Question: What is your family history?
My dad’s parents came from Georgia (because of the Civil War) and Louisiana (a Cajun gal) in the 1870s, settling on a farm east of Kosse in Limestone County. My dad was a twin and child number eleven. My mom’s folks were born and raised in Bryan and Navasota, and my mom was born in Bedias, one of three sisters plus three
brothers. I grew up with a lot of cousins. Not too many years ago I learned that my maternal grandparents were married in Keith, Texas (Hello, Larry), and the first three of their children were born there. Also, my maternal grandmother’s father was a Texas Aggie, Class of 1878 (it opened in 1876). My Texas heritage runs deep, at least for an Anglo, since one great, great, great grandfather, Elijah Allcorn, led the very first group, 25 strong, of Austin’s Old Three Hundred into the colony in December 1821, crossed over the Brazos on New Year’s Day 1822 near present day Washington-on-the-Brazos and named the clear running stream they encountered after the day-New Year’s Creek. He settled on his half-league near Brenham, while his full league in part of what is now Sugar Land and his labor on the Brazos at San Felipe, were later sold. The 1824 land grant papers are signed by “Estevan F. Austin” and the “Baron de Bastrop.” His son Thomas Jefferson Allcorn fought in the Battle of Concepcion under Fannin and Bowie in October 1835 four months before the Alamo fell, was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Republic of Texas Army in 1836, and late in life served in the CSA Army-also was president of the First National Bank of Brenham. His home near Independence is now the Allcorn House Bed and Breakfast. TJ’s son, Robert Baylor Allcorn, was named after the founder of Baylor College, because Elijah and Robert Baylor were good friends. Robert Baylor Allcorn begat my grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Allcorn. The Navasota connection included Henry
Schumacher, who came over from Schwerin in Mecklenburg, Germany, with his mother in 1847 via Galveston. He started out as a cabinetmaker in Anderson, moved to Navasota, and founded Schumacher Oil Works, one of the first cottonseed mills in Texas in 1873–also president of the First National Bank of Navasota. Schumacher was honored for his contributions to the cottonseed oil industry about 1883 with a dinner at the White House given by President Chester A. Arthur. One of his wives’ close relatives was an Alamo defender, William Tapley Holland. Another forbear, Capt John Black of Anderson, was a close friend of Sam Houston, who stayed overnight with Capt. Black on his frequent trips between home in Huntsville and Austin.
Both of my parents graduated high school (Austin and Houston) but neither attended college even though my dad was offered a baseball scholarship to the University of Texas. He migrated to Houston and ended up working for Hughes Tool Company for 42 years-and he loved his work.
Question: Tell me a little about yourself and your background?
I grew up in a rented house on Texas Avenue just off of Hughes Street and Harrisburg Boulevard–a great neighborhood, full of kids and things to do. All of the dads were blue collar and most worked at Hughes Tool. My pre-school memories are wonderful. We didn’t have a lot of material things, but I had all of the great friends and relatives that I could ever hope for. Anything a boy could wish for was within a few blocks of my house–from the Boulevard Theater, to a Rettig’s Ice Cream store, Texas Ice and Fuel Icehouse (RC Colas) whose drainage ditch had a year around supply of crawfish, a huge expanse of prairie and trees to explore, including a bayou to swing across on grape vines, Prince’s Drive-In, a lumber yard, a new Sears and Roebuck, a mattress company, Helton’s Boatworks, Bryant Motors Car Dealership, Mading’s Drugstore, a Kress’ Five and Dime, Rose’s Five and Dime, and assorted other shops and stores, including filling stations for leaky bicycle tires.
Question: What elementary and junior high (other high schools if attended) did you attend?
I followed my older sister and brother through Fullerton Elementary on Harrisburg Boulevard and then through Edison Junior High. At Fullerton, some of my classmates were Richard Simmons, Jerry Foster, Carol Ann Cecil, and Syble Horn. Since the mix at Edison included many Hispanic kids, I developed an early interest in the Spanish language. I tried to follow my siblings through Milby High but the district boundary had changed and my request for a waiver was denied. My very first memory of SFA was walking up the street toward the school with Elwyn Cook and hearing the pipes and drums of the Scottish Brigade. To this day, the pipes and drums bring tears to my eyes. My
wife and I have gone to three Black Watch Pipes and Drums performances in Omaha and Austin.
Question: What teacher made a difference in your life?
The majority of them–some just more than others. I had very few teachers who I considered unqualified, and looked up to nearly all of them. I was always a major prankster so I managed to draw down some bad conduct grades; however-it started with a broken yard stick on my bottom when I didn’t heed Mrs. Jones’ call to take my seat on the first day of school. In elementary school I particularly remember my second grade teacher, Mrs. Douglas, who was also the principal, and my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Walton. They were both from the “old school” and were extremely dedicated. Mrs. Douglas was at our SFA graduation and remembered me when I talked to her after the commencement. A precious lady. My main memory from Edison was my homeroom teacher, Mrs. Merritt. She was able to talk the other teachers into letting Johnny Jones and me into the National
Junior Honor Society even though our conduct grades were “marginal.” At Austin, the list is very long: Mrs. Dyer for home room, Mrs. Bradshaw for every math course offered, Mrs. Ekman for my only D in public school (the reward for studying for finals with someone you’re sweet on), Coach Cook (many, many swats), Mr. Cullen for English, and last, but not least, Mr. Baker for Physics. I know that I was a great disappointment to him for not going to M.I.T. but the money fell through. I think that my serving in the Air Force mollified him a little. As for Mrs. Dyer, she helped con the ‘powers that be’ into letting Ben
Hood and me into the National Honor Society, whereupon a day or so before initiation we both get sent upstairs “to the office” when Mrs. Ekman spotted us cutting up just after I accidentally shot Teresa Looper in the eye with a water pistol.
Question: What did you do after graduation?
The first weekend after graduation I went with my brother and his best friend (Robert Stoltje, SFA class of 1953) to go camping at Garner State Park. For most of the summer I worked for Gulf Oil in the Gulf Building. I had to go through an employment service, however, to land the job–no connections! I believe it was Peggy Lyman. About a week before it was time to leave for M.I.T. the uncle who was going to loan me the money to attend had to have major surgery. I went to the hospital to donate blood and found out from my aunt that the deal was off. At her suggestion (she was a Longhorn), I drove up to A&M–and the rest is history. A&M was a much better choice, for many reasons. One of the many was that there were more SFA Mustangs at A&M than from any other high school in Texas. That happenstance was a major turning point in my life. After two years of physics, it had gotten to the point that I either had to spend some weekends on campus studying or switch majors. Seeing my sweetheart most weekends was much more important than physics, so I did the only reasonable thing–I became a liberal artist, majoring in modern languages: Spanish, German, and Russian, and minored in English.
During my last semester at A&M I received a draft notice, with 29 June 1961 being the induction date. On that date I joined the Air Force to dodge the draft, which I successfully did for 26 years. After officer training in San Antonio, for the most part, I had great assignments: pilot training in Arizona that segued into a year in Greece in nuclear weapons when I found out that pilot training carried an additional year service commitment. It was in Greece that I was able to nervously sit out the Cuban Missile Crisis. At the time I was definitely not career oriented. After Greece, several years at Patrick AFB near Cape Canaveral/Kennedy during the Mercury 7, Gemini, Apollo, Atlas D, Minuteman, Polaris days. I got to see some fabulous launches up close and personal, and traveled all over the Bahamas and Caribbean, South America, Ascension Island, Congo, Angola, South Africa, Southwest Africa, Italy, Spain, Canary Islands, and even a few places in the States. Then, after being talked into accepting a regular commission, I was sent to Air Force Headquarters in Saigon for a year. It was there that I actually became an intelligence officer (through OJT-on-the-job training) and lost my innocence.
My “dream sheet” for follow-on assignment requested the Pacific Northwest. I was “rewarded” with an assignment to the Pentagon. Except for being almost dead broke for four years because of the high cost of living, the assignment itself was very rewarding: serving on the Headquarters Air Force Battle Staff during the 1967 Arab-Israeli Six-Day War and getting to brief the Air Force Chief of Staff during the 1968 Pueblo Crisis. I was able to make contributions to the studies and analyses that led to the F-15 Eagle fighter, A-10 Thunderbolt attack aircraft, SRAM (short range attack missile), AMSA (Advanced Manned Strategic Aircraft)–which became the B-1 Lancer strategic bomber, and C-17 Globemaster cargo aircraft.
The next four years were served in Wiesbaden, Germany, doing intelligence analysis work in the joint service European Command Defense Analysis Center. During that time, two visitors through the area were my Aggie roommate and Austin High classmate, Sammie Teague, and FBI Special Agent Dennis Lacina (SFA Class of 1958).
After the wonderful time I and the family had in Europe, Headquarters Strategic Air Command in Omaha, Nebraska, came as a shock. The family ended up liking those four years better than any others mainly because of the friendships. I wasn’t in love with SAC, so I wangled an assignment in downtown Omaha as commander of a recruiting unit. After less than two years of that, I was made commander of the Military Enlistment Processing Station, where potential recruits get tested, examined, sworn in and shipped off to training.
Finally, after 17 years, I was really missing Texas. So, I managed an assignment to Bergstrom AFB near Austin. We bought a new house in Mountain City, between Buda and Kyle, and are still there 29 years later. The tactical intelligence work at Bergstrom included a lot of camping out in bad places with the Army, sleeping on cots in leaky, gritty tents, wonderful smelling port-a-potties and generally practicing to be miserable. When the Air Force wanted me to move to Dayton, Ohio, for a new assignment, I adroitly managed a third unaccompanied tour to dodge it–this time a year to Incirlik Airbase near Adana, Turkey. That was a miserable year, even if I was the senior intelligence officer on base.
Part of the “deal” was a return to Bergstrom, where I wound up my 26 years still practicing tactical air warfare with the Army and the other services and the occasional trip to Alaska, Hawaii, Japan, and Korea. All in all I was able to do a lot of neat things, see some wonderful sights, make some good friends, and stay out of the Army.
After the Air Force, four years at Southwest Texas State: two years wasted seeking a teaching certificate (until I realized that I was out of my mind), followed by two years of grad school for a Master of Applied Geography degree, a year and a half job hunting and then eleven years working as a research analyst for Texas Tourism (in the Stephen F. Austin Building), with some interesting trips to places in the U.S. and Canada. Early during this same period I also received a real estate broker’s license, which I kept for ten years but never really used.
Question: How did you meet your spouse? When/where were you married?
The first weekend after graduation from SFA at the Garner State Park pavilion, at the Saturday night dance, I spied a vision in blue and white checked gingham. We danced–she claimed 16 (later found out to have been 13) and I was 18 (almost). Janice Jean Key from San Antonio. Four years and three months of whirlwind courtship later, we were married in San Antonio a few days after I became a second lieutenant. Fifty years after graduation from high school and our meeting, my sweetheart is still putting up with me (most of the time). For us, 30 September 2007 will mark 46 years of official partnership.
Question: Do you have children/grandchildren?
Our oldest daughter, Carrie, lives in College Station with our only two grandchildren: grandson Kelly and granddaughter Zoe, in high school and elementary. Carrie graduated from A&M summa cum laude in 1999. Daughter Holly lives in Austin and will become a dental hygienist next year. Our son Ryan, A&M Class of 1991, passed away at age 30.
Question: If you could change anything: your life at SFA, education, where you would like to go?
I really don’t spend much time pondering “what ifs” because I consider my life to be a wonderful one. It is a miracle to be born, first of all, and then to be born American (and Texan). We have all had bumps along the way, but the experiences I have had with my family and friends have made it a wonderful trip.
Question: What do you do for entertainment?
Like many folks I watch a lot of TV, mostly educational, news, and weather and some movies. Reading has always been one of my favorite entertainments and going into Barnes and Noble has cost me a lot of money. Music for me is a must. For several years Jan and I regularly attended San Antonio Symphony classical performances and also have developed a liking for some, not all, opera. None of the current pop music wows me–I’m pretty well an “oldies” type person. Travel for me is my favorite entertainment, but it is costly.
Question: Have you traveled a lot? If so, where?
I’ve already mentioned a lot of the military travels, but since retiring from the tourism job in 2003, Jan and I have driven to Canada and many places in between three times. We try to go to West Texas as often as possible, especially Big Bend and the Davis Mountains. We’ve also done the Colorado Plateau numerous times. The kids have two condos in Breckenridge, so we’ve been there fairly often. Last year we even did the Mississippi all the way to its source at Lake Itasca, and then “over” Lake Superior in Canada, back down to the other four and Niagara Falls, over to Boston, Plymouth Rock, Cape Cod, Washington, D.C., Kentucky, Indiana, Arkansas and wiggle back home. Late August this year back to West Texas, visit friends coming from Germany in Fredericksburg in September, a Copper Canyon, Mexico, trip in October, and we’ll cook up some things between then and next April, when we’re floating down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon for 15 days. Next summer (2008) we may go to Nova Scotia with our daughter Holly and husband and later in the summer maybe do a Cruise West “small boat” trip of the Alaska Inside Passage to see the whales, other wildlife, glaciers, and scenery in general.
Question: Do you speak any foreign languages?
I studied Spanish, German and Russian, but became fluent only in Spanish–a long time ago. I still remember some of the languages, but I’d be in danger of going hungry in Russia. I picked up quite a bit of Greek when I was stationed there but have retained only morsels. Even though I made no effort to learn Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese or Turkish, I still retain some words. Not all of which are used in polite company. My best foreign language is English (American variety) since Texan is my native language.
Question: In life, what makes you the happiest?
Realizing that I was fortunate enough to be given the gift of life. Of course, that made possible the good fortune that I have been blessed with–family, friends, experiences.
Question: What events had a lasting effect on your life?
Too many to number. I would wear myself out trying to make up a list. Being born where and when I was into the family I was; but perhaps those are more circumstances. How about being fortunate enough to go to Austin High instead of Milby, switching from M.I.T. to A&M, meeting a pretty girl at a dance …….. And, of course, the many things a long string of dedicated teachers pounded into my thick skull.
Question: Who has made the most impression on your life?
My parents: they showed me what I should try to be. I didn’t make it, but they were outstanding examples. From my first memory I knew that I was loved, would be taken care of, and that I was important.
Question: What would you change if you could?
Not losing my son.
Question: What person have you met that you would like to spend more time with?
All of my friends–not just one. We so often drift away from each other. The family and the daily routine tend to keep us apart. And then the timing enters: when getting together is inconvenient for one or the other. Distance also can be a real bother. Bottom line is that I can’t single out one individual.
Question: Whom would you like to meet?
The Presidents Bush and Secretary of Defense Gates.
Question: What are you working on now?
Nothing in particular; our old house needs a lot of work, which I need to get scheduled. Jan and I continually try to figure out whether we should sell and move, but we can’t determine where we would really like to move to, considering our health, where our doctors are, where our family members are living, and the many other factors. Inertia is hard to overcome.
Question: So what about your future?
As long as the spirit and body are willing and able, we want to continue to travel, be close to family and friends, enjoy our little entertainments, and try to stay out of a nursing home! A major project I need to get working on is genealogy, so that my kids and grandkids can join the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, or the Sons. They are already “eligible” for the Daughters of the American Revolution (and Sons) through Jan–I don’t have the documentation that far back on my side.