Growing up in Owensboro, Kentucky, Libby was notably talented in art, and she dreamed of a career using her skills. Following high school, Libby attended Murray State University, a small college in Murray, Kentucky, where she majored in Art. However, money ran out after 2 years, and she returned to Owensboro.
Joyce Snyder, a childhood friend, had also quit college after 2 years. She had been attending Northwestern University, but didn't want to abandon her boyfriend, a French citizen named Jean-Louis Bouyer. She conspired with Libby to move to Chicago, where they'd get jobs and she could be near him. Libby was naively hoping for work as a Fashion Designer, but didn't realize how tough that would be: Chicago was the "big leagues".
Libby got a receptionist job (at the accounting firm of Arthur Anderson), while she took art classes at the reknowned Art Institute of Chicago. She lived with Joyce for only a short time, as Joyce moved into an apartment with her boyfriend. Libby was on her own, without other friends and with few resources. It was daunting for a young woman from Kentucky.
Her work at Arthur Anderson had an interesting challenge: her southern accent. The time was the early 1960s, and Chicago was racially devided and sensitive, so Libby's accent on the phone had negative aspects. She had to work hard to develop a neutral-sounding voice. Libby also found that, not being a Chicago native, she was fielding co-worker questions such as, "What ARE you?" These came because Chicago's many ethnic cultures often considered this key to friendships (she was being asked if she were Polish, Italian, German, etc.) Libby only considered herself only as American and had difficulty understanding the importance of these requests. It was very different than Owensboro, Kentucky relationships...
She also worked for a short time at local office of MilPrint Packaging, a Wisconsin-based firm that supplied boxes and pachaging materials.
After a few months, Libby got a better job at a small magazine publishing firm, Clissold Publishing, as the VP's secretary (a fact that impressed Mike when they met). This was the "career" Libby had when she met Mike, married him and raised a family. It wasn't until 1980 and had moved to Phoenix that she started to once again exploit her artistic talents.
In 1978 Libby and Mike joined a large new tennis club (Top Seed Tennis Club) in north Phoenix, where they met many couples their age. Libby became good friends with Joan Green, a local dentist's wife. They played "Inter-club tennis" as a team, and one day Joan proposed her thought that she wanted to take an "Interior Design" class at a local community college. Joan wanted Libby to join her in this endeavor, although she only wanted to learn things that could help her do work on her own house. Libby was intrigued by the idea, but didn't have specific plans to use the knowledge. However, she found the class very interesting, and she decided to follow up with more advanced classes.
This educational experience had a striking influence on Libby, and she continued it to gain an AA Degreethere. She decided to use the knowledge to take internships at some local businesses. One was working for an interior designer, by making artificial flower arrangements; another was with a well-known design firm, where she used its vast antique dining materials to set fancy tables in their shop. It was there, at J.H. Armer Company, where Libby met many high-end customers, along with the owner's partner, Bill Coleman, who has since become a neighbor and good friend.
Mike's Career plan was to become a high school English teacher while also coaching high school tennis, a vague goal based on his own experience at Libertyville-Fremont High School. Unlike New Trier, from where he transferred in his sophomore year, LFHS had little post-school guidance counseling, so his plan came as a "default" action, since his family expected him to go to college. 93% of New Trier's graduates went to college; at LFHS it was less than half.
This plan continued college: he qualified for a small Tennis scholarship to attend Coe College, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Coe was an odd choice, having no connection to Mike nor his family, but was a school that, with the small scholarship, his family could afford (his sister, Maureen, was soon be adding to the burden. He felt he could achieve his goal of becoming a high school teacher there. Nothing turned out as planned, though...
Although Mike had 2 part time jobs in Cedar Rapids (technical work for Coe's theater and a job at a nearby Gulf Oil gas station), money was increasingly tight. Biggest expense was belonging to a fraternity (Lambda Chi Alpha), which had dues and other obligations he hadn't budgeted for. In the Spring of 1959, the fraternity had its annual "formal", requiring a tux rental, flowers, etc. Not participating wasn't an option, because the frat would have imposed a $300 fine...which was even more than attending. Mike's relation to a local girl in a sorority was another financial burden.
These were overwhelming problems, and a situation with one of his classes (a teacher who was biased against men/athletes) forced Mike to reconsider the whole "college thing". He felt the best action was to leave Coe, return home, and earn enough money to continue without the financial stress. With just 5 weeks to go in his sophomore year, Mike quit Coe, the fraternity, and said a (temporary) goodbye to his girlfriend, Jan White. He went to an employment agency and quickly got a job working in the stockroom of a large company (Field Enterprises Educational Corporation (FEEC)) in Chicago's famed Merchandise Mart. His experience working for his parents' mail order business was helpful in getting this job.
Among his job duties was to deliver incoming mail packages to various departments around the company (which consumed the entire 5th and part of the 19th floors in the Mart). During these deliveries, Mike got to know many managers in other departments at FEEC. He frequently brought various boxes of "computer supplies" to a department called "Systems", where a number of men wearing suits and ties worked. After about 3 months, "Fate" stepped in, when the manager of Systems (Hal Rourke) asked if Mike would consider a transfer in that department, to take a clerical job there. The Stockroom wasn't a particularly great place anyway, so Mike accepted the offer without knowing much at all about this department. He would have to get some better clothes, though...
At the time, Mike was earning just $60 per week, and this transfer brought with it a raise to $65...a large increase for him The men in the department, who were called "Computer Programmers", were nice to Mike, although he didn't interact with any of them for some time. His work was to file things and accompany some of them into the "Computer Room" at FEEC when they ran tests on their work, some of which occurred at night. His duties in the Computer Room was handling punched cards, printouts, magnetic tapes - all things foreign to him (and most people, for that matter).
This sort of work went on for several months, when FEEC's work load started to exceed the capacity of the IBM705 computers they had, and the company had to rent computer time from other local companies who had excess computer time. Utilizing such resources meant some of the Systems guys had to take cards and tapes to these other companies to do the work: Mike always went along to do much of the work. More and more, the company became comfortable with Mike's work and knowledge, and one day his boss (Hal Rourke) offered him a chance to take a test to measure computer programming aptitude. He passed the test, and he was handed a reference manual to learn what he could about the programming task.
Suddenly, less than a year after leaving college, Mike had in a career, one which was in its infancy, in the very new world of computers and data processing. Purely by chance, Mike had gotten onto the ground floor of a new and exciting industry, having literally been at the right place at the right time! The work had long hours, but he found it fascinating, while offering the chance to learn new and challenging things every day. His co-wprkers were just like himself, learning aspects of a wild new vocation, all the while creating important tools for a rapidly growing company. They worked independently on assigned projects, but without the formal organizational structures common today; they just worked and worked, with remarkable success.
One project that Mike was assigned was called "Checkwriting"; it was Mike personal project and involved new concepts for Field Enterprises (not to mention Mike himself). The project's purpose was to prepare pay checks for the thousdands of salespersons who sold Worldbook Encyclopedias. These people were independent contractors, most of whom were teachers and librarians - people who had contacts with school-age students whose parents could be approached to purchase the encyclopedias. Some of these salespeople, while working part time, were remarkably successful, and the checks to be written were often very high. Mike's system had to calculate commissions, as well as deduct appropriate state and federal taxes. Although computer "payroll systems" are commonplace today, this was an innovative computer application (almost everything was in those days) and had very high visablity in upper management. Over a few years, it was only one of many computer applications created as the company used its computers more and more...
It wasn't too long before the work Mike and his fellow programmers produced overwhelmed the 2 computers the company had, and plans for expanding their computer capacity were discussed. Because Mike had more experience than most in different computers (he had also written small applications for their IBM 1401 "satellite" computers), Mike was asked to be part of a new team of technical and financial people at FEEC to seek solutions for the problem. To this day, he doesn't know why he was chosen, but he wound up heading the technical aspect of the study, leading to a lot of travel throughout the country, to talk to users and vendors of new computers. Among investigation trips throughout the country, Mike made many visits to Phoenix, Arizona, to evaluate GE and Honeywell computers that were manufactured there. It would have a profound impact on Mike and Libby's lives...