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Bashful Tales from Big Bash Weekend

Jim Amidon — I spent big chunks of last week sitting in my office at Wabash College editing digital videotape. I got most of the way through nine tapes — over 10 hours — of footage that was shot weekend before last during the College’s Fifth Annual Big Bash Reunion Weekend.

This year for Big Bash we set up a video production room in Lilly Library. My colleagues on the Wabash staff — Beth Swift, Steve Charles, Marilyn Smith, Jeana Rogers, and Brandon Hirsch (pictured), along with alumnus Josh Owens — proceeded to interview 35 alumni over the course of two days and captured hundreds of stories on digital video.

They got the idea from National Public Radio’s “Story Corps” project. In Story Corps, NPR sets up an audio recording booth for people to enter by themselves and tell the most interesting stories of their lives.

With more than 300 alumni — ages 27 to 87 — returning to the College, we figured we had the perfect opportunity to capture some great stories about their lives at Wabash. We called the project “Scarlet Yarns.”

And boy did we get some good stories, some of which date all the way back to the fall semester of 1939.

Most of the stories are about relationships with faculty, the rigor of the classroom experience, and the friendships that were formed while the guys were students.

Click here to see a short sample clip — Phil Krause ’58 talking about Professor Willis Johnson.

Pete Prengaman of the Class of 1998 talked about the profound influence Swim Coach Gail Pebworth has had on his life. Gail’s mantra, the constant pursuit of excellence — didn’t mean much to Pete when he was a swimmer in the 90s, but now he thinks about pursuing excellence in his daily life as a husband, neighbor, and editor/reporter for the Associated Press.

Steve Kain ’63 told a story about how his son, then a junior at Wabash, got mono and had to miss three weeks at the end of the semester. The elder Kain was worried that his son would be off pace to graduate, so he picked up the phone — at 10 p.m. — and called Dean Norman Moore at his home. Dean Moore looked into the issue and called Steve back the next morning, and with a reassuring tone, said, “Everything will be just fine. He’ll graduate on time.”

Those stories — and literally hundreds like them — were captured in the span of less than 24 hours when the alumni returned to campus for Big Bash.

Eugene King of the Class of 1978 admitted that he was not a ground-breaker as an African American student at Wabash in the fall of 1974. He said much of the heavy lifting in terms of integration had already been done before he arrived.

Several alumni from the Class of 1973 — who entered in 1969 — talked about the Vietnam War, Civil Rights Movement, and the College’s fierce interest in serving African American students. The Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies was founded during that time.

Glenn Pride from the Class of 1963 said one of the big issues on campus during his time at Wabash was a movement to allow Wabash’s black students to get haircuts in town; previously they had not been permitted to enter local barbershops.

Many of the stories were funny, too, and some even a little embarrassing. In the section of video clips I’m tentatively calling “Bashful Tales,” I’m squirreling away about an hour’s worth of stories that have rarely — if ever — been told. Like this one:

Carl Kelley of the Class of 1943 recalled the first day of his comparative anatomy class in the fall of ’39. Remembering in detail what his professor said to the all-male class, Kelley said in professorial tone, “Guys, this is a course that will teach you the differences between animals and humans. And I know what you’re thinking, but this is not a class about sex.”

There were Bashful Tales about incidents at DePauw, run-ins with Dean Moore, water balloon fights, and celebrating victories in the Monon Bell Game.

My colleagues were really on to something when they conjured up the idea to interview our alumni. And the alumni were really thrilled to have the opportunity to tell their Wabash stories.

What I’ve discovered in watching the video and editing down the various clips is the richness of the Wabash experience and the influence the College has on the lives of the men who live and learn here. Now comes the hard part: taking so much rich and wonderful material and editing it into a DVD that is as equally compelling as the stories themselves.