Wednesday, February 6, 2008

An Early Ancestor: Levi Bricker of Ohio

Figure 1. (circa 1880)


My great, great grandfather was Levi Bricker, born in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania December 19, 1817 (Figure 1). At 21, he traveled to Franklin Township in Richland County, Ohio (the county of my birth) with only what he could bring in a one-horse wagon: wearing apparel, a few dishes, his wife and one child.

The following is from History of Richland County Ohio 1880, which describes Levi Bricker in his 60’s:

Mr. Bricker is considered one of the most successful business men in the county; has given work to a great many men; has always lent his aid in all public improvements, and is considered one of the largest land owners in this part of the county. He has, by good management, and strict attention to business, made for himself and family a good home, having given his children $50,000.

Mr. Bricker well remembers when he would go through with horses, porters would say along the road that dealt in stock, as also in Philadelphia they would often make the remark: “There comes Bricker, and what he tells you about his horses you can rest assured is correct.” Mr. Bricker made net, over $1600.00 in two trips with horses over the mountains.

Mr. Bricker had by his first wife, ten children, nine of whom are living. By his second wife three, all of who are living.

Mr. Tobias Coffman of Lancaster, Penn., claims that Mr. Bricker can beat any man in America on the “jig” dance and says he will bet his last dollar on him as to time.”


On January 17, 2008, I attended an evening writing class at a Community Center in Roswell, Georgia, the first of eight weekly two-hour sessions. After initial pleasantries, the instructor presented solid ideas on how best to create a personal history. My initial skepticism vanished, replaced by eagerness to begin. (Later I learned that the instructor’s IBM experience paralleled my own with that firm.)

The tutor’s description of how he created his memoir suggested that an outline was an important first step. Long journeys start with single steps, but maps assure purpose. My map would be a chronology of the 15 cities where I had lived:

Springfield, Ohio
Fort Wayne, Indiana
Chicago, Illinois
Elmhurst, Illinois
Phoenix, Arizona
El Paso, Texas
Tucson, Arizona
Denver, Colorado
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin
San Francisco, California
Foster City, California
Atlanta, Georgia
Albany, New York
Atlanta, Georgia (2)
Roswell, Georgia

1. Springfield, Ohio

On November 9, 1931, Robert Jerome Laser was born in the family home at 809 Homestead Avenue. Many births of that era occurred outside hospitals, possibly with a midwife or skilled friend/relative attending the mother. (Note: Springfield is in Southern Ohio 25 miles from Dayton.)

Bryan Giles, my father, was 35 and a plant foreman with International Harvester Company (IHC), a large manufacturer of tractors and related farm equipment. IHC later became multinational Navistar Corporation headquartered in Chicago. Dad often expressed appreciation for IHC, which provided him continuous employment throughout the Great Depression years (1929 to World War II).

My mother, Melina Emmick Laser, was 32 and a housewife. Her forebears were Irish and German; dad’s were fully German. My ancestry thus became ¾ German, ¼ Irish. Mother was Catholic; dad called himself “non-sectarian.” I believe their “mixed” marriage could only be allowed by the Church with agreement that offspring would be raised Catholic. Thus, all three Laser children attended Catholic grade and high schools. My teachers during those 12 years were nuns, Jesuit and Franciscan priests, and Franciscan brothers.

I was the third and last child, joining eight-year-old brother John Armand and seven-year-old sister Mary Evelyn. I thus earned a title lasting many years after, “Baby of the Family.”

Figure 2. My mother, Melina Emmick Laser

Figure 3. My father, Bryan Giles Laser

Figure 4. With older brother John and sister Mary (Chicago, 1943)

Mother was color-blind, a rarity in women. Sons inherit the trait directly from females, so my brother and I shared the characteristic. I remember John wearing mismatched socks at his wedding, and my own struggle with a military electronics test requiring sharp color perception. Despite our affliction, my brother was successfully married and my score earned enrollment in an army electronics school. The nine-month radar training at Fort Bliss, Texas sparked my determination to attend college and earn an electrical engineering degree.

NOTE: Colorblindness varies widely. Seeing nothing but gray shades is the extreme. My version is most common, what might be deemed “color stupidity,” i.e., difficulty discerning shades and gradations. Thus, purple is blue; green and orange are the same; pink is indecipherable. Traffic lights? Dark is at the top; yellow in the middle, white at the bottom. And the female-to-male gene transmission is unbending. My daughter’s son Leo is colorblind; my son’s son Kevin is not.
My father’s employer deserves elaboration. International Harvester Company (IHC) was one of the largest Ohio manufacturing companies. Numerous relatives and family friends worked there, as did my brother after returning from World War II. John declined college via the GI Bill, opting instead for a two-to-three-year IHC training course in tool design, the precursor of today’s automated CAD-CAM systems (computer-assisted design). What is now done on a computer was then accomplished with a drafting board, T-square and drawing tools.

Harvester’s founder was Cyrus McCormick, who in 1831 at age 22 invented a mechanized crop-harvesting device named the reaper. Before, growers used a hand-held scythe to harvest about one-half acre per day. McCormick’s invention enabled a farmer and helper to “reap” 12 per day. The company grew into a major provider of tractors, trucks and related farm equipment. The history is relevant to the Laser family, since my father advanced from Springfield foreman to supervisory and management positions in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Chicago headquarters, and finally IHC’s Melrose Park plant in Melrose Park, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. His title there was division manager-industrial relations. Dad’s work was particularly challenging during the 1940’s, when most large industrial unions were communist-infiltrated. (In the economic boom following World War II, unions wielded immense power and a canon, “What’s ours is ours. What’s yours is negotiable.”)

My father was born on April 21, 1896. At 10 years of age he started part-time work for Springfield’s Schmitt’s Drug Store. After completing two years of high school, he worked full-time at Schmitt’s for two years, then in various other jobs until drafted into 17 months of army service from March 11, 1918 to July 22, 1919. During World War I, dad was in France with an army air squadron. Army records list his occupation as woodworker (most World War I planes were made of fabric fastened onto wooden frames). Military documents also list his Mansfield, Ohio birthplace and height 5’ 8½”; weight 145#s. I remember him much bigger. (Mansfield is about 90 miles from Springfield.)

 Dad in France (back row, second from left)

 Bryan G. Laser’s work experience:

1906-12 Schmitt’s Drug Store-Springfield part time
1913-14 Schmitt's Drug Store-Springfield full-time
1914-15 General farm labor-Shelby, Ohio laborer
1915-16 Starr Piano Company-Springfield salesman
1916-17 General Construction tradesman
1918-19 U.S. Army Air Service-France woodworker
1919-22 General Const-Springfield tradesman
1922-23 J.W. Heckert Const-Columbus foreman
1922-23 H.F. McElroy Const-Springfield superintendent
1924-25 IHC-Springfield supervisor sheet metal
1925-26 E.W. Ross (silo manufacturer) general foreman
1927-32 IHC-Springfield foreman; asst. mechanical engr.
1933-36 IHC-Springfield mngr. industrial relations
1937-39 IHC-Fort Wayne mngr. industrial relations
1939-40 IHC-Chicago industrial relations dept.
1940-45 IHC-Chicago* asst. mgr. labor relations
1946-48 IHC-Melrose Park division mgr., industrial relations

*Dad recapped his Chicago experience as:

1940-1945: Assistant manager, labor relations. Prior to, and through the period of World War II, and very often as principal spokesman for the company, negotiated and completed more than 400 different written labor agreements, amendments, revisions, and extensions.
Dad had three siblings: two sisters and one brother. I only remember my two aunts, Mary E. Laser and Grace M. Laser, best known as Aunt Mayme and Aunt Grace. Aunt Mayme’s husband Otto Lohnes was a skilled machinist for IHC; aunt Grace’s husband Clarence Powell may also have worked for IHC.

“Aunt Mayme and Uncle Ott” earn special mention since they lived on a fairyland 16-acre farm outside Springfield replete with chickens, pigs, goats and a large garden. Home was a 100+-year-old structure with no central heating or indoor plumbing. They had one child Helen who was several years senior to the Laser children. Helen was musically talented (piano) and fond of literature. I remember idyllic summer evenings when she spread a blanket on the front lawn, then read to three attentive youngsters from popular magazines. The best stories were serialized novels printed weekly in the Saturday Evening Post.

Mother was a devout Catholic. I remember her as soft-spoken, polite, gracious and very pretty. I cannot recall a time when she raised her voice. Her tenderness appears in a beautifully penned letter to my brother John when he left for army service:

Dear Johnny, When you read this you will be on your first trip to live away from home. I’m hoping it will not be a very long one, and that you will be as happy as possible, and please don’t be too homesick. ¶It is very hard to see you go, and I suppose every thought will, in some way, be of you, wondering what you are doing, how your surroundings are, how you are adjusting yourself, etc. ¶We will all miss you terribly, but I want to tell you I’ve always been thankful to have had such a boy as you. Be just as good a soldier as you have been a son to us, and everything will be all right for you. ¶Remember, mother will be praying for you constantly, and hoping you, as well as all other boys, will soon be home. ¶God keep you safe. ¶With love from, Mom.
Mother lived from 1899 to 1944. As explained in a later section (Chicago), her departure left the Laser family irreparably fractured.

Mother had a half-brother John Emmick, a colorful, ruggedly handsome, adventurous and hard-living individual. Uncle John once did construction work in Alaska, and I remember him as very likable. Further details are non-existent, only that he must have been in his 40s or 50s when a self-inflicted gunshot ended his life.

My brother John was a soldier during World War II. Sometime during the Normandy invasion, his British troopship HMS Empire Javelin was torpedoed and sank in the English Channel. He survived, but with physical damage that affected his life until death at age 51. His second wife Marilyn survived him.

John never discussed his war experiences, other than once offhandedly telling dad that on one occasion he could see, “German paratroopers in the distance.” More military history: My grandfather George W. Laser served in the Spanish-American War; I was a two-year army recruit (1952 to 1954) during the Korean Conflict.

2. Fort Wayne, Indiana
In 1937, dad became manager of industrial relations at IHC-Fort Wayne when I was six years old. Our life in Fort Wayne barely moves memory, but I recall a rather large home on a leafy, oak-lined avenue named Taber Street. Just one house away lived the Saaf family, with one son my age named Richard. Dick and his dog Ginger became my good friends. Mr. Saaf worked at General Electric in a job somewhat like dad’s. My brother John was in his teens, and even then displayed an affection for dry humor: “Be careful, Bobby. Ginger snaps!”

I began school at Saint Patrick’s Grade School, taught by nuns. A class picture in first or second grade showed 38 boys and girls. I remember the photo distinctly, since the photographer used a tray of gunpowder that ignited when the camera shutter opened. The blinding flash, loud boom and lingering haze made an indelible impression:

We lived about four years in Fort Wayne when dad accepted a position at IHC’s headquarters in downtown Chicago.
3. Chicago, Illinois

Our home was at 6437 Glenwood Avenue in Rogers Park on Chicago’s north side. Rogers Park adjoins Evanston, home of Northwestern University.

We lived in a two-flat brick building with the Laser family downstairs, and owner Clarice “Callie” Baker on the second level. Also with Miss Baker were Mary McGrath and her two teen sons Harold and David. Harold was my brother John’s age, and the two became fast friends. Several years after Harold returned from World War II navy service, he was found deceased in his car on a country road. Police suspected foul play.

Miss Baker was seldom seen, and perhaps now would be called a “reclusive spinster.” Another possibility is that she suffered ill health and Mrs. McGrath was a live-in caregiver, although I remember Mrs. McGrath working at a local bakery across from my grade school.

Glenwood Avenue was a string of look-alike, two-story, two-flat buildings, each separated by narrow walkways leading to a tiny back yard, garage and alley. Our lower unit had three bedrooms and a window-enclosed rear porch.

At this point we had moved twice: Springfield to Fort Wayne and Fort Wayne to Chicago. But I have no recollection how, i.e., by what means we emigrated. I remember Ohio excursions when dad drove what seemed a large, boxy, four-door sedan, with my mother seated to his right and the three of us lining the back seat. (Mother never drove, “Your father wanted me to, but insisted that first I learn lots of mechanical things.”)

During such weekend outings, country scenery had limits, and dad’s game of, “See who can spot a white horse first. We’ll keep score,” also leaked steam quickly. Eventually we in the back devised ways to mix other delights with hills, farms and white horses. But parents learn fast, and Dad said that he knew we were covertly pummeling each other when the car started to sway.

So exactly how the family traveled from Ohio to Indiana, then later from Indiana to Illinois is unclear. I know dad drove a car in Fort Wayne, and that an automobile may have occupied the Rogers Park garage. But perhaps not. Dad commuted to his downtown IHC office via Chicago’s renowned “L” public rail system. The “L” (for elevated) was named for its above-street tracks. The system also anointed the city’s central district as the “loop,” where southbound trains circled the downtown area before returning north.

Our Glenwood Avenue home had many advantages. Just one block away was Devon Avenue, a lengthy east-west thoroughfare with retail stores and clunky streetcars sipping power from a web of overhead electric lines. I believe my siblings used them (or some combination of “L” and streetcar) to reach their respective high schools. My education was more geographically convenient and probably influenced parents’ address choice. St. Ignatius Grade School was only four blocks from our home, an easy walk for a fourth-grader even in often severe Midwest weather. Indeed, the Rogers Park “L” station was just blocks from my school playground, and often I spotted dad’s return during late noon hours. Walking home with him was joyous. In his manly overcoat, hat, suit, tie, I felt great pride when classmates saw me with my dad.

St. Ignatius was a square-block complex with four key buildings: three-story grade school, rectory (living quarters for priests), convent (nuns’ home) and a large neo-classical Romanesque church serving the community. Each school day began with students assembling by grade on the asphalt schoolyard. Talking in ranks was forbidden. Once orderly, groups would march two abreast into church, with nuns monitoring movement. As in classes, boys and girls were separated, even entering church via different doorways. Mass usually lasted 45 minutes, after which we marched back, always scrutinized by ever-watchful nuns. Clothing rules were rigid: girls wore blue and white uniforms; boys dressed in short pants or knickers with suit coat, shirt and tie.

My test scores in 7th grade were above average, and teacher Sister Mary Nicholas agreed (with parent approval) to a request from a graduate student to meet with me on a selected Saturday. He asked numerous questions, then administered one or several IQ tests. I have no idea why, but was satisfied when we stopped at a military surplus store and he bought me a 1st Armored Division shoulder patch. Military insignia were quite popular among boys at that time.

My maternal grandmother Mary Schaeffer (born Mary Barrett) lived with us then. I assume that she joined us in Rogers Park after losing a third husband in Springfield. Grandmother was thrice married; all three husbands preceded her in death. Her birthplace was County Cork Ireland:

"Situated in Ireland’s southwest, County Cork is the largest Irish county and probably the most varied. Rich farmlands and river valleys with a magnificent Atlantic coastline scooped and fretted by the Atlantic into great bays and secret coves, strewn with rocky headlands and long soft golden sands."

She worked from a very early age as some type of domestic, perhaps immigrating to America as a young teen. She often expressed antipathy for the British (“...the gentry on their horses”). Her Irish schooling was spare if any, since she could neither read nor write. Prior to her Chicago arrival, my brother John and I shared one of the three Glenwood bedrooms. Afterward, we vacated the room for grandmother and moved our bunk beds and furnishings onto the windowed rear porch. I knew grandmother as Grandma Schaeffer, and fondly remember her third husband, a kindly man named Jess Schaeffer with dark hair and impressive handlebar moustache who was a world-class source of Hershey bars for the Laser children.

Figure 5. Grandmother Schaeffer and husband Jess
Figure 5a. Grandmother Schaeffer, brothers Robert & John
Between his high school graduation and army service, my brother John probably worked for IHC at Chicago headquarters. Sister Mary had a clerical job at Cherry-Burrell Corporation, maker of pumps and milking machines. Even I began employment. My first job at 12 was in a store dusting furniture every Saturday for 50 cents.

Then, the summer of 1944 between my seventh and eighth grades impacted our family for years after:

Mother, 45, had some months earlier undergone an operation that revealed terminal cancer and just one year to live. Dad kept secret her condition, perhaps only telling my sister Mary in the last months. Memories are still vague and raw. I remember mother returning from the hospital, then being bedridden thereafter. Sometime after mother’s travail began, Mary left work to care for her and look after me, then 13.

Early on a 1944 summer morning, my brother John was in training at nearby Camp Grant; my sister (“Sis”) was at home, as probably was grandmother. I heard several early morning throaty noises, but thought little of them. The time would be about six or seven when Dad entered the back room as I lay on the bottom bunk bed: “Bobby, your mother is… (Here memory fogs: His words were, “is dying,” or “going to die.”) Dad probably said much more, but no memory exists. Whatever his words, I remember his leaving and my kneeling in bed, praying tearfully that it was untrue.

That same day after mother was taken away, Johnny arrived on emergency leave from Camp Grant. His first words as he entered, “How’s mom?”

The rest of that summer is unfocused: A graveside service (probably in Springfield); accompanying my father to select a marker. All else goes gauzy to black. Sometime the following year, Grandma Schaeffer returned to Springfield and my sister Mary remained at home caring for dad and me. Several of my oft-visiting eighth-grade classmates developed puppy-love crushes on her. She would have been 21 or 22 then, and very pretty.

Mary dated William Kelly during high school. After graduation, Bill joined the marines and served in the South Pacific. Upon his return, they married and had one child David Allen Kelly. David’s nickname became his initials D-A-K. I last saw Dak when he was about seven, then years passed and in 2004 learned that he lived in a Phoenix veteran’s rehab center. We reconnected, but phone calls and letters from him were confused. He was obviously impoverished and distraught, mentioning Vietnam where he served in some type of support unit. After about a year, communication stopped.

One year after mother’s demise, I graduated from St. Ignatius in a group of 36 boys and 43 girls.
Like all St. Ignatius eighth-grade boys, I faced two choices after graduation. One was to attend St. George High School in Evanston; the other Loyola Academy, part of Jesuit-operated Loyola University located about one mile from St. Ignatius on the Chicago lakefront. Most boys hoped to attend Loyola, but academic standards were higher than St. George’s and fewer than half of the 36 graduating from St. Ignatius qualified. I can testify to the school’s Jesuit rigor: A dismal algebra grade forced me to attend freshman summer school.

Everyone studied Latin at Loyola; a few gifted boys studied Greek and Latin. At that time I did not appreciate how a “dead language” like Latin would be of such lifelong value.

A year or so after mother’s death, dad married Olive Rose Graehling (Ollie) on May 18, 1946. Ollie and her sister Violet Graehling owned and operated a women’s apparel store on Chicago’s near north side (Diversey street/avenue). The never-married sisters probably were in their 40s at the time, with Violet the older. Their unmarried niece Maxine McCartney also worked in the store. All three were from Dixon, Illinois. The sisters sold the business when Dad and Ollie married. Both dad and Ollie are interred in Dixon.
4. Elmhurst, Illinois

Dad began working at IHC-Melrose Park, moving from Rogers Park to Elmhurst. (Elmhurst is about 10 miles from Melrose Park.) His title was division manager of industrial relations, industrial power division. About three years later at age 56, he left IHC for health reasons and moved to Arizona.

In Elmhurst we lived in a just-built $18,000 brick home on Oak Street near North Avenue. Ollie became a homemaker; dad drove daily to IHC. (Autos were scarce then, but he managed to acquire a used Nash.) I relocated from Loyola in my sophomore year to Elmhurst’s Immaculate Conception High School, where nuns taught classes. “IC” was (and still is) a convenient few blocks from downtown. After settling into our new home, dad used his carpentry skills to build an ornate bar and recreation area in the basement.

Each school day, I rode the city bus to classes, a 20-minute ride. The route was uncomplicated: North Avenue to South York Street to school. I believe John lived with us for a short time after starting his tool-design program at IHC-Melrose Park. Dad probably helped him qualify for the training. Sister Mary joined the move to the western suburbs, settling in neighboring Villa Park with her husband Bill and baby David Allen. (Her husband Bill Kelly drove a delivery truck after discharge from the marines. Years later, John reported seeing Bill working as a security guard in a downtown bank. My sister and he were long divorced at that time.)

Immaculate Conception’s proximity to central Elmhurst provided early employment experiences. First, a classmate named Tom Murphy operated a small newspaper stand in central Elmhurst across from the North Western RR train station. (North Western tracks split the town, defining North and South Elmhurst.) I sometimes substituted for Tom selling five-cent papers. My second job was stock boy at Soukup Hardware, a large downtown retail store with myriad hardware and household items. Owner Phil Soukup oversaw the Elmhurst store; his brother supervised a second store 12 miles west in Glen Ellyn. In 2008, the Soukup-Glen Ellyn location still existed, advertising its “80 years in business.” My sister Mary, who also worked at Soukup-Elmhurst, helped me land the job.

Phil’s nephew Ted Soukup, about my age, was also employed at the Elmhurst store. After several months, our hi-jinks vexed the owner enough to earn my termination. I left; Ted stayed. Shortly thereafter, I obtained a job as produce clerk in a Kroger store barely a block from Soukup’s, and worked there for about a year before dad left Harvester for the move to Phoenix. Why Phoenix? Harvester had a truck-testing facility there (Litchfield Park) that dad had visited several times. The experience fueled his desire to live in a temperate climate.

Around this time my brother John married. His wife Vivian had a son from a previous marriage nicknamed “Butch,” who was about 10 or 11. John later adopted him.

Elmhurst was our home from October 1946 to November 1948, about two years. The move from Midwest to Southwest created yet another family fissure, since my brother and sister stayed behind with their respective families. In retrospect, the clan’s early moves from Ohio to Indiana to Illinois never geographically split us, and seemed orderly in comparison to a giant leap from Illinois to frontier-like Arizona. Another difficulty: I was then halfway through my high school senior year at Immaculate Conception. Fortunately, my academic grounding was solid enough to earn graduation in Phoenix.
5. Phoenix, Arizona

Dad was right. Phoenix was new, growing, with lots of cowboys and Indians plus a balmy climate and luminous sunsets. I was mesmerized by desert beauty and enthusiastically learned about barrel and yucca and saguaro cactus and little creatures that flit about the desert. Target-shooting with my new .22 bolt-action rifle further delighted me. And in the desert, just about everything is a target.

Our first home was a one-story, two-bedroom apartment on a courtyard lined with five or six similar units on 16th Street, just blocks from busy east-west McDowell Road. We had traveled from Elmhurst to Phoenix in three or four days, with dad driving the entire trip. I don’t ever remember Ollie at the wheel of an automobile.

I attended St. Mary’s High School for Boys, taught by Franciscan brothers. (St. Mary’s High School for Girls, several blocks away, was taught by nuns.)  Like Immaculate Conception in Elmhurst, St. Mary’s was some miles distant from home, so I again rode city buses to classes.

The Franciscans were no-nonsense teachers who disciplined unruly students with after-school ping-pong-paddle spankings. My personal experience with such thwacks recalls bruised feelings much more than a bruised bottom.

Arriving in mid-year as a high-school senior made me an oddity. Friendships were difficult. Also, I was small for my age, a disadvantage at St. Mary’s, which was arguably the “toughest” school I ever attended. In my first or second week, a large junior named Jim Pentkowski challenged me at the bus station. I was foolish enough to think that valor always wins despite appallingly spare odds.

“Engineer boots” were popular then: leather mid-calf footwear with thick soles and heels, ideal for desert hiking. I quickly learned that standing toe-to-toe with so large an adversary guaranteed defeat. Worse, once down, my assailant’s boots celebrated victory by cracking several ribs (mine, not his). Weeks after, my taped torso kept reminding me of the incident.

Dad’s personal records include the following:

1949-52: Phoenix, Arizona: Founded and operated Capitol City Employment Service, a licensed, general agency dealing with all occupations. Business sold in 1952.
1952-55: Operated own citrus ranch in suburban Phoenix.
1955: Moved to Denver, Colorado

Dad and Ollie ran Capital City Employment Service from a street-level, downtown location. The enterprise combined dad’s industrial relations background and Ollie’s business expertise. I remember cleaning the office on weekends.

Figure 6. Dad and wife Ollie
After one year, they decided to combine home and office by moving to a residential area just one block from Central Avenue, Phoenix’s main thoroughfare. Our new quarters at 384 North 2nd Avenue were dual-purpose: office in front, living area in back (three bedrooms with enclosed rear porch, somewhat like Chicago’s Glenwood Avenue flat). I remember the house as bright, roomy and comfortable, and the front office smartly organized. The owner was a doctor living next door in a duplicate home/office configuration where he practiced osteopathy (similar to chiropractic). During this time, Ollie’s niece Maxine arrived from the Midwest to live with us.

I graduated from St. Mary’s when we still lived in our first home on 16th Street. A small market was within walking distance, where Ollie inquired about employment for me. She thus became instrumental in my learning a valuable craft. Dad always recommended, “…learn to do something with your hands.” His own skills included bartending, carpentry and construction.

My services were offered free as long as I learned. The store manager informed Ollie that he knew a meat cutter (“butcher”) who recently leased a meat department operation at The Food Hub store on 36th Street and Indian School Road, where my apprenticeship would begin. The 15-mile distance between our home on 16th Street and McDowell and The Food Hub on 36th and Indian School Road made me again reliant on city buses.

John Roche was my meat-cutting mentor at Food Hub. He and his wife had just moved to Phoenix due to her need for a drier climate. Both were Irish. Mr. Roche, who became “boss” to me, was a natty forty- or fifty-something individual with a distinct Irish brogue. Mrs. Roche was soft-spoken and very kind. Their union was childless, and I believe each came to think of me as a surrogate son. She had worked for ATT and may have been on some kind of company disability program. John (Boss) had worked in a New York City upscale food market named Gristedes.

The bargain was struck: my free services for John Roche’s meat cutting know-how. And a fair arrangement it was. The Food Hub meat department was nominally a one-person operation, so the new arrangement provided him full-time counter help, and then, after a month or so of training, someone who could man the operation in his absence.

The hours were long: 10+ hours each day, seven days a week. Doors opened at noon on Sundays, and the shortened day was a treat. Add the early morning and late-evening bus rides, and a 70/80-hour week became the norm. But it was a good bargain. I had few friends, so the job filled a vacuum. I think John respected my interest and work habits. After six months, he paid me $20 per week.

My training was comprehensive. First, learn how to use hand tools: knife, cleaver, handsaw and boning needle (to tie boneless roasts). Then, about a year later, John installed an electric band saw similar to ones used today, i.e., a high-speed circular blade capable of slicing meat and bone simultaneously.

One day a labor representative arrived at the store, stressing the advantages of membership in his union The Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workers of America. Arizona is a “right-to-work” state, so union affiliation is optional. I declined his offer, but joined about a year later. (A three-year, on-the-job apprenticeship earns journeyman status and higher wages.) Though the three years were interrupted by military service, upon return from the Army in February 1954, my job at a Phoenix Safeway store completed the required apprentice tenure and earned me journeyman rank. An additional benefit: The Safeway meat department was newly self-service (like today’s wrapped packages in open refrigerated counters), so the experience rounded out my meat-merchandising education.

A summary of meat-cutting jobs:

1948-1950 Food Hub Market-Phoenix (full-time meat cutter)
1950-1952 Swift and Company-Phoenix (meat cutter and warehouse worker)
1952-1954 (U.S. Army)
1954 Safeway Stores-Phoenix (full-time meat cutter)
1954-1958 Rincon Market-Tucson (part-time meat-cutter during college)
1958 Harbour Meat Company-Tucson (full-time meat cutter for six months)

I was drafted at age 20 while living at the second Phoenix address (the combination home and office). After arriving for induction in downtown Phoenix, about 20 young males boarded a bus for an orientation center in Monterey, California. After four weeks of processing, each recruit was told how he would be trained and where. My assignment was anti-aircraft-artillery training at Fort Bliss, adjoining El Paso, Texas on the U.S.-Mexican border.
6. El Paso, Texas

The train ride from Monterey to El Paso hugged the California coast, so scenery was spectacular. I recall few other specifics, only our arrival at Fort Bliss where we were immediately consigned to five-man “huts”: sparse wooden enclosures with beds, footlockers and a few shelves over each cot. Sanitary facilities (latrines) were in separate buildings about 70 yards away. Each latrine served 20-30 huts.

Hours of marching, calisthenics and running made for long days. Food was good, and every three to six weeks each recruit drew hated KP duty (kitchen police). KP was onerous: up at 4:00 am to start 14-hour days serving, cleaning, polishing, mopping before and after each meal, all the time suffering verbal lashings from abusive cooks and sergeants.

Military basic training shrinks then builds, i.e., harsh discipline diminishes everyone’s esteem. Once subdued, tasks are still demanding, but in a way that rebuilds personal regard. I remember the threats and coercion and ridicule, then the rebuilding of soldierly pride. It works. After 16 weeks, my physical condition and mental outlook were extraordinary.

Figure 7. Robert Laser (2nd from left) and below
As for weaponry, we first learned how to maintain and fire semi-automatic carbines and clunky M-1 rifles. Then in the second eight weeks our unit received instruction on maintaining and firing 40mm anti-aircraft guns mounted on half-track vehicles.

I only remember four individuals from basic training: Lester Icho, an Apache Indian from Arizona; Roosevelt Lemons, a Detroit African-American; Bob Pribish of Detroit, and George Stevenson from Seattle. Pribish and Stevenson were married, somewhat unusual among draftees.

At either Monterey or Fort Bliss, everyone received a battery of IQ and security tests. I must have done well, since after completing basic training I was assigned to Fort Bliss’s Anti-Aircraft and Guided Missile School for nine months of electronics training. What a wonderful opportunity! Those eight-hour classroom days provided instruction in basic electronics, radar, and ways to maintain the army’s T-38 fire control system, a target acquisition radar and computer mounted on the carriage of a 75mm anti-aircraft gun. The tactical mission of the T-38 “Skysweeper” was to search the skies for aircraft, then once spotted, feed the target location to a computer that would calculate where to aim and fire the gun. The system was new, never yet used in combat.

Even after completing nine months of electronics school, my good fortune continued. Rather than assignment to an overseas post or some other stateside camp, my orders were to remain at the school as an equipment maintenance specialist. Thus, almost all of my two years of army service were at Fort Bliss, Texas.

During my Fort Bliss training, Dad and Ollie sold their Phoenix business and bought a 16-acre citrus ranch off Indian School Road at 4444 N. 36th Street. The roomy ranch house in the middle of the property was surrounded by date palms, orange and lemon trees, all planted in neat rows with one-foot-deep irrigation furrows running between. Every four-to-six weeks, dad telephoned the City of Phoenix for water, which days later would travel from a central irrigation channel to the furrows between his fruit trees. The surge continued for 8-12 hours, and always required someone nearby to rebuild any rows that collapsed under the water’s rushing pressure. Once while I was home on leave from Fort Bliss, dad described "how much fun" it was to oversee a night of irrigation, so I agreed to supervise the event. Wearing waterproof boots and armed with a shovel, I scarcely remember ever working harder. That’s my dad!

My military duties during the last year at Fort Bliss resembled a civilian job, i.e., routine duties during eight-hour days. Spare time featured opportunities for visits to Juarez, Mexico, just across the Rio Grande River from El Paso. Juarez featured nightclubs and cheap liquor and everything else associated with seamy border towns of that era. My good fortune permitted me to meet and date two young 20-something ladies from Juarez: Emma Varela, a nurse, and Aurora Quijano, who worked in a large store’s perfume department. Both were lovely and refined ladies. Emma spoke no English, and I never mastered Spanish. Thus, our friendship was a mutual learning experience. Aurora and I developed the most lasting friendship, and after my discharge in 1954, she and I exchanged numerous letters for years. I visited her several times when driving from Tucson to my parents’ Denver home.

My February 1954 discharge was somewhat untimely, since I just missed the start of the semester at the University of Arizona in Tucson. As mentioned earlier, I landed a meat-cutting job at a large Safeway store in South Phoenix. My union membership helped me qualify. I bought a car, so transportation from north Phoenix was no problem. I met several fine people at Safeway, and from February to the start of college in September saved sufficient money to start college comfortably. (The GI bill provided single veterans $110/month.)

7. Tucson, Arizona

Dad and Ollie were pleased about my decision to attend college. Indeed, the choice was a “first” for the Laser clan. In September 1954 I packed belongings into a four-door blue Ford and drove 100 miles south to Tucson. My new home was Navajo Hall, a large brick-and-stone, four-story dormitory housing 150-200 male students. My room was on the third floor.

I was 24 and my dormitory roommate, Lee Stevens, was 18 or 19 and a recent high school graduate. Lee was an Apache Indian from Northern Arizona’s San Carlos Indian Reservation, where his father Jess Stevens was tribal leader. Lee’s uncle Charles Stevens was a Hollywood character actor easily recognizable in vintage western films. One of his memorable roles was the vengeful father of Kirk Douglas’ murdered wife in Last Train From Gun Hill. Early in the film, he pleads, “Let me go with you. We will kill him the Apache way!” Charles Stevens, born in 1893, was a grandson of Geronimo.

After settling into school and dormitory life, I obtained a meat-cutting job at Rincon Market, a small but busy grocery store close to campus. It was an ideal arrangement: classes in the morning, then working most afternoons and all day Saturday. The routine continued through my four years of college with exception of summers, when just about everything slowed due to Tucson’s oppressively hot climate (air conditioning was rare then). All classes and dormitories closed and most students departed. Again, my trade served me. Each summer I obtained full-time jobs in Phoenix, Denver or Tucson.

Rincon Market deserves special mention. Owned and operated by thoughtful and gentlemanly Jack Uvodich, the small but busy enterprise served a neighborhood clientele, but mostly supplied campus fraternities, sororities and school districts. Jack Uvodich’s two sons, Frank and Kenneth, also worked at the market while attending UA classes. Both became friends. Frank, the younger, would later be godfather to one of my three children. Summarily, Rincon was a small store, but one that moved volumes of merchandise thanks to the business skill of its owner.

Some Rincon shoppers had a significant impact on my life: Robert A. May was an attorney (University of Michigan) and senior partner at Tucson’s May, Lesher and Dees, which specialized in insurance litigation. His wife was a lovely lady who once was a nurse on the UM campus where they met and married. The Mays were in their late forties and had two daughters Marcia and Margrethe. Marcia was the older and a UA freshman student. Four years later on July 25, 1958, youthful, lovely Marcia May married Robert Laser at Tucson’s St. Philips Episcopal Church. Frank Uvodich, a high-school friend of Marcia’s and my co-worker at Rincon Market, was our best man. I was 27 and Marcia 20. She was a strikingly lovely bride, and her picture in the Tucson paper echoed her beauty. It was a lovely ceremony.

I received above-average grades at UA, enough to meet and be photographed with Arizona’s governor in his office during my freshman year. The photograph appeared in Tucson’s newspaper. Then on 11/27/1957 I was elected into Tau Beta Pi engineering honorary society. The same year, the West Coast Electronics Manufacturer’s Association awarded me a small scholarship.

I earned my final credits and EE degree the summer of our marriage. Right after our wedding, Marcia and I spent our “honeymoon” in a small Tucson apartment. During those three or four months before leaving for Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I worked for Harbour Meat Company as a retail and wholesale meat cutter. The wholesale part of the job was hard physical work, since the two Harbour brothers owned several Northern Arizona ranches and brought live cattle into the facility for processing. As a result, meat carcasses were processed in halves, not quarters. The additional weight was challenging.

8. Denver, Colorado

Dad and Ollie moved from Phoenix during my second college year, so Denver history overlaps Tucson’s, i.e., defines my visits during school vacations.

Memories of their first Denver home are scant, but their second house was on Denver’s Monaco Parkway, an upscale, manicured neighborhood with a wide, leafy boulevard. Both seemed very happy there, and dad again used his carpentry skills to build a basement bar and recreation room. I probably visited them four or five times during my four college years. One Christmas, dormitory friend Ed Murphy and I spent the holidays there.

A Denver summer visit during my second or third college year provided a well-paying opportunity to work at Denver’s King’s Soopers during the store’s late-evening shift. The food store was very large, and only a short distance from the Monaco Parkway home. King's meat section employed some 10-20 wrappers and meat-cutters, so I made many friends. The department’s manager was Neil Doherty, a very challenging but extremely fair individual. I worked at other stores in Denver during subsequent vacations, but memories of them are dim.

9. Milwaukee, Wisconsin

After my graduation and summer working at Harbour Meat, Marcia and I drove from Tucson to Milwaukee with car trunk and back seat packed with belongings. En route we may have visited my parents in Denver, but memory is dim.

Upon arrival in Milwaukee, we rented a furnished one-bedroom apartment above a small tavern. We later discovered that hundreds of such “neighborhood bars” dotted the city. Milwaukee then was, “Beer Capital of the World,” due to its many breweries. This appellation and a large German blue-collar population created a “need” for small pubs in otherwise residential areas. Such neighborhood businesses, often only blocks apart, were essentially single-family homes with a tavern in front and living quarters behind. Each was distinguishable by a neon sign in a front window (“Pabst,” “Miller,” “Old Milwaukee”); most had beer-only dispensing licenses.

In our tiny apartment, we could sometimes hear music and tavern noise below, especially on weekends. But the sounds induced smiles rather than frowns, so we cataloged them as yet another cheery episode in the lives of newlyweds. Indeed, they added a uniqueness to our first home, where we lived for about six months.

Unlike most engineering graduates, I did not obtain a job while in school. Rather, I thought that just going somewhere and finding work was a better course. I admired Marcia for supporting my decision, as her’s was the more difficult choice, i.e., leaving family and friends behind.

Perhaps returning to Midwestern origins encouraged me to make the geographical change. I still am unsure. But I was not completely without a plan: Before graduation, I chanced upon a brochure describing Milwaukee’s Cutler-Hammer Company, a manufacturer of industrial control equipment. Armed with that glossy information, I decided with Marcia to leave Tucson for Milwaukee and just let destiny define our steps. Once there we would expect only the best: I would merely visit Cutler-Hammer and land a job. Not much forethought, but she and I were enthusiastic over the prospect of starting our lives in a completely new locale.

My interview at Cutler-Hammer revealed that the company’s training program for new engineers would not begin for six months. Unwilling to wait, I met with other companies and received an offer from Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company in West Allis, Wisconsin, a west Milwaukee suburb. The location was convenient. Allis-Chalmers’ huge facilities (a tractor factory and sprawling shops that manufactured large electricity-generating machinery) were only ten minutes from our small apartment. I began AC’s Graduate Training Program on October 19, 1958 at a salary of $475/month.

The 50s were traditional times, so I never expected Marcia to work. Indeed, we never even discussed the possibility. But throughout our marriage I too often underestimated her drive, energy and imagination. Thus, not long after my AC career started, Marcia announced her new job at Gimbels, a downtown-Milwaukee department store next to the Milwaukee River. My pride in her soared anew.

Marcia enjoyed her retail work with typical wide-eyed enthusiasm. Gimbels paid its employees in cash, and I warmheartedly remember her excitement on payday when she proudly spilled cash and coins from a small envelope. She also earned a small commission on sales, so this too fueled her enthusiasm.

AC’s Graduate Training Program shifted enrollees around numerous manufacturing departments, enough to gain familiarity with most factory operations: production, shipping, scheduling, inventory control, etc. But a labor strike during my eighth month closed plant operations. Though my own job was unaffected, the lack of production activity in the plant made me restless. Four or five weeks into the walkout I noticed a Sunday ad announcing General Motors’ need for engineers at GM’s AC Spark Plug Electronics Division, which operated plants in Milwaukee and Greenfield, a suburb about 15 miles south of downtown. GM needed engineers of all types to help design the guidance system of the army’s Titan Intercontinental Ballistic Missile.

I interviewed for the position and started work on August 9, 1959 at a salary of $540/month and $50/quarter cost-of-living bonus, leaving behind my short but instructive 10-month Allis-Chalmers experience. While at AC, I started night-school courses at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Marquette University (January 1959 to June 1961). My hope was to acquire an MBA to supplement engineering knowledge. I completed most of the required undergraduate business courses (accounting, business law, etc.) but never began graduate studies. However, the business courses proved very helpful later.

Marcia and I moved from our tiny apartment into a small furnished flat at 1639 E. Newton Avenue, about four miles from my new Milwaukee job. I remember several blizzardy days that choked street transportation enough to necessitate plodding home from work through blowing snowdrifts.

The Titan missile contract was a two-part “design and build” operation, i.e., create a “ground support system” to control operations before and during launch, and an “inertial guidance system” to steer the missile toward a distant target without any external input.

I was assigned to the ground support group, where circuits were first designed on paper, then tested in lab facilities. The work was interesting, since transistors had just begun replacing vacuum tubes in electrical devices. After several months of working at the Milwaukee location, I was transferred to the larger Greenfield facility where most testing and production occurred. Greenfield was a new, modern, state-of-the-art operation with 4-500 engineers and some 1,000 production workers.

A special event happened at this time. Our first child, Robert Bryan Laser, was born on May 25, 1960. Marcia thoughtfully named him for his two grandfathers, but to us he was little “Robbie.” Every parent feels a first child is the greatest. We were no exception.

Another move occurred. Marcia and I felt the need for more space, so we found a roomier first-floor flat in Shorewood, a suburb about 10 miles north of the Newton address. Our new location was 3901 N. Murray Avenue. Here we started acquiring furniture in earnest. But a very important acquisition was on May 27, 1962 when our second child was born: Lynette Laser, named for a sorority sister of Marcia’s. Our new daughter joined two-year-old brother Robbie and immediately doubled our happiness. I remember the two as remarkably lovely children in every possible way, with a devoted mother who possessed exceptional qualities of parental ability and temperament.

After two years, I again envisioned change. GM was enjoyable, but the prospect of working for many years as one engineer among many seemed gloomy. As before, my answer was in a Sunday classified ad announcing IBM's need for employees with mathematical or engineering degrees. I requested an interview at the company’s local sales office, and after speaking with several managers, received an offer that concluded my two years at GM’s AC Spark Plug (August 1959 to June 1961).

Although IBM provided no increase in income, I was intrigued at the prospect of learning state-of-the-art business computers and eventually earning high sales commissions. I thus embarked on IBM’s one-year training program in June of 1961 at age 30.

The first six months entailed classroom and on-the-job learning in Milwaukee and Minneapolis, then more advanced courses lasting one, two, and three weeks in Endicott and Poughkeepsie, New York. My first plane ride ever was traveling from Milwaukee to Minneapolis for basic programming education.

The instruction was challenging, but I completed the year successfully. I was then qualified to choose one of two IBM careers: systems engineering or sales. Sales reps sold data processing systems; systems engineers helped customers install them. A sales career was my choice.

Thus, I became a sales representative in the Milwaukee office. IBM was extremely conservative: dress standards required conservative business suits; white shirt and tie; wing-tip shoes and dark knee-length socks. Alcohol during working hours or any company-sponsored function was prohibited.

I reached my assigned sales goals for each of four years as a sales rep, thus qualifying for four consecutive IBM “100% Clubs” held in ritzy New York and Florida convention hotels. My income rose substantially above what I could have expected in prior engineering jobs.

Dad gave me a fondness for hard work and a desire to push beyond the norm. Milwaukee then was home to numerous foundries that cast iron, steel, aluminum and other metals into industrial parts. Many thought that so hot, dirty and basic an industry was beyond automation of any type. Somehow, I became IBM’s “foundry expert” though I had not yet risen beyond the rank of salesman. The expertise provided numerous opportunities to speak nationwide at metal-casting conventions and meetings, and to help other IBM offices learn foundry information-processing techniques. I enjoyed the “expert” status, and wrote several magazine articles on the subject.

After my fourth year of sales, IBM in August of 1967 promoted me to its district sales office in Minneapolis, which oversaw 12 branch offices in six states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, South and North Dakota. As a district representative, my job was to travel to each office and coordinate sales activities with district objectives. I worked and traveled from the Milwaukee office, so relocation was unnecessary.

After 10 months working for the district, I was promoted to marketing manager in Milwaukee. In my new position, I supervised eight sales representatives and three systems engineers, all working to sell and install basic data processing equipment in “new accounts,” i.e., first-time users of automated information processing.
My increased income made family decisions easier, and Marcia thought living outside Milwaukee would benefit the children. She found a home 30 miles west on Lake La Belle (Lac La Belle) in Oconomowoc, a small community with an early history of being a vacation spot for wealthy out-of-towners during summer months.

10. Oconomowoc, Wisconsin

We moved from Milwaukee to Oconomowoc in May of 1964. Our home was another rental since I wanted to be flexible enough to accept future IBM promotions.

We were located on a quiet cul-de-sac just steps away from the lake. The home’s owner, Joseph Weix, lived directly across from us in a large white lakefront manor. Mr. Weix was president of Oconomowoc Canning Company, the largest employer in the county. He and his wife were marvelously friendly and supportive, always ready to help in any way.

One Oconomowoc memory is incandescent. On a September day I drove seven-year-old Robbie to his first-ever day of school. As I watched him walk from the car toward the entrance, I felt sad that individuals other than his parents would now influence him.

Our family soon grew: third child Richard Kendall Laser joined Robbie and Lynette on September 23, 1965. The family seemed ideal now: a devoted mother, three delightful children and a father with an enviable position at prestigious IBM. The five of us seemed to be experiencing, “the American dream.”

Marcia became community-active, and I remember her involvement in a campaign to install extra school crossings and guards. She also participated in various church activities and a Milwaukee “Head Start” program that helped disadvantaged preschoolers and parents. Our marriage had interrupted her Tucson studies, so she also found time to enroll in several college classes.

The family acquired a St. Bernard puppy and named him Hector after the Trojan warrior. Puppies grow, and Hector was no exception; he matured to a lumbering 100 pounds or so. Hector was big and lovable, and always looked like a worried accountant. Hector jumped. Hector drooled. Hector shed. Hector chased. Hector ate.

Figure 8. Robert, Lynette, Marcia, Richard and Robert Bryan

Figure 9 (below). The Lasers with Hector and Burmese guest
We bought a boat with a clear plastic bottom and small outboard motor that allowed Robbie and me to fish all parts of Lake La Belle. The lake was carp-infested, but hooking the large creatures offered a small boy the thrill of reeling in catches of 10 pounds and more.

The IBM job was enjoyable and the 30-mile daily commute from Oconomowoc to Milwaukee reasonable. But something unexpected occurred: As a manager, I now had access to IBM’s salary-setting formulas, i.e., detailed procedures linking employee pay to performance and other job factors. Studying the plan revealed the obvious—a similar blueprint governed my own position and all others I might acquire in the future. The knowledge was bothersome; it seemed to be a bureaucratic constraint on ability and hard work.

Again, I became restive.

Another neighbor on our street was Art Konig and family. Art was president of Packaging Products Corporation of America, a Milwaukee distributor of packaging equipment and related supplies. PPC sold anything then used by grocery stores to package meat, produce and bakery items (plastic bags, wrapping film, cellophane, trays, labels, etc.).

PPC was originally owned by tobacco company Phillip Morris and purchased by Art years earlier. One day he offhandedly spoke to me about joining PPC as vice-president of sales and marketing. The job included overseeing three PPC regional managers and a distribution network of 70 private food brokers and 10 distributors in the Midwest and South. The salary and bonus plan were attractive and seemed, “an offer I couldn’t refuse.” Thus, a year after promotion to IBM manager, I became vice-president for PPC on October 16, 1968. My yearly salary was $20,000, with additional compensation determined by sales and profits.

The job was consequential because my 18 months at PPC were rife with personal and professional problems. Excessive travel impacted marriage and family; the company experienced personnel turnover, and I had minimal authority to effect change. Marcia and I saw our marriage suffer, then collapse. She filed for a divorce that was approved one year later during a TV-like courtroom trial on December 26, 1969. (Unlike now, Wisconsin had not yet become a no-fault-divorce state. Instead, one party’s guilt had to be proven before any divorce could be granted.)

On the day of our courtroom appearances and after the verdict, Marcia invited me to breakfast with her and the three children at a restaurant near the courthouse. What a delight to have the family together again after so dismal a year! Indeed, I dared to think that all was heading back to normal.

But Marcia had determined the children would be better elsewhere. Years earlier, she attended a University of Hawaii summer session in Oahu. Thus, shortly after our divorce was final, she and the three children left Wisconsin for Honolulu.

I was distressed, but not for long. Jack Thuma, an IBM friend who now worked for Management Assistance Incorporated (MAI), earlier offered me a branch manager’s job in Phoenix that I accepted just before Marcia filed for divorce. Obviously, I had to withdraw my acceptance. But shortly after Marcia and the children left for Hawaii, Jack phoned and announced that the MAI-San Francisco office was available if I wanted it. I met him at the Palace Hotel on Montgomery Street (just one block from the MAI branch office) and accepted his offer. The PPC job was going nowhere, and being closer to the children was important. My tenure at PPC was from October 16, 1968 to March 3, 1970.

11. San Francisco, California

I started managing the MAI office during San Francisco’s “Age of Aquarius” days. Terms like Haight-Asbury, hippie, tie-dye, peace marches, sit-ins, pot and LSD were ascendant. Popular icons were Timothy Leary, Abbie Hoffman, Janis Joplin and Jack Kerouac. San Francisco in those days seemed light-years beyond radical.

After a short hotel stay I moved into a two-bedroom upper flat in SF’s Richmond District, between Geary Street and Golden Gate Park, just minutes from the Pacific Ocean. The owners, who lived downstairs, were an amiable Basque couple. He was a landscape gardener; she a stay-at-home wife who spoke no English. About a year later, their first child was born.

I had driven my Chevrolet Malibu from Milwaukee, but often left it in the flat’s garage and rode city buses to work (about 25 minutes). Once I noticed a bus advertisement seeking volunteers for San Francisco’s Suicide Prevention program. On impulse, I visited the non-profit’s office, applied, then after requisite training manned the evening and overnight shifts one or two Saturdays each month.

Reasons for volunteering are still vague, but my four SP years are treasured. San Francisco then claimed the country’s highest suicide rate (one per day). Estimates run three times higher when considering unreported or uninvestigated events. Another statistic: Leaps from the Golden Gate Bridge occur monthly.

I joined some 100 others manning 24-hour phone lines. Two or three worked each shift. Many were sociology students from San Francisco State University earning extra college credit. Most of the calls were routine: lonely individuals who needed to hear a sympathetic voice; drug users on highs or lows. Many were habitual callers who telephoned weekly, even daily.

Volunteers were also tasked to answer the center’s drug- and senior-help telephones. My SP involvement was recuperative for me then, but an unexpected benefit occurred: I learned (1) how to actively stay quiet and let others talk (ventilate), and, (2) how to energetically listen. Example: hearing a cable car bell during a conversation could halve the time required to trace a call and send help. These traits became immensely important in business.

A volunteer named Sylvia was a member of Mensa, the high-IQ social organization. Often I accompanied her to Mensa parties after we completed SP shifts. There was an affiliated Mensa group of San Quentin prisoners in nearby Marin County. Once, the two chapters planned a joint meeting that would include a prison visit. Sylvia invited me and I eagerly accepted. A group of about 50 arrived at the prison for a tour of the facilities.

The most unforgettable part of the episode was when the group initially assembled around a modest outside entrance. With little fanfare, a guard opened the door and suddenly we found ourselves in San Quentin’s gas chamber. No one was prepared for the shock of experiencing the room so often seen in photographs and movies. But unlike film or photos, this was real and just inches away: the airtight enclosure surrounded by thick windows; spare lighting, etc. The group filed through quietly, and remained noticeably subdued thereafter.

The Mensa inmates who conducted the tour were neatly groomed, articulate, polite and informative. Each unabashedly reported their crimes: armed robbery, manslaughter, assault, etc. All were energetically seeking parole. Afterward, every time I drove the Golden Gate Bridge and spotted San Quentin jutting into the Bay, my mind pictured the event.

My downtown MAI office was on the seventh floor of the Hearst Building at Third and Market Streets. The building later was used for a food distribution program demanded by the Symbionese Liberation Army after heiress Patty Hearst’s kidnapping.

The MAI staff consisted of an office manager, three secretaries, eight sales representatives and 8-10 technical personnel. MAI sold refurbished IBM equipment so most employees were ex-IBMers. I felt comfortable back in so familiar an environment.

One of the three secretaries, 23-year-old Cheryl Anne Cagle was absent on maternity leave when I arrived. But “Cheri” (Sherry) soon returned after giving birth to baby girl Melissa Lynn. The new mother was bright, energetic, and eager to help a new manager “get up to speed” quickly. But within months of her daughter’s birth on January 26, 1970, Cheri and her husband Bob Cagle divorced. Three years later, Cheryl Anne Cagle and I were married in an untraditional Unitarian ceremony at the Villa Park Inn in San Mateo. (Years after, "little" Melissa Lynn Cagle at age 17 became Melissa Lynn Laser, my adopted daughter.)

Cheri had attended the University of Washington in Seattle for one year, and during our courtship decided to complete her studies at San Francisco State University. Despite the wild turbulence on campuses at that time, she graduated in 1972 with a communications degree. We were both extremely proud of her accomplishment, and Cheri—now armed with a college diploma—began constructing her own career. But at that time females still faced formidable gender barriers, so she found few jobs other than those in traditional “secretarial ghettoes.”

But she was ambitious, and within a month of our 1973 wedding announced that she had won a job with IBM. The position was as a customer engineer in the company’s Office Products division. Demure, petite Cheri would be an IBM typewriter and copier repairperson in the company’s San Mateo office.

IBM provided extensive training, and after several years of fixing office machines and providing sales support, Cheri transferred to IBM’s computer division. Then her career began paralleling my own early experiences with the company: one year of training; several years of commission sales; transfer to other offices; promotion to a first IBM manager’s job.

As intended, living in California placed me closer to my children Robbie, Lynette and Ricky. Initially, Marcia and the three lived in Honolulu, but within several years she married an individual named Donato Guerra and all moved from Maui to the Big Island of Hawaii. Their new home was in a small community named Volcano. (The island’s Mauna Loa volcano is nearby.) I visited them several times there, once accompanied by Melissa and Cheri.

But the most memorable experiences were the children’s visits to Cheri and Melissa and me on the mainland. The experience of flying from rural Hilo to Honolulu to San Francisco was exciting for them, and I fondly remember the three marveling at all the lights in San Francisco compared to the few back home. Their visits included travel to vacation spots at Yosemite, Disneyland, Colorado Springs and others.

Other memorable San Francisco events include:

1. A peace march with Cheri and close friend Elaine Walton Horsley from downtown SF to Golden Gate park where comedian Dick Gregory and 100,000 others protested the Vietnam War.
2. Running the annual 7.5-mile Bay-to-Breakers race from central SF to the ocean.
3. Bicycling across the Golden Gate Bridge onto various trails in Marin County.
4. Attending a raucous weekend party at an abandoned synagogue on Geary Street, then learning that the building once housed The People’s Temple before Jim Jones moved his congregation to Guyana.
5. Active involvement with the Unitarian church.
6. Gathering and cooking mussels on the Point Reyes’ shore with family and friends.
7. Creating sand candles on Bayside and Ocean beaches.

12. Foster City, California

Upon arrival in San Francisco, Cheri first lived in a third-floor apartment where Melissa was born. When Melissa was four months old, both moved to a Victorian home at 66 Waller Street. Sharon McDonald, an MAI co-worker and mother of a two-year-old daughter shared the flat. Sharon and daughter Kris became lasting friends. The four lived at the Waller address for two years before Cheri and daughter Melissa moved south to Foster City, a bayside development midway between San Francisco and San Jose. The San Mateo bridge spanning San Francisco Bay connects Foster City with East Bay cities Oakland, Alameda, Berkeley, etc.

Cheri moved from Waller Street to Foster City’s Shell Cove Apartments while I was still at the 16th Avenue location. Maintaining two addresses was inconvenient, and we thought a roomier, permanent home would be appropriate. Thus, Cheri found a four-bedroom condominium at 1049 Grebe Street in Foster City. It was our first “real” home and later the site of our May 1973 wedding reception after the Unitarian marriage ceremony in San Mateo. The Foster City home would see several visits from my three children Robbie, Lynette and Ricky.

During one visit, Robbie required hospitalization for removal of his appendix. During his Grebe Street recovery, siblings Lynette and Ricky returned home. I know Robbie suffered pain beyond the norm, and was happy that we could help his Foster City recuperation. After three weeks of recovery, Robbie returned to the Big Island.

Cheri thought we needed a pet, and thus acquired a small dog (cockerpoo) promptly named Cocoa. We were now a family of four.

Jack Thuma, my MAI mentor and friend who brought me to San Francisco from Wisconsin, was promoted from Regional Manager to vice-president at MAI’s New York headquarters. The MAI regional office was in Mill Valley, just across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County. A general reshuffling accompanied Jack’s promotion, the largest of which was his replacement by Warren Mix, who previously worked for bookkeeping-machine company Singer-Friden. The reorganization earned me promotion from San Francisco branch manager to regional marketing manager in the Mill Valley regional office. The new position required design and implementation of marketing programs throughout MAI’s Western Region, which comprised branch offices in Los Angeles, Seattle, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix and San Francisco. NOTE: I am forever grateful to Jack Thuma for the kindness he provided me and my family. He is the most able and trustworthy individual I ever met.

I was in the regional job for about a year, when MAI launched yet another corporate restructuring that closed both the SF branch and Mill Valley regional offices. The company offered me a branch manager’s job in Chicago or New York, but I declined due to, (1) a reluctance to leave California, and (2) MAI’s financial unsteadiness. I interviewed several San Francisco computer companies at that time, but found nothing of interest.

MAI’s restructuring split the organization into three entities:

1. MAI, the original company that sold and installed refurbished IBM equipment. MAI headquarters would remain in New York.
2. Basic Four, a new company created to manufacture and sell state-of-the-art Basic Four computers from headquarters and assembly plant in Anaheim, California.
3. Sorbus, another new company that would perform all service/repair functions for MAI and Basic Four. Sorbus headquarters would be in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.

The reorganization was timely for me since Sorbus had an immediate need: Sorbus managers knew how to fix and maintain machines and supervise technicians who were equally qualified. But the new Sorbus required more: now managers would need to sell Sorbus service contracts to businesses.

Initial resistance among field service managers was high. All had consciously chosen technical careers rather than sales jobs. Indeed, many had suffered from a too common occurrence: overzealous reps promising customers too much, then leaving technicians to face blame when equipment underperformed. In almost all electronic companies, the tension between sales and technical personnel seems palpable.

Since the new Sorbus structure needed someone to teach technical managers how to sell, the company asked me if I could develop a program to, (1) sharpen managers’ computer skills, and (2) teach them sales skills. I was to provide this education as an independent contractor, not a Sorbus employee.

I accepted, and thus began my 30-year career as a self-employed corporate consultant. Never again would I work for anyone but myself.

While fulfilling the Sorbus contract, I became active with the San Francisco chapter of the Sales and Marketing Executives Association, which once asked me to speak at a monthly dinner meeting in a downtown SF hotel. The assigned topic was Negotiating.

The presentation was warmly received. Afterward an individual named Don Dible asked if I would conduct educational programs throughout the U.S. sponsored by his company Dible Management Development, Inc., headquartered in nearby Fairfield, California. The arrangement proved mutually beneficial. My fee was $1,000 per one-day event.

Around this time, I conducted a computer-related training course for San Francisco’s Itel Corporation. Though completely unrelated to computers, the company asked if I could help create an Affirmative Action Program to meet federal requirements for hiring and promoting minorities and females. I accepted and became a liaison between Itel, Itel’s legal advisors, and the U.S. Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). The experience was invaluable, and provided me enough knowledge and experience to create similar programs for some 15 other California companies.

Itel’s law firm, Brobeck, Phleger and Harrison, started referring my services to other clients, among them Sunset Scavenger Company, Golden Gate Disposal Company and Oakland Scavenger Company. All were Bay Area solid waste collection firms, and I learned that each played a significant role in San Francisco history.

To explain, most disposal company workers and managers were descendants of Italian immigrants who hauled away 1906 earthquake rubble in horse-drawn garbage carts. A book titled San Francisco Scavengers recounts how those immigrants settled in the city and meagerly lived by collecting household waste door-to-door. The earthquake proved that more cooperation among them was highly desirable. Thus, haulers formed a Scavenger Protective Association. Some collection boxes in the city are still labeled SPA.

I was now a private consultant with several major clients. Blessedly, each assignment created others. For example, as I traveled the U.S. teaching one-day Negotiating seminars for the Dible group, attendees would identify a need and invite me to their own organizations. And one consulting assignment created others. Soon it became desirable to change my business identity from single proprietorship to a corporation,
Robert J. Laser Associates, Incorporated.

Meanwhile, Cheri grew her IBM career into success after success, even finding time to welcome my 12-year-old son Rick into our Foster City home (February 1978). Rick with our daughter Melissa attended The Carey School, a private institution in neighboring Belmont, California.

Cheri next decided that the family needed more space than our Grebe Street condo provided, so we bought a just-built Foster City home at 502 Newport Court. The four of us lived there until my son Rick opted for a return to Hawaii during his high school sophomore year (December 1981). He would later marry in his early 20s and father two lovely children Christine and Kevin.

During our life on Newport Court, my now-widowed daughter Lynette and son Leo visited from Hawaii, as did my older son Robbie. Cheri and I would have preferred that all stay with us on the mainland, but after each visit each chose to return to the Islands. Robbie was with us long enough to earn a high school (adult) diploma from San Mateo Union High School District in August of 1979.

Cheri’s four successful years as a commissioned IBM sales representative earned her promotion to instructor at IBM-Atlanta’s educational facilities, which required a move from Foster City to Atlanta, Georgia. The three of us—Cheri, Melissa and me—thus moved South. With all the responsibilities of accommodating a new job, Cheri wondrously found time to do everything related to the cross-country exodus: finding a new home, dealing with movers, packing, travel to Atlanta. I still wonder how she arranged time to do so much.

13. Atlanta, Georgia

The Atlanta home was our most palatial to date: a large brick Tudor on a spacious lot in a North Atlanta subdivision named Huntcliff. The location was just south of the Chattahoochee river facing the golf course at Cherokee Country Club. The address was 8730 The Fifth Green.

Atlanta was lovely: modern buildings, lots of trees, friendly people, bustling growth and a large airport, which was important to my travel needs. Natives affectionately call Atlanta the City in a Forest. Abundant Civil War history added to its ambiance.

Our first Atlanta Christmas was notable in many ways, but mostly for neighborhood carolers who came to our door singing. And the Southeast’s spell was cast in many other ways: excursions to historic Stone Mountain park; Atlanta’s zoo; the Civil War Cyclorama exhibit in Grant Park, country cuisine, etc.

Cheri enrolled Melissa in school, then settled into her new IBM job. Somehow she also found time to support the Atlanta Ballet and Atlanta Symphony, so we attended many performances. Relatedly, Melissa attended the Atlanta Ballet School of Dance, and in 1983 played an angel in the company's Nutcracker production. Cheri and/or I attended all ten performances.


Figure 10. Cheri and Melissa Laser 1983

Cheri determined that our dog Cocoa needed companionship. We visited a pet store at Perimeter Center shopping mall and, after a short vote among Cheri, Melissa and me, we selected a white German Shepherd puppy that seemed all paws and appetite. A favorite novel, Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, featured a heroic Alaskan canine named Buck. Our second dog was so christened. Now there were five of us: Cheri, Melissa, Bob, Cocoa and Buck.

I recall our years on The Fifth Green (June 1982-January 1985) as somewhat less eventful than in other cities. We hosted social events, mostly attended by Cheri’s IBM friends and our Huntcliff neighbors. Cheri’s parents Jim and Gerry Keyes sometimes visited from Washington D.C., where each worked in government. Gerry was an administrative law judge with the Interstate Commerce Commission; Jim a Foreign Service Officer with USAID (Agency for International Development). Gerry was an attorney; Jim held a master’s degree in public administration. Conversations with them were never dull.

My travel was heavy, and Cheri’s IBM work challenging. Eventually, her talent won her promotion to an IBM manager’s job similar to the one I held with that company years earlier: marketing manager. Her new assignment was in Albany, New York. The family would move yet again.

14. Albany, New York

Cheri was now an IBM new account marketing manager, exactly the same as my 1968 IBM job in Milwaukee. Even the number of sales and technical personnel reporting to her was similar. (Reminder: I am 15 years older than Cheri.)

Cheri wanted to complete the move from Atlanta to Albany as quickly as possible, and her marvelous ability to organize more than met the task. She set about:
1. Locating a new school for Melissa.
2. Finding a home in Albany.
3. Selling our Atlanta home.
4. Working with movers to relocate us from Atlanta to Albany.
5. Meeting members of the sales and technical team she would manage.
6. Accomplishing all other tasks that accompany a 900-mile move.

While house hunting in Albany, Cheri telephoned and described what she considered a suitable choice. I listened to a description of Fox Run: a 120-year-old restored Victorian house on 40 country acres; separate three-car garage with living quarters above, plus a third structure that had been converted from a barn into two apartments. A spring-fed one-acre pond also graced the wooded property. I agreed that it would be suitable for us. Thus began our new life in New Scotland, New York, a rural enclave about 15 miles from downtown Albany.

The two buildings beyond the main house had three separate living areas: a complete apartment above the three-car garage, and two upper and lower apartments in the renovated barn. The previous owner had rented all three, but Cheri diplomatically asked tenants to vacate so nothing would interfere with our family’s new “pastoral privacy.”

How private? Our “compound” was located at the end of a gravel road about 200 yards from the Albany highway. A snowplow operator had to clear the road on snowy winter days. Otherwise, we could not drive out.

Another attraction: Deer roamed the fields close to the house. Buck loved chasing them (and anything else he couldn’t catch), while older Cocoa preferred a less active life inside the house.

The home was ideally rustic, and Cheri set about adding special touches like ordering North Carolina furniture. One aspect of Fox Run was at times challenging: Like many farms, the property was too remote for municipal services. As a result, our water was supplied from the one-acre pond through an electric pumping system about 100 yards from the house. Storms sometimes tripped the pump controls, which meant that Buck and I would navigate deep snow or rainy darkness, push aside a heavy wooden cover, then climb into the well pit to reset circuit breakers. But even that minor challenge added to Fox Run’s appeal.

Melissa found her very first job in Albany as a clerk in a pizza store. After several months, she moved to working in a floral shop. Cheri and I were pleased at this early sign of independence.

But teens are teens, and Melissa started smoking. She kept it secret from Cheri and me until I spotted her puffing away with friends on an Albany shopping-center escalator. She continued to smoke for several years, but wisely abandoned the habit when we returned to Atlanta.

Cheri had a younger half-sister named Carolyn who lived in Redlands, California. Carolyn was experiencing personal difficulties, so compassionate Cheri invited her to come live with us and complete her college education. Carolyn accepted; moved into the lower apartment of the modernized barn, and enrolled at Russell Sage College for Women where she would later graduate. The arrangement was ideal. Now we were a family of six: I, Cheri, Melissa, Carolyn, Cocoa and Buck.

And yet another soon arrived. Cheri and Melissa thought that Carolyn needed company and found a panting candidate at the Albany pound. “Romeo” was a black and white mix of spaniel and something else.

Thus, we were seven.

Exactly two years after our move to Albany, Cheri accepted another IBM assignment that would move us back to Atlanta in January 1987. Carolyn stayed in Albany to complete her studies and graduate the following May.

15. Atlanta, Georgia (2)

For the first time in our marriage I managed a move. My travel schedule was light at that time, so Cheri was able to start a new career without overseeing every relocation detail.

Cheri, Melissa and Cocoa flew to Atlanta while I arranged for Mayflower to pack and load two large moving vans with furniture, household items and three cars. The experience made me mentally canonize Cheri for all the other times when she took complete charge. How did she do it?! And so well?!

The movers took three days to pack and load, then several more to complete the trip from Fox Run. In the meantime, Buck and I flew to Atlanta.

We had already found a new residence in a North Atlanta neighborhood named Northwold. The house was sited on two acres atop a hill not far from Highway 400’s Exit 6. Most of the 20 homes in the cul-de-sac were reproductions of Georgia antebellum houses. The developer, a master builder named Bernard Law, became a valued friend.

Fig. 11. Northwold
Cheri's humbler early years hatched two desires: (1) to live in a "mansion" and, (2) drive a Jaguar. Northwold came closest to her first wish: a new, three-level, seven-bedroom Greek Revival home with four three-story front columns and sweeping veranda plus a large gazebo in back. Its elevation was the neighborhood’s highest.

Cheri began her new duties at IBM, while Melissa started classes at Brandon Hall, a private secondary school from which she graduated the following year (1988).

A Web page from that time listed a biography:
Bob Laser founded Alliance Management Consulting in 1992. He is a nationally recognized speaker/trainer, and a consultant specializing in industrial relations, strategic planning and conflict resolution. Prior to forming AMC, Bob held management and executive positions with IBM, General Motors, and Packaging Products Corporation of America.

After five years of technical and marketing consulting for medium-to-large organizations, he realized that his engineering and management experience had significantly contributed to success in guiding client negotiations. Believing that negotiating and influence provide a common approach to solving organizational conflicts, he created Practical Negotiating Skills and Practical Influencing Skills, programs now utilized by organizations such as Chevron, Xerox, GTE, EMC, UPS, AT&T, CIGNA, Eastman Kodak, Intel, plus hundreds more to improve the leadership and team-building skills of professionals.

Bob has advised and worked with many levels of government, and taught management skills at Stanford, the University of California, the University of Hawaii, and Texas Tech. His writings have appeared in numerous professional journals and trade publications, and his education includes a B.S.E.E. degree from the University of Arizona and graduate engineering and business studies at the University of Wisconsin and Marquette.

Bob is a nuts-and-bolts educator who feels that participants in his negotiating and influencing programs are the same as consulting clients, and thus should receive ideas and techniques of tangible and immediate value. He is in heavy demand as a consultant and speaker, and constantly updates his material with real-life examples and state-of-the-art techniques. Bob comments that each audience is unique, so he has never conducted a professional development program twice in the same manner.

Alliance Management Consulting
resulted from my joining the Institute of Management Consultants, a professional association. Most members of IMC’s 80-member Atlanta chapter were “single proprietors,” i.e., independent management consultants unaffiliated with any large consulting or accounting firm. Each had a specialty talent (IT, manufacturing, human resources, executive compensation, etc.). Eight of us thought some sort of affiliation would be desirable, and thus we formed Alliance. All retained independence but, when needed, conscripted others to obtain assignments otherwise available only to larger firms. The arrangement worked well. My associations with AMC members Stan Sloan, Ted Fisher and Chris Casey were particularly helpful.
Cheri renewed her volunteer work with the Atlanta Ballet and Atlanta Symphony, which meant attending numerous performances and related functions. One gathering featured a “silent auction,” in which her bid won dinner with a Georgia member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Later, when Cheri sponsored an Anerican Cancer Society benefit at our home, Congressman Newt Gingrich was a featured guest. I remember my conversation with him on our veranda, “Like many in Washington, I am sure you have thoughts about being president.” “No, I only want to be Speaker of the House.”

Then clouds began forming.

In the late eighties, corporations started a process called “restructuring,” where large companies strived to reduce costs by slashing personnel. IBM was among the first to do so, and its “buyout” offer to employees was too generous for Cheri to ignore. She was a gifted writer and always dreamed of being a novelist. This was her chance, so she left IBM in October 1988 to launch a completely new career. More can be learned of her success at

Even now, the nineties are fuzzy and time-warped, but the following may help readers gain more focus than my own:

1. Cheri and I ended our 20-year marriage in 1993.
2. Daughter Melissa married in 1998, and now lives in New Jersey with husband Matt and daughter Natalia (born August 14, 2007).
3. Cheri also lives in New Jersey, within walking distance of Melissa and family.
4. My son Richard and daughter Lynette, each raised in Hawaii, now live in Atlanta. Richard is a single parent raising a teen daughter Christine; Lynette is a single parent with a son Leo and daughter Jaoqulyn. My older son Robert Bryan still lives in Hawaii.
5. In 1994 I moved from Northwold to a nearby Sandy Springs neighborhood named Carroll Manor, which would be home until 2006.
6. On February 23, 2003, I spoke to a meeting of the Mechanical Contractors Association at McDonald’s “Hamburger U” headquarters in Oakbrook, Illinois. That evening, Julie Shopnitz, who I had not seen for 40 years, met me for dinner. I was pleased that my niece was so charming and educated. Julie informed me that her mother, Mary Evelyn Nagle (my sister), passed away in 1988 at age 64.

16. Roswell, Georgia

The Carroll Manor experience provided many valuable friendships and experiences for 11 years. Then, in 2005, I asked daughter Lynette if moving elsewhere might be appropriate. Her response: “Good idea, dad. You know me. If I had my way I’d be on a plane now!”

With such ringing endorsement I listed my Carroll Manor residence in December 2005, sold it to a couple with twin teen daughters in February of 2006, then moved into Willeo Creek Apartments at Roswell on Alpharetta Highway. This would be a short-term address while I searched for a place near Lynette’s Roswell home.

Luck, fate, fortune and/or some other good omen blessed me. During my five-month apartment stay, a For Sale sign appeared just one house from Lynette’s. On June 26, 2006, I became its owner. Thus would begin a happy, happy time of my life, perhaps the happiest. My new home was on a one-acre lot dotted with stately trees and enriched by numerous improvements added by the previous owner. Another plus: I was in walking distance of historic Old Roswell, Bullock Hall (home of Teddy Roosevelt's mother) and Smith Plantation.

Life moved closer to perfection. I now lived just steps away from Lynette and my two grandchildren Leo and Jaoqulyn. And my newest granddaughter Natalia Maritsch celebrated her first Christmas in 2007 with parents Matt and Melissa. (Figure 11. Below)

Fig. 11. Melissa, husband Matt and daughter Natalia in 2007

Final endorsement of my new place occurred during Cheri’s six-day visit from New Jersey in December 2007. She wholeheartedly approved of everything.

Robert Laser and grandson Leo in October 2007 (Atlanta Fox Theatre)

Twin grandchildren Melinda & Ira Fode, 2012-14


I am blessed.


Thoughts that have influenced me:

Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain, and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving. Great people measure their greatness in the way they treat others. Dale Carnegie

·Talking is a disease of age. Ben Jonson

Happiness is something to do, something to love and something to hope for. Card inscription

Happiness is when you’re not thinking about it. Charle McCabe

You never learn anything by talking. Unknown

What you hear, you forget. What you see, you remember. What you do, you understand. Chinese proverb

There’s a difference between listening and just waiting for a turn to talk. Unknown

Better to apologize than beg. Unknown

Carpe diem! Horace, Roman poet

Talking is a habit, not talking an art. Unknown

You don’t have to explain what you don’t say. Unknown

Never miss an opportunity to shut up. Unknown

Three people can keep a secret if two are dead. Benjamin Franklin

The journey of 10,000 miles starts with a single step. Chinese proverb

Everything easy was hard first. Unknown

Work solves most of the problems of life. Bryan G. Laser

·Why ask for the moon? We have the stars. Bette Davis in Now Voyager

-Friendship is love without his wings. Lord Byron

-Memories are roses in DecemberOscar Wilde

-Man is happiest when his pleasures are the cheapest. Henry David Thoreau

-Do not go gentle into that good night; rage, rage against the dying of the light. Dylan Thomas


Special thanks to:

Joe Atencio
Christina Baker
Anita Beyer
Reay H. Brown

Frances Callum
Raymond V. Caputo
Robert DeGrilla
Don Dible

Barney Epstein
Carlyn Fisher

Cynara Fode, husband David plus children Melinda and Ira
Hazel Helms
Elaine and Don Horsley
The Kaplans
Bob Kaufman
Selina Kent
Jim and Gerry Keyes

The Kovachs: Megan, Adeline, Vivian & Mr. Kovach
Doris Landrum
Cheryl Laser
Lynette Laser

Richard Laser
Melissa and Matthew Maritsch
Marcia May

Margrethe May
Sharon McDonald
Jim and Dana Melton
Marilyn Mills
Hedy Montoya

W. Thomas Reed

Ron Savarese
Julie Shopnitz

Carol Siedlecki
Jack Thuma
Hala A. Toubbeh
Alan R. Turem
Ruth Tycz
Kim Ultsch
Frank Uvodich and Family
Marilyn and Bob Verden
Robert D. Woods

…and all my children and grandchildren.

Robert Laser


(Printed in The Atlanta Journal-Constituion 03/30/2008)

Reliving Their Lives For a Memoir

By Jean McAulay

Her classmates wiped away tears as Norma Taulet-Ball recounted the last Christmas tree she and her husband shared before his death.
"It was written with such beauty and poignancy, many of us were in tears by the time she finished reading it," said Tony Cobourn, the writing instructor for an eight-week memoir course at the Roswell SeniorNet Learning Center.
"It was really the kind of thing I hoped everyone in the class was writing; something to draw emotion from the reader."
Taulet-Ball, who describes herself as 68-plus, assisted other senior writers as a volunteer coach. A few participants completed their memoirs, but most simply laid the groundwork, revisited their pasts, developed an outline, and started writing. Many learned more about themselves in the process and sometimes confronted difficult truths about their lives.
"The most difficult part is getting started," said Taulet-Ball, an Alpharetta resident. "I tell people not to start with chapter one, paragraph one, sentence one. You just start writing and then put it all together later."
Born and raised in Puerto Rico with family connections spreading to the Canary Islands, Italy, France, Spain and Venezuela, Taulet-Ball wanted to capture her family history for her grandchildren. "It started when one of my grandchildren asked me about my last names. But there's more to names than just names. It's history," she said.
She sees her own memoir as a lifelong project. "I'm writing for myself and my kids and my grandchildren and my great-great-great grandchildren," she said. "Sometimes I write essays, poems, real or embellished stories, anecdotes or even diaries. I use it as a vehicle to tell my kids things."
Taulet-Ball said she understands and knows herself better because of the memoir-writing process. "You get a chance to relive your life when you write a memoir," she said. "We're a product of the way we remember and react to things."
She interviews her children to hear their versions of stories as well.
"I thought I was just going to write and that was it," Taulet-Ball explained. "But it's the insight of not only looking back, but looking inside. I'm getting to know myself more. I'm getting to know my husband better too. We were married 45 years and I think I knew him, but then I read back over something and find something else there."
Although the course went more smoothly than he anticipated for a first effort, Cobourn wishes he could get people to open up more.
"The thing the participants stumbled over the most was candor," he said. "I encouraged them to be as honest as possible so their great grandchildren would have a pretty clear idea of what life was like," Cobourn said.
Cobourn's own memoir gave his family new insights into his struggles.
"What I hoped to get out of dad's memoir was a written history for my kids," said daughter Jennifer Tse, who has lived in Japan for the past 15 years. "The unexpected benefit was that his story gave me insight into who my father is and why. There were details in the stories of his childhood and coming of age that I hadn't heard before,"

Robert Laser, 76, of Roswell found reading about his own life was sometimes difficult.
"It's not just about reliving memories, but pulling memories out of you that you didn't even realize you had," he said. "I wanted to do something other than just a bunch of articles, letters and photos in a shoebox for whoever follows after me."
Unlike most participants, Laser completed his memoir during the eight-week course.
"One reason I signed up was for the discipline and to have a deadline to shoot for. I wanted to complete the memoir," he said.
Laser concluded his memoir with a collection of his favorite inspirational quotes.
"On the first night of class, there were several people who couldn't wait to get started because there were others they wanted to stick it to," Laser said. "The instructor guided that into a discussion urging people not to have anything negative or hurtful in a document that might be around for 200 years."


1. Robert Laser's professional bio is archived at:

2. Alliance Management Consultants' Web site is archived at:

3. Several training videos (ca. 2000) and Bob and Cheri's May 1973 wedding:

1990, 4 mins.

March 3, 2014:
A collection of Laser family videos dedicated to and posted for grandchildren Ira & Melinda Fode; Natalia Maritsch; Jaoqulyn, Leo, Christine & Kevin Laser:
Lasers&Kaplans, Foster City 1970s: 8 mins.
A California Wedding 1973: 28 mins.
Rick&Guitar 1979: 5 mins.
Cheri Singing 1980s: 2 mins.
Northwold Christmas 1989: 3 mins.
Thanksgiving Part 1 1989: 23 mins.
Thanksgiving Part 2 1989: 33 mins.
Negotiating 1990: 4 mins.
LaserChristmas1991: 10mins.
BikerJaoqulyn1991: 1 min.
CheriLaserHome1992 Part 1: 10 mins.
CheriLaserHome1992 Part 2: 10 mins.
PffeiferCollege1992: 3 mins.
Pffeifer College1992: 6 mins.
Lynette Birthday1992: 5 mins.
Northwold1992: 6 mins.
LeoMovie 1998 Atlanta: 6 mins.
Carlyn Fisher Studio 1990s Atlanta: 8 mins.
Chrissy Sings 2002: 17 mins.
Laser Family Atlanta 2002: 2 mins.
Chrissy & Friends Atlanta 2002: 6 mins.
KevinBirthday Atlanta 2002: 6 mins.
LaserThanksgiving Atlanta 2004: 1 min.
Z sadness2006: 2 mins.
LaserFamily picnic: 6 mins.
ChrissyDrivingTest 2007: 1 min.
Natalia Movie2012: 2 min.
RickKevin 2013: 1 min.

IraMelinda 2012-14: 2 mins.

Jaoqulyn (posted 2014): 2 mins.
Note: From 2009 to 2014, Robert Laser visited 120+ Southern historical locations. A related 5,000+ photo collection is available at

Robert J. Laser
9835 Loblolly Lane
Roswell, Georgia 30075