||Richard E. Verhoeven was born in Appleton, Wisconsin on October 10, 1926. His father worked for the electric and gas company and his mother taught. He was the youngest of four surviving children - two died early in life. Richard was educated in a catholic grade school and the Appleton Public High School, graduating in June of 1945. During his childhood at around age 6, Richard took dancing lessons and turned professional at age 10 or 12. He performed all around this area when not in school as "Rickey Conlan Garvey.". His family was not severely affected by the Depression.
A few days after graduating from high school, Richard was drafted into the United States Army. After basic training in Missouri, he was assigned to the medical department and took his training as a surgical tech at Fitzsimmons General Hospital. His first assignment was in Galesburg, Illinois at an Army hospital where he worked on a ward treating paralyzed soldiers. That was a sobering experience. During this time, and in fact all through his Army career he performed at every opportunity, usually with small make-up groups of guys that had a little talent. Most of Richard's duties were pretty mundane, serving as a "bedpan jockey" on the wards. Entertaining those soldiers was a gratifying thing for Richard and his performing buddies.
In January of 1946 he was assigned to an Army transport vessel, the Gen. Mason M. Patrick and sailed for the Far East. He was attached to the 5th Army as Ship's Complement.. Richard was involved in the evacuation of troops from Guam and Saipan. Many were dropped off in Hawaii. Discharge from the Army came on June 19, 1946.
After discharge, Richard worked briefly at the Appleton Post Office and Prange's. Then he went to Marquette for two semesters but realized that entertaining was going to be his life's work. He opened a small studio in Appleton, and in 1949 bought a place on Waugoo Street in Oshkosh at the insistence of his friend and fellow part-time entertainer Jim Damon who performed as a magician. I believe the location was in or near what had been Jimmy's Hat Shop.
Richard's business prospered, he married Shirley Roycraft and they had three children. He eventually turned the business over to his daughter. His two sons are in other types of work. He remains active as an employee of "Richard's School of the Dance."
||World War II Oral History Project
|Dates of Accumulation
||August 18, 2004
||Cassette recorded oral history interview with Richard E. Verhoeven, United Army Medical Corps during World War II.
Richard Verhoeven Interview
18 August 2004
Conducted by Tom Sullivan
(T: identifies the interviewer, Tom Sullivan; R: identifies the subject, Richard Verhoeven. Open brackets [ ] or bracketed words indicate that either a word or phrase is not understood or that proper spelling for a word is unclear, in that order).
T: It's August 18th, 2004 and I'm Tom Sullivan at the Oshkosh Public Museum with Richard Verhoeven who served in World War II. We're going to be talking about his experiences in that war. Let's begin Richard by having you tell me when and where you were born.
R: I was born in Appleton, Wisconsin October 18, 1926.
T: Were your mother and father both from that area?
R: Both my mother and father came from Freedom, Wisconsin. My mother was an Irishman. She was a Garvey, related to the Conlans and the Murphy's. And then my dad was Dutch because of Verhoeven. And they came to Appleton. And I'm the baby of the family. There were six of us. We lost two when they were born. But there were six of us in the family. I had three brothers and two sisters. So that's the six of us.
T: Are any of them still living?
R: My brother Paul is still living. And I'm the baby. I'm the last one.
T: What did your dad do for a living?
R: My dad worked for the Wisconsin-Michigan Power Company for years. And my mother taught school and mostly in the Appleton area. My mother was at Lawrence College for awhile.
T: Did she teach at the college level then?
R: She was teaching, no, she was teaching some things at the college level. And if you ever hear of "Barefoot Charley," he's up north, my mother taught "Barefoot Charley." He had a big resort up north.
T: Never heard of him.
R: Yeah. Barefoot Charlie's is a popular place up north, like King's Gateway and [ ] Showboat.
T: Tell me about your childhood Richard, where you went to school, grade school in particular. And what kind of activities you engaged in for fun after school.
R: Well, when I was in grade school, I went to St. Joseph's Catholic School on Lawrence Street down in Appleton. And we had Franciscan priests and we had Capuchins you might as well say, and Notre Dame Sisters. I became an altar boy at St. Joe's and then I played basketball for the conference team and then I played baseball for the conference team at St. Joe's.
And all the while I was doin that, when I was about six years old, I started my entertainment. And I entertained most of my lifetime through high school, I mean through grade school. Most of the time I was dancing on weekends all over.
T: Now you say you started your entertainment at age 6, meaning that you took lessons?
R: Took lessons. And I went professional maybe when I was about 10 or 12.
R: Yes. I was on the road. I traveled most of the cities in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana.
T: What was, did you have a specialty?
R: I had a specialty. I worked with different orchestras, you know that were playing at theaters. And well when I was younger I danced at the Rio Theater in Appleton, the Orpheum and the Bay Theater in Green Bay.
T: Was this mainly tap and jazz type of thing?
R: Tap and things like that. Song and dance man. I was known as Rickey Conlan. Richard Conlan Garvey Verhoeven.
T: That was your stage name then.
R: Richard Conlan Garvey. And well, I did theaters around Wisconsin and the Retlaw in Fond du Lac. Oshkosh Theater and Raulf Theater here in town. And then that's what I think got me, and then of course the U.S. war broke out and I was with the U. S. tour. And I was with a guy from Oshkosh here, Mr. James Damon. He was a magician here. I traveled all over Wisconsin with him doing shows at various [ ] cities with bond drives.
T: Was Jim Damon a sort of portly fellow? I knew him.
R: A portly man and he had an office down here by the old Athearn Hotel. [Woodsole] products. And he was a real fine magician. And I traveled with him until I graduated from high school.
T: Now when you went to high school in Appleton, did that interfere with your entertaining?
R: No. When I was in high school I played basketball but wasn't on the conference team. I boxed with the boxing team. I almost, I wouldn't say every weekend but many times in my high school career, was gone on weekends. Either at bond shows or things like that. And it helped an awful lot because when it came to the time to graduate, in other words I graduated on June 7th 1945. And I entered the service on June 13th, 1945, seven days after graduation. And of course, being a member of the military yourself you can understand, because I was on entertainment and selling bonds. They asked me what branch of service I wanted. I said, "the Navy." The gave me the Army.
T: I guess it works out that way quite a bit.
R: Yeah. And they gave me the Army but maybe because the entertainment. Out of sixteen guys that went in, two of us, one of my buddies Bruce Henning got the Air Force. And I got the medics. All the rest got the infantry. And they went through 16 weeks of basic and I went through eight. But that was about it. Then that started my military career.
T: Let me go back just a little bit Richard and ask you about the Depression. You and I grew up during the Depression years. Was your family affected by the Depression?
R: My mother and father were great people. We were brought up very strict. The Rosary was said at our house almost every day. And the thing is that we had hand-me-downs. You know like shoes; you had to put the rubber on em, flap em around because [ ] shoes. The stuff was handed down. But we never really lacked for food. My father, and my mother being Irish, my mother even had relatives that didn't have too much. And we didn't have too much. We were just an average family. But it seemed like we were feeding everybody. And my mother used to make pancakes that came out, old potato pancakes, stacks and stacks.
T: So your dad kept working all through the Depression.
R: My dad kept working through the Depression. He was a hard-working man. And we were brought up strict but we loved our parents.
T: Was Appleton in general severely affected by the Depression or not? Oshkosh apparently was.
R: Oshkosh, to be honest with you, when I first came to Oshkosh, oh my God! I didn't want to come to Oshkosh but Jimmy Damon talked me into it and my mother signed a lease for a year and I've been here fifty-five years. And I just love it. But Appleton was just like any other Wisconsin town. They were having struggling along with people that didn't have jobs. There were soup kitchens and people were coming to the house and asking for food. We'd take em in. We didn't have it. My dad would still take people in and feed them.
T: During the late thirties and early forties there was war over in Europe and there was war in the Far East. Did you give it much thought at that time? Did you think that maybe some day we would be in it? Or didn't that occur to you?
R: It didn't occur to me but it did occur to my father. And it did occur to me when we were in high school that we might have to go. When I was in the ninth grade my dad said, "You're going to be too young for this war and too old for the next." But it didn't turn out that way. It didn't turn out that way. And I was surprised because I got a deferment in my senior year because of being a senior, and I think because of the service I was doing with bond drives and things like that. But it was funny, right after graduation, seven days later I was at Fort Sheridan. Yeah, it went fast.
T: Well, we'll pick it up there then and…
R: I hope I'm not talking too fast.
T: No, no. We'll find out what happened then after you were inducted. You went to Fort Sheridan. What was the next step for you in your training?
R: Well the next step I went to Fort Sheridan. From Fort Sheridan of course I was assigned to the medical corps. But we had to take our basic training at Camp Crowder, Missouri. It was a signal corps basic thing but it was still a basic training camp. And we had eight weeks of basic training. Of course it was just like you would have. The strictness was there and I didn't have time to do any entertainment, just to get some sleep. Because we had to have some sleep. You know how it was in service. And of course it was like any military training. It was tough and a lot of times we'd go to a movie at night, see the movie and enjoy it and we realized all of a sudden when we came out of the movie that we were in the Army, you know. And went back to the barracks. You know how it was.
R: And of course many of us would be real brave during the day but you could hear the sniffling at night. You know how it was. People wanted to be home.
T: Sure, a little homesickness set in sometimes.
R: But we had to make sure that we could keep our nose in the air and our spirits up. We wanted to feel that we weren't babies or something. We wanted to be men.
T: After basic was completed, where did you go then?
R: After basic training I was sent to Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in Denver, Colorado. That's where Bush was born. President Bush was born at Fitzsimmons. I used to hear that all the time. While at Fitzsimmons we studied anatomy and physiology and materia medica and all that stuff. And at that time we thought we were pretty good. You know, being in the medics. We knew what a hemostat was and a forceps. And we gave shots. And we fixed broken arms and broken legs the best we could. They never told if we did em wrong. But we did the best we could and we learned. And that was there.
And when I was at Fitzsimmons I was dressed, I did my work mostly with my fatigues and things because the entertainment, we weren't there long. We went to the day rooms and you could always find a piano player or you'd find somebody playing the accordion. Or you'd find somebody playing the violin. Sooner or later we got together. And I wrote back to Jimmy Damon in Oshkosh here. And he got my mother to get some scores of music and we put on a nice big show at Denver Colorado for our basic men. And we did it over and over again for the day rooms. You know how it was.
And all of a sudden one day I was told to report to the orderly room and they asked me if we could put that show on for the camp. Well they came over to our orderly room at the main hospital and staff and we put on a great show.
T: How many of you guys were involved in this show? Was it just a few of you? Or was it a bigger deal?
R: It was a show where we'd have singers, and dancers, and comics, stand-up comics. And basically the basic show that you do for… But it was one of our nicest shows that we put on. We put shows on weekends and little things in the day room. But then we put on a bigger show.
And then it wasn't long after that we were asked what we would like to do after basic training. Where we would like to go. And I said somewhere close to home. And because, I think, of the entertainment, I was asked by the sergeant one time, "Would you consider, you know, sort of being stationed here?"" And I think that was because of the entertainment. And I said, "Being honest with you," You know how it is, "I want to be with my buddies." Because I'd be starting all over again. And they sort of offered me a chance to stay there but I chose to go with my buddies when we were through school wherever we were assigned.
But I did ask for Galesburg, Illinois, the old Army hospital. I got it. And I was sent to the old army hospital in Galesburg, Illinois. And the moment I arrived there, who did I run into, a Lieutenant Toonen. A nurse from Appleton, Wisconsin. And she said, "You're Richard." And I said, "Yes I am." From that moment on, I'll tell you that story; I remember it just like it was yesterday. I danced for, I was assigned to the paralytic ward. If you know how bad that is. I was assigned to the paralytic ward and I danced silly things in the ward all the time. I'd dance in every morning.
And anyway, we put a picnic on for all the guys. You know paralytics. They have no control. We took them out to a picnic and they had a good time. They drank things and the only thing is when we came back we had to clean em up. That's what we do. We were bedpan commandos. And that's what happened but we made em up, cleaned em up very good. The next morning I came in and I said to the guys, "Okay, today we're all going to learn to tap dance," I said. These are guys without legs, arms. I got, they threw bedpans and urinals and everything else at me.
But in the meantime, that's when my heart got big for the paralytics, those servicemen. Because "Fuzz" Riley from Appleton, he was also wounded and he was there. And the thing is you could hear those boys crying at night but not during the daytime. You never see them feeling sorry for themselves. They'd say, "Well it's good he got it, not me." But you know, you realized what they were going through.
And I realize what the boys are going through now. You hear about the boys that are killed every day. What about the thousands of boys that have been wounded. You don't hear too much about them. But they're going to die too. And they are bad wounds. That's why I feel sorry for about what's going on now. I feel sorry for the wounded as well. And the people that are being killed.
T: How long did you stay at Galesburg?
R: Well we had a month. Four weeks of practical training. At Galesburg, Illinois. Then while I was there Lt. Toonen arranged a pass, which I hadn't been home for a long time. Arranged a pass for me to go home. Well I had to stand retreat one night and the very moment after retreat, she said, "Head for home." I was home for the weekend. Came back, had to be in by midnight or ll o'clock on a Sunday night. I got back in the barracks, I never realized I was home. I thought it was a dream, you know. I was home maybe for 24 hours and that was it. And then that was pretty much it.
T: Where did you go then?
R: After that I went to Fort Mason San Francisco, right next to the chocolate factory, if you ever heard of the chocolate factory. It's called Giardelli Square. At that time it was a big warehouse and it was four or five floors. And I was in the barracks waiting to be assigned from one place to another. And the whole building was filled with soldiers. Of course I started dancing and somebody played the mouth organ or something. And all of a sudden you could hear guys comin up, different guys that I was stationed with. "Rickey's here, Rickey's here." And I'd go up with the guys and I'd dance. And then in between time we started getting together because a couple of my boys had gone on the Queen Mary, my buddies, to Europe. They came back and somehow we all got back together in the Pacific. And that's where we all got back together, was at Fort Mason.
And well, after Fort Mason, we were just there to get assigned. I was sent to Oakland Army Base. And except for the dancing in the barracks, I didn't do any shows at Fort Mason. It was just dancing in the big chocolate factory. I've been back to Giardelli Square once since. It was very nice.
Well anyway, from there I went to Oakland Army Base and then they decided where we were gonna go so they sent us to Camp Stillman, California - Pittsburgh. Camp Stillman in Pittsburgh, California. And then we were all in, like clerks. The guys were coming back. They were getting discharged and we were gonna clerk, office. And that was for several months and all of a sudden - I didn't do much dancing at that time - I played baseball with the guys and we played Treasure Island, ah we played Treasure Island.
And oh, that was pretty much for a couple months and all of a sudden I was sent to the orderly room one day and I was told I was being assigned to the hospital at Camp Stillman. My other buddies were still working at the discharge center.
T: What was the approximate date that you were at Camp Stillman, roughly?
R: I would say from maybe January of 1946, January, February, March. Something like that in Camp Stillman. And we were clerks and then I was assigned to the hospital. And my other buddies, we lived in the same area, but they went to the clerks office and we used to work the midnight shift. And I'd go through Wisconsin and see if I could find any guys from Wisconsin getting discharged and things like that. But anyway when I was sent to the hospital I worked on the wards of course, like anything else. It wasn't any surgery. It was like bedpan commando, taking temperatures, pulses, you know, blood pressure and things like that. Nothing really big.
And then I was in, oh by the way, I had three buddies. We were called the "Three Musketeers" and Camp Stillman was not a small camp. And I did shows at different company things. In the day rooms and things like that even when I was in the medic, I mean at the hospital. And anyway my brother Paul came in for a court martial. He was in the Air Force down in Texas. He came in to California for a court martial and he came over to the hospital. And he came into the gate. He said he was looking for a private - I was a private - looking for Richard Verhoeven. He said, "He's at the hospital." He's one of the Three Musketeers. You can't miss him." And that's a big base. Because we danced all the weekend. He came to see me and he said, "You're a Pfc." I said, "No, I'm still a private." He said, "No, it's on the board, Pfc." I never knew I was a Pfc. I was a Pfc. a good month, six weeks ahead of time. I mean I never knew I was Pfc.
T: Run right out and buy those stripes!
R: Oh yeah! And then a guy came up, "Yeah, get your stripes on." I didn't know that. Well anyway Paul stayed with me for a couple days and I visited with him. And I asked the nurse if I could get off. She checked with the Captain and she arranged for me to spend a day with my brother in Pittsburgh, which was maybe a couple miles away from base. But anyway he came back and we stayed at the barracks for a couple days and he took off.
Well anyway again, my buddies, I stayed there for a couple months working in the hospital. And then one day I heard from my buddies they were being transferred to Oakland Army Base. And they were being assigned for overseas. And the nurse told me, "No Richard, you're staying here at the hospital." And all of a sudden for some reason, I got along with the Captain. And we [ ] a little joke with his children. They came to the hospital and things like that. And he said, I asked him for a favor. I said, "My buddies are being transferred to Oakland Army Base and going overseas." You know, being lonesome. I said, "I'd like to go along if at all possible. He said he didn't know if he could swing it but anyway he said, "Go back to the barracks and sit there and wait." I waited for two days. And pretty soon he came in. He said, "Get your bags packed. You're going with your buddies." So a WAC picked me up in a Jeep and my buddies were sittin at the headquarters in a truck. And I said, "You're not going along without me." So we were transferred to Oakland Army Base.
So I have to tell you what happened. You know what a Warrant Officer is?
R: Well a Warrant Officer got aboard. The thing is I was only a private. Private First Class. And my buddies got on it. We were all together in basic training. And well, the Warrant Officer told Shapey, he's a guy that was a buddy of mine, he was a Corporal. Acting Corporal during basic training. He was a private right after that. But he was a very big Texan and we got along just great. And the Warrant Officer said, "Soldier, pick up, pick my bags." And I for some reason - a cocky little shit - I said, "You don't have to do that. Make him carry his own bags." And he asked me, "What is your name; what is your rank?" He turned on me. And I gave him my rank but I didn't feel uncomfortable but I was a little scared being only a private. But anyway he took his own bags. I never heard anything after that. But I was surprised at that, I don't know why I said that but I did.
And then I went to Oakland Army Base. And it wasn't maybe about two weeks later we were put on TDY. Temporary duty. And we were sent to Fort Mason. And while we were sent to Fort Mason we were under a Captain Horn. And Captain Horn said, "You are my men. You do nothing but sit in your barracks and wait to be called. And we'll give you duties. And you are to report to me every day." And we worked at the dispensary at Fort Mason. And then at Fort Mason, well I didn't know anything about dental, but we worked in the dental office too. And at that time, well at that time they weren't taking care of the teeth like they would do now but they did do good jobs. And we gave shots there. I gave shots there. I gave smallpox, I picked em there and see if they'd work. And we were getting ready to take the dependants overseas.
At that time, we were there for about three or four weeks. We were waiting to be assigned to a ship. And there was 12 of us, maybe 14 of us and some were put on the General Mason M. Patrick. That was my ship. And some were put on the Riley, another, the Riley, it was another ship. They were called our sister ship. Well anyway we waited and then all of a sudden we broke up our group and we went into groups of six. And I was assigned to the General Mason M. Patrick. We had a Captain. A Major ran the ship. It was run buy Merchant Marines. It was run by Merchant Marines; there was a staff maybe about Major and his adjutant, whatever, that worked with him. And then there was a, we had a Captain and a, Captain, two nurses, then the six of us. We had two surgical technicians. Two medical technicians. We had a lab man who knew how to make martinis, who knew how to do everything. All he did was P.C. pills, Calamine Lotion, you know how it was!
T: There wasn't much else available at the time.
R: He'd mix martinis for us at night and things like that. But anyway we were aboard ship and as a surgical technician, we gave shots every day. And you being in the medics, you realize at that time the nurses did, but we carried hundreds and thousands of men. And we'd be assigned up and of course we filled a syringe with ten cc's. But we changed needles at every cc. And one of our medical technicians would go down and clean the needles, bring em up, we'd put on a new needle. Sometimes they got a little more than a cc. Sometimes they got a little less than a cc. But we gave em their shots and we did hundreds of those shots.
And I don't know if it was on my first trip or the second trip, one of the people - a lady - had an appendectomy. I was in surgery with along with Shapey, a buddy of mine. But we really didn't have nothin to do with it. We scrubbed up and things like that but the nurses were there, doctors, and I guess they wanted to give us some training. And we stayed in the room. We didn't have to do much except sterilize the instruments. But that was about it. And then ah, and that was our first trip over. We landed in Honolulu.
T: Was it an uneventful trip weather-wise?
R: Oh, we practiced. We went out the very first day. Before we went on our trip, the first trip over, we went on a practice run to see if everything was all right with the ship; maybe a day out and a day back in. And that's the only time I ever got seasick. Only time I ever got seasick. And then the first trip was over to Honolulu and we carried thousands of men.
And then from there we went to Guam and that's where I met Father Paul Toshick from Appleton, who taught me to be an altar boy at St. Joe's in Appleton. And he was at a parish called St. Joseph's.
It was at little Talofofo in Guam. And he was the priest there. But before he came there during the war, Father Theophine was there from Appleton.
T: How do you spell that?
R: Theophine? T-H-E-O-P-H-I-N-E. Something like that. And he was captured by the Japanese. He was taken to Japan and after the war he was brought back to Guam and Father Paul from Appleton took his place. And when I came to Guam I had asked permission to go ashore to see Father Paul. And a couple buddies of mine came along. Of course we came in a Jeep all through the jungle. We came up to this little parish and I kept on saying, "Father Paul." And the little kids were saying, "M.P., M.P." I said, "No M.P. I want to see Father Paul. They came out with pictures of native girls. And I said, "No, Father Paul."
Well anyway, Father Paul came out. And he knew me right away. And he asked me if we could stay over. And that next day I served Mass for him. And my buddies who weren't Catholic, they said, "Now there he goes looking at the statues again." But you know, my buddies went to church.
And then I stayed there and then Father Paul asked me, I asked him if there was anything I could do for him. At that time my mother was the head of the Christian Mothers at Appleton at St. Joe's. He said, "Is there any possibility I could get some Christmas tree lights?" And I said I would try. Anyway, I talked to my mother, wrote her a letter. Later on in my career in the service, he wrote me a letter and said he got hundreds of Christmas tree lights, but not for his parish. He got one or two. The rest were spread over the island. To the different parishes. But he got that and more than a couple years later, maybe a few years back I heard Father Paul was back here at St. Joe's to get his gall bladder taken out. I think that by this time may Father Paul is dead, you know. Passed away. But that was my experience on Guam.
And then from Guam we took off for Saipan. And of course I danced at Guam. Father Paul and the people in their parish, put on a big show. And then at Saipan it was some kind of a field hospital. And we went ashore with our staff. And that afternoon on Saipan I believe it was, maybe Guam but it was so long ago, but we put two trucks together and put plywood, put two by fours down and plywood. We had a picnic, a drinking picnic, beer and all that stuff. And a guy played accordion, played "Twelfth Street Rag" and I danced "Twelfth Street Rag." We had silly things. Like entertainers are [ ]. It was a great little afternoon show. And things like that. And that was it.
T: You mentioned having beer and so forth.
R: W-2 beer it was.
T: It was my understanding that during the war a lot of enlisted men did not see any alcoholic beverages. The officers got a ration I believe. But most enlisted men didn't get any.
R: No. We basic, in training or something like that, the war was over, we could get beer if we went downtown. To a nightclub or something like that when all the buddies got together. And well, it was great. We got the W-2 beer. The guys would have, you couldn't get loaded on it. There was about ten or fifteen bottles of beer at a time on the table. And there was nothin to it. But not too much drinking.
T: What was the mission of your ship that you were stationed on? Were you evacuating?
R: We were a transport ship. We were taking people over, dependants and soldiers over, replacements. And bringing men back.
T: The men that you brought back, were they men generally in good health or were they wounded guys.
R: No, some, a few. But most of em were already back, the wounded. We brought sick people back. And we got people that got seasick aboard ship. And look, WC pills, Calamine Lotion, they got it. But it was mostly evacuation and bringing people back. I remember a little thing we tore down on Guam or Saipan, I can't remember. It was, they didn't bring it back. They threw it away. I saw tanks sittin in the water and things like that.
T: I was going to ask you about the appearance of those two islands because it was right after their big conflict there. What did things look like on those islands?
R: Well I got there, the Americans took that Guam and Saipan. And it was pretty normal. And I remember Father Paul taking me out in the jungle and he said, "Wait until four o'clock." I waited until four o'clock [ ] and all of a sudden I saw airplanes as far as you could see. It was really a Navy base because well, we came in and I thought we had a big ship, you know. And well anyway I think Guam and Saipan were pretty much the same. Tinian, you could see like Lake Winnebago, you could look from on Miller Drive over here and look at High Cliff over there. That's how close it looked, how Saipan was. I mean between Tinian. And Tinian of course you know, that's where they took off for Hiroshima with the Enola Gay.
T: I just expected that you would see a lot of the flotsam of war. The wreckage and [ ] trees.
R: Oh, Father Paul's church was all bullet holes and things like that. You could see it but they were getting by. And years after I got out of the service, Japanese were still surrendering on Guam.
R: Yeah, they stayed up in the caves. They stayed in the caves, didn't come out. They thought the war was still going on. Even their own people came back talking to em in Japanese, "C'mon out. The war is over." It was years after the war was over that still Japanese were surrendering on Guam. But Guam was much more civilized than Saipan. Saipan and Tinian, you know.
T: Now when you brought these people back from those islands, did you take them just to Hawaii or did you go all the way to the states with them?
R: When we came back we went back to Hawaii and we picked up more men and maybe change of duties or something like that and we brought em back to Fort Mason and some of them went to the Presidio. Some of them went to different hospitals in [Illinois]. Some came back to Camp Stillman and Oakland Army Base, and different army bases. Once they got back to San Francisco and got discharged. And it was the same thing. Some officers came back and were sent to the Presidio. If you have ever been in San Francisco, I thing the Presidio is just gorgeous.
T: I've been there but I can't recall seeing the Presidio. I don't have any idea where it is.
R: The Presidio wasn't too far from Fort Mason. It was a base for mostly officers and things like that, and the elite. And I went back here a couple of years ago. Hadn't been back to San Francisco in all those years. And well, anyway we came back to the states and then we were told we can go back up to the hill and be stationed at Fort Mason or stay aboard ship. Of course being smart we decided to stay aboard ship and wait for us to be re-shipped. And well, some of us were supposed to get out. They said, they gave us a chance to re-enlist or take our chances. Some of my buddies re-enlisted to get out in six months. I said, "No, I'm going to take my chances."
T: What time was this? This was in '46?
R: This was in '46, like in November we came back the first trip over. And some decided to re-enlist. We were supposed to get T-5's but some of em re-enlisted; they stayed privates. And we had a chance to be T-5 but all of a sudden they reassigned the ship. We were going to make another trip.
T: Where were you when they dropped the atomic bomb?
R: The atomic bomb? I was at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital. And I was at the barracks because my buddies went downtown. I was at the barracks because, well we were having a little show, putting it together. Because we had Seventh Day Adventists with us that didn't have to work or something like that. I don't know how that worked anymore. But anyway we put on a little show and noon I got on the bus and headed for downtown. But I was in Denver, Colorado when they attacked, when they dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.
T: I think when the war ended a lot of guys figured that they were going to be going home right then and there.
R: And some of em re-enlisted. And I took my chances but sure enough, they said, "Your MOS is 861, surgical technician. You're making another trip over." So I said, "Well, you know, here we go again."
T: Yes. Uncle Sam is calling the shots. There is not much you can do about it.
R: No. And I said that meant I had to go over again. So this time I went back to Honolulu. And then from Honolulu we went straight to Japan. We went to Yokohama. And yes, you see what happened in Yokohama, there wasn't any metal on the buildings. It was all shot to pieces. Metal was torn off the buildings because they knew we were gonna invade Japan. It was a mess. I was asking Shirley this morning if she'd bring it up on the Internet. I was at the Ernie Pyle Hotel. It was called the Ernie Pyle Hotel. I don't know if it is in Yokohama or if it is in Tokyo. But Ernie Pyle was a war correspondent in Europe. He came over to the Pacific. I think he was killed in the Pacific.
But we did a little show there and I was part of the show, just part of the show. Not a big deal. And then we went into Tokyo on a pass. Of course our uniform, my pants was higher, you know. We had dress uniforms but it was so hot we took whatever we had aboard ship. And we went into Tokyo and of course I've got a picture in here I'll show you of MacArthur in his car. And MacArthur coming out of the tribunal. And we went to the Imperial Palace, Tokyo grounds. And then we went to the Tokyo PX. And there we put on a little silly army show. I wasn't the only one but I danced the "Twelfth Street Rag" there. But anyway we were throwing meatballs off the wall. That's how… But we were still scared. When we walked out at night and went to one little town from Yokohama to Tokyo we were a little leery about… Like right now with Iraq. You never know what's going on. But that was different in Japan because they knew that they're defeated and they were kind of leery of the American soldier too. So it was a lot different then than it is now.
And from there we, instead of going back to Hawaii we came right back to the states. But on the first trip over, on my 20th birthday - I said this at my show this year - I said my men who are Hula dancers this year; and I said, "On my 20th birthday I spent my 20th birthday on the beach at Waikiki with my buddies. And I danced at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on the same night as my birthday." And I said, "Ladies and gentlemen, right here on the stage this year in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, you're about to see the greatest Hula dancers in the history of the Hawaiian Islands." And I brought all the guys out - like you - I had almost 30 men dancing the Hula this year on the stage at the Oshkosh. And that brought back memories. It was nice.
But that was it and I came back to Fort Mason and I was there for maybe two or three days and they sent us to Oakland Army Base. Back to Oakland Army Base. And that was the first time that I realized that I might be coming home. Then they sent us back to Camp Stillman. And all of a sudden we had colored non-coms. And we were only Pfc.'s. And we did more work in the last two weeks before we got out than we did almost in six months otherwise. The hard work, you know, cleaning out barracks and things like that. But all of a sudden they said, "Report to headquarters. You're getting discharged in a day or two." So I got discharged June 13th, no June 19th, 1946 at Camp Stillman, California.
T: When you were in the service and you were going from place to place a lot, did you…?
R: I think that's why I didn't get promoted and promoted like a lot of guys did because I knew guys well, we had a guy that couldn't even salute. He became a Corporal before he practically got out of basic training. Somehow he had a pull or something. But everybody thought about it. Why he couldn't even salute. His pants, they were baggy and all that stuff. But anyway that was it. But really I enjoyed Fitzsimmons Army Hospital. We were treated great and we had to study. And we had to get a grade. And I have a graduation thing here. I brought it along. But we had to study. And it was great and on graduation day, and we had dress uniforms and it was nice. But I would say that my basic training, of course for everybody was the pits. But otherwise I didn't have too bad of a time in the service.
T: What was maybe one of your most memorable experiences when you were in the service, something that really sticks in your mind?
R: Well, I think the Honolulu deal with the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. I was there with my buddies getting me to dance. But other people were there. Officers were there. Everything was there. It was like in a ballroom, things like that. That was a good experience. And of course the crazy things we did on Saipan or Guam, I forget which one. Those are crazy things that… any time I went anywhere my buddies thought I was, they'd get me to do something all the time. And I had great buddies.
T: Apparently you were a willing person to do that.
R: I was about the littlest guy in our outfit. But my buddies were all big Texans. And I remember one time we were at a nightclub and I asked this girl to dance. And she said yes. And I started making a little time with her. And all of a sudden a guy came up to me. He said, "You lookin for trouble?" And my two buddies were sittin at the table. And of course being the littlest guy in our outfit, I said, "No, no I'm not." But all of a sudden my two buddies came over. "Are you having trouble Rickey?" And I said, "No." I was already protected by my two buddies but being so little, you couldn't get away with too much. But I always had great friends and we got along good.
T: Speaking of that, all of us that were in the service can remember guys that were just exemplary characters. You know, people that you really looked up to and that were really great. Plus there were some on the other side of the coin. Some that were really weird and strange. Can you recall people like that.
R: During basic training you could tell that right away. You could tell the refined ones, you could tell the kids who had trouble. I never stole a thing but you'd see guys going in footlockers, in somebody else's footlockers. I'd never think of something like that. My two buddies from Texas would never think of something like that, you know. And well, when we were in basic training, we sorta grew together.
And as far as my buddies are concerned, we still had contact after we got out of service. And I remember when we left and I got discharged one of the first ones. They re-enlisted. They had to stay in a few months later. We tore up a dollar bill. If anybody ever needed anything, they sent the other half. I received the other half years later when I lived in Oshkosh. Already was in Oshkosh and married. And my buddy Shapey the guy from Dallas, Texas, Houston, Texas, Shapey sent me the other half. And I sent him the other half back. I said, "I'll come." And months later he passed away.
T: That apparently was the reason he sent you the dollar bill. He was sick.
R: Well, something was wrong. And so I sent him my half. In other words, "Come and see me." So I sent the other half back saying, I sent the whole dollar bill back and I said, "I'll come and see you." My wife even made the arrangements. We'd talk to him on the phone. And I called him one day and his wife said, no - he'd passed away.
T: He did get that dollar back. He knew that you responded to his request.
R: Yes, he got the dollar back. And McManus, another buddy, he was from Beaumont, Texas. He was the pharmacist. He's the one that made the Gin Bucks. Calamine Lotion and any kind of pill he could give you, seasick pills he'd give you. But he came in a Private and we went into a sort of a promotion thing. That's when we came back the first time from overseas. And our promotions were denied because some of the people were getting out. And he said, "I came in here as a Private. I'd just as soon go out as a Private." That's what McManus said. And they did.
(The first tape ends here).
T: This is the continuation of the interview with Richard Verhoeven on August 18th, 2004. Go ahead Richard.
R: Well, McManus was our lab man and anyway also being on guard, we had all these troops aboard. We watched things at night. And anyway McManus found one of the nurses in a gun turret with a guy. And I think that put the kibosh on the promotions because she wasn't on the next trip. So when we got back all we can rely on was, because we all felt we were going to get T-5 and some were gonna get Pfc.'s and things. Well, we were considered for them but we never got em. And we figured maybe that was the reason because he found her in the gun turret and I guess he reported it and it was all hush-hushed. It was things that happened but it was no big deal. Most of us had our time in and our service.
Our duties aboard ship were not bad. We ate with the officers. It was run by Merchant Marine. We sat at the table and we waited and we had menus.
T: That's interesting - and unusual.
R: It was called Ship's Complement. We had menus and we sat with the officers at a table and of course you ordered off the menu. Had two or three things and the Merchant Marines fed us. And we went and had dinner and breakfast all at a certain time unless we were on duty. And then we'd go at different times. But sometimes we had night duty. And one time they came in, in the middle of the night and told me, "C'mon Richard. You gotta carry a litter." I said, "A litter!" When they got me up there, they went down and got one of the big Texans because I was too little to carry a litter. But anyway that was it.
Aboard ship we had, like Shapey in special service. He got a guitar. Couldn't play an instrument - never. After two trips over he was playing "Sioux City Sue" on that guitar and we had a lot of good times. Because we had …
T: When you had a unit like yours where there were a few women present, and all these men, I imagine there were some conflicts there.
R: Oh yeah. We had two nurses. One was the head nurse and maybe two other ones. Well one was a redheaded nurse and we got along just great. [To be terrible things], we put some of the people on a Spam diet. And we ate the good stuff. That we did a couple times. But they were fed pretty good, the guys we had on the ward. But anyway when we got on one of the islands, I forget whether it was Guam or Saipan, we took, the nurse came along with us. And she went swimming with us. And she danced with us. And we had a great time with her. I have a picture sitting and hugging her and things like that. And the discipline aboard ship, we were more worried about our sergeant who was the head of us than we were worried about the officers. Because we didn't have contact with them except in surgery or with the doctor on duty. But mostly with our sergeant and we had a pretty good sergeant that went along with his men. But we had strict duty. We had to report to duty on time. And we were relieved on duty on time.
T: You had, I imagine, fairly good eats.
R: We had very good food aboard ship.
T: You weren't exposed to the C ration thing very much.
R: No. No, we didn't have any C rations.
T: How about mail Richard. You moved around quite a bit. Did the mail…?
R: Well the mail always caught up and sometimes I'd get ten, twelve letters from a girlfriend at the same time. And aboard ship sometimes we wouldn't get mail. We'd get into Honolulu and we'd have mail waiting for us. Or if we'd get on Guam, we'd have several letters for us. Or, we very seldom got mail until we landed. We got Guam. There was Saipan and Guam we got the mail. And when we got to Yokohama, my God we got a box full of mail and some cookies that were so stale you couldn't eat em. But it was nice.
T: When you were in the service did you get any medals or citations?
R: Well when we came back, when we got to, oh, marksmanship medals. And we were told we got the Good Conduct Medal. We never got it but we got the thing to go on it. And we got a unit citation. That's the thing that goes on the side of your thing. That was our Ship's Complement. That was in San Francisco. Of course we got Pacific Area Theater. And were considered the Occupation of Japan because we'd been over there. And Guam is, Yokohama and Tokyo. And when we were in Yokohama we had at that time trying to figure out where the Ernie Pyle Hotel was. I couldn't possibly tell you it was in Honolulu, not Honolulu, Yokohama or Tokyo. But that was a big deal. Outside of that I can't remember. The unit citation was very important. It wasn't a big deal at that time because most of us knew we were gonna get out soon. But we didn't know exactly when. So when we got back to the United States, my buddies, that's when we tore up the dollar bill. Because they were sorry they re-enlisted and I said I'm home. I was happy to get out.
T: I think most guys were really anxious to get out.
R: Well we took the bus from Camp Stillman right straight on the bus to Oakland Army Base. And from Oakland Army Base we didn't want to get anywhere near the Army. We got the little ruptured duck and we headed right straight for the train station. And we got on the train and took off for home.
T: What was the official name of you unit that you were in, in the service?
R: I was with the 5th Army. That was out of Fort Sheridan. And then it was Ship's Complement it was called. Ship's Complement. That was a complement of about a half a dozen men or eight men. Or maybe a squad with a few officers and sergeant. And our duty was to transfer people overseas and back.
T: Okay. And what was the name of that ship?
R: General Mason M. Patrick. And to tell you a story about the Patrick, my daughter Patty and I and my son Rickey went back to San Francisco, almost the first time in 50 years. And we came to San Francisco. We lived, Chuck Stusek here in town, insurance guy told me about a hotel right down on Fisherman's Wharf. Well got in the hotel instead of going downtown. And all of a sudden I came out of the hotel. We went up to the Mark Hopkins. Few blocks away. I said, where is Fort Mason. He said, "Up two blocks." So we went back to the fort. We went back to the fort and to the Presidio. And all of a sudden we walked into the library at Fort Mason. I mean to the dispensary. It was still there. And I said, "Isn't this the dispensary?" And she said, "No, it's taken over by the college." And I said, where are all the medical [rounds]. She said, "Take a look at the wall." There was a big mural. Still on the wall after 50 some years. Our outfit.
And all of a sudden we went to a library and they said, "Ssssh." People are studying up in one of the buildings up in Fort Mason. Still there. But it's taken over by the Parks Department. Now they're considering making em condominiums. But the Fort wall was there. I never knew what good duty I had until now, when I came back. Well we came up the steps like a gentleman like you. And we walked in and he said, "Can I help you?" I said, "I'm looking for the ship, the General Mason M. Patrick." He says, "I was on that ship." He called another guy out [ ] "I was on that ship." Well they went out with white gloves and they came back and they showed me ships. I said, "That's not it. That's a freighter." They came out and I said, "That's a freighter." And they said, "Well maybe we're mistaken." I said, "I was on a transport." After three or four pictures come in, I said, "that's it." It was a transport ship. And it was funny how they said they were on the Mason M. Patrick. But it must have been several ships, freighters, like that. But anyway it was the transport. We found my ship.
T: What did you do then Richard, after you got out of the service?
R: When I got out of the service, I worked at the Post Office in Appleton. The Appleton Post Office at the stamp window. Isn't that funny? And I got that job because I was probably in service. End up being dumb, a lot of the people at the post office, you were assigned to stamps. And [ ] Some of these guys had these jobs there for years. I came in and I might be $12.00 short. I had to pay for those stamps because I probably made a mistake.
R: Whatever it was, I paid for it. But I was there for awhile. And then I worked for Prange's selling shoes. Selling shoes at Prange's.
T: In Appleton also.
R: Appleton, Wisconsin. And then I applied for college at Marquette. And I was accepted at Marquette University. In the meantime I also applied for Carnegie Hall in New York City because I was an entertainer. But anyway I was there at Marquette and I went the first semester and I decided to go back the second semester.
Well in the second semester I got a letter from Carnegie Hall that they had accepted in Carnegie Hall. So I left Marquette, came home and packed up my big shipping trunk and moved to New York. And I was at Carnegie Hall for maybe about oh, maybe three or four weeks. And I was in the fencing class. And all of a sudden I was called to the office. And they asked me about my tuition. And I said, "Tuition? I'm here under the GI Bill of Rights." They said, "Weren't you informed? The school broke its contract with the government." I said, "Oh." Well then we came back and I sent it to [ ] and reversed the Dept. of Commerce. We sent it to Dept. of this but it ended up they still couldn't do it. So I met another entertainment and we stayed around New York for awhile because I couldn't afford to stay there. And the very last thing this Busby or Buzzy or Buzzie, a guy I met in New York at school, we got dressed in our tuxedos, we took a ride through Central Park, got the train the next day and went home. That was it. But that's how I came to be in the dancing business.
Jim Damon here, the guy you know, he asked me, "Would you consider, you have a reputation around here" - because I danced with him in the USO shows - "Opening up a studio?" And here there's a little hat shop, Jimmy the hat man.
T: Oh, yeah. I remember that.
R: Jimmy the hat man had a little shop on Waugoo.
T: Didn't you give any thought to going back to Marquette?
R: No, because I found out that the entertainment was it. And I knew then because when I came back I did a couple guest shots for a McDowell chorus and the [ ] Chorus in Appleton High School. I did a
guest shot for the big concerts. And I did a shot [Shamenah], I was a guest artist at Appleton. And I did imitations like Fred Astaire, Bill Robinson, The Sidewalks of New York, Bill Robinson, an Irish dancer. Anyway at the end I did that and all of a sudden that was just a few months after I got out of the service. After I finished college. I went to a dressing room and pulled a blood vessel in my leg. The doctor came back and my mother said, "You have one more number to do in the show." So I went back and did a soft shoe. A number [Shamenah]. Then the doctor came backstage and he said, "Either I cut it or you sit in a hot tub." So I sat in a hot tub and pretty soon it dissolved. It coulda went to my heart, you know.
But that's how it was and they said, "Well why don't you sign a lease?" My mother signed a lease with Jimmy the hat man. I never knew it. So here I was in Oshkosh. I don't want to come to Oshkosh. I thought, "Oh, not Oshkosh!" But I came to Oshkosh and opened up a studio. I started with the studio and I opened the studio and we started with maybe two students and ended up with 75.
T: Where was the studio located?
R: Right on Waugoo. 17 Waugoo, right across the street from the old hotel. And there's a Bungalow Lunch, the Athearn Hotel was still here and everything else. And oh, Oshkosh has come a long, long way since then. But anyway I opened the studio and on December, I think it was the first part of December, my mother came with me every day, she was my secretary.
T: Now was that in '47 or '48?
R: '49. Because I had two semesters at Marquette and then I went to New York. And then we had a terrible car accident. Highway 41. My mother was seriously hurt. Broke a hip, two broken legs and a broken jaw.
T: Were you in the car as well?
R: I was in the car too. And we'd thought she'd die, that she'd never walk again. And I had a crushed chest but no broken bones. But anyway she was in the hospital for months and months. And my car was demolished. So every day I took a bus from Appleton to Oshkosh to teach. After bus, I'd go to the Empire Bar next to the old bus depot, have a beer and a hamburger and take the bus back to Neenah to see my mother at the hospital. Then take the local bus to Appleton. I did that for months, and months and months until my mother became well. And in the meantime that was it.
I had my first show at the Oshkosh Theater. Jimmy Damon who had brought me here, he was the master of ceremonies. And we had two shows and the Oshkosh Theater sat over 1500 people. We had both shows sold out. For some reason they thought a big show was coming to town. For some reason we had both shows sold out. Well here we are some 55 years.
T: Did you have competition when you started out? I can remember Mary Lou King's School of the Dance.
R: Oh, Mary Lou King. Yeah, Mrs. Englund who just passed away. Mary Lou King was here. Judy Englund, Mrs. Englund was here. Judy Stillman had taken over for Marie Arnold. Juanita Marie Arnold; she taught. And Juanita Marie Arnold, I studied with her for awhile and then I went into the service. When I came to here, Mary Lou King was just going out, Jean Englund went out and Judy Stillman is still here. But we went from about 75 kids to about six hundred and something.
T: I can remember seeing your last review. Two of my nephew's girls were in it. Name was Schmiedel.
R: Penny Schmiedel.
T: There was Sarah Schmiedel and…
R: [ ]
T: No. This was a couple years ago. But anyway that was a big operation. I was very impressed with the thing.
R: Oh yes. We've come a long ways.
T: Were you equipped to teach any type of dancing? If somebody came in and said, "I want my kid to learn ballet?" Were you equipped to…?
R: When I studied with Juanita there wasn't much ballet at the time. But when I opened up the studio I joined the Dance Masters. And the Dance Masters had the top teachers in the world. Even to this day. I was at one this summer. And I started off in Chicago, the very first year in Chicago I danced on a floorshow. I was invited to dance in the first floor show in the first year there. The master of ceremonies just happened to be Gene Kelly's brother Fred. And Fred Kelly, at that time I did the imitation of Fred Astaire, you know? Of Bill Robinson and oh, the Irish dancer and things like that. And that time, that's when I became good friends with the Kellys. And from there on in through the years, I went for years and pretty soon Leo [Kayo] from Madison, Wisconsin, he was one of the officers in Chicago at the Dance Masters. This is a national thing. They come from Europe and all over. They come from Europe and all over. All over the United States. And he put me up for the Board of Directors. I came home. All of a sudden a few days later I got a call. He says, "You're on the board of directors."
Well I was on the board of directors. In the meantime I kept on going every year. I was on the faculty there for years. And then I became president of the Dance Masters of Wisconsin because I was also a member of the Dance Masters of Wisconsin. And then being on the board of directors for a long time, I was on the board and chairman of the board for many, many years. And that's because, well, I got to know the people from the South and things like that.
But anyway some years later, and all those years later, we were at a meeting one day and they had to come up with a new president. Clem Borland from Alabama and another teacher from Arkansas brought up my name and said, "By acclamation we'd like to elect for nomination for president, Richard Verhoeven from Oshkosh, Wisconsin." It really floored me. Anyway, before I accepted the nomination I went to see a friend of mine. Her name is Thelma Rose. And she was a big vote getter. And they asked her if she would mind.
T: What was her name again?
R: Thelma Rose. They asked her and she said, "I wouldn't step aside for anybody but Rickey." They called me Rickey. Well anyway that's how I became president. She stepped aside.
T: You were pretty respected and well known…
R: In the Dance Masters, yes. I was on the faculty for years and then chairman of the board of directors I think longer than anybody else in the history of the Dance Masters. Mostly because people from Alabama, Georgia, southern states, of course Wisconsin was always a big backer of mine. When I threw a party in Milwaukee or Chicago they'd pick up the tab. If I threw a board of directors meeting or a party or a bachelor party for all the men, they'd pick up the tab.
And of course when I was president of the Dance Masters, the National Dance Masters - president of Wisconsin was great but we always had our local meetings for Wisconsin. The national meeting sometimes we'd have district meetings. I went to Nashville a couple times. I went to Indianapolis a couple of times. Went to Georgia. And of course in Georgia they said, "Now here's the president of Dance Masters." They got up everybody from Wisconsin, waved their napkins and things like that.
And of course in Madison, some years later when I was president-elect of Chicago/National Dance Masters, we were honoring the two Kellys. Gene Kelly lost his Academy Award and he lost it to a fire. In the meantime we were honoring the two Kellys. Well they ah, Gene was very sick at the time. Fred Kelly came with his wife and they came to the hotel. And I just happened to be in the lobby at the time. They said, "If it isn't the little impersonator." And I said, "If it isn't Mr. Kelly." So at that time they took him to his room. I went along. And all of a sudden, being chairman of the board I booked the hotel for years. I booked all the rooms, the ballrooms, the guestrooms. Sometimes I booked a hundred rooms at a time, hundred and ten, maybe ninety-nine at the convention, I mean at the Normal School. Hundred and twenty at the convention. And they put him in this room and I said, "Mr. Kelly, hold on a minute." I went to the phone and I started to call Mr. Loftus. John Loftus, that's the manager. I said, "I thought Mr. Kelly was supposed to get the red carpet treatment." He said, "What's wrong?" I said, "He just got a room." He said, "Tell the boy to bring the bags downstairs. Bring me down and introduce me to Kelly." So he came down and he said, "Mr. Kelly, we made a mistake." So they put him on the same floor. I had a double room with a bar in it and things like that. But all of a sudden they took him down to the corner suite, beautiful, beautiful suite. With a library in it, kitchen and two bedrooms and a living room. And he never stopped thanking me for it. And every day he'd call down and he and my daughter and I would have breakfast or dinner. And that's how we became very close. And that was it.
T: Tell me how you met Shirley.
R: Shirley? When I came to Oshkosh she and her grandmother went to my revue. I was a guest artist in Judy Stillman's revue here in town. She's still here. And you would think that would be a terrible thing. I was a guest artist in her show. And then I was just coming back from New York and Jim Damon talked my mother into opening up a dancing school. And sure, that must have been a blow to Judy Stillman. And I can see why she doesn't care for my guts to this day. But I can't blame her in a way like that. Because I opened the studio and it's been good to us.
But that's how I met Shirley. Shirley became - my mother was involved - right after my mother got hurt Shirley moved in and started doing the costumes and things like that. And she was in the first Can-Can. She had such darn good-looking legs I started asking her to go out. And we started going out and pretty soon I asked her to get married. And she was wonderful. Came from a nice family. And we had a nice wedding. We were married at St. Mary's Catholic Church. We had Rev. Lambert Scanlon; Father Jim [Keenan], he was my cousin; Monsignor [Rhule]; and Father Marquardt. The all performed at my wedding at St. Mary's. And that was quite the thing.
T: How many children do you have?
R: I have three children. Steve is a teacher at middle school in Menasha. He coached football and he teaches middle school, voice and things like that. He sang for the Miss Wisconsin Pageant for years. He plays drums for my show all these years.
My son Rickey is in Texas with Sweetheart Company. Now its been sold to a different company. He had built a brand new home in Grapevine, a beautiful little town outside of Dallas-Fort Worth.
And of course my daughter Patty. She took over the studio. She now is the big boss. I'm just an employee. But she runs the studio and she does very fine.
T: What do you do for recreation around the Oshkosh area? Do you have any hobbies?
R: Well right now my son plays golf. He works out at Breezewood. And he comes to tell me to play golf. Before, I broke L-1 in my back some years back when I moved to my new house. And well, I can't play golf like I used to. I used to play golf. Every year he comes back. He said, [ ] "We're gonna go play golf." I says, "Steve, I only played golf…" He said, "You and Rickey and I are gonna play golf." So we went and played golf. We played about - he hits a long ball - but we all came out pretty much the same. Two days later he called me. He said, "Richard, we're gonna play golf with Fred Leist out at Breezewood." Well Fred plays two or three times a week in Florida. And 80 some years old - he's right down the middle. Of course Fred beat us both again like he did last year. That's about it.
And as far as going out, I go out and play "Ship, Captain, Crew." With Hank Masterson. He's an attorney here in town. And we'd go out at noon. Monday we might go to the Roxie, maybe the next day to Robbins. And my place pretty much like Robbins, Roxie and George's. And all those people that have been involved with me for advertising. You know, in my book. They advertise in my book. Some of the people have been advertising in my book for over fifty-five years.
T: You've seen a lot of changes in Oshkosh since you came into business here. What are your feelings about the revitalization of the downtown and so forth?
R: I think the downtown is going to come around. I really do think the downtown, it had a good, hey the downtown was it years ago! And when they…
T: We can't expect it to be the same.
R: No. I can't expect it to be the same. They say you have to go on. The Athearn Hotel was a beautiful hotel. A gorgeous hotel. And sometime they knock the Grand Theater. Well that's still one of our historical things. We shouldn't ever get rid of it. People come to see that. And the Athearn Hotel, that still could have been there.
T: Why does the Grand seem to be struggling? What's the deal there?
R: I don't know if it's management. I think it's competition with Green Bay and Appleton. Now with the new place in Appleton I think it draws. And why would people, I can see they brought a show here to Appleton a couple months ago. I think it was, not "Fiddler on the Roof." They brought the face. The big show, not "The Producers", "Phantom of the Opera" I think it was. And they brought it, or "The Producer", I saw "The Producers" several times. But anyway "Phantom of the Opera", well it was in Milwaukee. It was in Green Bay. And I don't know how they coulda come out moneywise and fill that thing for two weeks. They just couldn't, with the stagehand bill because I know.
When we put on our show, we're one of the few studios in the United States, and they're a lot of em in the United States, especially in Wisconsin, maybe a few in Wisconsin, they're in the United States in ballet schools. But as far as the State of Wisconsin I think we're one of very few studios that have live music - for our show as well as for our rehearsals and show. We have live music for all ballet classes. Live music for all tap classes. And I'm very fortunate to have, like the University here, and find good pianists. Because I've had some real great pianists here in town, You can't find good piano players like I've been lucky to have. And have good orchestras like I've had. I have people right now who have played sax and clarinet. Like you're my age, you ask them to play a song, they know it. They don't have to have a score of music. I asked em a couple years ago, "You guys know how to play "Muskrat Ramble?" They said, "How do you want it, forwards or backwards?" You know they know how to play it. Yeah.
But I think Oshkosh has come a long way since I came here. Even on Main Street. The old Bungalow Lunch used to be there on Main Street, you know. The banks and, no Oshkosh has been very good to me. Very good to me. And the Good Lord has been very good to me, not only business-wise, health-wise and family-wise. I've been very fortunate.
T: That's great Richard. It's been wonderful talking to you. Have we covered pretty much everything. I think that we've pretty much hit all of the high spots in your life.
R: Oh, the high spots, and considering you being in the medics and I being in the medics, I think it's great.
T: Well thanks again. It's been great talking to you.
R: Thank you.
(The interview ends here).
||World War II
||6: T&E For Communication
||Oshkosh Public Museum
|Location of Originals
||Oshkosh Public Museum
||Verhoeven, Richard E.
||World War II
United States Army
Medical aspects of war
||Oral History Interview with Richard E. Verhoeven.