by Karl Wirsing/SEFS
A few years ago, Helene Fowler inherited the unpublished manuscript of her late uncle’s autobiography, The Book of Daniel. Its author, our alumnus Daniel Gellermann (’39, B.S.), passed away on October 3, 2012, less than a month shy of his 96th birthday. He had transferred to the College of Forestry in 1935 and then went on to a long career in forestry in California from 1940 through the late 1960s—including stints with the Consolidated Timber Company, U.S. Forest Service and Setzer Forest Products—and we were hugely grateful to Helene for sharing the text with us.
Daniel, in a photo dated 1937, two years before he graduated from the University of Washington.
The printed manuscript is dated 1987, and it’s an incredibly detailed, nearly week-by-week account of his life, from as early as he can remember up through school, work, family and retirement. Within that narrative, Daniel dedicates about 20 pages to his time as an undergraduate at the University of Washington, and his writing style opens an intimate and unvarnished window into his thoughts and experiences as a student in the 1930s. We wanted to pull out and share a few lines and memories that especially stood out to us, including the entirety of his great introduction!
“Writing a life story is really a series of hits and misses, inclusions and exclusions, remembereds and forgottens—simply a subjective cross-section of one’s time on this mortal coil. I do have the advantage of being the sole survivor of my generation of Gellermanns, and so I can make it up as I go along. In the process of recall my memory has moved back and forth in time amid parents, siblings, classmates, playmates, church, school, friends, coworkers, jobs, towns, forests, homes, and thoughts and opinions and precepts and attitudes; this is obviously reflected in this account.
It seems to me that for most of us life comprises the early years, a time for education and the pursuit of knowledge; the middle years, a time for occupation and the pursuit of experience; and the retirement years, a time for contemplation and the pursuit of wisdom. I believe we all have our ups and downs and that life balances out for most of us; I have been fortunate in that my down years were my early years and my life’s curve has been on a steady upswing ever since.
Money was always tight for Daniel as a student, so he carried a paper route—first for the Seattle Times, and later a double route for the Post-Intelligencer, that earned him $40 to 50 a month.
My first marriage provided me an education in the liberal arts; my second marriage afforded me an education in the fine arts. I am grateful for both. And I am indeed thankful I could have a handsome and strong and bright son. Life has been good to me.
From here on out my time will be occupied with continued scribbling. I have quotations—some three thousand—to assemble in book form, a book of personal precepts and opinions, and other various essays yet to prepare.
My anagram can provide my epitaph: Deign All Men Learn.”
Time at the College of Forestry
“In the fall of 1935 I transferred to the College of Forestry at the University of Washington and a whole new world seemed to open up to me. The college had a great tradition and there was a comeraderie among the “foresters” that gave us an identity. We were given to understand at the outset that the curriculum was strenuous and that our physical and mental energies would be taxed to the limit; subsequently they were. We were told to take a look at our fellow students both to our left and to our right; the odds were that only one of three of us would be on hand to graduate four years hence. And that is the way it worked out.”
“The Foresters had a blind date dance with the Nurses each year. I could only look with envy at the signup list on the bulletin board since I knew not how to dance and I was too timid to even meet a girl.”
“My two best friends in forestry college were John Connell and Robert Myer … Sad to say, John’s success never quite met his ambitions, so he has never been able to relax and enjoy it. In his later years he has sought refuge in religion; for what good that may be I know not.”
“Fletcher Daniels was a forestry classmate; his father was Dean of the College of Mines. Fletcher was a seemingly happy-go-lucky sort, but he had a lightning-sharp mind and understood everything the first time around. I admired his quick intelligence. I understand that Fletcher was killed in WWII, so I was never to see him again after our graduation.”
To supplement his studies as an undergrad, Daniel had sent for bulletins from the Government Printing Office, and he also subscribed to the West Coast Lumberman.
“The Dean of the College of Forestry in the beginning of my time there was Hugo Winkenwerder. He was strictly an armchair forester (I would add that the woods are full of armchair foresters!).”
“Professor Alexander was the one who taught our frosh courses in silviculture and mensuration. His knowledge was considerable, but his talent for teaching was sadly lacking. In addition to being a poor communicator of information he was a patsy for apple-polishing; consequently he graded on the basis of student attitude rather than ability. Intellectual honesty was a worthy trait totally lacking in dear Professor Alexander.”
In 1936, while assisting “a coed in rescuing her car from a mudhole,” Daniel tore ligaments in his knee, which later kept him out of military service. “I reported to Fort Lewis for initial assembly and physical examination but I was rejected on account of my knee injury and sent home; I felt bitter despondency and defeat.”
“I felt fortunate then and ever since to have had Walter H. Meyers for my major professor; he was a gentleman and a scholar.”
“This, my first summer in the brush I had my first taste of sin; i.e., I tasted beer for the first time! It tasted to me a bit like green olives. I very much liked green olives and so I was able to learn to like beer in due time with assiduous practice. The boys took up rolling their own Bull Durham; some gained great proficiency. It was the logger-like thing to do.”
“I was disinterested in cigarette smoking; I had tried that at the age six (dried maple leaves) and again at age twelve (Philip Morris samples) but it didn’t appeal to me; no doubt smoking retained its connotation of sinfulness for me. Eventually I decided that, were I to smoke at all, I would smoke a pipe. And so I tried that. Prince Albert at ten cents a tin was my brand. I acquired a variety of pipes, and in time settled on one with a slightly bent stem which I felt revealed proper sophistication, and enjoyed that from time to time as I wandered about. But it tended to bother my teeth, so I gave up on the entire endeavor and I am glad I did. Some of the boys took to chewing snooze (another loggermania), but I could not even stomach the thought of that for myself.”
“When I went back to school in the fall of 1937, at the start of my junior year in forestry, I was full of piss and vinegar. I had gained weight and strength, and confidence in myself.”
Photos © Helene Fowler.