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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
Date: March 3, 1994
Interviewee: Kenneth R. Tefertiller
Interviewer: Mark Lesney
L: This is an oral history interview with Dr. Kenneth Tefertiller. It is being held in his
office in McCarty Hall. The date is March 3, 1994. The interviewer is Mark
Lesney. Dr. Tefertiller, would you please your full name and where you were
born and when?
T: I am Kenneth Ray Tefertiller. I was born in Cleveland County near Noble, Oklahoma,
May 2, 1930.
L: Do you want to give me any of your background in terms of your family life and what
you thought was important from your childhood?
T: My mother and father both lived in rural areas. [They were] farmers. And they were
good, honest, hard-working Christian people. I had an opportunity in a family
where I had a lot of love. [I] had two sisters, __ and Elsie; and three brothers,
Ed, Bob and Homer. And so I had an opportunity to interact with brothers and
sisters and grew up in a family where there was a lot of work and also a lot of
love and an opportunity to learn how to give and take with other kids. Probably
the first eventful thing that I can remember in particular is moving when I was
almost fifteen years old to another county. That was particularly difficult on my
older sister because she was already in high school. I think the whole family had
[to make] some adjustments [such as] a bigger city high school versus the rural
area we lived in.
L: Which city? Do you remember?
T: [We] moved to Purcell, Oklahoma, to McClain County from Cleveland County. High
school days were important to me in several ways. It was not something I
enjoyed [that much] like a lot of high school kids. There were several things
about high school that were important to me. One was the vocational and
agricultural teacher and track was an important area. It was not possible for me
to play football even though I was one of the larger boys in track and [I had] more
speed than most. But we always had to catch the bus home [because] we had
work to do so there was never time to take three hours and play football.
L: So your family was farming still?
T: Right, [they were] still farming. We could work out for track from three to four and still
catch the bus home. That is the reason I was in track. But it turned out to be
that the vocational and agricultural teacher named Harold Minor and my being
able to be somewhat successful on the high school level in running the high
hurdles plus probably the support of my family and particularly financial and
personal support of my older sister was probably the reason I went to college. At
one time I was planning on staying home with my father and farming and not
going to college. It was the vo-ag teacher that was very much a motivator and
encourager and somebody instilling knowledge both in their students. That was
L: I notice that you wind up in the army in this period. Actually, it was during the Korean
War, was it not?
T: Yes, that was probably a little later because it was after I graduated from college.
L: Oh, it was after you graduated from college. So do you want to talk about college
T: Yes, college days were a very exciting time for me. To me, that was quite an
adjustment in many ways. I am kidding some. One of the major adjustments
was no longer having my mother's cornbread to eat. But there were a lot of
other, bigger adjustments. I found that since academics had not been probably
as high [a] priority as sports and vocational and agricultural [classes], [the first
year, the first semester was a difficult adjustment period for me]. A small school
[like my high school] did not prepare for Oklahoma City and Tulsa. But after that
[first semester/year,] I was on the dean's list most of the time in college.
L: So it was Oklahoma State?
T: Yes, it was Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College at the time. They did not
change it to Oklahoma State University.
L: You started off at A and M?
T: It was a very busy time. But still, you made a lot of friends and still had friends at that
time. And I majored in -- following the steps of my vo-ag teacher -- I majored in
agricultural education, which had a lot of physical and biological sciences in that
and a minor almost in science and agronomy and did almost all of the program.
Money was short and time was short. I sought other jobs and I was not an
outstanding track star. I did run the high hurdles and kept my books and tuition
scholarship. That was important. I continued to hold one, sometimes two jobs. I
got up at 5: 30 in the morning every morning to work in the cafeteria and started
going to class at eight. [I] worked out at track between three and five. It was a
busy time most of time I was in school, including the summer periods. But it was
probably the most important time in my life. It really was a chance to meet a lot
of different people. The professors had an impact on me. So those years, even
though it was a discipline I stayed in later on in life, it had a very broadening
experience. Also, I think I took Reserve Officers' Training Corps for four years
and that had a pretty important [impact] on my life as well. Summers were
always important. I usually went home and saw my parents but shortly after that,
I was off for some job somewhere.
L: You put yourself through school probably with the scholarships?
T: Yes, pretty much so. My mother and dad sent a little money from time to time, a little
egg money. It was not much. But they did all they could and they supported me
in many ways. You see, my father's name was Homer Marion Tefertiller and my
mother's name was Ruby Agnes Teftertiller. [Her] maiden name [was] Gentry.
L: Were they born in the United States?
T: Yes. My father's family, Tefertiller, has been in the United States since the late
1700s and [have] been farmers all their lives. [They] moved from Missouri to
Oklahoma near 1900 in a covered wagon. My mother was from Texas and came
north to the same county in 1918, something like that. They were married in
1926 in McClain County. So there was a farm background on both sides.
L: Quite far back.
T: Yes. But summer jobs were often important from the standpoint of making enough
money to go to school next year. My freshman year, my coach encouraged me
to find a job [that would help me] strengthen my legs. You know, I was a strong
young fellow, gangling I guess, but in fact, I needed stronger legs. Partly
because of that and partly because we knew one family in Oregon, [we got] a job
there in the lumber business, timber business. A friend of mine who was not in
college set out one Monday morning hitchhiking to Oregon and after a few
hitchhikes and a train ride and a few other things, we ended up in Oregon about
four or five days later and picked up with the family. Thorkes was their name.
[We] roomed and boarded their with them and found a job working in the
sawmills or setting choker behind tractors in the lumber business. That was an
interesting summer. I came back stronger than ever before and weighed more
weight. It served some purposes.
L: What year was that?
T: That was back in my freshman year. I went to school in 1948. That would have been
1949 [when I worked in that job]. The following year I went back to school and
continued pretty much the same coursework. [I was] still in track and still
[working], while in the summer I worked in country up around Liberal,
Kansas. My brother was also with me that year. The summer of 1951, the
following summer, was unique because I went off to ROTC camp which takes up
six weeks of the summer [with] very low pay.
T: I came back home with a great interest in finding a high-paying job I could spend the
next three weeks, six weeks, working in and get back to Oklahoma State with
enough money to go to school the next year. [That was] my final year. [I]
happened to see an ad in the paper, the Oklahoma City paper, saying that there
was a job for triple time wiht the Santa Fe railroad and Rock Island, both, and
Kansas City. So I made a decision to [go]--my parents somewhat objecting. [I
did not know too much about that]. [I decided] to go ahead and go simply
because I needed the money. And we caught a train to Oklahoma City one
night, Santa Fe railroad, and arrived the next day in Kansas City. In arriving, I
realized that I was in a different environment I had never been in before. They
did not give a straw to put in a sack, they gave you some block bales of hay or
something to put in some kind of sack for your bed. And everyone slept in a box,
in a car, just basically a passenger train.
T: I did not think too much of it. [I] went to sleep and got up the next morning and went
to breakfast and I realized I was really in a different environment then because I
had made the mistake sitting down at the table and saying, "Pass the bread
please." I ended up bringing up all kinds of tension. "What in the world was this
here"--I was saying please and all that and getting a hard time. Most of the guys
around me I noticed were thirty-five, fourty years old and looked like they had
had a hangover from the night before. Turned out [that] most of them were winos
or former winos. It was a whole different environment then. I guess I was
particularly impressed that all the attention I got for saying, "Pass the bread
please." Somebody later on was chasing someone else around the table with a
knife and the cook came out with two big platters and takes a look and the guy
chased him with the knife. He just took one of the platters and cold-cocked him
up on the side of the car and one even hardly looked up. [laughter] So I knew it
was a different environment.
So I spent six weeks there and only went on in that area that I felt left out at
times. The police would come down looking around. They were asking about
someone somewhere and so forth who had been around there who knew
somebody in some prison somewhere. I got [to] where I did not say I was from
Oklahoma because they would ask me if I was from McCallister which is [where
the state prison is] at. So I got to where I did not use that term. It was really kind
of sad in some ways. I made a point to tell you I got acquainted with one of
them. Most all of them had some tragic thing in their life [such as losing] a
girlfriend, [losing] a wife. Or something caused them to drink a little bit. Next
thing they know they got to be some form of an alcoholic. Most all of them had
problems in that way. Most of them did not give me advice [except to] stay
awayfrom the gambling game and to bot get hooked onthis place. [It was] really
kind of a sad thing. [They were] talented people. As I say, a Harvard lawyer was
there [and] a former operator of a shoe store. And then the other people--
something tragic happened to them along the way. They called themselves
ganties or hobos [and they] caught the train.
The most rude awakening was to go to Stillwater, Oklahoma in September, the
day before school started, and find how quiet and peaceful that town looked after
almost being mugged a few times and things like that. It just really made me
appreciate how different it was in the other world. I never ever forgot how there
was another world out there. And that [it] to some extent had an impact on me all
my life. I could always realize when someone appeared to be a criminal,
appeared to be an outcast ... recall also most most all the people I got
acquainted with were just ordinary people that went wrong. That is a bit of a
sideline, but it had a long-time impact on me.
L: A lot of people in academic life never see that side of life.
T: Yes. To tell the truth, yes. Looking back on it, it was kind of scary because it was
just neat guys until they went to town on Saturday night or something and come
home with and wined up and then knock you on the head or anything for the little
bit of money and then what you would do is send all your money home as soon
as you got it and tell everyone you sent it home already. [Laughter]
L: [Laughter] [It was] protection in advance.
T: But then back to school--[l] finished senior year and graduated in the summer of that
L: So you got your degree in [agricultural] education?
T: Yes. Essentially general agriculture. And then I did my practice teaching. I came
back after the service and did my practice teaching. were important
to me and I never was outstanding at track If you are not too
in high school getting to the finals of the state meet then once you
get to college speed is so important substitute speed
But I was never outstanding at track. PLEASE IDENTIFY WHAT HE IS SAYING
From there I went to the service, to the United States Army.
L: Was this part of the ROTC?
T: Yes, it was part of the ROTC and once you are commissioned you are subject to the
call. I got called right after the Korean War [started]. I graduated in 1952 and I
was in the transportation corps training the first year in Virginia It was in public
transportation I got an MOS It means I qualified to be skipper or
mate on any vessel the United States Army had. That was a subtle thing at the
time. But the first year was just more or less training. I did not
particularly enjoy that much. In fact, it was a little bit boring the first year in the
service. But in the summer of 1953 I did not get orders to Europe, I got orders
for Korea. I found myself in Korea in early September 1953. I
arrived by train and after arriving there, an ocean-going tug vessel
and told I was captain or skipper of the ocean-going tug. I told them I had never
been on a tug before. They said it did not make any difference because
says you are. [Laughter]
T: half Korean crew and half GI crew. I had three and a half
GI crew. The Koreans worked twenty-four hours a day and the GIs worked from
six in the morning to six in the evening. Most activity took place in that period of
time. We stayed about three miles off the shore of I am sure that
must have It was on call twenty-four hours a day for a year no
matter I had a record number of books checked out
from the library because there were not enough books around and there was not
much you could read. [Laughter] It was a fascinating thing in particular when in
the night run, it was a Korean crew only. You had to learn enough Korean to get
by. It was a totally Korean crew. That was something more. It was an exciting
time to try to take an assignment at night with a Korean crew. Most of the activity
in the daytime is where you kept the GIs. Looking back on it, it was the first
experience I have had. Before then, I had not thought too much about leadership
roles, and things you must be prone to do in a leadership position. Many of the
sargeants or the vp have an area that they have a lot of experience in. I was a
young second lieutenant that certainly got thrown in above his head, I am sure.
There were a lot of interesting civic kind of things that went on. It was not war
time, but you were still in the army. As far as innovation, you would get along.
Finally, you would get the supplies. We cooked. We had a crew that cooked.
Barber had an early experience in negotiation. Later on, I get a lot of different
aspects of that. There was a colonel that ran the port that listened in on the
radios at night. [[ what is being said here??]] killed somewhere. One time,
head of the York port, I understand, moved out of there. He was really a loose
canon. They had these very things on all the harbour signifying the
location. Other skippers would steer left of that harbour because it was next to
one place in Alaska where they had the most rapid tides in the world. There
would be thirty feet tides to within a matter of twelve hours. The only one
that suffered injuries was Brown. He did not get up again for twelve
hours. All of the skippers that came in and anchored there knew about the
harbour and how treacherous it was. So they were very skeptical of this. But this
colonel would always have some place he wanted to assign, he said, "Let's take
the ship out about ten miles."