In the spring 1987 term at ERAU I suffered complications from an impacted wisdom tooth that I had surgically removed over Christmas break. Unfortunately, that secondary infection of the bone hit me just before final exams. In extreme pain I visited a local dentist, Dr. Holliday, that the school nurse recommended. He said that he could see nothing wrong and thus could do nothing to help me. Then he went as far as to imply that I had come to him just looking to get pain killers. Yeah, right, me the life-long non-drinker who never touched any recreational drugs; I was there trying to scam a couple of vicodin. When I got back to my house I called my folks back home and got the number of the oral surgeon who had removed the tooth. Dr. Spangler, whose office was up in Saginaw, Michigan, said he wanted me in his chair within 24 hours. I visited Dean Rockett’s office and explained my predicament and he said he’d have all of my final exams set aside until I got back to Daytona. My roommate Jose, who worked as a gate agent for a People Express Airlines feeder out of DAB, scammed me a free ticket and I was on my way up north that evening.
Anyone who had played hockey in the Junior levels or above knows too well what dental pain can be like, and this one was the worst of any kind I’d ever had right up until I had a kidney stone a quarter of a century later. Once in the oral surgeon’s chair he examined the area, took some X-rays and then thought a bit. The thinking part was the portion of the exam that the idiot in Daytona had failed to do. He asked if I’d had any pain leading up to this? I said that I had, but it always seemed to just ease off after several hours. I told him that within the past few weeks the pain was coming more often and was getting progressively worse. He said that what I had was an uncommon, yet clear case of an infection of the bone. The reason why it had come and gone, while getting a bit worse with each onset, was that my body had been able to fight it off until it just got too bad to vex. A bottle of antibiotics and I was as good as new in 48 hours. Yet, Dr. Spangler firmly insisted that I remain in town for at least five days so he could re-examine me just to make sure it had cleared up. He also equipped me with a letter from him to whatever dentist may need to treat me next explaining in medical terms exactly what my diagnosis was and also giving them a number to call him 24/7. I stayed on the antibiotic for the full 10 days as prescribed, but I flushed the pain killers down the toilet.
Although Dean Rockett had arranged for make-up exams when I got back there was, however, one exception and that was my aerodynamics class. The instructor, Mr. Blackwell, was gone on sabbatical to Mexico for 18 months and so there was no way I could make up his exam. I would be forced to take an “incomplete” for the class and repeat it later. That was actually fine with me. Frankly, sitting in his class was like sitting in an open grave. The guy lived out of “Aerodynamics For Naval Aviators” a text that although accurate in its theory and math, was probably as boring in the 1950s when it came out as it was in the late 1980s when we were forced to use it. To this day I believe they probably made Naval aviators read if for punishment. Thus, I was dragging bottom in his class and probably would have likely flunked it if I had taken his torturous final exam- several of my classmates were buried by it. So, why not take the “I” and repeat it with someone who knew how to make the subject less painful than my dental infection?
The following spring, April 1988, I had already walked across the stage for graduation and all I had left to do in my post-walk mop-up was two advanced flight courses, FA314 and FA315, and that aerodynamics course. Having pilots who had walked in graduation still needing to finish flight courses, especially those two, as well as a class or two was nothing new at ERAU. In fact at least 4 of my fellow classmates were in the same boat as me including one of my roommates. The university understood and allowed us the option to graduate… we just didn’t get a paper diploma until we’d completely finished. Now, a fill trimester after walking across the stage I’d already knocked off FA314 and was in the process of knocking off FA315 as I entered into that last class to finish aerodynamics.
I scored big by getting Mr. Kumpla for the aerodynamics course. He could teach a baked potato and have it completely understand aerodynamics. In fact, through all of my later years of flight instructing I used his class notes in order to teach the same material and used them again when I later adjunct professored in the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore’s short-lived aeronautics program.
Walking out to the GRW complex on at 2:10 pm on April 19th to take my aerodynamics final exam it suddenly struck me that this was it! It had been 128 months since I first stepped foot onto the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s campus and this was the last thing that I would do in a classroom. It was a strange feeling as I considered how far I had come. From that hockey psycho who stood there in his Bauer sneakers and received his orientation packet to a fully rated commercial pilot, with a Bachelor Of Science Degree in Aeronautical Science. On top of that I was the winner of the Student Leadership and Involvement Award, had been the Flight Team Chief Pilot, Avion newspaper’s editorial cartoonist, I was the founder of the first student-alumni association, buddies with J. Paul Riddle (the co-founder of the University,) I had been on a first name basis with two university presidents and I was now engaged to be married to the most amazing girl on campus. Man, I had come a very long way. ERAU had gone from being a place that made me homesick to a place that I considered to be home. The funny thing was; I had never, ever intended to accomplish anything like that. My singular, sole goal at ERAU was simply to finish- and nothing more.
Other than finishing that final exam, there had to be a way for me to, personally, mark that accomplishment. The exam itself had been piece of cake. Mr, Kumpla had done such an amazing job of teaching this material that even me, the guy with the huge phobia of multiple choice tests, was able to go through the entire exam with great confidence. It wasn’t as if the test was simple, it was in fact that the test made sense and was directly related to the material he had taught. Filling in the final dot on the answer sheet and re-checking my results, the way to mark the occasion suddenly popped into my brain. Nearly every student in that class, as well as Mr. Kumpla knew full well who I was, how long I’d been working at it and what I had accomplished. By the time you get to that level at ERAU, you pretty much know everyone else- it has become more like a family and friends than a cold university. That’s the advantage of, in 1988, having a student population of less than 5,000. Although the rest of the class were all busy completing the exam, I felt sure that no one would not mind one last exclamation point in my long story. I took the answer sheet and the exam up to Mr. Kumpla’s desk and turned it in- mine was one of the first. He looked up at me, I smiled and winked as if to say that I knew I did very well- then I returned to my seat. Reaching into my backpack I pulled out an “Embry-Riddle Alumni” bumper sticker that Tom Arnold, the director of Alumni Relations, had given me. Quietly I peeled off the backing, placed the sticker on the flat of my hand, wound up and slapped it onto the back of my class notes book just as hard as I could!
The sound echoed across the silent classroom and every head looked up! Standing, I held the class notes book high above my head and turned to show my new alumni sticker to everyone in the room. Applause broke out as well as a few hoots and whistles. Even Mr. Kumpla was clapping as I paraded from the classroom. They all got it. They knew what my action meant and they also knew that their turn would soon come. Mine was 30 years ago, as of this writing.
This is the actual back cover to the class notes with the sticker right where I smacked it. In aviation there are some books that pilots keep- forever. Normally those are the ones from which you learned the most, or the ones you know you'll use again some day. Kumpla's notes are both.
If I could make it, if I could finish, so could anyone else who was willing to work hard, stay honest and never, never quit.