Saturday, December 15, 2007

Do you know a Kunz out in Utah?

I took a sociology class in college from this guy and remembered this article this week so will add it as a "Christmas story".

Do you know a Kunz out in Utah?
by Phillip R. Kunz
Mountainwest/December 1975

T’was the week before Xmas
When thru-out the town
Came a bag full of mail
Delivered around.

Season’s Greetings and Christmas joy
Who wished us all, but were so coy
Tho, you signed the cards
We are no dunce–
Just who in hell
Is Dr. and Joyce Kunz?

Thus read the cover of a Christmas card received by the author. Inside was added “And a Merry Christmas to you, too!” signed William and Dorothy Tanner. I confess that I never knew them either. And the cards came from others–one hundred and seventeen–from Omaha and South Dakota. All came from people I never met–people I never knew.

What elicited this well wishing? This cheerful Season’s Greeting? And who in Hell are Dr. and Joyce Kunz? I selected Omaha and Watertown for my study not because of some complex theoretical justification, but only because they were urban and rural, and the available Polk Directory from each area was of recent origin.

Six hundred of them were randomly selected to receive my cards. Half were high status folks–doctors, lawyers, accountants, and railroad vice presidents. The other half were people who had blue collar jobs–truck drivers, janitors, and bicycle repairmen.

My cards were carefully selected–three types in all. The best was a snow covered bridge with pines and ice and frost and verse. The second printed on card stock, “Merry Christmas” and a hand traced candle and flame–not bad at all for home designed and press printed. Finally there was the same card stock with a “Merry Christmas” quickly written by my secretary with a big red “Marks-A-Lot.” It was certainly not an artistic creation. I wasn’t too proud to put my name on that, but I did. On one half of each of the three types of cards was hand written “Dr. And Mrs. Phillip Kunz,” a title to match those of the high status receivers in the sample. The remainder were signed “{Phil, Joyce, Jay, Jenifer, Jody, Jonathan and Jana.” With the absence of the title, “Dr.” and the addition of several children’s names, the assumption was made that the sender would be perceived as lower class.

The response was surprising. First came the telephone calls–eleven of them in all, and none collect. “We have been thinking and thinking, but just can’t remember who you are.” They called during the day when I was at work so my wife had to answer. She wishes I would confine my sociological studies to the university!

On each of the envelopes I put an address sticker with my name and address, written to reflect the appropriate status. I decided to use my real pen name and address inasmuch as the return of a card, or some other like response, was the dependent variable for the study.

Then came the cards, one hundred and seventeen of them, in addition to the eleven phone calls. Some were just regular cards like “the Sister Madonna” and a name, printed Mr. And Mrs. Andrew Follet; or a Kaycrest Cotillion Card signed “The Paul Headmiller family.” Others were signed too, but also wanted to know who we were. “For some reason we fail to recall that we know you, when you sent your Xmas card. Happy Holiday to you all anyway. May Peace reign.” Or another, “We received your lovely X-mas card, but just can’t seem to place you. Could you please let us know your maiden name and how you know us? Bill, Jan, Lari, Lynn and Brian.”

There were colored photographs of new houses, new children, and pets. There were the cards with an apology for not having written sooner or regretting that “we see so little of you anymore.” Some were confused at first but were able to work it out and knew who we were in the end.

Dear Joyce and Phil: Received your Christmas card and was good to hear from you. I will have to do some explaining to you. Your last name did not register at first, so I had my niece stop on her way to Calif. To call you and ask if you were Dr. Ralph’s daughter. She did, but a youngster answered the phone and she said she tried to explain that she was my niece. She said I had better write or you would be confused. Please forgive me for being so stupid for not knowing your last name. We are fine and hope you are well. We miss your father. They were such grand friends. Until I hear from you some more, Sincerely, Hubert and Ann.

Long letters came with some of the cards–letters telling of local news, family health, and children’s progress in school. The record for length was a hand written letter of four pages. It closed with “It has been a long four years since we saw you.”

One well wisher said he was going to drop off three children with us for a week while they were to California. Another replied as follows: Dear Phil, Joyce and family, We received your holiday greeting with much joy and enthusiasm. We were so glad to hear from you again and we are very anxious to renew our old friendship. Bev, I and the children (nine, now) have been wanting to travel the southwest next summer and need a place to stop over for a few days, and refresh ourselves. Provo will be just the right place for such a stop. We leave here, June 1st, allow 2 days for travel and plan on us staying at least a week. Good to hear from you again, as it first right into our travel schedule. So on the way back the first part of July we could spend a few more days, resting and visiting with you. Merry Christmas & Happy New Years. Lou, Bev and the children. P.S. We are bringing our 2 St. Bernards along, as we cannot bear to leave them at a kennel.

To these two respondents my reply was “Touche.” No crank letters came from Nebraska, only from Watertown. A communicaster from the radio station called and later a newspaper editor. The radio commentator just mentioned in passing one day, “I got a Christmas card from a guy in Utah and I can’t remember him.” A later called on the air said, “Me too!” Many other called the station to say that they, too, received cards from a Kunz out in Utah. Who was this mystery man? A former resident on the military base in Watertown? When was he here? Why can’t we remember him?

Then the deputy sheriff called. “There is a family here with your same name–everyone is calling them and they are tired of it–who are you? What are you doing?” We talked a little and he said, “Interesting project! Merry Christmas,” and then hung up. Three weeks after Christmas was over, the Kunz family from Watertown sent a card and letter and said it was tough at first, but now they were glad for the experience and “good luck and a belated Merry Christmas to you.” They weren’t even part of my sample!

I sent a letter after Christmas to all of the people in the sampling explaining the project so they could relax their thinkers.

Incidentally, I received a lot more replies with me as a doctor than from just plain me. Only nine percent of the doctor and lawyer types sent cards while thirty-two percent of the blue-collar people sent a response to my card. I probably won’t send any cards this year, so a Merry Christmas to all of you!

6 comments: said...

what a small world that was Mike's mission president

Unknown said...

Kim did not get this story so she had me read it. I am so glad she did. I had heard of this study but had no idea it was a guy from BYU. Do you have more details on the study? It is really very interesting. 30 some odd percent of people responded to his random christmas cards - amazing.

Amy D said...

What an interesting study!

Janika said...

What a funny project. I went to jr. high and high school and BYU with his daughter Jana--small world?!!? It reminds me of the time we received a wedding invitation from a couple we did not know. We decided to go to the reception anyway because I had a class project to observe a "community gathering" for a sociology class. We went through the line to congratulate the happy couple and then spent the rest of the evening observing the cultural norms, artifacts, etc. of the reception. It was very interesting!

Anonymous said...

Fun study... Had to have been a long time ago.

In today's academic climate of proper ethics and "Human Subjects Approval" by various boards at the university level, this type of study would never get approved today. And if a professor did it "on the fly", he would probably be fired or reprimanded.


Sweetpea said...

I'm a Kuntz in Utah, close enough?