Thanksgiving notes

by Jonathan Reisman


I will be spending my favorite Holiday with family in New Orleans. Here are some of the things and people I am thankful for.

My family

My father, David Samuel Reisman was born in 1927 in Buffalo, New York, first son of Harry and Jessica Reisman. His mother died of leukemia during the Depression. His widower father, as was Jewish Eastern European custom, remarried his sister-in-law Ruth. Ruth and Harry raised my Dad and his younger brother Robert through World War II. Dad started college at Cornell on a Chemical Engineering scholarship in 1945, but it did not work out. He enlisted in the Army, was sent to Korea tending chemical weapons before hostilities broke out, and was sent home with an honorable discharge in 1947. He started Law school in 1948 in Buffalo under the GI bill, and graduated in 1951 (without a bachelor’s degree!)

He married my mother, Susan Plaut, an art education student, and began practicing law. He became a National Labor Relations Board attorney and a man of the left. The NLRB took him and his young family (I was born in 1956 and my sister Cindy in 1957) from Buffalo to California and then back east to Philadelphia in 1960. My baby sister Jessica was born in 1963.

The sixties sideswiped my family. My father, concerned about paying for college for his three children, left the NLRB and joined the computer company Univac (now Unisys), primarily a naval defense contractor and part of the military-industrial complex. The corporate salary did indeed finance my college experience, but the corporate life was not for Mom, and as the 60s commenced, their marriage disintegrated and she became a hippie.

Both my parents are gone now. I think I understand the difficult times and choices they made. I will try to explain it as best I can to their grandsons this Thanksgiving. 

UMM- Deke Reynolds and the Social Science Division

In the summer of 1984, I applied for a position at the University of Maine at Machias. I had been teaching at a number of schools in Rhode Island and Massachusetts for several years (academic gypsy was the less than flattering term). UMM President Fred Reynolds and the men (they were all men back then) of the Social Science Division took a chance on a young environmental economist. 

In a move that would make modern Human Resource managers cringe, President Reynolds checked me out by asking one of my neighbors, a UMM alumna and former Reynolds student, about me. Satisfied that I was OK, Fred greenlighted my hire and would recommend me for tenure 6 years later.

I joined the Social Science Division, all of whom were 20 to thirty years older. As a group, they broke in “the rookie”, taught me the academic ropes and made UMM my home. The Division consisted of:

Ralph Jans, Chair and Professor of Political Science. Ralph was a retired diplomat, a gentleman and an old school liberal Democrat. He shepherded me through my early years, recommended me for tenure, and tried (fruitlessly) to get me involved in Democratic politics. After he retired, we still talked politics to our mutual enjoyment and chagrin. His old house is now the Sunrise County Economic Council headquarters.

Robert Sloan, Professor History. Bob was the ultimate gentleman scholar, of quiet demeanor and calm resolve.

George Thurston, Professor of History. George was the division wiseacre, constantly smoking, always cocking an arched eyebrow over some ridiculous happenstance or occurrence. 

Ed Jessiman, Professor Sociology, who I replaced as youngest member and who I initially shared an office with in Kimball hall. Ed is still living in Whiting, and still has an irreverent smile.

The Social Science Division and all but one of the Profs are long gone now, but I am grateful for them every day.

The Constitution and the Blessings of Liberty

The Preamble to the Constitution states: “We the people of the United States, to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Sometime in my 40s I realized freedom was my central organizing value. Washington County is especially rich in the Blessings of Liberty, and I am grateful for them.

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