A 63-year-old man with doctorate degrees in physics and psychology takes his life's memories out of a yellowed envelope: Diplomas, military discharge papers, special citations. Al Tibbs describes himself as "part of the lost generation." He graduated from high school in 1932, three years into the Depression, and his graduating class was always "just a step off."
He arrived in the Village six months ago after a yearlong stay in a veteran's hospital because of recurring problems from a World War II leg injury. He and his wife live in Beaconridge with her two daughters. Before he entered the hospital, they had lived in Chicago. He's looking for a way to volunteer his talents to area youth: "I'm interested in getting into the community," says the slender, gray-haired man who walks with a cane. "I don't care if it's a group I help or an individual. I like living out here, but I don't want to sit around 24 hours a day watching tv."
He says he has had difficulties finding paying work because of his disability, his age, and a lack of transportation. So, Tibbs stands ready to volunteer to help Village youth. His life tells a generation's story:
"I went into the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) right after high school," he explains. "We got $30 a month; $25 went home to our families because otherwise they'd have been on relief (welfare). We got $5 for ourselves, and they gave us room and board. I was with CCC for one year.
"Then I went to work as a machinist just like my father, for $14 a week," he continues. "I stayed there until 1938. I'd saved $4 a week, enough to go to an engineering school. I got out of school in 1941.
"When I got out of school, I was classified 1-A for the draft," he says, "and no one wanted to hire someone who might be drafted so I went down and volunteered. They shipped me overseas."
Tibbs says it was while he was in the service that he worked for his doctorate degrees. He studied thru the Armed Forces Institute and with various European universities.
"During the war, I worked in the same office with Gen. George S. Patton," says Tibbs. "I made the maps for him. I used to stand there and listen to him cuss. They say Patton was a mean man, but he wasn't. Patton would have won the war in 1944 if he'd had his way, but Eisenhower wouldn't let him. Patton was better than Eisenhower."
When Tibbs returned home after the war, "My education wasn't going to get me a job," he says. "All they wanted was production so I got a job in production." In the early '50s, he married a widow with five children.
In 1955 he was finally able to put his degrees to work as a scientist with Hot Point, "but the recession hit in the early '60s, and I was out of work. I wanted to get back working as a scientist, but by then I was almost 50.
"Someone finally told me to drop my degrees in a waste basket and get a job as a tool and die maker. That's what I did; I had a family to support," Tibbs says as he hugs a granddaughter. He worked as a tool and die maker until being hospitalized a year and a half ago.
Tibbs says he is especially interested in working with young people who are interested in science, "either the students who are advanced or the ones who need special help to understand what their teachers are trying to teach them." He adds, "If the park district or the school would be willing to back it, and the kids were interested, we could even build a computer. They're easy to do."
"Today's youth say they don't want to adapt to the system," says Tibbs. "They want the system to adapt to them, and perhaps they are right. Psychology in this country tries to mold the person to the system. I studied for my doctorate in psychology in Europe, and they have a different attitude there."
The man who earned two doctorate degrees says he has been called "Dr. Tibbs" only once in his life, "by a man I was working with who thought it was funny." He had an offer in 1959 to teach at the University of Montana, "but they were offering me only $3,000, and I couldn't afford it."
Tibbs says when he was at Hot Point, he worked with an exchange student from Iraq. "He couldn't understand this country. He said that in his country the more education a person had, the more pay he got, but in this country the more education a person has, the less pay he gets. It's confusing."
But Tibbs says he doesn't feel life has cheated him. "I can go out and solve a lot of problems that even a medical doctor can't solve." The problem he's trying to solve now is how to volunteer his talents to Village youth.
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