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Birthplace of the ATA & 1949 - 1955 Office, 3306 North 50th Street in Milwaukee.

Founding of the ATA

In 1944 at the age of 12, I was first exposed to a public stamp exhibition and convention of national scope in Milwaukee. Having collected stamps for only a short period of time prior to this exhibition, I was really impressed and determined some day to play a role myself in the hobby. My parents gave me more than the usual encouragement fully realizing the wonderful educational potentials of stamp collecting.

As time passed, I realized, as so many other collectors do, that it is impossible to collect the world at large. Topical collecting won my favor. I tried to find out all I could about it. There were few published works on various phases, but not sufficient to satisfy my huger for knowledge. I joined several national societies, but didn't find too much. At the time, topical collecting was not as generally recognized in philately as it is today.

"There must be others like myself," I mused, "that are looking for guidance in forming a topical collection. Why don't we get together and share our information through a united body of topical collectors?" Thus was born the idea of the formation of the American Topical Association in 1949.

Since I was only seventeen at the time, the idea at first received but lukewarm reception from my parents. They felt such an organization would take too much time away from my studies, physical exercise, sports, and other high school recreation activities. But when they saw my determination and enthusiasm, they promptly came to my aid with help in many forms, which continued over the years.

In my five years (1944 to 1949) in philately, I developed correspondence with a number of other collectors and figured that further contacts could be made through announcements in the philatelic press. "Who knows, perhaps through the formation of ATA, as many as 200 topical collectors might come together for mutual aid and exchange of information, ideas and stamps.

The early days were not easy. Many people had to be convinced that topicals deserve a place in philately. Gradually through hard work and promotion more and more collectors realized the merits of topical collecting. One of the most convincing tools was the publication of Topical Time, where members could share with their fellows topical stamp information by way of articles, checklists and columns.

Many hundreds of members aided other members in this way, to say nothing of the fine contributions to topical philately which have been made by ATA officers, committee chairs, Chapter and Unit leaders, and members who have worked splendidly together for the cause of topical philately. To all of them I say "Thank you!" For fear of slighting anyone and because of the length of the list, I will not specifically name those who deserve great credit for having rendered an invaluable service to their fellow topicalists by participating in ATA activities.

I first worked at home in my bedroom on a part-time basis, with ATA gradually consuming more and more of my time as my parents had so wisely anticipated. I had to give up most social activities and sports, and devote most of my time to ATA and schooling, the former generally taking more time than the latter, much to the consternation of my parents. They issued an ultimatum. Either I maintain good grades in school or I quit ATA activities. With this over my head, I had no choice for I would not give up the joyous work in ATA. It was my life, my chief interest, my everything! With the patience and understanding of my parents, both with physical, mental and financial aid along with continuous encouragement once they knew this was not a youthful whim but a real ambition. I managed with the help of other ATA officers and workers to carry on the good work and still graduate with a 91 average from high school and with cum laude honors from college.

Dad helped nourish the ATA "baby" in its infancy and spent over $3,500 of his money to help promote ATA through its lean years; he also donated a great deal of his time and that of his private secretary — all with no expectations of repayment or remuneration, except to see the joy of my progress with ATA.

I converted my bedroom into an office. From 1949 to 1955, I used as a typing table a child's desk, which I had already outgrown, and a chair, which left much to be desired posture-wise. With a chronic back ailment, I wonder how I could have actually worked in this manner for five years. As space was limited, I used an old bookcase to house supplies and ATA publications.

The addressing machine was high atop my dresser, which I operated by standing on a low stool, since there wasn't room for more furniture. Work in process was laid out on the bed during the day as a temporary table only to be cleared off each night before retiring.

Exceptionally large mailings, such as solicitations for membership and the mailing of Topical Time and topical handbooks, had to be handled on the large dining room table, sometimes with all three boards inserted in it. Good-natured mother tolerated this for reasonable periods, but I must admit there were many times that ATA mailings took precedence over the next meeting of mother's various women's clubs at our house. Mom and Pop always pitched in to get the mailings out.

As time went on, space in my bedroom disappeared. I had to put surplus quantities of envelopes, back issues of Topical Time, and topical handbooks in the attic, dragging these heavy boxes up to the third floor. This, plus a back injury received at a stamp show from an accident while carrying a heavy load of publications to the ATA booth, caused a permanent back condition requiring monthly medical attention.

Not only was space at a premium, so was time. ATA was consuming more than a normal workweek, even while I was in college; this put quite a strain on my physical endurance. With relief and gladness in the thought that ATA would be my full time work henceforth, I graduated Bachelor of Science in business administration in 1954. To serve ATA better with more advanced management knowledge, I continued my schooling on a limited part-time basis one or two nights a week taking a long four years to receive the degree of Master of Business Administration in 1958.

From 1954 onwards, I had more time to devote to the improvement of ATA services and publications both in quantity and quality. Soon, time was almost as limited as before as I took on more responsibility. I never was satisfied with what ATA had to offer, and I was always looking for new ways to help topical collectors and make topical collecting a more enjoyable and educational way to collect.

By 1955, ATA virtually burst out of our home at 3306 North 50th Street, and I looked for an inexpensive office. Dad, who had long advised me on major ATA policies, frowned on the idea, believing that it would cost ATA too much. Up to then I agreed for the most part, wholly or in part, with my father's sage advice drawn on his 35 years of business experience; but this time, by necessity, I had to go against his wishes. Despite this move, which proved beneficial to ATA in the long run, I am deeply indebted to him for the continued lessons in frugality and wise use of funds, which he taught me over the years.

When I set out to find an office, I soon found how right Pa was. Desirable offices were at a premium far beyond ATA's pocketbook. Finally by agreeing to answer a lawyer's phone as a free service, I secured for ATA a 12'x18' office adjoining the lawyer's office for a very reasonable sum. It was located at 1602 West Wells Street in Milwaukee. The office permitted me to provide more efficient management of the Association. The additional space made it possible to get more work done quicker and provided additional storage space for forms and supplies. This also allowed for greater "shopping around" to obtain the lowest possible prices for printing and other office supplies in large quantities, which was not possible with the limited storage facilities at home.

Three weeks after occupying the office in 1955, tragedy struck. There was a serious fire in the basement and on the first floor of the office building. On the second floor, where the ATA office was located, there was only smoke damage, but it crated havoc, and extremely unpleasant working conditions in the hot stuffy summer weather to which was added unpleasant burnt odors. Unfortunately, it took nearly three months to complete repairs on the building, but fortunately, not all the ATA publications and office supplies had been moved from home, and the smoke damage loss was covered by insurance which had been obtained just three weeks before the fire.

Now that I wasn't working at home anymore, Mother would come down about once a week to help out with mailings and filing and general office work. Father continued to advise and one of his friends in the furniture business loaned me all the original ATA office furniture. I really needed a full-time secretary, but felt ATA couldn't afford it yet.

For mimeographing, we still used a rebuilt machine, which Dad bought as a gift for me in 1949. Our adding machine was about 40 years old bought at a receivership sale along with some other small office equipment "for a song." We also used a 35-year-old typewriter owned by my Father's business. Gradually as funds permitted, new equipment was added for efficient handling of ATA affairs, but caution in expenditure is the keynote of ATA's success, along with a minimum of red tape coupled with lots of action.

Near the close of 1955 with ATA work ever increasing, I met Sally Vogel in the hall of the office building. She was at that time employed by another firm in the building; she was dissatisfied with her position and was seeking employment elsewhere. As we grew to know each other over the months, she realized how badly I needed assistance, but I made it clear that ATA could not afford any secretarial services at the going rate of pay.

Becoming interested in ATA and topical stamp collecting as I described it to her, Sally offered to relinquish her position and work for ATA for a short period of time at one-third her previous salary until she found suitable employment elsewhere. I accepted her offer and found that her experience and efficiency in the handling of general office work relieved me of many routine operations. I had more time for writing, editing, promoting new ideas and services, handbooks, and general management of ATA. Together we worked as a team.

I dreaded the day that she should leave for another job. Fortunately, as fate will have it, that day never came. In the latter half of 1956, Sally became Mrs. Jerry Husak.

After Sally's arrival, ATA continued to grow. Work expanded until at times the both of us could not handle it. Mother and Father Vogel (Sally's parents) had since joined my parents with "home work" consisting of folding, stuffing and mailing thousands of various types of membership solicitation letters each year. ATA owes much to the devoted voluntary service of our four parents in expanding the membership and services of the Association.

ATA has been a lot of sweat and blood, a lot of sacrifices "beyond the call of duty," but above all ATA has been and continues to be a joy, a pleasant work with pleasant people. Our biggest satisfaction came from helping others, gathering and disseminating information on topical stamp collecting, and the fulfillment of our 1949 aims — the mutual cooperation among members for the betterment of all.