David E. Steiner

Retired USAF, Teacher, Dad, Grandfather, Curmudgeon

My Family:

A history

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My Family

How I met my wife Mary is on her page, as is the circumstance of her death and her life before she met me. As it says, we met in the Officers Club bar at Harlingen AFB, Texas in 1959. The base closed in 1962. Click this link to go to the Wikipedia page about the history of the base, built in 1941.


My brother Henry-York Steiner is named after my father’s elder brother Henry-York who was in turn named after my grandfather, Edward A. Steiner’s brother, Heinrich York Steiner. I have never even seen Heinrich's signature. Indeed, although we knew his name we had never been apprised by his brother, Edward, the immigration author and Rand Professor of Applied Christianity at Grinnell College from 1903 to 1941, of anything about Heinrich.


My father, Rev. Richard M. Steiner who was an activist Unitarian minister in Portland, OR 1933-1966, never mentioned him other than suggesting he might have been a Viennese opera singer. My father was born in 1901. Apparently Edward never even mentioned Heinrich to Richard. I wonder where the Vienna story came from.


I knew nothing different until 1999 when a search by Heinrich's great grandson turned up another Henry-York, my elder brother. The second Henry-York was Edward’s first son who was killed when he fell or was pushed from a hay wagon. His spleen ruptured and he died of the infection. His loss devastated Edward, who installed a bench at his grave and Edward walked, every day for years, the two miles to the cemetery and back.


We have often thought about the lack of originality in names in our family but in this case it was providential. It appears that Heinrich and Edward parted ways when Edward became a Congregational minister in Sandusky, Ohio in the 1890s. Heinrich was one of the founders of the Zionist movement and an associate of Theodore Hertzl.


My father married Deborah Lantz in 1927, one year after meeting on a train bound for Yellowstone Park. Her family were members of the Society of Friends, Quakers. He graduated from Grinnell College in 1923, earned a Master’s degree in Rhetoric and a B.D. at Chicago Theological Seminary. I don’t know why he was called, since he had never been to Portland. The Great Depression followed the stock market crash of 1929, and the extreme economic downturn led to other very challenging times for the church and community. William Greenleaf Eliot, Jr. had been the minister since 1906, five years after my father was born. By 1932 Dr. Eliot, from whom I gained my middle name, was retiring. There were only 89 regular church contributors. My father, wife and 2 year-old son arrived in 1934, I arrived in 1935 and he and my mother set out to build a church.


My father became a prominent citizen of Portland. He tried to volunteer as a chaplain in WW II but was declared 4F because of deafness in one ear. As a result he became engaged on the home front, organizing the congregation in supporting the war effort. He became a member of the local draft board. He and my mother helped organize the Portland Chapter of the Traveler’s Aid Society chapter in the Union Station, one of 175 chapters helping service men and women during the war. He was involved in theatre at the Portland Civic Theatre where he played judges (who didn’t have to learn lines). He networked with other Protestant ministers who regularly met to help each other. The rabbi of the downtown Jewish temple also attended these meetings. In 1943 he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Divinity by Grinnell College. He was just 42.


His sermons were often about social, economic and political issues. He didn’t take sides but sought to have his parishioners think about these issues and become involved. As a result the church had more donations from a number of people who weren’t members, including at least one bank president and the owner of a large local brewery. He was asked to join the City Club whose members were mostly wealthy movers and shakers of business. Eventually he served a term as president of the club. By 1964 there were 750 children in religious education classes that required another building and there were two services in the 300 seat church. He retired in 1966 and for a few years after that preached at a number of churches around the country, often as an interim minister for several months. They retired to the same community for Protestant professionals, Pilgrim Place in Claremont, California, as his father, who died there in 1955. He died in 1975. Deborah lived for another 33 years, very active until she was 100 dying in 2010 at 103 years.


I was born in Portland in 1935. I went to Hillside Elementary School in the hills of northwest Portland. Portland had many trolley lines in those days and was very mobile as a result. For a single fare the price of which I can’t find was a nickel or a dime. The new Portland streetcars are only a dollar for people my age. The streetcars were quiet, smooth riding, comfortable and went to most places I wanted to go. In 1950 the city converted to diesel buses that were loud, bumpy, and smelled bad, but the buses were obtained cheaply and the trolleys were getting old. Thirty years later trolleys returned and have been very popular.


Hillside was the elementary part of Catlin High School for girls, a tiny and prestigious school whose graduates, all children of well-off Portlanders, all went to college. By 1958 Catlin had merged with Gabel, Hillside was closed and the school moved to SW Barnes Road, where it remains. Current tuition in the upper grades is more that $25,000 and most students pay the full price.


I was a child of the depression and I had only 7 students in my 8th grade class. The principal was Alice King and she was my teacher in the 8th grade. I stayed in touch with her until she died.  I remember all of my elementary teachers and my first crush was on my 1st grade teacher, a young blond woman fresh out of college, Miss Ruggles. I had only one male teacher at Hillside, David Smith, a handsome young man just returned from serving in WWII. He and his wife and new child lived in an apartment above the kindergarten. My class included Eugene Hayashi, whose father was a minister. My father worked very hard to keep the family from going to a relocation camp.


I had a paper route near my home, delivering the Oregonian to about ten small apartment houses on SW Vista two blocks west of Burnside. In those days one had to collect in person. The apartment houses always seemed to smell of boiled cabbage and today that smell takes me back to those apartments. I attended Lincoln High School a block on the southern end of the Park Blocks, home to many statues, lawns and benches. At Hillside we had staged several Gilbert and Sullivan Operettas, including Pinafore and The Mikado. I continued in high school in many productions, mostly musicals. My Hillside education enabled me to slide through high school and I was put into one of the first Ford Foundation classes. I was in the choir and we had a boys octet that sang at various social clubs, Kiwanis, Rotary, etc. I started at a 1st tenor and as a senior sang bass as my voice changed. I wrote for the school paper, run by Margaret Oberteuffer an English teacher, mountaineer, leader and teacher in the Portland public schools for 40 years. She and her husband were conservationists, eventually giving a forest to the state, still used for experimentation. The OSU College of Forestry Obertueffer Research and Education Forest provides a place for the Extension Forestry program to conduct research and education programs that address local issues and needs. Mrs. Obie, as we called her, took Lincoln students on Memorial Day climbing Mt. Hood. I was 15. Ice axes were rented and I lost mine. I can still see it spinning away. Embarrassing. And I think it cost my father $15.  A year later I climbed, with Swiss guide Otto Von Allmen, the east face of Longs Peak by way of Alexander’s Chimney, many years before climbing The Diamond was attempted.


I went to Grinnell College and winters there were unlike anything I had seen in the green and temperate climate of Portland. I majored in English Literature and was in many theater productions done by the Grinnell Players both drama and musical. I was the president as a senior. ROTC was required in the first two years and I stayed in and was commissioned by General Frank F. Everest. He administered the oath as seven of us stood up in the front row. After the oath he said “Officers in the United States Air Force, be seated.” But Jim Gabrielson and I had already sat down. Embarrassing. The Leland James in the 50s with Tidewater Barge Lines. An LST cut in half. It was sold and is now in Puget Sound.That fall I was waiting for orders and a Member of the church who owned Columbia tugboats asked if I would work as a deckhand on a tug, the Leland James. Someone was stealing things from it and he thought I could find out who it was. So I worked for about three months and I did find the culprit, another deckhand who packed much more than his clothes when he finished his shift. I learned a great deal and it was hard work. In October Sputnik was launched and I ran two miles from the tug to the nearest newspaper to read about it. The Captain, I knew only as Ace, was angry about the delay and could not have cared less about the launch. Three months later I reported to Lackland AFB in San Antonio for orientation and assignment to Harlingen AFB for navigator training. I met Mary, a USAF R.N. 1st Lt, in 1960.

We were married on April 14th, 1961. We had decided to combine my birthday and our marriage on November 27th. Mary was a practicing Catholic at the time although she had become less so during the year before we got married. The priest said it was okay for her to marry me outside the rail, but in subsequent discussion close to the date I told him I was an unbaptized Unitarian and that presented an insurmountable problem. I had serious questions about the validity of organized religion in general and I felt that being baptized would hypocritical. The 27th came and went, but we decided on our own to be married by my father on Mary’s birthday, the 27th of December. That turned out to be impossible for my father because of Christmas and New Year obligations. We should have thought of that. Time passed and Easter came around. That date passed by as well. I was about to be reassigned to Florida and Mary, still a 1st lieutenant nurse, could not go because we weren’t married. Finally we decided on April 15th.


During this period a number of bad things happened. Mary’s parents told her that if she married outside the church they would disown her and it would probably kill her mother. Her nursing supervisor told her that she would burn forever in the lake of fire in the depths of Hell. In late 1967 I was back in the Air Force and we had just had our second son. My father was in Spokane and was interviewed on TV about his work in right-to-die organizations and legislation sanctioning it. Mary’s brother, Bob, was a teacher at Gonzaga, a Catholic University.  He saw my father, called the station, told him how he was related and they told him where my father was, at a hotel. He called, and found out where we were and what we were doing and that we had two children and steady jobs and it looked as though the marriage was a very good one, according to my father.  Bob wrote to his parents, they wrote a letter to us full of news, as though nothing bad had ever happened. We were in touch with them until they died in the mid-eighties and Mary received her share of the inheritance. By that time we had visited them in Owensboro and they had visited us at the mountain house. A very happy ending


Fortunately Mary, then 26, decided in my favor and we drove to El Paso to meet my parents who were meeting us halfway. We spent the night in Del Rio and met my parents at the plane. They had brought with them a young woman I knew well, the daughter of parishioners who had wanted to separate her from a young man they deemed unworthy and they had bought the tickets. This turned out to be fortunate, as we needed two witnesses and with four of us we had only one, my mother. That afternoon the women all had their hair done and my father suggested that we could be married that afternoon and have dinner across the border. He had been given a recommendation by the concierge at the Hilton and my parents had a suite on the 14th floor. So, with the mother of the groom as matron of honor, the young woman as maid of honor, the father of the groom, minister and two witnesses and the bride and groom, it was quite a crowd with only five people there. We had beautiful flowers brought in, and the ceremony took just a few minutes.  I knew my mother had brought a wedding ring. It was a circle of diamonds set in platinum my father had given her on their 25th anniversary.  Twenty-five years later it had worn out and I had it reset in platinum. For our 10th anniversary she had always wanted a ruby guard ring in the same design and I had one made for her when I was on temporary duty at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base.


Our marriage cost less than $500 and lasted 52 years. It shows that the cost of the ceremony has little relationship to the quality of the marriage.


Mary had thought for some weeks that she might be pregnant and she was. Henry-York was born on November 3rd at Amarillo AFB where I was the squadron section commander, an administrative job I was given when I told the AF I was leaving. The Air Force honorably discharged Mary in June as was the practice in those days. Shortly after that it became optional and today it has no effect at all.


We went to Michigan with Henry-York. I had been accepted at Colorado as a non-resident but it was relatively inexpensive. Yale offered me a Master of Fine Arts, but it was a terminal degree at that time. Michigan was the most expensive, but it was one year, and since I intended to teach, the quicker I got into a doctoral program the sooner we could make a living.


The year in Ann Arbor was mostly unpleasant. Mary had a job as a charge nurse in an orthopedic ward but nursing pay in those days was barely enough to pay the rent and tuition with not much left for food and no disposable income at all. I never ate a pork steak again. We had a dog, who ate better than we did, a small beige greyhound I had acquired at Harlingen named Cassius. Cash and I had been through obedience training and he was a good pupil. I was able to control him with gestures and sounds, but when we moved to Oregon in 1962 we were in married student housing called Amazon and dogs and cats weren’t allowed. We gave Cash to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry to be sold at their annual fundraising auction. I was bereft, but it was necessary. We would be in Eugene for at least three years and I thought we could not afford an off-campus rental. The rent at Amazon was $65 a month and it included utilities. As things turned out I had been wrong.


I was offered a teaching job at the University of Oregon, public speaking, since the Communications Department included Speech Pathology, Public Speaking and Theatre. Mary had a job, day shift, in labor and delivery at a hospital in nearby Springfield. The Vietnam War had revived the GI Bill and I was eligible. Then I got a call from an Air Reserve Technician at Portland International Airport asking if I would like to be in the active reserves and fly C-119s once a month and two weeks in the summer. I told him I was pretty busy with teaching and studying. He said it paid about $3000 a year plus active duty pay in the summer. I asked him when I should show up.


We were suddenly making a living. Henry-York went to a private preschool and we made improvements to the 800 square foot apartment made out of a WWII barracks. We tiled the bathroom and installed a dishwasher. Our five neighbors were in similar programs and made friends I still have in 2015. Their daughter was a student at CU Boulder playing basketball and we kept an eye on her until she graduated.


Many of our friends had small children and Henry-York, then 2, was a good child, so good that we decided when I had the degree that we would have another since it was so easy. We read Haim Ginott’s Between Parent and Child, and decided to use that, along with the theories of Carl Rogers to try to raise independent, critical thinking children with an awareness of logical consequences in their choices. It seems to have worked very well. Henry-York is left-handed, inherited from Deborah, who was ambidextrous. When he was taught to write we had to insist that he be allowed to learn with his left hand. Because of all the moving around he was in 14 schools before he went to college. Richard, born 5 ½ years later, was in only three.


When I had completed all but the dissertation we decided to go back into the Air Force on active duty, still as a reservist, then retire and teach. I was assigned to McChord AFB WA, now Joint Base Lewis-McChord, controlled by the Army.


Richard was born at then Ft. Lewis as McChord didn’t have a hospital while I was on a flight to Southeast Asia. Mary had a good friend who shared our duplex on base while I was in Japan. Policy dictated that I should dead-head back to Washington. Richard, to our surprise and dismay was an unhappy baby. Mary, who knew all about such things, said he had the six month’s croup. It went on, however, until he was three. Henry-York would eat anything. Rich (as we called him, after a second cousin, Richard Burdsall whom we knew about but never met) had peculiar dietary habits. He liked bacon and fried chicken and not much else. Forced to eat vegetable cut them into small pieces and swallowed them whole. Mary assured me that he would be fine, and indeed he was and is and a very good cook as well.


Following my last overseas assignments [link] I was assigned to an ROTC detachment at San Jose State. I became commandant of cadets and taught part-time in the Theatre Department. We enjoyed the assignment. Both boys did well in school and we tail-gated at football games, saw lots of movies, and had good parties.


I was then assigned in 1978, to Travis AFB, CA where I was the Base Commander’s Executive Officer. During that time Henry-York went to college at Grinnell where he again was an all conference soccer player, and we decided when I retired that we would move to Colorado to our mountain cabin and turn it into a year-round home. Richard was unhappy with the school in Estes Park for a number of good reasons and when I was offered a job teaching at CU Boulder we decided to move. Boulder was and is a very expensive place to buy a home. We bought a two-story condominium in Lafayette next to the high school. Richard did very well there, and was an all-conference player in soccer. I was not involved in coaching.


Both boys were as athletic as I am not. I coached championship T-ball and Little League teams. Actually I was the coach but found airmen I knew who could really coach. That system worked very well when Henry-York and Rich became all-conference soccer players as I found young enlisted men who were great coaches.


Richard went to CU Boulder, majoring in Philosophy, with a minor in film studies. He had a job with the biggest video rental business in Boulder at the time, The Video Station. He worked there for all four years. When he was a sophomore he informed us that he needed an extra year to graduate. We asked him how he was going to pay for it and he graduated cum laude in four years. He had applied to Grinnell but was not accepted. Grinnell is a soccer school and Rich had all the right numbers. I inquired of the president of Grinnell, George Drake, who had graduated one class ahead of me in 1956 why Rich had been rejected. He said he had nothing to do with applications and did not know why he had been rejected. I knew this was not the truth. He could have accepted Rich with the stroke of his pen. He did not have plausible deniability. I told him that if Rich did not graduate with honors I would give Grinnell $1000 a year for the rest of my life. I did not tell Rich. Some years later, after I had sent him reminders of how well Rich was doing, he admitted that he could have and didn’t. I was particularly happy to report Rich’s Peabody award.


Mary and I were very happy that both boys have good jobs, good marriages and wonderful children. Mary gets most of the credit for her ability to do all the right things while I was flying for 17 years during their boyhoods. We had a plan and we stuck to it. The results speak for themselves.




"Our marriage cost less than $500 and lasted 52 years. It shows that the cost of the ceremony has little relationship to the quality of the marriage."



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