"Pen Pal Dog Ear"
Dr. Ralph Bovard - November 22 - December 10, 1996
The Doctor and the Students: learning through letters

    From: Jefferson Elementary and Dr. Ralph Bovard, Palmer Station.

Over the past few months, Palmer's resident doctor, Dr. Ralph Bovard, has corresponded via e-mail with students from the 5th grade class taught by one of Ralph's old high school friends, Scott Peterson, and another 5th grade class taught by Scott's wife, Janet. These letters provide a fascinating portrait both of a place and a person, and also shows what interests young people about Antarctica and the unusual group of people who live and work there.

Mason City, Iowa, is the River City of Meredith Wilson's "Music Man" and Ralph's hometown. Ralph's folks still live there. His family lives up at Clear Lake in the summers which is where Buddy Holly played his last gig with the Big Bopper and Richie Valens before they were killed in a plane crash in February 1959. Some of these letters served double duty going both to family and the 5th grade class.

P.S. We really will try to find out why Ralph has the nom d'email, Dogear (or is it Doggear?)


Date: Fri, 22 Nov 1996 20:19:59 +0000
From: Roosevelt Elementary
To: Ralph Bovard

Hi Ralph!
Greetings from Roosevelt Elementary. We are intrigued with the "mission" you are on. My fifth graders and I would like to set up a correspondence with one of the scientists at your station. Would you please visit with some of your chums and ask if there is anyone interested in becoming "E-Mail Pals" with us? You mentioned a woman scientist from Australia...would she be interested?

Scott has kept me updated on your mailings. They have been fun and exciting to read. Thanks for sharing some of your favorite adventure authors. I am going to try to read some and if appropriate, share them.

Janet and 5th Graders


Reply-to: Scott Peterson
To: Ralph Bovard
Subject: Re: correct address

Dog Ear!
Gad, this thing (ed: the Internet and e-mail) is slick! Glad to hear from you so often. Distance seems to help us keep in touch.

I'll organize my class to create a school video for you. Right now they're in the middle of working on their "Wild Animal" reports. They must create a magazine cover for their animal. Then they must convince me and the rest of the class why their animal should be placed on the cover of "It's A Wild, Wild World". Anyway, our video will include a tour of our building and interviews with the students. Later this year, we'll do a unit on survival. Our final activity involves going to Lime Creek Nature Center in January to participate in various stations... shelter building, snow-shoeing, sled dog races, building a fire, and basic compass work. We stay outside all day... the cold weather seems to calm them down. Last year it was only 10 degrees when we went.

I've gotten everything you've sent so far. The patches and sticker were "real cool" Dr. B. It's OK to address me as Scott, the kids know I have a real name...they're just not allowed to use it. You might want to share with them some of your other worldly adventures.

Talk to you soon,


Date: Tue, 26 Nov 1996 14:15:34 +0000
From: Jefferson Elementary
To: Ralph Bovard

We made the Globe Gazette! Through the secretary at Janet's school the Globe was contacted about a wacky doctor and a goofy school teacher corresponding by e-mail. This is just the sort of thing that my superintendent loves. A reporter contacted me and came to my class to the kids e-mailing you. They even took a picture of the kids sitting around a computer watching the screen. Must have been a slow news day for the Globe. A copy of the whole affair will be forthcoming in the mail (regular). They spelled your name right at least...that is if Doggear is spelled with two g's.

I must close for now. Youngest daughter, Katherine, has bribed me into substitute teaching her Sunday School Class. And to round it out, I'm going to New Orleans this summer with the Luther League to chaperone...Elizabeth is involved in this one.

Wanted to get this to you before Thanksgiving...school closes today (Tuesday) at 3:00. Have a happy Thanksgiving...I'll eat some bird for you!


PS We received your poster. The kids are in conflict over which wall it should be displayed on. They want it to be close to them. They want to know when you're coming to visit the class. I told them to start saving their dimes so we could raise the $50,000 to get you home.


From: Ralph Bovard
To: Scott Petersen
Subject: Whaling
Date: Tue, 10 Dec 1996 19:37:33 -0500

Dear Scott and 5th grade class,

I am sorry that I haven't written back in a while. We have been deluged with things to do. Had to do the annual resupply purchase orders and requisitions for both the medical clinic and the general store. The combined budgets total about $100,000.00 so it was a fair bit of stuff but has to be ordered now, reviewed in Denver, the formal order sent in, the stuff purchased all over the U.S., shipped to Port Hueneme, California (the Naval routing center), then shipped to Punta Arenas, Chile and then placed on the icebreaker that comes down here to Palmer Station. So this order is for delivery of items to arrive here in MAY 1997. The double catch to all this is that they are changing the companies from whom they lease the delivery icebreaker and so May is the last one that comes here until September 97 when the new one, which is still being built, is scheduled to start. Convoluted, eh?

Anyway, I joined the Polar Bear Club yesterday. This is a spoof because you all know that there are no polar bears, nor Eskimos, in the Antarctic. Anyway what we did was 6 of us stood on top of the landing pier, I wore a white dress shirt, black bow tie and black top hat, and jumped into the sea. The air temperature was 1 degree above zero centigrade (33 F), and the temperature of the water was -0.5 Centigrade or 31 F.

Two Humpback whales cavort off Anvers Island.

Then we all went and sat in the hot tub to warm up. Pretty much fun! Later in the afternoon, as we were looking out the window I saw a black glistening hump rise up out of the sea. Then it disappeared. We watched for another 5 minutes before it came up again. It was a big humpback whale that then came into the harbor and majestically circled all the way around it over about a half hour. then just when we thought it was heading out to sea again, it came in toward the station, and breeched, rolled up on the surface right off the front pier where we had jumped in 2 hours earlier. It was very elegant and a very graceful swimmer. So I swam out and rode on its back around the harbor for a while. No, just joking.

On Sunday just past 5 of us put on bright orange neoprene survival suits, called "Gumby" suits, used by Arctic and Antarctic fishing vessels/icebreakers. Wearing one of these you can stay alive in these cold waters for up to a day, instead of a half hour as would be normal for somebody in street clothes. We floated like sea otters and "hauled-out", as they describe seals doing, on ice floes. It was very much fun.

Polar Duke docked at Palmer Station.

We had to evacuate another person off the Polar Duke vessel for appendicitis last week. This was a Norwegian crewman. He was picked up on the back of the icebreaker by a Brazilian helicopter, flown to King George Island in the Weddell Sea to the Marsh Chilean Base, then flown to Punta Arenas, Chile on a Uruguayan C-130 transport plane and had surgery the next day. Unusual coincidence to have two people with appendicitis, but no there is nothing in the water.

Well, the ship is in today and leaving tomorrow. I have to go open the store. I am trying to write you a letter to send on the ship when it leaves tomorrow. It is always busy when they are here.

Hope all is well in River City.

Best Wishes,
Ralph Bovard

Back to Field Journals Menu Back to Dr. Ralph Bovard's Journals Pen Pal Dog Ear