Off Ice Follow-up
Letter 14: The Men
Diversity in one word describes the people of the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. Just as the women are diverse, so are the men. The following brief and edited biographies of the South Pole men are taken from many hours of interview dialogue and are shared with permission.
Jerry: 51, divorced and raised his 3 sons, carpenter, summer-over. Quiet and soft-spoken, yet friendly, serious and sensitive with always a positive attitude, Jerry was born and raised on a south Minnesotan dairy farm and is the next to the youngest of 4 brothers. Jerry first gained his carpentry skills through high school employment on odd jobs. His training continued while in Viet Nam building roads with the army. When Jerry isn't working in Antarctica, he is self-employed in mostly residential carpentry but also has experience in commercial and agricultural carpentry.
While at the South Pole Station, Jerry's job entails building for science projects and general station maintenance. He says carpentry is his love and he achieves satisfaction from seeing the products of his efforts. Jerry says, "When building something for the scientists here, it's a special, unique, one of a kind experience. Building houses becomes mundane even though I enjoy the carpentry. It's not so creative or unique."
What message does Jerry share? "At a point in a person's life you're faced with the choice of how to lead it-attitude. I'm proud of raising three sons as a single parent when the youngest was only nine. They all turned out to be fine young men." Jerry lost his oldest son at the age of 22 on Feb. 13, 1993 in an auto accident.
John: 27, single, meteorologist, summer-over. Conscientious and dedicated, reserved and low profile, John grew up in Vermont and knew by age 12 that he wanted to study meteorology.
During the summer between John's Junior and Senior years at the U. of Utah, he took a summer internship with the National Weather Service in Alaska. He loved the assignment and was successful. When John graduated the following year, he moved directly into a good position in Kodiak, Alaska. John ultimately transferred to Juno to take employment in a forecasting office until late in 1998.
Although John liked his job including his good salary, he knew he'd lose interest before too long. He wanted more time for travel and skiing. At this point, John pursued seasonal work and through networking in the weather service, he met someone who had worked at the South Pole. John obtained further information, applied, and was hired. John bases himself in Alaska where his other summer job is with fire weather forecasting, a specialized form of weather forecasting.
What are John's passions? Travel, skiing and all forms of outdoor recreation. Through his teenage years, John parcticipated in ski races in Alpine events. Five years ago, John took up running and joins a few races every summer including marathons.
John's statement: "To a large degree, you can do what you want to do. If you have real ambition with your goals, then you can do it. A lot of times it's just taking that first step. It is not always easy, but I'm glad I did it."
Mark: 26, single, first cook, summer-over. Reserved and shy, dedicated and hard working, Mark grew up in Kokomo, Indiana. During the past 8 years Mark has taken seasonal jobs in the guest services industry in Wyoming and Montana to support his travels. Although Mark has 4 years of college education in music and English literature, he holds no degree after dropping out 3 times from Ball State U. in Indiana and the U. of Montana.
Music was Mark's life. Mark began playing the trumpet in the sixth grade and says he's done mostly orchestral performances along with the usual church and wedding engagements. While in high school, Mark parcticipated in fine arts summer camps and won a scholarship to play under Fred Fennell at the Interlaken Academy in Northern Michigan. When Mark was a Senior, he was a principal trumpet in the 1990 Indianapolis State High School Symphony and was claimed to be the best trumpet player in the state at that time. Mark has been a member of the Kokomo, Muncie, Elkhart, and New World Symphonies.
When Mark moved to the west in 1991, he left his trumpet at home. He was turned off to the culture of the music scene. Mark wanted more out of life than sitting in a practice room 5 hours each day perfecting 12 notes. "Now music is listening." Mark explains and only performs 3 or 4 times a year at friends' weddings.
Mark sees Yellowstone as his home and plans to return to manage a hotel at Mammoth Hot Springs. He calls the summer season at the South Pole Station his big adventure.
What is Mark's perspective on life? "Have fun. Be at peace with yourself."
Tom: 46, married, communications technician satellite systems, winter-over. Quiet at first impression but gregarious when interest was expressed, optimistic, extensively traveled, lover of learning and new experiences, Fiddlin' Tom, as he was proud to be called; loved a good brew especially if he made it and had plenty of people to accompany him while consuming it. Tom holds his B.S.E.E. from the U. of Minnesota, 1981, and his M.S. in Systems Management from U. of S. California, 1987. Once Tom completed his first degree he was employed for over 10 years by a defense contractor for the intelligence community. In the midst of this flourishing career that Tom loved, his mother developed a brain tumor and was given 6 months maximum to live. Tom took a leave and finally gave up his career to care for his mother who struggled with life for 3 years.
Tom's specialized skills were not valued in the consumer goods industry characterizing Minnesota and he was unable to find employment. Realizing that he had diverse and marketable skills, Tom took a leap of creativity and began his own business. He went to small manufacturers to outfit them with sophisticated technical systems, trained them how to compete with the "big boys" and helped turn them into millionaires. While working with these small manufacturers for 2 years to build up their contracts, Tom did this without charge. His asking price was 5% of these resulting contracts. Unfortunately once success hit, the manufacturers overlooked how they reached their success, cut Tom out of the good checks he earned and hired cheap employees fresh out of college. Frequently after Tom left, their success faded and Tom had no interest by that time in being hired to salvage it.
How did Tom end up at the South Pole Station? He saw an advertisement in the paper, clipped it out and saved it in his "Someday To Do" file. Little did he realize he would be needing employment sooner than he thought. It took Tom 2 years to be hired for the South Pole Station, but he didn't relinquish his dream.
What are Tom's passions? Travel. Tom's having the time of his life at the South Pole Station. He is now at continent number 5 and country number 85 of his goals to visit all 7 continents and 100 countries. Tom attributes stamp collecting as a kid for inspiration to travel. The little pictures on stamps stirred his interest to see and experience the cultures and languages of the world. Another love? Languages. Tom refers to himself as a fanatic about languages. This led him to short wave radio at the age of 10 and his attraction to International Short Wave Broadcasting. Tom's most visible passion is his music. The fiddle and banjo accompanied him to the S. Pole and were stored within easy reach underneath his workbench. We are frequently entertained with Tom's delightful music. Being well regarded in the old-time fiddling community, Tom is considered a walking museum. He went to the mountains and learned to fiddle directly from the old-timer descendents of the generations of fiddling musicians. Tom started his own band and has cut 2 CDs and 1 tape that are of national prominence for this style of music.
What Tom says about living at the South Pole Station: "I'm having the time of my life and someone else is footing my travel tickets!"
Tom's statement: "Live life to the fullest. Experience all you can. It's not the money or the toys one has but the world-view, interest, curiosity, the rejuvenation and the love of life." Tom clarifies that he has worked with many wealthy people who are narrow and focused on their toys, what they have, and not the love of life.
The South Pole Station men varied in ages from 19 to 60-something and they comprised around 80% of the station population. Analogous to the South Pole females, the males were also a strong and hardy group who tend to love travel, expedition adventure, and outdoor recreation. Colorful and diverse, whether quiet or sociable, the South Pole men represent a take-charge attitude and work hard. As with females, the stresses of long working hours, difficult living conditions and confined spaces could surface in unusual ways. Occasionally tempers flared. Some men isolated, others turned to alcohol and parties, while still others chose a comfort zone somewhere mid-way. Recurrently in January, a group begins to sport Mohawks.
As is typical in new cultural surroundings, the personalities of the people became exaggerated. Whatever they are at home, they became even more so at the South Pole.
The overall characteristic of the people at the South Pole Station was their positive can-do attitude. They were adventurous in pursuing their goals. They loved to travel while achieving new experiences and learning new things. Yes, people of the South Pole were all that you suggested: adventurous, courageous, colorful, hardy, talented, unique, diverse, peculiar, strong, skilled and unconventional.
The diversity is the beauty of the people of the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.