KU-UDO Testimonials

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This article is part of the VES Project’s essay, Digital Historical Sounding and the VES Project: Using the Web for historical research (or for competitive intelligence analysis).

Cumana El Nacional

City of Cumaná, Sucre State, Venezuela. Photo from El Nacional.

Expatriate Professors

John abate

John de Abate (May,1969). Photo by Bill Peters, Getty Museum.

During the mid Sixties, many scientists from Lawrence, Kansas came to the Caribbean shores of the city of Cumaná, Sucre State, in eastern Venezuela, as part of the KU-UDO exchange plan – the University of Kansas (KU) – Universidad de Oriente (UDO), Venezuela, graduate student and faculty exchange program, short named the KUUDO Plan–, and a few Venezuelans with undergraduate degrees in science went to KU for their M.S. and Ph.D. degrees. We found a Ph.D. thesis in Education from the University of Kansas, which we have not had access to, named Analysis of the consequences of the University of Kansas-Universidad de Oriente program: a decade later  (ALEXANDER, Alberto Guillermo, 1977).

Between 1965 and 1968, Daniel Hunt Jazen, biologist and evolutionist ecologist (see his CV), acted as the Vice-dean and coordinator of the KUUDO Plan. In 1973, Dr. Jazen was also professor at the Universidad de Los Andes (ULA), Venezuela. According to Richard Eckart’s testimonial–see below–, between 1966 and 1968, UDO School of Science’s Dean was the Costa Rican biologist John De Abate.

UDO CUMANA

Campus of the Universidad de Oriente (UDO).

Escuela-De-Ciencias

UDO Campus showing (marked with the letter A) the School of Science building.

 School of Science, UDO, 1967.

School of Science, UDO, 1967. Photo courtesy of Professor Richard Eckert.

Besides the physicists we have already mentioned in our main article: Jacob Enoch (1927–2008), Loren Alan Lockwood, Richard Eckert,  Vaughn Nelson (he is professor emeritus of physics at West Texas A&M University and author of the book, Renewable Energy), and Gordon Gray Wiseman, the following scientists also came to Cumaná, Venezuela (by all means, this list is not exhaustive): 

A. Bryron Leonard (1902-1987), who served as the first KUUDO Plan on-site director; biologist Andrew Torres (1966-67) – he published an article about Plan KUUDO; wasp expert (entomologist) William Ramírez-Benavides; bat specialist James D. Smith; microbiologist Bob Branden; chemist David E. Peters (Ph.D KU, 1965); and mathematicians Phil R. Montgomery (1936-2013) (who acted during 1966-1968; and, when he returned to Kansas, in the The American Mathematical Monthly, he published the article, University Mathematics in Venezuela1968); James Dukelow Jr. (Assistant Professor, during 1965-67); and Harold Mick (B.A., No. Iowa, 1958; M.B.S., Colorado, 1959; M.A., Kansas, 1965; Ph.D., Ohio State, 1972).

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Testimonials

We made efforts to locate and contact as many KU scientists participating in the KUUDO Plan as we possibly could. We succeeded in few cases and got back many excellent replies with testimonials and pictures. Then, we used these testimonials in our essay (in Spanish) about the early history of UDO Physics Department (Física KU-UDO – Los inicios de la Física en la Universidad de Oriente).

Below, we present a few of these testimonials. We have put comments inside brackets, and added pictures and hyperlinks–not included in the original texts we received– for illustration and clarification purposes.

KU-jayhawk

The mythical Jayhawk who represents Kansas University in sport games.

Gordon Gray Wiseman (Testimonial, 7/05/1989)

Our first testimonial is from Professor Gordon Gray Wiseman, we found his testimonial in the Oral History Project, KU Retirees’ Project, The University of Kansas, within a long interview by an unknown person (possibly the Archivist of KU Spencer Library).

Professor Wiseman got his B.S. from South Dakota State in 1938, then, he went to KU to earn a M.S.,1941; M.A., 1947; and Ph.D., 1950. He began teaching at the University of Kansas as an Instructor, 1943-1949; then, he was promoted to Assistant Professor, 1949-1955; Associate Professor, 1964-1987; and Professor Emeritus, 1987.

The interviewer opens the interview with the following statement: “I am speaking to Gordon G. Wiseman, physics professor at the University of Kansas before his retirement in 1987. Professor Wiseman is speaking from his home in Lawrence, on July 5, 1989.”  In the page 52 of  the transcript of this interview, Professor Wiseman talks about his experiences in Venezuela (the section of the interview related to Venezuela and the KUUDO Plan is about five pages long pp. 52-54; only few paragraphs of these pages are being transcribed here).

In the 1965, I spent t the summer at Universidad de Oriente in Venezuela as an adviser to the chairman of the physics department. We revised the curriculum, particularly the laboratory requirements. Venezuela was the undergoing a revolution in its educational system. I’ll use physics as an example, but the same ideas permeated the whole system. They have a School of Medicine in Caracas. Everybody who wanted to learn medicine would go to caracas to study medicine. In the curriculum the would have a course in physics, but physics was taught by a medical doctor. Asa result, and this happened in biology and physiology and all basic subjects, education in the basic subjects got more and more diluted and weaker as time went on. Pretty soon the medical school and other profession schools were in chaos, because they didn’t have people teaching basic science who were basic scientists. So they decided to revise the whole system. They created a number of new universities. These universities were several years old by the time we arrived on the scene.
Wiseman Gordon Emeritus Professor

Professor Gordon G. Wiseman

They cooperated with the University of Kansas. This was spearheaded by Dean Waggoner [George R. Waggoner (1916-1990), dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Kansas from 1954 to 1975]. Our Department was interested, and Dr. Beard [David Breed Beard(1922-1998) was chair of the Physics Department from 1964 to 1977] went down there for a brief visit, and he came back quite enthusiastic as was Dean Waggoner. Then I went down for a summer, and spent a delightful summer with the chairman of the department revising the system, planning the laboratory work, and ordering a lot of equipment for the laboratories.

Q: Did your family go with you?

A: Yes they did. It as very nice.

Q: Did you speak Spanish, or was that a problem?

A: Yes, I spoke some Spanish, and it was a problem. I took about a semester of Spanish before I went down there. I learned a great deal more down there that I learned up here. Our youngest son was a pre schooler at that time and he learned some Spanish, but our oldest son, who was about 14, learned Spanish very well, and pretty soon I would ask him to translate for me.

My perception of the Latin Americans change radically while I was down there, I pictured them as somewhat lazy with their siestas. But I found out that this was not true. They are very hard workers, both academic people and the shop workers and even the laborers who are working the streets. They work very, very hard. It is very hot and it is difficult to work hard. They do take their siestas, but that is almost out of necessity. I have a great respect for them.

The students were, well there were some rich ones there, but many of them were poor. many of them didn’t have enough lighting in their homes. So they would congregate in a park under the streetlights at night to do their studying. It was a very pleasant experience.

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Richard Eckart (Testimonial, 7/28/2013)

Professor Richard Eckart (PhD, Kansas University, 1971).

Professor Richard Eckart (PhD, KU, 1971) in his office at UDO School of Science. Photo courtesy of R. Eckart.

Indeed, I was part of the KUUDO program, going to Cumaná in August (I believe) of 1966 and leaving that same month in 1968. During the initial part of time I was in the Physics Department of the UDO, the Chairman was Prof. Heras (I believe his first name was Carlos [Carlos Alberto Heras]), from Argentina. Dr. Jacob Enoch was the senior KU professor there. The Dean of the College of Sciences was John De Abate, I believe from Costa Rica. Both Enoch and Lockwood came a year or so before I did and returned to Kansas a year or so before my term was finished. Venezuelans Nelson Sanguinetti and Carlos Figueroa [not Carlos but Marco–deceased; both were Venezuelan graduate students at KU] were in Kansas most of the time I was in Venezuela; however both of them returned during my last year, having finished their Masters degrees.

(…) 

Profssor Nelson

Professor Vaughn Nelson (2011). Photo: WTAMU

Vaughn Nelson, who had just finished his PhD at KU also came during my last year there, and, if I recall correctly, was acting chairman of the department for a time. During my first year there, Vincenzo [Giamberardino, italian physicist not associated with KUUDO], [José] Reyes, Lockwood, Martin [Spanish physicist Juan De Martín Marfil], and I were all in the same office. But the office was large, and I don’t recall there being any big problems.

(…)

I very much enjoyed my two years in Cumaná. In fact I met a Venezuelan orientadora [student counselor] working in the UDO, dated her, and eventually married her. (Unfortunately the marriage didn’t last – she did not come back to Kansas with me when it was time for me to return and finish my PhD.) Most of my duties during the first year of my stay were to organize and teach laboratories. I came to Venezuela with minimal Spanish – just a crash course the semester before my trip. Although, with the help of the person I was to marry, my Spanish improved rapidly, those first months were a struggle. At least in the labs, I could “show” students in addition to trying to explain. I recall that I spent a LOT of time unpacking and testing new lab equipment. By the time I got there the department was well under way for the theoretical courses, but not for the labs.

(…)

During my first months (almost a year) in Cumaná, I lived in a place called the “Residencia de Profesores” in downtown Cumaná, right across the street from the Río Manzanares, very close to the Calle Bermúdez which at that time was the “main drag” in Cumaná. It was there in the Residencia that I met my ex-wife. Part of Plan KUUDO was a mechanism by which they would find housing for the professors from Kansas. Because I was single then, the Residencia worked out very well for me. In fact, since all the residents there spoke only Spanish, it helped my language skills. (All of the other professors from Kansas were married and placed in luxurious houses, mostly on the beach. So they were not forced to speak Spanish 24/7 as I was.) I had a motorcycle, which was my only means of transportation. After I married, Plan KUUDO found us a fairly luxurious house on la Avenida Gran Mariscal. The house even had a name: La Casa Alejandrina. That worked out very well for us. I don’t remember anything about the flexible “pyramidal” houses you mention, but I do remember another very new Residencia in back of the university, quite close to it, in fact. The last month before I left, I had a room there.

It was interesting to receive your email. It made me think back and recall some of the most formative years of my life. Although at times I was very lonely in Cumaná, most of my memories are very positive ones. My two years in Venezuela were fantastic! … But I must say that I’m so very sorry for the terrible things that have happened to the people of that wonderful country during the past several years.

Professor Eckart included some pictures with his testimonial. After his UDO experience, he returned to KU where, in 1971, he earned a Ph.D. in high energy experimental physics. He then joined the Catholic University of Puerto Rico, Ponce, where, in his own words:

I served as a physics (and computer science) professor there for 12 years before going to SUNY Binghamton. (I also met my second wife in Ponce.) The ability to speak Spanish fluently that I developed in Venezuela was instrumental in obtaining that job. I must confess that my Venezuelan experience made me want to return to Latin America.

After retiring from being a professor of computer science at the State University of New York in Binghamton (SUNY- Binghamton) three years ago, my wife and I moved from upstate New York to Ormond Beach, Florida. A lot of stuff got lost in the move.
Expats professors in the cafeteria

Professors in the cafeteria located in first floor of UDO School of Science building . Right, sitting with his back against the wall, Richard Eckert. Left, sitting before Eckert, is Rafael A. López, next to López is Loren Lockwood, next to Lockwood, is Vincenzo Giamberardino. Identification made by Richard Eckert.

residencia_vista

Street view from “Residencia de Profesores”.

r_UDO_300

Professor Richard Eckart waiving. Photo taken at UDO Sucre campus.

l_residencia5

Party gathering at “Residencia de Profesores”. Sitting on the sofa, wearing a stripe shirt, is UDO School of Science’s Dean, John de Abate.

r_diane_mom_UDO (1)

UDO School of Science lobby. Professor Eckart shows the building to his mother and sister who were visiting him.

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Andrew Torres (Testimonial, 8/21/2013)

Andrew Torres KU Kansas

Professor Andrew Torres

Professor Andrew Torres¹, now Kansas University Professor Emeritus, wrote the following testimonials, 8/21/2013:

(….) I am glad to hear from someone who can tell me how UDO is
doing and if our KUUDO goals have been met.  A liberal education before professionalism [Professor Torres, UDO has graduated many scientists but I don’t think the principles of a liberal education before professionalism have been met at this institution].

All of us had to adapt to a new culture.  How to shop, the new names of foods, where to visit, going to Mochima Bay to picnic and swim, and on and on. We all did well and had support from the Ford Foundation. I considered our home on the beach fairly standard, perhaps luxurious by local standards. Loren [Lockwood], as I recall, was briefly arrested because he was bearded. And we had other problems, but overall it was a good experience.  I do have many pictures from that time:  the campus, the boating, the house, the markets, and so on.  All of our children went to local schools and learned Spanish (ages 4 to 10). They remember many of their experiences in Cumaná. It was a good part of their lives. I think all the adults also enjoyed their time there and hope they contributed to the plan KUUDO.

About physicist Jacob Enoch (1927-2008):

Jacob Enoch

Jack was a very good and brilliant friend. We spent a lot of our time together. He had a severe stroke in ca. 1999 that left him partially paralyzed. As part of his recovery therapy he wrote a book about his life up to his marriage to Hilda called  “A Very Interesting Life” the memoirs of Jacob Enoch. It is a good read. The book was edited by his daughter Tamar from stories Jack wrote about his life before he died.

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Prof. James Dukelow Jr. (Testimonial, 7/31/2013)

(…)

Andrew Torres’ report probably gave you a good description of the KUUDO program and Phil’s paper a good look at Math at UDO. I was a math graduate student at KU and along with my fellow graduate student Harold Mick, was a temporary replacement for a UDO faculty member who went up to KU to do graduate work. Harold complete his Ph.D. and went on to faculty positions at Drake University and Virginia Tech. It appears he has recently retired from VT, since I don’t find him listed there as active faculty, although he was as recently as 2010.

I will try to reply in more detail when I find my souvenirs from that time (I am a pack-rat, so they are in the house somewhere).  Gretchen and I lived at Quinta Chavela, on the second floor of a house on the beach about a mile from campus.  The house was across Avenida San Luis from the brackish lagoon in the may you attached to your email.  It was certainly luxurious by Cumaná standards, but with certain limitations.  No air conditioning (but mostly not needed), electricity and water were semi-reliable, with fairly frequent outages.  We were a couple of doors down from an excellent Parrilla place.  A couple of students, one of whom we got to know well, lived in a small concrete block house next door.  Their beach dog had a litter of puppies in our back yard.  About a week later, someone stole 9 of the 11 puppies, leaving two because they were had maggot infestations.  It took a couple of weeks to dig all the maggots out of them (and they didn’t like the process much).  Our KUUDO colleague James Smith, a biology graduate student studying bats, adopted one, which he named Putita.  We kept the other, which we call Puppy, the name she had acquire while we were working on the maggots.  Both Putita and Puppy returned to the US and had long, hybrid-vigor lives (our guess is they were a mix of Rhodesian Ridgeback and either German Shepherd or *** , based on the mother and the candidate fathers from among the beach dogs).

Living in Cumaná and Venezuela, in general, was a rich experience, sometimes frustrating, sometimes threatening (it was the time when Castro was sponsoring insurgency around the Caribbean and South America).  The bird life and marine life was extraordinary — we could see dolphins playing out on the ocean in the afternoon, frigate birds fighting over fish thousands of feet up in the air, skimmers working the lagoon across the road, and huge fish-eating bats working their way along the Rio Manzanares.  Cumaná is a fascinating micro-climate, arid, with a mix of cactus and palm trees.  A few miles back in the surrounding mountains is basically rain forest.

Jose Lopez Rueda

Spanish poet José López Rueda

Cumaná was full of ex-patriots.  Among my math department colleagues were a young Italian and Señora de Tovar, a Philipina [sic] married to a Venezuelan.  We bought our furniture from a Basque and our scooters and motorcycles from an Italian, who sadly died in a traffic accident while we lived there (traffic was really dangerous — driving the 60 km of winding two-lane highway to Puerto La Cruz, you could depend on coming around a blind curve and finding someone in your lane).  We became good friends with the poet José López Rueda and his wife Adelita, refugees from Franco’s Spain.  Phil and I accompanied Jim Smith on a bat-collecting trip to a little town south of Angostura (memory fails me as to its present-day name).  The town had three mile-long streets, a bar-restaurant run by an Italian, with a old-time crank-driven phonograph playing opera, and was set about a half-mile away from its river during the dry season — right on the river during the rainy season.  During our visit, two of the town’s few vehicles collided at one of the few intersections.

We were invited to two or three weddings and attended a funeral, had wonderful parties, and drank way too much.  I first paid attention to the music of the Rolling Stones at parties there and discovered to my amazement that much of it was the Southern Blues I had loved attending college in Houston.  Among the things we enjoyed most about Cumana were the food and the music.  The university has a wonderful student chorus.  Students were much more animated than I was used to (I had two years teaching experience before we went to Venezuela), but very poorly prepared, because of problems in the K-12 system.  I was teaching in Spanish, which I didn’t speak very well at all when I arrived; at one point early on, students formally complained about that.  When I left, several students gave me as a going-away gift three or four Quinteto Contrapunto LPs, which I still have and play with pleasure.

I have kept up my Spanish and read Isabel Allende and Roberto Bolaño and García Márquez and some other authors.  I understand spoken Spanish reasonably well, but speak and write only with difficulty.  I follow events in Venezuela with some interest.

In another email (August 1, 2013), James Dukelow Jr. added,

Some things I have remembered since my first reply:

(..)

Other Costa Rican connections in the program included William Ramírez, a biology graduate student at KU specializing in parasitoid wasps (that is, wasps that lay their eggs in living insects and other types of bugs; the eggs hatch and the wasp larva subsist on the host, eventually killing it). An occasional visitor associated with the program was Costa Rica professor John de Abate [according to Eckart, John de Abate was Dean of UDO School of Science].

eduardo lima de sa

Eduardo Lima de Sa (? – Italy, 2015). From his Facebook profile

Eduardo Lima de Sa (Berkeley, 1980). Source:

Eduardo Lima de Sa (Berkeley, 1980). Source: Oberwolfach Photo Collection.

Another math department colleague I forgot to mention was Jorge Álvarez de Araya, a Chilean with a Ph.D. from the University of Washington [1963], who studied  functional analysis under Hewitt [according to the Mathematical Genealogy Project his thesis advisor was Ernest A. Michael]. Another colleague was a young Venezuelan, Eduardo Lima de Sa, with a doctorate from somewhere (probably UCV) [Eduardo de Lima de Sa had earned a Licenciate degree in Mathematics from UCV. Later he went to MIT for graduate studies. He retired in 1990 as Professor of Mathematics at Universidad Simón Bolívar (USB). We got word that he passed away a few weeks ago in Italy]. The math department was quite collegial.

The Chemistry senior KUUDO member was Dr. David Peters, a more-or-less freshly minted Ph.D. who had grown up in Venezuela as the son of Protestant missionaries in or near Valencia.  Dave’s wife, whose name escapes at the moment, came down with dengue fever while she was there.  It was a nasty experience, but apparently the current extremely dangerous hemorrhagic strain was much less prevalent at the time. Harold Mick’s wife had a potential exposure to rabies and had to go into Caracas for three or four weeks for a series of shots. My wife accompanied her.  On the bat collecting trip, Phil and Jim and I slept in hammocks in a traditional mud and wattle house with a thatched roof and were concerned about reduviid bugs and the risk of Chagas (there is speculation that Darwin’s late-life medical problems were from Chagas that he acquired during the Voyage of the Beagle). Gretchen and I were careful what we ate and drank and remained healthy.  Basically, that meant no uncooked greens or other uncooked vegetables and bottled water for drinking and ice cubes.

Although teaching in Spanish was challenging, I am not aware of any of our first group of junior or senior program members who did not immediately start teaching, (…) I remember one class period, a trig class, when I had decided I wanted to use the word for “milepost”, so I looked it up in the dictionary.  I used it at the appropriate time and the whole class erupted with laughter.  After class, I asked a student what I had said.  She said that the word [mojón] did mean milepost, but it also mean the little piles that babies leave on the floor.  I should have remembered my Spanish teacher’s admonition to be cautious with words ending in “on”.

We all taught in the same three or four story building.  The math department had five majors while I was there.  One semester, I taught probability theory (out of Feller, volume 1).  We started with the five math majors and eight chemical engineering students.  After a couple of weeks all of the ChemE student withdrew.  One of them was Cesar, one of our next door neighbors and the “owner” of Contessa, the ridgeless Ridgeback or Ridgeback mix and mother of Puppy and Putita.  Cesar explained to me that he did not want to drop the course, but “solidarity” with his fellow students required it.  Because of the scarcity of math textbooks in Spanish, particularly for advanced subjects, most of our students could read English reasonably well.

Jim Smith was well aware what Putita meant, he just liked to be provocative.  The caimans in the Smith’s bathtub were not unusual.  At various times there was a large, leaf-nosed turtle in the tub and a two-toed sloth hanging from the security gates.  The sloths are slow, but can give you a quick and dangerous swipe with their claws if irritated.

The financial structure of the program was interesting.  We were regular employees of the university, with the regular pay scale and with a forced savings program (pension savings);  we got our contributions back when we left the country at the end of our two years.  The Ford Foundation paid our rent and bought furniture for us and bought cars for the senior members of the program.

(….)

Other KUUDO staff included the first on-site director, Professor Byron Leonard.  He and his wife had a late-life son who was around eleven when they were down there.  For a few months the son had a capybara as a pet, but eventually it got too big and dangerous.  Another of the junior members was a microbiology grad student, Bob Branden, married to Betsy and with a son, Bob.  Son Bob had certain behavioral issues associated with having to be the adult in the household.  Father Bob and Betsy eventually divorced and Bob moved to Brazil, where he is rumored to have made a lot of money.  The Leonard’s son, Bob Branden, and Flip Montgomery all went to local schools and picked up Spanish very quickly.

I learned to drink espresso coffee in Cumaná.  I had seen in Berlin, a few years earlier, coffee shops essentially equivalent to what we have with Starbucks now, but had not picked up the strong coffee habit there.  Graduation each year was in the middle of the four-month-long dry season, during which it never rained (during the wet season, we had occasional afternoon showers).  Both years, it rained on Graduation Day.  The University threw a party for faculty and graduates; each table was supplied with a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red and Pepsi mixer, a favored combination at the time in Venezuela.

Every morning, a paper vendor would come up on campus and I would pick up El Universal and try to work my way through it.  From time to time, a local smuggler would visit campus with clothes and other things brought in from Trinidad.  While we were down there, my parents came to visit, a visit that included three or four days in Trinidad, including a lovely Christmas party at the Port-Of-Spain Yacht Club.

A number of us made a three-day trip into the Orinoco Delta, going out toward the ocean in a ramshackle boat, staying at a Catholic Mission on one of the internal channels and then at another mission out very close to the ocean.  Coming back, we took a couple of dugout canoes, which included a few exciting hours on the main branch of the Orinoco, bouncing around in the dugouts.

At the time, Accion Democratica was in power, with Copei the main opposition party.

We went into Caracas fairly frequently, either driving or flying and renting a car.  Caracas had a decent technical bookstore, perhaps the only one in the country at the time.  I was interested in mathematical modeling of nervous systems and went several times up to IVIC to visit their library and a well-known neuro-scientist working there.  Somewhere, I have a nice photo of Maria Lionza.

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Richard Eckart (Testimonial, 7/29/2013)

I knew Gordon Wiseman fairly well, (don’t know if he remembers me) but only at Kansas. His visit to the UDO must have been after I left. I believe he was Vaughn Nelson’s dissertation advisor. I knew Phil Montgomerey quite well. We took motorcycle trips together, along with Jim Dukelow. Both were in the math department. I also remember a biologist named Ramirez. There was another biologist named Jim Smith, I believe. His area of research had to do with in bats. My ex-wife and I inherited the “Casa Alejandrina” from Smith and his wife after they left. I still remember a party at that house in which we found baby crocodiles in their bathtub! Smith had a dog he called “Putita”. I’m not quite sure if he understood the meaning of that word, because every night he would go outside calling, “Putita, Putita, come home”. I wonder if he understood why the neighbors were so furious! 🙂
The person in charge of the KU contingent most of time I was there was a Professor [Byron] Leonard, a biologist who was in the process of retiring (I think).
Oh, I remember the name of that other Italian professor in the physics department: Biaggio Murgia. As I mentioned, he and the frenchman (Francois something-or-other) came midway through my second year there. I know the frenchman was very unhappy, so he may have gone back quickly. I believe Murgia stayed longer.
Coloritmo

Small Worlds

There is a beautiful counter side to our expatriate professors’s testimonies: They are the stories of their spouses. Despite all the arrangements made by UDO and the Ford Foundation, some spouses still found difficulties coping with the daily affairs of caring for their children and keeping of a house in a country with customs so different from the US and without knowing the Spanish language. However, they managed to do the best their could.
Hilda-1968

Hilda Enoch, in 1968, with a group of children from the then recently created organization, Small Worlds. Photo from Lawrence-Journal World.

Upon their return to Lawrence, Kansas, Hilda Enoch, the wife of professor Jacob Enoch, got together with Mavis Wiseman (1918-2012) (professor Gordon Gray Wiseman’s wife), Mimi Montgomery (the wife of mathematician, Phil Montgomery) and Georgiana Torres (the wife of professor Andrew Torres), and asked themselves if the spouses of the foreign students and the professors in Lawrence, Kansas, at the University of Kansas, were not likewise feeling like they felt in Venezuela: that is, somewhat lonely, isolated, having problems because of their not knowing language –in this case, English– and with difficulties to care for their babies and children. They found out that they did feel the same, and, this inspired them to set up an organization they called Small Worlds, that today is still active in Lawrence, Kansas. In May 1968, the programs set up by Small Worlds had already reached to 112 women and 89 children.

From Lawrence-Journal World (May 11, 1998)

In the late ’60s, several Kansas University professors went to Cumaná, Venezuela, as part of an exchange program to help the Universidad de Oriente set up American-style programs for science and math students. The professors and their families spent up to two years in Venezuela, living near the university.

Enoch and Wiseman’s husbands went on the exchange. Though the Wisemans only spent a summer in Venezuela, the Enochs spent almost two years.

“It’s not like being a tourist,” Enoch said, “where you’re just there for a few days.”

She and the other professors’ wives experienced living in the community. She said they had trouble interacting; their Spanish was broken.

“We all had small children,” she said. “We all experienced first-hand how hard it is.”

Getting off the ground

When Enoch returned to Lawrence, she visited the Venezuelan professors’ wives she had met who were then on exchange at KU.

“We found that they were totally isolated,” she said. Enoch said many of the women didn’t drive and didn’t speak English. They hardly left their homes.

“We knew how really miserable they were,” Enoch said, “in their tiny apartments with the kids screaming at them and not knowing where to go.”

She and three other wives who had been on the exchange, Wiseman, Mimi Montgomery and Georgiana Torres, along with Catherine Weinaug, decided to do something about it. In October 1967 they began to organize a program to teach the women English and help them assimilate.

Hilda Enoch in 2010.

Hilda Enoch in 2010. Photo LJWorld.com

Small World was founded in 1968. It was the inspiration of a small group of forward thinking women. All of the women had lived abroad while on sabbatical leave with their spouses. They knew how it felt to live in another country and not speak the language. They understood the need for companionship. Together the women worked to form a much-needed organization to serve international women in our community to foster friendship and understanding.
Small Worlds is associated with the First Presbyterian Church of Lawrence, Kansas

Small World provides a fun, comfortable environment in which International women and their children can:

  • Improve English skills
  • Adjust to the Lawrence community
  • Learn about American culture and customs
  • Socialize with other women from diverse backgrounds
  • Form lasting friendships
Hilda

Mavis Wiseman (left) and, Hilda Enoch (right), in 1998, celebrating the 30th Anniversary of Small Worlds. Picture edited from a picture in Lawrence Journal-World.

On May 11, 1998, when Small Worlds celebrated its 30th anniversary, the local newspaper, Lawrence Journal-World ran a story about Small Worlds. We invite readers to go there for further details about how Small Worlds got started.
To our question about Georgiana Torres also being instrumental in starting the Small Worlds program, Professor Andrew Torres wrote back saying:
Yes, Gee was involved with forming Small World[s], but the leader was Jack’s wife Hilda who has also been involved in helping the homeless, and many other civic affairs.  She and Gee have lunches together regularly. I sometimes join them and provide her with used tennis balls to throw to Flash, her dog. Hilda is a dear. 

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NOTES

(1) While at UDO, Professor Andrew Torres published two books in Spanish:

Prácticas para biología general. Editorial Universidad de Oriente, Cumaná, Venezuela, 1967,  ix + 75 pp.

Algunas plantas leñosas de Cumaná. Editorial Universidad de Oriente, Cumaná, Venezuela, 1968, 134 pp.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
José G. Álvarez Cornett (Twiter: @Chegoyo)
Member of COENER, the “Physics and Mathematics for Biomedical Consortium“, and the American Physical Society (APS). Alumni Representative before the School of Physics Council, Faculty of Science, Central University of Venezuela.

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