Archive for Sunday, November 7, 1999

RETIRED PROFESSOR LEAVING MARK ON LAWRENCE

November 7, 1999

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This is my opportunity to say a few words about one of the best people in Lawrence, one of the hardest-working and most public-spirited people in the community. His name is Walter Crockett, but I've never heard him called "Walter." He's "Hob," for his middle name, "Hobson," and now you know the name of the star of this column.

Hob and I have known each other for a long time, but I don't remember just when and where the connection was established. Probably through something at KU, maybe through the Lawrence Unitarian Fellowship, where he is a stalwart.

Hob is, of course, part of the university community; he retired about the same time I retired, a year later, my notes tell me. He was professor of communication studies and psychology and director of the Gerontology Center. There was a time, awhile back, when, in one year, he was head of the KU Retirees' Club (yes, that was its name) and sheriff of the Kaw Valley Corral of the Westerners. When I retired from my years in the retirees' Oral History Project he took over, and he's in charge of programs for the Unitarians this year.

Let me say that I've never seen anyone work as hard as he worked in these organizations.

Hob Crockett is a Kansan, born in 1921 in Strawn, which is now somewhere under the Redmond Reservoir down around Burlington. His parents were educated people, but, like many of our parents, they were hit by the Depression, and Hob went to school in several towns where his father had jobs: Ottawa, Great Bend, Burlington, Emporia. Hob graduated from Emporia High School, joined the National Guard, was in the infantry in World War II, and then in the Air Force. He met Helen, his lovely wife, and they were married in l943.

He was in the Air Transport Command, a pilot, flying cargo planes in India. There, he was overwhelmed by the poverty he saw. When the war was over he chose KU (he had gone to Emporia State for a time), and he received an A.B. in 1947, an A.M. in 1949, and went to Michigan for a Ph.D. He was in the Western Civilization program, then human relations and sociology.

As I read through his oral history transcript I was interested to see that one of his mentors was that grand man, Carroll Clark, professor of sociology. I was never in sociology but somehow Carroll and I became friends. He was interested in journalism and, if I remember correctly, music, especially jazz. Hob was an associate of two of the fine people of KU sociology, Jack Baur and Chuck Warriner.

He moved into social psychology out of a growing interest in how and why people behave as they do. Like a lot of us he and Helen lived in some of the primitive places of the town. He spent three years at Kansas State and became interested in civil rights and mental health.

He helped in integration of movie theaters, and he remembers, as I remember, how blacks found few places to eat and had to sit in the seats high in the theaters. He believes that Wilt Chamberlain and his athletic prestige had a lot to do with integration in Lawrence.

At KU, Hob did much research, taught social psychology, impression formation and statistics. He had sabbatical leaves in England, being associated with British universities. He and Helen developed a passion for travel and for elderhostels. It seems to me that they're often headed overseas, especially to England.

He won the Chancellors' Club Career Teaching Award, was on the Athletic Board for several years, and he's one intellectual who isn't ashamed of an enthusiasm for basketball. He's very active in the retirees, the Unitarians, and the Westerners. I was pleased when Helen told me she and Hob like the same TV shows my wife and I like, the ones about cops and lawyers.

Hob Crockett wouldn't be troubled to be identified as a liberal, even (especially) in the raging conservative climate today. All of his background points to being concerned with society and its problems, the poor, the victims of bigotry and powerful interests. OK, Hob?

He's a man with whom I have worked for many years, one whose humanitarian concerns have long been attributes to admire. He hardly seems retired, by the way, considering all the things he does, all of the concerns he voices.

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