Press enter after choosing selection

Legacies Project Oral History: Alma Wheeler Smith

Tue, 12/10/2019 - 11:01am

When: 2018

Oral history interviews conducted with Alma Wheeler Smith by students of Skyline High School in 2018.  Smith (D) served in the U.S. House of Representatives as part of the Michigan delegation from 2005-2010 representing the 54th District.  Prior to her tenure in the U.S. House, Smith served in the Michigan Senate representing the 18th District from 1995-2002.

Transcript

  • [00:00:09.82] SPEAKER 1: Please say and spell your name.
  • [00:00:11.92] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: It's Alma, A-L-M-A. Middle name is Wheeler, W-H-E-E-L-E-R. Last name is Smith, S-M-I-T-H.
  • [00:00:21.19] SPEAKER 1: What is your birth date, including the year?
  • [00:00:24.55] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: August 8-- [LAUGHS] forget that. August 6, 1941.
  • [00:00:31.24] SPEAKER 1: How old are you?
  • [00:00:32.74] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: 75.
  • [00:00:34.87] SPEAKER 1: How would you describe your ethnic background?
  • [00:00:37.09] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: African-American.
  • [00:00:39.52] SPEAKER 1: What is your religious affiliation, if any?
  • [00:00:41.86] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Catholic-- sort of. Not practicing. [CHUCKLES]
  • [00:00:45.17]
  • [00:00:46.15] SPEAKER 1: What is the highest level of formal education you have completed?
  • [00:00:53.28] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: I have a bachelor's degree. And I have advanced degree work in business administration and political science, but I didn't complete.
  • [00:01:04.39] SPEAKER 1: Did you attend any additional school or formal career training beyond what you completed?
  • [00:01:10.00] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: No. Well, the work toward a post-grad degree.
  • [00:01:16.75] SPEAKER 1: What is your marital status?
  • [00:01:18.94] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Divorced.
  • [00:01:21.82] SPEAKER 1: Is your ex-spouse still living?
  • [00:01:23.71] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Yes.
  • [00:01:25.86] SPEAKER 1: How many children do you have?
  • [00:01:26.97] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Three.
  • [00:01:28.38] SPEAKER 1: How many siblings do you have?
  • [00:01:30.17] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Two.
  • [00:01:32.79] SPEAKER 1: What would you have considered your primary occupation to have been?
  • [00:01:38.82] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Well, I started out as producer for television, and then went into a political career.
  • [00:01:47.44] SPEAKER 1: At what age did you retire?
  • [00:01:49.85] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: 72. [LAUGHS]
  • [00:01:55.37] SPEAKER 1: Now we can begin the first part of our interview, beginning with some of the things you can recall about your family history. We're beginning with family naming history. By this, we mean any story about your last family name, or family traditions in selecting first or middle names.
  • [00:02:10.76] Do you know any stories about your family name?
  • [00:02:14.51] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: I know a story about my own name, personally. We don't have a naming tradition in the family. But I was born a twin. And my grandmother looked at my twin sister and said, oh, that's Lucille. Because she thought she looked just like her daughter, Lucille.
  • [00:02:31.30] And my parents felt I needed a special name. So they combined the first two letters of my dad's name, which is Albert, with the last two letters of my mom's name, Emma. And we have Alma.
  • [00:02:43.91] SPEAKER 1: Wow, that's actually really cool.
  • [00:02:45.19] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: [CHUCKLES]
  • [00:02:46.14]
  • [00:02:50.84] SPEAKER 1: Why did your ancestors leave to come to the United States?
  • [00:02:52.73] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Well, I don't think they had a choice. Slavery was in force. And some of my ancestors were brought over as slaves. And then because of kind of mixed marriages, miscegenation, we had a Scottish element of the family. So there was racial mixing in the South within the slave community, so-- otherwise known as rape, I believe. [LAUGHS]
  • [00:03:29.75] SPEAKER 1: Do you know any stories about how your family first came to the United States? Where did they settle?
  • [00:03:37.07] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: My grand-grandparents were in the South. My grandparents were in Columbia, South Carolina. So I think the South Carolina area was probably basically home.
  • [00:03:52.88] SPEAKER 1: How did they make a living, either in the old country or in the United States?
  • [00:04:01.01] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Well, you know, my original family as slaves worked for their room and board by doing field work. And then, as slavery was abolished, my grandmother was a teacher. My grandfather was a mason. And my parents were educated here with master's and PhDs in public health at the University of Michigan.
  • [00:04:40.04] SPEAKER 1: Describe any family migration once they arrived in the United States and how they came to live in this area.
  • [00:04:47.76] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: My mom and dad left their home-- mom from South Carolina-- to come to the University of Michigan here in Ann Arbor for her graduate degree work. And my father left Missouri-- St. Louis, Missouri-- to come to school as well. So it was educational movement. And we stayed here as a family.
  • [00:05:14.39] SPEAKER 1: Do you know of any special possessions or belongings that they brought with them? And if so, why did they bring them?
  • [00:05:22.55] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: I don't. [LAUGHS]
  • [00:05:24.39] SPEAKER 1: It's fine. Which family members came along or stayed behind when your ancestors immigrated here?
  • [00:05:33.14] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: I don't know the answer to that question. There is certainly some oral family history. But as to what part of the family was sort of kidnapped and moved here, and what part of the family stayed behind, I do not know.
  • [00:05:53.30] SPEAKER 1: To your knowledge, did they make any effort to preserve any traditions or customs from their country of origin?
  • [00:05:59.69] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Well, I'm sure they did. Language was certainly important. Making sure that the children were at least fundamentally educated, and religious and musical traditions came over.
  • [00:06:18.44] SPEAKER 1: Do you know any specific--
  • [00:06:20.47] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: No.
  • [00:06:20.84] SPEAKER 1: --of those? That's fine. Are there any traditions that your family-- either your ancestors or your more close family-- have given up or changed, and why?
  • [00:06:32.60] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Traditions that we've changed-- I don't think so. I think the family has stuck pretty closely to the idea that education is critically important for the children, that some family traditions, holidays are very special. And family gets together. We have passed recipes down from generation to generation. So there are some traditions that certainly have followed and that we as kids try to keep.
  • [00:07:12.80] SPEAKER 1: That's great. What stories have come down to you about your parents and grandparents, or even more distant ancestors?
  • [00:07:25.43] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: I have stories about my grandparents, because they were certainly challenging the system and the status quo in South Carolina-- my maternal grandparents. My maternal grandfather was a mason and built a number of buildings that still stand in Columbia. He was really a very excellent mason and did a lot of work across racial groups.
  • [00:07:59.54] My grandmother was a teacher. And consequently, my aunts were teachers. But my aunts and my mom were very active in civil rights and public health in Columbia, South Carolina, which was unusual.
  • [00:08:21.14] They certainly challenged the status quo of racial discrimination, calling out treatment of African-American or black citizens in the mental health institutions in Columbia, talking about the discrimination within the schools and the impact. And they were actually very active in the civil rights movement-- my Aunt [? Majesca ?] in Columbia, South Carolina, and my Aunt Rebecca as well, and then my mom and dad up here.
  • [00:08:51.99] SPEAKER 1: That's incredible. As women, because you talked about your aunts, did they face even further discrimination during those times?
  • [00:09:01.85] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: In African-American families, it was a bit easier for the women to be people who challenged the status quo. They were not seen as threatening as the men were. So they were less restricted in gaining access to education.
  • [00:09:33.37] There was a culture of fear of black men-- probably still is. We see it daily-- well, weekly. And so it was a bit easier for the women in the family to be the individuals who challenged the status quo. My uncle went to medical school and got his medical degree and set up practice in Columbia, South Carolina.
  • [00:10:07.30] But I guess I just had a feisty family. [LAUGHS] They were not happy with what was and wanted to make sure it changed, not just for the immediate generation, but for the kids that were going to come along behind. And they probably took a lot of heat and a lot of strife, but fought for the greater good.
  • [00:10:34.30] SPEAKER 1: Do you have any courtship stories of your parents, grandparents, or other relatives?
  • [00:10:40.01] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: No. My dad and mom met here at the University of Michigan. I really don't know many stories. That's unfortunate. Well, let me put it this way. I don't remember the stories.
  • [00:11:00.97] I have sisters who have much better memories than I do. So they could probably answer this question. And I should have asked them. But since I think you'll be interviewing my sister next semester, I think I'll just let her cover the courting stories.
  • [00:11:20.74] SPEAKER 1: [LAUGHS] That's fine. All right. Now, this is part 2, which is titled "Earliest Memories in Childhood." So today's interview is about your childhood up until you began attending school. Even if these questions jog memories about other times in your life, please only respond with memories from the earliest part of your life. All right.
  • [00:11:42.50] So where did you grow up? And what are your strongest memories of that place?
  • [00:11:47.09] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Well, I was born in Columbia, South Carolina. When my parents were here at school, there was housing discrimination. And my mom would go back home. So my sister, Mary, was born in South Carolina. And two years later, my twin sister Lucille and I were born in South Carolina. And I have stories-- not my own personal memory-- we lived on a farm-- of my sister Mary feeding turkeys and sometimes being chased by the chickens.
  • [00:12:30.66] But I think my earliest recollection was not that delightful. My twin sister was playing with matches because the old kerosene lamps were lit with matches. And the matches were left to be--
  • [00:12:56.21] [BEEPING]
  • [00:12:57.01] SPEAKER 1: Sorry, it's fine.
  • [00:12:57.57] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: That's all right.
  • [00:12:58.27] SPEAKER 1: We'll re-ask the question after the bell.
  • [00:12:59.92] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: OK, good. Good.
  • [00:13:03.30] SPEAKER 2: Going too fast.
  • [00:13:05.73] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Only because my answers are short.
  • [00:13:07.28] [LAUGHTER]
  • [00:13:07.89]
  • [00:13:08.09] And I'm [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:13:10.22] SPEAKER 2: OK, so do you want some water or anything? We have some bottles of water.
  • [00:13:13.41] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Why don't I get a little water?
  • [00:13:15.36] SPEAKER 2: OK.
  • [00:13:15.81] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:13:17.59] SPEAKER 2: We can make [INAUDIBLE] [? if you want. ?]
  • [00:13:20.31] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: [INAUDIBLE] No, no. That's fine. Water's great.
  • [00:13:23.05] SPEAKER 2: OK.
  • [00:13:24.11] SPEAKER 1: [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:13:24.39] SPEAKER 3: [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:13:24.83] SPEAKER 1: I don't know which one [? it was. ?]
  • [00:13:25.95] SPEAKER 3: [? No, ?] [? this ?] [? one ?] [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:13:28.32] SPEAKER 1: [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:13:32.27] I have a lot of questions. [? We've got ?] to [? save them ?] [? for ?] [? the rest ?] [? of ?] [? these. ?] These are the questions from [? The ?] [? Legacies. ?]
  • [00:13:38.45] SPEAKER 2: Here, do you want it?
  • [00:13:39.07] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Thank you.
  • [00:13:40.46] SPEAKER 1: From the [? actual ?] [? people. ?]
  • [00:13:42.15] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Right, right.
  • [00:13:43.81] SPEAKER 4: [INAUDIBLE] [? last night, ?] [? you should ?] [? probably look over ?] [? the questions ?] [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:13:51.82] SPEAKER 2: OK. So we'll take the [INAUDIBLE] take a little break. And if you remember anything, go home today and remember some things about the questions we asked--
  • [00:14:07.24] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Catch up.
  • [00:14:07.84] SPEAKER 2: Yeah, we can go over it again. So you just let us know next time [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:14:12.11] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: All right. All right, and the next time is the 5th?
  • [00:14:14.59] SPEAKER 1: Yes.
  • [00:14:15.08] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: OK. [? Can't ?] [? hurt. ?] Is this going to be in the way? [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:14:20.91] SPEAKER 2: Nope. Looking good.
  • [00:14:24.80] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: How tight is your shot?
  • [00:14:27.23] SPEAKER 4: [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:14:31.13] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Chest shot?
  • [00:14:32.18] SPEAKER 4: Yeah.
  • [00:14:33.07] SPEAKER 2: I think maybe [INAUDIBLE] [? her ?] whole necklace [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:14:35.27] SPEAKER 4: Yeah, yeah. It gets her whole necklace.
  • [00:14:36.19] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Oh, OK.
  • [00:14:36.64] SPEAKER 4: [? Then ?] [? it cuts ?] [? off. ?]
  • [00:14:37.48] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: All right. [? Bust ?] shot.
  • [00:14:49.94] SPEAKER 2: So how was your weekend?
  • [00:14:51.98] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: How was my weekend?
  • [00:14:53.05] SPEAKER 2: Yeah, now that you're retired, do you do any special--
  • [00:14:55.91] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: It was absolutely beautiful because the weather was great.
  • [00:15:00.25] SPEAKER 2: Yeah, [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:15:02.86] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: [CHUCKLES] Well, yeah. But the wind just made it feel cold. It's the rain that was with the wind that [? sort of said, ?] fall is here. And winter's not far behind. But it feels a bit warmer today because there's no wind.
  • [00:15:18.70] SPEAKER 2: Just rain.
  • [00:15:19.18] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: But it was beautiful. My son and I went to Durand, Michigan to present to the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers on the Regional Transit Authority proposals for the four county regions here in southeast Michigan. And we have a train proposal that will be running between Ann Arbor and Detroit. So not only will we have Amtrak, we will have a commuter rail system.
  • [00:15:46.96] SPEAKER 2: Wow, that's [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:15:48.99] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Yeah. And they were interested. So if you're old enough to vote, we need your vote.
  • [00:15:53.49] SPEAKER 1: My mom's a professor at Wayne State. So [INAUDIBLE] So she'd be [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:15:59.40] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Oh, yeah.
  • [00:16:00.26] SPEAKER 2: How far is the drive?
  • [00:16:03.06] SPEAKER 1: Like 40, 45 minutes, I think.
  • [00:16:05.89] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: And I understand many of the campuses provide parking at a cost for instructors and professors. But it's expensive.
  • [00:16:17.82] SPEAKER 1: I don't think she has a faculty parking [INAUDIBLE] that are like [? free ?] [INAUDIBLE] [? She ?] [? just ?] [? has to ?] [INAUDIBLE] $10 a week.
  • [00:16:25.02] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Uh-huh. Well, that's not bad.
  • [00:16:26.98] SPEAKER 1: Yeah, it's not awful.
  • [00:16:27.97] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: No, I go down for a meeting [? with regional ?] [INAUDIBLE] twice a month. And it's $20--
  • [00:16:34.86] SPEAKER 1: Oh, [? that's expensive. ?]
  • [00:16:35.84] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: --to park. It's expensive.
  • [00:16:37.32] SPEAKER 1: I think it's just because it's like a [? Wednesday ?] [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:16:40.27] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Yeah.
  • [00:16:41.74] SPEAKER 1: It's fancy. I also have [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:16:47.69] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Oh, you think she would use the commuter rail?
  • [00:16:50.33] SPEAKER 1: Oh, yeah.
  • [00:16:51.77] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Yes. I talked to the Ann Arbor Transit Authority when I was working in Lansing. And I said, you know, we have a lot of people in between Lansing and Ann Arbor. And wouldn't it be great if we had a bus and we could leave our bus up there with their system all day and then bring it back in the evening? It never came to pass. But I was done that in a heartbeat. You can get so much accomplished when someone else is driving.
  • [00:17:18.70] SPEAKER 2: It's also just environmentally friendly too.
  • [00:17:20.61] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Yes.
  • [00:17:21.09] SPEAKER 1: [? It ?] [? is ?] [? expensive ?] [? also. ?]
  • [00:17:23.00] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: And I hear young people like you are really not that interested in having a car.
  • [00:17:27.69] SPEAKER 2: Yeah.
  • [00:17:28.13] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Is that true?
  • [00:17:28.93] SPEAKER 2: Some aren't. Because some are worried about driving all their siblings around. Me, myself, I'm excited.
  • [00:17:35.90] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Yeah.
  • [00:17:36.49] SPEAKER 2: I do not feel like paying insurance and gas, but the freedom that comes with it.
  • [00:17:42.32] SPEAKER 1: I think I would be less excited to get a car-- well, Ann Arbor does have a really good public transit system.
  • [00:17:46.75] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Right.
  • [00:17:47.44] SPEAKER 1: But if I used that more, [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:17:52.09] I have the freedom to get where I want to go [? whenever ?] [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:17:55.34] [BEEPING]
  • [00:17:55.48] But I understand people in places that don't have great public transit system, I would be very excited to get a car.
  • [00:18:03.31] [BEEPING]
  • [00:18:03.46] Right now, it's [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:18:04.83] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Mm-hmm. And here, you can't go anywhere outside of Washtenaw County with our AATA system.
  • [00:18:13.19] SPEAKER 1: Yeah.
  • [00:18:13.68] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: And you can't [? do ?] [INAUDIBLE] [CHUCKLES] So.
  • [00:18:18.76] SPEAKER 1: Yeah.
  • [00:18:20.42] SPEAKER 2: OK.
  • [00:18:21.21] SPEAKER 1: All right, ready?
  • [00:18:21.32] SPEAKER 2: Are we about ready to get back?
  • [00:18:22.53] SPEAKER 1: Good luck.
  • [00:18:22.93] SPEAKER 2: Let me get this set up.
  • [00:18:23.81] SPEAKER 1: [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:18:24.68] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: [LAUGHS] OK.
  • [00:18:26.78] SPEAKER 1: So I'm going to re-ask the question that we were in the middle of, which you had kind of a long response to. But if we could just go back over that one.
  • [00:18:34.84] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: OK.
  • [00:18:35.12] SPEAKER 1: Great. [? All right. ?] [? Great. ?]
  • [00:18:39.02] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: So you want short responses?
  • [00:18:40.72] SPEAKER 1: No.
  • [00:18:41.13] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Oh, OK.
  • [00:18:41.49] SPEAKER 1: [? Fine if they're not. ?]
  • [00:18:42.00] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: All right.
  • [00:18:42.38] SPEAKER 1: Yeah, take as long as you want or need. And if you also feel the need that you don't want to answer a question or like want to skip it or something that, just tell us.
  • [00:18:51.53] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: OK.
  • [00:18:52.40] SPEAKER 1: OK. Where did you grow up? And what are your strongest memories of that place?
  • [00:18:56.69] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: All right. I grew up in Columbia. I spent my first two years in Columbia, South Carolina. And I think early memories are probably from parents and family members talking about what you did as a young child. I remember stories about my sister, Mary, who was two years older, feeding the chickens and turkeys, and the chickens sort of chasing her around. Sometimes chickens can be feisty.
  • [00:19:28.43] And my earliest memory was a fairly unpleasant one. And I had a twin sister, Lucille. Lucille was playing with matches. We kept kerosene lanterns around the farm. And matches were kept pretty conveniently located for easy lighting.
  • [00:19:51.32] And she got a hold of a match and caught her dress on fire and was running to mom for help and suffered really, very bad burns. The family called an ambulance. And the ambulance came to the farm and looked at the family and said, we can't service you because you're black. And my sister died in my mom's arms.
  • [00:20:17.45] I understand I stopped talking for quite a while. My father decided it was more important for the family to be together so that there was additional support both for my mom and for Mary and me. And we moved shortly after that to Ann Arbor, where we have been ever since.
  • [00:20:44.94] But we went back every summer. And I can talk about that later. But we had a great grandma and a nice, extended family. And many other cousins were of the same age. So there was a lot of play time when we were very small.
  • [00:21:04.01] SPEAKER 1: What was your house like? Both the farm and in Ann Arbor.
  • [00:21:09.05] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: My grandfather built the farm house in Columbia, South Carolina. It was a brick house. It had a number of rooms. My grandma and grandpa's family was large. There were about eight kids.
  • [00:21:24.23] And so most memorable to me was a very formal living room with a fireplace. I always thought that was great. My grandma's bedroom had a fireplace. I thought that was terrific. I've always aspired to a fireplace, but haven't met that yet. [LAUGHS]
  • [00:21:43.73] The house in Ann Arbor, our first one was a rental on Brown Street, very close to Michigan Stadium. Ann Arbor had a number of segregated neighborhoods where black families lived. Again, I have a feisty family. And my parents had an opportunity to buy a house on the old west side.
  • [00:22:10.01] And they were the first black family in that area. So they integrated that neighborhood. I'm sure my parents were concerned about a poor reception. But, by and large, the neighbors were, if not immediately friendly, they were at least not firebombing the house or causing riots in the neighborhood. But they all eventually came around, including our closest neighbors who were a little bit more disturbed that the black family had moved into the neighborhood than the farther flung neighbors.
  • [00:22:50.42] But the old west side was great. We lived next to two parks-- one park on one side and one in the middle. And the Slauson now Middle School was behind the house. So that house is still in the family. My son currently owns it.
  • [00:23:07.22] SPEAKER 1: That's so funny. I literally live right by there.
  • [00:23:09.80] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Oh, do you?
  • [00:23:10.25] SPEAKER 1: Yeah, I do.
  • [00:23:10.81] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: OK. All right.
  • [00:23:11.48] SPEAKER 1: It's funny. How many people lived in your house with you when you were growing up? And what was their relationship to you?
  • [00:23:18.74] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: It was just the immediate family-- my mom, my dad, and my two sisters. I was in the middle. So I had an older sister, Mary, and Nancy was my younger sister.
  • [00:23:31.82] SPEAKER 1: What languages were spoken in or around your household?
  • [00:23:34.70] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: English. Pig Latin [LAUGHS] just for fun. But English, yeah.
  • [00:23:43.22] SPEAKER 1: Were different languages spoken in different settings such as at home, in the neighborhood, or in local stores where you lived?
  • [00:23:51.29] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: We were in a German neighborhood. But I never heard German spoken. So I think by the time we moved into the neighborhood, everybody was speaking English. And I don't remember hearing any other language, except my father occasionally using his German in the household. [LAUGHS]
  • [00:24:20.51] [SPEAKING GERMAN] [LAUGHS]
  • [00:24:25.70] SPEAKER 1: What was your family like when you were a child?
  • [00:24:29.15] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Very close. As siblings go, we were readers. And I was more interested in getting my sisters out on the tennis court or up early in the morning to garden. And they were more interested in reading. So we had a little [LAUGHS] push and pull there.
  • [00:24:51.36] But the family was very close. We did a lot of things together. Meals were always done as a family. And there were a lot of conversations about politics or the work my parents were doing to integrate the public school system here in Ann Arbor, to make sure that jobs were opening up for African Americans. And a lot of the civil rights and integration work was discussed at the table and reasons why. So we got political at a very early age.
  • [00:25:29.03] SPEAKER 1: It's very interesting that your family included your inputs, because I think that's important.
  • [00:25:32.61] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Is it. It was great. I mean, we were never sort of put down as saying something stupid. It was, ideas were discussed. If something seemed naive to our parents because we were youngsters looking at something with kind of a uni-dimension, they would talk about how that idea could be taken and expanded or incorporated in something else that was coming on.
  • [00:26:04.28] My dad kept saying to us, yeah, you're girls, but there is nothing you can't do. So our parents had that sense that sex should not be a limiting factor, and neither should race. So we were actually sort of battling two restrictive consciences in the community. We had a great childhood and great parents. So we were fortunate. And I wish everybody could have been as lucky.
  • [00:26:42.44] SPEAKER 1: What was a typical day like for you in your preschool years?
  • [00:26:45.62] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: [LAUGHS] I have no idea. [LAUGHS] I know that my mom did, despite her degree in public health, she and my dad had this agreement that she would stay home and raise the family, and he would work. So she did a lot of sewing. She sewed all of our clothes.
  • [00:27:05.84] I know that we did a lot of watching. And there was always music and dance in the house, and games. We did a lot of things together as sisters. We were very close in age. So we were, for a long time, each other's best friends. So we were very, very close.
  • [00:27:34.86] SPEAKER 1: What did you do for fun, either by yourself, with friends, or with your family?
  • [00:27:41.57] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: This is just the early years, or?
  • [00:27:44.03] SPEAKER 1: Yeah, just the earliest years.
  • [00:27:48.20] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: We did a lot of playing in the parks. And as we got a little bit older, we would do pickup sandlot baseball games. And the neighbors' kids would ride bikes. And we just did a lot of outdoor stuff, including the winter when we would come in with frozen toes from sledding down the hills next to the house. Kids never have enough sense to come in out of the cold or the rain. [CHUCKLES]
  • [00:28:19.65]
  • [00:28:20.60] SPEAKER 1: Did you have a favorite toy?
  • [00:28:24.08] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: A favorite toy. I don't know. I was kind of the cowboy of the family. So I had some six shooters. [CHUCKLES]
  • [00:28:32.69]
  • [00:28:34.37] But I do remember playing cowboy a lot. And [? because ?] we played games-- we did checkers, and those things were fun.
  • [00:28:50.66] SPEAKER 1: Did you have a favorite book or books? And where would you go to get them?
  • [00:28:54.92] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: We had a lot of books at home. We had a set of [? child ?] [? craft ?] books that had a lot of poems, stories, history. A lot of our books were at home, the classics-- Louisa May Alcott and Little Women, and all of the Tom Sawyer, Ivanhoe. So we did a lot of that.
  • [00:29:21.93] But we also went to the Ann Arbor Public Library and picked up books, as well. So that was a trip that the family would make. We would hike from home to the library, which at that point in time was about 2 miles-- 2 and 1/2. So my mom would go with three girls in tow to the library. Good memories.
  • [00:29:43.16] SPEAKER 1: The downtown branch?
  • [00:29:44.03] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Actually, it's--
  • [00:29:45.82] SPEAKER 1: Which one?
  • [00:29:46.31] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: --the one on State Street at Huron. So what used to be the Ann Arbor Library became the Ann Arbor High School until Pioneer was built on Seventh Street and-- what street is that? Liberty.
  • [00:30:05.69] SPEAKER 1: Yeah.
  • [00:30:05.97] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: [CHUCKLES]
  • [00:30:06.44] SPEAKER 1: Yeah.
  • [00:30:07.86] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: No, not Liberty. It's Seventh and--
  • [00:30:14.07] SPEAKER 1: Stadium.
  • [00:30:14.85] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Stadium, thank you. Just absolute blank.
  • [00:30:19.59] SPEAKER 1: [LAUGHS] Don't worry.
  • [00:30:21.40] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: There's a stadium right there. It's like, you can't remember that street is called Stadium?
  • [00:30:25.44] [LAUGHTER]
  • [00:30:27.75] SPEAKER 1: What other entertainment was something you enjoyed?
  • [00:30:33.31] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: We had a couple of storytelling record albums-- The Seven Dancing Princesses and Willy the Whale. And we would learn those and dance along and make believe we were the characters. So we had our own little plays going at home. Yeah.
  • [00:30:54.66] SPEAKER 1: Were there any special days, events, or family traditions you remember from this time?
  • [00:31:00.09] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: We always made a big deal of the holidays. Every once in a while, we would have a family member come from South Carolina or Missouri to visit at the holidays. My parents made quite a big deal about Christmas.
  • [00:31:16.68] Birthdays were important. We marked those highlights of time passing. But nothing unusual that most families didn't celebrate and recognize as holidays.
  • [00:31:32.82] SPEAKER 1: Did you celebrate those "holidays that everyone celebrates," as you say, in special ways for your family? Do you have traditions that you do for birthdays or something?
  • [00:31:44.92] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: No. We made our own ice cream. So that was always fun-- the hand cranked churns. We would all take turns cranking away so that we would have the ice cream ready. My mom would bake the birthday cakes. So to that extent, homemade birthdays were a tradition. We didn't have big parties.
  • [00:32:11.58] Again, we were sort of our own entertainment, until my sister Nancy-- and I think she was in the first grade-- decided she was going to have a surprise party that was truly a surprise, because my mom would not have known about it had one of the parents not called and said, what time is the party? So Nancy started their own little tradition. [LAUGHS] [? But, ?] [? no. ?]
  • [00:32:40.12] SPEAKER 1: Great. Should we keep going? We have a lot of [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:32:46.67] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Are we moving into the next week's?
  • [00:32:48.90] SPEAKER 1: Yes. I don't know, actually.
  • [00:32:51.03] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: [LAUGHS]
  • [00:32:51.92] SPEAKER 1: [? I don't know how ?] [? to time this, ?] [? because ?] some of them take longer than [? other ?] [? times. ?] This is the longest section. So I don't know if we should start.
  • [00:32:59.13] SPEAKER 3: I think we should just wait then.
  • [00:33:00.54] SPEAKER 1: I mean, how much [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:33:01.50] SPEAKER 2: [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:33:01.90] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Why don't we wait for next--
  • [00:33:03.90] SPEAKER 2: You have until [? 36. ?]
  • [00:33:05.22] SPEAKER 1: I don't know what time it is right now.
  • [00:33:06.19] SPEAKER 2: Maybe you should--
  • [00:33:06.90] SPEAKER 4: It's 8:08. [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:33:10.37] SPEAKER 2: Maybe you should go back through the questions [INAUDIBLE] elaborate on them [INAUDIBLE] [? last ?] [? week. ?]
  • [00:33:16.01] SPEAKER 1: I just don't want to have to cut off this section short, you know what I mean?
  • [00:33:19.10] SPEAKER 2: Yeah.
  • [00:33:19.22] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Mm-hmm.
  • [00:33:20.69] SPEAKER 1: They're done. [? This one's ?] [? short. ?] OK. So we'll go back through them.
  • [00:33:27.85] SPEAKER 4: Like, think of ways [? to ?] elaborate on those questions.
  • [00:33:31.24] SPEAKER 1: Yeah.
  • [00:33:31.64] SPEAKER 4: [? You don't have to ?] [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:33:37.62] We have like 20 whole minutes.
  • [00:33:39.71] SPEAKER 1: Do you guys have any follow-ups?
  • [00:33:45.44] SPEAKER 2: Well, you said you just retired not too long ago, right? Four years ago?
  • [00:33:53.29] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Well, it would have been three years ago was "official retirement." I left the legislature in 2010.
  • [00:34:04.13] SPEAKER 2: I'm trying to think of early memories, because that's what we're more focused on here.
  • [00:34:07.69] SPEAKER 1: Yeah.
  • [00:34:07.83] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Right, right. Well, I was born in the middle of World War II. 1941, the United States was just entering World War II. I don't have personal memories of the war. But I do know that my dad had three girls, three kids, and he was also in the medical field, so he was not drafted and didn't go to war.
  • [00:34:42.86] But certainly, a number of people in the family did and came back with stories of segregation in the troops and how that impacted their return home-- the sense that we were in the war, we were equal in how we were shot, how we were deployed, and coming back home, there was a sense and a demand for equality here in this country and how they were treated and what kinds of jobs were available and whether or not they could find their own seats on a train as opposed to being segregated into the back of a bus or a train car or the transport home. So that had a very dynamic impact on how race relations were viewed in this country.
  • [00:35:44.51] SPEAKER 1: Did hearing about experiences of your relatives or close family friends affect how your parents were fighting segregation and injustice here in America, back at home?
  • [00:35:55.59] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Well, I do think they did. Having people come back and say, we fought this war. We were equally exposed and at risk. And [? certainly ?] equal numbers of troops were sacrificed. And it's time for us to take our place equally in this country. So those demands certainly changed the way people perceived what needed to happen for black people here in this country.
  • [00:36:37.10] So that certainly long history of Jim Crow and racial discrimination pushed my family in particular to be very active in civil rights. Harry Truman as president, integrating the armed forces was, I think, a very strong impetus for change here in this country.
  • [00:37:05.99] SPEAKER 1: And as a child, because your parents were such activists, did you pick up on what they were going through and how they felt so passionately about what needed to change?
  • [00:37:17.12] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Yes. When we were growing up, I told you about the conversations we would have at the table. There was always a lot of research and data gathering and documentation going on in the family in the house.
  • [00:37:31.07] And with people who would work with my folks, we had essentially segregated schools here in Ann Arbor. Black kids generally went to what was Jones School, which is now Community High. And the teachers were not as interested or challenging for the students. We had no black teachers in the school system, and certainly no black administrators in school system.
  • [00:38:04.32] And it was very important to my parents that black kids see people who looked like them and who had a real desire for them to achieve. So some of their early work was in the public schools and working with integrating teaching staff and the classrooms themselves-- making sure that the textbooks were the same, that the quality of experience was equal and that the school district was integrated.
  • [00:38:38.24] While they were doing that, they were concerned that we, as kids, might be discriminated against or that our treatment would not be good at the hands of people who were being challenged to change. So they sent us off to the Catholic school in Ann Arbor. So we did our education at St. Thomas.
  • [00:39:05.66] SPEAKER 1: Were you more [? affected ?] than, say, another black family whose parents were not as active in the movements that were going on? Were you more affected because your parents were so involved?
  • [00:39:17.72] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: I'm sure my parents might have seen a difference in how we were treated. We had a number of crank calls that would come into the house. And as we got older, we would answer the phone because we always thought our friends were calling. And you'd get this crank call from somebody calling the family a nasty name or saying, we're going to kill your dad.
  • [00:39:41.27] People were not very kind. When they realized there were children answering the phone, just whatever they were intent on saying when they placed the call, they said. So we certainly had some exposure to ill treatment.
  • [00:40:01.76] I really don't remember any disparate treatment between the way our family was looked at in the community and other families were viewed. I think we were all sort of not the most welcome in the community.
  • [00:40:26.87] But I will say that as my parents worked in civil rights, there were a tremendous number of white families and white individuals who would work with them for change in Ann Arbor. The churches were very active in promoting [? change, ?] [? we ?] [? had ?] [? in ?] the segregated neighborhoods, and working against the realtors to promote integration of housing and opportunity.
  • [00:40:52.64] You would have, every once in a while, one realtor here or there say, you're right. This is the kind of information I can help you get. We had banks that wouldn't make loans to black families that were trying to buy housing outside of the designated black neighborhoods. And my parents bought their house by getting a loan from my grandma.
  • [00:41:18.65] Things were very different. You would go into a restaurant, and the black family was always seated near the kitchen or the bathroom. And going into some of the department stores-- Jacobson's-- you couldn't try on shoes.
  • [00:41:34.33] And I couldn't try on hats until there was one Russian immigrant who was the head of the millinery department at Jacobson's. And she said, that's absolutely ridiculous, with her great Russian accent, and said, you try on this hat. [LAUGHS] So there were people who wanted change and who saw what was happening, when it was called to their attention, as being very wrong for a community that wanted to be progressive and inviting and inclusive.
  • [00:42:10.15] We had the university here. They certainly wanted people who were coming from other countries, from other states to see the institution as being inviting. And when your city isn't, it makes it hard for you to send that kind of message. And the university itself was not that inclusive. My dad was the first black faculty member.
  • [00:42:38.94] SPEAKER 1: That's awesome.
  • [00:42:39.82] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Now I've probably jumped way ahead.
  • [00:42:42.27] SPEAKER 1: No, you're good-- [? totally. ?] [? How much time? ?]
  • [00:42:46.19] SPEAKER 2: I think we're OK to stop here.
  • [00:42:47.59] SPEAKER 1: OK, yeah. That sounds good.
  • [00:42:48.73] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: All right.
  • [00:42:50.96] SPEAKER 1: Yeah.
  • [00:42:51.40] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Thank you very much.
  • [00:42:52.25] SPEAKER 1: Thank you.
  • [00:42:52.52] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: I will look over the questions for next week [LAUGHS] so I'm a little better prepared. However, my memory wouldn't have been any better today [LAUGHS] than it currently is.
  • [00:43:02.86] SPEAKER 1: We got up to part 2.
  • [00:43:05.49] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: OK.
  • [00:43:05.80] SPEAKER 1: So we're going to do part 3 next week. And then maybe part 4. We'll see how it goes.
  • [00:43:09.97] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: All right. All right.
  • [00:43:13.78] SPEAKER 1: Today we'll discuss your time as a young person from about the time that school attendance typically begins in the United States up until [? you ?] began your professional career or work life. Where did you go to preschool? And what do you remember about it?
  • [00:43:28.69] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: I didn't go to preschool. I think all preschool education was done by my mom and dad. I did start kindergarten at Bach Elementary in Ann Arbor. And my teacher was Mrs. Robinson, who had probably been teaching kindergarten forever. But she was a delightful teacher.
  • [00:43:49.30] What do I remember about kindergarten? We always had people's birthday parties and celebrated. Mine was in August, so school was always out. So at the end of the school year, we would have one massive party for people who had summer birthdays. So that, I remember. Learning the usual stuff like colors and letters, and we certainly picked up.
  • [00:44:18.04] For 1st through 12, I was at St. Thomas in Ann Arbor. And I remember the usual school staff and parents being very attentive and attending meetings and coming into the school when there was no reason to be at a school meeting, but just checking things out and making sure our teachers were working with us well and things were moving along smoothly.
  • [00:44:47.89] SPEAKER 1: About high school specifically, what do you remember about it, like classes and if you struggled and [? all of that? ?]
  • [00:44:55.12] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Math was not my strong suit. I certainly struggled with trigonometry. But I had a couple of classmates who were really good in math. So they kept telling me, look, it's easy. Just look at it this way. And of course, because kids all learn differently, one of them actually hit a way that I could learn. So I got through trig.
  • [00:45:23.11] I remember physics and chemistry. That was taught by his Sister Rose [? de ?] [? Lourdes. ?] And she was a fascinating teacher-- certainly knew her stuff, gave us a lot of room to experiment in chemistry and physics. And we had small classes, so we certainly got individualized attention a lot.
  • [00:45:49.18] What else do I remember? Study halls, which were certainly not chaotic, because chaos wasn't allowed. [LAUGHS] But a lot of practicing. I did some sports. I was on the girls basketball team.
  • [00:46:08.16] And at that time in basketball for girls, it was half court basketball. You've probably never heard of such a thing. But we would play only on half of the court with the defense and the offensive team would be on the other half. So you would pass across a line. You couldn't run the whole length of the course.
  • [00:46:30.52] Sister [? Mariana ?] was our physical ed teacher. She was about 6 foot 2 and despised the girls rules for basketball. So after practice, we would just be let loose to run the whole length of the court and play the game the way it should have been played.
  • [00:46:50.86] Our main rival was University High School in Ann Arbor. We did a lot of games against that school. And then there wasn't a well-developed league for girls basketball, so.
  • [00:47:05.08] We had a great physical ed director. I was interested in tennis, and we didn't have such a thing. And Leo Wagner made sure I got some instruction in tennis. We had a girls drill team, which was great. It was very exciting. We had a former marine sergeant who was our drill instructor. She volunteered. So it was great.
  • [00:47:28.72] I served as the sports editor in our high school yearbook and did a little freelance correspondence for a newspaper, The Michigan Catholic, in Detroit. So I got a lot of exposure to journalism, which I was interested in doing in my future career. So they gave me some good practice. [LAUGHS]
  • [00:47:51.12]
  • [00:47:51.62] SPEAKER 1: Did you have a favorite subject in high school?
  • [00:47:56.53] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Favorite subject? I was certainly challenged by the physical sciences-- chemistry, physics. I enjoyed English up to a point. You guys call it "fine arts," I think. I'm not sure what you call it. [LAUGHS] But it was English and literature for us. So we did a lot of reading and a lot of writing. And I enjoyed the writing part.
  • [00:48:29.78] SPEAKER 1: Did you go to school or career training beyond high school? Where? And what do you remember?
  • [00:48:33.62] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: All right. I went to the University of Michigan and got my bachelor's degree there. I was majoring in journalism with a minor in political science. What do I remember? The first thing I remember-- of course, again, we came from a small school-- [? and ?] [? my ?] first lecture of the college career was botany. And we went into an auditorium of about 300 people sitting there for a lecture.
  • [00:49:04.24] And it's like, wow. We were stunned by numbers, first. And then I was able to sort of hide in the throng. [LAUGHS] So you were lucky not to be asked questions. And we were pretty good at ducking. I was pretty good at ducking. [LAUGHS]
  • [00:49:28.84] SPEAKER 1: What about your school experience is different from school as you know it today?
  • [00:49:37.09] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: That's a really good question. And because I was in a small school, we got a lot more attention. There was a lot more one-on-one time. And I think that's important for kids as they struggle with some classes, to have people say, wow, she's having a problem with this particular area of the subject, and would stop and spend time-- and not obtrusively so.
  • [00:50:10.41] It's not like you were called out, I imagine, as schools do today, when you've got a small group of kids who do not know what they're doing in, say, a chemistry experiment. The nun would just sort of slide up to the table, realizing there was a problem, and say, well, let's think about how you separate hydrogen and oxygen. And so it was a much more hands-on instruction, I think, than the larger classes get in the regular public schools.
  • [00:50:49.05] We didn't have some of the same opportunities in terms of equipment, but certainly got a very solid education from which to springboard. And having been on a school board with a middle-sized school in a middle-sized school district in South Lyon, I remember we didn't have special ed students in particular. We had students in the class who would be worked in. And the teachers would pay special attention when they needed extra help.
  • [00:51:36.81] So we didn't deal with the kinds of things I came up against as a school board member where parents were saying, look, our kids aren't getting the kind of attention they need. And we were not doing the best screening in the world [LAUGHS] when I started on the school board.
  • [00:51:55.77] So special ed became one of a kind of focus for me. What's happening with the kids? How many times were they being suspended because they were acting out? How many times were they falling way behind their classroom beyond their capability?
  • [00:52:12.45] So I did of focusing as a school board on special ed for the kids who were academically behind. But I also did a lot of attention to kids on the other end of the spectrum, who were also gifted. We created a gifted program. And I noticed that around the same time we were doing that, the public schools were also doing gifted programs for kids. We recognized that some kids needed additional or different challenges, so.
  • [00:52:54.18] SPEAKER 1: Please describe the popular music of your youth.
  • [00:52:57.21] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: [LAUGHS]
  • [00:52:58.74] Oh, wow. Well, my youth, we were probably kicking off into rock and roll. Elvis Presley was definitely the new thing. And the Beatles were around when I was young. And so we were really in the beginning and the early heyday of rock and roll.
  • [00:53:24.06] There was a revival of jazz. I'm not a particular fan of jazz, but there were some artists that I liked. We had the blues. Ray Charles was very popular. Frank Sinatra, I mean-- people whose names you've never heard or you hear only as historical references. [LAUGHS]
  • [00:53:55.12] SPEAKER 1: Did the music have any particular dances associated with it?
  • [00:53:59.59] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Wow, not being a dancer when I was in school. When we were probably junior high, the Hokey Pokey was kind of popular. There are a lot of dances now. Can I tell you what their names were? Absolutely not. But many of the new dances that went with the rock and roll were in vogue. And I'll remember them all tomorrow. [LAUGHS]
  • [00:54:40.28] SPEAKER 1: What would a popular clothing and hairstyles of this time?
  • [00:54:45.28] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: When I started in high school, I think circle skirts were very popular. And so you had all of this cotton and other fabric dragging around your legs. And going up the stairs was always a challenge. [LAUGHS]
  • [00:55:01.64] And then straight skirts came into vogue. Chemise came into vogue. Somebody wrote a whole song about No Chemise Please. And that was just a kind of straight sheath dress.
  • [00:55:20.93] We didn't move into slacks or pants until probably college. I'm not sure if the nuns had a thing, [LAUGHS] if we had a prohibition about no pants. But I don't remember wearing slacks in high school. Although, I know they were popular. And we certainly got into our jeans as soon as school was over. You got home and changed your clothes and became a real person. [LAUGHS]
  • [00:55:54.41] SPEAKER 1: Can you describe any other fads or styles from this era?
  • [00:55:58.61] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Poodle skirts-- but, again, I think that was something like a circle skirt, but just a poodle design on it. So poodle skirts were in. No. [LAUGHS]
  • [00:56:15.40] SPEAKER 1: Were there any slang terms, phrases, or words used that aren't in common use today?
  • [00:56:20.91] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: [CHUCKLES]
  • [00:56:24.35] A lot of substitutes for language that is in use today, like, oh my gosh. I'm trying to remember what we would get shouted at about. [SIGHS]
  • [00:56:50.15] The long pause for the bad language or the slang. And it's just not coming to mind.
  • [00:56:58.40] SPEAKER 1: That's fine. If you remember later [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:57:01.42] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: [LAUGHS]
  • [00:57:01.72] SPEAKER 1: [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:57:03.73] All right. What was a typical day like for you during this time period, like high school?
  • [00:57:12.14] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Well, high school was when we first started exchanging classes. So we would be running between the first floor and the second floor of the high school. Math and sciences were generally on the second floor. I do remember an English class being close to the physics room.
  • [00:57:32.43] You always tried to get those two classes right together so you weren't running around like a nut trying to get to the next class between bells. To you guys, that would not seem a challenge. Our school was small, and the stairways were the greatest challenge, getting through. Athletic gym and any phys ed was on the basement level.
  • [00:57:55.49] So a typical day would begin with mass, which our dad was really good about helping us skip or get too late. And then we would go into the school building and start with the first hour. If it were English and the next hour was math, then you were taking a trip from the first floor to the second for the next class. We had a break for study hall, depending on when it worked into your schedule. Mine was usually 7th hour, which was for we got out. So I got a lot of homework done before I had to go home.
  • [00:58:42.59] So the typical day was four hours of classes, a break for lunch, two hours of classes, and then a study hour somewhere in there, and the class exchanges. Isn't that funny that that's the thing you remember? [LAUGHS]
  • [00:59:02.84] SPEAKER 1: What about after school? What did you do for fun?
  • [00:59:08.74] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: We were pretty independent for fun. There weren't a lot of girls sports. My sisters and I would walk home together, often stopping at the bakery on the way home. And that news got to my mom before we got home. [LAUGHS]
  • [00:59:26.81] We would, again, shed school clothes and get into play things. My sisters were readers, so they would grab a book after home chores were done. And I would variously weed the garden or if I could find someone to play tennis with, we would pick up.
  • [00:59:50.93] During good weather, we would pick up sandlot games for baseball-- just neighborhood kids getting together after school and playing until we were called in for dinner. Homework after dinner. And that was not fun, so. [LAUGHS]
  • [01:00:10.85] But sledding. I mean, in the winter, the same neighborhood kids that would play baseball and sort of challenge one another to track events on the playground. We'd sled. So we had a lot of active outdoor time.
  • [01:00:33.41] SPEAKER 1: Did your family have any special sayings or expressions when you were a kid?
  • [01:00:43.22] Did your family have any special sayings or expressions during this time?
  • [01:00:47.26] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: I think our family sayings grew from experiences in the household. My dad had some rudimentary German. So whenever we were slow to respond, our challenge was always, [SPEAKING GERMAN], which I think meant, come and see your dad now. [LAUGHS]
  • [01:01:11.27] And we would pick up little things. My younger sister, when she was learning to read was in the kitchen working with my mom on a cake. She would read a cup of flour and three "scares" of butter. And everybody stopped and looked at her. And my poor dad just went into gales of laughter. She met "squares," but couldn't quite figure out the Q-U. [LAUGHS]
  • [01:01:46.06] So whenever we had a measuring experience in the house where we needed something, we would always ask Nancy for some "scares" of whatever. So that was a family joke. Nancy had a make-believe friend named Fancy, that she would play with in the mirror. So whenever we were hearing a tall story in the family, we would talk about, oh, [? Fancy ?] is [? back. ?]
  • [01:02:15.76] So we would tease my mom about her Southern accent, because it would arise with certain expressions. She would tell us to go get something from the "doe." Go out the "doe." And it was like, what? So we would tease a little bit about the Southern accent, which wasn't really pronounced. But there were just some words that would come out of the Deep South. But mostly our expressions were generated around family experiences, so.
  • [01:02:54.70] SPEAKER 1: Were there any changes in your family life during your school years?
  • [01:02:59.75] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Not really. My older sister and I were in high school when my mom had back surgery. And we did a lot of taking over of housework for a period of time until she was back on her feet. And then she had an early experience with breast cancer. And we were all home.
  • [01:03:23.86] That was, I think, a time when the family was very shaken, particularly my dad. And it was the first time we ever saw him break down and cry. So we figured things were very, very serious.
  • [01:03:40.12] She had a radical mastectomy, which was probably new surgery at that time. Went in for radiology treatments and survived 56 years after cancer surgery. So she was very fortunate. Someone else who had been in the surgery that same time died a few months later. So we counted our blessings every day.
  • [01:04:08.68] That did change the sense of responsibility I think we all had toward really taking our share of the family and household chores seriously and getting them done and not stressing Mom to always have to say, you need to feed the dog. We knew we needed to feed the dog. All kids know they need to feed the dog. But why do you have to be reminded? Practice the piano.
  • [01:04:34.82] So, yeah. We had those health issues that made some changes in the household. But generally, it was a very steady family.
  • [01:04:46.00] We were satellites of our parents until we reached probably late teens. So when they went to a meeting, we went to a meeting. They were not the type-- it was certainly wasn't because they didn't trust us to be responsible when they were gone. They just didn't know what other people might do. So we were taken along.
  • [01:05:12.52] Consequently, we learned a lot about the civil rights issues in the community and the politics of the community. So it was a great family to grow up in. I think I've said that before. [CHUCKLES]
  • [01:05:27.20]
  • [01:05:27.58] SPEAKER 1: Which holidays did your family celebrate? And how are holidays traditionally celebrated in your family? [CLEARS THROAT] Sorry. And has your family created its own traditions and celebrations?
  • [01:05:40.51] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: We liberated the regular holidays. July 4-- in our day, sparklers were a great thing. [LAUGHS] We didn't have the big fireworks unless they were on a city-sponsored event. So July 4 was a picnic and not generally off to a park, but we would have a picnic in the backyard. Sparklers at the end of the day.
  • [01:06:15.97] We celebrated Easter. That was always an occasion for at least a new hat, if not a whole new outfit. And Christmas was the big celebration for the family.
  • [01:06:30.58] And did we have special traditions that grew up around those holidays? I think we probably did a traditional celebration. We opened Christmas gifts on Christmas morning. We went to midnight mass, even as little kids.
  • [01:06:56.04] And I mean, did they continue with my children? No. So they couldn't have been too traditional. Our tradition was always assembling Christmas gifts four hours before the kids were getting up for Christmas Day.
  • [01:07:19.88] And we always hoped for snow so that you could go out and play. But birthdays were occasions, but nothing other than home-baked cake and sometimes homemade ice cream were sort of the things we expected for our birthdays.
  • [01:07:45.52] SPEAKER 1: What special food traditions does your family have? Have any recipes been preserved and passed down in your family from generation to generation? Are there family stories connected to the preparation of special foods?
  • [01:07:59.43] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: We had things that I'm sure my mom learned from my grandmother-- things like corn pudding. There was an eggnog recipe from my grandmother that has passed down through families.
  • [01:08:16.92] And I remember when we were trying to get our mom to give us a recipe for, let's say, corn pudding, it was like, she never measured anything. It was all done by feel. So we had to have her sort of reproduce the whole thing.
  • [01:08:40.47] But one of the very fascinating-- how long do you leave the corn putting it in the oven to bake? It was like, you put it in the oven. Then you run upstairs, and you get a quick bath. And you come back down, and it's ready to come out of the oven. It's like, OK. [LAUGHS] So is that 20 minutes, half an hour?
  • [01:09:08.34] Just ways of doing things changed so much. We were used to working from cookbooks with exact measurements and exact time that something should be in the oven. And she had learned to do her cooking on a wood stove with measurements being to feel. And you added enough flour to a recipe to make it thick. It wasn't like it needed 3/4 of a cup. So translating was always a challenge. And it was great fun.
  • [01:09:45.66] And then we would get the occasional cake recipe that was pretty well-defined on how you did things. But I think because other generations had said that we need to know how to measure. We can't weigh the flour by how heavy it is on our hand or on a plate. So they probably did the translations earlier. But there was still a number of recipes that my mom just did by feel.
  • [01:10:22.49] SPEAKER 1: When thinking back on your school years, what important social or historical events were taking place at that time? And how did they personally affect you and your family?
  • [01:10:31.68] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: This could fill an hour. My school years, we were always working on civil rights issues. And then in Ann Arbor, there was segregated housing. We had segregated housing in Ann Arbor. And there were a couple of areas in the city where black families were restricted in purchase or rent, because mostly it was hard to get a loan from a bank.
  • [01:11:05.13] So issues that my parents worked on, and consequently we worked on, were fair housing issues, integration of jobs, the bringing in of black teachers and administrators into the public school system, working on suspensions and expulsions, which were disproportionately handed out against black kids, the fact that black kids were kind of channeled into the business courses rather than given the college prep courses that would let them go on and make better use of their talents and skills, and earn better living for their families.
  • [01:11:48.87] Those kinds of things were the problems in Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County that my parents focused a lot of their time and effort on. So we learned how to do research and data gathering along with a lot of people who worked with them. We were just kind of the gofers for information.
  • [01:12:10.29] And so we learned a lot. I graduated from college in '69. We were just making some really good strides on breaking down the civil rights issues and integrating in the South, and consequently in the North.
  • [01:12:46.01] I mean, the North was probably harder in the end to break down the segregated patterns, because they were all de facto. It was done by gross consent of the community, as opposed to laws setting out places where you had to live and actions that were unacceptable. So it was, I think, a greater challenge because you had to work on the invisible or the less visible segregation.
  • [01:13:20.15] So that was a lot of what we did as a family unit. I do remember one summer, when we were growing up, there was a tradition of putting state decals in your windows if you'd been to a different state or saw a special event. And of course, we didn't do traveling. So we didn't have any.
  • [01:13:48.01] And my younger sister Nancy put a sign in the back window of the car saying "we ain't been nowhere." [LAUGHS] So I guess that was a thorn in my dad's side.
  • [01:14:00.95] So that one summer, we took an extended car trip hitting a lot of states. And he would make her buy a decal in every state we passed through. So we went from Michigan to Maine, because we had family relations in Maine, down to South Carolina, back over to Missouri. So we probably went through about 20 states. [LAUGHS] And he did not put the decals on the back window of the car. However, the sign came out. [LAUGHS]
  • [01:14:48.22] I'm just trying to remember the breaks that we would have. There was always play time and learning time. As girls, we learned to solve from Mom as we were growing up. And I think we were all pretty decent seamstresses. We probably don't, any of us, do that anymore. But I certainly did some sewing for my own kids.
  • [01:15:21.02] It was a definite change in time as I was growing up. We moved away from traditional things like families sewing their own clothes. And not just us. I think families in general moved away from the old traditional hand-me-down skills and training to buying things already made, already done. It was a loss of skill, unfortunately. And I think people tried to pick it up nowadays in crafts.
  • [01:16:02.61] SPEAKER 1: As a high school student, and as a junior high school, actually, did you have opportunities to work on civil rights within your school? Or do was that an outside-of-school thing that you did with your parents more?
  • [01:16:15.09] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Well, for me, it was probably more of an outside-of-school thing. I know that my mom had a Girl Scout troop when we were very small. Because there wasn't a scout leader, but we were probably one of the few integrated Girl Scout troops at that time.
  • [01:16:34.69] And those at St. Thomas, because my sister Mary was in a Brownie troop with my mom. And my sister Mary was in a Girl Scout troop. So we had two leaders in the school. And they both had integrated Girl Scout troops. And that was certainly a first, an early breakdown.
  • [01:16:59.69] And when black kids would get expelled from the public schools, the nuns would take them in to make sure the education continued, if they were asked. I mean, they didn't go out and recruit kids who'd been kicked out. But parents would often hear that the nuns would take a child in who had lost their attendance rights at the public school.
  • [01:17:27.92] And so I think in St. Thomas, we probably had 10 black families over the course of my [CHUCKLES] history at the school for 12 years. But there was an awareness on the part of the nuns that there was differential treatment. And they certainly strove not to have that happen at St. Thomas.
  • [01:17:56.01] But they were also being watched, because my parents were in there a lot to make sure that not only were their girls being treated equally and well, but the other kids who were there were being treated well. But it was a commitment to education that the nuns had that I don't think my parents worry too much that we were giving a good, solid opportunity.
  • [01:18:30.20] I know that there were a number of papers that we did that talked about the civil rights movement and integration that were probably not eye openers for the nuns, because they paid attention to the news. [LAUGHS]
  • [01:18:47.90] But the school was a very open and welcoming place for us, in general. And again, except for that interrelation between the public schools and St. Thomas, in taking kids who had been expelled-- and it wasn't just black kids. There were some white kids who would be expelled. And suddenly the parents were there in Mother Superior's office asking about opportunities for education. And they weren't always Catholic kids.
  • [01:19:21.50] And it was just a willingness on the part of the nuns to recognize that there were discrepancies in how kids of different economic status or racial status were treated. And so we had a very, I think, liberal perspective from our school.
  • [01:19:52.37] We might have had a couple of nuns who were not so [CHUCKLES] open and "racially competent." But my parents certainly helped them to understand they had a responsibility to these kids they had in their classes.
  • [01:20:11.01] SPEAKER 1: Great, OK. [CLEARS THROAT] Sorry. This set of questions covers a relatively long period of your life from the time you completed your education, entered the labor force, or started a family, until all of your children left home and/or you and your spouse retired from work. So we're possibly talking about a stretch of time spanning as much as four decades. You ready?
  • [01:20:35.19] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: [LAUGHS]
  • [01:20:37.61] Sure.
  • [01:20:38.48] SPEAKER 1: All right. After you finished high school, where did you live?
  • [01:20:42.99] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: I stayed in Ann Arbor. I lived at home. I did four years at the University of Michigan. Actually, I did more than four years at the University of Michigan to get my bachelor's degree and to work on some post grad work, working toward a master's in business administration and political science.
  • [01:21:09.09] Let's see. The President Kennedy was assassinated when I was in college, which was quite a blow to a student in journalism-- probably a blow to everybody. But we paid particular attention in journalism. And there was a lot of background story work that we did.
  • [01:21:37.26] And then the university was a challenging place for black students. We had some black assembly groups and some efforts to integrate the school in a more open and friendly manner toward minority students. The university had a number of international students that were also finding life challenging on the campus.
  • [01:22:14.86] So we would make those connections. And the university has always tried. I don't know that they've always been successful. I hear stories today about the way black students are feeling disassociated from the campus, that they feel like they are outsiders and not treated as equally and welcomed as the traditional white students. So these are issues that maybe over the course of my lifetime should have disappeared. [LAUGHS]
  • [01:22:59.09] But you can't always get into the heads of people and fix them. So these are issues that will always be with us, I'm afraid.
  • [01:23:11.52] SPEAKER 1: Did you remain in Ann Arbor? Or did you move around through your working adult life? And what were the reasons for these moves?
  • [01:23:17.27] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Well, I essentially remained in Washtenaw County. I have three kids. And when the kids were-- well, I guess my oldest was probably six-- we moved to Salem Township because we needed more space and housing. And Ann Arbor was extraordinarily expensive at the time.
  • [01:23:41.33] And we found the space we needed outside of the city by-- we were about 12 minutes outside of Ann Arbor, 15. And had lots of space. So the kids grew up in what my middle child called "the boonies." And she was not happy about it. She's definitely a city kid. So she moved as soon as she had the opportunity.
  • [01:24:12.35] We did not do-- I did not do a lot of moving. Home was here. My parents were here. My sisters-- well, my younger sister was here in Washtenaw, in Ann Arbor. My older sister moved to Illinois and is still there. But by and large, the family hearth and home was in Ann Arbor and the outskirts.
  • [01:24:42.26] So I worked in broadcasting when I graduated from the university. I had had part-time jobs with the Television Center, and I stayed on as a producer. And then after about 9 or 10 years, left Television Center and was Mom for a while. And that's when I first ran for political office and served on the South Lyon Community School District Board for eight years.
  • [01:25:26.54] My kids lived in Washtenaw. So technically, they should have been in the Ann Arbor School District. There was a small school district in Salem and a small school in Salem. And at one point, they decided they needed to merge with another school district. So they were looking for a district that would take them.
  • [01:25:52.61] Salem Village had a number of black families in it. And they inquired at Ann Arbor, Plymouth-Canton. And they were turned down because of the black families in the school.
  • [01:26:12.11] But the South Lyon Community School District called them and said, we understand you're looking for a school district. So that school district from Oakland stepped in to Washtenaw County and took in the Salem School District.
  • [01:26:30.20] So my little section of the world was in an Oakland school district. And I ran for the school board when my kids were in elementary school and was elected. I did not serve when my youngest graduated. She was not happy about the fact that Mom was not on the school board. But I wasn't looking for work.
  • [01:26:56.54] My dad called me one day and said, Lana Pollack is looking for somebody to work on her staff in Lansing. Do you know anybody who might be interested? And I thought for a few minutes and said, well, I am. And that didn't go over well with Grandpa. There were three young kids, and the job was in Lansing, and you can't leave them all day and go to work.
  • [01:27:25.47] And they said, well, David's just working at the hospital. He's not that far away if something goes wrong and they need a parent. And he became the grandpa he was as a father.
  • [01:27:43.65] He would call home, make sure the kids were there at the end of the day, that everything was OK, that there were no strangers. But he always did it by disguising his voice and checking to make sure that we're following telephone rules. And so it was sort of fun for them to try and catch the voice and see if it was Grandpa or if it really was a call from some irate parent who had a complaint about the school district.
  • [01:28:16.32] But that was my first job change, was taking the job with Lana and working in the Senate office. And I realized that if I was really going to make the kinds of changes in education that I wanted to see happen, not just for my school district but in other places, I probably should think about running for a different office.
  • [01:28:42.93] So I told my boss that I was going to be running for her job when she was [LAUGHS] through with it. She said she would teach me everything I needed to know, which was a very gracious way of saying, what? I'm going to be challenged from within the office.
  • [01:29:01.71] So I did more changing of career path than I did of where we lived. And after the school board, or while I was still on school board, I ran for the Washtenaw County Commission, knowing that if I were going to run for higher office that served Washtenaw County, I would have to get some name recognition in the district I was going to run for.
  • [01:29:29.74] So I ran for what is still District 2 in Washtenaw and was elected to the County Commission. I served for two years before Lana decided she was going to be running for the Senate-- the US Senate.
  • [01:29:48.57] And the Senate term overlapped hers. So she was not doing what we call a "safe run," which means your office continues while you're running for a different one. She had to make a decision to give up her Senate seat to run for the US senate. She was committed to a run for the US Senate.
  • [01:30:11.25] And at that point in time, I made a run for the State Senate seat and, again, was fortunate enough to be elected. Term limits came into being when I came into office in the state legislature. So I was limited to eight years in the Senate. And I served there for the full two terms.
  • [01:30:33.93] I had a friend who was serving in the House, in my House district. So I was out of office for two years. And then when [? Ruth Ann ?] was term-limited I ran for the House seat and was elected. I served 14 years in the legislature, was termed out.
  • [01:30:54.45] I ran for the governor's office in 2002. And all of the people who would have normally supported me were supporting Dave Bonior for governor. So I teamed up with Dave Bonior. We both lost to Jennifer Granholm. [LAUGHS] And then I went into the House. I ran for the governorship again in 2012. But I didn't make that final commitment to run.
  • [01:31:31.95] So that was the end of my elected career. My kids, in the meantime, were finishing up high school and going into college. You probably have a few questions that might break up this long spiel. [CHUCKLES]
  • [01:31:47.18]
  • [01:31:48.13] SPEAKER 1: I'd like you to tell me about your married and family life.
  • [01:31:52.00] SPEAKER 4: [? It's ?] [? time ?] to stop.
  • [01:31:52.44] SPEAKER 1: Oh, we've got to stop.
  • [01:31:54.61] What were your personal favorite things to do for fun with your family or just by yourself?
  • [01:32:01.87] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: I started stained glass when I was in that two years between the House and the Senate. And I did a number of stained glass projects, some of which I was proud of and others that, it's like, how do I melt this thing apart [LAUGHS] and reuse pieces?
  • [01:32:18.76] I did some sewing and crafts-- just things that kept me busy in off times. But spent most of the time raising the kids, doing homework or supervising, because at some point, it got into trigonometry and calculus, [LAUGHS] so that was not my strength.
  • [01:32:43.66] And when you're in the legislature, you really don't have-- I mean, people say, what a soft job and you're in session for only 120 days and the rest of the time you're goofing off. But we would have meetings and meet with constituents in the afternoons and evenings when we were off.
  • [01:33:02.11] So really, it was kind of a 24/7 job. You had to be available for phone calls and talking with folks about some of their concerns and problems. It isn't just a job of making policy. It's a job of helping people work through the bureaucratic process where they're stymied-- a problem with taxes, a problem with the health department, questions of DNR inspections, and that kind of issue. So it was always an ever-moving job. So there wasn't a lot of time to kill.
  • [01:33:41.68] I wasn't a fan of board games, but I would occasionally sit down with kids. Their dad always played the board games with them, bless his heart. Because Monopoly was too long for me, and I had to stay engaged for too long. But mostly things revolved around work or the kids.
  • [01:34:05.08] SPEAKER 1: Are there any special days, events, or family traditions that you practice that differed from your childhood traditions?
  • [01:34:13.54] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: No, I don't think so. We just sort of incorporated the way we celebrated Christmas and other holidays, except for the parades that I had to do as a legislator. And the kids would often do the parades with me until they got old enough to say, enough. So the July 4 and some of the other events in the community that would have a parade around them were things that I had to attend.
  • [01:34:47.26] And when I left office, I thought, well, I'll be a good sport and go and attend with my daughter-in-law who was elected to the Senate when I left. But I turned out not to be a good sport at all. I took that first 4th of July completely off. [LAUGHS] So celebrated by being out of office. No. So I just--
  • [01:35:19.26] SPEAKER 1: OK. Please describe the popular music of your adult years.
  • [01:35:24.99] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Oh my gosh, I don't know that I listened to popular music in my adult years that wasn't the kids'. Well, we did a lot of Bruce Springsteen. The kids would do a lot of rock and roll. And I couldn't possibly name an artist for you. It was always background for me.
  • [01:35:52.54] And it wasn't until I was probably retired that I actually started listening to some of the music that they were playing. Some of it was totally shocking, as every generational reaction to the kids' music is. And then others, I kind of liked. So I got to know some of the artists.
  • [01:36:14.04] But I would go back to people like Tina Turner-- loved her. And Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Simon and Garfunkel were kind of things that the kids still play.
  • [01:36:30.89] SPEAKER 1: Did the music have any particular dances associated with it?
  • [01:36:35.36] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: As an adult, no. But I think you asked me this question earlier for teen years. And I was chatting with my sister, and she said, oh, sure. She said there was the Twist. There was the Mashed Potato. I have no idea what that is.
  • [01:36:54.39] And so she was recalling some of the dances and activities. But still, it's only a collective memory that helps me to talk about things like that. And I will try to keep [INAUDIBLE] [LAUGHS]
  • [01:37:14.80] SPEAKER 1: What were the popular clothing or hairstyles of this time?
  • [01:37:20.59] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Which time are we looking at?
  • [01:37:23.53] SPEAKER 1: Of your adult life.
  • [01:37:24.04] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: My adult life? Well, women were definitely into slacks. And so I do remember my boss, Lana, saying, you will not wear pants in this office. And it's like, [GASPS] I'm not going out and buying a whole new wardrobe. [LAUGHS] So we had this kind of discussion about pants. So I did wear pants to work. So I think that in that time, it was almost the only thing I wore. I'm not sure [? if ?] my colleagues would occasionally wear skirts.
  • [01:38:08.51] But you were in so many situations where you needed to sit on a stage and talk and you didn't always have those vanity skirts. So it was great to have on a pair of slacks and not have to think about keeping your legs together and feet back and sitting properly.
  • [01:38:37.62] SPEAKER 1: Can you describe any other fads or styles from your adult years?
  • [01:38:41.08] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: [LAUGHS]
  • [01:38:43.81] No. Was I inattentive? Or was I just focused somewhere else? My sisters would tell you that I was real "clothes horse" when I was a kid, growing up, and that I was definitely at the top of the style game. What those were, I don't remember. But I certainly challenged my mom with some of the designer patterns. And she came through and made them beautifully.
  • [01:39:21.80] But after my kids came along, I don't think I paid any attention to style. And I was busy with them and with policy. I know my clothes were clean. The seams were all sewn. The hems were all in. There wasn't a safety pin on my body because my mom always said, don't put safety pins in your clothes. You might be in an accident. And [LAUGHS] she would be so embarrassed. So it was a fashionless life. [LAUGHS] I'm sorry.
  • [01:40:00.65] SPEAKER 1: Were there any slang terms, phrases, or words that you used that aren't in common use today?
  • [01:40:07.93] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Oh, I imagine there are. Oh, I'm sure there were things that were picked up off of songs, like "see you later, alligator," [LAUGHS] "after a while, crocodile." I'm sure that's not around anymore. And always a lot of "ciao," as you're leaving people. But I still hear some of the expressions that we used in my older adult years coming back out of the mouths of babes, if you will. [LAUGHS]
  • [01:41:00.95] SPEAKER 1: When thinking back on your working adult life, what important social or historical events were taking place at the time? And how did they personally affect you and your family?
  • [01:41:10.76] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Well, one of the most significant things that was happening at the time in the late '50s, '60s, was the civil rights movement. And it was really changing for our democracy. It was changing for our culture. And had, and continues to have, a lasting challenging impact on this country to try and really achieve what we mean by equality. And there was the moonshot when I was a kid, which was terrific. That was in the '60s.
  • [01:41:57.71] At one point, my kids said to me as they were approaching their midteens, I think, that there is nothing left to achieve. You guys have done it all. And I said, no, we've started something. It's there for you to move along. I don't know that you'll ever finish. But it's a constant effort to move science forward. There are still many opportunities to create change and to make better lives for folks. It's just constant work.
  • [01:42:37.04] The Medicare was established, which was a great step for seniors and the disabled. Medicaid was brought in to help low-income folks achieve health. Not as widespread as many of us would have liked. I'm personally a universal health care, single-payer system advocate. And I think someday we will achieve it if we really do want to achieve equality of opportunity. So health is critical to people's ability to reach their goals. I don't know if I answered your question. [CHUCKLES]
  • [01:43:27.90]
  • [01:43:28.88] SPEAKER 1: Yeah, that was pretty good. Yeah, you're fine.
  • [01:43:31.71] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: OK.
  • [01:43:32.19] SPEAKER 1: [CHUCKLES]
  • [01:43:33.15]
  • [01:43:34.59] This set of questions covers a relatively long period of your life, from the time you entered the labor force or started a family up to present time. What was your primary field of employment?
  • [01:43:49.23] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Well, I actually had two. Journalism and work in public television was one, [? and ?] producing documentaries and educational programs. And I did that for 9 years or 11-- can't remember-- 9 years. And then the second track was in politics. And so we've gone over that. But those were my two primary roles.
  • [01:44:22.04] Research from my journalism experience really played a great role in my political and policy work. It taught me to think nonlinearly, so that when we were working on legislation, let's say, to end corporal punishment in the schools, everybody said, well, you need to work with the school boards and the obvious suspects for helping with that legislation-- teachers associations.
  • [01:44:55.95] But I also realized that a lot of families and children are impacted who are different because teachers didn't know how to handle the differences. So we worked with the disability community. And I brought in very many other advocates that were interested in ending corporal punishment that most people wouldn't have added to the support group.
  • [01:45:23.51] So it was that research and nontraditional way of looking at a problem that journalism helped me bring to politics. And I think that's one of the reasons I could be effective.
  • [01:45:38.81] SPEAKER 1: Describe the steps of the process involved in your job from start to finish. What's involved? What raw materials are used? Where do you get your materials/supplies/ingredients? How are they prepared? And have they changed over time? How? Why?
  • [01:45:53.62] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: [CHUCKLES] Well, I think for both, everything begins with an idea. And somebody or I would come up with an idea for a change in public policy. And I would research that idea, see what other states were doing, see what we had done and what we might be able to do better.
  • [01:46:17.48] You would look for people working in that area to bring depth and breadth to the idea. And then you would begin the step-by-step process of introducing legislation. You would do kind of a written outline of what you wanted to accomplish, and you would engage with the Legislative Service Bureau, which is a collection of attorneys that works for the legislature that actually sits down with you and creates the public policy-- the bill that will be introduced.
  • [01:46:54.54] So not only were we in the office doing research around what we wanted this legislation to accomplish, we had attorneys that were doing the same kind of effort, looking at the work of other states, trying to determine how that would fit in with the existing policy in the state, the existing laws, and suggesting other ways of writing something that might be easier to understand and just as effective.
  • [01:47:34.73] So that process of tuning up the bill and the legislation into a final piece to be introduced in the House or the Senate was the beginning of a long road. The bill would be introduced. And then just technically, it goes through a first reading in the House or Senate, and assigned to a committee.
  • [01:48:04.58] And then you pray that the chair of the committee will be interested enough or that there's enough energy behind the legislation that the committee will take up the legislation and have a discussion. Whether they pass it out or not, sometimes it's just a value to have a discussion.
  • [01:48:24.62] That was much more possible before term limits. And let me try and explain that. Before term limits, you had a continuity of legislators. And they could look at something in one term and say that that's a good idea, but we'd like to flush it out a little bit better or flesh it out a little bit better. Or we want to add this dimension or restrict it in this way so you would have time to hone it, if you will, so that you could get enough votes to get it out of the committee.
  • [01:49:14.10] With term limits, everybody's time is so short. And you expect to achieve things in a much more rapid fashion. And consequently, we'd get a lot hasty, not very well-thought out legislation that they're [? fixing ?] the next month.
  • [01:49:34.09] But the committee process is where the bill goes. And you should get that debate around it. Then it's reported to the floor of the first chamber where it's introduced. And it gets another haggling and people adding amendments or to add to it or take away.
  • [01:49:55.26] And you go for a vote on the floor of the Senate. If it's passed, it goes to the other chamber-- the House in this case. And the same process happens over again. And when you get agreement or they pass something back that might not look like what the Senate passed, you either get agreement and you pass the bill in both chambers and it's sent off to the governor.
  • [01:50:20.58] Or you get two different versions coming together, and it goes into a conference committee. And the conference committee produces a bill that's then presented to each chamber for its approval or denial-- rejection, if you will. And then it's sent to the governor.
  • [01:50:38.18] So that's the process we had to deal with. And at every step of the way, you had to have constituent and advocate support so that people felt comfortable about what they were doing. And you tried to get that support in many different districts so that the legislators from those districts would feel comfortable that their constituency was on board and that they weren't going to hit a lot of political blowback if they voted for a bill that their constituency really found abhorrent.
  • [01:51:12.31] And that usually happened with tax bills. [LAUGHS] We usually didn't ever get tax bills through. So consequently, this is why we're in the state we're in here in Michigan. [LAUGHS] Education is underfunded. Health care is underfunded. Roads and bridges are underfunded.
  • [01:51:37.71] SPEAKER 1: What was a typical day like during the working years of your adult life?
  • [01:51:42.07] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Well, [LAUGHS] they usually started very early in the morning, like 5:00. And I'd get ready with the kids for work, they off to school, and me off to work.
  • [01:51:55.84] I'd get on the road for the office about 7:30 or 8:00. We'd carpool as a rule. So there was quite a lot of political discussion or other things. I actually had some great road partners on the way to and from Lansing. And we would be able to identify plants in the medians and on the roadside.
  • [01:52:17.62] And so we always talked about doing the 75-mile-per-hour botanist book. And then later we joked about doing the 75-mile-an-hour zoology book for all the road kill.
  • [01:52:32.86] But driving to work was an educational experience. It was fun. And those carpools lasted until I left office. So I would carpool with my own staff. And it was great. So it made the commute very short.
  • [01:52:52.42] Then it was a full workday. The legislature is in session from Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. So Mondays and Fridays were often spent in the district in meetings and coffee hours and being available for constituents, researching legislation. Down here, the University of Michigan, of course, is a great incubator for ideas and a great place to find experts in their field so that you knew you were on solid ground when you were building legislation.
  • [01:53:27.70] But then we'd drive back home, usually in the dark and in the snow. [LAUGHS] No.
  • [01:53:36.11] SPEAKER 1: What?
  • [01:53:37.08] SPEAKER 3: The battery's about [? to die. ?] [? The battery's ?] [? about to die. ?]
  • [01:53:40.47] SPEAKER 1: Oh.
  • [01:53:43.37] This set of questions covers a relatively long period of your life, from the time you completed your education, entered the labor force, or started a family until all of your children left home and/or you and your spouse retired from work. So we're possibly talking about a stretch of time spanning as much as four decades. Tell me about your working years.
  • [01:54:05.33] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Well, I started working out of high school, after high school. And I did summer work, earning enough at that time to pay my tuition at the University of Michigan. Impossible task these days for anybody to earn enough during the summer.
  • [01:54:19.94] And I worked in the radiology film distribution system. So I spent summers handing X-rays to doctors. And they would hand them back to us when they were finished. Nothing quite like the digital age, where it's all in front of them in their offices. So very antiquated system.
  • [01:54:42.74] And from that point, while I was in college, I did some part-time work at the University of Michigan Television Center, crewing on their productions. I started out as one of the gofers on the floor and moved up to a floor manager and assistant director, and learned the game, if you will.
  • [01:55:11.34] And when I finished college, I went into a semi-full-time position at the University of Michigan Television Center and was offered a full-time production job, probably two years after graduation. So I worked there for about 11 years and had an opportunity with three little kids running around the house to just take a break.
  • [01:55:41.46] So I took a couple of years off to be Mom and discovered I didn't function particularly well. I was freelancing as well at that time. And I just couldn't focus on work. I would find any excuse around the house-- laundry, things that you really love to do like laundry and house cleaning so that I didn't do the freelance effort. And I thought I needed to get back to work.
  • [01:56:11.81] And at one point, my dad called me and said that his former campaign manager-- he had had a campaign for mayor here in the city of Ann Arbor. And Lana Pollack ran his campaign. She was on the school board and had been elected to the Michigan Senate. And he had called and said she was looking for a legislative assistant. And he said, did I know anybody who might be interested? And I said, no, but I would think about it.
  • [01:56:40.59] And I thought about it. And I called him back, and I said, I think I'm interested. And he said, no, you're not. That job is up in Lansing, and you have three little kids, and you'll be on the road, and you won't be home when they need you. And so we did that back and forth, and I applied for the job. [LAUGHS]
  • [01:57:01.75] So when I was hired, it was, indeed, five days a week in Lansing. The kids were late adolescence. My son was just getting ready, I think, to go into high school. And my dad would call every day to make sure that they were home when they were supposed to be. He would disguise his voice and kind of tease them to see if they would respond in the right way to strangers on the phone. But he was a great surrogate parent [LAUGHS] taking care that they were safe.
  • [01:57:46.85] At that time, we had a great dog named Maggie. She was a German shepherd. And Maggie would be there to greet the kids when they got home. And their cue was, if she wasn't at the door to greet them, they were to go down to the neighbors right away. They weren't to come into the house.
  • [01:58:05.66] We managed that way, the five of us for many years. Just as kids grew older and more responsible and did their own outside activities, we were all getting home about the same ungodly hour of 6:30 or 7:00, and trying to move forward the day from that point on.
  • [01:58:29.66] When I was working for Lana, I was also on the school board in the South Lyon Community School District and had been for eight years. And I realized that a lot of the education policy is set not in the school district by the school board, but from Lansing.
  • [01:58:46.82] And we were really kind of slaves to the amount of money that Lansing would send to the district-- the kinds of directives and regulations they would send to the school districts to operate. And I thought I could do a better, more effective job if I were in the legislature.
  • [01:59:05.30] So I told Lana that when she was through with it, I was running for her job. I didn't realize how soon that was going to be. My school district was in Oakland County-- essentially housed in Oakland County. And even though Salem is Washtenaw, school districts, as you may know, are amoebas. And they just kind of crawl all over boundaries. They're not very respective of our maps.
  • [01:59:31.94] But I needed to be back in the county and in the district if I was going to get some name recognition. So I made a very strategic decision to run for the county commission. And I ran and was fortunate enough to win in the district I would be representing.
  • [01:59:55.54] And Lana had said, I'll teach you everything you need to know. I don't think either one of us knew that the time would come as quickly as it did when she was going to have to make a decision in her own election path to give up her seat in the Senate.
  • [02:00:15.26] So a year after I was elected to the county commission, Lana started talking about running for the US Senate . And one of the things everybody said to her is, it's not a safe run. And you're running against an incumbent. So it would be a very, very tough race. And she would have to give up her seat to do it.
  • [02:00:39.54] She decided to run for the US senate. And I had to make a decision about whether the time was right for me to run for the State Senate. So I took that leap and was fortunate enough to be elected to the Michigan Senate and served there for eight years. My constituents thought I did a good enough job for my first four years, they sent me back, for which I was grateful.
  • [02:01:07.11] I served in the minority the entire time in the Senate, but was appointed to Appropriations Committee, which is a very prestigious committee-- one that, when the Senate minority leader was giving me committee assignments, said that he was going to put me on Appropriations, and I said, I don't want that. [LAUGHS]
  • [02:01:26.76] And he looked at me. And he said, your district needs you on Appropriations. And he said, you know, I've never had anybody decline this position before. I said, I've been doing budgets with the school district for eight years. And I want to try policy and something else. You make a lot of policy with money, he said.
  • [02:01:51.09] So he had Lana call me, and a couple of other senators call me, and a former speaker of the House, have you absolutely lost your mind? So I took the Appropriations Committee because I thought maybe I had, and served on Appropriations for eight years-- and first four years as just a member of the committee, and then the second four years as the minority-- the ranking member, as they call it-- the minority vice chair of the committee.
  • [02:02:20.82] It was a great learning experience for me. The whole process was. I think I did an effective job for my community. Even though I was in the minority, I learned to work very well with my counterparts across the aisle and was able to get a number of amendments on bills that made things better.
  • [02:02:41.51] I introduced a few bills that were "stolen" because the majority looked at them and said, oh my god, this has to be our bill. We're in charge. So one was around the issue of lead poisoning and lead reduction in the state of Michigan.
  • [02:03:00.84] And my almost greatest accomplishment was getting free tuition here for the universities in the state of Michigan. I introduced legislation. It was smart legislation. It was affordable. And I took it to the Appropriations chair, who was a Republican. And Harry Gast, who was the chair at the time, said, this is great. He said, we'll go to the governor with it and see if we can get permission to move it. I think they knew they had a stumbling block in Governor Engler.
  • [02:03:44.88] Well, it was introduced. It was out there. People were talking about it. And the governor said to them, we can do something similar. So they created a kind of imitation legislation that actually was passed, which all the analysts, our fiscal analysts said, it's just fraught with problems. It's not going to work. It didn't work.
  • [02:04:16.08] But in the political system, if you pass something that's supposed to achieve an outcome, then you don't go back and visit it. So my legislation was dead. And they put in what they called the Hope Plan for community colleges. And my initial plan had been for community college tuition.
  • [02:04:37.77] So the next session, we introduced a bill for the full four years of college. And it died. [LAUGHS]
  • [02:04:49.92] But people are still talking about the fact that we need to do something to help affordability for college so that more students have the opportunity to go, those that go come out with less debt, and they have an opportunity with less debt to go into advanced studies if they choose to do that.
  • [02:05:13.57] I spent 14 years in the Michigan legislature. I was elected twice in the Senate for eight years. Term limits had been enacted when I went into office. I took that as a personal affront. [LAUGHS]
  • [02:05:26.64] But at the end of my two terms in the Senate, I had a friend who was in the Michigan House. And she had two years left. And I certainly wasn't going to challenge [? Ruth ?] [? Ann. ?] I think she was doing a great job for the district, and what was the point? So I waited two years, and then ran for the Michigan House and was elected and served the six years I was allowed-- the three terms.
  • [02:05:55.29] So 14 years in the legislature. Took a couple of stabs at a run for governor. I'm obviously not governor. So that didn't work. But went into retirement from the House. I was 73 or 74 when I left the Michigan House. No, I wasn't that old. I was probably 69 or 70 when I left the Michigan House and found other things to do.
  • [02:06:37.27] I thought I would try retirement, but that didn't work for me. I'm just not somebody who can sit at home. And while I have hobbies and I do a little stained glass work and I used to sew, I figured I could pick up some sewing and do some more stuff, but I was fortunate enough to have a grandchild who kept me a little busy. [LAUGHS]
  • [02:07:00.62] But I needed to do something else. So when an opportunity came for me to serve on the Regional Transit Authority, which was brand-new and trying to get up a mass transit system in Four County area, I applied for that position and was lucky enough to be appointed to a very challenging but very different kind of job for me-- a lot still political.
  • [02:07:30.88] But working to build a consensus around everything you do is not exactly the way we did it in the legislature. You counted votes. If you had one more than half of your body, you win. But this way, we tried to get everybody to agree.
  • [02:07:49.66] I have now two grandchildren. And they are great boys. I love them. Of course, they're great. They're nine. And at this point in time in 2016, Isaiah is nine, and Joshua is nine months. So [LAUGHS] quite a spread. Quite a challenge.
  • [02:08:16.15] SPEAKER 1: What did your family enjoy doing together when your kids were still at home?
  • [02:08:21.49] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: We did a lot of camping and backpacking. School would get out. And a few days after school ended in early June, we were on the road trying to beat the traffic to the campgrounds.
  • [02:08:33.61] We did, again, backpacking. So quite a bit of wilderness camping and fishing. We didn't hunt. We were not a hunting family. But fishing and just exploring the outdoors. So I have a family of campers now. Some very enthusiastic and one who really does like her showers and [LAUGHS] hot water.
  • [02:09:07.93] SPEAKER 1: Let me see. The bell's going to ring.
  • [02:09:11.73] This set of questions covers a relatively long period of your life, from the time you completed your education, entered the labor force, or started a family until all of your children left home and/or you and your spouse retired from work. So we're possibly talking about a stretch of time spanning as much as four decades. Tell me about your working years.
  • [02:09:33.69] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Well, I started working out of high school-- after high school. And I did summer work, earning enough at that time to pay my tuition at the University of Michigan. Impossible task these days for anybody to earn enough during the summer.
  • [02:09:48.30] And I worked in the radiology film distribution system. So I spent summers handing X-rays to doctors. And they would hand them back to us when they were finished. Nothing quite like the digital age, where it's all in front of them in their offices. So very antiquated system.
  • [02:10:11.10] And from that point, while I was in college, I did some part-time work at the University of Michigan Television Center crewing on their productions. I started out as one of the gofers on the floor and moved up to a floor manager and assistant director and learned the game, if you will.
  • [02:10:39.70] And when I finished college, I went into a semi-full-time position at the University of Michigan Television Center and was offered a full-time production job, probably two years after graduation. So I worked there for about 11 years and had an opportunity with three little kids running around the house to just take a break.
  • [02:11:09.82] So I took a couple of years off to be Mom and discovered I didn't function particularly well. I was freelancing as well at that time. And I just couldn't focus on work. I would find any excuse around the house-- laundry-- things that you really love to do like laundry and house cleaning, so that I didn't do the freelance effort. And I thought I needed to get back to work.
  • [02:11:40.17] And at one point, my dad called me and said that his former campaign manager-- he had had a campaign for mayor here in the city of Ann Arbor. And Lana Pollack ran his campaign. She was on the school board and had been elected to the Michigan Senate.
  • [02:11:56.97] And he had called and said she was looking for a legislative assistant. And he said, did I know anybody who might be interested? And I said, no, but I would think of it.
  • [02:12:08.94] And I thought about it. And I called him back. And I said, I think I'm interested. And he said, no, you're not. That job is up in Lansing, and you have three little kids, and you'll be on the road, and you won't be home when they need you. So we did that back and forth, and I applied for the job. [LAUGHS]
  • [02:12:29.95] So when I was hired, it was, indeed, five days a week in Lansing. The kids were late adolescence. My son was just getting ready, I think, to go into high school. And my dad would call every day to make sure that they were home when they were supposed to be. He would disguise his voice and kind of tease them to see if they would respond in the right way to strangers on the phone. But he was a great surrogate parent [LAUGHS] taking care that they were safe.
  • [02:13:15.21] At that time, we had a great dog named Maggie. She was a German shepherd. And Maggie would be there to greet the kids when they got home. And their cue was, if she wasn't at the door to greet them, they were to go down to the neighbors right away. They weren't to come into the house.
  • [02:13:34.02] We managed that way, the five of us, for many years, just as kids grew older and more responsible and did their own outside activities. We were all getting home about the same ungodly hour of 6:30 or 7:00 [LAUGHS] and trying to move forward with the day from that point on.
  • [02:13:58.02] When I was working for Lana, I was also on the school board in the South Lyon Community School District and had been for eight years. And I realized that a lot of the education policy is set not in the school district by the school board, but from Lansing.
  • [02:14:15.20] And we were really kind of slaves to the amount of money that Lansing would send to the district, the kinds of directives and regulations they would send to the school districts to operate. And I thought I could do a better, more effective job if I were in the legislature.
  • [02:14:33.68] So I told Lana that when she was through with it, I was running for her job. I didn't realize how soon that was going to be. My school district was an Oakland County, essentially housed in Oakland County. And even though Salem is in Washtenaw, school districts, as you may know, are amoebas. And they just kind of crawl all over boundaries there. They're not very respective of our maps.
  • [02:15:00.29] But I needed to be back in the county and in the district if I was going to get some name recognition. So I made a very strategic decision to run for the county commission. And I ran and was fortunate enough to win in the district I would be representing.
  • [02:15:23.93] And Lana had said, I'll teach you everything you need to know. I don't think either one of us knew that the time would come as quickly as it did when she was going to have to make a decision in her own election path to give up her seat in the Senate.
  • [02:15:43.61] So a year after I was elected to the county commission, Lana started talking about running for the US Senate. And one of the things everybody said to her is, it's not a safe run, and you're running against an incumbent. So it would be a very, very tough race. And she would have to give up her seat to do it.
  • [02:16:07.91] She decided to run for the US Senate. And I had to make a decision about whether the time was right for me to run for the State Senate. So I took that leap and was fortunate enough to be elected to the Michigan Senate and served there for eight years. My constituents thought I did a good enough job for my first four years, they sent me back, for which I was grateful.
  • [02:16:35.45] I served in the minority the entire time in the Senate, but was appointed to Appropriations Committee, which is a very prestigious committee-- one that when the Senate minority leader was giving me committee assignments, said that he was going to put me on Appropriations and I said, I don't want that. [LAUGHS]
  • [02:16:55.10] And he looked at me. And he said, your district needs you on Appropriations. And he said, you know, I've never had anybody decline this position before. I said, I've been doing budgets with the school district for eight years. And I want to try policy and something else. You make a lot of policy with money, he said.
  • [02:17:19.43] So he had Lana call me and a couple of other senators call me, and a former speaker of the House, have you absolutely lost your mind? So I took the Appropriations Committee, because I thought maybe I had. And served on Appropriations for eight years, and first four years as just a member of the committee, and then the second four years as the ranking member, as they call it-- the minority vice chair of the committee.
  • [02:17:49.16] It was a great learning experience for me. The whole process was. I think I did an effective job for my community. Even though I was in the minority, I learned to work very well with my counterparts across the aisle and was able to get a number of amendments on bills that made things better.
  • [02:18:09.87] I introduced a few bills that were "stolen" because the majority looked at them and said, oh my god, this has to be our bill. We're in charge. So one was around the issue of lead poisoning and lead reduction in the state of Michigan.
  • [02:18:29.18] And my almost greatest accomplishment was getting free tuition here for the universities in the state of Michigan. I introduced legislation. It was smart legislation. It was affordable. And I took it to the Appropriations chair, who is a Republican. And Harry Gast, who was the chair at the time, said, this is great. He said, we'll go to the governor with it and see if we can get permission to move it. I think they knew they had a stumbling block in Governor Engler.
  • [02:19:13.24] Well, it was introduced. It was out there. People were talking about it. And the governor said to them, we can do something similar. So they created a kind of imitation legislation that actually was passed, which [? all ?] [? our ?] fiscal analysts said, it's just fraught with problems. It's not going to work. It didn't work.
  • [02:19:44.44] But in the political system, if you pass something that's supposed to achieve an outcome, then you don't go back and visit it. So my legislation was dead. And they put in what they called the Hope Plan for community colleges. And my initial plan had been for community college tuition.
  • [02:20:06.13] So the next session, we introduced a bill for the full four years of college. And it died. [LAUGHS]
  • [02:20:18.28] But people are still talking about the fact that we need to do something to help affordability for college so that more students have the opportunity to go, those that go come out with less debt, and they have an opportunity with less debt to go into advanced studies if they choose to do that.
  • [02:20:41.93] I spent 14 years in the Michigan legislature. I was elected twice in the Senate for eight years. Term limits had been enacted when I went into office. I took that as a personal affront. [LAUGHS]
  • [02:20:55.00] But at the end of my two terms in the Senate, I had a friend who was in the Michigan House. And she had two years left. And I certainly wasn't going to challenge [? Ruth ?] [? Ann. ?] I think she was doing a great job for the district. And what was the point? So I waited two years and then ran for the Michigan House and was elected and served the six years I was allowed-- the three terms.
  • [02:21:23.65] So 14 years in the legislature. Took a couple of stabs at a run for governor. I'm obviously not a governor, so that didn't work. But went into retirement from the House I was 73 or 74 when I left the Michigan House. No, I wasn't that old. I was probably 69 or 70 when I left the Michigan House and found other things to do.
  • [02:22:05.62] I thought I would try retirement, but that didn't work for me. I'm just not somebody who can sit at home. And while I have hobbies and I know do a little stained glass work and I used to sew, I figured I could pick up some sewing and do some more stuff, but I was fortunate enough to have a grandchild who kept me a little busy. [LAUGHS]
  • [02:22:29.00] But I needed to do something else. So when an opportunity came for me to serve on the Regional Transit Authority, which was brand-new and trying to get a mass transit system in Four County area, I applied for that position, and was lucky enough to be appointed to a very challenging but very different kind of job for me-- a lot still political.
  • [02:22:59.25] But working to build a consensus around everything you do is not exactly the way we did it in the legislature. You counted votes. If you had won more than half of your body, you [? win. ?] But this way, we tried to get everybody to agree.
  • [02:23:18.01] I have now two grandchildren. And they are great boys. I love them. Of course, they're great. They're nine. And at this point in time in 2016, Isaiah is nine, and Joshua is nine months. So [LAUGHS] quite a spread. Quite a challenge.
  • [02:23:44.51] SPEAKER 1: What did your family enjoy doing together when your kids were still at home?
  • [02:23:49.85] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: We did a lot of camping and backpacking. School would get out, and a few days after school ended in early June, we were on the road trying to beat the traffic to the camp grounds. We did, again, backpacking-- so quite a bit of wilderness camping and fishing.
  • [02:24:12.50] We didn't hunt. We were not a hunting family. But fishing and just exploring the outdoors. So I have a family of campers now-- some very enthusiastic and one who really does like her showers and [LAUGHS] hot water.
  • [02:24:36.00] SPEAKER 1: [? Let me see. ?] The bell's going to ring.
  • [02:24:38.77] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: The train and they were building a story. And it got to be time Mom had to get up and start getting dinner ready. And she said, well, how do we finish this story? And I said, caboose.
  • [02:24:50.77] And she said, that was the first word you'd said for a year and a half. And she said it was funny. It was appropriate. But we were so afraid to laugh because we thought maybe that would discourage you from saying anything else. But she said, we got a big tickle out of that.
  • [02:25:17.23] And the kids look at you like, what? [LAUGHS]
  • [02:25:21.62] Your family probably has those inside things, too.
  • [02:25:24.14] SPEAKER 1: Yeah.
  • [02:25:24.77] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: Yes. And you look at your aunts and uncles and say, what? [LAUGHS]
  • [02:25:28.81] SPEAKER 1: Yeah.
  • [02:25:30.21] ALMA WHEELER SMITH: You know people are weird. They're truly weird.
Graphic for audio posts

Media

2018

Length: 02:25:34

Copyright: Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)

Rights Held by: Ann Arbor District Library

Downloads


Subjects
Oral Histories
Legacies Project
Alma Wheeler Smith