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Boise Voices

Boise Voices

Oral History Project

Grandfather Leonard Smith

Unhank Park (0:26)

Dick Zenger

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    • My full name? Carl Richard Zenger.
      I was born in 1924 and I was born just three blocks from this school on Commercial Street. Do you know where Unthank Park is? Ok, my house was on the property that is now Unthank Park and they had to tear down that old house so they could make the park.
    • What do you remember about Boise Eliot School?

      Well, I remember a lot about Boise Eliot School. I might've been a student in this very room when I was about in maybe the second grade or the third grade. I still have friends that went to school here with me.

      I used to walk to school. I don't know if you guys get to walk to school or not. I know a lot of kids have to ride the bus these days but I just lived three blocks here. From the time I was in kindergarten I walked to school and I used to go home and my mother was a school teacher, in fact she taught at Boise School.

      What grade did she teach?

      She taught second grade. And she just lived up the street too so she used to walk to school. But anyhow I guess that I have very fond memories of having gone to this school and having lived in this neighborhood and it's really fun to see how it's changing all the time. The school, I was amazed at this building, at how it's been maintained and repaired and it's still getting all the kid from the neighborhood to come over here and learn something.

    • What was your favorite activity when you were little?

      My favorite activity? Well, let's see. Well I use to build model airplanes. I always liked to do that and we would make them out of, do they still have airplane kits that you can buy? Where you put things together.

      Yeah, my little brother has a lot of those.

      Most kids like that sort of thing and I've always liked to put things together with my hands. And so, yeah, model airplanes are something that I used to like to do.

      Why was it your favorite thing to do?

      Well, I suppose it was because boys like airplanes. We used to build war planes and we build them out of wood and paper. Most of them are plastic these days. But, we used to make them out of little pieces of wood and paper and we found that they burned really well. So we found that we could fly these little airplanes and light a match to them as they took off and they would come down, like you see them in the movies, you know, crashing. Boys like that kind of stuff.

    • Have you ever fought in a war?

      I was just out of high school. I was 17. And yeah, I wanted to join the Marines but my mom wouldn't sign my papers. And so, I had to wait until I was 18 and in that interim I actually took drafting at Benson High School. They were giving classes in welding and riveting and drafting. All the skills they needed to build ships. Portland, because we're on a nice couple of rivers here, we have good places to float big ships and we needed a lot of ships during WWII. So there were several companies that started here to build ships, big ships to haul troops around and smaller ships to do different kinds of things like look for mines that are floating around. I worked on a ship yard which is very close here. It was called Albina Ship Yard. And we built submarine chasers. And these were tiny, well, tiny -they were a hundred and seventy feet long. Maybe about the size of a big city lot. But they were small and they were to go out an listen for submarines. They had a lot of devices aboard that let them listen for ships under water. And they had things that they could drop and blow those things up. They were called submarine chasers and that's what I worked on. One of the ship yards across the Willamette River, still may be there, Willamette Iron and Steel, it was called, and they built mine sweepers. And then their were ship yards out in St. Johns, which was a neighborhood out where the bridge is, and over in Vancouver, across the river, that built freighters and troop hauling ships. These were big cargo ships. And a lot of people worked in the ship yards. They needed lots of people and a lot of people came here from other places to work in the ship yards.

      Was it hard and dangerous making the ships?

      Well, yeah it was really. You know people had to be very careful because ships are really pretty big structures and you get some of these cargo ships and these guys would be messing around with a big plate of steel that weighed a lot and a crane holding it up and they're trying to rivet it or weld it together. And that can be very dangerous and I think that there were lots of accidents in those days. Welding is lots of sparks and cutting steel and all this kind of stuff can be a very dangerous occupation.

    • Who was your first love?

      First love? Wow, that's getting pretty personal. Well, let's see. Her name was Edna and her last name was Whitney and we were friends at Jefferson High School. And would you believe that that same lady and I have been married for 63 years? I hope that's the right number, because if it's not Edna will give me the dickens. (laughs) I only worked at the ship yard, for 7 or 8 months because when my then girlfriend, Edna, took off for Oregon State, I joined the Marines.

      We kept in touch and I was gone a total of three years and we corresponded and were married shortly after I got out of the Marine Corps. And in fact, I was just a freshman at U of O when we got married. That was the style in those days, was to get married and go to school on the G.I. Bill. And you know, we had nothing. I had come from a very modest background, as had Edna, and she joined the school for a year and then she'd take off for work at the ship yards for a year to get enough money to go back to school. You know, it was kind of touch and go for her. We were just talking the other day that was one of the fine times in our lives, is when were getting this great education and all these people our same age, more or less in the same circumstances, you know going to school and having a lot of fun in the process. We didn't have anything but we had a lot of fun.

      Do you remember the day your first child was born?

      Oh yeah, I sure do. We were at the University of Oregon, after WWII, and I was, like I say, I was studying architecture. And it was exam week. We didn't plan this child very well and I had an exam and in those days, when you took your wife to the hospital, you were not allowed to stay with her while she gave birth to this baby. Now they have birthing rooms and the family's there and everybody gets to participate, which is really nice. But the hospital in Eugene, Oregon, I delivered Edna to the nuns there at Sacred Heart Hospital and they said, "Goodbye, we'll call you when the baby comes." So I went and took my exam in the morning and I went by the hospital to see what had happened and here we had this beautiful little girl, named Rebecca.

    • Have you ever lived in another country?

      Yeah, I really have lived in a lot of other countries. I'm trained as an architect and I did that for a while. And then, I got offered a job in Nicaragua. Is your geography pretty good? Do you know where countries are? You know where Nicaragua is? Well, that is in Central America. You probably know where Mexico is, well Nicaragua's just a little bit south of Mexico. And, I got to go there to help build some houses and I liked that work so I did that for a long time. And really that became my major work. I was in the American Foreign Service?

      And then between Central America and South America is a little country called Panama. And maybe you've heard of the Panama Canal? That goes through there, where the ships go.

      Yeah, for the, I forgot what it was called.

      Yeah, there's a big ditch that goes through there, that has water in it and big ships go back and forth. And we lived there for several years. And Ecuador, have you ever heard of Ecuador?


      Ok, well you guys are getting a geography lesson here. You know about the Equator?

      Yeah, it's the Equator line that splits. It's like an imaginary line and it's right in the middle of the earth. And it splits north from south.

      Ok, well, think of Equator and think of Ecuador. Huh? Sounds like, they sound alike, don't they?


      Ok, well that line goes right through the country and it's interesting because the sun always rises and sets at the same time. Up here it gets dark this time of year at about 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Well in Ecuador, it's always 6 o'clock in the evening and 6 o'clock in the morning when the sun comes up and down because it's right on the Equator. That's fun, huh? You said it's an imaginary line. If you go to Equator, it's a real line that they have drawn, where you can stand on the equator.

      Oh that's cool, because what I learned in first grade, there's not really a line that goes through the earth and it's actually like splits it. It's kind of like an imaginary line that we do to use it so that we don't get mixed up with the North and the South.

      Yeah, that's right. Ok, and the other place I lived is Argentina, which is way down at the far south end of South America. And, it's interesting because it's summer time down there now and we're just starting to get into winter up here. And you know if you if you went to Argentina, it would be nice and spring like, because the seasons are actually reversed down here. And then we lived in Africa for a while and that was really fun. We lived in Ethiopia. Have you heard of that one? Well that's a great country. And East Africa and then Tunisia is another one that you should hear about, which is up on the Mediterranean Sea, in North Africa.

      Can you tell me a story about learning to live in a different culture?

      Oooh, Wow. Well, I remember when we went to Nicaragua and I had a little girl who was just about your age, maybe a little younger. And Mary Ann came to me one day and she said, "Dad, these radios are really fantastic. They've learned to speak Spanish already." So that's one of the problems you have when you go to another country, unless you go to Panama where they speak a lot of English because the Americans have been there for so long. Anyhow, most places you go you have to learn another language. So that's a cultural thing.

      Yeah that's like my grandma, when she came, she was born in Hong Kong, and she moved when she was 10, I think. And she had to learn how to speak English.

      Boy, I bet that'd be hard.

      And she knows Mandarin, that's what they speak.

      I think that is really a hard language, Mandarin.

    • What was your favorite cartoon and why?

      Well I liked the one in the paper this morning

      The cartoons on TV.

      I did not have a television, a personal television, until we lived in Tunisia in 1980.

      Oh, my mom was born in 1981.

      In 1957, when I joined the foriegn service, we did not have a television. There was a lady on the street who had a television and she used to invite the neighbors over to see it. It was a big event.

      Oh, it was exciting because there wasn't much televisions around?

      It was exciting because no one had television.

      And they thought it was cool because they never got to see it that often.

      Exactly. That's what it was. And you know when we lived over seas, in Nicaragua, television had not come there yet. There was not a television set in Nicaragua when we lived there. I believe probably, in Ecuador there would've been a few by that time but it was not a high priority and it's still not a high priority with me. I seldom watch television.

    • What do you think Earth Day should celebrate?

      What do I think it should celebrate? Hmm. Well, I guess it should celebrate the things that we're trying to conserve.

      That we're tying to make the earth better or something?

      Well the earth is already pretty good. I don't think we have to make it better. I think the problem is that we're kind of wrecking some of the things that are really nice. I'm a guy that likes to hike and I like to get out in the woods and it really makes me. Well, yesterday I was out at Tryon Creek Park, out in Lake Oswego area. And that area has this great big wilderness area and it's just a marvel that it's been preserved because that's a very popular place to live. And it could just as well been covered with houses and stuff. And instead there's a nice trail and part of it's paved so if it's raining like it was yesterday, you can go out and walk and not get all muddy and everything. But it's really wild and I think that's what Earth Day ought to celebrate, is the beautiful stuff we have around us that we want to keep. What do you think about it?

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