Post 4 — The Father, Larry

Larry Broquet taught geography and world history on educational television, WTVS Channel 56 in Detroit. ETV was a fairly new concept in the sixties and the station was producing original programming to be broadcast into classrooms. The information being taught was the same as in a regular school, but it was hard to hold student’s attention if you just stood in front of the camera and pointed to a map. Larry had always had a bit of a theatrical side and he put it to good use in his curriculum. He would write sketches that illustrated great moments in history and regularly worked costumes and props into his lessons. He also enjoyed using puns to make his point. One show about the Crusades ended with the punch line “I wouldn’t send a knight out on a dog like this” and involved a suit of armor and a live sheepdog in the studio. His program was very popular.

Live television could be unpredictable. Larry was on the air one afternoon in late November when the station manager walked in front of the camera and interrupted him mid-lesson. In a classic “where were you when Kennedy was assassinated” moment, Carolyn and Chrissie were at home sick that day, watching their father’s television program. They called for their mother to come and see what was happening. Sitting together in a rocking chair, tears running down Jean’s face, they listened to the sketchy details of what had happened in Dallas. After the announcement, the manager said, “Mr. Broquet, please resume your lesson,” and walked away, leaving Larry standing dumbfounded in front of the camera trying to figure out what to say about Joan of Arc as the nation went into shock.

Several months later, a visitor to the Channel 56 studios gave a presentation to all the television teachers. Vernon Bronson of the National Association of Educational Broadcasters was in the process of redesigning the educational system in American Samoa, and he was looking for pioneers.

In the early sixties, the approximately 5500 Samoan school children in this American owned territory could barely speak English. Unfortunately, their teachers couldn’t either, most of them having the equivalent of a fifth grade stateside education. Attendance in the schools was minimal and the general easy-going attitude on the islands was that if there was more pressing personal business to attend to, the teachers might not show up at all. If you lived in paradise to begin with, why would you want to spend a beautiful afternoon indoors talking about other places that weren’t nearly as nice?

The United States government was experimenting with televised public education and saw the situation in Samoa as a great opportunity to test some of their programs, while at the same time improve the language and reading skills of the natives. Vernon Bronson, who had been with the NAEB for several years, was given the responsibility of trying to make this project work. He had established the first ETV system in Florida in the late fifties, and was considered an expert in the field. His plan was to incorporate television as a central part of the teaching process, but he knew the program was about more than just hardware. He needed teachers.

His proposal to the staff at Channel 56 included a brief history of the ETV program in the U.S and information about getting in on the ground floor of a remarkable new way to bring education to places that were too remote to have a traditional school system. He had reports and statistics and a ton of paperwork, but all he really needed was the 30-minute film that he showed to the transfixed crowd.

American Samoa knows how to work a photo shoot. The village of Pago Pago sits on what has been called the most beautiful harbor in the Pacific Ocean. White sand beaches with towering palm trees line the coasts, and the central mountainous area is a tangle of green jungle and plant life not even remotely familiar to the crowd of gaping Detroiters who sat on a campus of concrete that suffocating July day. The Samoan people are some of the warmest and friendliest in all of Polynesia and they love having their photo taken. Stick them in front of a camera and let them talk about their culture and islands, and the result is a recruitment tool that could convince anyone to abandon their lives and move 7000 miles to the other side of the earth.

Coconut palms swaying rhythmically as the ever present trade winds blow gently from the east; pounding surf crashing on the lava rock, lulling you to sleep at night; days of brilliant sunshine followed by cool pleasant nights in which the unfamiliar stars of the Southern Hemisphere sparkle overhead; garbage collectors wearing garlands of flowers around their necks and singing songs which date back a thousand years as they perform their rounds; these are some of the memories the Broquet family will be discussing in future years.

Of course there will be other memories, not as pleasant perhaps, but just as interesting. Torrential rains lasting for days at a time; picking the insects out of the bread while you eat; dueling with three inch cockroaches; earthquake and tidal wave threats, along with impending hurricanes; these will be discussed in future years also.

Report from Samoa by Larry Broquet
A look back after the first year.

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3 Comments to “Post 4 — The Father, Larry”

  1. Thank you so much for this awesome effort. I lived in American Samoa from 1971-1975 (age 11-15) with my parents and four brothers and sisters..so many happy memories. Thanx again, Allen Arnett (FAA brat)

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  2. Hi Allen – Although I was gone before you got to the island, I’ll bet your experience was completely unique and amazingly similar to mine, both at the same time. I’m grateful everyday to have experienced this wonderful place! Chris

    (oooh, an FAA brat – you guys had the paved roads in Tafuna!)

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  3. So Larry always had a “theatrical side?” That’s like saying the Pacific always had a little water.

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