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Grossnickle ’73 Shares “What’s the Difference” at Chapel

Throughout his experiences working with colleges and universities, Wabash College Trustee Ted Grossnickle ’73 has come to appreciate the uniqueness of the College. In his Chapel talk he explored the difference and what that means for Wabash men in the greater world. Click here to listen to the podcast of his entire Chapel talk.

Grossnickle began his talk reminiscing about meaningful events in his life that took place in the Chapel. He stated to him the Chapel represented the “timelessness of the College.”

Grossnickle is Chairman and CEO of Johnson, Grossnickle, and Associates (JGA), which provides counsel to colleges, universities, and other non-profits. It is through this work that he really began to notice Wabash standing out among the crowd.

He posed the question, “What causes alumni to interact with and give to their respective schools?” He stated that between 30 and 38 percent of Wabash alumni make financial contributions to the College where most other schools are fortunate to get 20 percent of their students to make a gift. “Why is Wabash different?”

For him, it’s a matter of trust. “Wabash trusts its students. Everyday regardless of where you live, what you study, or where you eat, from the moment you arrive to the moment you walk off campus, you are trusted to follow just one rule.”

Given that level of trust, he concludes gives one “enormous control over his own destiny. He begins to act differently and he starts to think about what could be rather than what is currently.”

“That trust is distinctive, different, and incredibly powerful. It is Wabash.”

Hewitt Speaks of Social Change, Future

Jim Amidon — In his Chapel talk Thursday, my friend and colleague Howard Hewitt discussed the events, people, and cultural phenomena that shaped his life and career. Paying particular attention to the explosion of change in the 1960s, Hewitt shared lessons he has learned that have relevance today.

“I’ve learned that the big things aren’t that tough,” he said. “The answer is usually ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ But the little things — and there are many of them every day — define you.”

Listen to the audio podcast of Hewitt’s talk.

He went on to tell stories of the wisdom he’s gained in the various phases of his life, from an eager college journalism student in the emerging days of Watergate through his career as a newspaper writer, editor, and publisher leading up to his arrival at Wabash as director of new media over three years ago.

“I’ve met some great Wabash men over the past three and a half years. They all seem to be surprisingly good with the little things,” Hewitt said.

To help put the sixties in perspective for the audience of students born in the late 1980s, Hewitt started with the Beatles and Robert Kennedy. He noted that the Beatles, 30 years after their last recording session, had the number one-selling CD in the United States in 2001 when “Beatles 1” sold 30 million copies.

Giving the students critical thinking advice, he quoted Kennedy, whom he described as “an inspirational political figure” who “gave hope to many who had little hope.”

“‘There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream things that never were… and ask why not?’”

Hewitt also silenced the audience when he told a story of the day the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan spoke in his Ball State University class “A Colloquium on Violence.” He said seven or eight African American students had come to the class after it had started and had to stand in the back. The Grand Dragon acknowledged the students by saying, “Oh, that’s okay, you boys don’t have to stand in my presence.”

You could hear a pin drop in the Chapel at that moment.

“Growing up in very white, rural, southern Indiana, I had never witnessed anything like that,” said Hewitt.

“It was a day in college that I’ll never forget.”

Hewitt also referenced the work he’s done at Wabash for nearly four years, and recalled interviews he had with Rhodes Scholar Jeremy Robinson ’04 (while he was teaching in Chicago’s Harper High School) and alumnus John Pence ’57. Pence, he noted, has enjoyed a career spanning service in the Navy, working with Lady Bird Johnson in the White House, and leading the revival of American Realism painting as a San Francisco art gallery owner. Hewitt also said Pence, who is a gay, has been the brunt of off-color jokes at College functions.

“Think how many times in the last week you’ve heard ‘that’s so gay?‘ …It is past the time that word is put to rest. Who are you offending? What impact will it have on their lives?”

Hewitt ended his talk on an optimistic note, suggesting that America is, perhaps, on the verge of a decade of great change on the scale of the economic boom of the 1940s and the social changes off the 1960s.

“I really think it’s about to happen again,” he said. “Just look at the presidential race. The democrats had a Hispanic, a woman, and an African American in the race. For someone my age, that is astounding.

“Are we on the cusp of significant change after decades of stalemate on all the big issues? And if we are, how will you play a part in it? …Will you be a Wabash man who ‘wonders why or dreams and asks why not?’”

Prof. Webb ’83 Talks on Duke Lacrosse Case

Howard W. Hewitt – The Duke Lacrosse case has significant implications for higher education, Professor of Religion Stephen Webb told students, faculty, and staff in Thursday’s Chapel Talk. Click here to hear the entire talk in a Wabash Podcast.

Webb used the majority of his Chapel Talk to give a “book review,” in his words, of Until Proven Innocent, by Stuart Taylor Jr. and K.C. Johnson. Read a New York Times book review here.

The book details Duke’s desire to become known as an athletic and academic powerhouse. In building a strong humanities department, the authors contend the administration hired a large number of liberal faculty. The vast majority of that faculty was behind the quick condemnation of the Lacrosse players and program.

The book, Webb noted and emphasized, that the faculty members and administrators who condemned the players never apologized nor admitted they might have rushed to judgment even after all charges were dismissed and the prosecutor was disbarred.

Obama’s Field Director Turns Organizing Upside-Down

Steve Charles—When I visited Jeremy Bird ’00 in Washington DC in the fall of 2005, he called his work as field director there for Wake-Up Wal-Mart “the best job I’ve had yet.

“It combines my values and beliefs in social justice with something that could make a real impact in the world,” Jeremy said.

And he made a real impact there, helping to assure Wal-Mart’s compliance to Maryland’s Fair Share Health Care act, among other accomplishments.

But he’s having an even stronger impact now.

As field director for Senator Barack Obama’s Presidential Campaign in South Carolina, he turned traditional political organizing practices upside-down and helped deliver a pivotal landslide victory for the Illinois senator.

Now he’s hoping for more of the same in Maryland, where he’s running Obama’s get-out-the-vote operation for Tuesday’s crucial Democratic primary there.

His organizing skills have not only Obama’s attention, but the media’s. The Christian Science Monitor featured Jeremy in a December article, and the American Prospect Web site detail the work of Bird and his colleagues in February’s “The Year of the Organizer.”

The work of Jeremy and his colleagues is being seen as a model for grassroots organizing, and you can see a video of Jeremy talking about the philosophy behind the Obama camp’s “house meetings” here.

You can also read more about the former Wabash religion major in our Spring 2006 article in Wabash Magazine.

We hope to hear from Jeremy as the campaign progresses. For now, as you watch tomorrow’s results from the “Potamac Primary,” know there’s at least one Wabash man in the thick of the fight.

In the photo: Bird during his Wake-Up Wal-Mart days.

A Desire to Serve

Jim Amidon — There’s a pretty nasty stereotype some people in our community attach to Wabash College students. There’s a perception that Wabash guys all come from good homes, money, drive nice cars, and leave here only wanting to get rich quick.

Get to know a few Wabash men and you’ll quickly realize that every one of them is unique. Perhaps the most common thread, though, is that most of them feel the need to make a difference in the world around them.

I bumped into Tim Flowers on Friday. Tim graduated with honors and gave the Wabash Commencement speech in 2006. He had won a Truman Scholarship as a junior when he was editor of the student newspaper and a political science major. He was admitted to Indiana University School of Law and probably could have attended for free.

But he took a different path, and it’s a path that more and more Wabash men are taking these days.

Tim applied for the ultra competitive Teach for America program. TFA, as it is known, tries to attract the best and brightest college graduates from around the country, then places these fine scholars in some of our nation’s toughest, lowest-performing schools. The program’s overarching goal is overcome educational injustice in our country’s poorest, most racially diverse communities.

Instead of wrapping up his law degree and planning clerkships, today Tim is a middle school math teacher in urban Memphis, Tennessee. The tall, lanky Hoosier coaches the girls’ eighth grade basketball team at his school, which he says has brought out his “inner Bobby Knight.”

“I’m pretty brash,” he told me. “I’m pretty hard on them.”

He has to be. And he has to uphold even tougher standards in class. The kids he teaches have parents, siblings, and friends who are in gangs. The only way to get through to them academically is to be tough, strict, and fair.

I’m beginning to realize that Tim is not the exception to the Wabash rule. More and more Wabash students are choosing careers in service or are delaying their careers in order to serve their communities.

Perhaps the best known is 2004 graduate Jeremy Robinson, about whom I’ve written before. Jeremy was another Wabash academic superstar, who chose Teach for America out of Wabash and spent two years at Chicago’s inner city Harper High School. From there, he earned a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship and is now finishing his master’s degree at Oxford University in England all with a career goal of improving public education back in the U.S.

Wabash has had a graduate or two go into Teach for America schools every year since 2004, and perhaps going farther back than that. Last year Wabash placed guys in Teach for America programs in South Texas and Memphis.

Flowers was back on campus Friday telling current Wabash students his Teach for America story with hopes that even more Wabash men will apply for the program. Four Wabash seniors have already been accepted into TFA, which is simply a remarkable number given how competitive the application process is. Each year about 25,000 college seniors apply for less than 2,000 positions. Flowers thinks the impact Wabash grads can have in public education is off the charts.

Teach for America says it looks for ambitious students who are good critical thinkers and who persevere in the face of challenges. Sounds like a description of a Wabash student to me.

Joining Flowers in the TFA Corps this year are Jason Simons (placed in Durham, NC), Ryan Leagre (Chicago), Chris Geggie (Indianapolis), and David Coddens (Chicago).

A.J. Lyman, one of our top graduates in 2005, joined AmeriCorps out of Wabash and spent a year directing cleanup efforts after Hurricane Katrina. This year three Wabash seniors are going into the Peace Corps.

Scott Crawford, director of the Schroeder Center for Career Development at Wabash, says the trend is here to stay. In fact, he told me Friday that he expects the number of 2008 graduates headed for Teach for America and the Peace Corps to continue to increase through the spring.

When Tim Flowers graduated from Wabash, he left here very accomplished and even a little cocky. Two years in the Teach for America program have changed him in wonderful, profound ways.

But the biggest changes have come in his seventh and eighth grade students, who have benefited from his strict classroom leadership, intellect, charm, and most of all, his commitment to them.

Like so many other Wabash graduates, Tim Flowers is indeed committed to making the world around him a little better than it was before.

Hoffman ’85 Recalls His Wabash Days

Howard Hewitt – Steve Hoffman ’85 brought his story as a Wabash student and graduate to Thursday’s Chapel Talk. He brought along his experiences, stories, and humor to talk about the Wabash experience. Hear the full talk by clicking here for the Podcast.

Hoffman was a football and baseball player during his college days relating many anecdotes that the athletes and others in Chapel could easily enjoy. 

“Wabash is about people and personal relationships,” he said. It’s about pride and relationships and it has been for 175 years.” 

He had fun with his double-play partner of the 80s, Mike Raters ’85 – Assistant Dean of Students. 

Hoffman talked about his job in fundraising, and noted many people tell him they could not do what he does. “I call on alums and just talk about Wabash College,” he explained. “I’m helping them do what they want to do any way.” 

He recalled many special moments and stories he lived as a student, he’s heard as an employee, and that have been passed on by alumni. The jovial tone was punctuated with gentle nudges to ‘keep it up,” “way to go,” and plenty of self-deprecating humor.

“His brightness and energy shined through”

“Few have done more for Wabash in as many ways as Paul Mielke, and the abiding love he and Mary Lou shared seemed the foundation that allowed him that service.”

I wrote those words when Mary Louise Mielke, Paul’s wife, died in November. Paul sat behind his family and with old friends at her beautiful and moving memorial service in December. And now we’ve lost Paul.

This is a man whose embrace of his alma mater was long, loyal, and generous in so many ways; I trust we’ll hear about those in the coming days from those who knew him best. But the first thing I thought of when I heard of Paul’s passing was something he told me when we were working together on a piece in the “Brothers” issue of Wabash Magazine, a gallery featuring a few of his photographs.†

Paul’s avocation, his photography was a gift to the College, giving us the best visual history we have of Wabash as it evolved through the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Just ask Archivist Beth Swift, who wisely went through them with Paul when he moved last year and donated them to the Archives. But when I visited Paul in 2004 to collect photographs for the magazine gallery, I was looking for something different, Paul’s personal take on our “Brothers” theme—not Wabash history, but a little Mielke history, too.

The two, it turned out, were inseparable.

“I come from a family of six children, but I’m the only boy in the family,” Paul told me that day. “Wabash gave me the brothers that nature denied me, so the brotherhood created by the College is very important to me.”

Portraits of many of those brothers hung on the walls of Paul and Mary Lou’s home, and as Paul gave me a tour and I recorded his words, each photograph brought a smile, a flurry of memory, and, sometimes, tears. I transcribed the tape and used it word for word in the gallery. Paul was always eloquent and spoke with such gratitude about his friends and “brothers.” If, as some say, gratitude is the beginning of happiness, Paul was a very happy man.

But the photograph I think of first when I think of Paul isn’t of one of his Wabash brothers, but of his homeroom high school teacher, Theodore Wolcott Stuart III, at William Horlick High School in Racine, WI. It is telling that Paul remained close with his teacher for so many years after his high school days. He loved those who had taught him well, be that Mr. Stuart, Paul’s professors at Wabash, or his students here.

“Ted and I remained close friends,” Paul said. “He was a splendid English teacher and a wonderful person, one of those who really shaped me. Teaching, so much more than imparting knowledge, is a commitment and a relationship.”

“Teaching, so much more than imparting knowledge, is a commitment and a relationship”—that was Paul Mielke’s credo. He went on to describe his mentor as “an iconoclast, very independent.” Then he finished with words that make me think not so much of his mentor, but of Paul himself: “He sparkled. His brightness and energy shined through.”

Here’s a link to the online version of that Alumni Gallery. It doesn’t do his photographs justice, but I encourage you to read Paul’s words, get a sense of the love behind the lens, and be grateful for the kindness, the “energy and brightness” of Paul Mielke, who found at Wabash his brothers and sisters, and returned to us a brother’s love.
—Steve Charles

Just Another Day Playing with Fire

Kim Johnson – When I woke up this morning and saw the ground blanketed with fresh snow it seemed like the perfect day to go back to bed for a few more hours, then spend the remainder of the day under a blanket with a book, but for me, duty calls!

This morning I headed to my first C&T lecture. All sophomores take the year-long C&T (Cultures and Traditions) course. From what I understand, C&T is a necessary evil. Full of readings, papers, and discussions, the course is not a favorite during the second year of study but by the third and fourth years of study, the students gain an appreciation for the skills they were “forced” to master as a sophomore.

So today, as part of the “Exploring the Nature and Culture of Science” section of the course, Dr. Lon Porter from the chemistry department did a presentation titled “The Culture of Science: Curiosity, Competition, and Collaboration.”

A lot of people, events, and ideas he highlighted were things I, quite frankly, had not thought about in a number of years. I hadn’t done the reading for today. I hadn’t been in the class all semester. I had no background as to what would be going on other than to go check it out.

Here’s what struck me about what I saw. First of all, I love chemistry. Even though I did not major in it and could likely not pass an organic chemistry course to save my life, I love what chemistry is and what it means for advancing technology, medicine, and knowledge in general. Plus – how cool are the chemical reactions! Fire, ice, glowing, heat, noise, color, light…

Second, and my point in writing today, is just how refreshing it is to see the cross-department, cross-campus collaboration of the Wabash faculty. This course isn’t a chemistry course. It’s not math or English or religion but all of those at the same time. The faculty work together for the purpose of providing the students with the preparation they need to succeed in not just one but all of their courses.

The students in the course now may not appreciate or even understand the trouble the faculty have gone to to provide the experience. However, the fact is it is just another example of how the faculty and staff at Wabash will do whatever it takes to ensure the men who pass through here get the depth and breadth of all a liberal arts education can and should be.