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On the Road Again

Kim Johnson – One of my favorite things about what I do is getting to meet Wabash alumni. Our “39 Under 39” project has given me several opportunities to do just that. This month I’ve enjoyed two very different road trips where I met two similar but very different alumni.

Both men I met were from the Class of ’98, both were psychology majors, and both grew up in small towns. They were both easy to talk to and very welcoming. Both see that their time at Wabash taught them how to learn and prepared them to take on diverse challenges.

As similar as they appear on the surface, it’s interesting how divergent their paths have become since they walked across the commencement stage ten years ago.

Ah… the beauty of a Wabash eduation.

A couple weeks ago I met Kevin Gearheart ’98 – a former letterman on the basketball team and member of the Sons of Wabash. Kevin is now the COO for Dr. Tavel Family Eye Care where he oversees the operations of the 19 Dr. Tavel locations across the state of Indiana. He got his start in business technology and telecommunications when he and a couple classmates moved to Colorado after graduating to participate in a management development program started by Wabash alum Bob Knowling ’77.

I met up with Kevin at the new Dr. Tavel location at the Greenwood Park Mall. The office is located in the beautifully renovated “Lifestyle Center” of the mall that includes new restaurants and upscale shopping. We sat down and visited in the plush entrance area to the main mall.

Kevin likes to win, or better yet, hates to lose. He is driven by the desire to make Dr. Tavel the name in family eye care in Indiana as a result of their high-quality care and outstanding service. He is very involved in the technology “revolution” that is transforming the way healthcare is delivered. Even during our visit he was working with the technology intern on setting up a new computer system in the Greenwood office.

On the flip side, my latest adventure took me through the rolling hills and winding roads of southern Indiana to just outside the small town of Vevay. Here I met Adam Cole ’98, photographer and owner of Three Spot Images. We (my mom accompanied me on this particular trip) pulled up to his log home and office/studio in the country to find him with his wife and youngest daughter on the wrap-around porch enjoying the summer afternoon anticipating our arrival.

While I talked with Adam and followed him through a senior portrait session, his wife Amanda and my mom sat on the porch chatting about their times at Purdue and experiences of Wabash through loved ones. Mom later commented how the conversation was easy and Amanda treated her like they had been friends for life.

Adam, known as “Spot” around the Theta Delta Chi house, was a member of the Sphinx Club and Interfraternity Council. He has returned to his small town roots (just miles from where he and his wife grew up) to build his business.

He stumbled onto photography because he “had to take a class in fine arts” as part of his degree requirements at Wabash. He and a fraternity brother decided to take a photography class together. He has embraced technology and digital photography for creating, editing, and building an amazing portfolio of work, but he readily admits that it was the “science-like” discovery in the dark room that originally stirred his interest in photography.

What have I learned from these two and the other alumni I have met throughout the past eight months? The sky is the limit with a Wabash liberal arts education. Music majors go to dental school, psychology majors own photography studios, art majors are lettermen on the football team, everybody works hard, and you can’t ever judge a book by its cover.

To read more about these and other young alumni, visit the 39 Under 39 homepage. It will be updated periodically throughout the next several months.

Father and Son

Steve Charles—One of the pleasures of being a photographer for Commencement Weekend is opening each of the photos for the first time. Okay, sometimes I’m disappointed (especially when I ALMOST captured an important moment but botched the focus or the lighting). But more often, thanks to our excellent digital cameras, the image I get makes me smile. Or brings tears. Or both. 

Sunday was a powerful moment for these young men and those who love them. Each photo reminds me of how lucky I am to be chronicling these people, and this place.

But one of my favorite photos of the weekend didn’t have much to do with graduating. 

The moment occurred as the faculty was filing into Chadwick Court. They were stepping out at a pretty good clip as the band played and everyone was waiting for the ceremony to begin. Classics Professor Jeremy Hartnett ’96 was among those in the procession when he caught sight of his infant son, Henry. And like the good father he is, without any hesitation that I could see, he went to him. You couldn’t miss the sudden break in the line, and I was lucky enough to get this photo.

For just a moment, just a breath or two, the very important ritual of Commencement and about 1,000 people waited on something even more essential—a father greeting his son, a son looking up at his father (in all that academic regalia.) Somehow in this photo I see what Wabash is all about, though I’m not sure why. 

Professor Peter Mikek, next in line behind Jeremy, and a father himself, stood, watched, and smiled. He waited for Jeremy to rejoin the line, the procession continued, and most in Chadwick Court hadn’t noticed a thing.

I don’t know why I was so moved by this act. Maybe it’s Jeremy’s wonderful sense of priorities. He went through this same ceremony as a student more than a decade ago, and this photo is “think critically, act responsibly, lead effectively, and live humanely” in a microcosm.

Or maybe it’s the expression on Henry’s face, that sense of looking upon one’s father with such wonder and love. I recall seeing those roles switched much of the rest of the day—the faces of fathers, looking upon their sons with wonder, love, and, in the best sense, pride.

The Stories That Hold Us Together

Steve Charles—At today’s Faculty and Staff Awards Luncheon, chemistry professor Scott Feller described his department’s curator, Pat Barker, as having a job that’s “key to our success, yet no one knows exactly what her title means and very few realize the important work it entails.”

I’ve photographed Pat at work; I’ve seen in person just how essential that work is. But Scott’s mention of essential work done without much public recognition also got me thinking about one of the other honorees at that luncheon—Public Affairs Editorial Coordinator Karen Handley.

(Click here and here for photo albums from the luncheon.)

Karen was honored for her 30 years of service to the College, and her boss (and mine), Jim Amidon ’87, wrote this for the occasion:

“Karen’s work helps advance the College in so many ways, whether helping recruit students, promote our current students, or keep alumni engaged as part of the Wabash community. She manages our online events calendar, drives much of our media relations work through event announcements and hometown press releases, and manages the production of the activities calendar and academic bulletin.

“What makes Karen stand out is her unwavering love of and dedication to Wabash College, its students, faculty, staff, and alumni.”

And all of us in Public Affairs offer a hearty “Amen” to all this.

But the one role Jim didn’t mention—Karen’s job as Class Notes Editor for Wabash Magazine—is the one where I feel that “unwavering love and dedication” most keenly.

The Class Notes is the heart of any college magazine. It’s why such magazines were first created. It’s the section where alumni typically turn first (no matter how much cool stuff the editor (me) tries to put in their path). These are the stories of alumni lives, and Karen gathers them up with extraordinary patience. You’ve got to care if you’re going to spend hours sifting through class agent letters, newspaper and magazine clippings, web sites, emails, and any other sort of correspondence the way Karen does. You’ve got to care about these people to do the work; to care about the details that have meaning in their lives.

And Karen is the champion of the meaningful detail. One example: Karen and I have an ongoing battle over whether or not to publish the weights and lengths of our alums’ newborn babies.

“Do we really need to put this in?” I’ll ask.

They sent us those details, says Karen, a mother herself. “It matters to them, it should matter to us.”

It matters to Wabash alumni, so it matters to Karen.

The Class Notes aren’t usually splashy, headline grabbing kinds of stuff. More often the stories of every day lives, but the kinds of stories that connect us: The baby just born; the adoption just completed; the wedding and the Wabash men in the wedding party; the illness faced; the incredible places just traveled; the reunion with an old classmate; the change of career and recognition of a new calling; the loved one lost, or the loved one healed.

Sharing these stories holds us together, reminds us that we are not forgotten. Karen brings them to us three times a year. No one comes up to her and says, “Wow! Great Class Notes!” It’s the kind of essential work that people may take for granted. The heart of the magazine. How often do you thank your heart for beating?

Thanks, Karen.

In photo: Public Affairs Editorial Coordinator Karen Handley receives recognition for her 30 years of service from NAWM President Jim Dimos ’85 at Friday’s Faculty/Staff Awards Luncheon.