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Kothe Nurtures, Honors Relationships

Alison and Charlie in Kane House, her last day before retiring as the College’s Director of Development.

Steve Charles—I just glanced out my Hovey Cottage window to see that Alison Kothe has driven out of the Kane House parking lot (with her labradoodle, Charlie) for the last time as the College’s director of development.

After un-retiring three times to help us successfully complete the $68 million-plus Challenge of Excellence campaign, she’s finally taking retirement seriously this time.

She’s deserves this break. I’m happy for her. But there’s a lump in my throat as I watch her leave.

For 11 years Alison has brought (and taught) a deep understanding that advancement work is ultimately about honoring relationships—honest, heartfelt, mutually beneficial relationships. For Alison, many of those friendships will endure well past her tenure here.

Her work focuses on one person, one moment, at a time. She’s an extraordinary listener and observer. She not only “got” this place, she loves it, and she cares ferociously about our work of teaching and learning and the future it can bring. She holds herself accountable to the relationships she developed with alumni and their families, inspired others to try to be equally caring, and tried her best to teach me to do the same. I will miss her reminders.

My friend Susan Cantrell (who knew Alison from working in Illinois Senator Charles Percy’s office) told me we were lucky to have her here when she first arrived at Wabash in 2001, and Alison has proved her right every day. She eventually took up Susan’s role of having the most recognizable laugh on campus. Not hearing that hearty laugh in classrooms and at campus events and meetings will feel a little like losing them both.

Alison doesn’t like public attention; she didn’t want a fuss made about her retirement, doesn’t trust gushing sentimentality, and she slyly dodged any efforts at a reception.

And that’s fitting, as her best work was always behind the scenes. I glimpsed some of it when I interviewed or visited alumni like Bruce Baker ’66 or Karen and Dan Simmons ’70. But it also came alive in hundreds of face-to-face conversations and emails and phone calls with alumni, students, and faculty; in unexpected kindnesses; in the creative ways she found to connect alumni with the College; in being an advocate for what alumni cared about and finding who at today’s Wabash they would benefit from knowing; in mending fences and listening when alumni were disappointed with their alma mater, then finding a way to begin healing that relationship.

I talked with Alison today for a story I’m writing for the next Wabash Magazine and learned that it was one of Wabash’s legendary professors who directed her toward her vocation at Wabash. So I’ll probably start the story something like this:

Alison Kothe says Wabash Professor John Fischer gave her “the greatest gift” of her working life.

Twelve years ago she had just left an unsatisfying job with a bank when she sat down with Fischer. He had been her brother Jim’s faculty advisor at Wabash and had become a family friend. Fischer told her about an opening in development at the College and suggested she “try something completely new.”

 “John said with a sweep of the arm, ‘Child, come to Wabash,’” Alison recalls. “So I did.”

And Wabash is so much better for it.

Miles ’76 and the Art of Connections

Mark Miles ’76 talks with WM at the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership offices in Chase Tower.
photo by Joni Jeffries

Steve Charles—I love it when writers, poets, and artists come to campus, especially the Q & A sessions that follow readings and openings. It’s a chance to ask these accomplished practitioners of their art: How’d you do it? What inspires you? How did you put this all together?

I felt similar anticipation visiting Mark Miles ’76 last week in his soon-to-be-vacated office in Indianapolis’ Chase Tower. Here’s a man whose work helped elect a mayor and a senator; brought to Indy the Pan Am Games, the catalyst for the sports-fueled renaissance of the city; reshaped and revived (and renamed) the RCA Championships, then led the international organization of tennis players that play there; brought the Super Bowl to town; harnessed the power of Central Indiana corporate leaders for visionary initiatives; and is on track to help get a mass transit plan passed in the legislature—in Indiana!

I wanted to know how he does it: How does he pull people together to get such good things done? Does he consider his work a vocation and, if so, what is that calling? What could students and young alumni learn from a career trajectory that reads like the College’s mission statement: to think critically, lead effectively, act responsibly, and live humanely? And what about his latest challenge: Today is Miles’ first day as CEO of Hulman & Company, parent group of the Indy Racing League and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

I learned two of Miles’ gifts the minute we met: He puts others at ease, and he listens well. In the midst of moving with an office half in boxes, he welcomed photographer Joni Jeffries and me. He gave us more than the allotted hour and a generous conversation which will be part of an article you can read in the Spring 2013 issue of Wabash Magazine.

One of my favorite exchanges from that conversation came about after Miles’ ability to see potential connections between people reminded me of the way poets and writers see the world:

Miles: Sometimes I’m in a room with people who are clearly much brighter, and I’ll be amazed at how they don’t connect the dots and see where that’s going to go.

You have a different way of seeing the world.

Miles: It’s like chess—an ability to see where things are going.

Can it be taught?

Miles: I think it can be learned; I don’t know if you can teach it. You can absorb it.

Miles named former Lilly Endowment, Inc. President, former World Food Programme Executive Director, now Indiana Pacers President Jim Morris as a mentor, recalling a conversation with him as Miles was beginning his efforts with the Pan Am Games:

Miles at his now-old office in Chase Tower.
photo by Joni Jeffries

“I thought we were going to talk about the Pan Am Games, and he starts telling me about the canal that we’re going to try to get developed, what we’re going to do in terms of housing at Lockfield Gardens, and 20 other things I can’t remember. My head was swimming. He has this ability to think of all these irons in the fire, and how we could connect them, and how they might have a greater relevance in a bigger context. A really extraordinary guy—that vision, that skill set. That’s a good example of someone I learned a ton from.”

Our students, faculty, and alums could learn a ton from Miles. So will I as I write the story. Thanks to him, and to Executive Assistant Linda Whitaker, for fitting us in during this busy time of transition.

And Miles’ vocation?

“How about ‘challenge hunter,’” he said.

Read more in the Spring 2013 WM.

This Year’s Christmas Greeting Special Again!

President and Mrs. White singing with the Wabash College Glee Club.

Howard W. Hewitt – Every year the College makes a special effort to get out a Holiday Greeting to all alumni and friends of the College.

Last year Adam Bowen and I thought we should do something a little different and we made a full video with the Glee Club that served as our official ‘greeting.” You can see that video from last year below.

Last night we shot the 2012 Holiday Greeting with President and Mrs. White. The greeting will go live on the web and linked through email to alumni and friends very close to Christmas.

It takes a lot of planning and enduring a bit of stress, but its a fun project. The only clue here is the photo above. You’ll have to wait to see what the first couple and Glee Club members are singing and how the greeting plays out.

We think you’ll love it!

Woods Teaches the Calling of Music

Steve Charles—I was photographing the Wabash Chamber Orchestra’s final rehearsal of Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony for its fall concert last Sunday night when a familiar string of notes played with unfamiliar beauty stopped me in my tracks.

Deborah Woods plays the second movement of Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” during rehearsal for last Sunday night’s Wabash Chamber Orchestra Fall Concert.

I’d forgotten that the solo in the symphony’s second movement, one of the most compelling and recognizable tunes in music (think “Going Home”), is played on  English horn. I’d forgotten how powerfully that instrument conveys both yearning and hope. And I’d forgotten what a gifted and accomplished musician that soloist—former senior administrative assistant to President White and now Wabash grants coordinator Deborah Woods—is.

Even in the flurry of a rushed final rehearsal, Deb played Dvorak’s melody with such precision and power that I felt as though I could have been in any professional symphony hall in the country.

And she has played in a few. She completed her undergrad work at a music conservatory, earned her master’s in music performance at Northwestern. She taught oboe for 17 years at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. Before she wrote grants for Wabash, she was associate director of development for grants for the Columbus Symphony in Ohio.

Having such a dedicated professional in the orchestra bolsters Director Alfred Abel’s confidence in the ensemble. “No doubt Alfred Abel programmed this piece, in part, because Deb could showcase what is among its finest moments so beautifully and capably,” Wabash music department chair Professor Peter Hulen told me following the concert. “She exemplifies how music can be an enrichment to one’s own life and the life of the community.”

Those who have worked with Deb in the president’s office or in advancement may not have realized she is a professional musician, that she teaches oboe and English horn here, or that she could hold an audience spellbound Sunday night with her playing. The vocation of a musician and teacher in our culture has many facets, but it’s all one gem. Showing how they all fit together in a way that enriches her life and our community is another way Deb Woods teaches students, and all of us, about the power of music. Somehow it’s all connected.

And there are several such folks, a story behind every instrument, in this orchestra, which Peter calls one of the College’s best-kept secrets (though the nearly full house at Sunday night’s concert suggests the secret is getting out.) You can start with the director.

“We are so fortunate to have Alfred Abel,” Peter says. “He is a perfect match for Wabash. He is patient, dedicated, and skilled at eliciting the very best out of our players.”

And those players include a new freshman concertmaster, his brother on viola, and three new student double bass players. With the support of new and continuing excellent players from the Crawfordsville community (this orchestra has long been a remarkable partnership), the group just keeps getting better. Take a look at the photos from that Sunday afternoon rehearsal in this album.

Better yet, mark your calendar now for April 21st and the Orchestra’s spring concert.

Bird ’00 Relishes Second Obama Win

Howard W. Hewitt, Chicago, ILL. – Jeremy Bird walked around the quiet and largely empty sixth floor of the Prudential Building in downtown Chicago. He explained the mechanics of President Barack Obama’s re-election victory.

He shared stories, spoke of co-workers with great admiration and fondness, and often minimized his own contributions.

How many people can say they had a key hand in electing the President of the United States – twice? The St. Louis native and Wabash graduate can say just that.

Bird was a field organizer in 2008 orchestrating one of the campaign’s most important primary victories in South Carolina. He led the field effort in Ohio during the general election. After the 2008 Obama win, Bird worked for the Democratic Central Committee and then Organizing America. When it came time in 2011 to restart the Obama campaign Bird was on board and named the National Field Director.

He worked the election out of Obama’s Headquarters in downtown Chicago.

He compared the 2012 campaign to his Wabash education. “We knew we couldn’t run the same campaign,” he said Monday. “We had to rethink everything and that’s what Wabash guys do.”

The Wabash religion major and Harvard Divinity School graduate believes the President’s second term will be very different than his first. In 2008, Bird said, the President had to hire and appoint people to deal with the ecomonic crisis. Bird said the President can take a broader view organizing his leadership team now.

Media Center’s Adam Bowen taping Bird’s tour of Obama Headquarters

The sprawling headquarters was alive up until election day with 500-600 people working on the campaign. The staff now is down to 50 or so working on a legacy project to document the Obama ground strategy.

Personally times couldn’t be much better for Jeremy Bird. He married in 2010, lives in downtown Chicago, and will be in demand for future campaigns. He wants to continue community organizing work either for social issues or electing political candidates.

The Wabash website will feature an extensive video interview over the holidays on Bird’s success. He is expected to return to campus in the spring for a public talk about the campaign.

Adam Bowen did yeoman’s work getting lots of Jeremy on video for the upcoming feature. And it was fun for both of us to have Wabash freshman Derek Andre along to write a story about the experience for The Bachelor.

Growing Pains for Little Giants

Jim Amidon — There was one second remaining on the scoreboard clock at Wabash’s Chadwick Court when freshman guard Ross Sponsler stepped to the line to attempt two free throws in a game the Little Giants led by a single point.

The Terre Haute North High School graduate calmly sunk both shots — just as he had 16 seconds earlier when Wabash led Denison University by just a point in a game the Little Giants desperately needed.

The freshman stood tall in both cases, scoring all four of the Little Giants last points in a North Coast Athletic Conference victory that snapped a two-game losing streak and helped erase memories of a miserable game earlier in the week against Rose-Hulman.

These Little Giants — these young, but talented players — will be fun to watch in the coming years.

There will be moments like in last Monday’s loss to Rose, when Wabash looks like a rag-tag group of freshmen and sophomores trying to learn how to play together at the college level.

But there also will be moments like last Saturday’s win over Denison when the full potential of these young basketball players is readily apparent. The Little Giants built a big lead against an experienced team led by an all-conference player, relinquished the lead, and then leaned on the rookies to eek out a much-needed NCAC victory.

Denison had cut the Wabash lead to just three points when Little Giant junior Andy Walsh buried a three-pointer to push the home team’s lead back to six points with nine minutes to play.

From that moment on, freshmen scored the final 17 points for Wabash.

Freshman Austin Burton

Sponsler scored 11 points in the final six minutes of his first game back after sitting out a few games with an injury.

Denison had taken a one-point lead late in the game. That’s when Southmont graduate, Austin Burton, who earned his first collegiate start, sunk a three-pointer. He later added a critical free throw and finished with eight points, three rebounds, and two assists.

Freshman forward Daniel Purvlicis started alongside Burton with sophomores Kasey Oetting and Houston Hodges. Junior Pete Nicksic was the starting center.

By game’s end, freshmen and sophomores contributed 50 of Wabash’s 75 points and 23 of 41 rebounds.

Indeed, Coach Antoine Carpenter has a young Wabash basketball team. It might well be the youngest team to take the court for the Little Giants in decades.

But it is a very talented team. When Coach Carpenter can get his players to understand their roles, run the offense, and hustle on defense, they are very good and a joy to watch. The team’s seniors — Jordan Surenkamp, Evan Johnson, and Colten Craigen are doing a terrific job teaching the rookies the ropes.

Freshman Daniel Purvlicis

Purvlicis is a 6-7 forward with soft hands and good instincts around the basket.

Rookie center Marcus Kammrath stands 6-9 and is the team’s tallest player. As his defense improves, his minutes will increase, and he’ll soon be a powerful force in the paint. (He had six rebounds in just nine minutes.)

The rookie guards, Burton and Sponsler, are both hard-nosed players who bring toughness to the position. Both were well-coached in high school and it shows in their ability to handle the ball and take key shots in pressure-packed situations.

The sophomores have suddenly been cast in the roles of leaders. Oetting, a silky 6-7 forward, scored 15 points with seven boards in Saturday’s win. Hodges is still getting into basketball shape after football season, yet he’s contributing mightily as a leader.

In a season that’s just five games old, you don’t want to start talking about “next year.” But it is fun to imagine how good this team will be a year or two years from now.

I think these Little Giants are just talented and scrappy enough to surprise some of the league’s front-runners before this season ends. There will be growing pains along the way, but the upside of this team is exciting.

Coach Carpenter will get a sense of the team’s toughness soon enough. Wabash plays five of its next six games on the road, including a trip to always-tough Wooster.

Plan now, though, to check out this promising young team when it hosts Hanover on December 17. If you are a basketball fan, you will like what you see, and you, too, will witness the beginning of a new era of Wabash basketball.