Their Brains Just Won't Quit
For a lot of people the idea of retirement conjures up pictures of rest and relaxation---endless rounds of golf, a home in the Sunbelt, a few well-earned shopping sprees and vacations. Or maybe you're the busy type who wants to turn your attention to a neglected hobby. In any case, what most of us don't envision is a retirement during which we continue to work at the sameor an increasedpace that we did during out careers.
But there are people for whom retirement is a mere technicality of the tax form---an opportunity not so much to stop their work as to re-arrange their work schedule. These people continue working, in and out of their fields, often at a more productive rate than in their career days.
Michigan Today talked with five such "retirees" (for lack of a better term) among the many we could have chosen from the ranks of the faculty. They range in age from their 60s to the century mark, and each seems to have sailed by the port of retirement without even glancing at the shore.
William G. Dow
Professor Emeritus, Electrical Engineering
William G. Dow's contributions to the University are legion of course he's had 70 years in which to make them. Dow, who joined the faculty in 1926, is the father of modern electrical engineering and computer science at U-M; the guiding force behind the establishment of real-world joint research programs that team faculty and students with industry and government; the launcher of the Space Physics Research Laboratory space science programs the list could go on, but then there would be no room to tell what he's doing lately, at the age of 100.
"My field is physical electronics---the physics of electronic devices," Dow says. "I deal with electricity that moves outside wires---in arcs, vacuum tubes, lightning, fluorescent lights." He got his latest patent at age 95, but he's working on two projects that he'd like to see patented during his century years. In his office in the Cooley Bulding on North Campus, where he spends two days a week (he spends two more at ERIM, a remote-sensing research company whose predecessor he co-founded), Dow described his current work and reflected on life in general:
"Robert Sampson and I are waiting for a systems patent. The subject of the patent, which would belong to ERIM, has to do with a scheme for using controlled nuclear energy for providing ground transportation for vehicles---cars, trucks, buses and railroads, perhaps even steam ships---by a process that produces no unpleasant emissions of any kind. It uses a compound of titanium and chlorine known as titanium tetrachloride, each molecule containing one atom of titanium and four of chlorine. This substance is a liquid that is like water in viscosity."
The process, Dow says, "involves a nuclear reaction that breaks down titanium tetrachloride into titanium dichloride and chlorine, the chlorine escaping as a gas." Titanium dichloride, a crystalline powder, can be stored and transported. "It is hungry for its two lost two chlorine atoms, but it will happily take oxygen instead," he explains. "When exposed to small amounts of water in the fuel cell of the vehicle, the titanium dichloride cracks the water and converts itself into titanium oxychloride, with one atom of oxygen joining the titanium molecule and two atoms of hydrogen being released. The hydrogen is exposed to atmospheric oxygen in the fuel cell, 'burns' there to produce electric power to drive the vehicle. Water is the byproduct."
The titanium oxychloride is returned to the base power plant where the original preparation of the titanium dichloride was carried out. There, it is exposed to chlorine. "It prefers chlorine," Dow says, "so it returns to titanium tetrachloride and releases the oxygen to the atmosphere. So the only effect on the atmosphere is the oxygen used in the vehicle to permit burning of electricity and the oxygen released back into the atmosphere when the compound is rechlorinated. It is a totally clean process environmentally."
Use of the fuel would not significantly change the design or weight of an automobile, Dow predicts, nor substantially alter operational costs, but on a large scale, a hydrogen-based fuel economy would eliminate the vast environmental costs and damages associated with petroleum fuel.
When people ask him to reflect on the great advancements in science and technology he's lived through, Dow prefers to look ahead, saying, "You ain't seen nothing yet! The advances in the 21st century will be much greater, and they will derive from the economic use of nuclear power, both fission and fusion."
His second patent project involves using nuclear fusion for producing thrust to drive space vehicles. "I think it's possible to make fusion engines that could fit into a 747 jet," he says. "You'd take off in New York using an internal combustion engine. When you got to 50,000 feet, you'd switch to the fusion engine and accelerate to orbital velocity without ever seriously disturbing the passengers because you used the conventional power in the first 10 minutes before reaching orbit height. In 40 to 45 minutes, you're over Sidney, Australia. You reverse engines, switch to conventional engine and land. Total trip is one hour." You get to Mars in six weeks rather than the nine months it takes now. I haven't finished showing how this is possible, but I hope to do it if the Lord lets me live long enough. I've completed 80 percent of the work, but first I must finish the work on the ground transportation system."
Inevitably, Dow is asked for secrets of longevity: "Number one is to select the right grandparents. Number two, don't let the armchair get you. Keep active physically, mentally and emotionally, as I have done. It's not how far I walk that is important, it's how far I climb. I climb hills or stairs for 30 minutes to an hour every day. You must get the heart working. My sister who was three-and-a-half years older than I, died when she was 101, but I'm in better shape than she was at the same age. I lost a major heart artery at the age of 80 due to a blood clot. My doctor told me the muscle had turned to scar tissue in that area. They didn't like to do bypasses on patients my age. Your collateral arteries can pick up the load but you have to ask them every day.
"Number three, it's extremely important to have a good family life. Edna Dow, the
mother of my children, died in 1963. In 1968, I married my present wife, Katherine Keene Dow. We've been very happy together, as Edna and I were. Katherine's children and mine have found it a very satisfactory way for their elders to carry on a productive and happy life."
Professor Emeritus, Law and Economics
Dean Emeritus, LS&A
Peter Steiner was the dean of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts from 1981 to 1989. Before that he had been professor of economics and law since 1968. Steiner received his doctorate at Harvard in 1950, has held a Guggenheim fellowship, a Ford Faculty Research fellowship and served on at least one Presidential Task Force (1968---on Productivity and Competition). He is also an author, co-author or contributor to numerous books and articles on economics---including one of the most widely used college textbooks on economics in the country, Economics, published by Harper Row and now in its 10th edition since 1966.
When Steiner retired from those various professions, he seized the time to begin a book he had long been contemplating. Another tome on macro- and microeconomics? On productivity and probability? Sort of. The book is called Thursday-Night Poker: Understand, Enjoy, Win, and it is slated to appear from Random House in February 1996.
A poker book? It might surprise those for whom Peter Steiner will always be the man behind the Dean's List, but he is has for years been an avid, even legendary, poker player. "In one way or another I've been meaning to write a poker book for many years," he says. "I've always enjoyed playing, and have some insights on the game by virtue of my background in statistics and economics."
Steiner says most poker books, even the few he thinks are excellent, are flawed because they fall into one of three categories. The first type of book tells what to do without explaining why; the second group assumes people play poker only to win money rather than as recreation; and the third sort assumes players are playing in a casino. What is missing, Steiner feels, is a book that explored poker's "theoretical framework."
"I'd had the idea in my head [for such a book] for 25 or 30 years, but never had time to work on it until I retired in 1991," he says. "So then I started writing fragments of a book, not knowing whether anyone beyond my friends would be interested." The fragments grew into a 200-page manuscript that Steiner polished and sent to publishers. Along with the perfunctory rejections, there were two very enthusiastic responses. The one from Random House led to a contract two years ago.
The book Steiner finished falls into four broad areas. The first is an overview of "these games called poker"; the second focuses on probability, odds and risk; the third section discusses various skills needed to play poker well, and the long fourth section contains information and exercises on sharpening and implementing those skills.
As in his formal career, Steiner meticulously researched his subject. He ran calculation and complex computer analyses of probability, and approached some of the work as "game theory" though he was careful not to overdo the latter. "I was trying to think about the game as it was played---not as a sterile math exercise---but with reasoning and calculation playing a role." (To add flesh and blood to his poker ruminations throughout the book, Steiner creates colorful characters who have distinctive playing styles and names like William "Bluffalo Bill" Baxter and Tyrone "Ty" Tass.)
Steiner also went on the road---and where else but to Las Vegas?---where he tried his hand at serious casino playing for the first time. "It sounds funny to say that you're 'doing research' in Las Vegas casinos, but in a way I was. Casino poker is a very different game."
Steiner's interest in poker---both theoretical and practical---dates back to his days in the Navy, where he served and played cards aboard the USS Independence. After leaving the Navy, he was always sure to become involved in friendly---though not necessarily low stakes---games. This is the arrangement Steiner refers to as Thursday-night poker---the kind of game where experienced amateurs play with other amateurs.
"Thursday night" poker players "play poker," Steiner says, "they don't engage in it or work at it or suffer through it." Casino poker, on the other hand, is a purely professional endeavor. Most books treat the "Thursday night" player as if he or she plays only for money rather than mainly for leisure.
Steiner held to a regular writing-and-research schedule to finish the book---working mostly mornings to get the writing done and doing his research when he could. And while his post-retirement work has so far been influenced by (and has drawn on) his economics background, to this point he hasn't completed work specific to his academic field.
In the next several months Steiner will pursue a less rigorous, though personally satisfying, topic---putting together a family history for his children and grandchildren. The job of publishing books in the Steiner family, he points out, has now fallen to his wife, Patricia, a skilled translator of Spanish literature. She has just published a translation of Don Segundo Sombra: The Great Novel of the Argentine Pampa, by Ricardo Guiraldes, published this year by the University of Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile, Steiner will continue to play in what is reputed to be one of the, if not
the, highest-stakes poker games in Ann Arbor, and perhaps to pursue a growing interest in casino poker. "I find it is a very pleasant, challenging vacation---as long as you remain reasonable. That's a point I make in the book. You win some, you lose some. If you remember that, you can have a lot of fun playing poker."
Frank R. Kennedy
Thomas M. Cooley Professor Emeritus of Law
When Frank Kennedy retired from the U-M Law School 11 years ago, he knew exactly what he was going to do: promptly begin serving as a consultant for the prominent Chicago law firm of Sidley & Austin. What Kennedy didn't know then was that he would continue in that position long enough to enjoy a "second retirement" last year at the age of 81. But that doesn't mean Kennedy is stopping now. "I enjoy working," he says. "Way too much to give it up and relax."
During his teaching years, Kennedy became a nationally recognized expert on bankruptcy law, serving from 1971-1973 as executive director of the Washington, DC, Commission on Bankruptcy Laws. It was only natural that when he retired, he should go on working in the field.
"I spend most of my time at home," he says, "where I have a basement with a fax and a word processor and access to all sorts of on-line legal information. And I also have my own volumes of case law. I do come in to campus once a day, to check my mail."
Kennedy arrived at Michigan in 1961. Initially he didn't do much consulting, although he did work as a "reporter" (legal jargon for the person who drafts the language) for the Advisory Committee on Bankruptcy Rules for 11 years before taking over as the committee's director in 1971.
After he retired from teaching and began consulting for Sidley & Austin, he liked the fact that he could do most of his work in Ann Arbor, "and when I had to go to Chicago, I would fly from Detroit to O'Hare, go down to the subway, then up to my office---without ever having been exposed to the elements. What more could you ask?"
Throughout his retirement from the Law School, Kennedy has written numerous articles on bankruptcy law for legal journals. But his "real work" is perhaps the most monumental job he's tackled yet: the creation, with another professor, of a multivolume treatise on bankruptcy law, under contract by Little, Brown publishers. This task requires him "to try to keep up with all the case law coming out, which of course I can't do, but it keeps me sharp, he says."
Kennedy's reason for taking on a work load many law clerks would find tough is simple: "I enjoy the work. I spend time each day reading and writing, and I can spend time with my wife, Patricia."
He admits his work production in the last few years may have slowed down---a bit. "We're publishing the treatise one book at a time," Kennedy says. "I might not get as much work out as I used to, and I might not last to see the treatise, but I enjoy working as much as, if not more, than I ever did."
Associate Professor Emeritus, Kinesiology
Don't even talk about being busy with Phyllis Weikart, professor emeritus of kinesiology. In fact, she jokes, she finally had to retire "so that I could get to work---retirement freed up time for me to get even busier."
Kinesiology is the study of sports and movement mechanics, an area that overlaps with sports medicine, physical education and developmental psychology. Weikart's own area of expertise was---and is---the study of physical movement and early learning. And what keeps her busy these days is the interest that primary and secondary educators all over the country have in her novel research on the effects of movement on learning ability.
Weikart developed and directs a project called Education Through Movement: Building the Foundation. In a nutshell, her research has revealed that early sensitivity to rhythm is a crucial indicator of a child's later ability to recognize and respond to complex patternsincluding language, mathematics and even social interaction. She has documented a link between decreasing test scores among children and adolescents and the TV-age decline of early physical activities that help build a foundation for learningactivities ranging from dancing with parents and siblings to group children's games.
"I believe we as a society have overlooked something fundamental in education," she says. "Visual and auditory processing, language, mathematical skillall are closely tied to early development. Yet when we address questions of education we forget to ask where the child is in terms of fundamental movement skills."
Weikart is trying to focus more attention on this problem. Since retirement she's published a book on the subject, Foundations in Elementary Education: Movement (High/Scope Press, 1995), and is the co-author of another with her husband, David (Foundations in Elementary Education: Music, High/Scope Press, 1994). She also has contributed articles to childhood journals. In addition, Weikart keeps a busy out-of-town schedule of workshops, conferences and speaking engagements from school districts and groups interested in her low-tech, low-cost but highly effective teaching methods.
"I spend a lot of time on the telephone when I'm at home," she says. "And a period of every day is dedicated to writing---usually the morning time." During summer, Weikart actually steps up that schedule by holding certification workshops in which she teachers educators how to build a foundation that supports the all-round development of physical and mental skills in children.
Teachers from around the country attend at the 300-acre High Scope Conference Center near her home in Clinton, 30 minutes southwest of Ann Arbor. In addition to the Conference Center, there's a High Scope Institute, a research-oriented think tank directed by Weikart's husband, David. According to Phyllis, he's as busy as she---something she thinks has been important to her commitment to keep working. "I'm sure it's a factor. If one person in a marriage is sitting back and the other is doing a great deal---it's just not compatible. Each person's excitement fuels the other."
Aside from their busy careers, the Weikarts have four daughters and five grandsons to fill in any breaks in their work schedules.
What keeps Weikart, 64, tackling this busy schedule day in and day out? "It's become something of a mission to me," she admits. "In this age of high technology, children's motor development may not be keeping pace with their cognitive development and their chronological age. I don't like the idea of sitting backespecially when there's a chance that I can make a difference."
John W. Aldridge
Professor Emeritus, English
During his 28 years at Michigan John Aldridge published nine books on contemporary writers---many of whom (such as Norman Mailer and Joseph Heller) Aldridge counts among his friends. He also regularly contributed to national magazines like Esquire, the Atlantic Monthly, Playboy and Harper's and appeared regularly as the book commentator on the MacNeil-Lehrer news program. At the same time, Aldridge kept up a regular teaching load, in many cases teaching students who had come to Michigan specifically to study literary criticism with him.
Like any formidable critic, Aldridge made his share of enemies---among them Gore Vidal, who
once called Aldridge a "literary gangster." When he retired from teaching in 1992, Aldridge seemed as likely a candidate as anyone to coast toward a well-earned breather. Instead he published two books, Classics and Contemporaries and Talents and Technicians: Literary Chic and the New Assembly-Line Fiction. The latter work, published in May 1992, the date of his official retirement, contains trenchant criticism of contemporary writers like Raymond Carver and Jay McInerney, whom he condemned as the homogenized products of university writing programs, their sales successes manufactured by the glitzy promotion campaigns of publishing houses, coordinated with flashy reviews in the New York news media.
Talents and Technicians drew immediate attacks in Vanity Fair and Atlantic Monthly, among others, and the New York Times Book Review ran a long exchange between him and other critics. Other articles quickly followed. Today, at age 72, Aldridge is still in the thick of things.
Why not take a breather? "I saw no reason to stop working," says Aldridge. "The same things that got me into it [literary criticism] interest me today and I'd still like to comment on them. It wasn't as if I could just sit down and start watching TV."
TV doesn't seem to be a looming presence in Aldridge's future. In the last year-and-a-half he's kept busy by publishing articles on the work of novelist Cormac McCarthy, on Joseph Heller's Closing Time, a sequel to Catch-22, and Norman Mailer's latest novels, Harlot's Ghost and Oswald's Tale. But he's set aside that type of writing for the last few months for another projecthis memoirs.
"It's really a literary autobiography," Aldridge says. "And it's something I've
intended to do for some time." Though Aldridge characterizes himself as a "rather slow writer," he says work on
the memoir has been going unusually quickly. "It's going very well, and writes much faster than other work I've done. It's amazing how much you remember, once you sit down and try."
Aldridge's work routine "hasn't changed much" since he retired. He tends to stay up and get up late, reading in the morning and then writing in the afternoon. "I've always written in the afternoon. I still do." A good day's writing for Aldridge begins after lunch and stretches to 4:30 or 5 pm.
Like most of the others we spoke to for this article, Aldridge has a very active spouse. Patsy Aldridge is the librarian of the U-M English Language Institute. Recently, she was invited to South Africa where she helped design and set up a similar library near Johannesburg. John describes their mutual busy-ness as a sort of "support" network each has for the other.
Aldridge's plans include another book on contemporary writers---this time, one that "will talk about the excellence of much of what is being written today." Recently named one of the "Ten Top Fiction Critics" of this century in an anonymous poll for the Dictionary of Literary Biography (1994 Yearbook), Aldridge says that "maybe" he'll give up writing "when senility sets in---until that day, I think I'd prefer to stay busy."
Derek Green '87, '91 MFA, is an Ann Arbor freelancer and a media relations consultant to the auto industry.