A Tribute to Francis Lee Goff

Occasionally I’ll take a break from my Church Dogmatics project to write about something else. Today I pay tribute to my late father, Francis Lee Goff, who was born on this day, June 2, 1915, one hundred years ago.

He was the last of a family of nine children born in central Illinois. His father, William Goff, worked in communications for the railroads which meant he was proficient in the use of Morse Code. Carrie Goff, his mother was the daughter of a Civil War veteran who had lost a hand in combat. Although Carrie never went beyond elementary school, she knew the value of education and each of her nine children graduated from college and became teachers at one point in their lives.

The experience of being the youngest child in the family shaped my dad’s outlook on life. It made him an advocate for people whom others might overlook as insignificant. One such person was a young man named Elmer Vogel. Since I have a tape recording of my dad telling this story, I can relate it in detail.

During World War II my parents lived in St. Louis, Missouri, and my dad was working for a little start-up company there which had been incorporated in 1939 as McDonnell Aircraft Company. (Later it became McDonnell Aircraft and today we know it as Boeing.) Dad was also teaching classes at various schools in St. Louis: Washington University, Jefferson College, and Hadley Technical High School. He taught one night a week at each of them. One purpose of his teaching was to try to recruit employees for McDonnell because at that time there was a manpower shortage because so many men were going into military service.

In one of Dad’s classes there was a young student named Elmer Vogel. Dad gave a mechanical aptitude test and an intelligence test to everyone in his classes and noticed that Elmer Vogel did very well on both tests. At that time Elmer was working as a messenger boy at Jefferson Barracks, just south of St. Louis, for $18 a week.

McDonnell Aircraft Company had launched a training program which led to employment at the company. Trainees in the program were paid only $15 a week. My dad encouraged Elmer to quit his $18 a week job and take the $15 a week work as a trainee. Initially Elmer was reluctant to take such a drastic cut in pay, but my dad persisted and Elmer took the training course and went to work at McDonnell.

Not long after that, the company announced that any of the engineering
students could take a course in stress analysis. If they passed the course, they would get a raise of five cents an hour. However only college graduates were allowed to take the course and Elmer Vogel had only a high school education. To overcome this, my dad went to talk to his boss, the vice president of the company, and said, “Why don’t you let Elmer take this course? It won’t hurt anything for him to take it and if he passes it, it will be outstanding; and if he doesn’t, it won’t be any loss.” Dad’s boss was persuaded and agreed that Elmer could take the course which he did and passed it with a grade of A.
Dad left McDonnell during the war to become a naval officer, and in 1949 he moved with my mom, my sister Nancy, and me to California.

Many years later on a visit to St. Louis, Dad dropped by McDonnell and asked a receptionist, “Does Elmer Vogel still work here?”

The receptionist said that he did.
Dad said, “Get him on the phone for me, will you?”

The receptionist said, “Oh, I don’t know about that. Mr. Vogel is an important executive here.”

“Just call him and tell him I’m on the phone.”

So the receptionist called him. Dad said, “What’s his job now?”

She said, “He’s the director of industrial relations for the whole of McDonnell Corporation.”

When they got Mr. Vogel on the phone, Dad said, “This is Frank Goff.”

Mr. Vogel said, “Not the Frank Goff?”

“Yea, the Frank Goff.”

So Elmer Vogel came rushing over to see Frank Goff, the Frank Goff, the man who had urged a messenger boy with a high school education to take a cut in pay to train for a new job, the man who had seen his potential and had convinced his boss to take a chance on him.

I have no idea how many people like Elmer Vogel were impacted by my dad’s persistent encouragement, but I know I am one of them. And I am grateful.