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McClendon’s “Off 63rd” Premieres in Chicago

Steve Charles—An hour before the first show of his new public affairs series Off 63rd with Garrard McClendon on Chicago’s WYCC-TV 20 PBS affiliate, Dr. Garrard McClendon stands alone 10 feet in front of the camera, the flat screen behind him shimmering with the show’s logo. He’s running his lines one last time, warming up like a sprinter taking short practice starts out of the blocks.

“This one’s a nail biter…”

He tries again, a little more emphasis on ‘nail.’

“It’s a NAIL biter…”

“It’s a NAIL Biter for those who like Chicago-style political drama…”

“This is Off 63rd—Chicago, from the beach to the burbs.”

The soundman aims and positions the mics. Then another practice run to make sure the teleprompter is working as it should. Fix the lighting. Then more waiting.

Garrard does his “AHH-nold” Schwarznegger impersonation, playfully flexing his biceps, then banters back and forth with one of the cameramen about friends they have in common in the business. The cameraman has worked with one of Garrard’s mentors. “A wonderful man, wonderful man,” Garrard says, glancing back at the camera.

Many Chicagoans know Garrard from his previous talk show, Garrard McClendon Live, which ran for two years on Chicago’s CLTV. More learned about him in the midst of personal tragedy—Garrard’s parents, Milton and Ruby, were murdered in October 2009. Even while grieving, Garrard publicly forgave the killers, an act even more remarkable because Garrard and his parents were very close. “I have forgiven the perpetrators,” he told WGN-TV in October 2009. “Do I want them caught? Of course I do. I want justice served. But I can’t live a productive life in constant pain.”

The killers were sentenced three months ago.

More waiting. He plays with the lines and the show’s title to keep himself loose.
“Where are we now? Off 63rd Street. Where do we work? Off 63rd Street. Where do we eat? Off 63rd Street.”

“Where do you sleep?” the cameraman jests.

Off 63rd Street.” McClendon smiles.

It’s got all the tension of opening night in the theater, with every eye and every hope in the room focused on one man. Garrard tells me later that he uses this time to visualize the entire show, not unlike the way he envisioned each entire race from the starting line when he ran track at Wabash in the late 1980s.

“I know I can’t leave, so I think about the show, from the first minute all the way to the end.”

“Doesn’t the stress get to you?” I ask.

“I love it,” he says.

Getting the sound, the light, the lines and the look just right takes almost 15 minutes for this, the only pre-recorded part of the show. There will be no do-overs from here out. Off 63rd is live. And in 25 minutes that’s the way it will go from this studio on the campus of Kennedy-King College on the south side of Chicago to more than 250,000 viewers in the city.

Twenty minutes before the show, Garrard strides to the observation room to greet his guests and some friends. With 15 minutes to go he walks back out to the set, going over notes at the desk with a marker in his hand as guests are brought out to get the lighting, sound, and seating just right.

First up will be the day’s breaking news: Rahm Emanuel is back on the ballot in the Chicago mayoral race, thanks to the state’s supreme court, and Garrard will lead comedian and radio host George Willborn and political commentator and 2010 Republican candidate for governor Dan Proft in a debate on the issue.

Mayoral candidate William “Dock” Walls walks out to the set for a lighting and sound check, Garrard greets him warmly before the candidate departs for the green room, to return in the show’s second half.

Five minutes before the show, everyone’s in place. A few last minute makeup touch-ups for the Willborn and Proft. Garrard’s producer, Allison Hunter, steps to the table. She leans over him, speaking a few quiet words, perhaps reassurance. Then they smile, laugh, clearly energized as Allison’s idea, and this dream they’ve shared the past few months, is about to go live into the world.

“I just want to put this out there,” she calls out to the crew as she walks off the set. “I want to thank you all for a great show. I want to put this out there now. This one has been written, that work has been done. Thank you.” It’s Garrard’s visualization technique provided en masse for the professionals behind all this high-end technology—the mix of TV journeymen and novices who have to get everything just right for the program to come off as seamless as it must.

Two minutes. Then one. Floor Director Lathea Smyles steps up to the set.

“Five,” she calls out, backing away, counting down the remaining seconds with her fingers. The recorded opening booms from the speakers, the show’s theme playing behind it. Smyles cues Garrard as the opening ends. Garrard McClendon’s future is about to begin.

In case you can’t tell, I’d never been on the set of a live TV show—the no-safety-net tension these professionals handle with such calm every day. I only got to go because we’re publishing a feature on Garrard in the next issue of Wabash Magazine, and our writer and primary photographer, Evan West, who had already finished the first interviews, couldn’t make it because of his assignments for his day job with Indianapolis Monthly. So I went as back up. The fun part—taking a few photos and notes, getting to meet for the first time an alumnus I’ve corresponded with many times and greatly respect.

That Garrard let us be there at the very first show—when anything can go wrong—says something about his confidence and much about his feelings for his alma mater.

Here’s what he told me after that show—which the cameraman said went “like butter,” and which put smiles on the faces of the producer, director, and floor director alike.

“Wabash College taught me how to critically think, and that’s such a valuable thing for a student and adult to have. Drs. Thomas Campbell, Warren Rosenberg, Tobey Herzog, and Horace Turner, Robert Johnson, they all mentored me at such a high level when I was 18 and 19 years old, because they saw something in me that I couldn’t see. They’d pull that out in the classroom—say, ‘Come on Garrard. You’re better than that.’ ‘Come on, Garrard. You’ve got to read the material more critically, go deeper.’

“And that’s what I do on this show. This show is a Wabash experience.”

Evan’s article in the next Wabash Magazine will catch you up on Garrard’s story in-depth. But for me, standing in that studio and watching this man stand and deliver this first broadcast of his new show—only months after his second talk show was cancelled, barely a year after his parents were murdered, and only months after their killers were sentenced—gave new meaning to the phrase “Wabash Always Fights.”

Check out the show’s Web site.

Wabash Men: Your Time Is Now

Jim Amidon —Tracy Sugarman was having lunch with a small group of Wabash College students last Thursday and discussing his book, We Had Sneakers, They Had Guns: The Kids Who Fought for Civil Rights in Mississippi, when one student asked him why he wrote the book 45 years after the Freedom Summer of 1964.

Charles McLaurin and Tracy Sugarman

Sugarman was not measured in his response.

“Because we do a lousy job of teaching history in America,” he said emphatically. “We’ve allowed that period of our history to slip.”

I was slightly taken aback by the firmness of his answer. He looked into the eyes of the young Wabash men and said, “You didn’t know anything about Charles McLaurin, Fannie Lou Hamer, or me before we came to campus this week.

“The great legacy of Charles McLaurin and the civil rights movement is the history, written in the blood of young people who dared to stand up and demand change. That movement created a climate for change everywhere around the world; people everywhere learned to organize for change.”

Then he laid it out in no uncertain words: “A lot of this is like mythology now.”

The 89-year-old author and internationally recognized artist and illustrator has lived through his fair share of American history — from storming the beaches at Normandy, fighting for justice for black citizens of Mississippi, to chronicling in words and drawings the horrors of 9/11.

Tracy Sugarman and Warren Rosenberg

But he’s determined to make sure that his grandchildren — the young people of America today — know the sacrifices their parents and grandparents made in the violent, turbulent summer of 1964.

Sugarman and his dear friend McLaurin were invited to Wabash to help celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but also to kick off a series of events to mark the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Malcolm X Institute at Wabash.

McLaurin’s history is no less rich or fascinating. He was 19 when he signed on with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and 20 when he was named director of the summer project in Sunflower County, Mississippi.

It was in Ruleville where McLaurin managed to fill an entire church with African Americans as a first step in organizing them to register to vote and to attend Freedom Schools. That evening, the young McLaurin had a face-to-face confrontation with an armed “bully” police officer, who refused to leave the church. McLaurin stood his ground amid chants of “Go, Go, Go,” and eventually other police officers escorted the bully from the church.

It was the first time anyone in that town had ever seen a black man confront a police officer, and it was a major milestone in the fight for freedom. The events are chronicled in great detail in Sugarman’s gripping book.

McLaurin would later serve as a campaign manager for Hamer, who was the first African American woman to run for U.S. Congress. Both were among the first African Americans from Mississippi to be seated at the Democratic National Convention.

And there was McLaurin — sitting in Wabash classrooms, sharing his stories with Wabash students, most of whom were born after 1990. To them, the civil rights movement is ancient history or, to use Sugarman’s word, “mythology.”

Yet McLaurin, “a foot soldier for freedom,” and Sugarman, “a messenger of the civil rights movement,” did not dwell on the past or on the violence, beatings, and intimidation.

They laughed as they shared fond memories of relationships between white college students from the north and the black citizens of the Mississippi. They laugh and live in grace today because they have learned to forgive.

But the strongest messages they directed at the Wabash students focused on change. They said the single biggest lesson to take from the summer of 1964 is that young people, when motivated and focused on a common goal, can accomplish anything.

They said the goal doesn’t matter — rights for people of color, gays, women, the environment; what matters, they said, is commitment.

“Change is important and it doesn’t happen if young people don’t demand it,” Sugarman said. “People pay dues and are willing to invest their lives in things they believe in. It isn’t a matter of ideology; it’s a matter of commitment.

“I can assure you that there are people all over the country dying to be turned on. I can assure you that there’s a lot of unfinished business in America.”

The three-day visit to Wabash by McLaurin and Sugarman was unforgettable. This community got to learn history by men who made it. This community was inspired to take from that history the great lesson of possibility; the possibility for committed people to change the world.

Then, in closing, Sugarman said farewell: “It’s time for my generation to shut up and get the hell out of the way. Your time has come.”

“Not Mawkish But with Deep Sentiment”

Steve Charles—Last week we received word that Doris Strawn—long-time assistant at the Crawfordsville Public Library, and wife of Professor Emeritus of French Dick Strawn for more than 66 years—had died on Friday, January 7.  She had worked at the public library between 1958 and 1986, and she and her good friend Marion Powell had established at Hoover Elementary School the first of the modern elementary school libraries in Crawfordsville.

I did not know Doris well, so when I heard of her death, I asked Professor Strawn to tell me more about her. I found out that he and Doris were married on a Christmas Day. The more I read about Doris in the three pieces he sent me, the more fitting that seems.

The first piece is both Wabash history and a story of the Strawns, the Powells, the Salters, and other faculty and student families during one of the most interesting and endearing eras of the College. Doris had written a section in These Fleeting Years about Mud Hollow, the College’s post-World War II housing for married faculty and students in what is today the Wabash soccer field:

The walls were indeed thin, but in addition to being able to knock for baby-sitting service or other assistance we were able to hear Elvena Barnes yelling at her husband, “Oh, Chuck, there’s another one! Smash it!” This let us know that they had “them” too, so we could broach (no pun intended) the subject of collaborating on arranging a visit from the exterminator.

Outdoor acoustics were interesting, too. While hanging clothes outside the neighbors’ kitchen window one warm day, I heard Mrs. Neighbor say to her husband, quite forcefully, “Why don’t you use your head for something besides a hat rack once in awhile!” It enriched our family language.

We would never have made so many good friends in such a short time under any other circumstances. We all had a lot in common, including a meager economic base; young children, in most cases; husbands working on term papers, themes, or dissertations till all hours while wives tried to keep the kids and the dishes quiet; co-ordinating wash-days for maximum use of the clothesline, and showers for best use of water pressure, and naps and play-time for mutual baby-sitting; and a general sharing of nearly everything, of which few families had enough, to provide for a stray guest or two.

There was little distinction between faculty and student. We were all in the same boat, and most were quite close in age, since many of the student residents were on the G.I. Bill, at least as mature as most of us assistant instructor types. And what a fine bunch those men and families were!

There’s more to the entry, and Doris’s love of and skill with language shine throughout. Not to mention her sense of humor, even more abundant in the second piece Dick sent me, labeled “Doris Strawn’s ‘bons mots’ in later years:”

March 27, 1990, after failing several times to get an AT & T long-distance call formula to work: “Even the recorded voice was beginning to sound impatient.”

June 12, 1995: “I’m too old to get old.”

July 24, 1995:  “We should privatize politics.”

June 19, 1996:, of goofiness like Whitewater and Travel Office shenanigans and misapplied FBI files in the Clinton White House:  “backwoods Chicago.”

December 9, of Rod McKuen:  “Tie-dyed poetry.”

February 5, 1998: a good name for a nursing home:  “Rest Assured.”

The final bit of writing is a set of notes Dick wrote about Doris for Karen Moehling, a local artist, so that she could give a Lafayette jewelry-maker an idea of the person he was to design a piece for:

Doris Strawn, age 72, height 5’ 4”, weight 125 pounds

Fond of the painter Mondrian; prefers symmetry to dispersal, finished to rough, simple to ornate, delicate-with-strength to forceful.

Not mawkish but with deep sentiment; ironic and wry, reserved but no push-over; her jokes are pungent but unhurtful.

A reader.

She wears a plain, thinnish gold wedding ring and with it a small daisy-like setting of six opals (her grandmother’s).

The piece of jewelry to be designed: a golden-wedding-anniversary piece: wearable.

Suggestion: a gold pendant, or gold pin if not heavy.  Non-representational or, at best, stylized.

Up to $500; anything more and she’d be afraid to wear it.

Last Saturday, a group of old friends and Wabash folks from Kansas (Doris was born in El Dorado, Kansas and was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Kansas) gathered to read two of these three pieces, to offer a toast and a traditional Kansas cheer in Doris’s honor.

Among those friends were Becky and Bill Degitz ’42 and Marion and Professor Emeritus Vic Powell H’55. When he turned 90 last year, Vic attributed his long life, in part, to the “network of friendships that is so important” and “a sense of well-being you have with people whose companionship you enjoy.”

“Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving at our house if Dick and Doris didn’t come by,” he said.

In her story about those days in Mud Hollow, Doris recalls watching her student- neighbors graduate: “We swelled with pride and a tear when Ken Lee and Harry Nimmo, among others, received their degrees. They were family.”

You can almost see her smile as she wrote the conclusion to her description of those Mud Hollow Days: “Ah, nostalgia! We did a good deal of complaining about it all at the time, but if we had it to do over again, we would.”

You can reach Professor Strawn at: strawnd@accelplus.net

Pacheco Has Guest Role on CSI: NY

 

Reynaldo Pacheco '06 at the CSI studios

Howard W. Hewitt - Reynaldo Pacheco ’06 has a guest role on the popular CBS series CSI: NY which airs Friday night.

Pacheco was known on the Wabash campus as a young man who tried everything. He had critical roles in numerous theater productions and graduated as a theater/French double major.

Pacheco will play Miguel Martinez in a story about a Spanish club promoter being found dead in his apartment. The family’s decision to bring the body back home compromises the investigation.

CSI airs at 9 p.m. on CBS stations. The episode, “Holding Cell,” featuring Pacheco is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 14.

Read more about Pacheco’s Wabash College career here. Pecheco was interviewed about six months ago by Spanish-language site Los Tiempos.com. Read the translated Q&A here.

Pacheco recently had a role in “Beginners,” a film with veteran Hollywood star Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor, known for his work in Star Wars.