Würzburg SY 65-66-Classroom Catastrophe

Classrooms in chapel basements? That was my situation in Würzburg in SY 65-66. The principal had a slot for me but no classroom because school was overcrowded. He looked all over the post & came up with the chapel basement, but chaplain absolutely refused.

Maybe you can persuade him, principal said, otherwise no job.

I tried to make appointment with chaplain about the space, but he refused to see me, so I dropped in unannounced. He was irritated & then suddenly asked, “Are you Catholic?” I answered yes. OK, he said, smiling. I’m short a Sunday School teacher. If you take Sunday CCD classes, you can use the basement.

What? That’s unfair bribery & religious discrimination. I explained that I’d never gone to Sunday School in my entire life & felt completely unqualified. Plus, I wanted to ski & travel on weekends, not teach religion classes. Take it or leave it, he replied.

Of course, I took it & then cast around for a substitute. I knew no one in Würzburg except for a young Jesuit priest studying there whom I’d met in war & peace discussion sessions at the uni. I contacted him immediately & after some negotiations, he agreed … in exchange for a few simple items from PX, Class 6, & commissary (incl peanut butter, impossible to find on economy at the time).

The chaplain was delighted, the principal was relieved, the Jesuit was happy, & I was thrilled. We were all good to go!

Würzburg Week 1 got off to a great start. The chaplain had 3 wonderful young assistants assigned to him, musicians in the army band, with very little to do, so he assigned them to me. They arrived early the first morning, unloaded a big truck full of desks, tables, books, & supplies, & set up my chapel basement classroom. Meanwhile, I was at school getting my class list, meeting my students, & walking with them to the chapel with a few moms tagging along to check things out. My “assistants”  brought me coffee every morning, took playground duty in chapel parking lot, made wonderful music with the kids, read stories to them, & did individual tutoring. It was all coming together beautifully, but then …

When I arrived at school on Friday morning of that first week, the guys were loading everything back on the truck again.

What’s going on? I asked.

Friday morning Communion breakfast, they answered. Gotta vacate.Taking it all back to school.  Sorry, didn’t the chaplain tell you?

No, never mentioned it, I said. What about the principal? Has anyone told him?

Whoops! Don’t think so. Better call him right now so he can decide where to put all this stuff? We’ll drive ahead with the truck, & you can stay here to meet the kids & walk with them to school. See you there!

Joan Maas


Ole Olson served in the U.S. Army  in Wurzburg, Germany and Fort Riley, Kansas in the 1950s, and as a teacher and administrator for the overseas dependent schools (USDESEA, DODDS, DODEA) 1957– 1961 Teacher of Physical Education and English, U.S. Air Force Schools, Europe in Izmir High School, Turkey, Ramstein Junior High School, Germany, London Central High School, England; 1961 – 1963 Assistant Principal, U.S. Air Force Schools, Europe at Toul-Rosieres Junior High School and Dreux High School , France; 1967– 1979 Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Dependents Schools, Europe in Karlsruhe, Germany; 1979– 1989 U.S. Army Europe Liaison to DoD Dependents Schools in Heidelberg, Germany; 1989– 1993 Dean of the Graduate School, Director of the School of International Tourism, and Director of the Strasbourg Campus of Schiller International University in Strasbourg, France


by Allen Dale Olson

 (Prologue: Between August 1989 and October 1993 I served as Dean of the Graduate School and Director of the International School of Tourism at Schiller International University and as Director of the Strasbourg Campus of the university, where I maintained my principal office. The Strasbourg Campus was housed primarily in an 18th-century chateau in the city suburb of Robertsau. Other campuses in those years were in Heidelberg, London, Paris, Hornberg (in the Black Forest) and Engelberg, Switzerland.)

 Tuesday, August 18, 1992 —   The adjoint principal (senior deputy mayor) of Strasbourg Mayor Catherine Trautmann was right on time as he made his way up the circular marble stairway to my office.  To my knowledge, no one from the mayor’s office had ever come to the campus, and the subject of his visit was, for the moment, not made known in advance “for security reasons.” He assured me that my work with the U.S. Army Headquarters was a fine recommendation for undertaking the event he was about to propose and that the historic Chateau de Pourtales was an ideal site for the event as well as was the city of Strasbourg.

On Monday, August 31 the Environmental Ministers of France and Germany would like to convene a “summit” meeting including the mayors and lord mayors of the largest cities in their two countries to lay the framework for new environmental  protection policies for the European Union. The framework for the discussions has largely been done, so this will be a one-day event largely for the press and for the mayors to feel they had been involved to the very end. As a courtesy, both the European Parliament and the Council of Europe would send a delegation.

He explained that because Strasbourg symbolized the real peace of World War II and that these two countries had long been in the lead with their environmental programs that this was an ideal place for such a meeting, especially when you add the charming chateau location hosting an American university educating students from some 32 different nations and can have a lunch prepared  and served by students in the hotel-restaurant program who also represent the younger generations. On behalf of Mayor Trautmann, he was hoping I would be willing to host this event. “Of course, there will be funds,” he added.

Thirty years of serving the military made me extremely sensitive about chain-of-command decisions, but I knew the mayor had other options if we declined and I knew that the university president at his home near Stuttgart had not hired me to avoid making decisions. I also knew he would be delighted to see his university in international news reels.

“The mayor will be pleased,” the adjoint said, extending his hand; “you will be hearing from protocol and security people from Paris and Bonn as well as from the city, and I trust you will make no public pronouncements about this meeting until you have met with our city press  and security officers.”

Tuesday, August 25, 1992 – One after the other they came – protocol, security, communications, press, mostly from the city but also from Frankfurt and Paris. Some checked out the power sources, hoping that 20th-century electric power sources in an 18th-century house would support banks of television cameras and audio microphones. Others wondered what we’d do with students on the day, and, of course, being European, there was interest in snacks and meal service. The Strasbourg press officer brought along camera crews from ARD (German) and France1 who needed a walk around the chateau and its grounds in search of best camera angles. The security officials combed through the ancient passageways and cellars to ferret out the most likely places to find explosives. For the next week, they said, our chateau would be surveilled by round-the-clock guardians because they know that in one of the cities represented at the meeting would be somebody intent on assassinating the mayor or the minister oreven the university campus director.

I took time on a commute home to stop at U.S. Army Headquarters in Heidelberg to ask my former security colleagues if they were interested in this event. They said they would probably be notified of it for information purposes but would have no role in it.

Till now, I had informed university staff and student body that all activities would be suspended for the day and that the Salon de The and Restaurant de Pourtales would be closed to the public. Pierre, head of the student kitchen training programs was told to prepare a lunch meal for up to 200 persons and to provide the Salon Rouge with  meeting tables and chairs complete with pastries and coffee service. It was not yet time to inform them about who actually was in this group. Lunch would be buffet style in Salle Melanie and on the terrace of the Salon de The. Students assigned to service in the kitchen and dining areas would be paid.

Wednesday, August 26, 1992 – At my invitation, Shirley Barnes, newly-appointed U.S. Consul-General to Strasbourg, came to lunch and told me she had been informed about the upcoming summit but not invited to participate. She planned to send one of her staff rather than require any kind of diplomatic attention if she came herself.

The Strasbourg protocol chief showed up late in the afternoon with a draft copy of the day’s agenda. I was to welcome personally each Minister and escort them into the Salon Rouge where Mayor Trautmann would await them and move them around to meet other mayors. I and certain members of the kitchen staff could come and go as needed during the actual meeting but absolutely no one else could approach the meeting area. The food tables would be under the tea room canopy so attendees would come outdoors to fill their plates and the serving staff would not be moving about so much inside. At about 3:00 p.m., I should be prepared to thank the delegates  for coming and bid them farewell.

Thursday, August 27, 1992 – Mid-morning the Prefet (Governor of the Lower-Rhine Department) arrived in full uniform with his own security detail who reviewed everything the previous security experts had done, and engaged in conversation with the round-the-clock guards on duty. He assured me he would be on hand throughout the get-together on Monday to be of any assistance he could.

Sunday, August 30, 1992 – The afternoon was dedicated to the translators making sure all the outlets for some 100 desk microphones and another dozen or so platform microphones would and could operate. The protocol people also came back so they could walk the lunch lines and arrange appropriate seating and the order of service at the food tables. The cleaning staff, now on premium pay, were scrubbing, dusting, polishing as never before. Municipal reporters from all over both countries showed up just to get a look at this place they’d never heard of holding a meeting the likes of which had never been done before. I met with the president of the student council who reported that all the students were excited about the event and ready to make sure it succeeded. By nightfall, I was more than ready to sneak down to the chateau bistro for a tart flambee  and a carafe of Gewurztraminer.

Monday, August 31, 1992 – Pouring rain, of course. Cold temperatures for August. Quick – places for umbrellas and rain coats. Move the food tables from the terrace into Salle Melanie. Some six or eight TV camera crews were busy adjusting their light sources to the gray skies outside and to the enhanced lighting systems inside. By sunrise, the place was swarming with security police and gendarmes. Traffic in streets leading to and around the chateau were closed except for credentialed visitors. The cleaning staff was positioned throughout the chateau. Reporters had already found the pastries and coffee urns. So had the mayors, as they milled about greeting each other, searching out their seating charts, and admiring the oil paintings of Lady Melanie de Pourtales.

The mayor arrived just before 8:00 am. Embraced me and thanked me for making “this possible.” At 8:20 the Honorable Segolene Royal arrived (just fifteen years before becoming the first woman ever to run for President of France), and apologized for disrupting the university but acknowledging the cause was worthy. Small talk in French, leaving the translator behind, as I introduced her to the mayor. The ladies had never met.

At 9:00 the Honorable Klaus Topfer stepped from a Mercedes limo. He waved away the translator and we spoke in English as I led him in to meet the Minister and the Mayor. They had never met. At 9:30 I took the podium to tell everyone how honored we were to have them here and how our young people from 32 different nations were counting on them to save the planet for them. There were about 40 mayors in each delegation, and their table tags announced Berlin, Lyon, Munich, Rouen, Stuttgart, Nice, Hamburg, Perpignan, Nuremburg, Dijon, etc. The Prefet then took over, and the cameras rolled.

From my office window I could look down on the terrace and at the line of official cars parked around the circular driveway. I could see the umbrella tops of delegates and attendees coming and going. I could hear occasional applause.  From the marble staircase I watched the delegates carry their laden plates to tables scattered around the Salle Melanie and the inside of the Tea room. It all seemed to work out. Mayors are, after all, quite resourceful.

About 2:30 pm I wandered into the Salon Rouge  where the Prefet was summarizing the day’s deliberations and promising the press that both Madame Royal and Herr Topfer would linger for a few minutes to handle questions. Again I took the mike and thanked them all for their visit and said that our students would be looking forward to learning what they had done today.

By 4:00 pm everyone had gone – and the rain had stopped. That evening I tuned to as many German and French television channels as I could and managed to see some footage of delegates at work, speakers speaking, but very little footage and asolutely no mention of Chateau de Pourtales or Schiller International University. They did show the two Ministers signing an agreement.

(Postlude. Mayor Trautmann started coming for tea almost every other weekend, and she  honored my request for an official banquet in honor of wine producer Robert Mondavi when he paid us a visit. However, much of what the delegates agreed to on that rainy August day was negated by some striking news that broke a couple of months later. It seems that if the West German Republic began adhering to the new waste disposal guidelines, it would cause serious economic harm to East Germany, where, it turned out, the West Germans had secretly been paying the East to accept their waste. I never heard whether there was a follow up environmental summit between the two nations.)



Sim Jim

by Circe Olson Woessner

When I was an instructor at the Albuquerque VA Medical Center, I sometimes attended curriculum-planning meetings at the Tucson VA. It was an easy six-hour drive from Albuquerque. There were some nice restaurants and sights to see along the way. The Tucson VA campus is beautiful!

The Tucson VA was known for its very impressive simulation labs and it staff development programs were something we aspired to. Most of us instructors liked to go hang out with our Tucson VA counterparts because we came back full of ideas for what we could apply back “home.”

One spring my colleague, Tammy an RN, was tasked with standing up our own simulation lab programming, so she was sent to Tucson to check out their setup and programs. After a week away, she came back full of ideas and was delighted: Tucson was going to give us one of their older mannequins because they  had bought several newer models.

She dropped into my office to tell me of our good fortune. I was busy with my own work and was only half-following the magnitude of her announcement. I told her that was nice of Tucson, but didn’t really grasp the wonderment of the gift.

Exasperated,  Tammy pulled up a website and showed me some mannequins. They were very advanced– they talked, moaned, moved, blinked, peed, and once hooked up to training aids, they could provide a great amount of feedback that would help our medical staff keep up their skills. These mannequins could do almost anything– except bake a cake.

They were also incredibly expensive;  I choked when I saw the price tag. Because of this generous gift, we would now have two functioning mannequins, something we would’ve not been able to afford otherwise.

Once the folks in Tucson could take it off their property books and transfer it to ours, and get it to us, Tammy could start doing real simulations in her newly-minted lab.

However, VA bureaucracy meant that a seemingly simple transfer from one inventory list to another inventory list moved glacially; figuring out transportation from Tucson to Albuquerque was almost impossible. It was extremely frustrating for all of us in the education department, because, having been told we could have the mannequin, we wanted him yesterday.

A couple of months passed and I was asked to attend a meeting in Tucson. Tammy suggested that since I was driving, could I bring the mannequin back to Albuquerque in my car? She told me she’d make all the arrangements and I said it would be fine.

My husband can work remotely, so he came along for the trip. I would have company and his help.

At the end of my week-long meeting, I was told that Jim, the mannequin, was ready to go. If I could bring my car around to the warehouse area, they would load him in and we’d be on our way.

After I signed my life away on all the official government paperwork, two burly men shoved Jim into the backseat of my Prius and belted him in. There was a suitcase of all of his electronic gear, spare parts and accessories that went in the back with our luggage.

We were off!

I kept glancing over my shoulder at Jim, who was the size of a grown man. He was creepy. “Lifelike” is not how I would describe him. Even though he was dressed in a tracksuit and a ball cap, his rubbery skin, closed eyes and half open mouth reminded me of some horror movie doll. He looked…dead.

Coming off the  I-10, we headed up towards Hatch. I realized we would have to go through a Border Patrol checkpoint. I started thinking about how many empty cavities Jim had, in which we could be smuggling drugs, if we were into that sort of thing. I wondered if the Border Patrol  agent would ask us to strip him and do a cavity search. I hoped not, as I imagined there were many ways we could damage Jim, if  he weren’t handled properly. Since my name was on the paperwork, I could imagine having to pay a very, very large bill if he arrived broken.

It was a very hot day, and as we reached the Border Patrol checkpoint, there was a long line of cars backed up. As we inched our way closer, I grew more nervous—but, I also noticed that the Border Patrol agents looked really hot. They looked miserable. When it was our turn, my husband rolled down his window and the agent asked kind of mechanically, “Is everyone in this car a US citizen?” My mind perversely wanted me to say Jim was from China, but good sense prevailed. We both said yes, quickly, and he waved us through.

As we pulled away, the agent did a double-take. It had just registered with him that something was not quite right with our passenger. We kept moving forward and he did not call us back.

For the next 10 or 15 miles we half-expected a helicopter or patrol car to surveil and stop us.

Luckily, we made it back to Albuquerque with no more issues.

It was after hours when we got to the Albuquerque VA. We were hot and tired. We’d debated going straight home, but decided not to, because we were afraid someone would break into the car and steal Jim as he sat in our driveway overnight.

It was about 7:00 and still light out as we pulled up in front of my building at the VA. Tammy had left a wheelchair in my office so that I could just wheel Jim in from my car from the loading dock. I left Bill to deal with Jim and I dashed to my office to get the chair.

I am not a medical person, so just the act of unfolding the wheelchair was a huge accomplishment. I felt proud as I wheeled the chair out  to the loading dock where we’d parked. Bill had unbelted Jim and was attempting to wrest him from his seat.

The mannequin itself was not that heavy, but its dead weight made lifting truly awkward. It took both of us to get Jim out of the backseat. Bill grabbed his head and shoulders and I grabbed his legs and we carried him up the steps onto the dock.  We folded Jim into the wheelchair. I had intended to push him in the chair from the dock ramp to my office, but Jim had other plans.

First, we didn’t realize that we needed to put his feet on the footrests on the wheelchair, so when I pushed him forward, his one foot caught on the ground, twisting under the wheel, and suddenly both he and the wheelchair flipped over—Jim crashed face first onto the ground, the chair landed on top of him! Horrified, we  righted the chair and half-lifted and half-dragged Jim back onto the chair which kept moving as we tried to sit him down. Finally, we managed to get him seated.  After our first fiasco, we decided not to push the chair, but rather to pull it backwards. After barking our heels several times, we made it to my office.

I quickly unlocked my door, dragged the wheelchair in and abandoned it and Jim in the center of the room. I locked the door and Bill and I got out of there. We both needed a cool, soothing drink!

As we drove home, it occurred to me that that whole scene was probably caught on security cameras. I wonder if the VA police officer watching the tape at shift change would think that I had transported an immobile veteran to my office. I wondered if anyone from the police service went to my office to investigate later that night?

On Monday, I was greeted with great joy and excitement by Tammy, who had already reunited with Jim. She’d moved him with great nursing professionalism to his new home in our sim lab.

For a while, I kept imagining I heard our police snickering behind my back  as I walked by their offices, having demonstrated my complete incompetence for their viewing pleasure.



by Allen Dale Olson

In my 90 years there have been many experiences I could tie to serendipity, so choosing one – or even a few – to share can be a weighty task. That’s why I’ve chosen a unique one, not one easily experienced nor likely to be experienced again.

In the early 1980s I had allowed eight hours for our drive from Warsaw  to Berlin. Joanie was with me. It was only about 350 miles, but the highway was largely two-lane and the border constantly clogged with truck traffic and its endless paper work requirements. (Today the Highway A-1 has become a motorway suggesting only about five hours for the 355-mile drive.) On that one morning I should have allowed another half-hour for an encounter that for a while made both of us feel it had much greater implications.

As we approached Poznan, wondering whether we should stop for lunch, I became aware that drivers in oncoming cars were flashing their headlights, the international signal of a speed trap ahead. Not sure that such communication had actually reached the former Eastern Political Bloc, I gave the signals little thought. But, sure enough, just past the crest of a small hill, a uniformed police officer, at the side of the road, waved a circular red disc at us and motioned me to pull along side his rather shabby official police car. I quickly noted that the radar equipment inside his vehicle was not quite so shabby.

Because I was driving an Avis Ford with German license plates, the officer addressed me in German, saying something about a fine of 80 Zlotis and asking for my Fuherschein  and Reisepass (driver’s license and passport). He gazed at my passport and gave me a puzzled look. Still speaking German, he asked if I were American.

I also showed him my international driver’s license, my U.S. Army Europe driver’s license, and my Indiana driver’s license. He fingered through my passport, explaining that he had never seen an American passport. As he browsed through it, his demeanor became more friendly. He explained that Americans in Poland usually traveled in tour groups and that he had never seen one driving a car in the countryside. He did not ask for any of Joanie’s documents.

He was also interested in the U.S. Army license, so I showed him a copy of my official travel documents, including the translations in German and Russian. He then told me of his great appreciation for America and Americans and how grateful he was that the American military was in Germany.

Next came an apology. He was sorry for the arrest, though I had exceeded the speed limit. Since, however, the arrest was in the computer and on record back at his headquarters, a fine was in order. The standard speeding penalty was 80 Zlotis (about $20), but since I was American he would modify it to 40 Zlotis.

“You are,” he said, “on the main road between Moscow and Berlin and both the Germans and Russians speed through here without ever stopping for a meal, for fuel, for a hotel, and our only recourse to cover some of the costs of our road is to enforce the speed laws.”

He told me of a good place for lunch in Poznan and how to circumnavigate the commercial traffic at the German border. I felt it serendipity that we found a good lunch and a safe journey instead of a stay in an East European jail.



by Allen Dale Olson

When the July and August sun turns full force on Paris, the city can be very hot indeed. That’s why Parisians have long since learned to leave the city to the tourists during those months. There is, however, one place from which the resident Parisians take no vacations, and some of these citizens are among the most distinguished the city has ever known. In fact, the cemetery at Pere -Lachaise boasts more “immortal” residents than any cemetery of comparable size in the world.Though Pere-Lachaiseis not really a tourist attraction, cemetery directors have had to accept the inevitability that admirers of painters and actors and composers and philosophers will come to Pere-Lachaise  to lay a wreath or shed a tear or make a note to their grandchildren that they once visited the grave of Edith Piaf or Isadora Duncan or Oscar Wilde. I once met a man in Pere-Lachaisewho said he had been one of the last Frenchmen to flee the cemetery during the hand-to-hand combat between French and German soldiers leaping from tombstone to tombstone at the outset of World War II. In remembrance of an earlier battle, a wall marks the place where 147 soldiers were shot at dawn after a night of fighting during the Franco-Prussian War in 1871.

A very vague map is available from gate guards to help you find the graves of the famous. What the map does is point you toward the Divisions in which celebrities are buried. It’s up to you to distinguish the precise grave you are seeking from the acres of other graves in the division. Divisions are designated by a number.

There are some helpful clues, most notably the trappings of public attention or the style of tombstone. Hardly a day goes by that some member of the Chopin Society fails to lay an impressive wreath on the composer’s grave. A massive stone bearing the single word Collette immodestly announces the presence of the first woman to serve as an officer in the French Legion of Honor. (The state funeral procession that brought Sidonie Gabrielle Claudine Collette to rest in Pere-Lachaisein 1954 was also the first such procession for a woman in the history of France.)

The clues which are most fun, however, come from the regular visitors to Pere-Lachaise.On my last visit I was lost in the 26th Division.

“Who are you looking for?” I heard a man ask in French.

“Daudet,” I replied.

“Alphonse Daudet,” he repeated thoughtfully. “Have you seen his home in Provence?”

“Yes, several times.”

“He is the French equivalent to your Dickins.”

“I am American.”

He didn’t seem to believe it. “Americans don’t come to Pere-Lachaise.”

“There are several here today.”

“Times change. But the Daudet grave is a bit complicated to find. Have you been over to the 25thDivision??

“ I just left Moliere and Lafontaine.”

“Lovely place,” he said. “So nice they can be together here, just as they were when…”

His voice trailed off.

“When what?” I asked, but he seemed not to hear, leading me to the grave of Daudet. “Don’t forget to see Balzac,” he urged as he left. “He’s in the 48thDivision.”


He was a male counterpart to the elderly lady who helped me find Sara Bernhardt. “Strangers can never find her,” she exclaimed. “The 44thDivision is so big.”

It hadn’t been a direct route. We had to stop by the grave of her husband. “I try to come every Sunday,” she explained. “I try to see Delacroix, Corot, and Daumier at least once a month.”

By then we had reached the path where the 44thand 48thDivisions come together. A small emotional crowd had gathered around a large stone under a sculpted canopy. Fresh flowers all but obscured the name of Allan Kardec. “You surely know Kardec,” my guide assumed. But I did not, and she was too choked up for further questioning.

The Kardec crowd was equally emotional. They milled about to such an extent that I couldn’t tell whether the grave was new or not. “Who was Allan Kardec?” was a question I would ask several times over the next  few days.

“Probably a communist,” said the conductor on the train to Strasbourg. “My wife says he was a radical killed in a strike last month,” said my friend Don Fleishner from his Strasbourg perspective. “I think he was a theosophist,” said August Schaaf, Wissembourg historian.

I found the answer in a spiritualist encyclopedia. Allan Kardec was really Leon Denizard-Hyppolyte Rivall, born in Lyon in 1804, died in Paris in 1869, having established to all who cared that he was a reincarnated Druid. His following has persisted.

The most tree-shaded part of Pere-Lachaiseis also the most historic. It is the 7thDivision, the oldest part of the cemetery, fairly near the Metro Station. There in a very quiet corner rest Peter Abelard and Heloise, free these 900 years from the turbulence caused by their love in the early part of the 12thcentury.

I know the Abelard tomb well. In 1955, I sought it out and tried to photograph it. At that time, tourists had not yet really discovered Pere-Lachaise; photography was strictly forbidden. I had to vault the wall into Boulevard Menilmontant to escape the fury of two cemetery guards.

Photography is no longer a problem in the old cemetery which has become an excellent place to review French history and culture. It’s also a very peaceful place in which to escape the heat and traffic of Paris streets.