The Wilson Story

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A Dream Realized

Kenneth Glade Wilson

    This had been an interesting year where fate had taken me down some strange roads.  It seems that I had lost all control of my destiny.  How had I arrived at the hospital awaiting my fathers return from open heart surgery?  This was the early days of heart surgery and there was a real possibility that he would not pull through.  So much was riding on this day in my life.  I had just defended a thesis or dissertation that was 12 months overdue and definitely not my writing.  It smelled of Dr. Vickery, he had made me rewrite every page several times.  Oh, the red on my papers.  Kate had typed and retyped page after page. Oh, there went dad down the hall on the gurney and he is trying to roll over and fighting the tubes and wires, but clearly he is alive.  That made my day complete.  Dad will recover because he is tough and healthy, but it is some time before we get to talk to him, and I have work to do at the U of U.  

    It seems that due to errors, the typist, or my editing there was an error on almost every page.  We had interchanged randomly the words anthocyanin and anthocyanidin, which is a grave chemical error.  How could I get it finished for library review tomorrow? Would I make it on time? Time for graduation and time to teach a summer session in Oxford.  I had contracted to have twenty copies of the dissertation.  The dissertation was typed on masters which were then used to produce twenty copies of the document.  The typist had chosen to use non-reusable mats, making error correction impossible. Hence the fear was that I would have to start all over.  The wonderful, wise departmental secretary said, “come on, we can get the copies corrected”.  I said, “how do you correct the final copy”.  She explained that we could put scotch tape on the back of the sheet and then erase even even if it removed the top layer of paper.  The secretary, Kate, and I worked all night to get the needed five copies corrected for the head librarian review.  I was horrified that she would see the scotch tape on the back side of the pages.  What would I do if she noticed? “Ask her to help you remove them if it is a problem” answered the secretary. The only comment in the meeting was, “Oh, you are Dr. Vickery’s student. He really does good work: all of his students pass”.  Maybe all those rewrites were necessary after all. The copies were off to the bindery and we were back to the hospital to see Dad.  From his room, we watched them put the basic beams for the Ute BB arena (The Huntsman Center), a place in which Dad was to spend many fun hours with brother Ben watching the Utes win.

    The year delay was partly due to my lack of planning and to a serious serious illness.  We took a day off from work to take Carla to a theme park “Lagoon” for her birthday. I noticed blood in my urine but not wanting to spoil a party I went ahead and spent the day celebrating. Oh, did I pay a price that night and the next month.   While still sick we had to load up and head east across the plains.  We had originally thought about hiring a moving company, but Uncle Wayne who was driving moving vans spoke against that. He said that he always ended up a week late and the cost was twice the estimate.  He recommended that we buy a larger car and pull a trailer. We traded in our fuel efficient car(a 62 Dodge Lancer) for a gas guzzling Plymouth Fury III, rented and loaded a U-haul trailer, and headed east. Most of the freeways were not finished at that time so the road was more exciting. About four days later we reached College Corner, IN about 3:30 AM and  pulled over and slept the night.  We had breakfast at the old Phillips 66 diner in Oxford and then met our new landlords, Dr.Glenn Barr and his wife Marseille, at a more reasonable hour.  They had the house all cleaned and ready for us to move in.  It was a large two story house within walking distance of the campus. (213 North Campus Avenue). Our minuscule amount of furniture didn’t begin to fill the house.  Kate would do miracles making this a home. 

    I couldn’t wait to get working on classes.  I prepared a month’s worth of lessons for Botany 12 and then found out that I had to teach Botany 11.  The problem was teaching 35 trees of which I knew none.  Faculty meeting consisted of discussing the location of trees with reference to the buildings on campus. I knew neither the trees nor the buildings, and for years after I would say “Oh this is that tree”. Dr. Ethel Belk knew every tree and building intimately; she had watched seedlings grow into trees and  the construction of most buildings. 

    I was saved by a good assistant in my first class who knew the trees.  I would learn the trees by location and then take the second class to the same tree. I never did learn all of the buildings on campus, but I did learn most of the trees.   Health-wise it was all I could do to get to class, and set up a research facility, especially after a relapse.  The weekly faculty meetings were a tremendous drain on my time and limited energy; as they started at noon and often when into the evenings. I noticed that Jerry McClure would leave the meeting and teach a two hour lab and return without missing anything.  I asked for Jerry’s class next year and got it. I was getting into the teaching and research but was not writing my dissertation.  We planned to return to Utah after the school year ended in April.  Back across the prairies and to a hectic summer of write and rewrite.  We lived with my folks until the school year was out for Cindy and Carla and then took over Kate’s mother’s home in Goshen when she left for her summer at Grand Canyon. Finally, after many trips to Salt Lake City I had a dissertation that could be distributed to the committee. 

    The examination was held in the “New Biology Building” and many of the faculty showed up.  I made a brief presentation and turned to a key figure and noticed with horror, the dreaded spelling error. Professor Newby started the questioning my thesis by stating that I should return to Oxford and work for a couple of years to polish it up.  I was devastated. I carefully tried to focus on how to change the writing to meet his desire.  I felt like I was back getting fired from Hercules.  My reaction was a humble searching to find how I could correct things and finish up.  Next questions came from Dr. Lords, “I will assume that you have a thesis if you can defend this diagram”, which I did with great vigor.  Shortly, thereafter a secretary came into the room to get Dr. Newby for a very important phone call.  As he stood up to leave, he said “I vote pass, he did a great job on my questions”.  I was flabbergasted! I thought I had failed them! Quickly, we reviewed all of my errors and I was asked to leave the room.  When I returned I was greeted as Dr. Wilson.  I dismissed myself and we headed to the hospital, I reflected that this could have really been a bad day, but if dad was OK this would be the greatest day of my life.  I had a wonderful family, my job was secure and I was the first Ph. D in the family even surpassing my great-uncle Melvin Wilson, my mentor.

    With the dissertation corrected and sent to the binder, we had a relaxed night in the camping trailer we had lived in for our first year of marriage.  We arose relaxed after the first sleep in two days, said good by, and headed east.  This was one of many trips that we would make across the prairies over the next thirty plus years.  We always seemed to hurry too much, but life was at the ends of the road, not in between.  As we traveled there was a lot of time to reflect on our values and life in general.  The long return trip allowed us keep our focus on family and the values that got us to Ohio.  

    It had been assumed that I would accept a job at Wayne State University after graduation, but one trip to the campus and Detroit convinced me that I could never survive there. I told everyone that I would rather dig ditch than live east of the Mississippi. The departmental faculty was upset that I did not accept the job.  Finally, Dr. Vickery came into the lab with a letter from Miami of Ohio.  He stated that even if it was east of the Mississippi, I should look very carefully at the job as it was in a nice small town somewhat like Payson. I wrote a letter bordering on arrogance to Dr. Charles Heimsch applying for the job.  Calling to arrange an interview, Dr. Heimsch talked to Kate for several hours and had her sold on the job.  Fortunately, they still wanted me after the interview. I fell in love with Hueston Woods, Oxford, and Miami University.

    There were hard years in Oxford but it was a dream come true.  We could live in a small town, do good things, and raise a fine family.

    Kenneth G Wilson

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