Topeka, Kansas

Dwight’s first teaching position following completion of his doctorate at Madison was as an Instructor of Spanish at Kansas City (Missouri) Junior College, 1936-1937.  The atmosphere was not to his liking.  Among other things, teachers had to use a time clock to stamp themselves in and out .  When an offer came from Washburn College in 1937, he must have been overjoyed.  It was as an Associate Professor, a position which he would hold from 1937-1943, except for a semester in 1941 when he taught in Costa Rica.  With the long family connection to Topeka and Washburn, and with Dwight having done his undergraduate work at Washburn, it would seem to have been an ideal position at that time.

The first residence in Topeka for Dwight, Louise, and the infant Bruce was the Gem Apts. within walking distance of Capitol Park and the Kansas State Capitol.  The apartment was at the back of a long hallway.

Gem Apartments on 10th St., photo taken about 1990.  The name “Gem Building” still appears on the face of the building.
Jan Leuwenberger and Bruce, about 1990, in front of the Gem Apartments.  Note the reflection of Dwight taking the photo.

During a visit to the building in 1990, Dwight and Bruce were pleased to find a former playmate from 1937, Jan Leuwenberger, who had offices in the Gem Building.  Below is how Bruce looked back in 1937 when Louise took him to Capital Park.

Bruce, summer of 1937.

After a year at the Gem Apts., Dwight, Louise, and Bruce moved to the house that would be their home until 1943 on High Street in Topeka, shown below.

Bolinger family home in Topeka, ca. 1938-1943.

Bruce has fond memories of this house.  He could walk to his pre-school and elementary school from here.  Dwight constructed a platform in the tree to the right, with rungs nailed to the trunk that Bruce could use to access the platform.  On summer evenings Bruce would chase and collect lightning bugs and then release them.  The cooing of the turtle doves would always remind Bruce of Topeka.  In winter, Dwight would climb up on the railing of a side porch on the left and scrape freshly fallen snow off the roof to make snow ice cream.  Dwight could conveniently bicycle to the Washburn campus.

Bruce and a friend having a picnic lunch in the backyard of the High St. house.

The following map of Topeka, drawn by Dwight, shows such things as the Washburn campus at the top, Gage Park on the far right to which Dwight would take Bruce on his bicycle, the Bolinger family home on High St. (just below the “Mrs. Phillips” notation), the Gem Apts. on Tenth Ave., the Saxes family in the upper right, the Vogels family on Wayne, and the Post Office on Kansas Ave. on the far left.

Map of Topeka drawn from memory by Dwight.

W.G. Clugston of Topeka remembered how Dwight, “when at Washburn, found his diversion by riding a bicycle around to the stores to do the family shopping, taking his purchase home in a big wire basket on the front of his pedalmobile.” (Whispering Willow column, Topeka State Journal, May 19, 1951, pg. 12.)

Dwight in Gage park circa 1990.
A caricature of Dwight, the Washburn professor, drawn by Jane Pacheco, probably a student of his.

In 1974 Dwight wrote about how he came to become interested in linguistics: “My prime interest in linguistics has always been lexicon.  This started in college when I began putting together my home-made dictionary of synonyms.  I had the illusion that one could master one’s own language to the point of always making exactly the right choice of word, and I was continually frustrated by the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon.  But I was that kind of scatterbrain who goes to an encyclopedia for a bit of information and is so fascinated by the account of Greek sculpture on the page opposite that he forgets what he was looking for.  I was soon away and running after the words themselves.”  Below is a typical page from his precious dictionary with his marginal notations.

Page of Dwight’s dictionary.  Original is in the possession of Ann McClure of Aberdeen, Scotland.

In December 1937, incredibly, the dictionary was stolen.  Dwight offered a reward for its return–see the news story below.  Fortunately, the thief had a conscience and returned it.  The dictionary now resides with Dwight’s daughter in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Newspaper story which led to the return of the dictionary.

A family friend, James Gilbert, painted this portrait of the young Dwight.

A pensive Dwight.   Portrait by James Gilbert.

Two of Dwight’s professors at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Solalinde and Ortega, influenced his political thinking.  Both supported the Spanish Republican government.  When the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939, broke out, Dwight was still at Madison.  When Dwight, Louise, and Bruce moved to Kansas City in 1936, Dwight became an activist on behalf of the Republican government, going to churches, meeting with groups, promoting the Spanish Republican point of view, raising money for the Republicans, and urging the overturn of the embargo on aid to the Spanish government.

The May 30, 1937 newsletter of the Youth Council of the First Baptist Church, Kansas City, MO, announced a talk by Dwight before the Council: “This evening for our B.Y. program we are to have Dr. Bolinger as our speaker.  He is an instructor of Spanish at Junior College and is going to talk on the situations in Spain.  Now! Now! Now! don’t sigh like that.  One would think you have the opinion that it would be boring, but really he is a very interesting person.  He weaves his humor in with his talk so that you think he is practicing to be a comedian.  Come, and I’ll bet you a dime to a dough-nut you’re glad you came.”

When they moved to Topeka, he continued this activity, concentrating on Black ministers and their congregations.  He accumulated a collection of Spanish Civil War posters, one of which appears below.  There were nine posters in all and were donated by his son Bruce in 2000 to the University of California at Davis which had a collection of such posters.  The catalog reference can be accessed here.

Spanish Civil War poster from Catalonia.

During this period some formal photos were taken of Dwight.  For example, in 1938 he appear as shown below.

Dwight Bolinger, Professor, Washburn, 1938.  Photo courtesy of University Archives, Mabee Library, Washburn University.

Two views of the Washburn campus from the time Dwight was teaching there follow:

Washburn, Boswell Chapel, Rice Carnegie Thomas with capitol in background ca. 1940.  Photo courtesy of University Archives, Mabee Library, Washburn University.
Washburn campus ca. 1938, Kansas State Historical Society.

Dwight spent six months teaching in Costa Rica in 1941, a period inserted between his years at Washburn.  For the page on his Costa Rica experiences, click here.

During a visit to Topeka in 1990, Dwight was reunited with his old friends Dick and Thelma Vogel at the Vogel home.  Dick Vogel was the treasurer of Washburn until he retired around 1985.

Dick and Thelma Vogel visiting with Dwight in 1990.

From Topeka it was on to New Haven, Connecticut.  Dwight had applied for a Sterling Fellowship at Yale to pursue his research.  His application almost was never sent.  (In Robert Stockwell’s obituary of Dwight, pg. 103,  see how Louise rescued it.)  For Dwight’s description of his contacts at Yale, see his “First Person, Not Singular,” pg. 23 on this website.  Following his year at Yale, 1943-44, Dwight and his family were off to Los Angeles where he had been offered a position at the University of Southern California.  For a photo of Louise during this period, see below.

New Haven Register, Aug. 8, 1943.