Presentation Made at the

Central New York Coalition for Adult and Continuing Education

May 30, 1990



Roger Hiemstra, Professor

Syracuse University


For those of you who have been at the first two meetings of this group, I find it difficult to match the excellent efforts of Vince Tinto and Matthias Finger, but I look forward to the challenge.


Raise your hand if you can answer yes for any of the following questions: How many of you -  

            - are attending your first CNY-CACE meeting 

            - are attending your first continuing education meeting of any type  

            - are adult educators in a community agency

            - are adult educators at the university level

            - are adult educators in public/parochial/proprietary schools

            - are students

            - are in other types of roles not mentioned

            - are attending your first breakfast meeting of CNY-CASE meeting where HYMC is the topic


Now all should have raised your hands. I start this way because this was a trick that Howard liked to use to both get acquainted with the audience and to help the audience feel a little more at home.

I also would like to start with a favorite story of Howard's that he would use whenever he felt the occasion warranted it. It seems this little boy had a big collie dog that followed him everywhere. They were inseparable. One day the little boy was walking down the street with his dog and they saw a lady out walking her little toy poodle. The boy asked her if that was a dog. She said yes. He said well is it your dog. She said yes. Then he said is that all the dog you have. She says yes. Finally, he says, well I think you are about out of dog. Howard got such a kick out of that particular joke. He loved to use humor and told many wonderful stories when he spoke. In reality, all of you may be about out of dog when you see me attempt to talk about the life of Howard Yale McClusky and what we can learn from biographical research in only a short few minutes. I can only capture a "little" bit of this great man.

Actually, I feel quite fortunate. I studied under Howard for three years and consider him to have been my mentor, as do a lot of people. Later I was able to spend some time interviewing Howard and carried out some research on his professional life. Then after Howard's death I received permission from his family to be his official biographer, an endeavor I have been working on for the past six years and plan to write articles, give speech, and eventually publish a biography on this impressive individual.

So far my efforts have involved study in the Syracuse University archives, the National Archives in Washington, D.C., the Bentley Historical Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where the bulk of Howard's papers (13 linear feet for those of you familiar with archival storage units) are stored. I also have in my home about seven linear feet of materials given to me by Howard's family. In addition, I have written to a number of his colleagues who have sent me audio tapes, comments, and mementos. I have nearly 30 hours of taped interviews with or speeches by Howard and I have interviewed most members of his family. At any rate I will attempt to encapsulate some of my thoughts and findings in the next few minutes and give you some of my ideas on how this type of research, biographical, can help inform today's professional practice.


Some Background Information


"To create the most favorable climate for everyone to be the kind of people they want to be." This is a quote from a speech made by Howard in 1944. Such an ambition inspired the chief direction in the life of Howard McClusky, and epitomizes his educative approach to working with people. This notion is actually a direct predecessor of much of today's discussion about self-directed learning and learners taking responsibility for their own learning. That actually characterized much of Howard's career, being able to forecast or foresee where the field was going. He became a pioneer of many ideas, movements, and activities throughout his life.

Howard was born in Whitesboro, New York, on February 20, 1900. He was one of three children. Glimpses into his background reveal a well-educated family with a wide variety of skills and talents. Howard described it on more than one occasion as what would be called today a WASPish background, White, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant. Both parents were college trained as well as several aunts and uncles. He describes his mother as having given up a concert career as a soprano to become a wife and mother. His father, an ordained Presbyterian minister with a definite flair for and some amateur experience with thespian activities, was a somewhat strict, even stern at times, but caring parent.

The family moved to southern Illinois when Howard was a young boy where his father did some initial ministerial work. However, he eventually gave up this career and moved into education as headmaster of Park College in Parkville, Missouri. Later both parents became the Deans of Men and Women, respectively, at Blackburn College in Carlinville, Illinois, one of the first non-traditional colleges in the U.S. There they helped to establish a self-help plan that still exists today where students construct their own buildings, and do various physical labor tasks in addition to studying.

It is noteworthy to Howard's story that both his father and grandfather were active and energetic until late in life. His father went on to be a librarian at the University of Chicago and Howard's grandfather, whom he cites as being a very positive influence on his life, traveled around the world after the age of 75 to help set up a lumber camp in a missionary compound in Thailand. Helping to take care of his grandfather after he later suffered a partially-paralyzing stroke, Howard remembers him as still being very sharp and interested in reading. It was here that Howard obtained many of his positive views about learning ability in the later years.

My research on Howard has reminded me how important my own family influences have been. I have a much greater appreciation for my own hard work ethic and have learned to accept it better, i.e., to be more comfortable with my inability to "smell the roses" at times, during the past few years.

Much of Howard's philosophy of life reflects various experiences in the formative period of his childhood. His parent's intellectual curiosity was such that there were "books all over the place" in Howard's words. Howard also inherited his mother's musical ability and interest. He enjoyed singing and accompanying her on the piano, an interest that continued right up through most of his life. His wife, Helen, talked about how whenever he was home in the evening he would light a fire in the living room fire place during the cooler months right after the evening meal and dishes were done (making sure that both he and the children helped) and then play the piano, often accompanying the family in singing, at least until the children got older. Howard like classical, hymns, and ragtime. I remember one of my biggest shocks was when I visited his home as a graduate student and he sat down and ripped off some pretty good ragtime music. Group singing actually was not unusual. The McClusky family style was open--they were rich in the number of friends and neighbors they enjoyed and there were often grandparents and a fairly steady stream of international students who lived with them. Education and service to others was established and reinforced throughout his early years.

Communication skills, initially acquired while in secondary school at a private academy (Union Academy-where his father also was principal and mother a teacher) attached to Blackburn College were further polished at Park College. He gained rhetorical experiences in the literary society at Blackburn and eventually became school orator at Park College. Thus, by the time he was in graduate school, he had achieved much experience in being in front of an audience, both as an orator and as a musician. For example, of particular interest to us New Yorkers proud of our Chautauqua heritage, he sang tenor and played the piano for a group of Park College students who toured the Chautauqua circuit during the summer.

Howard carried that oratorical skill forward throughout his life. He was one of the most popular speakers the University of Michigan ever had and he spoke literally throughout the United States. He told me on one occasion that he had drunk enough coffee on what he called the mashed potatoes circuit to float a battleship. An interesting side point is the fact that he had a personal magnetism that was quite unusual. Young women, for example, often surrounded him after a speech or stayed after class to talk to him. His wife Helen was a student in one of his classes in 1929 and certainly something about him appealed to her and vice versa as they married in 1930.

His intellectual abilities were thus developed primarily in a setting free from tough competitiveness in a naturally evolving manner. He acknowledged his good fortune in having the dominant themes of intellectual curiosity, versatility of interests, love of music, and a desire to be of service to others in consonance with personal style and character.

Howard graduated from Park College in 1921 and then began graduate work in education, sociology, and psychology at the University of Chicago. After teaching English for a year at Park College, Howard accepted a job as instructor in Educational Psychology at the University of Michigan in 1924. He continued work part-time at the University of Chicago and obtained the doctoral degree in educational psychology in 1929. He subsequently spent an incredible 58 years affiliated with the University of Michigan, excluding about two and a half years in the early 1940's working first with the American Youth Commission and then the Civilian Mobilization Branch of the Office of Civilian Defense. He taught his last class at a 1982 summer workshop, only a few weeks before he died.


Turning Points in His Career


Two significant, inter-related events were major turning points in Howard's career and of importance to us in adult education. The first was his participation in a program sponsored by the Kellogg Foundation in 1936 to set up community development programs in rural Michigan towns. The intention was to provide some insight into areas of child development such as health education and guidance. He did a lot circuit lecturing and spoke often on these subjects. He soon found "that you couldn't do much for youth unless you educated the adults." This began a transition for him into the adult education field.            

This community work attracted the interest of Dr. James Bruce, an internist with incredible organizational skills who had become Vice President for University Relations at the University of Michigan. This man's work as a physician organizing continuing education programs for other doctors led him to the conviction that a parallel need existed for the continuing education of all adults. His interest along with the support of University of Michigan's President Ruthevan provided the initial thrust for adult education programs of varying types to be set up in the state.

The second major event happened because of Howard's success with the Kellogg project. Bruce asked him to become an Assistant to the Vice President and head up the newly created adult education program out of this office. This happened in 1938. Howard then began an intensive campaign throughout the state to set up community councils to develop local leadership, foster community togetherness, and to facilitate interagency cooperation. He continued to work in advising community councils until near his death.

Howard's interest, experience, and reputation in adult education grew. He established the graduate program in adult education at the University of Michigan in 1948. "At that time, the adult education field was embryonic nationally. I just happened to be coming on the scene at a very crucial time, as the old leadership was beginning to drop out. I represented a new crowd. We spent three years in designing the Adult Education Association of the USA, combining both the Department of Adult Education of NEA, and the American Association for Adult Education." Howard is reported to have played a crucial mediating role several times in the various committee meetings that preceded the formation of the new organization. Consequently, Howard was unanimously drafted as the first president in 1951, an honor that he "literally" had to be talked into as it was not Howard's way to seek the highly visible, upfront position. [Note: see /hofpaper.html for more information about the formation of the AEA of the USA and Howard’s role in the process.]

Howard’s aversion to upfront positions impacted on a decision he made about a central leadership role at the University of Michigan. He had actually turned down the Vice President position after Bruce retired because he preferred to stay at a non-central administrator level:  "I was much more interested in people and ideas than in running things and getting ahead."


What Have I Learned from Studying Howard’s Life?


An important thing that I have learned centers around the following question: What is your main interest as a professional adult educator--Is it in people and ideas or in programs or products?  The answer may determine the best course in terms of your professional career choices. For me it has been a real questioning of late in terms of my administrator hat versus a teacher hat.

Although Howard has had a tremendous influence on the field of adult education, for those of us fortunate enough to have a close association with him I think he will be remembered most for his incredible teaching skill. He had tremendous patience, he could motivate and inspire, he made you want to do your very best. He really cared about teaching and about his students.

Following are a collage of items I remember about Howard and his mastery of the teaching craft:

·        final exams were almost always in his home; he and Helen would arrange us all in small groups to work on our exams in the various rooms in their house and then ply us with coffee, tea, cookies, and other goodies

·        if you did not like the way an exam question was worded you could rewrite it until it made sense to you and then write an answer

·        he always lugged coffee and lemonade up to class in big thermos bottles, often with Helen's cookies included

·        he would hand out several supplemental bibliographies during a course, usually representing the books he had read or browsed through since the course began

·        he preferred to avoid straight lecturing, but when he gave one it was exciting, attention holding, and obviously based on a lot of advance preparation

·        frequently he would move around the room as he lectured so that you needed to rotate in your chair to see him.

Other anecdotal items I remember:

·        he loved buttermilk; he would sometimes go to 3 or 4 restaurants seeking one that served buttermilk

·        he packed and traveled light; I once shared a room with him at a conference and he had only a small bag and would wash things out at night in the bathroom sink

·        he had thick bushy eyebrows and very smudged eye glasses

·        his burning curiosity; when he talked with you he was usually filling up two or three pages of a writing pad

·        people three or four deep waiting in line in the lobby of a hotel for the chance to talk to Howard.

Finally, Howard was a very versatile man. He had a multitude of interests. That seemed to keep him alive mentally and spiritually. For us it meant that not only did he do much to establish adult education as we know it today. He also became very interested in educational gerontology in his later years and had much to do in laying a foundation for that field.

Howard died on August 15, 1982, after a bout with cancer. Howard's death was a beautiful death. By that I mean he died peacefully with all his family by his side in his most favorite spot, a cottage in Northern Michigan, near Chimney Corners, on Crystal Lake, that had been their summer home for some 50 years. This is perhaps the best learning of all for us. Howard taught us how to live and how to die. He lived a peaceful and dignified life and died the same way.


June 25, 2003




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