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Legacies Project Oral History: Thomas Overmire

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 9:21am

When: 2020

Thomas G. Overmire was born 1926 in Indianapolis, Indiana. His father was a banker and the family saw firsthand the difficulties caused by the Great Depression. He served in the army during World War II before getting his BA from Indiana University in Bloomington. Overmire’s evolving career included teaching high school biology, getting his PhD, serving as a college dean, working at the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research, and writing a biology textbook, The World of Biology (1986). He and his wife Joan have two sons, a daughter, and several grandchildren. He enjoys playing piano and bridge.

Thomas Overmire was interviewed by students from Skyline High School in Ann Arbor in 2010 as part of the Legacies Project.

Transcript

  • [00:00:09.74] SPEAKER 1: OK. I'm first going to ask you some simple demographic questions. While these questions may jog memories, please try and keep the answers brief and to the point.
  • [00:00:19.33] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Brief? OK.
  • [00:00:19.72] SPEAKER 1: We can elaborate later in the interview.
  • [00:00:21.87] THOMAS OVERMIRE: All right.
  • [00:00:22.87] SPEAKER 1: Please say and spell your name.
  • [00:00:25.31] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Thomas Overmire. T-H-O-M-A-S O-V-E-R-M-I-R-E.
  • [00:00:33.99] SPEAKER 1: What is your birth date, including the year?
  • [00:00:36.99] THOMAS OVERMIRE: 19th of July, 1926.
  • [00:00:41.72] SPEAKER 1: How would you describe your ethnic background?
  • [00:00:45.05] THOMAS OVERMIRE: I'm-- on one side of my family go back six or seven generations, I'm definitely a white American.
  • [00:00:56.44] SPEAKER 1: What's your religious affiliation do you think?
  • [00:00:59.22] THOMAS OVERMIRE: I'm a Unitarian. Which is almost none in one sense.
  • [00:01:06.92] SPEAKER 1: What is the highest level of formal education that have completed?
  • [00:01:11.84] THOMAS OVERMIRE: I have a PhD.
  • [00:01:14.60] SPEAKER 1: Did you attend any additional school or formal training beyond what you completed?
  • [00:01:20.53] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Not really.
  • [00:01:23.24] SPEAKER 1: What is your marital status?
  • [00:01:24.74] THOMAS OVERMIRE: I'm married.
  • [00:01:26.54] SPEAKER 1: Is your spouse still living?
  • [00:01:27.77] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Yes.
  • [00:01:29.78] SPEAKER 1: How many children do you have?
  • [00:01:31.08] THOMAS OVERMIRE: I have three children.
  • [00:01:32.62] SPEAKER 1: How many siblings do you have?
  • [00:01:34.38] THOMAS OVERMIRE: One.
  • [00:01:36.78] SPEAKER 1: What would you consider your primary occupation to have been?
  • [00:01:43.43] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Well, it involved biology. I was basically a teacher and an administrator. And then a writer. I don't have a primary occupation.
  • [00:01:55.05] SPEAKER 1: What did you do to retire?
  • [00:02:00.98] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Well, I'm not sure. I was self-employed when I kind of tapered off. Started getting Social Security when I was 66, and then I worked another five years after that, probably, part-time.
  • [00:02:20.27] SPEAKER 1: Now I can begin the first part of our interview, beginning with some things you can recall, like your family history. We're beginning with family naming history. By this, we mean any story about your last or family name or family tradition like selecting middle and first names. Do you know any stories about your family name?
  • [00:02:39.43] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Well, it used to be sound more German than it was. It used to be Obermire. And I-- great or great-great-grandfather, when they came-- came from Germany to this country. I don't know if he was thrown out of the family or not, but he changes-- he left the Catholic Church at that time and changed the spelling of his name.
  • [00:03:05.65] SPEAKER 1: Are there any naming traditions in your family?
  • [00:03:09.35] THOMAS OVERMIRE: No, I don't think so.
  • [00:03:12.76] SPEAKER 1: Why did your ancestors leave to come to the United States?
  • [00:03:17.14] THOMAS OVERMIRE: I don't know.
  • [00:03:19.78] SPEAKER 1: What are any stories about how your family first came to the United States?
  • [00:03:26.53] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Oh dear. I'm not really sure of-- in the Midwest, I think-- lived throughout in Ohio and gradually moved to Indiana. They were farmers, mostly. Then it got down to my grandfathers, one was a blacksmith and one ran a small store, a grocery store. But I don't-- I don't know why they moved where they did. Probably had relatives there ahead of them, I just don't know.
  • [00:04:07.51] SPEAKER 1: How did they make a living, either in the old country or in the United States?
  • [00:04:11.16] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Well, my grandfather was a blacksmith, and my other grandfather didn't make a living. They said that he lived in a small town in Indiana, about 1,000 people. And they say he supported half the people in town because he gave credit at his grocery store and not many people paid back, so he never-- I think he went bankrupt eventually. We were never very successful businessmen.
  • [00:04:45.89] Oh, my grandma hung wallpaper for pin money. And she was still doing it when she got almost to my age.
  • [00:04:59.88] SPEAKER 1: Describe how your family moved once they arrived in the United States and how they came to live in an area.
  • [00:05:08.44] THOMAS OVERMIRE: I don't know.
  • [00:05:13.43] SPEAKER 1: What possessions they bring with them and why?
  • [00:05:16.58] THOMAS OVERMIRE: I don't know. Just glad they did.
  • [00:05:21.48] SPEAKER 1: Do you know if any family members stayed behind?
  • [00:05:26.76] THOMAS OVERMIRE: I'm sure they did, but I don't-- I've tried to run down some trace of histories and things. And I run into blank walls, I suppose most people do. You run into someone who is adopted or someone who-- well that's the main thing, but-- and then this name change, this spelling change caused some complications, too. I'm never really sure, there are four or five ways to spell Overmire, and not really sure which ones are related to me. I have not been successful tracing my ancestry very much.
  • [00:06:10.38] SPEAKER 1: So you don't really know anything about the family migration or anything?
  • [00:06:14.36] THOMAS OVERMIRE: No.
  • [00:06:15.66] SPEAKER 1: OK.
  • [00:06:16.52] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Well, I do on my mother's side. They came from England into Virginia, had a plantation there. [INAUDIBLE] big thing way back several generations. So it had-- grew cotton, I think, had some slaves. And then I've seen some of the records there where they release-- when somebody is born, they get part of the land, and it started being cut into smaller and smaller, and they got so many chickens and they got one of the slaves or they got one of the cows or something. It was certainly a different kind of living.
  • [00:07:08.44] SPEAKER 1: What stories have come down to you about your parents or grandparents?
  • [00:07:21.43] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Well, I can't think of anything beyond what I've shared right now.
  • [00:07:28.27] SPEAKER 1: Do you know any hardship stories? How did your parents, grandparents, and other relatives come to meet and marry?
  • [00:07:36.41] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Nothing very exciting, I don't think. My-- on my mother's side, my grandfather had a child and then lost his wife. And the child was taken up by family relatives and raised, and eventually I think my grandmother-- my own grandmother married. But it was kind of because of-- somebody to take care of that child I think's really what was the-- probably the notion of the marriage. They eventually had six or seven kids, but it was kind of a necessity at the time somebody to take care of the baby.
  • [00:08:31.34] SPEAKER 1: Were you born at home or in a hospital?
  • [00:08:33.42] THOMAS OVERMIRE: In a hospital.
  • [00:08:35.61] SPEAKER 1: So--
  • [00:08:37.19] THOMAS OVERMIRE: In Indianapolis. I remember very little about it, it was a long time ago.
  • [00:08:43.37] SPEAKER 1: Yeah. [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:08:46.81] SPEAKER 2: [INAUDIBLE] [? All right, go ahead ?] [? and do the interview ?] [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:08:53.72] SPEAKER 1: 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 this-- the earliest part of your life.
  • [00:09:06.67] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Before I went to school?
  • [00:09:07.93] SPEAKER 1: Yeah. Where did you grow up and what are the strongest memories of that place?
  • [00:09:15.51] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana. I don't have any strong memories of before I went to school, I had just a few vague things. I can remember jumping off the porch once and hitting my knee-- chin on my knee and breaking a tooth. I can remember sliding down a hill in the wintertime. Just-- I can't really remember any adventures or anything in it. Maybe nothing happened, I don't know, it's a-- haven't concentrated much on that for a long time.
  • [00:09:57.03] SPEAKER 1: How did your family come to live there?
  • [00:10:00.53] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Well, their families had lived in Indiana, and my-- after my father was in World War I, one of our relatives got him a job in a local company as a draftsman, and eventually, another relative got him a job in a bank in Indianapolis. And that's the reason I lived there. They lived with their-- they lived with relatives for the first year or two of their marriage, and that was the way our families did back then, you double up with someone who had an extra room or something.
  • [00:10:45.14] SPEAKER 1: What was your house like?
  • [00:10:50.11] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Before I went to school? I don't remember much. I think we lived in three different houses, and I have very vague memories of-- just a glimpse of my mind. I had a brother who was about five years younger than I was. And I think they had to move to get a bigger house, but they were all in Indianapolis, but I don't remember beyond that.
  • [00:11:25.56] SPEAKER 1: So how many people lived in your house when you were growing up?
  • [00:11:29.40] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Before I went to school?
  • [00:11:30.83] SPEAKER 1: Yeah.
  • [00:11:31.71] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Well, four of us. The two boys and my mother and dad. Later on it expanded [INAUDIBLE].
  • [00:11:45.85] SPEAKER 1: What languages were spoken in or around your household?
  • [00:11:48.94] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Just English.
  • [00:11:54.61] SPEAKER 1: Were different languages spoken in different settings, like around your neighborhood?
  • [00:11:59.56] THOMAS OVERMIRE: No. I'd learned a couple words a German, maybe, but it's only a couple of words, how to say thank you in Spanish or something, but I was never a linguist ever in my life. I had to take languages in colleges later on, but I never learned any languages. I don't see how they speak in those other languages.
  • [00:12:27.99] SPEAKER 1: What was your family like when you were a child?
  • [00:12:31.50] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Fine. They were a typical family, I suppose. We just lived and ate. And my mother didn't work, my dad worked at a bank. My brother and I just ran around, I guess. I-- I don't know.
  • [00:12:55.19] SPEAKER 1: What sort of where did your father do at the bank?
  • [00:12:58.39] THOMAS OVERMIRE: I think he started out as a messenger, and then he eventually-- this was later-- became a cashier, which was an officer of the bank. Then he left the bank and went on and other things, went with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which was regulating banks during The Depression.
  • [00:13:27.03] SPEAKER 1: So what is your earliest memory?
  • [00:13:31.92] THOMAS OVERMIRE: [LAUGHS] Of anything? Oh dear. Let's skip that, I have no idea. I don't remember any-- i just don't remember back there.
  • [00:13:48.61] SPEAKER 1: So what do you think a typical day was like for you in your pre-school years?
  • [00:13:53.68] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Well, I suppose I took a nap in the afternoon. They had a story, I remember when we were up at my grandmother's house. We lived in Indianapolis, and both of our my grandparents lived in Yorktown, which is about 30 miles away. And my folks would go up there every weekend or every other weekend, so I got to know my grandparents a lot, and we'd stay overnight.
  • [00:14:29.14] And they said once when I was-- must have been pretty young, they'd put me up to bed and I didn't want to go to bed, and I used to lick my eyes to make it look like I'd been asleep. But they said when I was very young once, they put me in bed and mother shut the door-- shut the door, and then I-- and I said, no, mama, door down. No, mama, cry. That's a big event in my pre-school years, I guess.
  • [00:15:05.98] SPEAKER 1: What did you like to do for fun?
  • [00:15:13.41] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Well, I remember when I got into kindergarten, I used to like to paint and draw and build with blocks. And I remember I got real-- I went to three different kindergartens in one year, so got switch around some, but I remember I got very unhappy once because they only had two kinds of paint-- two colors of paint, and I needed more variety than that if I was going to paint anything.
  • [00:15:46.64] SPEAKER 1: So did you have any favorite toys?
  • [00:15:53.39] THOMAS OVERMIRE: You're talking to wrong person, I guess. I just don't remember much of a-- I was happy. My folks loved me. My brother and I seem to get along, but those memories are just-- have not stayed with me.
  • [00:16:16.04] SPEAKER 1: Where there any special days, events, or family traditions that you remember in this time?
  • [00:16:20.81] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Oh, I'm sure we celebrated birthdays, but we didn't have any family traditions other than going up to grandma's house, but that was-- that wasn't just on holidays, that was a couple of times a month.
  • [00:16:36.12] [SIDE CONVERSATION]
  • [00:16:40.50] SPEAKER 2: Sorry, where are you?
  • [00:16:41.47] SPEAKER 1: I finished the second one.
  • [00:16:42.93] SPEAKER 2: OK. [INAUDIBLE] There will be times when you want to just use all your available time. So I think we have about two minutes left or something. So go ahead and read the lead. Even if you want to get a question in, make sure you mark your thing where you left off.
  • [00:16:59.21] SPEAKER 1: OK. So now we'll discuss your time as a young person. From about the time that school attendance typically begins in the United States up until your professional career or work life.
  • [00:17:10.15] THOMAS OVERMIRE: OK. I remember more about that.
  • [00:17:14.46] SPEAKER 1: Did you go to pre-school?
  • [00:17:16.25] THOMAS OVERMIRE: I went to kindergarten. Three different kindergartens.
  • [00:17:22.95] SPEAKER 1: Where?
  • [00:17:24.12] THOMAS OVERMIRE: All in Indianapolis. And I don't know why they switched me around, I don't think it was for disciplinary reasons or anything, it just--
  • [00:17:34.81] SPEAKER 1: What do you remember about it?
  • [00:17:37.37] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Well, I had fun. I liked to-- I remember, I liked to build-- had these big wooden boards, I liked to build boats with them. And I would get involved and I was always late then for the next activity because you had to put all that stuff away, and I was-- I know I was always late doing that.
  • [00:18:02.55] And as I said, I like to paint. We had an easel we got to stand up and paint with.
  • [00:18:11.47] SPEAKER 1: Did you go to elementary school?
  • [00:18:15.37] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Did I go to elementary school? Yeah I went to elementary school
  • [00:18:20.42] SPEAKER 1: Where?
  • [00:18:22.79] THOMAS OVERMIRE: In Indianapolis.
  • [00:18:25.90] SPEAKER 1: What do you remember about it?
  • [00:18:30.33] THOMAS OVERMIRE: I think I a pretty good student. I was-- I think I used to be a little worrywart and didn't want to ever get in trouble. I got in trouble a couple of times. By the time we were in elementary-- I was in elementary school, it was during The Depression in the 1930s. And my dad was working at this bank, and he didn't lose his job like a lot of people did, but he-- they cut his salary in half. But they also let us move out to a place that the bank had foreclosed on.
  • [00:19:18.61] It was a real nice place, great big place. It had nine rooms in it. It had six acres of land with a pear trees and apple trees. It had been a ritzy place. It had-- it had a three-car garage with a servants' quarters over the garage, and a big, long chicken house behind it to-- and this is all a thing of the past, but they had foreclosed on that and they had been unable to sell it. They were trying to get $12,000 for it, and nobody had that kind of money at that time. So they'd let us live out there for about nine years for free just to have somebody in it to keep them from vandalizing. But that was-- that's the happiest time of my childhood, I guess, when we were living out there.
  • [00:20:11.94] And at that time, we had lots of relatives come to live with us because we had this extra room. At various times we had-- well, had an uncle an aunt and child would come in for a couple of years and live upstairs, or another uncle or a uncle and an aunt would share-- that's the way. People got along during The Depression.
  • [00:20:37.04] And I walked to school. It was out on the edge of town. It wasn't in-- I walked I guess about three blocks to school every day.
  • [00:20:48.30] SPEAKER 3: It's done.
  • [00:20:50.63] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Our kids were still at home. We played games, we played Monopoly, various kinds of car-- card games. We went to-- kids were involved in various sports. Our daughter took karate, and our boys-- we have two sons. Did a lot of cycling with their bicycles, they did that an awful lot.
  • [00:21:32.73] And we enjoyed traveling. I don't know if I mentioned it or not, but then I probably did. When our children were eight, 10, and 12, I had a chance to teach in India, and we all went, took a couple months, went around the world and spent time in India. So that was-- that was quite an event, quite-- a lot of-- lots of togetherness there, because they didn't know anybody there, so we got to do a lot of sightseeing while we were doing that too.
  • [00:22:11.00] And we've always liked to camp. Fish. I guess that about covers it.
  • [00:22:23.74] SPEAKER 3: What were your personal favorite things to do since then?
  • [00:22:27.01] THOMAS OVERMIRE: My personal things? When my children were younger? Well, I guess I did the things that I just mentioned in the-- drug the kids along. So I like to camp and I like to visit the places, and I used to like to draw. I thought I-- maybe I wanted to be an artist sometime. I like music. I liked watching football games. Pretty normal activities, I guess. Since I've retired, I've started to play lots of bridge, which is-- I didn't have the time for that, or didn't feel I had that time. But that's-- after retirement, that's become very big in my life.
  • [00:23:36.53] SPEAKER 3: Are there any special days, events, or family traditions you practice that were different from your own childhood?
  • [00:23:54.32] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Well, we celebrated our children's birthdays, which we did not celebrate when I was young, because they weren't here yet. But no, I can't think of anything that is radically different. When I was young, I went to visit my grandparents, who lived about 40 miles away. We'd go there maybe every other week. Our kids did not have that opportunity because our-- their grandparents lived further away. We had one grandmother who lived in the same town, so we saw her quite a bit, but it was a little different than when I'd been growing up because they lived in a small town.
  • [00:24:52.28] My brother and I developed friends in this other little town, but my children did visit their grandparents enough to develop friends beyond the family. So that's a difference, I guess.
  • [00:25:10.36] SPEAKER 3: Please describe the popular music of this time.
  • [00:25:14.26] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Popular music of this time? Well, it was just starting to be music I didn't like. I used to like world-- music before World War II and the '20s and Gershwin and Cole Porter and show tunes. And when I was in high school, I played in a little dance band, and we played that kind of music. As our kids were growing up, though, we were switching to basically rock and roll and its many variations. And I just never caught onto that or gotten in touch with it. I didn't-- but I guess I was thinking about other things.
  • [00:26:05.27] When I was in high school, music was very, very important, and you knew the words to everything that was coming out. And this was during World War II. And there were lots of very romantic songs and homesick songs. "I'll Be Seeing You" and the bluebirds-- "There'll Be Bluebirds Over the White Cliffs of Dover," stuff like that. When our children were in school, it was switching to things that I just-- didn't remember the melodies or didn't think much of the melodies. It's basically three chords, and that's not very exciting for me.
  • [00:26:59.93] Oh, I should say, one of our sons was in a little band. He played bass, bass guitar, and they would practice in our basement. And I would always accuse him of not tuning up before they practiced. They played real loud, but I-- and several of their group went ahead and actually became-- they're still active today as musicians locally. But at that time, it was pretty noisy and pretty loud. Pretty discordant, I thought.
  • [00:27:36.52] SPEAKER 3: What were the popular clothing and hair styles at that time?
  • [00:27:46.43] THOMAS OVERMIRE: When our children were growing up? Well, I know they hadn't reached the place where they have where your pants are falling off. That wasn't in style yet. I think our sons wore blue jeans all the time. I guess I wasn't very observant, I don't know.
  • [00:28:29.29] SPEAKER 3: Were there any slang terms, phrases, or words that were used that aren't common in today's society?
  • [00:28:37.04] THOMAS OVERMIRE: I'm sure there were, but probably not used at home much that-- I'm drawing a blank on that, too. 23 Skidoo was out of style, I know. And-- did you ever hear that? That's back in the '20s, back in World War I. No help.
  • [00:29:14.19] SPEAKER 3: 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?
  • [00:29:23.53] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Oh my, lots of-- lots and lots and lots and lots of things happened. We were overwhelmed, as we are today, lots is going on now. But at that time, the Civil Rights movement was in full action. The Korean War, the Vietnam War, those had tremendous impact on our lives. And my oldest son graduated from high school during the Vietnam era. And he was very concerned, he didn't want to go to-- didn't think much of war, didn't like it. So he had a real serious problem to face-- luckily he wasn't called, but it was-- it hung over everybody's head, there's lots of stuff going on.
  • [00:30:28.80] One big difference was the-- they call it the sexual freedom. A lot different-- dating and boy-girl relationships-- man-woman relationships. Much more open, much freer, much more extensive than when I was in high school. And our kids, as I remember, didn't date very much. They would they would go with groups of people, but I don't think they-- they didn't have any hot love affairs during their-- certainly didn't go steady with anybody.
  • [00:31:18.01] High school was one of the best times of my life, I really liked high school. I don't sense that that was true for my children. I think they-- either high school had changed or they had broader interests. I've gone back to my high school reunions whenever possible, and I don't think our kids have gone to any of their high school reunions. Just changing times and changing interests.
  • [00:31:44.44] Our kids never had a car, though. Well, I never had a car either in high school. And I suspect today, many more people have cars than my children had. Things certainly evolve.
  • [00:32:07.65] SPEAKER 3: This set of questions covers a relatively long period of of your life, from the time you entered the labor force, first started a family, up to the present.
  • [00:32:16.80] THOMAS OVERMIRE: That is a long time.
  • [00:32:21.30] SPEAKER 3: What specific training or skills were required for your job? What tools were involved, and how and when are they used?
  • [00:32:30.35] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Well that is an involved question. Let's just take one of my jobs at-- my primary job as a biology teacher, let's say, even though I did that for maybe 10 years during that time, but this stuff all started there and branched out from there, kind of was the home base.
  • [00:32:54.29] Well, I went to-- after I got out of the Army, I was able to use the GI bill to go to college. And it was marvelous, it paid for tuition, and it gave me I think it was $75 a month to live on, and paid for my books. That was for four years, so that got me through my undergraduate degree. So I didn't have to work. So I was able to spend a lot of time taking courses.
  • [00:33:28.22] I thought I want to be an engineer, but I soon found out after the first semester that my interests weren't like other engineering students. People I knew who were in engineering school spent their weekends messing with their cars always, taking them apart, fixing them. I had no interest in that at all. So I decided that that probably-- that was not my future.
  • [00:33:57.31] And I ended up transferring to two biology, which I'd always liked. I was a Boy Scout and I liked the outdoors, camping and stuff. And I took the courses, kind of like a premed student would take. And after four years, I got a teaching degree in high school biology. I didn't go into teaching directly, but I went ahead and went another two years and got a master's degree in botany, this was, and then I started teaching high school.
  • [00:34:39.44] And then after five or six years as a high school teacher, biology teacher-- it was a good department-- it was a good high school in Indianapolis. We had seven people in the department-- science teachers, biology teachers. And two of them had PhDs and the rest all master's degrees. It was-- and the school was listed in Time magazine, I remember once, as one of the 20 outstanding schools in the country.
  • [00:35:15.31] But in 1957, the Russians set up a satellite, and that kind of changed science, certainly science teaching. People came very much up in arms. We're lagging behind the Russians and what can we do? And one of the things they did was start to provide additional educational opportunities for science teachers.
  • [00:35:42.01] So I started going to school in the summertime with the tuition and my expenses being paid by some government program-- usually the National Science Foundation. And I ended up eventually getting a PhD out of that program. And then from there on, then I started branching out from-- became a college biology teacher, instructor at-- but the science, the continuing depth of knowledge helped me in jobs along the way, and as I say, I branched out, but they were all kind of based on this beginning. And I could go on for another 10 minutes if you want me to, but that's--
  • [00:36:39.05] SPEAKER 3: What technology changes occurred during your working years?
  • [00:36:43.83] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Well, I suppose the main thing is computers. I remember the first computer I had access to was about the size of a piano. And it was really just a word processor. It could-- you could type on it, but you could run mathematical equations or anything else. But that was a big difference because at that time, I was trying to write a textbook, and I had-- oh, I was at a-- 10, 20 years, it seemed like.
  • [00:37:22.02] But most of my time was spent retyping and retyping. I'd do something, and then I'd correct it, then I'd have to retype it. When I finally got to this huge box of a computer, all that changed, because I was able to not have to retype something after it got done. And, of course, it's gone on and on. But that's the main thing I see.
  • [00:37:47.70] I have made no attempt at all to keep up with all the little handheld devices now. I tried hard when I was working to keep on top of mind-- keep expanding my computer knowledge. I knew quite a bit about atomic energy at one time, too. But unless you really spend a lot of time and practice and so forth, these things slip away from you. I guess that's one of the things you need to do. If I would give advice to anyone, it's remember, the next year your job may be a different job or you may not have a job.
  • [00:38:28.77] So keep trying to improve your skills, your knowledge, because the next job you have may be sort of different, but if you kept up to date some, you'll have a better chance of getting it and you'll do a better job and you probably enjoy it more and you'll make more money. And certainly I think anyone now ought to know how to use a computer to some degree.
  • [00:38:57.62] That was not true when I was in school, I remember they'd-- I didn't take any computer courses when I was in college. I remember my genetics course in college. Did not even mention DNA. That's a long time ago, but at that time, genetics just wasn't as fast like it is now. Things have multiplied, multiplied tremendously. But you need to try to keep up, you need to try to keep current as much as you can, and not get discouraged and so forth.
  • [00:39:39.71] SPEAKER 3: How do you judge excellence within your field? What makes someone respected in that field?
  • [00:39:46.13] THOMAS OVERMIRE: And let's say that the field would be, say, higher education or something in colleges. It's-- frankly it's-- you hope that you're a good teacher. You hope that you're productive. Creative-- being creative is a big measure if you want to be a college teacher, college instructor. That can be creative as far as an artwork or in music or creative in science, too. If you want to really become a serious college person, you need to do some research or some kind of creative effort, and it needs to be recognized. You need to get it published, you need to get-- have exhibitions, something of that nature.
  • [00:40:39.73] And the more you have, the wider your contributions are to professional societies in the area that you're interested in. This is what gains you stature has as a college professor. Then you have to be lucky to then really find something that nobody else knew before, or discover gold or something.
  • [00:41:05.96] [SIDE CONVERSATION]
  • [00:41:10.31] OK? Do we have anything else left to talk about?
  • [00:41:17.14] SPEAKER 3: Do we have more?
  • [00:41:17.63] SPEAKER 1: We should probably have one more.
  • [00:41:18.60] SPEAKER 3: We may have one more.
  • [00:41:19.63] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Uh huh.
  • [00:41:20.34] SPEAKER 3: But I'm not sure. We'll just have to [? boost ?] [? your-- ?] [? boost ?] [INAUDIBLE] [? Mr. ?] [? Nelson. ?]
  • [00:41:29.00] THOMAS OVERMIRE: I'm scheduled to come back Monday, I think.
  • [00:41:30.94] SPEAKER 3: All right, yeah. I think we have one more. Thank you.
  • [00:41:35.28] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Yeah. What do you do after this?
  • [00:41:38.21] SPEAKER 4: [INAUDIBLE] [? class. ?] Of course he's a part of the class.
  • [00:41:53.60] SPEAKER 1: Now we're going to be talking about your work and retirement from the time you entered the labor force or started a family up to the present time. What specific training or skills were required for your job? What tools are involved? How and when are they used?
  • [00:42:13.08] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Well, I guess first, you have to define a job. And I've had many, many jobs. I started out wanting to be a forest ranger when I was in high school, because I was in the Boy Scouts, something like that. And I got-- when I was in the Army, I got out west and saw how big the trees are in Oregon and California, and that kind of scared me off from that.
  • [00:42:43.75] And math had always been my favorite subject in high school, so I just went-- when I went to college, I went as an engineer because that seemed to make sense. But I soon found out that engineering wasn't for me and I switched-- I think I mentioned this before-- switched to biology. So if you're going to consider my job as a biologist or as a teacher, I'd say the important thing is to get lots of information to learn how to work with people, try to keep up to date, keep out of trouble, those kinds of things.
  • [00:43:26.21] But my job changed. I eventually went back to school and got some more degrees-- another degree. And I was-- my next stop was still a teacher, but I was getting more into research. And that requires a different kind of preparation. It's a lot more independent, it's a lot more on your own.
  • [00:43:56.47] Then I had jobs where it really was more management of people. It was working with people and running meetings and writing reports, things like that. Working with the union. And then I went to work for the government for a while, and that takes that kind of preparation, too. You have to-- at my level, anyway, which was pretty far down, you had to do a good job, of course, but you had to be willing to be satisfied with not getting credit for what you're doing. I remember, I wrote a lot of letters, but I always signed other people's names on them, it was always my boss or my boss's boss. So you're just really a clog in there, but my interests became much broader way out beyond biology by that time.
  • [00:44:57.28] And then I came to Michigan for-- although I went back to becoming a biologist for a while, and it got me involved in curriculum. Lots of national programs and did lots of traveling and lots of advising and lots of consulting. And then I came back to Michigan where my job here was executive director of professional society that had-- I think it was 26 different areas. Migration history and economics and biology and education and on and on.
  • [00:45:40.07] Our preparation for that-- I don't know how you can get preparation for all those different things, other than to keep reading, try to remember things, keep your ears open, be willing to stick your neck out here and there. And then I went and became a dean, and that's real-- at a community college, and that's-- I'm not sure what the preparation for that is either other than you better know some subject pretty well. You better-- it was a union college, so you better know how the union operates and what you can and cannot do. Better learn to be a speechmaker of sorts because you're doing a lot of public contact work. You're certainly going to be doing a lot of writing, reports and on and on.
  • [00:46:36.90] And this is a long way difference from what I ever thought it would be when I was still an undergraduate. Then I went overseas and became a project management officer of a science research institute, which meant I had to be able to assess what other people were doing in very technical fields. And to keep them on budgets and make sure they were legal in everything they did and spending the funds right. Of course, I can't do that by myself, you have to have help-- I developed a staff. And again, it wasn't-- I never had a course in that or I never had any real preparation-- I never thought about that, but it went that way.
  • [00:47:27.80] And then I eventually-- escaping some more things, I-- eventually became self-employed as a writer and as a technical writer, and that really-- I don't know how you're train for that. It would've been nice if I'd been an English major, I think, but I wasn't. But I had a decent use of the English language, but I'd written lots and lots of reports and lots and lots of other stuff-- a book or two.
  • [00:48:03.55] But my technical writing involved working for all of the auto companies and for IBM and engineering companies. I was usually on the edge of my knowledge, frequently writing about something I didn't know what I was talking about, but I'd have to get somebody who would advise me or correct me or point me in another direction, and that takes-- I don't know how you train for that other than you better has more self-confidence, you better have some willingness to say, I agree, this isn't right.
  • [00:48:38.18] And I think maybe that's the kind of advice I would give to anyone. You know what you want to be now, maybe. I didn't, but maybe you do. But it may change. You may end up being a-- goodness knows what you might end up being, but if you keep preparing for it and keep trying to broaden your preparation, it improves your chances a lot of keeping your head above water. End of speech.
  • [00:49:14.18] SPEAKER 1: Thanks. What is the biggest difference-- oh. [INAUDIBLE] So tell me about what books you've written.
  • [00:49:27.42] THOMAS OVERMIRE: I wrote a-- well, when I was a high school teacher, I was involved in a-- called the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, the SCS, and they were writing textbooks-- this was back in the '60s. And I wrote a couple little pamphlets, one on feedback systems-- homeostasis, and one on atomic energy and ionizing radiation. These were, oh, pretty, had color pictures and everything.
  • [00:50:03.24] And then I eventually wrote a textbook, a biology textbook for the college level. I have edited a number of things. I was editor of a technical journal, editor of Ann Arbor magazine it used to be here. It's no longer in existence. Editor of newsletters at various places I've been.
  • [00:50:45.05] And it's kind of funny, because I didn't prepare for that because I didn't like to write when I was in high school. And I-- when I thought about going ahead for my PhD, there were two big blocks in the road. One would I'd had to learn German, and I was just terrible with languages. Second, I'd have to write a thesis, and I didn't like either one of those. And I put that off for several years, but you can do things that you didn't think.
  • [00:51:13.48] And then I really got interested in writing. And now I still write mostly for my own enjoyment, but my wife and I go on trips. Every year we go someplace or other. For instance, last year, we went on a cruise to Holland, and we have spent some time in Mexico. And now when I came back from one of those trips and I write up my experience, it's kind of like a diary, but more than that, more just to-- so I'll remember the important things in there and the important pictures. And so that's still a-- writing is still a big part of my life, but I had never ever thought I'd want to be a writer.
  • [00:51:58.98] Oh, incidentally, several of my books-- the textbook and one of those pamphlets got translated into Spanish. I was very pleased about that. I took four semesters of Spanish in college and never understood anything-- and I can't read these books, but I'm so proud to see that I recognize a word or two here and there.
  • [00:52:27.05] SPEAKER 1: What do you value most about what you did for a living?
  • [00:52:29.75] THOMAS OVERMIRE: What do I what?
  • [00:52:30.54] SPEAKER 1: What do value-- what do you value most about what you did for a living?
  • [00:52:34.58] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Oh, I think-- I always enjoyed what I did. I've had dull jobs, but there's aspects to them that are-- everything, there's sometimes some dullness. But I've had a very stimulating career. I wish I'd made more money. I made some bad decisions along the way. I was tenured in two of my positions and I gave them up because I-- well, not really sure why now. I thought there's better-- better things out there.
  • [00:53:14.03] And usually I ended up with a better situation than I had before, but I look back now, that was probably not the smartest thing to do to give up tenured positions. But I would say that I've been able to either change my job or to get a new job often enough with new responsibilities, new learning, new kinds of things that I think has helped keep me alive mentally. And that's important to me.
  • [00:53:55.05] SPEAKER 1: How did you come to live in your current residence?
  • [00:53:58.82] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Well, we were-- oh, 30 years ago we were living in Kuwait. And we just decided that we had sold our houses here, we had-- we didn't have a home here in the States. But our two sons were getting ready to attend the University of Michigan.
  • [00:54:29.41] So my wife came, and over one weekend, she looked around in Ann Arbor-- and we had lived here before-- and bought a house for them to live in and for them to rent out to other people. And that went for a number of years. They got out of school and we rented to other people. Eventually we decided to come back to Ann Arbor, and we owned that property, and so-- but that's the reason we moved there. It's a very modest place, but it's really just what we need now that we don't have a family. And we've done a lot to it, but it's a-- it wasn't-- we didn't choose for the location or for or anything other than it was available that weekend-- that was the main thing-- in a range we thought we could afford.
  • [00:55:26.15] SPEAKER 1: So how do you feel about your current living situation?
  • [00:55:29.78] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Current living situation. What do you mean by that?
  • [00:55:36.06] SPEAKER 1: I guess it means just like where you live and just how things are in your house, I guess.
  • [00:55:42.90] THOMAS OVERMIRE: OK. The local-- I'm very disappointed on the national scene-- that's part of my current living situation. I know things are-- think things are going like they-- as well as they should. And I don't like the snow we've had the last several weeks, so currently that's a terrible place to live, I've been shoveling much more snow than I planned to. But we live on the east side of town in a modest neighborhood. It's quiet, very, very peaceful, very quiet. [LAUGHS] I guess I said that.
  • [00:56:19.65] And we like it. And we're within walking distance of one of our sons and within five minutes from one of the others-- the other one, the other son. It's changed, though. We-- let's see, it was '84, I think, when we bought this house. At that time, within walking distance, we had a drugstore, and a hardware store, and a library, and two or three restaurants, and a grocery store, and filling stations, and a barbershop. Those things have mostly gone now. There's still a few stores around, but not many. So it was a much more convenient place to live 30 years ago than it is now just because everything was within walking distance.
  • [00:57:20.65] Now we might as well be living out in-- edge of town someplace where you have to drive to the post office or drive anyplace, but that's the main change we've seen, I think.
  • [00:57:39.45] SPEAKER 1: This set of questions covers your retirement years to the present time. How did your family life change for you when you and/or your spouse retired and all your children left home?
  • [00:57:54.77] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Well, it certainly changes. Of course, our children left before we were retired, so there's a gradual movement into that. And that's as it should be. I guess the main thing when you come to retirement is you wonder if you're going to be able to afford it or not. You really-- they have formulas and various things, and you wonder, well how much money do I-- should I really have saved up and what am I going to do? So you kind of want to hope-- feel like you want to ease into that, you really hate to retire all at once and just live on keeping your fingers crossed.
  • [00:58:40.42] To me, it's amazing how comfortable a person can be on less money than they thought they were going to spend. In my wife's case, she's really blossomed. She has been a teacher in various places most of her life, and other kinds of jobs, too. But she's been able to get into a number-- five or six organizations that's she's active now in, in volunteer type things. I remember she said that-- she went to some counseling session where they're talking about retirement-- trying to get volunteers, and they said, well be sure and get people signed up for delivering meals or whatever it is before they discover bridge. And I discovered bridge, and I spent an awful lot of time spending bridge-- playing bridge since I've retired and I've enjoyed that a lot.
  • [00:59:45.42] But before I mentioned we've been on cruises and elder hostel programs. We've traveled, we've done sorts of things. Ann Arbor's a fine place for an older person. There's lots going on. When I lived here the first session back in his '60s, my life evolved around the-- and revolved around the university. This second time back, I-- we tap on the university, but it doesn't dominate our life like it-- like it did. And Ann Arbor's a real nice place even without-- if you cancel out the university.
  • [01:00:40.64] So we've enjoyed it here. We usually manage to get away for a couple of weeks during the winter, go south some place or travel some place. And until recently, I've always had a small garden, a vegetable garden. And we have lots of friends, and we go to church and go up to California to see our granddaughters, and it's been a nice life for us.
  • [01:01:06.51] And our health has kept up, too, and that's-- I wish I could take credit for that, but it's a good-- if it happens to you, be thankful, because being-- if you don't ache and hurt, you could do a lot more than if you do ache and hurt. And as I say, Ann Arbor's been good to us. Nice place to live.
  • [01:01:32.72] SPEAKER 1: What is a typical day in your life currently?
  • [01:01:35.30] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Currently? Oh, I sleep too late, I take too many naps, I play too much bridge. Exercise two or three times a week. I used to swim for over 40 years or so. I swam about every day. I haven't been doing that recently, but I'll start it again when the winter winds break.
  • [01:02:09.56] We go out to restaurants and have lots of friends, have social life. It's a-- I don't take on many responsibilities anymore. My wife's still involved in maintaining some membership lists and so forth for organizations, but I don't-- I'm not doing much of that. Certainly read a lot, I never thought I would. Need to get more exercise, I guess. Need to lose some weight. I enjoy life.
  • [01:02:55.18] SPEAKER 1: What does your family enjoy doing together now?
  • [01:02:58.21] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Now?
  • [01:02:58.72] SPEAKER 1: Yeah.
  • [01:02:59.10] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Well mostly it's getting together to eat someplace. As I say, my daughter and her family are out in California, so we get with them about once or twice a year. But our two sons who live in town, we get together every once in a while to go out to restaurants or to come over to our house for a meal. That tends to be most of our social life. It's always asking us to do things, but one son likes to ice fish and I don't like to do that anymore. Once-- they both ride bicycles long distances. I don't like to do that. So we can't share things in that nature like we used to. But we're still speaking and enjoying each other.
  • [01:04:01.42] SPEAKER 1: What is your personal favorite thing to do for fun?
  • [01:04:05.80] THOMAS OVERMIRE: For fun? Well, I'd have to say I enjoy bridge tremendously. I play the piano, too, and I really like that. When I was in high school, I played in a dance band. And when I was in the Army, I played in an Army band. And I never was a good musician in any sense, but I enjoy ragtime, and I can play almost any piece, I suspect, before World War II that you ask about. After 1950 I don't know many songs, but pre-1950, I can get through-- just for-- just for my own joy. I make a lot of mistakes, but I like to listen to the chords and-- that's really enjoyment.
  • [01:05:12.36] I enjoy reading. I enjoy writing. These write-ups that I mentioned after our trips, I really like to do that. And it takes me forever and a day, and I think maybe that's-- even when I wrote my textbook, I think every page in there was rewritten 20 times, probably. I remember reading some-- an article about some-- I don't-- university or Michigan State, but it was talking about writing poetry. It said, you really shouldn't show your poetry to anyone until you have-- every word has to be the exact words you mean. And you should have thought about each one of those 50 times.
  • [01:05:59.94] Now my writing doesn't reach that level, but I certainly revise and revise and revise and try to get other people to read it and see where it doesn't make sense and-- even though I consider it my writing, it's not just my writing. I have editors, I have other people furnishing ideas. And if you want to get into any kind of writing reports or speeches or anything like [INAUDIBLE], you better be willing to have other people's comments and listen to what they say, because you wonder how good you think you might be, there's some other ideas you never think of.
  • [01:06:44.34] SPEAKER 1: Are there any special days, events, or family traditions that you especially enjoy at this time of your life?
  • [01:06:50.61] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Oh, birthdays. We usually forget our wedding anniversaries, but there are no religious holidays or anything like that at all. We don't go back and-- we had a party on our 50th wedding anniversary. And my wife made a-- we each had a little talk. And my wife said that some people go and repeat their vows on their 50th anniversary. And she said she wouldn't going to do that. She's giving it up. She said, our marriage from now no on is going to be on a monthly basis. And fortunately, it's kept going, but it's-- I got a chuckle out of that.
  • [01:07:56.79] SPEAKER 1: When thinking your life after retirement or your kids left home to the present, what important social or historical events were taking place and how did they personally affect you or your family?
  • [01:08:11.23] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Well, the worldwide events, I suppose. This recent recession, it's affected the jobs of both of my children, both my sons. And my daughter, too. She's a dentist, and it makes a difference there. I have great concern about the seeming ineffectiveness of the Congress, the bitterness that's appeared there, and I think a lot of this is related to the wars. I just wish we could get out of the wars, wish we weren't in them to begin with.
  • [01:08:58.36] So this is a very stressful situation. And I don't envy people your age who are going to be-- in the next 10 years going to be completing your educations and getting out into the world. You're going to have to keep on your toes. And things-- I'm not sure things were easy for me, but they're certainly probably easier for me than they're going to be for you. So be prepared.
  • [01:09:30.96] I'm no longer trying to be prepared. I have some friends who take-- study French or-- at 90 years old, they're still starting new languages. I-- my mind's-- my mind's never going to improve over this moment right here. Five years ago I think my mind was up here probably someplace, so I'm not looking for another job, I'm not looking for a another mountain to climb. And now I've forgotten what I was talking about. See, that's part of it. Tell me the question again.
  • [01:10:18.18] SPEAKER 1: It was just what important social and historical events happened since your retirement?
  • [01:10:27.89] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Well, I-- the financial crises, I guess, and I was not pleased with Mr. Bush as president. I think that was a down time for me. In some ways, it's-- I've not been affected by what happens in the rest of the world. I just don't have as close-- I don't travel as much as I used to. I'm not-- I'm not living abroad.
  • [01:11:15.72] And problems with nature that we're having are probably not going to be solved in my lifetime. I'm enjoying my retirement, I'm enjoy-- I certainly enjoy my family. I've longed to-- you asked awhile ago what I do on a typical day? I go to several men's groups, too. I have one where we go through church-- through-- it's a group from church and we meet a couple of times a month.
  • [01:11:49.97] I have another group at the senior center that meets every week. So they still keep me up on topics and stimulation and-- that puts my exercise with my bridge, with my-- on weekends we usually go to a movie. We get a lot of DVDs from the library, we see a lot of stuff like that at night, in the evenings. We don't go out as much as we use to.
  • [01:12:22.71] Now for a long time-- well, for the last 10 years, our favorite activity, I think, out-- besides going to plays and something of that nature, there was a jazz club here at the Firefly. But it went out of business last summer, and that's-- and it left a hole in our life because we really liked that-- that goes along with my piano playing.
  • [01:12:58.17] SPEAKER 1: Thinking back then your entire life so far, what important social historical events has had the greatest impact?
  • [01:13:06.04] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Oh, there was World War II. It came at a very formative time in my life. I was just out of high school, I was drafted. My couple years in the Army I think helped me mature quite a bit. It gave me visions of things that I hadn't seen before. And I'm a strong believer that-- in maybe deferring college if you can. To have some other kinds of experiences to help you decide really what you want to do before you commit yourself.
  • [01:13:51.91] And World War II provided the financing through the GI Bill for me to get my bachelor's degree. We got a house-- the loan for a house that way. There have been other things, but I think World War II would be the big thing. And it fashioned my values and my music preferences. I like World War II songs very much.
  • [01:14:36.50] I look back to what I learned in high school, and I'm sure it was the basis for everything I have come along, but I remember so little-- so few of the specifics. But that's what got me started, that's where I learned habits, that's where I learned how to study, how to read.
  • [01:15:04.33] When I got to college, I realized before too long, really, the purpose of college was just to get you so that you could take care of yourself, so that you can find your way around the library, so that you can solve problems on your own. It wasn't stuff you full of knowledge, because the knowledge changes so much. In some ways, I probably couldn't be-- go back and have any of the jobs I've had before because they've changed and I've changed. But at the time, I was at the right place at the right time.
  • [01:15:51.12] SPEAKER 1: What family heirlooms or keepsakes and mementos do you possess? What's their story and why are they valuable to you?
  • [01:15:58.20] THOMAS OVERMIRE: We've never been many keepers. We have some old pictures, and I never thought much about antiques. Antiques-- my brother has most of the antiques. But we treasure-- we treasure things that we've accumulated on our travels. We have some rugs that we got years ago, oriental rugs in India and other places. We have pictures, paintings that we've accumulated along the way. They all have personal interest. We don't have anything of value, but these are things that mean a lot to us.
  • [01:16:47.55] I may have mentioned once-- so I thought maybe that I would start a collection. I think they call them-- I don't remember what they call them. The [? hito-- ?] it's a little Japanese watch [? fob ?] thing. They come in-- they're little carved things that are-- they're very attractive. But the first one I bought, someone stole, and I thought, boy, that's what you get for having something that's worth $25, and decided I'm not going-- not going to accumulate things that the people want very much.
  • [01:17:29.28] My mind wanders so much. Again, it's a-- tell me again the question?
  • [01:17:37.83] SPEAKER 1: It was just like family heirlooms and--
  • [01:17:40.21] THOMAS OVERMIRE: Family heirlooms. Oh, OK. We have very few family heirlooms. We have some old dishes. Nothing that means much.
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2020

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Subjects
Great Depression
Indiana University
GI Bill
Biology
National Science Foundation
Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research
Books & Authors
Oral Histories
Science
Legacies Project
Thomas Overmire
Joan Overmire
Indianapolis IN
Kuwait