I was planning on taking a few days off, but I heard a story today I couldn’t wait to share with you.
I spent today with my 4-year-old son at the Science Museum of Minnesota. Both he and I love the place.
Kids over 8 can do experiments in the laboratory. The museum was quiet today, so I asked a woman if she would make an age exception for my 4-year-old. She smiled and said “I’d love to.”
So we donned our goggles, white gowns, and rubber gloves and sat down at the ‘Cheek Swab’ experiment. You swab the inside of your mouth with a toothpick, drop the cells onto a glass slide, dye them blue, and view them through a microscope.
We couldn’t find the cells on the slide and Walter – a museum volunteer – helped us find them. When we found the cells, Walter explained them in detail.
My son became restless and distracted and I said, “he’s a little young for this.”
Walter replied, “When I was about six (1940s), I was at the St. Paul winter carnival and I ducked into a big red brick building to warm up and I saw a bunch of people experimenting with microscopes. It so piqued my curiosity that I began to read about microscopes at the local library and that led to an interest in biology, which eventually led to becoming a doctor, and now I am a father of three doctors. I was orphaned at five you know. I had no parents. You’re doing the right thing. You don’t know what curiosity this moment my lead to. People ask me why I volunteer here when I could be out making money speaking and lecturing and I tell them it’s because I owe my success to this place. That red brick building I ducked into sixty years ago was the old Science Museum of Minnesota. I volunteer hoping that I can pique curiosity in more youngsters.”
I was amazed, but the impact of his story didn’t hit me for several minutes. I walked away. As my son was zapping Rhino viruses at a video console, I approached Walter and said, “I have a website and I want to tell your story. I want to confirm – did you say that you are an orphan that became a doctor and went on to father three more doctors?”
He replied, “Yes”
“Can I write about your story”, I asked.
He cleared it through the Science Museum of Minnesota and gave me more detail.
Here’s a few more tidbits…
After he was orphaned, a local church took care of him and his sister. They didn’t have family in America so they were alone. When a church member offered to adopt him, he told the church he didn’t want a new daddy because he loved his old one. So he didn’t get a new family. The church separated him from his sister and sent him to work on a farm.
Not only was he an orphan, but he was also stricken with polio a year later.
As a teenager he moved to the city and took a job at the Armour slaughterhouse in South St. Paul. He almost bought some farmland, but he realized farming wasn’t his passion and enrolled in college. He worked his way through college working two jobs, one at the slaughterhouse and another at 3M.
He founded several cancer research foundations.
I asked him what he thought was the key to fathering three doctors. He said, “I never taught them anything. I don’t believe in teaching. Everyone is self-taught. You don’t learn a thing until you ‘discover’ it for yourself. I coached them. I did it by asking questions – questions that spurred curiosity. The best teachers I ever had just asked me questions. Don’t lecture or tell your kids anything, ask them great questions. It’ll get ‘em thinking and they’ll be fine.”
I hope Walter inspires you as much as he inspired me.
The strange thing is…
He didn’t ask me many questions.