Following graduation from North High I tried to get a summer job to afford to go to college. Even though tuition at the University of Minnesota was only $75 per quarter in 1955, with textbooks, even used ones, coming to about the same, wages were not that high and jobs for students were not so prevalent. And I was not really afraid of work but had little preparation for finding it. After several applications did not materialize, my dad got me a job as truck driver and gopher at J. Olson Machine Company, where he was by now a master machinist. I was making real money at last, with overtime, some weeks over $100. Enough to buy a used ’49 Chevy. Over the summer I was promoted to drill press operator and was praised by the boss (but chastised by the other operators who were shown to be dragging their feet a bit on the production line—“Somebody’s not pulling their weight around here,” in the words of Jim Olson, the owner).
Then I got this great idea how to speed up the process even more. Only I selected the wrong tool for the fine pieces with very low tolerance for error that I was removing the burrs from. My part was the very last in the long process of tooling that had these parts ready for shipping. And before the inspector caught me I had ruined an entire multi-thousand dollar job. Fortunately for me this happened at the end of the summer and it was time to get ready to enroll at the U. of Minnesota. So I left behind my budding career as a machine operator.
I was able to get my best friend, Denny Neill, on as driver, a job which he stayed with until he decided on his own future. Denny was a true friend. We car-pooled to the campus for a couple of years and lived less than a mile apart. I was living at home and working my way through school at summer jobs and then got hired part time by the Minneapolis Park Board as Men’s Director at Nicollet Field in South Minneapolis and in the summer as a recreation supervisor at various parks throughout the city.
One time my dad and I got into a “knock-down, drag-out” fight during one of his drunken binges (which by this time had cost him his job at J. Olson Machine), resulting in me leaving home with no idea where I was going. Denny and his family took me into their home where I slept on the couch for several weeks, until my mother forced my dad through an ultimatum to reconcile, at a meeting called by our pastor in his office.
DENNY AND ME IN 1995
That is the kind of guy Denny was, and is. Even though I once hurt him to the point of endangering our friendship. Denny and I went through high school church youth group, young adult fellowship, two years of college, played basketball and hockey, went water-skiing, courted girls from the same nursing school (Denny married his, Carol, and they are still together), went on a canoe trip on the Gunflint trail into Canada together, stood up in each other’s weddings, went drinking together on more than one or two occasions, and both survived the other’s driving during those awful “invincible” years to which young men are prone.
We are no longer keeping in touch on a regular basis. But we are still friends. In fact, I learned the meaning of real friendship from Denny Neill.