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Donald William Dodge
Bertha Dodge Diaries Dodge Family Photos
Note: Don first wrote his autobiography in the fall of 1937 as a class assignment when he was a senior at the University of Iowa. Then, many decades later, he typed another autobiography. The second one was ragged (he was 92 when he died), so I suspect that had something to do with its repetitions and lack of focus. Some events are repeated, and some things are in more detail in one document than the other Thus, I have not retyped that second autobiography. I have melded the two together in this document – Bonnie Dodge, Don’s daughter, February, 2017.

It was on a cold January morning that I, Donald William Dodge, was born: January 27, 1914, at 132 North Frederick St., Oelwein, Fayette Co., Iowa. My parents were William Jacob Dodge and Bertha Alice Buchanan, and they were of moderate means. Their parents were unknown to me. My father’s place of birth was unknown to me. I’m also unsure as to his occupation then. I know he once operated a grocery store with “Windy” Wandell and once had an agency for Dodge cars.

When I was about three, we lost our home in Oelwein. I think my father had borrowed money on it to invest, possibly in Montana land. I think he mortgaged it to Jake Schaum. Anyway, he couldn’t pay for it. I understand he got a job at John Deere in Waterloo. Our first house in Waterloo was a nice two-story attractive home at 404 Fowler Street. We lived there when the First World War concluded. It seems we lived there only a short time, possibly less than a year.

We then moved to an unattractive two-story house at 222 Beech Street. It was minimal housing. No inside plumbing, no furnace, no electricity. It was cold and bleak. I went to kindergarten in Waterloo. Dorothy, my sister, lived with us continually until long after we returned to Oelwein.

When I was five (1919), we moved back to Oelwein. I think we lived a short time in a rented house at the northwest corner of North Frederick and 6th St. Northeast. I recall that we lived there when the piano factory burned down. It was warm. Oelwein had no kindergarten, so the other kids my age were already in second grade when I started the first. I was always one grade behind others my age.

My earliest memories are, logically enough, of emotional extremes to which my childhood experiences carried me: the fondness for the huge collie dog we adopted, my great delight in a bag swing which my dad made for me, the jolly birthday parties of my own and neighborhood children, the ice cream cones and popcorn which I was occasionally allowed to buy from a vendor’s wagon with its jingling bell, and for the unpleasant happenings which I shall never forget. There was the time I ran a nail through my foot, the terrifying collision of my coaster wagon with a truck, and strangely enough, my first hair cut and resultant loss of my long blond curls.

My grade school experiences were very much the same as those of any average childhood. My interests were centered in the usual games of football, baseball, and marbles; my associations were fairly well balanced with both boys and girls of about my own age. Although I never skipped any grades, my marks were always very high, not because I was offered any reward for superior grades, but because I took pride in maintaining a better than average ranking in my class group. Except for the thrill of being presented with a fine new trumpet so that I might join the school band, none was greater than that I experienced upon reaching the age of twelve so that I might be eligible for membership in the Boy Scouts. This organization held my interest until I became of high school age, when I became associated with high school groups and Epworth League activities. Notwithstanding the fact that I was light in build, I went out nightly to take my beating on the football field and got a big kick out of it—it did not matter so much that I made only a second team letter.

As a youth it seemed that I was allowed to do almost as I pleased, within reason of course, but as I consider it now, I realize the apparent freedom I enjoyed was permitted me because the friends I chose and the things our group did were not, as a rule, outside the approval of the parental mind. Had I become associated with the wrong group, I have no doubt I would have had my mind changed very quickly. The usual spankings were administered to me only occasionally, nearly always by my mother, for I feared the more severe punishment my father might mete out and avoided mischief when he was about. Inasmuch as my father has always been an obstinate man by nature and my sister, seven years older than I, very much like him, quarrels were not infrequent between those two and my mother and me. One result of these experiences was that, rather than involve myself in arguments about the home over any differences which might arise, I kept quiet and avoided such difficulties by either settling down to a good book or by leaving the house to meet my friends some place. This trait, I know, is still with me, for although I invariably maintain my own opinion in my own mind, I avoid any malicious arguments by declining to comment until the point at hand can be treated in the light of logic and reason, in which case I will argue with anyone, if I consider my opinion more correct than his.

With the dark days following 1929, my father, who was a partner in an automobile agency, lost everything he owned and even had to assume the organization’s debts left when the other partner skipped town. I never had an allowance. I had to earn whatever money I needed. I was always selling something. My sister baked doughnuts which I sold out of my coaster wagon to neighbors. I also sold vegetables from our garden. I found many things I could sell in Salesman’s Magazine.

My mother had pains in her abdomen for quite a long time when I was about 16, but we could not afford medical attention for her. My sister had a lady friend who was an osteopath. He treated her with a liquid he claimed would dissolve her gallstones. Her gall bladder ruptured. My father’s credit was bad. She was taken to Mercy Hospital in Oelwein. A surgeon from Waverly operated, but she shortly developed infection and died a few days later. That was in October, 1931, my senior year of high school. A greater sorrow I have never known than the loss of one so irreplaceable. Soon after that, my sister secured a position as assistant advertising manager on the local newspaper, largely due to the influence of N.R.A. and my father returned to the occupation of his early manhood, that of cement contractor. To me fell the continuance of the household duties of cooking and cleaning, not by choice but rather through necessity.

When I was about 17 I had my first date, with Blanch Sinclair. She invited me to have a soda at the Ark Candy Kitchen. I did that, but nothing came of it. A strong influence on me was the fact that I had fallen in love with another student two years or one year my junior. Her name was Ruth Cross. I became aware of Ruth when I saw her at a basketball game in the Oelwein H.S. gym. She was with Kermit Shaw. I flirted with her and she with me. She lived with her brother Howard Cross and his wife. She told me her parents were both dead, though I was told years later by her brother Howard that was not so. I never learned why she lied about that.

Ruth called and invited me to an ice cream social on the lawn of the Lutheran Church. After the social I drove her to a parking place south of town. We parked and I kissed her. She responded favorably. Thus began a seven-year romance. We were constant friends and deeply in love. That was my last year of high school, so we saw a lot of one another in school. On July 1, 1932, after my graduation, we finally went all the way and gave in to love. It was utterly hopeless.

I was one of the first mid-year students. I was graduated in Jan. 1932, but the school board allowed us to go to grade 13B for an extra half year of high school. That was because the Great Depression was on and no jobs were available. I took some courses I had wanted but could never fit into my schedule. Physics and chemistry were two of them.

I had graduated from Oelwein High School with the highest grades of any boy in my class and at once began to plan to attend Cornell College, the school which my sister had attended, and was very pleased to have a personal visit of a Cornell representative who outlined how I might, for a minimum outlay, attend college there on a scholarship which they offered me. I did not know then that it would not be as easy as it sounded.

I collected bills for a plumbing contractor. On Saturdays I worked for Ned Richard’s grocery from 7 AM to 9 PM. My wages were a sack of groceries worth a dollar. I also delivered handbills for various merchants including some surrounding towns. On weekends I ushered in the Grand Theatre for free admission.

In asmuch as my attitudes and personality traits had always been those of my mother, in contrast to those of my father and sister, my mother’s death seemed to precipitate my desires to follow my own interests. The outcome was that about the time my father secured a subcontract for some paving work away from home, I had already accepted a contract to direct the Urbana High School band. Our band director at Oelwein H.S. was also director for the Urbana school band, 32 miles south of Oelwein. In June of 1932, when I graduated, he was leaving for a new job. He offered me his job in Urbana for $8.00 a week. I jumped at the opportunity, although I had no training or experience for the job.

I had about 65 students in the Urbana High School band, both boys and girls. The first chair clarinetist, Clell Hoon, was my helped at each concert. We did that the morning of the day of the concert. I used my dad’s 1930 Essex each time to drive to Urbana. After Clell Hoon and I selected the music for the concert, I had lunch at a café on the north side of a downtown street. Then I rehearsed the band in the gymnasium. I played trumpet with my right hand and conducted with my left hand. I had never done that before. The concert was played on a remodeled hay rack which was towed to the middle of a street in the center of downtown. It lasted about an hour. About twice I rented the ballroom on the third floor of the bank building for a dance after the band concert. I played the dance with my six-piece band from Oelwein. I had to pay rent on the hall. It was hot; few people came. I lost money, so I gave up.

The concerts in Urbana went so well I decided to organize a band in Oelwein and play concerts there too. I put together a 30-piece band from the high school band. I got permission from the school board to use their instruments and library. We gave concerts every Thursday evening in Rock Island park. I solicited and received the generous aid of local businessmen and approving residents. I collected 50 cents from everyone I could. I paid the band members 50 cents per concert if they also played the rehearsal. If not, I paid them 25 cents. I kept the rest of the money I collected. It was never very much. The most money I ever made with the band came from playing at the Fayette Co. fair in West Union. We played for the “free acts.” They were the acrobats and performers who entertained. I got more money for that than anything else. The concerts ended in August 1932. These positions were the source of the greatest pride to me, for I was only eighteen and very much interested in music, but at the end of the summer, I found that not only were my savings inadequate to see me through a year of college, but that I was needed to help my father in his work.

Reconciling myself to staying out of school for a year, I finished the fall working with my dad, returning home to use my savings to help decrease the family debt. Employment at home that winter was not to be found, so in order to put my time to good use, I enrolled in Ethel Cook’s Secretarial School in Oelwein to pursue the study of shorthand, working for my tuition by cleaning the school rooms, and in the evenings I attended night school for adults, taking a course in bookkeeping.

The following summer of 1933, I repeated my enterprise with the summer band concerts with even greater success and pursued a desire to play the piano by taking weekly lessons. At the end of the summer, I again found myself unable to attend college on my meager savings; once again I spent the fall on the paving crew, returning to finish secretarial studies. I graduated the next spring. I was then an expert secretary with 120 words per minute capability in Gregg Shorthand and 65 words per minute in typing. Another classmate (Isabelle Cook) and I got a job reporting word-for-word the Elk’s state convention proceedings in Oelwein. It was a very difficult job which took three days. Then it took about a week to transcribe all our notes and type the results. I was then available as an expert secretary, but there were no jobs.

My romance with Ruth Cross continued by correspondence when I was working away from home and blooming anew when I returned. Naturally enough I had thoughts of marriage, but one ambition, one determination, would never permit serious consideration or commitment on my part to that end. That determination was to go to college and establish myself before I ever accepted the responsibility of making a home.

Mid July of 1934 I had been trying for two years to find a way I could go to college, but even though I had scholarship offers, I could not find the money I needed to add to the scholarship offers to go to college. I had about given up hopes of going to college when an event occurred which changed my life forever. One day in July 1934 on a hot summer day, my childhood friend asked me to hitchhike with him to Iowa City. He was Richard Smith, Jr., who lived at 317 N. Frederick and was my closest friend. We visited the employment service at the University of Iowa, and I found that I could start to work at once, accumulating meals by washing dishes at the University Hospital. Overjoyed to think that at last my chance had come, I immediately took up my residence in Iowa City. It was July 22 that my sister drove me to Iowa City to begin the grand adventure of my life, going to college. I cheerfully worked my nine hours a day in slop and suds, thinking only of the end to be gained.

The fact that I was without proper clothing and had only $3.00 with which to begin my college life did not bother me until I found my application for fee exemption and part time employment had been rejected, as the committee explained to me when I appealed to them in person, because I had not sufficient funds to be able to stay in school for even a semester. So determined was I that I could do it, somehow, that they agreed to give me the opportunity as a “good scholarship risk.” Confidently, I felt my biggest problem solved, and during my first semester supplemented my board job and S.R.E. by selling neckties and occasionally playing in a student orchestra.

I had lots of countercard merchandise which I had bought to sell. Such things as shaving accessories, styptic pencils, bandaids, aspirin tablets, etc. I also had three AM radios and punch boards to sell. Gradually I sold off all that stuff. Then began the biggest single problem I ever had in college, how to get enough money to keep going. The need for money was constant. It was a daily problem.

Financial difficulties were only a small part of my worries in that freshman year, however. In spite of the fact that I took my studies very seriously, I found it exceedingly difficult to once again engage in concentrated study and was not aided in this respect by the fact that my living quarters in the Field House dormitory were anything but conducive to concentration, with seventy other fellows in one long room and only one overcrowded study section. My best friend (Don Johnson) and I moved across the street to the Quadrangle dormitory. That was much better for me though more expensive. For the next six years, I thrived. It worried me somewhat also that I was not in a position to take part in social activities on the campus, partly because I had not the time, but mostly because I could neither afford the date nor the clothes to appear neatly dressed.

Perhaps it was the latter deficiency that aroused my interest in selling tailoring for men. At any rate, it was very soon after that that I, in my orange corduroys and high school sweater, was making what seemed to be an effort in vain to sell such a line to my campus acquaintances. Without a suit of my own or even presentable quarters from which to work, I found myself handicapped to the point that I was about to return the sample line, by demand of the company, with only one sale to my credit, when I secured the order for ten sport suits from Cecil Golly and his campus orchestra. That day to me was the turning point of my early life, for it gave me that slim, oh so slim, toehold that was so essential to beginning an upward climb; it meant that not only would those earnings permit me to buy a new suit, but also that, armed with such a fine possibility for advertising myself and my line, I could persuade the students to give me their trade.

Truly this marked a new era for me. Soon I was able to buy a second new suit, shirts, ties, and other essentials. My supervisor in my work at the University Hospital began to notice me and very soon after that I stepped from the job of a typist to the position of cashier for that institution, working evenings, Sundays, and holidays. About that same time, I became interested in improving myself physically and began working out with the gymnastic squad at the invitation of one of my classmates.

Since the end of my freshman year, everything turned out much better for me than I could ever have hoped, considering that I never received any financial assistance from home, partly because of my own determination to make my own way and partly because of an insufficiency at home. In retrospect it seems impossible that I did it. It wasn’t easy. But somehow I just kept going. Determination had a lot to do with it. It took a lot of dance jobs, suit sales, odd jobs, and ingenuity. I quit my job as assistant cashier in the University Hospital. That meant I no longer got to eat free or had an assured monthly income. That income was never enough. I was always looking for something more. Somehow I always seemed to manage without going into debt. I never had a significant loan and completed my seven years of college free of debt.

My summers were spent working full time in the offices of the hospital. During the school year I utilized my spare time for my gymnastic activities, becoming Captain, and promoting my tailoring business, exceeding the $5,000 mark by my senior year. My interest in music was temporarily held in abeyance, except as a source of income as a member in a school orchestra, but I had every intention of continuing the study of the piano, solely for my own enjoyment.

Due to the particular demands of my employment, I was not able to spend more than three days at home at one time since I first came to the university. As a result, the only love I had ever known dimmed to but a spark and another took its place. This I consider for the best, inasmuch as we agreed that the years of separation caused us to grow apart and that, though we truly loved, we would no longer be compatible as life companions.

That I had to work for everything I had in school I shall never regret; I am sure that I am better off, not only for the experience I gained, but also for the initiative I was forced to develop. I tried to maintain a normal balance in my college interests, never losing sight of the social side of life after I once gained my footing. With the experience I had in meeting people in over-the-counter transactions selling my tailoring line and a thorough background of commercial studies, I felt ready to assume the responsibilities of a place in life when I graduated.

In 1938 I got my BSC degree and was a graduate accountant. Don Johnson graduated with me in accounting. In the spring of 1938 the two of us hitch hiked to Chicago to look for work. There were no jobs. And no one came to interview. I decided to stay in school where I could make a living. Law school seemed the best choice, so I became a lawyer. I got my JD degree in 1941. By that time I was about to be drafted. I had applied months earlier to be a special agent of the F.B.I. It was July when I finally got my appointment. Very worrisome waiting. I was to be in Washington in a few days.

The FBI training program was very intense but good. We went to classes.

Note: Don’s 1937 autobiography ended in the fall before he graduated with his undergraduate degree, and the second autobiography ended abruptly as he began to recount his FBI training. I believe he must have been writing this shortly before he died. Don went on to marry Martha Royer in 1941 in Baltimore, Md., where he was employed with the FBI. He had met Martha, a nursing student at Iowa, while he was in law school. His work took him to service in Tampa, Florida, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and Phoenix, Arizona, for the next several years, and two children were born: Dick and Donna. In 1946 Don left the FBI, and they moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where Don was hired as an attorney with the firm of Simmons, Perrine, Albright, Ellwood and Neff. He continued working for the firm until 1955, and two more children were born: John and Bonnie. Don left the law firm in 1955 and took employment with Collins Radio Co. (later Rockwell). He worked as a government contracts administrator until his retirement in 1981. Don maintained his lifelong love of music, playing piano and organ for his own enjoyment, and sitting in on trumpet with area musicians. He continued to play into his 90’s.

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