A member of Glen Avon Presbyterian's Men's group asked me to tell my life's story back in April of 2005. I reluctantly agreed. I didn't start writing it out until the day I was to speak. At 2,515 words it was quite a little project. This version has been edited.
I write a column every other week for the Reader Weekly. It was supposed to be a political column but I manage to lard it with lots of anecdotes about my family. For instance, I recently wrote about the time I had a panic attack while giving a book report in ninth grade. The column explained why I joined the debate team. I only had so much space in the Reader so I skipped part of the story which I will now add. That panic attack made me feel like a fool. I was so desperate never to repeat the experience that I asked my Father for advice. He said becoming a debater would cure me.
But before I could join the debate team my sophomore English teacher assigned a speech for her new students to introduce themselves to the class. I was ready to panic again. Once again I asked my Dad what to do and in my desperation I took his advice. Dad told me to make a joke out of my life history.
My life didn't seem that funny but I did my best to yuck it up. I threw myself into that speech with all the enthusiasm I could muster and to my amazement I made the class laugh. That one speech from the first few days of high school guaranteed that I would be considered at least a little cool.
Since then Iíve learned that being embarrassed is mostly a state of mind. Iíve managed to do many things since high school that might have crippled others with embarrassment like losing nine elections. But Iíve mostly gotten over the fear of feeling embarrassed. Until today.
When Ellis Johnís asked me to tell you about my life
he unwittingly challenged my tolerance for embarrassing myself. Anticipating
speech has been like awaiting the day of reckoning. Iím not embarrassed about my life
with myself. But frankly, I haven't looked forward to telling the Glen Avon
menís group about my life for the simple reason that for most of the last
thirty years Iíve been unemployed. Since work is the one constant that we all
measure ourselves by I have very little to say for myself when the awful
question comes up - "So what do you do?" Well, thatís what this speech is about;
what I do.
When Ellis Johnís asked me to tell you about my life he unwittingly challenged my tolerance for embarrassing myself. Anticipating this little speech has been like awaiting the day of reckoning. Iím not embarrassed about my life with myself. But frankly, I haven't looked forward to telling the Glen Avon menís group about my life for the simple reason that for most of the last thirty years Iíve been unemployed. Since work is the one constant that we all measure ourselves by I have very little to say for myself when the awful question comes up - "So what do you do?" Well, thatís what this speech is about; what I do.
I pride myself on one particular strength. I believe in the truth. As Jesus says in the gospel of John, it sets you free. I would be disappointed with myself if I avoided the awkward truth by turning my life into a joke. So here goes.
I was born Arkansas City
My Father named me Harry after his father Henry Harrison Welty who
was always called ďHarry.Ē I never met him because he died a year before my
parents were married. Because I was born during Harry Trumanís Democrat Administration
my folks always had a lot of explaining to do in Kansas a rock ribbed Republican
My Father named me Harry after his father Henry Harrison Welty who was always called ďHarry.Ē I never met him because he died a year before my parents were married. Because I was born during Harry Trumanís Democrat Administration my folks always had a lot of explaining to do in Kansas a rock ribbed Republican state.
When my Dad died in 1987 I realized that I had very little idea what kind of a man his Father Harry was. I didnít even have a picture of him in my head. Dad was embarrassed about his Father. When he was a teenager he would wait up for his Father to come home after a night out drinking because Henry Harrison had once smashed up the family car while intoxicated. My Dad named me Harry after his father but that was about the extent of the honor.
On the other hand, my Dad always held his father-in-law up as an example to me. George Robb had earned the Congressional Medal of Honor on the battlefield and served for 28 uninterrupted years as the Kansas State Auditor.
When my Dad started law school we moved to Topeka Kansas. My grade school was newly integrated as a result of Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education. After passing the Kansas Bar my Dad worked for the Kansas State Insurance Commission keeping fly-by-night Insurance companies out of the state. When he made the mistake of advising his boss not to take gifts from sleazy Insurance companies he lost out on a promotion. Thatís when he decided to move to Minnesota and take a teaching job at what was then Mankato State Teacherís College.
I began junior high school when we moved up north and it was a lousy
experience. All the cliques had formed and I was made to feel like an outsider.
Because I of my Kansas accent I was called ďReb.Ē Damn, but this irritated me because
Where my junior high years were trying my high school years
were a great success largely because followed my Dadís advice. When I was a
Junior my family hosted a foreign student from
After High School I attended college at Mankato State while the Vietnam War was raging. It was a war I used to hear my Dad curse every time he watched LBJ announce troop deployments on the television news. The war was still going on when I was in college and I got one of the last college deferments to keep me out of it. The war was all but done by the time I graduated.
I was one of those people in college that you might have
pointed to saying, "he has a great future." I got elected to the Student
Government the first month of my freshman year because my Fraternity had clout
on campus. I worked one summer for our Congressman in Washington
I also did a few things that defied easy explanation like marching against the war, voting for George McGovern and joining the Republican Party.
That last act has been remarkably typical of the rest of my life. I am unconventional not out of contrariness but because I find so many conventional ideas to be poorly thought out.
I married Claudia Scott. She was two years younger than me. I had been vaguely aware of her in high school because she also joined the debate team (after I had left it) and she was the sister of a friend in my graduating class. I picked Claudia up in a bar even though she was suffering from a lousy first impression of me. You see I took over a study group that she was in charge of in a journalism class after I walking in a day late. Then, after taking over, I decided I didn't want to take the class after all so I never showed up again.
So when I asked her to dance a few weeks later at the Hurdy Gurdy she declined. I watched her sit down at the bar away after snubbing me. I also noticed the bar tender reach across the bar to examine a ring on her finger. When he tried to grab her hand Claudia jerked her arm away from him with such force that she toppled over backwards in her chair. And - I - picked - her - up.
We went out to eat later that night and I impressed her by drinking coffee out of a straw. So - I donít want anyone here to ever feel sorry for her for marrying me. She only has herself to blame.
In 1973 when I completed my teaching degree it was considered impossible to get a teaching job because there was such a glut of baby boom teachers. Nonetheless I got a teaching job in Proctor. I only got it because the Swimming Coach in Proctor was a pain in the butt and because swimming was one of two sports which did not require a coaching license. My two years on the high school swim team was all the experience I needed. Of course, my resume mentioned that I'd competed in the Minnesota State Swimming tournament. Of course, It didnít mention that I came in 31st out of 31 competitors in my event.
Although my experience in junior high had been bad it was nothing compared to my two years teaching at Proctor. It was a fiasco . I have lots of excuses for myself. I donít believe any of them.
The old pain-in-the-butt Swim Coach told me he hoped I failed as a coach. I did. After my first year my team organized a petition to get their old coach back. It was the mid 1970ís and the marijuana I had used on weekends in college could now be smelled in my high school classes. Most disastrously, I was and am a free spirit. I did not want to be a boring teacher. Unfortunately, only a very talented person can bring disorder into a classroom full of teenagers and make it work. I did not have that talent.
I was denied tenure and it was one of the best decisions ever made for me even if it was one of the worst kicks in the gut I ever got. Fortunately, I still loved politics and when I went to the Republican convention in 1976 I was asked to run against Representative Mike Jaros.
It was the best pick me up I could have had after losing my job. Yes, it was hopeless. I only knew four people in Duluth, I had just lost my job. I was running against a guy who had door knocked the district least three times in the previous two years. Yes it was worse than hopeless. I was a Republican in West Duluth. Four years earlier during the biggest landslide in US political history Richard Nixon had beaten George McGovern 49 states to 1. However, the district I was running in had given 76% of their vote to McGovern but only 24% to Nixon. My only success was in getting a few more votes than President Ford. But then again he pardoned Nixon.
And then I just didn't give up. I challenged Jaros again two years later with the same result. Two years after that I managed the campaign of another Republican who ended up losing to Willard Munger. I was selling life insurance at this timeÖbut please... I'd rather not go there.
During these years Claudia graduated from UMD and began working in the City Personnel Department. Her degree was in speech therapy but there were no teaching jobs to be had. Two years later she went to work for Minnesota Power. Today she is one of the Companyís executive officers.
I attribute my wife's success to my undependability. As long as I was marginally employed she had no choice but to be a conscientious worker and to succeed.
By 1980 we were attending Glen Avon. The next year our daughter Keely was born on Easter Day. One of my most cherished memories is attending church later that morning knowing that I had a wife and new daughter back at the hospital. I was high as a kite. This high was followed by an equally extreme low.
Three months later my mother-in law and her husband were killed in a plane crash as they were flying to Duluth to witness my daughterís baptism. The baptism would have to wait for another four years. After these two emotional extremes Glen Avon has been the only church for me. By the way, I am not a member of the church. I am an agnostic. I donít have an official position on whether God exists. I know that Glen Avon is a good place and that I am a better person for being a part of the Glen Avon community. for anyone who wonders why I am always checked as being a member of the church each Sunday on the ritual of friendship pad its because of Dave Rutford. Every time I pass it to him with the membership column left blank he keeps marking me down as a member. blank.
I began substitute teaching at this time. I was determined not to let the Proctor fiasco be the last word on my teaching. I thought I had something unique to offer kids.
Eventually I got a full time job again in Duluth. I was doing quite well when in the last year of my probationary period I made a stupid mistake which I will not bother to tell you about because of pride and vanity.
This was 1987 the same year my Dad was to die of cancer. The hardest thing I ever had to do was tell my dying father that I had just lost my job again. Then, incredibly, I told him that I was thinking about running for the School Board. I'm sure it looked to him like I would be doing it to teach a lesson to the people who had terminated me. Coming on the heels of my unsuccessful legislative campaigns it must have seemed ridiculous to him. Iíve never forgotten what he said to me in that conversation. ďSometimes, Harry, I think you have a will to fail.Ē
I became a stay-at-home Dad. It was my daughter who got me started doing the thing Iíll be known for in Duluth after I depart this world Ė making snow sculptures. She asked me to make a snow dinosaur and because I had way too much time on my hands I did it. I also tried my hand at a couple other things. I tried to turn one of my teaching assignments into a game and I wrote and self published a childrenís book. I still have five thousand of them in my garage so I wasn't going to be the next Hemingway.
I also volunteered for a million things at my childrenís
school. Oh, and I ran for the school board. I lost once, lost twice, lost thrice, but by the
fourth time the people of
Much of my life in Duluth has been amazingly public. I still donít have a job but Iím working on writing a book again. I also write a column every other week for my own amusement and to keep my sanity.
When I was in college I believed that women should have the same opportunities as men. I didnít expect that I would spend the next thirty years watching my wife take that opportunity and run with it while I spent my time beating my head against the wall. My folks always were immensely pleased to have Claudia as a daughter-in-law. Iím proud of her and Iím pleased that she has put up with me so patiently.
Once when I told my Dad that I wanted to be the President of the United States to make the world a better place (which gives you some idea how far short of my goals Iíve fallen) my Dad told me that every person should try to make his or her immediate surroundings a better place. By that standard I hope my Father isn't too disappointed in me as he watches my progress from heaven.
But that won't stop me from trying to figure out some way of running against Congressman Oberstar and beating him.