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Who Is This Guy?

The Early Years

(Also see Genealogy. [coming])

1941: Lifelong authorization to leave doors open with impunity begins with being born in a barn outside Hamburg, Iowa. When a record frost wiped out the family apple orchard, WWII attracted Jim and Kathryn (Zuck) Bechtel to Omaha. Dad built B-25s and B-29s until the A-bombs fell on Japan. Mom went back to school and became a nurse. ("Bechtel! It rhymes with rectal," she'd tell patients puzzling over her name tag.) Dad was the chief chemist at Omaha Testing Labs, but also an artist (studied under Thomas Hart Benton) and opera fan (won a regional singing competition). Art's in the genes --all four of us brothers have some talent (John excels), as do my children, especially my son.

3556 So. 25th, attended St. Rose Grade School, delivered papers. With buddies, fantasized about being pint-sized guerrillas fighting the Reds, whenever we descended into the storm drains beneath Springlake Golf Course. Hiked the railroad tracks to Fontenelle Forest.

3722 So. 16th, attended St. Joseph High School, a medieval institution mercifully no longer in existence. Was a National Merit Scholarship Corporation Finalist (one of 500 from the 300,000 who competed), but the school declined to issue a recommendation, instead expelled me for various misdeeds including lack of religious fervor. Joined labor union, worked on construction. Moved to Los Angeles with my brother John, worked in a factory.

The next couple sections are mostly from an immodest resume I wrote up back in my job-hunting days.

U.S. Peace Corps, 1963-1965

Rural Works Program in the Punjab, Pakistan ("West Pakistan" at the time). The program allocated funds among, and solicited and evaluated development proposals from, a hundred villages and a dozen towns in Sheikhupura District. Peace Corps Volunteers provided technical assistance with plans & specs for drainage schemes, roads, schools, and village dispensaries; field supervision of construction; inspection trips by horse cart; training of local overseers and work force; and liaison between rural villages and the central government.

We used to joke that our real was job was creating our job, in the slow-paced world of inefficiency, red tape and disorganization. Or at other times we said our real job was just to survive. Pakistan had one of the highest drop-out rates in the Peace Corps. Tough to make it through the two years. Thailand, with its 2 temporary wives,: had one of the lowest drop-out rates. In fact, the male Volunteers there re-enlisted enthusiastically, so it was said.

While in the sub-continent, indulged my fascination with Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism as I traveled across India, visited Kashmir, Nepal and Afghanistan, and returned to the US via Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, republics of the Soviet Union at the time (1965), and across the USSR and Europe. Married the stunningly beautiful 2 girl next door: (lasted ten years).


University of Omaha, 1960-61, Undergraduate work in Engineering.
University of Minnesota, Summer 1963, Peace Corps Training Program.
University of Omaha, 1965-66, Undergraduate work in Humanities (Dean's Honor Roll).
Colorado State Univ., 1966-67, Undergraduate work in Political Science, History, Sociology, and Economics.
University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO):
Associate editor of The Gateway, UNO's school paper, under Lothar Luken. Wrote for Terry Humphrey's The Lone Haranguer, Omaha's first "underground" paper. Worked nights in a factory.
B.A. in Political Science, January, 1969.
Graduate Teaching Assistantship, Jan. '69 to May, '71.
M.A. in U.S. History, December, 1974.


Latin 4 years in High School (Hey! It counts!)
German 1 year at UNO
Russian 1 year at Colorado State
Spanish 1 year at UNO
Chinese 1 semester at UNO
Working knowledge of Urdu/Hindi from the Peace Corps years.

Department of Housing and Urban Development 1971-1991

6/71-10/72, GS-7 Intergovernmental Urban Intern Program.
10/72-10/73, GS-9 Fiscal Analyst.
10/73-8/78, GS-11 Management Officer (during which, divorced in 1977. Deep trauma.).
8/78-5/91, GS-12 Housing Mgmt Specialist.

Supervision of the local public housing agencies in Nebraska, including the Omaha Housing Authority, which served c. 6,000 families. Included evaluation of management policies, budget and fiscal controls, maintenance practices, personnel policies, and tenant relations. Received several Outstanding Performance Awards for my work on Nebraska's three Indian Reservations. Collateral duty of Modernization Coordinator involved evaluating proposals for c. $10 million worth of rehabilitation work annually for Housing Authority projects in Nebraska, including providing technical assistance and monitoring implementation through MBO reporting and field trips. Attended training courses in Washington, trained new staff in the Omaha Area Office (including CW, with whom I fell madly in love in 1987), and conducted workshops at the annual meetings of NAHRO, the Nebraska Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials. During occasional duty as Acting Chief of the Assisted Housing Branch (2 king for a day): , I supervised twelve other employees and monitored their work output.

World Travel

After taking early retirement from HUD with a broken heart over CW's rejection of my marriage proposal (close call), I embarked on a two-year low budget backpacking trip around the world: Down through South America, across Africa (ten months in Eastern and Southern Africa), up to Europe, across Russia/Siberia (including a stop in the Republic of Tuva), down through China and southeast Asia, out through Australia & New Zealand, and home via Tahiti, from October, 1992, to December, 1994. Favorite cities? Istanbul, La Serena and Capetown. Best places? Too hard, too many. See "Among the Earthlings." [The book I might get written if I live long enough.]

Preceded & followed by shorter trips (not counting the Peace Corps travel):

A month in China with Jim G, 1985;
a month in Costa Rica with Dave S & his University of Wisconsin colleagues and my son in 1987;
a month in Ecuador with Dave S and all three of my children in 1989, getting stranded on a sandbar in the Amazon;
the wild Mexican eclipse trip of 1991,
February in the Yucatan on La Ruta Maya, 1992;
the two year sojourn in the Third World on $20 a day, 1992-94;
a return to Africa with Jim G and Dave S for a couple months in 1998;
and the eclipse trip to Romania with Jim G in 1999.

Metropolitan Community College, Omaha

Starting with the March 1996 quarter, taught courses in American History, American Government, World Civilization, and (most often) Introduction to Sociology (sample Student Evaluation: XXX LINK). I like the diversity of Sociology, with chapters on religion, racism, culture, poverty, gender & sexuality, politics & economics, globalization, technology & social change, and population & the environment. People think I9 m smart when I quote studies & statistics in conversation, when all I9 m doing is drawing on course material I8 ve recited a million times. Interacting with young folks helps keep you on your toes, keeps you young. It9 s a great part-time job.

Other Background

Besides the Math, Chemistry, Physics, etc, involved in Engineering courses, as a result of the Peace Corps experience I became interested in why people in different cultures are the way they are and switched to the Humanities (Art, Literature, Philosophy) and finally to the Social Sciences. Thus the broad range of interests. But in addition to academic study (and professional experience in social issues at HUD), there is "life experience." I've been an active supporter of the arts: Opera Omaha season ticket holder when younger and dating; Landmarks, Inc. member, Omaha Blues Project (now defunct), still a regular at Jazz on the Green and now at the marvelous Hot Shops Open Houses, etc. Early member of Mel Beckman's Omaha Center for the Pursuit of Peace and later the statewide Nebraskans For Peace, now the oldest peace organization of its kind in the country. Gradually coming to see militarism as only one of many threatening "isms," I founded REASON in early 1999. (See World-Herald article 7/3/01, and explore .) I was an early board member of Bemis Park Neighborhood Association, and own a unique Victorian home listed on the National Register and featured in the 1992 book America's Painted Ladies. Worked with Frances Mendenhall on her Nebraska Observer newspaper, and was her campaign manager in a very close race for the Unicameral. I'm listed in one of the editions of Who's Who in the Midwest, a meaningless honor since it looks like the main criteria is whether or not you'll pay them the fee for putting your name in.

A small Civil Service pension and a few bucks from the part-time teaching enable me to live "very modestly" (ie, around the poverty line), but with the freedom to pursue my interests --better than selling one's soul to the rat-race and being rich. For fun? I am a Knight of the Groundhog. We put on the annual Groundhog Prom, an irreverent "blizzard Mardi Gras." See World-Herald articles 2/11/97, 1/26/01, and 1/24/02, and . Health & fitness: For several years in the early 1990s I went on BRAN, the Bike Ride Across Nebraska, good people and great fun ( ). We did about 500 miles in 6 days. With Chief Knight of the Groundhog, Jim G, I'm still riding, now on the local bike trails. I look forward to the extension of the trail system through Bemis Park

Active camper and environmentalist, I took my kids on many camping trips across the US in a VW Westphalia camper-van as they were growing up, which brings me to: Last but best, as a single-parent father, I raised three children on my own, Jamie, Theresa and Wendy (see photos XXX LINK) since 1976, when they were 6, 8, and 10 years old. Silver and gold years beyond price. But all too brief. Theresa accumulated every academic honor and is now a doctor, Jamie has degrees in biology and philosophy, and works at Iowa Western Community College, and Wendy is completing a degree in Social Work, and has given us Lilly, my granddaughter, who hikes Boyer Chute with grandpa every time she visits us. To her the Genealogy section is dedicated by its author, my brother John. (In 2004 Theresa married and has given me another granddaughter, Ava K.)

On one of my travels, I saw an elderly couple in a convertible, with their white hair flying in the wind. As they passed, I read their bumper sticker: "Every Day Above Ground Is A Good Day!" Why not?