Steven Puter was born in Grand Junction, Colorado, on April 8, 1950. It was exactly one week after America’s official census day, and his parents couldn’t wait for baby Steven to get home and meet his 2-year-old brother. Fast-forward seventy-two years, and today Puter anxiously awaits the release of the 1950 Census records and his opportunity to search the data on FamilySearch.
Like many of us eagerly awaiting the release by the National Archives and Records Administration, Puter wonders what discoveries and connections he’ll make on the branches of his own family tree. Was his family counted by an enumerator before or after his birth on April 8? Will the records be accurate? Will he look at the handwritten census record and say aloud, “That’s my dad”?
It wouldn’t be the first time.
Puter was the middle child of Ruth Naomi Lobdell and John Douglas Puter. His father served in World War II in an unusual but highly meaningful way. A gifted musician, his dad never saw the front lines. Instead of piloting a plane, sailing on a ship, or staring behind a gun, he sat proudly behind a piano. His assignment throughout the war was to entertain weary soldiers who returned to base physically and emotionally spent.
Back in Colorado after the war, John married Ruth and began a career at a local radio station. Their house was small and their family budget even smaller. They lived a simple but happy life.
John was responsible for creating ads for local companies and quickly became a recognizable voice on the airwaves. His beautiful voice was radio ready, and over the years he carved out a career in several cities around the United States, including Boise, Dallas, and Houston.
Steven recalls feeling as if his father were a celebrity. “I absolutely thought it was cool,” Steven said in a recent interview from his home in Littleton, Colorado. “Dad would take us to these business functions, like the annual Christmas party for KOA, the radio station where he started.” Steven enjoys the memory of his dad being recognized, greeted, and treated like a star. “I was so proud of him,” he said. “I knew dad worked hard and that others knew that too.”
Though he doesn’t know the first time it happened, Steven remembers being in junior high and riding in the car when his dad’s familiar voice drifted out of the radio. “It was an ad for First Federal Bank of Colorado. And there I was, smiling and hearing his voice on the radio, saying, ‘That’s my dad.’”
Over the years John would dabble in other things, but he always went back to the safety of radio. Despite the stress, quotas, and politics of the business, he was good at what he did, and the world knew it.
In 1975, with Steven married to his sweetheart, Kathy, and expecting their first child, John Douglas Puter’s journey ended far too soon. He was just 55. “Dad died just as his own father and grandfather had,” Steven said. “He suffered a massive heart attack.” It’s a middle-of-the-night memory Steven remembers well.
Steven’s father left behind no siblings, and because Steven’s mother was also an only child, Steven had no cousins. “Not having family to tell his stories, to remember, makes me wish I’d done more myself,” he said. “I really wish I’d been more diligent and learned more about him. Asked more questions. I still feel bad about that.”
Decades later Steven finds himself celebrating a long marriage and a successful life in Littleton. The retired physical education teacher remains active and lives a healthy lifestyle that he hopes will help him break the tragic tradition of his male ancestors’ health problems.
Though he admits he is no family history expert, Steven is excited to dive into the 1950 Census index. Without family members from that generation to lean on, he hopes to discover some connections in those historic handwritten records.
Indeed, years after being filled with pride at the sound of his father’s voice, Steven hopes to search the index and verify that one of those dedicated 1950 Colorado enumerators visited the Puter family. Maybe, just maybe, Steven will peruse the images and feel that pride all over again when he sees the name he loves so much.
No doubt he’ll whisper these words: “That’s my dad.”
Check out Jason’s new book, Even the Dog Knows, available at Deseret Book.