Introduction


The University of Missouri-Kansas City marked its semicentennial in 1983, and my father (who'd been employed there for well over half those fifty years) wrote "A Memoir for the Jubilee Year of UMKC."  This was in effect an overlapping sequel to "The Military Experiences of George Ehrlich," which has been weblished as The War Memoir.  My guess is that when George approached the overlap—his being recalled to active service in 1951, and how this pre-empted his first coming to KCMO—he set the unfinished military narrative aside and drafted the Jubilee Memoir, probably in 1982-83.  That done, he returned to the previous narrative and noted:

The details of that period [1946-1951], wherein I obtained bachelor's and master's degrees, are not pertinent to this account except for several minor aspects.  Besides, that has been recounted in a memoir dealing with why and how I came to UKC/UMKC...

But he added only six more brief paragraphs to the War Memoir, breaking off at the point of his 1951 recall.  I suspect he found it difficult to continue without repeating much of what had gone into the Jubilee Memoir; also, that the War Memoir had essentially been completed—there was little of interest to add concerning the year he spent in Texas teaching radar operation to airmen bound for Korea.  So (if my guess is correct) he left the War Memoir on the shelf, while typing up the doubtless-revised-and-polished Jubilee Memoir in 1984.  George then wrote a further sequel, "A Memoir to Mark Thirty-Plus Years," in 1985.

Presented together below under the combo-title How I Came to KCMO (twice) and Why I Stayed at UMKC, these provide a retrospective overview of George Ehrlich's efforts to become a university instructor of art history, and then to remain one—often against the odds—through a decade that also saw him assume the roles of husband, father, homeowner, Doctor of Philosophy, and Department Chairman.

Cross-chronicle overlaps are unavoidably evident: both with The War Memoir and the final segment of Mila Jean's The Fulbright Year Abroad, as well as with the next in this series of George's Navigations: the journal he kept during his First Sabbatical in 1961.  Rather than risk entangling my hyperlinks, some of the annotation below are "reruns"—or, if you prefer, interlacements.

Thanks to my brother Matthew for providing some of the photos and some of the copyreading.

 


A Note on the Text


To enhance online clarity I have deleted a number of commas and made a few [bracketed] addenda.  This webpage is best viewed on a device using both fonts I employed:
Times New Roman for George's entries, and Verdana for my own.

 


A MEMOIR FOR THE JUBILEE YEAR OF UMKC
 

Why I came to the University of Kansas City, and why I stayed, are two rather different stories.  This is the story of why and how I joined the faculty.

It is best to begin with my enrollment at the University of Illinois, in Urbana, in the fall of 1942.  The nation had been at war for less than a year, and the draft age had just been lowered to include eighteen-year-olds.  I would be eighteen at the end of January.  I enrolled as a chemical engineering major for no better reason than I had grown up thinking that a career as an engineer was an appropriate professional goal, and that I had done well in my high school chemistry class.  And I quickly learned that others saw this as suitable, especially after I had taken scholarship examinations at the University of Chicago and the Illinois Institute of Technology.  I won no scholarships (but was admitted to the Chicago schools), so I went to the State University.  My tests there argued that I should be placed in newly formed (for the war effort, no doubt) accelerated courses in chemistry and mathematics.  It is enough to say that potential notwithstanding, I was not suited—at least psychologically—for the courses as they were packaged and taught.  Perhaps it was my disappointment at discovering how much rote memorization was required, or the slow realization that these disciplines did not penetrate my deeper interests.  Also, the anticipated draft call meant that the end of my college days were bound to occur during my second semester.  Indeed, each week saw a reduction of the size of the enrollment in the several courses I was enrolled in, as one or another of my fellow students was called up.

If my memory is correct, I received my notice within six weeks of turning eighteen.  A trip to Chicago to see my draft board, to ask for a deferment to the end of the semester, led to my being able to complete my first year of college.  But my year's performance in my chemistry courses made it clear to me that whatever future schooling I would pursue would not include additional work in that discipline.

The only enlightening academic experiences I had in my first year of college consisted of a discovery that I had a real aptitude and interest in engineering drawing, and my discovery of the field of architectural design.  A senior in my dormitory was studying architecture, and he provided me with the introduction to the discipline and the environment of the Architecture Building on the campus.  This building, with its large hall of casts, its exhibition gallery, and the large drafting rooms with student prize-winning designs from former years, was a far more attractive place than the chemistry labs.  Also, the Art Department was in the same building, providing a somewhat, for me, exotic environment (though I knew the Chicago Art Institute's collections well, and I had always liked to draw).  Even now my memory is remarkably clear concerning those early contacts with architecture and art in an academic setting, and of course they were even fresher when, after the war was over, I was waiting to return to the United States to be separated from military service.

I was no sooner a civilian than I was back at the University of Illinois, now as a first-year architectural design student.  That was in time to start in the summer session of 1946.  The GI Bill plus my savings accumulated over three years of military service permitted the luxury of economic and social independence.  I had ceased being dependent on my parents when I went into service, and now could continue this way.  The result was that I had no compulsion to move swiftly to a degree.  Thus, when I found architectural history more interesting than the design courses (which seemed geared to serve those students who already were somehow experienced in the field), I saw no reason why I couldn't concentrate on the former by the device of taking, in addition, courses  in art history.  Similarly, I discovered I had both an aptitude and an interest in sculpture when I took the required clay modeling course for architects, and promptly took additional courses in sculpture.  Little did I know that as I indulged myself I was actually preparing myself to be employed by UKC, then a place and indeed a location totally unfamiliar to me, despite my extensive military travels.

My academic indulgences carried me well beyond courses in the Department of Architecture, and the required courses for their degree provided by the Department of Art and other units of the university.  I didn't exactly browse through the catalog, but I certainly did go off on various excursions,  One day I realized I had accumulated nearly 200 hours of credit in nearly two dozen academic units of the university, and had actually ceased to progress toward my degree in architecture, despite the fact that I had taken about three-quarters of the required courses.  If I wished to finish, I would have to take four more semesters of work, and that now seemed  foolish.  My only option for graduation, which I took, was a BS in the Division of Special Services for War Veterans.  This was a short-term device to permit veterans to petition for graduation in a major that was individually designed.  This got around the university's extremely slow process of instituting new degree programs, and it recognized that the older student—the veteran—could have legitimate goals and training that were (in those days) seen as interdisciplinary.  I declared for a major in "the history of art and architecture," and showed how I had taken all of the relevant undergraduate courses offered, as well as additional courses in cognate fields.  Thus it was that I graduated in June 1949 with a BS and 200 hours.  As far as I can tell, I was the first student to graduate as an art history major at the University of Illinois, though naturally my diploma does not use that designation, since technically the major did not exist.

Before I had taken this momentous step, I had dropped in to speak with the Head of the Art Department, Frank Roos, to learn a bit about the opportunities such a specialization might provide.  He was an art historian, and he was harshly realistic about the prospects, even with graduate training, pointing out that present circumstances could not be used to predict the future, since the surge of returning veterans had distorted the state of higher education.  The future, which then seemed to be a return to past practice, did not hold promise.  But at the same time he somehow encouraged me to try if I was interested.

I knew nothing then of the politics of the Art Department, and that very soon Roos would be voted out of his Headship by the senior faculty (all of whom were studio people).  I never learned the full story, even years later when I was a close friend of Frank and Bea, his wife.  Except for one aspect of the internal politics then affecting the department, the situation did not influence the unfolding of my career.  The only place that it became relevant was that while I was converting myself into an art history major, I was also working on becoming a sculptor, this under the tutelage of Marvin Martin, the only sculptor on the faculty, and thus something of a fringe member of the powerful studio people who actually held control.  So there I was, with a foot in the studio camp and clearly also a rare enlistee in the Roos camp.  The fact that my studio affiliation was at the periphery of the department's principal studio interests kept me safe from being caught between opposing forces.  As things turned out, I was able to become an assistant to both Roos and Martin at the same time and survive.  This too proved to prepare me for the job at UKC.

As soon as I graduated with my curious BS, I enrolled again at Illinois as a graduate student in Art, to take an MFA (the only degree offered), with the art history option.  There was no undergraduate degree, but oddly enough a graduate option.  It was taught by the three-person (2.5 fte) staff in art history (the new head was once again an art historian, Allen Weller).  I was only the third student to opt for the art history MFA option, and since I had taken virtually all the courses that were offered relevant to that program, I did most of my work in tutorials.  I filled in with additional sculpture courses.  My GI Bill money was sufficient to cover the MFA, and I still had some savings.  Thus my self-indulgence could continue.  I made no effort to get an assistantship, and I suspect I didn't think about it because all previously appointed assistants were studio people.  So it was quite a surprise when I was told by someone to go see Weller, and he offered me a half-time graduate teaching assistantship.  This I held for four semesters while taking 42 hours of graduate work, with about one-third of it in sculpture.  Indeed, I taught sculpture each semester, and I was also Frank Roos's reader-grader in his Art Appreciation course.  And it was this situation that constituted my preparation for a job of some sort, provided I could identity one appropriate to my qualifications (such as they might be).

I completed my MFA in June 1951, and I thought I might find a job teaching somewhere.  At least Frank Roos encouraged me to think I could, and I certainly had enjoyed my experience teaching the sculpture sections, and in giving occasional lectures for Roos.  So I began early in the spring the tedious task of seeking a teaching job.  Since the Korean War had started, and since the post-WWII enrollment bulge had passed through the college system, jobs were extremely difficult to find, whatever the qualifications one had.

What were my qualifications, and were they marketable?  I had an MFA, still a rather new graduate-level degree, and one associated only with practical or studio courses—not art history.  As for graduate study in art history, there were remarkably few places in the United States where one could get a PhD in the field.  While perhaps there were a dozen such programs, nearly all of the average 20-per-year graduates came from five schools: Columbia; Harvard; NYU's Institute of Fine Arts; Yale; and Princeton.  Chicago had an occasional graduate, as did a few other schools.  There were, of course, more Master's programs, but even then the production was so limited that there were numerous museums, and not a few colleges, who used B.A. graduates on their professional staffs or faculties.  The real difficulty was the fact that there were very few teaching positions in the field, and museums were notoriously understaffed with professionally trained people.  The "old boy network" was still very much at work for the few available jobs.  Over the years this had also permitted some gifted amateurs, who "knew their fields," to get some of the few jobs (especially if they had society connections).  There was nothing really wrong with that, but how was I, with an oddball degree from a non-PhD program, supposed  to compete?

As I noted, I was the third one to participate in the graduate art history program at Illinois.  The first who graduated had succeeded in getting a teaching job as a temporary replacement, and then had gone on to get a PhD at Chicago.  Afterwards, he settled down at a small college.  The second, a woman, sort of vanished insofar as anyone ever learned what happened after she completed her degree.  The employment world I faced with my new MFA consisted of: large universities which might have at the most perhaps three art historians, usually to teach service courses, such as two-semester introductory surveys; and small, private colleges with an emphasis on the humanities and fine arts.  The largest schools offering art history, those with PhD programs, had perhaps no more than eight faculty members in art history.  I clearly needed help.  My two mentors suggested that I try to market myself as one who knew both studio and art history, and who had a bent for interdisciplinary work.  This I did using a rather meagre [sic] résumé which I sent with a cover letter to a wide range of schools.  My mailing list had been chosen from the American Art Directory, where I looked for evidence of schools where some sort of studio and art history were being offered, and avoiding those schools which I assumed would opt for a rare PhD or one at the dissertation stage.

Why didn't I choose instead to enter a PhD program?  The principal reason was that I was close to being dead broke, and I had drained my GI eligibilities.  I needed a job on which to live.  In fact, things were looking positively grim, and as the responses came in to some of my letters, I began to despair of finding any sort of teaching job, even as a one-year replacement for someone ill or on leave.  To conserve money, I typed each résumé separately on my portable typewriter; getting them printed or mimeographed never occurred as a possibility.

Finally there was a nibble; the University of Oklahoma saw a possibility in my being able to do both sculpture and art history.  Their interest in me was high, but they had to see how the budget evolved.  Then came the wrenching news that the position had not been funded.  I began to think seriously about looking for work in one of the crafts, like non-union carpentry, since I had some skills along that line.  And when all seemed totally hopeless, I received a communication from the University Placement service about a possibility.  Brief details were given to me and it was thus that I wrote Robert Mortvedt, Vice President of the University of Kansas City, indicating my interest.  Interest was a modest way of putting it.

My letter to Mortvedt crossed one from him written the following day.  He told me he had been at the University of Illinois on a recruiting trip, but the time was so short he was unable to get in touch with me during his brief stay in Urbana.  He chose this letter to outline their needs and to inquire if I was interested.  So at last there was a real possibility for a teaching appointment, but I would have to get somehow to Kansas City for an interview.  His letter was dated the 30th of June, and he noted he would appreciate "hearing from me as speedily as possible."  I had his authority to call, reversing the charges, which I guess I must have done for I was in Kansas City for that interview on the 5th day of July, 1951.  It was a Monday.

UKC had been one of the schools I had contacted earlier, with a negative response in reply.  At least I did get a reply.  Henry Scott had sent me the form letter, noting the lack of openings but that my letter would be put in the files.  I never did learn whether the change in circumstances at UKC had led to a review of those files, or whether Mortvedt discovered me through the U of I Placement Service.  Regardless, I was willing to do anything under any circumstances, and there never was a question but that I would go to Kansas City and KCU (as it was called, rather than UKC) if I had the chance.  I was that desperate.  But I was also eager to begin teaching full-time.

I later learned why a position had opened up so late.  KCU then had had an Art Department consisting of three full-time faculty and an occasional lecturer.  Scott was the Chairman, split in his teaching duties between art history and studio.  The second position was strictly studio.  And the third taught art history.  This last position, in 1950-51, was held by David Wilkie, a PhD from Wisconsin.  Completing his first year at KCU, he had been abruptly terminated.  The reasons for this are known to me only through hearsay, so it is best I not comment on them other than they apparently were based on his behavior rather than his subject competency.  But in addition to this unexpected opening, the studio faculty member had quit in frustration; he was Thomas R. Thomas.  He had developed a popular program in ceramics at KCU along with his other duties, and this program the university wanted to salvage.  Also, the art historian was responsible for the Foundations of Art course which was required of every student wishing to graduate from the institution.

The university in its wisdom, and facing declining enrollments, decided to fill the two disparate openings by consolidating them and finding one person to cover both needs.  And it was this development that made my meager qualifications suddenly desirable and also marketable.  I seemed to them to be ideal for their situation, and I was not about to dissuade them of that opinion.  My sculpture background it was assumed might enable me somehow to cover ceramics.  And since the only art history course the administration was truly concerned about was the introductory Art 110 (even then the number), a person with a Master's degree would suffice.  Scott had only an MA, and the Department's enrollment of majors, in all its options, rarely exceeded twenty-five, with an average of three or four completing a degree each year.  Finally, in 1951 a beginner could be hired for very little money, another plus to KCU, and indirectly an advantage to my application.

I borrowed train fare from my father, and went to Kansas City from Chicago.  I arrived by the overnight run on the Santa Fe Chief.  That meant that my first experience in Kansas City was the great interior space of the grand concourse of the Union Station, which was still in its glory as a passenger terminal.  As I exited, I saw directly ahead the Liberty Memorial with its landscaped lawn.  I was genuinely impressed, but I had  no time for exploration as I was soon due at the university.  I got into a cab in front of the station and asked to be taken to the university.  This was an easily made request, but this cab driver had absolutely no idea of where I wanted to go.  "The University of Kansas City," I said helpfully.  Still this drew a blank.  "You mean the medical school?" he asked.  "Medical School?" thought I.  I knew nothing about that.  "The one in Kansas?" he said.  Surely not!  I was certain from my correspondence that KCU was a Missouri school.  In time we got things squared away after some consultation of reference material, and finally I was on my way to what and where I knew not.

In 1951 KCU was but eighteen years old, and while its then brief history was not known to me at the time, in retrospect it seems that both the school and I were more a matter of unrealized potential and promise than any sort of proven accomplishment.  Perhaps we were then well matched in the prospect of joining forces.

I arrived in time to make my meeting, and we drove in under the porte cochere of the Administration Building.  In a remarkably brief time I was being interviewed.  Part of that experience was being confronted by Norman Royall, then Dean of the College.  No one from the Art Department was in town but then there was now only one person on that staff.  Before the day was over, Robert Mortvedt, Vice President, had actually tendered me an offer.  (The President of KCU was out of town.)  I was to teach five courses per semester, in both art history and in ceramics, on both a day and night schedule.  And since I was replacing two people, and would be doing so at the last minute so to speak, a concession was made in the starting salary.  This was increased from the usual $2,600 (for a beginning Instructor) to $2,800 for the nine months.  That seemed fair to me; in fact I was ecstatic.  I was also a naive, 26-year-old idealist.  Against odds I had, pretty much on my own, gotten a job doing that for which I was supposedly educated (and trained).  I questioned nothing and was suitably impressed by everything.

It was mid-afternoon when all this was concluded, but my train back to Chicago wouldn't leave until the late evening.  So off I went, walking to the art museum I had been told about.  Up the walk I went, over the sweeping south lawn.  Up the grand south stairway.  Up to the locked doors of the south facade I went.  That dead end put hardly a blemish on my store of euphoria.  What a grand building, and within such easy walking distance of the campus.  So around I went to the other side, as per the little sign on the south doors.  There I discovered that the Nelson Gallery was closed on Mondays.  Now I finally was let down.  In desperation, I decided to try the business entrance, which I learned about from the directory which had informed me that the museum was not open.  Perhaps it was my woebegone look that prompted the guard at that entrance to decide to expend some extra effort in meeting my simple request.  I asked if it was possible to buy a handbook, or some such, of the museum to take home with me to study, since I was in town only for the day.  I had explained that I was newly hired to teach art history at the university.

I had been told to wait, but then what else did I have to do, given the fact that I was in town of necessity until late evening?  After some minutes the Registrar of the Nelson Gallery, Ross Taggart, came in the door.  I repeated my little story and my request for a handbook.  This he found to be reasonable, and I was allowed in the museum.  I followed him up to the information desk, and there he obtained for me a gallery handbook, took my dollar (or was it two?) which he placed with a note on a desk.  Then, as we turned to descend back to where we had started, he said, "Would you like to see the collections?"  Would I?  Indeed I would.  And there began one of those magical experiences which are truly unforgettable.

We went through an almost totally dark building, and periodically Ross would switch on a light and wondrous things literally burst upon my vision.  That is how I first saw Caravaggio's St. John the Baptist, the Head of Hammurabi, little Methethy, and Pilon's St. Barbara.  And dozens upon dozens of others.  Cezanne, Van Gogh, Hals and Rembrandt, period rooms, and treasures of oriental [sic] art, which I could only guess at, paraded before me, or rather I paraded before them in the darkened museum, illuminated room by room, like some sort of controlled theatrical event.  The Nelson had begun collecting only twenty years earlier, and the results to date were to my fresh eye on that warm day the furnishings of a treasure house.  I could look forward to using it as my own, provided I could learn to do so.

I finally exited into the bright afternoon sun in a state of excitement that I still easily recall, though now with a bit of amusement.  I seemed to have been catapulted from the edge of despair to a situation far better than I dreamed I could attain.  I seemed to have stumbled into something very special in Kansas City.

Earlier, I learned I could catch a streetcar for Downtown [sic] by going over to Main Street.  Downtown Kansas City was then indeed the vibrant heart of the city.  Once there, I saw in the late afternoon a density and variety of architecture and people that confirmed for me that this was an urban center of the sort I truly preferred.  Soon I found myself on Baltimore Street, and then I saw a bookstore.  I went in and I told the proprietor that since I had just agreed to come to work in Kansas City, I wanted to know if there was a good history of the city I could buy?  I was, purely by chance, in Frank Glenn's bookstore, which then was housed in the Hotel Muehlebach.  Glenn had published in the previous year City of the Future, by Henry Haskell and Richard Fowler, a book to mark Kansas City's centennial.  Glenn responded to my interest in books, and to my curiosity about the city to which I had come in order to teach art history, and so in short order I felt I had found another excellent reason to be grateful to be employed by KCU.  Here was a quality bookstore that had a knowledgeable bookman as proprietor.

From there I wandered further north on Baltimore and soon saw a pleasant looking restaurant-bar, called Frank Wachter's.  I went in and ordered a draught [sic] beer.  "Light or dark?" the barman asked.  The last time I had that sort of automatic choice had been in one of the German restaurants in Chicago.  According to my experience and criteria, this sort of option was definitely a sign of high urban culture.  And as I sipped my beer—dark by the way—I glanced over the menu.  That sent me to a booth where I had a Wienerschnitzel, another beer, and looked at my new books, the gallery handbook and the history of Kansas City.  Periodically I reassured myself by checking on the reality of the signed contract.  Yesterday I had been, so to speak, at the edge of the precipice.  I had no job, my funds were almost exhausted, and I had no certainty that I could land the job in Kansas City,  And what then?  In contrast, that evening, I had a job, a decent salary for the nine months, and I would be in a city that had desirable amenties.

In those days I didn't have any long-term goals other than having a job teaching in a college somewhere.  Three years of military experience so soon after the decade of the Great Depression had conditioned me quite well to be grateful for little things.  Thus it was that, on the 5th of July 1951, I thought I had hit the jackpot of good fortune.  But then I received another offer of a job, and this one I couldn't refuse.

My final hours in Kansas City that evening are not clear in my memory.  Probably I took in a movie, since my train would not leave Kansas City until midnight.  I got back to the railway station around 10:30 and learned I could board the sleeper car ahead of time, and it would be added to the train when it arrived from the west.  I got into my berth, did the contortions one did to get undressed and settled down, and to my later amazement I  fell into a sound sleep.  When I woke to the rocking motion and clicking sounds, I saw I was about an hour from arrival in Chicago.  Great!  Only then I learned that we were far from Chicago.  In fact we were just outside of Kansas City.  Trouble on the tracks had kept us stationary in the train yards all night, which explained my sound sleep.  We still had an eight-hour run ahead of us.  Was this snafu a portent of what awaited me?

In Chicago I reported to my parents my grand success and the next day headed back to Urbana to get ready for my move to Kansas City.  Upon my arrival I found I had received on that fateful Monday a formidable envelope from the government.  In it were orders telling me to report in a week to Chanute Air Force Base to be processed for return to active service.  When I was separated from service in 1946, I had agreed to join the Reserves for five years.  I quickly discovered that there was absolutely no interest by the Reserves in an ex-B-29 radar operator, and so reserve status had proved meaningless; there wasn't even a training program.  I could have resigned, but thought it prudent simply to let the commission lapse so as not to create a possible blemish on my service record.  Little did I know how unimportant that would have been.

My reserve commission did not lapse in June 1951 because the Korean War had intervened, and the limits on appointments had been indefinitely extended.  Suddenly there was great interest in all of us who for the previous five years had been so much worthless baggage to the Reserves.  Where once I had wanted to keep up with developments in airborne radar, now I couldn't care less.  But now I could not ignore the Air Force, since finally it chose not to ignore me.

I marshaled my remaining funds, and on July 8 I got a bus ticket and left Champaign to go to Kansas City.  I arrived in the morning of the 9th, and headed by streetcar to the university to deal with my pending disaster.  I hoped to get some sort of document from Mortvedt explaining to the Air Force what calamity would happen at KCU if I could not fulfill my contract, given the proximity of the coming semester.  I recall nothing about that overnight trip, with its long layover in the wee hours in the gloomy St. Louis terminal.  The details of the trip were trivial when contrasted to the sensibility that I faced a probable shattering of plans that so recently I had nurtured.

At KCU I sought out Dr. Mortvedt.  The secretary informed me that he was on vacation, but Dr. Decker, the President, was now back; I should see him.  And thus it was that I had my only face-to-face meeting with Clarence Decker.  His office was in the southeast room of the main floor of the Administration Building.  His secretary checked with Decker to see if I was to be admitted, and in short order I was ushered in.  The desk was at the far corner of the large room; one had to cross the entire space.  Decker, a small man, was behind the large desk.  I was seated in front and quickly told my sad tale.  Decker seemed properly sympathetic, but unmoved by what I thought of as "our" plight.  However, he did realize that my abrupt departure into military service would be a true inconvenience for KCU and so he prepared a letter which explained this.  When he signed the copies he wished me luck and suggested that I inform him if I was unsuccessful in my appeal.  The entire interview couldn't have taken more than a half an hour.  So it was back to the bus station and the long haul back to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.

My processing at Chanute deserves mention only in three matters.  First, the physical examinations were cursory; they needed us.  I saw then and later people certified as fit for flying duty who would have been grounded or even discharged in World War II.  Pilots who needed glasses for reading, men with ulcers who needed special diets, and one fellow who had an arm he could not extend fully due to a wound received in combat.  All were certified.

Second, when I was asked for my profession in civilian life, so a suitable code could be entered in my record, I said, "art historian."  The large book that listed professions and codes did not include art historians.  "Any other profession?"  "Sculptor," I said.  Once again there was no entry in the book.  Finally we settled on "teacher."  This had a code, and so that was how I got listed.

Finally, there was my one chance to plead for an exemption to being recalled.  I went before a colonel and presented Decker's "To Whom It May Concern" letter.  He read it, looked at me and asked, "Do you know what I was doing before I got this job?"  Of course I didn't, and so I pled ignorance.  "I was a Professor of Law at the University of Florida.  Petition denied."

I was scheduled to go back onto [sic] active service in the United States Air Force.

I communicated all of this to Decker and received condolences from him, Mortvedt and Royall.  Then I got a letter from the University of Oklahoma.  Was I still available for a job?  The budget situation was likely to improve and so they had reactivated their search.  What irony.  I now had two certain jobs and one pending, but I no longer had any freedom to choose.  There was no relish in the fact that now two universities were interested in hiring me as a faculty member.

My seventeen months of active duty are not relevant to this narrative, but two elements deserve comment since they illustrate why I am more appreciative of UKC/UMKC than many of my colleagues, whatever the faults of the university might be.  Here, at least, I almost always have felt that I had some degree of control over my professional life; in the service I was totally subject to an impersonal numbers game....  However, I cannot say that all of my experience was negative; I did learn a few indelible lessons, some of which still serve me well in coping with being an "officer of instruction and research" in a university.

As soon as I was free, I wrote Mortvedt (on the 9th of February 1953) that once again I was a civilian.  I had some reason to hope I could rekindle my chances at KCU, since he had written once to me soon after I was called up asking how long I was to serve.  His reply to my letter told me that KCU had hired someone in 1952 who was doing well, and so that was that.  But since I would be driving up from Texas to Illinois, I could just as easily go via KC as not, so why not pay KCU a visit?  I could see the place again, and perhaps this way lessen the sense of loss I still felt.  After all I now had some money out aside, and I no longer had that desperate sense of urgency which had driven me during my job-hunt two years earlier.  Also, I guess I wanted to see if my memory of the place was accurate: after all, I had been there only a few hours the last time.

To the best of my recollection I left San Antonio, Texas on or shortly after the 18th of February, 1953.  I arrived in Kansas City on the second day of my travels, and this put me on the campus of KCU at the height of the crisis which is now known as "The Revolution."  Mortvedt's letter to me (which is dated the 16th and was waiting for me at my sister's apartment in Urbana, Illinois) gives no clue whatsoever that there were problems at KCU which were of such enormity that there would be a mass resignation of a number of administrators within the week.  And so I was totally unprepared for my reception when I turned up on the campus.

After parking very near the campus, I walked over to the Administration Building and decided to seek out Mortvedt.  I asked at his office if I could see him.  "He isn't in," I was told.  I went over to Royall's office and asked there.  "He isn't in."  I then went downstairs and asked to see Decker.  "He isn't in."  What kind of place was this?  Three key administrators not in, and I was given no suggestion of when they would return, or why they were out.  Nor was I asked what my business was, nor was there even a minor effort given to finding someone—anyone—to "help me."  I now vaguely recall having seen something in a San Antonio newspaper about some sort of demonstration by students at a university in Kansas City, but I certainly didn't connect that with the strangely noncommittal attitude of the office staff to the Administration Building.  I doubt if I even thought that the faces of these unfortunates had a haunted look, but I suspect they had.  For my part, I was thoroughly annoyed, so I left the campus in a "to hell with them" attitude, and headed out on the highway to find a motel to stay the night before completing my trip.

Soon after arriving in Urbana, I decided to find some sort of temporary job to conserve my savings while I decided on what my next course of action would be.  Thus it was that on the 2nd of March I accepted a position as a draftsman for the digital computer laboratory at the University of Illinois.  There, ILLIAC-I was in the final stages of being brought into full operation as the first large-scale civilian-operated electronic digital computer.  As a civil service employee at the University of Illinois, I was entitled to free tuition for courses at the university, provided my supervisor approved of the courses.  This led me to launch a program to take a PhD in History, something which was approved though it had nothing to do with my work (since I agreed to put in my full forty hours per week by coming early or staying late to compensate for time lost to classes).

Why did I pick a PhD in History?  There was then no PhD program in Art History, and if I wanted to take advantage of the free tuition I had to take something that was offered at the University of Illinois.  In discussing this with Frank Roos, he suggested that I contact Arthur Bestor of the History Department and outline for him a plan Roos and I had worked out.  Essentially, it asked if Bestor would accept me as a special student in a combined history/art history program with an emphasis on American art?  Roos, who had himself gotten a PhD under a somewhat similar situation years before, had been a visiting professor at the University of Minnesota, and thus knew of their American Studies program.  Bestor, a product of Yale, had worked with people sympathetic to that type of interdisciplinary program, and thus he too was supportive.  Yes, he would sponsor me, but he needed a formula acceptable to the History faculty.

This it was that I began a program in "The Social Implications of the History of American Art," combining my previous MFA with new coursework in American History and American Literature.  Parenthetically, I should add that while technically I was pursuing a PhD in History (which I received in 1960), I was in fact doing something very strange in the context of that discipline.  Without Bestor's support, and that of another historian on the faculty, Chester Starr, I would have been in deep difficulties.

The completion of that program takes us several years beyond the terminus of this narrative, so we leave that account to another time.  It does mean though that I am an art historian with a PhD in History, the format of which neither the traditional art historians nor regular historians would readily recognize, and few would probably accept as "equivalent" to their degrees.  My dissertation is listed as "Fine Arts" in Dissertation Abstracts, and I am of the opinion that most art historians would recognize it as "art history."  Indeed, I have had some indication of that.  But it is also seen as a form of American Studies, and users of the dissertation (insofar as I can discover this data) range rather widely by disciplinary interest.  If it is accepted as being legitimately "art history," regardless of the granting department, then I do believe my dissertation is the first one in that discipline done at the University of Illinois.

The History Department at the University of Illinois was troubled mostly by the possibility that I would ask them for help in getting a job.  Once I managed to do that without calling on them, they were remarkably relaxed about the eccentric in their midst.  As for me, the pace of the first year, taking eight hours of seminars while working full time, nearly put an end to my program; I was exhausted!  Also, I was growing enormously interested in the computer business, and was strongly tempted to switch fields.

One must understand that I was right there at the cutting edge of developments in what I now choose to call the "neolithic period" of the electronic computer.  I helped—as a draftsman—on work dealing with magnetic memories.  I did illustrations for a dissertation exploring the use of transistors as substitutes for vacuum tubes in computers, and I actually designed the dot-matrix for the letters used in the first cathode ray tube output installed on the ILLIAC.  It was very tempting to return to science and mathematics and do more than act as a visual translator of the sketches of the engineers.  My work consisted of making the drawings and diagrams that the technicians and engineers could read, especially when reduced to the size of this page.

I was indeed very close to switching fields, but I continued to play the game of trying to be an art historian.  So when Allen Weller informed me in the spring of 1954 that the University of Nebraska had an opening, I applied.  After the initial exchange, all became very quiet on that front.  I thought I should clear that up, especially if I decided to cross over to computers, so I wrote Nebraska and asked if my candidacy was till alive.  When the answer finally came, I learned that an appointment had just been made, a Mr. Fehl.  He, I was told, had been at the University of Kansas City.

Well, well, well!  This was the fellow who had replaced me when I could not go to KCU.  And here he was leaving, and rather late, since academic '53-'54 was over.  It was so tempting to bring the circle full around that I immediately wrote to Mortvedt (whom I assumed was still at KCU).  This was at the end of July 1954, and I asked that I be considered an applicant for the vacancy caused by Fehl's departure.  Mortvedt's reply finally arrived, from Bethany College where he was the President.  He told me to write John Barnett, now the Dean at KCU.  The circle was not yet closed; to do so I had to write to Barnett.

My letter to Barnett brought a reply, but he had no file on me and asked for data.  This I sent.  It was now past the middle of August 1954.  Then I received a telephone call and I agreed to go out once again to Kansas City for an interview.  This was around the first of September.  I took a few days of accumulated vacation leave so I could play out the game to its conclusion.  Off I went, by automobile.

The summer of 1954 was one of those notable for its excessive heat.  In my memory there were three such killer heat waves: 1936; 1954; and 1980.  In 1936 I lived in Chicago and we sought solace at the lakefront.  In 1980 we had air conditioning.  In 1954 we simply suffered day after day of over 100-degree heat.  The journey to Kansas City was grim.

Since I was going to an interview, I took along a suit.  It was "summer weight," but it felt like a heavy tweed in that heat.  I wore it to the interview because I felt I had to make the proper gesture.  At Barnett's office in the Administration Building at 9 a.m., people were already wilting.  The few men in evidence worse short-sleeved shorts with open collars.  I sat stiffly waiting for Barnett, who was detained, wondering if I shouldn't at least remove my coat (I'd keep the tie on of course).  But I held firm.  After all, I had sweated in enough airplane interiors when the thermometer inside registered 125 degrees.  I could survive.

Barnett, it turned out, had injured his eye on a shrub's branch when he had put out the trash that morning, and he had had to seek medical attention.  He arrived around 10 a.m., with a bandage on one eye.  He also was wearing a gray flannel, double breasted suit.  Clearly, my decision to keep on my coat had met some sort of unspoken standard of behavior, though secretly I thought both of us were crazy as I watched him sit, one-eyed and implacable, in the increasing heat.

We went through an interview which included three members of the faculty who had been rounded up: Westermann of History; Weifenbach of Philosophy; and Misbach of Psychology.  After all, it was after the conclusion of the summer term and before the start of the fall term.  Relevant faculty members were scarce for such exercises.  Once again, there was no one from the Art Department, but then once again it was reduced to one member, Henry Scott who was in the east.

Of that interview two things stand out in my memory.  The first was the question of what would the teaching load include.  While the only real concern of the administration was still the offering to the Art 110, there was a desire on Barnett's part to require a total load of fifteen hours.  We discussed the problems of Art 110, and these problems centered on the fact that it was required of all students, but also it was reputed by the students to be the one they most disliked of all of the general graduation requirements.  I suggested that the only remedy would be to use a new approach, and since there were two sections, one at night, both would have to be taught by me if I was hired and charged with improving the course.  But under those circumstances, I flatly refused a fifteen-hour load, and said twelve hours would be the maximum, period.

The second feature that stuck in my memory was a private conversation I had with Lorenz Misbach after the official interview was over.  He had asked if I wanted to go somewhere for a beer, and considering the bear and the strain of the interview I readily accepted.  Off we went in Misbach's bedraggled car to some bar on Troost.  Which one I simply don't know; it was a bar without decor or pretensions, but it was air conditioned.  Over a cold beer, Misbach urged me to accept the position, though I had not in fact been offered it.  Barnett could not make an offer without the authority of the President, who was now Earl McGrath, who was out of town.  Indeed, there was no discussion of money during the interview, that too had to come from the President.  Only the teaching of Art 110 and related matters seemed to have occupied the serious aspects of the interview session.  Under these circumstances, Misbach's urging that I agree to come to KCU was strange, to say the least.

For a number of years, things had not gone well in the Art 110 course, and they knew that it needed improvements.  Misbach saw in me someone who could do something about the problem.  Though he was Chairman of the Psychology Department, Misbach was deeply involved in the Foundations Program (as the general requirements in the liberal arts were called), and he sometimes taught a section of World Literature.  He was also the unofficial "Chairman" of the faculty group that taught Foundations courses.  Thus he had a real stake in resolving the problem.  I was given to understand that if I came I would have a free hand to make changes in Art 110, and that I need not fear lack of support from the Administration in doing so.  Since I had yet to meet Scott or anyone else who had taught Art 110, I was placed in a curious situation of not knowing how to respond.  Our conversation over, Misbach returned me to my car and I went back to my motel.

I couldn't sleep that night, despite having an air conditioned room.  The situation struck me as "not good," and why leave Champaign-Urbana, my friends, and the computer world?  Free tuition also had to be considered.  Exchange all of that for a messy situation?  I argued the case within my mind instead of sleeping, and finally I figured I might as well head back to Illinois in the "cool" of the night since I could not sleep.  And off I went about 2 a.m.

Back home I decided that I really did want to try my hand at teaching, and that I hated to throw away my investment in becoming an art historian.  I was 29 years old, and if ever I was to see if I could be a successful full-time teacher of art history, I better get on with it.  But I had some reservations, so I set some pre-conditions by which to judge their offer, which I had reason to expect would come.  First, KCU had to agree to my restrictions on the teaching load and confirm my authority over the courses I was to teach.  Second, I would not move unless I received at least $3,600.  My salary as an engineering draftsman was $3,300.

In a very few days I received a telephone call from Barnett.  I was offered an appointment as Instructor in Art at the salary of $3,700, and my load was twelve hours, and I had full charge of Art 110.  I accepted over the telephone, and a few days later I received the memorandum of appointment, a catalog, and a class schedule.  I signed the contract on the 10th of September, sent it on two days later, and arranged to leave my job at Illinois.  I packed and had movers take my things to KC, and place them in temporary storage there.

I drove on Saturday, September 18, arriving in the late afternoon.  I planned to find an apartment on Sunday (which I finally did) and arranged to move into it from the motel the following weekend.  On Monday the 20th, registration started, and classes were to begin on Wednesday.  It was a series of close connections all around, and I felt fortunate in that I had succeeded in completing everything except the move to the apartment before registration duty began.

I walked into Swinney Gymnasium and greeted Barnett, who showed me the location of the Art Department advising station.  I sat down there to learn what I could about the school and its procedures.  Unfortunately, I was alone for Scott was not yet there.  Furthermore, the art station was the one nearest the entrance to the gym, and thus I found myself the focus for all inquiries as people entered the gym to begin registration.  Pleading ignorance was creating more problems than it solved, so I began a crash program of self-instruction on the rules, regulations, requirements and procedures.  Within the hour I was able at least to direct people to the correct place to get the needed answers, and in time I could find most of them.  There were, by the way, virtually no questions about "art."  Finally Henry Scott arrived, greeted me, explained his unavoidable delay, and seeing that I was coping he went off to greet his colleagues and to chat about this and that.  And there I was, hard at work, obviously fully integrated into the operation of registration.  In less than 48 hours I was to meet my first class, in American Art.  I had not yet found my office, nor had seen the slide collection or the library (though I had seen the latter briefly in 1951).  But none of this mattered; I was finally a college-level teacher of art history.

And that is the story of why and how I came to join the faculty of the University of Kansas City.  As I said at the start of this memoir, why I stayed is another story.

George Ehrlich / March 1984
 


































































































































 


A MEMOIR TO MARK THIRTY-FIVE YEARS
 

Why did I stay at UMKC?

Opportunities to leave did come to me; most were unsolicited.  I never made a count of them, for over the years during which I got such inquiries, I never reached even the "very serious" level of negotiations.  This was because I was the reluctant party.  One institution actually pursued me twice, and to be a department chairman.  Still, I remained.

Sometimes now I wonder if this should not be taken as proof that I lack ambition for either monetary gain or professional advancement?  On the other hand, I can rationalize each decision in which I rejected an opportunity, either immediately or eventually.  Also, I can point to various specific and positive reasons which argued that I should remain at KCU/UMKC in Kansas City.  But a recounting of the "why," or "what might have been," or attempts to reconstruct what after all are largely subjective arguments for each instance, are not exercises I find attractive.  After all, all that counts is that I stayed, and as far as I am concerned, the decision each time was the right one for me.  Yet, there were some factors affecting me in the critical early years such that I could have just as easily left for another situation, and that deserves some attention.  These relate to the larger story of UMKC and Kansas City, and how the peculiarities of one professional life interfaced with them.

There is one thing that stands out if one can see the entire sequence of my tenure.  Right from the first I was an outspoken, academic activist, pushing for a better department, and a stronger university.  I didn't wait for the award of tenure before I became a "provocateur," but I agitated with proper attention to academic protocol.  My job was done under often difficult conditions and against odds that seemed formidable.  Under these circumstances, I had reason to try for better things here or elsewhere.  Thus my shift in later years to a condition which must seem to others to be that of a "toothless tiger," manifesting a degree of (academic) political invisibility and comparative decorum, could be taken to argue that at some point I gave up the fight.  Did I lose my urge to better the situation here, or to move myself elsewhere[?]  Even after I saw that things here weren't going to get a great deal better, at least in the short haul, and indeed some would say that throughout all of my many years at UMKC the university has been a notorious "underachiever," I stayed on.  And that must say something about me.  But I think it also says something about UMKC and the city in which it exists.

I do not think it is fair to say that I gave up the fight; the pattern of the past thirty-plus years cannot be accommodated within so simple an explanation.  Neither I nor the circumstances which affected the progress of KCU/UMKC are as easily rationalized and then dismissed.  What we have are two biographies so to speak, mine and the university's, which were driven forward by different forces, yet at times we interacted so intimately that I now feel that whatever I became (or didn't) and the evolution of the university are intertwined.

If I can suggest the key circumstances which apparently argued that I should stay, and "see what next year brings," I will be illuminating my understanding of how a so-called university reached the threshold of deserving the respect of actually being one, and possibly explain why I stayed to see this happen.  Whether I contributed to the process, I will leave to others to determine.

Most of my first eleven years at KCU/UMKC were a hard apprenticeship of frustration.  I arrived at KCU (the familiar title) with high hopes in September 1954.  The circumstances which put me on the path to Kansas City are the subject of an earlier memoir, one which deals with how and why I came to KCU.  This present memoir deals with why I stayed, and considering all that happened to me in the first year, it is remarkable that I didn't immediately pack up and leave.

By the end of my first semester, I realized there were serious problems affecting the Department of Art, if not the entire school (with perhaps the sole exception of the School of Dentistry).  The university's problems were largely fiscal, but also there was a grim heritage of recent troubles which were known generally as "the Revolution."  That episode, which I knew secondhand, does not bear repeating here, and it is easily discovered in the official papers of the university.  However, a residue of the circumstances which led up to "the Revolution" was a senior faculty, small in numbers, which had lost whatever leadership strengths they once might have had.  Though some of them were very good people, indeed who were professionally excellent, the Decker years had put such a premium on survival that the idea of academic excellence as a collegial goal was hard to achieve.  Also, some senior figures, as I understood it, had been driven off or [had] simply left when the chances came their way.

Those who stayed were for the most part gentle people who did not relish confrontation, and many were held by a loyalty to a potential which perhaps finally could now be realized with a new administration.  The faculty was not, however, skilled or experienced in assuming the initiative needed if collective excellence was to occur in the next few years.  It was a faculty of teachers, many quite gifted, and if here and there some scholarship got done, it was not rewarded.  Indeed, rewards of any kind were modest at best.  Thus what was being accomplished occurred in small and rather isolated pockets of the campus.  No one, including the new administrators, could see beyond the immediate problems, and thus there was no one who could help weld these individual efforts into an institutional image of excellence, in teaching, scholarship and creative production, or assist the faculty in doing this.

The one solid goal which brought a large group of the faculty together was the quest to get the AAUP's censure of the university lifted.  Richly deserved, the censure was now seen as out of date with the advent of a new administration and the institution of important policy reforms.  Lifting the censure would be both a professional reward for those who stayed and tried to maintain the necessary standards, and a beacon illuminating a brave new future.

Academic leadership (in contrast to administrative leadership) was vested in the deans, not the faculty.  In the College of Liberal Arts (as it was then called), John Barnett clearly preferred the model of the small college where the faculty taught, and taught with dedication, while administrative matters, both academic and management, rested with the dean.  There were a number of senior faculty who agreed with that concept.  And in many ways this model excellently served quite a few students.  It also suited some faculty admirably.

At first, I could see the attraction of this, but it wasn't long before I saw the inadequacies.  Certain curricular areas suffered at KCU.  Most obviously, the sciences were unable to flourish.  The space, staff and support budgets simply weren't there.  Furthermore, there were constraints on the programs which the students took, in the courses required, but also in what could or could not apply to a degree.  For example, in the College only the BA was offered, plus a few MAs.  An early agitation was to permit the awarding of the BS in the sciences, provided students took at least 60 hours in courses in the division of the natural sciences.  For a great many years, only 30 hours of "applied" courses (in art and music) could be counted for a degree, and in art, each two hours in studio had to be "validated" by one hour in art history.

I realized quite quickly that for faculty members in the sciences, and certainly for those in a department of art, the model operating in the College meant a backwater existence.  Furthermore, the administration was carving out professional schools from the College.  Just prior to my arrival, a School of Business Administration and a School of Education were created.  In a few years, there was a merger of the Conservatory of Music with the Department of Music, and another professional school was added to KCU.  However, there was no likelihood that a similar merger with the Kansas City Art Institute would occur, and even if it did, that would not likely encourage the development of the history of art.

But back to the beginning.  What else did I find when I arrive[?]  The library was wretched in its holdings.  There were only five "art magazines" being received, and no periodical index other than The Reader's Guide (and perhaps Poole's) was available for my use.  There were no specialized biographical or other bibliographical tools for the visual arts.  There was also virtually no money for book acquisitions.  Try dividing up $300 per year when art books (then) averaged $10 to $20 each.  What does one get?

In the department, money for slides, supplies, whatever, averaged out to $50 per month, if one tried to budget that way.  We used single projection for slides, had comparatively few slides at that, and in some areas we had virtually nothing useful.

My colleague, for we were but two full-time people in the department, had arrived seven years earlier, hired on by Decker with glowing promises apparently.  [Henry Scott] was a gentleman of the old school.  He was an alumnus of Harvard (a 1920s BA and a post-war MA) and thus essentially a product of an era when fine arts people were gentlemen who combined a bit of painting with a bit of art history.  It wasn't a question of capabilities in either (and I do not intend to discuss such matters concerning anyone with whom I have worked), but that neither area was pursued by him with the professional energy and direction typical of the post-war departments of art which could now be found on many university campuses.

The model used for our department was that of a small Eastern liberal arts college.  Thus, one learned a bit of drawing, some rules of color and composition, and studied painting in oils and watercolor.  One learned about Renaissance art, and perhaps aspects of American art and "modern" art.

In [my] second semester, my colleague Henry Scott went on sabbatical leave for a semester, and I was in charge, with one part-time person teaching ceramics in a facility separate from the temporary building housing the rest of the department.  I had the responsibilities for "the Little Gallery," and the Senior Seminar, and writing up the annual report.  All of which I did with great conscientiousness, and learning thereby very quickly that what was and what ought to be were rather separate things.  I, of course, pleaded for what ought to be.  Not much of this would happen for some time, but apparently by the end of the year I had cemented myself into a position of visibility; I was one who was willing to try.

I was rewarded with a $400 raise for the next year, and off I went [back to Urbana IL] to continue my PhD studies during the summer.  I also went with the (unpaid) commission from the people in our theater program to design the set for next year's production of an opera, Don Giovanni.  I looked forward to that, and to the return of my departmental colleague, who would, of course, keep up the pressure for better things.  There was, after all, a new administration at KCU.

When I returned, and so did Henry, I learned that his vision of the future was not that which I had.  However, in most areas of possible conflict, he was very accommodating, providing I did not agitate to modify what he taught.  If I wanted, I could design new courses, and try to improve the library in areas of my interest, and so forth.  I suspect he felt I would soon tire once I came up against the double wall of "there is no money for that; and we tried it once and it didn't work."

With the considerable advantage of a great many years of teaching behind me as I write this, I now suspect that Henry once held great hopes and made serious plans, but he must have been quickly put in the position of learning how to make do and not make waves.  Major issues degenerated to dealing with purely material things, such as trying to get a telephone for the department, and protecting our space in the building which we shared with music from their encroachments.

In contrast, this wasn't a life with which I would be content.  But then I hadn't anticipated meeting Mila Jean Smith, and our getting married in my second year at KCU.  That soon led to our first child, Paul.  Life now became significantly different from my rather independent bachelor days, when I could simply pick up and go to suit my needs or desires.  Also, there was the PhD program to finish.

The PhD coursework was completed at the end of the summer of 1956, right after getting married.  Mila Jean had completed her coursework for her MA. All that remained for her was the writing up of the production thesis, something which was concluded while pregnant with Paul, the degree being awarded in June 1957.  In my case, I still had the French Exam and the Prelim Exam to pass before I could begin my research for the dissertation.

The French Exam, in contrast with the German Exam, proved a real obstacle.  I had never taken a course in French, and had tried to develop reading proficiency by using self-help books, and sitting in on the first-year course at KCU.  But the material on the exam was in my case in history, and I was getting passages about European political history which even in English I could not fathom.  And this had to be passed before I could take (and pass) the Prelims, the latter mandatory in order to be made a "degree candidate."  It was no longer a matter of my simply teaching my courses and agitating for a better departmental program; I was confronting a host of other and more pressing personal problems.

Suffice it to say that life in the period 1957 to 1960 was difficult.  I was not very happy at KCU, I had a small income (even though I had been promoted to Assistant Professor starting with my third year).  I had debts; I was trying to finish the requirements for the PhD; and so forth.  The "so forth" includes much of a personal nature which affected my outlook and behavior, but that can be omitted here.  The result was that I was faced with a multifaceted dilemma.

Should I seek another job in order to better myself re: income and professional opportunity before I completed the PhD (assuming that damn near anything else ought to be better than I now perceived KCU could provide), or stay and complete the degree before moving on?  I knew that a move would delay the PhD work, and I had already used up a fair number of years of the available time.  Perhaps I better stuck it out; after all, I would be more marketable with the PhD.  However, it took money to complete the degree, and I was facing a crisis there.

It all came to a head in the spring of 1959.  By then I had passed both the French Exam and the Prelims and was into the dissertation, and that required that I put up, each term, a basic fee to keep my enrollment active.  I had just sent in the check for the summer term, and that had left almost nothing in the checking account.  Our debts were not extensive, but they and the regular monthly bills put enormous strain on the little income I received.  Mila was not yet working at an outside job; she had more than enough to cope with, with son Paul and the dissertation-beset (among other things) George.  It was Memorial Day weekend 1959 and the refrigerator stopped working.

We had bought a used refrigerator when we moved in 1958 to the Highland Avenue house.  We purchased the latter when we could not find an affordable apartment or house to rent within walking distance of the university and shops (we had no car).  There we were, no fridge, no money to buy a new one, and while we pondered this crisis, we had to figure out how to keep our food from spoiling over a long hot weekend.  Our friend Alban Varnado, who had joined the faculty (in the Speech Department) the same year I did, dropped by to take some photos, since he was leaving for the newly formed University of New Orleans (as it is now called).  He had a car and provided the transportation while we searched for a portable ice chest, and ice, to salvage our refrigerator's contents.  Then, while discussing strategy concerning the larger question of how to replace a refrigerator which wasn't worth repairing, the telephone rang.

About a year earlier, at the suggestion of a friend in the university, I had visited with Homer Wadsworth, executive director of the Kansas City Association of Trusts and Foundations, to see if they could provide some help to me in completing my degree.  They had in the past provided small faculty development grants.  However, at this time the answer was that they had no such funds available.  So it was with considerable surprise that I learned, when I answered the phone, that it was Homer Wadsworth who was calling me.  Calling me on a holiday weekend?  And a great many months after my interview?  Why?

He said, "How are things going?" or words to that effect.  "Still working on the PhD?"  Yes, I squeaked.  And I told him, probably rather incoherently, that I was in the dissertation stage now, and had just registered for another "continuation" term at Illinois.  "Would five hundred dollars help?" he asked.

All I can remember next is that I began to tremble.  Even now, more than 25 years later, I get a strange feeling when I think about it.  How did he know that I was at the edge of financial chaos, filled with despair, wondering what next to do?  Or was it pure coincidence?  I never had the nerve to ask; some things are best left as minor miracles unexplained.  I was to get two payments of $250 each, one for 1959, the other for 1960.  All I needed to do was write a letter each time requesting it.  It was an outright grant to be used to help me complete the degree.  I kept a special checkbook for the sum, even though the money was actually merged with our regular account.  It went strictly for dissertation-related expenses.  And it saved me from a situation I dare not even today contemplate.

I never had much money in those days, even with the grant, and at the end I had to type my own dissertation, to make the funds stretch to the end.  And that brings me to my second benefactor in the matter of the completion of the degree.  I had enough money to meet all of my expenses except to hire professional typing, but I did have sufficient [funds] to have my own Smith-Corona typewriter (manual, of course) serviced, and to buy the stationery paper, etc.  The typing had to be done during the summer of 1960, and that too presented a problem.  Where would I do this, undisturbed and in the best circumstances possible[?]  In those days, dissertations not only had to be error free, [but] no erasures could show.  There were no Xerox machines, and even if there were, in those days clean ribbon copies and first carbons were required.

A chance comment made in the presence of Joe Shipman, Director of Linda Hall Library of Science and Technology, who often ate lunch with the faculty, informed me of my search for a quiet and comfortable place to do the final typing, a place I had not yet identified.  He said in effect, "Why not do it at Linda Hall?"  There was an unused room behind the shelving on the second floor which was intended eventually for microfilm readers, and I could move in there.  That also meant air conditioning, a rare amenity in those days.  The university was not so equipped, not even with window units where I worked, and of course I had none at home.

So one day soon after the completion of the spring semester 1960, I moved my typewriter and table, two reams of paper, carbon paper, a cheap electric eraser, and all the other necessary materials over to Linda Hall.  Joe even gave me a key to the library, so I could come and go conveniently.  And so for about six hours per day, at four pages per hour, I produced a ribbon copy plus two carbons, as error free as I could, and corrected those errors which I found so that they could not be seen as such.  The year and a half during which I worked as a draftsman came in handy then.  If it hadn't been for the quiet and the coolness, I could not have managed.

What remained then was the preparation of the illustrations.  Earlier, I had made the negatives and a set of proofs for the three copies of the dissertation; now it was necessary that I mount these, and that meant buying the dry-mount tissue.  Finally, there came the time to defend the dissertation, the last step in the long process.  The remnants of the KCATF grant were spent on air fare to Champaign.  That beneficence, and that is still how I view the grant I received, had made it all possible, along with Joe Shipman's timely help, and all of that made me realize that there were people in Kansas City who were willing to gamble on my potential; perhaps I owed them something in return.

In addition to those people already mentioned, there is a third group that made a major difference.  I refer to the professional staff of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.  In particular, Ross Taggart, a curator, and Jim Roth, the conservator, were extraordinarily helpful.  The staff and the collections provided me with a significant education, which in many ways was my real graduate training.  In a very few years I not only learned a great deal, but I became aware of how difficult it would be for me to move to another institution where I would not have such people and collections as adjunct to my teaching and research.  Indeed, the dissertation grew out of my being able to use the materials at both Linda Hall Library and the Nelson Gallery (as we then called it).  Of course, my appreciation of these opportunities and the people is more apparent now.  At first, I did not think much about it one way or the other.  My immediate concerns were to get the PhD and find a better job.

The full story of completing the PhD, which required various overnight trips by bus and occasional trains, in both cases with switching in St. Louis, is not relevant to this memoir, but it contributed enormously to a feeling of pressure and frustration I felt for several years.  Add a nearly moribund university situation, and very little money, and I was ready for a change.

The PhD was completed by the start of the fall semester 1960, the end of my sixth year at UMKC.  I was at the end of my probationary period insofar as review for tenure was concerned.  In those days, things like tenure review were done rather informally, but nothing was certain.  Would I get tenure?  I thought I would, but what if not?  And if I did, then there was the question of whether I would be given a sabbatical leave.  Tenure was awarded, and that meant that I could apply for a sabbatical, which I sorely needed.  My attitude was that I had earned it, and I deserved it.  That, however, meant that I had to return the following year, even if I took only a semester at full pay, which is what I did, for the winter semester of 1961.

So there I was with the requirement to hang on through 1961-1962 if I wanted the sabbatical.  Oh what the hell, let's stay another year; the sabbatical was sufficient payoff.  You have to understand that the Department of Art had not grown or improved one whit, and the university was seemingly going down into a whirlpool of deteriorating fiscal crisis.  There clearly was no future at KCU for me, but at least I had earned some solid credentials and experience.  Another year wouldn't make that much difference.  But it did.

The tale of the university's fiscal crisis during the early 1960s has been documented and is readily accessible.  It is sufficient to say that as 1961-1962 was drawing to a close, and thus the time when I would be free to seek employment elsewhere, there were strong rumors that KCU was likely to become an affiliate of the University of Missouri.  This was seen by many of us as a mixed blessing if it came to pass.  While the fiscal crisis would presumably be solved, there would be a loss of autonomy, and a shift from private to public status.  What did that mean for the likes of someone like me, or for my department?  I concluded that whatever the losses, the benefits would be far greater.  Besides, I could always leave if neither the merger nor the promise was realized.

I was promoted to Associate Professor beginning fall 1962.  The university seemed to care, and I had a feeling that the potential for the visual arts at the university was still quite strong, but would there ever be a significant move toward betterment?

Midway into 1962-1963, it was clear that merger was a definite possibility, so I decided to stick it out another year to see what would happen.  We listened on the radio to the debate in the Legislature to increase the sales tax, a necessary element to provide the increased funding.  It passed, and the mechanism was set in motion for us to become UMKC during the summer of 1963.  That led to our department finally being able to add a third full-time faculty member for '63-'64, Tom Thomas, who once had been on the faculty and now returned as a sort of jack of all studio skills.  Perhaps this was the start of an upward trend, and perhaps we could add still other faculty, one a year for several years.  Things were definitely looking better.

With a new faculty member on board, and the hope for more, the time had come to look closely at the curriculum.  Here Henry Scott was rather reluctant to approve major changes.  He was comfortable with what we had been doing in the classroom and the studio, but Tom and I saw this differently.  A change in departmental leadership seemed to be necessary if change in the curriculum was to be achieved.  I felt we should try for an outside person, perhaps someone in Art Education.  However, nothing seemed likely to happen as there were more pressing issues in the College of Arts & Sciences than the Department of Art.

Tom Thomas was also lobbying the Dean, who was someone we felt you [sic] definitely could talk to, Ed Westermann.  He was informed about the reasons we needed a change, and finally one was made.  I learned about it [in May 1964] while in the hospital recovering from my second double hernia operation.  Henry was on Martha's Vineyard when he heard that the Department had a new chairman.

I had been made chairman.  My first task was to indicate to Henry that I had not been the instrument that manipulated his own elevation at Henry's direct expense.  True, I had called for new leadership, but I truly hadn't suggested myself as that person.  Partly it was the fact that Henry had been chairman for seventeen years, and while I had been not especially supportive, I was hardly disloyal.  I was also not very ambitious for such things.  I just wanted to get about my business as efficiently as I could, and so let's find someone who wanted the job and could do what needed to be done.

It was clear to all who knew Henry and the situation at the university that Henry was not prepared to deal with the fiscal requirements of a growing public university, nor with the upgrading of our curriculum, and certainly unable to deal with them in concert.  And I think he knew this, and except for the "apparent demotion," he was undoubtedly glad to be freed from the responsibilities of meeting the increased demands.  I, on the other hand, suddenly felt that a major opportunity had been given me to prove that the potential at KCU/UMKC re: the visual arts could be realized.

I recall going in to see Dean Westermann and telling him that if he was willing to provide a modest but steady amount of support, I was prepared to build a department of art of which the university could be proud.  I didn't have a plan as such, but I felt I knew which way we needed to go.  There was a lot for me to learn, and for quite a few years I put my teaching and scholarship on a lower priority than managerial concerns.

And so I stayed, worked diligently for eleven years as a department chairman, building the nucleus of the present department in the areas of faculty, facilities, and curriculum.  Obviously I didn't do it all by myself; we were able to add some very good people who did much to further our development.  But I had to keep track of everything, and anticipate a lot, and put up with far more travail than I wished to or could absorb.  It was not easy, physically or psychically.  But I could see tangible if painfully slow growth, and more important, real improvements.  It seemed to me that it was indeed worth staying on at UMKC.

But finally, a combination of factors made it clear to me that I either had to move up in administration, move elsewhere as a department chairman, or step down to being simply a member of the faculty, here or somewhere, to be a teacher and a scholar.  I could no longer continue doing what I had been doing  I was becoming cranky, and in fact ill.  I chose to step down, and in the spring of 1974 I announced my resignation as chairman effective at Commencement 1975.  By then, if all went well, the department's quarters in the recently acquired former Chemistry-Biology Building, now named Fine Arts, would be newly renovated.  In the following October, we would host the 1975 annual meeting of the Mid-America College Art Association, of which I was (for that year) the President.  At that meeting, I would see the first major exhibit in the new gallery in our building.  And at the end of calendar 1975, I would begin a much-needed one-semester sabbatical to rediscover the professor in the administrator,

As I write this, it is near the end of the winter semester 1985.  Ten years have passed since I stepped down as department chairman.  The university and the department have continued to prosper, but it has not been easy.  There have been many changes to staff and in curriculum.  However, I find myself able to look around at what all of us, in and out of the department, have accomplished, and to be pleased to see at least a partial realization of the potential for a major urban university which initially had attracted me to KCU.  And I see there is still more promise for even better things.  My own scholarship has also prospered, at least to the point where I now have the satisfaction of working in a number of areas of deep interest to me.  And the results seem to have gained some recognition.  Even that too seems to be increasing.

So I guess my staying did pay off.  Perhaps not in dollars or prestige as it might have elsewhere, but that was never the driving force in my decisions.  On the other hand, I am making more money than I even thought I would (something which no doubt seems to mark me to others as an incorrigible plodder, lacking in ambition).  I have seen a slow but steady movement toward important accomplishments at UMKC, and I have seen similar growth in the cultural life of Kansas City.  I have both memories and positive connections to both, and that is satisfying.

So I guess I stayed because there was the temptation to see what would happen; and because I found in time a congenial place for a personal and professional life.  And because things, in fact have improved and seem to be getting even better, at least for me.

George Ehrlich / May 1985
 


Notes

[click on the > at the end of each Note to return to its source above]
 

  While George's father groomed firstborn Martha from an early age to become a teacher, George was initially envisioned as a violinist; when music lessons didn't pan out, engineering was considered.  "I'm sure my father had suggested this ... the problem though was what kind of engineer?...  Given civil, mechanical, electrical, chemical, I picked chemical engineering I guess because high school chemistry seemed to be fairly easy and interesting."  (George was president of Senn High School's Chemistry Club in 1942.)  "It seemed appropriately scientific ... [and] closest to something I understood, what they did.  Which was not true at all."  >
 George's parents were Joseph (born József) Ehrlich (1894-1963) and Mathilda (née Matild) Kohn/Kun Ehrlich (1895-1992); his older sister was Martha Ehrlich Lewis Mlinarich (1919-1991).  Their stories are told in To Be Honest>
  Tuition at the University of Illinois in Urbana was nominal for state residents; the real expenses were books, supplies, and especially housing.  George roomed in the Granada Club dormitory.  >
  "I really had neither genuine interest nor, I think, a vocation" for chemistry, George would reflect.  "Whereas clearly ... I was obviously interested in history, I was interested in
art—but in these I didn't even see any professional connection.  I took the first semester of the chemical engineering curriculum ... and I started out like a house afire ... and slowly began to disintegrate....  The chemistry I did so poorly that I got a D.  I went from an A on the first exam, just cascaded down.  And I attribute this to a combination of total turn-off by the way the subject was taught, and the lab content, and the amount of rote memorization...  As a result of that, I was dropped from the chemical engineering curriculum, because you had to maintain a certain grade-point average—but I was allowed to continue as kind of a general major, pursuing the second semester of the same curriculum.  I told my father—which was not easy—that I'd gotten a D in chemistry, but I thought I could resolve this, and salvage it in the second semester.  Which proved not to be true....  I found that if anything the chemistry became more distasteful.  And so I got a D the second semester as well.  And resolved that ... if I ever came back to college (which I assumed I would) it would not be in chemical engineering, not indeed in chemistry.  And it would probably not be in engineering."  >
  "However: part of that curriculum included a semester of engineering drawing.  And I enjoyed that very much ... I found that entrancing.  And it was also at that time that ... I was introduced to the field of architecture.  And I thought, 'Well, you know, this is kind of like engineering, it's professional, respectable, and it includes drafting,' which I found I liked to do, could do, and it had some art aspects.  And there was a totally different sense of camaraderie and, to me, a much more stimulating environment in the architectural drafting labs....  So it was at that point that the seed was planted: that if I came back I would shift into architecture."  >
 Joseph memorably informed his children that they didn't have to be the best in their academic classes—"just in the top 10%."  >
  At Senn High, George's Public Speaking class "participated in a round table discussion in which the aims and objections of Mechanical Drawing were set forth, as well as subject material of various drawing courses such as blue printing, architectural drawing, and aviation drawing."  When reminded of this in 1984, George said (over Mila Jean's loud delighted laughter): "Oh surely that's wrong—we weren't talking about that.>
 The GI Bill (formally the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944) was designed to provide immediate benefits for returning veterans of World War II.  For those attending college, tuition and living expenses were paid; with this and his three years of saved military pay, George was able to attended the University of Illinois year-round from 1946 to 1949.  "I actually had a hell of a good time going to school...  It was a very stimulating, provocative period, the later Forties."  He became involved with social causes and the Unitarian church, and made some lifelong friends: particularly the Holshousers, Don (1920-2002) and Marion (1921-2011).  >
  Frank John Roos Jr. (1903-1967) taught art, art appreciation, and the history of art and architecture at Ohio University (1928-36), Ohio State (1936-46), and the University of Illinois (1946-67), serving as head of the latter's Art Department from 1946 to 1948.  He wrote An Illustrated Handbook of Art History (1937) and Bibliography of Early American Architecture (1968).  >
  Beatrice Belle Adams Roos (1900-1972) married Frank Roos in 1929.  >
  Marvin Blackburn Martin Jr. (1907-1963) graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute, taught at the University of Denver (1935-38) and the University of Illinois (1944-63), where he established and led the sculpture option.  A biography, Marvin Martin, Sculptor: The Development of an Artist During the Great Depression Era and Beyond, was published in 2015.  >
  In 1948 George was hired as a studio assistant in sculpture classes, and found he rather enjoyed teaching; he also got his first camera and learned how to develop film.  > 
  FTE = full-time equivalent: the standard unit for measuring workloads at a state university.  >
  Allen Stuart Weller (1907-1997) was professor of art history at the University of Illinois (1947-97), Dean of its College of Fine and Applied Arts (1954-71), and Director of Krannert Art Museum (1965-74).  >
  The American Art Directory, first issued in 1898, is an annual reference publication covering art museums and educational institutions in the United States.  >
  Robert Adolph Luther Mortvedt (1902-1991) earned his bachelor's degree from St. Olaf's College in Minnesota and his master's and PhD in English literature at Harvard.  He was Dean of KCU's College of Liberal Arts (1943-47) and Vice President of the University (1947-53).  Following "the Revolution," he served as President of Bethany College in Lindsborg KS (1953-57); as Executive Director of Higher Education for the Augustana and United Lutheran Churches; and as President of Pacific Lutheran University (1962-69) in Tacoma WA, where a library is named in his honor. >
  July 5, 1951 was in fact a Thursday.  Since an integral part of this story is the Nelson Gallery's being closed on Mondays, George's first visit to KCMO may have taken place on July 2nd, since he would return to Kansas City on the 9th.  >
  Henry Edwards Scott, Jr. (1900-1990) "was an art historian, educator, portrait painter, and violinist" (as per his personal archive's biographical note).  Graduating from Harvard in 1922, he taught there and at Radcliffe (1923-26), the Universty of Rochester (1928-29), the University of Pittsburgh (1929-34), and Amherst (1935-43).  Following naval service in World War II and earning his master's from Harvard in 1946, he taught at KCU/UMKC from 1947 until retiring in 1970.  >
  Thomas Robert "Tommy" Thomas (1919-2000) was a graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute.  When he returned to UMKC in the 1960s, he served as its Director of Art Education.  >
  The 1979 UMKC catalog describes Art 110 as "an introduction to the history of
art—especially architecture, sculpture, painting, and the graphic arts.  Consideration given to purpose and patronage, the visual elements, design, and techniques.  The meaning of style and expression is studied in the context of the historical background of chief periods of Western Civilization."  >
  The Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railway's heavyweight passenger train, the Chief, ran between Chicago and Los Angeles from 1926 to 1968.  >
  KCMO's Union Station opened in 1914.  Designed in the Beaux Arts style, it was (to quote George's Kansas City, Missouri: An Architectural History) "a monumentally proportioned building with soaring interior spaces, grand vista, and rich detailing.  The station was built for a metropolis of a million or more residents, when, in fact, the city had less than three hundred thousand." 
In George’s crusade on behalf of historic preservation, the fight to save Union Station was the longest and, at times, the most discouraging.  "Ah me, I can see that I shall be quite, quite busy upon my return," he remarked toward the end of our family's trip to England in 1971, when word came that Union Station was to be demolished.  Not till 1996 would the metropolitan area vote to fund its restoration; but Union Station triumphantly reopened as a series of museums in 1999, and Amtrak passenger service resumed there in 2002.  >
  Kansas City's Liberty Memorial opened in 1926 on the hilltop south of Union Station; "both were suitable civic images for the city then abuilding," George would comment.  In 2004 it was designated as the National World War I Museum and Memorial.  >
  George's cabbie was thinking of the University of Kansas School of Medicine, which opened across the state line in 1905.  UMKC would not have a medical school of its own until 1971.  >
  The University of Kansas City, first proposed in the 1920s as a Methodist "Lincoln and Lee University" on the site of the Civil War's Battle of Westport, evolved into a nonsectarian college south of Brush Creek.  William Volker, a local picture-frame-and-window-shade magnate, donated forty acres and many dollars to the project; and KCU opened in Oct. 1933 with seventeen teachers instructing 264 students.  >
  Built in 1911 as the mansion of Kansas City Journal-Post publisher Walter S. Dickey, the KCU Administration Building originally housed nearly all the university's offices and classrooms.  It would be renamed after Carleton F. Scofield, last chancellor of KCU and first chancellor of UMKC.  >
  After receiving his PhD from Yale, Carleton Forman Scofield (1900-1990) was head of the University of Buffalo's Psychology Department (1946-54), took a leave of absence in 1952 to direct the U.S. Army's Psychological Warfare Research division, served as Cultural Attaché in Pakistan (1956-57), and briefly as KCU's Director of Graduate Studies before being appointed Chancellor (1961-65).  My brother Matthew (born in 1962 and given the middle name "Carleton") alerted me that a used copy of Dr. Scofield's A History of the University of Kansas City: Prologue to a Public Urban University (1976) was available from Amazon; I ordered it and found "George Ehrlich / May 1977" handwritten on the flyleaf.  >
  Norman Norris Royall Jr. (1908-1983) enrolled at Stetson University at the age of fifteen, earning bachelor and master's degrees there before adding a PhD in mathematics from Brown.  Coming to KCU in 1947, he served as Dean of the College of Liberal Arts till the 1953 Revolution, and as "one of the intellectual moving forces in Kansas City" (according to the 1963 Kangaroo yearbook) till retiring in 1975.  I took Dr. Royall's Physical Science course in 1974, by which time he was somewhat infirm following a stroke; but his rich Carolina patois remained in full force.  When the new observatory was dedicated atop Haag Hall Annex (soon to be renamed Royall Hall), he informed us that "Ah mahself will be unable to make the climb to attend the cookie-push being thrown by the Ladies's Auxiliary, but you with your younger lungs and hearts are encouraged to do so."  >
  Referred to in our household simply as "the Gallery," the William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art and Mary Atkins Museum of Fine Arts (a title later condensed into the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art) was built along majestic Neoclassical lines, and (like nearby KCU) opened to the public in 1933.  >
  Ross Edgar Taggart Jr. (1915-1998), a Princetonian from Pittsburgh, was hired as the Nelson-Atkins registrar in 1947 and became its senior curator in 1953, overseeing the Gallery's collections till his retirement in 1983.  >
  St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness, painted by Caravaggio in 1604.  >
  Nelson-Atkins currently lists this sculpture as "Reworked or Forged Portrait, so-called Hammurabi (not on view)," though still dating it from the 18th Century BC.  >
  Formerly titled Mechechy, a Palace Official or Methethy, Overseer of the Office of Crown Tenants, this 23rd Century BC Egyptian sculpture is now listed as Statue of Metjetji.  >
  The 16th Century statue of St. Barbara is attributed to Renaissance sculptor Germain Pilon.  >
  Frank Ivy Glenn (1897-1960?)'s bookstore was located for many years at 1227 Baltimore Avenue.  In 1981 my parents bought me a 1959 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (missing two volumes) from Glenn's.  >
  The Muehlebach, built in 1915, was Kansas City's preeminent hotel for decades.  Many celebrities stayed there, not least Harry S Truman in the Presidential Suite.  It is presently part of the Marriott Downtown Hotel.  >
  Henry C. Haskell (1902-1981), son of Kansas City Star editor Henry J. Haskell (1874-1952), was the Star's arts editor for many years.  He and colleague Richard B. Fowler wrote City of the Future: A Narrative History of Kansas City, 1850-1950. >
  Frank Wachter's restaurant-bar appears to have been located at 1112 Baltimore.  >
  Chanute Field (about fifteen miles north of the University of Illinois) was established in 1917 after the United States entered World War I.  The base was decommissioned in 1993.  >
  Clarence R. Decker (1904-1969) joined the KCU faculty in 1934 and became the University President four years later at age 33.  After World War II he "was extremely effective in persuading or cajoling men and women of international repute to visit the University," wrote Carleton Scofield.  "These were the Decker days!" Mila Jean would add; "Clarence Decker was ... given to hiring famous people, especially European, to come to KC and teach or direct."  >
  Dr. Decker took a leave of absence from KCU in Feb. 1952 to serve with the Mutual Security Agency in charge of the Far East.  While he was overseas, Robert Mortvedt (now Acting President) received a detailed analysis of KCU's sharp drop in enrollment, income, and faculty salaries.  Along with Liberal Arts Dean Norman Royall, Pharmacy Dean Theodore Dittrich, and Registrar John Barnett, Mortvedt reported these concerns when Decker returned in Sep. 1952; but found the president "not willing to face facts objectively."  By Feb. 25, 1953, the four administrators had lost all "confidence in Decker's ability to make positive policy decisions and carry them out"; they submitted their resignations as a group, saying "conditions under Decker were 'intolerable to men of honor and integrity.'"  Supported in their "palace revolution" by other faculty and the student body (who staged a boycott of cla
sses—senior Mila Jean among them), the four won out and Clarence Decker resigned on Feb. 27th.  He would go on to be vice president of Fairleigh Dickinson University (1955-67) and, with Charles Angoff, founded The Literary Review>
  The University of Illinois personnel office suggested George take a job as draftsman in the digital computer lab.  Thinking this a comedown of sorts, George put in a "token appearance" at the lab, copied a computer diagram, and was promptly offered the job.  He decided to take it, writing his parents that he was working "forty hours a week doing drawings from engineers's sketches for the circuits, etc. of the 'electronic brain'....  Meanwhile I am studying German and will work on 'articles for publishing' and other schoolwork at nights, and on the weekends.  If I do stay at Illinois for the PhD then I can make arrangements to work and go to school.  This is ideal.  The work is easy, about five minutes walk from the house [where he was living with sister Martha and niece Sherry Renee], and the laboratory I work in is very pleasant....  And of course I am looking for a teaching job.  I might not be making two chairs to sit in, Dad, but it is a long bench."  (One of his father Joseph's maxims was "You mustn't fall between two chairs.")  >
 George found the draftsman's job much more interesting than anticipated, helping to bring ILLIAC I
(Illinois Automatic Computer) to the final stages of full operation; it became operational in Sep. 1952 and was succeeded a decade later by ILLIAC II.  (In 2001: A Space Odyssey, HAL states "I became operational at the HAL Plant in Urbana, Illinois on the 12th of January, 1992.")  >
  Arthur Eugene Bestor Jr. (1908-1994) received his PhD from Yale, then taught at Columbia University's Teachers College (1936-42), Stanford (1942-46), the Universty of Illinois (1946-62), and the University of Washington (1962-86).  He specialized in the history of American utopian socialism, and as a critic of Progressive education's impact on liberal arts.  >
  Chester Gibbs Starr Jr. (1914-1999), a specialist in ancient history and archaeology, taught at the University of Illinois (1940-70) and the University of Michigan (1970-85), publishing more then twenty books.  >
  Also known as Dissertation Abstracts International (DAI) and the ProQuest Dissertations and Theses (PQDT) database, this is a bibliography of theses and dissertations published since 1938.  >
  George never lost his interest in computers, buying his first PC in 1987 and delighting in the capabilities of word processing.  (I once saw him try to teach the basics to antimechanical Mila Jean, who wore the expression of a cat undergoing a flea bath.)  >
  Philipp Fehl (1920-2000) was an Austrian-born artist, author, and art historian, who also served as an interrogator at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal.  Besides KCU, he taught at the Universities of Chicago, Nebraska, North Carolina, and finally Illinois, becoming a Professor Emeritus there in 1990.  >
  Bethany College was established in Lindsborg KS by Swedish Lutherans as an academy in 1881.  John Newfield, onetime Director of the KCU Playhouse, married Lindsborg native and fuiture Bethany faculty member Linda Lee Stormont in 1955.  >
  Referred to as "Old Paint" by Mila Jean Smith, John Egger Barnett (1906-1978) was a Harvard man, receiving his bachelor's in 1928, master's in 1932, and PhD in 1938.  He joined the KCU English Department in 1946, serving as Registrar and Assistant Dean until "The Revolution," then as Dean of the College of Liberal Arts from 1954 to 1960.  "He has acted as a stabilizing influence on the plans and activities of the whole University in his responsible position as dean of the largest and most fluid school within the University structure," remarked the 1959 Kangaroo yearbook.  >
  Edwin Jurgen Friedrich Wilhelm Westermann (familiarly known as Ed: 1913-2003) came from Colorado to KCU in 1946, chairing the Department of History and later serving as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (as Liberal Arts was renamed) from 1960 to 1973.  I took Dr. Westermann's Tudor-Stuart History course in 1976.  >
  Like George, William Weifenbach (1916-2016) was an Air Corps radar operator during World War II and then attended college (the University of Wisconsin) on the GI Bill.  He eventually became Dean of Graduate Studies at Union College in Schenectady NY.  >
  Lorenz E. Misbach (1901-1958) joined the KCU faculty in 1935, chaired the Psychology Department (1941-54), and was serving as Chairman of the Foundations Program, Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Acting Vice Chancellor of KCU when he was killed by a speeding motorist.  The 1958 Kangaroo yearbook memorialized him as having "earned an enduring place in the annals of the University of Kansas City and in the hearts and minds of students and alumni."  >
  For decades afterward, when students complained about having to take Art 110, George would say "But you don't have to take it"—and as they'd start to smile, he'd add "Unless you want to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree."  >
  This may have been the Drag-N-Inn at 5424 Troost, which became Mike's Tavern circa 1966.  A venerable burgers 'n' beer college hangout (and definitely "without decor or pretensions"), it would be rebranded as Brady's Public House in 2017.  >
  Earl James McGrath (1902-1993) was Dean of the University of Iowa's College of Liberal Arts (1945-48) when President Truman appointed him Commissioner of Education, a post he held from 1949 to 1953 before resigning in protest of cuts in the federal education budget.  He succeeded Clarence Decker as President of KCU in 1953, with great ambitions to expand the university's educational program and community service; only to be confronted by deteriorating financial conditions and a lack of donor support.  Leaving KCU in 1956, Dr. McGrath went on to direct Columbia's Institute of Higher Education (1956-68) and Temple University's Higher Education Center (1968-73), completing his career as a professor at the University of Arizona (1974-80).  >
  Still beset by the horrendous summer heat wave, George met with the Illinois Graduate School administration to argue that he'd satisfied the state residency requirement (living fulltime in Illinois for two semesters).  George watched as the Grad School secretary—"a formidable woman who really ran the school"—gave the dean a tiny go-ahead nod; whereupon George's request was approved.  He could now continue to pursue his PhD while in KCMO, with six of the original seven years remaining to complete it.  >
  E.F. Swinney Gymnasium, a stark square stone edifice named after the chairman of the First National Bank, was built in 1941 "without any obvious architectural style," according to George's 1979 Walking Tour of UMKC Volker Campus.  As a child I found it daunting, not least its inscribed decree to RUN HARD / LEAP HIGH / THROW STRONGLY AND ENDURE (attributed to John Ciardi, who taught briefly at KCU).  I underwent my own freshman year registrations at Swinney Gym in 1974-75.  >
  "The irony, of course, is that Dad quickly became aware of the university's dreadful position and began plotting his escape, only never quite being able to pull it off (à la George Bailey)" in It's a Wonderful Life, as my brother Matthew would say.  >
  The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) was founded in 1915 to define values and standards for higher education that would promote quality and academic freedom.  A 1940 AAUP investigation found KCU's administration to be "lacking in impartiality and at times ... definitely arbitrary," falling "short of the requirements of good academic practices."  The faculty proposed reforms, but no action was taken by the brass; and KCU remained on AAUP's list of censured universities until 1957.  >
  This hearkened back to the Decker era, as Carleton Scofield would relate: "So oriented was [Decker] toward the humanities that the sciences were neglecte
d—he seriously questioned the value of laboratory experiments!"  >
  The Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Art was founded in 1906 and merged with the Horner Institute of Fine Arts and Music in 1926.  After World War II the Conservatory sought a merger with KCU, but was rejected by Clarence Decker in part because of the Conservatory's distance from the KCU campus.  In 1951 the Conservatory moved south to 44th and Warwick, across the street from the Kansas City Art Institute; finally merging with KCU in 1959.  >
  The Kansas City Art Institute was established in 1885, moving to the August R. Meyer estate at 44th and Warwick (close by the proposed Nelson Gallery) in 1927.  Thomas Hart Benton taught here from 1935 till being dismissed in 1941.  >
  The Readers Guide to Periodical Literature has been published since 1901.  >
  Poole's Index to Periodical Literature was first published in 1882.  >
  KCU's Fine Arts Building, like its Playhouse, was one of what I in my youth thought of as "manila folder buildings," because they appeared to be constructed of that material: five structures, most of them surplus barracks, that were moved to KCU from Camp Crowder MO in 1947-48.  >
  "The Little Gallery in the Woods" was located on a wooded hillside at 4928 Troostwood: originally provided rent-free by William Volker to Effie Seachrest (1867-1952), "one of Kansas City's most active champions of Art."  >
  The 1955 Kangaroo yearbook perceptively remarked that "
MR. GEORGE EHRLICH has probably made a lasting impression on KCU students quicker than any other person on campus.  Filling in as a one man art department, he has taken over while Mr. Henry Scott is on leave.  Mr. Ehrlich's intelligence teamed up with his unusual wit and humor put local campus comedians to shame.  A day rarely goes by without Mr. E getting a few laughs out of his classes.  His ability is rare, his personality is tremendous.  We hope that he will be with us for a long time."  >
 
George had become close friends with fellow KCU newcomer Al Varnado, a dapper Louisianan who was Assistant Director of the KCU Playhouse.  As Al's pal, George attended tryouts, contributed a "dreadful expressionistic green nude" for the landlord’s painting in a production of My Sister Eileen and a "strange wooden nonrepresentational sculpture" for a play directed by Mort Walker, who in the spring of 1955 asked him to design the set for Don Giovanni.  While spending his summer of 1955 back in Illinois, George built a small balsawood model which he submitted that fall, thinking that would be all that was necessary; Mort then informed him his presence would be required till the set was considerably more than balsawood.  >
  "I found Dad's observation about how attempts at change at UKC were regularly met with 'there's no money for that' or 'we tried that once, and it didn't work' to be true of life generally in academia," remarked my brother Matthew, who has put in many years as a professor of journalism.  >
  Early in the fall 1955 semester, Mort Walker introduced George to "Mila Jean Smith, who has been abro
ad"—in Europe on a Fulbright scholarship As part of the Playhouse crowd, George and Jeanie were together a lot; first with the rest of the gang, then on their own, getting "clearly emotionally entangled."  In December George invited Jeanie to come visit his family and friends in Urbana and see in the New Year 1956 with him, which she did.  Back in Kansas City, she brought him a basket of strawberries one January day when he was feeling unwell; and though George "certainly didn't get down on one knee," by the end of her visit Mila Jean was engaged to be married.  >
 
They tied the knot twice: first on May 26, 1956 in KCMO, then again on June 16th in Urbana, where their honeymoon was spent working on George's doctorate and Mila Jean's master's thesis (and incidentally conceiving the present author).  >
  Very soon, given that I was born barely ten months after their wedding; though I held out seventeen days past my due date.  >
  Mila Jean's production thesis was The Parisian Women, by Henry Beque.  Weighed down by her pregnancy (my well-earned working title was "Thumper"), Jeanie had to be "pushed" into completing this; George provided assistance by drawing a promptbook diagram and dry-mounting the illustrations.  >
  George had easily passed the requisite German exam in July 1956, but failed the French.  In Feb. 1957 he returned to Urbana via a "horrendous bus-trip-at-midnight sort of thing" and again flunked.  This time he was told he would have to take a sophomore-level French course and make a B or better in it before he would be permitted to take the French exam a third time.  It did not improve George's outlook on life, which was already saddled with debts, frustrations at work, and the problem of how to afford his impending newborn child.  >
  The late Fifties were difficult for many at KCU.  When Richard M. Drake succeeded Earl McGrath as Chancellor (a title replacing President) in 1956, "the theme characterizing the entire five years of his administration was established at once," Carleton Scofield would say.  "At his first meeting with the Executive Committee of the Board, it was found necessary to revise the 1956-57 budget downward because the enrollment increase had been overestimated by 13 percent....  From that point on the preoccupation of the Administration and the Board was fund-raising, budget slashing, and more fund-raising.  Periods of optimism alternated with failured to attain campaign goals."  >
  Being saddled so soon after marriage with a temperamental infant (subject to having nightmares, throwing tantrums, and "erratic behavior") cannot have helped Linear George and the Mila Spiral to adjust to and harmonize with each other.  >
  Mila Jean did resume her involvement with the KCU Playhouse, appearing as Beatrice in 1958's Much Ado About Nothing and Dorimene in 1959's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (both productions directed by Al Varnado).  >
  On Aug. 25, 1958 we moved from an apartment at 4112 Walnut (just east of the Old Westport district) to a bungalow at 4310 Highland (three blocks east of The Paseo).  On Oct. 1, 1962 we relocated a couple miles southwest to 5505 Holmes, which would remain The Old Ehrlich Place until 2016.  >
  George had wrecked his previous car, an Oldsmobile, driving from Springfield IL to Urbana for Christmas 1954.  George thought the car "skidded" on an icy road before ending up in a culvert; it had in fact cartwheeled in a tight rollover and was a complete shambles.  >
  Alban Fordesh Varnado (1920-2015) hailed from Baton Rouge; served for seventeen years in the Air Corps/Air Force; and earned his bachelor's, master's, and doctorate from Louisiana State, to which he would return from KCU to teach for two decades.  His retirement years were spent in San Antonio volunteering for the American Red Cross.  When I was a child he was "Uncle Al," and I assumed he was Dad's brother.  >
  Originally Louisiana State University in New Orleans (LSUNO), established in 1956 with the first classes held in 1958.  >
  Homer Clark "Lefty" Wadsworth (1913-1994) majored in social science at the University of Pittsburgh, and brought this to bear while directing the Kansas City Association of Trusts and Foundations from 1949 to 1974, and then the Cleveland Foundation till 1983.  E. Grey Dimond MD, Provost of Health Sciences at UMKC, said that "by getting deep into every aspect of life in Kansas City, Homer became the most effective instrument for good social change in the city....  With his phenomenal skills of persuasion and Talleyrand-like ability to find progress through compromise, he shook up the status quo, raised their social consciousness to a level some found painful, and facilitated the right thing to happen."  He was an early advocate of KCU's becoming affiliated with the University of Missouri.  >
  Joseph Collins Shipman (1908-1977), a chemist turned librarian, served as the Linda Hall Library's first director from 1945 to 1974.  >
  Linda Hall Library, named after its benefactress and located on a sizable arboretum across the street from UMKC, is one of the largest and most prestigious libraries of science and technology in the world.  My first paying job (1973) was in the Linda Hall Annex basement, packing blueprints for the Missouri Valley Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians.  >
  George's dissertation was titled Technology and the Artist: A Study of the Interaction of Technological Growth and Nineteenth Century American Pictorial Art.  Its author acknowledged help and support from Arthur Bestor, Frank Roos, Homer Wadsworth, Joseph Shipman, Ross Taggart and others; "finally, I wish to express my appreciation for my wife's understanding and genuine assistance during the course of this work."  >
  James B. Roth (1910-1990) has been credited with helping to raise the Nelson-Atkins Museum's national profile, and called one of the first "modern, 'scientific' conservators in the American West."  >
  In April 1961, the KCU Board of Trustees conceded that the university was in "the most serious financial crisis in its history... the result of gradual depletion of the reserves."  There was a budget deficit of over half a million dollars, and only $30,000 remained in the current fund.  "So hopeless did the situation appear that on May 4, 1961, Chancellor Drake resigned," wrote Carleton Scofield, who was appointed his successor.  >
  "It became quite clear to me that adequate funds to maintain a private university, providing quality education, were not forthcoming," Dr. Scofield would state.  "The only source of public support was the State by way of the University of Missouri."  KCU's Board of Trustees and MU's Board of Curators negotiated a merger agreement that was made public on Feb. 26, 1963, and Dr. Scofield addressed the student body (widely opposed to the merger) on Apr. 23rd.  >
  Not only did the Legislature have to be persuaded to levy an additional one-cent sales tax throughout Missouri, but to appropriate much of the income generated to fund a state university campus in Kansas City.  Both measures passed after intense lobbying, and the University of Missouri - Kansas City was created on July 25, 1963.  >
  Also associated with the KCU/UMKC art faculty from 1958 to 1975 was Robert MacDonald Graham Jr. (1919-2000), who'd studied with Benton at the Kansas City Art Institute and served as a combat artist during World War II.  In 1960 Bob Graham painted my portrait, which shows one hand upraised because I thought, when told to lower it, that he wanted me to dunk it in the can used to clean his brushes.  >
  It is surely no coincidence that during the summer of 1963, several new amenities were added to the Ehrlich home: an air conditioner, George's cushioned living room chair and footstool, and a dining room set that in 2016 would be described as "Mid-Century Modern" (my first encounter with that term).  >
  George first underwent surgery for a double hernia at the end of his military service in 1953; its recurrence in 1964 hampered his enjoyment of the Art Department's first annual picnic.  (I informed my first grade class that "My father is going to go to the hospital" [word much erased and rewritten]. "He has something that hurts in his hips.")  Another bout of surgery followed in 1983, and finally a drastic procedure in 2000 that may have started him down the slippery slope to dementia.  >
  As George assumed the reins of department chairman, Mila Jean began a long career as part-time lecturer at UMKC.  “I hate just this housewife routine with no mental stimulation," she wrote mother-in-law Mathilda Ehrlich on Aug. 14, 1964.  "I don’t know how many courses I will teach in the fall... there is the usual problem of a babysitter unless I take two at night.”  She would teach courses ranging from Freshman English to Introduction to Drama to Oral Interpretation of Literature, until retiring in 2000,  >
  Over the next eight years UMKC would add three more art historian
s—Burton L. Dunbar III (1966), Geraldine E. Fowle (1967), and Hollister Sturges III (1972)—and six more studio artists: Eric J. Bransby (1965), Barbara A. Mueller (1966), Louis M. Cicotello (1967), Lee Anne Miller (1968), Stephen J. Gosnell (1969), and Leonard I. Koenig (1971); plus Nancy de Laurier as Curator of Slides (and hostess of the annual Art Department picnics).  >
  Built for the Chemistry and Biology Departments in 1942 and renovated for Art & Art History and Communication Studies in 1975, "the exterior of the building is what might be called a modified Collegiate Gothic," George would remark in his Walking Tour of UMKC Volker Campus.  >
  "Since the 1930s, the Mid-America College Art Association has provided a forum for the artists/teachers of America to discuss and debate the issues of our profession, to share ideas and information of mutual benefit and to affirm the friendships and collegiality that bind us together.  We are made up of art faculty, art historians, independent scholars, artists, museum professionals, and affiliate organizations" (as per the MACAA's website).  >


List of Illustrations

●  July 29, 1950 — Carving & Bourbon Sampling
●  July 29, 1950 — Carving & Bourbon Sampling
●  July 29, 1950 — "Really a Gentle Fellow & Excellent Bourbon"
●  February 5, 1951 — "George on a Never-Finished Stone"
●  April 3, 1951 — "Poor George: Thesis to Do / No Money / No Job in Sight / Et Al"
●  George in the 1955 Kangaroo yearbook
●  George in the 1956 Kangaroo yearbook
●  George in the 1957 Kangaroo yearbook
●  George in the 1958 Kangaroo yearbook
●  George in the 1959 Kangaroo yearbook
●  George in the 1960 Kangaroo yearbook
●  George in the 1961 Kangaroo yearbook
●  Al Varnado, Assistant Director of the KCU Playhouse
●  Mort Walker, Technical Director of the KCU Playhouse
●  Mila Jean as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, 1958
●  George in front of the "manila folder" Fine Arts Building, 1955
●  George teaching the infamous Arts 110 class, Dec. 1957
●  George giving a tour of the Nelson Gallery, Summer 1958
●  George and Thomas Hart Benton in the Kansas City Times, Mar. 16, 1962
●  George in the 1963 Kangaroo yearbook
●  Frank Roos, George's art history mentor at the University of Illinois
●  Marvin Martin, George's sculpture mentor at the University of Illinois
●  Allen Weller, Roos's successor as Head of the Illinois Art Department
●  Arthur Bestor, George's PhD program sponsor at the University of Illinois
●  Chester Starr, another of George's PhD program sponsors
●  Clarence Decker, President of KCU till the 1953 Revolution
●  Robert Mortvedt, Vice President of KCU till the 1953 Revolution
●  Norman Royall, Dean of the KCU College of Liberal Arts till the 1953 Revolution
●  John Barnett, Dean of the KCU College of Liberal Arts from 1954 to 1960
●  Philipp Fehl, who taught art history at KCU between George's two hirings
●  Ross Taggart, Curator of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
●  Edwin Westermann, Dean of the KCU College of Arts and Sciences from 1960 to 1973
●  Lorenz Misbach, Chairman of the KCU Foundations Program
●  Henry Scott, Chairman of the KCU Art Department from 1947 to 1964
●  Thomas Thomas, UMKC's Director of Art Education
●  Earl McGrath, President of KCU from 1953 to 1956
●  Richard Drake, Chancellor of KCU from 1956 to 1961
●  Carleton Scofield, Chancellor of KCU/UMKC from 1961 to 1965
●  Homer Wadsworth, Director of the Kansas City Association of Trusts and Foundations
●  Joseph Shipman, Director of Linda Hall Library
●  Robert MacDonald Graham Jr. at the Ehrlich home, 1959
●  Bob Graham's 1960 portrait of Paul Stephen
●  One of George's sculptures
●  George (pre-hernia-surgery) and Paul at the Art Department's 1964 picnic
 



A Split Infinitive Production
Copyright © 2019 by P. S. Ehrlich


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