William deAlva and Marti de Alva

Recorded December 8, 2008 Archived December 8, 2008 39:32 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: MBY004841


Marti interviewed her dad about his work life.

Subject Log / Time Code

Born in 1925 in San Francisco right before the Depression.
First jobs


  • William deAlva
  • Marti de Alva


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00:04 My name is Marty the Elva. I'm 59 years old today is December 8th 2008. I'm in Tucson, Arizona here to interview My Father Bill de Alba.

00:27 Your turn

00:28 Hi there. I'm building Alva. I'm 83 years old today is 8th of December 2008. And we're in Tucson Arizona and in an Airstream trailer in front of the main public library, and I'm here to be interviewed for the story book or project by my daughter Marty.

00:56 Well Dad, I'm I'm glad we finally get a chance to do this after thinking about it for such a long time and having a chance to we've had a lot of conversations and I've taken notes but I always knew if we actually got a chance to record it something might actually happen with it. So let's begin and I want you to tell me a little bit about your your early childhood about where you were born when you were born little bit about your parents and your family.

01:29 Well, I was born in 1925.

01:34 And the man

01:38 Of to California

01:42 Born parents born in San Francisco and

01:52 Unknowingly, I brought this the depression by behind me because in 1929 was the big crash which I didn't know I'd but that influenced the way we live and what we did and I never knew I was poor and I don't think my brothers did I have two older brothers?

02:21 And I was

02:26 Never aware of any deprivation or I wasn't aware of that. My father had lost his business due to the Depression had a entrepreneurial orange juice producing and distributing Network probably riding on the coattails of the

02:51 Jose Pro Edition movement

02:54 I gather that I was considered the sickly child because maybe two times in my life that I was sent away to try a different climate a different environment on the advice of doctors. So I spent a year in Los Angeles living with a paternal Uncle when I should have been starting school and again and when I should have been in the 5th grade I was sent to another institution to see if my breathing in a long as we get better and I thought being that I had asthma.

03:40 Meant to say those are the two things that stand out that happenings.

03:50 I remember you you also told me how your father responded to your the times when you were particularly unwell went tell me a little bit about that very hard or whatever kind of job usually sells you could find more often or not was home late or after supper and if it was a bad day for me and I was wheezing asthmatic and then sleeping bags and camping gear went into the back of the car no matter what the hour or 10 or more later even and off to the Oakland Hills. We went to what was the major Boy Scout camp or we will have the authority in the privilege of

04:44 Using it as any day any time and I we slept out under the stars and that are must have been more salubrious for me then then not in the house. So that was dad's treatment at no doubt a great sacrifice. He I'm sure would have rather sat down on the couch and put his feet up and read the paper or something.

05:11 Last time it was a unique thing and it happened many times through the years of my earlier childhood. I didn't probably scarcely at all after the 10th or 11th birthday.

05:28 Well, imagine it while it may have been a sacrifice. I imagine he ended up with a collection of very special memories of time spent with you to it. Sounds pretty precious dad. I wanted to let you know that I understand that as a as a boy. You weren't really aware that they were hard Economic Times Are stressful times, but it's we're now in a time where many people are facing economic stresses and job losses and worrisome uncertainties. How do you think growing up in that environment affected you in terms of your attitudes toward work and saving and managing your resources and that's our thing.

06:19 Well, although I wasn't conscious of any of that at the time of I was a little kid I grew up in a culture of frugality and and

06:35 So nothing away African hasn't moved you and you can eat it.

06:45 We ate well, I think and we're always healthy from the nutritional point of view.

06:52 I remember dad would bring home vegetables in the crates at the

06:59 So you go see stories had it so we would have a crisis strawberries of oranges of apples of vegetables over brought up on a healthy diet and we would go down to

07:15 The amount of wholesale market area sometimes to buy even tortillas fresh from the tortilla tortilla it is

07:36 We didn't have refrigeration and most of my very few of my peers when I went to their homes have refrigeration. I just wasn't that General in at our economic level.

07:54 Very few that had a were considered better off.

08:03 Businesses make my dad's work collapsing all around. I was given to understand and that's what course I can see that the house must be how what we're going through here. And now going to be considered the reminiscence of that, I just hope it doesn't go as deep.

08:28 Tell me a little bit about your you're very earliest work history. What were the first kinds of cashews to sense of job shining my dad shoes.

08:48 And then and I was taught with that all with it save a penny or two or three or whatever proportion was for my contribution to the collection plate at church on Sunday. So I was brought up with supporting the church from an early on wasn't embarrassed to be dropping in my two pennies.

09:14 They

09:17 Early earnings were not unlike that of many a kid. My brothers has delivered papers. A lot of kids talked newspapers and Ice hold magazines on a corner where the commuters picked up the transportation to San Francisco, which way then at that time was from Oakland to San Francisco by way of Faribault.

09:47 And

09:50 Then one thing that's gave me an entrepreneurial.

09:56 Since I guess and I grew a little older and somehow or another crappy came acquainted with

10:10 Where are Christmas trees and Christmas trees came from the wholesale markets? Were they were unloaded off a trains and trucks?

10:19 And so I got into the business and seasonality of course of selling Christmas trees and dragging around my little red wagon.

10:31 How old are you? Probably started that when I was 12 or 13 years.

10:37 And then I did it regularly because it was profitable.

10:42 And people wanted to do business with me. I just went door-to-door and then when I ended up eventually acquiring a pickup truck I then was doing Christmas trees.

10:55 My mother delighted in telling me how many people called in the 1943 after I left to serve in the military they call and ask her to is Billy going to be delivering Christmas trees and wreaths this year. We want to get them phone. So I have an established clientele.

11:19 But I wasn't there to serve him. Thanks to the war. You also bought that truck yourself didn't you? How did you yell had to pay for one of my dad's clients?

11:40 I haven't had an orange juice Distributing business at Distributing fresh orange juice and

11:50 I ended up buying.

11:53 A pickup truck that he had used in this business and we agreed to buy it a $4 a week. That would be withdrawn from my paycheck and my wood.

12:09 Work I had to work every morning at 4. They purpose mean to Deals and get the

12:16 Products delivered to the schools before they opened

12:20 And then I would drive on my cell phone out to high school.

12:25 1936 Dodge truck and part of the deal was to include my learning how to overhaul out because the engine was kaput and it needed to be overhauled and the mechanic who serves the trucks of the company from whom I was buying it Paul. Lure. All of you was the guy's name.

12:54 Agreed to teach me and let me use his workshop and he mentored me all the way through as well. That was my first real opportunity to learn and from Bumper to Bumper how to fix a vehicle and then passed on to your son's I believe music I use the truck and later also with some Chums did some Landscaping hauling dirt and installing Lawns and

13:33 Another thing we've talked about that you began acquiring some skills and experience and during your school years was in photography. Can you just give me a sore? No fault of my own my brother who is

13:54 Well, when I entered School in first grade, he was in the eighth grade. So when I entered high school, he was already out of it, but he retained a link to the high school a representative for what was known in his high life.

14:13 A magazine high life and the format of the magazine was to make you think of Life magazine and he was the advertising salesperson reporter photographer for the school one handed that off to me. And so I became

14:33 How do you photography for the school after first acquiring some knowledge about cameras and buying a camera again on my own at so much a week from a Downtown Oakland camera dealer called the camera corner and using

14:52 My camera I took pictures of the school dances and make a little money selling pictures of Princess Ella's to fellow students and did the Sportsman and pictures that were necessary for the publication to report on online high schools activities. And from that point forward to seems photography was a link that led me from one step of my life to another my chemistry instructor.

15:32 Took notice of man and was interested in photography. So he

15:39 Volunteer to take me under his wing and teach me all all he could about photographic darkroom work and so I learned to make prints and and develop film and make duplicates and landlords rents and all that sort of thing. So I left I never finished high school and Military called up before I finish the third year actually, how old are you then?

16:07 Well, I'm 18 18 when I was called up to active duty. I've been in a reserve program from midday 17th.

16:25 When I was halfway through being 17 years old.

16:32 Sorry, I went off went off to war which meant being sent to Denver on a troop train and photographic the linkage eventually became crucial in my assignments to do T. I went to I had an enlisted in the reserve program as a Cadet candidate intending to go to flight school or Bombardier Navigator School my brother having gone through into the Air Force. Air corps was called in.

17:14 How to become a meteorologist he was a physicist at the University of California of it before the war and end of the war and tall was removed from the University. He had his degree and he went and advised me to try to follow in those footsteps and in the Air Corps and see if I could get into a Cadet program. Well, I didn't because I had that I was told I had nasal polyps and was washed out and my immediate first assignment was to go help unload a box cars mostly beef.

18:00 When was the black labor battalions in the news yours the blacks and whites military personnel were strongly separated as far as living quarters eating and so on social and they had to work together.

18:21 And I just suddenly remembered I won't have one black call. I work with a very nice guy and no matter what I would say, I would say boys really cold today and it was hot. You got that right eye. If I'm intimidating is accent to some extent of it is his men fondly and not in any way the meaning.

18:56 And then one day

19:00 I got called up to the headquarters building and the outcome of which was that several.

19:11 Assignment in classification placements have been incorrectly done and one of my bunkmates was a physicist and other was a lawyer and we are all doing menial labor tasks and the officer in charge for that was called to task and I was immediately sent and transferred to the Base Air Force Base photographic lab and based on my scanned experience. I was an official photographer and did a lot and from then on I moved up from one base to another but always in photography.

19:58 And so that

20:00 Photograph of classification starting with high school acquisition of some skills and knowledge took me all the way through my military career and when I got out of the military first thing I did was a

20:18 You know a college and did all of its ography for a college yearbook at the college is being attended by my widowed sister-in-law and my brother have been killed in a crash in 1945. So a 1946 when I was discharged I went up to visit her and we did the college annual.

20:49 And from that

20:52 I went back from my first job.

20:57 Okay, first job was with photography related boys and sales and performance of Photography in Texas. And I'm just started on the side. I started it a photographic service business taking portraits and weddings and that's what a thing.

21:19 And that led to my being found eligible to take a job at Los Alamos, New Mexico the secret atomic bomb lost laboratory. And and you had said there were some family connections there that an issue. You there California had been working with Ernest Lawrence the developer of the first cyclotron and my brother was part of his team as a physicist and they later arranged for my cousin to come up from, Arizona.

22:04 Tell my brother Louis was a physicist and Rudy felasco from Arizona my cousin. I was an electrical engineer and worked on the cyclotron and Lewis eventually weather in 43 was 42 taken up into active duty of the rest of the young man working with her nurse Lawrence were not allowed to quit or resign or join the military nor could they be drafted because the job was considered wartime critical.

22:41 Until one day the Army came Marching In came in and said are you guys are so anxious to be in the service reports and such and such a place tomorrow. They did they gave me uniforms and told him to go back to work and now work for the government at $21 a month if it was a entering private spay and they couldn't leave me we're allowed to live at home. They didn't have to live in a barracks.

23:15 And cousin Rudy was in that group. Is that right? Link got me into a job at Los Alamos a very high-tech Optical think it was assumed that I knew and understood.

23:41 I will work at Los Alamos in this high-tech area and

23:52 Well

23:56 For the 11 years. I was at Los Alamos High develop date sideline business first doing for the photographic services in selling photographic equipment. And this is in part because that's it in Los Alamos is where you met mom and you and Mom were married and family gets started. So you have all the responsibilities that come along with being a husband and a father. So so that's how you got that was part of what was also beginning and developing there in Los Alamos accomplish with stew besides raising kids.

24:49 Was to develop a sideline business for ending up as dedicating one of the bedrooms for a little camera store with the counters and so on so that grew into a genuine downtown business and that led I had myself and I wanted to clarify for a moment. This business was in addition to the work that you were doing in the laboratory. I was Moonlighting business and then your brother was a year and a half or so younger than you you remember I'm down with leukemia.

25:39 And because I had become acquainted with many of the doctors in in town through their interest in photography and Supply them.

25:52 I knew the doctor's semi socially who ended up taking care of your brother and providing is his care and

26:04 That

26:08 Compressing what he was he became out. He was diagnose a three and a half died at age 5. And in that time I had to go so many long conversations with a dachshund.

26:22 Unbeknownst unconscious way to me, I guess interesting medicine.

26:31 As a service to pay real patients took hold of me. I have been working in medical research and yours are Los Alamos and

26:49 The one day 1957 it was I came home at lunch and announce to the family your mom and and all of you sitting there. I'm going to medical school and I had no idea what it took to get into medical school in terms of I didn't have a degree. I didn't even have a high school diploma.

27:07 But anyway, I did get into.

27:16 Bill and sign it and then Paul was born shortly after Lewis died. So you you had four kids still there at the point when we were still living in Los Alamos and you have this idea that you're going to go to change careers and yeah go into medicine. Yeah that I did find that was 1957. So I was 32

27:49 I want to change careers having to acquire a free pre-medical bachelor's degree first and then four years of medical school and years of interning or training or residency. Mike is a fellowship to Denver. I remember I was in third grade. I think I was 8 years old and then your youngest child John was born there in Denver. So you're going through Medical School pre-med and medical school with 5 kids. Not the normal.

28:32 Course the oldest one in the class

28:38 And the Magical glass with the medical school entirely supportive of you in this venture to

28:45 I think they were when I first resume to present myself to the dean of the medical school. He was just believing that it could be done because I have so many.

28:59 Obstacles and I had no particular depth of funding.

29:05 Prove to be the cash prove to be the case.

29:09 Actually was put through medical school and college by the proceeds of selling my camera business to the people. I had hired to work for the deal being basically you guys fund me through school and into practice and my business is yours. And that's the way it works. Well when I came out of school and start a practice, I didn't know if we didn't have a penny is anybody our cars were paid for now we all we at a house on a mortgage in Denver CO, we were current with our payments ography continued when you were in medical school that research Fellowship. I got a research fellowship and another credited as residency equivalent. I am that was because I was called upon to do this particular line of research having two.

30:08 Do look for the cause of emphysema and my role was studying the circulation of the of the lungs and pulmonary circulation and I use hi Jack photography photographic techniques and devices. I created or design or invented if you will. So if a dog if he was still keeping me going and pointed me and into my pathway at the medical school and facilitated might be getting my board certification sooner than I otherwise would have been the case.

30:51 How does a switching careers that affect your family?

30:58 Lesson brushless

31:04 My wife was very frugal and I was able to take care of the kids and do the Cub Scouts came into it yet, but then

31:22 The kids seem to take it in good stride moving from Denver to Omaha cuz I went to the University of Nebraska.

31:33 And they

31:37 Seems or Come Away. None the worse for wear. I think did pretty well, maybe a little a little like you're you and Mom both growing up in the depression. You know, I don't think I don't think we had a sense of being deprived or or you know suffering. And anyway, I always felt like we had plenty to eat and I think I was aware that we were

32:09 Some part of me realize we were doing you know that what we were doing as a family and what you were doing was unusual.

32:18 You know, he would dad was 16 when I I know I was 16 when Dad graduated got it with his MD and 18 when he started his own practice.

32:31 So there certainly were sacrifices I think along the way but there was also a sense of

32:39 He's doing something important and

32:44 Family time. I think I'm thinking of winners a couple of the doctors on the faculty were primary stockholders of the funky little ski area in Council Bluffs Iowa. And so we ended up in the winter being able to do some night time skiing and weekends we could ski in the web for free and so we had that I was responsible for a training is establishing a ski patrol because they had no one without background and when they learned I had done that in, Colorado.

33:31 Skiing they took advantage of it and gave us free passes for the family and we did all this game. We want to actually Skidmore Auburn Nebraska then we probably did any Colorado skiing and later on sailing as activities that we did as far as a family and you had a pretty amazing close network of family and friends that we also did some traveling with that was actually one of the questions I wanted to ask you about Dad was just the how how important was the role of that a friends-and-family and helping to sustain sustain us through all those years.

34:25 Well, there comes a frittata at the photography again through my business in photography.

34:37 We established a connection with a man who owned a photographic wholesale business and used to call on me Charlie Saturn.

34:49 His son is now a senior district judge in Denver.

34:57 But we went to hear what he and I went Partners on buying a sailboat and we used to sell his two kids and you five kids with a whole pile in a sailboat and set

35:17 We got a lot of sailing and we traveled with him sometimes sailing trips and other families stroller throwing back to Los Alamos. We went to Europe went to Mexico as a family all 14 of us. There are five 7 or 9 for counting my mother Volkswagen bus pulling a trailer driving all the way from Denver down to Mexico and back if it's just it's amazing. What we did what what you and Mom were able to put together and organize to give us some special times together. So

36:05 Daddy you now have

36:10 5 living children 10 grandchildren

36:17 2.2 2.2 great-grandchildren is my son is and his wife are now pregnant with their first. How would you like to be remembered? What do what do what would you like to what would you want to be sure that we all remember about you?

36:38 Wow that I was a Down.

36:46 Does a

36:48 Wanted

36:50 To have the kids do better than I have done and believe that they could and would

36:58 That I was a physician and helped some people and some of those people remember me warmly.

37:10 All that I was a grandpa and great-grandpa load his kids and his Greek and kids.

37:21 And

37:25 I never tired of any of that of being a grandpa or being with his position.

37:31 And you're still still at it though. I'm still working part-time on-call surgery part-time love what you do.

37:44 And I love what I've done.

37:48 It's a great role model for all of us. I think to find find something that you love.

38:00 Milestones along the way as something or maybe the grandchildren can

38:08 Reflect on and review and see that there's no endpoint to when you can make decisions and changes if you want to go through the door open it and go and not to underestimate what you're capable of.

38:32 I'm by so grateful that we've had a chance to share this time and Get These Memories and stories record it and look forward to doing some more of them on our own taking you how many years to get me get me to sit down and we've been sitting down. I just have a bad habit of writing on loose pieces of paper they get lost. So well, it took the facilities storycorps to

39:01 Bring it to reality and reduce it to a recorded sound for that will be everlastingly grateful.

39:12 How we doing?

39:15 Do you think storycorps and you and

39:20 And then of course in our

39:25 Monitor here