by Ron Milliman
Just recently I’ve had some happenings that caused me to stop and ponder this very phenomenon. When I think about it, the number of people I’ve met and developed close relationships with is countless, spanning both time and space.
Several of those relationships started back when I was in junior high school. Ron, K8OEY, and I met through an older ham, Leo, W8AJM, who knew both of us, and knew we were both interested in electronics and ham wannabes. So, Leo invited us out to his place so we could get acquainted. From that meeting, Ron and I became best friends; we were inseparable. Leo was our Elmer. He first gave me my novice exam and a few months later he gave Ron his test too. Ron and I built all kinds of electronic circuits and kits, and yes, we even blew up a few too. We remained close friends over the years, right up to Ron’s early death a few years ago.
In my 7th grade year, I switched from the public-school system to the Michigan School for the Blind (MSB), located in Lansing, about 75 miles from my hometown of Sturgis. So, I lived on the campus of MSB most of the time, except for vacations. I lost most of my eyesight at age 8 from a pretty rare illness called Stevens-Johnson syndrome. I still had some usable sight, but I was really struggling in school because of my poor eyesight, and the medical and educational experts felt it was best if I switched to the school for the blind. I was strongly opposed to this change; after all, my friends since kindergarten were all in Sturgis, and I didn’t know anyone at that “stupid school for the blind!” Besides, I wasn’t blind! This is an important part of my story because almost immediately I met several other kids at my new school who were also interested in electronics and becoming hams. Soon, I was fitting right in with my new pals, my ham wannabe buddies. We formed a study group led by the father of one of the guys. His name was George Woods, but we all just called him Woody. Woody and his son, Gary, lived near the MSB campus, so it was easy to get over to their house. Woody was ahead of the rest of us, and he took and passed his novice exam first. Then, he held study sessions a couple times a week in the evenings to help the rest of us prepare for our novice tests.
We all studied hard, the electronic theory, the rules and regulations, and oh, yes, the code. For most of the guys, the code was the easy part. Later, some of the guys developed code speeds of 40 words per minute and even faster. Over a few months we all passed our novice license exams and were officially real hams! There was Ron Iser, KN8KLR, his brother, Ronnie, KN8MEW; Ken Filter, KN8KIC; Bob Sikkila, K8MXC; Gary Wood, KN8HLX; me, KN8HSY, and Woody, KN8HBX. We got to be really good friends, a tight little group. Woody let us use his Hallicrafters S-88 receiver and Heathkit AT-1 transmitter, running all of about 20 watts if we were lucky. Eventually, we all got our own gear. Together, we had quite a variety of receivers and transmitters, a Heathkit DX-40, Hallicrafters SX-71, Globe Scout, some military surplus gear like the BC-348, ARC-5’s, and even some homebrew gear. We strung antennas out our windows, and even tried loading up bed springs and window screens. As kids, we were up for trying anything, which explains how we ended up blowing up a few pieces of gear. Those old PI output networks would attempt to tune more than what was good for them! Those days were back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and many of us who were members of that little group are still good friends to this day. I still talk to some of them every week on the radio.
After high school, we all went our separate ways, but we still stayed in contact on the air and through the grapevine we developed as graduates of MSB. I went on to attend Eastern Michigan University and then, into the business world, and eventually on to graduate school at Arizona State University for my MBA and Ph.D. degrees. All along the way I met and developed special relationships with my new ham friends. Ham radio was the one unifying thread. No matter where you go, if you are a ham, you can almost always find other hams who quickly become your good friends.
My first professorial position was at the University of Texas at Arlington. Once again, I didn’t know anyone in Arlington. I went to a local Radio Shack store and asked if anyone was a ham or if they knew any hams in the area. Bingo! One of the fellows working in the store was a ham, and the customer he was helping was a ham. I introduced myself with my name and call, W7GPF. W7GPF was my call from Arizona, and I just moved to Texas and hadn’t filed that infamous FCC Form 610 yet to change my address and get assigned a new call sign. Anyway, we immediately struck up a lively conversation. Anyway, one of the guys, Vern, invited me to their next ham club meeting. As it turned out, Vern and I were even neighbors; he lived just down the street from where I had recently purchased a house. Vern invited me to attend the local ham club meeting with him. I was able, then, to meet lots of the other hams in the area. One fellow in particular came right up to me and said: “Ron, I’m Rick. I’m not a ham yet, but I’m working on it.” That fellow turned out to be Rick Hamilton, who is now WB5VQW. He and I developed a close relationship and have been ham buddies now for almost 40 years. We’ve gone to Hamfest together, shopped the surplus stores together, and just this week Rick and his wife, Karen, who’s also a ham (WB5UFM), met with my wife and I to share some quality time together and talk ham radio and about the “good ol’ days.” Rick and Karen invited my wife, Palma, and me up to their FMCA’s Amateur Radio Chapter’s Rally/campout where I met up with several other old ham friends from my days back in Arlington. We sat around the table and talked about how Rick and I managed to burn up something in one of my rigs and had to take it over to Bob to repair, and there Bob was sitting across the table from me. It was like those good ol’ days all over again!
A few years later, I moved from Texas to Louisiana where I accepted a position as chair of the marketing department at Loyola University in New Orleans. As we were approaching New Orleans and getting close enough that I could hit the repeaters, I dropped my call on the one I was told was the most active repeater. Right away I have WD5DWO come back to me. It was Althea. She welcomed us to New Orleans, and offered to meet us and help us get acquainted with the area. We met for lunch, and Althea became instant friends with Palma and me. Over the next few weeks, she introduced us to many other hams who also became good friends.
A very similar thing happened when we moved to Kentucky, and I joined the faculty at Western Kentucky University. I was able to immediately connect with the local hams here in Bowling Green, and we developed instant relationships. They became our first friends in our new town, helping us get settled, answering questions about the area, and inviting me to join the local ham club, the Kentucky Colonels Amateur Radio Club. Later, I also joined the Princeton Kentucky Amateur Radio Club. The guys in both clubs helped me get my antennas up, and have become some of my closest friends.
Over time, we develop all kinds of relationships, some much closer than others, but as we get older, we tend to appreciate and cherish each relationship more and more. Thanks to amateur radio, I have met people from all over the country, and yes, even in some foreign countries, and developed lifetime relationships and friendships that came about only because I became a ham in 1957 when I was just 13 years old.