Robert W. Richburg '61

  • Bob Richburg
    Bob: My name is Bob Richburg, Robert W. Richburg. I live in Ft. Collins, Colorado. My class was the class of 1961.
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: OK! Thanks for coming, Bob. First question: why did you come to Grinnell College, and what is your first memory of the campus?
  • Bob Richburg
    Bob: Well, this gets into my story a little bit. I came to Grinnell, really, because it accepted me. I did not have a sterling high school record and my first experience was, that I had, was assigned to an advisor who looked at my transcripts from high school. I went to a large high school in suburban Chicago. It was like, over 5,000 students and I had really been lost in the largeness of it.
  • Bob Richburg & Chelsie Salvatera
    Bob: But, my advisor looked at my high school transcripts and he said, Bob, he said, we’re gonna plan a nice, easy, 13 credits for you, easiest courses that we can find for you and you’re gonna flunk out and you’re going to have been able to tell people that you went to college for one semester. So that was my first experience.Chelsie: Oh, my.Bob: And I still remember that very, very clearly because I said to myself, I said, I’m really in trouble. I’m going to have to really work hard to make it work and I did and I was quite successful here, so...
  • Chelsie Salvatera & Bob Richburg
    Chelsie: Awesome. Okay, was there a professor, student or staff member who had a particularly strong influence in your life?Bob: There were three seniors when I was a freshman in our dorm who were all Phi Beta Kappas, and they were all History majors. They kept talking about the relationships that they had with their History professors and they just loved the teaching that they had from them. And then the first semester that I was at Grinnell, I had a chance to have, I think it was Western Civilization from Dr. Westfall, who was a very, very fine instructor. I remember just being so turned on to history. I was so excited about history after taking his course. I think I immediately declared myself a History major and took as many courses as I could take.Chelsie: Okay. Wow. So you were a History major?Bob: Yes.
  • Chelsie Salvatera & Bob Richburg
    Chelsie: OK. What are your best memories of your time at Grinnell College?Bob: Well, I just found Grinnell to be amazing because it was small enough that we really got to know instructors well. That was a beautiful part of it, and again I had come from this huge high school where teachers didn’t even know our names. So, that was, I think, really an awfully important thing for me because I responded really well to that personal touch. So I think that was very important, but I have many other memories. I ran the intramural program for the men for a year and a half. It was my job and I loved that. I got to plan the tournaments and the matches between halls and all that sort of thing and that was wonderful too.Chelsie: All the athletic competitions, or..?Bob: All the intramural athletic competitions, yeah.Chelsie: OK. Did you play any sports at Grinnell?Bob: Yes, I did. I played baseball at Grinnell.
  • Chelsie Salvatera & Bob Richburg
    Chelsie: What did your dorm room look like? I think you guys had the same dorm room for four years.Bob: I did, Langan Hall. Well, I had of course different dorm rooms, so... I remember having a roommate. One of my roommates was, had been in the military, army or something and everything, in everything that he did and kept was just so organized. He would roll up his underwear and had a different place in his... And then, I had another roommate who was a total slob. This was the same semester. The three of us, I was some place in between them but it would depend on who was in charge of the room, what the room looked like. It’s fun to see what the beautiful dorms are now like. They’re amazing.Chelsie: You’re staying on East now, right?Bob: Pardon?Chelsie: Are you staying on East campus?Bob: No, actually we’re staying in a –Chelsie: Oh, in a hotel?Bob: Yeah.
  • Chelsie Salvatera & Bob Richburg
    Chelsie: What kind of clothes did you wear every day as a Grinnell student, or on special occasions?Bob: On special occasions, I guess, I had one sports jacket. We had to really, we had to wear a tie and coat for dinner so it was the same one over and over and over again. But otherwise jeans and casual stuff.
  • Chelsie Salvatera & Bob Richburg
    Chelsie: What book influenced you most in college, if you can recall?Bob: I don’t think there was a single book that influenced me, but I remember just coming to love to read history and I read as much as I could read whether I was in class and it was a responsibility for class or whether it was just for fun. I still to this day read as much as I possibly can. Of history.
  • Chelsie Salvatera & Bob Richburg
    Chelsie: What memories or images do you have of the town of Grinnell?Bob: Very little. It’s amazing because we were pretty much isolated and I think that was one of the things that I would’ve changed. We had very little interaction with the people of the town. I remember there was an organization called Sam’s Club, which was for underprivileged children and some of us that thought about becoming teacher. We used to go down to- once a week, down to Sam’s Club. I think we developed activities for the kids and stuff.
  • Chelsie Salvatera & Bob Richburg
    Chelsie: How has Grinnell changed since you were a student?Bob: Oh, my goodness, tremendously. I mean they’ve built, there are buildings here we never saw. It was a fairly small campus, then, but all the new buildings... It’s remarkable. I can actually get lost on this campus. That was never possible when I was a student.
  • Chelsie Salvatera & Bob Richburg
    Chelsie: Describe something that is no longer available on campus but that was meaningful to you. Buildings, programs, activities...Bob: Well, the Student Union, I think we called it the Student Union. It was really a World War II building where we used to have dances and snacks. You could get snacks there and we- It was over pretty close to the library, just a little bit east of the library.Chelsie: Burling Library?Bob: Mhm-hm, so we would pretty regularly study at Burling until 9 or 9:30 and then head to the student center and we’d dance at juke boxes and stuff like that. Chelsie|Awesome.Bob: It was great fun.
  • Chelsie Salvatera & Bob Richburg
    Chelsie: Describe your favorite academic experience or class at Grinnell College.Bob: Well, it would have to be that Western Civ class just because it turned my life around. I was, as I said, a very mediocre student and once I got Dr., I had Dr. Westfall, he just had a profound effect on me and I went on to, because of that class, I went on to be a History major, as I said, and then went on to graduate school in History. I have a Doctorate now in History, so that was a huge, huge change. Nobody would have predicted, if they had known me before I came to Grinnell, that I would ever be a college professor. I’ve been a college professor for four years.
  • Chelsie Salvatera & Bob Richburg
    Chelsie: Describe your favorite place on campus.Bob: Favorite place on campus. Golly, let me think. I suppose my residence hall. We used to have great fun. As often as we could at noon, we’d play bridge and that was always great fun. Just the camaraderie with people that you enjoyed. I got to know people in my dorm much better than I got to know my other classmates and that’s one of the disappointments of coming to reunion is, unless it’s one of the three year sequential ones you don't really get to see some of the other friends that you had.
  • Bob Richburg & Chelsie Salvatera
    Bob: But the dorm was very important to me. We had a wonderful dorm experience. I was telling some people at lunch today, we were, prepping was a big thing, then. When you’re a freshman the upperclassmen wanted to initiate you into the College and into the dorm and the traditions of the dorm and my responsibility was, to my senior, was to catch mice and I had to catch a mouse every day or I got paddled that night. I had to, not just catch it, but I had to keep a chart with the length of the mouse and the length of the tail, the quality of its coat, how much it weighed, what I had caught it on.Chelsie: Wow. How long did this go on for?
  • Bob Richburg & Chelsie Salvatera
    Bob: This went on for, maybe, two months in the fall of our freshman year. But we had so much fun because we, they would do, the seniors would do things like that to humiliate us and then we would do things to turn around and show them that we were not gonna be humiliated. So, we, one of the times we got 100 pound blocks of ice and we stacked them up in front of the, the fellow who was in charge of this initiation program, his door. And he couldn’t get out of his door. Another time we put him on a train at 5 o’clock in the morning to Des Moines, just in his pajamas and his robe. No money, we didn’t give him any money and he got off the train, I think he got off in Newton but he had no way to get back. So we had a good time.Chelsie: So did everybody have different initiations or were they all the same?Bob: Oh, sure. The initiation process was the same but we all had different tasks, so, great fun.
  • Chelsie Salvatera & Bob Richburg
    Chelsie: That is fun. If you knew then what you know now, what you have done differently during your time at Grinnell College?Bob: I would’ve studied some subjects that I didn’t feel comfortable in. I would’ve worked harder at some of those. I was never very good at math. I would love to have done better with math, probably some science classes, better. I love the social sciences so I stayed in those more than the natural sciences.
  • Chelsie Salvatera & Bob Richburg
    Chelsie: If you met your spouse or partner at Grinnell?Bob: I did not, though I dated lots of girls here but I went to graduate school and met my spouse.
  • Chelsie Salvatera & Bob Richburg
    Chelsie: How would you compare the students of today with your classmates?Bob: Way smarter. I would never in the world get into Grinnell at this point. Grinnell is very selective as you know, I’m sure, but the students are much brighter. The selectivity process of Grinnell is amazing. So, we expect great things from you guys.
  • Chelsie Salvatera & Bob Richburg
    Chelsie: Thank you. Describe student and campus life as you experienced it during your time at Grinnell.Bob: Oh, my goodness, well, mine was pretty simple. We went- we went to class. Living in the dorm, we always figured out times to do social things, but it was, I think, I had a job and I don’t know how many students in my class had a job but I worked all the way through Grinnell so that was a nig part of my life. I had to plan my work experience and my time real carefully. But, it was much simpler, I think, than it is today. We didn’t have opportunities to do, really, very many social, I mean very many service projects like you guys. I think you’re pretty much all doing stuff, things like that.Chelsie: How many classes did you guys have a semester?Bob: I carried sixteen or seventeen hours every semester.
  • Chelsie Salvatera & Bob Richburg
    Chelsie: OK. Last question, and then we can go to the story. If you were writing a history of Grinnell College, what would you include from your years here?Bob: Oh, my goodness.Chelsie: Being a History major.Bob: It just might, it would be biographies of people that I thought were really really important. As I said, the three seniors when I was a freshman that had a great influence on me and several professors in the History department. Dr. Wall, I’m sure you’ve heard of Dr. Wall. He was a famous History teacher here. I mean everybody who’s ever been near the Social Sciences knows about Dr. Wall. I would write... He would be in my history of Grinnell.
  • Bob Richburg
    Bob: Just the fact that it was a turnaround experience for me, and that’s my story. It was a situation where, for whatever reason, I was not a serious student when I came here. Today you can’t do that. You can’t come in to Grinnell if you have not been a serious student but I was not, and the fact that it was, kind of grabbed me and turned me around and got me going in a different direction. I never had any realization that I could be a capable student. That was completely a discovery for me, at Grinnell.
  • Chelsie Salvatera & Bob Richburg
    Chelsie: So was it the influence of students, teachers, staff?Bob: Well, I mean, people, and, yeah, the students are certainly. We had, every other person that I talked to my freshman year was a valedictorian from their high school class, so that was huge. And then the expectation of professors. The reading, we would, y'know paperback books were becoming popular when I was there and instead of having just a textbook, we would have six or seven paperbacks to read. Just the quantity of responsibility for taking classes was huge.
  • Chelsie Salvatera & Bob Richburg
    Chelsie: Awesome. Do you have any other things?Bob: Thank you Chelsie. No, that was, you got my story.Chelsie: Okay! Thank you so much for your time. f
Alumni oral history interview with Robert Richburg '61. Recorded June 4, 2011.
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