On a lazy spring evening in 1949 Peter W. Schaper, Pete, and James E. Plemel, Jim, were sitting in their room on the 3rd floor of Cary Hall NW at Purdue University supposedly studying. Somehow there were too many distractions on this Saturday evening and the two Seniors decided that they had enough money in their pockets to drive Jim’s Model A Ford over to Columbia Park in Lafayette, IN, where evening dances were held for the young people for a nominal charge. They paid the entrance fee and joined a good size crowd of young people, stood against the wall,
“taking in the scenery” and listened to a pretty good band playing. After standing there for a while, Pete said to Jim: “we paid good money to dance, so why are we being wallflowers? I see there are girls dancing with each other – I’m going to break in!” He walked onto the dance floor, saw a blond, nice looking girl, dancing with a brunette, and tapped the blonde on the shoulder and asked: “May I break in?” to which she replied: “I don’t care”. That’s when Pete’s life took a sharp turn for the better!
Pete introduced himself and met Mary Rausch and managed to dance and make small talk to about 2/3 of the number the band was playing before they took a break. So he led Mary back to her friend who had found a seat near the wall and motioned Jim to come over. Introductions were made and when the next band number started, Jim asked Mary to dance and Pete, of course, asked Joan to dance. Well, that was the last Pete and Joan McKinney saw of Mary and Jim for the rest of what was left of the evening, when Joan and Pete rediscovered, Jim and Mary sitting at the wall, arranging a movie date for the next evening. “Cleopatra” with Liz Taylor and Richard Burton was playing at the Lafayette Theater in downtown Lafayette. Of course an invitation was extended to Joan and Pete, also, and everyone went home in their own cars.
Following this “double date’, an obvious success, there were many more repeats until the summer vacation. Mary’s and Joan’s 1950 Senior Prom at Saint Francis Catholic High School was an exception, being an indication that the dating between Mary and Jim was moving along on a more romantic line; Joan and Pete were just “good friends”. A notable event was a flight of the two couples out of Aretz Airport, which included an aerial tour of Lafayette and Purdue piloted by Jim who had a pilot’s license. But as the end of the school year approached, Pete and Joan did not continue dating.
During the summer Pete made the acquaintance of the Saxe Cummings family who rented the Weyl House in Princeton, NJ and shared it with Pete and his mother. Eugene Saxe, son of Saxe (Editor in Chief at Random Publishing House in New York City) and Pete bought a 1936 Chevy Coupe with a rumble seat, which was in dire need of an engine overhaul, but otherwise in pretty good shape for $ 50.00. Eugene was employed at the Princeton Institute of Advanced Studies for a summer job working on the building of the von Neumann Analog Computer which gave him access to the Institute’s garage facilities at night. The boys managed to rebuild the engine at a minimum cost affordable to them both, and they decided that Pete would have use of the vehicle at Purdue during the school year and then let Eugene take over ownership, since Eugene was not permitted to have a car at Swarthmore College, where he was enrolled. When not covered in car grease, the boys also spend evenings engaging in square dancing at the Princeton Graduate School (on the lawn outside the building) with Eugene’s sister, Frances, and her boyfriend. It was an eventful summer, with Pete working at the Princeton University Physics Department, assembling an interferometer for Professor Ladenburg during the day.
When the time came to return to Purdue for the senior year, Pete – feeling the invincibility of a 22 year old – jumped into the small Chevy and made the trip to Lafayette without incident. The beginning of the school year was filled with senior activities befitting upper classmen and leaving little room for dating. Jim continued dating Mary, but started to also look around at other female companions. But Pete became involved with the Purdue Camera Club and spent his evenings out with other Cary Hall residents going out to drink beer at Happy Hollow in West Lafayette, serenading couples “parked” there with their girl friends, with old college songs much to the enjoyment of couples and the singers. Occasionally he would join Jim and Mary for a coke or a sandwich at the Sweet Shop in the Student Union, so he and Mary remained on friendly speaking terms. There was no romantic interest developing. It apparently was a time for Mary to start thinking about continuing her education and a future career and the dating question was not important to her or Pete. Being roommates, Pete and Jim of course talked about Jim’s fading enthusiasm for going out with Mary and his interest in other female companions, mostly students at Purdue. Then, one evening, Jim left the room at Cary Hall to talk with Mary on the phone, located in the hallway, and did not come back for quite a while. When Pete went to check up on him, Jim was talking to her in a raised voice, looked at Pete and said: “here, you talk to her!” and handed him the phone. Pete avoided discussing the argument that had caused Jim to sort of hang up on her, but rather about Mary’s activities at Purdue in her job and her plans for the future. The end result was that Pete asked her what she was doing the next evening. She said: “I am babysitting my brother’s (Ernie’s) kids” and Pete said: “Can I come over and talk to you then?” to which she answered; “Sure, come on over and we’ll have a great time!”. He asked her what time and that was the end of the conversation. He did not realize it then, but that was the beginning of a new romantic life for Pete. So here is the real beginning of my story and I’ll make it “personal” from here on, since I really am the only survivor with knowledge of people’s feeling during this exciting period!
The next night, as the “gang” was gathering in our room for the evening Pinochle session, I excused myself and drove to Lafayette and Ernie’s apartment. I knocked on the door and Mary opened it and said: “What are you doing here?” I said “You invited me over!” and she allowed that she thought I was kidding her on the phone, but she invited me in. She had made some pop corn, which we shared, and discussed her and Jim’s relationship. A long time later, I left – before Ernie got home, because she wasn’t sure she wanted him to meet me – but not until my asking her if she would like to go to the basketball game at Purdue the next evening, to which she agreed. This was a cheap date since I had a Student Ticket and her ticket was free because she was working at Purdue in the Administration Building as an accountant for the Residence Halls. We had a good time – Purdue had a great basketball team that year – had a coke at the Union and made another date later that week, probably a movie – I can’t remember. This was followed by another date – another basketball game, I think, and a visit to the Sweet Shop. Mary had told me that she never kissed a date “good night” until after the third date. She was living with her aunt on 9th street, and when I took her to the door of Auntie’s apartment, I reminded her that this was OUR THIRD DATE! Mary said “OK” and I have to tell you that the minute I put my arms around her and touched her lips with mine: THE ANGELS STARTED TO SING “ALLELUJAH” AND ALL I COULD SEE WAS A DARK GREEN COLOR BEHIND MY CLOSED EYE LIDS – like the color of the green Aurora Borealis or Australis, if you have ever seen it! I don’t have any idea how long this lasted, but I knew right there that this was the girl I was going to spend the rest of my life with. I had never felt like this before and I don’t know how I got back to Cary Hall on the other side of town and I was glad everyone else was asleep when I got there!
So at this point my life’s goals grew by the determination that I now knew who was going to help me raise a family in California, where I was certain my future as an aeronautical engineer would take me. In addition to my study time at Purdue I needed to accommodate time for serious dates with Mary: The Courtship had begun! Fortunately Purdue offered many low cost entertainment opportunities and convenient social facilities on campus. Mary’s and my dates included, in addition to basketball games, “Convocations” at the Purdue Music Hall (as events like concerts, special movies, variety shows, etc, sponsored by the University were called), snacks at the Sweet Shop, time spent in the lounges at the Student Union – just talking – and, of course, dances at the Union. We dated almost daily, beginning that fateful night of the Third Date, and before I knew it, it was time for Christmas. I went home for the feast’s celebration in Phoenicia, NY, where the Bieber family gathered for the family reunion in the Phoenicia Hotel where my aunt Mieze had her medical office and rooms were reserved. Of course my new girl friend was a hot item of discussion and I caused considerable concern among the elders –My mother, Mieze and her daughters, Hanna and Ruth, and cousin, Heinz Steinfeld. My introduction of Mary as “the girl I was going to marry” raised discussions and concerns as to how this was going to affect the existing plan for my taking a job as an engineer in California and setting up a household with my mother. It was Cousin Hanna who put an end to the lively debate by asking me: “Have you asked her to marry you?” and, when I answered: “Not yet”, said: “No problem, she won’t say Yes!”
When I returned to Lafayette at the end of the holiday, my first action was to call Mary for a date, ASAP. I told her it was very important to me, I had something special to discuss with her, and the date was made for the next evening. It probably was what we referred to in those days as a “Coke Date” and then, after the drive to Happy Hollow, I popped the question. Before I got done with my prepared speech, Mary popped the brief answer: “NO, I don’t want to marry you”. (So Hanna, as usual, was right!) I was floored, being a conceited teen-ager, but I had the smarts to ask if this was a definite, final NO, and when encouraged, I vowed to repeat the simple question on every successive date we might hopefully have. Mary agreed to the terms and, as I left her off at her home, the angels sang again when I kissed her good night! This obviously intensified my campaign and our dates from then on resumed to be an almost daily occurrence; you see her reasoning for turning me down so quickly was that the proposal was no surprise and she was dead set on a career involving a degree from Purdue and a fitting job to become independent. Marriage and children did not fit into that plan. The Courtship of 1951 was one to remember! As a bit of background for my “worries” at the time it is worth mentioning that I was enthusiastically studying Supersonic Aerodynamics, a relatively new field, along with Advanced Calculus – all with a lot of homework – while still carrying a full load of classes. My Draft Status of being deferred ended with the end of my senior year, unless I continued Graduate Studies and the Korean War was still going on. I was accepted as a candidate for an advanced degree by April 1951, but the school neglected to inform my draft board until Mary got my acceptance letter from Purdue and I presented it to the draft board in May 1951, in person! Then there was a scarcity of Summer Jobs on the East Coast and my mother’s employment with Professor Einstein was ending, so money became a hot issue and I was not a great contributor, even if I had a BS degree. Nobody really needed Aeronautical Engineers, especially on a part time basis! My love letters to Mary during my trips back East for holidays, citizenship award and visits to the draft board bring all this back into focus – my main concern at that time seemed to be to get Mary to agree to marry me!
In the true spirit of a 22 year old young man, I pursued my courtship with Mary with the maximum effort I could afford. There were some very memorable events that I can recall. In January Cary Hall held their annual formal dinner dance – Fantasy by Candlelight – with a well prepared formal dinner in the residence halls, followed by the formal dance at the Student Union, Ray Anthony and his Big Band providing the music. My Chevy Coupe hardly provided transportation befitting the occasion, but it made a great occasion memorable. On another memorable occasion we saw the fabulous German movie, Die Fledermaus, [The Bat] in the Purdue Music Hall, an event like going to the opera in semi-formal style, since the story is the famous operetta by Johann Strauss. Then, on April 20, Mary and I attended the Junior Prom in the Student Union, preceded by a lobster dinner (!). Vaughn Monroe provided the main music in the two ballrooms, while smaller bands entertained in the cafeteria rooms. Mary wore a spectacular blue and black velvet formal, memorialized in a famous picture taken by members of the Camera Club, which I had joined earlier in the school year.
Evenings between these events were spent by the two of us mostly in the Student Union, working with the camera club members on photo shoots (see my best Salon Print of one setting) or by just sitting in the various lounges or sipping cokes in the Sweet Shop and then “paying our respects” to Happy Hollow in more intimate ways. I always hated to have to take Mary back home!
Around April my mother and family surprised me with extending an invitation to Mary to come and visit New York. She would have to fly in, but could then join my mother and me in the drive back to Lafayette, since Yvonne was going to move there with me at the beginning of the school year. A letter was also sent to Mary’s mother to ask her consent to the idea. I was on cloud nine, especially after the Rausch family approved of the idea! It made the long summer ahead be something to look forward to. My mother and Cousins Ruth Bieber and Hanna came to Lafayette in June for my graduation, a festive occasion of course, topped off by my mother and cousins taking me on a leisurely trip back to Princeton in the green 1942 Pontiac, only spoiled by my sadness of having to do without seeing Mary for almost two months. My attitude is best described by a memorable instance which occurred as we drove through the beautiful Five Finger Lakes region of New York. My mother vented her frustration with my moping by saying (in her German accent): “Hey you son of bitch – and I am the only person allowed to call you that – cheer up and enjoy the scenery!”
The resettlement of my mother and me to Lafayette slowed down the intensity of my pursuit of Mary. The Schapers rented a small house on Salisbury Street requiring considerable cleaning and some repair and the start of my graduate program required extra effort. I was able to get a Fellowship to help with the tuition expenses and a part time job in the Purdue machine shop. Here my German time as an apprentice in Bremen came I handy. However in spite of all these extra activities, Mary and I saw each other almost daily, even if only to greet her as her mother picked her up from work to drive her home. Still there were also movie dates and dinners at the Schaper house. So the routine of repeating my proposal every time we said goodnight continued. Then, in November 1951, as we drove up to the front door of her house and got ready to get out of the car, Mary said to me: “Didn’t you forget to say something to me?” I had to think for a moment and then said the usual: “Do you want to marry me?” which received the brief answer: “Yes”! — I think we said good night about an hour later!
So this story has its happy ending with this engagement and, of course, finally the marriage in June 1952 at Saint Lawrence Church in Lafayette. Looking back at that period of my life, it was certainly one of the happiest in spite of all the difficulties my great love for Mary may have caused in the planning of the family’s future. As it turns out, the marriage followed the complicated courtship in being one of great mutual love which endured all the hardships thrown our way until “death [did] us part” almost 59 years later!Share