For five years, from September of 1959 through April of 1964 when I graduated from the University of Florida College of Engineering in Gainesville, I was a full time student. It required 164 credit hours in order to graduate back then, which by taking 16 course hours per semester could be done normally in five years, which I did.
Unlike many of today’s students I graduated with no debt and paid for my college by receiving $40 per week from my parents; and I earned a few dollars a month playing my guitar at fraternity parties and doing machine work in the University Research Departments.
During my five years at college, I had made a lot of good friends from foreign countries like Sweden, Germany and France, who invited me to visit them after graduation. My parents weren’t too enthusiastic about the idea, but my mother had a dear friend from Pennsylvania, Elsie Dimmick, who wintered in our neighborhood in Deerfield every year.
I always enjoyed talking to her because she and her late husband had lived all over the world; he had been an engineer building steel mills. We affectionately called her Aunt Elsie. A few weeks before I graduated from college, she invited me over and gave me a check for $500 as a graduation present, which she suggested I should use to visit those friends I had made in college. I accepted, of course, and used the last few weeks of my college days planning visits to my foreign friends.
Back in the ‘60s, a new book had come out about traveling in Europe on $5 per day by using special train passes and staying in hostels easy to locate at every train station. So I set out to prove the book true.
I departed the day after graduating from the U of F and headed for Sweden, where I spent the next several weeks visiting my college girlfriend and her family and learning a little Swedish. Then, I was on to Germany and France for a few weeks before heading home, just before running out of money.
My parents, especially my dad, were extremely happy to receive me the July 1964 weekend I arrived back home.
On Monday morning, I got up early and dressed myself in dress slacks, a white shirt and tie to look the way I thought graduate engineers are supposed to look. When I walked into our “shop” next door to our house on Dixie Highway a block north of the Hillsboro River bridge that morning, I was surprised that no one was there, only my dad sitting in his office alone up front.
I looked around, then stepped into his office and said “Where’s Joe (our longtime welding foreman)? Where’s Horace (our longtime machine shop foreman)? Dad sitting at his desk reviewing bills looked up (looking sad) and said “I had to lay them off a few weeks ago. We have no jobs. No pump orders. I couldn’t afford to keep them.”
I remember a queasy feeling in my stomach. Then Dad said, “Go get out of those church clothes you’re wearing and get your machine shop clothes on. We’ve got a couple of lathe jobs to do for the Deerfield Rock Company and a drive shaft repair for Vrachota trucking. You change clothes and do those jobs while I go out to the Range Line (State Road 7) and visit some farmers and see if I can sell a pump or something.”
As dad was getting up to leave, I stupidly said, “Dad, how much am I going to get paid?” (Knowing my engineering buddies were getting on average of about $200 per week.) Dad stopped in his tracks and motioned me into his office. He pointed to a stack of bills on his desk that he had been looking over. There was a tape on top that read about $10,000. Dad said, “See that tape?” I said, ‘’Yes.’’ He said, “That’s how much we owe. Now, look in the checkbook.” I did. The balance in our bank read a little over $200. “So Son,” he continued, “we’ll try to pay you the $40 per week I’ve been sending you. And, as you can see, I’m only paying myself $75/week.”
Then he looked at me with a strong stare and said, “I’ve been holding on, waiting for you to get home. Now let’s get to work!” We did, and the rest is history.