Thursday, September 17, 2009

Harold Okone, R.I.P.

My friend Clark Metz is grieving over the death of Doctor Harold Okone, a Region veterinarian for over 50 years and a great raconteur. In his heyday when he went to dinner at one of his favorite watering holes, if he didn’t know everyone when he arrived, chances are he did by the time he left – and bought most of them drinks. For years he talked about writing the script for a TV series based on his years as a young student in France and the women in his life then. He sought help from me, radio and TV personality Tom Higgins, and most recently Jerry Davich of the Post-Tribune. I thought it would make an interesting movie with an old geezer, a Burgess Meredith type, relating his youthful escapades from his hospital bed when his wife isn’t listening. At the service for Hal Clark told one of Doc’s favorite stories about hearing that his son Brandon wanted a new yarmulke. Impressed that he was getting into his Jewish religion, Hal bought him the nicest one he could find as a present. Brandon opened it up and said, “No, dad, I said Yamaha, not yarmulke.”

Sheriff Dominguez is planning to come to IU Northwest’s 50-year celebration tomorrow. He is a graduate and winner of the top IU alumni award. There will be popcorn, face painting, tug of war, and free copies of “Educating the Calumet Region” by yours truly and Paul Kern. I think I have Bill Neil lined up as well. He attended IU as a student 70 years ago when it was known as Gary College, and after serving in World War II and earning a PhD from the University of Chicago, he became a History professor when IU’s “Gary Extension” was downtown in Seaman Hall. When the institution moved to Glen Park in 1959, Director Jack Buhner had a two-year sabbatical so he could finish his PhD, so Bill was in charge of the campus. He jokes that parking (in an unfinished lot) was even a worse problem then than now. The lone building then, called Gary Main and later Tamarack Hall, was condemned a year ago because of the flood. He hired me in 1970 and while driving me to a motel in Miller described what a great retirement plan the university had.

Nicole Anslover thanked me for a bunch of books on the 1960s that I gave her. I wouldn’t mind talking to her Sixties class about northwest Indiana during that tumultuous decade. Most of the books deal with protest or the counter culture, but I included a biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson called “Big Daddy from the Pedernales” by Paul Conkin, who taught at the University of Maryland while I was there. Conkin calls LBJ “larger than life” and that he was. He is the first famous politician I saw in person – my freshman year at Bucknell when on the steps of a courthouse in Lewisburg, PA, LBJ told voters to vote for him and Kennedy because they’d be able to get more done through the Democratic Congress. I wasn’t all that impressed with “Big Daddy” on that occasion or later when he Americanized the war in Vietnam.

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