The Captain

It wasn’t just in wrestling that John Jensen was something of a leader. In April 1943, he and his buddy Fred led a sit-down strike in assembly to protest restrictions to contact with girls and limits to weekend permits. There was no rioting or shouting, only silent “civil disobedience.” Principal Frampton lost his cool and suspended the 200 boys who followed John and Fred into the strike. They were all sent home. Fred went home with John to Mount Kisco. After 19 days of suspension, they were offered an opportunity to apologize in exchange for reentry. John and Fred did not apologize, so their suspensions were resumed, and they packed up and returned to Mount Kisco. After a couple weeks, the Institute’s board of directors inquired into the suspensions and chose to terminate the suspensions unconditionally. John and Fred returned to the Bronx, no strings attached. Fred reports that Principal Frampton was extra nice after the two returned to school. Fred also reports that John’s father was not happy about John losing school time. Fred assures me that Mr. Jensen did not lose his temper, but he was very serious about his son studying to become a doctor, and he made it clear that he was disappointed in his son.

In June, John got a summer job at Aero Spark Plug punching brass cones. He quickly learned that he was not one for working in factories, however, so he quit after a month. It appears that he may have had another summer job lined up in Schenectady.

In the fall of that year, John put a wrestling meet with the McBurney Y ahead of a concert being performed by the Institute’s choir. After causing a commotion among his superiors, he managed to make it to the concert and participate fully and successfully. It was reported that “he gave the impression of intending to have his own way though secretly no doubt wished to support the cause.”

During the following winter, Dad once more gave wrestling priority over a school function: a blood drive. This time he did it in partnership with a fellow wrestler (and fellow future masseur), Arthur Torgerson. They would not give blood because it would weaken them during the tournament the next day. The two wrestlers were certain that the school could make an exception for them just this once, but then the school had possibly thought the war effort ought to trump a voluntary wrestling meet. On the other hand, compelling blind kids to give blood might seem to be a questionable policy. Still, John might not have been the most graceful negotiator. One Jean Westwick reports:

“I did say that I doubted whether they could withdraw from the trip [to give blood] at this late date and Jensen said in no uncertain terms that he certainly could. … I felt he was rather sarcastic in his way of speaking. It wasn’t really what he said but his general attitude that I considered extremely bad mannered. He is a nice boy but very spoiled and self-assured one I think.”

It’s possible that this incident might have been avoided by better planning on the part of the two wrestlers.

John could be headstrong. One might have characterized him as an “uppity blink,” though he was somewhat soft-spoken in his earnestness. A sophomore at age 18, he did not always respond well to being managed like a handicapped child, but he did have his defenders:

“John is a very retiring boy, but has the moral courage to take a stand, for what he feels is right on any issue that arises. His reticence and calm determination are often misinterpreted by people who do not take the time to understand him. I have heard him called obstinate and stubborn, but I just can’t see it. He is not a good mixer. He would rather fraternize with one or two, than to be a party of a large group. This does not add to his popularity, and some people think he is snobbish. I can’t see this either. He is definitely not a play boy, and life is a serious proposition to him, but he is far from being snobbish.

“He is happy in his quiet way, and his sweet, clear, tuneful, tenor voice is one of the cheering notes of Akerly. I frequently open my door to better hear him singing in the bathroom. …” [1]

[1] Comments from the Housemother of Akerly House, NYIEB, John Jensen student record.

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