This was recently in the local newspaper the Pine Cone Press. Friends from the senior center are doing biographies of local seniors. In a mistaken assumption that I was a senior they did one on me. I wasn’t sure if I had to tell the truth.
John was born in Deland, Florida, on April 7, 1943. He grew up in Hialeah, Florida. During the fourth grade he was in a combined fourth and fifth grade class. He participated in both so was advanced directly to the sixth grade. At the age of eight he started a lawn mowing business that was year round in Florida. By the time he graduated from Miami Jackson High School he had worked at various jobs including movie usher, at a fast food drive-in and summers loading trucks in a warehouse. Along with keeping up with his studies and the working, at the age of 13 he made Eagle Scout, one of only four in the United States to accomplish this at that age.
John attended the University of Florida to study psychology but after a semester and a half he became restless, quit school and roamed around the south until 1961 when he joined the Air Force. After having high entrance testing results and further testing he was placed in intelligence and sent to Indiana University to study Russian. Not being a good match for the work in intelligence, he was transferred to photography.
He spent the rest of his military career at McCord AFB in Tacoma, Washington. Once, they removed the double doors from a Gooney Bird the C-47, put ropes across, roped him to it and flew at a slant while John took pictures of an airfield. Prior to being discharged, he was in charge of the photo lab and had 11 people under him, all of whom outranked him. During his time in the service, he had night jobs and also picked up college courses at the University of Puget Sound.
After the Air Force, he had a desire to learn about either marine biology or anthropology, interests gained from reading during the service. He went back to Miami, went to night school and worked full time at the University of Miami Marine Lab on Key Biscayne. Deciding on anthropology (the scientific study of the origin and of the physical, social and cultural development and behavior of humans) he attended Florida State University and graduated in 1968. To pay his way, he had three jobs along with the GI Bill and some scholarships. He worked at the university pool on the weekends, at the anthropology department and as night auditor at the Holiday Inn.
After getting his degree, he went back to Miami and found a job with a linguist at the University of Miami. The linguist had done communication work with porpoises along side John Lilly, who wrote Mind of the Dolphin and The Human Biocomputer. John and his boss recorded sounds from porpoises and killer whales at the Miami Seaquarium. He had the opportunity to swim with seals and wild porpoises. After a while this grant ran out. John still had an interest in anthropology especially in the field of religion and medicine. He went to work for Julia Morton (an internationally famous botanist) at the Morton Collectania on the University of Miami campus.
While fishing in Biscayne Bay, he was looking at the Miami skyline, thinking about how civilization took away too much of the humanity of too many and stuffed us into areas with too many of our own kind and not enough connection to the natural world. He had a strong realization that civilization as we know it today cannot endure. It was at that time in 1968 that he decided to “go back to the land”. In this quest, he traveled to Mexico (six months), then to Oregon where he purchased a house and lived for two and a half years. He also visited Hawaii for three months where people he knew from the porpoise research lived. He sold the Oregon house and went looking for land, finally ending up in Central Minnesota in 1973.
The book Limits to Growth came out at this time, reinforcing his assumptions from a resource availability point of view. Further reading reinforced his knowledge from an ecological and environmental perspective.
In Central Minnesota, he purchased 93 acres outside of Long Prairie with money from the sale of the Oregon house and a small inheritance. He built a home having never done construction and his first winter dumped one of the largest snowstorms in Minnesota history. Not being completely finished, it rarely got above 50 degrees in the home all winter. He remembers his third winter in his home, this Florida boy who didn’t see snow until he was eighteen, when he ran out of wood in March and had to lasso dead branches out of trees to stay warm and cook. In his home, he used kerosene lamps and cooked on a 1935 copper-clad wood cook stove that he got for $25. He heated with a wood heater he helped to build and pumped his water up to a retaining tank for gravity feed around the home.
During John’s first year in his new home, he made a deal with a neighbor farmer that he would work for him if the farmer would feed him one meal a day. John cleaned calf barns, helped milk, tore down a tractor, and threw silage down. All of this work taught him a deep respect for our old time farmers
He purposely built without electricity and lived that way the first ten years because he does not believe nuclear waste should be our legacy to the future. In 1974, he went to work for the Tri County Community Action Program out of Little Falls where he wrote the first proposal and ran the first Low Income Weatherization Program in Minnesota. In this proposal he put in a small part to build window box solar collectors. From this solar connection, John built a business called Creative Alternatives where he designed, tested, manufactured, and installed solar panels. He had ten dealers around the state. He built a garage on his land near the road where he brought in electricity to build the solar hot air panels.
The 70s was a busy decade for John. Besides running his solar business. he was elected chairperson of the Solar Resource Advisory Panel for three years which advised the state and organized solar activities. He also sat on the Mid-America Solar Energy Complex, a federal project with headquarters in the Twin Cities. Also during this time he went back to school to get a degree in psychology from St. Cloud University. He did all his work at home using kerosene lamps.
In 1983, John erected a wind generator built in 1935 that he found for $300. He also put up some solar panels. He spent more time forty feet in the air trying to get the generator working then he did getting electricity from it. During the next years he went through three generators and bought more panels. He had a small inverter to run his computer and other appliances like a vacuum cleaner. He lived on approximately 1 kilowatt hour a day. Most homes use 20kWh a day or more.
In 1983, he decided to leave the solar business and use his psychology degree. In 1985, he received his license. He sectioned off a part of the garage and built an office. Many of his clients were women who had experienced childhood abuse. He received referrals from Todd County Social Services and ultimately his business was word of mouth. During this time he was asked to work under contract with a program at the St. Francis Center in Little Falls. Women of all Catholic orders came in from all over the world for nine months of spiritual and psychological growth and development. John facilitated three groups of approximately ten women in each group once a week. He also worked with the director on more difficult cases. All the staff were Sisters except for John. He feels this was one of the most important and growthful experiences of his life. The women were absolutely amazing.
In 2003, John was diagnosed with severe lung cancer and given a few weeks to live. While receiving extremely harsh radiation treatment and chemotherapy for seven weeks, he still continued to split wood because it was March and he needed it for cooking and heating. His neighbors did come over and help him out considerably. The Sisters drove him to treatment every day for the seven weeks even though by this time he no longer worked at the program.
During treatment, John asked to see a regular picture of his CT Scan. He had them put this on a CD and created a picture using his computer. From this he contacted the Coburn Cancer Center Foundation hoping to make T shirts for kids to wear. This led him to the drug prevention program at the St. Cloud Hospital. For the next two years, while still recovering from treatment John went around the state talking to over 2000 youngsters about not smoking. He also by himself purchased billboard signs showing a picture of his cancer tumor and a plea “Do Not Smoke.” Several of the students at schools where he spoke held bake sales and with the help of the Lions Club put up additional billboards. The American Lung Association out of Duluth also paid for a billboard when John went to Duluth to speak to classes. The last of these can be seen on Highway 200 going east from the casino.
John’s neighbor went with him to his student presentations and video taped it. The neighbor then created a DVD of the presentation. This DVD is in various countries of the world including the following: Brazil, South Africa, England, Switzerland, Norway, Japan, Australia and around the United States. Having survived cancer and its treatment, he is in remission and doing fabulously.
Just prior to his cancer, John reduced his psychological practice to two days a week because of the toll that hearing so much pain takes on a person. He began developing websites and doing graphics. He joined the board of Central Minnesota Sustainable Farming Association. Through them he put on two conferences in 2000 and 2001 on Alternative Energy and Global Warming respectively.
Although he uses and promotes solar and wind, he believes these are transitional technologies. He says that we will ultimately live at a much simpler, less energy intensive per capita level. Solar and wind require equipment that requires mining, refining, manufacturing and transporting. All of these processes rely on fossil fuels. This actually makes these sources of energy not renewable. John says a horse is renewable, an oak tree is renewable. Ultimately, any source of energy we use must be able to renew itself. John believes that our children and certainly their children will live not in Star Trek, but far simpler.
He refers to King Hubbard, a petroleum geologist for Shell Oil who wrote a paper in 1956 predicting that the ability of the US to produce oil would peak in 1970 and decline there after. Except for Prudoe Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, which only added two additional years, the ability of the U.S. to produce oil has been on the decline. Petroleum geologists have continued this work looking at world oil peaking. All the data coming from multiple researches indicates easily accessible petroleum peaked in 2005 and petroleum from many sources peaked in 2008. The large Mexican oil field, Cantrell, is declining rapidly and Mexico is our third largest provider of oil. The largest oil field in the world in Saudi Arabia needs more and more water to get the oil out of the ground. John says beware of snake oil and fantastic claims that do not hold up under the scrutiny of geology and physics. The way we live today is a global web so to maintain this lifestyle any solutions we consider must be global.
John sold his place near Long Prairie in 2004 and moved with his partner, Kathryn Wagner, to live on Wabedo Lake where they have a 3kWh solar electric grid-tie system that gives electricity to the home. When there is extra juice it feeds the electricity back into the power line. They also have a garden and they recently built a greenhouse. They are currently buying a piece of land near Longville. They are beginning to develop an orchard and a truck garden. They put in fencing and reconditioned the small home there. A well was put in that uses a pumpjack like in the old time so that it can ultimately be powered by solar panels and a 1/2 horsepower 12 volt DC motor. This last summer they put in irrigation and worked up an area for blueberries for this coming Spring.
While having used both solar and wind, John prefers the solar panels. He had panels at his Long Prairie home that had been up 22 years and were still putting out the same amount of electricity as the day he put them up. He says he loves the aesthetics of the wind generator but still prefers the panels because of longevity and no maintenance.
John is working on local community gardens with the staff at Camp Olson. They have two areas rototilled. One is on the camp land that the kids really enjoyed last year and they are expanding it. The other is on the Wabedo township land that Wabedo residents can use. The deer really enjoyed it last year.
John feels his life has been a wonderful adventure including the experience of the cancer and the four stents they put into his arteries the year after cancer treatment. He has wished often that he could share the joy of being alive with the young people he spoke with about not smoking. He is concerned that, like he denied the seriousness of smoking, people are ignoring, denying or finding other psychological defenses to avoid accepting the convergence of so many issues that will change the way we live.