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The Meaning of UW to Me, by David J. Marcou

Nov. 22, 2017
Category: Memories

When I first arrived at the UW in Autumn 1968, like many freshmen, I didn’t know what to expect, except a lot more people, and more and bigger buildings, having been born and raised in La Crosse, Population: ca. 50,000.

First year was a bear. I’d signed on to Nuclear Engineering as my major. Advanced Chemistry and Calculus were very difficult, so I switched my major sophomore year to Biology, and from that to Business, and on to History by junior year (when I lived in Bleyer Dorm, named for Willard Bleyer, founder of Journalism programs at UW), because the Ancient History classes taught by Prof. Edson were fairly intriguing and I did well in them. Focusing on American Cultural/Intellectual History with Profs. Dan Rodgers and Paul Conkin, I did especially well in various classes taught by Dan Rodgers — who’d later win the Bancroft Prize when he taught at Princeton University for his book ‘Age of Fracture’ (2009) — who taught me how to read/investigate historical documents, including novels, and how to think and write well.

During my undergraduate years, I worked for the Athletic Department, and for two years was a student manager/trainer for the UW football team, which had been in a slump, but which has been great the last quarter century (and which I’ve photographed many times due to the generosity of fellow UW alums Charles and Christine Freiberg, and my family). When Bart Starr spoke to us one night, it was a stirring occasion, and when John Jardine had fully taken over as coach, we won fairly regularly again. I also met Milton Eisenhower, the President’s brother, after practice one night, and spoke with him at length; he’d been early director of the resettlement of the Nisei during WWII, and had fairly soon  after, written about his regret in having taken that job. I’d later edit the works of Mary Eisenhower, the President’s granddaughter, who wrote a book-introduction for me, after winning an award at one of her People to People Conferences in Kansas City.

There was plenty of political ferment on campus, too, but when I fully saw the violence perpetrated by students as much as authorities, I decided to observe, not protest, from the West side of Park Street generally. The draft lottery stopped just short of my call-up, and I got an education in every aspect. (One of the dramas I’d eventually write was set in that era, “Bloody Math”, about the1970 Sterling Hall Bombing.)/ My first wife, Ann, was also a UW student and we married upon graduation in 1973. We later divorced.

In 1974, we sailed to Europe for a month’s stay. Returning, I entered the UW Graduate Theatre Program and Ann taught high school Spanish. The very brilliant Prof. Esther Jackson was my advisor. I did well in classes and with production requirements, but couldn’t get over a writer’s block about my M.A. Thesis, though I’d previously written a cultural history paper about Eugene O’Neill’s plays I believed was perfect for an M.A. thesis; Prof. Jackson wanted a paper from me instead on the concept of history in Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’. However, I did see an excellent UW production of Sean’s O’Casey’s ‘Juno and the Paycock’, which inspired my sequel to it, ‘Song of Joy—Or the Old Reliables,’ produced in part in 2008 in La Crosse. I studied Anglo-Irish Drama with Prof. Bart Friedman. A later play by me, “Remembering Davy Crockett,”was  nominated for a Pulitzer in 2012-13.

Instead of earning my M.A. in Theatre, I spent nine months’ in Iowa City, 1977-78 (Ann stayed in Madison, close to a priest she’d eventually marry, after he left the priesthood), earning an M.A. in American Studies, and returned to UW, where I audited classes with Professors in Journalism and History (Hawkins and Mosse). I’d earlier studied Art History with Prof. James Dennis./ By then, I was the full-time clerk-typist for the UW Center for the Study of Public Policy and Administration, today’s (Robert) La Follette School of Public Affairs. I worked for and with many great political thinkers, including Center Founder Clara Penniman (first female Political Science professor at UW), Dennis Dresang, William Young, John Witte, George Gant (a former TVA General Manager), Sheila Earl (an eventual governor’s wife), and Carlisle Runge (our boss, who’d had a good post in the Kennedy Administration). I’d learned about the “Wisconsin Idea” from those most influential in creating it.

When I yearned to study full-time again in 1979, I bought my first 35 mm camera, and signed on in 1980 to the world’s first-founded (1908) Journalism School, Mizzou’s, graduating in 1984. In 1981, I was a London Sunday Times reporting intern under ST assistant editor/chief proofreader/Mizzou moderator John H. Whale, who’d be my literary mentor until his death in 2008. From 1984-87, I worked as a reporter/editor in Seoul and married my second wife; we later divorced.

I taught extended education writing and photo classes from 1991-2002 for Western Technical College in La Crosse, plus worked Journalism jobs, and attribute the basis for my skills in those areas to my training at three good universities. Competition had been keen, but I’d managed to earn three university degrees after my high school diploma from Aquinas H.S. in 1968. My degrees have helped with my authoring, photographing, editing, and publishing 135-plus books – including 50-plus volumes of the award-winning ‘Spirit of America’ series; my groundbreaking books on Britain’s most-read WWII magazine, ‘Picture Post’; my photos of and writings about many greats, including PP’s Bert Hardy and St. Teresa of Calcutta (whom I received 18 letters from); and ‘Spirit of Wisconsin’, a group photo-essay book I enlisted all eight living governors to take part in, which I directed and edited — helping make me one of Wisconsin’s most prolific authors.

Bill Young used to say, as he headed past my desk to give his twice-weekly lectures, ‘Once more into the breach.’ And so life goes, making and entering the openings we can, seeking and relating truth at every opportunity. For me, it’s been in writing, photography, teaching, editing, and publishing, plus the fathering of a superb son, Matthew. I’ve lived and worked many places, including London and Seoul. But no matter how far I roam, I always return to Wisconsin, my first alma mater, which will always represent home to me, for, in the end, as in the beginning, I’ll always be a Badger.

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