Daume Brothers Honor Their Father's Legacy


Daume Brothers

Harold “Whitey” Daume, ME ’36, hardly thought he’d be leaving a legacy when he first brought his young sons, Hal and Don, to Stevens in the 1940s and 50s. He taught the brothers to swim at the Walker Gym pool, to play squash on the Jacobus Hall courts, and tennis on Castle Point’s clay courts. Their early Stevens memories were vastly different from when, in the 60s, they enrolled as freshmen. As boys, they first knew Stevens as, well, a playground.

With Stevens just a few miles away from their family home in West New York, this quickly became their weekend escape. Many Saturdays were spent wandering the campus with their father, finding things to do, and often with a racket in hand.

Whitey—his nickname the result of his almost translucent white-blond hair—was an accomplished athlete his entire life. At Stevens, he was a star in both basketball and lacrosse, for which he achieved multiple Varsity letters. But athletics was only part of his campus life. Amidst the rigors of a demanding academic curriculum (Stevens required 154 class credits to graduate; at other contemporary universities a mere 128 sufficed) plus active participation in the Stevens Honor Board; Khoda, the Stevens Senior Honor Society, for which classmen are selected for their “leadership, humility, and a responsibility to the betterment of Stevens as a whole as well as to the student community”; Beta Theta Pi fraternity and the Mystical 7 Society; and Gear & Triangle, a Stevens society based on scholastic excellence. Harold kept his memories and experiences, and ultimately imparted them to his sons.

“Dad didn’t preach to us or even brag about what a great student or athlete he was. He just did it, flawlessly,” says Hal, who remembers his father as “always a straight shooter, with a wry sense of humor, and only once in my entire life did I ever hear him use a swear word.” “By bringing us to Stevens from a very young age, Dad instilled in us what Stevens was, what it represented, and what Stevens meant to him,” said younger brother Don.

“Stevens became our second home. We were totally familiar with the campus as kids because the three of us—Dad, Don, and I—had spent so many Saturdays there,” said Hal. “It was part of our lives and still is,” he continued. “I transferred after my freshman year, but I’m still considered, and I consider myself, a part of the class of ’63. The last class to even know what Castle Stevens was!”

Castle Stevens still looms large in Hal and Don’s memories. Built in 1853-54 atop the highest promontory in Hoboken, it was an engineering marvel of its time. Its original site is now occupied by the 14-story Howe Center, constructed shortly following the Castle’s demolition in 1959, when it had become “impractical to maintain” (or so it was said at the time). But when it stood proudly overlooking the Hudson River harbor and Manhattan skyline, what young boy wouldn’t want to explore an all-wood castle, with its floating cantilevered four-story interior staircase, oak- and mahogany-paneled rooms, curved glass corner windows, 19th Century statuary and furnishings, that pure white polar bear rug on the entryway rotunda floor, and tales of a special “escape tunnel” leading down through one hundred feet of bedrock to a little-known dock at the Hudson River!

How legacy endures is a question that’s been asked since the dawn of time. How do we impart knowledge or pass along significance to the next generations? How do we give our memories shape to reflect values or experience? Hal and Don Daume are a part of the answer. They absorbed, often wordlessly, the values embodied by the Stevens experience.

Harold at Stevens was athletically lean and gymnast-agile, with a gift of uncanny hand-eye coordination. At the modest height of 5’7” he was regularly the Varsity teams’ high-scorer in both basketball and lacrosse. “He never practiced,” said Don. “He simply did it. Whether it was a set-shot or pick-and-go on the basketball court, or slinging a lacrosse goal from mid-field, Dad almost never missed his target.” “Which drove us crazy,” Hal added. “We never did figure out why he could sink a basketball from literally anywhere on the court and we couldn’t do that if our lives depended on it!”

Harold had another gift, and that was in knowing how to impart knowledge to boys and young men, beginning with his sons. He didn’t expound on theory or drill on facts, but he did create mnemonics for remembering processes and calculations, which he put to great use for his students in his second career as a mathematics and science high school teacher.

Their dad also had a gentle-but-direct way of instilling the idea that, whatever you do, do it the very best you’re able. Hal recalls playing a neighborhood kids game when he was about 6 years old that involved role playing as Roman soldiers—Centurions. Hal had first fashioned a sword from orange crate slats and some string, which he showed his father with some pride. Harold simply asked his son if that was the best he could do. “That question prompted me, and with a vengeance,” said Hal. “I found better, straighter wood and then some aluminum paint. I figured out how to attach a hilt with screws instead of string, how to use strips of old leather to fashion a grip, and how to file the blade down to a point. When I was done, I had what was, for me, a kid’s work of art. When I showed this one to Dad, this time he said, ‘Looks like a sword this time.’ So that's sort of the way it was: gentle but direct...direct without us kids getting emotionally whacked upside the head.”

Harold wasn’t the only athlete in the family. His wife, Eda Biber Daume, played Varsity basketball at Union Hill High School (now Union City HS) around the time he was playing for Memorial High School in West New York. They were both stars. After their marriage in 1937, they continued to excel, now in tournament-level tennis and indoor badminton. According to Don, “There was a difference in their playing styles that complemented their mixed-doubles team playing. Mom charged to the net and ‘killed’ every ball or shuttle that crossed it. Dad played ‘power back’ with stunning anticipation and what seemed like radar-guided shot placement.”

Harold and Eda also played Men’s Doubles and Ladies’ Doubles with other partners in ABA (American Badminton Association) sanctioned tournaments up and down the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions. “Dad, with his long-time men’s doubles partner, Charlie Scheck, were for several years ranked seventh in the U.S. at the Masters Level,” Don noted.

“As an engineer, Dad was a super-insightful detective,” recalls Hal. While a young engineer at Johnson & Johnson, Harold was told to go troubleshoot a problem on their baby oil filling line. The glass bottles were shattering by the hundreds, uncontrollably, and no one knew why, since the filling line machinery was brand-new and state-of-the-art. The machinery dropped the tiny two-ounce bottles into a winding raceway back-to-belly and sent them scuttling on to the 50 foot-long filling line, where even smaller stainless steel nozzles were supposed to descend into the 8-inch diameter holes in bottles’ tops, and that’s when the explosions started. Not just one or two, entire lines of bottles exploded like strings of glass firecrackers.

“Dad watched the process—and the shattering—for a while as the line staff and engineers stood by, probably wondering, ‘so what’s the new guy gonna do?’ After a few minutes, Dad told the crew to loosen the nuts that held the tiny bottle-filling nozzles rigid. ‘They’re supposed to be tight! That’s how this machine was designed!” the crew yelled. ‘Humor me,’ Dad said. ‘Loosen them all.’ Now the filling nozzles could jiggle their way into the bottles instead of snapping down as if from a hundred nail-guns. This wasn’t how the machinery had been designed to function, but it worked. Bottle breakage was, and stayed, zero.”

According to Hal, that’s just a single example of how his father used his detective skills to solve problems. In another instance, while a project engineer at Air Associates, an aircraft components provider to the military, he developed a seatbelt with a buckle that had only three parts. Harold had designed it so that it its purchase would increase with increasing tension, but it wouldn’t break, or break the web belt.

“Also, at Airborne Accessories Corp., Dad redesigned the hook at the end of winch cables used by military helicopters for hauling space capsules back on board aircraft carriers. He was assigned this problem when the hook assembly in use at the time malfunctioned, causing the release of the capsule into the Pacific, and it was never recovered. Dad’s new design never failed,” said Hal.

The Boeing B-47 Stratojet was the mainstay bomber of the U.S. Air Force-Strategic Air Command until 1965. In the earlier 1960s a rash of B-47 crash-on-landing incidents occurred, typically attributed to “pilot error,” and killing the entire crew. All crashes occurred similarly: After these giant aircraft turned from downwind to base leg and then base leg to final approach, the flight deck officers would lower the flaps and engage the elevators for descent…and not level off. The aircraft continued to descend, nose-first, until the nose made contact with the tarmac, killing all flight crew members. “Dad, once again, was assigned to solve this engineering mystery, if indeed the cause wasn’t pilot error,” Hal said. “I recall this very well, because Dad worked on this one for months, using all his keen ‘engineer-as-detective’ skills. And he did find what no one else had found: a faulty linear actuator in the elevator control assembly: the actuator rod was cast instead of milled, so that it sheared under stress, split into two, and the sheared piece of rod, jammed in place, would not permit the elevator to move. It was stuck in a position that made the crashes and their consequences inevitable…and final.”

“One thing we didn’t know till years later, when we were going through some of Dad’s old documents, was that he had both U.S. Department of Defense “Top Secret” clearance and U.S. Department of Energy “Q” clearance while he worked at Vitro, a subsidiary of Kellex Corporation, because Kellex was a major producer of weapons-grade U235 and Dad actually worked on assignments for the Manhattan Project,” said Don, adding, “Who knew!?”

Harold changed careers mid-life and went into teaching at the high school level, at the Englewood School for Boys (now Dwight Englewood School), where he specialized in math and science. Reminiscing, Don noted, “I’ve run into several of his former students. They still use Dad’s mnemonic techniques for teaching their own children. That's a legacy.” “That's how you become immortal,” added Hal. “And I think this is part of it, just the idea that a student here will come to know something about our dad and what he did, and what he stood for.”

“Dad was a darned good father, and Hal and I still miss him, even after nearly three decades,” said Don. “He was involved in our lives, not only with sports but when we joined the Scouts, too,” Hal added. Harold volunteered as a Scoutmaster, and also carried out a host of other volunteer responsibilities for the Scouting program in Hudson County. “He saw us both through to becoming Eagles Scouts, of which we're both very proud,” said Don. In 1960, the Alexander Hamilton Council-BSA, which served Hudson County at that time, recognized Harold with the Silver Beaver Award—the highest council-level recognition for service to youth. “It’s over fifty years now, but I still have Dad’s medal and certificate in a permanent frame, to be passed along to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” Hal said.

Although Hal moved on from Stevens, Don completed his ME degree in ’67 and his master’s in ’68, and has been involved with the Stevens Alumni Association and the Stevens Metropolitan Club for many years. Because Stevens has been an intrinsic part of their lives, it’s not really surprising that there’s now a Harold C. Daume Scholarship. Don’s hope for future students is that they’ll leave with the feeling towards Stevens that he knows his father had. 


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