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My O.D.Foster

I was in the Graduate School of the University of Iowa, in the English Department, from August 1951 through May 1955,
after which my wife and I moved to Duluth MN for my first College teaching job.

During one of the summers, most likely that of 1952, 1953 or 1954, I was approached by my major professor, Warren F.
(Dick) Heiser, asking if I wanted some part-time work that summer. As far as I could gather from subsequent conversations, he had
been approached by a friend of his, then a Dean in the School of Religion (Lampe?), asking him to recommend someone with
research skills. I have no idea where the money came from that they paid me, although I assumed that somehow it came from an
account in the School of Religion.

I was to act as translator/secretary for some man who was writing his memoirs. It turned out to be O.D.Foster. I found him in
a tiny, cramped apartment on the ground floor of a building on a side street in Iowa City, certainly meant for a student residence.
There was a small bathroom, a kitchen area along one wall, I think a small stove and refrigerator or ice box. The back wall had
bookcases and a small desk with a chair. At right-angles to that wall, was a wall with windows to the street. There was a single cot
or bed under the windows that O.D. used as his bed and sofa. At right angles to that wall there was a small desk with his portable
typewriter and a chair. That wall was one wall of the bathroom.

At my first meeting, O.D. asked me about myself and where I was from. When I told him Brooklyn NY, he asked “Oh. Do you
know Steve Wise?” I thought it was a joke, but it turned out he meant Rabbi Wise. At that point I decided he was a nut. But later,
when I saw such items as warm personal letters from the Secretary to Cardinal Spellman giving O.D. the Cardinal’s greetings, I
changed my mind. (Since Wise died in 1949, I assume O.D. was really asking “Had you known him?” )

O.D. was a small, frail man, legally blind. He used a white cane to get around downtown Iowa City as it then was. He was
obviously lonely and used much of our time together to just talk, instead of me doing what I was getting paid for. My memory of his
family history is that some of them (I’m not sure what generation) walked all the way into, I thought he said Missouri, although
Starkes says he was born in Indiana. They carried all their household possessions in a large copper kettle that was then used to
render lard, make lye soap, etc.

He mentioned that he had gone to Yale, I assumed the Divinity School, and had done a thesis on interpretations of the
prophecy in Isaiah. He was fairly gleeful about having questioned whether the Greek term was to be read as “a virgin” or as “a
young woman of marriageable age.”

When he got involved with World War I, he said he was very impressed by and influenced by a Roman Catholic Priest who
was an army chaplain in France. It sounded to me as though it was his first real acquaintance with a priest. The man had
established a kind of ecumenical chaplaincy which is what impressed O.D. and led him to think a great deal about religious
leaders cooperating and communicating and about teaching about religions without proselytizing.

He mentioned the survey he did of Protestant theological seminaries, that he was shocked at what he found, and that he was
quite strong in his reporting. As a consequence, I think he meant his own congregation, perhaps an entire church body, as he said
“withdrew the right hand of fellowship” from him.

He once mentioned his wife and two daughters from whom he was apparently estranged because, he admitted, he had
focused so much on his “mission” and so little on his family. Another regret he had was that he had never gone down into the Grand
Canyon, a life-long dream of his, so that he could walk back up and see in the layered strata the millennia passing by as he
climbed.

One day I walked in on him when he sat on his sofa/bed chuckling. His portable typewriter needed fixing, so it had been
taken to a shop and the job done. However, the repair man, thinking to do him a favor, had not only replaced a broken type face, but
had carefully cleaned the pretty disgraceful keys. In doing so he removed all the hardened chewing gum O.D. had put on certain
keys so his fingers could find the right ones when he wanted to type. So there he sat on his bed, chewing up a whole new package
of gum to affix to his typewriter keys.

He explained to me several times that Edward Stettinius, then Secretary of State, had called him into a secret meeting and
asked him to travel through Central and South America visiting the more liberal of the Catholic clergy there, since he know them
all so well. He was to try to ascertain who was supportive of the Allies or of the Axis, what the attitudes were in the different
countries he visited, etc. He kept careful notes of his travels, but to protect himself, sensitive information was written out using the
Syriac alphabet and sometimes he put his English into French and wrote that with the Syriac alphabet. That was what I was
supposed to decipher and type out in clear, with his assistance, as I read to him what I thought I had translated. The only details I
remember are a train ride across the Andes where he could see the back end of the train winding around the mountain, and he was
startled to see a condor flying below the level of the train.

Douglas H.Shepard