“General O,” Tom O’Loughlin

I was going to do a bunch of research about Central High School chemistry teacher Tom O’Loughlin, better known to his students as “General O,” but I figured you folks could contribute better stories than I could dredge up.

Mercury and explosions

Back in the good old days, there was a ready supply of mercury in the chemistry room that you could play with. It was neat how it would form into tight little globules that you could chase around. A penny dipped in it immediately turned shiny silver like a new dime. If we were warned not to play with it, it was more so it wouldn’t be wasted than it was considered hazardous.

Today, mercury is banned from classrooms. Not too long ago, someone spilled a small quantity that had been overlooked; the school was evacuated and the guys in moon suits showed up to decontaminate the place.

Nothing ever exploded or caught in fire when I was in his class, but others were luckier.

General O supported his students

When Jim Stone decided to build a laser for the science fair, way back before you could buy them in every Staples store, Gen. O found money to help subsidize the construction. I’ve been bugging Jim for months to send me information about that project, but he keeps begging off. Maybe this will get him going.

Here they are picking up some contraption or another in St. Louis. All I remember is freezing on a hay bale in the back of Gen. O’s pickup to keep the thing from jostling around while Jim was up front where it was warm. I guess that’s a good indicator of who was the rocket scientist.

I didn’t know until Ernie Chiles told me that Gen. O had been a bomber pilot in World War II (maybe that’s why he was able to maintain his calm in the midst of classroom explosions and hijinks)  and a farmer who recruited students for hard labor.

He and Alene Sadler were the kind of teachers that students remember the rest of their lives.

OK, folks, let the stories roll.

17 Replies to ““General O,” Tom O’Loughlin”

  1. He was not always cool. As I recall he went through several meter sticks each semester making a point to a not alwasy interested class. When he retired at mid-year in 1966 to make ice cream, the students presented him with a case containing a couple of them.

    Given the respect that most of us who had him for chemistry felt, I felt this appropriate.

    Thomas K. O’Loughlin Sr. of Jackson died peacefully at his home surrounded by his family in the early morning hours of Jan. 7, 2006. His life was framed by his love and affection for Aggie, his wife of 65 years, his children, grandchildren and aviation.

    Tom was born Aug. 21, 1915, at University City, the fourth of six children and only son of Michael and Mary Walsh O’Loughlin. He was reared in a close-knit, Irish Catholic family in Kirkwood, Mo. He graduated from Our Lady of Lourdes Grade and Kirkwood High School, where he, like his dad before him, played end on the football team. Tom worked for a year for the highway department. With the money he saved, help from an aunt and money he earned from sweeping Academic Hall, he was the first member of his family to graduate from college. While there he met Agnes Schmuke, whom he affectionately called “Aggie.” They were married at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Jackson on Nov 9, 1940.

    Tom was an educator, served his country, a businessman and farmer. He taught and coached football at Valle High in Ste. Genevieve in 1940 and 1941. His football team was 1-7 the first year and 7-1 the next.

    In 1941, Tom enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He had a keen interest in aviation. His piloting skills were quickly recognized and at the age of 27, he was piloting and instructing cadets to fly B-17s and B-29s, the Flying Fortress. Tom and his flight crew received orders to travel to California to pick up their B-29 for the invasion of Japan when the two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending the war. Shortly after he was discharged and returned to Jackson. He owned and operated Southeast Dairy, which processed and sold dairy products, for 37 years.

    Tom taught math and science at Jackson, Cape Girardeau and Oak Ridge Public Schools. He furthered his education at Washington University, Bradley University and the School of Mines at Rolla. When he reached mandatory retirement age in the public system, he taught science at St. Mary’s in Cape Girardeau and to several students being homeschooled by their parents. Tom and his family moved from Jackson to their farm north of Fruitland in 1954 where he farmed and raised Hereford cattle.

    He helped organize and was the original commanding officer of Company E, Jackson’s first National Guard unit. Every year under his command, Company E won the Eisenhower trophy, which is given to the best company at the annual encampments. He retired from this part of his life after 20 years of serving his country in the Air Corps and National Guard.

    Tom had been a member of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church since 1946, formerly serving on both the school board and Parish Council. Also active in the community, Tom was a member of the Jackson Rotary Club more than 50 years and had served as president. He served on the Jackson R-2 School Board, was a member and past commander of Altenthal-Joerns American Legion Post 158 in Jackson, and was a member of the Painton Experimental Aircraft Association.

    Tom and Aggie raised seven children: Tom, Mike, Tim, Pat, Martha, Mary and Dan. Tom leaves Aggie, all seven children, four daughters-in-law who loved him like a father; Teresa, Tom’s wife; Donna, Mike’s wife; Mary, Tim’s wife; and Judy, Dan’s wife; eight grandchildren, all eight of whom greatly felt his presence and who will always remember him dearly; a sister, Emily Quinn; nieces, nephews; and Aggie’s sisters, Mary and Joann. Six of his grandchildren will carry him to his final resting place: Erica Koetting, Erin Brown, Matthew O’Loughlin, Katie O’Loughlin, J.T. O’Loughlin and Michael O’Loughlin.

    Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 9, at McCombs Funeral Home in Jackson with parish prayers at 6:30 p.m. and American Legion service at 7 p.m.

    A Requiem Mass at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 10. Burial will be in Russell Heights Cemetery with full military honors.

    Friends and family are invited to the church after interment for a gathering in his honor. Tom is gone.

    Printed in the Sunday, January 8, 2006 edition of the Southeast Missourian, Cape Girardeau, MO.

  2. I was in “Baker”, first seat second row in Chemistry class. Each day in Chemistry class it was my job to report all students present and accounted for or note the absentees in my row. Others in the front of rows able, charlie, dog and easy did the same.
    My Dad who was a chemist by trade, also a Captain in the National Guard at the time, and Mr OLoughlin worked together on the Science Fairs together. There was tremendous mutual respect between the two. None of this was helpful to me as I wasn’t a great chemistry student. However, I do remember that I learned the three ways to deploy tanks during an attack in combat! I don’t think I have used that knowledge yet but one never knows when it might become handy!

  3. Teaching Graphic Arts for 25 years, I always demonstrated to my students how a Penney used as an anode would collect silver when placed in the fixer tray, which cleared the unexposed silver from the sheet film. The result was a silver Penney, and worked every time.

    1. Darn, I spent half my life in a photographic darkroom (some folks would testify that I spent half my LIFE in the dark, but …), and never knew that trick.

      How long did it take to coat the penny?

  4. I was “Charlie” in my chemistry class. Things that explode scare me, and he was good at teasing me about that. The day of the reaction series test sent me to the back of the room. There he stood in full lab coat, wearing goggles, holding tongs, and approaching the tallest glass column in the lab. When he dropped the tiny piece of sodium (I think) into the 1 inch of water (I think) a fine explosion took place. I still don’t like things that go whoosh, pop, bang.

  5. I barely made an ‘M’ (I am told it was the equivalent of a C.) in Chemistry. However, I was never bored in General O’s class.

    I am not sure if Sally and I were in the same class, but I do remember General O setting the ceiling tile on fire when he dropped something (Like I said, chemistry was NOT my strength.)into water.

    Whatever it was, it exploded out of the cylinder and got stuck in the ceiling tile. With utter calmness, he looked at it and batted it away with his meter stick.

    He could be really hard on meter sticks, too. I remember him shattering a meter stick across a stool that sat in the front of the room while trying to get someone’s attention. I know it wasn’t me. I was so in awe of the man that I barely blinked during the entire year… didn’t breathe much either. ha!

  6. I guess Mr. O’Loughlin was promoted after ’63; we knew him as “Mr. O”, not General O, but the rank is well deserved. Quite a guy plus, who knew chemistry could be so entertaining! I cannot recall the exact subject matter or question he asked one day but I do remember the repartee. However, as I have not seen my classmate in a very long time, it would not be gentlemanly of me to provide her name. Whatever it was that we were discussing, I have not thought about in MANY decades, perhaps it was units of measurement, or mass, but the answer: “The number of ‘molls’ … brought a quick retort from Mr. O, laughing as I am sure many/most of you remember … “No, no (name), it is pronounced ‘mol’; a ‘moll’ is a Gangster’s Doll. And then Mr. O expounded on that for a while.

    We discovered it did not take much to get Mr. O to talk about flying or the war. And, do you recall how he sometimes started chuckling/laughing before he finished his “story”? He was “explaining” how they chose the nose gunner for the bombers. He said … the pilots weren’t always that good and we had to fly through fog, bad weather, etc., so they needed the guy with the longest arms to be able to feel the mountains and hills. I imagine many of you heard that story, as well.

    Thanks, Ken, for the good memories of Mr. (General) O.

  7. Tom O’Loughlin II sent an email, “Dad would be very pleased with the commentary of his years at Central. I enclose the General’s Eulogy (actually we thought he was only a captain) which you may find interesting.” With his permission, I pass on the eulogy. If you can read the last paragraph without misting up, your heart is way colder than mine.

    If Dad were here today to describe these proceedings in his honor and memory, he would tell us this:

    Off we go into the wild blue yonder;
    Climbing high into the sun.

    Dad was pure-bred Irish. He was born in 1915, twelve years after Orville and Wilbur’s successful flight at Kitty Hawk, the fourth child of six children and only son of a close-knit family. Michael O’Loughlin and Mary Walsh O’Loughlin were his parents. He was Irish through and through. It showed. That Irish heritage and Mom were the constant beacons of Dad’s life.

    Dad attended Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Grade School in University City. He graduated from Kirkwood High School. He was an end on the single-wing football team. He loved to play defense. He used to say it took three men to take him out. He would shuck-off the opposition until he found the one with the ball and smack him. As a teenager, he took a dollar airplane ride over Forrest Park – against his mother’s wishes. That ride would set his heading for the rest of his life.

    After graduation from Kirkwood High, Dad worked a year for the County Highway Department. He saved $100. When he told his mother he was going to Cape Girardeau to go to college, she suggested he would be back in a few weeks. Irish stubbornness prevailed. He never returned home for other than visits. He swept the west half of Academic Hall to help pay his way. His Aunt Billa sent him $15.00 each month. He had a nickel package of crackers and water for lunch. There were no student loans or Pell grants. He was on his own.

    Dad’s move to Cape to be educated was truly the luck of the Irish for him – he met Mom, who was also a student at the teachers’ college. She was the fifth of seven daughters born to Jackson residents, Joe and Mary Schmuke (SMOK ?). Dad graduated with a teaching degree in science. He was good at math and science. After graduation, on November 9, 1940, Dad and Mom were married, a few hundred feet north of where we now sit – in the old Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, now gone for more than 40 years. Dad and Aggie, as he affectionately called Mom, were married for 65 years.

    Dad was a charter member of Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation. He was a husband, father, educator, farmer, processed and sold milk and milk products, school board member for the R-2 District and Immaculate Conception, a Democratic Committeeman, lieutenant in the Army Air Corp and a Captain in the National Guard. He served on this Church’s board for a time. He belonged to the Jackson Rotary Club for more than 50 years. He was a member of and Commander of Jackson’s American Legion. He organized and served as Commander of the Jackson National Guard, in the late 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, Company E repeatedly won and drank whiskey from the Eisenhower Trophy, the highest award a guard unit could attain. He built a 1940’s Piper Cub replica and flew it. Those of you who have been in Mom and Dad’s kitchen will be reminded of a picture selected by Dad hanging on the wall. It is a big bee working a flower. The caption says:

    “The bee that gets the honey, doesn’t hang around the hive.”

    That was Dad.

    After college and marriage to Mom, Dad worked as a chemist at Anheuser Busch, taught science and coached at Valle High, the Ste. Genevieve Catholic High School, for two years. The first football season was 1 and 7. The second season was 7 and 1. The Valle High football history book in Dad’s library relates that in one particular game, a game against Kirkwood, Dad’s alma mater, Dad drew 45 yards in penalties for going on to the field to argue with the referee about a call. The next play from scrimmage was a touchdown for Valle, sealing its victory. Dad had Irish fire and could light it in others.

    World War II came. His love of country and that plane ride over Forrest Park called. Dad enlisted in the Army Air Corp. Mom came back to Jackson from Ste. Genevieve to live with her parents, Joe and Mary. The combination of Dad’s Irish wit, story telling ability and Air Corp service is renowned in his family. We children know Dad’s war years by heart. In 1996, Teresa, Mom, Dad and I were driving back from Branson. Dad was 81. His memory had slipped a little. He started the war-years history as we left Branson. We had progressed through basic training and were just beginning flight school when we reached Rolla and stopped for gas. Dad forgot the name of his first flight instructor. He said he didn’t think he would ever forget his name. I reminded him it was “John Bull”. This prompt had him off and running again. Dad had a hundred stories of that chapter of his life. Most of us gathered here today in Dad’s honor have heard some – maybe all of them – perhaps several times. Dad’s granddaughters and grandsons, six of whom will carry him to rest today, were well indoctrinated in the Air Corp lore. They called Dad, “Tom”. They would listen to the stories and say things like – “Thank you for saving the world for us, Tom”. At these history-lessons, Teresa would melt Dad’s military manner by hugging him and saying “You can relax now, Tom, the War is over”. Dad was intense.

    This story is my favorite. On Dad’s first day in flight school, Instructor Bull asked the encircled cadets, the sounds of a Stearman’s lumbering engine nearby, the Blytheville noonday sun high, if anyone had flying experience. Dad’s Forrest Park ride, in his mind, authorized a “yes” answer. He raised his hand. Bull selected Dad as the first cadet to go up in the double-wing, Stearman trainer. Dad was in the front cockpit; Bull in the rear. Bull pulled the roaring plane off the runway, climbed a little and promptly did a loop with the airplane finishing perfectly aligned over a country road as it came out of the maneuver. It was Dad’s turn. He had been watching the movement of the controls from the front seat of the airplane. He took the controls and began to climb to put plenty of room between the Stearman and the ground. Bull was shouting through the funnel in the back seat: “You’re high enough – take her over.” Dad kept climbing until Bull issued a direct order to begin the loop sequence. Dad moved the controls as Bull had done moments before. The Stearman headed into the noonday sun and came over in a perfect loop. Dad said he didn’t know how to get the plane out of the maneuver, but the Forrest Park Pilot’s words came to him – these planes will fly themselves if you simply turn loose of the controls. Dad turned loose. The Stearman leveled off and came out of the loop perfectly aligned over that same country road. Bull was hollering through the funnel “Good job”. Dad was hooked.

    Dad was an exceptional pilot. His education, ability to learn quickly and knack for flying resulted in a promotion to lieutenant and an assignment as a multi-engine flight instructor. At age 27, Dad taught cadets only slightly younger, to fly the B-17 and the famed B-29 Flying Fortress. In his last days he could still recite the six or seven sequential commands in perfect order given to the co-pilot to start the four massive engines on the B-29. His instructing continued until 1945. He and his crew were preparing to head west to pick up their B-29 for the invasion of Japan when Fat Man and Little Boy were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending the War.

    Upon discharge shortly after, Dad returned to Jackson, his home, like hundreds of thousands other members of the greatest generation, to Mom, to his family and remained there the rest of his life. He worked with Mom’s dad, Joe Schmuke (SMOK ?) in the oil business. He began Southeast Dairy, processing milk and milk products in 1947 and continued in that business for 28 years. He started work at 3:30 A.M. and worked til dark. I was 27 before Mom and Dad ever took a vacation. Shortly after the War, when the Jackson School District couldn’t find a science teacher, and after already putting in a days work at the dairy, Dad taught science, biology and chemistry for the High School in the afternoons. He later taught these same subjects at Oak Ridge and Central High Schools. When he reached mandatory retirement age at the Public School, he taught science at St. Mary’s Grade School and helped several parents home-school their children in science.

    Dad, Mom and six of their seven children moved to the farm in 1955. Dan, the youngest, was born three years later in 1958. Although raised in the city, Dad always wanted to own a farm. He began farming and raising Hereford cattle. He was a vigorous, hard worker. His motto was to “accomplish the mission”. When you worked with him you would quickly learn he didn’t tell you what or how to do things, rather he told you what the result should be and left you to figure out how to “accomplish the mission”. Dad was able to follow his own motto until last spring when at the age of 89 he finally gave up making hay with Dan, mowing his big lawn and put his chainsaw down for the last time. He was thin, frail, weak and could scarcely walk without assistance. He hated to give up. Father Time had finally overcome his strong will and Irish stubbornness.

    However, this brief recitation of Dad’s life is not his real accomplishment. Dad’s legacies, inner light and what he really bequeaths to us today, are two: First, the example of his willingness to step up to the plate and be counted on for what he thought was right. The second: his children and grandchildren.

    I recall Dad going to each and every democratic committeeman and woman in Cape County and getting their signatures on a petition in an effort to keep Mom’s sister, Puddy, as the fee license agent in the license bureau, a political job. Uncle Hink, Pud’s husband, had died suddenly leaving four children, three of whom were still at home. Pud needed the job. I was with Dad many years ago on a cold and bleak Christmas Eve when we stopped and picked-up a homeless vagabond along the road, took him to a restaurant to get a hot meal and left him with $10. Gran Schmuke, Mom’s mother, selected Dad and Willie Lewis as executors of her Will. On a snowy Christmas Eve, he drove from the farm to Jackson to take Gran Schmuke, who had become old and frail, the short distance to Church so she did not miss Midnight Mass. When Mom’s sister, Mary Hunter, because of advancing years had to move to a more suitable home, Dad was there with my generation to move furniture even though he was too old for such work. He was best man at Mike and Donna’s wedding. J.T., Martha’s son, came home to the farm each summer from Colorado to spend time with Dad. Martha wanted him to have the benefit of time with Tom and Ag. He helped Erica with chemistry. Dad and Tim’s children worked in Dad’s oversized garden together. Each of the O’Loughlin children could tell you their own set of similar stories.

    Most importantly today, Mike, Tim, Pat, Martha, Mary and Dan, and their children are what Dad has left for all of us. Mom and Dad didn’t raise any bums. The quality of these children and their children has been demonstrated by their lives and exemplified over and over in Dad’s last days. They are people of honor and integrity. Pat and Dan did yeoman’s duty. They took care of Dad, took him to the hospital, the doctors, moved Dad to the Nursing Home, and were on call 24 hours a day, not only for Dad, but for Mom. Mary took her weekends, vacation, personal days and holidays to be with Dad and comfort Mom who had never been without Dad for all those years, when her heart was breaking as Dad’s few, almost paltry, required personal items were taken from the farm to the nursing home: his Air Corp jacket, pictures of the Flying Fortress and Mom among them. Mike and Donna came twice from Florida to be with Dad in the last few months. Martha, came from Denver to say goodbye to Dad. I am especially proud of Tim. After Dad moved to the nursing home, he stopped to spend time with Dad every day on his way home from work at Sikeston. Tim brought Dad communion on Tuesdays. He played his guitar for Dad. He read comforting prayers to Dad. I was there when Dad was weak, tired and had difficulty staying alert. Tim asked him if he would like Tim to read Dad some prayers. He said “yes, but read fast”. Tim’s Mary, Judy and Teresa took shifts staying with Dad. They did not want him to be alone and especially, did not want Dad to die alone. Teresa enlarged pictures of the cattle. Dad would look at the pictures and talk about the cows and the status of the calf crop. Dwight and Kathy Johnson in a stroke of genius, burned a CD of music from the 30’s and 40’s for Dad to hear in his last days. Five of Mary’s friends from Kirkwood came to visit Dad shortly before he died. Dad’s old but younger friends like Dale Myers, Jerry Venable and Mike Hyson came to visit him. Even in his last couple of days, he would manage a weak but warm, genuine and affectionate smile and welcome us to spend the night when he could not stay awake. He thought he was at home. This – the best quality of the human spirit – is the real bequest Dad left for all of us. Learn the lesson well – for without it life is empty.

    For me, I will soon be 63. The sun is in the western sky. Mortality looms. I am standing at the end of the runway, the engine is warmed-up, the flaps in take-off position. I know that Hink and Pud, Teeny (Teen n?), Laura and Willie, Betty and L.R., Jim and Bobby, Jane and Earl, Virginia and Bill, Betty and Rome, Jack, Jimmy Toomey, Gran Schmuke and Gran O’Loughlin, Pappaw and Pop, have all sped down the runway and are gone. Only Mom, Emily, Joann, Gene and Hunter, of that generation, are left for us. For those of us who knew those departed, a small piece of each of us went with them on their journey. Soon it will be our time. For me, I wish for the power of the words Dad helped me incorporate into the senior farewell speech I made on behalf of the Jackson High School Class of 1961:

    Backward, turn backward o time in thy flight,
    And make me a boy again, just for tonight.

    I can see him now. Standing at attention. His customary farewell. His right arm at three-quarters position. His hand and fingers rigid and close. He snaps a three-quarters salute to me. He says: “So long, partner”.

    I reply: “So long, Dad. I love you. See you later.”

    The control tower calls: “Cleared for take-off”.

    The ancient Stearman speeds down the runway, gains altitude and banks towards the setting sun. I strain to see. The sun falls below the horizon. The plane becomes a dot. Then I can see nothing. He is gone.

  8. ImHotep,

    Mr. O’Loughlin was the greatest teacher I ever had!For some reason the way he taught Chemistry made it very easy for me.

    I’m looking at my report card now. I didn’t even know I still had them, but my wonderful mom, saved all of them while I was gone in the Air Force. There were 20 students in the class. The first semester I made an E-. No one else in the class made an “E” besides me. The second Semester I made and “E”. There were two other “E’s” that semester. For the entire year, I made an “E”E overall. I was the only one in my class who did so. I remember someone telling me, Larry Loos, or one of the other brainy kids telling me that I had made the highest score in Chemistry ANYONE had ever made up until that year. If some of you all can find out if that was true, or not. I certainly like to know. Twelve or more people in the class only made “M” The one think I know for sure if you are making the best grade of anyone you certainly can’t be cheating because everyone else was making B’s and C’s

    I also found him to be a likable fellow, and he seemed to have plenty of patience for me. I really appreciated that.

    Tom has joined his ancestors now, and I hope he is happy to be reunited with them again.


  9. What I remember about “Colonel Tom” are all the nicknames he had for us all. Mine was “Russ Colombo” who was apparently an old time band leader. I also remember a story about one time when he was piloting a plane that went into some kind of spin and no maneuvers could bring it out so he just took his hands off the yoke and the plane just came out of the spin on it’s own and leveled out. He always had that twinkle in his eye, and that smile when he talked about flying.

  10. Mr. O was the time keeper @ football games when I played in ’64 & ’65 and I worked for him as a driver during the summer of ’67 at King Quality Dairy in Poplar Bluff. He was a true gentleman and a role model for many of us who knew him. I remember him asking a question in science class and how Jerry O’Connell shocked him with his answer.

  11. My was not a good chemistry student, however, I enjoyed his classes. When he would say, “Listen up troops”, and hit that meter stick on the desk, I would jump. I saw one or two of those sticks shatter. I remember being in class once when someone disposed of some kind of acid into the wastebasket and started a lot of smoke and stink. I remember an assembly at which he was awarded some kind of medal which he earned during his military days for doing some kind of repair in the air. My memory isn’t what it used to be, but I believe it was him.

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