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The Iconic Dr. Z

Jim Amidon — How nice it was last Thursday to attend a reception honoring a long-serving colleague at Wabash College and not have to say “goodbye” when it ended.

A huge swath of the Wabash community gathered to celebrate John Zimmerman and his 50 years of service to the College.

Dr. John Zimmerman has taught (and learned) at Wabash for 50 years. Photo by Steve Charles.

Hosted by the Chemistry Department, the event paid tribute to “Dr. Z” for a half-century of teaching, learning, and contributing to the life of the College. While specifically a chemist, Dr. Z’s influence can be felt all across Wabash — yes, from the labs of Hays Hall, sure, but also to the Glee Club, Theater, and sports teams.

You see, Dr. Z is almost never without his camera — or at least that’s been the case for the 30 years I’ve known him. He’s made it his life’s work to chronicle and document (on slides, film, chip, card, tape, and disc) the most important events that happen at Wabash.

I had very little time to spend at Thursday’s reception, but I wanted to thank Dr. Z for what he’s meant to me — and give him a hug and handshake to congratulate him on his career. He and I have “covered” a thousand Wabash events and more. The difference is that I get paid specifically to do that; Dr. Z does it because he loves the students, faculty, and staff of Wabash College.

He said to me Thursday, “If I had to give a talk about photography I might start it with, ‘There was a time when Jim Amidon and I were the only ones on campus who had decent cameras.’”

He was right, too. And time changes everything.

Some of my fondest memories of my years as the sports information director in the late 1980s and early 1990s are of early morning cross country races — standing next to Dr. Z as we snapped scores of photos. The same was true during football, basketball, and track seasons — if there was a sporting event happening at Wabash, Dr. Z was there to capture it.

Typically, he’d drop by my office a couple days after an event when his prints had arrived from Target to show me his “wow” photos. (Though you really know when Dr. Z likes one of his images because he always says, “Stunning!”)

For about three decades, he’s been the official photographer and videographer of the Glee Club and Theater Department. He’s traveled the world to capture the history of the Glee Club with images and video from the Sydney Opera House to the old castles in Scotland — and all points between.

Dr. Z with Professor Lon Porter and President Pat White. Photo by Tom Runge.

Last Thursday lots of memories came back to me as I gazed into the display cases in Hays Hall, where many of Dr. Z’s images and mementos were spread out. To show how this scientist has evolved and adapted to technological change, there was a slide dated 1959 that he had reproduced digitally (this week) using a scanner and desktop printer. Back in 1959, you sent film to a lab and you might get it back a week later! And if you used Kodachrome, you needed a slide projector to see the images!

Right next to that image was a large-format digital disc — the size of an old vinyl record album — made in 1995. Dr. Z and some chemists at the University of Wisconsin recorded lab demonstrations and “burned” them to the large videodisc — it was literally the beginning of “distance education” because that disc could go anywhere to provide virtual instruction.

Dr. Z has spent his entire life learning (though his title is professor). We chatted last week about the summer he spent in Greece to photograph Professor Leslie Day’s archeological dig in Crete.

We laughed as we recalled the afternoons we spent in my office darkroom prior to his departure, when I taught Dr. Z how to develop film and make prints — all of which he recorded on a video camera (in near-darkness). Weeks later, he created a makeshift darkroom in Crete and repeated the whole process so the archeologists would have a record of their finds.

There was fondness in his voice as we talked about the funny darkroom scene. It was then that it occurred to me that I had – in my 20s – served as a teacher to a man I have always regarded as one of the College’s finest-ever teachers.

As I left the reception, I overheard Dr. Z and others recounting old chem lab shenanigans and interesting characters — professors and students alike. And it was with a bounce in my step that I walked to my next meeting knowing that I didn’t have to say goodbye to this Wabash icon. He’ll begin his 51st year of service to Wabash standing beside me this Sunday as together we photograph the 175th Commencement Ceremony on the College Mall.

 

And be sure of one thing: Dr. Z’s images will be stunning!

Cheesesteak Event A Success

Jim Amidon — When Wabash College senior Rashaan Stephens met with me about six weeks ago, he came with an idea to do a fund-raiser for the Montgomery County Free Clinic. So I sat down and talked with him about all the little details that would need to be planned in order for his event to be successful.

Most of the time when a fund-raising event involves a million little details, the students get overwhelmed. With the burdens of their classes, sports, and activities, the fund-raisers tend to be good, but often unrealized ideas.

I should have known Rashaan would see his idea through to a successful conclusion. See pictures from Saturday’s event here.

A Philly CheesesteakRashaan is from Philadelphia and he’s proud of that fact — so proud that his idea to raise money for the Dr. Mary Ludwig Free Clinic was to sell authentic Philly cheesesteak sandwiches. He told me about the famous places in Philly where locals stand in line for hours to get a sandwich, and said he wanted to introduce his adopted hometown of Crawfordsville to what he called “the greatest sandwich in the world.”

You have to meet Rashaan to get a sense of his enthusiasm — for travel, life, studies, and Philly cheesesteaks. He’s like a human tornado who is always on the go. Our conversation about the fund-raiser was a blur. We talked about all those million little details in minutes, and when he left, he was literally undaunted.

“Okay,” he said. “I’ll be in touch when I get everything in place.”

I didn’t hear from him for about 10 days so I thought the pressures of mid-semester probably got the best of him. I was wrong. He spent that time meeting with our food service partner, Bon Appetit, and lining up workers from the organization he leads on campus, the Muslim Students’ Association.

Everything came together perfectly on Saturday, including the season’s warmest day of the year so far. Under bright sunshine, Rashaan, Tyler Griffin, the MSA, and the Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies set up tables outside the Scarlet Inn and decorated the whole area with red balloons.

I arrived shortly before the event started, and Rashaan was busily running all over campus. He couldn’t even stop long enough for a photo. But I found Bill Doemel, who is executive director of the Free Clinic, and we talked about the significance of the fund-raiser.

The clinic will provide free healthcare to uninsured people of Montgomery County, and over the last five years, a dedicated group of volunteers have managed to raise $300,000 in funds to match a $900,000 grant from North Central Health Services. Located on Mill Street near Milligan Park, the clinic is set to open mid-summer.

Chris White and Rashaan StephensRight now the volunteers and board members are raising operational funds. That’s what Rashaan and the MSA brothers wanted to support.

Selling five-dollar cheesesteak sandwiches may not seem significant, but think about the symbolism:

Rashaan Stephens is a senior from Philly on his way out of Crawfordsville, yet he wanted to leave a footprint

Rashaan Stephens is a Muslim. The Free Clinic is growing out of the long-standing Christian Nursing Service’s Well Baby Clinic and Adult Clinic.

The Muslim Students’ Association wanted to demonstrate the true tenets of Islam, and those students worked tremendously hard to show they care deeply about this community and all of the people who live here.

Local chef Adam Laskowski manned the flattop in the Scarlet Inn and made it look like he’d been slinging Philly cheesesteaks all his life.

Let’s talk about those sandwiches, too: Beef steak and fresh-baked rolls flown in from Philly. You got your choice of provolone or Cheese Whiz, peppers or onions, or both.

I had mine with provolone and could not believe how terrific the sandwich was. As I sat in the sunshine with my wife, Chris (a Free Clinic board member) and Bill Doemel, I had a sudden urge to get another sandwich. This time with Cheese Whiz, at which Bill grimaced.

I returned with the slightly sloppier, bright orange cheese-covered sandwich and had it polished off in about 90 seconds, which included allowing Chris to sample two bites. It was even better than the first sandwich.

By this point, a large crowd had gathered and the fund-raiser was up and running. Several fraternities provided funds to allow all members to eat there Saturday afternoon.

We left about an hour into the event. Rashaan was still running around like a crazy man making sure every detail was covered. I asked Tyler Griffin how many sandwiches he had sold in that first hour. He laughed (he always laughs) and said, “I have no idea — this many” and he showed me his cash box stuffed with money that will soon help support our neighbors in need.

Needless to say, I left feeling exceptionally proud of Rashaan, Tyler, Nick Gray, and all the students who pitched in to make the Cheesesteak Festival a rousing success.

 

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.

Cross Country Team Back on National Stage

Jim Amidon — Wabash College Cross Country Coach Roger Busch had his team back at the Division III National Championships again this year. It’s the third straight year the Little Giants have qualified as a team for the national meet after top-20 finishes in 2010 and 2011.

Sophomore Shane Hoerbert

While traveling to Terre Haute where the meet was held, I was reminded of much longer drives to national championship races back when Coach Busch was running for Rob Johnson in mid-1990s. I made trips with those teams to Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin during a stretch when Wabash captured four top-11 finishes in a row — capped by a third place finish in 1995.

Coach Busch’s young team — one senior, one junior, and five sophomores — ran brilliantly a week ago to take second place at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional.

Wabash didn’t fare as well last Saturday at the championships

The Little Giants placed 28th at the national meet. Sophomore Shane Hoerbert paced Wabash, but he was the team’s only runner to crack the top 100 individuals.

Nick Boyce

After the race, Coach Busch was disappointed. He knows his team is young and that nerves probably got the better of his runners, especially early in the race when a quick pace was set. The Little Giants lingered well back in the pack of almost 300 runners.

“We just never asserted ourselves,” the talented coach told me after the race. “We got out slowly and I expected our guys to make a move, but they never really did.”

Being a fierce competitor, Coach Busch didn’t want to use youth or inexperience as an excuse. He saw the same runners perform much better during earlier meets and he knows how much potential they have.

“At some point, even when you’re young, you have to start running to your potential and begin to assert yourself as a champion,” Busch said. “I think we’re at that point now — we need some guys to step up and learn how to compete in these big meets.”

I suspect Hoerbert and his teammates Nick Boyce, Billy McManus, Dalton Boyer, Daniel Hoover, and Jared Burris will use the indoor and outdoor track seasons to do exactly that — learn how to turn their potential into performance. Finishing second in the North Coast Athletic Conference and at the Great Lakes Regional proves the talent is there.

I remember Coach Busch’s sophomore year. He and Jeremy Wright and Scott Gall were brash young competitors whose second trip to the national championships didn’t go was well as they wanted. In fact, they ran well below their potential that year.

But that was the only time that happened for the rest of their careers at Wabash. Over the next two years, the team blitzed its competition in an unprecedented era of distance running success at Wabash.

They would go on to place fourth and third at the national championships. Perhaps even more impressive, they posted a perfect score at the 1995 Great Lakes Regional — Little Giants finished first through fifth for a score of 15, which is nearly impossible to accomplish in a race with more than 150 runners.

Sophomore Billy McManus

I suspect Coach Busch will use Saturday’s performance as a lesson on how to persevere through times of difficulty. He’ll talk to his runners about his own experiences at nationals when he was a sophomore and how the core group on that team dedicated itself to constant improvement.

Tagging along on Saturday was a lot of fun for me personally. It brought back fond memories from my time as Wabash’s sports information director. It also reminded me of just how great those Wabash teams of the early and mid-90s really were.

Will history repeat itself? Can Coach Busch drive his talented, but young team to heights of greatness?

I sure think so. After Saturday’s race was concluded, every single Wabash runner knew he hadn’t run his best race. Those guys realize that they can compete at a higher level.

Now the hard part begins. The weather has turned cold, but the Wabash cross country team knows now is the time when they have to begin preparations for next year. You’ll see them running in the morning and in the afternoon to log the miles they’ll need to become champions in the future.

It’s a safe bet this group will make a return to the national meet. And it’s also a safe bet that 20 years from now, someone like me will be looking back on last Saturday’s national championship as the point when the cross country program turned the corner.

Seniors Teach Freshmen Monon Tradition

Jim Amidon — Writing about the Monon Bell Classic never gets old or boring. There are always incredible stories leading into the famed football game between Wabash and DePauw, and certainly the actual game provides plenty of its own.

The 119th meeting of the two liberal arts colleges was played on a picture-perfect day at Hollett Little Giant Stadium. Some 7,000 Wabash faithful packed the home stands — and all of the temporary seats — to cheer on the Little Giants to their fourth straight win over their archrivals.

Winning four in a row is tough sledding. Not since 1979 had a Wabash senior class swept all four games against DePauw. And a 23-0 shutout was the second blanking in the last three years.

After the crushing home loss to Oberlin the week before, the Wabash football team was bruised — physically and emotionally. The playoff hopes were dashed. The conference championship was lost. All that remained was the Monon Bell.

And that’s plenty of motivation for any red-blooded Wabash football player.

When interviewed all week by the media, Wabash’s seniors Weston Kitley, Chase Belton, Pat Clegg, and Austin Hodges spoke about the importance of winning the Bell Game and becoming only the 10th class in the 119-year history of the rivalry to sweep DePauw.

Those same seniors quietly talked about their concerns, too. They wondered if Wabash’s freshman and sophomore starters — about 10 in all — would understand the importance of the game.

Tyler McCullen celebrates after a tackle.

When the freshmen were interviewed — guys like Tre Taylor, Justin Woods, and Tyler McCullen — they spoke in unison: they would play their hearts out for the seniors. The freshmen got it; they figured it out so perfectly. When the seniors’ other goals of going undefeated and winning the league title were gone, the freshmen players knew they HAD to do their part to win the Monon Bell. For the seniors.

When the ball was kicked off on Saturday with AXS TV on hand to share the rivalry with the rest of the country, Wabash played with nervous sloppiness. The freshmen were pressing. So were the seniors.

Wanting to win so badly and to avoid an upset in a second straight week created even more pressure. Add to that all the importance the College’s alumni place on winning against DePauw and it was easy to see why Wabash came out unfocused.

The offensive line was penalized repeatedly in the first and second quarters for holding and illegal motion. Those are penalties created by nerves.

But once Belton and Tyler Holmes found a rhythm — running and passing — the offense started to calm down. By game’s end, Kitley and his offensive line mates (including the rookies Taylor and tight end Darren Bost) helped Wabash put 275 rushing yards in the stat book.

Holmes, battered and bruised, rushed for more yards (169) than the Tigers had as a team (142).

On the other side of the ball, Hodges and fellow seniors Clegg and Jonathan Koop set the tone. Big hits, one after the other, and constant pressure on DePauw’s quarterbacks allowed the Tigers to cross mid-field only once in the entire game.

What impressed me most was the play of the rookies, who have been guided and mentored by the seniors and learned the important lessons of Monon Bell history.

McCullen was remarkable. So was Justin Woods, playing in his first Bell Game. Jon Laird made two huge catches.

The veterans played mightily, too. Nate Scola brought intensity. When DePauw was able to complete a pass, Scola and his fellow linebackers A.J. Akinribade and Cody Buresh brought the hammer.

After the sloppiness of the first half, Wabash calmed down. The defense roared and the offense pounded the Tigers into submission.

I’ve seen 30 Monon Bell Games in a row and each year I discover something different or unique about this famed rivalry, which is built on mutual respect and admiration among the rivals.

This year, I saw more keenly the passing on of tradition. It was more apparent how critical it is for seniors to teach the freshmen how to focus; how to play hard; how to treat every play in the Monon Bell Game as if it were your last.

While the Little Giants got poor marks for penalties, the team received straight A’s in the most important category: the teaching and learning of the greatness of the rivalry.

All of Wabash is proud of the seniors for capping their careers in such grand fashion. All of Wabash is equally proud of the players who participated in the Bell Game for the first time, and who so quickly figured out that winning or losing the Monon Bell lasts a lifetime.

 

It Takes a Campus

Jim Amidon — When the League of Women Voters reached out to Wabash President Pat White about the College’s willingness to host a Candidate Forum, he quickly agreed to open up the Fine Arts Center.

The Forum, held last Wednesday, featured the candidates for the State Superintendent Public Instruction, the incumbent, Dr. Tony Bennett, and his challenger, Glenda Ritz.

For President White, it was an easy decision to say yes because of the neat connection to Wabash: Our first professor, Caleb Mills, founded the public school system in Indiana and served as the state’s second superintendent back in 1847.

Organizers and participants in last week’s Forum pose for a photo before the event.

By any measure, the event was a huge success. The Montgomery County LWV, headed by Kathy Brown and staffed with a huge volunteer base, helped the state LWV get the word out and execute the Forum, which was attended by over 300 people and watched live in more than 400 locations.

Behind the scenes, literally dozens of people worked together, efficiently I might add, to make it look to visitors like the event was months in planning. In reality, we had two weeks to pull it off.

So how does a political forum that attracts media attention and attendees from across the state come off so smoothly?

It takes a campus — and then some — to host an event with so many moving parts (not to mention competing politics).

Once the Fine Arts Center’s Ball Theater was secured, we reached out to Eileen Bowen, who so beautifully manages the box office for all of the events in that building. But to suggest she simply runs the box office would be a huge understatement.

We leaned on Eileen for two solid weeks and by the time the Forum began at 5:30 Wednesday, she’d exchanged well over 50 emails with various organizers and planners. Working with the Indiana LWV leadership, Eileen carved up Ball Theater perfectly — seating Dr. Bennett’s staff on one side of the theater and Ms. Ritz’s staff on the other.

By 4 p.m. Wednesday, LWV volunteers were staffing tables with the names of ticket holders all perfectly organized. The collaboration between Eileen and the LWV was a thing to behold.

The theater’s scene designer, James Gross, got the stage ready with proper lighting and banners.

We also knew that our theater, which seats exactly 358 people, would not accommodate the demand for tickets. That meant we had to broadcast it and stream the feed live through the Wabash website.

For that, we leaned on Adam Bowen and his talented student workers in the Media Center. Adam and his students create all of the glorious event posters you see around the Wabash campus, but they also produce all of Wabash’s football games for live broadcast, as well as other important campus events. They manage hundreds of videos on the College’s YouTube channel.

But moving the Media Center equipment to backstage of Ball Theater was no easy task. The guys worked six hours to set up the equipment for the one-hour broadcast. It took another three hours to tear it all down.

If you tuned in, you would have been blown away by the quality of the broadcast and the professionalism with which it was accomplished.

Brent Harris, who manages our sports information and marketing office, was also called in for extra duty. Brent is a tech-whiz, so when we do live events like this, we often ask him to bring a truckload of sound equipment and make sure it works. He was also savvy enough to know that television news media would need sound feeds, so he made that a breeze, too.

(You only ever notice the quality of sound at an event when it’s bad. Needless to say, Brent always does it well.)

We enlisted student workers to help in the lobby and in the overflowing Fine Arts Center parking lot.

We asked Rich Woods, Wabash’s incredible director of safety and security, to help us make sure it was a safe environment for the candidates and the crowd. Rich enlisted some off-duty CPD officers, who helped us before, during, and after the Forum.

When Kathy Brown took to the lectern at 5:30 and the broadcast went live, the audience and Internet viewers likely had no clue that over 50 people worked very quietly behind the scenes to make it look so seamless and professional.

I’m guessing that virtually everyone in attendance took for granted the intricate details of coordination and collaboration.

But having planned and executed events like this at Wabash for a few decades, I know how much work — and how many people — it takes to make them happen. We’re blessed, both at Wabash and in Montgomery County, to have so many selfless, dedicated people willing to work together for the betterment of our community.

A Winning Formula for Success

Jim Amidon — Not long ago in an alumni survey, about 12 percent of Wabash College alumni told us they held the title of owner, president, or CEO. That’s a pretty remarkable figure, especially for a liberal arts college like Wabash that offers no business major or minor.

The undergraduate courses students take a liberal arts colleges provide the broad base from which success evolves. Wabash’s alumni say that courses in English, classics, rhetoric, and the sciences, when combined with work in economics, help them communicate effectively, learn from mistakes, solve problems, and see the big picture.

Our economy today, however, suggests that students should go to college to learn something practical so that four years hence, they emerge with skills that will lead to a job.

A.G. Lafley, who was president, chairman, and CEO of Procter and Gamble, thinks differently. Writing in the Huffington Post, Lafley heralded the work of our nation’s liberal arts colleges.

“As someone who spent many years assessing the skills and talents of management prospects for a wide range of disciplines and industries, I know that the candidates who were the most attractive manager prospects were those with a well-exercised mind, leadership potential, and the passion to make a difference,” Lafley wrote. “These success factors can be cultivated in many ways, but all are best developed by taking courses in the liberal arts and sciences.

“By studying art, science, the humanities, social science, and languages, the mind develops the mental dexterity that opens a person to new ideas, which is the currency for success in a constantly changing environment.”

When Wabash College recruits potential students, nearly half tell us they’re interested in a career in business. At 17 or 18 years old, most don’t have a clue what that means — management, accounting, manufacturing, taxes, HR, or finance — but they have a hunch that they can make money in business.

But for those who have the longer view — who wish to move up the corporate ladder or develop the entrepreneurial skills to create a start-up — an undergraduate curriculum limited to business will be too narrow.

Wabash’s track record speaks for itself. But over the last decade or so, the College has invested enormous resources into co-curricular and extra-curricular programs to help Wabash graduates compete right out of the gate with students who have attended business programs.

Through the Schroeder Center for Career Development, the staff, headed by Scott Crawford, starts working with students from the moment they arrive on campus. Whether they want a career in business, the arts, or the sciences, students are best served when they show up at the Schroeder Center as freshmen.

They’ll learn how to discern their true vocation. They’ll get help with writing effective cover letters and resumes. They can attend “boot camps” to prepare them for graduate school exams or interviews. So that they look their best at an interview, students can check out suits from a large collection stored at the Schroeder Center. There are also dozens of job fairs, networking events, externships, and internships that round out a student’s experience in class.

Betsy Knott heads up the Business Leaders Program, which involves a set of courses from across the curriculum and immersion experiences that further develop students. Some participate in a paid, eight-week summer business immersion in which they spend half their time in class and half learning from business leaders and developing business plans.

There are also short-term immersions into marketing and, beginning this week, finance. These four- or five-day programs allow students to focus on key components of business through both classroom learning and hands-on experiences.

In the coming week, one group of students will travel to New York City to network with and learn from Wabash alumni in several areas of business. Another group will spend four days in Indianapolis learning about finance, investment, and taxes in the corporate setting

An immersion experience in healthcare management will be offered in the spring semester.

All of these co- and extra-curricular opportunities are there for the taking. The wise student who thinks seriously about his long-term future, gets started early in his time at Wabash. That allows him access to the full range of programs — from on-campus research with faculty to internships with some of the great companies in America.

Students who can incorporate those pieces into the liberal arts puzzle — along with sports, arts, student government, and journalism — become exactly the kind of graduate who can succeed in any business environment.

Lafley summed it up nicely: “The formula for businesses trying to compete in today’s economy is simple: hire employees with the mental agility, leadership and passion to navigate constant change — in other words, hire those who are liberally educated.”

And at Wabash, that’s a winning formula, indeed.

Remembering Fran Hollett

Jim Amidon ’87 — I was in the middle of a rehearsal for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the Vanity Theater Wednesday evening when my phone rang. The voice on the other end gave me the sad news that Fran Hollett had passed away earlier in the evening.

The thrill of directing actors in an exciting play practice quickly left me and I found myself overcome with emotions and memories of one of the “Grand Dames of Wabash.”

Many people in this community never knew Fran Hollett. That’s too bad.

But for a couple of generations of Wabash students, faculty, staff, and alumni, Fran held legendary status — and not just because she was married to long-time trustee Barney Hollett (for whom the football stadium is named).

For a College so steeped in tradition, so staunchly independent, and so fiercely single sex, Fran blazed trails. She more then held her own at alumni cocktail parties, post-game rallies, and she was quick to chastise wayward students for missing out on the incredible opportunities Wabash offers young men.

She was the first woman ever named an honorary alumna of Wabash. Think about that.

Founded in 1832, no woman was ever admitted to the College, but in 1985, the National Association of Wabash Men decided that had she attended Wabash, Fran Hollett would have made a helluva Wabash man, er, woman. And so on Homecoming that year, Fran received her honorary diploma and was made “one of the guys.”

I knew Fran for almost all of my adult life. I don’t recall exactly when I met her, but I do remember that it was my friend, Rem Johnston, who introduced me to Fran and Barney at a Wabash football game. Even then, they had an aura about them.

If you can use the word famous to describe an attorney, that would be Barney. He was a partner at Baker and Daniels and was Eli Lilly’s personal attorney. He chaired the Wabash Board of Trustees for a decade. And, together with Fran, Barney rooted on the Little Giants in good times and bad.

When I was a Wabash senior and did the play-by-play for the telecast of the Monon Bell Game, I received a note of congratulations from Fran and Barney — hand-written, old school, and meaningful.

Fran was a gracious hostess, whether welcoming people to events here at Wabash, at College functions in Indianapolis, or in her home.

I’ll never forget receiving a call from Fran when she invited us to attend the Indianapolis 500 with a group of Wabash people. Barney had had the same seats (16 of them) since the 1940s, seven rows up at the end of the main straight, just into the first turn. The cars rumbled straight at us so close we had to wipe bits of rubber tire from our faces and eyeglasses.

Fran brought to the race boxed fried chicken lunches for all of us, and had cut up that day’s Indy Star so that we could all chip in a dollar and pull a driver from the hat — Fran’s little Indy 500 pool.

After the race, we went back to Fran and Barney’s house. I have no idea how she did it: getting all of the things together for the race and still getting home in time to have food in the oven, drinks ready at the bar, and gas in the pontoon boat for rides around the lake. She made it all seem so effortless.

A grand lady, indeed.

Lest I paint an incomplete portrait of her, it’s important to note that Fran’s graciousness was matched with an equally inspired spirit. She had a raspy voice and when she raised it, she got your attention. Quickly.

Barney was a member of Sigma Chi, and Fran took special care of the student members of the fraternity. No, she wasn’t a house mother, but she helped decorate the new chapter house on West Wabash. And when she visited, if the place wasn’t spotless, the students certainly heard about it. Loudly.

She expected Wabash students to behave as gentlemen, just as her husband had throughout his life. When students strayed from that ideal, Fran was not one bit afraid to call them on the carpet and correct their behavior.

Too many people today will simply look the other way; not Fran. She, better than most, knew that the Wabash formula for success works only when all members of the community buy into the high ideals and expectations, and when accountability has real meaning.

After I had made the announcement of her passing, emails flooded my in-box — memories of Fran and of Barney. Through all of the emails was a common theme: an era had ended, a legend was lost, and there would never, ever be anyone like Fran Hollett to grace us with her presence.

Fran Hollett — Some Little Giant.

Remembering Yahweh

Jim Amidon — When I was notified Friday morning that Wabash College’s legendary Professor of Religion, Hall Peebles, had passed away, my mind flooded with memories of the time I spent with him in Baxter Hall classrooms more than 25 years ago.

I had never thought about taking a religion class in college, but I quickly learned that Wabash’s finest teachers were found in the religion department.

I sought the advice of junior and senior religion majors in the fraternity house and they raved about Eric Dean, Hall Peebles, Raymond Williams, and the “young buck,” Bill Placher. Since I was tracking toward a history major, I chose a class focused on the Old Testament of the Hebrew Bible, affectionately called “Rel 1.”

Hall Peebles taught the course, though we almost never called him Dr. Peebles. To us — to all of Wabash in the 1980s — Hall Peebles was simply “Yahweh.”

Most everyone knows that Yahweh is the word for “Lord” in the Hebrew Bible. But I was never sure if students called Dr. Peebles Yahweh because they thought he represented something Divine or if it was just a nickname attached to the man who taught the subject so thoroughly, so well, and with such enthusiasm.

I still don’t know the answer to that question, but I’m fond of what Bill Placher once said about Dr. Peebles: “Students are, I think, in the long run never wrong about the quality of teachers,” said Placher. “So I have to take the students’ nickname for Hall — Yahweh — seriously. And he does have much in common with the Lord of the Hebrew Scriptures. He is, in the words of the first chapter of the book of the prophet Joel, gracious, merciful, and slow to anger.”

As I was leafing through our files on Dr. Peebles in order to write a story about his life, I received a phone call from Hall’s long-time colleague, Dr. Williams. For a good 20 minutes, we talked about Hall, Eric Dean, and Bill Placher. Those four men lifted Wabash’s religion department to national prominence — and not simply because all four were prolific and respected scholars.

Wabash’s religion department gained its reputation because the professors were excellent teachers who inspired their students and cared for them — in and out of the classroom. All had a pastoral quality about them. Indeed, I remember dozens of times when fraternity brothers worked out their personal problems not with students or even parents, but with the professors in the religion department.

Raymond said that Hall had as “close to a photographic memory as anyone I’ve ever known.” He said Peebles’ large library was always close to mind, and that he could locate specific passages in texts after a brief pause for recollection. “I never knew if that pause was because he was thinking things through or if it was to downplay the greatness of his memory.”

Yahweh was a gentleman scholar and an even gentler teacher. On more than a few occasions, he set deadlines for papers at 5 p.m. on Friday afternoons. “But of course you know that I go home at 4:30 and won’t be back in the office until Monday morning.” That was his invitation to slip our papers under his door any time during the weekend.

Changing pedagogy has led to fewer and fewer lectures in college classrooms and more discussions and seminar-style approaches to teaching and learning.

But Hall Peebles was a master lecturer, even mesmerizing. He always began by taking off his watch and placing it next to the Bible on the lectern, then pulling out his handkerchief.

For the next 50 minutes — and with scraps for notes, if there were notes — he would engage the minds of young men in thoughtful and careful reading of the Bible. Time flew by and before any of us knew it, Yahweh would tap his watch, wipe his brow, and end the class. Seconds later the bell would sound. It was as though he knew precisely how much information he could convey in the allotted time and somehow hit the mark every time.

Wabash men appreciated Yahweh’s presence in their lives, and named him an honorary alumnus of the College.

He received Wabash’s Excellence in Teaching Award, yet he was an accomplished scholar whose interests changed throughout his career. When the need arose, he focused his research on Far-Eastern religions and used his summers and sabbatical leaves to travel the world — from China’s Silk Road to the Killing Fields of Cambodia.

He never stopped learning (he published The Last Judgment and World Religions at age 76), but more important, he never stopped teaching. And at least two generations of Wabash men are the beneficiaries of his excellent teaching — as well as his intellect, kindness, and generosity of spirit.

 

On the Meaning of Wabash Always Fights

Alumnus Scott Smalstig attended Wabash’s football playoff game against North Central College with his son. Watching the Little Giants’ remarkable comeback to win on a gutsy two-point conversion call helped the father explain to the son the true meaning of “Wabash Always Fights!”

Scott Smalstig — “Yeah…you better get some body bags!”

While never actually uttered, this line is a tame, paraphrased version of some heckling that was going on near Wabash’s own end zone after Tyler Burke, Wabash’s back-up quarterback, took another bone jarring, high-low hit at the hands of two North Central College defenders. The hit helicoptered Burke’s body before gravity pulled it inevitably back down to the turf, as the spectator chest pounding occurred on the other side of the ropes just paces from Burke.

Wabash trailed 28-7 at the time and the scene was eerily similar to the final sequence from the movie “The Karate Kid” from which the lead line was taken. Though sanitized, the line reflected the sentiment of a vocal minority of NCC student supporters who smelled blood in the proverbial waters, perhaps sensing another 50+ point scoring barrage reminiscent of five other games during their season. Actually, this would be a relatively pedestrian expectation for a team that scored 51, 59, 61, 70 and 86 points in the aforementioned games, which resulted in an average margin of victory of 50 points in those games.

What made the scene even more irritating and antagonizing was the fact that this heckling was coming from some Cardinal cads clad in red-and-white stripped overalls, which, if you hadn’t have known better, could have been stolen right off the backs of our own Sphinx Clubbers.

As conspiracy theories circled in my mind, the Little Giants circled the wagons and began what my own eyes would recall as the most improbable comeback in football history. I didn’t say Wabash football history, or Division III history, NCAA history, or even NFL history. Rather, football history.

Sure, when you Google “The Comeback,” you get Wiki references to the Buffalo Bills 32-point comeback against the Houston Oilers in their 1993 playoff tilt. Interestingly, Wabash’s own Pete Metzelaars played in that game, and a back-up quarterback, Frank Reich, engineered the drives that brought delirium to Rich Stadium.

As Burke peeled himself off of the new turf at Hollett Little Giant Stadium, it looked as if he would be lucky to make it to the sidelines one more time, let alone help his team score 22 unanswered points in the fourth quarter against a team that registered three shutouts during the season and yielded an average of only 11 points a game.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Here’s why this comeback was better than the Bills or any other comeback for that matter. In the NFL, philosophies and policies help govern parity among teams that is paramount to all activity. Drafts, schedules, and salary caps all endeavor to ensure that all teams have an equal shot at winning.

In Division III football these days, parity is a pipedream. The same two teams have played for the football championship in each of the last six years. These same two teams have won nine of the last ten championships. One of these teams, Mount Union, has won 10 titles in the last 17 years. Rosters of these teams are replete with Division I athletes, many of whom earned football scholarships, who have come back home to Division III schools who do not give athletic scholarships.

Now, North Central is not one of these two teams. But they too are now stacking Division I players like pancakes at an all you can eat charity breakfast. NCC had nearly 20 such players, so many, in fact, that the online roster needs a separate column for “Previous School.” While Wabash’s spreadsheet for this information contains such information as Carroll, Park Tudor, and East Noble High Schools, NCC’s has schools listed like Northern Illinois (playing for the MidAmerican Conference championship), Illinois State, and OREGON, a team that played for the Division I national championship last year and is currently ranked in the top ten in the BCS standings.

So, before the game started, many figured it was over. Including me.

I had even wondered whether to come to this game because the previous weekend had been so dangerously close to perfect. Wabash rolled over Illinois College on a crisp but comfortable fall day under blue skies, and my dad, father-in-law (who played defensive line at Virginia Tech), and 10 year-old son were all impressed by everything from our excellent rushing attack to the Sphinx Club push-ups. Post game pizza and storytelling at the Phi Delt house topped the day off better than whipped cream on pumpkin pie.

Why cloud that memory with a potential drubbing from a school that has a 6-foot 7-inch 266-pound tight end and a team that averaged 7 yards per rush behind a line that averaged 280 pounds?

In a phrase, “Wabash Always Fights,” that’s why.

As I drove to the game with my son, I hoped it would at least be respectable. We made a visit to the bookstore before the game, thinking I could soften the impending hits with gifts, and bought my son a red Wabash shirt (he already has a black one) but for some reason, I gathered some other items as well. I bought a wall hanging that included the chorus to the fight song (“The longest in fight song in the nation” I explained to my son hoping to score some points before the game where we not be able to do the same). I also bought a large car magnet scoreboard where you can fill in the Wabash opponent and score. I reasoned that regardless of this game’s outcome I would put the last two Monon Bell scores on there: Wabash 92 DePauw 7. I was feeling better already.

And, oh yeah, I purchased another one of those large car magnets that read “Wabash Always Fights.”  “That’s what we do…never give up,” I told my son, with a little bit of a sigh.

As the game started, Tyler Burke actually became the perfect excuse for me. I did not realize Chase Belton, our starting QB, was injured and would not play, so now I could at least blame the loss on the fact that we had our second string quarterback in the lineup. When two of his first three passes were intercepted, including a quacker more at home on the opening day of duck season, I was hoping d3football.com would bury our game summary well below the Mt. Union and UW-Whitewater white-washings.

After giving up 128 yards rushing in the first half and being on the wrong end of a 21-0 score, I felt myself again hoping for respectability.

Then, like the Energizer Bunny with a fresh set, our 6-foot, 172-pound (must have been in his pads) back-up quarterback gave the striped goons on the NCC sideline, and everyone else in attendance, including me, a public lesson in our unofficial mission statement. Sure, our TALL mission statement that mentions thinking critically, acting responsibly, leading effectively and living humanely may be on all of materials, but “Wabash Always Fights” has been our battle cry for decades. After just 79 yards of total offense in the first half, Burke accounted for over 350 himself in the second half.

Despite being hit on all 49 passes he threw during the day, including two that drew personal foul penalties, Burke got back to his feet each time, though most of the time it was with the help of teammates. An early third-quarter 24-yard dash for his life gave all in attendance a glimmer of hope that Peter Bulandr, NCCs Division III player of the year candidate, a 6-foot four-inch, 280-pound defensive tackle, might run out of gas chasing him.

Gehrig Smalstig

Consider four more reasons this comeback was the greatest ever: Wabash converted on four fourth down plays in the second half alone. And these weren’t your fourth and a foot, push the QB forward-type of fourth down plays. Each was over four yards, three were eight yards or more, including a fourth-and-12 and a fourth-and-15. On one of those plays the receiver fell down during the route when the ball was in the air, got up and made the catch, and on another, Burke was again running for his life again from a set of all conference linebackers.

By now you’ve read accounts of the game online and perhaps have seen video highlights, but the reason this game will be remembered is because of the two-point conversion after we scored to get to within one point at 28-27. Many of us in the stands were clamoring for a kick, taking our chances in overtime. But you really needed only a tid bit of research to know we were going to go for two.

We’ve got bigger bells.

That’s not a typo. We do indeed have bigger bells. You need to look no further than the respective schools’ rivalry games for justification for of the assertion above. Our rivalry game’s prize is, of course, the Monon Bell, a gargantuan bell with a giant clapper, which weighs in at 350 pounds. North Central on the other hand, plays its rivalry game, against Wheaton since 1946, for the “Little Brass Bell.” While our Bell needs to be carried by four football linemen, their bell looks as if it could fit in one hand. Again, we’ve got bigger bells. (Note: We’ve won 37 Bell games, 56 total vs. DePauw but the Bell was introduced as the prize in 1932, and North Central has won 19 Little Brass Bells. Assuming their bell weighs five pounds, they have less than 100 pounds of bells, while we’ve got a total of six and a half tons of bells.

That’s why Raeburn went for it. Bigger bells. More bells.

And it was echoes from a previous Bell game that reverberated as the conversion was attempted. Not only was Jake Knott, the quarterback who made “The Catch” possible giving Wabash a 27-21 victory in the 2002 Bell game, in attendance for this playoff game, but the ball was caught by Brady Young, who not only wore the same number as Kurt Casper, the gent who caught “The Catch,” #83, but also snared the tipped ball in precisely the same spot in the end zone. Yet another reason why this was the greatest comeback ever — historic precedence and intrigue. Heck, the Houston Oilers don’t even exist anymore.

As Wabash made the defensive plays to stop North Central in the final minute including the game-sealing interception, the final reasons that this was the greatest comeback in football history were about to unfold.  My son and I joined the celebration on the field where a team of crying young men, alums, administrators, parents, and girlfriends sang the entire first verse of the fight song.

“Longest in the nation,” I whispered at one point to my son as he attempted to join in the chorus as I thought about my bookstore purchases.

We then took the time to walk around the field and thank Wabash players for their fight. I introduced Gehrig to CJ Gum, Tyler Burke, Wes Chamblee. A couple of them actually said, “You’re welcome, sir.” I had mixed emotions about being perceived old enough to be called sir, but was thankful for their gentlemanly manner post battle.

We lingered on that field — hugging professors, fellow NAWMers, old friends. We then got in line with a number of folks grabbing scoreboard photographs. Everyone there knew this was indeed one to remember.  Jack Buck’s World Series call of 1988 rang through my head, “I can’t believe what I just saw.”

Now, the North Central players had finished their post-game debrief and were making their way across the field to their bus. I saw this as another opportunity for some valuable life lessons for my son. I began shaking hands with North Central players, thanking them for their efforts and congratulating them on a great season.

One of North Central’s coaches said to me, “I’ve been a player and a coach for years and I’ve never seen a comeback like that.”

Then, #89, their six-foot, seven-inch, 266-pound tight end walked by and I reached up to say what a great team I thought they had.

“Your team has a lot of heart to come back like that,” he said.

“Wabash Always Fights,” said my son.


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