Special Collections


Special Collections Oral History Program



Ralph Munro



BA 1966

Washington State Secretary of State, 1980-2001

Interviewer:   Tamara Belts

Date of Interview:   September 15, 2003

Location of Interview:   Interviewee's residence, Olympia, Washington

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Authorized Transcript

Note: Mr. Munro was given a written list of suggested questions prior to the interview.

RM: Thanks, first off, for doing this interview. I’m happy to do it, and I want to say at the outset that I’m terribly indebted to Western Washington University. I believe that the education I received there was an incredibly good one. I will always be indebted to the staff and the faculty and everybody—the custodians and the folks who made the campus go—because to me it was an opportunity of a lifetime.

My mother had gone to Western in the early ‘30s. She was from Seattle and wanted to be a school teacher. She graduated from Western and came to Bainbridge Island and met my father, who was living in the same neighborhood where she taught.

My dad had been the first of his family to go to university, he went to "Wazzu" (Washington State College), in the mid-‘20s. Our home was always filled with education. It was never a question of, would you go to college? It was a question of where you’d go to college.

My father worked much harder during the war; he worked two shifts in the shipyard to make sure that we had enough money to go to school. I always remember when the parents of other kids in the neighborhood would go out and buy a new car every year, or they’d do something that was pretty lavish, my folks would quietly just kind of worry about them. They’d say, "Well, how are they going to get the money to send their kids to college?"

Going to college was a very big thing in my family and I will always be indebted to them for that.

I was afraid to go to the University of Washington. It was too big. I was never a student who got excellent grades, and the University made me very, very nervous. It just seemed overwhelming. I decided that Western was a comfortable fit. I don’t know when I made that decision, probably when I was a sophomore or junior in high school. I don’t think I’ve ever had a day in my life when I’ve regretted it. I’ve always believed I should have done that, and that’s what I did.

We had student teaching programs in high school where we went from the high school down to the fifth grade and helped the teacher and learned about teaching, so that was my goal.

I graduated from high school in ’61 and went to Western that fall, graduated in 1966. The degree I received was a Bachelor of Arts in Education. I don’t remember if it was in history or political science. Following my degree, I came back to Seattle. Teaching paid five thousand dollars a year; Boeing paid seven thousand dollars a year. I’d been broke for so many years, I went to Boeing. I applied for a job; they were hiring any warm-bodied individual that had a college degree. I went to work at Boeing as an industrial engineer and worked there for a couple years off and on, and then started working with the legislature, started working back in the food business, and a wide variety of things.

My brother Dave had gone to Western in the 1950s and had received his teaching degree, became a teacher and has taught successfully all his life down in the Vancouver, Washington area. I think he feels the same way—that it was a very valuable degree to obtain. That’s what’s important.

The second thing, before we talk about details, that I’d like to say is that the time frame when I went to Western, (’61 through ’66) and actually all of the sixties, was an era of great change in America. Not just change in the national scene or the international scene, but there was an incredible change going on in the campuses. We lived through that change and we saw that change. America was not happy with itself, and America was trying to struggle with this change of who went to college, how they were treated at college, rights and responsibilities of students, students actually stepping in way ahead of their time to try to set the direction of the country. There were incredible things happening. Of course at the time we didn’t really think about it that much, with the exception of the assassination of the president, but I think that those things all added up to what we look back to now -- we really see there was just this phenomenal era of change and that made a big difference.

When I arrived at Western in the fall of ’61, they had a huge surge of students; construction was going on virtually all over the campus. My mother came up to see me, she couldn’t believe the changes. The campus had remained the same for so many years, and suddenly a lot of the old buildings, old houses and so forth were gone, the change was well underway.

There were also changes in student classes. Western went to a massive Humanities Program for the first time. We all found ourselves sitting in classes of over a thousand students in one class—or whatever the music hall holds. That was deemed the only way they could do it. I think after a few years they recognized that wasn’t so smart. But we had some pretty incredible professors. Dr. Arthur Hicks, who led much of the humanities effort, did a lot of the lecturing there, Dr. Herb Taylor, who did a lot of lecturing for that program, Dr. Jim McAree. They were able to captivate the students. Coming from Bainbridge High School, where you had a max of twenty five in a class, to walking into a lecture hall where there were five, six, seven, eight hundred people was pretty unbelievable.

I think Western attempted to personalize it in respect to the fact that when we arrived on campus, we were given a professor, kind of like a counselor or advisor, who we could go to. The first couple nights we were there, we were invited to that person’s home and they would have coffee and dessert for us, and we were told that we could always come back and see them. So I think there were attempts to keep it personal, but there was great debate raging in the faculty as well as the student body about, was this impersonal education or was this personalized education? And how would Western cope through this?

Of course, as a freshman you take all the basic classes and try to survive and get through those. But I think the thing I remember the most is struggling with these mass classes that just seemed so impersonal. I guess if I had to make a complaint about Western (it would be the only complaint I would make), it was that that was a difficult transition for me.

I lived in the dorm; I lived in Highland Hall with a fellow from Bainbridge Island named Howard Wyatt, and we had an awful lot of fun together.

Dorm life was…of course, away from your parents, away from home, all of the freedoms and all of the responsibilities that went with it, but of course we never thought about the responsibilities, we only thought about the freedoms. It was kind of a beginning of the whole debate over in loco parentis [which] is the legal term. In those days the courts ruled that when you left home for college, the college was your parent— in loco parentis. It could tell you everything you could do. And of course, within six or eight years, that changed entirely. [At that time] the college set the rules, and if you didn’t follow the rules, you got booted out. You were gone. I think that was a tragedy in many ways, but it was the way things had been done for many, many years, and it was accepted practice.

The year before we arrived, the hour the girls had to be back in the dorm was nine thirty or nine forty-five on weeknights, and eleven o’clock on weekends. Finally, every girl on campus arrived in the dining hall wearing black, and that was their method of protesting. The college relented a little bit and extended the hours by a half hour. At our arrival I think it was ten o’clock on the weekdays and midnight or something on the weekends. You tell that to kids today and they just die laughing. It seems so strange and so different. But those were the rules and if you didn’t follow them, you were out.

The tragedy was that I saw, especially girls, get booted for being five, ten minutes late. They got kicked out of school and they never went back to college. I know those ladies today, and if they’d had a college education, they would have an entirely different life. But they don’t have a college education; life hasn’t been as good for them. There are some ups and downs.

We did all the normal dormitory stuff. I got active in Young Republicans. Our family had been Republican; I’ve always been interested in politics so I naturally started being involved in Young Republicans. We had great fun challenging the professors because we thought all the professors were very liberal and of course this was the era of great conservatism starting to move across the land. We had lots of great arguments and debates.

The place I worked in the second quarter was in the dish room of the dining hall. I washed a lot of dishes. I could tell you everything about the dish room! I learned a lot, and made enough money to help me get through school. I always wanted to work and help pay my way. I didn’t want my folks to pay my entire way. The dish room was kind of a fun place to work for me; I enjoyed that and had a lot of fun there.

At the end of the second term, it was three quarters I guess, end of second quarter, we had five tests scheduled in one day. These were kind of finals, to see how you did for that quarter. There were several hundred students that got caught in this trap of having five tests in one day. The college said, "Well, we weren’t supposed to do that, we made a mistake, you shouldn’t have had all those tests."

But anyway, we ended up with five of them in one day. After we got through our five tests and didn’t know if we’d lived or died, we all went out and one of the older guys got us some beer and we drank a lot of beer. That night I think Paul and Ted Caulkins and myself and three or four other guys, got back to the campus around nine o’clock after drinking beer for about five hours. We were very drunk. We made a run for the dance, but we didn’t have the money to get into the dance, so we figured well, if we all run at the door fast enough, one of us will get in. I made it in, but unfortunately (it was the front doors of the student union building), I went around the corner and was heading downstairs there (the stairway is still there, I’ve been back to visit it several times). I took the flight of stairs kind of in one leap and unfortunately the Dean of Student Activities was standing at the bottom, I hit him pretty square and he went down. That was pretty much the end of my college career for that year. (Laughter)

The following Monday I guess it was, I got called by the Dean of Men, Bill McDonald, and he said, "Well, we’ve discussed your situation and we aren’t going to formally boot you out, but you’re out. You’re going to go home for a quarter and see if you can grow up a little bit."

I went home and it turned out to be a pretty good opportunity for me because the Seattle World’s Fair was gearing up. There was a fellow that I had been talking with there who was building a salmon barbeque restaurant called the Teepee Salmon Barbeque, down on Show Street at the fair. It was kind of in the center of the show arena in front of Gracie Hansen’s Burlesque Show and all the nighttime entertainment. I had the opportunity to get a job working there. (I’d cooked salmon in high school for a fellow named Chet Ullin who was a great Western graduate. Chet was a friend of my parents). I worked all summer at the fair. We worked long, long hours. I was able to make a lot of money. I lived back home on Bainbridge Island a lot of the time and commuted to the fair. Then when the fall season came around, I reapplied for Western and they admitted me back, but I went in on "disciplinary and social probation" is what they called it.

This is back to in loco parentis, in that the college could set these rules that you had to follow. What that meant, it was kind of corny actually, was that I couldn’t go to any student activities and I had to get, I think, a 2.5 grade point average and was not allowed to go to any athletic events or anything like that. Basically what I did was spend all my time studying. Then I decided to run for the president of the dormitory (Highland Hall), and spent some time working on that and getting that organized.

The thing that I remember about the second year probably the most, is that we got really heavily involved in the course work that I really loved, political science. I had some very fine professors – Dr. John Wuest, Dr. John Hebal – who did a good job. We didn’t always like them, but they did a good job at teaching the program. And then the history program, Dr. Keith Murray and Jim McAree, again, was just outstanding.

When I went back, rather than living in the dorms, the first part of the year I lived out on Chuckanut Drive with the Lee family. The Lee family, right where the flashing lights are on that big curve on Chuckanut Drive, had a big estate down below there. They had an old chicken house that had been remodeled into an apartment and they had an old caretaker’s house that had been remodeled into an apartment. There were three or four of us who lived out there with them. It was really fun. We lived on the beach, they had a beautiful estate and we came and went as we wanted and really enjoyed it. I commuted; I left every Friday afternoon, and went back and worked at the World’s Fair on the weekends.

Columbus Day, the day we had that terrible storm in ’62, was also the day that my mother had a heart attack in the classroom. She was teaching and of course she was a very dedicated teacher. She thought she was just having chest pains, and kept teaching until the end of the day. They called the ambulance for her; she ended up dying the next day. I was at the World’s Fair that night working, and of course the power went out, they closed the fair grounds down, it was a horrible storm. It took us all night to get back to Bainbridge Island, we got back early in the morning. They kept my mom alive on an iron lung so we could all say goodbye to her over at the Harrison Memorial Hospital in Bremerton.

I returned to Western a pretty lonely kid. I lost my mom. I suppose you should be old enough at that age to face up to that, but it was hard. I think it’s hard for anybody no matter what age you are. I went back to Western and rather than living out on Chuckanut Drive, moved back into the dorm where I’d be around more people. I went back to Highland Hall, ran for president, was elected and was very active in Highland Hall stuff.

One thing that’s changed, I think dramatically, in this time frame is the type of activities—you look through these old annuals and you really realize how much college activities have changed. Some, I think, remain pretty much the same, but in those days Homecoming was a very big deal. Everybody built floats and we had a parade that went through Bellingham. It was a whole weekend filled with activities that were quite different, I think, from what you’d see today. We were all involved in that.

Mike Hyatt was the new student body president at Western and he was a very progressive guy. He went around the campus looking for potential leaders—first guy I ever saw do that—to recruit them to run for student legislature. After I was elected we ended up going together to Sun Valley for the Western Student Association Presidents Meeting. A lot of my stuff was wrapped around campus politics and campus activities.

One of the most fun things that happened that year, one of the most interesting things, was that Bellingham in those days dumped all its garbage into the Bay. My roommate was a guy named Chuck Sarin from Longview. Chuck was one of the first environmentalists I’d ever met. I thought this environmental thing was pretty good because I’d noticed a lot of the Republican leaders around America were kind of leading the charge. George Romney in Michigan was quite the environmentalist and Nelson Rockefeller in New York. As a young Republican and somebody concerned as well about the future of the community, I thought [the dumping] was pretty awful. But environmental programs hadn’t been heard of and the Environmental Protection Agency and all that stuff were yet to come. But Chuck just thought it was awful that we would put our garbage in the garbage can and the garbage can would go out to the garbage truck and the garbage truck would then proceed to drive down the hill and dump it into the Bay. He said, "Why don’t we just take it down there and throw it in the Bay?"

We went down to the dump and took a look. We had another roommate named Phil Robbins who was quite the photographer and a heck of a nice guy. Phil said, "Well you know, I could take the pictures and you guys could dress up and tell them you’re from the Environmental Protection Division and we’ll go down there and shut the dump down!"

Of course we just laughed and said, "That’s impossible."

But, that’s what we ended up doing. We borrowed an old black car and Phil got his photography stuff out. Chuck dressed up in a suit and I had a hard hat on that said "University of Washington" or something. We drove down there and there was this great big bulldozer pushing the stuff out of the trucks and into the Bay. This grizzled old guy was running the bulldozer; we walked over and told him, "We’re from the Environmental Protection Division and this is grossly illegal, this dump is closed."

He looked at us kind of surprised, shut the bulldozer off and said, "Well, fine by me." (Laughter)

He came down [from the bulldozer], we took our pictures with him, and he just kind of stopped working. We said, "Now don’t commence any activities here, the whole team will be here tomorrow and we’re going to close this place down. You’ll have to find some new places to dump the garbage."

We just got in the car and drove away. I heard later there were just ripples that went through City Hall, through the County Commission, and all the way up. They were so worried that the dump was going to be closed and what would they do with all this garbage? The pictures are there, you can have them and you’ll see kind of a fun activity that we were involved in.

Also, the campus was having a great deal of difficulty defining what was okay and what wasn’t. You have to understand, this was the era when Hugh Hefner was bringing out Playboy magazine and we were actually going to see skin on people’s bodies in the magazines. America was having a great deal of difficulty defining what was okay and what wasn’t okay.

The theme that year for Homecoming was "Knights and Daze." "Knights" like they’re the knights in shining armor and days spelled d-a-z-e, but obviously both meanings. The big team we were going to play was the PLU Knights. Every dorm was required to make a dorm display. Everybody would make little displays in front of their dorm. We had a guy in our dorm named John Barnett. John Barnett was a hell of an artist, so he said sure, he’d help us make a display. He said we’d have to find him about forty sheets of plywood. Of course, we had no money, but we went down to the plywood mill and we talked these guys into selling us forty sheets of plywood for forty bucks or something, and brought them back to the dorm.

He designed these two—they were about thirty or forty feet high—gorgeous women with very little clothes on. These two women were sitting on the side of the dorm talking to each other, long hair flowing down over their breasts and so forth. John designed them as sexy as he could possibly get away with without, of course, going over the line—but no one knew where the line was anyway!

These women were built on the side of lower Highland Hall and they were thirty, forty feet high, a sign said Homecoming ’63, and they were looking at each other talking. One gal was saying to the other gal, "I’ll take a Viking any time, but once a Knight is enough."

That didn’t meet the standard! (Laughter) At least according to Dean Powers, the Dean of Women, who was the ultimate prude anyway. That was over the line! I was sitting in class and someone rudely interrupted the class, walked up and put a note on my desk and walked out. The note said, "The Dean of Men would like to see you within the next seven minutes." (Laughter) Off I went back to Dean Mac’s office to talk about how we were going to redress these girls to make them look okay for the Bellingham community.

I think the other thing I would mention was the student body was always heavily involved in charities. One of the ones they worked on every year was a thing called World University Service. Basically, it provided scholarships for poor kids to go to school. It was a very big deal; it was a very big social activity. The World University Service theme that year was "Klondike Days" and "Klondike Kate." They dressed some gal up like Klondike Kate, she came to the campus; Mayor Johnny Westford from Bellingham, the president of the college and everybody came to greet her. It was a big hoopla. That night we turned the student union building into a big gambling casino. We had Klondike Days and Casino Night and everybody came and gambled and raised money for this thing—not real stuff—there was a roulette wheel, "Spin the Wheel," etc.

The campus had just purchased a brand new piano for the student union building—beautiful piano—and we wanted to have Klondike-type, ragtime music. We searched all over Bellingham. We hired this gal, she was eighty five years old, and boy, she really could play the piano. She played all the old time music.

Down on the second level of the Viking Union Building there was a cafeteria, that’s where the main activities were to take place. We carted this piano down the stairs (that was a feat I remember) and built it up on blocks of wood so it was way up in the air by the ceiling. The idea was that she was going to sit up there on the piano bench and look down on everybody while she played the piano. This gal arrived about five o’clock and she started playing the piano. She said, "This piano doesn’t sound tinny enough, it sounds too soft. You have to make this piano sound like a ragtime piano!"

We said, "Well how do we do that?"

She said, "You go get me a box of brass thumbtacks."

We went and got these brass thumbtacks and inside the piano we stuck a thumbtack into every one of those—what do you call them—the little felt things that bang on the wire?

Let me tell you, we turned that piano into the tinniest sounding piano in about thirty seconds!

We had a great night. She played the piano, knew all this ragtime music, Klondike style songs, you know. But the next day they had a concert scheduled upstairs. They had some famous pianist who was going to come in and play this piano. First off, the piano was one floor below where they thought it was, and secondly, when they went down to play it, they found these brass thumbtacks. Upstairs they were not happy at all about that situation!

1963-64, that timeframe, I should have been a junior; I was still a sophomore probably. I lived in Highland Hall for a while and then moved down to a house, 516 North Garden Street, right below the student union building. I think by that era we were deeper into political science. Dr. Manfred Vernon was just an outstanding professor as were a wide variety of others who really started to get us narrowed down into knowing what we were going to be doing in life. Dr. John Hebal had a program where—it sounds so silly today because today you can do a whole internship in the State Capitol—you could take this class at the state capitol for three, four days and watch the legislature and try and learn firsthand. To us, that was absolutely fascinating. It lead me, later in my career, to want to bring students into my office. The entire time I was Secretary of State we had interns from either Western, Central, Eastern, University of Washington, Washington State University, or one of the private schools because I think it’s so important for kids to see how this stuff works. But in those days it was kind of a three day trip to Olympia. We learned a lot and I think those type of experiences were very, very valuable.

I was very involved in the student legislature. I’m a great believer in student government because I think that student government is the training ground for the very best elected officials. You learn a lot in student government, at an age where it doesn’t make a hill of beans difference, as opposed to later in life. If you’ve never been involved in politics, and you get involved in politics and you make mistakes—that costs the public a fortune. I think that it’s no different than training to be a doctor or training to be a dentist or a mechanic. Everything you learn in school helps you later, obviously.

It’s ironic because twenty five years later I looked around the Capitol Building and realized how many people had been involved in student government at Western. I don’t want to say that we were running the building there, but it was very interesting. Senator Gary Odegaard, from Onalaska, had been a student legislator and became a very prominent and very influential state senator. He ran the higher education programs for a long time.

Dennis Cooper, who was a student legislator when I was student vice president I believe, became the Code Reviser for the state and is still there. He and his staff have basically written every law. The legislature takes an idea to the Code Reviser, and then they write the law up and put into statute. Dennis has done that for many years, a very talented guy.

Tom Anderson, who was a student legislator and one of my roommates for quite a while, and a great friend in the history programs, Tom became Assistant Attorney General. He was Western’s Assistant Attorney General for a while, and then went on to become one of the lead Assistant Attorney Generals in the Department of Social and Health Services and had a great deal of influence.

Tony Tinsley, who was a student legislator and a vice president of the student body for a while, is now running for city council in Mukilteo and is very involved in politics up there.

Dean Foster, who ran for vice president of the student body when I was president of the student body, he was a very active in young Democrats, along with Judy McNickle and Linda Metcalf. Dean went on to become Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives. He was the Lead Assistant to Governor Booth Gardner, ran the programs for many years and has done practically every job in State government.

Wayne Ehlers, who was a student legislator and involved in student government went on to become Speaker of the House in Olympia—extremely influential. And probably some others that I missed that I think were trained by Dick Reynolds and trained by our advisors, Dr. Brewster and Dr. McAree, and they became very effective state leaders. People say to me, "Well why is Washington State often times better than other states, especially through this time frame?"

I say, "A lot of it is based on student government days at Western."

People laugh at that, they say, "Oh that’s boloney!"

But the fact of the matter is, we would often sit around the Capitol Building talking about major state issues and relate back to some incident that happened at Western where we learned our lesson and we weren’t about to do that again. That’s still going on today. Dean Foster and I sit on boards together, we administer state programs together and we’re still involved in major public policy decisions and in advising people who are now making those decisions. I think that Western training has made a lot of difference.

As far as the issues that related to the campus and student government, there was a move afoot, believe it or not, for a while, to sell Lakewood on Lake Whatcom. I think Lakewood is one of the finest assets that the college has. Actually, I don’t know how the deeds read today, but in those days Lakewood and the bookstore and other things were owned by student government. A number of us just put our foot down and said we wouldn’t even consider it. "Just take it off the agenda!"

But Lakewood was in pretty tough shape in those days. It had been kind of forgotten and it was pretty rough out there. It was interesting, that summer I hired a guy named Lloyd Strong who worked for us in student government in the summertime and he found a place down on Whidbey Island where there were just thousands of rhododendrons growing. He went down and dug hundreds of these rhodies and took them out and planted them at Lakewood. I was back at Lakewood here just a few months ago and I saw those rhodies, they’re just incredibly big, beautiful bushes now. Of course now, later on the rowing club got interested in Lakewood and the oar-house ending up being built out there. Previous to that, there was a lot of debate about Lakewood and of course there was a lot of pressure on us to raise money and sell it. I think that was a big issue where we said ‘no.’

Secondly, development of the new bookstore was an issue that all of us worked on. Western had had just a very small bookstore and we decided to build a much better, larger facility and that was part of our efforts, too, in student government at that time.

On a humorous note, my roommate at the time, a guy name Mike Elliot—Mike and I loved country western music. We were about the only ones on campus who did love country western music. Nobody else did. Johnny Cash was a real hero of ours. There was a wide variety of other country singers who we thought the world of and we were constantly getting teased about this.

We lived in the "new" section of Highland Hall, the upper Highland Hall at the time in the corner room closest to where they were constructing the Ridgeway dorms. We figured out how the intercom system worked. Highland Hall had an intercom system and the housemother could pick up the microphone and she could make announcements. Every afternoon at about five o’clock they’d announce something about the day’s activities or what was going on, what was being served for dinner that night in the dining hall, or whatever.

Mike and I went down and monkey-ed around with the intercom, cross-wired it down in the office. Then we came back to our room and hooked our radio speaker wires to the intercom wires in our room. Because we cross-wired it at the office, we could play our music into every room in the dorm. This was a Friday afternoon; we put it on the country western station, turned it up rather loudly, locked the door and left for Canada.

Country western music was blowing into every room in the dorm, upper Highland and lower Highland, and people were not very happy. (Laughter) I guess it actually took them until quite late that night, one or two in the morning, to figure what we’d done. By this time, quite a few dorm rooms had pulled the speaker off the wall and clipped the wires because they were so sick of it. Country western music was blowing through everybody’s room, and we’d of course gone to Canada to drink beer and have fun.

We came back from Canada on Sunday night and no one said a word. Not one person said a word, and that’s why we were suspicious that they might know who did this. Of course we didn’t ask a soul, we just kind of laid low, and not one person brought it up. A couple weeks went by, we thought, well maybe they just didn’t figure out what happened and there’s no problem.

About two weeks later Mike and I went to Seattle for the weekend. His folks lived in Renton and I was going to Bainbridge. Unbeknownst to us, that particular weekend was a very low tide, and the minute they saw us drive out of the driveway, one of the dorm organizers who had been plotting to get us took as many people as he could round up down to Chuckanut Beach. I guess they had like forty or fifty guys, and they took buckets and they turned over every rock they could find and picked up beach crabs—little crawly beach crabs about the size of your thumbnail or bigger. They came back to the dorm with I don’t know how many buckets, but a lot of buckets of crabs. They opened up our mail slot and made a little funnel with newspaper, and poured the beach crabs into our room.

We got back on Sunday night about nine o’clock and opened the door. I would guess the beach crabs covered the whole floor. They were like a half-inch thick on the floor. Of course by this time they’d crawled into every drawer, every cupboard, everywhere they could get. I’ll tell you, we swept and we shoveled and we cleaned beach crabs out of that room! We thought, well, we got them all and went to bed. They were in our beds. They were in our clothes. After a couple weeks the beach crabs were looking for water so they would all head for either the sink or the toilet, and we’d get in the room and have to go to the bathroom and walk over to the toilet and step on about four beach crabs. You could hear them crawling around the floor in the middle of the night, oh God, it was awful! It took us over a month to get those beach crabs out of that room. They really got us back for the country music!

1964-65, we got into more advanced history classes with Dr. Radke. We were especially fascinated, I think, by Dr. Keith Murray. [As Secretary of State] I eventually built a building up there and named it after him. Keith is probably one of the finest history teachers I’ve ever known and had the opportunity to come into contact with. It’s interesting that Western has these kinds of unsung heroes. I suppose every campus does. In some ways, they have these people who have just done incredible things and made a huge difference in peoples’ lives, and no one knows about them. I can never say enough about how indebted we are for their efforts and their work.

We were going through these kinds of social changes. You really start to see it coming. I think it was sparked in ’63 by the death of the President. I remember that I was walking from the dorm; there was a stairway that came down behind the dorms, from Highland Hall down behind the gym, and I was heading onto campus there. In those days there was still traffic on the streets. The streets weren’t closed yet and so there was still traffic from the city going through there. I was halfway down the stairs and somebody said to me that the President had been shot. I thought that was awful. It was interesting because I was kind of one of the leaders of Young Republicans on the campus and the President was a Democrat. I got farther down on the campus, I was kind of over by where they built that Humanities Building, behind the library, and one of the newspaper reporters from the campus paper ran up to me and said, "Did you hear the President’s been shot?"

I said, "Yeah, I just heard a rumor, but I don’t know anything about it."

He said, "What do you think of that?"

Of course, I think he was expecting me to say that I thought it was great because I was a Republican. I said that I thought it was awful! We were just dumbstruck by it. Could this really be true? Could this have actually happened? Of course, there were thousands of rumors about who did it and why it happened and all those kinds of things.

It had a profound effect on America and on us—every one of us—because he was such a young man and [it was] such a new era, such an era of change. We didn’t, at the time, think he was a particularly good President (history will figure that out), but he sparked this whole new generation of people who said, hey, this is a different world today, and it’s a different era and there are different leaders. He was such a separate and distinct figure from people like Charles De Gaulle and others who were never real leaders at the time.


[Chuck] Sarin, my roommate was a very active Democrat. He was just struck down by [the assassination]. It was almost like he was destroyed. I don’t want to say it destroyed his life, but he was just devastated by it. I think a lot of other people were, too. All of us were terribly discouraged.

The other aspect that I think is so fascinating is to see this play out for us on television, because television had been around for quite a while, but not live coverage. When Jack Ruby shot Oswald it was like it was the only thing that was on television—that was just stunning. The fact that this could happen and actually be filmed and nobody could stop it; those are the things you read about in novels. It just didn’t seem possible.

I think that certainly played a role, and I think it played a role on the campus in the fact that a lot of people that had had very, very high hopes for the Kennedy era, those hopes were dashed. Lyndon Johnson could never replace those as much as he carried out Jack Kennedy’s programs, he was still Lyndon, the old-time Texas "pol", and Jack Kennedy had been this new, young, fresh breath of air.

It was a very, very difficult time for America. We were heading deeper and deeper into the Vietnam War and that certainly played a role in the campus as well. Bellingham has always been a town that has a very liberal element. Sometimes that’s good sometimes that’s bad, like anything else. But Bellingham was one of the first places where they had peace vigils in front of the post office downtown, the Federal Building (that was the main post office at that time), and there was a lot of debate over where the world would turn, how the world would come out and so forth. I think it was a fascinating era to live in, but it was certainly wasn’t always pleasant.

TB: Did you spend the whole weekend just watching all the TV coverage?

RM: Oh yes, everybody in America did, I think.

To us it was fascinating because it was the Constitution in action. To see Lyndon Johnson getting sworn in—no one ever dreamed that Lyndon Johnson would be the President of the United States. That was the last thing in peoples’ minds. Jack Kennedy didn’t even like him! He was the guy who they had to have to get enough votes to carry the nomination. Johnson was totally isolated as Vice President. Bobby and Jack and those guys never even talked to him. And of course [Texas governor John Connally] had to work for Lord knows how long to get Kennedy to come to Texas, and then he goes there and gets killed. Lyndon Johnson, two hours later, is the President of the United States. It was a very interesting experience for all Americans.

The Democratic Party was heavily split at that time, between the southern racist, conservative democrats and the northern liberal, progressive democrats. There was no love lost between the two groups and suddenly it wasn’t Jack who was President, it was Lyndon who was President. It was difficult. You heard a lot about that on the campus. The Constitution was alive and we were watching it. I think that’s probably the most interesting part of it.

We lived at 516 North Garden at that time. The house was called "The Gringos, Ducks and Canucks"—a couple Canadian guys, and two or three others, there was five total in the house. Paul Walton, who was a downtown businessman, owned the house. It was a rental; he was waiting for the college to buy it for the expansion of the student union building. We had an awful lot of fun in that house. We enjoyed that neighborhood and had some very, very enjoyable times there. Our rent, in the wintertime, was seventy five dollars a month, total, split five ways. Our rent in the summertime was sixty dollars a month, fifteen bucks apiece. There were only four of us there in the summertime. That was life in Bellingham in those days, probably slightly different then today!

That year, a number of us, (I was elected student body president) put together a coalition of young Democrats, young Republicans, and some of the people who were involved in—another big [part] of campus life in those days—the athletic and sports world. We brought those three groups together and with cross-endorsements, I got elected president and Dean Foster got elected vice president (he was a leader of young Democrats). We had some other guys on the ticket who were involved in the sports world. Athletes felt they’d been left out of the student government administration and money, so we got them involved. A group of us traveled to El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico, for the Western States Student Body Presidents Meetings. We took Dr. Jim McAree with us and had a hell of a good time and a lot of fun.

I just can’t say enough good things about McAree because he was a great teacher. He was later discredited on campus because it turned out that he didn’t have one or two of the degrees that he said he had. That could well be because, whether he was a liar or whether he was an over-promoter, or whatever it was, I don’t know what the reason was that he did that, but he was a fabulous teacher and he taught us a lot of things, and frankly, to this day, I could care less whether he had the degrees or not. He was top-notch in my mind.

I did my student teaching at Bellingham High School under a guy named Bob Safsten still a very fine friend of mine. They had great debates about me because I had, all through college, a terrible complexion. The worst complexion of anybody I ever saw. They were very worried that the students would tease me and I wouldn’t do well student-teaching. But I’d had that complexion for a long time and I just didn’t let it bother me. (I was able to overcome it. I saw [this condition] destroy a lot of other people and to this day I’m very involved in trying to raise money for research so people don’t have that problem. It can be devastating to them).

I was a tall skinny kid, very, very thin. As I was coming down the hall on my very first morning at Bellingham High, this great big football player looked at me and gave me the finger! What a debate; what do you do? What’s your reaction? I went over and grabbed him by the back of his shirt and hauled him down to the principal’s office and threw him in a chair and said, "This young man was making inappropriate gestures in the hallway."

That was the last of my problems at Bellingham High School! (Laughter) It worked out that I had a very good teaching experience. There was some sort of flu epidemic or something, and a lot of the teachers got sick and Bellingham High School almost had to shut down. We, as student teachers, really had an opportunity—we actually got to teach. It was a great opportunity, I really enjoyed it. Bob was an excellent guide in how to teach and I’ve always been indebted to him for that.

I had the opportunity of serving as student body president under Dr. Jarrett because I was elected in the spring, and Dr. Jarrett was still the College President at the time. [Then] Dr. Woodring was the interim President; he was out of the Education Department, a very fine man who obviously was only [President] as a filler, and he knew that. Still many decisions had to be made; construction was going on all over campus and all of the normal things that take place with the faculty and the discussions with the legislature. Then they hired Dr. Bunke. I kind of had the pleasure of knowing all three, but not really getting to know any of the three because they kind of came, ‘boom, boom, boom.’ I got along extremely well with all of them.

At that time Western was going through this real growth spurt. Where do we go? What do we become? Should we close the campus school? (Which was a decision I always regretted that they made). What should become of this form of education? Should we be more than just a teachers college? Should we dream about being a university? All those kinds of questions that were difficult struggles for the faculty and the leadership to figure out.

There was a terribly talented man on the Board of Trustees, a guy named Dave Sprague from Seattle. Dave was a very progressive guy and, I think, an excellent leader. He really spent a lot of time guiding the campus to where it should grow and develop. And of course, the state colleges have always had a hard time recruiting the very best of trustees because all the top dogs want to go to the [boards of the] University of Washington and Washington State University. I think Western’s been extremely lucky in the quality of trustees they’ve had.

The other very interesting thing that happened that year is that America was going through this phenomenal social change. The student body that summer sent me for training to the National Student Association Convention in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Dean Foster and I and some other student leaders attended—it was basically all the student leaders from around America, [coming] together for a couple weeks. We lived in the dorms at the University of Minnesota and had meetings day and night.

That was the year that the real civil rights wars broke out in the south. These student leaders who came from the south were talking to us about the honest-to-God brawls that were going on in Mississippi and Georgia and Alabama and northern Florida, this whole civil rights effort and what could be done to make sure that everyone had the right to vote. It was fascinating for me because as a young Republican, [to me] Democrats were the bad guys. Democrats controlled the county courthouses and controlled most of the south. Here were these young liberal student leaders up there talking about how horrible these Democrats were…not to say the Republicans would have been any better at that time, but it was a very interesting thing. We saw ourselves doing things on campus that people didn’t ever dream that I would do as student body president.

We had a major fundraiser that year for what was called SNCC – Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, which was considered by all the leadership in the country to be a very radical group. We felt that [SNCC], which was students, was doing an excellent job to put pressure on some of the universities to admit black kids.

We also had one of the foreign students on campus, a kid from Nigeria I think. His father died and he had to go home to bury him within a week. We organized a fundraiser in two days. Filled the music auditorium with about 1,200 people and everybody ponied up fifty cents or a dollar and we got enough money for an airline ticket to send this guy home. It was kind of an understanding of his culture, the fact that the fathers body was laying there and he, as the eldest son, had to be there to bury the body. That was kind of exciting.

Probably the most interesting thing in that whole time frame was what was happening at University of California at Berkeley, the rise of Mario Savio and the brawls that went on. The whole University of California system was in turmoil because the student body leadership there had virtually taken control of the campus. That was kind of the first big effort toward this incredible change that took place on campuses.

Some of the other interesting things that happened—we as student body leaders really wanted to provide services to individual students, so we did a lot of polling. We hadn’t done polling before. We did a lot of polling to see what students wanted, what kind of speakers they wanted, what kind of entertainment. We tried to bring good entertainment to the campus and tried to book good entertainment.

Speakers were very, of course, controversial. Communists were still very controversial. People who came—if you look at that list—Edgar Snow, who was probably one of the few guys who actually knew Mao and had talked to Mao, and of course China was totally closed in that era.

George Lincoln Rockwell, who was the head of the American Nazi Party, he was an absolute wacko, and that was very controversial when he came.

We had this screwball couple out on Lummi Island, and the minute they heard Rockwell was coming, they wanted to entertain him, they wanted him to come out and see them. We told Rockwell we would take him to the Lummi Island ferry, he could go and out and have lunch, and they could meet him. What they didn’t know was that Rockwell called the FBI before hand to tell them where he was. He was so afraid of getting shot. Rockwell came back to the dock after the lunch, and I picked him up and he said, "I got to find a phone, I got to find a phone!"

I said, "What do you need Mr. Rockwell?"

He said, "Those people told me that they were smuggling people across the border in their fishing boat!"

There was a payphone booth right there by the ferry dock. I drove him over to the payphone booth. He got out, called the FBI and reported them! (Laughter) Turned them in! (Laughter) He was an absolute wacko!

Herb Taylor debated him on stage in the music auditorium; it was an incredibly good debate. Of course, Herb butchered him, from our point of view. Rockwell was used to that, and what he wanted was publicity, and he got a lot of that.

Another speaker was Gus Hall. Gus Hall was the alleged, head of the American Communist Party at that time. Gus Hall was a pretty well-known speaker. They said that Gus Hall kept about twenty five FBI guys in their jobs at all times, that they were all chasing him around watching what he was doing. He was basically a big, burly guy who’d been a dock worker and a laborer, and he really believed in the communist philosophy. Of course, then he had to stand up and defend people like Joe Stalin, who’d butchered half the world, so it was pretty difficult for him. But Gus Hall came and spoke and there was of course protest about that and a great debate over whether he should be a speaker or not.

The most humorous part of that was that at that point in time, on—what’s that street that goes through campus?

TB: High Street.

RM: High Street, below the Viking Union building where they built that new dorm, across from Higginson Hall –

TB: Mathes and Nash.

RM: Yes, right where they are located. There was a hamburger joint [there] and it was called "Gus’s." It was a piece of private property; the campus was trying to surround and buy and get rid of [Gus’s]. Gus was a goof; to me he was a screwball. A very nice guy, he loved kids, and he had a good little business going there. He’d make burgers and shakes. It was a dump, but it was a fun dump! Everybody loved to go to Gus’s. The campus was desperate to buy that property. They wanted that property, they wanted Gus out of there, and Gus wouldn’t sell. Finally, we had this Gus Hall on the campus from the American Communist Party and the campus had, about that time, approached Gus again to sell his property. He said, "Well, I’ll sell it to you if you’ll name the dorm ‘Gus Hall’." Of course, they wouldn’t do that, that was unheard of, and he knew he had them over the barrel. That was kind of the end of that discussion for a few more years. Barney Goltz could probably tell you more stories about that.

I worked at Saga Foods. They had the college campus contract, and I became what was called a "Saga trainee". Saga Food Service was started by some students somewhere in the Midwest when their food service went on strike, and these kids stepped in, did everything in the food service. They did it and they formed this company called Saga and they all did fairly well. It’s long gone now, but it was very, very successful. They first started on campuses, and then moved into retirement centers and ferry boats and everything you could imagine. One of the guys who started Saga was a guy named Jim Wedge, and I think he’s still living in Bellingham or around Bellingham.

Jim and Charlie Blair an assistant Food Director, recruited me to be a Saga trainee. They were looking for young people who could move—and a number of my friends signed up, Burt Peterson did and some other kids. They became Saga full time employees and spent the rest of their careers working for Saga. I worked for Saga and did their training program. I remember we worked hard and learned a lot. Meals don’t scare me at all today, I can serve dinner for two hundred people and it doesn’t bother me.

One of the ironic things that happened was that Saga, when the Board of Trustees came to town, really laid out the dog because they really wanted to impress the Board of Trustees because the Board would decide if it got the contract. One of the things they served the Board of Trustees was crab stuffed tomatoes. They took these big tomatoes and carved out the middle, filled each of them with crab meat and surrounded it with king crab legs and really fancy stuff. We were working in the dish washing room that night running the dish machine, and these tomatoes came back. Of course, people ate the crab out of the middle and ate the crab legs, but they didn’t eat the tomato. These tomatoes came back, they were gorgeous; they were about six inches wide, big, fat tomatoes. I ran three or four of these tomatoes through the dish machine about nine or ten times. Boy, I got them until they were just about like a big soggy baseball! (Laughter) My roommate was Mike Elliot, he was working there too, and he was carrying the dishes around the corner and setting the racks on the other edge of the dish machine. I waited for him to come around the corner, and I chucked this tomato at him as hard as I could and the tomato went sailing. He saw it coming and ducked and just when he ducked, Charlie, the boss, Charlie Blair came around the corner and the tomato caught him right there on the side of the chin. It went up over his face! Charlie, you know, he should have fired me, but he was such a nice guy, he just laughed, wiped it off and walked away—very funny guy. (Laughter)

At that time, the State of Washington had much more of a patronage system. Jobs down to a certain level were civil service, then below that they were strictly whether you were a good Republican or you were a good Democrat. Especially temporary jobs—every agency had temporary jobs that they would hire for. They would call up the local Republican leader or local Democratic leader (depending on who was in power) and say, "Who do you want us to hire for this job?" Or, "Give us a list and we’ll pick someone."

At that time, I’d been involved in Young Republicans, and there were two or three individuals downtown who really had helped us. One was a guy named [J. Scott Barron]. Scott Barron was head of the [Whatcom County Physicians Service] and, unfortunately, a heavy smoker—he died a couple years later—but a fine, fine guy. And Ken Nuckolls ran Union Printing Company in Bellingham and he’s still there, and he’s very active in the Republican Party. And a guy named Dutch McBeath; Dutch McBeath was the head of [McBeath Glass & Paint Company]. They were all very active in Republican politics. They all knew me because I had been very active in the Young Republicans and of course they thought it was great that there were actually young Republicans on the campus because the campus was so liberal. When these jobs came open, they would call and ask if I had any suggestions, or would I like the job.

I had two jobs that were patronage jobs working for the State of Washington. One of them was with the Department of Highways. I dispatched snow plows for Whatcom County. I did it two different winter seasons. I worked at the Department of Highways Office out there across the street from…I think where Bellis Fair got built later. I’d go out and work all day Saturday and all day Sunday during the winter months from like nine until five. I’d get called in at night if there was bad snow, during the week or the weekend. They had a regular dispatcher during the day. I’d sit in the dispatch rooms and there was very little work to do unless there was bad snow. If there was bad snow, then it was real busy.

As you know—as everybody knows that lives in Whatcom County—if you live north of the Nooksack River, you can get hit real bad with snow. People don’t believe how bad it can be. We would dispatch the plows. We would get calls from the State Patrol. If they had one of their patrol cars stuck, we’d have to go pull it out with a snow plow, or we’d have a car accident someplace, up on the Guide Meridian, and we’d have to go out and send a plow to get the car out. Oftentimes in those days—Whatcom County was a big dairy county—the driveways would get so clogged with snow they couldn’t get the trucks in to get the milk out. It was tragedy because the farmers would dump the milk. If they lost the income for three or four days from their cows, they would go broke. The code word was "sick baby." If we heard the words "sick baby," we could send a plow in, assuming that there was a sick child in the house. These farmers would call me up and they’d be distraught because—I know this is hard to believe—they’d have four or five feet of snow; when the snow drifts out there, it gets up that high. They’d have four or five feet in the driveway up against the fence and the truck couldn’t get in. I would say to them, "You have a sick baby, I understand." We’d send a plow up the driveway and plow it out and get the milk truck in.

One night it was snowing to beat hell all over Whatcom County and my roommates called me from 516 North Garden Street, it was about one in the morning, they said, "Ralph! Come home!"

I said, "I don’t know if I can get out of here or not."

The next dispatcher came on at five in the morning. It was very unusual to be there that late. They said, "Come on home! We’re sledding!"

I had four or five plows out, I called those guys and said, "Do you mind if I leave?"

They said, "No, no, that’s fine."

I went home and it was a perfect snow for sledding. It had frozen first, then it had snowed, and it was still an even pack. We were starting on Garden Street, right there at the crest of the hill below the student union building, and we were sledding all the way down to the Horseshoe Café. We had a route. There were no cars on the streets. The cops were laughing at us because they didn’t care. There was nobody out there. We’d sled all the way to the Horseshoe Café, and then hook the sleds up to the car and drag them back up the hill and go again. I don’t know if it’s a mile or not, but it’s a long route. It’s something I’ll never forget as long as I live. It was lots of fun.

The other job that I had, as a patronage job, was the Washington State Department of Commerce and Economic Development—they ran the State Tourism Program. They established a little trailer filled with brochures and stuff every summer at Blaine. In those days there was no freeway, the I-5 freeway segments were just being built between Vancouver, Washington and Blaine. You’d go along Highway 99, you’d get routed out on the freeway for a little ways, and then you’d get back on Highway 99. They were slowly building segments all the way through the state, north and south. Every bit of border traffic came through the town of Blaine, right down the main street; it was a very busy place.

We had a little trailer there that handled tourist information for the state, and hundreds and hundreds of people would come through there—we’d work hard. Often it was Friday afternoon, Friday night, and then Saturday and Sunday. It would be people going north, they’d want Canadian information. We’d send them across the border to the Canadian tourism place. People coming south—Canadians, this was, if you imagine this pre-freeway—we’d have Canadians come running in on a Friday night and they were heading for Disneyland, and they fully intended to be back by Monday morning. (Laughter) They thought they could make it, and of course our job was to say "Good luck, but it ain’t going to fly! You’d be better off to go to Seattle, to Playland, and wander around." It was fun. We met a lot of very interesting people.

That was also when I began to understand how the border system works and how many people around Blaine work with the Border Patrol to keep an eye on the community and watch who’s crossing the border. There were a couple of us who worked in the tourist information place. It was a fun job and something I did for two summers.

1965-66, I had to go an extra year because I had monkey-ed around, gotten kicked out, and had never really taken very full loads. The interesting thing, as I concluded my time at Western, was realizing how many professors I’d had who held a doctorate. You don’t really think about what a fine education you’ve gotten at that time, you think about it thirty years later. But when you go through these annuals and you look at them—in the old days the annuals always had the picture of every professor—and how many of them had their doctorate. I never [was taught by] a teaching assistant the entire time. I just think that you couldn’t have had a more personalized education from such a high level of teachers. Of course, people who made come alive subjects that I never dreamed I would be interested in—Jerry Flora, on his beach tours, made the whole topic and subject matter come alive. The opportunities to come in contact with people like that, I think I will always be indebted for that.

We lived at 516 North Garden at a house we called, "Gringos, Ducks and Canucks." That was the last year that house was in existence, they tore it down the next year, we were there for the last round-up. We partied a lot and had an awful lot of fun. We got along very well with the Police Department. They told us exactly where the line was and do not cross it. We had a lady across the street who would peek out her window at four o’clock on Friday afternoon, and the minute she saw the kegs coming in the house, she would call the police right then! A couple years later on the ferry boat I saw Chief [Cecil B.] Klein from the Bellingham Police Department riding the ferry with his family over to Bainbridge Island. He said, "You know, things have quieted down immensely on Garden Street since you left!"

That was the year that we infuriated many, many of the campus liberals. They had a big peace march on campus. Of course, we had a bunch of buddies that were heading for Vietnam at that time. We were very supportive of the troops in Vietnam. There was a big campus peace march that was going to cut across campus. We called around town and found a sound truck. In those days there were sound trucks that drove around and advertised stuff. We followed this peace march with this sound truck, and the sound truck was playing this record called ["The Ballad of the Green Berets"], which was a very patriotic type, pro-Vietnam War, "America’s going to save the world" type of thing. Oh God, these people were just infuriated, they couldn’t believe that we had done this! I still have people in Bellingham tell me about it today, that they remember that day. They remember walking in that peace march and how mad we made them.

By this time we were over twenty one years old. Canada had very strong unions in the breweries and they would always go on strike in August because that was when they could get the most attention – everybody wanted a beer. These Canadian beer strikes took place two summers that I was there. Canadians would just flock over the border to buy a beer. I tended bar at Shakey’s Pizza Parlor and at the Alaska Tavern. One of my roommates, Lynden Smithson tended bar at the Up and Up and another, Toby tended bar at The Flame. We’d close up our bars at two in the morning and go have a cup of coffee at the Royal Inn, and head for home. Of course, when you work downtown like that in a small town, you know every cop in town, you know every businessman in town, and it was very interesting because some of those people helped me immensely later in life. They’d say, "Oh yeah, I’ve known Ralph all these years."

I was always amazed when I ran for office; I’d get checks and notes from people who’d say well, you did this or you did that. This couple named Jack and Jerry ran the Up and Up Tavern and I think they supported every campaign I had later in life and were just wonderful people.

But as a humorous note—it was the weekend of Thanksgiving, 1966, and the fanciest men’s store downtown was Robert Burns Men’s Store; way too rich and high-caliber for us. It was a nice night and the three of us bartenders were walking home from the taverns after we’d cleaned up and closed up. The front doors of the Robert Burns Men’s Store were wide open; it was two-thirty in the morning. The interior decorators were decorating for Christmas. Thanksgiving weekend was when the decorators always came in, the Christmas season started the next day. They brought in this incredibly beautiful Christmas tree, symmetrical, it looked like it was Alpine Fir. This was back in the days when nobody had a fancy Christmas tree; that was kind of unheard of, you had some old scraggly Douglas fir that you cut out on the highway. This was an incredibly beautiful tree. One of my roommates, Lyndon Smithson, who’d been tending bar at the Up and Up, said, "Ralph, I think we can get that tree."

I said, "You’re crazy!"

We sent Toby out back to bang on the garbage cans. And so Toby went back in the alley and he banged on the garbage cans, and these two interior decorators ran out to see what the noise was. When they went out to see what the noise was, we grabbed this Christmas tree. We started up the street, and we got way up by the Royal Inn before these guys figured out what was going on. They came out and they saw us with this tree, and they chased us! And I’ll tell you, that tree got heavier and heavier! We went all the way up to Garden Street and around the corner up by the church there and they finally gave up. We packed that damn tree home and set it up in our living room in "Gringos, Ducks and Canucks".

We said, "Now nothing’s going to be on that tree unless it relates to alcohol or cigarettes" The whole tree was decorated with little whiskey bottles and swizzle sticks. One of the guys there—his father was a minister—a guy named Russ Carlson, did not want his old man to see that tree! It was absolutely disrespectful to God and everybody else! Russ’ folks showed up one morning in a surprise visit. This tree was just decorated beautifully in the front room. Russ kept his parents at bay out on the porch; he wouldn’t let them in the house. Well, Russ had to run upstairs to get his jacket, and his dad said to me, "Do you mind if I step in to use the restroom?" (Laughter)

Well what can you say? The old man comes through the front door and he looks over at the Christmas tree and he said, "Oh! That’s just a beautiful tree!"

He didn’t even notice it was all cigarette packs and swizzle sticks decorating the tree. "That’s a gorgeous tree! I’m so glad you boys are respectful of Christmas!" (Laughter)

I just think that Western has become a lifetime experience for me. I hope it has been for a lot of other people, too. The future of the University is to me very, very, important because I think the quality of the teachers and everybody else who leads is going to make a difference in the future of our state. You talk to all these highly successful people who start out with nothing, and they’ll tell you that they credit an awful lot of [their success] to what happened in their education and how well they did.

I went on and worked for Boeing. Then I started working with handicapped children as a volunteer, and to make a long story short I ended up as the State’s first Volunteer Coordinator. I worked for Governor Dan Evans on his personal staff from 1972 to 1976. At the end of his term—it had to be late ’76—there was a vacancy on the Western Board of Trustees. I’d been the Governor’s Special Assistant for Education, so he appointed me a trustee at Western.

The administration sent Dean Mac (Bill McDonald, Dean of Men) down to meet me, and this was the guy of course–Dean Bill McDonald—who booted me out of college. I felt awful because the poor guy looks at me and he starts apologizing for kicking me out of college, as if I was going to be a trustee and fire him or something! I said, "Look, Dean Mac, for God’s sake, if anybody deserved to be kicked out of college it was me! Just quit worrying about it right now!"

He said, "Oh! I’m so glad to hear that!"

I was supposed to be a trustee, and of course, [Governor] Dixie Lee Ray came in, and she withdrew all of our names—many of us had only been appointed the last couple months [of Evans’ term]. I missed the last meeting of the Evans administration Board of Trustees by one day. I was appointed that day to the Board, and then Dixie withdrew our names the day before the next Board of Trustees meeting. I never sat on a Board of Trustees meeting, but I actually was appointed, I’ve got a certificate around here someplace. I’m probably the only Western Washington Board of Trustees member that never made a meeting, never went to one.

I have had lots of wonderful experiences with Western since that time when I worked for a brief stint for the ACTION Agency in Washington D.C. (Peace Corps-Vista-Foster Grandparents). We put together a program called University Year in Action, and the idea was for university students to be volunteers and to go out and work in the community, kind of like Vista Volunteers, and Western received one of the those grants. George Drake did an outstanding job putting the program together and making it happen. I think Dr. Herb Taylor recruited the contract, and then George put it together.

Of course now, I’m very involved in the Ralph Munro Seminars on Civic Education. When I left office after twenty years as Secretary of State people asked me if I wanted a gift and I said, "No, I don’t want a gift, but I would like to put together a program where we taught teachers how to better teach civics because I think there’s a great lack of civics in public schools today."

I worked with Judy McNickle and President Karen Morse, and the two individuals [Dr. Eugene Hogan and Dr. Donald Alper] who’d been administering the [Robert A. Taft Institute of Government] Taft seminars [at Western]. We put this [seminar] effort together and the Legislature told us if we raised $250,000, then they would put up $250,000 and we would endow the program. Thanks to the generosity of a lot of very fine friends, we’ve raised now $247,000 and the Legislature has put their $250,000 in, so we just have $3,000 to go and the program will be fully endowed. We are very, very pleased about that.

I just had my sixtieth birthday party and we had a gathering here, then we had a gathering at the Squaxin Island Museum where most of the artifacts from [the Squaxin dig site on Munro property] have gone, and then dinner at the Squaxin Island Casino. We had three different groups that went to these and they raised $14,500. We were real excited about that. We’re just about done with the fundraising. I’m really looking forward to these seminars; I think they’re very valuable; I’ve been to a couple of them now.

Then I want to start a Ralph Munro something or other, I’m not sure about the name, a lecture series for political science students. I want to raise money to bring in top-quality political science people for the kids—not for the professors—just to come and talk on campus so the kids have the opportunity to hear some of America’s leaders.

People who have had great influence on Western Washington University and/or me include Barney Goltz. Barney was the campus planner. He was very involved, of course, in construction of some of the [buildings, I think Western has some of] the finest architecture, and that was Barney’s work. If anybody has any doubts about that, compare the Western dorms with the University of Washington dorms and you can see it right off the bat. And Western, through Barney’s effort, built theirs cheaper, and did a better job. Bill McDonald, obviously a very positive influence as the Dean of Students, the Dean of Men. George Drake, who was very involved in handicapped children, parent of a handicapped child. I worked with him not only at Western but then with the Washington Association for Retarded Children and numerous other programs that he was very involved in. Dick Reynolds, who was the Director of Student Activities at the time I was there, did a very fine job in advising us. Dr. Keith Murray—when we built the [Washington State] Archives Building up there for the Secretary of State’s Office, we named it after Dr. Murray and Barney Goltz, later State Senator Goltz. In the business community, Ken Nuckolls of Union Printing Company, Scott Barron, who was with Whatcom County Physicians Service, Dutch McBeath from Bellingham Glass, and then Dick Johnson, who was a florist, best florist in town, and still a good friend of ours. Those are the kind of individuals—I probably missed a number of them.

Well, that’s it. Do you have other questions I didn’t answer, or…?

TB: I think you pretty much answered most of my questions. I just had one other thing, the1964 Goldwater campaign when you were a Young Republican, how was that on campus?

RM: Goldwater was interesting. We supported Goldwater, but when they got into the fight in the San Francisco convention and the Goldwater forces ran over the Rockefeller people that was really the first big split in the Republican Party. We were very nervous about that. I think, as time goes by, most people start off liberal and become more conservative, I kind of did just the opposite. I started out very conservative and became more liberal as time went by. We were worried that Goldwater was too far to the right. One of the most interesting things that I remember about that was that our neighbor on Garden Street, he knew we were Republicans (Republicans would leave all the signs in the yards for Republican candidates), and he was a Democrat, a guy named Frank Markwood. He ran a girls’ residence hall.


I was in the front yard one morning in 1964, and Frank came out and he said, "Ralph!" He said, "I know you’re a Republican and I heard a hell of a speech last night."

I said, "Oh? What was that?"

He said, "I heard a guy from California named Ronald Reagan speak for Barry Goldwater. I never thought about voting for Barry Goldwater, never even really considered it, but after I heard Ronald Reagan talk about him, you know, I might vote for Barry Goldwater!"

I was fascinated by the fact that this blue-collar Democrat guy had been so interested in Ronald Reagan. Of course, there are still many old-time Republicans who refer to that speech as Reagan’s finest hour, when he spoke for Goldwater. Of course, it was a losing cause, but that was the first time America had been vastly exposed to Ronald Reagan, kind of an interesting sidelight.

Frank Markwood ran this girls’ residency hall [Beverly Apartments]. Of course, here he is right down in the middle of a residential area and he’s supposed to follow all the rules written by Dean Lorraine Powers to make sure the girls don’t get in trouble. We were not very helpful to him. These two old houses had been built just about the same era, and the upstairs windows were exactly the same level and with a nine foot plank, you could stretch from one window to the next. Quite a few girls came across the plank. The requirement was that their boyfriends had to bring us a six-pack of beer and if they got a six-pack of beer, we could put the plank across so they could sneak these girls out. Frank never caught us actually sneaking them out, but he suspected that we were sneaking them out. He was always trying to catch us moving the girls out of that house.

The other thing that Frank was very proud of was that he spent the money to be the first one in the neighborhood to hook up to the TV cable. He wanted these girls to have the TV and have the best opportunities, so he hooked up to the cable—cost him a lot of money. I don’t remember how much a month, but it wasn’t cheap. One of our guys figured out if we wrapped a bare copper wire around Frank’s cable, that we could run it into our TV. The only problem was that every time we changed the channel, his TV started to flip! And he could not figure out why he paid all this money and his TV wasn’t working right. Well, it was because we were flipping the channel. One morning, he was out there raking leaves in the yard and he found a wire. It was kind of like that scene out of "The Bridge over the River Kwai" where the Japanese guy finds a wire that’s going to blow up the bridge and he starts following this wire. Of course, it led right to our house. He was not happy about that at all, he was furious! (Laughter)

There were a few other incidents that didn’t make him very happy. But that was life on Garden Street.

The next house over, the house to our east, was a gal who’s still around Bellingham, a gal named Dell Texmo and a bunch of her friends. Her dad [Walter A. Texmo] had a pole building company [Texmo Corp.] out in Ferndale or someplace. Dell was quite the hippie. They were growing marijuana in the yard. We didn’t know what the hell all that was all about at that time. But they wrote a letter to one of the Indian tribes down in Arizona and sent them fifty bucks and told them they were having this big Indian ceremony with the Lummi Tribe and could they send them some peyote? The Indians in Arizona took their fifty bucks and threw a box load of peyote together and shipped it off. It was a whole different world. They were floating around there for two, three weeks on that peyote. The drug scene was just kind of coming into its own at that time. People were learning about drugs and what it was.

Any others I missed there?

TB: No, I think that’s it.

RM: I’ll keep these notes and then if I think of things, I’ll just scratch some notes down and maybe someday in the future you’ll want to do a little more, we can do a little more, it’s totally up to you.

TB: Perfect. Thank you very much.

RM: Thank you.