Nicholas Zoller and Karen McBee

Recorded June 30, 2021 Archived June 30, 2021 50:53 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: hub000360


One Small Step conversation partners Nicholas "Nick" Zoller (40) and Karen McBee (66) talk about their upbringing in Maryland and Texas and what inspired them to become teachers in higher education. They also discuss their differences in faith and what lessons they learned from their parents that taught them how to be a parent.

Subject Log / Time Code

Nick talks about his Eagle Scout project
Karen talks about growing up on a farm in Texas
Nick talks about the influence of his parents
Karen talks about feeling a connection between her mother and how it's impacted her relationship with her daughter.
Karen says she started off as what she would consider a centrist, but has been nudging left as she ages.
Karen says she values democracy more than capitalism and that part of the reason to be a nation is to help the people within that nation
Nick explains his political history with Reagan and the first Iraq War
Nick agrees with the sentiment that capitalism is not democracy
Karen recalls the influence of the Vietnam War in her life
Nick talks about becoming a teacher and why it felt just right
Karen explains why she's agnostic
Karen talks about what surprised her about the conversation


  • Nicholas Zoller
  • Karen McBee

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Venue / Recording Kit


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00:02 My name is Nicholas zoller, but I go by Nick and I am 40 years old. Today is June 30th, 2021. I'm coming to you from Bethany, Oklahoma, from my office at Southern Nazarene University and my conversation partner. Today is Karen McBee and she is a stranger to me.

00:24 Hi, I'm Karen McBee. I'm 66 years old just like Nick said, today is June 30th, 2021. I'm coming to from my dining room in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and my partner is Nick solar, and I'm just today meeting Nick to be at this conversation.

00:56 Karen, what made you want to do this interview today? Well, been a listener to NPR All Things in PR of 4.

01:12 Well since at least the 1980s so almost the entire time its existence and became a particular fan of storycorps as it develops. And when I just heard about the idea, it really hit a soft spot with me because I S. I've noticed the way our nation has gone over the last few years. I really wanted the opportunity to wanted there to be some kind of an opportunity for people who

01:57 For lack of a better way of putting. It may be felt like, they shouldn't be talking to each other because of extraneous forces to have a venue to just sit down and visit with each other. Just to talk to each other.

02:17 What made you want to do the interview?

02:21 Say it's for some of the same reasons. I have also been a longtime public radio. Listen to her, going back to my college days in the early 2005 have also filed. Storycorps does like maybe not as much as you. I don't, I don't make it appointment. Listen to every Friday morning. But if I catch you like, at 7 and it's, it's good to catch a shiny horse important in conversations over the years. And when I got, I'm on the kaosu text club, and I'll, I got the announcement week or two ago about the invitation. I thought that's all I can do and like you I also feel that there should be more space for people to sit down and just talk to each other and learn more about what they believe and I still alive and Krista. Tippett what they believe and why they believe it.

03:15 And I think there can be more understanding with people. Do these horses things.

03:20 I agree. I agree.

03:27 Okay.

03:30 I'm supposed to read your bio out right now. And so here is Nicks bio. It says I'm a Christian husband, father, son and brother. I teach math at a small Christian University. I don't know what I would do without my faith in Christ. Some important childhood experiences that shaped me will being part of a pastor's family. My father is a retired United Methodist Minister attending summer Church camps earning my Eagle Scout award. I was in college or university for ten years. After I graduated high school. Then I went straight into my current job as a professor.

04:24 So I in reading this, I've got several things. I'm just curious. What did you do for your project? It is. I think most Eagles like talking about this. I've actually talked to some that were born before the requirement came into existence and I say you guys got off a little bit easier than we did. At the time. I was living in Maryland where I grew up and the Goodwill in the city where I was living. I will produce them with see if they had any idea and they said well, we just moved to our new location and we own still own the old building and were using it for storage. And we have one entire room filled with used books.

05:13 And we'd like to have a sale.

05:16 Could you do that? Could you organize the books enough? So that we could have a used book sale? And that's what I did. And haven't, we spent when we did a work day in January, a work day in February?

05:31 I think to say it was March or April that there's actually a Goodwill celebration week in March or April from whenever they were founded and we were targeting that date and I got Scouts for my troop mostly to come help me sort and it was

05:48 Which one of the one of the strangest thing I've ever cuz there were so many books and we we did select a few that we thought maybe Goodwill shit and put in the sale because they could be collectors items and they sell those on the open market. But the rest we just sorted into piles like romance novels. That was by far the most that there was. It was there were hundreds of romance novels. He would donate over the years and nonfiction and fiction. We brought those down as best we could and children's literature and and then we had the sale and then it was all done.

06:24 Fantastic. Yes.

06:30 When you came to Southern Nazarene to set the first time you've been to Oklahoma view in 2009. I had not ever come to Oklahoma.

06:45 I have to tell you, I have a slim connection to Southern Nazarene, but I had a graduate student a number of years ago who did her undergraduate work at Southern Nazarene, had a fantastic experience. There speaks very highly of the school and because I had such a incredible experience with her as a student. I also have a very high opinion of the quality of Education that students leave there with.

07:36 I am I supposed to read her bio now. Okay, this is your bio. I am a retired academic biologist, unlike the typical pattern. I have become more and more liberal. As I've aged. I grew up in Central, Texas and spent much of my childhood on the farm. My parents were children of the Great Depression has cost them both and education. My father finished, eighth grade so hard, work resilience and the importance of doing good in school or emphasized. When I was growing up. I have one child, but we leave for Generation drives, my thinking on this shoes.

08:10 Again several questions, but I'll stick to one for now.

08:14 How what kind of was it? What kind of farmed was it that you grew up on? Was it primarily crops or livestock or what?

08:29 My dad.

08:32 Cattle. And we had sheep for a few years. She per hard work and have good experiences with sheet. But then my dad was primarily my dad and mom, actually they both worked. Equally hard were primarily interested in racing wheat and Milo and some hay Coastal, Bermuda. Hay and

09:08 Would bring in a feeder cattle to graze the winter Fleet, but then would sell them off in time for the Sweet Tooth to grow on that.

09:26 Did you also do some a little garden plot with this various vegetables and fruits for yourselves for the family?

09:39 It, it just cut.

09:40 Depended on the year. My mom as is often the case of both. My parents worked in other ways as well to sort of support their farming. We have it. My Dad ran a body shot during the winter months primarily and then my mom very often worked in town typically at a, some kind of bookkeeping job, but she also worked for a number of years off on the line at in a garment Factory. So

10:21 With that much time spent between moving farm equipment, and they were both very active. I get to do lots of things while I was in school as well. So, the typical running me from one activity to another. We didn't spend a lot of time vegetable gardening, but we usually have a few tomato plants. Maybe a couple of pepper plants, things like that.

10:54 Big Trees, pear tree.

10:58 Did you Garden or do you Garden? We garden now, my wife and I garden now and we feel, we just can't, we just enjoy it this year. We're trying butternut squash and it has almost taken over our garden. We just never tried it before and we just really surprised at how much the vines grow. And we've probably got half a dozen squash out there. Right now. We planted them in a met. Oh, wow. Yeah, we make such beautiful orange flowers, too.

11:35 So,

11:39 I may make a guess here as a way of asking you this question in my guess is that maybe it was your dad's. But the question is who who has been the most influential person in your life.

12:00 Yeah, this one of the four questions we had to answer. This one was the toughest for me cuz I thought I had to pick one fighting its enemy on just my parents and in the process of I didn't fully appreciate this until I got married six years ago. And then when I became father 3 years ago, that really made me do some serious reflection, not come to see it. It seems to be something of a universal Human Experience. When you get married, what especially when you have children makes you reflect on your parents and their influence on you. And I've come to appreciate that. Is the most influential.

12:34 Are the most influential people in my life because I see and again like a lot of parents. I see my see my parents qualities coming out of me as I've become apparent myself. My father certainly taught me. Actually. He he he as a minister. He was really gifted. In terms of just he just likes to be with people.

13:00 When he retired the first beer or two, after he retired, he sometimes when my mom was still working or part-time job, he would go to McDonald's and just sits there for the coffee maker. Be around people not being by himself in the house. He was only extrovert, the family, the rest of us, my brothers, and my mother, and I were all introverts. But he, he was influential went up with me. Just get out there and meet people, you know, Garrison Keillor on the Prairie Home Companion, he used to say, but what was it that the product that helps hire people have the nerve to get up and do things, something like that and not for me. That was my dad. He, he just he just did it. It was part of his being Indian line somewhere and just start talking and Patrick. A lot of small town torches. He didn't take a couple years. So he knew ovals, all the least important people in the community in

14:00 Let me know them.

14:02 But my mother and turns, having influence on me. I'm seeing that she and I are alike and having

14:10 She was with my introvert. How is Brooke role model growing up? My she showed me how to you could have deep friendships cuz she's had a deep abiding friendship for for almost as long as I've been with a woman, has three daughters the same age as me, and my two brothers and that's been a real role model for me and saying that those long-term friendships matter how much you move or how much jobs change and other circumstances, change, because that can be really valuable.

14:45 I think so.

14:49 Karen, who has been the most influential person in your life. And what did they teach you?

14:55 Well, I was kind of relieved when you stated earlier that it was a really hard question for you to narrow down to one person. Because again, I don't think I could name a single person who had an overarching influence on my life, but I can name, certainly my parents as primary influencers and that's where the categories of people as well, and and like, you. As I've gotten older and older. And and this is the old me telling the younger, you get even more so that you see yourself and your parents are one of the things I found as I've gotten older, and as my daughter's got in.

15:55 My daughter's 27, is that

16:01 As I interact with her, I understand more about how my mom and I interacted.

16:11 And it's just made me appreciate my mom even more. She's been dead for about 10 years now and a, but I still feel this connection to her, almost threw my daughter. And and the, the folks I've worked with in grad, school and the colleague said, I've had, I've been at OSU for over 30 years now and the colleagues that I worked with, for much of that time have all had influences on me, in in different ways and in different areas, but one of the things that has kind of surprised me, as I sat down to, think about this question is, how much influence my daughter has had on me.

17:11 Not just in, you know, bringing out the maternal traits of the parental traits, but in

17:23 Learning from her to maybe think about some things a little bit differently or two to look at things from the somewhat different perspective you because of Waze.

17:41 We've changed since the time, I was her age and so

17:50 I, I hope she's learned for me. And I know I've definitely learned from her.

18:02 Well, Karen, could you briefly describe in your own words, your personal political values when?

18:09 Nope.

18:12 We can go ahead.

18:17 What, you know, I guess I would have to say. I, I started off.

18:26 As for what I would have considered a Centrist.

18:32 But I'm

18:35 Nothing further and further left. As I as I age. I definitely wouldn't consider myself a radical leftist by any means. But

18:54 I sort of feel like,

18:59 As I get older.

19:03 And learn more about the different routes people have come and the difference of experiences people of path in life. I

19:19 I somehow feel less inclined to tell them that they've got to do things. My wife and I

19:28 And that.

19:31 Are, maybe I should.

19:34 Be a little more accepting of how they got to be where they are. And that I think is reflected in my

19:50 My political beliefs. Now. I also tend to think that sometimes we confuse capitalism with democracy and although I don't have any desire to do away with capitalism. Sometimes they're not the same and I value democracy more than capitalism, if that makes sense.

20:25 And I also think that,

20:31 Part of the reason to be a nation is to help the people within the nation live the best life they can. And I think within the areas that I have concerns about in our nation, like now, I don't think we're doing a very good job.

21:08 I'm going to take a more historical tag to this, my parents in the 1980, Maryland is there on his then Democrat state for decades democrat-controlled safe for decades and my parents were like a lot of protestant Christians and especially those who were, I guess in the seventies Asian bornean that in the 80 of presidential election. They change the voting Republican so they can vote for Ronald Reagan. And

21:41 Am I am I growing up was shaped by that and by being a child through the

21:47 The first Iraq war, which is the, the golf, the Persian Gulf thing in the 91, I distinctly remember in January of 91 watching TV and seeing the missiles going over, Saudi Arabian thinking, holy smokes. This is a war. This is not something else is actually happening. I was the first black member being thinking besides the Challenger explosion thinking that I'm living through history. Like, I had to send them right now and

22:19 And then I was shaped further by being a teenager during the time of the Clinton presidency and and then things started to shift when I went to where I'm at the college. And I in my senior year during spring break. We spent some time in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, at the Catholic Worker house, and it was March of 2003.

22:47 No.

22:49 That must have been 2,000. Okay, sometimes there is an Iraq war protest. The second Iraq war. And here I was with some of my college friends, going this protest. Not thought I never been no protests in my life. But that was the first kind of chip like I would I just hadn't given much consideration to being Republican and what that meant in Maryland. It meant being the underdog, unless you go to work tomorrow. Would you could be represented by a republican congressman?

23:20 And and then graduate school. I came across the. I think it was the two that I was at the 2004 election. When I, I never read the book, but it's the title is God is not a Republican or a Democrat, or Jesus is not Republican or Democrat. And that really shaped my thinking on things just that title alone. So I became a little more disenchanted with just told party political system. Begin your new for something different. I'm always excited when I hear about third parties being constructed because I hope that it'll happen. I think I could be helpful for a country. But so I my, my political views are a mixed bag. I don't feel like I fit in the Democrat Party or the Republican party because I'm fairly liberal on economic issues.

24:14 I feel like capitalism. I've also done feeling, feeling it capitalism is not democracy, except that's a really good way of putting it, but I feel like it's it's the best alternative compared to the other economic systems that we have in the world today, but also being a Christian person. Feel like there's a lot more conservative on things are like tomorrow values and how we ought to have laws around those things.

24:44 Though.

24:48 I get what you're saying about, sometimes I'm not feeling exactly like you fit in with either one of our dominant two parties.

25:02 And I was intrigued when you said about the,

25:08 Hearing the news about the first Gulf War for me and maybe maybe is so for your parents. I'm not sure. I'm guessing about ages here. But for me, that was the Vietnam War, do strongly. Remember Walter Cronkite, and the news in the images that were coming back from the Vietnam War and having

25:42 Having my view of the world shaped by that so cute. I guess I'm throwing that in only as a plug for. I'm very glad that you and I wish everyone would take a broad view of Journalism, positive view of Journalism and how much it can.

26:16 Influence and inform us about our world.

26:27 Oh, I like this question.

26:43 Guarantee my start area of expertise as well. Pull the math was first and then the higher education has been good at math. Ever. Since I've been Elementary School been good at details, have been good at school and I got that more personality type. I thought I did well in school. It was easy to get high grades and I just ran out route, as far as I could.

27:20 My first influential teacher was sixth grade. I had a science teacher who was finishing his, he, /. You know, I've been here for thirty-nine years, and I'm quitting after this retiring and delmor. Didn't give you didn't care, just didn't care what he said, what he did. He just laid it all out there. He had a typewriter. He used it all the time, and this is 1990 to 93 at a typewriter or so, and that was the only person I knew he was teaching me. You had typewriter use it to type. All of his own worksheets. He had a bunch of pithy sayings that he threw around, like I'm older than dirt.

28:00 I'm older than dirt one time. My classmate brought in a cocoon, and we all and we did the science experiment where you let it sit there in the classroom until it hatches and out came the ugly moth, and he said so and so you're a mommy.

28:20 It's a beautiful child English teacher. That was really influential 7th grade. She had a reading a but we're in the advanced English class. So she has reading stuff above our

28:39 About the usual level. We were reading, Beowulf. We were reading The Scarlet Letter. I just never been feeling like, okay, and then, I ended up getting into a local drama group in that town. And she was also involved in the drama group. So she was influential there.

28:59 Can you fast-forward to college? And I just can't. It just all the faculty Messiah College where I went or influential there?

29:10 And then and I was actually going to be a high school teacher, but I had a student teaching experience that in the fall of my senior year. That said, no, you really might need to reconsider this. And I had time to apply to graduate school and I did. And after I got there, I decided. I'm just going to. I really like the small college experience, want to work a small College. I found a graduate program at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. Where a lot of the other graduate students in math, at least that come from small colleges and work.

29:44 Just got to go back and teach a small college and love. All, that's what we've done these people for my coat work. So that was a good atmosphere. The end was more collegial instead of competitive in at my apartment until it still is. And when I mean, the first moment, I got to be a TA. And especially the last couple years. When I was finished up my graduate work, got to be an instructor. I just had this really feels right. It just feels right, feels like you ft. You got a shirt that just fits just right, or, you know, a ring on your finger, just write it just felt. This is what I had to do.

30:25 I understand about that, feeling it just fixed. It's just right? And end in the length of time that I have been in the profession. There been periods of time where I was pretty dark on. You know, I can't wait till I retire. I just when I was serious with myself and really thought about, okay, what would you, you know, if you'd chosen another route flight would it be at always came back to this? So it was like, I truly understand about that idea fit.

31:10 At the way, I came to this with starting off as a kid growing up on a farm. I was around animal so hot and my dad only child and I am not

31:29 Ashamed to admit that he would have much preferred son than a dog.

31:35 But he may do with the daughter and so he would take me hunting with him, and take me fishing with him in just trailed behind him a lot. And so, I guess as I went through school and like you, I had a lot of emphasis on doing well, in school and and sorted took wasn't particularly athletic at wasn't

32:11 Particularly talented in other areas, but I made the grade.

32:24 Because of the country up, bringing the working around animals, and I guess the only thing I really thought about a site and or college was a

32:38 Well, I'll be a veterinarian but without really knowing much more than just having seen the vet work on our lives. Stop and adjust. Fortuitously landed a work-study job in the

33:04 I guess the reception area of the University Museum and stayed there the throughout my entire undergraduate experience in. Not not in the reception area. I moved and got the opportunity to work in all kinds of different areas of this Natural History Museum. And the people that the faculty members that worked with the museum and the other students and graduate students that were in the museum, just opened up this whole world of what biology really wise and that it was a heck of a lot more than being a vet. Although not to take away from veterinarians, but that, but I just saw this incredible.

34:00 Diversity of experiences possible. And

34:07 It went on from there to grad school in a museum Science Program expecting to eventually work in a museum in although

34:23 It's been a Wandering route.

34:29 Did do just that became the curator for osu's collection of vertebrates, and I think we're me, one of the real payoffs has been not only in teaching undergraduates that. I've got to work within the graduate students working through the collections way to excite kids, little kids about the natural world around them in. And I just loved having that experience getting to Steve their, their curiosity in getting to

35:26 Assertive Stoke, that Curiosity.

35:49 Can we see? I'm trying to decide. I could almost ask all of these but maybe a list just start off with that first one. I mean we've established I guess. I don't know. I didn't say it in that brief introduction between each read out each other, but I'm a, I'm a Christian.

36:21 And so maybe just start off with that first one. It is there. Something about my beliefs that you don't agree with but you can still respect.

36:37 Yes, well, I guess I'd have to ask you. How did you, how did you come to a place of agnosticism as I've been for just a few years or much of your life or tell me more about that? And then I can tell you a little more.

36:52 The point it has been a journey, but it has been.

37:02 A long time that I've held these this belief, so I should tell you that I was raised this about

37:16 And,

37:18 I have to give my mom an incredible amount of credit here because she in spite of how much I know. It must have troubles. Her was willing to give me the freedom to truly explore. What I thought about religious beliefs, and my own religious beliefs would develop to be, and it began all the way back in high school because I knew

37:58 People in the small farming Community I threw up then I knew people that were not of different religious beliefs so much different denominations. And so I was just curious and

38:18 I asked if I could go to the Catholic church and the Presbyterian Church in the Methodist Church, and she let me do it. And so I just visited with in some cases with friends from school who belong to other churches. And in other cases. I just went on my own to a Sunday service in that continued.

38:55 And I just kind of broadened out and once I was in college and even into grad school, went to

39:08 Religion.

39:11 Celebrations, I guess not feed the better way to put it for religious groups that we're not in the way. I really came to.

39:30 Be agnostic is.

39:35 One of the things I saw is that in all of these groups, the different Christian denominations and the non-christians face was that there was Central

39:52 Poor for all of these that had to do with you. Treating people decently.

40:04 That.

40:09 The things that I didn't like in all of them was that the idea that in order for people, greet each other decently there had to be some punishment waiting in line. And so I just came to. I'm going to try to wrap this up cuz I realize I'm going on. And on it's it's like everybody was right, or everybody was wrong. And

40:43 Maybe.

40:45 God is able as a concept for organizing how we think about our role in the world.

40:54 But we don't really need any kind of a supernatural.

41:02 Explanation for the things that go on in the world, probably how I got to where I am.

41:11 Well, I mean like the question says I can definitely respect that as a. Some things that I've learned. This church is not strongly in the M, angelical part of protestant American Christianity, but I grew up the info. I've come to realize now and reflecting on my own child. As I was influenced by strains of Evangelical Christianity in my childhood. And there was a sense there where some of them are scared of people who just are not Christian or are anything except Protestant because they feel like it's just a threat that anyone believes differently than they do some Warehouse, some of that. Some of the Muslims think, right. They they take it, it's some of the other countries in the Middle East. Is it pretty seriously that you don't think the same way we do than sorry. You just can't

42:06 The guilt is just flat-out illegal, but going back to our contacts and I don't I really haven't felt that kind of fear. Okay, because the longer I've been a Christian, the more I'm convinced that

42:23 God is not God is not limited.

42:27 God is not limited, which means that God can bring anyone to faith in Christ, and we just don't know the timing of it. And

42:38 If we it's kind of like, doing things like this and you listen to people, that's when you can figure out whether you're part of that that place where that person come to Faith or not. And if not, then it's new, It's not. Doesn't, it doesn't mean you can't change the friendship or relationship. It just means that it's just not the right time in the right place, right person.

43:02 I'm so glad to hear you. Say that.

43:08 There's across so many different religions. There. Are these journals?

43:21 Struggling for the words here, but these criminals of belief that

43:28 Are.

43:30 Really fear. And the reason I'm glad to hear you say that as if, that's exactly what I think causes. So much of our trouble across religious beliefs across political beliefs is is really an unfounded.

43:52 And I think the more we are aware that were capable of holding these unfounded fears. The more likely we're willing to try to get Beyond them.

44:27 I think we can wrap it up. Is that? Alright, Karen?

44:32 Oh, I'm fine. Yeah, do you ever feel troubled by people with the same beliefs as you and how they communicate those beliefs to others?

44:44 I yeah, I think in any group or any belief system, there's a spectrum and

44:59 I,

45:01 I think I'm most.

45:05 Trouble by folks that have similar beliefs to me that are dismissive or disrespectful of people who have strong Christian beliefs in particular. And that's because going back to that influential people. My mom was a very strong Christian. She she nearly believe in Christianity and she was a very good person and so I can understand how it influenced her life and influence her choices.

45:57 And she deserves respect for the amount of time and thought she put into that. And I think anyone does.

46:11 So,

46:12 I think the things that I most dislike about,

46:17 The group, I belong to you. If, if we're going to divide it into two groups is when they failed to respect other people's beliefs. They want their beliefs to be respected in. This goes, for any proof, you know, they want their beliefs to be respected, but they failed to respect the beliefs of those who don't necessarily see things. The way they do.

47:02 Okay, let me see.

47:06 I guess. Is there anything you learned about me today? That was surprising?

47:21 No, I mean. That's that's the story. I've heard. I've seen a fair bit of the people. I've got a couple of colleagues here that's in you that grew up on a farm and then end up in Academia. So, I kind of heard that story before I just did the the thing that is surprising is having someone come and be honest at the are agnostic. Like, that's a that's not as common beliefs in the circles I run around in and out in the world. So I that was that was interesting. And again, it's none of that respect that because people can actually consciously make that identification.

48:06 I agree with you. I don't hear many people.

48:12 Just come out and say it. It's and I don't know if it's because they just don't want to make waves or they don't want to.

48:29 Almost at midnight.

48:40 Okay, let's see.

48:45 Oh, I was, it is.

48:54 Was I hear you expected me to be?

48:59 Kind of excited. Not

49:07 And and I guess the kind of knot was one of the first things that we read off regarding the rules. Where's the part about? Don't make assumptions. And I have to admit that, I probably did come into this with just a little bit of an assumption.

49:29 In part because knowing that you were teaching at a small Christian University and I wondered what schools it might be here. And then the other was please don't hate me for saying this. The fact that you were a mathematician and I think of math, as there are rules to is, alright? To always floor and I had assumed that you might be

50:09 A little inflexible in your thinking and I didn't find that. I found you to be open and willing to listen to me. And and willing to consider what I said.

50:26 Thanks, Karen.

50:42 Thank you. Thank you, Karen.