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Interview with: Frank M. Pinedo
Date: August 19, 1980
Archive Number: OH 295
I: This is an August 19, 1980 oral history interview with Mr. Frank M. Pinedo. First of all, I’d like to ask you to talk about under what circumstances did you become involved in LULAC?
FP: Well, when I returned from the service, I felt that I should be involved in community affairs, particularly in some activity to help the Latin-American community—the Spanish-speaking community—in Austin, Texas. So I joined the LULAC Council in Austin, Texas shortly after returning from the service. That would be probably sometime in the fall of 1946.
I: Did you—? A lot has been said of World War II prompting people of Hispanic decent to get involved in organizations like this. Was it solely a product of your World War II experiences, or did it go back before that?
FP: It’s hard to tell.
I: That’s subjective.
FP: It’s hard to tell. I know that it created— Being involved in the service and the war created a greater awareness, and certainly I think all of us that were in the service got an education in the service. Before going to the service, I had been working with the Austin Recreation Department, which is community service. That pinpointed a need for more active civic involvement. I not only joined LULAC, I also joined the American GI Forum somewhere around that time—probably a little bit later. I also joined the Junior Chamber of Commerce in Austin shortly after I got out of school.
I: Were you—?
FP: I even ran for public office when I graduated. I ran for County Commissioner of Travis County right after I finished law school.
I: 03:12.3 How’d you do?
FP: Not very well. I was running against the incumbent and it was my first race. The city was not anywhere near as much of a—the county was not anywhere near as much of an urban community as it is today.
I: What was your educational background prior to getting into LULAC?
FP: Well, when you asked me why I became involved in community affairs, before going into the service, I was thinking of getting a degree in chemical engineering. And somewhere, while I was in service—I was in the V-5 Program—I decided I didn’t want to continue to study for chemical engineering. I wanted to do something else. Somewhere along the line I decided to go to law school. It might have been the fact that I went to a small school. I went to Southwest University in the V-5 Program. They didn’t have the facilities for a chemistry major or a chemical engineering major that probably some larger school would have. I got disenchanted with chemical engineering.
I: Are you a native Texan?
FP: Yes, born in Austin, Texas.
I: What about your parents?
FP: My mother, I think, was born in San Marcos, and the issue is still out as to where my father was born.
I: Could he have been born in Mexico or in Texas?
FP: Yes, it’s possible.
I: I see. Where you always a student before you joined LULAC? Were you a GI Bill of Rights student, or was that—? Did you go to college right after you got out of the service?
FP: As a matter of fact, I joined the Navy when I was a senior in high school in 1941, but I joined the V-5 Program. They didn’t call me for active duty until November 1. I took the 1-month course at the University of Texas in June of 1943, and then for several reasons—probably I won’t know all of them—I wanted to go to Ohio State because it was a good chemical engineering school. So although I was waiting to be called to the Navy, I went to Columbus, Ohio and worked for a couple of months to try to make some money to go to Ohio State. I didn’t make very much money, so I came back to Austin and then went to a 2-month course at the—courses—at the University of Texas before going into active duty on November 1. So I had the equivalent of about a semester at the University of Texas before I went into the service—active duty. And then, the V-5 Program was a college training program. We were told that we would have two semesters of college before going onto preflight. When I finished two semesters, they made it three, and when I finished three, they made it four. They told us that the Japanese had not killed as many pilots as they thought they were going to, and they were reclassifying everyone. They gave us another physical. I think if I’d had any football or organized sports, I probably would have stayed in V-5. But they gave me the option of either going to midshipman’s school or going to the fleet, so I went to midshipman’s school and got my commission, after having four semesters of college in the V-5 Program. Then, when I went to inactive duty, I stayed in the Naval Reserves. When I went into inactive duty in 1946, I went back to the University of Texas on the GI Bill.
I: 08:04.6 Did you also go to UT Law School?
I: When did you complete that?
FP: Well, I went to a full year of undergraduate school and then probably a year in the summer and then went to law school without a degree. The following summer, I came back and finished my graduate degree, which would have been in August of 1958. Then I went back to law school and got another 2 years and got my law degree in May of 1950.
I: I see. In May of 1950? When you—? I know this is a subjective— This requires a subjective answer. Of the organizations that you were involved in after World War II, which one were you most involved with? Was it LULAC or was it GI Forum or was it some other organization?
FP: I would say that both of them were the organizations that I was most involved in. I would not say that I was more involved in one or the other. I had been hoping— When I ran for national president of LULAC, I was also the state advocate of the American GI Forum. I had been hoping that both organizations would work closer together and possibly eventually merge so that they could coordinate their efforts. And that, of course, didn’t materialize.
I: Why didn’t it materialize?
FP: 10:08.1 But we did work very closely together. Oh, I guess that each one had pride in what they were doing and the way they were doing it. The GI Forum was a younger group. LULAC was an older group. So the GI Forum was probably a little more aggressive, and the older one was a little more conservative. But they were both working at the same thing.
I: Did you ever initiate—? In your role as national president, did you ever initiate any kind of overtures to GI Forum to bring them together?
FP: Oh, sure. And the executive secretary of GI Forum was a very good friend of mine. He was living in Austin, and we were meeting constantly and visiting and so forth.
I: Before you went into the service as a young man—as a youth—were you ever in any organizations that could be labeled Hispanic organizations?
I: Yes, before you ran, were you involved in any kind of organizations?
FP: I don’t think so. I mentioned that I had worked with the Austin Recreation Department, and the Austin Recreation Department had a facility called a Pan American Center. The Pan American Center had a board that operated the center, which in effect was a facility primarily servicing a Spanish-speaking area. So you might want to say that that was. I also belonged to a club that was called the Century Club. It was made up of Spanish-speaking citizens. But that was mostly a social club. They did some projects, like scholarships, but that was mostly a social club.
I: Dances, I’m sure. When you grew up, did you grow up in a Mexican-American community part of town?
I: Are you bilingual?
I: 12:43.1 You grew up learning Spanish and English together?
I: I see. What were the—? What council did you join in Austin?
FP: There was only one LULAC Council in Austin at that time. I think there’s still only one—men’s council.
I: Yes, sir.
FP: I’m not sure though.
I: Was it an old council?
I: I see. It was— When you joined it, was it an active council—I mean—was it involved in the community?
I: Was there a—? At that time, when you joined that council, could the organization tell a difference with the influx of people from the World War II experience, do you think? Again, that’s very subjective. Did they get new members out of that?
FP: I think there was a definite shot in the arm. It revitalized the council because most veterans that I knew seemed to be much more conscious about their civic responsibilities.
I: And it was from being a member of that council in Austin that you went on to be national president?
FP: Yes, sir.
I: Where you state director, and then did you go up more or less through the ranks?
FP: Yes, sir.
I: I see—holding the different office, huh?
FP: 14:34.4 I think the first office—national office—I had was National Director of Youth for LULAC. At one time I was the—I don’t even remember what the terminology was—District Governor of Texas or whatever it’s called. And it was probably due to my friendship with John J. Herrera that I moved up probably more rapidly. He actively encouraged me to run for national president.
I: I notice it didn’t take you long to get from new member to national president. You were elected first in 1954, correct?
FP: Yes, I still think I was the youngest national president they ever had. I don’t know how old Mr. Bonilla is. He is the national president right now. But at least until he got elected, I was the youngest national president.
I: Where did you meet John J. Herrera?
FP: Through LULAC, the fact that he was a lawyer and I was in law school when I joined LULAC. I couldn’t pinpoint the day now. It developed into a very close friendship.
I: What were the circumstances under which you became national president? Do you remember the convention or—?
FP: Well, the convention— I don’t remember where the convention was when I was elected president. But of course, it was in 1955—1954. We could find that out, but I don’t remember.
I: I’m trying to assemble a full run of the LULAC News, and we’ve just about put it all together.
FP: What I do remember is that I ran for reelection on 1955, and I was opposed by a Houston group who, by that time, had become admirers of Felix Tijerina, who owns a restaurant. And Felix, although he had very little formal education, had become a successful business man operating his restaurants and could maneuver quite a bit. One of the things that they criticized me about was the fact that I had traveled a lot in trying to promote LULAC. Of course, this was expensive since all the money was all coming from the LULAC funds. Here was an independent, wealthy business man that promised that he would be able to put some of his money in the organization or something like that. And the Houston group was very strong for him. I like to think—I don’t know whether it’s true or not—I like to think that— I felt that if I could show performance and progress, I wouldn’t have to do very much campaigning. I did a lot of planning for the 1955 LULAC convention in Galveston and organized a number of seminars, which I think was something new—a seminar to focus on the problems of housing, another one to focus on the problems of migratory labor and health—and did a lot of pushing to get people to go to those so that the convention would be more than just a social event; it would be an educational one.
I: A learning experience?
FP: 19:44.5 Right. And I probably lost some votes there. But whatever the reason was, I only served one term.
I: I see. But the Houston group was clearly behind their own particular candidate at that time?
I: I see. Did you have personal relations with Felix Tijerina? Did you know him?
FP: Oh, yes. Oh, sure.
I: How would you characterize him? I mean—that’s again, subjectivity, but it’s still—from a person who knew him at that time. At the convention—do you remember him at the convention? Was that the first time you’d met him?
FP: No, I’d met him before, but I’d probably say in the few months before. In the year before that convention, he was being more and more active in LULAC, and I had occasion to meet him a number of times. I looked through some of my files, and I could not find any records of the work in my administration. I found some pictures, and there are others at home that I will get some copies of. I think one or two of them will show Mr. Tijerina. Here is a picture where the governor is declaring—I don’t know whether it’s LULAC week in Texas or something. And this gentleman is a member—was a member—of the Houston Council.
I: Is that Mr. Crisp(?)?
I: It looks like him.
FP: It looks a little like him. No, he’s Mr.— I’ll get a name for you. He was a lawyer here in Houston. And here’s another one. And this could have taken place while I was LULAC Governor of Texas. This probably took place while I was national president. The reason I say that is because this is George Garza, who was formally National President of LULAC and was then doing some special work—a study—in Austin, Texas. I was in the attorney general’s office at the time.
I: 22:30.3 You were in the attorney general’s office?
FP: Austin—the state attorney general’s office.
I: I see.
FP: These other people are members of the Austin—
I: Let me show them. Is that Allan Shivers?
I: I didn’t even recognize him. I just located him. As national president, did you ever have to deal with Shivers?
FP: Well, deal with him in what sense?
I: Well—I mean—you all are doing something here. I was wondering how did Shivers—? In your opinion, how did Shivers view LULAC in the state of Texas?
FP: He probably didn’t pay very much attention to LULAC. I think the American GI Forum got more of his attention, and the reason I say that is because I remember one time, when I was in the attorney general’s office, the American GI Forum came out with a study on wetbacks that was critical of Mr. Shivers. Word got to him about this report, and his then administrative assistant, John Osorio, ran down from the governor’s office to where I was working in the attorney general’s office and said he wanted a copy if I could get one for him. I checked with the GI Forum organization, and they said go ahead and give him one, so I did. So I know that report got his attention. I don’t think that he paid very much attention to LULAC. There was a Good Neighbor Commission at the time, but I think most of the involvement of the Good Neighbor Commission was to promote relations with Mexico. And only incidentally did it seem to bother with the living and working conditions of people of Spanish-speaking extraction in Texas.
I: 25:00.8 This is subjective. Did you feel that Shivers was sensitive to the needs of Spanish-speaking people in Texas? Speaking when you were national president.
FP: No—no. I don’t think he was antagonistic. I think that he tended to be more responsive to people that had much more political influence than LULAC. One thing that both LULAC and Forum were highly critical of was the number of wetbacks that we had in Texas, for the reason that it not only displaced the Mexican-American in Texas—put him out of a job—but we also felt that they tended to lower the wages of principally agricultural labor. The net result of course was that many Texans of Spanish-speaking extraction had to journey to Michigan and Wisconsin to work in the beet fields. This was something that we actively wanted to change, at least by bringing public attention to it.
I: I see.
FP: And I think the majority of the farmers wanted to keep the wetbacks because they could use them cheaply. We also were disturbed by the living conditions of the wetbacks. Before going with the attorney general’s office in about 1952, I worked—well, I was already a lawyer. I worked on the Bishop’s Committee for the Spanish Speaking, which was a committee created by the Catholic-American Bishops to study and try to do something about the problems affecting the Spanish speaking. During that year, the Bishop’s Committee had a field office in Austin, Texas, and I was hired as a worker in that field office. One of the things we focused on was migrant labor. One of the things we focused on was the working conditions of agricultural laborers, most of whom were Mexican-American. And while I was in that office, I sponsored a bill which would make it unlawful to employ children of school age in agriculture. I got the bill introduced by then Senator 28:48 (s/l Kazen?). I think it was referred to the—I don’t know—the Educational or Labor Committee. I remember one of the senators from Dallas saying that this was a socialistic bill.
I: It didn’t get past committee?
FP: And then, on one occasion when I was with the— No, it never had a chance. Then, as a GI Forum member, I once went up to Washington. I think I was going to be there on some other business, but Dr. Garcia of the American GI Forum gave me some material to present to the—I think—the Agricultural Department, showing that the agricultural employees were being shortchanged by the size of the sacks that they had to use in picking up crops in the valley and that sort of thing. So I presented my information to—I don’t know whether it was the Labor Department or the Agricultural Department—one or the other. They looked at it, and my recollection is that they took some favorable action, but I don’t know what it was.
I: 30:17.4 But the senator from Dallas said that it was a socialist bill?
FP: Yes, socialistic bill.
I: When you were LULAC national president, you said that you traveled a great deal. Where did you travel to? What were you doing in your traveling?
FP: Well, trying to organize new councils and trying to develop a more comprehensive program. I went to California, to Arizona, New Mexico, and maybe Colorado—I think Colorado too—with the idea of spurring the activity and trying to develop a cohesive program for the organization and to get more members.
I: Were you successful?
FP: Well, I think it was successful, but not nearly as much as I hoped for.
I: Sure. Did you—in any particular area—did you encounter—? What areas did you encounter favorable response in—or hostility in—and where? Where did you encounter any hostility in your travels as LULAC president?
(End tape _01)
(Start tape _02)
FP: What hostilities did I encounter as LULAC president? You remember, during most of this time, I was also a state advocate for the American GI Forum. One of my activities in the American GI Forum was to fight discrimination in—being affected by school districts. So I appeared before several school boards opposing gerrymandering of zoning in order to affect segregation.
I: 00:56.9 Where did you appear?
FP: Well, it’s all very vague.
I: Sure, it’s 20 years ago.
FP: I do know that one of the cases was appealed, and the appeal was heard when I was already in the attorney general’s office. I got this hurried call to try to represent the forum at this hearing on appeal. I didn’t want to, but there was nobody else around. The newspaper got word that I was an assistant attorney general and I was appearing on behalf of this group before a state agency, and the attorney general got upset with me. (Laughs) So Hondo—I’m sure Hondo was one of the school districts that was involved somewhere along the line. Another one was down in Robstown, but everything is pretty vague.
I: They were actively gerrymandering, though?
FP: We thought so. We concluded they were. And generally, we found that the school facilities were substandard, or inferior, to other schools.
I: So you were—? At the time, you were LULAC national president; you were also a state advocate for GI Forum. It seems—I’m getting the impression here that GI Forum was a little bit more aggressive than LULAC was. Is that a correct perception?
FP: Well, yes, I think so. Even though, as national president of LULAC, I tried to stimulate the level of activity. LULAC did certain things that were very commendable, and the GI Forum also did certain things that they felt were important.
I: Did you encounter any internal opposition to more activity on the part of LULAC, or was there more encouragement for this for LULAC as president? Was LULAC internally more conservative, say, than GI Forum?
FP: Yes, it was.
I: I see. Was it mainly for the older members?
FP: No, it was for everybody, but there were a high percentage of older members in LULAC. It’s an old organization, and some of the organizers were still around, whereas the American GI Forum was born after World War II.
I: Sure. What other issues did you address as LULAC national president? Do you remember any offhand? Try to characterize your presidency a little bit more. What other issues were you involved in? Does anything stand out in your mind? Wasn’t this the time of the desegregation suit that went to the Supreme Court? Well, I guess that would have been in ’54, wasn’t it—the Hernandez case?
FP: Yes—yes. It was somewhere around that time. I don’t remember when the decision was, but it probably— That was jury discrimination.
I: 05:16.9 Did you have much contact with the Houston group prior to your encounter with them with the Tijerina presidential election?
FP: Oh, yes, quite a bit of contact.
I: How would you have characterized—? Did you have a mental image of them in your mind? How would you have characterized them at that time?
FP: Well, I characterized them as being one of the more active councils. I would say the Laredo, the Houston, San Antonio, and El Paso councils in Texas were very active. The Houston council had a lot of returning veterans and had some members that were lawyers or were going to law school. Judge Hernandez, I think he was already a lawyer. Then Felix—oh—the Court of Appeals—
FP: Salazar was going to law school at the time. So they were a comparatively young, aggressive council. The Laredo council was even more conservative than the general council. The Austin council was comparatively a small council. So we looked to the larger councils for—
I: Was there a dominant council in the area—in Texas—at that time?
FP: Well, the Laredo council always had a uniqueness in the fact that they had several national presidents. There tended to be some sectionalism—some factionalism—and sometimes the Laredo council would be aligned with others. But by the same token, the San Antonio council was large, and they had some strong members. The Houston council was a very important council.
I: Did Texas dominate the organization at that time?
I: Does it still dominate the organization?
FP: I think it does. I think it does, but I haven’t been as close to the organization now. I haven’t been very close to the organization since moving to Houston. I guess I’m a lifetime member. I suppose I would be a member of Council 60 if I had to make any decisions.
I: Did you ever attend any of their meetings—60?
FP: Just a few—just a few. They were just varied. Most of my time has been involved with work and family and church.
I: Sure. Were you disappointed when you lost that race in ’55?
FP: Yes—yes. Yes, but it’s not too surprising. A lot of people in LULAC like to play king and so forth, but that’s true in anything.
I: Human nature.
FP: I thought I was doing a good job and wanted to continue, but it was a blessing before anything else.
I: Right. It’s probably cost you money.
FP: As a matter of fact, the following year I got married.
I: I see. You were a single man at the time?
I: You knew John J. Herrera from his activities as national president from here in Houston—I mean—when he was living here in Houston?
FP: Yeah. Well, I knew him before. I knew him while he was national president.
I: I see. Do you remember the speakers you all had at the Galveston convention? I know that’s mighty specific.
FP: Yes, yes I do. In one of the pictures— I’m having some prints made for you, and I can send them to you. I’ve got about three more. One of them shows Senator Chavez from New Mexico. Senator Chavez was the principle speaker at the national convention in Galveston. And Ralph Yarborough was also a speaker at several conventions. I think one of the pictures I have will show Ralph Yarborough. I think he either talked also at that convention or the one prior to that.
I: 11:08.0 Are you a political admirer of Ralph Yarborough?
FP: Well, I worked for him when he ran for governor the first time. I worked for him in other elections. I used to have an office in Austin—a law office in Austin—in the same building that he was in. Quite often, we were the last ones on the elevator at night going home. I still like him. I think that he was not as effective as I’d hoped he would be, but, I guess, who is?
I: Yes, sir. In 1954, how would you have characterized yourself politically?
FP: In 1954? I would have said— At that time, I would have said I was a Franklin Roosevelt Democrat. I went to the national convention—Democratic National Convention—as an alternate in ’56, when Adelaide Stevenson was nominated. I came away being an admirer of Stevenson, and was very sorry, of course, when he wasn’t elected.
I: In ’52, how would you have voted?
FP: In ’52? Well—now who was—?
I: Between Stevenson and Ike.
FP: Well, I guess, it was ’52 when I went to the national convention. Yeah, when Stevenson was first nominated. In ’48, I had serious doubts about Mr. Truman. Time Magazine was always giving him a hard time. I still think that Tom Dewey was probably one of the better Republican candidates that’s come along in a long time. I wouldn’t have been too unhappy if Dewey had gotten elected in that campaign.
I: Did you see a break between your style of being president of LULAC and that of your successor, Mr. Tijerina, or were you all pretty much cut out of the same mold—as president of LULAC?
FP: No, I don’t think we were cut out of the same mold at all. I was trying to develop a comprehensive, broad program, where the organization would be working on housing. Which at that time, no one was really talking about on the state level—you know—and health and education and on migratory labor and employment and all of those areas. When Tijerina came in, he did a lot of work on the educational problem and did a great deal of good. That little school of 400—or whatever it was—I think he did some good. I still don’t think that bilingual education is necessarily good. I have never been a subscriber to the theory that we do need bilingual education. My theory all along has been that the sooner the Spanish speaking get assimilated into the American society, the sooner some of these other problems will go out the window. I get the impression that mandatory bilingual education is counterproductive in this area. But Felix did get—whether it was good or bad—he did get a lot of attention focused on the educational needs of the Spanish speaking.
I: 16:05.2 To the detriment of the other areas that you worked on?
(Speaking at same time)
FP: Well, to the neglect—at least, I don’t know, and I don’t remember seeing that these other areas were actively worked on.
I: What about your predecessor, whose name escapes me right now. I saw it, but—do you remember who was president prior to you assuming the office?
FP: I don’t know whether it was Oscar Laurel. I’m not sure—from Laredo. It was either him or it was a lawyer from El Paso. That might have been it, the lawyer from El Paso—Armendariz.
I: I believe that was the name. Do you have a general remembrance of his administration? Did his administration prompt you to run? You said that you ran partly because of your affiliation with John J. Herrera, or he encouraged—
FP: He encouraged me. Well, I think that they were very helpful. I had a very good working relationship with Alberto Armendariz.
I: I see.
FP: That probably was my predecessor, because one of the problems we were having then was in getting a monthly magazine published and making it self-sustaining. One of the active members of the El Paso council took over that responsibility during my administration and did a fairly reasonable job. But without national advertising, it’s rough.
I: 18:17.9 That was the LULAC News you’re talking about?
I: So someone in El Paso published the LULAC News while you were president?
I: How, if you were—? Okay, you came from not a tremendously big council in Austin, right? Who supported you for the presidency? Do you remember putting together your votes, or did you just simply put your credentials forth? How were you elected?
FP: Well, I guess I was elected because I had held these other jobs before—State Governor and National Director of Youth—so I had a lot of friends in Houston and in San Antonio and El Paso. I always felt that the Laredo group was working at their own machinations, and I didn’t feel that they were really in my camp at any time. I wonder whether that national convention was in Laredo.
I: I should have looked that up. I looked up the one you had in ’55, because you’ve got a message from it on the thing. But you pretty much had your base votes from across Texas, except maybe from Laredo?
FP: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
I: I see. Well, Mr. Pinedo, we’ve gone past the 30 minutes you wanted to go. I know you have an appointment you’ve got to be at.
FP: Well, do you have any particular questions?
I: No, I really don’t. I pretty much covered just about everything that I wanted to talk to you about today, given our time constraints here. I did want to— Did you stay active in LULAC after you were national president, or did you fade out? Were you still fairly active in it?
FP: I greatly diminished my involvement in LULAC after my tenure as national president for a couple of reasons. One, I was disappointed. Another reason was that if the membership wasn’t as interested in exploring some of these matters, I knew that the American GI Forum would be. I spent more time with the GI Forum after that. That would have been ’55. I continued being a member of the Austin council at least up until the time that I got married, and then we moved to Fort Worth, working for the Securities and Exchange Commission after leaving the attorney general’s office. I was there a little over a year and then came to Houston.
I: What brought you to Houston?
FP: I came to open a branch office for the Securities and Exchange Commission.
I: And since have left the SEC and went out on your own?
FP: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
I: And you’ve been in private practice how long?
FP: Since September of 1960.
I: Okay. All right. Well, Mr. Pinedo, I really appreciate this, and I hope sometime in the future I can come back with a couple of more questions to talk about.
FP: I’m getting some extra prints. You can have those if you want them.
I: Oh, very definitely.
FP: They are extra prints, but I’m getting two or three more printed. If you give me your card, I’ll be glad to send them to you.
I: Yes, sir.
(End of dictation 22:36.4)