By Ed Mackie, Daily Nexus, November 12, 1975
As we approach the birthday centennial of this University’s foster father, T.M. Storke, it is appropriate to turn back the pages of history and relive his life and times.
This article is the first in a series of six articles on Storke.
What right had Thomas Storke to a tower in his name? Alone upon this campus hardly a soul remembers him, except his name. Outwardly, so little remains — a bust in the library, a gargantuan edifice, a handful of bells; even the tangibles hide more than they reveal.
It was Storke’s misfortune to approach the mark of journalistic greatness in the eyes of his contemporaries. But great men are now passe.
His academic eulogists — the university fathers — praised him to shame and anonymity. They dutifully enshrined and preserved his image, or what they perceived to be his image. Shortly before his death in 1971, the well-wishers, again dutifully, rushed upon his lifework to posterity, tore out its vitals, swathed them in ritualistic gauze, and then — with potions of embalming fluid — mummified the remains. What was left? Nothing living or true to life.
But in truth, the living Thomas Storke was far more fascinating than the legendary one.
Storke. Santa Barbara. The University. One the actor, the others a stage. Where do we begin? With Storke as friend and advisor at the elbow of FDR, as U.S. Senator from California, as Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of the News-Press, as foster father of UCSB?
A Star Is Born
The year 1876 looms large on the horizon of history: Custer fell that year at the Battle of the Little Big Horn; inventor Alexander Graham Bell conceived of a newfangled telephonic contraption; Rutherford B. Hayes sat in the White House; and the Civil War had closed momentously hardly a decade before. America, yes, was celebrating its 100th anniversary.
The time, it was true, was a far cry from the common pasteboard world we know today of dallying detente, Doonesbury and Shakey’s pizza.
What better place to be born than in the primitive pueblo of Santa Barbara? A terse note in the local press of 1876 announced the birth to the Storke family of a “bouncing baby boy,” christened Thomas More Storke, after his grandfather. The father, C.A. Storke, registered that event two days after the fact. Owing to a slight miscalculation, however, November 23 — not November 21 — was recorded as the actual day of birth, ever after celebrated as his birthday — nevertheless 48 hours late.
Santa Barbara was then little more than a serene pueblo redolent with old Spanish tradition; even English was spoken less than Spanish.
A singular event occurred in 1877 — later recounted to Storke — which apparently left an indelible impression on his mind regarding violence and mob rule — later evident in his fight against the John Birch Society.
T. Wallace More, his grandfather, was entangled in a welter of litigation over some property in Ventura County. One night a band of squatters, tightly masked and heavily armed, set fire to More’s barn. Rushing outside his ranch house, More was leveled by a volley of shots and died instantly.
There were lighter moments though for this horse-minded generation where every family owned a horse and buggy and maybe a saddle horse or two. A respectable livery stable boarded two horses for $32 a month and the steamboat’s coming was the most exciting event in Santa Barbara, except for a runaway buggy on State Street.
Samples of frontier life abound. When West was West and men were men, Storke’s neighbors had their own way of dealing with affronts to their integrity. A local dairyman, accused by women in the community of watering down his milk, received a rude awakening one night. The wives of the town rousted him — innocently complaining that his best milking cow was choking on a turnip. After a cursory investigation, the dairyman retired… only to discover the next morning that his pump spout had been plugged with a bulbous turnip.
At age 22, Storke returned home with a diploma from Stanford where he had dabbled in campus politics under the tutelage of Herbert Hoover.
“My whole life was ahead of me,” he recalled, “but where would I go? I was at loose ends, without the slightest notion of what to choose as a career, or what my next move would be. I drifted into the newspaper profession almost by accident.”