So who was this man named Jack Little, a man with no middle name, a man who left such a lasting impact on those who knew him, a man who died at the age of thirty-three inside his car on a dark road? Perhaps clues to his life will be found in his all too short story.
Jack was born on September 2, 1923, in Skiatook, Oklahoma, a small town just outside of Tulsa. He was the son of William Mack Little and Minnie Bell Smith Little, a mid life child born to them in their late forties. Jack had two older sisters named Opal and Marion who adored him. Opal’s father was Ollie Thompson who died in 1919. When the widowed Minnie married William, Opal was already an adult and ready to settle into marriage with Harold LaRoche. Upon the day of Jack’s birth Opal had sons of her own making Jack an uncle from his infancy.
From the beginning Jack was bright and funny and the apple of his mother’s eye. He learned quickly and kept pace with his classmates in spite of often moving from town to town while William searched for construction work to support the family. It seems that Jack was a bit of traveler for all of his life and even as a boy he had set a goal to visit all of the states and then to go abroad. His love of reading seemed to come from Willam who had a lifelong habit of devouring newspapers, magazines and books as a way of relaxing after a long day at work. Jack often joined his father in reading sessions in the evenings, often followed by discussions of what they had encountered on the pages of their books.
William and Minnie Bell encouraged their son’s curiosity, supplying him with reading material and opportunities to learn. Minnie was especially proud of her boy because she herself had never learned either the art or the science of reading and writing. Both parents marveled at Jack’s abilities to grab life by the tail and adapt quickly to new places and new schools as they moved from one construction job to another. Regardless of where the winds might blew them Jack seemed to flourish. Eventually they found themselves in Corpus Christi, Texas where Jack met the two men who would most influence him, Robert Janosky and Lloyd Krebs.
The three young men completed each other with their talents and their personalities. Robert, better known as Bob, was an adventurer in his own way following his interest in geology from one mountain to another. Lloyd was a quiet thinker yearning to learn about how things work. Together they plotted a journey to Texas A&M University where they would each earn degrees, Bob in geology, Lloyd in electrical engineering and Jack in mechanical engineering. While they were all dedicated to being lifelong learners they always found time for fun.
Jack met Ellen when he was working as a summer draftsman at an engineering firm on Navigation Street near the Houston Ship Channel. He had mastered the skill of creating schematics by hand which provided him with better than average income doing the off seasons of school. It was Ellen who took the initiative and introduced herself to Jack. She had noticed him while working as a secretary at the company and boldly decided on day to suggest that they sit with each other on the bus that they rode to their respective homes each day.
Ellen Ulrich was beautiful, vivacious, and intelligent, a combination that instantly appealed to Jack. Before long they were dating and talking seriously about starting a life together. They married at the Harris County Courthouse in March of 1946, so that Ellen might join Jack at Texas A&M College where he was still working on completing his education. Because Ellen was a devout Catholic she insisted that they also be married in a church ceremony at St. Mary’s Church in College Station. Their simple ceremony took place that June. It would become the official date that Ellen and Jack would use for their anniversary because she believed that their union must first be blessed by God. Jack showered her with love and acceptance by humoring her sometimes quirky demands.
Jack opened the world to possibilities for Ellen. He read to her from his books. He took her to places she had never been. The two of them began their married life living in an upstairs rented bedroom of a professor at Texas A&M. They had to be home before the prof’s family retired for the evening or risk being locked out. Jack soon noticed that they might use the large oak tree that grew next to their window as a mean of entering and exiting their room on late nights out. Soon they had mastered the art of deftly climbing up and down the “stairway” provided by nature.
They had great fun in those early days enjoying football games and all of the student activities on campus. Ellen landed a job with one of the professors while Jack worked hard to complete his coursework. They were quite the team and it was obvious to anyone who knew them how madly in love they were.
Jack was indeed a renaissance man. His knowledge of history was uncanny. He was an encyclopedia of information about literature, sports, science, politics, humor, poetry, art, geography and all forms of trivia. He never met a stranger and slid easily into conversations about fishing and hunting and life in general. He was as charming as Ellen and the two of them together seemed poised to take on the world.
Jack was a dreamer and a bit of a drifter from one interest to another much like all gifted individuals. He sometimes had a difficult time deciding what road in life he wanted to travel. Unlike his buddy, Bob, who set a straight course to a PhD in geology or his wise friend Lloyd who went to work at Shell and stayed there to the end of his career, Jack always seemed to be searching for the perfect fit for his many interests. He would devote himself to one thing and then become bored and move to something completely new with Ellen encouraging him to be adventurous.
Jack passionately loved his family and his friends. When Bob died, so did a part of Jack’s heart. He was adrift, analyzing his life and attempting to find his place and his true happiness. He had learned to move and adapt in his boyhood and assumed that everyone would enjoy the excitement of such a lifestyle. He was always in search of something bigger and more exciting, taking risks to climb the mountains of his dreams. While his life was cut short he had managed to pack so much into his brief time on this earth. He had touched the lives and the hearts of everyone who ever knew him. Jack Little was no ordinary man.