From Topless Bar To Biology: A Love Story

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Forty years ago this week, Philip and Susan McClinton had their first date. Today, Susan is a retired biologist and Philip is assistant curator at the Draper Museum of Natural History in Cody, Wyo. But when the two met, it was at a very different place.

The McClintons' story starts in 1972, at a topless bar in Fort Worth, Texas. Philip was a bouncer. Susan was there to compete in an amateur night, hoping to win the cash prize. To Philip, Susan was out of place.

"I thought, 'She doesn't belong in here,' " he recalls. "She didn't need to be in this place."

"At the time I had two children to support, so I needed the money. I remember at one point you said, 'I'll keep an eye on you,' " Susan says. "And I think that was the beginning of our relationship."

Philip told her he wanted to take her rattlesnake hunting. Susan thought he was crazy, but she went anyway. She loved it. "I thought, 'Hey, this is something I might want to do on a regular basis,' " she says.

Later, Philip had another crazy idea: He wanted the two of them to go back to school.

"Neither one of us had anything but a ninth-grade education. I'd tried 10th grade three times, and I couldn't cut it," Philip says. "And we didn't think anyone would take us."

But they called around and asked. Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas, accepted the couple for a probationary period. Going back to school was a challenge, but they signed up for classes together and helped each other.

"You didn't know anything about school," Susan says. "And I recall several times when you told me that you just didn't think you could make it anymore. And I would always tell you, 'I'll get you through it.' "

They studied biology. When Philip was struggling with cell biology, Susan drew a diagram and taped it to the bathroom mirror, so that he would have to look at it and learn it every morning.

"Without your help, I'd have never gotten through this, because a lot of it I just plain didn't understand," Philip tells her. "But I think the thing I am proudest of is that you finally did things that you never dreamed you could do. And you did them so well. You turned into a fine field biologist."

"I guess I learned for the first time that I really was a person of worth," Susan says. "You know, after my life started out so bumpy, I never thought we'd get a college degree. And if you hadn't come into my life, I think I would have ended up in a very bad place.

"It was a rescue romance, is what we called it, because we saved each other," she says.

The two graduated in 1992 with bachelor's degrees in biology and minors in wildlife management and geology. In 1998, they both received master's degrees in biology.

StoryCorps Bonus: Animated Video

In a special StoryCorps animated video, Ramon "Chunky" Sanchez talks about his experiences attending an elementary school in a small farming town in the 1950s.

Audio Produced for Morning Edition by Katie Simon.

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