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Hubert Fulkerson

1938 – December 23, 2010

Born in Muskogee, Oklahoma

Hubert McKinley Fulkerson, 72 years old, passed away on Dec 23, 2010, at Capri Care at the Point Nursing Home in Phoenix, AZ, where he had lived since May 8, 2006, after suffering a stroke. Hubert was born and raised in Muskogee, Oklahoma. He graduated from Northeastern University in Tahlequah, OK in 1968 with a BS in Mathematics. He worked with the Ecumenical Institute and the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) from 1968 to 1988. His work with the ICA took him from Oklahoma City and Chicago to communities in Nigeria, India, Kenya and Zambia. He married Kay Schnizlein in Zambia in June, 1987. He returned to the United States in 1988 and received a BS in Computer Science from University of Central Oklahoma, graduating in the top 10% of his class. He worked for Honeywell and AG Communications in Phoenix before retiring.

He is survived by his wife, his daughter, Dara Griffith and his grandson Marcus Mikala Griffith, and by his sister Martha Karpoff of Albuquerque, NM, and his sister Kathleen Martin and his brothers Edward Fulkerson, Merle Fulkerson and Douglas Fulkerson of Muskogee, OK.Hubert was deeply loved, and will be missed by his family and friends.


Hubert was a very special man.  He and I often shared the task of cleaning the grease trap in the kitchen in the administration building in Fifth City.  Although he was much more dependable than I, as a Permeator, it was my in-house assignment to maintenance.  Hue took pity on me after I returned home from work and often had things ready for the evening meal.  One time we had a very serious plugged drain which could only be fixed in the basement.  (The basement was a dingy, dark place that hardly anybody dared frequent.)  Little did we know that stuff upon stuff was hiding just above our heads as we loosened the clean out plug.  On the last twist on the threads, the plug popped out and drenched us with yuck.  Smelling like s–t, we shoved a plumber’s snake into the horizontal drain as far as we could reach and when we pulled it out, the rest of the stuff came with it.  In our hair, on our clothes, faces slopped with gooey mess straight out of a scary movie, we rethreaded the plug.  Hue and I shook hands complimenting each other in a job well done.  Another time I helped him with that ugly old furnace trying to keep it running in winter.


At that time my Permeation job at Nalco was the group leader of the boiler research lab.  I had just invented a revolutionary new all-in-one low pressure boiler treatment chemical.  I thought it would be great to use it in our boiler since all of it’s specifications were “perfect” for a research test project.  I had a drum of chemical shipped over from our pilot plant and off-loaded it to the outside basement entrance.  Hue got to it before I got home and wrestled that 500 pound drum down the steps and into the boiler room.  Although, previously, he and I agreed to take it down the stairs together, he went ahead and did it alone.  To make the free chemical project feasible, I told my Nalco management that we would test all of the water in and out of the boiler.  Hue agreed to run the chemical tests from the test kit I gave him as long as chemical was being added to the boiler.  However, since the building’s heating system did not have a significant condensate return and the feed of the chemical was based on the amount of raw water pumped into the boiler, we used up the drum of chemical in less than a week.  Hue didn’t have a chance to run any tests before the chemical was all gone.  With no test results to report for the $1,500 worth of chemicals, I was way too embarrassed to ask Nalco for another drum of chemical.  Besides, Hue told me he saw no change in the operation of the boiler and really didn’t want to bring in another heavy drum of the stuff since he hurt his back with the first one.  For me, whenever things got nearly unbearable as a member of the Order, Hubert was an inspiration for me to stay with it.  He is one of the saints on my meditative counsel. Miss you big guy!!!

~~   Jim Baumbach

As I hold Hubert in my mind: Hubert was a man who lived out his life being received and accepted. He was a man who decided that in spite of personal and daily life set-backs he could go on and keep at his task and recreate what was planned in spite of life trying to get him to step aside. The school and community center in Kapini could be called the Fulkerson monument. that building had the construction materials ripped off at least twice. Cement was like gold, Impossible to protect; and glass had to be imported on the train across Africa,  Once arriving in shattered pieces.. Nevertheless, before he left that building was built and the school was in operation. Bless his soul.  Similarly, in Human resource Leadership and in his personal life he triumphed over many obstacles to be a great motivation to the villagers and a great husband and father to Kay and Dare. He is a man “who comes through”.

         ~~   George Packard

A Sister’s Tribute

By Martha Fulkerson Karpoff

For those who knew Hubert (and I’m not sure many did, including myself), they know that he had a rather rough life—or was it a fortunate life? A lucky life, or a sorrowful life?  It’s hard to know actually.  One thing it was, was a tested life.  There are those who know more about his life in Chicago, Nigeria, Kenya, Zambia, Oklahoma City or Phoenix.  I would love to know all the stories they know.  Hubert was all about stories, about looking at events, giving them a twist, and making a story of them.  Often these stories were ironic.  Often they were jokes.  Maybe his life was a joke, maybe not.


Hubert was born in 1938 in the Depression, in one of the heartlands of Depression, Oklahoma.   His dad was a wholesale milk man in Muskogee and son and brother of men who worked in the oilfields of Illinois, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico.  His mom was daughter of a pecan orchard planter and pecan variety developer.   His dad’s nickname was Mick or Big Mick and Hubert’s nickname was Little Mickey. Both his parents were pretty tough hard-core realists.  Little Mickey bucked that realism thing really quickly by creating his imaginary dog Blackie.  Blackie and Little Mickey roamed the town figuring out what was really going on.  His parents realized he was kind of smart.


In school, it turned out that Mickey was pretty good at mathematics.  By high school he was being offered several scholarships by universities, and finally chose Park University in Kansas City, Missouri.  Park University was a private university with a good reputation.  Mickey worked in the cafeteria in order to pay for some of his expenses at school.  He was well on his way to becoming the first college graduate in the Fulkerson family, first son of a first son.


It wasn’t meant to be.  Instead, he got to go prison.  There were a series of fires and poisonings on campus.  Hubert was among the poisoned, and in fact had the most severe case of poisoning and was hospitalized for several days.  Later he was accused and convicted of the crimes of arson and attempted murder (for having attempted to murder himself, it seems).   The sentence was for 30+ years.


My sister Kathleen and I, 6 years old and 8 years old, were with my grandmother the day Hubert was convicted.   My dad phoned in the sentence to her from Missouri.  My grandmother walked outside to our acre-sized yard and walked and cried for six hours. (My parents said that the jury seemed very sympathetic until the last day of the trial. They suspected somebody got paid off.)  We had a brief time with Mickey at home where he played card and board games with us.  He was always a fun-loving, caring and mischievous person– a skinny 19 year old by then with lots of dark brown hair.


The Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, Missouri, was considered the toughest in the country in 1956.  Mickey’s first week was probably also one of the toughest.   He was a nineteen year old white boy in a largely black facility. Some bad things happened. The prison authorities thought it best to give him several electric shock treatments to help him face reality.  That ought to do it!  By the end of the week his dark hair was mostly grey. [Tim’s Note: The Missouri State Penitentiary, known as “The Walls,” or “The Big House,” was proclaimed “the bloodiest 47 acres in America” by Time magazine because of a prison riot in 1954 and literally hundreds of assaults and stabbings inside the prison in the early 1960s. Sonny Liston was an inmate in the early 50s. James Earl Ray was an inmate when Hubert was there.]


My sister and I went to visit him once in prison. In Jefferson City, which has steep hills, there’s a road up above the prison where the whole prison is displayed for the merry traveler.  It had the look of a large medieval castle, designed for various forms of torture.  And actually it was.  I’d say I was ten and Kathleen was eight.  Mom had dressed us in our sweetest, cutest outfits.  The doors were massive and clanged loudly behind us. The “viewing” room was a series of booths where thick glass with chickenwire separating the prisoner from the visitors. My grandmother had sent Mickey a small portable typewriter because she couldn’t read Mickey’s handwriting. Very shortly afterwards, he was back to writing his letters by hand.  My mom asked why.  Mickey said that somebody took it. “Well, did you report it to the guards?” my mom demanded.  Mom, grandmother and all of us on the outside didn’t comprehend where he was living.


He worked in the library where someone was stabbed to death one day.  He learned to sew suits. He saw Sonny Liston, a former inmate, conduct a boxing match. And, he was out in the yard one day when a race riot occurred. Mickey, being rather short (5’10”) and skinny and not wanting to be killed, ran as fast and as far as he could away from the riot. Several people did likewise. He was charged with “leading a charge on the wall”.  (I’m not sure what damage he could have done to the wall.) For this, he was given 18 months of solitary confinement with dietary restrictions in an abandoned elevator shaft. This shaft did not have a toilet, just a hole above the sewer that was directly below. Several years later, through others’ efforts and lawsuits, this shaft was declared unconstitutional as inflicting cruel and unusual punishment.


When John F. Kennedy was shot, the Missouri Executive Office, including the Governor of the State, was, oddly enough, moved to the basement of the prison.  Mickey, who was sort of a news junkie and pretty much a model prisoner, was down there and recognized the Governor.  Mickey asked the Governor what he was doing there. The Governor told Mickey that Kennedy had been shot and that as a precaution the Feds told all the governors to go somewhere safe. And Mickey said, “And you came here?”


Finally, and surprisingly, after a year in jail from the charges and the trial, and six more years in prison, the prison officials said that Mickey was free to go because someone else confessed to the crimes.  The “someone else” was the son of a very rich man in Kansas City.  The only problem was that the son had been committed to a mental facility by his father, and the son’s confession, as a mental patient, was not good enough for a pardon.  The rich father had recognized a problem with the son, but did not want his son to go to prison.  If only he had had as much concern for a poor boy from Oklahoma. Mickey was innocent. Mickey was only paroled. This led to many continuing problems for the rest of his life.


Back home, Big Mick put Little Mickey back to work as a driver on one of the milk trucks.  He and Mickey went to the County Clerk’s office to get him back on the voting rolls, as felons were not allowed to vote.  This was a favor to my dad, who was pretty well known in Muskogee.


Mickey felt most of the black people in the prison were there mainly because of lack of adequate counsel at trials.  He worked with them on some of their cases in the library at the prison.  When he came home he became active in the NAACP and eventually became president of the local chapter.


In the years between prison and the Ecumenical Institute, 1964 to 1969, Mickey alternately drove a milk truck and commuted to Tahlequah, Oklahoma to Northeastern State College, receiving a degree in mathematics.  By this time, my mom and I had moved to Texas, so the details of this period are a little speculative.  Mickey wasn’t a good long distance driver, tending to talk to the passenger while not looking at the road, or falling asleep. (I drove with him enough as a passenger to know.) One time he totaled his car, broke his arm and walked about ten miles to get help. Possibly through the local Methodist church, he attended a weekend course called Religious Studies I (RSI), conducted by the Ecumenical Institute. He became an intern in the Oklahoma City House of the Ecumenical Institute.  Later, after February, 1970 when Big Mick died at age 55, Mickey got me interested in the Religious Studies courses.  I joined the community in March of 1971.


Mickey was transferred to the Chicago Office.  After some lecture or study on Søren Kierkegaard about claiming your own self through how you address yourself, Mickey dropped his long-time nickname and used his given name Hubert.  I think it symbolized putting the past behind and becoming a new person.  Hubert felt acceptance and excitement within a very dynamic community.  He was finally having the time of his life.


The Ecumenical Institute staff self-funded most of its administrative costs.  This largely consisted of some staff members getting paying jobs with other organizations and contributing their salaries to the operating costs of the entire group.  This was one of the first plans for what Hubert could do.  For months he looked for work.  Lyn Mathews , the wife of the dean of the Institute, took an interest in Hubert and became his guardian and mentor.  Several times she had to go get him because he had landed in some kind of fix. If he told the potential employer that he was an ex-con, they wouldn’t hire him. If he didn’t tell them and later they found out through having to bond him, he was then fired. This happened in the case of a phone sales job in downtown Chicago. The building where he worked was several stories high and had large plate glass windows. His office was up several floors. The offices were arranged where two desks faced each other to motivate the sales staff. Each desk had a rolling desk chair for the employee.  Each had a different land line that could only be answered by actually physically answering the phone. One day the employee who worked across from him was away from the desk and his phone rang. Hubert leapt to his feet and flung himself across the two desks to get to the phone. Meanwhile, his desk chair rolled backwards, shattering the plate glass window and falling onto the street below (fortunately not hitting anyone). The company tried to bond him, found out he was an ex-con, and fired him.  Later, Hubert was assigned an in-house job at the Institute, taking care of the “mechanicals” at the west side facility.  I never felt that he was a mechanical person.  I’m certain he had many adventures there.


Around this time, the Ecumenical Institute(EI) established a sister organization,the Institute of Cultural Affairs(ICA), to be able to offer training around the world without having a Christian religious slant that could block interactions in Hindu, Moslem or Buddhist countries. Hubert was fortunate enough to be transferred to Africa to begin working in one of the experimental outreach programs of the ICA called a Human Development Program.  These programs were based on the community outreach program in Chicago in the African-American neighborhood, called Fifth City.  Basically, the idea was that life, in general and in particular, gives people and communities all the resources they need to live a fully human life and that engaging in the efforts to be fully human together causes a greater awareness of the goodness of life and of people. Hubert was ideally suited to this sort of demonstration because, once he knew what the decision of a group was, he committed.  It was similar to a Star Trek episode, where the captain would say, “Engage”.  Hubert was the ultimate engager, able to overcome any fears, and to work directly with people and have fun doing it.  He worked in Nigeria, Kenya and Zambia for the next ten years. I only know a few stories from his work there, but know there would be hundreds if not thousands of stories from staff members and community members that knew him.  Hubert was analytical.  Here are two stories from Nigeria reflecting his extreme sense of wonder and irony.  (I’ll try to tell these as Hubert would.)

1. Traffic in Nigeria was in its formative stages. Cars and highways were just coming into being.  People didn’t really know how to drive. The rules of the road were not reflected in general knowledge. This led to massive problems. Cars darted in and out. There were many accidents. Chaos reigned. Finally, the government of Nigeria posted men along the highway who would beat any person who committed a traffic infraction. Traffic flow improved right away.

2. I was working and living in Ijede, a Moslem village in Nigeria, training local women to be community health workers. I was extremely happy and proud of the work that I had done. A few nights after the training, a gang of men raided the village.  There was a lot of screaming by women. I ran out of my hut to see women being dragged away, some carried over the shoulders of men, crying out to me.  Some of the older men prevented me from interfering.  The next day I found out that all the young women I had trained to be community health workers had been taken. The chief of the village approached me.  “Finally we’re seeing some concrete results from this Human Development Project.  Because of your community health training, we got much higher bride prices for our women.”


These types of experiences might have led others of a weaker constitution to abandon their work, but in fact it just gave Hubert a greater perspective on good intentions and unforeseen consequences, greater perspective on the how the values of different cultures may be totally different from your own values. In fact, Hubert continued to work in the village and was eventually made an honorary chief before he left. He once showed me the beautiful robes and head dress of a chief that they had presented to him. They were of white muslin with a delicate dark brown batik pattern of lines across it.  His first village assignment and he became chief.  Not something that happened to everyone.


In this time period in Africa, sometimes I think he felt very alone.  He had done a lot of child care for staff members in the times when he wasn’t working at a job in Chicago.  He thought that he could be a good father and that despite his past he should have a wife and family.  He set out to get married.  Fortunately, he found a woman who accepted and loved him and who already had a child, Kay Schnizlein and her daughter Dara.  What a joy and lucky coincidence this was for him!  Later he adopted Dara and she became Dara Fulkerson.  Dara was a very loving and joyful child and very smart.  Hubert would encourage and help her in mathematics and science throughout her school years.  I think he felt like the luckiest man in the world.


He worked in many villages in Kenya and Zambia.  He went for a brief trip to India to help explain and expand the ability to work with more than one village at a time.  After ten years in working with indigenous people in Africa, he returned home to his one early ambition and love, mathematics.


The estate of Hubert’s father, Mick, had given Hubert a few thousand dollars.  On his and his family’s return to the United States to Oklahoma City, he again had to think of a way to be employed.  Being a computer programmer seemed a good choice at the time.  He attempted to enroll in Central Oklahoma State University, but was blocked by his felony conviction for some reason.  He needed people to vouch for him.  I think several people, including Tim Karpoff and Evelyn Philbrook, wrote letters of reference for him at that time.  After completing his degree in Computer Science, Hubert, Kay and Dara moved to Phoenix to work with the Phoenix branch of the Institute of Cultural Affairs. Hubert got a job with a major technology employer in Phoenix.  He was now in his fifties, competing in an industry with young people.  When the computer industry decided to outsource jobs to India, massive layoffs hit him first because of his age and lack of seniority.  He went through at least two companies; and then the entire local industry declined and his age began to be a real barrier.


One of the great stories from this time of work concerned a contract to design the landing program of one of the largest new planes ever produced by a major US airplane manufacturer.  He worked on the team that designed this program.  To the computer company’s credit, the program design team worked in a collaborative and communicative way.  When the due date for the program’s completion approached, the company had apparently fulfilled its contractual specifications and was ready to hand the program over to the aircraft company.  Hubert vociferously objected to this because tests of the program indicated that planes utilizing the program would land 200 feet underground!  He also had thought of ways to fix the program.  With his help, the deadline was extended and the team was able to correct the problems still associated with the program.  A few years later, this same program landed a plane safely in Paris with several hundred passengers on board with both pilots in the cockpit passed out because of a chemical leak in the cockpit.


One memory I have is of Hubert sitting at his tiny little desk in his apartment, with two large posters of Einstein on the wall, reading about and working through fractals.  He had a mathematical and analytic brain mixed with a big sense of humor.  One habit, which tended to drive people wild, was his reading through every part of the morning paper.  Where others might not see the humor, he would comment and show the absurdity of the news reporting.  He had lots that amazed and disturbed him in Arizona politics.  He was disbelieving, for example, that John McCain could continue to be elected after being part of the Keating Five who had concocted the Savings and Loan Disaster of the 1980’s, where many Arizonans had lost their life savings.  I think that the selling of the State House to private investors and then renting it back to the state alarmed him. I think his review of the news and trying to engage others in reading it was a way of saying, “Wake up! This stuff is not just funny—start reading it!”


With Hubert’s inability to find another computer job, he became a substitute math teacher in the Phoenix public schools.  Not directly associated with the Institute of Cultural Affairs by this time, which had changed its staffing model, Hubert and Kay had to rely on their own activities for income.  Unfortunately, this caused conflict as Hubert became less able to contribute to household income.  Eventually, Kay and Hubert divorced, although Kay remained his loyal friend and protector for the rest of his life.  Meanwhile, Dara was continuing her school career with flute playing, volleyball, school activities, and good grades.  To date, she has earned a degree in civil engineering, a masters of business administration, and her professional engineering certificate.


Dara’s graduation ceremonies, and even her wedding to Marcus Griffith, were attended by Hubert in a wheelchair after he suffered a serious stroke in 2006.  He lived in a nursing home for the rest of his life.  The stroke affected his right arm and leg, and his speech and memory.  Once I said to him, “You were a good mathematician and computer programmer.”  He looked over in wonder and with a little puzzlement and said, “Who, me?”   The little speech that he retained gradually declined until there was very little by the end.  He communicated by frowns, cries, smiles and tears. The man who loved to talk and comment on the news now mainly communicated through emotion.  Once, in a period before his speech really lessened, Tim and I found that, though he could speak very little, he could sing “Amazing Grace” through several verses.  We were always sorry that we could not afford to provide him with on-going funds for physical and speech therapy after the short period of time that was funded by Medicaid.   Meanwhile, Kay, even though divorced from Hubert, cared for him through visits, organizing transportation to holiday celebrations, medical and dental appointments and graduations, and recruiting friends to visit to offer massages and “light” for Hubert.   She never gave up on him.  Dara became his legal guardian, visited often, cheered him up and saw to his medical needs.  In the final few months of Hubert’s life, he was able to see his new grandchild Marcus Mikala Griffith.  So begins a new life as his ended.


So what does one say about such a life?  Did I mention that he contracted malaria while in Nigeria and suffered several malaria attacks throughout his life?  At almost every turn he was slammed against a wall (sometimes literally), and yet he laughed, shrugged his shoulders, loved and served the people around him, and went on.  I have this vision of everyone’s life being like living in a giant pen with a rampaging bull.  In some people’s life the bull is off merrily munching on grass in a faraway field and only occasionally brushes their shoulder, perhaps while they sleep.  Finally, at the very end, the bull comes over, gently knocks them on their butt and they die.  Everyone says what a nice bull that guy had.  But Hubert’s bull was a more attentive bull.  “You think you’re going to go to good college and become a great mathematician?  I’m going to knock you down.” Bam!!!  “You think you’re going to get out of prison unscathed.”  Bam! “You think you can keep a job…a wife…your speech…your sense of wonder and humor?”  And yet he did retain that wonder and humor.  I picture the bull, exhausted, in awe, finally bowing in homage and love to a worthy opponent.