Quite a Life: Bob Struble, Sr. (1899-1967)
written by his son,
Bob Struble, Jr.
in 2002 after
with his daughter, Almeda Campbell
to edify his six grandchildren
Dear Daniel, Donna, Katie, Michael, Paul, Rob
Your grandfather’s family background is, like his
life, remarkable. In 1748 Dietrich Strubel, a farmer and stonemason [your
great-great-great-great great grandfather], left Albig, a suburb of
During the warlike reign of
When Dietrich moved from
For much of his life, my Dad [your granddad] was
involved in politics--no surprise in that he claimed a fairly illustrious
political ancestry. During the American Revolution, Daniel Struble, Dad’s
distant uncle, [Dietrich’s fifth son] had served under Gen. George Washington
The older brother of Isaac the Congressman and George the judge, Dad’s grandfather, John T. Struble, left no record of political activity that I could find. But financially he did well as a farmer and breeder of pedigreed horses; also as a road contractor and builder. John owned and developed more than a square mile of land three miles outside Iowa City, IA. In c.1852 he settled the place and named it “Woodlawn Home.” John was active in fraternal circles and a founder of the Eureka lodge, I.O.O.F. In 1854 he married Sarah E.V. Snyder (1835-1926), daughter of the superintendent of construction of the old state capitol building. Sarah and John T. Struble had eight children, the seventh being Dad’s father and my grandfather--George M. Struble (1873-1955).
George M. Struble had worked for the Rock Island RR as a brakeman, but lost his arm in 1899, when he fell under the wheels as he was jumping from car to car while the train was in motion. A sad young man in his mid-20’s, I’m told they provided a church service of some kind for him and for his amputated arm, presumably when they buried it. The same year saw a happier event, the birth of my Dad, Bob Struble, Sr.
Born June 17, 1899 Dad spent his first eight years on his grandfather’s extensive estate outside Iowa City, IA where pretty much the whole extended family lived.
Dad’s mother, the former Mary Ellen O’Brien (1875-1958) was a 2nd generation Irish American and English teacher who married grandpa on Jan. 19, 1896 [possibly at Coralville or Montezuma, Iowa] with Fr. Donahue performing the ceremony at St. Mary’s Rectory.
Dad’s parents in later years.
Alas, that blessed event gave rise to family troubles, in that John T. was decidedly anti-Catholic. I can remember tearful stories about how Dad’s mother had to walk miles to Sunday mass in Iowa City because her father-in-law forbade her to use the horse and buggy for the purpose of attending any such “papist” gathering. Neighbors would pick Mary Ellen up when they happened to see her walking the country roads to church, but eventually word got back to John T. that the situation was making him look mean spirited, and finally he relented on the transportation issue. Yet hard feelings persisted and led Dad’s parents (along with Grandma Julia O’Brien) to migrate westward in 1907--their destination, Spokane WA, a town about which the Strubles knew little, except that it had a Catholic college run by the Jesuits. At that time there were three children. Dad, age 8, was the middle child between his two sisters, Lois, 10, and Julia, 4.
In Spokane the next five years saw the birth of Mary and Jean, the youngest of Dad’s sisters--also sisters in a religious sense. Both became nuns, each serving some 60 years as Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (SNJM).
Dad graduated from St. Aloysius grade school and attended Gonzaga Prep, Spokane’s Catholic High School. He never finished high school, however, a fact that he preferred not to advertise, notwithstanding that the deficiency did not hold back a career so drastically in his day as it would now--the inability to produce a high school degree being a major liability today.
He was very quick and bright in school, though not always so diligent in homework. Dad remembered challenging at least one Jesuit religion teacher on points of Catholic doctrine, not out of any real skepticism, he insisted, but rather for the fun of playing the devil’s advocate and fencing intellectually with his teacher. On a separate occasion, a certain Jesuit took Dad to the office for some opportunity to reflect on the errors of his ways, but the priest was called out just before he could administer any corporal punishment. He locked the office door with the admonition, “wait here; I’ll be right back.” Although on an upper floor, Dad went out the window and scaled down the wall.
In order to get into WWI [c. April, 1917?] Dad may have had to fudge about his age. Dad was awarded a Purple Heart for shrapnel wounds he received in his shoulder while in France. His main service was in the ground crew for the “Flying Circus,” 161st Aero Squadron, US Army Air Corps. Almeda gave me a wonderful photograph of the squadron posing in front of a hangar in 1919. Once he talked a pilot into taking him up in his plane, and so Dad could honestly say he flew a war plane over France during WW I. If I remember right it was a Sopwith Camel; I’m not sure of that, however, since in fact the Camel was a single-seater of British design.
One of the legacies of the first World War was Dad’s aversion to mutton [sheep meat]. Under no circumstances whatsoever would he ever eat it during the years I lived with him. The wartime rations featured mutton on almost a daily basis, and Dad told me that he had vowed he would never endure a bite of mutton after he got out of the Army. WW I also decided him against dentists. The experience of having an Army dentist pull out an abscessed tooth, using a pair of pliers and without novocaine--or any other form of pain killer--was a traumatic experience that rushed back to his memory whenever anyone suggested he have his teeth worked on. By the time Dad was sixty, his teeth were in pretty sad shape; still, no dentist, no way!
In 1919, some months after the 11 AM armistice on 11/11/1918, he took a troop ship from France to the East coast of the USA, then a military train across the country. He wired his parents with the train schedule. As the troop train lumbered slowly through Spokane en route to Ft. Lewis, his mother and his sister Lois had come to the station to welcome Dad back into the country, but they were at a loss to see how they would recognize his face through the windows of scores of packed RR cars. Then in the distance, toward the end of the train, they saw a car with a soldier hanging out from the stairway between two RR cars, and as it got closer, sure enough it was the homebound doughboy, Bob Struble. He waved to the ladies from the moving train; my grandma and aunt Lois joyfully returned his salute. At Camp Lewis [now Ft. Lewis] he was mustered out of the U.S. Army and returned home to Spokane.
Years later I would coax Dad to tell me old war stories, but he would never get into descriptions of the combat. There were terrible memories, he said, that he preferred not to recall. Occasionally Dad would get a phone call from a corporal who served with him in the First World War, but that was about as close to reminiscing about combat that ever came my way. He did tell me that while alone on night watch, he once passed the time reading Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles by the eerie flicker of a campfire, and how the dread of the place heightened the spine-tingling quality of the book. My memory is a little dim, however, on whether or not that was WW I.
One day on a Spokane street corner, Dad was leaning against a lamp post when an agent approached him about a possible acting career. Almeda remembers the story this way: “Dad had just returned from the war, there was a big parade downtown for the returning soldiers--that is when he was leaning against a telephone pole, smoking a cigarette, and looking very handsome---when a talent scout approached him about going to Hollywood.” Their money problems notwithstanding, Dad’s mother made sure that nothing ever came of that idea. God forbid that her son be corrupted by Hollywood style ethics and morals!
Before America’s entry into the First World War, Dad’s father had enjoyed some prosperity with his own saloon in Spokane. When prohibition went into effect in 1920, all saloons were ordered closed, and the Struble family hit hard times. For a one-armed man to get work was not such an easy task.
The Struble family moved to a Boone Ave. duplex that still stands near Gonzaga University. In 1921, Dad’s brother George, Jr. was born. To support six kids [two boys, four girls] Dad’s parents were compelled sometimes to eke out a living in a manner to which they were unaccustomed, i.e. menial work. For Grandpa, the world gave few breaks to a one-armed man. These were the days before anyone ever heard of state-mandated considerations for the handicapped.
Sometimes to get coal for the furnace that kept the family from freezing during the cold Spokane winters, Dad and his sisters would gather up the spillage from coal trucks. Once Julia scrubbed the inside stairway of a nearby home, but after she worked her way down to the bottom step, she accidentally spilled some water on the rug. Julia had to report with sadness to her parents that the money they were counting on had been withheld because of the spill.
Two jobs Dad took in the post WWI years involved driving truck. A milk truck job ended when Dad ran into a parked car while looking back to admire a girl on the sidewalk. Dad was skillful behind the wheel of a car, and proud of it. After the milk truck incident, insisted Dad, there were no collisions for the rest of his life. I myself never went to driver’s school; Dad was my teacher.
The other truck-driving job was on a frozen lake for a commercial firm that cut ice blocks. First the surface of the lake had to be swept of snow, a two man job, with one man steering a large plow blade pulled by a truck. Dad drove the truck, and after they had scraped the snow into piles around the lake, they couldn’t resist a little diversion. Dad would speed toward a mound of snow and when his partner plowed his blade into it the fluffy snow would fly. What fun! And no harm done—yet. The young men neglected to take overnight freezing into account, and shortly after dawn when Dad’s friend hit the first pile of snow at thirty miles per hour, the mound didn’t move. The blade went airborne, gyrating wildly from side to side, and hurling the unfortunate steersman out onto the ice. Dad was relieved to find his pal’s injuries not so serious after he regained consciousness.
Sometime in the post-WWI years, Dad had a brief stint in semi-pro football [left half-back] for the Coos Bay All Stars, an Oregon club. His playing weight was 128 pounds, and he stood five feet, nine inches tall.
About the same time Dad embarked upon a short boxing career. He had six professional fights, winning (he recollected) all six by knockout in the 2nd round. In one fight Dad was knocked out of the ring in the first round, but climbed back in and won the fight. His opponent was so seriously hurt that Dad was worried for his opponent’s life, and told me what an awful feeling it was.
To advance his budding career as a prizefighter, Dad approached a friend in Spokane, Jimmy Catrell. One of the leading welterweight contenders for the world title, Catrell would have been a good mentor, or so Dad thought. When told about Dad’s dreams for a boxing career, Catrell invited Dad to work out with him in the ring and demonstrate his prowess. Dad said that Catrell proceeded to demolish him in the workout; whereupon he advised Dad to hang up his gloves once and for all. Disappointed, Dad complied. Eventually he grew to be grateful to that Spokane pugilist for what he realized was one of the kindest and wisest bits of advice that he ever received.
On July 4, 1920, Dad married Inaz Dorman before a Justice of the Peace in St. Maries, ID. One of the bridesmaids lived there; which may account for the location. Dad and Inaz were together for about 20 years and had one child, Almeda, who was born on April 25th, 1921.
In the mid-1920s Dad got his first steady and well-paying job. For the next several years he was a top salesman for Gillette Safety Razor Co. For a while the family lived in Butte, Montana. Dad was very personable and made lots of acquaintances and friends. It was a job he like to talk about.
Once while driving [in Eastern MT?] on one of the long and lonely routes for Gillette, he picked up a hitchhiker. Soon he thought he discerned something shady about the man, and sometime later his suspicions were confirmed: he had picked up a prison escapee! In the meantime the guy whom Dad suspected of being dangerous was sitting beside him in the car. Dad sought to deter any violence against himself, by telling the passenger how well known a salesman he was, and how many people expected him to appear more or less on schedule. In other words, if anything happened, Bob Struble would soon be missed. Whenever he passed through a small town Dad would wave at perfect strangers who would usually wave back politely if somewhat confusedly. He would then tell the passenger fictitious details about his friendship with these people. This strategy may well, Dad felt, have prolonged his life.
Grandma and Grandpa
Struble with their six children, 1926.
Note the center part in Dad’s hair
About 1929 or 1930, the Great Depression ushered in hard times. I’m not sure what happened to the Gillette job, but millions of Americans got laid off. Finding a new job was near impossible; a few job openings might attract hundreds of qualified applicants. Dad, Inaz and Almeda, along with another family they knew, were compelled to take advantage of a government relief program. It involved camping out on government land somewhere in the Hoodoo mountains of Idaho, due east of Lewiston, near the Montana border. Each family lived in small tents, just big enough for 3 sleeping bags. They did have a campsite with an outdoor table and fireplace. Dad panned gold and hunted game to support the family for the summer. The government gave the families grubstake, i.e. supplies like bacon and certain necessities, to last the three summer months of the campout.
Dad would add to the grubstake by shooting pheasant. He was so proficient as a marksman that he could shoot a bird’s head off with a 22. The advantage was twofold: 22 cartridges were much cheaper than shotgun shells; also Dad’s method did not ruin any meat as does shot from a 12 gauge. Once he killed a porcupine but in cooking it they failed to remove a certain gland that made the meat so foul smelling that not even the neighbors’ dog would touch it. There were a few other people with houses in the woods, but they were at quite a distance except for the one family that shared the Strubles’ campsite. The Autumn weather, and Almeda’s schooling, required them to return to Spokane in September.
Economic hardship ruled out dental care, and Almeda still remembers tooth aches where there was not much she could do except endure. Despite the austerity, the family had fun and enjoyed life. Sometimes the three Strubles would pile into Dad’s old coupe and take off singing at the top of their lungs. Two songs Almeda remembers were Alice Blue Gown, and Sweet Adeline.
Dad had a gyroscope, which he watched by the hour, as it went back and forth on a string. From that he got the idea for an auto-pilot for airplanes so they could fly by instruments in foul weather. I have several diagrams in my files dating from c. October 1929. [see appendix]
Dad became friends with the Boeing test pilot, Elliot Merrill, who thrilled Almeda with a ride in his open cockpit plane. But Dad lacked the financial backing to market his invention effectively. Still, Dad did establish a firm, R.C. Struble & Co., to promote his invention. He sold stock in the firm, with the proceeds helping to support the family during the Depression.[†] A slightly variant version of the auto-pilot achieved commercial success for someone else.
At one time the family had to live with Inaz’s parents in Spokane. Then Dad got word of some jobs under jurisdiction of the PWA surveying for the Grand Coulee Dam project. Although he had no knowledge of survey techniques, he checked a book out of the library and applied his agile mind to the subject. He fibbed about his qualifications, got the job, and did fine work. Once while on the job surveying, a rattlesnake struck at his leg. Fortunately the fangs hit the area protected by his boot.
During the surveying job, the family lived briefly in Northport but mainly in Almira, WA where they rented a house in town. The facilities were primitive, with no indoor bathroom, and pranksters who sometimes overturned the outhouse. Almeda remembers joining with other Almira kids to hitch rides over to a nice creek in the area where they would swim to beat the heat of a hot eastern Washington summer. Uncle George remembers that Dad shot a fat jack-rabbit and drove it from Almira to his parents’ place in Spokane. The feast was a disappointment because they included sage in cooking the meat, and it turned out the rabbit had been eating the sage around Almira. The scent of sage was so strong that the family party had to go vegetarian.
It may be that Dad learned marksmanship during WW I. In my memory he was always a crack shot. One day we drove some back roads west of Spokane. I rode shotgun--or rather held the semi-automatic 22 Winchester, model 74, which Dad presented to me on my fifth birthday [and which still graces my wall]. We drove slowly along a dirt road, with the windows rolled down and Dad intently scrutinizing the fields. Suddenly he stopped the car and whispered, "give me the gun.” Without leaving the driver’s seat he fired twice and announced matter-of-factly that he had killed two gophers. I looked but could see only brush and dirt. “Get out of the car and I’ll direct you where to go,” he said. “A little left, a little further on.” Sure enough, there lay both gophers, right where they were so unfortunate as to catch Dad’s glance. He had keen vision, especially at a distance, with a sure aim and a steady pull on the trigger.
Hunting nearly cost him dearly on at least two occasions. Once he was crawling through some brush, and when he emerged another hunter was standing in the clearing with his gun trained on Dad’s head. Fortunately the hunter was prudent enough not to fire blindly into the bushes at something unseen. Another time Dad and Mom were driving a forest road and a man fired and hit Dad’s car. Apparently the bolder-brained hunter was inclined to shoot at anything that moved. The bullet passed under Dad’s arm at an angle and under Mom’s legs, lodging in the passenger side door. For years Mom kept the lucky bullet on her key ring.
Here is Dad in his Cletrac showroom
Earlier, during the Depression, Dad got a well paying job as the chief salesman for Cletrac [Cleveland Tractor Co.], in Lewiston, ID . He, Inaz and Almeda rented an apartment in Lewiston [for a while at the Lewis and Clark Hotel]. Dad was active in the Lewiston branch of the Elks Lodge, a fraternal organization. Meanwhile, Uncle George recalls, Dad played horn in the American Legion Band. He was a quick study, but like most anything else, if you don’t use it you loose it. Dad had also taught himself the “Good Gravy Rag,” the only genuine composition he ever learned to play on the piano. But by the time I was old enough to witness his keyboard technique he could only manage the introduction, and I saw nothing to indicate that he had ever played the horn.
In Lewiston Dad made good money, and was able to afford an apartment in town as well as a cabin in the vicinity of nearby Waha Lake. On Saturday nights there were dances in the Grange Hall, and Dad, Inaz and Almeda would dance up a storm. Almeda and Inaz would stay at the lake during the summers, where they kept their three horses. During visits to Lewiston as a boy, Uncle George remembers the big horse that Dad rode, named “Dick,” and one of the other horses, “Brownie.”
Almeda got to know horses in another context. Dad had a connection with rodeos, and in the Summer of 1939 he promoted the first rodeo held in Seattle. Sponsored by the Washingtonians, the rodeo was held at Civic Field during the Seattle Golden Jubilee Potlatch, July 26-30.
Almeda and Dad at rodeo
It should come as no surprise that Bob Struble’s daughter got used to riding horseback in rodeo parades, was featured as the Seattle rodeo Hostess, and turned up as Queen of the Fisher Flour Mill float. Dad liked to make his kids feel special.[‡]
In 1939-40 Dad’s rodeo office was in the swanky New Washington Hotel [today’s Josephinum] on 2nd Ave. and Stewart St., downtown Seattle. The family was living on Capitol Hill in Seattle [1620 14th Ave.] with Almeda a senior at Immaculate Conception High School. She describes Dad as very protective; sometimes her girlfriends had to beg, cajole and even flatter Dad before he would relent and let Almeda go out with the girls.
It might have been while serving as manager and arena director for the Seattle rodeo that Dad started making political contacts. He got his first political job as deputy coroner under King County Coroner, Otto Mittelstadt. He disliked that job; particularly he hated picking up the human carnage after auto wrecks. Uncle George recollects that Dad transferred briefly to a job with the Seattle police department; then again to the Washington State Land Commission in Spokane.
But when Pearl Harbor propelled the country into WW II, Dad wanted to be part of it, notwithstanding that he was in his 43rd year, way past draft age. He had gotten to know then Congressman Warren G. Magnuson (D) well enough that Maggy secured a commission for Dad as first lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Dad and his younger brother George, left Spokane for military service about the same time. Uncle George remembers it being January or February, 1942. A Spokane newspaper ran an article with the headline, “Struble Brothers Off to War Duty.”
During the war Dad served in the CMP or military police, [650 MPEG Co., O-461576]. In the MP’s he served as Provost Marshal, Company Commander and Army Security Officer.
Dad’s official WW II photo
He trained hundreds of Civilian Auxiliary Police, teaching them, among other things, judo, the martial art. Dad recalled how he sometimes marched German prisoners to the cadence of eins, zwei, drei, vier. He recounted how pathetic the theories of racial superiority appeared at the time, as the bedraggled and demoralized Germans he oversaw “sure didn’t look like any master race to me.”
When Dad died my mother got a posthumous flag and certificate of honor signed by the President of the United States:
“This certificate is awarded by a grateful nation in
devoted and selfless consecration to the service of our country
in the Armed Forces of the United States.”
Before he went into the War, Dad’s first marriage had ended in divorce. While he was living in a bachelor apartment at the Westminster in Brown’s Addition, a neighborhood in Spokane, a political friend introduced him to Francis Ruth Cowan (1921-1999). This was perhaps a year before Dad reentered the army. He and Mom were married in July, 1942.
Dad’s army barracks were near Elko Nevada. Mom had been five months in an apartment in Reno [134-1/2 Bell] when she checked into Washoe County Hospital. Some 16 hours later, on June 7, 1943, Dr. Lynn B. Gerow delivered Mom’s firstborn, yours truly, Bob, Jr. She and Dad would have one more child, Mary Charline, born May 20, 1949. Dad’s three children--Almeda, Bob, Jr., and Mary Charline--were born over the span of 28 years.
Here I am perched on Dad’s shoulders
After wartime service in the U.S. Army, Dad returned to civilian life. Although he had risen to the rank of Captain, he was by disposition never cut out for a peacetime military career--too much regimentation and the interesting opportunities came too slow. Dad was able to capitalize on his army record in the military police and land a job as deputy Sheriff in Spokane County. A plainclothesman, he proved to be the county’s ace detective and solved a number of intriguing cases, earning numerous write-ups in the Spokane newspapers, quite a number of which I have in my files. His office was in the beautiful Spokane County Courthouse which still dominates the skyline to the north side of the Spokane river.
His most publicized investigation earned front page headlines in the July 31, 1946, Spokane Daily Chronicle. The next morning The Spokesman-Review intoned, “Deputy Sheriff Struble Nabs Trio in Taxicab:”
“Two missing teeth and the alertness of Deputy Sheriff Bob Struble led to the capture yesterday afternoon of two men….Struble was driving downtown in a sheriff’s car when the description of the thugs came in over the radio. He noted the general description and also that one had two upper teeth missing….He stopped Police Officer Carl Luecken, who came by in a police car….The officers parked their cars and searched the neighborhood. They came upon [three suspects] just after they had entered a taxicab in front of the Tijuana beer parlor. ‘I opened the door and asked one to show me his teeth,’ Struble said. ‘When he opened his mouth I saw two teeth were missing as in the description. The grip was between his feet. When I asked him what was in it he put his feet over it. I hauled it out of the cab onto the sidewalk while Luecken stood guard. A .32 caliber revolver in a holster and considerable cash was in it.’”
I myself was very young and can personally only remember two incidents connected with Dad’s job as chief investigator. Once we were riding in Dad’s unmarked car somewhere east of Spokane, and he received a radio report about an individual who had been injured. We stopped and picked a man up who had blood all over his face, but was conscious and able to get in and sit beside me in the backseat of the car. Another time while we were driving I begged and cajoled Dad into turning on the siren, but he only did it once and refused all further entreaties. He didn’t want to lose that job. In the post-war years, however, the position of deputy sheriff paid so poorly that regrettably he had to resign as Sheriff’s detective so as better to support the family.
Dad had a saying. “If it weren’t for the necessity of making money to buy beans, there would be a lot of interesting things in life that you could do.” My own experience, however, is that the necessity to make money has been the bit and bridle with which Divine Providence has guided me into work that I would never have chosen but for the basic necessities--what Dad called beans. The financial imperative led me into jobs that turned out to be genuine vocations.
Years later Dad would describe the Sheriff’s department as the most enjoyable work he ever did. He liked being a kind of Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot, deriving satisfaction in solving cases by observation, deduction, and quick thinking under pressure. During July, 1950, the newspapers heralded Dad as a leading contender for the position of Sheriff. Somehow, however, after giving it “serious consideration” he never threw his hat into the ring.
Although he was often prominent in electoral campaigns Dad never did run for elective office. Instead he managed campaigns for others. In 1952 he managed the successful eastern Washington reelection campaign of Attorney General, Smith Troy, and simultaneously the gubernatorial campaign of Secretary of State, Earl Coe. But Coe changed his mind before the campaign got very far, and decided to stay put as Secretary of State--much to Dad’s chagrin as expressed in newspaper interviews. Dad then jumped to the Al Rosellini campaign, managing his eastern Washington effort in 1952. Rosellini lost that year but won in 1956.
After that victory, according to Dad, Rosellini, the former state legislator, now Governor, changed his loyalties from old comrades to elite political insiders. Although I remember seeing the pre-gubernatorial Rosellini in our home, now the new Governor wouldn’t even return Dad’s phone calls. In fact Governor Rosellini actually tapped Dad on the chin hard enough that it stung during the inaugural ball of 1961. The story is somewhat lengthy and convoluted but it goes like this:
Dad was a life-long conservative Democrat, although during the last few years of his life the party started to lurch so far leftward that Dad found himself at home with conservative Republicans. It wasn’t that he left the Democratic Party, but that it left him. Yet because Dad was neither a John Bircher nor an outspoken ideologue; he attracted friends and political allies across the political spectrum, from left to right. In my files is a letter of reference from a well known arch-conservative of the day, Ashley Holden, longtime chief political editor of the Spokesman Review:
“The bearer of this letter, Mr. Robert C. Struble, has spent years in various lines of public service. He has been a deputy sheriff in Spokane county and also an employee of the state for many years. I have known him to be reliable, trustworthy and responsible in every respect. He possesses a wide and intimate knowledge of political affairs and is a firm believer in the two-party system. He is a firm foe of all left-wing groups and subversive organizations, regardless of party labels. It is my belief that Mr. Struble will render loyal service in any capacity to which he may be assigned and that his devotion to duty is unquestioned.” Respectfully, Ashley E. Holden
By 1964 the Democratic party had drifted toward socialism under LBJ and Dad voted for Barry Goldwater, but he kept the fact secret, or tried to, even from me. At the time I was moving leftward, so that in politics, as in a number of other things, the gap between us was widening. In the hospital during his final days in the summer of 1967, Dad and I had our last political conversation. Ronald Reagan was in his first year as Governor of California and already being touted for the Presidency. Dad was one of his earliest supporters.
With this in mind it is easier to understand why in 1960 Dad had backed Lloyd Andrews of Spokane, the Superintendent of Public Instruction; also the Republican candidate for Governor of Washington State. [Andrews has been described as the last true conservative to hold statewide office in Washington]. Andrews had to run against Gov. Albert Rosellini, the incumbent whom Dad had come to regard as a betrayer and political foe. Lest Dad have to surrender all the connections he had accumulated in the Democratic Party for more than two decades, or give up his non-partisan job in state government, it was arranged that he work quietly behind the scenes as Andrews’ “unofficial campaign manager.”
Going into the Fall campaign all the polls showed Rosellini trailing Andrews. Fearing “a slip twixt the cup and the lip,” Dad advised Andrews to refuse the Governor’s debate challenge. The Governor’s idea was to parallel the first Presidential debate, the now historic Kennedy-Nixon Presidential debates of 1960. Andrews didn’t want to look cowardly so he stepped like a lamb into the wolf’s lair. I’ll never forget the anguish in Dad’s heart as we sat watching television only to see Rosellini chew up a woefully unprepared Lloyd Andrews in the statewide debate. The Governor had a desk full of papers and statistics which he rattled off while Andrews sat with his hands folded and no support material whatsoever.
It was one of the great disappointments of Dad’s political life. The family had such high hopes and it pained us all to see them dashed. With my admission to Notre Dame I was ready to head for South Bend as a freshman the following Fall, but now there would be no high paying post under Gov. Andrews, and therefore no way to secure the tuition and the dorm fees. [In those days there were no student loans and ND was very expensive]. Andrews lost by an average of but 3 votes per precinct, and few observers doubted that the disastrous first debate made the difference.
Anyway, to return to the point indicated at the outset of this story: Somehow, perhaps as an influential Democrat, Dad got an invitation to the inaugural ball in Olympia, early 1961. The Governor was reveling in his reelection and came dancing by Dad who was standing at the edge of the circle of dancers. Rosellini and his partner stopped. “I hear you were Lloyd Andrew’s campaign manager,” said the Governor. Dad replied coolly, “No, but if I had been, you wouldn’t be here.” With his closed fist Rosellini clipped Dad not so lightly on the chin and danced away. I asked Dad why he didn’t retaliate, and he said that Rosellini was the Governor, with all the cards stacked in his favor in the event of a confrontation, whether physical or jurisprudential.
In the years 1948-60, it seems Dad had several political irons in the fire every election cycle. In the 1946 campaign he worked tirelessly in conducting Jack Taylor’s successful campaign for State Land Commissioner. Taylor was a long-time political crony of Dad’s, and after the campaign Taylor rewarded him [1949?] with the post of State Land Inspector, a post he held until Taylor’s defeat in 1953. Jack and his wife Jinny remained family friends for the rest of Dad’s days and befriended Mom for years after Dad’s death.
The friendship between Jack and Dad contradicts JFK’s maxim that in politics you have no friends, only allies. Of course if anyone could break this rule it was Dad. Bob Struble was quite a likeable and personable fellow. Lot of people befriended him; he was generous, smart, and interesting to talk to; or as his sister, my Aunt Mary, once told me, “he was sure a nice guy.”
One of his good friends was Lou Tice--football coach, founder of the Pacific Institute, and one of Dad’s pallbearers. Some 30 years after Dad’s death I was attending a faculty seminar where Tice was a featured speaker. In the course of his address he digressed on how profound an influence Bob Struble had made in his life, and how on his deathbed Dad had told Mrs. Tice that one of his chief regrets was that he wouldn’t be around to see Lou Tice fulfill his potential. To me, sitting in the audience, this was a revelation, in more than one way. Because at no time did Dad indicate to his family that he knew he was dying. We knew, and evidently he knew, but strangely none of us dared say so.
Another of Dad’s close friends was Harry Robertson, who worked for Dad on the state land commission. He and his wife, Ella, were close to our family. Long after both Harry and Dad had died, Ella remained a family friend. Likewise with another political associate, Harvey Anderson, and his wife Paradene. For a good half-century, until Mom’s death, Paradene remained a family friend. Similarly with our neighbors, Charlie and Vi Welch. Charlie was a full-blooded Blackfoot Indian, and a mathematician professionally.
Another of Dad’s good buddies was Leonard Gottschalk. Leonard was the husband of Mom’s sister, Betty. Long after Betty and Leonard divorced, Dad and Leonard continued a close friendship until death severed the bond. Dad and Leonard were both avid fly-fishermen. Years later they used to tell me about going fishing at Deep Lake and how you couldn’t miss. Dad claimed that he caught 52 trout that day. He tried to teach me to fly-fish but somehow I never caught his knack.
Another time Dad went angling with Harvey Anderson and Charlie Welch and the trio did so well that it made the sports page of the Spokane Daily Chronicle, [5/30/1950, p. 11]:
Dad also loved singing and dancing. As a teenager I was little interested in social graces, and Dad figured a few dancing lessons at home in our downstairs recreation-room might be helpful. When I made some sophomoric, disparaging remarks about dancing, even suggesting that there was something sissified about the practice, Dad took personal offense. “You’re not calling me a sissy are you? I’ve liked dancing for most of my life,” said he, with enough challenge in his demeanor that I hastily backed off.
There are many old songs that I can still play on the piano because I heard them sung again and again at Struble family gatherings. Aunt Jean would accompany on the piano while the rest of the clan sang. Fortunately Dad acquired an early version of the tape recorder in 1949 so that many of those family sessions can still be heard.
With his siblings, Dad was fairly close, especially with his younger brother George. Although George was 22 years Dad’s junior, the two brothers had a long friendship. As Uncle George puts it, Dad did lots of interesting things in his life, but there were occasional gaps in their companionship because his brother’s life and various jobs were “hard to keep up with.” Like Uncle George, Mom was also 22 years younger than Dad, but their marriage always remained a love relationship. Until her own passing a third of a century after Dad, Mom remained a widow and never remarried. She told me that he was too hard to replace.
Dad had a personality that was not easily forgotten. When I was in college I went on a double date. The four of us were visiting at the home of my buddy’s girlfriend. Her mother started asking me questions after she heard my last name. It turned out that she and her husband had lived downstairs from Dad, Inaz & Almeda long before I was born. They used to play cards perhaps a third of a century previously, and the memory all came back to her as soon as she heard the Struble name.
Dad was also quite a teaser, going back to 1919 when some of the returning doughboys had time on their hands. Dad and his pals found a full-dress ball underway and couldn’t resist an impish prank. They opened one of the windows and sprayed the guests inside with the garden hose, then ran like antelope with a man in formal attire in hot pursuit.
One of Dad’s most extraordinary capers was done while he served in the King County coroner’s office prior to WW II. His job gave him access to the morgue and Dad enlisted his cousin and good friend, Max Krause [the famed football star]. A certain acquaintance whom we’ll call JD was selected as the fitting target and the prank went like this: Dad offered JD a tour of the facilities and when he came into the morgue Max was lying on one of the slabs with a sheet over him. “Want to have a look?” Dad asked. JD was reluctant but Dad egged him on, and when Dad pulled back the sheet, Max sat up suddenly and shrieked, “let me out of here.” JD went white as a ghost and started clawing frantically at the nearest wall in a frenzied panic to get out. To their shock and chagrin Dad and Max realized how ill considered their gag was.
This was not the only practical joke that Dad regretted. An earlier antic with Max on which he would reminisce with regret was as follows: A revival meeting was in progress. He and Max staged a healing, Max being equipped with crutches. After Dad took the stage and delivered a faith healing sermon, Max threw away his crutches and began loudly proclaiming that he had been miraculously made whole. In youthful insensitivity they made sport of people’s gullibility, but by the time I was old enough to hear this story, Dad expressed remorse for what seemed like fun at the time.
As the older man I knew, I think Dad became more religious, though he kept his spiritual life pretty much private. During the twenty years between the time I reached the age of reason until Dad’s death, I never knew him to doubt or deny his Catholic faith, though he was sporadic in practicing. At mass he always preferred overflow congregations so that he could stand in the back of the church. He would go to one knee during the consecration, and to this day when I do likewise it brings back memories of Dad and me in the back of the church. But when our parish in Seattle [Our Lady of the Lake] built a large new church building, the ushers chased Dad into a pew and so he went to mass rarely. Christmas and Easter were crowded enough that he could count on being able to stand in back where he was more in his comfort zone.
Dad with his siblings and parents, 1946
Dad asked his sister, Julia, and his brother, George, to serve as my godparents on July 31, 1948, and arranged for the Rev. John F. Fahy to baptize me at St. Joseph Church, which was near our home in Spokane on Sharp (or Shannon?) street. I once asked Dad a typical “what if” question: What if I had died before the age of five and gone unbaptized into eternity. “We’ll you didn’t, did you?” he responded. At twelve I reached the age when Catholics took the sacrament of Confirmation. For my confirmation name I chose “Joseph,” the same name that Dad had taken during his boyhood. I asked him how he felt about that, and he said it indicated that just as we were linked by a common name in this world [Robert] so it would be between us in the next world. Generally I had difficulty getting Dad very deep into a conversation about the subject of religion. When I myself experienced a serious faith crisis in my early 20s Dad forbade me to discuss the matter within hearing of his mother lest, said he, I should upset my Grandma. Nor did he care to discuss it much himself.
My mother was not officially Roman Catholic, though she attended Sunday mass regularly during my boyhood. A marital obstacle [her previous marriage] prevented the Church from conferring the Sacrament of Matrimony on Mom and Dad. The invalid status of the marriage was no doubt another reason that Dad’s mass attendance was inconsistent, insofar as he could not receive Holy Communion. On his deathbed, at the old Maynard Hospital in Seattle, Aunt Mary arranged to have a “gentle priest” hear Dad’s confession.
Years before he told Aunt Mary that he prayed every day. He was, I think, a basically religious man who preferred to confine his public confessions of faith to oblique references, generally of a humorous nature. For example when the subject of error--someone else’s or his own--came up, he had a ready saying: “there was only one perfect man and they crucified Him.” Or when the subject of the eternal, or death arose, he would smilingly observe, “this world, the next, and then the fireworks.” I’ve thought a little about what he meant by “fireworks.” I don’t think he anticipated hell as his eternal destiny. What then? Maybe fireworks as a sort of New Year’s celebration in heaven?
I do know that Dad had a high regard for the clergy, especially Jesuits, and that he never expressed anything contrary to the choice by his two sisters, Mary and Jean, to enter the convent.
During his years in television he occasionally encountered celebrities. When he became acquainted with the world class band director and pianist, Carmen Cavallaro, he persuaded the star to put on a private recital [gratis] for the nuns at our parish [St. Francis of Assisi] in their convent on Spokane’s north hill. The sisters were thrilled, of course. Cavallaro came to our home as well where I played a selection for him! Dad introduced me to Peggy Lee, and the reigning Miss America for 1954, Evelyn Ay. But when the homosexual pianist, Liberaci, came to Spokane Dad declined introducing him to the family.
At the gut level Dad felt repugnance and revulsion for practicing homosexuals. The so called gay liberation movement had barely started when Dad died, but I do remember a television news report featuring a pro-homosexual demonstration. Dad became visibly angry and made reference to his service in both world wars where he had fought, said he, for no such thing. I think he was disgusted personally by cultural license; also, like more than a few members of “America’s greatest generation,” taking it as a betrayal of their sacrifices. On such matters I’ve long been solidly in Dad’s camp.
I have inherited some good and bad things from Dad. At the top of the good list would be my Catholic faith. Also his numerous maxims, that he repeated often enough so that I still remember them today and recite them to my classes. One example among many would be, “if its worth doing its worth doing well” (a principle I’ve tried to apply to this biography). Another positive legacy would be his good memory. He once won an elocution contest at the age of 10 with the poem whose first verse I have recited many times for my students:
“Knowledge is good for boys and girls, or at least so the teacher says,
And teacher is right, knowledge is good, for boys, girls, and men.
Oh, but a goodly sized stock of ignorance, comes handy too now and then.
Sure, its nice to be smart and answer up quick, when the minister comes to tea,
And get the geography questions all right, and bound the Caribbean Sea,
But if he should ask who stoned that black cat, or stole those apples last Fall,
Then knowledge is the worst thing on earth, and it’s best to know nothing at all.”
One of the bad things I inherited would be Dad’s rocky relationship with my mother’s family. Another would be his temper. I have a photograph of Dad in the early 1950s sporting a large bandage on the side of his head, covering a wound he received during a fistfight.
The flip side of combativeness was raising me to be proficient in the manly art of self-defense. He told me once [no doubt for rhetorical effect] that he would never punish me for getting in a fight, unless, that is, I lost the fight. Nonetheless he refused to teach me more than a few basic moves in judo [which he had taught in the army to his MPs] for fear that as a youth I would use the techniques irresponsibly.
Even in his 50s and 60s Dad packed a powerful punch with his right hand, as I myself am able to confirm from vivid memory. Dad believed in corporal punishment [one of the Biblical principles I’ve applied to my own kids] but when I outgrew the spankings he would back me into a corner and deliver a blow--sometimes several--right to the shoulder. I was a spirited kid, and needed firm discipline; thankfully Dad was there, able and duty-bound to provide it.
While at Holy Cross in Tacoma (1956) this 8th grader got caught up in the Elvis mania that was then sweeping the country. Dad was anxious that his son keep his appearance straight and clean. There was to be no slicked-back hair style with the dovetail in the back a la Mr. Presley. So the first thing I did each morning after Dad dropped me off at school was to visit the boys’ room and restyle my hair. At the end of the school day I would change it back. One day the chickens came home to roost when Dad came into the school building with a book or some item I had left in the car. I can still visualize the look on his face when he encountered me on the stairway--alas I had just fancied up my hair.
There was no need for corporal punishment. Dad had something better in mind. When I got home, there was Mom equipped with electric shears and an empty chair ready for me. A decade later I was away in college at San Diego State and my hair had gotten a bit radical. But when Mom telephoned from Seattle with the terrible news about Dad’s cancer, I returned at once to see him off on his final voyage. Mom knew how Dad would react to the sight of my hair, so she drove me straight home from the airport, and with those same shears gave me a conservative haircut before taking me up to the hospital. Someone in the family told me that Dad expressed satisfaction about my grooming.
My table manners are another credit to the upbringing I got from Mom and Dad. Mom was gentle, Dad was the enforcer. The last time I ever reached across the family table without asking someone to pass the plate first, was when Dad, waiting the opportunity to break a bad habit, laid the prongs of his fork on the back of my hand. The repetition of that mistake never seemed to me a viable option.
Dad put a lot of stock in breeding. “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sows ear,” he used to say. He would sometimes make it a point to interview a prospective employee over lunch so that he could observe his table manners, which Dad took as an indicator of quality, or lack thereof, in a man’s upbringing.
Once several of Dad’s political cronies were having lunch. Included in the group was Smith Troy, Washington’s Attorney General. A newcomer to the group was proving himself to be quite the namedropper in hopes of impressing Dad and the others. His dreadful error was in carrying on about how well he knew Smith Troy, unaware that the A.G. himself was at the same table. It may have been Dad himself who politely offered an introduction: “I wonder if I could introduce you to an old friend, Mr. Smith Troy.” According to Dad the man was speechless and embarrassed beyond measure.
An idiosyncrasy I inherited from Dad was his loathing for standing in lines. He would never go to movie theatres, because of the lines. During the Presidential campaign of 1960, JFK came to Seattle and at first Dad refused to go because he didn’t want to be just another bystander in line and part of the herd in the audience. But I begged, beseeched and pleaded until finally he relented. The two of us went to a large hall to see John Kennedy speak.
Two years later the World’s Fair came to Seattle. Although I worked there and would have been glad to usher him through the turnstiles, Dad had to enter with a flair. He told his young football coach friend, Lou Tice, to put on a bold face and follow him. As they walked past the guard at the service entrance to the fairgrounds, Dad flashed his billfold and announced, “special police” without breaking stride. The guard made no move to stop the two men. Why take the risk? So Dad and Lou could walk in without tickets and, above all, without standing in line. Dad definitely had a bearing about him. So did Lou Tice.
I can still remember that imposing bearing as Dad marched into Blanchet High School during the Fall of 1959. A half-hour beforehand I had telephoned Dad’s office with the news that they were holding up my life membership in the National Honor Society because of uncertainty about the progress report in one class. About an hour after Dad was through lambasting the Principal, Fr. John Doogan, and the vice-Principal, Fr. James Mallahan, the Dean of Studies, Fr. David White, arrived on the football practice field. Fr. White called me to the sidelines to let me know about the arrangement that had been worked out. I would be admitted to full membership at quarter’s end.
For once Dad pressured me to keep my grades up for the duration of the quarter, which indeed I did in order to complete the deal. Usually Dad was pretty relaxed about grades, just telling me to do my best, whether that meant “C” grades or better. As it turned our my grades in high school were always “B” or “A”. My academic motivation was high, and suffered little if at all from Dad’s laid back attitude on the matter of grades.
Five years after admission to the NHS I made the mistake of offering Charlotte--a certain girl friend whom Dad never liked--the honor of wearing my high school honor society pin which, before long, she managed to lose. Dad didn’t care much about the pin, but it meant a lot to me. I should have listened to Dad about Charlotte! I made up for the loss in college by earning membership in Phi Alpha Theta, the honor society in History--awarded a year after Dad’s death.
Dad was never content to just let events take their course if there was some way he could turn them in an advantageous direction. This quality too I owe to him. For example when Blanchet High School came due for state certification, Dad arranged for Lloyd Andrews, the Washington State Superintendent of Education, to visit the school in person, rather than send a subordinate. The administration was grateful to Dad, and quite deferential to me as a student, thanks, perhaps, to a little stratagem Dad worked out with Lloyd Andrews. He told Andrews to be on the lookout for me, and instructed me to emerge from the library and shake hands with the Superintendent as he toured down the school hallway. Andrews played his part well and conversed with me familiarly while the Principal, Fr. Doogan, stood looking on. Later, Fr. Doogan wrote a letter of appreciation to Dad.
One of my best teachers was Paul Treckeme whose “Contemporary World Problems” was among my favorite classes. After I described this excellent teacher to Dad, he made friends with Mr. Treckeme, invited him to our home, and was impressed enough with him that he offered him a government job. This did no harm to my situation in the class.
Also the Blanchet head football coach, Mickey Nash, visited Dad in his office and elsewhere. But Dad’s plans sometimes took unexpected turns: another of the coaches, Don Zech, ended up with a nice job each summer as a government project inspector, the very job Dad arranged for Coach Nash.
Dad’s competitive nature is another plus that I inherited. He was an excellent billiards player, but had no interest in pool. Billiards is to pool what chess is to checkers. Moreover, the billiards crowd is quite a bit more classy. Dad excelled in the 3 cushion variety of billiards.
During the 1950s he became quite active in playing chess. He finished ninth in the Inland Empire Chess tournament, despite only taking the time to study a single book about the strategy and tactics of the game. His mind was very quick--quicker than mine but not so speculative and methodical. I remember accompanying Dad to the home of a gentleman (who had the strong scent of spaghetti on his breath) for an evening of chess. Dad would make his move and then converse with the man’s wife in the kitchen while his opponent pondered his move at length. Dad won most of the games while in transit between the dining room and the kitchen. In our own games my slow, careful play would drive him to exasperation. “Move, for crimony sakes, will you please move, ” he would plead.
When I was a freshman in college Dad and I made an agreement to play at least one game of chess each day. I soon got tired of constantly losing. So I checked out a few books from the library and studied the game methodically. Six months passed in which Dad won every game without exception. But my study was paying off and the games were getting closer. I can still remember Dad’s graceful compliment on the day of my first victory. Dad had inspired me to do what was necessary to excel; by 1965 I had won a trophy in the Washington Open Chess tournament. In 1993 I coached my team to first place in the Washington State chess championship.
Good sportsmanship was a quality that Dad greatly admired. I think it was because he was blessed with a noble nature. Not in the aristocratic sense, but noble in the ethical sense. He had no aversion to cutting corners in order to achieve a strategic advantage, but his purposes were high. He had a visceral dislike for base activities like lewd conduct, pornography, and homosexuality. He died six years before the infamous Roe v. Wade decision, [abortion on demand] but I’m sure he would have seen it as an abomination.
Dad’s favorite periodical was True Magazine, a popular publication for men which specialized in real-life adventure stories. He didn’t read many books; I do remember urging upon him Francis Parkman’s The Oregon Trail, a history which he read and enjoyed. He preferred non-fiction, and read the daily newspaper thoroughly, but from back to front--an odd habit I did not inherit. Dad insisted that the newspaper remain unopened and undisturbed until he had read it first. On his resume submitted in 1957 for his last job he listed the following hobbies: “Chess, billiards, hunting, fishing and reading.”
Dad’s sense of humor was habitual but moderate and discriminating. In my college years my humor would sometimes be of the insolent, condescending type and he would crack not so much as the hint of a smile. But he was willing to laugh when a joke was at his own expense, depending on the nature of the joke.
I thought he took it kind of hard, however, when my sister Charline and I worked out a set of signals so that I could tell her, unbeknownst to her opponent, where to move her chess pieces. By then I could usually outplay Dad. In chess Charline was a pushover for Dad--but not this time. As usual he was playing her casually, taking mercy on the poor girl, until suddenly his position began to look precarious. He got serious, but too late. I can still remember him after the game, sitting in his easy chair looking quite forlorn, while trying to hid his feelings of disappointment at the crushing and inexplicable defeat. Maybe he thought that he was losing it mentally. We took mercy and let him know how he had been duped. I don’t think he so much as chuckled. But he did look relieved.
Dad enjoyed lots of games besides chess. For decades he and Leonard Gottschalk were rivals in cribbage. When I visited Dad in his 5th floor office at the old Orpheum Building in downtown Seattle [on the site now occupied by the Weston Hotel] I would occasionally find him and John Murphy, his assistant, engaged in a round of cribbage. They worked hard and played intensely during slack periods. I can remember Dad and Uncle George, aunt Lois and Grandma Struble, playing a foursome of bridge until the wee hours. During his leisure at home he would often resort to solitaire to pass the time. Almeda describes how as a young man he used to pace the floor and rehash possibilities over and over when faced with a problem. When he played solitaire it served the same purpose--Dad was thinking about two things at once.
When television came into our lives, Dad used to listen regularly to the Gillette Friday night fights. When Ingemar Johansen of Sweden challenged Floyd Patterson for the Heavyweight championship of the world, we followed pre-fight developments with keen interest. I can still remember that evening in 1959 when Dad and I went wild after Johansen knocked out Patterson in the third round with one devastating right hand. But during the year before the rematch Ingemar proved to be quite the playboy and Dad took a disliking to him. He was glad after the 2nd fight when Patterson knocked Johansen unconscious.
At the Knights of Columbus annual gridiron banquet in my junior year of high school, a local sportscaster (Bobby Grayson, I think) gave the keynote address. Notwithstanding the presence of Archbishop Thomas Connely the speech was laced from beginning to end with off color comments and outright dirty jokes. Regretfully, no one had the nerve to check the speaker midway, but after the banquet Dad was irked and indignant. He considered the speaker tasteless.
From the time I was five, Dad and I used to listen religiously to Notre Dame football on the radio. We would whoop it up when the Fighting Irish won, and commiserate when they lost. Dad loved football, passed his enthusiasm for the sport on to his son, and as I grew to share his fervor for football he loved the game all the more. We were two of Norm van Brocklin’s biggest fans, the famed quarterback of the LA Rams and later the Philadelphia Eagles.
When I got good enough in high school football that I had preference on my game jersey number, of course Dad and I wanted Van Brocklin’s number, [in those halcyon days I consulted Dad on everything] and so I wore the Dutchman’s number 11. During my four year of high school football Dad not only attended all my games, he attended all—repeat, all—the practices. No other Dad was there every day, probably because most of the dads had to work a schedule and didn’t enjoy the luxury of my Dad’s job, which allowed him to leave the office pretty much at will.
Meanwhile Dad talked to lots of people about his son’s football prowess. His promoting skills were no small factor in my selection as all-conference quarterback during my senior year; also in my King County Alumni scholarship to the Univ. of Washington based on athletics and academics. But when he boasted about my first place in a national essay contest and the accompanying cash prize, Dad took care to tell people that it was none of his doing.
When I think back on those days I remember a father-son relationship that was about as close to the ideal as one could imagine: we were of one mind, one heart, on almost everything basic. Although for years we had skirmished on surface issues, we remained always the best of friends. Unfortunately, at about the age of 19, I started battling with my father on the basic issues, and after that it was never quite so heavenly.
But heaven is not driven out so easily, and to the end, despite significant differences, there was something really special between Dad and me [or “Daddy” as I always called him]. When he died I was a headstrong 24 year old, afflicted with immaturity worsened by arrogance. But since then—and I hope from the highest heaven he has witnessed the change—I’ve long since left behind the sins of my youth and have maintained values with which Dad would be perfectly at ease.
Still, I retain a bit of a furious temper, a quality of dubious worth that Dad and I shared, though mine was perhaps the worse. I have a picture of Dad about 1954 with his left eye bandaged from a fist fight over some long since forgotten issue.
The vices that can spring from youthful rebellion are many. For me the threefold malignancy was pride, apostasy, and dishonesty. In 1965, at the age of 21, these three vices had begun to fasten their talons into my character, and the process culminated in one incident involving the police. But the best friend I ever had came to my side, applied his formidable talents to the fullest, and rescued me from a situation that would otherwise--but for Dad’s skillful application of influence--have encumbered me with a criminal record. Thanks be to God, for Dad’s sake and mine, no such incident reoccurred.
The greatest triumphs are sometimes measured in terms of damage control. Dad’s effectiveness in minimizing the toll in 1965 was one of the greatest victories of his life, certainly from my standpoint. He said something once that indicated he felt that way too. Being able to claim a victory of sorts—indeed just carrying on the fight—may have helped him avoid heartbreak during his last two years.
His spunk, even on his deathbed, makes me hopeful, or rather confident, that I did not break Dad’s heart. I reached the age of 20 in 1963, the same year the U.S. Supreme Court began with a vengeance to expel God from public schools. My 20’s were for me about what the 1960’s were for the country. Both were painful for Dad to witness, in that he loved me and cherished the country for which he had fought in two world wars. But my reconciliation with Christ came at the age of 27, three years too late for Dad to witness.
I remember riding in Dad’s car two years before he died. He told me that to be at your best “you have to make peace with God.” He arranged for me to have meetings with a Jesuit priest at Seattle University, an easy-going golfer who had something of a reputation in the philosophy department. We terminated the meetings after I informed Dad that they were only reinforcing my skepticism, insofar as my perception was that the priest himself did not really believe in God. For the sake of that priest with his high-sounding abstractions I hope it was merely that I failed to comprehend what he intended to say. Anyway Dad’s well-meaning attempt to delegate my religious guidance to someone more competent [as he supposed] than himself, went seriously wrong.
Dad used to have talks occasionally with himself while standing in front of a mirror. He had his own variation on chivalric honor, and used to say that a man should never conduct himself in such a way that he “cannot look himself in the mirror.” About half German and half Irish by blood as well as by inclination, Dad tended to mix his Germanic order in life with a sort of Celtic existentialism. He used to say that it made life interesting to “live by your wits.” Also Dad took some satisfaction in beating the game, as it were--for example in his last state job outranking a Harvard graduate, Featherstone Reed, despite having himself dropped out of high school.
When the German and Irish worked in tandem, Dad was a force to reckon with. Sometimes, however, when Dad’s Irish was up it brought him to grief.
Once we were checking out uncle George’s new airgun pistol in the back yard. Then Dad spotted a sparrow perched on the edge of the roof just above my sister’s bedroom window. As a bird lover and birdhouse builder he had an aversion for scavengers like sparrows which were notorious for robbing the nests of his beloved swallows. Impulsively, he took the gun and fired. He had never discharged an airgun before and the shot was low, hit the underside of the eave and ricocheted right into the window creating a small hole. I’d never seen Dad so intimidated by his wife; Mom berated him unmercifully for risking his daughter’s safety. It turned out that Charline was out of the room anyway, but the fact did little to placate her mother. Wow, did Dad look sheepish! Especially for a man who prided himself on “wearing the pants in the family” [as he used to put it].
That wasn’t the only time Mom was angered when Dad’s Germanic caution yielded to his Irish temper. Dad always tried to anticipate problems--i.e. he worried a lot--and on this particular occasion his apprehension was justified. Mom and Charline wanted to camp out one summer evening, and were in the back yard in their sleeping bags. Behind our back fence was an empty field bordered by a dead end road. Dad stayed up late and frequently looked out the open window, watching and listening, to check on the campers’ safety. Sometime after midnight he saw a prowler creep over the back fence. Immediately he yelled in a loud voice, “Bobby, get my gun.” The man jumped back over the fence and ran like a deer who hears a growling grizzly bear.
Good job, Dad! Your care and vigilance saved your loved ones from real danger. At that point, however, the Irish kicked in. Dad grabbed the old 380 Colt automatic that he carried years before as a detective, summoned me from bed still in my pajamas, and we jumped into the car. Together we cruised the neighborhood for a good half-hour, looking for the prowler but without so much as a glimpse of the scoundrel. Probably it’s best that he got away.
When we returned Mom was infuriated. In our hasty departure we had left the lights on and the side door wide open. Frightened and confused after the abrupt awakening, Mom and Charline had retreated to the safety of the house only to find the door ajar, with their male champions having fled the scene, taking the gun with them, and no assurance that the intruder wasn’t lurking somewhere in the house.
Usually Mom was the archetype of a good wife, spirited, loving and a peacemaker--and when a family consensus could not be reached submissive to her husband. Dad did not want her to join the labor force so she became a great homemaker. During his last five years, however, her husband began to age dramatically, and Mom saw the need to make preparations. She studied shorthand and upgraded her secretarial skills. Dad bowed to her wishes and adroitly used his influence on her behalf. He knew Dr. Palmerson, then superintendent of Seattle public schools. Thanks to Palmerson Mom went to work as treasurer for Roosevelt High School, a job she held with distinction for 20 years.
Dad helped out again when Mom’s mother, Myrtle Cowan Rockser, [Dad’s mother-in-law], needed a place to retire. She was yearning for the Four Freedoms Retirement Home in Seattle, near 135th and Aurora--a nice place with a waiting list years long. Dad knew someone: lo and behold a place for grandma suddenly appeared. This pleased Mom, and her mother lived happily at Four Freedoms for the rest of her days.
Economically, Dad life was like a ship in heavy seas, going from crest to trough, only to reach a another crest followed by a trough, though it was on a crest that he finished. He came out of WW I very poor, knocked around a bit, got married and secured a well-paying job with Gillette. During the early years of the Depression, along with many Americans, Dad’s fortunes fell, but after an interval of uncertain duration he was for several years on the crest at a good job in Idaho with Cletrac. But when he turned down owner, R.H. Mills’ offer of promotion because it necessitated a long-term commitment to the company, Dad found himself down again, trying to find a way out of the trough. Then came WW II.
After the war Dad worked for two years at a job he loved [deputy Sheriff, Spokane county]. But in those days the county paid poorly compared to the state government, and in 1947 he got on the state payroll--for ten months as a state liquor board inspector, then as inspector for the state pollution control commission. In 1949 Jack Taylor elevated Dad to Spokane district supervisor of the state department of public lands, a job that paid pretty good money and included a state car. The duties were amazingly few. The job allow him to sleep in late, play cards and politics, enjoy life, and spend more time as a father and husband.
In 1953, following Jack Taylor’s defeat the previous November, Dad had to leave the State Land Commission. After an unnerving interval he hired on as a advertising salesman for channel 4, the CBS affiliate, KXLY, established in 1952 as Spokane’s second television station. Unfortunately KXLY was perhaps his worst job in terms of personal satisfaction and happiness.
Dad’s gift for salesmanship and his superb people skills enabled him to rise quickly and become the station’s sales manager. It became his best paying job ever [though Gillette and Cletrac had paid well too]. He was making $1500/month, a considerable sum for the mid-1950s. He drove a brand new red 1956 Mercury provided gratis in a business deal. For several years we had lived across from Shadel Park [4428 N. Ash]. Now a block north of Garland St., at 3929 N. Elm, Dad built a new home, a custom-made 3 bedroom with a grand fireplace.
The television job was certainly a glitzy one while it lasted. KXLY styled itself “The Star’s Address,” with the highest antenna in the Pacific Northwest, and Dad arranged for me to meet stars and be a television star of sorts myself. I used to do real time advertisements, like my pitch for Carnation Corn Flakes [“they don’t get mushy”]. Sometimes I would take my school friends with me to the studio in hopes we might end up on the air.
Affluent life in the fast lane ended in 1956 when Dad’s boss at KXLY, General Manager, Dick Jones, proved impossible to work for without surrendering one’s honor. Jones had little tact, for example scandalizing the neighborhood by parking his convertible outside our Elm St. home in broad daylight while he necked with Connie the blond young KXLY weather girl. These were the mid-1950s in an all-American city before decadence had set into the culture. Jones’ tastelessness and insolence led to Dad’s resignation amid bitter feelings.
The year after KXLY was a deep financial trough. I guess it was due to Dad’s living by his wits that we occasionally experienced adversity, notably my tumultuous 8th grade at three schools in three cities, where my bed was often on a motel room floor. But as Shakespeare puts it,
Many are the uses of
Which like a toad, ugly and venomous,
Yet wears a bright jewel in its head.
The hardship brought us closer together, I think, and made the Struble family more tightly knit. During 1956-57 we lived mainly in motels, first in Fife, near Tacoma, [today’s Glacier motel] where Dad managed the Channel 13, television station. But the station was already close to belly up, and it was more than Dad could do to effect its recovery. Meanwhile, Charline and I attended Holy Cross Catholic School in Tacoma.
Then we moved to Seattle and lived for a few months in an apartment/motel in north King country at about 177th, just west of Aurora. Dad had a connection with a wealthy businessman, Al Matheny, who was providing the seed money for Struble & Matheny enterprises, slated as the “middle man” in textbook supplies for schools. The plan was to use Dad’s insider status with the head of the Washington State education department. To promote the nascent firm Dad flew back to meet publishers in New York, but shortly after he returned home the key publishers had uncovered something shady in Matheny’s past business dealings. The key players withdrew from the deal. Dad was very disappointed but took the blow stoically.
The year’s third residence in a motel was in Olympia, or Lacey to be exact, in a two and a half roomer on old Highway 99. While living there I graduated from St. Michael’s, 8th grade, but not without first demonstrating proficiency in math. Dad tutored me and brought me up to speed.
Meanwhile Dad was casting around for political opportunities. I remember one day sitting for a long spell in the car while Dad was in the American Legion Hall in Olympia cultivating political contacts. At first nothing materialized and we moved back to Seattle and lived with Mom’s sisters--first Betty [and her husband Hoot Hansen and their kids, my two cousins], then with Dorothy [and her husband, Albert DeArmand, and two more of my cousins].
I remember being so poor during that year of hardship that Dad couldn’t afford to send me to the dentist. My front tooth was abscessed and so painful that Mom would sit up all through the night and comfort me. Finally the tooth died and the pain faded. These experiences in quiet desperation ended when at last Dad’s job hunting bore fruit.
He was 58 years old and in some ways his last job was his best one, certainly his most stable position in my memory. Dad’s break had come in June, 1957, when Lloyd Andrews appointed him to head a pilot program in Seattle, the new non-disabled branch of the State Dept. of Vocational Rehabilitation [NDVR]. He remained with NDVR for ten years until his death in mid-1967, advancing from district supervisor to Division’s State Supervisor.
Dad, 2nd from left, promotes the NDVR program.Gov. Dan Evans seated.
During that decade there was always a monthly paycheck. But it never stretched quite far enough, and the oft repeated saying was, “here we are at the end of the money and there’s still month left.” Still we ate our fill of nutritious food [Mom was a great cook], lived in a nice home in a good neighborhood, and the bank cooperated by covering our overdrafts [cost free] until each month’s deposit made things right. [More on that job later]
Our home was a comfortable three bedroom house in Wedgewood, a Seattle neighborhood, at 3825 NE 92nd. Dad and Mom had purchased this house on a mortgage in 1958, and it remained the Struble family homestead for the rest of Dad’s life--indeed for 40 plus years until Mom’s death in 1999.
Mom kept the books for the household, and I remember well a family dinner conversation in which Mom was recounting the difficulties in making ends meet. I was an honor student in high school and appealed directly to Dad to turn the finances over to me for a month so that I could apply my prowess to the problem. “Believe me, I said emphatically, I will balance the books no matter what.” With unconcealed irritation Mom said, “fine with me,” or words to that effect. But Dad looked uncomfortably at Mom who was bristling, back at me sort of incredulously, and mumbled something in the negative. It was doubtless best that the idea never advanced beyond the dinner table.
In contrast to much of his previous work history, Dad had hunkered down to one job, though with his usual flair. To the standard job description for a bureaucratic state agency, Dad added personal lobbying in Olympia, where he secured a steady increase in legislative funding. The program was easy for him to sell because it had intrinsic merit and he himself believed in it. Also he promoted his program in the media, generally by finding a way to interest the press as well as television reporters in what the NDVR was uniquely about.
In Olympia the lobbying was not without physical hazard, however, as miles of walking the unyielding, unforgiving marble floors in the state capitol building exacerbated the old back injury that Dad had suffered as deputy Sheriff when he carried an injured girl down a slope strewn with loose rocks. In c. 1964 he ended up flat on his back in the hospital with pulleys on his legs to stretch the disks in his spine.
Dad’s work for NDVR got national attention [Look Magazine 1965] and was recognized in lots of articles I have in my files for helping individuals escape the cycle of state dependency. In addition, converting people from welfare recipients to wage earners saved taxpayer money and helped the economy. Here is an excerpt from a Seattle Times article, 7/10/1960, p. 10:
Monetary savings as a result of this program [NDVR] are of comparatively minor importance, according to Robert Struble, local district supervisor…. Struble said, “My feeling is that the largest gain is social. Especially is this true of children involved. It gives a child a sense of pride when he sees a parent meeting his responsibility of citizenship through employment….It is a tribute to the courage of the Legislature that it pioneered such a venture,” Struble said.…He expressed high praise for the co-operation of volunteer organizations such as churches and the Salvation Army.
“Of all the words of voice and pen, the saddest are these, ‘it might have been.’” Some people have supposed that this old proverb was the story of Dad’s life. Their mistake is in rating a man according to his materialistic affluence. Had he stayed with Cletrac longer he might have gone on to be a financial tycoon someone lamented. What if this…suppose only that…if he had just….
In reality Dad got through life very well for a boy whose formal schooling ended after 10th grade. His life was quite an experience to share, and no less interesting because we were never rich. In the course of his 68 years he accumulated a sizeable stock of common wisdom, or “horse sense” as he used to call it, which he shared with others. Dad had plenty of friends and lots of admirers, many of whom were in the lengthy funeral procession from Our Lady of the Lake Church out to Holyrood Cemetery on the north King County line. At his death he was beloved by his family and had confessed his sins to God.
Although he was not one to disdain wealth, neither was your grandfather successful at enriching himself. It is surely, however, a measure of prosperity in the Jeffersonian sense that, although with varying degrees of success, your granddad tried his hand at many things. He engaged actively in sports, horses, playing in a marching band, soldiering, inventing, mining, surveying, salesmanship, promoting rodeos, deputy sheriff, pioneering television, and various avenues of politics, of which his work on the state pollution control commission was not without redeeming social qualities. His last job--also the longest in duration--was devoted to helping the needy and to rehabilitating wrecked lives.
The month of his death marked 25 years of fruitful marriage to a accomplished lady with class. A family man who fights for his country and makes a mark in public service is no failure. Your grandfather committed sins, made mistakes, and experienced setbacks in life (who doesn’t?). Without doubt, however, Bob Struble, Sr. was a fine and fascinating person.
Anything for a photo: Here’s Dad waking me up, c. 1948.
“Rehabilitate or Else.” John Murphy & King County Sheriff Jack Porter on left. Dad on right.
Dad (center), young Slade Gorton (right) and unknown man share a light moment
Nearing the end, but still on the job
Dad’s autopilot, 1929
[*] St. Joseph’s Catholic Church is the only church in Struble. I visited there twice and was surprised to find that no Strubles ever lived there. Jim Nicholson, the U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican under George W. Bush, was born and raised in Struble, Iowa.
[†] In my files I have a notice mailed from Spokane, Nov. 25th, 1931, of a stockholders meeting to be held Dec. 2, 1931, in the Smith Tower, Seattle, for the purpose of electing trustees. The letter was returned by the post office, unclaimed by the intended recipient, a Walter H. Valede, 1033 Westlake Ave. Lots of businesses failed in 1931. I speculate that Dad’s financial backing collapsed during the Depression. I’ve heard, however, that he did get some money from Boeing Airplane Co.
[‡] Years later when I was a small boy, and before television came to Spokane, I used to listen religiously to a radio reader program that featured children’s stories. A man with a sonorous voice had me captivated every night at 7PM. When I came down with a fever, Dad decided I needed something to cheer me and contacted the gentleman directly. Imagine my thrill when I heard my favorite radio personality say, “Tonight we have little Bobby Struble listening with his ear to the speaker. He’s not feeling well this evening and we hope he gets well soon.”