William Durham, March 25, 2021

Muhlenberg College: Trexler Library Oral History Repository
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00:00:55 - Early Life and Family

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Partial Transcript: I came to Muhlenberg at an interesting time only because Muhlenberg was an all male school when I came in 1957, prior to me getting there. And, I found myself all that new, but also all male and all white. OK? And I was making the transition from an all-Black community in Richmond, Virginia. And I go to Muhlenberg. Why Muhlenberg?

Keywords: Family; Muhlenberg College; Philip Morris; Scholarship

00:15:08 - Experiences at Muhlenberg

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Partial Transcript: And the only school that had accepted me right away was Muhlenberg and I didn't know anything about Muhlenberg. I called it “Mull-en-burg,” was my interpretation of what Muhlenberg was. I remember getting to Muhlenberg and that was the same year that Muhlenberg had started to admit females. They were all white. [Unclear] I give them the third floor at Muhlenberg. I want to call it East Hall for some reason.

I think that I lived among seniors. They were all my-- not my classmates because they were graduating. My counselor in college was a fellow named Beeny. His name was Beeny. Jim Beeny. I think his name was. And actually, he met me when I got there. I liked him. He was a nice guy, a white guy. I liked him. I liked him a lot.

Keywords: Clint Jeffries; Coeducation; Dr. Shankweiler; East Hall; Social Life

00:24:53 - Introduction to IBM

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Partial Transcript: And I finally met a fellow who was at-- had gone to work for IBM. His name was Floyd Stem, Woody Stem. I remember him. So I recruited him to be my roommate, a white guy, handicapped. He was a nice guy. Met his parents. He lived in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, which is close by to Allentown. So he just wanted to apply to IBM.

00:31:34 - Continued Work at IBM

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Partial Transcript: And four years later, I got choices. I mean, I became a manager in IBM and I knew that managers made more than staff people. So I became a manager, recruiting at the time. And, by the way, that's who I interviewed when I first came to interview with Austin Short. And he was recruiting manager. He asked me a question like where you think you're going to be at in five years. And I told him, well, “What's your job?” And he told me about recruiting. I said, "I'll have your job." I was bold. And finally he says, “Well, I sure hope so.” And in five years to the date, that's when I made manager, and I had his job. I called him. He says, "I hear about you made manager." I said, "Yep." He said, "Man, you're going to do great." And all of a sudden my career took off. I was getting increases every month.

00:32:35 - Work at Mental Hospital

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Partial Transcript: But I was locked in a place called Poughkeepsie. Now, Poughkeepsie, that's where Muhlenberg was [some confusion with Allentown]. I'd gone to the fairs, them fairgrounds, I guess, every year I'd do that. I’d even get to point that my doctors at the hospital would say, I asked them, "Can I take the patients." These patients you have all kinds of mental problems, I’d say, "I want to take him to the fair." He says, "What you mean you want to take them to the fair?" I said, “I have student nurses working for me. I'll take 10 student nurses and we’ll all take them to the fair.” And my rules about taking them to the fair did earn them the right to go to the fair. That means, stay out of trouble. And my rules when I got to the fair was rather swift. I said, "I'm going to leave you here. You can walk around these student nurses. That's not a problem.”

00:37:40 - Experiences with Music at Muhlenberg

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Partial Transcript: And I taught the class, by the way, how to play, play bongos. I was also a musician. I also played in my high school band. Wouldn’t believe! I played all the brass winds. When I came to Muhlenberg, there was a fellow named Burt, Alburtis Meyers, I think his name was. He was one of the last dozen members of Philips Sousa Band and only enhanced my musical skill because he was wonderful. Nice guy, Alburtis Meyers. And I joined the orchestra. I was in the marching band and I played all the brass winds cause I would be asked every year, which you going to play this year? I said, "What's your need?" He said, "Well, we need a baritone player.” So I learned how to play baritone. And we need a trombone player. I learned how to play the trombone. So whatever he needed in music to make his band complete, I learned how to play the instrument. So I played all the brass winds, trumpet, trombone, French horn, tuba, sousaphone, double leaf and sousaphone. I played all the things that needed [unclear] to play. So, he became one of my best friends. And he’s in my yearbook I know that.

00:41:17 - Current Family Life

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Partial Transcript: I was doing very well in Allentown and my second daughter was doing well, my first daughter was doing well. And then my dear daughter came, who is the fun in my family, her name is Erica. Erica is now 51 and Dacia is I think is probably 57, 58, she’ll be this year as I recall. And she comes to visit me often these days. She comes to Midlothian and spend a few days with me. She's been talking, got to know each other better and she's the love of my life. She’s my first kid. My family loved her. I used to take my three kids down to Virginia to meet my mother. My mother loved them and I loved, I adored them.

00:42:16 - Success at IBM

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Partial Transcript: And I started to get my life together a little more and I continued to do very well at IBM, things were working very well at IBM. Everything I touched had start to turn to gold and I said this is wonderful. And then I began to move up as a high performance person, doing well on a fast track and promotion starts come one after the other. And this was a great thing. They were all managerial jobs, but low level managers. And I went to one of IBM subsidiary, subsidiaries called Scope Science and Research Associates. And that was in Chicago, that was the first time I had really moved. They said if you're being more mobile, you can go even further.

00:43:00 - Past Family Life: Chicago and California

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Partial Transcript: So I moved to Chicago and my family went along with me. They loved Chicago. My youngest daughter, who was kind of a, well, at 12, she was a pre-Olympic swimmer. That was Erica. My first wife put her in the swimming pool and all of a sudden, she was starting to be recruited as a 12 year old. And oh I liked this kid, she’s really great and then she says, “Hey mom I don’t think I want to swim anymore.” And Mom got very angry with me… “Do you realize she wants to get out of swimming?” I said, “That’s what she wants, let her do what she needs to do.” I remember building a go-kart for her because that’s really what she wanted to do.

00:46:30 - Extracurriculars at Muhlenberg

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Partial Transcript: HP: Besides band, what other social and extracurricular activities where you're part of at Muhlenberg?

BHD: Well, I hadn't-- I wasn't a part of any of that the first year because I was worrying about not flunking out. And pretty soon I had joined, if you'd look at my yearbook-- I suddenly became pretty popular at Muhlenberg because I joined everything, the Jazz Society. I couldn't go to the fraternity cause I knew they weren’t accepting minorities in fraternities. I-- God, what else? I worked on the editorial staff in the yearbook for ‘61, there’s a cover I designed. Artistically, I was pretty good. I could draw very well. And so I started to make posters. I remember the play that I wrote the poster for-- it was “Waiting for Godot.” And it was kind of an avant garde kind of picture. And I wrote pictures, and it was a perfect thing for me to be on the editorial staff. So I would help to design the yearbook.

00:50:08 - Muhlenberg's Impact

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Partial Transcript: SB: I guess, bringing us to contemporary times, is there anything that you would do differently if you could start over at Muhlenberg? Is there anything you would have done differently or what ways did your experience at Muhlenberg impact the trajectory of your life?

BHD: Yeah, I would be a better student. I would have been a little further ahead if I had done well at Muhlenberg. But, I was fighting to stay alive at Muhlenberg. And just stay well adjusted. But everything I learned at Muhlenberg, those skills kind of carried over for me, okay. I am now 83 and I'm not working and I am now retired from IBM after being there for instead of six weeks, I was there for almost 25 years. I retired in nineteen-eighty-eight. And immediately, got referred to another company where I went to work. And those skills I had ganged up, worked out very well. I became the corporate director of the place called National Micronetics for a computer company. Me, who didn’t even know about computers, became one of the corporate directors at National Micronetics. And I met other people there and learned a lot of things.

00:55:39 - Muhlenberg's Past & its Progress Today

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Partial Transcript: HP: So what do you want to see-- like, what would you like to see for future students of color at Muhlenberg?

BHD: Well, you've done well, I got to tell you that. Well now there's a Black-- is it a fraternity, a social group on campus. One of the things I saw. I'm trying to think. I went there and I was most impressed that you had a Queen at homecoming or something who was Black. I met a lot of those students at that place. I'm pleased with Muhlenberg in terms of how well they've changed their way of living. I'm pleased with all the people I've ever met and I-- I know follow me. There were a couple of people when we got him-- Al Downing, who was a pitcher for the Yankees. He was in my junior year. He came, I guess, and a guy named Hazleton, another basketball player. So I am very proud of-- proud to be a Mule, okay. And I came back to, I think, my finally-- my fiftieth year reunion and I met a lot of people and they all have kids now and students who are now students at Muhlenberg.

01:06:50 - Arriving at Muhlenberg and meeting Haps Benfer

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Partial Transcript: emember a fellow named Frouenfelker. Was he an admissions-- people I remember most like Haps Benfer. I know he’s dead, but I meant-- interesting enough, when I first came to Muhlenberg, it was a 14 hour bus ride from Richmond, Virginia, to Allentown, I remember that. And I got there around midnight, finally, after the 14 hour bus ride with many stops. And I got a cab to Chew Street and I saw the admissions building and I knocked on the door-- it was midnight. And this guy comes out, very tall guy. That was Haps. He said, “Can I help you, young man?” I said, “Yeah, I’m a student that’s coming down here.” He said, “How come you’re so late?” I said, “I came from Virginia.” He took me to the third floor. There was a pre-admission test I had to take for two days. And I took that. And that was an eye-opening experience. I said, “Oh I'm not going to survive.” And-- but I survived. I hung in there. It took me four and a half years before I met the qualifications to graduate. And then, like colleges, that I had heard of before because I recruited a lot.