Our Man Gene

By Dean Adams Curtis

1930, Yellow Springs, Ohio. Gene Adams, the man who will become my grandfather, meets in the office of Antioch College's president Arthur Morgan.

Gene and Arthur have history. Gene was Arthur's office boy in 1916, in downtown Dayton, Ohio, in the brick five-story riverside offices of the Miami Valley Conservancy District. Before that Gene had worked in the library kitty-corner from the Conservancy, in particular down in the archives which is where Arthur Morgan often sent staff and sometimes went himself.

Arthur Morgan is an engineer and educator. He designed a massive flood control system to control the rivers that have their confluence at Dayton. He builds towns for the men working on the dams and levees and built schools for the children of the workers, in which he experimented with curriculum and teachers. Gene shares the same first name as Arthur Morgan, as his full name is Arthur Eugene Adams. His first day working for Morgan grandfather probably heard his new boss say, "Arthur! I can't be calling out my own name whenever I need you. From now on around here you are A. E. or Gene."

But that's getting ahead of our story. Around 1900, a newcomer arrives in bustling Dayton. His name is Harvey Freeze. He marries Della Huffman, who is a minister’s daughter from a branch of a well-known local family. Like Issac Adams, Harvey is a carpenter. The two men sometimes work together building houses.

In 1904, Issac Adams and Elva welcome their seventh child, Arthur Eugene Adams.

Then, in 1913, a great flood inundates Dayton, killing 360 people. Arthur Eugene Adams witnesses survivors being rescued in boats hurriedly built by the city’s carpenters and employees of the company National Cash Register. The rescued Dayton residents are taken up into the hills around the city, including the Walnut Hills of East Dayton, where Isaac and Elva eventually build a home for their large family. Later, in the years just prior to his teens, Arthur Eugene Adams works delivering ice blocks from a horse and wagon. Among the ice wagon’s customers are Orville Wright and his family. Harvey Freeze and Della build a house next door to Isaac Adams and Elva on Arbor Avenue in the Walnut Hills. Harvey’s daughter, Lois Freeze, has curly, sandy-brown hair and a lively, lovely persona.

Arthur and Lois become childhood sweethearts. During their teenage years, Lois works in a Dayton bakery and Arthur becomes a clerk in the downtown office of Arthur Ernest Morgan, the chief engineer who has designed, and is now overseeing the building of, the Miami Valley Flood Control District. The district is the first flood control agency in the U.S. Its work straightens river channels, creates levees, and constructs a system of dams funded by the flood’s survivors, the people of Dayton and the Miami River Valley. While clerking for Arthur Ernest Morgan, to avoid confusion between his boss’ name and his own, my grandfather, Arthur Eugene Adams, begins going by his initials, A. E., and also by his nickname, Gene.

Gene and Lois, the girl next door, are married in 1924. Meanwhile, Arthur Ernest Morgan accepts a job as President of Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, just east of Dayton. Soon, Gene follows his mentor, becoming a student at Antioch in 1928. Meanwhile, Lois works as a secretary at the college to help Gene pay for his tuition. The students of Antioch receive Liberal Arts undergraduate degrees that take five years to complete, because they spend one quarter of each academic year on coop jobs. Gene spends six months on a coop job at The First National City Bank of New York, which has been set up through Antioch College.

After Gene graduates from Antioch College in 1932, he is employed immediately by The First National City Bank of New York, the largest U.S. bank and the biggest commercial bank on Earth.

In early March of 1933, immediately after being inaugurated as President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt responds to a run on U.S. banks by their frightened depositors by declaring a bank holiday, closing all the nation’s banks for four days. Gene is immediately sent by The First National City Bank of New York to work alongside its lawyers in Washington D.C. to prove the bank’s solvency and negotiate with Treasury Department officials the terms under which the bank could be licensed to reopen. The Treasury Department needs more time to complete this Herculean task. FDR extends the bank holiday for the remainder of the week. The Sunday following the week-long bank closure, FDR gives his first “fireside chat.” Of FDR’s talk to the nation, humorist Will Rogers says, “He made everyone understand it, even the bankers.” On Monday, the people of America are lined up at their banks and soon redeposit half of the money that they had withdrawn during their earlier run on the banks. Late the next month, in April of 1933, Lois gives birth to identical female twins. One of the twins is my mother Joanne, who I am now driving with through Dayton. The other is my aunt Janet. Also in 1933, Arthur Morgan leaves Antioch College. He has been asked by Franklin Roosevelt to become the dam designer and trustee of the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Gene and Lois Adams settle into their new lives in New York City. On Sundays Gene likes to play tennis with one of his banking buddies. Lois, meanwhile, goes with her twins to the Presbyterian Church across the street from their apartment in New Rochelle, in Westchester County, just north of New York City. During the week she works at the same church as a secretary to the minister. The minister and his wife also have two daughters who are the same ages as the twins Joanne and Janet. Eventually, Gene becomes good friends with the Presbyterian minister and eventually gives up Sunday tennis matches in favor of sermons from his friend at the Presbyterian Church. On the job for The First National City Bank of New York, Gene travels the world, and also to nearby Armonk, New York, to meet with IBM engineers developing the first computer for installation at the bank. To cool the big hot computer, Gene harkens back to his childhood days delivering ice blocks, and refrigerates air by blowing it over blocks of ice.

Lois has loved Gene as far back as she can remember. She works at for Morgan Roberts at Antioch College to help pay Gene's tuition. Gene gets a co-op job at National City Bank in New York.

Lois and Gene move to New York City. They fall in love with the vibrant energy of the metropolis. Within a year Gene has completed his co-op work at National City Bank and also his Antioch College degree. He accepts an offer for a job at the bank. It is quite a blessing, as the Great Depression is getting underway.

Lois wants a baby, but is not yet pregnant. She is told about a physician with a new type of practice. She goes to see the fertility doctor.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt is elected president in November of 1932. On the day he's inaugurated, FDR declares a bank holiday to last an unstated length of time.

Lois gives birth to twin baby girls, Joanne and Janet halfway through Franklin Roosevelt's first "100 Days" in office. She doesn't have a strong constitution to begin with and giving birth to twins weakens her further. But she's overjoyed.

Its a transition time for the United States and also for the career of Janet and Joanne's father. Because Gene hasn't really settled in yet on any organizational responsibilities at First National City bank he's available to "pick up" on the new administrative laws and square the banks procedures with them.

This process involves working with the bank's attorneys and visiting with new agencies created in Washington, such as the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation), SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) and others.

Gene feels thrilled to be participating in such significant work. In 1933, FDR signs a new banking act. Its called the Glass-Steagall Act. It forces commercial banks out of the investment banking business by prohibiting financial institutions from both accepting deposits and underwriting corporate securities.

Gene's many trips to Washington while the new regulations are being "fine-tuned" causes Gene to miss out on much of the fine tuning of his twin baby girls. Lois misses him when he's traveling, but she loves hearing his story when he returns.

While Gene is in Washington D.C., he meets a provocative young woman from North Carolina named Connie, who works for one of the attorneys. What happens between them will be left to your imagination. Perhaps nothing happened except an unrequited love that blossomed in Connie's heart. Whatever the genesis of Connie's relationship with Gene, she will show up later in this story.

The FDR years continue. World War Two rages. Polio hits the President of the United States and thousands of people across the nation, among them some of the children who twins Joanne and Janet play with. But the twins are spared.

After World War Two, Gene installs the first mainframe computer in the bank that will eventually evolve its name to just four short, snappy letters, Citi.

Gene goes to Philadelphia to observe the manufacturing of the first generation vacuum tubes used by the fledgling computational device. The computer is installed on the second floor of a new building that will house the bank on Park Avenue. Refrigeration pipes and equipment is installed under the floor to cool the mammoth computer.

Lois and Gene rent an apartment in the six story Parklane Apartments of Mount Vernon, at the corner of Lincoln and Columbus Avenues, directly across from the First Presbyterian Church. Gene isn't much of churchgoer. He plays tennis every Sunday with his friend Jack from the bank. Jack takes Gene and the twins out on his boat moored at the Echo Bay Yacht Club.

As the girls grow up they often visit their father at the bank and then go for a lunch of sole almondine in the city.

Meanwhile, Lois is progressively getting weaker. Friends from the bank arrange for a woman named Betty Blue to come to NYC from Lima, Ohio to be Lois' private nurse. She moves into one of the Parklane Apartments.

Gene develops a friendship with Reverend Melvin Joacham, who the twins call "Uncle Mel." Gene and Lois take the girls to the First Presbyterian Church across the street from the Parklane Apartments to listen to Uncle Mel preaching. Lois becomes best friends with Gayle, Uncle Mel's wife.

When the twins are in high school they are a singing duet that are in high demand for parties. They dream of becoming professional singers. They go out to Echo Bay Yacht Club with friends and play kissing games like spin-the-bottle.

When the twins turn 16, Gene suggests that they go out to "The Beehive" in Mount Vernon. Gene asks if they'd like to invite Dolores and Twyla, the daughters of Gail and Uncle Mel. "Yes Daddy! Yes!"

They are joined at "The Beehive" by four additional girls and eight boys, to make a total of 16 teens, the magic number they are turning. Afterward, Gail and Uncle Mel throw a great party at their home.

Eight months later, in January 1949, Janet and Joanne have their friend Dory over to spend the night. That evening, their mother Lois dies.

Lois' life ends in New York, 45 years after her birth in Dayton, Ohio. Joanne suddenly feels abandoned, overwhelmingly alone, combined with a frightening sense that she's falling into a dark pit after being punched in the chest.

The next morning, Janet and Dory go to school, but Joanne isn't able to. She faints twice, the first time her head comes dangerously close to smacking hard on the bathroom tile. Fortunately, her mother's nurse Betty Blue is at home with her.

A memorial service for Lois is held in Mount Vernon. Janet and Joanne cry through the entire service. After the service, Gene and the twins take the train and Lois' body back to Dayton.

At one stop, someone tells Gene "They're taking the casket off the train." He leaves the twins and makes sure his wife's body makes the entire trip home.

Another service is held at Dayton's Memorial Park Cemetery. Joanne won't get out of the car. Janet tries repeatedly to get her sister to participate. Joanne can't do it.

At the wake, Joanne's unable to eat. Gene and one of his sisters flies back to New York with the twins. Its their first airplane ride. Joanne and Janet hate the flight. They develop a life-long loathing of air travel.

Back in NYC, Joanne and Janet gradually grieve their way through the intense pain from the loss of Lois and go on with their high school social lives. They think that Betty Blue has designs on Gene. A lot of women do.

Within months, when the twins are away visiting with relatives, a woman camps herself on the front doorsteps of the Parklane Apartments. Its Connie. She has left her job in Washington D.C. When Gene arrives home, she tells him she wants his help getting a job in NYC.

The twins come home and form an immediate dislike for Connie. They ask Gene not to marry her, giving him a list of reasons they consider valid and important.

"You'll learn to love her," Gene tells them. They never do. Connie doesn't like the twins much either. She engages in power plays, like forbidding Gene from going to high school football games to see the twins as cheerleaders.

Joanne and Janet graduate from high school in June of 1950 and get ready for college. Joanne is initially interested in attending Heidelberg College in Ohio, where her friend Dolores is going. Gene wants the twins to go to Antioch College. The twins Uncle Mel and his wife Gayle drive Janet and Joanne Adams to the Antioch campus.

Janet studies Early Childhood Development. Joanne studies Early Childhood Development.

Janet also meets and weds an Antioch College student named Clark.

Janet and her husband have a son they name Keith.

When I'm born, he'll be my cousin. Neither of us will ever have the privilege of knowing, or being loved by, our departed grandmother Lois.

Several years after Lois’ death, Gene marries one of the women from the Presbyterian Church, Dr. Ruth Harris, whose medical specialty is childhood liver diseases. Dr. Ruth Harris advances in medicine to run the pediatric liver program at Columbia Presbyterian Children’s Hospital in New York City.

The First National City Bank of New York evolves to become the banking group now known as Citi. Around this time, Gene leaves the bank to do international project work with the U.S. Presbyterian Church.

In the years that follow, Gene and Dr. Ruth do good things around the globe. For example, one day Ruth arrives to review the pediatric program at Brokenshire Hospital in Davao, on the Philippine Island of Mindanao. On the day she arrives, the hospital, and the entire street in Davao where it is located, burn to the ground. Gene arrives, sees the situation, then flies up to Manila, hires a hospital architect, and returns to Davao with him. They work with the hospital staff to draw up plans for a new hospital. Gene and Ruth then fly back to New York City with the blueprints for a rebuilt Brokenshire. He works out a way to fund construction with matching funds from German, United States, and Philippine protestant churches. A new site on a hill is donated by the Church of Christ, and the new hospital is built. Grandad believes human development can be pushed as effectively by for-profit ventures as by tax funded handouts, so in 1976, with John Coventry Smith a former head of the World Council of Churches, Gene starts the Emerging Economies Corporation to promote human development. It is a for-profit company that gets recommendations from church missionaries about what business investments would most benefit local populations. EEC invests in then fledgling companies, like Sam Yang Foods in South Korea, a nation struggling economically at the time. One venture has the first female general manager in South Korea. Ruth provides medical care to Korea orphans UPI business writer LeRoy Pope writes an article about my grandfather. My brain repeats a part I memorized from it: “EEC seeks to make investments, sometimes comparatively modest ones, in underdeveloped countries that will create jobs, give the workers part ownership in the business, earn a profit and do something to meet the needs of the poor, solve a local nutrition, health or housing problem. It insists on a progressive point of view.” Gene and Ruth raise two daughters. Their eldest daughter Lois goes to Columbia’s Barnard College, and thereafter to work as an editor in various New York City publishing houses.

Their younger daughter Roberta follows her father and her older twin sisters, my mother Joanne and Janet, in attending Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Roberta follows in her mother Ruth’s footsteps to become a pediatrician, then specializes in pediatric oncology.

So having introduced all Gene's daughters, hold on a minute, I'm getting ahead of the story again.

Before attending Antioch College, Charles "Chuck" Curtis works various jobs, as a life guard, in Waterloo, Iowa, as well as for his city's largest employer, Rath (hog meat) Packing Company. After high school, he heads for Antioch. He likes the school's co-op education policy. At Antioch, Chuck rides a motorcycle, teaches diving lessons, takes flying lessons, and works as the manager of the Antioch College Bookstore...where he catches Joanne's eye.

Joanne and Chuck begin spending all their free time together, until Joanne feels she can't imagine her life without Chuck in it. They marry and go together to Chicago and Detroit to work on co-op jobs. Chuck's drafted into the Navy. After boot camp at Great Lakes Naval on Lake Michigan, he's stationed in Washington D.C. as a photographer's mate first class. Joanne becomes pregnant.

Nine months later, on May 9, 1956, she gives birth to me at Bethesda Naval Hospital, a place commissioned by FDR, that also provides medical care to ailing presidents.