Chuck Klaer…His Story
This is an update to what I wrote for my 35th Elmira Free Academy High School Reunion. Some may remember that my family moved from Ithaca and its schools to Elmira in 1959. Wow 45 years!
1962-1963 Cornell University Engineering and Government 1963-1964 Having found it difficult to spend 110% of my time learning calculus and chemistry and physics with the Civil Rights Movement and the Cuban Missile Crisis challenging every personal growth conversation, I joined Melvin Muckler on a journey of self-discovery that started off on a Yugoslavian freighter to Morocco. We spent the winter in Tangiers and the Spring in Northern Spain where we both perceived we could have gotten killed when the “Mary Stewart”, a 72 foot, 90 ton metal hulled sailing cargo
coaster we commandeered, floundered without power outside of Santander, in the Bay of Biscay, near the Isle de Mort. All of us were under 25 and inexperienced. The fright was so profound that, we all went our separate ways. My journey ended in Sweden. Worked my passage back to Boston with my motorcycle on a Swedish freighter.
1964-1967 Studied Political Science at Syracuse University with a focus on International Relations. African studies didn’t start till the spring, so I focused on South Asian studies instead. Got a National Defense Foreign Language fellowship to study Hindi and Indian Law at the University of Chicago during the summer of 1966. After graduation I applied to the Peace Corps for an assignment to India, but declined my first assignment because it would have sent me to a non-Hindi speaking area. A close friend Calvin Hennig and I took our two Honda 160’s to NYC and persuaded another Swedish Freighter captain to let us work our passage cum motorcycles to Europe. We traveled from Amsterdam to Paris through as many Swiss passes and valleys as we could on our way to Rome and Firenza, then on to Venice. Since 1967 was the first of the International Tourist years we headed down the Coast of Yugoslavia to Dubrovnic, then north through Mostar which had the beautiful bridge now destroyed. My high school French served both of us in Paris and throughout France. My high school German served us both in Switzerland and most of Yugoslavia, and I remember having a moving conversation in French in Mostar about how inspiring JFK has been. We continued on through East Germany to East Berlin, then to West Berlin and back to Bremen, where we finally worked our passage back to NYC again.
Upon my return I received a Peace Corps assignment to a Hindi speaking part of India. After training in Milwaukee, I landed in Delhi about Christmas. My site was Patiala, one of the ancient Punjabi cities. I loved India, but our assignment lost its purpose, so I tried to get reassigned to an Indo-Belgian fishing project near the southern tip of India. While waiting in Delhi for approval, I was offered an opportunity to be flown via Moscow to Sofia Bulgaria to drive a stranded Land Rover overland to India. The opportunity and adventure were marvelous. Even now I feel particularly fortunate since so much of the route. Turkey and Iran and Afghanistan are in so much turmoil that the opportunity for some other young person may never arise again. Secrets are hard to keep. The Peace Corps terminated my services once they discovered I had traveled to Communist countries. So I spent the next year working on the Indo-Belgian Fishing Project as their Marine Engineer transferring my motorcycle maintenance skills to the outboard engines the Belgians had donated to help mechanize crude Indian catamaran outrigger fishing boats.
The draft board began trying to halfheartedly find me. My 2-S Peace Corps status changed to 1-A, amebic dysentery got me a six-month 1-Y temporary disability deferment, while I worked on my conscientious objector case. I finally got my 1-0 Conscientious Objector status, but my draft board would not accept my work on the fishing project as alternative service, but when I got to Delhi I received a telegram from my father which said “Chuck a free man, Chuck a free man”. I still have it. I’d
drawn 356 in the lottery.
But, by then I’d decided that if I didn’t return to the States, I might never return, so I headed home via Burma and Thailand. In India, I’d bought a 1942 W.W.II Triumph motorcycle. It had girder front forks and no rear suspension. It had a top speed of about 45-50 mph which was plenty fast for Indian roads and traffic. It had given me the opportunity to explore most of the North Western India and some remote mountain valleys, I’d taken it on the train with me to Bombay then driven it down
the Western Coast of India through Poona to Goa, then on down the coast to Kerala and Tamil Nadu and the fishing project. So once I got to Bangkok, I purchased a Ducati 175. I drove it to Northern Thailand, then down through Western Malaysia to Singapore. I had to shave off my beard to get into Singapore. I arrived just in time for the Singapore motorcycle Grand Prix. I again joined up with the Ducati pit crew at the Kuwalalumpur Grand Prix on the way South. From Singapore, I drove up the Eastern Coast of Malaysia, then back into Thailand. I sold the Ducati to a Peace Corps Volunteer in Songkla, and then took the train to Bangkok. From Bangkok, I booked passage on another Yugoslavian freighter to Japan via Hong Kong. The whole deck was covered with water buffalo which were being transported to Hong Kong to be slaughtered. The freighter was stopped off the coast of Vietnam by the American Coast Guard. I remember chatting with a couple of young sailors who were deeply depressed because they had been called into shell some Viet Cong, but their shells had fallen short and killed a number of American soldiers. A freighter crewmember who had been horned by a water buffalo was transferred to the Coast Guard ship for better medical care. The stop over in Hong Kong was too short. I remember Japan as being rainy and expensive. The basic job opportunities were limited to teaching English. Somehow I got a job working on an American freighter as the “Day Man”. It was my first union job, and I actually made money working my way to San Francisco. Transported a car home via New Jersey.
Once I got home, the job market was poor. I got a job through a friend as a teachers aide in a school for delinquent girls in New York City, then a job selling vacation homes in the Poconos, then a job as a Chemung County Child Protective Caseworker back in Elmira. At the County, I met Maryanne Gridley whose father Jack, the then County Executive, had gotten her a job with the County. When Maryanne’s father took a position in Albany with the Wilson Administration, I moved in with Maryanne. Next I accepted a job with the State Department of Social Services in Albany. Maryanne moved up to be with me while working on her Masters in Public Administration at SUNYA. We’ve both stayed together in unmarried bliss since 1974.
At the Department of Social Services, I was fortunate to work on a wide range of programs. Starting in 1979, I became an active union member. I was a founding member of its Executive Board when the Public Employees Federation (PEF) broke away from the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) to form the largest public sector union of professionals in the country. I was a steward and Executive Board member for most of my 28 years with the State and even an unsuccessful caucus candidate for union president. From 1986 through 1992, I was the PEF Director of Professional Development Programming overseeing the expenditure of about $40
million in negotiated funds through a university without walls. From 1996 till my retirement in 2001, I worked in the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations on professional development programming for state employees.
Maryanne’s career has also been exciting and varied. Her Legislative track of the Masters in Public Administration Program got her a position with the State Senate majority party’s influential Finance Committee. Her Finance Committee experience lead to a position with the Office of the State Comptroller under Ned Regan where she was responsible for all of the State’s Bonding. She became one of Governor
Pataki’s top administrators as Secretary for Administration. From 2002 till her retirement this year, she was the Executive Director of the New York State Dormitory Authority.
In 1978, Maryanne and I went back to India for 35 days. Friends shared their scooters and motorcycles so we we’re able to explore all of Delhi and vast areas of Nepal followed by a six day trek. We were even able to visit my old haunts along the coast and the mountain tea plantations in South India thanks to another loan of a motorcycle. Since then she’s taken me to Morocco, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Guatemala, Paris and Brittany, motorcycling through Turkey, motorcycling through the Olympic Peninsula, Victoria Island and the Cascades of the Northwest, and recently to Portugal and Northern Spain.
It was a moving experience to revisit Puerto Chico in Santander where Mel and I had had our adventure. I finally found an aged fisherman who remembered when his fellow fishermen had rescued those damn American hippies in 1964. Unfortunately, he didn’t remember what had happened to the “Mary Stewart”. More recently we’ve driven the back roads of Ireland and returned to Germany to Schweigen founded in 802 by Charlemagne, the village on the French border from which my Father’s
ancestors migrated in 1840.
We live outside of Albany on a secluded two acres at the end of a 500-foot driveway. Our home provided us with a wonderful cathartic escape from busy careers. We have good neighbors and are fortunate to be surrounded by a lot of vacant land and border a wonderful wetlands enhanced by beaver. This year we’ve woken to at least 5-7 Great Blue Herons, 25 Canadian Geese, 5-8 Great White Egrets, wood ducks, grebe’s and bittern. Beyond the wetlands is the picturesque Helderberg Escarpment
including a view of Judy Bonney Slack’s house.
I find as I get older that I enjoy planting trees. Together we’ve planted more than 500 trees. I also “steward” the neighboring 22 acres. Since Maryanne and I met
we’ve had nine dogs. We currently have two. They make the sun come up or at least jump on the bed when the sun comes up. My father died in 1979. My mother remarried in 1988, at 78, to an old family friend, Rufus Miles, whose own wife had died from Alzheimer’s disease. Rufus, also 78, had been a career Federal Public
Administrator. He was the first administrator of the Civilian Conservation Corps Camps during the Depression and served under Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy with the Social Security Administration. His testimony before Congress persuaded Carter and Congress to create the Department of Education. Some of you may use “Mile’s Law” without knowing its origin. “Where you stand depends on where you sit.” Rufus died in 1996 in April. Through Rufus I picked up two wonderful
stepsisters, Barbara a year older than I and Mary a year younger. My natural sister Barbara (73) lives in Ithaca. My brother David (69) lives in Stamford. My mother,
who was one of my most scintillating friends died in February 2006. She and Rufus were one of the original couples to move into Kendal or Ithaca.
Maryanne’s father died in 1994 in August after a lengthy public service career starting as Chemung County Executive, then as a Deputy Commissioner with the Department of State, County Manager of Saratoga County, then returned to Elmira as Elmira City Manager before retirement. We’re grateful that the Chemung County Health Center was renamed in his honor. Maryanne’s mother is 84 now lives now near us at the Avila retirement center. She is currently recovering from a large intestine resection and weighing the pros and cons of chemotherapy. I was 63 in May, Maryanne 58 in January. We’re taking lots of vitamins and minerals and amino acids and Melatonin and DHEA so that we can live to 100.
I still have a motorcycle, a 1974 BMW 900. I drove it every day till about four years ago. In retirement, I took my four aging dogs with me everywhere. My excuses for not finishing tuning it and getting back on the road are losing credibility. In retirement, I serve a member of the Guilderland Zoning Board of Appeals and have recently become a Democratic Committeeman. I’ve been consumed with the catastrophic foreign and domestic policies of the Bush Administration and Climate, Environmental, Health Care and Debt issues. I’m persuaded that the next president will be titled the “Janitor in Chief”. With too much time to study the damage being done to civilization as I know it and hoped it would become, I work on a Janitor in Chief “To Do List” that at this writing is a five page single spaced list.