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Archive for Sunday, February 14, 1999

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February 14, 1999

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This column is about George Baxter Smith and Oscar Haugh, two men I like and admire very much. Every time I write such a column I remember the Kansas University faculty member saying to me (rather snidely, I thought), "I always read your column in the Journal-World. That way I know who your friends are." I told him that I believed I should write about people while they're still around to read what I've written. He nodded.

Well, George Smith and Oscar Haugh are very much around. They seem pretty spry to me, considering that they're some years older than some of us who don't feel spry. Each of these men, and I hope they won't mind the word, is an "institution." They are veterans of the university, people who made great contributions to the school many of us revere.

Both these men are men of wit. I miss those times when I'd be walking across campus or into Strong Hall and George Smith would come over and tell me the latest story. And I think about seeing Oscar Haugh at the student union pre-Christmas open house. He was looking at books, and I went over and said, "Hey, Oscar, here are the gay/lesbian books." "I've read 'em all," he said, without looking up.

I've known Smith and Haugh as long as I've been in Lawrence, I guess, and that's almost 48 years. You probably know them. No one could have been at KU in the Smith-Haugh years without being aware of these two men.

Both are Minnesotans, and George and Marge Smith have a home up by Lake Superior. It boggles my mind, to be truly trite, to realize that George Smith was born in Minneapolis in 1907. Yes, 1907. He went to grade school and high school in that city, received bachelor and master degrees from the University of Minnesota, and the Ph.D. from Columbia. That was about when I was in the ninth grade.

He coached at a high school in Illinois, and he worked as a consultant, and was at the University of Buffalo and the University of Iowa. He came to KU in 1941. If you want to focus on that date remember that '41 was the year of Pearl Harbor. He was in the Army in World War II, received the Purple Heart, graduated from the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. (Yes, I went to his vitae; I didn't just know all this.)

Mainly, of course, he was dean of the school of education and then was vice chancellor for all those years. That's when some of us got to know him. I remember him best from the year I was acting dean of journalism, when I went to Strong Hall to meet with him, Ray Nichols and John Nelson on budgetary and promotion matters. That was the best promotion committee I ever saw, and I was on university promotion committees two different times.

George Baxter Smith never seems to age. He and Margie live at Brandon Woods. Every time I see him he has something new to tell me, often news about his neighbor in Minnesota, my journalism friend Charlie Pearson.

Oscar Haugh, as I said, also is a Minnesotan, born in 1909 in the town of Hallock, brought up by his mother and sisters after his father died when Oscar was only 5. He received all his degrees, all three, from the University of Minnesota. He taught school, coached and developed interests in both education and English.

Like George Smith he was in the Army. He came to KU in 1950, became a full professor and retired in 1979. He was the language arts man in the School of Education, a man of absolute integrity when it comes to how the language is used. He received the HOPE award, he wrote textbooks, he did much research.

We got to know Oscar Haugh and his wife Rita, in part, as I remember, because their daughter Rita (Little Rita, they called her) and our daughters Carolyn and Kathleen were friends. Carolyn and Rita were in school together through high school. Rita was one of the best students I ever had. The girls lived together when they taught school in the Kansas City area, and when they moved from their apartment Oscar and I rented a van and hauled all the furniture and the like back to Lawrence.

We have enjoyed knowing the Smiths and the Haughs. I hope that when I am as old as they are (if I get that far) I'll be as vital as they are, and have as many friends as they have.

-- Calder Pickett is a professor emeritus of journalism at Kansas University. His columns appear on Sundays in the Journal-World.

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