Washington Apple Pi

A Community of Apple iPad, iPhone and Mac Users

Gena Urban’s Remarks at the
Pi’s 25th Anniversary Party

Genevie Urban was one of the world’s first programmers, working with one of the first commercial computers more than 50 years ago. The computers were so costly, and so rare, that they were considered national assets, with their own budget lines in the Congressional budget. Then, twenty five years ago, everything changed…

The Urbans' association with Washington Apple Pi was a long and rewarding one. By the way, it was I who suggested the name Washington Apple Pi for the group.

Both Bernie and I had programmed for large-scale digital computers back in the 50's and 60's, beginning with SEAC, a prototype large-scale digital computer developed at the National Bureau of Standards in the early fifties. We programmed for UNIVAC, RCA computers and various IBM models. I left the field in 1965 to raise my two sons, sort of letting my mind grow intellectually mushy. But then in 1978, Bernie declared we were going to buy an Apple II computer. I was a bit skeptical but went along with the idea. This little computer was sitting on a desktop in my bedroom, occupying a couple of square feet, when what I had been used to took up several rooms of equipment. And this one had memory to spare - I had programmed with 1024 words of memory, each word with 42 binary bits. Every morning when I woke up and saw this little computer I would burst out laughing at the wonder of it. And when we ordered extra memory that came in a small manila envelope, that was really amusing.

Bernie had attended user groups with IBM and RCA computers, and knew that they were a good idea. So he set about organizing a meeting of users, through John Ditman at Computers, Etc. in Silver Spring. They, together with Computerland, already had the nucleus of such a group. We had our first meeting in Silver Spring in late 1978, attended by possibly 15 Apple owners. Some names from that meeting that I remember are Sandy Greenfarb, Jim Kelly, Hal Weinstein, Dick Hodder, Joe Hilsenrath, and Bill Barker. The primary interest groups that were formally described at that meeting were programming in BASIC and Applesoft, quite different from the SIGs of today. Our next meeting was in the Bethesda Library, and then we managed to secure a meeting spot at the Computer Center in George Washington University with computers available to use, including demonstrating and copying software disks.

David Morganstein joined us there and took over the responsibility of distributing software. Bob Peck assigned member numbers randomly to attendees at that meeting. I think Bob was our first treasurer. Others who were early members included John Moon (I believe he was our first president and one of the original BBS operators, along with Tom Warrick and Dana Schwartz). Dana later took on membership chairman and adapted the program that we used for years at the Pi office to keep our membership information up to date.

We continued meeting at George Washington for quite a while. One of the most memorable of the GW meetings was when Steve Wozniak visited, and we presented him with a real apple pie. What a wonder the Woz was, and is! We later met at Georgetown, and then in the USUHS Building at the Naval Hospital. There was always good attendance and everyone wanted to get the latest software, but the highlight of those meetings as I recall was the Question and Answer session, so ably handled by Tom Warrick and Bruce Field. They knew everything! And members flocked to this session. I found among my souvenirs a pencil sketch of these two gurus that was done by WAP member and artist Jane Mason.

Tom Warrick and Bruce Field

Pencil sketch of Tom Warrick and Bruce Field answering questions. (Jane Mason, 1983)

Bernie published the first newsletter in February, 1979, which I had typed on an old IBM Selectric. No word processing yet! But it wasn't long until we were able to enter our newsletter, soon to be called a Journal, into the Apple II, thanks to the ingenuity of Mark Crosby who took over the Editorship for a short while, before it was returned to Bernie. Mark taught us the elements of this rudimentary word processor, and the Washington Apple Pi Journal was off and running.

We continued to publish the Journal in our home, with me doing typing when necessary and Bernie editing and doing the layout. Before the advent of the Macintosh and PageMaker, the layout was done entirely by cut and paste. The printed Journal was assembled and labels affixed in our dining room with help from a lot of volunteers. We also held board meetings in our living room with takeout pizza served beforehand.

Tom Warrick, Bruce Field and Bernie Urban

Tom Warrick, Bruce Field and Bernie Urban (undated)

WAP continued to grow by leaps and bounds and there was so much interest in learning and helping each other. It could have been thought of as a cult. I have here a copy of the 1981 Membership Directory which lists about 815 members who gave permission to have their name and phone number listed. I also uncovered a 1987 directory, called The Cast of Characters, which listed 4878 members and noted that membership number 10,026 had been assigned.

But with growing membership we could no longer accommodate the Pi board meetings and Journal distribution in our house. In 1982 the Pi opened an office on Woodmont Avenue, and Bernie and I became the Office Managers. I believe those were good years for the Pi. We worked hard and had the help of Bill Baldridge, Paul Koskos and Kevin Nealon in the office at various times. We also had many, many wonderful volunteers to manage all the fringe benefits of Pi membership.

We continued to publish the Journal as an offsite venture of Urban Enterprises, using the office only for the distribution of the Journal. The weekend prior to the Monday morning the copy was due at the printers was a real crunch time. We always asked for copy to reach us well in advance, but human nature and Pi members being what they are, the bulk of articles arrived late in that week. Of course, we never wanted to discourage anyone from submitting, even at the last minute. I remember my parting quote to the office staff on that Friday afternoon would be, "The night is dark, the forest deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep." We traditionally spent the entire weekend working on the newsletter with only a small amount of time taken off for sleeping and eating. My teenagers referred to themselves as Pi orphans. But in the end we made all deadlines and published each month. It would never have been possible had we not had the love and appreciation of the members.

I would like to recall a few more members in addition to those I have already mentioned. There are so many others I won't be able to mention due to time restraints and failing memory, but here's some of them. Marty Milrod, Rich Wasserstrom, Boris Levine, Robert Johnson, Ralph Begleiter (author of MacNovice column for many years), Rosemary Connelly, Ken DeVito, Lou Pastura, Lee Raesly, Howard Lefkowitz, Charles and Nancy Phillip, Bernie and Paula Benson, Jay Thal, Ron Wartow famous for games, David Granite, Bill Hanrahan, Don Kahler, Eric Rall, and Amy Billingsley who hosted Apple Teas.

Gena Urban
April 26, 2003