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Sections of New Bridge Set in Place

Howard W. Hewitt – Bridgeton, Ind. – Wabash College had a very small hand in the restoration of the Bridgeton Covered Bridge. But the Wabash students will be remembered along with hundreds of other volunteers who made Monday’s events possible.

The bridge was destroyed by arson April 28, 2005. The community, an army of volunteers, and two industrial sized cranes put the bridge back in place Monday morning. See photos from Monday here.

Wabash’s involvement started with the Present Indiana Summer Internship Program. John Meara ’07 selected the Parke County bridges for his summer project. A natural extension of his research became a work day. More than 20 students went to Bridgeton June 1 to volunteer. Those men spent the day stacking lumber.

Approximately 25 students returned Aug. 22 and cleaned the construction area and stained the wooden panels which will become the sides of the covered bridge.

There were no Wabash students present for Monday’s big event. Classes are underway on campus and the day in Bridgeton started around 9 a.m. But the students who went down Aug. 22 expressed an appreciation for the history and social significance, not to mention economic impact, of the covered bridges.

The school children present Monday were the first to let out a thunderous cheer when the first section of the bridge was set in place.

“Hopefully these kids will assume responsibility,” said elementary school teacher Susie Runyon. “Hopefully they’ll assume responsibility for preservation of landmarks like our bridges.”

You can read all of Runyon’s comments and thoughts from mill owner Mike Roe in a Wabash College press release. Just click here.

The Wabash contingent was small, just one Public Affairs representative. But there are at least 50 Wabash men who can take pride in lending a hand to a project of historic significance. The newest, historically accurate, covered bridge in America is rising in Parke County.

As for the rest of the Wabash Community, it should share in the pride that has helped restore something no arsonist can destroy – community pride.

Talking About the “Ideal”

Jim Amidon — “The student is expected to conduct himself at all times, both on and off the campus, as a gentleman and responsible citizen.”

That single, simple sentence, which seems to have been written a couple centuries ago, constitutes the only rule of conduct at Wabash College. It seems almost Victorian in tone — “a gentleman and responsible citizen.”

And with the possible exception of college archivist Beth Swift, I’m not sure anyone at Wabash knows how long “The Gentleman’s Rule” has guided student behavior and conduct. Many older alumni remember having only one rule, but few know the origins of it. Fewer still remember talking about it much.

Many critics think it’s an antiquated holdover from another era long ago; an era void of litigation and judicial conflict. Virtually every college in America once operated on an honor code similar to Wabash’s Gentleman’s Rule. Few colleges still have those codes, and most that do also provide students with thick handbooks to guide their behavior. The honor code has been relegated to governing academic honesty.

At Wabash, though, the Gentleman’s Rule is it: the ideal we hold out for our students with hopes that they make the link between the enormous trust we place in them, the freedoms they enjoy, and the responsibilities they alone must shoulder.

Living up to the Gentleman’s Rule is not easy for most 19-, 20-, and 21-year-olds. I discovered that a week ago when I sat with 28 freshman students and two of their student orientation leaders for a 75-minute talk about what the Gentleman’s Rule really means.

I started out our conversation by asking the students — then on campus only 36 hours — to define for me the characteristics of a gentleman. Just as there were 30 different students from 30 different families, there were almost as many definitions.

The definitions I liked best included words like “respected,” “chivalrous,” “ethical,” and “honest.”

Like the rule itself, the words we came up with stand as ideals for the students; targets we want them to shoot for fully knowing they will ultimately fall short at some point.

As I looked into their tired eyes, I knew each student was imagining how he might conduct himself over the next four years — and the years that follow. I could see them wrestling with ethical dilemmas in their minds, when doing the right thing could and would be difficult.

We talked a lot about courage and how much courage it would take to confront a fraternity brother, roommate, or teammate when they were in violation of the Gentleman’s Rule. When was it okay to speak out, to have those conversations?

I guided them through a discussion of what is and is not appropriate behavior under the Gentleman’s Rule. When I asked for examples of potential violations, each student was able to offer something: fighting, cheating, stealing, using insensitive language, treating people badly, and so on.

That part of the talk was most heartening. It demonstrated to me that these young men, alone for the first time in their lives and now personally responsible for their behavior, do know the difference between right and wrong.

Each student could imagine himself breaking the rule and I could tell they were puzzling with the issue of “but what if I don’t get caught.” Then a bright young man looked up and said, “It doesn’t matter if you get caught; your conscious should be your guide.”

“And your mama,” I added. They looked at me curiously. I said, “If you’re really struggling with a decision about what’s right and what’s wrong, put it to the mama test: what if your mother found out?”

The light bulbs went off and they nodded their heads in agreement with the simple, easy-to-understand definition of what it means to be a gentleman.

Wabash hopes to educate its students to think critically, act responsibly, lead effectively, and live humanely. In order to accomplish that lofty goal, students are guided by the Gentleman’s Rule and the ideal it represents.

And just as they will flunk tests, fumble footballs, and drop lines on stage, they will occasionally fall short of the ideal. It’s understanding when and how they have fallen short, that each young man makes the critical link between trust and responsibility, which will govern every decision they make for the rest of their lives.

The Gentleman’s Rule may be a simple sentence, but it stands a grand ideal for every student who steps on the Wabash campus.

A Return Trip to Help People of Bridgeton

Howard W. Hewitt – Bridgeton, Ind. – Wabash men just don’t leave a job undone. Nor do they wipe their hands after just one day of hard work.

For the second time this summer a group of Wabash students headed to Bridgeton in Parke County to assist with the reconstruction of the Bridgeton Covered Bridge. See complete photo album from Monday’s visit here.

Wabash students got interested in the project during the summer when senior John Meara selected covered bridges as his summer research project for Present Indiana. Soon the idea of the helping out the people of Bridgeton seemed like a natural extension of the project. Approximately 25 guys went down June 1 and helped stack lumber and clean up the lumber yard. 

Tuesday Meara organized a group of 23 to return to Bridgeton and again lend a hand. The guys spent the better part of two hours applying the familiar red stain to the side panels of the new bridge. 

The Bridgeton volunteers have constructed two large superstructures that will be the bridge’s foundation. Those two large structures will be moved to the location next to the Bridgeton Mill Monday morning and put in place by two huge cranes. Organizers expect the covered bridge to be in place and completed by time the wildly popular Parke County Covered Bridge Festival runs in early October. 

The summer group had been hearing about the bridge from Meara and seeing photos before their trip. Many of the guys on the trip Monday were less familiar with the bridges in general and had only heard about the arson fire which destroyed the Bridgeton landmark over a year ago. 

Still, after spending a day working with the Bridgeton locals and seeing the project first hand, they seemed to develop a legitimate interest. They even elected to take a little longer ride home to pass a couple of the county’s famous covered bridges. 

Living humanely can be defined in many different ways – but lending a neighbor a hand has to be near the top of that list. 

In photo: Dan Anglin puts red stain on one of the side panels which will become the covered bridge’s walls.

On Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship

Jim Amidon — I was pleased to attend an annual Wabash tradition: The Ides of August Friday morning. The day-long program celebrates the research and scholarly work of the Wabash faculty. The original idea, thought up by the late biologist Tom Cole, was to bring the faculty together to better understand the personal, scholarly interests of each member.

Click here to see the faculty who presented this year.

At Wabash, we tend to know the faculty only as teachers — and extraordinary teachers at that. It takes special people to teach at Wabash. The students’ needs are great and the entire culture is built around personal relationships that develop between students and teachers.

Professors at Wabash teach three or four courses per semester; many add laboratories, tutorials, or study sessions on top of that. All faculty serve on at least a couple committees; many are active, working participants on as many as five or six committees that meet regularly to conduct the business of the college.

Wabash professors mentor their students, on both academic and personal issues. It’s not uncommon for our professors to spend considerable time providing individual instruction outside the classroom. Beyond that, there are countless hours spent counseling young men on problems with their families, girlfriends, emotions, careers, and finances.

Faculty members at Wabash have families — husbands, wives, partners, children, and parents. They try to be active in community affairs, in their children’s schools, and in their churches.

Faculty at Wabash are so much more than teachers. Yet we know and honor them mostly for their teaching, which is at the heart of everything we do at Wabash. The excellence in teaching and learning is not only Wabash’s principal focus, it is nationally regarded as a model for other institutions.

So the Ides of August — a celebration of the faculty’s individual research and scholarship — was a good reminder for me and for all who attended, that while teachers first, Wabash professors are also experts in their fields.

Some of what I heard during the professors’ 20-minute talks went over my head, but not much. Most of it was presented in a way that all could understand.

Economist Joyce Burnette, for example, could have probed deeply into the complex calculations she’s had to make to dispel centuries of misinformation and guesswork in her area of study. Instead, she gave us a “user-friendly” lesson on the wages and production of women working on English farms from 1750 to 1850. While still in progress, her research is debunking a good bit of gender-related misinformation that dates to the 1800s.

One by one, 14 Wabash professors took the podium in front of their colleagues to explain in great detail the intricacies and challenges of their personal research. By the end of the day, everyone who attended had a brain’s worth of new knowledge and an intense one-day liberal arts education.

The importance of the Ides of August, though, goes far beyond the papers presented. Bill Placher noted when he began the day that Tom Cole’s vision for Ides was less a celebration of the actual research and more of a celebration of community.

Professor Cole believed that we can not really know one another well until we unlock each person’s intellectual passions. By understanding a professor’s curiosities that stretch far beyond Wabash’s classrooms we come to know the motivation that drives their teaching excellence.

For now, though, Amanda Ingram will slow her work in botany, Stephen Dyson will drop his research on British Prime Ministers, and Michelle Rhoades will temporarily close her books on the study of prostitution in France.

Wabash’s esteemed scholars are back in class doing what they do best: teaching and learning with the exceptional young men of Wabash.

Giving the Bench a Peel Before School Starts

Howard W. Hewitt – Even long-time Wabash traditions need a little maintenance.

Sphinx Club member Ross Dillard ’07 joined other members and friends to begin taking three years of paint off the Senior Bench Thursday night. Ross was working on the bench Friday morning and was to soon have some buddies join him in the tedious task.

They were hoping to get the layers and layers and layers of paint peeled off, the bench cleaned, and then painted to welcome freshman Saturday.

The limestone bench, officially known as the Thomson Memorial Bench, was dedicated in 1905. The bench honors members of the Thomson family. James Thomson was a co-founder of the College and a trustee.

No one knows exactly when students began painting the bench, but it changes colors, logos and such throughout the school year. The bench has been used to memorialize students and promote various causes.

When news breaks in Latin America, turn to Padgett

Steve Charles—Just found out from political science professsor Melissa Butler that Tim Padgett ’84 was a featured expert on PBS’s Jim Lehrer News Hour in early August.

The TIME Magazine Miami bureau chief won the Cabot Prize from the Columbia University last year for his "distinguished journalistic contributions to inter-American understanding." With Fidel Castro ailing and his brother, Raul, in charge of Cuba, the folks at the News Hour were in need of some of Tim’s expertise.

"Raul has always had this reputation as sort of a hard-line enforcer for Fidel, and that’s one reputation that, in recent months, Fidel’s government has been trying to soften with a sort of P.R. makeover," Tim told Lehrer. "You’re seeing long articles in the official newspaper, Granma, for example, that have been trying to present Raul’s more warm and fuzzy side as a family man and a grandfather, trying to build a little bit more of a human connection between Raul and the Cuban population that Fidel has had sort of a mystical bond with that Raul has just never had."

You can read a transcript of Tim’s appearance on the show at the Online NewsHour.

His TIME Online article, "Why Raul Castro Could End Up a Reformer," offers a more thorough analysis of the situation.

Wabash man holds his own on “The View”

Steve Charles—Just watched Dr. Steve Judah ’72 being interviewed by Barbara Walters and company on ABC’s "The View."

Wow! I wonder if there’s any speech class at Wabash (or in the world) that could prepare you for the rapid-fire questioning that came at Steve from around that table. As one of my colleagues noted, a marriage counselor appearing on "The View" is a lot like a liberal politician showing up on "The O’Reilly Factor."

But Steve was up for the challenge.

The subject was marital infidelity—more specifically: How can a couple stay together when one of them has had an affair? That’s the focus of Steve’s new book, Staying Together—When an Affair Has Pulled You Apart. Steve has had remarkable success in helping couples work through these situations, "using the crisis at†hand to teach something good."

Walters and her co-hosts on "The View" seemed intrigued but skeptical. Steve prefers to have the unfaithful spouse reveal the affair to his or her spouse during a session in Steve’s office. Co-host Joy Behar quipped that such a strategy was like setting up a homicide.

"I’d rather have a controlled nuclear reaction in my office than a nuclear explosion at home," Steve said. Snap. He outlined three reasons affairs occur, managing to get some helpful steps in between his co-hosts’ interruptions. He said it was important to "get the message" of the affair; what it means, what were its causes, and how a marriage relationship can be enhanced.

And he won over the crowd when he said that he usually suggests that the person having the affair let go of that third person and work on the marriage he or she has.

The audience applauded. And Steve’s message of hope came through loud and clear.

From the email I received from Steve a few minutes ago, he seems to have enjoyed the interview. "A fun and fulfilling experience," he called it.

Not my idea of fun, but, for the sake of those who were watching the show and are facing marital crises, I’m glad it’s Steve’s.

I’m looking forward to hearing more on Tuesday when I travel to Columbus to interview Steve for the next issue of Wabash Magazine.