THREE EVENTFUL YEARS

I don’t remember why we chose North Hollywood as the place to live. We soon settled on 4531 Beck Avenue as our new home, just a half-block south of the Ventura Freeway, and a few blocks from the First Presbyterian Church of North Hollywood, where we were to make many life-long friends. This house had only three bedrooms, one less than our need, as Will and Mary Francis were entering their teens (see left), too old to share a room. So Will had to use an old room and bath built onto the back of the garage. We did want a guest room, however so we had a carpenter friend from church, Lewis McCune (see far right), build another room and bath there. Nevertheless Will was in his glory, as he had his own private quarters. We had orange and lemon trees in our backyard, and even then these were loaded with fruit. Paradise at last!


The church folk were by far the most friendly we had ever encountered, and we soon made many friends, particularly among the group called the Cruisers, a fellowship group within the congregation. Three of the couples we bonded with were the McCunes (see Frances McCune above right, left of her husband, Lewis), Lance and Cora Bowen and Hettie and Harold Conklin (see right). The monthly meetings of this group were the highlights of our life. We were amazed at the sheer talent of many of the people, some of whom were professional entertainers on radio and TV. At one of the first Wednesday night meetings, a call was made for Sunday School teachers, so both Mary Charlotte and I volunteered. I had a class of fifth-grade boys, and she sixth-grade girls.

My Most Important Interview

Within two months a week-end retreat was announced, to be held at a Christian conference center (Forest Home) in the San Bernardino Mountains. This was not my thing, but Mary Charlotte persuaded me to go and we were rewarded by the most interesting man I had ever heard speak. His name was Bob Smith, Dr. W. Robert Smith, and he was professor of philosophy at Bethel College, St. Paul, MN. Doctor Bob was one of the few people to whom I could listen for hours and still want more. The most significant thing he said that first Saturday morning in May 1956 was that each one of us could have a personal meeting with the Lord Jesus Christ. He used the verse in Revelation (3:20) which says: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him and sup with him." In all my years of church-going, I had never had that concept brought home to me — that I could have a personal meeting with the creator-ruler of the entire universe! The very thought was staggering. I couldn’t even get an audience with Mayor Yorty of Los Angeles, much less President Eisenhower in the White House. But I could meet the Author of Life Himself! Was it really true? I decided to test the promise, made nearly 2,000 years ago, so after the meeting was over, I went into a little chapel nearby, and simply asked the Lord Jesus Christ to reveal Himself to me. Immediately, I felt His presence in the room. I couldn’t see anyone, but I knew absolutely that He was there. He called me by my name, and I thought of all the many years I had paid hardly any attention to Him, and of the many things I had done wrong that I knew were wrong, and I felt ashamed to be in His presence. But he said in such a kind voice that he had forgiven me for those things, and now he wanted me to allow Him to direct my life. Without hesitation, I said I would, and as soon as I said it, the sense of his presence was gone. I have repeated this story many hundreds of times since, but the awe and majesty of that occasion still overwhelms me whenever it comes to mind. Subsequent events have proved to me that it really happened, as I will try to show you in the rest of this story of my life.

When I came to realize what had happened to me, I could hardly wait for the next event to take place. What would the Lord Jesus Christ ask me to do? How would He let me know? What was I to do about my present life style? The first answer came to me within a few days — that I had to revise my priorities. Up to now my work took first priority over everything, with family and church competing for what was left of my time and energy. This was not satisfactory. I must put the things of the Lord first, family second, and work third. That adjustment was difficult, and I struggled with it for years, perhaps not even now having it fully implemented. The second answer came after many weeks — slowly and sometimes painfully. I was useless to the Lord until He had rubbed off a lot of rough places. It actually took twelve years before an opportunity came that was unmistakably His doing. I will tell you about that when we reach that time period. For the present, my “orders” were to get my priorities straightened out and begin to learn what being a Christian was all about.

Another consequence of this experience was the realization that the income I enjoyed was not mine to spend as I saw fit. It came from the Lord and belonged to the Lord. I was only a steward of it. Consequently, I had to recognize, first, that God’s Word (the Bible) commanded our giving one-tenth (the tithe) of our income to the support of God’s work (the church), and above that offerings in proportion to our blessings. I felt led to make increasingly larger donations to mission work of many kinds, and have been doing so right up to the present. God has promised to bless us if we honor His commands, and He has certainly done so with me and my family!

Church Work

The only thing I knew about church work was teaching Sunday School classes. I had about a dozen ten-year-olds, with six to nine coming on any one Sunday. We had memory work for them — Bible verses and short passages — as well as weekly lesson material for them to carry out. Some one had gotten up a list of important verses and passages, including whole chapters (such as Romans 8 and 12), as well as a number of gospel hymns. Mary Charlotte and I both spent a lot of time learning these texts, as well as in hearing the kids recite them. It was a valuable experience for me and has paid rich dividends in my later life. I set up a point system, and promised to take to Disney Land those that made a reasonable number of points for the year. For the next three years I took the same four or five kids to Disney Land — the others couldn't be bothered. We had a large Sunday School, about 800 kids from toddlers to high schoolers, with only half or less coming from church families. At our peak we had over 100 teachers, and with natural attrition, the job of recruiting teachers soon became a major one. The superintendent, Glenn Voorhies, approached me with the idea that I would be an assistant superintendent for personnel, and be the person to scare up new teachers. I accepted the assignment, and spent many evenings and Sunday afternoons going to homes of our members, having some success in building up our teaching staff. At the end of 1956, I was nominated to be an elder, and served the next four years as such, soon being assigned the chairmanship of the missions committee (which I wanted) and the Christian education committee (which I didn’t want). Glenn Voorhies resigned his post of superintendent of the Sunday School, due to age and over 20 years service in the job, and that job fell to me as well.

That first summer of 1956 brought a contact for me that was to have a major effect on my life — Charles Corwin. Chuck and his wife Elouise were missionaries to Japan with a British organization, the Central Japan Pioneer Mission. Elouise and her mother were both members of our local church, which therefore contributed to their support. They had come that Sunday to report to the congregation on their work, and we had our first contact. I remember particularly how they had their four children participate in their presentation. They told of two single women associated with them who were under-supported and didn’t even have enough to eat, which moved me to want to help, so I contacted Chuck after church and gave him some money for these women. I liked Chuck from the very first time he opened his mouth, and offered to take the four children to Disney Land, which I did later in the summer. That contact was to bear far more fruit than I ever suspected at the time.

Family Life in California

My new second priority was my family, and I made a determined effort to be more involved in their lives. By this time Mrs. Chapman had become blind, making the car trip to Los Angeles from Connecticut a real hardship for her, as she easily became carsick. We made her as comfortable in her new home as we could, but it took her many months to get used to it. Her hearing had failed as well, and we took her to hearing aid people several times a year. The dear old lady dropped her false teeth into the toilet one day, and nothing would do but to get the plumber, who removed the toilet and ran his snake clear to the street sewer in vain. Her one consolation was her radio, and this was her constant companion. Will was developing into a real sharp young man. He had his second or third bicycle by now, and used it for going to school on most days. He really became good at chess, and we played quite frequently, until he began to beat me so much, I no longer enjoyed playing with him. One of the ingrained traits of a Mitchell is the passionate desire to win, whatever the game. It was true of Dad, and to some extent of my sisters as well as myself. Mary Francis was also developing but along different lines than Will. She was not nearly as outgoing as he was, and was accordingly more or less eclipsed in family matters. Being only a year younger, she was fiercely competitive in some areas. I remember the arguments over who got the bigger piece of cake, or whatever the goody was. Mary Charlotte hit on the idea of having Will cut the cake or pie, and then giving Mary Francis the first choice. You never saw such identically sized pieces! We took rather frequent short trips to get better acquainted with the many places of interest, the most famous, of course, being Disney Land. From time to time, we had movie stars and radio and television people come into our church fellowship, and these would give special performances for our congregation. We tried never to miss one of these, and always attended as a family.

West Coast Univac Representative

My new title was West Coast Univac representative. We had several Univac 1103’s (scientific computers) in LA and San Diego, and a half dozen or so Univac l’s (and, later, II’s) in my region. I made my rounds of these places every other week unless a call came for some specific purpose. I inherited from Irwin Tomash a young man named Bob Rose, to assist me with the 1103 customers. Mary Charlotte invited Bob and his wife to dinner one Sunday, and they came, along with their new baby. When the conversation got on the topic of how Californians always seem to have come from somewhere else, Mrs. Rose spoke up, “I’m a sixth generation Californian and my son here is a seventh!” It seems that her great-great-great-grandfather had settled in the San Francisco area before San Francisco existed, before the gold rush of 1849.

Morgan Huff had brought his family with him when he was assigned as “our man” at Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Company, and I had frequent consultations with him on the progress of their programming effort. This program had some interesting quirks; for instance, in setting up the program to convert the punched card files to magnetic tape, our programmer had allowed space for a single digit for ‘sex’, thinking of the two possible values. But Pacific Mutual used 13 codes! It seems that they had family policies, with various combinations of parents and children. Another matter of concern was how to provide for access to the loan value of the policy, when a policyholder wanted to obtain a loan. Morgan came up with an ingenious way of dealing with this.

Just before leaving New York, my salary had been increased to $22,000, but the job in Los Angeles only paid $18,000. Much to my delight I received a bonus check from the company of $3,500 that summer. I was also eligible for the 3% commission for selling a computer. Pacific Mutual had not yet accepted theirs, and expected to do so in September, and I looked forward another $3,000-plus from the commission. Shortly after the first of September, a reorganization removed me from the Los Angeles office and reassigned me to the New York office, effective October 1st. If Pacific Mutual didn’t pay before then I would lose my commission! But thank the Good Lord, they did pay on September 29th (or 30th). Mr. Rand came from New York to attend the ceremonies, and receive the check for $1,100,000, as the computer printed it. He then gave it to me to take personally to the airport for mailing to New York, a task I was only too happy to carry out.

Special Representative of the Vice President for Sales

I never did thoroughly understand the company politics which ousted me from the LA office, but enjoyed the next two years as the “special representative” to Howard Widdoes. He was the Remington-Rand vice president who succeeded Al Seares as general sales manager for the Remington-Rand side of the business. When told of my new assignment, Mary Charlotte flatly refused to return to the New York area, and I had no wish to do so either. Mr. Widdoes graciously allowed me to keep my home in North Hollywood, and be on expense account whenever I came to New York. It soon became apparent that my job was to assist the Remington-Rand sales organization in the marketing of the computers, as the new management gave in to the pressure of the veteran Remington-Rand sales people that they should market computers on the same basis as other company products. Accordingly, whenever a sales office had made a proposal to a prospective firm or government agency, they would call on me to tear down the IBM proposal, on technical grounds, and show the economic advantage of acquiring Univac over the IBM 705. One interested insurance company in Fort Wayne, Indiana, was actually given to me as sales representative, since the local office could not handle it. I worked with the actuary of the company, and made a promise of showing him how using Univac would be $1,000,000 cheaper than getting IBM. I had established well over $700,000 in savings, when the 1956 consent decree of IBM under the monopoly law provided for sale as well as lease for all IBM products. That permitted the IBM salesman to propose much less hardware than would actually be needed (a ploy they consistently used to undermine us), and my “savings” evaporated, as well as my prospect. It turned out that the company spent more than $2,000,000 above the IBM estimate and took more than a year longer than we had forecast to get into business on the computer.

The Air Materiel Command Contest

The most important of these sales support assignments I had was for our proposal in early 1957 to upgrade the four Univac I’s owned by the Air Materiel Command. Several years earlier, General Sunderland had decided that the AMC would acquire four Univac I’s and four IBM 702’s for the eight depots around the country that supported the Air Force worldwide. But now these computers were overloaded and both companies had newer and faster machines to offer. Our problem in Sperry Rand (as our company was now called) was two-fold. First, IBM had their new computer in being and could demonstrate it, while ours was still on paper, although the components existed. Second, the Air Materiel Command was loaded with systems men who had grown up with IBM punched card machines, and who were uncomfortable working with Sperry Rand. They missed the systems expertise that the IBM salesman had and our salespeople usually didn’t have. I was well aware of that situation, and recognized that the cards were really stacked against us. So, for the first time in my life I asked the Lord Jesus Christ to show me how to do this job, and then went to work.

I visited the Gentile AMC Depot (near Dayton, OH), talked with the people there who were using the Univac I, and got copies of all the programs in use. I then retired to California and studied the programs, learning from them exactly what processing was done, in complete detail. I found that they were operating at about one-third efficiency, due to poor systems design, and that they could triple the performance of their computer with a few simple programming changes. I then calculated the performance of our new computer (the 1105 — a hybrid between the Univac and the 1103), on these programs. I must have been working well over a month when I got a call from our New York office, saying that the AMC Headquarters people wanted a “progress report" on my study, to be made the following Monday morning at AMC HQ in Dayton. I had not quite finished my calculations, but rushed through a series of pencil charts showing what I had done, and winding up with a brief performance and cost comparison between the Univac I and the new 1105. In fact, I finished the last sheet at 7am Monday morning in the hotel in Dayton just before leaving for AMC HQ. When we arrived at the HQ, we found that this meeting was not just a “progress report” to a few systems men at HQ, but a full-fledged sales presentation on which the AMC decision for acquisition would be made! They had brought in their principal systems men from all eight of the AMC depots to hear my presentation in order to make a technical recommendation to General Sunderland. Once again, I asked the Lord Jesus Christ to tell me what to say, called for an overhead projector, and proceeded to talk through my charts. It took just under two hours. When I finished, showing a six-to-one improvement in cost over the Univac I and an even better performance ratio, the men sprang to their feet and gave me a rousing cheer! I was dumbfounded! Sales reps are the lowest form of animal to the government bureaucrats. What on earth had caused this reaction? As we left the HQ to return to our hotel, I asked one of our men how come this had happened. He said, "You qualified yourself as an expert in their business by never once looking at a note or backtracking.” Maybe so, but the real answer to my question was that the Lord Jesus Christ had done this for His own purposes, as I was to find out later. The upshot of the meeting was that General Sunderland decided to continue to share the AMC business with IBM and Sperry Rand, with 1105’s to replace Univac l’s. It was an $8,000,000 order for us!

Back to New York

In the spring of 1958, my boss, Howard Widdoes, decided to reorganize the sales headquarters staff in the New York office, creating four departments within the computer sales staff. Luther Haar and I were to head two of these. Although Mr. Widdoes wanted me there in New York, he allowed me to continue to live in California, and promised me a work assignment in the LA area at least one week a month. I chose to live in a small room in a hotel considered second-rate, as I did not want to live at the Grammercy Park, where Luther lived, due to their callous treatment of me in the past. I don’t remember much of what went on during those months of 1958, but two incidents do come to mind. Our US Steel customer in Pittsburgh (National Tube Division) asked for me to visit two of their vice presidents at a hotel in Pittsburgh, not saying why. Of course, I was sent, and had a luncheon with them. It turned out they wanted to hire one of our leading programmers. The significant thing about the meeting was that the salad I ate (with lots of whipped cream on it) gave me a violent case of indigestion, so bad I had to excuse myself and go to my room. That was the first outbreak of stomach problems that were to plague me for many years. Ever since the drinking days in New York back in 1954-55 (related earlier), I had experienced stomach upset when imbibing alcoholic beverages of any kind, and so had studiously avoided them. But now even ordinary food, particularly meats, gave me problems and I practically gave up meats, living on such vegetables and salads as I could get in restaurants.

The second incident occurred in early September. I was sitting at my desk that morning, when suddenly I felt isolated from reality, and simply stared out of the window. I remember hearing the people around me whispering to one another, but I didn’t have a care in the world. I readily answered any question put to me, but volunteered nothing. I was soon escorted to the company doctor, who happened to be in his office. He asked me many questions about my work, my life style, what might be bothering me, and thus learned of my dietary problem. I would have told him anything I knew, without any reservations whatever! He diagnosed my situation as “nervous exhaustion,” the lack of protein in my diet causing “starvation” of the nervous system. He recommended that I be sent home to eat steak three times a day, and not to make decisions until I really felt like doing so. Back in California, I followed the doctor’s orders, and filled in my time by expanding on a pipe dream of long standing — traveling around the world with my whole family! At first the whole idea seemed preposterous, but slowly it began to evolve. I saw an ad by Volkswagen of their new Kombi-bus Kamper, available for delivery in Germany. I learned of a book called Trans-African Highways, which would guide me in a motor trip from top to bottom of Africa. The local AAA travel office advised me of a passenger ship from Cape Town to Rio de Janeiro. So the plan evolved — we would circle the Atlantic, driving across Europe, Africa, and South America. Where would the time and money come from? Where could another driver be found? Mary Charlotte wouldn’t consider being that driver, and Will was only 15. Just a pipe dream. Back at work, I discussed the desire with Mr. Widdoes. Much to my amazement, he thought it was a good idea, and would help me all he could. He gave me twice my usual vacation time, with time off without pay for the remainder of the four months we needed. We raised the mortgage on our home on Beck Avenue to get the financing. We had gotten to know and love our associate minister, John Bratt (see left), who was single and loved to travel, but John had now moved to Seattle. We called him and sounded him out on accompanying us, and he was eager to do so, but would have to have a replacement. The Lord provided such a man in the person of Bob Bunn (see right) (of our church), who had just finished seminary and was without a church job.

When I tried to order the Kombi-bus, however, I learned that one would not be available until January 1959 — two months too late to fit the climate requirements and goals of the planned trip. Then another miracle — a cancellation made a vehicle become available in November, just when we wanted it. I invited Mother and Dad to accompany us, at least through Europe and the Holy Land, which they decided to do. Will and Mary Francis were then going to a private school (Lutheran), and their teachers were enthusiastic about their going, even though it meant four months out of school. They were given assignments, took all their books with them, and incredibly kept up with their school work, so as to return with hardly a ripple in their formal learning. So one after another the obstacles disappeared, and we prepared to leave California in early November on a 40,000-mile globe-circling trip. As I look back on it, I am convinced that this trip was God’s idea, as He performed at least five miracles in its preparation, and was to perform many more before it ended! Briefly, the five were: (1) Mr. Widdoes okay (perhaps based on the $8,000,000 AMC order); (2) the availability of the Kombi when needed; (3) the availability of Bob Bunn to release John Bratt; (4) the finance needed; and (5) the way the children were released from school without the slightest setback in their education. On top of these was the fitting together of the many details, particularly those concerned with driving from top to bottom of Africa — something that was possible for not more than three years, ending with the year we did it!

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