Viewing PreferencesViewing Preferences

Albert Maywood Courtright II

Reminiscences of Maywood Courtright

I Enter the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

Corydon and Arthur Neeley, who had been born in the house next door to us on South Williams St., the one that burned in 1904, had been my most intimate friends all thru our school days and we continued to keep in touch after we finished high school. I was closer to Arthur, or course, because he was in my class, but I corresponded with Corydon too and saw him frequently after the war in Paulding when he got a job as one of the two Paulding mail men. It was about this time that Congress had appropriated the money to pay for home delivery in towns the size of Paulding. Before that we had to go to the post office for our mail. Corydon had been drafted and been sent to France but too late to get into any of the fighting. I presume Dr. Neeley used in friendship with Congressman Snook, they were both interested in flowers, to get Corydon the job but I think veterans were also given preference at government jobs. Corydon wore his old army uniform when he delivered the mail.

Corydon worked a year or so as mailman then entered the University of Michigan in the School of Dentistry where his father had studied. The first year he was there he wrote me and invited me to come up for Thanksgiving which I did. I thought there would be a Thanksgiving football game, Yost was still coach at Michigan, but the football season was over.

Arthur resigned from the naval college in Annapolis as soon as the war was over and entered college in Ohio where he finished one year then decided to study chemistry, also in Ann Arbor. I had been working for about a year in the small motor engineering department by that time and became acquainted with some of the graduate engineers, most of them from Purdue. They appeared to have more interesting jobs and had more prestige than the men who had not gone to college. I started mulling things over and finally made up my mind that I would also go to Michigan. I had hung on to my money so I didn't have to ask my father for funds, at least for the first year or two and I could probably get advanced credit for what I had done in Ft. Wayne at General Electric. I got a leave of absence for study which would permit me to come back and work during the summer, went to Paulding, and the three of us took the Cincinnati Northern to Jackson, Michigan, then the Central to Ann Arbor in the fall of 1920. The Michigan Central railroad tracks make a ninety degree bend just before entering Ann Arbor from the west and I didn't notice it as the car was full of students standing in the aisles ready to get off. As a result, Ann Arbor is one of the few places I have lived where the sun does not set in the west, that is, except in the southern part of town near the football field where I forced the world to turn around where it belonged. I hate to be turned around in a place as I have a hard time finding my way around.

In 1920 all of the main University buildings were on the main quadrant except Hill Auditorium and the Men's Union. There was no North Campus. The largest building was the old University Hall near the middle of the campus, built of brick and painted white. It was later torn down. The three of us found a room near the campus with a double bed and a single in a house owned by a young couple with a 10 year old son. We bought meal tickets at a small restaurant and lived mostly on macaroni and cheese as it was the cheapest thing we could find on the menu. We sent our laundry home in a special suitcase-like affair with a lid that could be flipped over so the address could be put on either side. Automatic washing machines and Laundromats didn't exist in the 1920s. My mother was a long time getting away from the wash tub.

I applied for advance credit in a number of subjects and could have had more but was not certain how what I had learned in Ft. Wayne would compare with courses at the university. I was sure of my ability in mechanical drawing, however, and was given credit for mechanical drawing and descriptive geometry, so I didn't have to buy a drawing board as all the other freshman engineers were doing. Two years of a foreign language was required of engineers for graduation. My high school German would have counted as one but by that time I was much more familiar with French than German so I took a special exam and was given credit for one year of French.

It was Corydon's final year in dental school and Arthur's study in Annapolis and the small college in Ohio and given him two years of credit. Corydon was a Senior, Arthur a Junior and I was a lowly Freshman. I had to attend Freshman meetings and go to gym classes and I resented the time it took from my studies. I was required to take a course in English also and didn't like that idea either but I had a good instructor and the course turned out to be practical and useful. I found out I didn't know the English language as well as I thought I did.

All three of us were pretty tight with our money. My dad was already financing Evalyn at Defiance College and I didn't want to call on him for money if I could avoid it. I hadn't asked his permission to enter the university. I did run out of money tho before the end of my Senior year. Our recreation consisted mostly of walks in the country and walking down to Ferry field to watch football practice. Nearly all of the students at Ann Arbor were men in 1920 but there was a normal school at Ypsilanti where most of the students were girls studying to be teachers. We were not acquainted with any girls there but it was a nice walk on a Sunday afternoon - about 5 miles, maybe more - and we could take the interurban (electric car) back. It was cheap. One Sunday afternoon we walked fifteen miles south on the Ann Arbor RR tracks to visit a member of our high school class, Fern Spellmyer, who had married and was living in a small town there. She already had two small children. Once a month or so we would splurge and go to the movies either near the campus or in downtown Ann Arbor, as much to listen to the wisecracks of the students about the action on the screen as to watch the movie. Movies were silent in those days, of course.

We attended all of the football rallies in Hill Auditorium and never missed a game at Ferry Field. We were given tickets to all of the home games and two basketball games at the time we paid our tuition. The first football game of the season was always with Michigan State College (later University) at Lansing. Michigan invariably won by a lopsided score as Michigan State at that time was only a small agricultural school. Harry Kipke was Michigan's star halfback, and I believe Yost was still coaching. I was always in high spirits if Michigan won and very depressed if we lost.

I had brought my ice skates and frequently went skating on the Huron River when the ice was good. If it wasn't I could go to the covered ice rink in the south part of town tho that cost me money. I learned to be quite a good figure skater by watching some of the experts and imitating them.

Some university tennis courts were clay and located inside the walls of Ferry Field which were about 12 feet high. The wooden gate, as high as the walls, was locked at night and not opened until eight in the morning. Corydon didn't play tennis but Arthur and I, after trying several times to get a court and finding them all occupied, would sometimes get up about daylight and go down to the field and climb over the gate, assuring ourselves of a place before anyone else arrived. I had learned quite a bit about the fine points of the game in Ft. Wayne playing with Erick and George and I expected to be able to best Arthur without much trouble - he had no style at all, just swung at the ball like a farmer swinging a scythe, but he was very steady while I was erratic and he beat me as often as I beat him.

I worked hard that first semester, often staying up past midnight to finish my assignments. I hated to leave a problem unsolved. Then I would get up just in time to make my first class, usually at eight. Arthur, on the contrary, would get sleepy early in the evening and go to bed, then get up as soon as the sun came up to do his work. The woman in the house across the street told our landlady that we stayed up all night. I was studying calculus, woodshop (patternmaking), and French. Whenever I had a hard time on a test I felt depressed for a day or two afterward and I didn't think I was doing very well so I was genuinely surprised when the grades came out at the end of the first semester and I had all A. Chemistry was hardest for me as I had never studied it before. The university sent the names of all students who made all A grades to their hometown papers. That boosted my morale considerably.

The second semester I continued with math and French, took the first course in physics I had had since high school, tho there had been a lot of physics in the electrical courses I had studied at G.E. and got my English requirement out of the way, or most of it. Again I wound up with all A grades. I was beginning to think I had some brains after all.

The three of us had gone home to Paulding at Christmas but I decided to stay in Ann Arbor for the summer session. By taking two courses I could, in that way, become a Junior the following year instead of a Sophomore. I took the second half of the physics course I had just finished and completed my English requirement, getting an A in both courses.

Toward the end of our first year, Arthur discovered a cheaper but better rooming place and we moved things there before the beginning of the summer session, that is, Arthur and I did. Corydon had finished his dental course and opened an office in Hillsdale, Michigan. He remained there until he retired a few years ago. He married almost immediately and had a baby nine months after that, his only child. I was the only roomer at Mrs. Betke's , an old German lady with two marriageable daughters. Mrs. Betke spoke with a very strong accent. I believe both of the girls clerked in one of the stores in town but I am not sure. The older one, who was over thirty I'm sure, had a boyfriend who called regularly every Sunday night but seemed to be no closer to popping the question at the time I graduated in 1923 as he was when we moved to Mrs. Betke's. we called him "the plumber" tho we had no inkling of what he did for a living. Mrs. Betke's house was in the south part of Ann Arbor at some distance from the campus, which is why it was cheaper. I paid $2.50 a week. We had two rooms connected by a wide arch - no door between them. Mrs. Betke was a friendly old lady and she would often invite us down to the living room to play cards and, as a friendly gesture on our part, we would invite the two girls to the movies on a Saturday night, but not often.

Later that year Mrs. Betke took in two other roomers, one a 16 year old fellow who looked as tho he might be 25. He was as tall as I was but didn't look it as he [was] very well built, also very intelligent, as we discovered, tho quite unsophisticated. He had skipped two years of high school and was going to enter the university at 16. The other was a small, insignificant Jewish fellow who had just come from Europe and had a hard time speaking English. He was fluent in both German and French so I tried to take advantage of the situation and practice my French, the first chance I had ever had to use the language conversationally. Our work in class was practically all the study of grammar, reading to increase our vocabulary and translating. Our only models for pronunciation were our teachers who were Americans until the 4th semester, when I had a native Frenchman but he paid scant attention to phonetics. I do remember him telling me once that I must do something to improve the pronunciation of my French "l". Up to then I had assumed that a French "l" and an American "l" were the same animal and it was some years later before I was able to spot the difference.

I can't remember the names of either of the new roomers but the 16 year old student was instrumental in getting me my first date in Ann Arbor. He had a pretty cousin in her first year of teacher training in Ypsilanti. When she came to Ann Arbor one Sunday to see him he introduced all of us to her and the next time she came I was bold enough to ask her to go with me to a concert of the Detroit Symphony in Symphony Hall in Detroit. She accepted. I can't remember her name either or even what she looked like but she was small and I think she was a blond.

It was shortly after noon on a cold, snowy, December day when I stepped off the electric interurban car in Ypsilanti and walked to my girl's rooming house to pick her up. It was to be an all-Wagner concert and Ossip Grabrilovich was the conductor. My girl and her cousin had an uncle and an aunt who lived not far from the concert hall in Detroit and she had made arrangements for us to go there for a lunch at 6 before going to the concert. I think we walked to the hall from there but we may have taken a street car. I like Wagner's music but a whole concert of it can get monotonous. However she said she enjoyed it.

When we came out into the night air after the concert a regular blizzard was blowing and it felt like 20 below zero. On the ride back to Ypsilanti, I helped my girl with some questions for a Monday history assignment. It was midnight or after when I left her at the door of her rooming house and I suddenly realized that the last car for Ann Arbor left Ypsilanti at 11:50. Luckily I had enough money with me to rent a room at the cheap hotel near the interurban station.

The boys at Mrs. Betke's kidded me without mercy when I returned home the next morning; on my first date I stay out all night and in a blizzard at that. Even old Mrs. Betke and her girls made fun of me. It wasn't until I was a Senior that I dated a girl again; I couldn't afford it, except for the following.

My cousin, Helen Schultz, from Rockford, had come to Ann Arbor before I did to study nursing and lived in the nurses' dormitory near the hospital at some distance from the campus but I knew nothing about it until a letter from my mother informed me. It was some time after that that I decided to call on her. I told her I was rooming with two boys from Paulding and she suggested that she get a date for me, one of her nurse friends who was very nice, and one for Arthur and we would go to Detroit and visit the zoo and museum. She would be Corydon's date as she was his age. So we made it a party but Arthur's date couldn't go for some reason. My date was a nice girl as Helen had said but she wasn't at all pretty and I had a hard time hiding my disappointment tho I did my best to be gallant.

After a short vacation between the end of the summer session and the fall term, I started the fall term of 1921-22 as a full-fledged Junior. And so far I had received nothing but A grades. At Christmas I went to Peoria, Ill. for the first time where my family now resided. They had moved there in June of 1921 after school was out in Paulding. My father had preceded them in January and purchased a two-story house on North Elizabeth Street (later called Sheridan Road). I took the Michigan Central to Chicago, then a branch of the Rock Island southwest to Peoria where I arrived rather late at night. When I stepped off the train a plainclothes detective asked me for identification, then apologized. He had mistaken me for a gangster they were trying to catch.

I spent my vacation exploring Peoria, mostly on foot, and reading "Les Miserables" in French sitting over the hot air register in the living room. Mr. and Mrs. Cole (he was my dad's new partner in the grain business) invited us over one evening. He was a good amateur magician and there were two daughters, the younger one my age. We were not attracted to each other. She was nice enough but she had a hooked nose like her father.

Near the end of the first semester in February, I received a letter stating that during the coming week I would be visited by a Senior student and a faculty member who would explain the purpose of Tau Beta Pi, the national honorary engineering society. I had heard of Phi Beta Kappa but hadn't known the existence of an honor society for engineers.

My visitors told me that, because of my high grades, I had been selected to become a member of the society. In order to be accepted, however, I would have to submit an essay and pass an examination to be held the following Saturday afternoon in a drawing room over the engineering arch. The dues, I believe, were $5 a year and there would be monthly meetings that I would be expected to attend.

There were about fifteen Juniors who took the exam, most of them younger than I as they had entered the university directly after graduation from high school. The only one I knew, and that only by sight, as he was right end on the Michigan football team, was Paul Goebel. Paul never went into engineering. He owned a sporting goods store in Grand Rapids. I only remember one question on the exam because I missed it - as did everybody else, I found out - who or what was Saladin? I confused Saladin with Sedan and said it was the place where Napoleon III had been defeated by the Prussians. The drawing room where we met had mercury vapor lights which turned red to green. One sandy-haired fellow's face became so green when he became excited that it set the rest of us to laughing, which made him blush and turn greener than ever.

My essay was on the relationship of art to engineering. I chose it because Arthur had been poking fun at the engineering students in his classes because they seemed to have no culture; were only interested in mechanics and making money. So I made a plea for engineering students to learn more about great art, music and literature. At our first meeting after our induction, quite a solemn affair, I and one of the other new members were asked to read our essays. I learned later than Professor A.D. Moore, the faculty advisor for Tau Beta Pi, was a poet. Maybe my subject appealed to him.

Like all Greek-letter societies, Tau Beta Pi had secret handclasps, passwords and a "key," an emblem to hang on our watchchains. Our key was in the form of a bent, a bridge support, and had the Greek letters of the society plus Michigan Gamma, the chapter, on the front and our names engraved on the back. No one wore wrist watches then, of course. I still had the old watch my father had given me when I graduated from high school. I carried it in my lower right-hand vest pocket (we always wore white shirts, stiff collars and coats and vests to class.) Starched cuffs had gone out of fashion by that time, however, but the shirt sleeves had to [be] attached with cuff links. The watch was attached to a small penknife, which I kept in my lower left vest pocket, by a gold chain. I fastened the bent, which was gold, in the middle of the chain. I wore it until I finally scraped it off while laying concrete blocks to build our first house on Mona Lake in Muskegon, Michigan, the one on Lake Harbor Road. It probably dropped into one of the holes in the blocks. I could have sent for another one but by that time I was no longer in the engineering profession.

When the grades came out at the end of the first semester of my junior year my grades were all A except in Chemistry. It was a B and I was quite disappointed. I hoped I could keep on getting all A grades. Chemistry spoiled my hopes. The theories of the composition of the atom which linked physics to chemistry had already been advanced but hadn't yet gotten into the textbooks. All I could see to do was memorize. It took too much time. Our lab instructor was a graduate student who didn't want to answer any more questions than he had to. I never could be sure that I was getting the right answers.

The second semester also I received all A grades except one, in surveying. There is a log of adding and subtracting in surveying and I was still using the crutch I had invented in the first grade to add. What I should have done long before was practice my addition tables in my spare time but I had already finished calculus so I hobbled along counting my dots. When we went out to work with surveying instruments it was, of course, necessary to work in pairs. We took turns holding the rod and setting up the transit. It was very cold in Ann Arbor in January and February and March was sloppy and wet with a lot of snow on the ground. As we were new at it, we were slow at leveling the transit and we had to take our gloves off to do it. My fingers about froze. To save moving the transit so often we would shoot as far as we could see, which didn't help our accuracy. It was pleasant to be out later in the spring when the weather got warm but by that time, I suppose, our instructor had us classified. I don't know what grade my partner got. I was never in a class with him again.

Besides his work in chemistry, his major field, Arthur also took enough work in the field of education to qualify him for a high school teaching certificate in the state of Michigan. He didn't intend to teach, however, unless jobs in chemistry were scarce at the end of the year when he graduated. As a further hedge against that possibility he decided to register in the school of education office where any graduating senior could leave his name and list the subjects he was qualified to teach. The register provided the school superintendents throughout the state with the names of prospective teachers and a record of their college grades. It was pure happenstance, or perhaps the will of the gods, that caused me to be with Arthur when he went in to register. I think we were on our way back to our room. I was going to remain out on the sidewalk and wait for him but he said, "Why don't you put your name down too? It doesn't cost anything." If it had cost even a quarter - or ten cents I wouldn't have done it as I had no intention of becoming a teacher, but I couldn't resist something for nothing so I signed. As a result, I became a high school teacher for most of the rest of my life instead of an electrical engineer. As fate would have it, Arthur went into the industry and I became a teacher.

During his last two years in high school, Arthur had had a steady girlfriend, Lucile Schumacher, the Superintendent's daughter. Lucile moved to town in northeastern Ohio after graduation where her father had accepted a better job, but Arthur kept up a steady correspondence with her and, I think, went to see her a couple of times during summer vacation. He probably would have married her but she died. Arthur told me the family buried all of his letters to her with her body. If her death affected him emotionally, I could see no indication of it. After she died, however, he began dating a girl from California by the name of Josephine Hoyt who was doing graduate work in political science. She lived with her aunt in a nice part of Ann Arbor and taught one class in her subject as a graduate teaching assistant. He gave me details of his dates but I didn't pay much attention. Then, near the end of the term, we were walking together near the men's union and met her on the sidewalk before the building where Arthur introduced us.

Table of Contents
World War I - 1917 and 1918
Summer Vacation - 1922

Last modified on 21 June 2009 @ 12:59