Presented by the University Archives of the University Libraries, with the Department of Biochemistry of Virginia Tech
Fifty-Year Celebration of the Department of Biochemistry
Everett L. (Chick) Wisman: First Faculty Member in the new Department of Biochemistry and Nutrition Everett L. Wisman

Date of interview: January 22, 2002
Location: Sound Booth, Media Building, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia
Interviewee: Everett L. Wisman
Interviewer: Lewis Barnett
Transcriber: Elizabeth Swiader

Part Two

Barnett: Now when did the faculty come in and start teaching biochemistry courses? Dan Lane and Clem Ackerman were teaching some courses in biochemistry other than the elementary biochemistry course.

Wisman: Well again I can't remember the years, but I would say late fifties.

Barnett: Late fifties they started teaching biochemistry and offering--was there a graduate degree in biochemistry offered when you first came here? Or was that something that was first developed after you got here?

Wisman: Well I think it was, as I remember. There weren't any undergraduate biochemistry majors.

Barnett: No, we didn't start that until the late sixties.

Wisman: So had to be the ones we had like Ed Bunce and those people.

Barnett: And Bob Schmidt did he get his master's here?

Wisman: I can't remember. Seemed like he got his bachelor's here. I'm pretty sure he did. Then he went to Maryland for his M.S., and as I remember, for his Ph.D. with Kendall King here at Tech.

Barnett: So there was a graduate program in the department when you first came here in '53?

Wisman: Right.

Barnett: And also Don Cochran was a joint appointment between Biochemistry and Entomology. Was he also interested in nutrition of insects and cockroaches? How did that marriage come about?

Wisman: [laughter] I don't know, I really don't know.

Barnett: Maybe he just needed lab space and was doing biochemistry.

Wisman: Oh, with his type of work, I am sure he had some interest in basic biochemistry, but I really can't tell you that. I don't think it was so much that. It just seemed like anybody dealing with living things you know had to have an interest in biochemistry which is rightfully true.

Barnett: You know, because I remember Don had that lab on the second floor and he had graduate students there. Also in the building about the time I came was Jewell Ritchey who was from Home Economics over in human foods and nutrition. When did that nutrition program start, and how did that start?

Wisman: When did it? Remember when he was here, I'm trying to remember.

Barnett: Well '63 is when I came, and I think he was housed, and they had their cooking facilities you know. They had on the second floor they had stoves and refrigerators, and the human nutrition program was housed in the Biochemistry building and Jewell was there. But I don't know when that program first developed, when he came.

Wisman: It would have to be in the early sixties. I remember he tried to get me to transfer over.

Barnett: To human nutrition and foods?

Wisman: Yes, he said we needed that type of course work, and would I be interested in coming and just moving everything over there? Of course I said no. I think he did convince Ryland Webb to be his nutrition man later on.

Barnett: Yes, I think after in the seventies sometime Ryland moved over there and actually became the department head toward the end of his career.

Wisman: You know right along, during that whole time there was always a lot of interchanging going on. When did we lose the word nutrition from the department?

Barnett: That was after I left the department. Well it started, yes I think when Bruce came in '70. There was much less an emphasis on nutrition, but I think the department name didn't change, till the eighties.

Wisman: I'm not saying it was wrong but things evolve. You know the College of Human Resources got stronger and stronger, and they had a Department of Human Nutrition. Then Animal Science got their own program, a teaching program in nutrition. I don't know, it may have helped biochemistry to get a little more basic because then they were able, in my mind, to branch out to the, what is that new building called now?

Barnett: Fralin Biotechnology Center.

Wisman: Yes, to get more into that type of work.

Barnett: Of course you know Ed came here, I think about '64, '65. Ed Bunce in nutrition. You know nutrition lead to his cataract work which again took more of a biochemistry emphasis than nutrition.

Wisman: I think that was also the field of Ackerman, too. I know Ackerman worked with the eye hospital in Roanoke, I forget the name of it, down Main Street.

Barnett: The Gill Memorial is it? Something like that?

Wisman: Gill I believe that is the right clinic.

Barnett: When Ryland left, I think he and Ed were the people in nutrition. Of course Ken King had nutrition interest, but he left I guess in the late sixties when he went up to New York. So I guess the nutrition emphasis kind of just faded away.

Wisman: Anderson replaced King right away.

Barnett: I think so.

Wisman: That was in 1970.

Barnett: 1970. Of course Ryland left shortly thereafter, and I think he was replaced, and I don't think they've hired any people who's emphasis was in nutrition.

Wisman: You know I remember when I came back, I can't remember the exact year, Ed Bunce was here as a senior.

Barnett: I think he graduated in '54 or '55.

Wisman: Yes, right after I came, I knew him, and I guess it was maybe years later, when he took his military. He had some military training, and I met him in the dining hall. Lets see where was it, San Antonio? I was sitting there eating my lunch. I was there for a two-week course.

Barnett: You were in reserves at that time?

Wisman: Yes and there was a type of a MASH course. I was trying to get into a field of medical services, so I applied and went to that two-week school. In walks Ed Bunce as a brash, young, second lieutenant.

Barnett: Yes I guess he was in the military when Charlie hired him. I think it was about '64, '65. Maybe he was in Hawaii or Colorado in Denver, when Charlie hired him, and he came a couple years after I did.

Wisman: I can't remember all those exact years.

Barnett: Nor can I.

Wisman: Somewhere, you know, really this ought to be documented somewhere and written up like a department history and all the dates and faculty and all.

Barnett: I think Dr. Young (Harold Young) was writing some history of the department. I think Roddy has put together some information like that.

Wisman: He couldn't have had all those exact years and names.

Barnett: Well I would hope that for this 50th anniversary next year that they would put together a history of it and write this down because the people who have the knowledge are slowly fading away.

Wisman: That's exactly right.

Barnett: Charlie Engel still is very aware of everything that's happened. Ed interviewed him, and he had all the dates and places and times, and it's amazing his memory of what went on. So you've been back here at Tech since '53, and it's been almost 50 years. Guess you've seen a lot of changes occur. Not only on the athletic field but in the classroom. Of course the Corps became optional, I guess in '64, the University went co-ed in '65 and dropped Saturday classes. What other big changes have, other than the total number of people?

Wisman: You know who all this is due to, Marshall Hahn. There was a lot of opposition at that time, I remember that. Of course we old Corps people, we didn't like it. We didn't want to be like all the other big universities that were general in nature. We were a special breed we thought but didn't last long.

Barnett: So what do you think of it now? Do you think it's been for the better of Virginia Tech?

Wisman: I can't really say. Times change you know. You don't have the war atmosphere; you don't have the interest in military. Its hard to get students interested, so I think you have got to change with the times. You know it's a big university and a lot of people see that when they look around for a place to go. A lot of students, high school students, of course I keep telling them every time, come look at it. It is not that big really because you get in a certain area, and you make your friends, and the bigness really doesn't bother you.

Barnett: Yes, I think one of the best recruiting tools for attracting undergraduates at Tech is to come and visit. I think that they see that it's not a big university like you have at Ohio State and University of Minnesota where you have 50-60,000 students in a large city, and here there is still a rural atmosphere.

Wisman: You learn your areas, and I don't think size is really a factor. Well anyway I retired in 1986, of course, that's been a good fifteen years, and I haven't really kept up that much with all the changes since, but I'm sure there are many. Well let's see anything else we need to discuss.

Barnett: Well anything else you want to talk about in terms of, you know, going back to 1940 when you came as an undergraduate. It was all military then I guess except for the people that had medical problems or the women. What was life like here at VPI in 1940? You said there were about 2,500 students in the Corps.

Barnett: You didn't? I thought people went to a required chapel.

Wisman: No, each student went to his own local church. I remember going to the Lutheran church which was up there on Turner Street. We had a YMCA; they had a little chapel in the little student activities building, but no we didn't have anything like that.

Barnett: So the YMCA was in the Y building there next to the new Torgersen Hall which now houses theatre arts department.

Wisman: No, I know what you are talking about.

Barnett: Well where was the YMCA?

Wisman: It was in the old student activity building.

Barnett: Oh, OK, they moved it.

Wisman: Paul Derring, when I was a student here, was the head of it.

Barnett: But now isn't the old Y building there across from McBryde.

Wisman: Yes, I think that was used maybe in the 1940s, when I came here. Seemed like to me the change was then, and then the commandant took over that.

Barnett: Now was Squires here?

Wisman: That moved into Squires.

Barnett: Was Squires here in 1940? Was there a Squires Hall, the student union building?

Wisman: Oh yes, I remember working down there as a freshman washing windows and scrubbing floors at 50 cents an hour. [laughter] That was a lot of money then. That helped pay for tuition which was very small for in-state students.

Barnett: Now when I came, the bookstore was in the basement of Squires in '63.

Wisman: The bookstore, the barbershop, and a little dining place, a place where you could get sandwiches.

Barnett: Now where was your dining hall?

Wisman: Owens.

Barnett: Owens dining hall?

Wisman: Do you know where that is?

Barnett: Yes I know where Owens is. The bookstore moved to the basement of Owens.

Wisman: I was up on the upper quad, and we always marched down to breakfast in the dark, in the cold wind.

Barnett: Owens was the only dining hall on campus, I presume.

Wisman: Yes.

Barnett: It's still the dining hall. I was going to say the bookstore moved into there from Squires after I came and was there for a few years until they built their new bookstore. And what about the CEC, was the continuing education center here?

Wisman: Oh no, in fact all along that street there were houses, Faculty Row. Seemed like there was an alumni building too. I'm trying to remember that, I can't quite.

Barnett: Now the front of the CEC was kind of a housing for faculty. I know some of the faculty still here initially settled in there in apartments before they built the back wing of that. Were offices for the alumni division in that building?

Wisman: No.

Barnett: 'Cause it's there now.

Wisman: Most of that was just faculty.

Barnett: Just faculty?

Wisman: Yes.

Barnett: And you, I presume, had your drills on the Drill Field?

Wisman: Oh yes, and one good feature, I guess, there were no cars allowed on campus. Can you believe that?

Barnett: Could students have cars?

Wisman: Nope.

Barnett: No cars at all.

Wisman: But some of them would brave it and hide the cars somewhere in town, in garages, but if they caught them that was it.

Barnett: They were kicked out of school?

Wisman: Absolutely! You disobeyed any of the rules then you were out, no courts and no appeals.

Barnett: So how did the students get to Blacksburg? Down the Huckleberry on the train?

Wisman: Huckleberry, bus, or by hitchhiking. I'd go home, wanting to go home at Thanksgiving and between quarters, and we'd all hitchhike. Go in your uniform and hitchhike up U.S. 11, now I-81.

Barnett: Did you have any trouble getting rides?

Wisman: Not really, but there were no cars which was kind of nice.

Barnett: What about the staff and faculty?

Wisman: And nobody went home like they do today. I can't understand that. Then most students had Saturday morning classes. If I didn't have weekends to catch up on things, write your themes and do all this, I don't know what I would have done. We needed extra time then. You had to be in class, you had to attend class.

Barnett: Did they take class roll and things like that?

Wisman: They took class roll, but today of course they don't.

Barnett: Classes are too big?

Wisman: Some students don't even see the classroom. How they pass I don't know. Quite different. Well I don't know of anything else.

Barnett: Well what about when you came back from your military service during the war, was there much change? I guess a lot of the GIs came back, and there was a lot of GI housing and married students.

Wisman: Well, of course, they had completed the cadet Corps during the war, but they still had one. Weren't a whole lot in it, not like it was before (the war). Even some wanted to come back and to finish their senior year, and they said, "The only way you can get in, is go back into the Corps."

Barnett: After you'd been in the war?

Wisman: After you'd been in the war. It didn't happen to me, but I remember a couple of them. This is the only way you get in. It must have been a special case but the Corps was still here. Oh I'd say 90 percent of those who were prior Corps members, who came back stayed as civilians. I know I did; I was a civilian here during my senior year.

Barnett: So when did the bubble of GI pass through, and when did the Corps start building up again to become a majority of the students? I guess when you came back in '53 that was the case?

Wisman: I don't think it ever became a majority after that.

Barnett: Oh I thought it was all military until '64. I thought military was required.

Wisman: I'm trying to think when that happened.

Barnett: Well I know when I came in '63 it was all military, and I think it was '64 that military became optional.

Wisman: Well we had an awful lot of civilians though.

Barnett: Oh did you?

Wisman: I can't remember, you know while it happened.

Barnett: Well is there anything else we need to talk about in terms of your recollections of Blacksburg and Virginia Tech? Obviously you thought you made the right decision in coming back here.

Wisman: I didn't want to go anywhere else. I wanted to come back here, and maybe I got orange and maroon blood, I don't know but that's the way it's been, and it's, to me a real good road, nice road. I told-when I retired, I said when someone interviewed me I forget who it was, I said well I really can't remember a day, of course I remember there were a couple, that I didn't really want to go to work. It was just that nice atmosphere, and everything was nice, and I just like everything about it.

Barnett: Well I guess unless you have something else this concludes our interview. I do thank you for coming and talking, and we will have this transcribed and send you a copy so you can see what your recollections are.

Wisman: I don't know whether I want to see a copy or not. Did Dr. Engel when he was interviewed take a step of the way the new building developed and his effort in getting finances and all that.

Barnett: Yes, he mentioned that he got matching funds from the National Institute of Health.

Wisman: Well, I tell you one thing. They should have done it earlier, to name the building after him because he's the one that is responsible for the accomplishments.

Barnett: Basically for everything-for the department and the building and everything. Well, we tried to get his name. I think for awhile they were holding out hoping that they could get somebody to give a lot of money to name it. Eventually Ed and I went and talked to the president. I'm not sure if there is somebody else involved there and [we] were able to do the right and the just thing, to get the building named for the person who really established the building and the department. It took a long time. I think maybe it was Lavery who was the one who was able to get that done. OK, well thank you very much Chick.

Wisman: OK, thank you. It's funny how you think ahead of time of what you're going to say and how you are going to say it, and then you sit down and do it.

End of interview

Part 1 | Part 2

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