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Interview with Jerome Garger
Interview with Jerome Garger
TYG: How did you get to Yachats?
Jerome: I want to say first of all, Allen, and I don’t know if you know this, but I am here, able to interview you, because your father saved my life some years ago. Did you know that?
Jerome: In 2006, I had quadruple bypass heart surgery. I was recovering from that, and about six months into my recovery, I started losing weight very rapidly. I weighed about 206 pounds at the time, and I went down to 149 pounds. I was very, very weak, and basically skin and bones: I’m 6’2”! My heart people were basically specialists, and kept thinking it was a matter of adjusting my heart medicines. Your father—this was when the Yachats Clinic was still open—I was fortunate enough that he actually listened to me, he looked at me, and immediately (this was a late morning appointment), he said: “Get up to Newport, and get a CAT scan.” I did, and they found this big brain tumor in the right side of my head, pressing against my brain stem and doing all sorts of things to me.
It was so far along that the surgeon in Eugene almost didn’t want to operate. He said I had about a 15% chance of surviving the operation, and if I did, all of these terrible kinds of things would happen. […] I would lose all control over this side of my face, they said, I wouldn’t have any balance… And I do have minor symptoms: circulation, and problems on the right side, but it turned out way better than it could have.
TYG: You seem fine!
Jerome: Yes! Well, I’ve worked hard. I’ve made a lot of improvement over the years. And had your Dad not told me to do that immediately, I wouldn’t be around. So I don’t know if you ever knew that story.
TYG: No, I didn’t! [turns to the Editorial Assistant] Da-aaaad!
TYG-Editorial Assistant: Well, I can’t tell you, right? [because of medical privacy laws]
Jerome: So I think a lot of your Dad, I can tell you that. […] So, “How did I get to Yachats” is the question.
Let me go way back. I was born in 1937, into a very poor family. We lived in a four-family flat in St. Louis, very close to the river. It was very crowded: there were 17 kids living in these 4 small apartments. We didn’t have indoor plumbing until I was six years old, and we moved. My Dad was an immigrant from Austria, who came over here when he was 16 years old. He had an eighth grade education; he was a tailor. My Mom had an eighth grade education. I learned some very important lessons from my Dad and Mom, though. From my Pop, I learned that you don’t ever buy anything until you really need it and until you can afford it. That has been a good lesson for me throughout my life, because I’ve avoided a lot of financial problems that people get caught up in. From my Mom: even though she wasn’t educated, she was very smart and verbal. She loved words, she loved languages, she loved rhymes, and she taught me that.
When I was about seven years old—and I think this was the change in the right direction of my life—I started walking up to the library in St. Louis, which was about ten blocks away, and every Saturday I would get ten books out of the library and read them. I would usually do it alphabetically. In other words, all of the authors, I’d read all A’s. Then I’d read all C’s. […] I did that at the start, then I just looked around for interesting stuff. We didn’t have books in the home—my Mom and Dad were not readers. But I knew there was something in the library that was really pulling me. I didn’t ever think about it, but sophomore year in college, I decided to become an English teacher. But I was getting myself ready for that way earlier […], though I didn’t know it. So you’re a reader, I take it?
TYG: Yes! My favorite series is a newer series by Erin Hunter, called “Warriors.” There are fan groups all across the country. It’s a huge hit—the whole series is. And if you’re interested in cats, it’s great.
Jerome: Interested in cats?
TYG: Yes, if you’re wondering what lurks inside your cat, as one person described it. And in one of the comments it says, for example, “You won’t ever see your cat the same way again.”
Jerome: I’ve always been fascinated with cats.
TYG: Then you should read it! […]
Jerome: Frankly Allen, I have a stack of books this high to read, so it’ll take me a while to get to it! But I’ll check it out.
So, I started having jobs at age ten, all kinds of jobs. I washed the cars and trucks of a dry-cleaning company, and I sold newspapers on the corner; when I was a little older I was a busboy in a restaurant. I worked in a supermarket for many years as a stocker and a checker and stuff like that. I installed plastic seat covers in cars, I just always had a job—we needed the money, basically! And I was also saving money. I wasn’t sure what for, but what I was really doing, I found out later, was that I was saving enough to go to college! Because I wouldn’t have been able to go to college at all except for that.
So, from my Mom I learned a love of language; all this time I kept reading and that served me well in school. I think reading generally gives you a good vocabulary, it informs you about a lot of stuff. You know that.
TYG: I certainly think it does! [laughs] I’ve got a pretty extensive vocabulary, mostly from reading adult books.
Jerome: My senior year in high school, I was working at this supermarket, and my best friend and I were unloading a beer truck. And I asked him “What are you going to do next fall? Are you going to college?” and he said “Oh yeah, I’m going to go to St. Louis University, and I’m going to get into Commerce and Finance school and major in accounting.” And I said “Why?” He said “Well, my uncle is an accountant and he makes a bunch of money.” I said “Oh, I guess I’ll do that too!” [laughs]
That was my college plan. So I went to St. Louis University my first year. I did well in my commerce and finance courses. I got good grades and stuff. But most of them seemed like they weren’t very interesting, and I really, really did not like accounting at all. So through a strange series of circumstances I wound up talking to a Jesuit whom I saw only once in my life. He came up to me on the street, and asked me where I was going. And where I was going was, I was going to quit college and join the Marine Corps, because I thought “I don’t know what I’m doing anyway!” He asked me if I liked any of the courses that I took, and I said “Well, my favorite is my English composition course.” It was really a good course, and I really liked the teacher. And he said “Why don’t you become an English teacher?” And I said “Oh! What a good idea!” [laughs]
So then I changed schools, and took up that curriculum. I would say my academic planning was a little informal. It led to a teaching career for me. I ran out of money after my sophomore year of college, and I had a job as a playground director in St. Louis, but there was a financial dispute in the city, and they didn’t know if they were going to have the funds for it. So I didn’t know if I had a job, or enough money to go back to college then for my junior year. So what I decided to do, kind of on the spur of the moment, was join the Marine Corps. The reason I joined the Marine Corps is that I went to both the Army and the Marine Corps, and the Army said I could leave in two weeks, and the Marine Corps said I could leave on Friday. So I chose the Marines. And I don’t know if you know much about the Marines, Allen, but they’re pretty gung ho. Very strangely, in the Marines was where I started thinking a lot about war, and patriotism, and all of the stuff I had been taught up to that point. I started questioning: questioning war as a solution to any sort of problems; all of the enormous amounts of money we spend on weaponry, etc. etc. That was a strange place, but I think that’s what led me eventually to my anti-war position.
When I got out of the Marines, I still didn’t have enough money to go back to school, so I got a job as a bank teller for a year, and then went back for my junior year and got my B.A. degree in English with a minor in education and a minor in philosophy and a minor in social science from St. Louis University.
I applied for teaching assistantships—do you know what that is? You teach part-time, and the rest of the time you take higher, graduate school courses. So I got three offers of assistantships: one of them at the University of Illinois, one at Southern Illinois, and one at Utah. Utah was the farthest away, and it was out West, and I was fascinated with the West just being out in San Diego in the Marine Corps. It seemed to me like there was a very different attitude in living and way of thinking going on in the West. So I was drawn to that. So I wound up at the University of Utah for two years, where I got my Master’s degree. Right before I finished up my M.A., I got a call from the principal at a Jesuit high school, St. Louis University High School, which was considered by many the best high school in St. Louis. It was a very elite, demanding, college prep school, and the Jesuits are tough—I don’t know if you know that or not. And they offered me a job teaching senior English, and advanced placement English. So I jumped at that, because I knew it would be an ideal place to teach, and it was.
The first summer—you know, teachers don’t make very much, so I had to get a job—I had to get a job working at a warehouse in St. Louis. On one side were the stock yards, you know, where they slaughter the cattle, and on the other side was Monsanto. It was a very awful place to be, and I thought “God, I don’t want to get stuck in this kind of summer job again!”
TYG: What is Monsanto?
Jerome: Well, it was Monsanto Chemical Company; now it’s gotten way, way bigger. Monsanto is involved in the big GMO controversy.
The next year, I got a job at a summer institute for poor, black kids from the St. Louis ghetto, from the housing projects. One of the guys I taught with was the head of the English Department at Forest Park Community College. This was a three-campus district; this was the campus in the St. Louis ghetto. His name was Adam Casmir, right away kept saying to me: “We need you as a teacher at Forest Park Community College.” And I told him, I said “I really, really like my job, I really like where I am, although I really appreciate your saying that.”
But then I got involved in the Civil Rights movement. And in fact I had been involved in the Civil Rights movement earlier, as a teenager. And in those years—this was 1964—things were really starting to move. Black people were really starting to get organized and working toward a lot of changes. I knew I wanted to be part of that, and I thought “What better place to get involved in this whole Civil Rights movement than to be teaching in the ghetto?” So I quit my job at St. Louis U. High, and in 1965 started teaching at the ghetto community college in St. Louis, which was a life changer for me. What I learned there was pretty amazing. I learned to be a teacher, rather than a lecturer. I learned a lot, I think, of what really goes on in the country, as opposed to a lot of what history books teach you goes on and has gone on.
When I was growing up, I was a baseball fan of the St. Louis Browns. Now, the Browns don’t even exist anymore, but they were the worst team in all of baseball. They finished last year after year after year. But I was a real fan of theirs, and to me, it seemed like when they won, it was really a cause for celebration. So from that experience I learned to pull for the underdog, to pull for people who aren’t on top of it all the time. And I think that that affected my being involved in the Civil Rights movement; later on, it led me to become involved in the anti-war movement; I think it led to my being involved in the environmental movement. These are people’s movements, as opposed to the people on top who decide everything.
TYG: These are grass-roots movements, in other words.
Jerome: Exactly. And they were true grass-roots movements, too. Lots of people involved. And a lot of people paid some heavy dues for getting involved in them.
I taught at St. Louis Forest Park Community School from ’65 to ’71. In 1969 my colleagues elected me chairman of the English department. The administration was not very pleased with that, but they kind of went along with it. We had a new president of the school at the time, who was a retired Air Force major. He was a white Southerner. He was not a very good fit for a ghetto community college. He came to my office very soon after I had been elected chairman of the English department, and he told me that he wasn’t pleased that I was. I had a lot of anti-war information on my office door, along with my schedule. And he said either I had to put up half pro-war information, or I had to take it all down. I said “I’ll tell you what, we’ll make a deal here. You can do with your office door whatever you want to, and I’m going to do with my office door whatever I want to.” He was not pleased with that reply. So he formed what he called an aesthetics committee, and he put all of his cronies on it. The committee came up with this thing that said that the experience of walking down this long hallway where our offices were—offices were on one side, classrooms were on the other—the experience of walking down there, with the color of the carpet and the color of the walls, and the grain of the wood in the office doors is an aesthetic experience, and the aesthetic experience is destroyed for people when they put stuff up on their office door, and not just have their schedule up. So everybody was ordered to take anything down except their name and their schedule on the door. So practically everybody in my department immediately—even those who had nothing on their doors but their schedules—plastered their doors with all kind of cartoons and stuff, and that was the end of the aesthetics committee. Eventually this guy got fired. But he did a lot of damage while he was there.
Okay, we’re still getting me to Yachats, right?
TO BE CONTINUED
Interview with Lucy Reinhold & Christine Kadolph
TYG: What do you guys do for a living?
Lucy: I am a teacher, Christy is a teacher. I am a teacher for Spanish and English, and working with wood, and sports, and economy, and mixed practical education.
TYG-Graphic Design: In what grades?
Christy: Our pupils are 11, and they take their A-Levels when they are 18.
Lucy: So from the fifth to twelfth grade.
TYG: What part of Germany do you live in?
Lucy: So Germany has 15 federal states, and we are living in the northern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. It’s in the North of Germany …
TYG-Editorial Assistant: They have lots of little dogs. [laughter all around]
Lucy: … It’s a really huge Federal State with a lot of nature, lots of [lakes], and near to the Baltic Sea. And the capital there is Rostock—we live there.
Christy: The capital is Schwerin, but Rostock is bigger than Schwerin, so that is why we always get confused... [laughter all around]
TYG: In Oregon, Portland is so much bigger than our capital, which is Salem!
Christy: It’s the same way for us. So everybody makes this mistake.
TYG: […] So you live in the North of Germany, correct?
Christy: That’s where we met—we were studying together.
TYG: So do you work at the same or different schools?
Lucy: Different schools. She’s working in a private school, and I’m in a public school. But we started working together—we finished our practicum year together.
Christy: We graduated from university, and afterwards, in Germany, you have to do 18 months of “practical teaching” at school, any you get your final degree only when you’ve done these 18 months at school.
TYG: Wow, so several years at the university?
Lucy: Me, seven years, plus these 18 months, so 8 years.
Christy: Five years and 1 year.
TYG-GD: So this is your vacation before your “real job”?
Lucy: Yes, this is our treat!
TYG-GD: So what is your professional degree called?
Christy: Just teacher. Well, not “just” teacher. It’s one of the highest degrees you can get after doctor or lawyer.
TYG: [laughing] So different from over here!
Lucy: Well, I’m not only “Teacher,” because my Dad was building a hotel in Potsdam, and his aim was that I do like him, take over. That’s why I was learning hotel management for three years—but I realized it wasn’t [for me]. So I finished it, and then I started studying sports and tourism management, on the Island—I lived two years [in the] Canary Islands, on Fuerteventura. So they sent me all the materials, and I made the “Examen” two years later, in Germany [N.B.: the “Staatsexamen” is the equivalent of a Master’s degree, and is a government licensing examination]. And then I decided to become a teacher! [laughs]
Christy: What else can we say about our schools? My school, where I’m going to teach, is really big. They focus on different talents of pupils, so there are classes that support pupils who are talented in sports—soccer, swimming, handball. And there are also classes for people who are talented in playing an instrument—it’s quite interesting: they play in the morning, and in the evening. We have a university in town which is quite famous for the education of musicians. It’s called HMT [Hochschule für Musik und Theater], and it’s famous in the world—there are lots of Japanese and Chinese people. So the pupils we have, they actually play with [HMT] in the afternoon, and get classes from them. And then there are pupils like you, Allen; they support pupils who are talented in intelligence.
TYG-GD: Academically talented?
Christy: I guess you can call it that. They give them the chance to go to the university and talk to professors. So that’s different—we have a children’s university.
TYG-GD: A children’s uni? How does that work?
Christy: Pupils go there in the afternoon, and the professors voluntarily give them some classes. So, that’s about my school. The students pay €350 per month.
TYG-GD: Why is there a need for private schools, do you think?
Lucy: That’s a good question. It could be that parents see how the public school works, and that there’s no individual working or learning. And also there are more students from “good” families, more educated families.
TYG-GD: So it’s a class thing?
Lucy: [regretfully] Yes, a bit. I also have a particular opinion, that not all students are together and learning from each other.
Christy: I think the same way. I would prefer actually to be in a public school because I think that education shouldn’t cost money. But it’s hard to realize. And when you see what kind of problems public schools have, you know they can’t plan anything throughout the year, because they are dependent on the State, the government. So if the government says they don’t have any money, what can they do? Even if they have good ideas, they can’t [implement] them. But I think the school where Lucy is, they have a lot of good ideas. And the school where I was [during student teaching], you shouldn’t have a look at the building. When it’s raining, it drops inside, and when it’s windy, the windows are shaking. So when we had this big storm, they had to close the school for three days because they were afraid because all the shingles were falling down.
TYG-GD: Was it a poor town?
Christy: Actually not! It was just an old building… They were waiting to change, but they didn’t have money so they stopped building the new school for one year. So now the new school is already falling apart.
TYG: […] How did your trip from Seattle go?
Lucy: Yes, so first, we were landing in Seattle. We had one day in Seattle before we took a ferry to Bremerton, to the other side where the Olympic Park starts. Then we went a bit north on a really nice trail, the Hurricane Ridge Trail—high up, and enjoyed the view. Then in the evening, we took a ferry over to Vancouver Island, to Victoria, and met some friends. We paddled up through Victoria, and did some other things, some more trails—and they were really beautiful, and we were in Canada! [makes a pumping fist gesture] And we got another visa stamp. [laughter] Then we went back to the Olympic peninsula and went around it to the other entrance, the Moss Trail. That was really quite pleasant.
Christy: Then we went more south, directly to Portland, and visited the Multnomah Falls. And then today we drove here, and then we met you! That’s our trip so far! [laughter] Today, we have spent already one week here in America.
Lucy: And we still have three weeks, until the 14th of August. So now we’re going down the west coast: San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and we’re going back from Las Vegas. We’re going to visit some National Parks, and going surfing, because we don’t have so many big waves…
TYG: Yes, you don’t have much warm water [on the Baltic]! Of course, it’s not warm here, but down in southern California…
Lucy: [laughter] That’s what our plan is!
TYG-EA: Why did you choose the West Coast?
Lucy: Yes, that was my idea… I was traveling a lot with my boyfriend, and we met lots of American people in our guiding job, and I thought “Yes, well, we could surf, there’s a lot of nature, interesting people… yeah!” I’ve never been to America.
Christy: I really liked the idea to go there with Lucy, and since we had four weeks, and we are two girls, we wanted somewhere where we could travel safely. It’s really comfortable to travel here, actually. We’ve traveled a lot before, not always together, but we have a lot of travel experience. But here, yeah, it’s so nice, the people are really nice… like you! [laughter] […] And for me, since I’m an English teacher, it’s very interesting for me to get to know Americans and America so I can tell my pupils how it is here.
TYG: Before you leave, if you’re looking for the classic American experience, head up-river. You’ll find something that you just don’t find in Germany. Just a valley that has acres, and acres, and acres of farmland. All the way up, for miles.
Christy: There’s a lot of agriculture in Germany too! And wind energy. And off-shore is growing now, for wind, […] and wave energy as well.
TYG-GD: So how did you meet? At university?
Lucy: So, [Christy] is originally from Rostock—she grew up there. But me, I came from Potsdam, a little town near Berlin. I went to school there, did my hotel management, then the Canary Islands. And when I came back, I worked a bit in Hamburg, but I don’t like the big city, when you come from an island where there’s nothing… when I arrived in Rostock, my sister was already there. She’s one year younger and studied agriculture. Christy was the first to help me in the studies, to tell me what I need, what I must do to prepare—she helped me a lot. I first started studying Spanish.
Christy: That’s where we met, in the Spanish class.
Lucy: But then I felt bad with Spanish, because I speak Spanish from the Canary Islands, and it’s not my thing to be so theoretical in reading and history… Sorry! I don’t like history at all! [laughter]
TYG: Oh, I like history…
Lucy: It’s so hard for me to learn what I don’t like. I’m really practical type of woman. I changed to technical work—AWT—is the word for the subject I do now, and it’s really practical-oriented. It’s perfect for me. I love it.
Christy: And we stayed together because we both surfed, and did hobbies together…
TYG-GD: Where did you learn to surf?
Lucy: Canary Islands…
Christy: That’s why we still live on the coast… we live 15 minutes from the [Baltic] Sea, a half an hour by bike…
Lucy: But when you compare the Federal States, north and south—maybe you know Münich, Bayern—rich and developed Federal States and we are maybe not the opposite, but it’s really hard to get a job for normal workers. As a teacher it’s easier; teachers are actually needed, and it’s growing now…
Christy: But for engineers and the like, it’s really hard now.
Lucy: It’s eastern Germany, so we have agriculture, and tourism.
Christy: It’s the same like here, a little bit, I guess. Before the GDR [German Democratic Republic], before the Wall was up, there was more work, like for people who worked on the wharfs, but now…
Lucy: It’s getting better, I guess.
Christy: Around Rostock, perhaps. The little villages, more far away… not so much.
TYG: Well thank you so much for your time!!
Lucy and Christy: Thank you!