Mike Lehmann '62

  • Sophie Haas
    Sophie: Yeah.
  • Mike Lehmann & Sophie Haas
    Mike: My name is Mike L- My name is Mike Lehmann- Oh, I see, full name. My name is Michael Lehmann. I currently live in San Francisco, California. I’m a member of the Grinnell College class of 1962.Sophie: Now you can just go ahead and start.Mike: OK. Alright, I entered Grinnell College in 1958, and a very good friend of our family recommended I go to a small liberal arts college outside New York. I grew up in New York, and my parents were immigrants. They couldn’t give me any advice about where to go to college. The high school I went to didn’t seem real interested in me, so all I had was Lovejoy’s College Guide.
  • Mike Lehmann
    Mike: And I was on the swimming team in high school, and so one of my buddies saw me in the high school library looking at Lovejoy’s College Guide and he said, “Well, what are you doing?” and I said, what I was doing. I told him, and he said, “Why don’t you think of Grinnell College?” “Oh, where’s that?” “Grinnell, Iowa.” "Well, where’s that?" y’know? "Oh, it’s in Iowa," and I didn’t know where Iowa was. But, I was thinking about going as far west as Pennsylvania or Ohio, and I’d never been west of Newark, New Jersey.
  • Mike Lehmann
    Mike: So, all I had to go on was the paragraph in Lovejoy’s College Guide, and I think I applied to Oberlin College in Ohio, maybe Alfred University in upstate New York, maybe a school in Pennsylvania. I can’t remember. And anyway, Oberlin rejected me; Grinnell accepted me, and so out I went sight-unseen.
  • Mike Lehmann
    Mike: There were no campus tours in those days, and Grinnell had booked passage on the train for a number of kids comin’ out from New York, and so we took the Commodore Vanderbilt Limited. We got on the train at six in the evening. 9:00 in the morning after hardly any sleep, we were in Chicago, and we hung out in Chicago, walked around, took a boat ride along the waterfront, came back and then took the Rocky Mountain Rocket: the Rock Island line at 2 in the afternoon, out to Grinnell, and that started my college career.
  • Mike Lehmann
    Mike: And I ended up being a History major and an Economics major, both, and so of course, I remember fondly some of the faculty from those departments, and I still collaborate on my research with Professor Jack Dawson, who is still alive; professor of Economics, and I remember him fondly. I remember a Professor Phil Thomas and Professor Bob Voertman, and they were both Economics.
  • Mike Lehmann
    Mike: And in History, Professor Sam Baron and Professor Joe Wall, History department. They were fine. Professor Sam Westfall, and profs, there’s probably someone’s name I don’t remember. So, it was the History and Economics faculty that really influenced me the most. I went on to get a PhD in Economics. I specialize in Economic History, and I've spent a career teaching at the University of San Francisco.
  • Mike Lehmann
    Mike: And the best memories of my times at Grinnell... That’s hard to say. Of course, I had a very rewarding academic program. After all, I did go on to graduate school and I became a professor myself. Did a lot of drinking when I was here, and don’t drink anymore, but I did a lot then.
  • Mike Lehmann
    Mike: And so, we had some pretty wild times, but I’d say, along the extra-curricular line the- my best memories are of the swimming team. I was a swimmer in high school and when I came out here Grinnell had an excellent team under Coach Irv Simone, and I’m still in touch with those guys, and I saw some of them on this trip back. We went down to the pool and Coach Erin Hurley, today’s coach, was so sweet to us.
  • Mike Lehmann & Sophie Haas
    Mike: And we had an excellent, outstanding team, our team of 1960, conference champs and we were, perhaps, the best non-subsidized small-college team in the country. We’d swim against the University of Nebraska and beat ‘em. We’d swim against the University of New Mexico and win. I guess that was my big highlight of my career as a swimmer: I took first place against University of New Mexico.Sophie: Wow.Mike: Big school like that, little college like Grinnell, we were... really, we really loved the swimming and it’s influenced me all my life. I’ve tried to stay in good physical condition all my life, using some of the precepts I learned in athletics at Grinnell.
  • Mike Lehmann
    Mike: The books that influenced me most in college were my history and economics texts. I sure loved Palmer’s General Eco- General History book, or maybe it’s R.R. Palmer. It was a standard, obviously half a century ago, and that was a wonderful book and I could still return to it today. And... well, of course, I became an Economics major, too, so I suppose my freshman text, Home and Hart and Sandwich were the authors of that freshman text. I remember we had a seminar. We read Marx’s, Das Capital and Schumpeter’s, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy very carefully. That was an outstanding seminar by Professor Voertman.
  • Mike Lehmann & Sophie Haas
    Mike: With respect to the town of Grinnell, what I’m so pleased about is that it’s still there. Obviously, the College keeps the town alive. There’d be no town if it wasn’t for the College. We used to go drink beer in Malcolm, Iowa. Malcolm, Iowa is a ghost town, now. If you go to Malcolm, oh, just a little east of here, I think on I-80 and there’s nothing there anymore. The buildings are there, but the town is vacant.Sophie: Yeah.Mike: And the nicest thing about Grinnell, when you go downtown, is that it’s still there. The shops are there, and there’s been turnover, of course, but they’re not- you don’t have a whole row of empty storefronts.
  • Mike Lehmann
    Mike: And the other nice thing about Grinnell: it’s not like Newton. There’s not a lot of strip malls along the road. So, you don’t have all that kind of strip mall activity along the highway. You’ve got, of course, some commerce and motels and so on, on 146 coming in from Interstate 80 into town. But it’s really the west, what is West Street going, you know, south of town.
  • Mike Lehmann
    Mike: But that’s minimal. There’s the Wal Mart out there and some industrial establishments, but otherwise it’s still a small town. My wife and I walked along Broad Street just west of the College, and what a beautiful street. The Victorian homes, the craftsman homes all 100 years old, beautiful residences here. It’s just a wonderful little town.
  • Mike Lehmann
    Mike: And, running my eye down your list, my favorite academic experiences at Grinnell, well, I think I’ve already talked about that. How has Grinnell changed since you were a student? The town of Grinnell hasn’t changed much. There’s some turnover in the business establishments. Some pizza chain stores, you know, that weren’t there but otherwise it’s pretty much the same.
  • Mike Lehmann & Sophie Haas
    Mike: Of course, Grinnell has grown physically since I was a student. There’s all those new buildings and so on, and anything that was built after 1962 obviously post-dates me.Sophie: Yeah.Mike: So, there’s been tremendous change physically. Otherwise, I think Grinnell is probably more difficult to gain admission to. I think the standards have risen.Sophie: Mhm.
  • Mike Lehmann & Sophie Haas
    Mike: Also I think, when I came out here, which was a real benefit to me, was that, I’d say one third of the students were from Iowa, another third from the surrounding Midwest metropolitan areas, let’s say Chicago, Minneapolis, Kansas City, St. Louis metropolitan areas. And then, one third from everywhere else, but the vast majority were Midwest. That’s probably changed. It’s probably, the student body is more dispersed and diversified, and...Sophie: Mhm.Mike: More international students, more students from the coasts and so on, so that’s probably different. It’s- the student body is probably a little less Midwestern-oriented.
  • Mike Lehmann & Sophie Haas
    Mike: And of course, the standards of admission are higher and, I think, also the emphasis on social action is much greater today than it was then.Sophie: Mhm.Mike: Although, I noticed that most of my fellow graduates are Democrats and left-leaning Democrats at that so as far as social-consciousness goes that was strong then. But, I think if anything, the classes, the students have moved even further left.
  • Mike Lehmann
    Mike: My favorite academic experience at Grinnell, I think I’ve covered that. How would I have done things differently? Well, I was pretty much, aside from swimming, I was pretty much in... Let me describe it this way: I was pretty much an outie not an innie. It was just like belly-buttons, you know, there’s outies and innies, and I was not part of the in-crowd, and so.. So I was an outie. I was not a big man on campus. I was not one of the campus leaders, student government, whatever. I was not part of that. I was more or less on the fringe. I swam, and I had lots of friends but we used to do a lot of drinking and horsing around.
  • Mike Lehmann
    Mike: We got arrested several times and I can remember spending some time in the Grinnell town jail for misbehaving. Y’know, we stole the town sign from the railway station and stuff like that. And we’d go to the VFW Hall, the dances where there was a lot of drinking and the- I guess maybe it was the Elks and so on, so, we got around town, knew a lot of townies, and- So, but, getting back to the question at hand, so, I would’ve spent less time doing that and more time making friends amongst the, shall we say, standard students.
  • Mike Lehmann
    Mike: But that wasn’t who I was. I was a nonconformist to a much greater extent than I am today. Today I’m a much more... much more of a standard social animal. If you could say that, mixing in with the, spend more time mixing with the innies than the outies now. And so, now that I come back to the reunions, of course, it’s mostly the innies who are running it. I mean, the people who ran student government are the people who… the people who ran student government when I was a student, of course, are the people who organize and attend the reunions now.
  • Mike Lehmann & Sophie Haas
    Mike: Most of the folks who were “out,” outies, when I was a student, they’re still outies today. They don’t come to reunions. But I’m different; I come back. I love Grinnell.Sophie: Yeah.Mike: It’s wonderful, just wonderful. So I come back, and so I’m much more of the in-crowd now than the out-crowd.Sophie: Mhm.Mike: So, those are the things that are most important to me on this list of sixteen questions you gave me. I hope that’s enough.Sophie: Yeah, great. Thank you so much. That was so interesting.
Alumni oral history interview with Mike Lehmann '62. Recorded June 3, 2012.
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