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Summer’s Over

Jim Amidon — When I was a kid, we would officially celebrate the end of summer on Labor Day. Public pools were open one more day, school would start on Tuesday, and Jerry Lewis was on TV for like 24 straight hours. And on that one Monday, the burgers coming off the grill never, ever tasted so good.

Having worked in higher education at Wabash College for 20 years, I now realize that summer pretty much ends about August 1. That’s when faculty members who have been away traveling or researching begin to file back to campus.

And it’s this week that we’ll put the finishing touches on all of our summer projects — from publications to web upgrades to promotional work.

I feel like I’ve lost a month and have no idea where it went.

In fact, last week — County Fair week — two different people stopped me on campus and asked, “So, how was your summer?”

“Was?”

“It is going well,” I said in both cases, hoping that by keeping summer in the present tense that, perhaps, I might squeeze a little more out of the calmer months at Wabash.

And sure, we’ve got one last weekend — coming up — before Wabash hosts the first of about 30 weekends of activities over the next nine months. But there really is just one more weekend before things crank up at the corner of Wabash and Grant.

Hmm. How should I spend my last official weekend of summer?

I could paint the bathroom, which I’ve promised to do for almost three years. Ladders, drop cloths, and paint drips in the bathtub and sink don’t exactly say “summertime fun” to me.

We scraped the paint off half of our front porch in late April, so I suppose I could scrape the other half and maybe, just maybe, I’d actually get it painted before the first frost. At least the porch is outside.

I swore last January that I would dig out my office before the end of the semester (May) then said the same thing before my vacation at the end of June. The boxes and papers and CDs and DVDs and photographs are still piled everywhere. It needs to be cleaned up, but not on the last weekend of summer.

I promised my colleague Howard that I’d bring over my chainsaw to clear out nagging stumps and hanging branches. Summer work, yes. Summer fun, no. (Maybe some night after work when the temps are cooler, Howard.)

In truth, I’ll probably spend this weekend in the yard, cleaning out dead blossoms from the gardens, and maybe even grab a few hours of lake time. A walk through Pine Hills early Saturday morning would do me some good. Brunch at the Turkey Run Inn sounds fun, too.

I’ll save the bathroom, front porch, and Howard’s back yard for another time. Summer is fleeting, and I need one more weekend — 48 hours — to charge the batteries for the coming year.

But I do wonder what ever happened to the “old time” school calendar. It made sense to me to start school the Tuesday after Labor Day and go to about Memorial Day, maybe early June.

I’m not naive, though. I know the state mandates a certain number of class days for public schools, which when coupled with professional development, parent-teacher conferences, and normal holidays suggests the calendar has been expanded; summer has been squeezed to about eight weeks, 10 in a good year.

All of this ranting is probably just my way of coming to terms with my age. When we were kids — and had more energy than the sun — summer seemed to last forever. When we’re adults —†and really need a break from the grind — eight-week summers and two weeks of vacation just don’t cut it.

So for at least this one weekend — this weekend — I’m focusing on how I’ll spend my time, not how much time I have.

Harry, Dean, and ABC

Jim Amidon — I got a voice mail last Tuesday afternoon from Dean Reynolds, Wabash Class of 1970. Dean is a fairly active alumnus who has returned to campus on many occasions to speak and moderate discussions, and to serve on the advisory board of the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts.

His call had little to do with his status as an alumnus. It said, “Hi, Jim. It’s Dean Reynolds of ABC News in Chicago.”

(Emphasis on ABC News in Chicago.)

I returned the call and he proceeded to ask me some questions about a story printed in Publishers Weekly that hinted the latest (and last) Harry Potter novel was being printed at the RR Donnelley facility in Crawfordsville. He asked if I could confirm it.

I said that I couldn’t absolutely confirm it, but I said, “I know for a fact there’s been a huge increase in rail traffic along the railroad spur that runs on the south edge of the Wabash campus.”

He asked how I knew that.

“Because I live so close to the tracks that my whole house shakes when the trains go by,” which has a fairly frequent occurrence in the last six weeks, particularly between about 9 p.m. and 2 a.m.

My daughter, Sam, who is a huge fan of the books and movies, whimsically calls the loud, horn-blowing, window-rattling trains “The Harry Potter Express” — a play on the books’ famed “Hogwarts Express.”

I returned to my office Wednesday and another voice mail from Dean. He was in Crawfordsville, interviewing people over at the Lew Wallace Study. He said he was doing a fun, maybe even silly piece for the national news about the high level of security and secrecy involving the printing of the last of the J.K. Rowling literary phenoms. The interview at the Lew Wallace Study was Dean’s way of suggesting that Crawfordsville is not absent of literary history.

Two hours later I was standing on my front porch near the College (and the railroad tracks) as Dean interviewed me with the help of a three-man production crew. I told him on camera about the frequency of the trains and how everyone in town knows the books are being printed at the local Donnelley facilities, but that nobody who actually works there will say a word about it.

I’m told by my friends who work there that RRD employees are not allowed to take cell phones (cameras) to work. Other folks have told me they’ve seen larger-than-usual numbers of semi-trailers parked in the lot of the North Plant.

Hmm. If only I was a detective…

Dean Reynolds asked me if the fact that Donnelley had the publishing contract was a source of pride. Sure, I said. It’s always a source or pride when a local company that has been around for generations continues to be a trusted industry leader.

I told Dean that all of Stephen King’s top novels were printed locally when King was at the very height of his publishing career, and that Donnelley is an anchor in our community.

After we had concluded our interview, my mind returned to his question about pride. I thought about it for a few minutes when it occurred to me that I was equally proud of Dean Reynolds, Wabash Class of 1970, the network news reporter who spent a decade bringing us the news of the Middle East from Tel Aviv during the first Gulf War.

That would be the same Dean Reynolds, active Wabash alumnus, who made a special pitch to his network to do a story on the town where he spent four years while he was an undergraduate.

So to better answer Dean’s question about pride: Yes, I’m proud Donnelley is publishing the last Harry Potter book — really proud. I only wish the good people running the presses, trimming the sheets, binding the books, and packing the boxes could be publicly credited for their work on what I’m told might be one of the largest selling books this side of the Bible.

But I’m also real proud that an internationally known network news reporter continues to remember his college and the special community in which it exists.

Note: Reynolds’ story ran on ABC World News Tonight on Monday. Click here to read his report online. Watch the video by clicking here.

The spirit of friendship

Steve Charles—“There are two kinds of people in the world,” Wayne Hoover tells me as we sit in the Main Street Pub in Monticello, Illinois. I’ve driven here from Crawfordsville in an air-conditioned car. Wayne has ridden here on his bicycle from San Francisco over the Sierra Nevada, the Rockies, across the plains and into our 90-degree, 80-percent humidity heat. He’s about 2/3 of the way through what he’s calling “The Larry Turner Memorial Cross-Country Challenge,” a journey he’s making to honor a lost friend.

“The first kind of person walks in the room and says, ‘Well, here I am.’ We all know these guys,” Wayne says. “The other type of person walks in and says, ‘Ah, there you are.’ Larry Turner was that kind of guy. He would walk the halls at the University of Kentucky (where Turner was associate dean of agriculture) and whether you were the dean, the secretary, or the president of the college, Larry was interested in you, your family, your kids, and how you were doing. His focus was never on himself.”

So when Turner was killed when Comair Flight 5191 crashed while taking off the Lexington Kentucky’s blue grass airport in August of last year, Hoover was determined to focus public attention, at least for a few weeks, on this remarkable man and the things that mattered to him—his family, friends, 4-H and the agricultural leaders he had nurtured.

“I know how these things work,” Wayne says. “You have a tragedy, everyone says how terrible it is, and then three or four months later, everyone’s back into their own thing, while the wife and kids are still dealing with the loss.

"Larry was an outside-the-box kind of thinker. So I thought, Let’s do something outrageous to draw attention to these things that mattered to him.

“Sometimes on this trip," Wayne laughs, "I’ve wondered if maybe we didn’t choose something a little too outrageous!”

There was the horizontal snow, sleet, rain and near hypothermia in Donner Pass; the fog outside of San Francisco so thick you could barely see the road, much less the road signs; the 30-40 mile per hour head wind that cut the average speed from 18 mph to 5 and turned a 108 mile ride in Kansas into a 12 hour ordeal.

But Wayne says it’s been an eye-opening, once-in-a-lifetime adventure. He’s writing a book about the journey, and I’ve asked him to reflect on the trip for a future issue of Wabash Magazine. But here are two anecdotes from the road that go well together:

"I remember the day we were climbing Mount Rose around Lake Tahoe," Wayne recalls. "A 9- or 10-mile climb, beautiful but grueling, and two of our riders, Erin and Eileen, were so exhausted that they didn’t think they could go on."

†So Andrew, another rider, rode with Eileen, and I rode with Erin, placing my hand on her back and pushing her up the mountain. We’d say, ‘If we can just make it to the next sign, we’ll be okay,’ and we did that, sign by sign, all the way up. You have to break the trip down and help each other out. That way, we all win together."

A few weeks later, the tables turned.

"On this 108-mile day into the wind in Kansas, my right quad was in so much pain that I was literally crying on the bike," Wayne says."Riders came up and put me in a formation they call ‘the rocking chair’— a guy in front, a guy on each side of you, then one on the right, one on the left, and they put their hands on my back and pushed me for 30 miles."

"Everyone on this ride is going to have a day when you just feel like you can’t go on. And with this team, you’re going to have three people that day who say, ‘You don’t have to. Today, we’ll do it for you."

During such moments, Wayne Hoover realizes more than ever that this ride isn’t only about riding in honor of Larry Turner, but also in the spirit in which he lived.

Howard Hewitt – Hoover arrived Sunday, July 8, in Crawfordsville and left Monday morning for a "short ride" of 58 miles to Indianapolis. After breakfast, the group cycled onto the mall at Wabash where they were greeted by President Patrick White and Director of Alumni Relations Tom Runge.

Hear Hoover talk about the experience. Also, see previous story on Hoover’s trip.

Photos: Wayne in front of the courthouse in Monticello; heading down the road toward Champaign-Urbana.

Visiting Students Always Interesting, Fun

Howard W. Hewitt – I generally hit the road during the summer for a handful of trips spread over three or four weeks visiting students and alumni. Going out and seeing Wabash men is one of the best ways to tell their story.

We often try to catch alumni while on campus to tell their stories and, of course, we do the same during the school year when students are here. We’ll have stories up on these three students before the start of the coming school year.

You can’t get the full story of anyone unless you see them in their own environment. I visited with three students this week doing very different things with their summer vacation. I visited Tuesday morning with Chris Pearcy ’10 at Marion General Hospital. Chris is a pre-med student interested in possibly becoming a surgeon.

Pearcy is getting the added benefit of working for two Wabash graduates, Craig Miller ’97 who is director of surgery at Marion, and Dave Callecod ’89 who is the hospital’s CEO.

Pearcy said one of the best parts of the internship was learning all the behind-the-scenes work and support doctors must have for the hospital to be successful.

That kind of close-knit working relationship is second only to family. And up the road in Fort Wayne, Chad Simpson ’10 is spending the summer working for his family. His mother and father recently closed two scrapbook stores downtown and opened a new store in a strip mall near I-69. They wanted to diversify the business and added a coffee shop adjacent to the scrapbook business.

Simpson has juggled a lot during the summer. He was a teacher’s aide north of the city working with small children and getting a feel for his chosen field of education. But he frequently works the scrapbook store and even more frequently is behind the counter juggling the drive through window, customers at the counter, and making a steaming hot cup of coffee.

He is close to his parents but working for them has its good and bad moments, then quickly added those moments are mostly good.

Rising sophomore Spencer Elliott has mostly good days. Elliott has attended or worked at Lutherhaven Summer camp, about 45 minutes northwest of Fort Wayne, for the last 12 years. This summer he is spending six days a week as a camp counselor.

Most of the time he has elementary-age children in his 7 person cabin for a week-long camping experience. This week was a special week for high school age boys and girls.

Elliott acts as a group leader and gushes trying to find the words of what the camp has meant to him and the leadership skills he has gained from the experience.

All three young men will be featured in student profiles online where you’ll be able to read much more about their experience.

And we’re hopefully not done yet. There are a couple more young men we plan to get out to see this summer. We started with a raw list of nearly 200 names and narrowed that to 20 before selecting the handful we try to visit.

The guys often ask, “why me?” That’s a good question and a fair one. We look to find students in different parts of the state doing all sorts of different things. There is no magic formula. The bottom line is Wabash students come from all over Indiana and nation with different backgrounds and they return home to take advantage of their Wabash education even in the summer months doing interesting summer jobs.

Getting out to visit with students each summer is one of the best parts of job!

In photos: On home page, Elliott reads the Bible with one of his campers. On alumni page, Pearcy takes a moment during his day to chat with Craig Miller.

Cooking Up Magic

Steve Charles—Dan is a middle-aged guy from Arkansas who lives in the old bank across the street from Fletcher’s of Atlanta, the culinary treasure where Fletcher Boyd ’72 is chef, owner, greeter, and head magician.

“Fletcher likes to color outside the lines,” Dan says of his Atlanta, Indiana neighbor.

Talking with me later that beautiful June afternoon on the bench next to the Atlanta Music Hall, Fletcher told me where he got some of that artistry and creative thinking (though Fletcher would wince at such words used to describe him.)

His grandfather was a vaudeville magician who owned a magic shop in Indianapolis in the middle of the last century.

His great grandfather ran a restaurant downtown (as did Fletcher in the 80s—a very successful one, at that).

He ate out a lot as a kid—most nights, in fact, and all types of cuisine.

And he credits Wabash for some of his creativity. He sure talks like a liberally educated man.

“There’s really not much difference between magic and cooking,” says the chef, whose magic show, humorously based on the history of food (with Fletcher playing Julia Child, among other characters) is part of the restaurant’s fare. Those who have tasted his culinary magic agree. Fletcher calls it “contemporary Hoosier electic,” and restaurant critics say no one does it better than Fletcher’s.

What keeps Fletcher coming back to work, though, are the people—those he works with, and those he cooks for.

Spend an evening at Fletcher’s—as I did for an article we’ll publish in the “My Little Town” issue of Wabash Magazine in Winter 2008—and that joy is obvious. Even during a night when the air conditioner wasn’t working. The comfort is in the food and good company.

Here are some photos I took. They probably won’t make the article—I messed up the lighting—but I like them for the genuine interest and pleasure you see on the faces of Fletcher and his guests. I’ll throw in a shot of Robert Vankirk and Jamie, Robert’s girlfriend. The former president of the Wabash Cooking Club (where Fletcher made a tasty presentation earlier this year), Robert rode the dinner train to Fletcher’s and is writing a review for the article.

Enjoy the photos. Better yet, get out to Fletcher’s and enjoy the food! My mouth waters just thinking about it.

Hitting the Road to Visit Students

Howard W. Hewitt – For the past several summers I’ve hit the road to visit students or alumni around the country or state.

I made my first trip last week to see Steve Stambaugh ’09 who has a Lilly Endowment funded internship at St. Vincent’s Hospital with Scott Benedict ’98 (pictured with Stambaugh) and Terry Hamilton.’89.

It’s always fascinating to see the interaction between current students and alumni and rewarding to hear the stories of the students’ success.

The two alums hosted Jon Miller ’08 last summer in the internship and had him concentrate on competitive market pricing for hospital vendors. Miller’s work led to significant savings. Stambaugh told me during our visit that he’s learned more in his weeks with the two alums at St. Vincent’s than he could ever learn in eight semesters at any college.

This week it’s off to Fort Wayne. I’m visiting a student interning with an alum and two students holding down very different but quite interesting summer jobs.

All of these stories will turn up on the website as student profiles in the coming weeks. The first-hand visits are as good a testimony to our alumni relations and the dynamic things our students do as anything I’ve seen at Wabash College.