Special Collections


Special Collections Oral History Program


Charles Odell

BA 1952; founder Odell & Associates, Damascus, Maryland

Interviewer:  Christine Kendall

Date of Interview:  June 21, 2003

Location of Interview:  Viking Union, Western Washington University

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Authorized Transcript

Note: This interview was conducted during the Golden Viking Reunion weekend, June 21-22, 2003.

CK: OK, now weíre just going to really do this thing.

CO: Are we (laughter)?

CK: Are we (laughter)? Yes -- itís moving -- weíve got it on -- I see a little thing going like this, so OK. Here we go. Well, Mr. Charles Odell, 1948 graduate of Western. Who was also aÖ

CO: 1952.

CK: Oops, Iím looking in the wrong space. You first entered Western in 1948 and got your BA in í52.

CO: Right.

CK: And the owner of Odell and Associates, and it looks like you might have had some association with President Haggard.

CO: Oh, yes.

CK: You were in student government?

CO: Yes, I was. That goes back to my undergraduate days. I was on the Board of Control; I was also Student Body President pro tem. This building here, the Viking Union -- I conceived the idea of raising the funds (when I was on the Board of Control) for it.

CK: You did?

CO: Yes. We taxed the studentís $1.50 a quarter or semester and started the fund rolling. After I graduated and was teaching, I was invited back by Dr. Haggard and the student body to take part in the groundbreaking and the dedication of the building.

CK: Oh isnít that amazing? I didnít know that the student union really came out of student union funds and was conceived by you.

CO: Oh, yes.

CK: That is really interesting to know.

CO: That was part of my endeavors for Western at the time.

CK: Thatís quite a legacy, quite a wonderful gift to give. I hope youíve gotten to tour the building and...

CO: Oh, yes. Iíve been here a couple times.

CK: Great. So weíll get started with our other questions.

CO: Sure.

CK: Why did you choose to attend Western? They have "location, cost, academic program."

CO: Well, it was interesting how I attended Western. Iím a veteran of World War II, and I left school to join the Navy on my seventeenth birthday, and I was in tenth grade, and I never completed tenth, but they gave me credit because I was going into the Navy. And the reason I did that is because my brothers had already gone, and I felt that I should be in there, too.

I was discharged from Pier 91 in Seattle. Coming from Beverly, Massachusetts, I liked it out here, so I called my dad and said, "Iím not coming back to Massachusetts; Iím going to stay out here and possibly go to school out here. Iím not sure whatís going to happen, but Iím staying here."

Well, I got a job at Northern State Hospital, at Sedro Woolley.

CK: Oh, yes, yes. Were you a nurse there?

CO: No, I was a psychiatric attendant. I went there to be a cook; I was a shipís cook in the Navy. But the job that I was to apply for had been taken, so I took a job as a psychiatric attendant. I had a GED that I had taken during my Navy days and passed. Massachusetts at that time wouldnít allow you to go to college on a GED. They wouldnít accept it, and so I figured that was the way it was all over. So I went to the high school at Sedro Woolley, and the principalís name was Elmer Isvick, and he asked me what I wanted to do. And I said, "Well, I want to be a teacher."

He said, "Well, you got a GED."

I said, "I want to teach history."

And he says, "Well, one of the best teaching schools in the country is right up the road from us here. Why donít you go up to Bellingham, and theyíll accept you up there with a GED."

So, lo and behold, I took off and came up here in 1948 and applied and was accepted.

CK: Thatís great.

CO: So thatís how I ended up here at Western.

CK: I had an uncle who was a psychiatric attendant, and an aunt, his wife, was a nurse down there.

CO: Oh, yes.

CK: What were your dates of attendance at Western?

CO: From September 1948 until I graduated March of í52.

CK: And during that time you were Student Body President?

CO: I was a pro tem.

CK: Pro tem.

CO: I was on the student body. Dick Pederson, whoís here today, was Student Body President, but he left. And so I was voted by the Board of Control to take over as pro tem. I had a couple of things that I did. I closed up the bookstore overnight.

CK: Oh, you did?

CO: There was talk back in those days (and people who were here at that time will remember it), they werenít sure about the manager, whether he was doing the job right. And I got tired of all that, and I said, "Well, letís do an audit."

I hired an auditor from downtown because the student body is incorporated, and it doesnít have to go by the rules of the state; as a corporation they had certain rights that were theirs. So Monday morning I closed up the bookstore and had the auditors come in, and we did an audit, and it proved [Louis H. Earle], who was the manager, was doing a good job, but there were some questions about certain practices, and it was recommended that he make changes and so forth, which he did, but it cleared the air for all these years -- four years of cloud.

CK: The cloud was removed.

CO: The cloud was removed.

And another thing I did (we had an editor, Paul Gillie [Collegian editor], whoís now deceased; his wife was here today, and he supported me in a lot of my things) -- I announced that weíre going to sell Lakewood.

CK: Oh, Lakewood?

CO: Lakewood.

CK: Why?

CO: Because Iíd been trying to get funding for maintenance and repairs and so forth, and it was just a frustration. So I said, "OK, if you donít want to fix it up, then letís sell it."

And, so it came out, "Odell wants to sell."

CK: Odell wants to sell.

CO: But I didnít want to sell; I just wanted to get some action and get some attention to the needs of Lakewood, which I was able to do.

CK: Was the cabin out there then?

CO: Cabin was there.

CK: Itís a wonderful facility.

CO: Oh yes. And so between the student union building and these things, I felt that I was able to accomplish significant successes during my tenure in student government.

CK: Oh, you left a great legacy.

What degrees or certificates did you receive?

CO: I received my bachelorís in education, majored in history, social studies, and I came back for my fifth year.

CK: And then it does say, "What other degrees, etc., if any did you receive elsewhere before or after?"

CO: None

CK: But that was your fifth year -- was really going quite far in those days.

CO: Yes.

CK: What was your first job after leaving Western and provide us a brief employment history (along with any distinctive memories, salary, location)?

CO: The very first job I had (as I said, I graduated in March), was the fishing season that was opening up in Alaska.

CK: Oh really?

CO: Through some friends of mine here in Bellingham at that time, who knew I was a shipís cook, I found that Pacific American Fisheries, which operated out of here at that time, needed a cook. Their cook had gone on a binge and they couldnít get him up to Alaska. So they asked me if Iíd go up. And I said, "Yes, Iíll go up under the guarantee that you pay my way back in September because I have a teaching contract signed with Port Orchard."

So my first job was cooking up in a cannery.

CK: Oh, you were a cannery cook?

CO: Up in the cannery, Port Moller.

CK: Port Moller?

CO: Yes, itís on the Bering Sea side, and I was up there for part of that season. Then I came back in September and my first teaching job was in Port Orchard. I taught in Port Orchard for a period of twelve years. I had taken a year off, went back to Washington, did some graduate work at George Washington, and worked on the Hill during that year. Then I came back to my teaching position in Port Orchard, and I taught there until 1964. Then I was asked by a Congressman from Seattle and from Kitsap (his name was Thomas M. Pelly) if Iíd come back to Washington as his A.A. At that time I had twelve years of teaching in, and I was making $7000.00 a year for five years of college, and he offered me $18,000.00, so it was a no brainer.

CK: And that was in the 60s?

CO: That was in the 60s, í64.

CK: Thatís a pretty good salary then.

CO: That was a very good salary. As a matter of fact, my superintendent was only making $12,000, and he wanted to know if I could find him a job in Washington (laughter).

CK: Now, how did you get theseÖ, it sounds like you had political activity here at Western?

CO: I did. I started the Young Republican Club here on campus. When I went to Kitsap County, I became Kitsap County Republican Chairman, after a few years down there, and Iíve been active in politics all along. When the Congressmanís A.A. died, he asked me if Iíd come back.

CK: And what does A.A. stand for?

CO: Administrative Assistant.

CK: Administrative Assistant, OK.

CO: Itís the top position in the Congressmanís office. You run the office.

CK: It sounds exciting.

CO: You handle the lobbyist, you handle constituents, you do everything in the Congressmanís name. In those days, you could run the campaign, too, which I also did. It was very interesting. I spent thirteen years on the Hill, total time. And then in 1971, NOAA was created.

CK: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

CO: Right, NOAA was created by an executive order, signed by Nixon, and was placed in the Department of Commerce. The administrator of NOAA asked me to come down and set up the Office of Congressional Affairs and to be part of that. I stayed there fifteen years, and then I retired from the government in 1986. Immediately I started my own firm, Odell and Associates, and retired from the firm in January 2001.

CK: What was Odell and Associates?

CO: It was a consulting firm. We consulted in the use of super computers, the environment and weather forecasting, and also worked on other weather information systems.

CK: What was your actual degree of study here at Western?

CO: History.

CK: History! Then you were a political scientist and then a natural scientist.

CO: But I became involved in political science. Then I went to work for, as I say, "a bunch of scientists." I went to work with NOAA. I learned all these things. I handled all the National Weather Service congressional affairs, so I got to work with them very closely. When I retired, people asked me if Iíd take them on as a consultant. I had Cray Research, which was a big, super computer company.

CK: Was that the Cray Computer, super computers?

CO: Yes, yes, they were the biggest. I worked for them for a number of years.

CK: Oh, you were just right on the cutting edge of what was going on.

CO: Yes, right. And I worked for Unisys, and before them Sperry.

CK: Sperry Rand.

CO: Sperry Rand was bought out by Burroughs, who later changed its name to Unisys.

CK: My goodness, thatís really something.

CK: A long career.

CO: Yes, Iíve had a very enjoyable career.

CK: Are you enjoying retirement?

CO: Oh, yes, Iím enjoying it. Iím enjoying the grandkids!

CK: Oh, thatís great. How many do you have?

CO: I have five.

CK: Five. OK, have any of your Ė that leads us right to the next question then -- have any other family members attended Western (parents, spouses, children, grandchildren)?

CO: None up to this point, but what I have done is Iíve given four of my grandchildren four years of college. I did that through the Guaranteed Education Tuition Program that you have here in the State of Washington. I gave them each four years of that.

CK: Thatís wonderful.

CO: And, so Iím hoping that one of my grandchildren will become eligible to come here.

CK: Head this way?

CO: Things are tighter here now than when I came here, though.

CK: Yes, yes.

CO: Much tighter. I would never get in today.

CK: Well, thank goodness that you did. It sounds like you did a lot for the school. Are there any personal achievements youíd like us to know about, such as awards, citations, decorations, "personal bests"?

CO: Oh, I was Teacher of the Year when I taught school in Kitsap. I always thought that was nice. And other awards that I received at my retirement from the government; the weather service gave me their outstanding award, and so forth. Yes, I feel Iíve done pretty good.

CK: It sounds that way to me. Do you still enjoy kind of keeping up with weather?

CO: Well, I do. Every Friday for the last thirty years now, thereís a group that meets (used to meet when they were in the government for staff meetings on Friday) at a round table at a Chinese restaurant, we call it the "Round Table Group," and we still meet and we still discuss the things and follow the technology and so forth.

CK: You can get some great reports now you can subscribe to on a computer and everything.

CO: Right.

CK: Where did you live while you attended Western, at home, or in -- well, obviously not at home since youíre family was on the East Coast Ė a dorm, local family, and any favorite memories of those experiences?

CO: Well, I lived in the dorm, the menís dorm.

CK: College Hall, as they call it now.

CO: Yes, Menís Residence Hall, we used to call it. I stayed there. Also, on North Garden, there was a house owned by a couple that took students in. I stayed there.

You want to talk about a memorable occasion -- on North Garden, it was wintertime, and we had the heaviest snowstorm weíd had for years around here. The college was closed-down, and a bunch of us were playing poker, and we ran out of beer, and we had to flip a card to see who was going to go downtown in the snowstorm and get the beer. Well, I lost, and I had to go down the hill.

CK: Did you walk or drive?

CO: We didnít have cars.

CK: Oh, you didnít? OK.

CO: I never had a car until after I graduated. But, going down the hill, Iíd stop by, open a car door and get in to get warm and then close it and go on, and coming back Iíd do the same thing.

CK: Now where did you get the beer? What was open?

CO: There was a tavern still open downtown.

CK: The tavern?

CO: I forget which one it was now.

CK: Probably J.K.?

CO: I forget which one it was, but there was a tavern open down at the bottom of the hill someplace. But, that was a memorable occasion living in that house.

I never got to go home because I lived so far from there, but Bill McDonald, who was the Dean of Men at that timeÖ

CK: I remember him.

CO: Yes, Bill was a good friend, and he went to Haggard to see if I could stay in the dormitory during the breaks, because they closed them up (there werenít many students from outside of the area). Dr. Haggard said, "Yes, Chuck can stay there, but you tell him this: Ďno women, no drinking.í" (Laughter)

CK: Laid down the law.

CO: Yes, Dr. Haggard laid down the law because, you know, when I was here -- if we had that little champagne drink we just enjoyed upstairs -- youíd get expelled from here at that time.

CK: If you had a drink?

CO: If you drank on this campus, in those days, you were expelled.

CK: Might be a good rule to use now.

CO: If possible.

CK: So, during, when you stayed at Christmas, did anybody invite you to their home?

CO: Yes, Bill McDonald.

CK: He did?

CO: He and his wife (first wife), would invite me for Thanksgiving dinner. Christmas I didnít like to spend with people because it was too personal a holiday. So Iíd find something to do on Christmas.

CK: Sure.

Well, letís see, now where are the questions Iím really supposed to be asking? The next one, well we got "where did you live and favorite memories." Who were your favorite or most influential teachers?

CO: Well, thereís one that stands out above all others, and that was Dr. Raymond Hawk.

CK: Raymond Hawk?

CO: Hawk. He was the Director of the Campus School, I believe, at the time. He was my advisor. And coming directly out of high school, out of 10th grade, so to speak, into college, you can imagine I was having a difficult time with certain subjects. My first grading period was ferocious. I just felt like saying, "Well, why waste any more time here? I got to get out of here."

So, I went to him, and he says, "No, thatís not going to happenÖ"

CK: Oh, thatís wonderful.

CO: And he says, "Tell you what weíll doÖ"

He worked out a system where every Thursday Iíd go to his house, and if he or Mrs. Hawk or their son wasnít home, I could go right in, check the refrigerator, see if thereís a little snack there or something, and wait for them to get home, and he would then go over my studies for that week and bring me up and help me with certain things.

CK: Boy that is so great.

CO: And it was through him that I determined to stay here.

CK: Thatís wonderful! Thatís just really great! I had a GED, too actually, because I moved around a lot. So I just think that is the greatest story. What was your main course of study?

CO: Social studies; history and government.

CK: And which classes did you like best or learn the most from?

CO: Well, I think Dr. Keith Murray, and also Ed Arntzen.

CK: OK, well what activities did you enjoy the most (clubs, sports, student government)?

CO: I was involved with student government mostly, but I was also involved with clubs. I was involved with childhood education classes; I was president of the [ACEI] club here in that. The Republican Club we started. Then, just to mention, a Democratic Club came shortly after ours. They were able to get on campus. We had quite a time getting approved by the faculty. Nora B. Cummins was the political scientist teacher at the time, and she was questioning why we needed a young Republican Club on the campus with her courses. I simply told her at the faculty meeting that not everybody could be privileged to take her classes because of scheduling, and we would help make up some of that and so forth. It was enough to get us passed (laughter).

CK: Did you help campaign for political campaigns then in the young Republicans?

CO: Yes, I worked on campaigns for Walter Williams in 1948 when he ran against Maggie at that time. We worked on some of the local congressman campaigns, and we had speakers in and so forth.

CK: The next one is, please share with us any outstanding memories of your college days.

CO: Well, all my memories are really outstanding because I had such a terrific time here. Thatís one reason Iím a member of the Presidentís Club. I feel that itís time to give back to this place that gave me so much. And it really has, and so I try to support it as much as I can and how I can.

CK: Thatís great. Well, the last thing is, finally: Please take a moment to consider the impact on your life of your education and experiences at Western, and we would appreciate any comments that might help Western enhance its message to legislators, policy-makers, and your fellow citizens during this time of great challenges for higher education in Washington State.

CO: I would just say: continue to do what youíre doing, making the student number one, and providing them with the tools to achieve, as I was provided fifty years ago. And if you do that your message will get out.

CK: Thank you so much. This has been a really wonderful experience to enjoy talking or listening to your story.