But Anyway...
A Life Well Lived

Otto R. Vasak

ISBN: 978-1-57733-287-9, 484 pp., 150 photos, paperback, $27.95

Few people have led such interesting lives, and even fewer have lived long enough to tell about their many experiences. The author of these “memories,” Otto Vasak, once described his father as a “man of integrity,” a phrase which even more so applies to him. Many times he was faced, like us all, with a Y in the road. Yet he never regrets the paths not taken, and, as you will read, vigorously takes on the challenges that life offered along the way. Otto learned to experience each present moment of his life to the fullest—no matter where he was or what he was doing—and excelled in the many roles he performed, whether as a student, sportsman, officer, father, chemical engineer, musician, civic leader, world traveler, or fisherman/environmentalist. These short, colorful vignettes are a window into his world … and “a life well lived.”

Table of Contents


In the Beginning (12th Century)
The Engelthalers (Late 19th Century)
A Portable Safe (1908)
Firstborn (1917)
Great-Grandmother Engelthaler (1919)
Dandelion Wine (1921)
Grammar School (1923)
The Culvert (1924)
The Christmas Tree (1920s)
North Berwyn Congregational Church (1923)
Rye Bread (1927)
House Calls (1927)
Geography and Miss Hurley (1928)
Blackboards (1928)
For Five Cents (1928)
A Clubhouse (1930)
William Beard (1923–1935)
Games We Played (1927–1935)
Bohemian Sausages (1927)
A Bullish Fourth (1927)
Copper Harbor (1927)
Matchmaker (1927)
Junior Police (1928)
The Operatic Farmer (Late 1920s)
It’s a Doozie (Late 1920s)
Wild Berries and Nuts (1930)
Gasoline Alley (1928–1935)
The Garlic Opera (1928–1935)
Lake Michigan (1929)
Aunt Anna and the Hoboes (1930)
Krivanek’s of New Buffalo (1931)
Lake Trout & Cherry Pie (1932)
Teen Years and Movies (1929–1935)
Lincoln Junior High (1929)
Madam Galli’s (1927–1933)
Speckled Trout (1926–1930)
Horse Power (1929)
New Buffalo Cottage (1929)
Houby Hunters (1929)
The Italian Air Flotilla (1933)
Glory of the Marines (1934)
Sassafras and Goats (1920–1935)
Latin (1931–1932)
Remembering Louis M. Blaha (1933–1935)
The “Shark” (1929–1947)
Musical Odyssey (1929–2004)
Favorite Time of Day (1929–1931)
Some Special Memories (1929–1937)
A Two-Wheel Bike (1929–1935)
Conservative or Liberal (1929–1939)
Beaver Patrol (1931–1932)
The Iver Johnson (1932)
Crystal Sets (1932)
Strawberry Picking (1933)
Baroda (1930–1935)
My Mother’s Casserole (1930s)
Have Racquet—Will Travel (1930s–1990s)
The “Aha” (1921–1941)
Opera Buffs (1930s–1990s)
Morton High School (1931–1935)
Arthur Messick (1931–1937)
Bullheads (1932)
First Heisman Trophy Winner (1934)
Christian Endeavor (1934)
Michigan City (1932–1935)
Safety Paradox (1933)
Cross-Country Track (1935–1937)
Spring Track at MJC (1935–1937)
The Duel (1936)
The Kubeliks (1935–1937)
The Engineers (1935–1937)
Audition (1937)
Intramural Track at Wisconsin (1938)
Badminton (1938)
Sculling on Lake Mendota (1938)
Swimming at Wisconsin (1938)
Father’s Day (1938)
Remembering a Name (1938)
How I Met Elly (1938)
First Job (1939)
Friends of Our Native Landscape (1940)
Sub-Zero Incident (1940)
Aviation Cadets in Engineering (1941)
Unexpected Job Offer (1941)
Old Tucson (1942)
From Pendleton to Polebrook (1941–1943)
WW II Travels in the U.K. (1943–1945)
My Arsenal (1941–1945)
Chinook Wind (1942)
Link Trainer Time (1942)
Finding a Mess Sergeant (1942)
Twenty-Sixth Birthday Celebration (1943)
Lieutenant “X” and the Training Crash (1943) Part 1 of 3 Parts
Lieutenant “X” and the Bob Hope Show (1943) Part 2 of 3 Parts
Lieutenant “X” and His Departure (1943) Part 3 of 3 Parts
An Ominous Chess Game (1943)
Showering with Gable (1943)
Combat America (1943)
Dead Stick Landing (1943)
Emmanuel College (1943)
Mrs. Edwards (1943)
Caledonian Canal (1943-1944)
Jesus College (1944)
Nottingham (1943)
One-Wheel Landing at Polebrook (1943)
The Silver Creamer (1943)
Last Mission (1943)
Last of the Daylight Raids (1943)
Stilton Cheese (1944)
Peterborough Performances (1944)
Wansford (1944)
JATO (1944)
York (1944)
British Seamen’s League (1944)
Savoir Faire (1944)
Meeting in Knutsford (1944)
Justice Is Served (1944)
Luton Is Burning (1944)
Poltava Raid (1944)
Night of the Halifax (1944)
Mosquito (1944)
Where’s My Wing-Man? (1944)
Unexploded Bombs (1944)
Black Hole of Calcutta (1944)
House-Masters Remembered (1943-1945)
The Tuck Shop (1943)
Multi-Tasking (1943-1945)
My 28th Birthday Party (1945)
Coming Home—Part One (1945)
Coming Home—Part Two (1945)
Coming Home—Part Three (1945)
Coming Home—Part Four (1945)
Coming Home—Part Five (1945)
Almost a Fireball (1945)
Graduate Courses (1945–1954)
A 999-Year Lease (1946)
Lake Red C Amine (1945–1947)
Corrosion Colloquium (1945–1947)
Concord, California (1947)
The Merry Villagers (1948)
The Citizens Committee (1949)
Ris de Veau (1929–1958)
Piscine Deliny (1955)
The Third Man Theme (1955)
He Never Asked Me (1955)
A Tragic Comedy (1957)
Locker Room Farewell (1955–1957)
Finding Menees (1943–1987)
The Ride Group (1947–1951)
Dehydrated Sweet Potatoes (1948–1949)
From Pullman to Moscow (1949)
What’s My Line? (1951)
Algebra Revisited (1951–1954)
The Rest of the Story (1955)
Indian Guides (1954–1955)
Razor Cut (1955)
Sprechen Sie Deutsch? (1955)
The Orient Express (1955)
Chez Louis (1955)
Mount Blanc (1955)
The Czardas (1955)
Vienna—First Visit (1955)
Fondue Weekend (1955)
The Strudel Triangle (1955)
Escargot (1956)
A Foggy Day in London Town (1956)
Exactement (1956–1957)
Patron (1957)
Vous Etes Italien? (1957)
A Viennese Weinheber (1957)
Golf at Tilden (1960s)
The Plastic Cowboy (1960s)
Blizzard of 1960 (1960)
A Man of Integrity (1882–1961)
Compliments of the House (1961)
The Ouzel (1963)
Lake Erie (1970)
The Tennis Group (1964–1996)
Watermelon Snow (1964)
Lakes of the Marbles (1968–1978)
Mountain Berries (1968–1978)
Lake of the Woods (1969)
Pocket Fishing (1969–2004)
Déjà Vu (1970s)
What’s in a Name? (1970)
The Chicago Poster (1972)
Aunt Marce (1972)
Fishing Diary—1973 (1973)
The Right Stuff (1970s)
First Trip to Deep Lake (1973)
1976 Backpack Trip to Deep Lake (1976)
Paraquat (1976)
Bear Grease (1978)
Business in Italy (1979)
Night on Bear/Bare Mountain (1979)
Blue Heeler (1982–1986)
Water, Water, Everywhere (1980s)
Know the Enemy (1980s)
Fishing with Al (1985)
Finding the 351St Bomb Group (1985)
Walk Down Memory Lane (1988)
A Solo Backpack Trek (1988)
Earthquake (1989)
D’Artagnan (1990)
“Friend”—A Dog (1980s–1990s)
Travel in Greece (1992)
Battle Hymn of the Republic (1994)
That’s It (1995)
The Murano Glass Works (1995)
Those Liquid Ambers (1999)
Saint Wenceslaus (1999)
Incident on California Highway 12 (1999)
Dear Grandson (2003)
One Sophisticated Dog (2004)
Squaw Valley Weekend (2004)
Reflections on Energy (2006)
Remembering Robert Briggs (2008)
Threading the Needle (2008)
The Benny Goodman Centenary Year (2009)
A Letter to Carol Smetana (2010)
The Hewitt Connection (2010)
Memories (2011)
Lost and Found (2013)

About the Author


One of my cherished possessions is my father’s christening record, which bears the official stamp of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His parents’ and grandparents’ names are also on the document. My father was named Otakar Bohumil Vasak. He was born in the small medieval town of Pelhrimov in Bohemia on July 14, 1882 and died in Wisconsin on June 23, 1961. Pelhrimov was also called Pilgram from pre-Hussite times to 1620. Elly and I have visited the town, which is about 50 miles southeast of Prague.

The name Otakar is one of several Czech versions of Otto, which means “wealth or wealthy.” Bohumil is the Czech equivalent of the Greek Theophilus and the Latin Amadeus meaning “Loved by God.” My father’s ancestors on his mother’s side of the family date back to the twelfth century when one of his forebears was in charge of the Treasury under Bohemian King Vaclav II and was made a Count for his service. The German version of Vaclav is Wenceslaus, not to be confused with the Patron Saint of Bohemia, Good King Wenceslaus. During the twelfth century, fourteen different men served as King of Bohemia. Vaclav II reigned from 1191 to 1192.

Following the genealogical line through the centuries, we come to my father’s grandfather, Count Vaclav Rokos z Rossinfeldu. Here the “z” is the same as the German “von.” I wondered about the name Rossinfeldu, and had a chance to find out what it meant during a rehearsal of the Oakland Community Orchestra. I played clarinet in this orchestra and during one of our rehearsal “breaks,” I asked one of our French horn players what the name signified. He was a retired professor of the German language at the University of California, Berkeley. He said that the name meant “Knight’s Charger in the Field.” The word “Rossin” is quite different than the German word usually used for horse, which is pferd....

In 1904 my father graduated from Charles University in Prague with a major in finance. My father’s brother Jaroslav majored in chemistry. It is interesting that all six siblings attended the University. In those days it was unusual for women to be well educated. After my father came to the States, he attended Northwestern University, taking courses in Law and Finance, and graduated from the School of Commerce in 1911.

My grandfather, Jan Vasak, was an author and a General. My uncle, Jaroslav Vasak, was in the Austria-Hungarian Army during World War I. At the end of World War I, Czechs from different European military services joined together and formed the Czech Legion, which numbered close to 70,000 men. The Legion joined the White Russians and fought the Bolsheviks (Communists) in Russia. One segment of the Legion eventually came out of Russia at the Black Sea. The group that Uncle Jaroslav was with fought its way across Russia, commandeered most of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, and came out five years later at Vladivostok. One can well imagine that he and his family were persona non grata when the Communists took over Czechslovakia.

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