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Williams’ Visit: A Gift for Wabash

Jim Amidon — Terry Tempest Williams will pack her luggage today and head back to Utah, leaving me thinking, "Now that’s what I call a Visiting Artists Series event!"

Her two-plus day visit to campus was nothing short of a gift to the students, faculty, staff, and this community. Stuck in the doldrums of a soggy, foggy, gray spring, we were rescued, if only temporarily, by Williams’ love of people and place.

I left Tuesday night’s reading — and this may surprise some — speechless. So did lots of others who attended and listened as the acclaimed writer, naturalist, and activist read a brand-spanking new work (two hours old) about Montgomery County’s Shades State Park and Sugar Creek, along with significant passages from her book, Red: Patience and Passion in the Desert.

Her prose is breathtaking, and leads the reader (or listener) to a more perfect world, a world where we bury political axes to come together to make right choices and good long-term decisions about the world we share. Her powers of observation, whether of the Redrock Wilderness or the stunning gorges of The Shades, are beyond this writer’s words. Thankfully, she captures the subtleties of natural beauty in words that sing to us.

Wiliams spent Monday on campus, delivered a lecture to a large crowd on Monday night, spent time in classes on Tuesday, went with Mike Bachner and Pat Galloway to The Shades on Tuesday afternoon, and she then gave, perhaps, the finest reading ever in the Salter Concert Hall. Of course, she has wonderful material, but her spoken voice is so lovely, so beautiful that it adds depth and passion to the printed page.

What impressed me most, though, and others with whom I’ve talked, is how sincere and caring Williams was with each interaction she had with students, faculty, staff, and friends of the College. Within minutes, she knew the name of every student in Marc Hudson’s class, as well as the name of every student in Helen Hudson’s Crawfordsville High School class. She answered every question with honest candor, and evoked a rare trust in our ability to have meaningful conversation and debate, even when we disagree.

She hugged alumnus (and fellow Utah native) Ryan Yates, who drove out from Iowa to attend the reading. After the reading, she sat in the front row next to Alix Hudson and Grey Castro to get their reactions. She put her arms around the students who have founded the College’s "Students for Sustainability" group. She shook hands, gave autographs, and posed for photos. But mostly, Terry Tempest Williams engaged on a deeply personal level with each and every individual she encountered.

Indeed, Terry Tempest William’s visit to campus was a gift; a taste of eternal spring to lift us from our winter doldrums and carry us through this school year.

“The resurrections rain accomplishes”

In one of my favorites of Marc Hudson’s early poems, the Wabash English professor writes:

"You will discover your vocation:
You will write the history of rain…
You will record the resurrections rain accomplishes…"

I’ll confess that I attended Marc’s reading last Thursday—his first of any length since the death of his son, Ian, on December 30, 2002—hoping for resurrections. Marc’s art had been a lodestar to me for such hope before. But Ian’s death, at age 19, was such a blunt instrument, I feared the poet’s vision dimmed, his voice muted. Though nothing comparable to the loss of a child, I’ve had my own losses lately, and so has the campus. Marc’s is a voice we’ve needed.

And it was strong and clear on Thursday night.

"I wanted to read some poems about places," Marc began, "and about coming home to them."

First there was Washington State and "The History of Rain." Then Iceland, where he and his wife, Helen, spent 1980-81, and where Marc worked on a farm while translating Beowulf in a place where the "north wind was robbing the farmer blind," but where there also was "gold in the wind," and where Marc first thought about being a father.

Then back to Washington, where Ian was injured at birth and afflicted with cerebral palsy:

"In Omak,
these were festival days.
Boys raced their ponies
down a cutbank, then across
the Okanogan. Now I understood
their ritual leap to mend
a broken life. I had been a curator of bones:
now I was the father of a small church made of them."

Then to Crawfordsville, where he bathed Ian for what he didn’t realize was the last time in his life:

"…you, cracking up at my antics
mocking my aged tastes
with your sidelong squint…"

And where he and Helen bathed him after his death:

"Under your long lashes,
Ian,
your eyes appear half open,
most carefully,
they seem to be considering a difficult equation.

Has your breath contrived,
somehow,
to continue without its body,
the way a boat does
when its oars are shipped
and it lifts into the further wave?

We put down our towels to listen;
No sound from those lips.
Quiet sailor,
what sea do you cross?"

He read a work written for a vigil protesting the beginning of the War in Iraq in March 2003:

"We laid him down,
We let him go,
His mother, his sister, and I
into the wooden hole of his coffin…
…our son, like one of those gone for a soldier to the Gulf…
…Operation Shock and Awe
Hot metal will rain on Baghdad
a human dust will rise and mingle
with the red Tigris wind…"

And anger rose in his voice as he considered those willing to send the children of others to die:

"Friends, fellow citizens,
War is the worst inhuman thing,
and burying your child,
even in peace,
is like placing into a boat
every little possession you held dear
and pushing it into the breakers."

He introduced his current project, a book-length poem entitled "Swimming the Acheron" after the mythical River of Sorrow that encircles Hades. This work-in-progress is a homecoming to the epic form he’s translated and written in previously; there’s also anger at the doctor who delivered Ian, anger at himself, and guilt.

"I must follow my son down into the darkness…"

"The next part of the poem, I hope, will have more light," Marc practically apologized. "In it, I talk to my father. And I hope, finally, to talk to my son in this poem, and then make my way back home."

Not wanting to leave us in a darkness he’s known for too long, the poet concluded with the recent "Late Summer Stanzas," and its world where "August was gold out my window."

"One of my great pleasures is gardening; I love sunflowers," Marc said, introducing the piece."And if you have sunflowers, you will have goldfinches. One of the great joys of gardening is watching the goldfinches feeding as they balance on the backs of the sunflowers."

It was a cheerful image, but walking home I couldn’t help but recall the poet’s "Swimming the Acheron." The title is no mere literary reference. Marc is a good recreational swimmer. And in the poem "July 29," he writes:

"My boy also
is a swimmer, for whom desire
annihilates distance.
He is my dolphin, my little Odysseus.
Death could not steal
from his eyes the dawn
of his homecoming."

As I walked home, I thought of Marc and his daily swims at lunch hour at the Allen Center and how they might have inspired his "Swimming the Acheron"—what he might see there, who he might speak with, and what he’ll come back to tell us. I wondered if some of us who have known loss may be following in his wake.

I came to a reading looking for resurrections. What I found was a poet come home with hope. As his colleague, Tom Campbell, noted during his introduction, Marc’s is "a voice we’ve needed during these difficult times."

The generous applause following Marc’s reading lent Tom’s words a hearty "amen," and the poet seemed to genuinely enjoy this homecoming.

As Marc said earlier that evening, "It takes a bit more time to find the poetry of Indiana than it does the poetry of the Cascades, or Puget Sound, or Iceland. A more subtle beauty, it requires a more rooted heart. Perhaps the muse is a little thinner, but the vein grows deep."

—Steve Charles

“Ease and confidence”

Steve Charles—In November of last year, Indiana Solicitor General Tom Fisher ’91 flew in from Indianapolis to watch mentor and “big brother” Greg Castanias ’87 present oral arguments before the United States Supreme Court.

On March 20, 2006, it was Fisher’s turn before the Justices, representing his state in Hammon v. Indiana, a decision that will have major implications for the prosecution of domestic violence cases in the U.S.

And Greg was there to support him.

Tom was marvelous in a very difficult argument,” Greg said after watching his friend’s moment on the legal world’s biggest stage. “He took on some rather aggressive questioning from Justice [Antonin] Scalia and completely held his own, debating with Justice Scalia (and other Justices) fine points of constitutional and pre-constitutional history, such as the trial of Sir Walter Raleigh."

Fisher had presented the facts of the case earlier in the year to Wabash students, when he was a member of a panel on government and religion. But on Monday his audience was a bit more daunting—at least to most of us.

From watching the six advocates in the two cases argued today, no one would have known that this was Tom’s first argument before the Court, because he seemed like he had done this a hundred times," Greg said proudly. “Tom possesses an ease and confidence on his feet that I can only hope I have on my best day.”

Photo: Tom Fisher enjoyed his visit with Wabash students and faculty.

Remembering Han, 1985-2006

Jim Amidon — Tuesday night members of the Wabash community came together to remember their fallen friend, Han Jiang, who died Thursday in an automobile accident about five blocks from campus. Linda Weaver, Carolyn Goff, and the whole cadre of Wabash Women provided a wonderful banquet of foods and desserts for Han’s Tau Kappa Epsilon and International Student Association brothers, community friends, and a few members of the faculty and staff.

It was typical Wabash: Hugs, handshakes, tears, and warm stories of a quiet, naive kid who came to Wabash from China, but got the most from his experience here. I asked Alex Goga for images of Han that might better illustrate the person; Alex answered my request with pictures of Han at the TKE Christmas party, hanging out in his room, eating Chinese food, and cheering at the Monon Bell Game. The pictures tell the story of a young man who had a very full and meaningful life at Wabash College.

My heart ached for Bo Jiang, Han’s father, when he arrived in Detchon Center. Bo had been to Wabash before in his capacity as both father and educational diplomat for the Chinese consulate in Chicago. He talked about the continuing need to build strong educational relationships between China and the United States and cited Wabash as a good example. Then he mustered the courage to speak of the kindnesses extended to his son and his family by the Wabash community. He even took the time to accept the sympathies from the entire crowd after the event, greeting each person with a warm and meaningful hug.

Many of us had hoped that by attending Bo would see the impact his son had on the Wabash community and be strengthened by it. Perhaps that was the case, but clearly he provided strength to the students, faculty, and staff in attendance with his warm hugs and handshakes.

Few can imagine the pain Han’s parents, Bo and Ying Huang, are experiencing. They have invested their lives in trying to provide international educational opportunities for Chinese students, and have invested all of their resources to provide their only child a Wabash education. Today they have only Han’s memory and their work to sustain them.

For Wabash, Han’s death provided a painful opportunity for students to come together in support of one another; to laugh, cry, and be angry together; and to remember someone who touched their lives but who now is gone. Those students will honor Han in death for the love he gave them in life.

Han Jiang

April 15, 1985 to March 9, 2006

Some Little Giant!

A Contrast in Marketing Challenges

Howard W. Hewitt – The 11 Wabash students studying marketing during spring break week got a real contrast Wednesday and Thursday and a realistic look at opportunities and challenges businesses may face.

Thursday the group traveled to South Bend, In., and visited the College Football Hall of Fame. The Hall has been in South Bend for about five years after a long run at Kings Island, Cincinnati.

Read the students’ blog about the week long experience and see more photos here.

The students toured the beautiful facilities and met with its marketing manager to discuss the challenges. The Hall is drawing about 65,000 visitors a year with a large portion of those coming on Notre Dame home football game weekends. The challenge is to substantially grow the number of visitors on a very limited budget.

In contrast, the student’s visit to Scott Smalstig ’88 and Joseph David Advertising in Muncie was a high-energy hour and a half planning strategy for an elite island resort community. Smalstig led the students through an exercise looking at marketing strategies for the wealthy community.

The contrast and road trips added spice to a week of classroom learning. The students really got involved when taken on sight to look at challenges and opportunities within the field of marketing.

In each city, a few alums joined the students for dinner at nice restaurants to talk about their careers and days at Wabash.

It might not have been the beach, a European immersion experience, or even time at home, but clearly the 11 men had an enjoyable and educational break.

In photo: The Monon Bell rivalry is just one of several represented in the College Football Hall of Fame at South Bend.

Know The Mountain

By Brent Harris

"Know where the mountain is at all times."

That’s a phrase the Wabash golf team may never forget after playing a round at the exclusive and historic Desert Forest Golf Course in Carefree, Arizona. You see, the course is located near the base of the Black Mountain. Every grain of grass on the greens goes toward the mountain. So even if the putt looks uphill, find the mountain. That’s the way the ball will break.

It was a tough lesson to learn. After spending nine holes with senior Elliot Vice and junior JP Manalo and their course member host Bill McRea, I raced ahead to join seniors Aaron Selby and Jonathan McDowell and freshman Jordan Vice. Every time they reached the green, they would remind each other, "where’s the mountain. Know the mountain."

Another thing to know is the weather. The Phoenix area was in the midst of a 140-day drought, one of the longest in the region’s history. That’s come to an end.The team played in 50-degree weather, but was surprised when the light rain that started late in the round turned to hail, then light snow. Twenty minutes later the sun came out and no remnants of the snow could be found. Welcome to the great Southwest.

After the round the group gathered with Wabash alum Dick Hurckes ’56, who hosted the team at the course for day. They talked about the course, playing the ball off the desert surrounding the course, overseeding the golf course (Wabash players say yes with the other popular phrase of the day being, "overseed." I think love of the course and the history of its development may win out in the end), and, of course, Wabash College.

They even took a moment to pose for a picture taken by a DePauw alumnus who is also a member of the club who took a moment to joke with the team and talk about his memories of the rivalry between the two schools.

Photos – (top) Freshman Jordan Vice tees off with the Black Mountain clearly in view.

(middle) Hail gathers on the practice green near the club house.

(bottom) The golf team with alum Dick Hurckes in the clubhouse after the round.

Keeping Spring Break Work Interesting

Howard W. Hewitt – Much is made about Wabash’s overseas immersion learning trips which happen over Spring Break and later this spring. Students are in Prague studying math. Another group has an exciting trip to really soak in New York City’s culture. A political science class is studying our federal government up close and seeing the sights of our nation’s capital.

The new spring break immersion learning experience is staying closer to home and tackling some tough work. Eleven students are spending the week in Indianapolis with Ken Turchi ’80 and learning about marketing. Click here to read the student blog on the marketing experience.

To keep the topic interesting the group met with a small coffee shop owner competing against Starbucks, visited the Indiana Pacers marketing director, and attended a Pacer game.

The group will hit the road from its Indianapolis base Wednesday and Thursday. Wednesday’s travel is to Muncie where a group of Wabash alums run a marketing firm. Thursday’s trip is to discuss marketing with the College Football Hall of Fame at South Bend. The students are scheduled to have dinner with small groups of alumni  in Muncie and South Bend.

While it’s not spending hours on the beach in Florida or even on the couch eating mom’s cooking, the students seem to dive in to the experience. Discussion and interaction in the classroom setting has been dynamic. But like many Wabash activities they seem to enjoy each other’s company, tackle each part of the day as a shared experience, and keep coming back for more.

That’s not unlike a typical week with regular classes on campus. This is the first year for the Marketing Immersion trip. It’s intense with an aggressive schedule. But it’s also a great complement to a student’s education – especially if they have an interest in business.

In photo: Marketing Immersion leader Ken Turchi.

Alums, Athletes Enjoy Arizona Atmosphere

By Brent Harris

The Wabash baseball team would have been a little happier Sunday night had it picked up a second victory against RIT to go 2-0 to start the season. But many of the thoughts of the day’s events faded into the distance with a get-together for the Wabash athletes, coaches, and their families at the home of Mike Rapier ’87 and his wife, Cindy.

Joined by the Little Giant golf team, the athletes and coaches shared food, stories, and laughter while enjoying the start of a week of activities in Arizona. Both teams will practice and play in the sun-drenched Southwest before returning to campus at the end of spring break. Sunday night was less about athletic endeavors and everything about the special connection between Wabash men. Golfers and baseball players enjoyed great food and conversation, along with the incredible hospitality of the Rapiers. Talk of birdies, putts, base hits, and RBIs turned to midterms and summer plans amid the cool Arizona breeze.

Both teams return to their various arenas Monday. The golf team will head to We-Ko-Pah Golf Course, then travel to Eagle Mountain Tuesday thanks to the efforts of alumnus John Gallios ’52. Wednesday Dick Hurckes ’56 will host the team for a practice at the Desert Forest Golf Course before a Thursday match against Mesa Community College at Dobson Ranch Golf Course. The linksters close the week at Wigwam Golf Course and an afternoon with Roger Colehower ’65.

The Wabash baseball team will play Monmouth College Monday, followed by a Tuesday doubleheader against Wartburg. After a day off Wednesday, the Little Giants play Coe College, then take on Wisconsin Lutheran Friday. The final two games of the Arizona trip come Saturday morning against William Paterson of New Jersey before heading back to the airport and trip to Crawfordsville.

On behalf of the baseball and golf teams, thanks to the alums and the families who have supported the two teams during their Arizona trip. And a special thank you to the Rapiers for the wonderful event at their home Sunday night!

Photos – (Top left) Freshman Matt Dodaro and Mike Rapier ’87 chat before dinner.

(Bottom left) Head baseball coach Tom Flynn and senior golfer Elliot Vice share a laugh at dinner.

So You Wanna Be a Rock and Roll Star

Jim Amidon — With the smell of a hot griddle and oil from sausage patties and pancakes hanging thickly in the air, I worked my way through a crush of people to find myself a spot near the stage. There were kids, ages 3 to 13, sitting at the feet of the band — literally — and their parents, a bunch of 30- and 40-somethings, sat in eager anticipation of the evening’s featured event.

I had found myself at St. John’s Episcopal Church, site of "Cafe St. John’s," a fund-raiser for the church’s youth group. The idea is to feature the talents — music, poetry, and short fiction — of the church’s members. All I knew was that I was there to see the oft-hyped Wabash faculty band Skrymir at one of its first public shows.

I’ve always wanted to be a rock critic. These guys — Patrick Myers (classics professor and guitarist), Dan Rogers (Spanish professor who plays bass), Stephen Morillo (medieval historian turned keyboard player and vocalist), James MacDougall (guitarist and husband of English professor Joy Castro), and Joe Laskowski (drummer and husband of the Center of Inquiry’s Jenn Laskowski) — want to be rock and roll stars. Well, maybe not "stars," but they do like getting together to play the music of their formative years.

I hear that mathematics professor J.D. Phillips plays a mean guitar but is taking a break from the band because of what they say is a too-full schedule. Phillips is said to be too busy with the presidential search and taking a class trip to Prague over Spring Break. Yeah, right. As a diligent rock critic, though, I’m digging deeper on this story. I’ve heard rumors of creative differences and too many lead vocalist wannabe’s. I’m checking it out.

On this night, though, with that darned smell of pancakes permanently enrobed in my sinuses, I can’t get the great Tom Petty tune out of my mind: "So you want to be a rock and roll star." Even as Skrymir begins with a tribute to Fat Tuesday — "House of the Rising Sun" — I’m thinking about the "agent man" and how there will soon be Stephen Morillo action figures, James MacDougall Hawaiian shirts, and a whole line of Hot Wheels products modeling Dan Rogers’ pick-up truck. Will these guys sell out, even as they play their way through middle age?

"Rising Sun" got the crowd going, and like all bands that take themselves too seriously, Skrymir ditched the covers and went into back-to-back original tunes that led some of the kids back to the table for more pancakes and sausage.

But then the band did what it does best: it returned to a cover tune, this one a wonderful Velvet Underground song called "Rock and Roll" with Laskowski doing an incredible Lou Reed on lead vocals.

As I snaked my way through the crowd, now going wild with applause and shouts of "encore, encore," I thought to myself, "Maybe I do wanna be a rock and roll star." See, I was headed back to write a story and edit my photographs in my lonely office. The band got to sign autographs and fight off scores of groupies (even if said groupies were their own children).

Check out photos of Skrymir by clicking here.