About Myself

Birth & Baptismal Certificate
Birth & Baptismal Certificate
I was born in 1936 as the third child into a Roman-Catholic miner’s family of 7 children in Waltrop, a small town north of Dortmund in Westphalia, an area in north-western Germany that alternated between coal mines and farms. Dortmund was known for its many mines, steel mills, its soccer team and beer breweries. My father, his brothers, my grandfathers and my mother’s brothers were all coal miners – a physically exhausting, dangerous, unhealthy profession that shortened the men’s lives severely because they developed silicosis of (i.e. dust in) their lungs. But it paid well, with good social benefits including health insurance and low-cost housing built and owned by the mines. For those reason, many families from eastern Germany and neighboring countries moved there, including the my mother’s family from Posen (now: Pozna) in what is now Poland. A memory of mine is the presence of many widows in our communities traditionally wearing black dresses, and my father discouraged us from becoming miners also.

with my family, 1955
with my family ca. 1955
Dortmund was heavily bombed during World War II because of its war-supporting industry. (Many years later I met one of the bomber pilots in the choir of St. Joseph of Cupertino Catholic church.) After bombing raids, we children would collect bomb fragments and turned them in for making German bombs and guns. In summer, we often swam and played in bomb craters who had filled up with ground water and rain. Later in the war, with the raids getting too intense, mothers and children in our area were evacuated to eastern rural Germany (now belonging to Poland). There was sometimes little or no food and at times we kids ate fodder meant for horses. Our mother returned home with the younger children in 1944 to have another baby, and my older brother and I were given into the care of local families. When the war ended, our father came to take us boys home on a (one!) bicycle. The trip was over hundreds of miles, and, after he had crossed the border into the Russian occupational zone (where the two of us were then located, though then not any more as far as Poland because of the advance of the Russian army; Dortmund lay in the British zone), we had only one day to get back out. The bicycle seat broke on the way home, so one of us had to walk while the other sat on the steering bar, my father doing the bicycling.

as a piano student
as a piano student
While evacuated along with my older brother in eastern Germany, I discovered my interest in music (our foster parents had a piano!), and soon after returning home my parents started me on piano lessons. We had no piano, and kind neighbors let me practice on theirs. Then my dad traded a radio in for an antique rectangular piano (for some time after the war, there were few new products available, and people traded goods and furniture), which we kept for several years after which it was replaced by a restored baby grand. When I was about 14, I started playing the organ in church as well, for a stipend of 1 Deutsche Mark per mass.

High School, 1956
With My High School Graduation Class (1956)
After 4 years of elementary school I transferred to the Gymnasium which is roughly the equivalent to a US high school (but students attend one year longer than here); after graduation from it in 1956, I studied physics for several semesters at a German university. My interest in science bloomed rather late, and the decision not to study music came as a shock to my parents who had invested considerable effort in my piano studies over the years, and, no doubt, some at some expense of my siblings. Not having done exceptionally well in science or math in school also made them skeptical of my being able to study physics successfully.

Lab Technician
as a Lab Technician in Montreal
Furthermore, developing a desire for adventure and realizing that the physical sciences had the greatest future in the USA, I decided to immigrate there. That was a second disappointment for my parents. (The third one was my becoming a US citizen, which, so I was told later, infuriated my father.) But without a sponsor, that was not possible. Since Canada did not require one, I immigrated to Montreal in 1958, after working for half a year for the cost of the air fare. Neither parent went with me to the heliport. Dad had to work, and mom went to church to cry and pray for my safety. From that time on, I was totally self-supporting as my parents had the other children to take care of. In Montreal I worked for two years in a pharmaceutical lab, and I was unsure about a career in physics. Neither parent went with me to the airport – my father was at work, my mother in church crying and praying. For the rest of my life I have been haunted by dreams of guilt for all the hurt I caused my parents.

Just Married
Billie and I just married, 1970
I eventually decided to continue with studying physics, and in 1960, after finding sponsors for immigration to the US at Harvard University (to which I had applied along with many other American universities) I immigrated to Boston to study at MIT. But worrying about my ability to finance studies there (the yearly tuition was a then “staggering” amount of $1500, and I had saved only $2000 from my Montreal job!), I “skipped town” before the semester began, taking the Greyhound bus to Berkeley, CA where the U. of California had accepted me also. After obtaining there my BA, I went to the U. of Maryland where I obtained a Ph.D. in 1968. I worked for 10 years at the U. of Hawaii conducting astronomy research and teaching undergraduate physics, and in 1978 went to work for Lockheed in Palo Alto designing, among others, orbiting telescopes to search for planets around other stars. While in Berkeley, and in order not to be drafted, I enlisted in the US Naval Reserve, which meant being a “weekend soldier” once a month and serving on a Navy ship for two weeks during the summer. From my Navy "sting" I learned to respect the dedication and hard work of people in the military -and, getting awfully sea-sick on one cruise, to dislike ships.

Family, 2000
Our Family in 2000
In Honolulu, I met and married my wife Billie (“Bunchie”) Lanier Reeves (related to the film star Keanu Reeves) who was a music graduate student at UH, had studied music in Europe and spoke fluent German. We have three grown children and, as of 2009, five grand children, all living in or near the Bay Area. Since 1978, we have lived in Cupertino, CA, the home town of Apple Computer. Billie now teaches singing at the local De Anza College and directs several choirs. Since my retirement from Lockheed in 1998, I have devoted myself to writing and playing music and have been organist at St. Joseph of Cupertino Catholic church since 2000. My compositions (ca. 700 as of late 2011) are mostly for organ, piano, voice and church choir (including a Requiem for solo, organ and orchestra). Those for piano or organ I have recorded, some choral and vocal compositions have been as well, and some of my choral compositions are published by Cantus Quercus Press.

 
 
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