Class of '41
This fall class letter will be a composite of news and letters sent in from other classmates. I have heard from Clinton Gass, Ray Erickson, H. Gerald Floren and Bessie Hobart Chenault. I thank each one of them for their contribution and ask that each of you respond with an update when asked. Here now is their news…the first one we’ll hear from is Clinton Gass.
1941 Class Agent
Charlie, it was only a couple of years ago that I wrote (a much too long) history of my life at and since Gustavus. Pinky included it in one of her class letters, so I’ll skip it this time other than to say that I’m still alive and well in Greencastle, IN. I enjoy reading about our classmates. Thanks for your good work.
1941 Guest Writer
About the time that I began responding to your request for an account of my activities during the past 50 years, I received a printout from my daughter, Joanne, in Maryland which she had downloaded from the Internet. This material was extracted from a centennial celebratory book of the Washington Biologist’s Field Club of all members, including that of Francis M. Uhler, a close friend since my preschool days and a son of Dr. J. P. Uhler, a venerable professor of the Gustavus faculty in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I greatly enjoyed attending Dr. Uhler’s Bible classes that he taught at the English Lutheran Church (now Trinity Lutheran) throughout my teens in the 1900s.
Regarding activities not covered in the printout since Y2000, we have traveled to China, Australia, New Zealand, and Costa Rica, cruised up the Inland Passage and fished for salmon and halibut in Alaska, taken up golf and, after too many years, resumed weekly bowling. Our health appears excellent though crossword puzzles seem more puzzling, we rely increasingly on noted reminders, the dictionary, and thesaurus to find the right word, tend to feel that tomorrow will be a better time for action than today, and that worldwide problems appear to defy solution.
If you find my account a bit too lengthy, please feel free to use only those parts that you believe would be of interest to our classmates. You have my deep appreciation for agreeing to take over the reins that Pinky labored on so effectively and faithfully for so many years!
Hope to see many more of them!
Ray C. Erickson
1941 Guest Writer
Ray was born January 30, 1919 in St. Peter, Minnesota, to parents Isaac and Martha Erickson. He had two sisters and three brothers. He attended Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, and received the A.B. degree in biology in 1941. As an undergraduate he interrupted his studies at Gustavus in 1939 and 1940 to serve in Washington, DC in the Biological Survey as a collaborator with the Alabama Polytechnic Unit on food habits analysis.
Following graduation, he resumed the collaborator assignment at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center as a biologist on the Patuxent staff studying raptor stomach contents. In September 1941, he enrolled in graduate studies at Iowa State University, Ames, in wildlife management while employed as a technician identifying stomach contents of red foxes for the Iowa Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit. His thesis research was a breeding habits study of the canvasback duck in southeastern Oregon, and he received the Master’s degree in the fall of 1942. Ray’s graduate studies were interrupted by World War II in which he served most of his tour of duty in the southwest Pacific in the USNR as a boat division deck officer for amphibious landing craft from April 1943 through January 1946. Following his release from active duty in 1946, he returned to Iowa State University to continue graduate studies through April 1948, involving a life history and ecology study of the canvasback, and being awarded the Ph.D. degree in zoology. He immediately returned to Malheaur Refuge as a wildlife management biologist where he carried out wildlife inventories, stock grazing-waterfowl nesting relationships studies and other duties of his assignment. In 1953, he married Helen “Jo” Haworth, and they had three children: Joanne, David, and Thomas. Jo passed away on November 17, 1996.
In 1955, he moved to Falls Church, Virginia, to head habitat management on all federal refuges. In 1957, he transferred to the Division of Wildlife Research as the research staff specialist of wetland ecology. It was at that time he became concerned with the serious plight of the whooping crane and other declining species, and devised a program of research on propagation designed to identify their needs and to determine corrective measures for their recovery through research and more effective management. That program was described in his paper entitled: A Federal Research Program for Endangered Wildlife, which was published in the transactions of the Thirty-third North American Wildlife Conference in 1968. For designing and later heading this program, he was awarded the U.S. Department of Interior’s Distinguished Service Award.
Ray was a charter member of the USFWS Endangered Species Committee which developed the so-called “red book” entitled Rare and Endangered Wildlife of the United States. For his work with endangered species, he also was awarded the National Wildlife Federation’s Special Conservation Award in 1975, the Zoological Society of San Diego’s Wildlife Conservation Award in 1979, the Whooping Crane Conservation Association’s Award in 1976, and Gustavus Adolphus College Distinguished Alumni Citation Award in 1976. He wrote over 35 scientific and semi-popular articles and was a member of numerous professional organizations.
Ray retired from his post as assistant director, Patuxent, in charge of the Endangered Wildlife Research Program in January 1980 after 35 years of federal service. He continued his interests in nature concerns as a member of the Governor’s Oregon Natural Heritage Advisory Council. Ray was admitted into Who’s Who in America in 2000. In 2001, he married Grace Hayes and enjoys traveling and nature interests in the northwestern U.S.
He was elected to membership in the Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 1956, was the secretary for several years in the 1960s, and was president during 1967-70. After a 20-year apprenticeship of baking shad and oysters at the spit on Plummers Island under Fran Uhler’s tutelage, he assumed these responsibilities about 1970 and continued until his retirement and departure from the Washington, DC area in 1980.
Thank you for doing the class letter. I like to learn what our former classmates are doing.
You have asked eight of us to tell the rest of the class what we have been doing for the last fifty years. I don't think of my activities during that period as being particularly noteworthy, but I will tell my story as requested.
1956 was a year of transition for me. We sold our home in Willmar, and I quit the practice of law which I started in July, 1948 and joined the editorial staff of West Publishing Company, a publisher of law books. This called for a move from Willmar to the St. Paul area (Sunfish Lake).
The move on February 25 apparently caused the one week of premature birth of our second child, Owen Wesley, on March 1. I took my wife, Gloria, to Miller Hospital in St. Paul on February 29 for birthing, but Owen held off a day to claim a birthday every year. Our first son, Hilbert Gerald, Jr, “Jerry” was born in the same hospital on November 4, 1947, when I was studying for final exams in St. Paul College of Law (now William Mitchell). The same doctor attended both births.
While employed at West Publishing in St. Paul, I received a call from the Hennepin County Examiner of Titles who told me he was retiring and they needed a new Deputy Examiner of Titles and Court Referee to replace the one chosen to be the new Examiner. I accepted the offer of employment and served in that position from July 15, 1957 until my retirement on March 1, 1985. Working for Hennepin County called for a move there, so we settled in Edina in 1959.
For years we planned to move to Gloria’s home town, Gadsden, Alabama, when I retired, but that move was delayed when she was diagnosed with medical problems requiring frequent check-ups. Gloria had such good care at Park Nicollet Clinic in St. Louis Park she did not want to leave this area until she considered herself cured. As Gloria’s condition improved we were able to spend six winters in the South.
Finally in 1994 we sold our Edina home and moved to Gadsden. Gloria passed away on September 27, 2002.
On March 31, 2004 I returned to Edina to reside at the above address. Having been away from Minnesota for so many winters I had some concerns about staying here year around, but living in Edina Park Plaza protected me from problems weather-wise. EPP is an eighteen story residential center that opens into an acre and a half enclosed park with good plants and full size swimming pool and three walking or jogging or running tracks and exercise equipment for our year-around use.
I have been blessed with good health (for a person my age) enabling me to attend a cousin’s wedding anniversary in Arizona in March 2005, tour Alaska last August, go through Panama Canal last February and drive to Sioux Falls and the Willmar area to visit friends and relatives. I enjoy the return to worship and fellowship in Normandale Lutheran Church in Edina. We play a lot of bridge and have many other planned activities in EPP. It is a good life.
I must have written more than you wanted to know, so please edit this letter as you see fit.
H. Gerald Floren
1941 Guest Writer
To the class of ’41,
That very salutation tells our age. If you wonder at living into your upper 80’s you know exactly what I’m feeling.
Spinal Stenosis has kept me in a wheelchair for about nine years, but thank the Lord, my mind is not confined. At least it functions fairly well. I keep on learning new things each day, although the daily news often brings sad tidings of what I would rather not have to hear.
Having grown up in the tiny town of Taylors Falls and the somewhat larger town of Willmar, I was sheltered from the real world. “Naïve” is the adjective.
My maiden name of Hobart does not reflect the Swedish heritage of my grandfather who chose that surname over a hundred years ago, before there were birth registration and certification.
Taylors Falls was not primarily a Scandinavian town. There were Olsons and Johnsons and Sjoquists, but they were out numbered by Hobbs, Grays, Tangens, Murdocks, Folsoms, Hezeltines, Stannards, and yes―Longneckers and Snows. Willmar had three Lutheran churches: Swedish, Norwegian and German.
Transferring from tiny Taylors Falls high school to a school that was five times bigger made me feel as if I had come to the big city. Miss Rice, my senior English teacher, encouraged me to write essays and do research in the city library, experiences that were helpful when I attended Gustavus and majored in English and speech.
My four years at Gustavus were the best in all my life up to that time.
In September of 1941, I began teaching in the little town of Maynard, forty miles west of Willmar. It was on December eighth that FDR declared that we were in a state of war. We all listened to the radio in the assembly hall. There was a stunned silence. Boys seventeen and eighteen years of age knew that they would be called up. Then a little eighth-grade kid said, “Oh boy! Now we’ll have some excitement.”
I finished that year and taught again in 1942-1943. Over-worked and underpaid, another teacher and I ventured out and joined the Women’s Army Corps (WAC).
Basic training at Ft. Des Moines, Iowa was completed in August of ’43 and from there I was assigned to McChord Army Air Field. My world expanded rapidly as I came in contact with many men and women from all parts of the USA. I had left my Swedish Lutheran world and began to discover the difference in people from Austin to Boston, Georgia to Kansas, Vermont to Missouri.
By the time I was at McChord, I made PFC and in December of ‘43 I was transferred, along with my friend Ruth, to the HQ of the Fourth Air Force in downtown San Francisco. The WAC unit there was quartered on the third floor of the Palace Hotel, on the corner of Market and Montgomery Streets.
Hotel furniture had been replaced by army cots and foot lockers. We were placed four to each room and had our bathroom. Oh, and our floor was carpeted. That was luxury-plus in the army.
Our offices were two blocks away, on Montgomery Street. The mess hall and PX occupied the ground floor.
Ruth and I had been there only a short time. At lunch one day, we had filled our trays and sat down to eat. Soon two soldiers got up from their tables and sat down at ours. Nothing unusual about that, where males far out-numbered females. It happened that one of those soldiers remembered meeting me at McChord Field. Introductions were made―they were John and Lee. After talking for a while, they said “How about a movie tonight?”
Lee and Ruth had that one date, but John Harlin and I had many dates and a year later, we married, on November 21, 1944.
I’m getting ahead of the story. In August of ’44, I went across the country to officer candidate school in Ft. Oglethorpe, GA. I won my gold bars on November 18 and used my 10-day leave to travel to Oklahoma City while John got furlough time to meet me there―at his parents’ home. They had been wondering what sort of girl their son had―me in the army, of all places!
John’s dad was a preacher so he performed our wedding while his mother and sister were witnesses. We had six days before John returned to California and I to Georgia.
It was in June of ’45 that Allied Victory was declared in Europe and soon after that, two atom bombs brought Japan to its knees.
The war was over. Discharge pins on our lapels and documents in our pockets; we decided to settle in John’s hometown of Ponca City, OK.
John was a devout Christian, always active in church work. Church music and teaching teens were his forte.
John was serving as an associate minister when the opportunity arose to go with three other families to the Union of South Africa as missionaries. My interest in missions began with the Gustavus missionary society, and suddenly a door opened to the real thing.
Our ship sailed from Savannah in late July. It was a small freighter with space for twelve passengers; our children were 3 1/2 years and 16 months-old respectively. The deck was unfit for play and we parents were fit to be tied. Eventually, after nineteen days without seeing land, we awoke one morning to the still water of the harbor and in full view of Table Mountain.
Thus began our South Africa adventure that lasted not quite thirty years. They were busy years, difficult at times, but glorious years. Some disappointments, yes, but viewed from the year 2006, they were fruitful years.
The book I wrote about that time is more than four hundred pages long, so how can all that are told in a page or two.
I wrote of my expanding world. I was about twenty-four then. Only two years after our retirement from the mission field, John died of a massive coronary thrombosis. He was sixty-seven and I was sixty-one. My world was shrinking a little, but I found employment in a Christian home for unwed mothers; mostly girls who had not planned pregnancy and now were prepared to give their babies to be adopted.
Three years after John’s death, I married Sid Chenault, a widower, retired mechanical engineer, an elder in the church, a servant of God. Together we shared nineteen great years. Parkinson’s came quickly in his case and so now I’m a widow again.
My world has shrunk to an assisted living facility, but it’s a good little world because it’s only my body that’s confined. My mind is free to look back at my past, to observe the present, and to look ahead, even to a future home in heaven.
I hope to see you there at that reunion of the class of 1941.
Bessie Hobart Chenault
1941 Guest Letter Writer