NORMAN — As a young Marine officer in World War II, Jim Artman realized that he was a pretty good teacher, so it was natural that he would combine that skill with his love of the Spanish language and build a career in academia. His fascination took root while he was a high school student in Dallas.
“I had many friends who were Hispanic,” he said, so when he began studies at OU, he decided to major in the language.
After graduation in 1943, he entered the Marines and had a career cut short by injury in the Pacific. His treatment brought him back to Norman, where he was at the Navy hospital on South Base. He later was treated at other hospitals “and then they retired me.”
He applied at the University of Oklahoma and landed a job as a graduate assistant.
“I quickly learned that if I was going to stay in that career, I needed to have at least a master’s degree,” Artman said.
He earned that degree at the National University of Mexico, earning the Phi Beta Kappa distinction.
It wasn’t long until he realized that he needed a doctorate degree, so in the early 1950s, he and his young family headed to UCLA for two years of resident study. He returned to OU to teach, completing the doctorate degree in 1958.
“Teaching was a nine-month job, so I had other jobs in the summer. I worked at the physical plant, roofed houses, working at the gas station,” he said.
Jim and Martha Artman raised two sons and a daughter. Their son, David, is deceased. Their son, Jim, is a commercial real estate appraiser in Norman. Their daughter, Maia Everhart, lives at the Lake of the Arbuckles. A grandson, Taylor, a budding golfer out of Norman North and Oklahoma City University, is now a professional golfer.
Early in his career, Artman “got an interesting offer to serve as editor of university publications.” He did that for 10 years while teaching part time.
Slowly working his way up the ladder in the modern languages department, he enjoyed working with graduate students in the field of Spanish literature. It was about that time that OU purchased a hacienda in Colima, Mexico. He has wonderful memories of taking students there each summer for immersion in the language and culture of the village.
“No English was spoken, and I saw students make tremendous progress in a few weeks. Those were good days,” Artman said.
After 40 years on the faculty, he “retired.” Although it wasn’t a rule, “everyone understood that at 70, you retired.” So there was a party, but he didn’t bother to pack up his office.
“The university was gracious enough to ask me to teach part time, two classes, and I did that for another 10 years. But when I hit 80, I said, ‘They don’t need an old man around here,’ and I retired,” Artman said.
He had devoted 52 years to the university.
Artman had seen the changing times reflected in the student body.
“After World War II, so many veterans were on campus. They were intense about getting an education,” Artman said.
It raised a standard that sometimes was hard for students who were right out of high school to meet, he said.
He has seen times of crisis.
“During the Vietnam War, the ROTC students couldn’t even wear their uniforms on campus. Others would jeer at them,” Artman said.
He had seen years when the students seemed “not as motivated” as other students of years past “when the students were eager, more pragmatic, determined to get out and get a job.”
Artman was involved in the Norman community, serving eight years on the Norman City Council.
“It was the 1970s and there was a lot of growth going on. That was a time when a lot of the subdivisions were being developed,” Artman said. “I made friends, and I lost some friends, too,” he said of his time on the council.
One of the divisive issues he faced was his proposal for the city to levy a fee on OU student vehicles to help the city’s budget to maintain streets. He didn’t get the support of then-OU President Herbert Hollomon, and the issue was dead.
A prodigious reader, Artman reads some publications in Spanish and watches Spanish networks. An avid bass fisherman, he developed many friendships over the years that came with fishing privileges at lakes around the state.
He maintains an interest in politics and what’s happening in Washington. He can no longer climb the steps to their seats in the stadium, but he will closely follow the football team.
Although he said he doesn’t have “the gazelle-like moves” of a younger man, he gets around just fine, caring for his wife and maintaining the southwest Norman home that they have lived in for 53 years of their 66 years of marriage.
The beginning of a new school year brings on nostalgia.
“I miss teaching … meeting a new group of students,” Artman said.