Mark Updegrove

SCA 1978 Yosemite National Park

Director, Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum | Austin, TX

In 1978, I was going to a boarding school, The George School in Pennsylvania. There were assemblies every week, and one was about the Student Conservation Association, where students who had internships would talk about their experience. It sounded perfect for me. I applied but was wait-listed. A week before the summer session started, I got a call. Someone had dropped out so a space opened for me. I happily packed my bags.

My father worked three jobs to send me to private school. I’d never been west of Ohio, so to fly all by myself at the age of 16 out to California and journey to Yosemite was a monumental event. I arrived in San Francisco late at night and slept in the airport. Times were certainly different, and my parents were by no means negligent, but I can’t imagine doing that today to my daughters.

The next day I flew to Merced and boarded a bus to Yosemite. I was there about three and a half weeks. We were well in the backcountry, miles from the nearest dirt road, working on Pacific Crest Trail. We worked for about two and a half weeks and then backpacked for a week. The whole thing was just a magical experience.

Marty Dobrow, me and a couple other guys got caught in a hailstorm. We were buck naked, in a stream and this hailstorm comes up and it’s just pelting us out of nowhere. We were fortunate enough not to have to bond in a foxhole, but for 16 and 17 years olds running through the hail was itself a bonding experience.

At the time I thought it was a one-and-done kind of thing, but it’s an experience that lasts. It was so formative. I have a great love for the West and the outdoors. Not to say I wouldn’t have romanticized the West if I hadn’t participated in SCA, but it certainly enhanced that at a very young age.

My present career is not what I envisioned. I got out of college not knowing what I would do. I started out in New York City, which was where I wanted to be. I had a relatively directionless and inauspicious career but I was a voracious reader of history, and came to appreciate presidential history. That prepared me for the second act of my career.

Eventually I went back to San Francisco and became a sales person for Time magazine, selling advertising space. I did well, became president of Time Canada, then went back to New York, where I was publisher of Newsweek, which was not a great time, and then to MTV—which was a miserable experience.

While there, I began writing a book, Second Acts: Presidential Lives and Legacies After the White House, which led to another book, which led to a dialogue with the National Archives about becoming director of a presidential library and the position I hold today. It’s allowed me to build a platform that incorporates American history, which has always been a passion of mine.

Earlier this year, Marty was researching presidential history and came across my name.  He called me and I invited him to the LBJ Library for the Civil Rights Summit we conducted to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.  It’s ironic that the event was called the summit, because it was an uphill climb in many respects and also reflective of the time Marty and I spent in the 70s on so many summits and peaks.

In many ways that time in Yosemite was the pinnacle of my post adolescence. Going to Yosemite with Marty and others was a glorious experience and, in so many ways, it was quite appropriate that we met again around a Civil Rights Summit.

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