Look Before You Leap

I was told often that I wasn’t college material. That’s probably because I didn’t apply myself during my four years of high school. I had a friend, Jim, who died of leukemia within two years of graduating, who would do his English homework during history, and history homework during whatever class followed that, and so on and so forth. I feel I am too attentively deficit to accomplish such a self-inflicted assignment.

Also, I didn’t think I could afford it. Pell grants weren’t available until 1973, and I graduated from Kuemper High School in Carroll in 1968. Most other kids that went to higher education had families that could help financially. And then there was that buzz in my ear where I had heard more than once that “you aren’t smart enough to attend college.” I’m sure that was related to my grades. I didn’t do homework unless I could get it done in study hall and wasn’t too tired from roaming around that night before and needed a nap.

So,  my guidance counselor, Cletus Windschitl, grandfather of Matt Windschitl – majority leader in the Iowa House of Representatives, met with me once and gave me brochures about auto mechanic schools throughout the Midwest. Never mind that I am probably the only student ever to attend Kuemper Catholic High School who flunked “shop.” Unfortunately for me, neither my deli-style counseling session nor brochure indicated that the place I would stay while at school had a top floor that was open to the sky, or that my school and place of residence would be in a crime-ridden neighborhood. And, it was never mentioned to me that I was going to Chicago immediately after the Democratic Convention and riots of 1968.

My first visit to Chicago was when I was seventeen. I had enrolled in a school on the south side that taught auto mechanics. I took the Greyhound bus from Vail, Iowa, to Chicago and took a taxi from the bus station to the school. I had no idea where that school was located. I remember that it was south of the business district [Wacker Drive & the river], but I couldn’t name a street if I had to. I’m quite sure the school was in the South Loop if you’re familiar with the Chicago area.

The school was disappointing. The students lived in a hotel up the street about two blocks away. The top two floors of the hotel had burned out, but that didn’t stop the hotel from operating. [I can’t be sure, but everything I have researched points to the Douglas Hotel, where the top floor was on fire in 1961 – seven years before I was in Chicago.] I was assigned a room with another student on the top ‘livable’ floor. The neighborhood didn’t just appear to be dangerous; we were told not to wonder about. Within a few days of getting situated, I left the room, went down the elevator to get a Coke out of the machine on the ground floor and took the elevator back up to the 6th floor. When I got out of the elevator, I saw a fellow student lying on the floor of the hallway close to my room. He had just been mugged. I couldn’t figure out how it wasn’t me. It was matter of a couple minutes or less.

My roommate moved out and down the block to a different hotel. I didn’t have the financial resources to move. Fortunately, I decided I didn’t want to be an auto mechanic after all. My high school guidance counselor had suggested it when career assessment tests indicated that I like to “work with my hands.” A day after my roommate moved out, I headed out to the bus depot with my new toolbox full of Snap-On tools. I had paid for them. They’re guaranteed for life, but not if your stepfather breaks the lock on the toolbox and steals them while you’re in the Army.

Another thing that was strange about this school was that it was on the second floor of a building. I recall walking up many steps to get to the classrooms and shop area. Just another thing I didn’t notice on the brochure. I’m beginning to think there were no brochures. It must have been a matchbook cover.

Moral of the story: Check it out before you commit!


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4 Responses to Look Before You Leap

  1. Pam Olson says:

    I remember going to fishing contests at Tracy’s pond.
    One time two girls wandered off into the wooded area and got lost.
    They all but called in the FBI to find them.

  2. Terry Murtaugh says:

    What an amazing story, Marty. A Greyhound bus from Vail to Chicago… that’s a story in itself. The next article I read had a great line about life: “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” Congrats on being a champion surfer!

  3. Pam olson says:

    Don’t feel bad about Auto school. I went to Omaha to become a secretary, only because I was pressured in to deciding what I wanted to do after high school. We didn’t have many options back in the 60’s

  4. Shannon koenck says:

    You have done wonderful in your life considering what life delt you in your younger years. You created two beautiful wonderful girls and all you ever really need is love and support ❤️ I love you

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