October 31, 2011
Mr. Barack Obama
The White House
Washington, DC 20500-0001
Dear Mr. Obama:
Please excuse me for not addressing you as “Mr. President.” As an instructor in constitutional law, you knew before you ran that you were not a “natural born Citizen” as required by the U.S. Constitution, but you ran anyway. Why else would you sign an Executive Order sealing all of your personal records? However, since you have successfully finagled your way into the White House, where you are attempting to redistribute the wealth of those who understand the value of a free market economy, I want to be sure to claim my share of your student loan boondoggle.
Once you understand what I had to endure in order to earn my college education, I’m sure you will agree that it was not fair. And if there’s one thing we do know about you it is that you are a stickler for “fairness.”
To give you a bit of background, I was born into a poor Missouri sharecropper family in 1933. My parents both had sixth grade educations and worked their entire lives either as tenant farmers, factory workers, or common laborers. And because they didn’t want my sisters and me to have to live a hand-to-mouth existence as they were forced to do, they insisted that we all get high school diplomas… so that we could “get good jobs.”
In my case, I went to work on a factory assembly line when I was 18 years old. I was drafted at age 19 and returned to the factory after two years in the Army. Then, when I was out of high school for seven years, married, and the father of a one-year-old child, I decided I would need a college education. So, at age 25, with no scholarships, no money of my own, and no family support, I enrolled in the College of Engineering at the University of Missouri.
Yes, I could have majored in the arts, humanities, political science, sociology, or education where I could have played and partied my way through school. I could have chosen a “softball” curriculum… much like the college experiences of most of your Occupy Wall Street friends… but I didn’t. I went to college with a purpose. I went to college to acquire knowledge and skills that would actually help me get a real job in a good-paying profession after I graduated.
Believe me, it was no bed of roses. Coming from a family where higher education was never discussed, my only goal in high school was to satisfy my parents’ dream that I earn a diploma.
I wasn’t concerned about learning mathematics, chemistry, or physics, so I focused on courses such as arts and crafts, glee club, and shop. It was not a course of study that a pre-engineering student would choose, but its appeal was that it didn’t require any actual study.
As I prepared to enter the university I sold everything we had of any value except for our 1953 Ford and a few kitchen utensils. Then, with part of the $300 I had borrowed from one of my mother’s girlhood friends, I went to the local Goodwill Store where I purchased a bedroom set, a couch, a coffee table, an end table, a refrigerator, and a dinette set… enough to furnish three small rooms, and all for a total of $50.00. The furniture I bought was on a junk pile in the alley behind the Goodwill Store, waiting to be hauled off to the local landfill because it was beyond repair. The couch had a hole in the cushion so large that our child could have fallen through it, so we stuffed the hole full of rags and covered the cushion with a folded bed sheet.
As we drove the 102 miles to the university to begin the 1958 fall semester I was scared to death. I was so teary-eyed and choked with emotion that I could barely see the road ahead, but I knew I had to do what I’d set out to do, no matter what. And when I had unloaded all of our possessions into a small single-story tarpaper shack at the edge of campus and returned the U-Haul trailer to the rental agency, I leaned against the fender of my car, stared at our ugly new home, and cried.
When I started attending classes I was 25 years old, the only veteran in my class. I had no high school background for the engineering curriculum, and I had no idea how I would supplement my $120 per month G.I. Bill stipend. My classmates, against whom I would be competing for grades, were all freshly out of high school. They all had the benefit of four years of chemistry, physics, and mathematics, and in almost every instance their parents were paying their way.
I worked very hard. It seemed as though I was either in class or studying all day, every day, but our economic circumstances were never far from my mind. We paid $27 per month rent for our housing and we had a food budget of 60 cents a day. The rest of our $120 monthly income went for gasoline, utilities, insurance, and to savings for the next semester’s tuition. So, seeing that we couldn’t survive at that income level, just two months into my first semester we accepted a job managing a small 15-unit motel. As compensation, we received only a $50 per month salary and the use of a one-bedroom apartment, but it was enough to get us by… with no frills.
It was a difficult life… renting the rooms, supervising the maid, performing all of the electrical and plumbing maintenance, mowing the lawns, and trimming the hedges… but we had no choice in the matter. In addition to running the motel business, I attended every lecture, I did every homework assignment, and I studied hard for every exam. Unfortunately, when mid-term grades were posted in early December, I was devastated. I was failing every course.
My only alternative was to work even harder, so I established a study regimen that included 14 hours of home study, every day, seven days a week, and I refused to turn a page in a textbook until I thoroughly understood everything on that page. By following that study regimen I was able to turn my grades around and made the Dean’s List at the end of my freshman year.
We managed the motel for two years, my freshman and sophomore years, until the workload caused me to experience a near physical and mental breakdown. We left the motel business, moved into a small duplex, and my wife took a night-shift minimum wage job as a nurse’s aide at the university medical center. But that didn’t mean that our lives were any easier. At 10:00 PM each evening I warmed up the car, wrapped our two sons in blankets (yes, we were blessed with a second child in January 1960), carried them out to the car, drove my wife to the hospital for her 10:30 PM shift, drove home, carried the boys back into the house, and put them back into their beds. Then, when they were asleep once again I went back to my books, studied until 2:30 or 3:00 AM, went to bed, and slept until 6:00 AM. At 6:00 o’clock I was up, changed diapers, dressed the boys, and drove them to the sitter. I picked up my wife at the medical center at 7:00 AM, drove her home so that she could get 8 hours sleep, and drove to campus for my 7:40 AM classes. It was a brutal 21-21½ hour routine that I followed every day for my last two years.
Our next door neighbor was a young welfare mother with three small children whose husband was serving a 15-20 year sentence for forgery. Yet, whenever we were broke and without food for two or three days, she was always kind enough to give us a potato or two and a few slices of bread, which we fed to our children. Her in-laws, farming people, were understandably ashamed that their son was not supporting his family, so each time they butchered an animal they always brought her a supply of fresh meat. But our neighbor didn’t like “country meat.” Each time they brought a supply of fresh meat for her freezer she tossed it into our community garbage pails, saying, “We don’t like that old country meat. We like hamburgers, baloney, and wieners.”
When I returned years later for my twentieth class reunion I took my children on a nostalgia tour. And when I stopped in the driveway of that dilapidated old duplex I was surprised to see the man who’d been our landlord twenty years earlier. As we reminisced, he reminded me of the times when he’d seen me searching through those garbage pails late at night, retrieving the freshly-butchered beef and pork that our neighbor had thrown away. And when my son asked later, “Dad, you fed us out of garbage cans?” I said, “Yes, I guess I did. I did whatever I had to do.”
Yes, Mr. Obama, those were difficult times. When I graduated in June 1962 I was 6 ft. tall and weighed 116 lb. But they were years when I was allowed to prove to myself and to my family what a great country we live in… the kind of country where someone of my humble beginnings could pull himself up by the bootstraps to realize the American Dream… the American Dream that you would deny to our fellow Americans because it does not coincide with your Marxist view. Like your black brother, Herman Cain, I am a living symbol of what America is all about.
On the other hand, Mr. Obama, if I am entirely wrong about the kind of country we are. If we are the kind of country that you and your Democratic friends think we are… or should be… then someone owes me, BIG TIME! In a cynical attempt to buy the college vote, you are offering a forgiveness of student loans worth from $4 to $8 per month. Although you could never buy my vote, for any amount of money, it appears my share of the student loan “stimulus,” calculated at $6 per month and dating back to June 1962, comes to $3,552.
After what my children were put through, and given the stress that I was forced to endure, I suggest that a small share of your student loan “stimulus” package might even the score a bit, even at this late date. You can send my check to me at the return address on this envelope. Do I have it coming to me? I leave it to your spirit of “fairness.”
Paul R. Hollrah, BS CE
Member, Chi Epsilon National Scholastic Honor Fraternity
Immediate Past President, Civil Engineering Academy of
Distinguished Alumni, University of Missouri