For many years now, Bert hasn't been my little brother. He grew to be six feet one inch tall. Now in his seventies he claims to be "shrinking vertically, and growing circumferentially about an inch a year"

He has had an exceptionally notable career. Through hard work he graduated at the top of his class from Farragut high School, Wright Jr. College, and IIT, all in Chicago, Illinois; then USC in Los Angeles and Stanford University in Palo Alto, both in California. He graduated from Stanford with a Ph.D. in Engineering Mechanics. Along the way he was awarded Pi Tau Sigma, Tau Beta Pi, and Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society keys.

He had a rewarding career in engineering dynamics and nuclear effects research. I am attaching an electronic “interview” with Bert, written at my request in his own words.

He has a happy family life. He married his wonderful Mary. They have four children and five grandchildren.

He and Mary recently built a big, lovely home in the beautiful California Gold Country. It sits on a hill with the park-like back garden sloping down to the edge of a lake where, of course, Bert built a good size pier. He keeps his ski and pontoon boats and other water "toys" there. The lake is perfect for all kinds of water play which all the generations of his family thoroughly enjoy.

It is a real wonder to think that none of Bert since he was four and a half years old would be in existence today if it hadn't been for that old, red handled, half of a jump rope that I found almost hidden under leaves near Grandpa's pier. Bert and I dropped it after he was safely out of the water and it was never seen again.

E-mail Interview with Bert (July 2001)

Larue: How tall are you?

Bert: Six feet one inch, and shrinking. Vertically, that is. Circumferentially I'm growing about an inch a year, and am now up to 180 pounds. Gag!

Larue: I want to tell of your college and career success. You sent me an e-mail stating some of what you did but it was too modest. I know you won scholastic awards for high school, undergraduate, graduate and PhD work.

Bert: Well, as you may recall, grammar school wasn't a big hit with me. I remember I used to walk up the alley behind our house in Chicago and get as far as turning the corner toward Eli Whitney School. I'd hang around the empty lot on the corner of 31st and Komenski until I was pretty sure school had started, and then I'd walk home slowly, hoping Mom wouldn't make me go to school. That worked once or twice because Mom was sympathetic, but ultimately I had to go to school.

Farragut High school was better, because you were treated more as an adult and the classes were more interesting. Nevertheless, in keeping with the tradition set by Bob, I never brought books home to do homework. I knew Bob would get on my case as a "suckhole." So I did all my homework in the ten minutes between classes, and during study period (we always had one class period in which we returned to our "home room" to get updated by our "home room teacher" on general school happenings).

In my junior and senior years at Farragut I was a hall monitor, which meant I spent my study hour sitting in a chair with an arm desk making sure no one ran in the halls and so on. (Now they worry about students shooting each other). Fortunately, there weren't many incidents in the halls so I could continue getting my homework done. As I advanced toward my junior and senior years my grades got better and better, eventually becoming straight A's.

Again, I think this was because the classes got more interesting as more of the grunt work on the three R's was behind me. Also, this was 1945-1947 and the GI's were coming back from the war (WW 2, the "big one," as Archie Bunker would say). They were taking advantage of the GI Bill of Rights, namely using scholarships to go to college. I felt there would be a lot of competition getting into college so I started to buckle down.

Sure enough, by the time I entered Wright Junior College in 1948 a large fraction of my classmates were ex GI's, and they were serious about school. And the classes were jammed full. The good news was that most of the students were still your average Joe and Jane from high school, so after just a few weeks classes in which there wasn't enough bench space for everyone in the labs thinned out to the point that I had a whole bench to myself and two GI buddies.

By then I was in the habit of working hard and completing my homework. Also, in college I had to take books home, by street car from Wright College on the north side of Chicago to the south side where we lived. Going to school, I took the Pulaski street car from its southern terminus at 31st and Kostner to almost its northern terminus. Then I transferred to a bus that took me west to Wright College. This was about an hour and a half each morning and afternoon. I did all my humanities reading during these trips. But math and science required more concentration, so I did these at home. But not before I spent the afternoon playing sports with my long-time buddies Ed Kral, Ken Newby, Jake Cichon, and others on Karlov and Komenski streets. Then I'd take a nap and do homework after supper.

Each semester when I registered for classes I made sure that my first class was at 8 o'clock in the morning, to force me to get up early so I'd have enough time for school and homework. I continued this habit through Wright and on to the Illinois Institute of Technology. I also made sure that I got straight A's at Wright so that I could get into IIT. The workload increased at IIT because of all the lab courses as part of a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Not only did I have to be at school by 8 in the morning, I was there until late in the afternoon in the labs.

Then it was back on the street car (two transfers) to get home, a journey of about an hour, followed by burning the midnight oil doing homework and writing lab reports. Since IIT was in the heart of the south-side slums, I was always concerned about getting mugged on the way home as it got dark. I used to wear a thick leather jacket that made my 140 pound frame look more like 170. But I never got mugged. The thick jacket was probably more security blanket than deterrent.

By this time the workload was heavy enough that once more I wasn't keen on school. The first year at IIT was more grind than learning because the math and science classes at Wright had been so good that we were going over the same material at IIT, only more slowly. Each year I'd survive by telling myself that this was the last and then I would drop out. But when the next year rolled around I'd register again and find myself still going to school. Before long I graduated at the top of the Mechanical Engineering class, in June 1952. Later, at Stanford, one of my and Mary's best friends was Jim Gewartowski, who was at the top of the IIT Electrical Engineering class in the same year I was duplicating the feat in Mechanical Engineering.

Needless to say, I didn't have a lot of social life at IIT because of the long commute, and the desire to get home before the mugging hour. In my last year I applied for a Hughes Aircraft fellowship in the Los Angeles area and was accepted. It was a giant leap of faith to leave home in June 1952 and drive a 1948 Chevy (which Bob bought for me with his own money, on loan to me) all the way across the Midwest to California. After a few months of homesickness I began the time of my life with the 50 or so other men on the Hughes program. I paid back the loan to Bob in four months. I also made up for lost time in social life!

I went to the University of Southern California, based on reading their course catalog while at IIT. The other choice was UCLA, which had a very confusing catalog. When I got to LA it was like being back at IIT — USC was (and is) in the heart of the LA slum, right next to the Watts district that had a huge riot a few years later. Meanwhile, UCLA was in the beautiful part of LA, in Westwood near Beverly Hills. But none of us who went to SC much cared because most of our learning was at Hughes on our first job with our BS degrees. And at all the parties we organized. We partied all weekend and played football on the beach and basketball at the local parks during the week. In between we worked at Hughes 25 hours a week and took 9 credit-hours of classes at SC, where we used to say, "You get the best degree money can buy."

It was easy to fall back into my habits from high school — get straight A's with a minimum of work, to make time for all those parties. The young men in the Hughes program were the cream of the country's engineering crop, so we all got A's. Many of the top executives at Hughes, TRW, Litton Industries, and so on came from the program. I was one of the slackers. I applied for a fellowship at Stanford and was accepted. One of the things we learned in the competition at Hughes was that if you wanted to get somewhere in engineering research, a Ph.D. was a necessity.

So I was off again, this time to Palo Alto and San Francisco. Strangely, I was more homesick for my friends at Hughes than I had been when I left home for California. But that lasted only a month, although I returned for visits every chance I got, and still get together with Walt Baldasti and Dick Snow from the program every September.

Stanford was a big change from SC. I had just as much fun with my dorm buddies as with the Hughes gang, but there was lots of homework. Having drunk from the fountain of the good life of campus parties at Hughes, it was very difficult for me to get back to the grind. I wound up putting off my week's homework until after we had all gone out to dinner and a beer hall Sunday night. Then I'd sit at the little wooden table in my 9 x 10-foot room and do homework until three or four in the morning. My first class Monday morning was German, and I was never prepared because I couldn't get to my German homework before I'd fall asleep early in the morning. I got straight A's, but C in German, and only because the young woman teacher took pity.

To this day, my fondest memories are of the Stanford campus and the friends Mary and I met there. And, of course, that Mary and I married and lived in a beautiful little cottage as I taught myself to type and wrote my thesis: "Design and Comparison of Contactor Control Systems." Ugg, it was boring even to me. But that was the most important thing I learned at Stanford: no matter how boring, if you've got a job to do, get it done.

Larue: Tell all please. Didn't you have something to do with making McDonald Douglas redesign their manned space capsule to keep the astronauts from being squashed? Tell me about your research work and the effect it had on whatever. I probably won't use all of that info but I can sure pick out the best.

Bert: Naah, nothing as useful as that. Most of my career was spent blowing things up, like missiles, reentry vehicles, metal shells, and finally underground tunnels, which I'm still working on. I published a book called "Dynamic Pulse Buckling," which only a specialist could love. When anyone asked me what I did, I told them I crushed beer cans. If you read my book you'll find out in nauseating detail how the cans buckle and crush, microsecond by microsecond. I have a little personal computer program I wrote that calculates buckle shapes and then displays a little movie of the buckles forming. Any takers for a free copy I can send by e-mail? HaHaHa!

Larue: I have your family statistics, marriage to Mary, children and grandchildren. I think your home is located in the Gold Country but I am not sure. If it isn't is it located in some other recognizable California area?

Bert: Yes, we're in the Gold Country, specifically in Lake Wildwood with a Penn Valley mailing address. We're 10 miles west of Grass Valley and Nevada City, which are better known.

Larue: I want all of this info and any other you might want to share with me because I feel it is so important to show what would never have been if you had drowned in the lake that day.

Bert: Well, mostly we wouldn't have Barbara, Julie, Craig and Dave, and all the grandkids.