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Experiencing Indiana… For the First Time

Jim Amidon — I wasn’t born in Indiana, but I’ve spent most of my life as a Hoosier. And through my various travels with Wabash College, I always felt like I knew plenty about our home state. In fact, as the College’s PR guy, I’ve often “sold” prospective students and employees on the state of Indiana.

Thanks to a handful of students and a truly innovative program at Wabash, I’ve discovered how little I really do know about our state.

Several years ago, the college received a Lilly Endowment Inc. grant that would provide a range of opportunities for Wabash people to get to know Indiana. The idea behind the grant was that if more Wabash students (and later alumni) learned of the rich culture and history of Indiana, perhaps they’d stay in Indiana after graduation.

The Endowment has funded lots of initiatives to plug what it calls the “brain drain” — the loss of Indiana college graduates to other states. But the Wabash grant is very different from other similarly funded initiatives.

Broken into three parts — Experience Indiana, Know Indiana, and Present Indiana — the Wabash grant provides students and faculty the resources to develop programs, courses, and presentations that show off the Hoosier state.

A group of Wabash men have spent the summer on campus, but taking excursions across the state as they conduct research and interviews for the Present Indiana portion. Each man has earned a stipend to develop presentations they’ll make on- and off-campus in the coming year.

A few weeks ago, Journal Review intern (and Wabash student) Rob Fenoglio tagged along when the group — through Experience Indiana funding — traveled to West Baden and French Lick to see the transformation of that historic Indiana community.

One of the students in the Present Indiana program, Matt Goodrich, has since returned to French Lick to further develop his project. The result will be a multi-media presentation on both the history and restoration of Orange County as one of the state’s top tourist destinations.

Another student, Steve Egan, has spent much of his summer in my Parke County stomping grounds. He’s researching the expansive Amish community that has immigrated to West Central Indiana from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Steve has talked with Amish community leaders, been to their homes and barns, and has built relationships that will become the backbone of his research project.

Other Present Indiana research agendas include Indiana’s growing wine and cheese making industries; the architecture of Columbus and Madison; backpacking and primitive camping sites; the Brown County artists’ community; the Battle of Tippecanoe; and the German churches of Southern Indiana.

Two students are also involved locally in the Know Indiana Cultural Internship Program. Gary James has been interning at the now-open Carnegie Museum and Tyler Williams is doing an internship as Project Coordinator at the Lew Wallace Study and Museum.

The grant’s scope is unique, to be sure. Discovering Indiana’s hidden treasures and best-kept secrets with a goal of opening the eyes and minds of people who might eventually call Indiana “home” is a wonderful idea.

Better, though, in my mind, is the impact these projects are having on the students who are researching them.

I try to carve out a few minutes every day to read the Present Indiana blog on the Wabash web site. The students doing the research are required to write about their progress from time to time over the summer.

What you’ll discover if you drop in for a quick read is how students’ own minds are changing; how their eyes are opening to arts, culture, people, and history they never knew existed — and in some cases in their own backyards.

Here’s a short example cut from Crown Point native Steve Egan’s blog entry after spending an afternoon with an Amish family in Parke County:

“Samuel, like all of the Amish I’ve run into, was happy to talk with me and made me feel rightfully awkward by not doing any work while I was there. He knew I was there just to observe, but to him I was a guest and therefore deserved all of his attention while in his barn. I wished it hadn’t been so; it only made my presence there just that more awkward.”

While Steve gives us a lot of information on the lives of the families he’s met, it’s the impact on him that is most interesting to me.

So, if you’re like me and you think you know a lot about Indiana, check out the blog on the Wabash web site. You’ll learn a lot from these talented and curious Wabash men. But you’ll also, I think, appreciate the impact our state is having on them.

Killer bees and memories

Steve Charles—Reading of Wayne Hoover’s moving tribute to a friend lost in the crash of Comair Flight 5191 (click here to read more), I was reminded of another alumnus on a two-wheeled, long-distance trek of a different sort.

Kevin McCrea ’88 and his wife, Clara, are taking their honeymoon in the form of a motorcycle trip around the world. They left New Orleans March 1 and have thus far visited 10 countries, ridden over 5,000 miles, ridden at altitudes of over 13,000 feet, and have fallen a combined total of 15 times! (Kevin, once a professional motorcycle racer, now the owner of Wabash Construction in Boston, MA, and a motorcycle safety instructor, would be quick to point out only three of those falls are his!)

Thus far they’ve seen some beautiful and not-so-beautiful country, found themselves in the middle of political demonstrations in Peru, and met other unexpected challenges (like killer bees) while making many new friends. But back in April, it was an old friend—Mark Schneider ’88—who came alive in Kevin’s memory as he crossed the Mexican border. Kevin’s Phi Psi pledge brother, Mark was killed in a traffic accident in the Caribbean years ago, but as the digital clock on Kevin’s motorcycle instrument panel showed 10:01—a time Mark had once printed on a t-shirt he wore to promote a band by the same name—Kevin was reminded of a road trip he and Mark had taken, and, as Kevin writes, “what a great, idealistic person Mark was, how much he meant to me and still means to me."

We’ll have an edited version of Kevin’s remembrance of Mark in a future issue of Wabash Magazine, and you can read it now and keep up with Kevin and Clara’s progress at: http://motomoments.blogspot.com/

It’s interesting how—both in Wayne Hoover’s bicycle trip and McCrea’s motorcycle journey— taking the time to take to the road honors so well the memory of one friend while bringing back to mind so vividly the memory of another.

Journalists James, McAlister Do Us Proud During Bash

Howard W. Hewitt – One of the great things that happens week in and out at Wabash College is the chance to interact with our students. Even on a weekend like our fourth Big Bash, our students usually impress. 

The Bash is a very big weekend for Public Affairs. We try to cover as many events as possible, talk to as many alums as we can, and get to the different events and colloquiums. 

I suggested bringing in a couple of our young journalists from the Class of 2010 for this year’s Bash and boss Jim Amidon agreed. Gary James and Patrick McAlister joined our public affairs team for the weekend. 

The old editor, and current Bachelor advisor, in me thought it would be a great exercise to test these two talented, young journalists. They knew they were going to be asked to contact, interview, and write profiles of graduated Wabash men. 

So we worked up a list of possible alumni profiles in our office and then I gave Gary and Patrick five each to profile. Now, I really didn’t think they’d get all five done. That’s a pretty tall order for two days to contact, work out a time to meet, and write a short profile story. 

Certainly they wouldn’t be able to reach one of the guys, or someone would not show up.

By now you’ve guessed that both rising sophomores completed all five profiles. I had the fifth before noon today (Monday). Amazing!

I saw this as a chance to push two of the better freshmen we’ve had in awhile and see what they could do with a pretty tough assignment.

But even more impressive than their accomplishment was their interaction with the alums. I shot photographs for several of the profiles and I was impressed with how Pat and Gary listened and engaged the graduated Wabash men in more than an interview but a conversation.

I was also witness to a couple of occasions where the alum was offering up a business card and encouraging the guys to contact them for any additional information, career help, or advice they could offer.

Working with the Bachelor is a challenge. The joy I get from it is the fun of working with college students. It was not only a lot of fun Big Bash weekend, but these two guys made themselves and one old editor very proud.

You’ll be able to read Gary and Patrick’s work under our alumni profiles section in the coming weeks.

In photos: Upper left, Gary James. Lower right, Patrick McAlister.