To Keep Me Young

Updated: Jul 9, 2020

| This is the 159th story of Our Life Logs |

I’ve worked many jobs in my 92 years of living. I’ve been a sailor, an aircraft engineer, an experimental designer for a college Chemistry program, and a farmer—well, to some extent. One thing has remained constant through my life, however, and that has been my love of learning. That’s what has kept me young, in the heart.

I was born in 1925, in a small town called Groveport, just Southeast of Columbus, Ohio. I grew up playing on our chicken farm. I got to play with young chicks just out of their shells and help take care of the chickens. It was a good life for a small boy. I was the oldest with a brother three years younger. I always had toys to play with and never felt deprived. Then, the Great Depression came, and money for toys—and many other things—dried up. It was particularly hard on my family, because all the chickens contracted a disease and died, making my father lose his livelihood.

Since we couldn’t buy toys, I started making my own. I first made things with cardboard from the pallets we had used to send eggs. After the chickens died, we didn’t need the pallets anymore, so I could use the cardboard. My imagination soared as I crafted all sorts of different things with it. I didn’t know it then, but creating toys with those everyday items during the Great Depression helped foster my love of crafting and the skill set that went with it.

In the seventh grade, I learned woodworking on my own. I got through by self-teaching a lot of things and graduated high school in 1943, ready to take on the world.

My senior portrait, c. 1943.

Before graduating high school, the Navy came to our school and I was ordered to take an IQ test. I didn’t know what it was for until the Navy contacted me after seeing my high score. They were looking for recruits for World War II, and I was a great candidate. It is worth noting that I had also been accepted for an apprenticeship with a local mechanic in Groveport at the time. However, I enlisted and the war was going on and had to pass up the apprenticeship. From this moment, my life changed dramatically, I think, for the better. I might have enjoyed my life as a mechanic, because I liked working on cars, but my life was much more adventuresome and intellectually stimulating as a sailor.

I went to Yale University and Columbia University, each for about a year and a half as part of an officer training program, but I did not graduate. Instead, I gained the rank of Petty Officer (which despite the name, is not an officer’s rank but an enlisted man’s rank). I didn’t get an officer’s rank, which I am partly thankful for because if I had, I would have been sent to fight in the Pacific, and who knows what would have happened then?

In my Navy uniform.

After I left Columbia University, I went to Bremerton, Washington, where I was stationed on the USS San Diego, a light cruiser ship in a dry dock getting ready to put it into storage. After that, I was put in training for electronics at the highest technological level the military had at that time. I learned about RADAR and SONAR, along with other technologies that the Navy was using at the time. I found it to be fascinating work, learning about technologies on the cutting edge of science.

After serving in the Navy for a little over three years, I left to work in the aircraft industry, for a company that made planes for the military. I took my knowledge from my time in the Navy and expanded on it. As anyone in the scientific community knows, learning does not stop when you leave the classroom. Much of my job was developing specifications for the instruments which went in the aircraft that were being built, both military and civilian.

The company I worked for was sold to another aircraft company, and under new management, I had the chance to work on the first plane that could both land on a carrier and carry an atom bomb. Later in my career, I got to work on building a reconnaissance plane, which I can’t divulge the details, but from it, I received two patents in Optics. As you can see, my work was very interesting, and as much as I’d like to talk your ear off, I can’t. It’s all rated top secret.

Obviously, I wasn’t just working during the time. After the war, all of us young guys came back, and of course, the women were waiting. The Catholic Church started an organization after the war called Catholic Youth. It featured all kinds of social events designed to bring men and women together. I was about 24 at this time, my legs were young and made for dancing. I’d go to all the social events for an excuse to dance, and a good thing I did! I met my wife—this beautiful, lovely woman—on the dance floor at a Big Band concert. After a few years of courting, we got married on June 21, 1952. We have been together for 66 years now.

My wife Irene and me, 2017.

We bought a house and settle down in Columbus, Ohio. Our only child, Anna, was born in October of 1954. I worked locally, and while I had to take some business trips, I was home most of the time. As my daughter grew, I took an interest in her education. I helped her with math and science. She was always welcome in my workshop in the house, and I taught her the basics. I was proud of my little girl clasping my hammer in her tiny hands and learning the “lefty-Lucy” and “righty-tighty” of the screwdriver. My love of learning had come full circle; now I was able to teach as well.

As Anna grew up, I started working for the Ohio State University as a designer of experimental apparatus for the graduate Chemistry students. I designed equipment that the students needed to conduct experiments in physical chemistry. Working with the students reminded me of those old days on the farm land, tinkering with the scraps, looking to make something big.

In 1981, I moved to an ancestral farm on my mother’s side, just a little bit to the south of the farm I grew up on. I commuted to Columbus for many years and retired in 1987, though I never truly stopped working. The family farm and my restless mind made sure of that. We kept no animals, but we did grow crops on the extensive land with the help of a neighbor; I supplied the seed and he did the labor—we had good teamwork going on. It is something we do to this day—although now it is his son who does the work! Farming was something new to learn about, and after almost 40 years, I think I’m pretty good!

I still enjoy discovering and building new things. I see life as a constant opportunity to learn. There’s so much to experience in this world, and I’ve spent my whole life trying to learn and share the knowledge I’ve cultivated. Doing this has brought me great pleasure and kept my heart young. I think we all have those chances to be delighted if we just allow it.

This is the story of James Robert Fagan

Robert was born in 1925 and currently lives in Columbus, Ohio on his family’s old chicken farm with his wife Irene. Growing up during the Great Depression, Robert had to create his own toys and fun which fostered an interest in creating and learning things all through his life.  When he wasn’t learning, he was teaching others the things he had learned, which made him live a happy life, always looking for the next interesting project. These days, Robert does a lot of work in his shop that’s set up in one of the outbuildings on his farm. He continues to build and has recently designed and built both a mailbox and a flagpole, fixed a broken spinning wheel for his granddaughter Dori, and built a miniature external combustion engine. Building these things required both metalworking and woodworking, as well as drafting out what the items would look like on paper, but Robert enjoys taking the time to do these things.

In my workshop, 2018.

This story first touched our hearts on July 10, 2018.

| Writer: Dori Smith | Editors: MJ; Kristen Petronio |

#jobs #farming #jackofalltrades #inventor #inventions #creation #retirement #contentment

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