Clinic Stories

Glenn Kean

No one has impacted my life as much as Glenn Kean. If you asked my parents, children, brothers, sisters or friends about him, they would scratch their heads. Some background is required.

By mid 1972 I had enough – enough of going nowhere. I spent the year after graduating from high school working on a polishing lathe in an electroplating shop, shoulder to shoulder with Leroy, a dour, illiterate black man. He was tall, athletic and strong which served him well since he sometimes drank before work and went to the bar at lunch. Dawson, another career metal polisher who lacked Leroy's physical gifts had part or all of five fingers harvested by the machine. Flying metal claimed several teeth and scarred his mouth causing him to mumble. There were risks involved with the job.

I couldn't afford to go to college and was saving toward that goal. I considered the military but Viet Nam was winding down and the armed forces were downsizing, not recruiting. In May and June 1972 I took several weeks off to hike, then hitchhiked to California. I met two college drop outs in Big Sur and we hitchhiked back to their place in Lake Tahoe. I slept in the nearby woods, was offered several jobs in town and considered staying. Instead I went back to the factory floor with renewed determination to start college.

I applied to only one school - Penn State – and was accepted to main campus with housing in the dorms starting in 1973. I didn't have enough money to finish but hoped that I could find work at school. As an incoming student I had to take placement exams, scheduled for noon. Naïve would be a generous appraisal of my preparedness, with clueless a better approximation. I had never been to the campus, and left at 7 AM from Philadelphia, a four hour trip, not including a side trip to Juniata College to drop off a high school classmate. Miraculously I found the exam building and entered with five minutes to spare.

After several hours of testing, I walked back to my car to find my dorm room. Unpacking took one trip. My entire possessions were contained in a back pack. Both arms were free except for a basketball carried under my left arm. The only other time I had been in a college dorm was while hitchhiking, I showered in the dorm bathrooms in Salt Lake City compliments of the University of Utah. They never knew.

I met with my adviser, a pallid, thin middle aged man with short curly hair. “Are you pre-Med?” he asked. “No, why do you ask?” “Most chemistry majors are interested in going to medical school.” We discussed chemistry and I learned that it is a fascinating subject that did not suit me as a career choice.

I went through the course catalog and met with advisers in several departments. Glenn Kean was one of them. Professor Kean was in his late 50's, short, overweight, upbeat and loved to talk. He reminded me a lot of my grandfather, who was a cattle dealer. He was a professor of Animal Science and we discussed careers in the animal and livestock industries, including veterinary medicine. I described my situation and told him that I wanted to study something that would be active, challenging and hold my interest for a lifetime. He mentioned that the university kept livestock and hired students to work at the barns.

After a week or two of consideration, I called Professor Kean and told him I was changing my major to Animal Science and would be interested in a job at the barns. The next term, I was a “barn boy” at the Beef and Sheep Center, working 20 hours a week with free housing at the Center. I lived with six other students and the initial reception was chilly. Only six students were supposed to live there, but Professor Kean told them to make room for one more despite their loud protests.

For me, this was an incredible break. Based on a single interaction, I had a coveted job with free room where I gained invaluable experience. This was a created job. There were no open positions and Professor Kean had to divert money to put me there.

For the next three years I worked at the barns, first at the Beef and Sheep Center, then the Meats Lab (the university slaughter house, where the first day starts with slitting throats), and finally at the Swine Center. For those years I started work each day at 6 AM and worked after class, on weekends and, when babies were due, in the middle of the night. We mixed feed, cleaned stalls, fed livestock, took care of newborns, unloaded hay, performed minor surgeries and I don't remember a day I didn't enjoy with the exception of the first day at the Meats Lab.

College life was not easy. I lived hand to mouth, driving a 1964 Plymouth Belvidere with a push button automatic transmission that I salvaged from the junk yard and got running for $60. When it broke down I rode a bike, sometimes in the snow. Once when I had no gas and needed to get across town, I stopped for 10 cents of gas, then found a penny on the ground and made it 11 cents.

Throughout school I saw Professor Kean frequently, at the barns, in class, when I picked up my mail near his office and on the Meats Judging Team – Professor Kean was the coach, contests consisted of evaluating carcasses for quality and giving written reasons. ( I was also on the university Livestock Judging Team and the Horse Judging Team.) He was always encouraging, positive and helpful.

Many times Professor Kean opened doors for me that I did not know about until after the fact. This was most palpable when he wrote recommendations. Several times in interviews for summer jobs and for veterinary school, people would comment on the impact his recommendation made. He became a father figure, an adviser and a motivating force. He believed in me far more than I believed in myself. Never did I have the impression that he expected anything, not even thanks.

I'll never know why he had such faith in me. My financial situation was worse than most but not the worst (see “Road Kill”). I was a well above average student, but there were better. Everyone at the barns worked hard. What I do know is that without him I probably would not have had the credentials to become a veterinarian, may not have completed college and my life would be unrecognizably different.

Professor Kean retired a few years after I graduated and died several years after that. I have no idea how many lives he touched and he probably never knew either. He likely never realized how important he was to me.

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