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Wabash Trio Uses Sports to Provide Assistance

Rich Blastic ’82 found himself in an interesting position at the start of the year. As a new member of the school board for the Calvary Christian School in Highland, Indiana, he realized the school would need some assistance in fund raising. Already located in region of Indiana that has seen layoffs, closings, and tough economic times, Blastic turned to familiar territory — sports.

Blastic got together with two former teammates who have kept their hands in the professional sports world. One of his best friends, Dr. Chris Carr ’82, came up with the idea of hosting a sports clinic at the school. Carr was headed to lunch with another former teammate the very day he and Blastic discussed the idea. That teammate was Pete Metzelaars ’82. Carr’s experience as a sports psychologist working with various groups from the US Olympic Ski Team and the Kansas City Royals and Oklahoma City Thunder to Ohio State and other college and professional athletes would be joined by Metzelaars’ knowledge and time spent as a 16-year NFL veteran player and current NFL coach in Indianapolis.

Metzelaars jumped on board from the moment he heard about the plan for a sports clinic.

"The hardest part was finding a date that would work for everyone," Metzelaars said. His duties as the offensive quality control and assistant offensive line coach for the Indianapolis Colts have increased since the shakeup in the coaching staff with Tom Moore and Howard Mudd. Carr, "One we got the date set, I’ve just been looking forward to helping Rich with the school. They are in a tough situation with the economy the way it is, and I just wanted to help."

Blastic and the rest of the group set aside time on May 30 to conduct the sports clinic.

"Chris is going to speak to the kids, coaches, and parents in attendance about the mental training and psychological strength and skills that go into athletics. We’ll follow that up with Pete sharing his experience as a player. With so many negatives out there in sports, it will be nice to present a positive view of athletics."

If the early word is any indication of how the event will be received, the school should see a major boost in its support.

"The community businesses have really embraced this event," Blastic said. "With two quality gentlemen like Chris and Pete willing to help, it was nice to be able to call the business in the area and hear the owners say they would be happy to be involved. 

"We’ve been able to have businesses provide 10 free tickets to the event for over 20 schools in the area. That means 200 young athletes who might not have had the opportunity to attend based on their home finances. And the money for those tickets goes to Calvary Christian School."

With event on the horizon, Metzelaars was excited for the opportunity to assist.

"The main goal is to help the school," the former Wabash tight end said. "We get an opportunity to use sports and athletics to help kids. We’ll be giving some thoughts, tips, and pointers on a lot of athletic fronts, but we’ll also be providing life lessons and sharing ways to be successful in whatever area these young people choose."

Photo – Pete Metzelaars working during the Indianapolis Colts’ training camp. Metzelaars will join former Wabash teammates Rich Blastic and Chris Carr at a sports clinic Saturday, May 30 at 4 p.m. to benefit the Calvary Christian School in Highland, Indiana. Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Star.

Godspeed, Class of 2009

Jim Amidon — The Class of 2009 was graduated from Wabash Sunday afternoon.
 
The men in the Class of 2009 had much to reflect upon as they sat in the sunshine on the College Mall. Who knows what they thought about? Maybe the friendships they have made with their classmates, professors, coaches, and people on the staff.
 
Prehaps they remembered specific moments from their classes that were turning points in their academic careers. Maybe they remembered big hits — on the football and baseball fields — and in performances on stage by their fellow students.
 
I was reviewing the list of graduates the other day and just kept smiling as I thought about the many accomplishments of these talented, curious, and bright young men. I know a good many of them personally, and those I don’t know, I have followed from my perch in Kane House.
 
I wish I knew Kyle Prifogle better. He’s one of our top students in mathematics and — in good liberal arts fashion — chose to minor in music. As a musician, he’s one of the most talented pianists to come through Wabash in decades, and he was also a pivotal leader of our world music ensemble, Wamidan. Now he’s headed to graduate school in mathematics, but I have a hunch that music will always be part of his life.
 
Andy Leshovsky, who came to us from St. Paul, Minnesota, really struggled his first couple of years at Wabash. After taking a year off, he turned things around to become an amazingly talented student and accomplished leader. His work ethic drove him through the second part of his Wabash career, and is one reason why Dean Gary Phillips selected him to give one of the two commencement addresses this Sunday.
 
The other address will be given by “Duncan” Dam, who is an international student from Hanoi, Vietnam. Not only did he graduate with Phi Beta Kappa honors as a chemistry major, he sang in the Glee Club and was a tour guide for our Admissions Office.
 
There are some pretty amazing student-athletes who graduated this weekend, too. Baseball players Matt Dodaro and Jake Thomas annihilated the record book as hitters and willed their teammates to the conference playoffs, a feat never before accomplished since Wabash joined the NCAC. Thomas not only set the single-season hits record, he earned a spot on the Academic All-District team with a sterling grade point average.
 
If you talk about athletes and grade point averages, Brock Graham quickly comes to mind. Technically, he graduated this weekend, but he finished up all of his course work in December — in just five semesters and with a grade point average just shy of perfect. On the football field, there was nobody any tougher when it came to picking up short yards or catching the ball in traffic.
 
Jay Horrey and Sean Clerget are among my favorite tennis doubles partners ever. See, these two guys were recruited as tennis players and both joined Beta Theta Pi fraternity. They chose to major in political science as pre-law students, and they traveled Europe together as juniors.
 
What makes them such good friends, though, are their differences — perhaps. Jay was president of the College Democrats; Sean edited the campus conservative journal, The Phoenix, and had an internship with Republican Senator Richard Lugar. Only at Wabash.
 
Matt Goodrich is another amazing senior. Over the last four years, he’s starred in about every role imaginable on the Wabash stage — from villain to hero to lover.
 
Most people know Rich Lehmann as a linebacker on the football team. Most don’t realize that he’s pursuing a career as a professional singer.
 
Speaking of singers, seniors Royce Gregerson, Justin Bilby, Jay Brouwer, and Tom Pizarek made up the backbone of the stunningly impressive Wabash College Glee Club these last four years. And if they didn’t have other options, I suspect all could join Lehmann in pursuit of professional singing careers.
 
Asher Weaver won the community service award during the end-of-year academic convocation. As two-year president of Alpha Phi Omega, Asher volunteered literally hundreds of hours of service to this community, and under his leadership, APO donated upwards of $25,000 to local agencies in the last two years.
 
Nathan Rutz didn’t receive honors for his service — to the state of West Virginia, where he has been an activist in the fight against the coal mining technique known as “mountain top removal.”
 
I could go on and on about the men in the Class of 2009. Each young man made his own way through Wabash, created his own memories, and etched an indelible mark in the College’s history. I wish all of them the best of luck as their lives unfold.
 
Godspeed, Wabash Class of 2009. 

A Commencement Story

Jim Amidon — Yesterday Wabash celebrated its 171st Commencement and 195 young received sheepskin diplomas from President Pat White under blue skies on the College Mall.
 
Some of the new graduates are going to medical, dental, and veterinary school. Many are headed to law schools. A few are headed into graduate programs in business, humanities, and social sciences.
 
Some got really good job offers, which is great given the state of our economy. Some chose to teach — in the amazing Teach for American program. One will be a Governor’s Fellow in Indy — after he returns from working in a refugee camp in the Middle East this summer.
 
There are 195 young men in the Class of 2009 who represent 195 great stories of hard work, perseverance, and accomplishment.
 
I wrote about a few of them last week. I could probably write a book about these guys; they make me that proud.
 
One story, though, begs to be told.
 
It’s about a father and son. Actually, it’s about a father and three sons.
 
In 1975, Clay Robbins matriculated to Wabash from Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis. He had been a member of the first graduating class at Perry Meridian and he entered Wabash in the first class of Lilly Scholars. He was President of Phi Gamma Delta and sang in the Glee Club. He also earned the John N. Mills Prize in the Bible at the time of his graduation from Wabash in 1979.
 
The religion major went to law school at Vanderbilt and returned to his home city to practice law with Baker and Daniels in the early 1980s. In 1994, he became president of Lilly Endowment Inc., which grew to become one of the world’s largest private foundations.
 
There is, perhaps, no foundation in the country that has invested as much in its home state as Lilly Endowment has. Under Clay’s leadership, the Endowment has invested hundreds of millions of dollars building Indiana’s foundation in churches, schools, colleges, and communities.
 
Wabash is, of course, quite proud of Clay’s accomplishments. And we were also proud when Clay and Amy Robbins’ oldest son, Campbell, matriculated to the College four years ago.
 
When second son Luke chose to come to Wabash two years later it seemed too good to be true. These bright, well-rounded young men could have gone to college anywhere, and they chose to follow in their father’s footsteps at Wabash.
 
And so did their younger brother, Peter, who just completed his freshman year.
 
On Sunday, Campbell received his diploma just as his father had 30 years ago.
 
But Campbell had to share the stage with his old man, which was a delight to all in attendance who know the Robbins family — and know of their humility, warmth, good humor, and deep friendships.
 
Before Campbell and his 194 classmates received their diplomas, the College bestowed three honorary doctorates. Clay Robbins received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.
 
Crawfordsville native and legendary Wabash wrestling coach Max Servies ’58 received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree, while long-time President of the University of Notre Dame, Reverend Edward “Monk” Malloy, received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree.
 
It was an especially wonderful day for Amy Robbins — her humble, yet influential husband being honored by his alma mater for his service to the state of Indiana and her first son receiving his diploma with honors. And it must be special for Clay and Amy to know they will return to the College Mall in 2011 and 2012 and be equally proud when Luke and Peter graduate.
 
President White captured the essence of Clay Robbins’ servant leadership when presenting Clay’s honorary degree citation:
 
“You have modeled the highest standards of leadership for the Endowment, and every college and university in Indiana owes a debt of gratitude to your stewardship and mentoring as you call us all to our highest imagination of what education can mean and do for our state and our nation.
 
“You are committed to education, community development, and leadership at a local level. You believe that, by investing in schools, churches, and programs that inspire creativity in young people, our state’s most troubling problems can be solved by Hoosiers willing to give of themselves.”
 
Wabash could do no better when sending its newest graduates out into the world than to lift up and honor an alumnus in Clay Robbins, who has lived a life true to the College’s mission of thinking critically, acting responsibly, leading effectively, and living humanely.
 
It is our sincere hope that all of our graduates will live lives of purpose and meaning, while demonstrating ethical leadership. In doing so they will make all of us at the College very proud, indeed.

A Chance for Many of Us to Give to Students

Howard W. Hewitt - Thursday’s Career Center Job/Internship Bootcamp was an opportunity for several alumni to return to campus and "give something back."

That’s often a common reason when we query returning alumni about giving of their time to help Wabash students. Everyone has a different gift to share whether its expertise, a monetary gift, or simply life experience.

The centerpiece of the Bootcamp is a networking lunch and one-on-one mock interviews. The people behind the interviewer’s desk are alumni and a good number of Wabash College staff.

The alums come from a variety of backgrounds – entrepreneurs, financial advisors, and alums from large corporations. While staff members have equally varied backgrounds many of them come from interesting backgrounds beneficial to the process.

There was Director of Alumni Affairs Tom Runge, a leader of men, Air Force Colonel, putting the young men through their paces. 

Sports Information Director Brent Harris hires 15-20 students to work for his office each fall and interviews twice that number to fill the positions. But he also has worked as a Production Manager in the newspaper industry and had to hire and supervise a workforce in the ‘real world.’

"I was impressed with the skills the students possessed during our  sessions," Harris said. "Each person I talked with during the speed networking  session came with a plan for their short-term summer employment and  their long-term career goals. The two mock interview candidates were well prepared. Both provided a professional  demeanor, answered questions well, and conducted themselves as great  job candidates. I would have hired both of them for a position if  I were running a real job search."

I enjoy hearing myself talk about years in the newspaper business hiring nearly 40-50 young people into their first job. I also interviewed hundreds of candidates over a 20-year career in the newspaper business, many of those with the Nixon Newspaper chain. I was the designated "job fair" guy for Nixon for awhile.

I’m amazed at just how good these young men handle themselves. Sure, they make a few mistakes. I had one young man today misspeak and utter a profanity – none of the big ones. I smiled and stopped him mid-sentence. He didn’t even realize he had said it. But we laughed and proceeded with the ‘mock interview.’

What did impress me was how both of the Wabash guys I spent time with used specific life examples to back up their answers. Even though our students are 18-22 years old, many have had valuable jobs, internships, and work experiences that reach back into high school. The lessons learned there are valuable in the job search.

I posted a story about the Bootcamp on the website homepages, linked here. Andrew Schelton ’03 said, "I wish there was something like this when I was here."

I’m much older than Andrew and it was a different college but I was thinking the same thing.

A Citizen of Wallace and Wabash

 Steve Charles—Earlier this year, I wrote the following short piece about Gary Livengood, an electrician with the College’s Campus Services, the guy who handles the sound system and taping for Commencement and Big Bash, and a lifelong resident of nearby Wallace, Indiana. I was hoping it would be the first of several phone conversations I had with one of the College’s true gentlemen, but Gary died of cancer last Thursday.
 
I don’t want to remain silent about the loss of such a good man, so here’s the piece from our first phone conversation. We were just getting started with the recollections, but I hope there’s at least a glimpse here of the friend we’ve lost. It seems we’ve lost some of the kindest, friendliest folks these past few years—Mike Bachner, Rod Helderman, Paul Mielke, Susan Cantrell, and Bill Placher among them. The place just isn’t the same without them, and Commencement and Big Bash sure won’t be the same without Gary.
 
Here’s the story. I had sent it to Gary for fact-checking a few weeks ago, but he wasn’t able to get back to me, so I welcome any corrections—or additions.
 
A Citizen of Wallace, Wabash, and the World
 
Sometimes the people with the most interesting stories are the most reluctant to tell them.
 
Take my colleague Gary Livengood. I had worked with Gary—an electrician with Campus Services and the guy who, among other duties, makes sure the sound is good for our on campus events—for almost 13 years before he ever told me he’d been born in Wales, the country my family came from three generations back. That his mother was a British war bride, born in Maidenhead, England and grew up in London. That people in the town of Wallace where Gary grew up used to knock on his door just to hear his mother speak in her beautiful London accent.
 
That his father, who grew up in Wallace, had hit the beaches in Normandy from a landing craft on the third day of the D-Day invasion and fought in the decisive Battle of the Bulge. His photo is on the cover of a Time-Life book about the war.

And that Gary hit the beaches of Vietnam a generation later in a very similar type of LST, though hardly with the same intensity.

“When we landed there were people on the beach in bikinis and bathing suits putting on suntan oil,” he told me through a laugh. “Not exactly the combat situation my father was in on D-Day plus three. It was the only way they had for us to get off the ship.”

Like most WW II vets, Gary’s dad didn’t talk about or want to relive the moments he’d experienced in combat, including those in one of the most famous and brutal battles of the war. He’d met Gary’s mom in London while on leave. She was a secretary at a factory there making ball bearings for Lancaster bombers, an area subject to regular bombings by the Nazis. Gary’s mom used to come home from work with her face blackened with soot from the fires and bombings. But she refused to live underground or in the tunnels.
“She says that whenever an air raid siren went off, you just kept on going, like hearing a siren in the street,” Gary told me. “There’s a lot to be said for the British and their stiff upper lip. I’ve sure seen it in Mom.”

Having survived his stints on the front lines, Gary’s dad married his British girlfriend and came home to Wallace with hopes of living out his life in peace. Like most war brides, Gary’s mom wasn’t allowed to return with her new husband—there were all sorts of paperwork, and approval to enter the U.S. for the approximately 70,000 English women who married American GIs took months. More than a year, in the case of Gary’s mom—long enough for Gary to be born in the little Welsh town of Dowlais, where his mother’s aunt and uncle lived and where the new Mrs. Livengood had gone to stay until her passage to the U.S. was approved. 

Gary said his grandmother used to tell him that “you were the last thing your father did before he left for the States.”

Gary and his mom arrived in the U.S. aboard the Queen Mary, which is not as luxurious as it sounds, as the ship had been re-fitted as a troop ship for the war.

So Gary grew up the child of two different cultures. And Gary’s mom, who had grown up in and loved the city of London, came to live in Wallace, IN, current population 100, where she still lives today. There are all sorts of stories about her settling in to the Hoosier state—that one about people knocking on her door just to hear her talk was the first one that came to Gary’s mind when I asked him about it. But what was it like to grow up the son of this Indiana farm boy and the English lady?

I’m hoping Gary will tell me more the next time we talk. I do know his English relatives have visited him and his mother many times, and they’ve gone back to her homeland to visit, as well. Rich connections, wonderful stories.

None of which I had any idea about until last year, when we ran an article about Wallace in Wabash Magazine and Gary mentioned, after the fact, that Wallace was his hometown. I’d photographed Phanuel Lutheran church there and had noticed a lot of Livengood headstones in the churchyard. I’d meant to ask him about it.

Actually, the way Gary came to tell me about all this says a bit about him. He’d been cleaning out the Little Giant Room next to the Wabash Bookstore and had found a photograph of bookstore manager the late Mike Bachner ’70, a friend to so many of us here. He thought I might like to keep the photo, so he stopped by to give it to me.

But when I saw Gary next to thank him for his thoughtfulness, we got into this conversation about his being born in Wales, about his traveling to the U.S. as a baby on the Queen Mary, how he’d traveled back to the place of his birth on the Queen Elizabeth, then returned again on the QE 2. After about a half hour of me peppering him with questions, he had to get back to work.

I asked him if he would write some of this down, and he said that he might, but I knew that was as unlikely as Gary giving a speech about himself in Chapel.  He just didn’t think anyone would find it interesting.

Gary’s been fighting cancer since late last year, and has been off work since early in this one. When he got the diagnosis he told me that he didn’t want anyone’s pity. He’s not interested in becoming anyone else’s drama. His father had died of cancer. Gary is determined to make the best of this situation, as he always has.

So I suggested that, as long as he’s not busy, perhaps he could tell me a few stories, and he’s been kind enough to do so. But he still wonders what I see so interesting about it.

I think the Wabash community is blessed with characters and citizens. The characters are loud, or expressive, sometimes provocative, inspiring, funny; they make us think, or make us mad, or both; they like the limelight, they’re a lot of fun. They’re pretty aware that their lives are interesting, and I’m glad. I enjoy writing about them, the things that interest them. I love learning from them.

But the citizens hold it all together, often in the most inconspicuous ways. They are the ones who make sure the microphones the characters talk through are always on. The comments recorded. The lights burning. They don’t make a big splash; they’re the small and constant ripples that keep the water fresh.

Gary Livengood is a citizen of W
abash. One of his summer jobs is making sure the Chapel sound systems are ready for the weddings when alumni get married here. He meets the groom the evening before the service to brief him on how the mikes, sound, and recording system works, so that their special day will go smoothly and be preserved.

One summer night last year I was walking my dog Jules on campus and saw Gary, standing on the Chapel steps, looking down at his watch. He was supposed to meet an alumnus who was getting married in the Chapel the next day. The alum was more than an hour late.

“Steve, I hate to say it, but if he’s not here in a half hour, I’m just going to have to go home,” Gary told me apologetically. “I’ve got folks waiting for me there.” 

I told Gary I’d have left half an hour ago. But Gary noted that the times around weddings get pretty chaotic, and he wanted to give the guy a few more minutes. In the course of our conversation, the alum finally showed. Gary let out an audible sigh of relief.

Citizens. You don’t hear many stories about them. Hell, they won’t tell them! But try running this College without these people who put others’ interests first as a matter of habit. People who often don’t realize how their small kindnesses hold up their friends, colleagues, their communities, and the world. Guys like Gary are the Gentleman’s Rule personified.

Even as I write this I wonder, Where did Gary get this way of living? Was it from his mom, the English war bride, the elegant woman in the Indiana back road town? From his dad, the D-Day Plus-Three veteran whose family had helped settle that town and kept it alive for generations? Was it from watching the interactions of those British and American relatives, being a child of two cultures?

Gary recalls WW II vets coming to the house when he was 12 or 13 years old.

“I had the advantage of talking to veterans of from the British forces and the American forces,” he said.

All this has to shape the way you come at the world, even while you’re running through the woods outside of Wallace and playing by the creek on a warm spring day.

I hope to get a better sense of this the next time Gary and I talk about his life, which he keeps insisting isn’t very interesting. I hate to be rude to such a kind man, but he’s simply wrong about that.