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Hume adds 50 summers at Culver Woodcraft to remarkable and varied life

July 19, 2013

Don Hume, right, with then-Indiana Governor and former Culver Woodcrafter Evan Bayh.

Like many of his equally modest peers in the greatest generation, soft-spoken Don Hume has been there and done that. PFC in the First Cavalry, with real horses? Check. Colonel in the Indiana National Guard? Check that, too (he takes a titular demotion every summer to become “Lieutenant Colonel Hume” at the Woodcraft Camp). Thirty-plus years as a high school science teacher and principal? Check. Walks to the Chesterton South Shore station with Nobel-Prize-winning biochemist James Watson and seat next to Nobel-Prize winning physicist Stephen Hawking at the dedication of IU’s cyclotron? Checks for both of those, as well. Brother of a state senator and a state representative himself? Check and check, with an LL.D. to boot. It’s a life both remarkable and typical.

Much of that remarkable life—fifty summers of it, with eight years off here and there—has been spent here on Lake Maxinkuckee, in one position or another at the Culver Summer Camps and Schools. Hume was a young principal from Chesterton, having a fishing holiday on the lake in the late spring of ’56, when he drove along State Road 10 and noticed a gang of workmen attaching the canvas covers to the permanent frames of what was then the Woodcraft Camp, north of the Chapel. It seemed to be the sort of a thing a school teacher on vacation might be able to sign on to as a summer job, so Hume stopped to talk with the gang boss, who sent him to talk with Lt. Col. William F. Crise, director of the physical plant. After some conversation, Colonel Crise said, “I think you should probably be talking to Col. Henderson.” So off Hume went to another office, and another interview, with the formidable John W. Henderson, long time director of admissions.

Eventually, Col. Henderson sent the walk-on applicant to Col. Roy L. Dalferes (Woodcraft Camp Director, 1955-58; Counselor of Company D and Professor of Military Science and Tactics at CMA). After a few more questions, Dalferes said, “Well, congratulations: you’re hired.”

“There was clearly some kind of prior agreement that Dalferes would approve whomever Henderson sent,” Hume said, “So his questions were all pretty general. I was glad to have something to do for the summer, but I still wasn’t quite sure what the job actually was!”

The presence of the Academies, Hume would say, goes a long way toward explaining what seems to him most distinctive about the town—its astonishing connectedness to the wider world. As a scout in the Philippine jungle in World War II, he recruited to his platoon two locals who had escaped from Japanese forced labor: he nicknamed the two new allies “Jim” and “Pete.” Someplace in Arkansas, there is a World War II museum with a captured Japanese flag on display, bearing the signatures and home addresses of PFC Hume and the other members of his patrol, including Pete’s. A year or two ago, at Culver’s Family Camp, Hume met a family from California, of Philippine extraction: the father, obviously too young to have fought in the war, was named Pete.

Brief conversation revealed that this Pete had been so named by his father, who had that as a nickname, and had fought in World War II.

The younger Pete was happy to give Hume his father’s phone number, though, he pointed out, the older gentleman no longer managed the phone all that well. Hume nonetheless called, and after initial greetings was handed over to the older Pete’s mother. She reported that her husband had indeed worked with the Americans, but that he had been attached to the engineers, not the cavalry: “but” (she continued) “my brother served with the First Cavalry, and he was the one who originally had the nickname. He just liked ‘Pete’ so much he started to use it with a lot of his other friends.” It turned out that her brother Pete, who really was Hume’s wartime friend, had passed on: but in what other Hoosier village of 1500 would he have been at all likely to meet up with his old comrade’s nephew?

Another story makes the same point: after the Philippines, Hume was stationed in Japan. Following up on his earlier work as a scout, and given his knowledge of some Japanese, he was asked to do some work for military security. For one assignment, he was asked to report to Tokyo in fatigues. On arriving in the capital, he was given a large wastebasket and the task of infiltrating General MacArthur’s headquarters in the Dai-Ichi Life Insurance Company building.

“You certainly won’t be able to get into MacArthur’s own office,” he was told, “but a PFC in fatigues picking up trash probably won’t attract too much attention anywhere else. See what people are throwing away—particularly if there are things like mimeograph masters in the waste-baskets.”

Sure enough, he was able to walk into the staff offices and walk out with a trash can full of unshredded official documents. It may have just been a routine security check, Hume thinks, or it may have been some part of a stage of maneuvering between various security agencies in the early days of the CIA: but what is certain is that the aide-de-camp whose office Hume was raiding was his future colleague Colonel Gerald J. Graham, Culver’s Director of Horsemanship from1958-1968.

Or (just one more): Hume was originally stationed at the United States Army Cavalry School, Ft. Riley, Kansas, where the officers often ran impromptu horse races on the weekends—races in which Hume sometimes served as a jockey. Years later, at Culver, he was talking with Command Sergeant Major John W. Hudson, another Ft. Riley alum. “Do you remember the races?” Hume asked. “Absolutely,” Sarge replied. “I was the one holding the money.”

Hume was born in 1926 in rural Pike County, Indiana—“on the next hill over from where I live now,” he says—and attended a one-room school that typically enrolled about 13 children. “Some years, the student body was mostly my family,” Hume remarks. “But we had really good teachers.”

After coming home from Japan, Hume returned to farming. He set out six acres of tomatoes, using plants and fertilizer supplied by a company in Vincennes and quite a bit of conscripted labor from his younger brothers. He still has the check from his first crop—after deductions for the plants, fertilizer and miscellaneous expenses, it came to precisely 11 cents. He went on to work for Ingersoll Steel in Chicago and then for International Harvester in Evansville; in the latter job, he put his WWII experience to work assembling M1 rifles for use in Korea.

While working in Evansville, Hume was also studying at nearby Oakland City College (now University) on the G. I. Bill, sometimes reading his textbooks in the passenger seat as he carpooled to the factory: the University would award him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree when he retired from the state House in 1996. He did have a little assistance with managing the details of college work: in 1950, he had married Shirley Rodgers, who helped out with typing his papers. (She would go on to have a Culver career of her own as a Dorm Supervisor in the girls’ Upper Camps.)

In 1952, the Humes moved to Chesterton, where Don would spend a dozen years as a teacher and principal, earning a graduate degree from Indiana State along the way. They returned to southwestern Indiana in 1964, settling back near Winslow: from there, Don commuted to teach in Evansville.

It was the Evansville teaching which led, indirectly, to Hume’s parallel career as a citizen lawmaker. He wasn’t particularly happy with the state’s school policies, and when he felt that he had just plain had enough, he decided to run for the state House. He had two unsuccessful campaigns, in 1970 and 1972. When he made up his mind for a third try, he suggested to his younger brother, Lindel, that he run as well, in the neighboring district.

“After all,” Don said, “I’ve guaranteed your name recognition!” They both won, and the originally reluctant Lindel went on to the state Senate in 1982, from which he will retire at the end of this term.
Having a brother in the Senate was actually of more help than having one in the House, Hume reports: it was a distinct advantage to have someone in the other chamber who might be predisposed to take an interest in a bill. Not, of course, that that always helped. Indiana’s state bird is the cardinal; given the prominence of the bison in the state’s early history (and its place on the state seal), Representative Hume introduced a bill to make the buffalo the state animal.

A powerful Senator opposed the idea, and kept it from even getting to the committee stage, though it passed the House so often that Don got the statehouse nickname of “Buffalo Bill” Hume.

Part of the secret of working successfully in the House, Hume says, was having the skills of good classroom management. Other legislators often asked him what trick he used to get the chamber to be quiet while he was speaking: people talked right through most orations. Hume replied that he was simply doing what an experienced teacher would.

Particularly during the first two or three days of each session, when he went to the lectern to speak, he would begin by making eye-contact and giving a quiet greeting to a few people on either side of the aisle. Once he started his actual remarks, though, he would make a point of stopping as soon as anyone else began to talk: soon, like a roomful of chatty third graders, the chamber learned to pay attention.

It probably didn’t hurt that Hume doesn’t waste words. The laconic legislator still holds the record for the shortest speech ever given on the floor of the Indiana House. A Republican opponent had introduced an education bill that Hume considered deeply flawed.

Together with one of his former students, then serving as Representative from Chesterton, Hume used a series of proxies to amend the original bill into something that actually looked pretty good. When the bill finally came up for its final vote, the original sponsor spoke for about half an hour about the advantages of “his” legislation. Then it was Hume’s turn to speak. Not knowing the source of the amendments, people expected him to denounce the Republican’s bill: but when he arrived at the front of the chamber, he simply said “I agree.”

Hume’s district in the state House was #63, a jigsaw piece in the southwestern part of the state encompassing parts of Pike, Daviess and Martin Counties. But in the time in which his state House license plates were to be seen around Culver in the summers, our own locale sometimes benefitted from his special form of clout (though, as he points out, he dealt with two easy targets: Republican Governor Otis Bowen, of neighboring Bremen, and Democratic Governor Evan Bayh, a Woodcraft alumnus who kept his Culver jacket hanging in his office).

On one occasion, a state road crew was working at the intersection of State Road 10, Sycamore, and Academy Road. Visiting with the crew chief, Hume heard that the intersection would be made much safer if a particular piece of the road were built up, but that that improvement wasn’t part of the work order. So, Hume went to see the appropriate officer at the Academy: Wouldn’t a safer intersection be a good idea? “Well, yes,” the official replied, “but there’s no way of getting that through the bureaucracy in Indianapolis while the guys are still working out there.”

Next time he was in Indianapolis, Hume stopped in to say hello to Doc Bowen. They chatted for a while, and the Governor finally said, “Ok, so tell me what you’re really here for!”
Hume explained.

“I can’t handle individual intersections,” Bowen said. “Go talk with so-and-so at the Department of Transportation.”

Hume paid that official a visit, now able to begin his conversation by saying, honestly, “The Governor suggested I talk to you . . . .” And, presto, a revised work order went out for a safer intersection in our own Representative District 17.

Culver and Lake Maxinkuckee also played a role in some of Hume’s more serious legislation. “Tippy” trips, with a crew of eager but not necessarily competent Woodcrafters in each war canoe, led him to introduce the law that requires the use of personal flotation devices in boats. Watching young kids zipping around the lake on jet skis and the like eventually resulted in legislation that tied the operation of such individual water craft to automobile driver’s licenses.

The vaguely described job Hume took in the summer of 1956 was that of a counselor in Cub Division III. He has also been a Beaver cabin counselor (Division II), commander of both Cub and Beaver Divisions (IV, and the Drum and Bugle Corps), archery and chess instructor, supervisor of the military program, assistant head for all the boys’ divisions, and overall director of operations. He jokes that when he officially retired (the first time, in 1996) the camp had to hire five people to replace him.

Asked how Woodcraft has changed since the Eisenhower years, Hume says: “I think the surprising thing is that it has, in a lot of ways, remained the same; that’s why I stay with it. It’s a safer place than it was back then—we did things that we would never tolerate today—but that’s all to the good.”

Hume does still get some fishing in—he and his brothers typically spend a week on Kentucky’s Lake Barkley after Woodcraft ends each summer. He and Shirley are proud parents, and grandparents of three Purdue graduates, two of them with doctoral degrees. They could easily stay at home in their Sears house-in-a-box near Winslow (still heated with a wood stove, Hume points out, although not with one of the Culvers’ Home Comfort Ranges), or add more destinations to their list of travels.

But almost sixty years on from that first meeting with Lt. Col. Crise, they’re still answering the call of summers on Lake Maxinkuckee. And, after all, who wouldn’t?

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