with Diana to the present time.
Our First House-Building Venture
Our laundry facility at 212 North Carroll Street was an ancient double wash tub and old-fashioned hand wringer in the basement. Every time we were near an appliance store, Jane would take me in to show me the Bendix automatic washing machine and long for one. Of course, I could not see how to justify the expenditure. Then, when Bill was in the diaper stage, the strong soap was slowly but surely destroying the skin on Jane’s hands. She and the doctor told me I was going to have to take over the job of laundering the diapers. Within the next three weeks, it was clear to me that we needed a Bendix washing machine. That required that I clean the basement before I could arrange for the installation, and that was done as soon as possible.
The Bendix was a blessing. One day the wife of the postal worker in the upstairs apartment--my partner in building the back yard sandbox and picket fence--asked if she could rent the use of the machine for her laundry. They were very decent folks, and it was a way to defray part of the cost of the machine. So she became a user. One Saturday morning, while she was waiting fo me to finish a load of diapers, I told her we had just bought a lot in Shorewood and intended to build a house. She said that her dad, Walter Gruenwald, was a carpenter who worked for a sizeable speculative developer and builder. Walter wanted to go on his own, with his son, and they were looking for an opportunity to build a house for someone. And so began a saga.
Walter Gruenwald, Jane, and I got together at our apartment and laid out a strategy. She and I would design a house and draw up the plans. He would be an informal consultant on technical matters. And we’d come up with a plan that was buildable within our financial limits. We figured that with our savings we could borrow enough to cover a total expenditure of about $10,000. Walter was a gentle, honest man and competent enough to be a key employee of the firm he worked for.
Jane and I sketched out the floor plan in the accompanying figure and embarked on the preparation of drawings for the blueprints. It was a new and exciting experience. We were in the latter part of the spring semester and early part of summer session; so we had to work around class and teaching schedules. My spring semester schedule included a couple of courses and a seminar in which I developed the research that led to my dissertation. In the summer session I was a teaching assistant and also carrying two courses. Some time late in the evening or on Saturday, I would get to the drawing board, and we’d move ahead. Often I would have to interrupt to call Walter with some technical question: What is the actual mill width of a 2-by-four? What’s the actual thickness of a 3/4-inch sheet of plywood? How high is a door opening? What to include in the detail drawings of cupboards, coves, wiring. I had to learn terms like stud, header, shim, and more esoteric stuff.
In late June or July, Jane’s mother and dad came to Madison for a short visit. Ed had completed his service with UNRRA in London. He was back in the States for a month or so of briefing before moving to Rome and Vienna for service with the Foreign Agricultural Agency of the UN, the FAO. Gertrude would not be joining him this time. She planned to go on to Glencoe, Minnesota, and spend Ed’s absence with her sister, Alice, in the family homestead. Flossie and Don O’Grady came to Madison from St. Paul for the reunion.
As I recall, the Willsons were interested in our house planning, not only because they wanted to see us out of the North Carroll slum, but also because they had savings from the sale of their Bismarck house and the work in Europe which they’d like to see earning more than bank interest. They might well make a mortgage loan to us, especially since it could be guaranteed under the GI Bill.
I don’t recall where they all stayed. The Willsons likely stayed with either the Mortensons or with Ed’s cousin, Helen Waite. Helen was a warm, cultured, middle-aged lady, a native of Bozeman, who was a member of the Wisconsin Home Economics faculty and ran the department’s Home Management House. The house was a large, fairly new, well-appointed traditional residence which served as a laboratory for students in Home Economics. Helen had quarters in the building.
On the Sunday the Willsons were visiting it happened there were no students using the House, and Helen had all of the family come in for dinner. Of course, it was a beautifully-served, somewhat formal affair. After dinner, while we were all visiting at the table, there was a loud, shattering crash in the living room. We found little year-old Bill on the floor, crying, amidst the shattered glass and parts of a big, ornate floor lamp. He had slipped away unnoticed and crawled to the next room, became interested in the lamp, and one thing led to another. Jane and I were checking to see that Bill was undamaged; Helen was consoling and pragmatically cleaning up; Edwin was mortified; and Gertrude was sympathetic and looking ahead to the next item on the family entertainment agenda. We didn’t realize we were setting a pattern. It seemed only an interlude in the march toward our new house.
Later in July there was more than an interlude. This time it was a serious interruption. Edwin wrote from Washington that everyone he talked with there thought this was a bad time to put money into a new house. The reasoning was, two years after World War I there was a major recession. It’s now two years after World War Ii; so we can expect a recession. In that case, expect deflation and loss of value in real property. Ed’s economist friend, Bill Mortenson, echoed the same advice in a visit with John. With sorrow we acceded to their urgings, called Walter Gruenwald and cancelled the project. Then we moped around, reading every thing we could that was relevant and thinking about what to do about our housing problem.
After about two weeks, John said one evening over dinner, "All the writers say there’s going to be a recession. Their numbers are OK, but I can’t agree with their conclusions. Any way you look at it, this was six times as big a war and the inflationary pressure ought to be six times as great. Price controls are coming off soon. I think we ought to get our savings into property." We were relieved. John called Walter Gruenwald, and he was still looking for a house to build. The deal was on again, and we were still more relieved. We wrote Edwin and told him our decision. He didn’t argue. The Willsons went ahead with a mortgage loan, and we drew down the rest of our war-time savings.
We broke ground in August of 1947 and moved in in February of 1948. Building a house turned out to be pure excitement, joy and entertainment. There were feelings of pride and accomplishment as the drawings on paper turned into reality. There was an indescribable feeling of cozy comfort when we worked inside the newly-enclosed structure, amid the aroma of freshly-sawn lumber, protected from the gathering winter. Priceless family comraderie as the four of us went out by bus whenever we could to clean up sawdust and scrap lumber, monitor progress, and just look at the place.
The house was small, about 1100 square feet plus a one-car garage under the same roof. We had been forced to eliminate the basement for cost containment. There was abundant attic storage; and the house stood on a concrete slab, with as much insulation as we could put on the outsides of the footings. It had a very efficient floor plan. And it was fully decorated when we moved in. We thought it was a beautiful place, and all of our friends agreed; though we were probably the only ones to whom it looked spacious.
Furnishings were another matter. Mrs. Kolb loaned us a couch. Webbs loaned us an old kitchen table and four chairs. I think Arch and Arlene Gerlach (he was a newly-recruited professor in the department, who left to become chief of the geography and map division, Library of Congress) loaned us a couple of throw rugs. We brought the Hipples’ bed and chest of drawers and the home-made child-size bed from North Carroll. John built a twin-size bed for Dianne, two crude but not badly-designed chairs for the living room. We re-papered the old soap-barrell living room table from North Carroll and added a second one; and John fashioned two crude--but, again, not badly-designed--table lamps to go with them. Gary Schultz, an undergrad student who would become a successful free-lance photographer, gave us some nice, very large aerial photo views of Madison, which we framed to decorate the living room walls.
Life in Shorewood Hills
With the first warmth of spring, 1948, we turned to landscaping the lot and putting in a crushed rock drive and path to the front entrance. It was an immense job because we had to do it all with hoe, rake, shovel, and wheelbarrow--with much sweat and little money. The front yard was flat, and it waterlogged in the spring rains. One result was that it became a quagmire. Somewhere we have misplaced a snapshot I took of Dianne literally stuck calf-deep in soupy mud as she tried to cross from the front entrance to the street. A second consequence was that most of the grass died. Yet, by the end of the summer, we had a respectable looking front yard, graded embakments around the lower east and south sides of the house, and a useable back yard. And we did this while I was also completing most of the research, data compilation, and mapping for my dissertation. We must certainly have been the only house in Shorewood where the owner collected his monthly GI student veteran’s assistance check from the mailbox each month.
Nineteen forty-eight and the spring of 1949 were good times in our new home. Neighbors on Viburnum Drive included several faculty members and business and professional families, a little older than we. Best Shorewood friends were probably the Burrills and the Muehls. George Burrill was an accountant: Mrs. Burrill was very helpful to Jane and connected her with a circle of friends who got together for morning coffee. Kay Muehl was one of those. It turned out that Kay and her husband, Bill--a local electrical contractor--had been close friends of Paul and Lyda Boyer and Jim and Betty Duddleston when all were young married students at the University of Wisconsin on the eve of World War II. The Boyers and Duddlestons had subsequently settled in Minnesota. The Muehls directed us to them when we moved to the Twin Cities, and life-long friendships resulted.
We began our ritual of evening and week-end-afternoon neighborhood walks--exploring all of Shorewood’s interesting hillside and lakeside houses, occasionally ringing doorbells and being rewarded by tours of the house and new personal acquaintances. I recall a tour of a famous Frank Lloyd Wright house on the lake shore and the owners regaling us with tales of Wright’s eccentricities and bull-headedness. And there was the mailbox, on a nearby street, bearing the name of Carl Dutton. I recognized the name as the director of the state geological survey, but also as one of Rock Smith’s "boys" who sent an account of his activities for Rock’s annual newsletter. I had edited and produced the newsletter my last two years at DePauw. One evening on our walk we rang the doorbell and were met by Carl Dutton. It turned out that he was indeed the DePauw geology Duttton, graduated about ten years ahead of me. He said, "You’re the guy Rock wrote me a note about a few months ago. Rock said, ‘SOS! One of our best grads is at Wisconsin going into geography! Stop him!’" It gave us a chance to reminisce about Rock and ease what I had noticed as the cool relations between geography and geology in the corridors of Science Hall.
Our home-building project also inspired others. Office-mate Reid Bryson and his wife, Fran, decided to build a house. Reid established the meteorology program at Wisconsin and became an international figure in the field. Dalias Price and his wife, Lillian, were inspired to build a house similar to ours in Carbondale, Illinois, when Dalias finished his Ph.D. at Madison and joined the faculty at Southern Illinois University. Walter Bailey and his wife, Roberta, built a place similar to ours in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, when he left graduate work at Madison to join the geography program at Office of Naval Research. Our contract with Walter Gruenwald allowed him to use our floor plan for future houses; and he did just that in at least a dozen new houses around Madison.
Dianne and Bill prospered. They made many friends in the village playground behind our house and among the neighbors’ children. Two-year-old Bill tested Jane’s nerves as he climbed the highest and most precarious parts of the "jungle gym" and persisted in wandering from the playground to explore far and wide. Five-year-old Dianne made history when beginners’ swimming lessons began at the nearby village beach and bath-house on Lake Mendota on a warm July morning. Jane sent her off in her swimming suit with a towel as prescribed in the circular to parents. Dianne was filled with uncertainty about going into the water, although Jane kept reassuring her. At the expected time she returned home. Her towel and swimming suit were dry. Jane exclaimed, "You didn’t go into the water?" Dianne replied, "The lake was covered with ice."
There are vivid memories from the fall of 1948. Jane doing laundry and ironing, John working on maps, while we listened to the radio far beyond midnight to hear Harry Truman’s famous "give ‘em hell" acceptance speech at the democratic national convention and the pundits, one by one, abandoning the microphone in dismay and disbelief as Truman’s upset victory became clear after midnight on election night. Our decision to have a third child and Jane’s new pregnancy with the future Bob.. And, by no means trivial, Jane’s decision to become my barber. The price of a hair cut in Madison rose to the unacceptable level of a dollar that fall. She bought a sharp scissors for cutting and a comb on which a safety razor blade could be mounted for trimming. An investment of a couple of dollars, and she had entered the barber business. In more than half a century since then John has had only three store-bought hair cuts, and she also cut the boys’ hair as long as they were living at home. How many thousand dollars has she earned? And has she been paid enough?
A full-fledged, old-fashioned Christmas in 1948, with John finally able to lay out an electric train "for Bill and Dianne". The annual Christmas meetings of the Association of American Geographers at Madison, with Jane and John invited into the "inner circle" of the Michigan party with such senior notables as Preston James and Henry Kendall and their wives. We didn’t realize how visible we had become.
Meanwhile, we enjoyed occasional Sunday drives and picnics with colleagues and their wives and children--the Brysons, Clarence and Rhea Olmstead (geography and education), Emery Wilcox and his wife (geographer who specialized in extension research on the dairy industry and knew every acre of the state first-hand). Helen Waite insisted that we use her car one week-end, and we explored Lake Winnebago and the paper-milling towns of the Fox Valley. There were dinner parties at the homes of faculty colleagues, and faculty womens’ club affairs with husbands invited. There was the time Lois and Dick Hartshorne took us to the monthly gathering of the village square dancing club. There must have been a considerable and expanding "social life", for it seems to me that we called fairly frequently on the services of Lois Heironimus for baby sitting. She was the teen-age daughter of the classics professor who lived on the up-hill side of our place.
Obviously, with all of the activity, we were continuing to get by without owning an automobile. The city bus stopped two doors from our house. For a five-cent fare it took us to the campus, with a stop half a block from Science Hall and the geography department, to State Street and downtown, and connections with lines to all the rest of the city. Jane got her groceries delivered from the same State Street market she had used all the time we lived on North Carroll. There was a cost to foregoing the car. We made few field excursions and accumulated very little first-hand knowledge of the state. The benefit was a major saving of time and money.
In fact, we ordered a new Ford two-door in the winter of 1945-46, after the Air Force bonus check arrived. But there was a very long waiting list, and we didn’t press or offer to bribe the dealer, At the same time, we didn’t cancel the order because Frank Willson asked us to hold the car for him. As a result, we finally took delivery around March of 1948. We put the shiny new, dark blue vehicle in our long-empty garage and looked at it wistfully, but Frank came up from Illinois, paid us off, and claimed it within a day or two.
Altogether, there was a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction, and a rich variety of new experiences, in making our home and merging into the university and Shorewood communities. But the memories are piecemeal, a blurred background to our focal task of completing the degree and getting established professionally.
Foundation for a Career
At the same time we were building a home and family, we were also laying the foundation for John’s professional career. When we arrived in Madison in October of 1945, I was truly a "walk-on" in the geography department. I got a late start--entered classes three weeks after the beginning of the fall semester. I had virtually no background of course work in the field. I had no financial support from the department. I was a stranger to the Wisconsin campus, and I was rusty--I had been away from class work for nearly four years. I was also not wholly certain that I was where I wanted to be. My academic background had focused on geology. I knew very little about what most geographers did. Still lurking in the background were open options to pursue a career in weather forecasting, or in air transportation, or in petroleum exploration.
During the first two semesters, a strategy emerged. I found that the courses in climatology and geomorphology, where I had some background in the systematic sciences, were fairly easy grades of "A", and also somewhat redundant. Regional courses--for example, on Middle America, East Asia, and Anglo-America, were interesting and useful yet conceptually simple, straightforward, and not difficult to master. Seminars and term papers allowed great opportunity to pursue my curiosity and placed no limit on ingenuity or depth.
So the courses reviewing my previous background needed to be disposed of as quickly as possible. For the remaining, major part of the program, regional courses were the mortar, and seminars and term projects were the bricks. Regional courses enabled me to learn a great deal that I did not know about how the world is spatially structured and how it functions, to do that with minimal effort, and thus leave plenty of time for in-depth specialized research. Much of the content was new, some of it put previous knowledge in a new light, and all of it was stimulating. Gradually I put down roots in the field of geography and burned bridges of opportunity to other fields behind me.
One highlight of my memories from the 1945-46 year. Sitting at our office-desk table in the dining alcove at 212 for hours and days on end, wearing only shorts, while Jane supplied ice water, in sweltering heat and humidity, preparing for my German language exam. I elected to use French and German to meet the grad school foreign language requirement. The French was easily manageable; I’d had two full years at DePauw and had used it. And the exam was worth-while because it gave me an occasion to read the superb volume on Saharan Africa in Geographie Universelle. But I’d had only two semesters of German, one of those an audit. I chose to read a popular volume on the geography of Germany for travelers. It turned out to be written in literary German and extremely difficult--as Hartshorne commented, "the only language in which you can be grammatically perfectly correct and still cannot be understood". But I got by with nothing worse than a comment from the examiner that I had scraped bottom in a few places and should have selected a simpler book.
Other highlights: passing the M.A. exams (and completing the redecoration of the kitchen) while Jane and infant Bill were gaining strength at Wisconsin General Hospital. And doing a research paper to qualify for graduate credit in Hartshorne’s summer session course on the regional geography of northwestern Europe. He had published a research paper in the 1920s or early 30s developing a scheme for statistically classifying types of farming in northwest Europe and applying it to make maps of agricultural regions. He used the maps in his course. From my observations, it struck me that the pattern in the British Isles had changed pretty drastically as a result of the "plow-up" to increase British food self-sufficiency during World War II.
Ed Willson was still at UNRRA in London and arranged for someone in the Ministry of Agriculture to send me unpublished statistics on acreage of crops and pasture for the counties of England and Wales. Using Hartshorne’s model, I analyzed and mapped the data to show the changes from 1939 through 1945, searched the literature for indications of the permanence or transience of the changes, and wrote the paper. Hartshorne thought the paper was publishable. It was accepted by Agricultural History magazine and appeared in early 1948. I sent a copy to Edwin and have a reprint with marginal notations in his handwriting listing former co-workers he wanted to receive copies.
In the spring of 1947 I learned somehow of a position open at the University of Cincinnati. The small but reputable department there needed someone to teach physical geography and climatology and a regional course in Europe. That looked like something to which my background was suited. From my Dad I had a good impression of Cincinnati as a place to live. John L. Rich, the head of the department, was a geologist/geomorphologist known to my DePauw mentor, "Rock" Smith. He was a fan of geography and a trustee of the American Geographical Society. I was itching to get a genuine job with a liveable salary. It would mean having to complete work for the Ph.D. in "spare time"--just what Edwin Willson had set out to do and did not do when he took his leave to Madison. But I assumed Jane and I could see it through. So I applied for the job.
I told Glen Trewartha about the application. A week or so later, he received an inquiry from John Rich. Next day he called me into his office to read me his response to Rich. In typical utterly candid Trewartha fashion, he had said John Borchert has a lot of ability and promise, but he does not yet have the background in geography to take the position you have open. I listened but had no comment. When I told fellow student Cotton Mather about it, his reaction was: typical Trewartha arrogance; the job market is tight and a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush; and it’s time someone showed Trewartha he can’t push graduate students around. When I got back to 212 North Carroll, I told Jane. Her reaction was quite different. She said, "Professor Trewartha has had a lot of experience. He’s watching your progress. Maybe he’s right. And we’re getting along OK in this place for now."
Well, to my surprise, a week later, notwithstanding Glen’s letter, Rich wrote and offered me the job! But he misspelled my name! ! Nothing could have turned me off faster. If he really wanted me as a colleague, he’d at least spell my name correctly. Next morning I reported to an appreciative Trewartha that I valued his counsel and was turning down an offer from Rich. Jane was right. Glen was right. We were very lucky.
My program took shape in the next academic year, 1946-47. To basic work with Trewartha, Finch, Hartshorne, Robinson (cartography), Stone (air photo interpretation), I added a reading course with a Russian historian and a seminar in land economics. In geography in those days a doctoral candidate was expected to have a systematic and a regional specialty. While my systematic specialty was automatically climatology, I decided to make my regional specialty the USSR. Meanwhile, it was getting clear to me that my interest in physical geography stemmed from a more fundamental interest in natural resources and their relation to the human settlement pattern. Trewartha encouraged my curiosity about land economics as a field related to that interest. I was one of the earliest, if not the first, geography student at Madison to take work in that field. One of the seminar professors was Raymond Penn. Our paths would cross in research in later years. And, although I did not meet him at that time, Philip Raup, who would later become one of my most valued friends and colleagues at Minnesota, had just joined Penn and the agricultural economics faculty at Madison that fall.
In a seminar with Trewartha in the fall of 1946, I fell into a mass of unpublished temperature and precipitation data from China. The reports came from every one of hundreds of weather stations over the entire country, from severral decades ending with the Japanese invasion in 1936. I obtained a copy of the most comprehensive atlas of China published up to that time and set out to map the data. Some exercise! It turned out to be fascinating. I learned to recognize Chinese characters in the place names and was able to determine the approximate elevation and exposure of each station. From that I could evaluate the accuracy and comparability of the data and produce a very detailed map of isolines of mean temperature, precipitation, and estimated evapotranspiration. I found that no map had been done in this detail. The result was publication of a new map of the climates of China in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers in 1947. To my surprise, the paper was well- received in China.
In the spring semester of 1947, in another seminar with Trewartha, I somehow acquired a mass of unpublished data showing monthly mean winds at the "gradient" level--about 2000 feet above the gound--over the entire United States. There were many maps of prevailing wind over the country and the world. But the mean wind was something else. It was a measure of the net flow of air over the country and could provide a new way of examining and explaining differences in climate from one region to another. I calculated comparable data for Canada and northern Mexico; so I could make mean monthly airflow maps over North America.
The flow lines identified persistent airflow source regions over the north Pacific, Arctic, southwestern desert interior, and tropical Atlantic. The same sources dominated the continent at all times, but they dominated different regions in different months. I made a summary map which showed the number of months each source dominated each region. The regional pattern resembled closely the basic pattern of natural vegetation which covered North America at the time of white settlement. That included the "prairie peninsula" east of the Great Plains, which had long been a puzzling misfit in the climate and biogeography of the continent. And, of course, the airflow patterns suggested not only an explanatory relationship between the airflow and vegetation patterns but also a relationship between long-range changes in vegetation pattern and long-range changes in air flow pattern over the northern hemisphere.
I was pretty excited about this. Trewartha accepted the work with some hesitancy because he didn’t "ordinarily accept simply a set of maps as the product of a seminar". Yet, he recognized this as work pointing to something bigger and agreed that I might well have the basis here for a doctoral dissertation. Reid Bryson, my office mate from the fall of 1947 onward, gave me a lot of enthusiastic encouragement. Reid was a brilliant new PhD in meteorology from Rossby’s department at Chicago. He had been recruited at Madison and was temporarily quartered in Geography while he prepared to establish a department and curriculum in meteorology and climatology. He later became a stimulating and sometimes controversial international figure in historical climatology.
I gave a paper on the maps and some of their implications at the annual meetings of the AAG at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, between Christmas and New Year at the end of 1947. This was my first AAG meeting, and it was exciting to meet graduate students from departments all around the country and see the field’s leaders in the flesh. In those days the AAG was small. Only a few hundred people attended the meetings, and there were no concurrent sessions. So virtually everyone at the convention was present at each session.
My paper was very well received. One vivid memory. The president of the Association that year was C. F. Brooks, an international figure in weather and climate studies and chief of the U.S. Weather Bureau. He also presided over the session at which I gave my paper. To my astonishment, he spent several minutes complimenting the paper before he opened the floor for discussion--an unusual and perhaps even improper act for the chairman of a session
During the next day’s meetings I was approached by several departmental chairmen--I still remember specifically George Cressey from Syracuse and Clifford Zierer from UCLA--about my availability for appointment the following fall. During the spring semester of 1948 offers came from UCLA, Rutgers, and Southern Illinois. Walter Kollmorgen had given me a standing invitation to join the new department he was building at Kansas, while he was teaching at Wisconsin in the summer of 1947. And, interestingly, I had an invitation from DePauw to become the replacement for Rock Smith, whose health had failed. Meanwhile, I was giving all possible time to my disssertation while managing the teaching assistants and continuing to do some teaching assistance myself.
On the trip home from Charlottesville, Dick Hartshorne found me in my seat in one of the crowded coaches and asked me to come back to his Pullman car and meet Professor Ralph Brown. Brown and Hartshorne had been colleagues at the University of Minnesota in the 1920s and 30s, and Brown was still at Minnesota. He was the pre-eminent scholar in the historical geography of the United States and also editor of the Annals of the AAG. There was a cordial conversation in which I felt honored to be included. Brown had heard my paper at the meetings and asked me to consider the Annals when I was ready to publish on the subject.
The department raised my projected salary for the coming year from $3000 to $3750 as a partial response to the other offers. But nothing from other places seemed competitive, under the circumstances. Jane and I agreed we should stay in our new house in Shorewood and take our chances at the University of Wisconsin.
In the summer of 1948 I worked full steam on the dissertation.
We spent spare time maintaing and improving the landscaping around the house, and I picked up the GI veterans’ education benefit check at the mailbox each month. But the greater amount of time went to grinding, checking, and mapping climatic data and poring over literature from the library. In the fall and spring semesters, for the first time, my duties went beyond those of teaching assistant. Glen Trewartha was on leave in Japan for the year. As a result, I offered the introductory climatology course in the fall semester. And I lectured and took charge of the big introductory physical geography course (the semester devoted to climate) in the spring.
I was asked to teach the regional geography of the USSR in summer session, 1949. Hartshorne had been responsible for that course, but he was pleased to get rid of it, and I was a logical replacement. I talked with Arch Gerlach about the second volume of the Great Soviet World Atlas, published in 1936. The Soviets were proud of their accomplishments under the five-year plans up to that time. So the atlas contained scores of detailed, quantitative maps of economic production by oblast--the only time such material would ever be published. But because of potential use for a feared German invasion, the Soviets had immediately classified the volume, and it was simply not in any library.
Arch was able to obtain a highly classified copy from the Office of Strategic Services (predecessor to the CIA) in Washington. In a highly improbable pattern, I carried bundles of the top-secret maps from the campus to home under my arm on the Shorewood bus. In conjunction with the USSR statistical abstract and careful screening and matching of figures in the Soviet’s monthly propaganda magazine, I was able to do a lot of research with primary materials. At the same time, the Soviet embassy surprisingly granted my request for prints of many photographs which had appeared in their magazine. When the photos came, I was astonished to find, pasted to the backs of them, notes indicating dates and general location. Using the detailed maps and the shadows in the pictures, I could place many of the pictures with a fair amount of precision and even tell what direction the camera was pointing. I spent many evenings at our kitchen table poring over the atlas maps, statistics, and photos. It was a gold mine for teaching material and made for a very effective course.
Attraction to Minnesota
The annual Christmas meetings of the AAG were held in Madison at the end of 1948. One evening during the meetings Jan Broek and John Weaver introduced themselves. In the conversation that followed, they told me about their situation at the University of Minnesota. Ralph Brown had died quite unexpectedly. Darrell Davis, the founder of the department, had retired. Broek and Weaver were a two-man department, with help from two part-time graduate student/instructors. The situation left a lot of room for redesigning the curriculum and growing the department in a major university with a dean friendluy to Geography. Both Broek and Weaver had solid international reputations. They urged me to come up at Minnesota’s expense and have a look around and meet key administrators.
Jane approved, though she really could not imagine leaving our home in Shorewood. And on a cold day in March I took the train to Minneapolis. The next day I met the dean of Liberal Arts and was impressed by his interest in Geography. I gave a lecture on my dissertation topic, and to my surprise the lecture was attended by faculty and grad students from geology, botany, zoology, agricultural engineering, soils, economics, and history; and many of them stayed around to talk about my paper.
I was favorably struck by the obvious low departmental barriers, which were in sharp contrast with my perception of Wisconsin at that time. The low barriers in combination with the wide open opportunities for departmental development, convinced me that an offer from Minnesota should be considered very seriously. A dinner party at Weavers’, with a chance to meet wives Ruberta Weaver and Ruth Broek and the handful of graduate students further convinced me.
Next afternoon I borrowed Flossie and Don O’Grady’s Chevy coupe and explored two areas which looked most interesting on the map as places for possibly building a house in case we decided to move to the University of Minnesota. I was looking for rolling terrain on the edge of the built-up area, with proximity to the university. The two areas I selected were St. Anthony boulevard at the northeast edge of Minneapolis, and the village of Golden Valley, at the west edge. On St. Anthony boulevard I talked with a carpenter working on a new house and got an idea of costs to compare with Madison and our family resources. In Golden Valley, I somehow connected with John Enghauser, one of the initial developers, and looked with him at the lot we eventually bought about a year later, after intensive study of the whole metro area.
At the end of the afternoon I met Don at the office of the Pioneer Press in downtgown St. Paul, and we drove out to St. Croix Beach, where Flossie had dinner ready in their tiny, winterized cabin. More conversation about life in the Twin Cities. Then back to the Union Station to catch the night train to Madison. The previous 24 hours had left a lot to reflect on as I looked out the window from my berth at the moonlit, bleak March landscape, before I finally fell asleep between Owatonna and Austin.
Within a couple of weeks a letter came from Jan Broek with an offer--an assistant professorship at $4500 per year. Jane and I talked over all aspects of the possible move. We concluded that we’d put our happiness with our home Shorewood behind us and go along with what looked best for my career; and we agreed that we would build another house in the Twin Cities. I talked at length with colleagues with whom I was closest and whom I especially respected--Trewartha, Finch, Robinson, Gerlach, Alexander. The dean agreed to a counter-offer of $4250; so there was really no immediate financial advantage in moving. But the wide-open pasture and the low interdepartmental barriers were a strong pull to Minnesota. I accepted the Minnesota offer.
But there was still so much to be done in Madison. I had to complete the spring semester. That meant continuing development of the inroductory physical geography course, completing the doctoral dissertation--a protracted job of arranging and perfecting minutiae, passing the final orals for the doctorate. It also meant fully developing and presenting the summer course on the Geography of the USSR, along with detailed development of the physical geography course, and a regional course on South America which I’d be offering in the fall quarter at Minnesota.
Also, Jane had to deliver baby Bob. That moment came in May
--same time as the final oral exam and end-of-year crescendo of teaching tasks. Gertrude to the rescue. She came from Bozeman to take over management of the house, Dianne, and Bill during the day while Jane was recuperating. Managing 3-year-old Bill was a tough assignment for her. I remember a frantic call from her late one afternoon. She told me to come home immediately; Bill had disappeared. I was in the midst of an undertaking in the cartography lab and told her to call the police. While Gert was giving me a piece of her mind for my lack of concern, the village constable drove up and presented her with Bill. They had found him immersed in a careful study of the fire truck at the village hall and firehouse.
We had to sell the house. I don’t think I realized how tough that was for Jane. We put it on the market for $17,000, and it sold right away. The question then immediately arose: Was the price too low? We reneged on the sale and tried unsuccessfully to sell the place ourselves for $19,500. After much agonizing, we eventually faced the broker’s threat to sue us if we persisted in ignoring our contract with him; and we sold it to the original buyer. The emotional pain was eased somewhat by the fact that we had turned a profit of about 15%, in addition to 18 months’ "free" housing. Of course, if we considered the profit as payment for the time we put into the projoect, we earned about $2 an hour. If we considered the profit plus saved rent, we had earned more than $6 an hour, or the equivalent of my academic salary during the 1948-49 school year.
With our bank account restored, we immediately took out $1600 to buy a brand new Nash automobile. The 1949 model was the first Pinnin Ferina-designed American-made car. I had a shape a lot like an upside-down bathtub, but really quite smooth lines, and ours was a pleasing tone of light green. The seats could be made up into a double bed; there was unusually good visibility front and sides. It was underpowered, but with overdrive it made excellent gasoline mileage for those days. Its ride was very smooth. And it enclosed the most cubic feet of inside space per dollar of list price of any car on the market that year. In fact, that’s why we bought it. It was truly a family car.
Our first trip in the new Nash was a joy-ride into the country for a boat ride and picnic at the small lakeshore cabin of Cotton and Julie Mather on Lake Waubesa. I’m not sure, but the Nash might also have been our means of transportation to a seminary south of Madison for Bob’s baptism. That was a memorable occasion. Just as the priest placed his finger and dab of holy water on Bob’s forehead, Bob let go with a very loud bowel movement. Then the priest referred to him as Robertus Willsonensis Borcherti (that’s close, if not accurate). "Robertus" became "Tus" for short, and, lo, that was little Bob’s nickname for several years.
We also drove to Crown Point for a few days, to introduce Bob to my mother and dad and the relatives. Dad had retired by that time. He seemed to have lost a lot of his energy.
Then, at the beginning of September, we put the stove, refrigerator, and washer, plus all the rest of our worldly belongings in boxes on the front lawn for the movers to pick up. And the next morning we put the newly-enlarged family into the Nash and began our ten-hour drive to the Twin Cities.
And so ended another short but eventful chapter--three years and ten months. In that time we built a house, landscaped a yard, added two children to the family. earned an M.A. and a Ph.D. degree, published two papers and were ready to publish a third which would become a major, seminal piece in the field.
Kolb's hospitality. Visit from Gertrude and Edwin to see Bill.
- Graduate work. Fall and spring semesters 1945-46. Mather, Zelinsky, Rodgers. TA in spring. Courses included work with Trewartha, Sterling, Robinson, Thwaites. Summer session 1946 studying German, plus courses with Hartshorne and Sterling. MA exam (writtens). Course research under Hartshorne on Agriculture of England and Wales 1930-1945. EA Willson role. Publish in Ag History. Seminar with Trewartha on new Koppen map of Climates of China, published in Annals. Offer from Cincinnati.
- Fall and spring semesters 1946-47. Courses with Trewartha, Stone, Hartshorne, Finch, Penn and Parsons, Russian historian. Seminar research on mapping monthly mean winds over North America. Trewartha agrees this can lead to dissertation research After interviews at AAG spring mtgs @ Columbus and discussion thru end of fall semester,Wis faculty offer Instructorship at $3000 for next year (1947-48). Duties will be simply glorified TA, and I can move ahead with the PhD research. Summer session 1946, TA for Sterling and course with Kollmorgen combine to inspire paper on historical geography of railroad node at Chicago, which later inspired various aspects of metro evolution paper. Also ill-fated course from Bob Bowman, which produced a C (my only grade below an A in grad school) and clinched Bowman's rejection for a position at Wisconsin.
- Home. We buy the Bendix washer before Bill outgrows diapers. After offer and decision to join Wis faculty for next year, we (Jane impressive hosess) entertain Glen and Sarita Trewartha at 212 N Carroll and are entertained by Dick and Lois Hartshorne. Jane involved with Kappa alumnae, and we meet the Webbs. We decide to buy a house. Uninspiring shopping for houses leads to decision to buy a lot and build. Some shopping for lots leads us to Shorewood Hills. Buy lot at 3405 Viburnum Drive for $2400 cash; first withdrawal from wartime savings.
- Fall and spring semesters 1947-48. Working full blast on dissertation research while managing TAs and doing some TA work myself. Paper at AAG Christmas meetings at Charlottesville VA. Offers during spring semester from DePauw, Rutgers, UCLA, Southern Illinois. Department offers raise to $3750 to match offers, for 1948-49. Nothing is deemed competitive; rather finish up and take our chances at UW.
- Home. Become acquainted with carpenter and builder Walter Gruenwald in summer of 1947, through his daughter, who rents use of our Bendix in the basement at 212 N. Carroll. We work with Walter to design a house for the Shorewood lot. In late summer we acceed to urging of Jane's dad and his economist friend at Madison, Bill Mortenson, not to build at this time. After a couple of weeks, we change our minds and decide to go ahead. Financing: rest of our savings plus mortgage form Willsons. Break ground in August (?). Move into the house in November 47. Furnishings. First Christmas. Landscaping and driveway all done with hoe, rake, shovel, and wheelbarrow, much sweat and little money. New friends in Shorewood thru Jane, notably Burrills and Muehls. Help from Webbs, Kolbs, Gerlachs; Vera Stone's jealousy. Inspiration to Baileys, Prices and Brysons to build houses.
- Fall and Spring semesters 1948-49. John assigned to teach introductory physical geography (climate semester) and Trewartha's intro climatology, while Glen is on leave in Japan. Reid Bryson joins faculty at Wisconsin, temprarily in Geography until he gets green light to start a meteorology program. He's John's office mate this year. Summer session 1949 John teaches USSR, normally offerred by Hartshorne. Arch Gerlach obtains highly classified OSS copies of Vol II of the Great Soviet Atlas (the economic geography volume) for John to use in preparation for the course. Led to intensive research with primary materials. At 1948 AAG Xmas meetings in Madison, Jan Broek and John Weaver interview John. Results in trip to Minneapolis in March for seminar, meeting with dean, and brief exploration of housing possibilities.
- Home. A good year in our new house in Shorewood. Landscaping much improved. Good times with friends and neighbors. Occasional sightseeing drives with friends who felt sorry for us without an automobile (though our housing exceeded all of theirs). While John was in Minnesota, he used Don and Flossie O'Grady's car one afternoon to explore two areas which looked most interesting on map, in terms of both rolling terrain on edge of built-up area and proximity to University, for possibly building a house in case we decided to go to the U of M. The two areas: St. Anthony and Golden Valley. With John Enghauser he actually looked at the lot on which we would eventually build and live for 20 years. Bob born in the spring. Sold, reneged, and re-sold the house. A fairly good profit (about 25 or 30% in two years) eased the emotional pain of leaving. We used some of our cash to buy the Nash in August and took a brief trip to Crown Point. In September one day we put all our worldly goods in boxes + stove,refrig, and Bendix on the front lawn. Mover picked it up, and next morning we headed for the Twin Cities. End of another short but eventful chapter--three years 10 months: we built house, landscaped a yard, added two children, earned MA and PhD, published two papers, and were ready to publish another which would become a major, seminal piece in the field.