David A. McBlain '62

  • Alenka Figa
    Alenka: Okay.
  • David McBlain
    David: My name is David A. McBlain. I currently live in LaVista, Nebraska, and I’m a member of the Grinnell Class of 1962.
  • David McBlain
    David: I’ve got a number of memories of Grinnell. My grandparents lived here and when I came as a student, I actually lived with my grandmother because my grandfather had died the previous December. We got a call at home because I wasn’t here for dorm orientation and they thought, “Gee, is he not coming to school?” Well, I didn’t know I needed to be here that evening, 'cause I was living off-campus. They didn’t understand that I was living off-campus, and we had an interesting hour’s discussion, but it worked out.
  • David McBlain
    David: I took Differential Equations as a freshman, and that was quite an experience because Dr. Apostle, who had agreed that I could take the class, said, you know, “How many seniors do we have? How many juniors and how many sophomores?” And he said, “How many freshman? Ah, one.” And everybody else in the class went, “Oh, gee, what’s he doing in here?”
  • David McBlain
    David: I was a Physics lab tech as a student job and as either a junior or a senior, I was working on a project that was going to be taken to the Iowa Science Fair, wherever it was. And, putting together the electronic stuff and, as will happen when it gets late at night, you do things backwards sometimes. I put a capacitor in backward. When I connected the power, the capacitor went “bang.” I was the only one in there; it was dark, night, etc. The reaction for my feat was interesting.
  • David McBlain
    David: At one time, I attempted to call a friend, again remember I lived off-campus. I called a friend who lived in Smith Hall and at that time you called the switchboard and then they connected you. I said, “Smith Hall basement,” and, you know, phone rang. The phone’s picked up, and this voice says, “David, darling, I’ll be right down.” And I sputtered and said, “I thought I was getting Smith Hall basement,” and there’s a shriek at the other end and the phone went dead. The next day in Physics lab, I was commenting to one of the upper classmen about my experience; he was also named David, and he says, “That was my girlfriend!”
  • David McBlain
    David: When I said I worked in the physics lab, Dr. Hanson was one of the Physics professors and he was on the phone when I was in there to get some instruction from him about some project, talking to his wife. They were supposed to go to a dinner for a campus group for which they were sponsors and they couldn’t get a babysitter. And I said, “Well, if you can’t get anybody else, I can babysit,” and I ended up babysitting for 'em that night.
  • David McBlain
    David: In the summer of 1961- or, I’m sorry, 1960- I worked on a Physics project for Mr. Gale during the summer and Dr. Hanson had all of the science students over at his house one night for dinner. We got to talking about water freezing, and people’s experience with- in the Chicago area, you know, Mom saying, “Gee, you throw the hot dishwater out on a back stoop but you gotta be careful how you throw it because it freezes real fast.”
  • David McBlain
    David: So we decided to experiment and we found that, yes indeed, when we put two of those little aluminum pot pie pans in their chest freezer, the hot one froze first. We looked at it, and then noticed that, gee, there was frost on the bottom of the freezer and the hot one had sunk through that frost. So, we put a board in there, a small board obviously, put two new pot pie pans in there, and interestingly enough at that point the cold water one froze fastest so we got an explanation of why the hot water seemed to freeze faster.
  • David McBlain
    David: As a senior, I took the Astronomy course from Dr. Sandmann, and, now, that was a general course that students who were definitely not science-oriented could take for their science credit, I think. At any rate after the second exam, Dr. Sandmann was going through the results and he looked up and he said, “McBlain, did you get 100 again?” “Yes.” He says, “No more tests. You break the curve. You have an A,” and I got to just enjoy the class ‘cause I loved what we were doing in Astronomy and being a Physics major, I had the rest of the stuff.
  • David McBlain
    David: I went to the University of Iowa for two years and a summer school getting my Master’s degree, and had been asked near the end of the spring term in 1964 if I would come back to Grinnell and teach for a year to replace Dr. Apostle. He was gonna take a sabbatical to work on his translation of Aristotle. I agreed and came back, and that- for me, that was a great experience. I think I learned more than my students did.
  • David McBlain
    David: But, I had been an assistant in the Computer Center at the University of Iowa, and you have to remember this is when computers literally were starting as far as academia was concerned. Because I had been an assistant in the Computer Center there, they allowed me to take card decks from here to Iowa City, run them on their IBM 7040, and then I would bring the print-outs back. So, I claim that I started computing at Grinnell College.
  • David McBlain
    David: I would also remind you that when I met various meetings of old folks, as it were, I sometimes remind them that the older we are, the better we were. But, I did enjoy that. I did a seminar for faculty on the FORTRAN language and I think probably three quarters of the faculty participated. But, as I say at that time, no computers. They had an IBM 407 punch-card accounting machine that they used for Alumni records and printing off address labels, but that was the extent there of...
  • David McBlain
    David: I was a double major in Math and Physics. I would say that Mr. Gale and Mr. Hanson were particularly influential in Physics, as well as Dr. Sandmann. And then in Math, Lyle Pursell, Dr. Apostle, were the primary influences.
  • David McBlain & Alenka Figa
    David: When I came back, there was a new individual as chairman of the department, and he was a big help to me because there was a freshman girl in my Calculus class whose parents were going through a very bitter divorce. She decided her Math instructor had hung the moon and she was showing up at my office in Carnegie, etc., and I went to him and said, “Help.” He arranged for the janitor to change his schedule so that in the evening, the janitor was up on my floor to give me protection. I’m not sure that people would do it that way now, but that’s what they did back then. She later married a Classics professor here.Alenka: Oh. I think I've heard of that story.
  • David McBlain & Alenka Figa
    David: And, last comment is, my little brother John came here and he was a member, graduated as a member of the class of 1970. The one that didn’t have a commencement.Alenka: Oh, I didn't know they had the-David: That was, the Kent State thing happened, so there were protests of all sort, and so Grinnell decided they weren’t going to have a commencement. So, he got cheated out of his.Alenka: That sucks.David: Well, I thought so.
  • David McBlain & Alenka Figa
    David: Campus is very, very different from what I remember. As I say, I was here, taught ’64, ’65, came back when I returned from Vietnam in ’68, concluded no, this was not where I wanted to be, but the Math department chairman suggested that Coe College needed somebody for their Computer Center director. I contacted them. They had already hired somebody. But, the Dean at Coe had just come from Austin College in Sherman, Texas, and he knew they were looking for somebody. I interviewed; got the job, and taught there from 1968 to 1979.... Do you want me to go on with other..?Alenka: It's up to you to go on with what you want.
  • David McBlain
    David: As I say, I taught Computer Science, was the director of Computing Services, became assistant registrar, got my tenure. But ah, Republicans in the 70s in Texas were not exactly plentiful, and in academic circles they really weren’t totally appreciated. So, I determined it was a good time to get out and left in 1979, came up to the Omaha area to work at Strategic Air Command for a company called Planning Research Corporation. I’m not sure. I’d have to write out all the various names that it went through because we got bought, sold, etc. But, I literally had the same boss until 2007 when he retired. I retired in 2011, you know, on the 17th of December. But I had a very interesting career, a lot of it supporting the government in terms of various DoD entities.
  • Alenka Figa & David McBlain
    Alenka: That’s great. Yeah, well, thank you.David: You’re welcome.
Alumni oral history interview with David A. McBlain '62. Recorded June 2, 2012.
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