Streampebbles

A memoir by Joe Kuntz           jkuntz@snet.net         

                                                                                               The Joy of Work 

                                                                   Loving What I Did and Making a Difference

                                                                                                      Part One

I wanted to start at the beginning, but the beginning did not make sense if one did not know the end.

At in the end I was here, in a beautiful place, well decorated with a multitude of people.  This was a lavish affair and it was not really for me. 

I just happened to retire at the same as two other persons with, well let’s put in a simple manner, they were more popular than I and department heads.  It would have been an embarrassment not to include me in the goings on.

Thirty-three years, plus a few months, with the same employer. 

Three other years after I graduated college with four different companies and two years and two jobs while I was in college, so a total of thirty-eight years doing what I loved.

Yes, you heard correctly, I was one of the lucky ones who got to work at what I loved.

Speakers, so many and some admitted they knew nothing about me.  Others tried to make something up.  I was not a person to care about a spot light even now at the end.

Yes, my working as an analytical chemist was over and I was very glad, I had run my course and it was time to go.

There was music, a dancer and more speakers.

A slide show and then gifts and I felt embarrassed for there was no reason for all of this for me.  Those closest to me realized what I felt, but relaxed and enjoyed the show, so I did also.

The title of this, my last job, was mentioned several times by those that did not know me.  I am sure they were confused, why was this laboratory technician, getting any attention?  The title was not indicative of what I did and the people in the personnel department and my bosses realized that, none of them attended though.  Many years back, I wanted a change in the title, but they just gave me more money instead and I let it go.

The state officials who used my work to craft policy were not there, neither were the US EPA or FDA officials, also persons with whom my work was familiar.

I asked myself why I came on this journey and why was it finishing like this?

It was not quite appropriate, for I did not seek attention, only what was correct and I stepped on a lot of toes because of it.

There were more presentations for the other two and then food for all, so I was not totally bored. 

I did not get into this profession for praise and glory, but to satisfy a deep, deep hunger within me.  The affair ended and there was much congratulations and shaking of hands.  I sought refuge with my deepest friends and left.

Now I can go to the beginning.

The Boring Stuff – or, The Prelude to My Real Job

The prelude is that I loved chemistry, from before I was a teen.

Or perhaps I enjoyed that I wanted my curiosity to run wild.

Of course at that time in my life, I had no clue what even the word, chemistry meant, but I loved baking soda and vinegar and sparks that flew from the 4th of July sparklers. 

I asked "why?" and there a few answers, I would ask "how?" and some more answers came, I asked "what if?" and got shrugs of "who knows".

The question "what if?" flooded through my being, I needed to know.

The colors that I could change when I mixed things out of my first chemistry set (I do not know for sure, but I might have been ten).  "What if" came to the front again, I would add too much, and they would turn an ugly brown.

The instructions said that there was nothing dangerous in the set, but occasionally, I was rewarded with a small poof and a cloud of acrid smoke or a foul odor bellowing from one of those test tubs.

My "what if" question was growing louder.

A third grade teacher told my parents that I would not amount to anything that used math.  Not engineering, not science and she was so wrong.  I was only seven, but I loved to explore, places and things and "stuff".

I have heard that chemists are born, not made.  I believe this because there were many obstacles that simply would not deter me.

Fast-forward some years to my junior year in High School, not my favorite time of my life. 

I did not like high school. 

It was not notable except I began to make only "A's" in everything, including math.  I was introduced to computers and programming languages the first year and got in trouble when I wrote program that crashed the "tie line" which two schools shared with one central computer. That year was 1968.

I had a very bad chemistry/science teacher, who acted like she had all the answers and there was nothing left to learn after her class.  I also had good senior friend, who did not have all the answers and he was going to be a chemist.  I do not know what became of him, but he encouraged me and I passed that obstructive teacher.

My senior chemistry teacher was crazy, but excellent.  He encouraged experimentation and I was hooked.  We made things, extracted caffeine and did "quantitative analysis", figuring out if some element was in "something" and that was my favorite part, tasking something apart to its base elements.  Wow, was I hooked.

College was not easy, I was in advanced everything and I was particularly "dumb" in that I took, with everyone's blessing, an "overload" of courses (that means more than 18 hours per semester) for 2 years.  After almost burning out in physical chemistry and a graduate level biochemistry, I regained my senses and took fewer courses.

"SO THERE!"  I thought mockingly to my never to meet again third grade teacher, but it did take 5 years to complete the courses for a degree in chemistry, and that included retaking Physical chemistry and barely squeaking by in Calculus.  Still I did fine, making the Dean’s list a couple of times.

College prepared me for being able to work, but was very incomplete in giving me the all knowledge I felt I needed.  It did feed that hunger of "what if?"  In labs, there were so many experiments, from synthesizing Sulfanilamide to using optical lasers.  A failure to make a compound for a class in Instrumental Analysis did not mean a bad grade, but the teacher told us we had to describe our failure and postulate why it did not work.  This was invaluable, for I learned nothing was a failure, if one could learn from it.