Getting Personal is an email Q&A with a local personality. Here, Meg Dickinson chats with Champaign resident Paul Curtis.
Getting Personal appears first in print, in Sunday editions of The News-Gazette. In the Oct. 23 newspaper, Melissa Merli chats with Urbana resident Danielle Chynoweth, 39.
Profession: Explain in one sentence what it is you do.
My wife and I and our daughter and son-in-law operate Curtis Orchard and Pumpkin Patch, which includes pick-your-own and picked apples and pumpkins, a gift shop, a cafe and recreational activities.
What time do you typically get up? What do you do the first hour of the morning?
I usually get up about 6:30 to 7, shave, have breakfast and then run some errands in town.
What did you have for lunch today? Where? With whom?
I had a chicken salad, cornbread with honey and iced tea. I ate at my usual establishment — the Flying Monkey Cafe at Curtis Orchard with my best girlfriend, Joyce Curtis.
Best high school memory.
Spending time with friends and going to Friday night football games at the old McKinley Field. Champaign High School was at the present Edison Middle School at that time. I graduated in 1952 — the ceremony was on the west playground next to the building. The band used to practice there at 8 every morning. We could hear them in my physics class, which was on the third floor on the west side of the building.
Tell me about your favorite pair of shoes.
My favorite pair of shoes is Florsheim Comfortech. My wife talked me into getting them, and I have really enjoyed them because they feel good from the start and don't require any break-in. I'll have to say that the pair of Merrill's that my daughter, Debbie, bought me for Christmas is also very comfortable.
What does a perfect Sunday afternoon include?
Relaxing, with no responsibilities, reading the newspaper (The News-Gazette, of course), watching a sporting event (whatever is in season) and visiting with family.
Was there one book you read as a child that you still cherish? Own? Read?
One of my favorites was "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn." It was about a family in New York City and their everyday life. I was surprised that they had some of the same thoughts and proverbs that we did. It taught me that people all over the country have much in common.
Where on earth are you dying to go? Why?
Paris. We have been there on Trafalgar Tours a couple of times in recent years. Paris is a city that looks like I expected it to — the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Montmartre, Versailles, and it's close to Monet's Garden at Giverney, the D-Day Landing Beaches and so many other historic sites. I took some French in college and have a little ability to understand the language.
Tell me about your favorite pet.
I had a collie dog named Lassie who was very special. She was a good watchdog, was loving and friendly and she would bring the cows in for milking every evening from the pasture across the road. Otherwise, we had a long walk to bring them in because the pasture was a quarter mile long.
Have you discovered as you matured that you are becoming like one of your parents?
I think I am more like my mother — she was always interested in new developments. She was the one who first told me the Beatles were a singing group instead of insects — ha! She died at 91, was always of sound mind, was always aware of current events and was always in good humor. I remember remarking once that she never seemed depressed. Her response was, "It wouldn't do me any good, would it?"
What would you order for your last meal?
A great big dinner salad.
What can you not live without?
I do like my morning coffee to wake me up and get me going in the morning.
Who do you have on your iPod?
Music of the '40s through the '70s. Although I appreciate a lot of the contemporary music, I prefer the performers of my younger years, like Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis, John Denver, Pat Boone and Glen Campbell.
What's the happiest memory of your life?
When I accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. For the first time, I felt forgiven for the mistakes I had made in my life. The second-happiest memory was my dad's comment on his deathbed. I had witnessed to him for years, which he resisted until he finally made a decision for Christ. We were talking a few hours before he died about what life after death would be like and some loved ones that he would see again. He said, 'You made me a Christian and I'm so glad.' No testimony could have thrilled me more than that!
If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite?
My wife, Joyce (of 55 years), my daughter, Debbie, my sons, Greg and Chris. That's four, but these are my favorite people, and I would rather spend time with them than anyone else I know.
What's the best advice that you've ever been given?
My dad always told me to be sure I could pay for something before I bought it. I've always tried to follow that advice.
What's your best piece of advice?
Get as much information as possible before committing to a project or a purchase. Talk to people who have done it — what has their experience been. Read as much as you can. And check your bank account!
What was your first job, and how much did you make an hour?
I always worked at home on the farm — sometimes for pay and sometimes just as chores. But my first job off the farm was for Dick Burwash, detasseling corn for 60 cents per hour or 70 cents if you stayed for the whole season.
What was a pivotal decision in your career, and how did you arrive at that decision?
I graduated from Illinois in agriculture in 1956. Joyce and I began farming with my folks. We continued farming, except for some active duty in the Navy, for the next nine years. I went back to school and completed a master's in plant breeding in 1965 and a Ph.D. in plant physiology in 1968 and joined the faculty at Parkland the second year of its operation. We had sold most of our farm equipment, someone else was tilling the farm and we were just living there.
In 1975, I became a Christian and my wife made a recommitment. We began to question why the Lord had us living on the farm and not doing anything with it. A friend from Belleville Area College brought some members of his advisory committee to look at the Parkland agriculture programs. One of those members was Curt Eckert. The Eckert family had a number of apple and fruit operations. When I inquired about their operation, he invited Joyce and I to go down to Belleville to see it. That was the spark that gave us the inspiration to begin planting the apple orchard. It's been a happy decision since it provides employment for most of our family and a number of others in the community. We enjoy what we do, the opportunity to work with our family, the people who work with us and the many friends we have made among our customers.
Do you have a bad habit? What is it?
I am a procrastinator, especially returning phone calls. Thankfully, the Lord has given me a wife who helps me with that.
How do you handle a stressful situation?
I find that singing relieves me and gives me a better disposition. Also quoting Scripture relieves me. So I have committed a number of songs and a number or Bible verses to memory to use at a stressful time.