I was born on September 18, 1945 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and grew up in the Hayward, Wisconsin area which I continue to call my real home. Grade school education included a well-remembered year at Blair Elementary School – a one-room rural school where all eight grades met together daily and were given an education in all the basics of mathematics, science, history, current events, music, reading and composition. Kids in the lower grades occasionally took tests and quizzes meant for the upper graders and often did quite well. Science was stressed throughout my schooling through High School. After Sputnik went up, I remember the sense of urgency among the school officials to increase education in all forms of science and math upon the realization that those Russians would beat us otherwise. I took to zoology quite readily, and living in the country among all kinds of forest and swamp creatures inspired me to take careful note of my surroundings. I found hunting and fishing counterproductive and would rather go exploring throughout the great north woods.
In September, 1967, after four years of undergraduate study at UW-Eau Claire, I began graduate studies at the Bacteriology Department at UW-Madison and quite frankly did not do well. This lasted for a year until I stumbled into a full-time position as a "Teaching Specialist" in the Department – basically providing support in setting up the teaching labs (reagents, petri plates and cultures) and helping the students with microscopy and the like. At the time and into the early 1970s, the tenured professors ran the labs as well as the lectures, and I got to work with the best of the seasoned microbiologists of that particular generation: W. B. Sarles, O. N. Allen, P. W. Wilson, Elizabeth McCoy and K. B. Raper. Within a few years I was giving the regular presentations in the lab as the older professors phased out of lab instruction. The "next generation" of professors included R. H. Deibel who really got me thinking about practical microbial physiology and media formulation – the likes of which I had not learned about in the classroom.
By the mid-1970s I had finished my M.S. degree as a part-time student and could spend more time studying the "big picture." I came to an appreciation of how various aspects of microbiology followed patterns – and once you saw the pattern you could then expand on the specifics. (All too often in my physiology courses, the instructor would be so oriented toward detailing obscure pathways that the students "couldn't see the forest for the trees.") My lab lectures and handouts became more organized, I got into writing lab manuals, and I made media formulation a hobby. The medium I designed to distinguish and isolate the enteric pathogen Edwardsiella tarda easily yielded a superficially-similar organism that the Centers for Disease Control determined to be a new genus; the organism is presently called "Aquamonas haywardensis" and its identifying DNA sequence has been in the national database for a decade. One occasionally sees its placement in a phylogenetic tree with other organisms of the enteric group. My interest in these organisms led me to be invited to co-author a chapter in the latest Bergey's Manual of Systematic Bacteriology.
I do love to teach hands-on microbiology in the laboratory, and I have yet to get used to the necessity (for financial reasons) of doing some experiments on-line, but every semester brings new opportunities to not do the same old thing again but to try to find ways to make the learning experience easier for the students if at all possible. The Farm Microbiology Short Course has been an especially valuable teaching experience. Time is indeed short, and there are detailed things to cover. At least the "big picture" gets to be shown, and details of how things work get covered as time permits.
March 14, 2008