James Desjardin and Gertrude Desjardin

Recorded November 9, 2008 Archived November 9, 2008 01:01:48
0:00 / 0:00
Id: MBX004578


James Desjardin, 83, is interviewed by his wife, Gertrude Desjardin, 77, about his life.

Subject Log / Time Code

Great Depression; large family; father lost his job after the stock market crash; brothers hunted for game.
school; June 1943 graduated high school; drafted by the Navy; movie projectionist; Navy CBs; discharged in San Francisco
cleaning and repairing around the house; able to solve any problem; wired buzzer in the bedrooms of his daughters
Tim went to art museums and Gert was impressed.
quite compatible; Jim was so good with all those babies.


  • James Desjardin
  • Gertrude Desjardin

Partnership Type



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00:04 Hi, this is gorgeous Jardin. I'm 77. It's November 9th 2008 in Gainesville, Florida.

00:14 And I am James Des Jardin on November 9th 2008 in Gainesville, Florida and on I am 83.

00:27 Jim you grew up in the Great Depression. We're talkin hard times again. Now, what are some of your memories of growing up in northern Minnesota and a small mining town during the Depression?

00:39 Well, I only can remember Snippets but there are a few that are kind of memorable. We had a rather large family. I had three older sisters and two older brothers quite a bit age difference from me and one younger brother later was born later on.

01:04 But we had a rather difficult time since after the stock market crash my father lost his job and we were subsisting on odd jobs and I had a rather difficult time just to keep the family together. What did you do for food?

01:26 Well so far as meat is concerned my two older brothers were in their late teens and they were excellent Woodsman both Eagle Scouts and Marksman and they brought Wildgame home quite a bit. And after President Roosevelt was elected. He transported steers from the Dust Bowl that were starving and took a batch of them and release them in there. A forest of northern Minnesota. There was a tag on their ear and you needed a hunter's license, but you could go out and shoot your own steer and my 16 year old brother Merle did just that and he he butchered he butchered it out in the woods and somehow dragged the hindquarter almost as heavy as he was home and told the Neighbors about it too went out and got the remaining part of the steer.

02:23 And I was very skeptical when I first heard this story Roosevelt have the banks to take care of and all kinds of things. Why was he putting cattle in the woods of northern Minnesota, but he is sister his older sister verified it and she said the cattle were starving the people in the dust bowl. There was nothing for them to eat. So by shipping them North and putting them out in the woods, then the government didn't have to do anything more about them. They could forage for themselves and the hunters who shot them would take care of processing the meat so I really was a pretty good idea.

02:58 What about when you had a hail storm in those days or I remember one course, we don't have hail that often, but we filled up a big Wash Tub full of hailstones. And that was able to keep our milk for a few days. And we really treasure that hail also with that watch tub. The whole family would go out in season to pick blueberries and we could feel two of those wash tubs with blueberries and then can them

03:29 Since you're most of your brothers and sisters were so much older than you and then your younger brother 8 or 9 years younger you seems like your childhood you were on your own a lot. And I know that you ever change yourself by making and fixing things you've made a crystal radio. My favorite thing of all objects was an old RCA Victoria Victor Barrel phonograph with a barrel records such as Edison invented and I always got it handed down from are from another relative and I completely disassembled that and got it in perfect working order and spent many hours listening to records.

04:21 How did you get a bicycle?

04:23 Well, we were too poor to buy one. So I save my money for well over a year and I accumulated $2.73 that I was able to buy a broken used bike which I repaired my new tires and used it for many years after that. Your family has always called you pep or peppy. How did you get that nickname? We always assumed it was because of your energy and fast way of moving because my favorite cereal at one time was something Kellogg's made called pep Kellogg's pep. Yeah, but your high school yearbook list you as Pepe. So I think your energetic way of moving has something to do with it as well.

05:10 What was your first job?

05:13 Well, I'll step back step. My father had a stroke what when I was 14 and my older brother took care of the family. He had two jobs. He was an electrician in the mind and then he ran the movie theater as a projection is for a number of years. So he taught me how to run the projection machine for our local movie theater. And although the job was kept in his name. I took care of the movies when I was before I was really old enough to legally do it. What's the first movie you remember showing?

05:55 Oh, I remember it was Lady be good and there's also sweet and lovely lady be good. Anyway that came out in 1941. How did working 7 days a week affect your school work not too badly. Actually when you are a movie projector projectionists, you have old perhaps 10 or 15 minutes off for a while a real is running in your not setting up the other machine. So I use that time to study and I actually had pretty good grades. So you graduated from high school in June 1943. And then what happened within a few days I was drafted and I was assigned to be in the Navy Seabees and ended up on the Pacific. Well, lo and behold the first thing I got their very first day they called and said we need a movie projectionists. So it turned out to be me and

06:55 So while I was in the service, I ran the projector and then during the day I did electrical work where in the the CVS is a construction unit. And what we did is built and maintained naval air bases.

07:10 After Japan surrendered you were discharged from the Navy in December 1945 in San Francisco. Why they're well I chose to get discharged San Francisco because my three oldest sister Elder sister's all had migrated in that area. And so I thought it would be pretty neat to be around most of my family again and they were really wonderful. They all mothered me and I for the first time as an adult, I got to know what it means to be a member of a loving family.

07:49 Did you worked in California for a year-and-a-half? You told me one time you had career counseling with the VA. And what did they recommend?

07:58 Yes, after a whole battery of tests. They said I should pursue a career as an electrical engineer. So I decided to use the wonderful GI Bill and go to college. And by the way, I'm the only member of my family who did graduate from college. So he said there was a first-rate junior college near your home. And so I left San Francisco area and move back to Minnesota and says, so I finished out the the summer. I got a job on the track game where I was laying track for the iron ore mines and then when school started I got a job at as a school bus drivers that I could do before and after my classes and and then about half of the evenings I ran the movie projector the theater, so I was pretty busy.

08:58 But I did get a straight A average that first year. Now when you were working summers in the mines, the first time you said you were on the tracking didn't you work with a number of people who did not speak English. What did you do with the Finnish people? Well, anyway, we had a lot of immigrants from Eastern Europe in southern Europe and also from the scandinavia's as set Minnesota is well-known for but anyway with there were some finish a bachelor's was there who I kept pestering and we'd make pigeon English songs, like pardon me boy guy is at the House of Ink Yoohoo. And another one if a boy come eat a tooth coming through the ovia and we can find through various other songs and

09:56 Actually on the day before College started the foreman had enough and he fired me. He was my next door neighbor's house. And then you said one other summer job you got because nobody else wanted it and course being there just for the Summers who were the bottom of seniority so you took that job as a Car drop her and yes at the iron ore went up into a huge concentration plants that were about five stories high and the product coming out of the bottom of tube to drop into trains what was purified or and I had a job is car dropper which would be if the car is under there and and fill them and get them out of there and then no one summer. I was a sampler also and you throw a rope over the top of each or car and there's a little Mark every foot. You take a sample of what's under the

10:57 Mark and so you tag the cars and and I get your samples to the laboratory and then buy an after you make up your train by the time the train gets the 90 miles to the duluth-superior harbor they have a chemical analysis of the or so when they they have these or cars dropping into those huge orbits, they mix and match the car so that they get the proper chemicals in each batch for this smelting process.

11:32 Sometimes you have to work at night. You'd have to work well night by again had always low seniority this this is a unionized job too. But I would work if couple days on days in a couple days on afternoons in a couple of days on nights and so I kept rotating all the time and it was somewhat dangerous at night because you're climbing around on those cars. And also you're making up the trains the whole rail yard is on a slight slope and you get the car rolling and then you stopped it with a handbrake. Well every now and then die handbrake malfunctions and a couple of times I jumped off into the darkness and let the cars go to to Ramen to the train. It makes a terrible racket, but nothing that bad ever happened on this is spilling some moron.

12:27 Are you considered one time when you said 1955 was the landmark year in your life. That was a wonderful year. First of all and February are you and I got engaged and June. I got my Bachelor's of electrical engineering degree and a few days later. I went to work for a Honeywell as a production engineer and in October you and I got married. So we followed that up with what six children in the next 7 years.

13:01 Add or yours at Honeywell you mention one time a particular instance with the Apollo program. This sounded very interesting parts of the Apollo moon mission program and one little part. We had was a system that went on and escaped. Our there was a rocket attached to the module that the astronauts were in and if something bad when it happened it would happen during the liftoff. This rocket system was supposed to take the capsule and fling it up in the air and I'll way from the tower and then parachutes would open an able to stand down into that water nearby and we had the system that did this took care of this and during our

14:01 Casting it malfunctioned under a certain attitude are anyways kind of a technical thing. But the Jireh required a surge of power whenever it went into a certain mode and it would kill the power supply all there wasn't time enough to design and build a manufacturer and certify a new power supply. So I had to find a certified one off the shelf and we we searched the the nation I took and put my gyroscope in a suitcase and I went traveling and I stopped at three or four places and finally in Nyack New York. I was able to they had one they claimed would work. That was the proper size and I put my gyro on a rate table and to let it do its thing and it worked just Grand. So we were in grave danger of holding up the Apollo program at that time because this was a safety

15:01 Light issue

15:03 So Apollo was able to go ahead and they did get to the moon.

15:08 When I emailed our daughters about the storycorps project, they recalled many anecdotes about your cleaning and repairing around the house taking things apart whenever we move your workbench was set up first so that all the tools spare parts and epoxies and solvents would be at hand. And so they have many little stories about your chemical products and cleaning the car radiator sitting on the kitchen counter for 2 days while it was a leak was epoxied and you always were able to solve every problem. We had one phone in the kitchen and 16 age daughters in the back bedrooms. So how did you handle that situation? Well, I wired a buzzer in each of the closet. We had two two daughters in each bedroom and each had had either one Buzz or two buses and saw they could tell from the sound and the number of buses who the phone call was for our kitchen.

16:08 Telephone was in the kitchen.

16:13 During your years at Honeywell you were a Pioneer in the use of the personal computer Honeywell course was in the business of making these big mainframe computers that did all their Computing and tell us about how you changed their whole system in the late 70s will anyway, each of our departments would have one or two programmers that would do the programming necessary. For instance since we built a gyroscope some guidance systems. We had some specialty programs needed and that was a very expensive proposition and it was expensive from the time element because when you knew you needed certain programs it takes these guys a while to write them in and prove them out.

17:06 So when the Apple II was invented it, it looks like it might be a good thing. So I bought one for our department and at that time I was a manager and I put I put most of our budget on it and that really came in handy very shortly. There was a young lady and the in the finance department who is interior. She said she had to work all weekend cuz they had changed something about the old the overhead factors and she'd have to recompute the budget. And since I already have most of the budget on their I put her new factors in in about an hour later gave her a printout and she was my friend for life.

17:55 So then that was the Apple true and then a little later on you got a fat Matt. Why was it called a fat man or this is the first computer that had enough memory that could do a lot of tasks. It had 560 K which we regard is minuscule now, but it was a big deal then so I bought one and put it on my desk and actually buy it at the time. That was an 1984. I said, I believe it was the fact that came out and by the time I left to retire in 1987, there were two or three hundred on the various managers desks and throughout the finance department. So

18:38 By the way, we had Excel I bought what 1.00 on Excel and Bill Gates made it for the Mac because it was the only computer that had us enough memory in it to run his program. And and of course it's a wonderful spreadsheet and it's still in use and your first Apple was with this account was the first sight. So that was Honeywell, whether they wanted to or not. We're wrenched into the hole personal computer business.

19:12 Well, we never did make personal computers, but we certainly did use them. I mean, okay, that's what I mean. Yes to use them. Now several of their daughters wondered why you had a life. It was always so busy. You were always working at least one job and they think you've had the most amazing retirement. You've been retired now for 21 years and they have so many interesting things to do. So, how did your face into from this busy work life into retirement? I stumbled into it because of the computer at the time. I retired the personal computers were just inventing desktop publishing programs. So I bought one of the first programs and it did a wonderful job in in making a professional-looking newsletters. And so I started to make newsletters for various organizations where we lived. In fact you recall at the first place we lived.

20:12 I had five separate newsletters that we moved in there. Didn't know anybody right and League of Women Voters League of Women Voters The Wildlife Federation and the Historical Society in a couple of homeowners associations. And so I got to know all the activist and these are the people who want to know they're the kind of the fun people who are civic-minded and generous. So I really enjoyed that and then when we moved here to Gainesville, you do the same thing again, you became active in many organizations. You're currently on the board of the United Nations Association what you do specially for them.

20:57 Well for a few years I did their new Slayer. I'm finally getting phased out of that. But I do keep their database and I'm their membership chairman and every you end a audio-visual man, I put on oh, you're still showing movies projection business and you also have sold some PowerPoint programs for the local Jane Austen Society. So three decades on the computer and 67 years and has a protectionist and 53 years as a great husband and father. Thank you for doing this. Well, thank you Gertrude. I enjoyed our talk.

21:41 Question sure, you guys talked about how you met.

21:46 I was the president. I know what you really impressed me about him and I was teaching in Minneapolis and decided to go over to the Van Winkle. We were both Catholic at that time and I met a mutual friend over there who knew him and a new me. So she introduced us. I knew him as Jimmy D for a long time before I ever heard his last name, but we were talking on a Monday morning about the weekend and on Sunday afternoon. He was talking about this Art Museum. He went to see and I was so impressed. I had never met a young man who went to art museums and I thought this is a really unique individual.

22:35 Well, and also we had about the cheapest shortest courtship on record. There was a dance one evening and we danced a bit and then we had a date. I took her to a movie called. Mr. Hue Lowe's holiday of all things and it cost me $0.75. And that was the only thing I ever spent on her in this courtship. We had a couple of other dates where we went skating and then we got engaged and I told our chaplain that the Newman club that I was engaged. He asked me if I had bought for a ring and I said, well, I don't have any money. He said use my charge card and get her a ring. He demanded that I do that so I did give her a diamond and then it was time for me to go to work for Honeywell and I didn't have any clothes so I could put a Blazer and trousers.

23:35 On her charge card, that's when she was a working person and she outfitted me so I could go to work at Honeywell.

23:47 No, we just we just started knew that we were going to get married to me. So yeah, we just made it was sort of natural slid into it.

23:59 Time

24:01 I think we are quite compatible for one thing and he's very handy. I think women should Engineers should be top of the list they fix things.

24:15 Do you want to share anything else about your life together a favorite moment that you have that you shared together?

24:26 Well, we had all those babies and he was so good with a neither one of us had much experience with babies and

24:38 She took right to them and he was always cuddling a baby and dressing them and changing them and taking care of them and I didn't realize till my grandmother and my stepmother both commented. They never saw a man that could handle babies as well as he could and in art town in our culture. Apparently men didn't even carry babies. That was just kind of beneath them or something. It was so you'd have a pregnant woman carrying a toddler while her husband walk beside her, you know.

25:08 But our girls are so good. I I just love them from the first and they certainly are the joy of our lives and you'll five of them graduated from University of Florida here in Gainesville and some with Advanced degrees so that they've they've gone and done some wonderful things all of them.

25:34 Maybe

25:35 Oh, yes Labor Day.

25:38 Yeah, it was in labor on Labor Day. I remember my roommate made that comment and and and then it took a long time. It was a kind of a long labor. So her face her head was a little bit flattened out or something. So you send a telegram to your sister Della Teresa. What is the baby is born Teresa's ugly or something, which she say forever and she turned out to be a beautiful.

26:12 What are all your daughters names Teresa? She's now an artist in Santa Fe, and she's known as tours is so Teresa also known as Shiraz Marie Lucy Julie Karen Lorre.

26:34 Well, you covered Teresa the artist Anna Marie is a up-and-coming writer in Colorado. She's had one novel published in has several stories. And and she was she was a manager for Lucent before they kind of allosaurus, Allosaurus and

27:00 And then Lucy is a PhD in microbiology and she has a public health lab in Iowa City Iowa, and she don't want the number of patents and does a lot of public education in mostly spent her career and tuberculosis research that believe and receive River down to Julie and Julia got a masters in nursing and she is a chief nurse here locally in at the Veterans Administration.

27:39 And Karen has a very very successful manager in business. She also is an electrical engineer and a tandem materials into her and then she went back and got her third college degree in math and became a math teacher in New Orleans. So she went to New Orleans last year and she's now moved back here and she's on the substitute list for the school. So she wants to be began a career.

28:13 And Lori it is the youngest and she does research in blood testing in it. And it's sort of a specialty field for that. They they do for various hospitals with problem blood testing and she lives also in the Denver area.

28:41 Big and varied and

28:44 Wonderful Life what do you think you are most proud of all of the accomplishments of things that you've done? Well, that's easy. I think I getting six gorgeous daughters. It was the highlight of my life.

28:59 A lot of female energy

29:09 Chipped what we did. We did kind of they grew up together since they're so close in age and we did a number of of camping trips with the whole family and all around Florida mostly and they were wonderful times in and it it's amazing that we could get six girls with that age spread particularly when they start to hit the teenage years, but they want a long very nice when they finally got jobs and it kind of man age 16, but up until then we would take the six of them and we had a pop-up camper in a little tent and spend at the weekends in various parks.

30:02 Closing would you like to add anything?

30:07 Okay, Gertrude, you're speechless I am I am I'm

30:13 If it's been a great 53 years and I and I like being married to someone who's smarter than me. You know, I'm always classy never does say much about that in and she's well-respected for her judgment and she she's a smart warm-hearted Lee both political activists and fortunately we agree 100% so that could have been trouble if I married one of your brothers.