Guest author, 96 year-old Dr. John A. Blaschke, shares his early learning experiences that have stayed with him throughout his life and his distinguished career.
In his own words: “WWII Naval Aviator where I learned discipline of self and the discipline of a greater cause. Graduate of Univ. Oklahoma College of Medicine 1950 made possible by GI Bill. No nation ever rewarded its military veterans as the USA did after the war. Most of Medical career as a Rheumatologist at McBride Orthopedic and Arthritis Clinic for 42 years. Clinical Professor of Medicine (now Emeritus).
My crippled patients taught me much about life, spiritual values and faith Most importantly a wonderful wife who was perfectly happy in poverty or comfort and who brought emotional stability and joy to our marriage of 74 years.”.
“Do not walk through time without leaving worthy evidence of your passage.” Peggy Noonan.
My first year in college was spent at St. Louis University. My parents could not afford that type of school, private, Catholic, high tuition and very highly regarded in Medicine which was my stated goal in life. The dean was very helpful to my anxious parents and me, and arranged a scholarship for my tuition, a job tending the furnace and other chores in the Freshman Hall for my board and room. Additionally he arranged a part-time job with the NYA –National Youth Administration- developed by President Roosevelt and administered by Lyndon Johnson to aid impoverished youths like me. My job was at a Jewish Community Center, as a counselor.
It was a difficult year for me with many failures. I had never been away from home before and had never been in a situation of exposure to alcohol, tobacco, and freedom to decide for myself every aspect of daily living. I made many bad choices. I had never learned how to study in a disciplined independent fashion. College requires that ability. I missed my family a lot and to cap it off I received a ‘Dear John’ letter from the one I loved announcing her pending marriage with someone else. I needed counseling for depression long before it became well understood. The kids at the Jewish center were far more worldly than I was and hastened my dismissal when they all got drunk one night on a picnic at Forest Park. I had excellent grades in chemistry and math which saved my pre-med career but several poor grades caused many questions later.
I worked at farm labor the following summer and a blue collar job the fall semester. My parents decided to give me a second chance and took me to Iowa City in January of 1940 to enroll in the spring semester. This time I had a great job mopping the floors at the entrance of the University Hospital. I had to do it at 6:00 AM every morning but it only took about ninety minutes, for which I received room and board. I enrolled in a tough chemistry course, German, math and a required English course. Somewhat against my wishes, my advisor urged me to take a lighter course entitled, Approaches In Liberal And Cultural Education.
It was the best course I ever took in college. On the surface it seemed to be a pushover course for athletes, many of whom were classmates. No attendance was taken, there were no tests and the grade was an automatic ‘satisfactory’. If one desired to write an essay and was motivated to do so by something heard in a lecture, one was welcome to do so, and grades up through an ‘A’ were possible
The teacher was Dr Benjamin Shambaugh a distinguished faculty member. At that time of my life I’m not sure what his field of study and teaching were. After the first few days he had my full attention and a strong desire to get to class early each day for a seat close to the front. It was an 8:00 AM class three days a week. At 7: 45 AM we would begin to listen to a recording of some famous classical music We students would enter silently, listen, read, or just think, but the setting and mood were electric. To this day the Pizzicato Polka by Strauss warms me with happy memories.
We had no textbooks but the background reading suggested was Ariel and Will Durant’s multi-volume, History of Philosophy. Dr. Shambaugh , always immaculately attired, brown suit, light tan shirt, matching tie, and pocket handkerchief, would approach the lectern and begin a discussion on a subject such as how one thinks, remembers, concludes, decides and then acts on many aspects of life such as what does one want to do or be or become in life. Then he would trap us by asking, why?
His lectures, ideas, attitude and manners helped me in many different ways. The seeds of ideas planted in my mind drove me to the library to see what the Durant’s and others had to say on a given subject. More than that, the ideas generated in my cerebral hemispheres led me to compose essays elaborating on the basic premise. For the first time in my life. I began to think about life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, suffering, mankind, love and why did I want to become a physician.
Strangely – to me at least- the intellectual excitement and effort I was experiencing under Dr Shambaugh spilled over into my other courses. I made A’s in everything but German that semester, but more importantly I had learned to think, to aspire, to strive, to find joy in excellence, not just because someone required it or my parents demanded it, but because Approaches in Liberal And Cultural Education had brought maturity and an awareness of life I had never experienced .
Over the years I’ve thought fondly of Dr Shambaugh and wished I could have expressed my deep appreciation and affection for him, for that magical single semester course. In recent years I’ve prayed my thanksgiving for him. I plan to embrace him warmly later on.
The following semester I had planned to return to Iowa City. I felt I was on the right path for medical school and was confident I could handle the tough pre-med courses awaiting me. The Lord had other plans. As I’ve related elsewhere, when my father announced we were moving to Oklahoma, I thought the world had collapsed. Outer Mongolia seemed more civilized, in my mind, than Norman Oklahoma. But that’s another story.