by Tom Brown ’67
In the early 1960s, Tom Brown chose to attend Kalamazoo College. The K-Plan had little to do with his choice and everything to do with what happened afterwards. The K-Plan is one of the College’s most innovative iterations of doing more in four years. Brown describes the more-in-a-lifetime that ensues. Brown, by the way, is connected to another innovative iteration of more in four—Allan Hoben’s “Fellowship in Learning.” Hoben, the College’s president from 1922 to 1935, is Brown’s grandfather.
I attended a small high school and liked the size so I decided to restrict my college choices to two small mid-western schools: Kalamazoo College and Lawrence University in my home state of Wisconsin. Both schools were well accredited, and I had a good familiarity with both institutions through family and a close friend. Because I was timid about leaving home and felt that I should "make a clean break," I made my choice based on distance from home and not on the much heralded K-Plan. I am most grateful that I selected K because that choice made a huge positive influence on me and my family.
I recall well the drive to Kalamazoo in September 1963 with my parents and my gear. I was nervous and apprehensive and could easily have been persuaded to rethink my future. My roommate, John Goff, and I arrived within a couple hours of each other, and we bonded immediately. John and I stayed together all four years except for foreign study. We both majored in economics and are still good friends.
Although I enrolled thinking that I was on a track to become an engineer, I stubbed my toe as a freshman on linear algebra and, simultaneously, found a liking for economics. I also decided that banking might be a good professional match, and John convinced me to seek a job in New York City for my career service quarter. I was fortunate to obtain a bank teller job with Marine Midland Trust Company. In late March 1964, John and I met at the Greyhound bus station in Chicago and headed east for our first true independent venture. With minor guidance from the College, teamwork, and some good luck we found a one-bedroom apartment (which accommodated four of us K students) on West 45th Street near Times Square. It was our home for eleven weeks, and at $11.81 per person per week, it served us well. I rode the subway from Times Square to lower Manhattan and was initially assigned to the Coal & Iron office, which was Marine Midland's oldest branch. This office was later razed to make way for the World Trade Center. Therefore, my financial career, which spanned five decades, began in the heart of New York’s financial district. Those 11 weeks, which included sightseeing throughout Manhattan, three Broadway plays, the World's Fair and four trips to Washington, D.C., provided unforgettable experiences that confirmed my goal of becoming a banker.
For the K-Plan’s foreign study I chose to go to Erlangen, Germany. Frau Leonhardt was our program director. She and Herr Behrens took our 24-member group under wing and provided us with excellent teaching in language and history and placed us with wonderful families. The first week with my family (the Buchners) I learned to waltz, and I attended a festive ball in Nuremberg with Mutti, Papa and Uschi, my German sister. This close relationship has continued. Thirty-seven years later, in 2002, my wife and I visited the Buchner family, and in 2010, I spoke with Mutti every other week before she died peacefully at home. Papa was a chemical engineer and manager of a small Siemens manufacturing subsidiary. During World War II he had been conscripted into the German army. This experience and his passion for history led to some interesting and sensitive conversations, especially regarding the family’s knowledge, or lack thereof, of the concentration camps. I learned much about human nature from the Buchners and love them all dearly. This international exposure has impacted our family deeply: our older daughter attended K and enjoyed a strong host family relationship in Strasbourg, France, and our younger daughter spent three years with the Peace Corps in Africa. My wife and I often have traveled internationally, including two weeks in Namibia and three weeks in China.
The final major step in my K-Plan was my Senior Individualized Project. I met members of the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank who were working on a new efficiency study called "Bank Functional Cost Analysis." I built my thesis around this study and as a result of that work formed good relationships at the Fed. My interest in commercial banking increased.
"Choosing K made a huge positive impact on me and my family."
I enjoyed exploring in depth my major of economics. I liked the logic of this "dismal science" and the insight it has provided me to better understand how capitalism should work and how economic principles can be applied to real world situations. I started my banking career in 1972 when I joined the management training program at First Wisconsin National Bank, now U.S. Bank. My last job before retirement was helping financial representatives of Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company develop and expand relationships. Throughout my career I drew on basic economic concepts every day. I am particularly indebted to Professor Philip Thomas, who was chair of the economics department during my years as a K student.
K was all about strong relationships with professors, fellow students, and host families, and those relationships have been key factors in my happiness. And there was another very special event, enabled by the College, which ranks highest in terms of lifelong happiness. Not long after my return from Germany in the spring of 1966, a group of freshmen students had obtained time on the new IBM mainframe computer recently purchased by the College. They wrote a simple program to match couples for a blind-date dance at Nazareth College. I completed a questionnaire and was provided a computer punch card with the number 162. That number corresponded to Joanne Hrabonz, with whom I fell in love very quickly. We were engaged a year later and married on June 28, 1968. Kalamazoo College was, indeed, the matchmaker. Forty-three years later we have three children, one of whom is a K graduate, and four grandchildren. My education at K provided the building blocks for a wonderful professional, intellectual, and family life. Thank you, Kalamazoo College!
Photo 1 – Tom Brown ’67 (right) and his wife Joanne (left) flank Tom’s foreign study host family parents - Doris Buchner (Mutti) and Erich Buchner (Papa) - during a 2002 reunion visit.
Photo 2 – The Brown-K connection stretches three generations, with the possibility of a fourth. Pictured are (l-r): Tom Brown, Class of 1967; his grandson Emerson Condon, potentially the Class of 2033; and Michelle (Brown) Condon, Class of 1997. Not pictured is Tom’s mother, Elizabeth (Hoben) Brown, Class of 1933.