I’ve seen several blog posts from folks about their best Christmas family experiences. So, I thought that I’d go against the grain and write about my worst Christmas. It was 1961.
It had the potential of being the best Christmas ever. My mother married Budgar on December 8, 1961, and the two returned from a short honeymoon on December 10th. For Christmas, we were going to have a family get together. Budgar’s daughters, my new stepsisters, were coming and my grandmother was cooking a turkey with the fixings. Eleven-year-old me, had a hard time waiting until my stepsisters got to our house, but we waited so we could open presents together.
We opened our gifts and everyone was pleased. I’m not sure I remember exactly what my big present was. It might have been a “Paladin gun with holster,” maybe it was a toy “Rifleman cap gun,” I’m not sure which year I received which. I’m sure though I received new army men to play with; I received army men every year for several years. My stepsisters, ages 11 and 10, were especially excited about their new Barbie dolls and a Barbie game – The Barbie Game: Queen of the Prom – “A fun game with real-life appeal for all girls.”
After a short while, my stepsisters wanted me to play their new game with them. I said, “No.” I was 11 and enjoyed playing with my toys by myself, as I had done in previous years. Besides, I wasn’t about to play a “girlie game.” They insisted and then whined to their father, Budgar, that I needed to play with them because the game “wasn’t any good for just two.” They needed at least three players. So, Budgar took me away from my new toys and made me play the Barbie Game with his daughters. I was mortified.
Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and my grandmother’s cake put me in a better mood later that afternoon. She was an excellent cook and an amazing baker.
In my final article about schools I’ve attended, I decided to write about work-based schools and training I’ve had. Over the years I’ve had dozens and dozens of classes that lasted a day or two that I’m not mentioning here. Rather, these are the classes and training that I’ve had that changed my life.
TRW – Docuteller Cash Machines
After I got out of the service, I went back to Minnesota. There I began looking for a job. My best friend, Doug, worked for TRW, Customer Service Division. He worked servicing those new, cutting-edge technology, of cash machines. He suggested I apply there and sure enough, I got the job. This was the third time Doug and I worked for the same place. (Holiday gas station and Marty’s Grill, both in Crystal were the first two.) Anyway, TRW sent me to school in Dallas, Texas, for a month of training to work on Docutel cash machines – the Docuteller 300. It was a good school, besides learning how to do the mechanical repairs they taught us some of the basics in programming in machine language. On occasion, we would install a part, like a solenoid, and need to exercise it to assure it was working correctly. We’d program the solenoid to activate for a time, then release and remain released for a time then repeat. Simple things, but it taught me more about programming and understanding the differences between machine language, assembly, and higher level languages. The automated teller machines communicated to a central office using a modem, so the training also included synchronous and asynchronous communications.
The machines required the user to make deposits using an envelope and withdraws were in $25 and $50 packets that were put into a small drawer in the front of the machine. The drawer would open up for the customer to take the money or a receipt that said why the money wasn’t disbursed. I recall one customer who wasn’t happy and decided to get back at the bank. The person “tickled the machine” that is to say they put their bank card into the machine and then held the card so it wouldn’t go into the machine to be read. The ATM printed a receipt that indicated the card couldn’t be read, put the receipt into the drawer, then opened the drawer. The person took his receipt then filled the drawer with feces giving subsequent customers a surprise when they used the machine.
I also learned about (bank) teller terminals and terminal processors, which used 8” floppy diskettes. I worked for TRW for about nine months and then was laid off.
I went to work for DCMC at the Twin Cities Arsenal (TCA) inspecting bomblets. Mostly, I inspected the solder work to assure work to weapons specifications standards. I went to training for a week or so to learn soldering standards. After the TCA, I worked at the Honeywell plant on Stinson Blvd in Minneapolis. While there I learned NASA soldering requirements and inspected the work for various gyroscopes and accelerometers used in aircraft and missiles. I even inspected the hand controllers for the Space Shuttle.
I started working for NavPRO in the Quality Engineering Department and made a major career shift from Quality to Computers (See: Schools I’ve Attended – Metropolitan State University) While with the NavPro I attended training many times, including training about cc:Mail. cc:Mail was a product by Lotus, who was a big name in spreadsheet software back in the day. That training served me well when I transferred to the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA).
Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA)
I continued working with computers with DCMA. I became one of the eMail specialists for the Command. Later, I went to Microsoft Exchange classes to learn Microsoft Exchange (the back end) and Outlook (the user interface). Eventually, I transferred from Minnesota to Los Angeles and became “Mr. E-Mail” for the Western District. Of course, DCMC being a government organization there were many short training experiences, particularly in leadership and personnel management. With DCMA training I developed a style of leadership. I also believe I developed a quotation I used the rest of my working life, “You lead people and manage things; when you manage people, you treat them like things.”
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
After 9/11, I transferred to the FBI. While with them, I took classes in project management, tested, and became a certified “Project Management Profession (PMP)” through the Project Management Institute. Eventually, my project management skills allowed me to became the lead for a large test group (NCIC, IAFIS, NICS) at the Bureau.
Information Innovators, Inc. & Gray Lion Consulting
After my retirement from federal service, I went to work for Information Innovators, Inc. (aka “Triple-I) for a short time. Then, I created my own company, Gray Lion Consulting, with a contract to provide project management services to Information Innovators. Maintaining my PMP required regular “professional development” classes. To enrich my knowledge about IT Security, I went to a week-long “boot camp” and studied some more to test and become a “Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). Being both a PMP and a CISSP allowed me to manage a Network Operations and Security Center (NOSC) until my second retirement.
Don Taylor Genealogy
After my second retirement, I got very involved in Genealogy. I attend genealogical conferences regularly and plan for at least one hour of genealogical training every week, usually through a webinar or other online event. Throughout my life, I’ve learned the power of education and the importance of being a specialist in something.
Working full time to support a family necessitated my finding a college that supported working adults. Metropolitan State University (Metro State) did that and more. Besides offering courses in the evenings and Saturdays, it allowed students to design their degree plan. I had the desire to become an attorney. As such, I thought I should follow a pre-law type of curriculum, so I designed a degree plan heavy in political science, speaking, and writing.
Particularly Interesting Classes
Chaminade University in Hawaii had proven to be a fantastic place to take Marine Biology and Oceanography. I needed another science course for my degree plan so took meteorology at Metro State. Few places have more diverse weather than Minnesota, so it was great learning about the weather there. Another enjoyable class was “Acting for Non-actors.” I learned how hard it is for me to memorize lines, but I had lots of energy.
Sometimes there is a class that will completely change your life and that class was “Non-fiction Writing.” I’ll never forget that class nor its instructor, Dana Noonan.
The premise of the class was simple enough; students needed to write several magazine quality articles during the class. The difficulty with that was that Ms. Noonan required her students to write then rewrite, and rewrite again, and again until the quality was magazine quality. My papers came back with red “Awk” (awkward) and circles of problems, which require a rewrite. It was a grueling task in the days of typewriters and I couldn’t keep up with the work. It was one of the most challenging classes I ever had. To keep up with the rewrites, I purchased my first computer, a Commodore 64, word processing software and a printer. With it, instead of retyping the entire article and introducing new typos, I was able just to update the work I did previously and resubmit my significantly improved article. The computer revolutionized my work processes. I found I could use it to do a host of things. Soon, I upgraded to an IBM computer before long and used the computer for everything I could.
When my work office decided to purchase personal computers for office automation, I became a computer “helper.” At that time, I worked as a Quality Assurance Engineering Technician. My job required reviewing change requests then approving or disproving those waivers and deviations as appropriate for the Navy at the Navy Plant Representative Office (NAVPRO) in Fridley, MN. In the back room, we had a Wang 2200 minicomputer. In my work, I needed a program which would track those changes. The existing staff didn’t have time to program the computer for me, so I asked for access to the computer to develop a program that would track those changes. Because I was already a computer helper person, they gave me the appropriate access. I developed a simple program that worked for me. Then was asked by some other folks if I could put something together for them, which I did. My programs, although simple, always worked. I also took a couple of computer science classes at Metro State to help me understand more about computers. A few months later I was asked if I would be interested in moving over to the Computer Team full time. Being a “can do” kind of person, I said, “Same pay? Sure, why not.” I was happy to work wherever they could use me the best.
I never returned to Quality Assurance, but rather continued as a Computer Specialist then on to Information Technology Specialist.
I received my bachelor’s degree from Metropolitan State University in December 1986. My personally designed degree was in “Governmental Policy and Decision-Making Processes” as a subset of Political Science.
I doubt I ever would have made the shift from Quality Assurance to Computer Support and Information Technology if it weren’t for Metropolitan State University, “Non-fiction Writing,” Dana Noonan, and that first computer I owned, a Commodore 64.
I applied to and was accepted at Anoka-Ramsey Community College (ARCC). ARCC was close to home, only 3 miles away so it was easy to work days, come home and eat, then go off to school for evening classes and the occasional Saturday class. I also received a nice stipend from the government based upon my ½ time class load. All my classwork with Chapman College and Chaminade College transferred, so I was nearly a year ahead of the game.
I was able to take some fun classes at Anoka-Ramsey. I needed another science course for my degree requirements and was able to take Meteorology at Anoka-Ramsey. What could be better than taking Marine Biology and Oceanography in Hawaii, and Meteorology in Minnesota? It was cool. Freshman English Comp was a drain on my time and resources, but I got through it. I understand it was much more personalized at a Community College than it might be at many larger universities, something I am grateful for or I may never have gotten through.
Computers were relatively new in 1981-2; I had a Psychology professor that utilized the new technology to its greatest. He gave his students all the questions and all the answers for his mid-term and the final. When we took the actual tests, the questions were a subset of what he gave us and the answers were jumbled up. The professor thought Psych 101 was all about learning and knowing the terms and his method helped assure that students knew them. It seemed strange at the time but makes a lot of sense now.
I wasn’t involved in any sports or extra-curricular activities at ARCC; I was too busy working and providing for my wife and my step-daughter. I was also involved with my community and a commissioner on the city’s Economic Development Commission. I had aspirations to run for City Council and took three courses in real estate at ARCC so I’d know more about the processes of Zoning, Planning, and Real Estate transactions.
Since I attended, Anoka Ramsey has added another campus in Cambridge, Minnesota. It is a well-known and well-respected community college in the area. It was a top 10 finalist for the 2017 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the nation’s preeminent recognition of high achievement and performance in America’s community colleges.
I went Anoka-Ramsey (half-time) for nearly two years and received an Associate of Arts from them in December 1982.
Life aboard the Kitty Hawk didn’t support taking college courses very well. While at sea, my group typically worked 12 and 12. The birthing compartments really didn’t have anything that could be used as a study area. While in port, nobody wanted to do anything except get off the ship, so, it was typical to either be on duty and have a watch or be off the ship. After three and a half years on the Kitty Hawk, I think I only completed two or three courses. They were all part of the PACE – Program for Afloat College Education. The classes I had were sponsored by Chapman College, in Orange, California. Luckily, they all were transferable later on.
After my time aboard the Hawk, I went to a Navy School in Northwest, Virginia which is a tiny town in the southeast part of the state along the North Carolina border, just east of the Great Dismal Swamp. Nineteen weeks of school there prepared me for my next duty station, NAVCAMS EastPac. I arrived there shortly after Naval Communications Station, Honolulu was officially renamed Naval Communication Area Master Station, Eastern Pacific. There I worked in a funny little place we called the “Dinosaur Cage.”
NAVCAMS was a great duty station. It was located in the central valley of Oahu bordering the Eva Forest Reserve. After being on the housing waiting list for a few weeks, I was able to bring my wife and son to live with me in a Navy Housing community called “Camp Stover.” To get to Camp Stover you had to drive through the gate at Wheeler Air Force Base (Now Wheeler Army Air Field) then south through an Air Force housing area to the Naval Housing at Camp Stover. With the small navy base and housing, the larger Wheeler Air Force Base, and the huge Schofield Barracks across Kunia Road, there were many opportunities to take college courses. Chaminade University in Honolulu sponsored the classes and with a stable work environment, I was able to take quite a few courses, both lower and upper division. My lower division classes, such as Marine Biology and Oceanography, transferred to Anoka-Ramsey Community College. My upper division classes, such as Philosophy of Law, 430, later transferred to Metropolitan State University.
The most difficult class I had in college was through Chaminade. It was “American National Government.” For the final, the professor handed everyone two blue books to write our answers in and told us to let him know if we needed more. The test only had ten questions. I’ll remember that first question forever. “The office of the president of the United States consists of 12 major functions. Explain those functions and how they came to be either through law or tradition. Yes, the rest of the questions were like that too. I pretty much filled my two blue books and had to turn in my books when he called “Time.” I left feeling like I might have passed, but probably not. My hand was sore and cramping after two hours of writing when I left. Luckily, I did pass; I so didn’t want to have to retake that class.
After my three years in Hawaii, I decided to leave the Navy after 10 years/10 months active duty and return home to Minnesota. There I would make use of the GI Bill.
Today, the Kitty Hawk is decommissioned and destined to be scrapped. There is some activity to try to make it a museum ship. I would like to see that happen, but I doubt it will. The Kitty Hawk was the last of the aircraft carriers to run on oil and is one of the last two carriers that could be made into a museum. I understand that nuclear carriers are not candidates to become museums due to the destructive dismantling necessary to remove their reactors.
The Northwest, Virginia base has been renamed and is now the “Naval Support Activity Norfolk, Northwest Annex.” The equipment I was trained there to work on is long gone.
The base in Hawaii is repurposed and renamed. Google Earth shows that the equipment I worked on there is also long gone. (Although, it appeared some of it was still there in 2002 when I last visited Hawaii.)
Although I never took classes on the Chapman College campus, I look at it as the place I began my college education. Chapman College became Chapman University in 1991 and is highly ranked among master’s level universities in the west.[i]
I only one class on the Chaminade campus. There was a Marine Biology class that required lab work and labs for the class were on campus. The campus was only about 25 miles away from the base. All of the lectures were in Wahiawa. While I attended Chaminade it added graduate programs and changed its name from Chaminade College to Chaminade University.[ii]