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Bonham ’80 and the Hoosier Blues

Gordon Bonham ’80

Steve Charles—In 1995 I’d been working at Wabash only for a few months when I was startled to see a name in the alumni directory: Amos Garrett ’64. Canada’s master of the Telecaster, whose groundbreaking solo on Maria Muldaur’s “Midnight at the Oasis” made that song a hit in 1974, was a Wabash man?

Later that year I interviewed Larry Bennett, the Grammy-nominated tenor the College hired to rebuild the music department. In 2000, James Makubuya arrived, making Wabash the only College in the country where you could learn to play East African instruments from a virtuoso who had performed in Carnegie Hall.

A year later we featured a story about Gordon Bonham ’80—a biology/philosophy major, student of Bill Placher ’70, and one of the top blues players in the country. And these days we’re writing about Nashville singer-songwriter Dan Couch ’89, whose songs co-written with Kip Moore were #1 Country Hits in 2012 and 2013.

You get the idea: Wabash may be a small College, but our musicians are Little Giants.

This year on February 21, the Wabash campus will host Wally Tunes: Music and the Liberal Arts, the 5th Annual Alumni/Faculty and Staff Symposium. As a gift for those attending and participating in the event, 13 Wabash musicians generously contributed tracks to Scarlet Hues, a commemorative CD (a limited run of 250) that Wabash Media Services Specialist Adam Bowen is producing.

With the event less than two weeks away, I’d like to tell you a little each day about the musicians on the CD, and Gordon Bonham is a great person to start with. Not only is his work included on Scarlet Hues, but he’ll be presenting and performing at the symposium.

Gordon brings together a mix of blues styles from the Mississippi Delta to the back alleys of Chicago, from big Texas shuffles to jumpin’ West Coast swing. He performed with the legendary Pinetop Perkins at the grand opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has opened for such greats as John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray and B.B. King. In 2011 he released his most recent CD, Soon in the Morning, featuring original tracks performed by some of the region’s leading blues musicians.

Lately he has been accompanying former Indiana Poet Laureate Norbert Krapf in a series of poetry and blues performances. In 2011 he released his most recent CD, Soon in the Morning, (check out “Get Back, Jezebel”) featuring original tracks performed by some of the region’s leading blues musicians. His solo acoustic album, Get Back Home, includes a collection of original country blues and Delta blues played on National steel guitar.

The host of Blues Jam at the Slippery Noodle Inn in Indianapolis, Bonham recently received a grant from the Indiana Arts Council to study and incorporate the five-string banjo into his blues arrangements. He’s traveled the country learning from other banjo players and developing his own style for the blues. He’ll be talking about that (and, we hope, playing some of those 5-string banjo blues—he’s come up with a version of Willie Johnson’s “Soul of a Man” that brings out the essence of the song in a new/old way) during his presentation at the symposium. He will also be a featured artist during the performances beginning at 7:30 p.m.

Check out his web page and links to his CDs, where you can hear a sampling of his work

And here’s the story Howard Hewitt wrote about Gordon in Wabash Magazine: “Those Good Time, Hard Drivin’, Philosophical Blues.”

Tomorrow: Amos Garrett ’64

 

 

 

The Many Voices of Wabash

 Steve Charles—Copyeditor Cheri Clark (whose son, Matthew, is a freshman at Wabash) has done remarkable work over the years catching errors in our grammar and suggesting edits for Wabash Magazine, but she rarely comments on the stories themselves. So when Cheri emailed, “Loved the pieces in ‘Voices’” after copyediting that section of the magazine, she got my attention.

Wabash Professor and College Poet Emeritus Donald W. Baker H’57

And I think those writers deserve yours.

We bill the Voices section as “Wabash students, alumni, and faculty engaging the world,” and the six writers published in the current issue didn’t just engage the world, they embraced it, captured it, were amused by it, knocked down by it, angered by it, and blessed by it. There’s as wide a range of emotion in those four pages as is humanly possible.

To celebrate their work in print I thought I’d highlight a piece or two at a time online, starting here with two of the most moving, if darkest, pieces.

The poetry of College poet and Professor Emeritus Donald Baker ’57 and the memoir of John Moynahan ’43 don’t exactly holler “Merry Christmas”, but their service to us as World War II veterans and articulate witnesses to the horrors of war are gifts to us nonetheless, and reminders of why “peace on earth” is mankind’s highest calling, if the most difficult to attain.

Here’s an excerpt called “Attack” from John Moynahan’s Memories: A Ship and a War, followed by Don Baker’s poem, “Formal Application” (recently reprinted in a textbook used by high school and college students, so his work continues to inform a new generation.)

Attack
On the first day of November 1944, Lt. John Moynahan was serving aboard the destroyer USS Ammen steaming with the 7th fleet on its way to Leyte Gulf when the ship was attacked by several Japanese aircraft:

We opened fire on signal at several of the closest planes, and I ran back and forth from port to starboard trying to keep track of all the reported bogies. When I looked back to port, the plane that bombed the Killen was trailing smoke and banking toward us! Our port guns kept firing, raking her wings and nose, and she was shooting at us until she hit us. I crouched against the bulkhead near my gunner, Kaufman, and watched the plane come. At the last second, she veered slightly to the right, and I ducked as she hit us. I was surprised the noise was no louder than other battle noises and our five-inch gun firing to port nearly over my head.

Now I had seen war: violent, fearful, terrible war. I felt the fear of a man close to death and experienced the sudden relief one has when he finds he is still alive after all. I witnessed the deep roar of big guns with the accompanying concussion, burnt cork fragments, acrid smoke, blinding flashes…and in between the rhythmic pounding of the 40mms, the nervous chatter of 20mm machine guns. I felt the close proximity of the enemy, and the realization he was intent on destroying me, my friends, and my temporary home. I heard the sudden crushing of metal and, almost as bad, the moment of silence that frequently follows disaster, in which everyone is frozen in place while he convinces himself he is still alive.

Five of our shipmates were killed. Charles “Joe” Helmer, standing 30 feet from me at the time, was hit by the starboard engine and propeller, his body obliterated.

I felt sickened as I looked at the spot where Joe had been. He was my storekeeper, one of two, on whom I was heavily dependent. He was very likable, fast efficient, and now he was gone.

The night was uneventful, but sleep did not come until just before dawn. I slept by my gun station along with others, and I kept trying to accept Joe’s death. When dozing I dreamt of him and he was alive again. All the next day he kept reappearing in my imagination, doing customary things.

The next day we had a burial-at-sea ceremony for the remains, all wrapped in American flags. While the captain was still reading the prescribed words, the general quarters alarm started and the remains went into the sea while we all ran for our battle stations.

This was war, a man’s circus. This was the way death often happens in war, violently, suddenly and unexpectedly. This is what I have now experienced, and I regret that my sons and their sons may also be involved in even more terrible struggles “to make the world a better place.”

John Moynahan ’43, Lieutenant (SC), USNR, edited and excerpted from his diary
Memories: A Ship and a War, originally written in 1945 and published in 2010 by The Institute on World War II and the Human Experience, Florida State University.


Formal Application

I shall begin by learning to throw
the knife, first at trees, until it sticks
in the trunk and quivers every time;

next from a chair, using only wrist
and fingers, at a thing on the ground,
a fresh ant hill or a fallen leaf;

then at a moving object, perhaps
a pine cone swinging on twine, until
I pot it at least twice in three tries.

Meanwhile, I shall be teaching the birds
that the skinny fellow in sneakers
is a source of suet and bread crumbs,

first putting them on a shingle nailed
to a pine tree, next scattering them
on the needles, closer and closer

to my seat, until the proper bird,
a towhee, I think, in black and rust
and gray, takes tossed crumbs six feet away.

Finally, I shall coordinate
conditioned reflex and functional
form and qualify as Modern Man.

You see the splash of blood and feathers
and the blade pinning it to the tree?
It’s called an “Audubon Crucifix.”

The phrase has pleasing (even pious)
connotations, like Arbeit Macht Frei,
“Molotov Cocktail,” and Enola Gay.

—Donald Baker H’57

Originally published in 1982, was reprinted in 2012 in the 5th edition of Sequel: A Handbook for the Critical Analysis of Literature, a textbook widely used in AP high school courses, colleges, and universities.

Read more about Don Baker here. 

 

WM and The Craft and Joy of Printing

Quad/Graphics’ pressman and lead operator Rick Austin holds the cover of the Fall 2013 issue of Wabash Magazine at the console of one of the plant’s presses.

Steve Charles—Just received this photo from Mike Moxley, our consultant at Maury Boyd and Associates who shepherds Wabash Magazine through the final printing process at Quad/Graphics in Midland, MI.

The guy holding the cover of the latest issue is Rick Austin, lead operator of the press that printed it. Mike and Rick knew we wanted the Wabash College seal on that facsimile of the program from President Hess’s inauguration program to look as much like the original 3-D embossed image as possible. Embossing 13,000 issues would have been an unforgivable expense, but we hope readers will, at first glance, think that seal is real. Rick is smiling because he thinks they will.

I’ve stood with Rick at that console many times during my own press checks for the magazine. I’ve watched him meticulously dial in the colors, seen him match photos across signatures that I feared would never match, wondered at his skill and dedication printing the stories and images of this College he’s never seen except through those pages. He’s printed at least a portion of every Wabash Magazine that’s been printed in Midland. Those pages have made him a Wabash fan, too. (Mike’s email included this message from Rick: “Tell Steve I’m glad we get to keep the Bell for another year.”)

Seeing our cover in the hands of perhaps the only guy in Midland who cares about the Monon Bell Game made me grateful once again for the printed page—not only for the product and the tactile pleasure of holding something real in your hands when so much of what we read disappears when the electricity is off, but also the process.

By the time you receive this latest issue and read Tyler Burke’s first person account of one of the greatest comebacks in Wabash history or Tara and Glen Elrod’s moving piece about their work in Haiti, each story will have gone through hands of the writers, myself and any co-editors for that particular issue, copyeditor Cheri Clark (whose son is a Wabash freshman), three proofreaders in house, and one external proofreader. The photos have been selected by photo editor Kim Johnson and sent to art directors Cathy Swick and Becky Otte. All 96 pages they have designed, laid out, and illustrated over several weeks have been proofed and reproofed. Digital files have been sent to Midland and prepared for the press, then reviewed online by the editor and art director. Final corrections have been made and printing begun on two immense web presses, each run by a lead operator and several other pressmen over a couple of shifts. Pages have been trimmed and bound on another line and issues have been delivered to the post office.

The edition with your name on it (I can’t forget Heather Bazzani and Doug  Brinkerhoff, who prepare the mailing lists) should reach your mailbox by next week. And that list doesn’t get to the post office, and dozens of other steps don’t get completed, without Susan Casalini of Maury Boyd, who coordinates the entire production process and keeps it all moving.

The Web is a great communication tool, but there’s something about the collaboration and craft of print—all the connections between so many people who have to do their jobs so well to make a book or magazine—that I find exponentially more rewarding and joyful. Each step opens up the potential for error, yes. But at each step another person brings his or her own creativity and ideas, attention to detail, perspective, artful eye, and skill to the finished product.

At the very beginning of the process, as I gather stories and images for each issue of WM, I always envision the finished piece. Thanks to these people and this creative process over the past 18 years, it’s always better than I could have imagined.

 

 

Jovanovich ’84 Assists Philippines Relief

Jovanovich sent this photo of the devastation in Leyte Province soon after arriving in the Philippines almost 10 days ago.

Steve Charles—When Typhoon Yolanda [Haiyan] devastated the Philippines two weeks ago, the thoughts of many here at Wabash turned to Ray Jovanovich ’84. Ray’s wife, Belinda, is from the Philippines, and Ray spent many years working in Leyte with the Manila Fund. Leyte province and its capital, Tacloban City, took a direct hit.

So a few days after the storm, Ray and Belinda flew to the archipelago to check on family and friends and to volunteer for relief and recovery efforts.

And while Belinda’s family is safe—they live in southeastern Luzon, the northern edge of the storm’s intensity—what Ray saw at “Ground Zero,” the string of towns just south of Tacloben City, was horrendous.

“The sheer magnitude of the devastation was staggering,” Ray wrote by email over the weekend. “The tidal surge reached as high as 25 feet in the small towns of Tanauan and Teloso. Both were flattened; everything wiped out and the debris field stretching for miles on end.”

Ray and several friends were able to purchase or procure nearly half a ton of relief goods—family-sized mosquito nets, sleeping mats, heavy tarpulins for temporary shelters, hi energy biscuits/granola bars, graham crackers, small medical kits & isoprpyl alcohol—and distributed them in  Tacloban City and nearby towns in Leyte Province.

“The people were upbeat and extremely pleased to see/meet/greet us, huge smiles everywhere; nearly unimagineable given the catastrophic events of just two weeks ago,” Ray writes. “The spirits and fortitude of these people who lost everything was high. They shared their stories and tears, plus fears for the future.

“I kept telling the folks and children we met along the way…’People around the world care about you, you will not be forgotten…tomorrow will bring a better day.’ My refrain elicited the same big smile response with thank yous resonating at every step of our path Their resilience is inspiring.

“It pressed us into further action.”

Ray and his friends are creating ‘The Yolanda Project Foundation—Leyte/Samar Initiative, ”a private non-profit effort to assist in the permanent relief, recovery and rebuilding.

When Ray took early retirement in 2011 from his work as an expert in international investment, he spoke to Wabash Magazine about his decision. Retirement was a move his father had encouraged.

“Dad stressed to me that the greatest measure of a man is his legacy: What have you improved in life for others? What have you done for those other than yourself?” Ray told us then. “I just want to reorganize my priorities, to make a contribution in a different way.”

Ray is returning to Leyte this weekend to “begin the next stage of our project.”

Ray’s dad, Robert, died in 2007, but his words were on his son’s mind like never before this past week. As Ray writes, “My father knew, before me, that there existed a higher purpose for my life. And being in this devastation, I find myself talking to him for strength.”

 

 

Freeze Tests Out Town’s Open Mic

Wabash English Professor Eric Freeze will be reading from his work tonight at The Bowery, a Crawfordsville coffee shop now hosting open mic nights on Fridays. Welcoming writers for Story Matters and musicians on other open mic nights, it could be a great venue for Wabash students, faculty, and staff, a vision Wabash Administrative Assistant Violet Mayberry conveys in this piece about the event she wrote for the Crawfordsville Journal-Review:

Last week I sat inside The Bowery, my first visit to the downtown coffee shop. The combination of wood, chrome and glass was refreshing, modern and yet welcoming at the same time.

I was here to chat with Maria Weir, the emcee for The Bowery’s Story Matters series. I’d met her through Eric Freeze, the professor in charge of the creative writing track at Wabash, where I work as an administrative assistant. I wanted to speak with her about The Bowery and the November 8th event.  Eric will read from his book “Dominant Traits”, the debut collection of short stories the Boston Review calls “A well written collection of literary short fiction…I doubt we’ll see a better short-story collection this year.” (A Motley Vision)

“I’d like Story Matters be a place where clumps of young and old, story lovers and poetry fiends, meet up and share. It may start and stay cozy, which is great, but I’d like the room full of writing tramps, high schoolers, college students, natives and newbies to make tracks through the space. If we have variety, no one will want to miss a reading.”

As Maria spoke of her vision for Story Matters, my eyes wandered over the tiny coffee shop. In the corner, I pictured a Wabash freshman sitting on one of the chrome stools. His fingers push his slippery glasses up the bridge of his nose. Dr. Freeze walks away to applause.  The student takes a deep breath and steps off the stool to walk to the microphone.

To my left I could feel the shadow of a teenage girl, her dark hair pulled back into a messy pony tail and her basketball jersey peeking through the opening of her jacket collar. She’s come straight from practice. There is a single sheet of paper folded and refolded, pushed between her palm and her knee. Maybe next month she will sit a little closer to the microphone, she is gravitating toward the center of this universe.

Maria says “Writers are often loners, working in quiet, happy to put pen or key to the white blank page, but reading aloud can be exhilarating for feedback… I hope to give writers the confidence to enjoy the experience, rather than feel it is nerve-wracking. Stories captivate.”

As I glance over her shoulder I imagine The Bowery windows frosted with the chill of the first snow. In my mind, the door is pushed open by a woman in a bright red coat. Her short dark hair is laced with silver strands. Her hands carry composition books, a purse, keys, and an enormous cellphone. She does not want to interrupt anything or distract anyone. Her head down, she slides past the crowd to sit in the very back. She is as far as she can get from the microphone where the Wabash student stands unbalanced. The room is silent. Absorbing,

Maria has a vision that Story Matters will bring a sense of community back to Crawfordsville. “We’ve lost our narrative,” she says. It is up to each of us, writers, listeners, students, workers, poets and paupers, to narrate our story. To make the story matter. There is a process of learning and growing that takes courage to begin. In the shadows of The Bowery I see Maria’s vision coming to life. A college professor, a college student, a high school student, a student of life, all belong in this space together. The Bowery is asking us to begin the adventure to reclaim our narrative. Please join us Friday, November 8 at 7pm as we continue the journey.

—guest column in the Journal Review by Violet Mayberry

 

 

‘Where To Find What You Need To Know’

Wabash men at Apparatus: Chris Rozzi, Aman Brar, founder and CEO Kelly Pfledderer, Michael Carper, Ben Frame, Michael Tucker, Brad Vest, Greg Huebner, Eric Borgert, Matt Vest, and Sam Spoerle.
Photo by Kim Johnson

Steve Charles—Ten Wabash men with eight different majors work at one of Indiana’s fastest growing and most innovative companies. That says a lot for the agility of a liberal arts education in today’s high-tech world.

So does the company’s Web site: “We’re endlessly curious about the future of technology and the connections it can make for people and businesses. We create engaging technology solutions that pull from the human experience. Our love of art, music, and design may sit behind the scenes, but it is present in all we do.”

And that’s what I thought I’d write about after returning from a photo shoot at Apparatus in Indianapolis, the aforementioned company. Wabash Director of Communications and Marketing and lead photographer Kim Johnson and I had a great time getting the photo of the company’s founder and CEO Kelly Pfledderer ’96 (German major), Ben Frame ’03 (music), Chris Rozzi ’90 (art), Aman Brar ’99 (economics major, religion minor), Michael Carper ’13 (classics), Brad Vest ’11 (physics), Matt Vest ’08 (psychology), Eric Borgert ’97 (English), Michael Tucker ’93 (English), and Sam Spoerle ’13 (psychology). Joining them was Apparatus artist-in-residence and Wabash Professor of Art Emeritus Greg Huebner H’77, whose paintings grace the company’s headquarters, the ingeniously renovated former WFYI TV studios at 1401 N. Meridian. Pfledderer said more than once: “It’s the paintings that make it.”

The whole building seemed a metaphor for technology informed and driven by the connections a liberal arts education reveals, those criss-crossing synapses Wabash students develop.

All this is featured in a story by Evan West ’99 for the Fall 2013 issue of Wabash Magazine in production right now and mailing in December.

Jim Kirchhoffer ’55

But I returned to campus just in time to catch the last minutes of a talk by Jim Kirchhoffer ’55 in the College’s “Callings” series. Now a Franciscan monk, Jim has had four or five careers, depending on how you count them: as an Episcopal priest, an insurance agent and investment broker, a school bus driver, a psychotherapist, and a writer. 80 years lived wholeheartedly and vulnerably. A conversation with the man is a gift in itself.

Jim recalled words that the late Professor Jack Charles H’52 gave him during his senior year at Wabash almost 60 years ago: “If all you’ve learned here is where you need to go to find out what you need to know, these four years will be worth it.” That “endless curiosity” and pursuit of understanding has been liberal arts education’s gift to Jim throughout his life, just as it’s been for those 10 men at Apparatus.

Wabash alums are fond of saying, “at Wabash, I learned how to think.” But I believe it goes deeper. There’s a confidence that no skill is unlearnable, no problem is insurmountable; there’s self-awareness and empathy for others and their cultures, a joy in learning and a way of seeing that has opened the world to these men and so many other Wabash alumni I’ve interviewed over the years. We honored a bunch of them at Alumni Chapel on Saturday.

But to see that gift in action Friday in the course of a few hours in the lives of young men and in the lifetime of a wise octogenarian was great joy.

A Snapshot of Lives Transformed

Wabash Magazine Summer 2013 cover photo: Keaton Becher ’13 savors the moment as he receives his diploma from President Pat White during last spring’s Commencement ceremony.

Steve Charles—I hate typos.

In someone else’s stuff, maybe it’s just annoying, sometimes even funny (this one, for example). But when I make them in a Wabash publication?

It’s not like a Web site, where you’ll see a typo one minute, can go online, correct it, and it’s suddenly healed.

In print it bleeds there like an open wound until the paper disintegrates.

Like in the Summer 2013 issue of Wabash Magazine in which we cover Commencement and the Big Bash Reunion.

No one celebrates those events like Wabash, and this year, with two sunny weekends and near record numbers of students and alumni and their families on campus, our photographers captured those celebrations better than ever. Add to that photos from numerous events paying tribute to former President Pat and Chris White’s seven years with us, and I was really looking forward to getting this one in our readers’ hands. Even considered entering it in a national contest, if only to show the connections and emotions that make Wabash THE liberal arts College for men.

And it was looking great when I got my early copies. I checked the photos first to make sure the color matched our proofs, then started reading back to front, the way we do the last proof, just to make sure nothing snuck through.  Then I opened the inside back cover and saw it:

Our form of education only makes sense if we’re transorming lives.

Transorming?

Can’t be. So I looked again.

Transorming.

And the voice in my head takes off: It’s transforming, you moron. How could you have missed this. Five proofreaders, and six looks at this page yourself, including the last look, and you missed that!?

So now everything’s in question and I turn a few more pages and there’s another one in the captions: Weston Kirtley? Who the hell is Weston Kirtley? You’ve printed that name almost as many times as we’ve printed magazines during Wes Kitley’s four years at Wabash, and you get it wrong on his last issue on campus? NCAA Postgraduate Scholar Weston Kitley?

I informed my bosses, threw a copy of the magazine across the room. Then I ripped out the offending pages on one copy and trashed them and kept working on the Fall issue, trying not to think about the thousands of dollars I just squandered, or the frustration readers will feel when they see it, or how I let down Pat White by screwing up one of his best and truest lines in an issue that was supposed to pay tribute to his love for and service to this place.

And you can be sure I’m taking my time distributing this one on campus.

After a couple days I opened it again, by chance, to page 29 and read this quote from Jotipalo Bhikku ’88, (whose name we corrected on the proofs twice!):

“One sure way to suffer is to think about yourself. If you don’t want to suffer, think of others.”

So I took that advice for a second, as Jotipalo’s words have been helpful before (we covered his Mississippi River pilgrimage in the magazine), and I realized the selfishness of what I was doing. Yeah, I screwed up. It reflects badly on Wabash when I let a typo go through. But as I told my art director as I tried to soothe her anger, unfairly blaming herself for those typos (that’s not her job; it’s mine): This is why I’m not a brain surgeon. We’ll live to do better next time, adjust the process as best we can to ensure it doesn’t happen again, and get back to telling stories.

And my mistake is no reason not to celebrate the great times our community had during those weekends, the work of a staff of photographers who captured it so beautifully, and the extraordinary efforts of Marilyn Smith, videographer Austin Myers ’16, Scott Hastings ’15, Jimmy Blaich ’14 and all our student interviewers who gathered alumni stories for our Scarlet Yarns project, also celebrated in this issue.

So, as you receive this issue or see it on campus, don’t make the mistake I made. Don’t see those typos and overlook the faces, the new graduates and alumni, the teachers and the parents, the wives and the children.

Because the greatest irony of that typo is that Pat White is exactly right: Our form of education only makes sense if we’re transforming lives.

And in this issue—in those embraces between young men and their teachers, between men whose bond holds 50 years since they left this place, and in those arms still locked together for Chapel Sing five years after graduation—are lives transformed. That Summer issue is a photo album of lives transformed.

T-R-A-N-S-F-O-R-M-E-D.

If you want to see how that quote was supposed to look you’ll be able to read it online on the Web site in a couple of days. But if you have the print version, you could do what I did: Grab a pen (red is an appropriate color) and add the “f” to that pulled quote (transform transorm!) so that anyone reading it will make no mistake: We’re not perfect, but we do transform lives here.

 

 

Servies ’16 Prepped Bookstore for Fall Rush

Clayton Servies ’16 and Suzanne Zadai in front of one of the displays they designed together in the Wabash College Bookstore.

Steve Charles—Busy is the norm now on campus as freshman arrive, upperclassmen return, and classes begin. But for three days the rush was most concentrated in one place—the Wabash College Bookstore.

On Freshman Saturday parents were buying Wabash merchandise, and this week the customers have been students hurrying to get their books and supplies. The preparation for all this goes largely unseen, but Clayton Servies ’16 knows the work from the inside out.

“Clayton has been instrumental in preparing the store for the fall season,” Business Auxiliaries Assistant Suzanne Zadai says of the sophomore biology major who worked in the bookstore all summer. Clayton even assisted Zadai with the design and arrangement of displays for the merchandise.

“He’s been a great help there—the displays look very nice—and he also assisted Tradebook Manager Judy Wynne and Textbook Manager Linda Brooks, who works hard to get textbooks for students at prices competitive with those on the Internet,” Zadai says.

Wabash cycling jerseys are among the new items this fall at the Bookstore.

Clayton enjoys the camaraderie of the bookstore and helping to create the displays.  He admits, though, that checking in inventory all those days in preparation for this week “was no fun at all!”

Clayton says the rush for books began Tuesday.

“We were open till 7 that day, so Tuesday and Wednesday were the busiest. Today we’ve had a few more students between classes.”

So the traffic is slowing for now, but, as Zadai points out, “football season is right around the corner and we have a lot of game day apparel!”

Tom Roberts ’70: Fighting Spirit, Healing Words

Dr. Tom Roberts ’70, during his visit to campus last spring.

Steve Charles—A week ago last Friday I received one of those family phone calls you dread. My little brother tried to break the news with a joke—“I’ve got something in my brain and it rhymes with ‘rumor.’” Pause.

I felt a kick in the gut, then fear, then anger, which I expressed with an expletive, and then I asked a terrible question—“Are you scared?”

It wasn’t the response you hope to give a brother at a time of need. I’m not proud of it, but I understand it: Our mom died of lung cancer 30 years ago, and for her kids, a cancer diagnosis carries a single outcome and a series painful disappointments to get there.

A half-hour after the phone call, though, I was able to write something true and hopeful to my brother,  thanks to a conversation I’d had with a former Wabash chemistry major, Dr. Tom Roberts ’70, in April, for a story for this fall’s Wabash Magazine.

Tom had been on campus to reflect upon the implications of the new generation of “smart drugs” being used to fight and manage cancer. He and his team helped develop one of those drugs—Gleevec—at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard, and we’ve been following his progress since before those pills were featured on the cover of TIME Magazine in 2001 (The current issue has another story on the drugs’ success, “The End of Chemo.”).

At his noontime talk last spring Tom described how these drugs turn off molecular cancer triggers in tumors and prevent their growth, how a similar approach is being  applied to more complex cancers than the relatively rare tumors Gleevec successfully treats, how tumors mutate and the ways drugs must adapt to stem their growth, and how this approach could work for treating many cancers.

So I was able to write honestly to my brother that I knew doctors who were beating cancer, that I’d written stories about these guys, the targeted approaches they’re using, and the lives they are saving. I said I wished these guys were around when mom was fighting this monster, but I’m grateful they’re here now that he’s facing it.

I could also tell him that the oncologists I’d interviewed, like Gary Croghan ’77 at the Mayo Clinic and Bob Witherspoon at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, are compassionate men with a far better bedside manner and communication skills than the competent but emotionally distant oncologist that treated mom, a man my brother literally had to grab and hold in the hallway to get to talk with us.

I could draw from the interview in which Bob Witherspoon described advances in bone marrow transplants for leukemia: “I’ve had the great fortune to work in a field where we’ve gone from not being able to cure these people to being able to cure them.”

I remembered Gary Croghan (who treats the very type of lung cancer that killed my mom) describing meeting with his patients: “You meet with a patient for the first time for about an hour and a half. You’re giving them the worst news they’ve ever gotten in their lives. At the same time you’re trying to gain their trust. You have to read the family dynamics, see who has coping skills and who doesn’t. It’s one of the toughest things we do.

“I’ll explain the situation honestly, explain the options, and tell them that I’m glad to try to help. When they learn the odds, I’ll also tell them, ‘Look, I couldn’t do this job on a daily basis if I didn’t see people beat the odds.’”

It’s not the first time I’ve carried the words of Wabash men like a prayer.

This morning I was thinking back on my conversation with Tom Roberts. He said his own vocation has changed over the years. A Hoosier farm kid like many of our Wabash scientists, he described himself as a “lab rat” during his days at the College.

“But something has changed,” he said in his typically understated, self-effacing manner. “When I was 12, and even when I came to Wabash, I wanted to be a scientist; I wanted to find out new things. Working at a cancer institute, though, and seeing all the kids with no hair, the adults, too, and seeing all that they are facing, at this point my emphasis is more practical. I really would like to help cure cancer. Certainly, hanging out in a cancer institute, you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t respond to the problems of the patients.”

My brother’s “problems” may be just beginning, I know. He’s made it through surgery, is working through some post-operative pain and waiting for the pathology report, reading the messages and prayers from the now-784 folks who have visited his Caring Bridge site. Once glance at the and you’ll know he’s the best our family’s got; he’s the best fighter, too.

Those of us who love him feel mostly helpless. Not much we can do but pray and write and talk and spend too much time researching medical sites on the Internet.

At times like this, coming to work can seem the least relevant thing you can do. But this morning on my way to Wabash I found comfort, maybe even a tiny role in the process, working at a place that prepares the doctors and researchers who fight these battles alongside those facing cancer, a place which nurtures not only their technical skills and clarity of thinking, but also their empathy—men who bring that “always fights” attitude to the battle, a battle I believe my family will win this time.

 

 

 

In Harmony – Dick Strawn Turns 90

Professor Emeritus of French Dick Strawn, who joined the College in 1951, retired in 1987, but still teaches Wabash men. Here he enjoys a conversation with current students and staff during a video interview for the College’s Scarlet Yarns story project.

Steve Charles—Music has come up in almost every conversation I’ve had with Professor of French Emeritus Dick Strawn over the past 18 years. I shouldn’t have been surprised to hear it again when I interviewed him on camera at the end of May for the College’s Scarlet Yarns project.

But the frequency with which it arose in our conversation was not only surprising, but—well, musical. And some of both the funniest and most moving clips from the video focus on two of the College’s songs.

Dick turned 90 last week, celebrating the occasion over dinner and a long and enjoyable conversation with Michael Wright ’13. Those sorts of honest explorations punctuated with laughter are certainly one reason students and alumni—many who never took a class from him, as he retired in 1987 after 36 years teaching at Wabash—are drawn to this gentle and wise man. His is a name that comes up often when I speak with alumni. During a Chapel talk last spring, Professor Bill Cook ’66 cited a moment in Dick’s linguistics class that “challenged my simplistic assumptions and expanded my world view.” Bill took the class because, as he recalls, “I so enjoyed French 5 and 6 taught by Professor Dick Strawn that linguistics was one of those, ‘if he’s teaching it, I’ll take it’ decisions.”

Dick taught French, but his love and command of the English language would be intimidating if he weren’t so generous. I recall a phrase he used describe his wife, Doris—“not mawkish, but with deep sentiment”—that we included in a remembrance we published of her, Dick’s nuanced and precise use of language revealing both his love and one reason these two were such a good match for one another.

He is one of the group of professors (along with Ted Bedrick, Eliot Williams, Owen Duston, Don Baker, Vic Powell, Ben Rogge, Phil Wilder, Eric Dean, Lew Salter, and Harold McDonald) that President Frank Sparks hired in the late 1940s and early 1950s, a cadre, President Byron Trippet  wrote, “touch off in me the warmest feelings of respect, and even pride, for their association with Wabash.”

Dick actually dislikes the title “doctor” or “professor.” (That latter is a “loaded name” for him because his first violin teacher was called professor, like the con man Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man). He prefers, if titles must be used, Mr. Strawn: “It was good enough for Yale [where Dick did his graduate work], it’s good enough for me.”

As he mentions in our interview: “I’d rather be a student than anything else.”

To celebrate having this good man with us for so long in the Wabash community (Dick was hired by President Frank Sparks in 1951), I looked over the transcript of our recent interview and have excerpted here a few highlights from our conversation (including the candid musical assessment of Old Wabash that left students laughing so loud you can hear it on the video!).

We’ll have the longer story in the Fall 2013 issue of Wabash Magazine, but here are some of my favorite moments:

On the decision to consider the job at Wabash:
Doris and I had a three‑and‑a‑half year old boy and a baby on the way. I happily got wind of a job here, and there was the prospect of a job at UCLA. Hmm, Los Angeles? I wasn’t so sure. But Crawfordsville? Where’s that? Wabash College? What’s that? Never heard of it. We couldn’t decide.

So finally we did bibliomancy. [Grab] a Bible, shut your eyes, open it up, and put your finger down, and what it said was, “Do not go into the land of the stranger.” Well, thanks a lot, God! That was either UCLA or Crawfordsville.

Finally we decided on here because we were a small‑town family with small‑town experience. I did not like the idea of raising children in Los Angeles, so up we came.

On his interview for the job with Deans Byron Trippet and George Kendall:
I met briefly with Dean Trippet and briefly with President Sparks, who asked me what I thought of co‑education. I thought that was a curious question. Of course I was in favor of co‑education. It’s what I knew.

On the way back to the railroad station, Dean Kendall was asking me how [the interview] had gone. I said, “I guess it went well enough. I enjoyed meeting a number of people. I did have a kind of funny question from President Sparks. It was about co‑education.”

Dean Kendall said, “Did you not realize that it’s a men’s college?”

I said, “No, I did not realize that.”

On his and Doris’s life in Mud Hollow, the College’s faculty and student housing in the 1950s:
My first salary in September of 1951 was $3,600 and we could live on that, kind of.

That rent at the Hollow saved our financial lives and it put us right in the center of all that life there. We were young profs, student veterans back from the Second World War on the GI Bill. That was it. There was a young history teacher across the road, a student and his wife next door to us.

We all looked out for one another, took care of one another, babysat like crazy. There were lots of babies. It was a good experience.

Oh, you could hear everything. There were no secrets. We heard the neighbors and they heard us. One of Doris’s memories that she wrote about living in the Hollow recalled hearing our next door neighbor shout, “Here they come again.” She was talking about the roaches!

But most of us who lived there, at one time or another, stayed at Wabash, too—the Powells, the Salters, the Davises. We came to appreciate one another a little more deeply than usual.

On the joy of playing violin, bass, or whatever was needed with various groups at Wabash, including the Flat Baroque Ensemble in the 1960s:
We were just good enough that we could make the music work. We weren’t good enough to do the very difficult, elaborate kind, but we could make the music come into its own.

And when it works, by some magic, all the players are playing alike, understanding it alike, and that’s when the music comes into its own. You’re lost in it.

It has a lot to do, too, with physiology. It has a lot to do with breathing because when the music works that way, all of a sudden I find myself breathing differently. It’s in the whole body.

On “teachable moments,” one of the reasons the Strawns stayed at Wabash:
You can see it happening in students. They can’t mask it. Their eyes light up. They sit back. They breathe differently. Something physiological is happening, as well a psychological. That event, there’s just nothing like it, because it really is not so much because I made something happen. It’s because something did happen in that student. It’s incredible.

Interviewer: Sounds a little like playing music?

Dick: Yes, it really is.

On friendships at Wabash, especially professors Harold McDonald and Owen Duston:
We understood one another without saying much. We didn’t have to make explanations. There was a kind of harmony.

The 16th century essayist Montaigne had a close friend who died young, and Montaigne was trying to get at why he and this man were friends. Finally it comes out in the one sentence, which translates into English as, “Because he was he, and I was I.”

There’s no further getting at it. With Owen Duston and me, that was it. We never felt the need to say it.

It was something of the same thing with Harold McDonald. We were simply in tune. Singing the same music in harmony.

On good teaching and learning:
I came upon on a letter from a student who was reminiscing about Owen Duston and who set down in so many words why Owen was a good teacher for him: It’s because Owen would take anything that any student said, and work with it.

Owen never said, “Oh that’s stupid! What would make you think that?” Instead, he took whatever the student said and then said, “Where does that come from? Where do you get that idea? What happened to make you see it that way?”

The first thing you know, that student who said some pathetic comment was discovering that he could make his own responses to whatever the topic or text in front of him. All of the sudden the student realized that he was being educated.

On Professor Bill Placher ’70:
He was a real force, not only because he was an alum, but because of the quality of his soul. I’ve never known a more unselfish man. He didn’t have an agenda. He just liked to have people become themselves. He thought the College was the place where that happened.

On his practice of corresponding with former students:
Yes, I have, to my benefit. Why, I don’t know, except that I’m an unquenchable writer of notes. I ought to be more careful about that because sometimes I fire off a note that I ought to discard before I send it. I just can’t quit I guess. I have these vignettes in my head, views of student when they were students, and I get to wondering, Where are they? What are they like now? What’s life doing with them, and to them? What are they doing to life?

On the intriguing fact that many of the alumni (and current students) who correspond with Dick were not students of his, and many attended Wabash after he retired:
It has been a tonic. Thank God I’ve had that, because they kept me in touch with the world. It’s psychological food.

On defining the College:
I wouldn’t. I would be happy to say I can’t do it. I think the College happens. It happens over and over with luck, and it’s in the encounters between students and teachers, students and students, teachers and teachers. It’s the way we rub off on one another, or don’t, on this very small ground—and thank God, it’s small. It’s small enough that we can really sense one another. We don’t get lost.

On traditions:
I don’t think the College exists in those little comedic flares known as the traditions. Who knows how they started, but we keep them going because we like to think that there’s no end.

Yeah, some of them are fun. Some of them are hurtful.

On “Old Wabash”:
First of all, “Old Wabash” is a dumb song. It’s straight out of the French review. It’s a can‑can song. [Dick hums a can-can tune]. And the skirts go flying!

The “Alma Mater”, on the other hand, is perfectly beautiful and unique. My tears come when I hear it, though I have never sung it. It is not my Alma Mater. I won’t sing it. I don’t have an alma mater. I have several alma maters. I am the child of so many mothers it isn’t even funny.

But I think it’s a beautiful song. I think the words are beautiful, I think the sentiment is beautiful. Now there is a piece of college lore and tradition that I would preserve. Partly because it’s music, and music does something that nothing else can do.

Interviewer: So hearing Alma Mater brings tears, even though Wabash is not your alma mater?

Mr. Strawn:  They are tears of belonging to that long, long line of people going to school. I am a student. I’d rather be a student than anything else.