Monday, June 29, 2015

PIKS: People I Know Series 002: Mike

My sweetie "volunteered" to be the first person I interviewed for my PIKS series.

Mike and I married seven years ago after a long and winding road that brought us together.  Until three years ago we lived in different cities five hundred miles apart and traveled on weekends to be together.  Now that we are together all the time in retirement, I continue to learn about him and his crazy ways.  And that usually involves lots of laughter along the way...

1.     When and where were you born?
Danville, Illinois

2.     What is first, most vivid memory?
I guess this is a testament to my inquisitive nature.  It was at my Polish grandparents’ house, and I believe that my mom and dad were living there as they looked for a house of their own. My high chair was next to the hinge side of the old Frigidaire refrigerator. When someone opened the door I put my finger out to point at the fridge light.  Then, somebody closed the door on my finger.  Waaaahhh!

At the watchmaker's bench
3.     What were you like as a child? What did you do for fun?
Apparently from my report cards, I liked to talk (too much). I played with several neighborhood friends who had similar interests; i.e., superheroes, science fiction, comic books… you know, nerd stuff.  Allergies and glasses kept me from engaging in sports, but I liked the outdoors.  Dad would take me fishing with him, and my Italian grandfather took me hiking in the woods, looking for mushrooms.

My Dad and my Italian grandfather taught me how to build things, and my repair skills were instilled as I watched my Polish grandfather, who was a watchmaker.

With my Italian grandfather
4.     Who is/was the oldest relative you remember (and what do you remember about them?)

My Italian grandfather, Pasquale.  He died at age 92, but at the time he was the oldest of my relatives.  He told great stories, babysat for me regularly and patiently listened when I explained things I learned through the day. He bought me a hammer of my very own and we’d build little projects out of wood. He smoked cigars (outside the house) and enjoyed a shot of whiskey with his late-night coffee.  When his favorite brand, Sunny Brook, was discontinued, I introduced him to my fave… Jim Beam. As you see, time with my grandpa spanned a great many years.

Mom and Dad
5.     Describe your parents. What were they like? Where did they meet?
Dad was a hard worker as an admissions clerk at the VA Hospital on a swing shift and during off-hours did clock repair at his father’s watch and clock repair shop. He loved the outdoors and fished whenever he could. He was not a religious man, but he had a natural spiritual connection. One of his talents was to be able to determine your ancestry by looking at you and listening to your voice.  I suspect that he acquired this skill in World War II when he was exposed to many nationalities and cultures.  He was in the Pacific, and told stories about New Guinea and the Philippines.  His duties included the setup of  “MASH” hospitals, and he spoke of a guy in their company named “Robeeza” who was their equivalent of Radar O’Riley.

Mom also worked hard at several part-time jobs beginning with my high-school years. During my grade-school years, she volunteered at my school (St. Mary’s) as a tutor and was a den mother for the school’s Cub Scout Troop.  She always smiled and laughed a lot.  She was both spiritual and religious and made sure that I had a proper Catholic upbringing.

Mom and Dad met in Westville, Illinois, their hometown, and mine as well.  I am not sure of the details, but from what I could piece together from my memories and photos I've seen, I think they seriously courted before my dad enlisted in the Army.  There was a town dance hall called “Candyland” which was the “happening place” and possibly the location where they met.  In later years they socialized regularly with several other close friends at the local American Legion hall.

At my piano
6.     What was the best gift you remember as a child?
My Italian grandfather regularly got haircuts at Happy Youhas’ barbershop. Happy had a massive upright piano in the shop and one day told my grandfather that he wanted to get rid of it. Long story short, my grandpa bought it for me for $10 because he sensed I had musical talent and wanted me to have an instrument. It took my dad and five of his strong friends to move it into my mom and dad’s house. I still have this awesome piano in our living room.

Gunslinger at the watchmaker's lathe?

7.     What did you want to be when you grew up?
“I wanted to be a spaceman, That’s all I wanted to be” – a line from the Harry Nilsson song, “Spaceman”.
Seriously, not too far off. I guess I always wanted to be a scientist or similar, as I enjoyed the academics and also working with my hands. As a young lad, I built spaceships out of cardboard appliance cartons, had toys such as Kenner building sets which could be used to build factories. These were really cool, as some of the kits had piping and pumps, roadways, and high-rise office buildings. On a grade school field trip, I was fascinated by all the piping, pumps and valves at the local water treatment plant.  All of these interests led to a chemical engineering degree and a career in process control and automation.

8.     Describe your first job.  What did you do with your first paycheck?
My first “real job” was a summer job in college at a foundry chemicals company, Core-Lube. I pulled a demonstration trailer around the Midwest and Eastern U.S. to introduce a new process.  I drove to various foundries that supported the automotive, chemical process, and utilities industries. My responsibilities included setup of the equipment, working with factory personnel to connect to the plant’s utilities, and to run the new process.  It was exciting work and I enjoyed the expense account.
What did I do with my paycheck?  Banked it!  My predecessor to the 401k.

9.     What have you liked best about your life so far? What is your happiest or proudest moment?
I have always been able to express my creativity, both at work and in my personal life. My proudest moment?  Graduating from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.  At the time it meant so much to my family, as I was the first generation to graduate from college. Also, I recognized it as an opportunity to move into a future that I imagined as a youth.  

I had no Idea that the chain of events from that time forward would lead to where I am in life today with the blessings of my lovely wife, great family, and dearest of friends. In addition, since I retired from my full-time job, I was fortunate to get an opportunity to instruction Chemical Engineering Lab at my Alma mater several days a week as an adjunct professor.

10.  What has been the most frustrating thing or biggest challenge in your life?

The biggest challenge was trying to repair my first marriage.  There was so much that I didn’t understand and it frustrated me, as I was unable to fix it.

11.  What job did you do most of your life? What did you like most about it?  Least?
I worked at a major pharmaceutical company for 30 years after I graduated from college. My career was generally in automation of chemical or mechanical processes.  For the last 12 or so years, I was in an equipment development group which designed and built equipment for use within our company. Interestingly enough, my roles were electrical designer and software developer. It was fascinating work, as the machines that we created contained machine vision inspection systems, servo motors for precise motion control and robots for repetitive transfer of parts and assembly.

What I liked most about it was that I was able to express my creativity in other disciplines, beyond chemical engineering including electrical engineering, software, and working closely with mechanical engineers and designers. We built equipment that couldn’t be purchased, and it was used to develop life-saving pharmaceutical products and delivery devices. 

What did I least like about it?  Probably the abrupt changes of schedule by management or projects getting cancelled altogether after spending a lot of time going down a path of development. Fortunately this didn’t happen that often.

12.  If we asked a relative or good friend about your best and worst qualities, what would they say?
I would hope that they would say that I was sincere, the “real deal”.  I always felt that I was the same guy at the work scene as well as at home or in the social scene. Or, perhaps they would mention that I had a great sense of humor (although some of my jokes or stories still inspire the rolling of the eyes).  Also, I think some might mention my abilities to make or fix things.

Worst qualities?  Sometimes I can get a little excited and loud, particularly if I feel like I’d been slighted in some way.  I blame it on being raised by Italians. Also, some might say I go into WAY TOO MUCH DETAIL when telling stories or in just conversation.
I am also a little headstrong when I get an idea and either don’t want to cut corners or accept others’ ideas as viable alternatives.

13.  What do you do for fun now?  Hobbies? Special Interests?
Traveling to places I've never been is always exciting. Warm weather vacations where I can snorkel are my favorites.
Enjoying Maui

I like music, both listening and playing. I like mechanical and electrical things that make music.  I have vintage electronic musical instruments and guitars. It’s fun to play, and I also enjoy setting up electronic effects and recording equipment.  I also like vinyl records, 70’s and 80’s stereo equipment and using computers for storage of music and composing.

I enjoy woodworking and home improvement projects.  I enjoy restoring old equipment like antique radios, telephones and phonographs.  I like to do artwork. Hopefully I can find some time to create some metal sculpture with my welder and plasma cutter. I enjoy general walking, hiking, and bicycle riding. One of my favorite holidays is Halloween! I love building detailed costumes, usually based on current events or movies, with a bent on portraying a good guy or superhero.
I usually tell people that I have 400 years’ worth of projects and I don’t think I’ll get to them all.

Band night with Brian and Mel
14.  What one item in your life would you never give up? Why?
Music, listening and playing.  It eases my mind, inspires my thoughts, and is something I can share with Diane and my good friends.  As Bob Seger put it, “Give me that old time Rock and Roll”.

15.  What frightens you?  Why?

Terrorism and environmental change are two things that frighten me. Terrorists often have little regard for human life, and they hide under the pretense of established religious doctrine. Precious lives are lost as well as historical artifacts are being destroyed.

Environmental change is also scary thing. Factors such as the effects of global warming, new chemical pollutants, and leaking radioactive materials from disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima power plants can disturb the delicate balance of our environment.

16.  What is the best advice your parents gave you?
My mom advised me to study hard and do my homework, but more importantly she was a good example of how to live.  She was kind to people and went out of her way to help them. She always had a big smile and laughed a lot. She cared for her parents and made a point to visit them each day. Mom loved gardening, trimming shrubs, and pruning her roses. She was devoted to God and country. I have vivid memories of Mom marching in the Labor Day parade with the American Legion Auxiliary carrying the American Flag.

I recall Dad saying things like “Pay attention to hunches.  If you have a hunch, like ‘maybe I feel like going the long way home’, then follow your instinct.  Take the long way home.  Maybe nothing would’ve happened if you went the other way, but you just don’t really know and don’t need to find out.”

Also, when I was taking Drivers Education, Dad said “Drive like you walk. You don’t step right out in front of someone who is walking.  You don’t follow somebody so close they can feel your breath. You don’t stop suddenly with someone walking right behind you. Behave the same way when you drive.”

On a more important note, Dad instilled some basic qualities through both words and actions.
·       Treat people well, as you would want to be treated.
·       Treat the earth well.  Pick up your trash. Don’t throw something away if it can still be used for   something. Recycle.
·       Be frugal. Used items can work just as well as new ones, and sometimes they don’t make them as good nowadays.
·       Be honest with others, and to yourself.
·       Study hard, work hard, you will be rewarded.
·       Take time to have fun.

In Montana with Diane, Mel, Melanie, Cathy and Chuck
17.  What’s your best advice for living a good life?
Be honest.  Treat people well. Don’t dwell on past mistakes, but learn not to repeat them. Love your significant other. Embrace your friends. If at all possible, “do it right” the first time. Place your trust in God and behave accordingly. Remember that you don’t always need to do it alone, accept advice and assistance.  Smile a lot and have fun.

In Illinois with Kevin, Stan, Mary and Kathy
Brian's retirement party
With Gretchen and Craig at Indy 500

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