Missing my senior athletic banquet cost me my job. I’d acquired a severe case of poison ivy—so severe that my arms and body dripped fluid from open sores. I was a mess, and so embarrassed and uncomfortable that I didn’t attend Barneveld High School’s spring athletic banquet.
The next morning, I read the Capital Times sports section. Lew Cornelius’ Scorebook article began,
“Skip Thorpe, star athlete at Barneveld High School, wasn’t able to attend his athletic banquet last night because he’d contracted a severe case of poison ivy while working at Blue Mounds Park.”
And that did it. It cost me my job.
Lew Cornelius was the featured speaker the night before. Not being there, I hadn’t spoken to him, although others must have. I had no idea where I acquired the poison ivy, so I hadn’t told anyone that it came from Blues Mounds Park, which was privately owned at the time. I’d worked there the summer before my junior year and expected to be employed there the summer after high school graduation. I needed the money for college in the fall.
The park’s owner read Lew’s article, too, and he wasn’t happy about it. A feature article in a premier Madison newspaper wasn’t good publicity. He adamantly insisted, “There’s no poison ivy in our park.”
I pleaded my case, telling him that I had no idea where I’d gotten the poison ivy and hadn’t told anyone that it was from the park. I told him that I wasn’t even there to talk with Lew Cornelius.
Although he didn’t outright fire me, it was clear that he believed I was guilty. He continued to be unfriendly, so much so that when our local Surge milking machine dealer offered me a summer job, I didn’t think twice before snapping it up.
From the time I was a junior in high school, and through college and beyond, poison ivy was my nemesis each spring and summer.
Sometimes I contracted it when I hadn’t even been near the woods. I was told I that could get it by coming in contact with smoke from burning plants and dogs that had the oil on their body. It became apparent during those years—when I didn’t find it, it found me.