NDCUL 1966

Jim worked with a lot of people at the NDCUL, including a team from Uganda.

Jim worked with a lot of people at the NDCUL, including a team from Uganda.

The new job at the North Dakota Credit Union League was exciting for Jim, and that excitement shows through in this letter. This was where he belonged. He became the expert, traveling the state to help people organize and run credit unions.

As mentioned in earlier letters, I learned a lot from Jim’s job at the league. He showed me how to deal with people, teaching both by example and through evening conversations during commercial breaks in the Red Skelton Show. Jim dealt with a lot of people, some nicer than others. One of the nicest people worked as a secretary at the league. Judy was just a couple of years older than me (and drove a hot 1957 Chevy).

Their special relationship lasted from that first meeting in the office to the end of his days in 2007. Watching them helped me understand how to treat other people, especially a woman who deserves love and respect. Jim was part of Bob and Judy’s wedding, a guest at their holiday meals, part of the children’s celebrations, and a friend for life. Jim had us in Rochester and Judy’s (not my Judy, the other one) family in Jamestown.

He was one lucky man.

Jim writes:

The Director for Personnel of the State Employment Service was also the Treas. of the IAPES Credit Union in Bismarck. Even tho he knew I had been hired by the league some two months prior he called to inform that I was still on the register and that there were several openings in the state for interviewers … would I be interested in Valley City at $430 a month? Now they tell me! Again I was in a quandary!

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NDCUL 1965 to 1973

Jim presenting to a credit union meeting.

Jim presenting to a credit union meeting..

In last week’s letter Jim had gone through the hard times of an unlikable job. It dragged him through the summer and finally, thankfully, ended in the fall. Then the North Dakota Credit Union League hired him. That turned out to be the best job of his life, and a significant influence on me.

Again, Jim traveled throughout the state, even making trips around the country to Credit Union National Association events. He made good friends, worked for hard-working, energetic people, and helped regular people who needed a financial lift. Compared to his life as a clerk in a Sears catalog store, becoming a full-time consultant was a stretch for him. Surrounded by good people, learning an entire new industry must have been a fascinating challenge.

I was in my prime high school learning years while Jim was at the League. He gave me the opportunity to work there and learn skills that have stuck with me since then … almost fifty years ago.

Fifty years. Really? Fifty?

Jim writes:

Over five weeks elapsed from the time I left the Employment Service until I landed another job. Luckily my recent experience there helped me secure a position with the North Dakota Credit Union League as a consultant or Field Representative. The League was the official organization of the 100 or so credit unions in North Dakota.

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The Job Corps

Jim with the 1952 Cadillac he describes in his letter.

Jim with the 1952 Cadillac he describes in his letter.

Buddhism teaches that the natural human condition is suffering. The Buddha lived a life of privilege but suffered. He learned techniques to accept and overcome the suffering. Jim wasn’t much for religion, certainly not for some Eastern mumbo-jumbo religion, but he understood suffering and how to overcome it.

I was only fourteen and barely knew Jim in 1965. Even then I could understand that Jim was going through a tough time. Something had happened at Cal’s, my favorite Office Supply store, causing him to leave. Jim never told me exactly what went on; how much do you tell a fourteen-year-old anyway? That summer was difficult. We went camping and driving in the Cadillac (I was learning to drive!), but Jim was always talking about work, that there were opportunities and possibilities. He did it in a way implying that there was something better out there.

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Guy and Judy, Lon and Mara

Mara, Jim and Lon. c. 1992

Mara, Jim and Lon. c. 1992

Recently we celebrated one of my medical challenges at dinner with friends. They asked me to propose a toast. After a few minutes I offered the following:

I’m thankful for being alive. It’s not often that I am able to express my gratitude to the people around me. Saying “Thank you” and “I love you” has always been difficult for me. Thank you for being here. I love you.

As difficult as it is to offer love or thankfulness, it’s at least as hard for me to be on the receiving end of those sentiments. Jim didn’t hesitate to express his feelings, nor does my wife Judy. Whenever they start down this path, I dig my toe into the sand, with that “Aw, shucks” feeling. I’d rather not be there.

That feeling hit hard as I discovered this letter in the stack from Jim. I almost didn’t include it for publication, because it’s so “embarrassing.” Grace raised me to do the right thing, but she didn’t give me the talent to accept the kudos when things went right. As I age I realize that expressing thanks and love is a two-way street. Rejecting an expression of love is a rejection of the other. Turning away thanks turns away a fellow human. To be a friend means both giving and receiving emotion, even the best kinds of emotion.

I’ll never be as good as Jim in expressing my thanks or love. He set the bar pretty high and I’m still learning. Earlier this month I put that learning to the test. One of my friends was planning an incredibly generous gift for me. I rehearsed for hours, knowing I had to thank him. When the moment came my statement was a simple “Thank you. I appreciate this.” I watched as if looking into a mirror as he stumbled around trying to accept the gratitude. Now I need to work on how to coach him to accept a thank you, just like Jim coached me.

Thank you for your patience as I learn this skill.

Jim writes:

Usually one looks to an older person for inspiration and example … but in this case Guy was always the inspiration for me … I was an older person looking up to a much younger one … as a teenager he exhibited a unique quality … that of a serious goal oriented person. At fifteen he knew what career he wanted to pursue … and he set his mind to it … graduated high school … on to four years of college plus an additional year of study for a Masters Degree … then on to IBM where he has built  his career for some nineteen years … what is unique about this?

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NDANG 119th FIG

NDANG 119th FIG - 1967

NDANG 119th FIG – 1967 – Jim is standing on the right

Does everyone have one persona for public display and another for personal use? 1965 was a long time ago, and I wasn’t terribly perceptive, but I do remember Jim moving from the AFRES to NDANG. Jim exuded confidence. He was ready for the transition, looking forward to weekend drills in Fargo with a larger unit. I didn’t doubt his enthusiasm for a moment.

Today I read through this letter and got a glimpse of the trepidation he felt, sitting across from a superior officer, waiting for a decision. The Captain had probably decided long before the two of them met in that spare office at Hector Field. Jim didn’t know. All he knew was that his future was on the line. Jim’s plans for the eighties and nineties were in the hands of one man.

Jim taught me many lessons in the forty years I knew him, and one of them was a positive outlook and memory. Whatever decision the captain made that day, Jim would survive and succeed. He could look back on the experience and know that he had done his best, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. In this case, everything worked.

I had the benefit of a couple of tours of the NDANG facilities, some weekends in Fargo, and being proud to say that I knew one of the men who kept the Air Guard fighter planes in the air, roaring off the runway past my college dormitory every day.

Jim writes:

Capt. James N. Buzick, Personnel Officer, 119th FIG, NDANG, Hector Field, Fargo, ND … My records were open and before him on his desk. Before the old unit was totally disbanded the command had checked into possible openings other units, especially the Air Guard and at that time there were about 15 or so positions available in various career fields and ranks. Of 75 men and officers about 20 or so were recommended for enlistment in the 119th FIG.

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Demise of the 9523rd AFRES

In this letter, Jim writes about the end of his time in the Air Force Reserves. After moving to Jamestown he committed to the military, primarily to earn the retirement income. After years of active duty, he felt that a regular income was within reach. All he had to do was stay with it to reach the thirty year mark. Now they tried to take it away.

Jim (r) and friend in uniform.

Jim (r) and friend in uniform.

These were stressful times, making it an easy bet that the military would be around for a long time. The Cuban Missile Crisis had been in the papers just a couple of years earlier. Even many of us who lived through that time didn’t really understand how serious that threat was. Recently I heard a B-47 navigator give a talk about his experiences during those tense days in October of 1962. He told us about sitting on the runway with live, armed nuclear weapons. He talked about the route they would take to Russia, refueling over the Atlantic, dropping the bombs in Russia, refueling again over Norway, then returning to somewhere in the States. The most unsettling part of his talk was his description of a talk he had with his wife and young children before he took off. They decided where to meet … “after the war.” They actually made plans to meet at a particular motel in Texas. Gen. Curtis LeMay, who Jim talks about in this letter, wanted to “bomb the hell” out of the Russians. There was a need for these Air Force Reservists.

After Jim defended our country against the Japanese empire, this must have been a simple extension of his duty, with the added benefit of a possible retirement check. Assuming we were all still alive.

I was only fourteen when all this happened, so was oblivious to much of the drama. I focused on the fact that he had friends in the unit and wanted to stay with them.

This was a big deal, Jim had several really good friends in the unit. This was shortly after I met Jim, and I was pretty young, and did not understand the concept of retirement or career, I just knew he thought it was important. I saw that some of his best buddies were in the reserves, so it seemed like the right thing to do.

Jim writes:

The future of the 9523rd AFRES was doomed …. the unit to become another relic of the past. We were to be disbanded. Following studies and evaluations by the Air Force it was determined that there was no foreseeable future military need for these units. This move involved about 8,000 reservists in 44 states and the District of Columbia. This was to be a forerunner to the merger of the Air Force Reserves into the Air National Guard.

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Incidents 1962-1965

This letter is unlike any of Jim’s previous letters. He spent hours thinking about what he wanted to say, crafting the story long before putting paper in the typewriter. It’s infrequent to see a sentence fragment. Today’s letter is full of fragments. Most importantly, it’s full of thought fragments, any one of which could make a whole story. As I read through the letter it reminded me of so many fun activities and events. My mind immediately went to the photo albums which have pictures for almost every sentence fragment below. One of the first memories he recalls is of the analyst magazine that Mike B and I published for several months. There’s already a lengthy story about that one available.

Cal's Office Supplu Delivery van

Cal’s Office Supply Delivery van

The first phrase that really triggers the memories is about Cal’s Office Supply. There were two office supply stores in town, and one of them didn’t get my business. (There was a story about those pennies a couple of months ago.) I met Jim at Cal’s when I was looking for paper for the analyst. Jim was usually on the road for Cal, delivering and picking up office machines from all over the area. The typewriters, adding and accounting machines fascinated me! Better than that, he got to drive a Ford Econoline van. What a piece of work that was.

On a side note, the Buffalo City Grille now occupies the space where Cal’s was in the late sixties. It’s our favorite restaurant in Jamestown.

Gene at Jim's apartment

Gene at Jim’s apartment

Gene Kurtz ran the repair shop. He could fix any of those mechanical monstrosities. He loved fun, drinking, fast cars, and practical jokes. He could tell you more stories than either Jim or I could, including ones about bullheads and his 1958 Ford Thunderbird. His obituary on the web even mentions both Cal’s Office Supply and practical jokes. One of his most irritating practical jokes involved snapshots. In the sixties it took at least a week, sometimes months to use up a roll of film and have it processed at the local drug store (White’s) or photography studio (King’s). By the time you got the pictures, you realized that in just about every picture of Gene he had managed to sneak in a quick finger.

Guy with the 1952 Cadillac in 1965. Probably at Lake Metigoshe.

Guy with the 1952 Cadillac in 1965. Probably at Lake Metigoshe.

Jim loved to camp. In style. No tents for him, he wanted a camper. He was an Airstream fan, but without the cash to buy a real one. He had a tiny, two-wheeled outfit that barely fit two people with gear. The back side had a hatchback that opened into a galley that would have been big on a boat or airplane. Given his history of Navy and Air Force, that was appropriate. We had a lot of fun in that little camper, even if it did rain just about every weekend we were out. It towed nicely behind his 1952 Cadillac coupé.

The second half of the letter describes his experience with the Air Force Reserve.

Jim writes:

Incidents 1962-1965

Between the above dates occurred events that I will always remember: Leaving Sears employment … a do nothing summer off … the Air Force Reserve … joining the staff of Cal’s office Supply as a salesman … my friendship with Gene Kurtz and Cal’s repairman … and in the latter days of 1963 meeting Guy William Havelick, founder and co-editor of the “Analyst” … a prestigious publication of scientific and intellectual depth! Purchasing the black 1952 Cadillac coupe DeVille from Lake Motors in Devils Lake … (traded in 1960 Opel Rekord 2 door sedan) … friendship with Guy was growing … during the year of 1964 we shared many activities … Guy was learning to drive and many Saturday and Sundays were spent driving to Valley City, Binford, Kathryn, Spiritwood, and the surrounding areas … Sundays … making breakfast for us at 406 1st Ave north then Guy off to church … evenings listening to “Herman’s Hermits” and eating popcorn!

This was also the year that we made many camping trips in the little, leaky, two wheel trailer … the winter we cut, measured the custom built canopy for the trailer and used once at Lake Meticoshe during one of the frequent rain squalls we endured … “the clouds were always breaking up” or so we hoped! Continue reading

9523rd AFRES

Jim at a Veteran's Day event in the early 2000's

Jim at a Veteran’s Day event in the early 2000’s

When I first met Jim he was an active member of the Jamestown unit of the Air Force Recovery Squadron. One weekend a month he had to spend the entire weekend at the airport doing something with a bunch of airplanes and military men. Then, to top it off, they went to somewhere exotic, like Rapid City, South Dakota, every year for two weeks for extended training. I didn’t understand why he was spending all that time with the Air Force.

This and the next couple of letters describe the second half of Jim’s military career. It’s a long and involved story that deserves the three letters he invests in it. He was adamant about getting his time in, making up weekends when he couldn’t get to the scheduled one, even when they moved to Fargo, a hundred miles away. I just didn’t understand how he could give up a weekend of camping and fun to run off to the airport so often.

The other thing I didn’t understand is how much he was teaching me by example. He had a goal in mind, a goal that was years in the making. I was only a teenager when I learned about his dedication to the Air Force Reserve so the idea of investing in a goal for something thirty years out was impossible for me to imagine. In fact, as I aged it became clear that my past limited my view of the future. I don’t recall exactly when I figured it out, but at age twenty I could only see twenty years into the future. Retirement was beyond my comprehension. Now that I’ve reached retirement age, the future is all too clear.

Jim could see far enough to know that retirement would be something to plan for. Between his military retirement and Tri-Care military medical insurance his decision in 1962 allowed him to live the last years of his life in relative comfort and plenty.

Jim writes:

After spending ten years in the Navy and all those years spent on different types of ships at sea it was a startling change of military careers when I enlisted in the Air Force Reserve in August of 1962.

Being completely landlocked in the midwest didn’t offer much in the way of advancement and training in a Naval career field. At this time there was a small Naval Reserve unit headquartered in Fargo on the NDSU campus. It wasn’t very active and had little to offer. Thru a friend in Jamestown, Dave Robertson (of AAU fame!) I learned that there was an Air Force Reserve Unit right here under my nose and I wasn’t even aware of it! Continue reading

Naval Language

WWII Navy

Jim (c) and two friends early in the war.

On first reading the title of this letter from Jim my thoughts went to cussing sailors. Then I thought, “Wait a minute! Jim wasn’t much of a cusser.” What’s the deal with this letter?

Jim tells the story of what he learned in Navy boot camp in 1941, a couple of months before World War II erupted into the American consciousness. In his own indomitable (one of his favorite words) way he relates boot camp not to the normal deprivations and indignities, but to the new words he had to learn. Naval Language.

Within the first paragraph  I was ready to learn new words for all sorts of things. Not this time. He learned his lesson well. On the surface, this letter is a lengthy list of definitions and new terms he learned in boot camp. He missed one term that I clearly remember him using after my first month at NDSU. I had moved in and had lived in the dorm for a couple of weeks before he had Air Guard drill in Fargo. He told me that he was eager to see my “quarters.” I couldn’t figure that out. I didn’t have a coin collection that amounted to anything. The few coins I had were mostly pennies. Why would he want to see my quarters? Oh. Naval Language for the place you slept.

All of the other terms Jim describes were quite familiar to me. Over the years he used every one of them many times. He was only one of thousands of WWII veterans that brought new language back to the states. Until reading this letter I didn’t know how much he really learned in boot camp.

Jim writes:

Boot camp or recruit training is a profound shock to most recruits because the navy begins its job of building men by destroying the identity they brought with them. Their heads are shaved. They are assigned numbers. The drill instructor is their Mother, Father, their God!

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Dar Es Salaam

Jim and Uganda friend at the NDCUL office in Jamestown ND.

Jim and Uganda friend at the NDCUL office.

Jim worked for the North Dakota Credit Union League for several years. A highlight of those years was when the League partnered with an NGO out of Uganda. A group of people came over from Uganda to observe credit union operations in rural America, attempting to learn how to set up credit unions back home. The group toured North Dakota with Jim hosting them on several jaunts to local credit unions.

I had a brief opportunity to meet the group. The most striking thing about them was their blackness. As a Jamestown kid who hadn’t traveled much, these men were absolutely exotic. Perhaps they were to Jim as well. The clue was the name he gave to his new home, specifically the newly finished basement with a pool table. Dar Es Salaam.

In the letter Jim describes how the house was actually a sort of “mother-in-law” apartment for the place next door. That actually was a problem when it was time to sell the house. That’s a story for another day. For now, let’s just say it’s complicated.

Jim writes:

The house at 910 2nd PL NE was built in 1952 for Fredricks Koepplen who was the mother of Ida Krein, her husband Lloyd was the owner of Lloyds Motors, Jamestown. Kreins lived next door to the west. There was a connecting sidewalk between the two. Mrs. Koepplen lived by herself in the house until late 1969. When she could no longer care for herself her daughter and son-on-law moved her into their home and put her house up for sale. When I first looked at the house and the interior I knew it was pretty much what I had been looking for. Continue reading