BIO Index

Harry Alder


Condense fifty years of living into one or two pages? Sure.

I was in the electronics course under Mr. Siegel and was what would be termed today, a "geek". That changed somewhat over the next fifty years but the "geekness" never entirely disappeared.

After graduation I had the opportunity to go on to college but like a few of my peers, I decided that I had had enough "education" and it was time for some "experience". Also like many of my peers, I learned that experience can often times be a very painful instructor.

Shortly after graduation I joined the Air Force and for the next four years worked in Strategic Air Command on B-47 bomber computers (doing geek stuff). For the second four years I was offered the opportunity to transfer into the Precision Measuring Equipment Laboratory group (still geekness but at a much higher level). I may be out of sync with most ex-military but I enjoyed my time in the military.

After the Air Force I tried my hand at television repair for a year. It took that long to determine that I did not want to do anything remotely like that for the rest of my life.

I then went to work for Univac. Ah, computers. SERIOUS geekland. I found my home. Over my thirty years with "Univac" the company went from Univac to Sperry Univac, to Sperry and finally in 1986 via a hostile takeover by Burroughs Computers, the company became Unisys.

Shortly after hiring on with Univac, I ended up in Kansas City, Missouri where I met the love of my life, Sharon. After dating for about eight months we were joined in holy matrimony by a minister in her small home town of Mountain Grove, Missouri (a small town which was later to become pretty important in our "retirement" lives) By the time we married, her two children from a previous marriage and I were best buds. Mainly due to my keeping the family television working. TV was pretty important to them at that time.

For the first ten years with Unisys I worked as a "go to" troubleshooter. As I quickly learned, the better you were at being a "go to" guy, the more responsibility you were given. Or I should say, the more work you were given. In that first ten years I estimate I worked the equivalent of fifteen years. Major stress. A lot of seven day work weeks, too many 24 hour work days, many missed vacations, way too many working holidays, etc., etc.

Following that period, I spent the next twenty years with Unisys doing risk management. A sport that could be summed up as spending a lot of time dreaming up bad things that could impact either revenue or schedule of a pending project and then when the project begins, spending every waking moment attempting to ensure none of those disasters occur. This took the stress up quite a few notches. In those twenty years, Sharon and I spent a LOT of time on the road. A project would last from two to three years on average and we moved a total of ten plus times during that twenty years. I read the bios where people spent their entire life mostly living in one town. That would be totally alien to Sharon and I. Not doable.

Put things in storage, sell our house to Unisys, leave the U.S. for a while. Come back, buy another house, take things out of storage and then repeat on a regular basis. From Kansas City to Los Angeles, to Philadelphia, to Mexico City, to Philadelphia, to Washington D.C., to Belgrade, Yugoslavia, to Prague, Czechoslovakia, to St. Louis, to Toronto, Canada, to Tampa. Wow, is all I can say. We could write books on our experiences living in the different countries with different cultures. While some of them are things we would never want to repeat, we wouldn't trade those memories for anything.

The first part of this stint was working in what Unisys called "Special Operations". A name given to an organization in corporate headquarters that supported all the countries no other part of the company wanted. The Middle East, parts of the Far East, Mexico, Latin America, and South Africa. I spent a lot of time traveling to countries like Iraq (during the Iran/Iraq war), Hong Kong, South Korea. Iraq was, by far, the worst place I have ever had to work. Fortunately, I didn't have to live there on a permanent basis. Just travel there a lot. Bombs going off in Baghdad just about every visit. My hotel having every window blown out on one side of the hotel (my side too) while I was there one time was the worst. Not fun.

But standing at the site of what Iraq was billing as the ancient Hanging Gardens of Babylon was a moment I will never forget. Standing in Babylon at a site built some 600 years before Christ's time cannot be described.

During my stint in Special Operations, I learned that you can NEVER fill up an American passport. You may think you can but all you have to do is go to the nearest American embassy and they graft in an accordion page in your passport that adds another 16 pages of stamping space. By the time that passport expired, it had two accordion pages added. South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, not all fun places but all interesting in one way or another. Because I still had visas in that passport when it expired, I was able to keep it. I still have it as a memento of those adventures.

Next we went to live in Mexico. Living in Mexico City was an "eye opening" experience. Going to the Shrine of Guadalupe on Easter Sunday on the spur of the moment was another incredible time. We had lived in Mexico for a while and lost track of holidays and honestly had no idea it was Easter Sunday before we got there. But when we got there it struck us immediately. I have never been pressed into that small a space with that many people in my life. Insane.

We spent over a year in Mexico City, living there during the earthquake of 1985 (a whole book in itself) and drove/traveled around Mexico quite extensively. My Spanish developed into something that got us around where ever we wanted to go but I never was what I would call fluent. (So don't test me Dottie.)

What did I learn from living in Mexico? Two major things. Just how incredibly fortunate we are to be U. S. citizens and enjoy the freedoms and prosperity that we do here and also that the Mexican people are among the hardest working people in the world. Like most people here in the U.S., before I went to live in Mexico I had one opinion of the people and country but after living there, that has totally changed. I don't want to live there permanently, but I now have a much better understanding of the culture and the issues they face.

We spent five years living in Eastern Europe. We lived in Belgrade (Beograd) for three years. We had to leave when the U.N. ordered U.S. companies out because of the escalating civil war. We waited so long that we couldn't even fly out. We had to drive. Right in the middle of a mega gas shortage and a lot of ramping up anti American rhetoric and violence spreading around the city. Fortunately, all the serious warfare was going on far away from the city of Belgrade. It wasn't totally invisible to us though, as we saw many helicopters going and coming to the nearby hospital. Extremely depressing times. I was driving a car I bought from a Canadian diplomat so we tried to act "Canadian" most of the time. Eh?

What did I learn living and working in Yugoslavia? Communism does not work! And, the Slavic languages are probably the most difficult languages to try and learn when you're past grade school age. They have sounds in their language that a westerner just cannot duplicate.

One memory that will stay with me forever is walking up the hill to the shrine at Medjugorje, in Bosnia Herzegovina, Can't be described.

When the war pushed us out of YugoLand, we moved to Prague (Praha) for two years. We lived there during the time the country split into two countries but to us it was almost a non event. A very peaceful transition.

I would go back there and live in Prague in a minute so long as I was paid in dollars! A wonderful place to live and work. If you ever get the chance to go to Europe, do not miss Prague.

Next we went back to the U.S. to a "normal" job. That lasted almost four years and then Unisys needed us in Canada. Put goods in storage, sell house to Unisys, etc., etc. and off we went. I worked on the Mars Corp. project. You thought Mars just made candy. Not exactly. In Canada, they have a very large pet food manufacturing facility north of Toronto. Two years working in Canada and what did I learn. Canada has very poor health care. Regardless of what you hear and see on television, it is bad. All the Canadians I worked with went to the U.S. for anything other than routine medical needs. Another eye opener. PLUS, they were all trying to find some way to go and live and work in the U.S.

I also learned Canada has really high taxes. A national sales (VAT) tax of fifteen percent. And, I was paying well over fifty percent Canadian income tax. Well, actually, my company was paying it. Pay sales tax when you buy a house, etc., etc.

I also learned that ten percent of all pet food is consumed by humans. Mars had done extensive research on that subject and that statistic actually governed how their pet food was manufactured. To ensure their product was never a "problem" it was not manufactured to pet standards, it was actually manufactured to "human edible" standards, believe it or not. That is one of those facts you would never see published anywhere.

Then it was time to go back to the U.S. again. This time to Florida to work on the Home Shopping Network project. The least interesting of all my assignments. I worked that for a year and then retired from Unisys.

We then moved to Mountain Grove, Missouri (Retire and move North? Who does that?) and I started building houses. First I built a big one on the Gasconade River and then we decided it was too far out of town so we sold it and built one closer to town. Now we are living the good life in rural Missouri. If you want to see what our area looks like, you can bring up Google Earth on your computer and put in 37 degrees 13' 6.36" N and 92 degrees 15' 29.24" W. We are out in the "boonies".

I don't think I need to mention that we both still like to "travel" so we will see everyone next month.

Harry & Sharon Alder