Only at Wabash

Jim Amidon, April 25 — The curtain had fallen on the Wabash College Theater production of The Braggart Soldier on Friday night. The large crowd in Ball Theater, which had spent the better part of two hours laughing at the slapstick performances, clapped in appreciation as the cast emerged, one by one, for the curtain call.

Big applause for the lead players — guys like Matt McKay and Denis Farr and Dickie Winters — and then came Janathan Grandoit, a minor, but very funny character. Grandoit played a servant forced to dress as a woman… and took his curtain call wearing a bridal gown.

With the crowd still cheering, Grandoit invited his longtime girlfriend, Delphia Flenar, a Butler University student, to join him on stage. And there, in a white wedding gown, he got down on his knee and asked her to marry him. The cast surrounded the couple, throwing confetti and the crowd roared with delight. Every recent bride in the house was crying, even some women married 20 years.

Grandoit will go to work this summer for AFLAC in Indianapolis, while his bride-to-be finishes up at Butler. They’ll be married after her graduation.

Imagine that a student with a only bit part — a servant no less — could steal the show at a Friday night performance. And do so at the curtain call when the play had ended. Congratulations to Janathan and Delphia.

Only at Wabash.

The Wonder of the Arts

Jim Amidon — Fifteen or 20 years ago, Wabash was in need of pretty substantial upgrades in its science, athletics, modern languages, library, and arts facilities. When it came time to begin raising funds and starting construction, College Trustees and Administrators chose to start with the Fine Arts Center, a decision which made a lot of people scratch their heads.

But it was the right decision. A good liberal arts college — no, a great liberal arts college — must be committed to the arts. Wabash demonstrated this with the addition of the Randolph Deer Art Wing and the music wing, including Salter Hall. Add a third full-time faculty member in each of the three fine arts departments has also demonstrated the College’s commitment.

A little over a decade has passed and the results are marvelous. The quality of our student musicians, thespians, and visual artists is as good now — consistently — as it ever has been. Anyone who heard George Colakovic’s recital in Salter Hall or caught this year’s Glee Club in concert realizes there has been a tremendous improvement in talent (not to mention the acoustics of that fantastic facility).

I attended the Senior Art Majors opening reception Monday night. We’ve probably had more talented individual artists in recent years, but as a group these four men hold up as well as any senior class in memory. And they are distinctive. I’ve watched Tim Parker throw running backs around like rag dolls on the football field for three years; it is nice to see what a delicate hand he has for sculpture. I think so differently about Adam Miller’s vibrant paintings after learning that he is color blind. Bill Whited’s installation — especially the "design them yourself" crawling creatures — is unique and thought-provoking. And David Murphy’s pottery is not only beautifully created, but artistically significant.

That same night I caught a dress rehearsal of Jim Fisher’s production of The Braggart Soldier. Five minutes into the show and I was as entertained as I have been in years in Ball Theater. The casting is perfect and includes a range of usual faces (Matt McKay, Denis Farr, and Sterling Carter), but also features some new faces (Braden Pemberton, Joe Martin, and Ali Ahmed). Farr and Dickie Winters even designed the costumes for the show, which you’ll appreciate even more after seeing the show.

Indeed, there was wisdom in that 1980s decision to put the arts first when it came time for funding and building. Now the community must put the arts at the top of the list again — at the busiest time of the year — to make time to celebrate the talents of our young men.

Hardest Time of the Year

Jim Amidon — I was rushing across the Wabash campus last Thursday — running behind, as usual — when a student approached me.

“Do you work here?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“For very long?” he inquired

“Yes, almost 19 years,” I told him.

“Were you a student before that?” he wondered.

I told him I was and at this point in the conversation with my wristwatch ticking away, I needed to speed things along. I asked him how I could help.

He shrugged his shoulders, looked around at the blue skies and budding crabapple trees, and finally had the courage to ask his primary question:

“Is this really the hardest time of the year? I mean, I’m just a freshman, but…”

I cut him off to put him out of his misery. “Yes,” I said, “when the weather warms up and the grass turns green, all you want to do is be outside goofing off with your friends. But the last two weeks will make or break your semester.”

He wanted to know how to get through it — how to focus on finishing papers and preparing for exams, while not wanting to spend a single minute in class or his study room.

My advice for this frustrated, but honest young man was: head for the library basement, find a table buried in the stacks. There, I told him, he couldn’t tell if it was day or night, sunny or raining. There, I suggested, he could find his focus.

We chatted a few minutes longer and I ran to my next stop. I saw the young man the next day and asked him how he was doing.

“I got three papers finished yesterday. Thanks for the advice!”

I only relate this story in such detail because for those of us who have been around Wabash for a long time and see mid-April as the beginning of the end of a long year, our students face a brutal challenge.

They must find focus and do so when — for the first time in six months — the weather is decent enough to play golf, throw a Frisbee, take a hike at Turkey Run.

Guys who really want to succeed and end the year with a bang must force themselves to resist nature’s urges to come outside; they find a study table in the library or their study room and hit the books. Those who don’t find that focus face the very real possibility that the previous 16 weeks of work will have been for naught.

What I told the young man —†in addition to my secret study spot in the basement of the library — was that he needs to take a regular look at his wall calendar. By doing so, he’ll realize there are only two more weeks of classes; two more weeks of hard work and sacrifice.

He understood what I meant and said, “You know, I have a chance to get a 3.3 GPA if I don’t mess it up.”

The young man reflected on all the hard work he had done to this point and made the tough decision (remember how nice it was last Thursday?) to stay inside to finish his papers.

That’s the type of discipline most freshmen don’t possess. They learn it over time at Wabash and if they don’t they typically won’t graduate. It often boils down to something that simple.

That discipline and focus is also, I think, the key to the success of our alumni. You can’t get very far in this world if you lack the discipline and focus to complete projects on time; to sacrifice the desire for instant gratification for long-term success.

I’m glad I ran into that young man and I’m happy we spent 10 minutes talking. But I’m not sure who got the greater lesson: the young man seeking advice or the guy who gave it. The encounter served as a helpful reminder to me, too.

Community Takes Advantage of Wellness Fair

Howard W. Hewitt – Wabash College’s Wellness Fair brought students, faculty and staff to Chadwick Court April 12.

The annual event offers plenty of information along with blood pressure checks, cholesterol screenings, and even a free massage.

It’s events like the wellness fair are a real value-added benefit to the College community. The early morning crowd was large and steady, the presenters said. The booths opened at 6 a.m. and closed at 1 p.m.

The participating services included: Dr. Louis Metzman, Kroger Pharmacy, American Red Cross, Athena Sports and Fitness, AHEAD Coalition, Russell Chiropractic, North Montgomery Parks & Recreation, SAMS Club, Industrial Credit Union, Cigna Healthcare, American Cancer Society, American Funds, Family Crisis Center, Crawfordsville Extreme Fitness, Massage Therapy Clinic, John Hancock Services, St. Claire Medical Center (Free Cholesterol Screenings), Northridge Chiropractic

Scholarship Luncheon: A New Tradition

Jim Amidon — They say Wabash is a tradition-rich school, and it is. They also say traditions at Wabash take decades to form. Now that I’m well into my third decade at the College, I know for a fact that traditions take, on average, about three years to take hold.

The latest, greatest tradition is the Celebrating Scholarships Luncheon, which was held for the third year in a row. As President Andy Ford aptly pointed out, the luncheon has come to signify spring on campus, even though snow showers fell from the sky at this year’s event, which was attended by over 300 students, donors, parents, faculty, and staff.

Ever since Marilyn Smith of the Advancement Office hosted the first Celebrating Scholarships Luncheon, those of us on the north side of campus have been saying out loud, "Why haven’t we been doing this for years?"

It seems like such a natural, common sense thing to do — matching scholarship recipients with the alumni, friends, and foundations who gave the gifts to establish the scholarships. There’s nothing more exciting for those of us in Advancement than to see people like David and Betty Givens ’56 meeting the young men who benefit from their generosity. That connection provides a living philanthropic link between our College’s past and its future.

Vic DeRose ’74 has come to all three luncheons, I think, and he loves nothing more than meeting the guys who have earned his family scholarship. And the students suddenly have learned to network, too; Vic is a very connected person in the business world, whose contacts can benefit DeRose Scholars long beyond their time at Wabash.

It was a bit of a family reunion for Fran H’85, Tom ’56, and John ’59 Hollett, who enjoyed their time with men who have received scholarships in the Hollett name.

And true to the three-year tradition, the link between past and future was made when the guest speakers at the event were a past scholarship recipient, Nelson Alexander ’90, and a current scholarship winner, David Fitzgerald ’06, who spoke eloquently about the College’s philanthropic tradition.

Alexander, who received the Charles Maurice Hegarty Scholarship, was recently listed as one of the "40 Under 40" in Indianapolis and is the managing partner of his law firm. Instead of focusing on the success he has gained at such a young age, he challenged students to pursue their real dreams at Wabash, something scholarships allow them to do. Fitzgerald, a recipient of the John B. Goodrich Grant-in-Aid, issued a gentle reminder: "Remember the help you received and return that favor to future Wallies throughout the years."

Indeed, the Celebrating Scholarships Luncheon has evolved ever-so-quickly into an important, calendar-marking Wabash tradition.

Williams’ Visit: A Gift for Wabash

Jim Amidon — Terry Tempest Williams will pack her luggage today and head back to Utah, leaving me thinking, "Now that’s what I call a Visiting Artists Series event!"

Her two-plus day visit to campus was nothing short of a gift to the students, faculty, staff, and this community. Stuck in the doldrums of a soggy, foggy, gray spring, we were rescued, if only temporarily, by Williams’ love of people and place.

I left Tuesday night’s reading — and this may surprise some — speechless. So did lots of others who attended and listened as the acclaimed writer, naturalist, and activist read a brand-spanking new work (two hours old) about Montgomery County’s Shades State Park and Sugar Creek, along with significant passages from her book, Red: Patience and Passion in the Desert.

Her prose is breathtaking, and leads the reader (or listener) to a more perfect world, a world where we bury political axes to come together to make right choices and good long-term decisions about the world we share. Her powers of observation, whether of the Redrock Wilderness or the stunning gorges of The Shades, are beyond this writer’s words. Thankfully, she captures the subtleties of natural beauty in words that sing to us.

Wiliams spent Monday on campus, delivered a lecture to a large crowd on Monday night, spent time in classes on Tuesday, went with Mike Bachner and Pat Galloway to The Shades on Tuesday afternoon, and she then gave, perhaps, the finest reading ever in the Salter Concert Hall. Of course, she has wonderful material, but her spoken voice is so lovely, so beautiful that it adds depth and passion to the printed page.

What impressed me most, though, and others with whom I’ve talked, is how sincere and caring Williams was with each interaction she had with students, faculty, staff, and friends of the College. Within minutes, she knew the name of every student in Marc Hudson’s class, as well as the name of every student in Helen Hudson’s Crawfordsville High School class. She answered every question with honest candor, and evoked a rare trust in our ability to have meaningful conversation and debate, even when we disagree.

She hugged alumnus (and fellow Utah native) Ryan Yates, who drove out from Iowa to attend the reading. After the reading, she sat in the front row next to Alix Hudson and Grey Castro to get their reactions. She put her arms around the students who have founded the College’s "Students for Sustainability" group. She shook hands, gave autographs, and posed for photos. But mostly, Terry Tempest Williams engaged on a deeply personal level with each and every individual she encountered.

Indeed, Terry Tempest William’s visit to campus was a gift; a taste of eternal spring to lift us from our winter doldrums and carry us through this school year.

“The resurrections rain accomplishes”

In one of my favorites of Marc Hudson’s early poems, the Wabash English professor writes:

"You will discover your vocation:
You will write the history of rain…
You will record the resurrections rain accomplishes…"

I’ll confess that I attended Marc’s reading last Thursday—his first of any length since the death of his son, Ian, on December 30, 2002—hoping for resurrections. Marc’s art had been a lodestar to me for such hope before. But Ian’s death, at age 19, was such a blunt instrument, I feared the poet’s vision dimmed, his voice muted. Though nothing comparable to the loss of a child, I’ve had my own losses lately, and so has the campus. Marc’s is a voice we’ve needed.

And it was strong and clear on Thursday night.

"I wanted to read some poems about places," Marc began, "and about coming home to them."

First there was Washington State and "The History of Rain." Then Iceland, where he and his wife, Helen, spent 1980-81, and where Marc worked on a farm while translating Beowulf in a place where the "north wind was robbing the farmer blind," but where there also was "gold in the wind," and where Marc first thought about being a father.

Then back to Washington, where Ian was injured at birth and afflicted with cerebral palsy:

"In Omak,
these were festival days.
Boys raced their ponies
down a cutbank, then across
the Okanogan. Now I understood
their ritual leap to mend
a broken life. I had been a curator of bones:
now I was the father of a small church made of them."

Then to Crawfordsville, where he bathed Ian for what he didn’t realize was the last time in his life:

"…you, cracking up at my antics
mocking my aged tastes
with your sidelong squint…"

And where he and Helen bathed him after his death:

"Under your long lashes,
your eyes appear half open,
most carefully,
they seem to be considering a difficult equation.

Has your breath contrived,
to continue without its body,
the way a boat does
when its oars are shipped
and it lifts into the further wave?

We put down our towels to listen;
No sound from those lips.
Quiet sailor,
what sea do you cross?"

He read a work written for a vigil protesting the beginning of the War in Iraq in March 2003:

"We laid him down,
We let him go,
His mother, his sister, and I
into the wooden hole of his coffin…
…our son, like one of those gone for a soldier to the Gulf…
…Operation Shock and Awe
Hot metal will rain on Baghdad
a human dust will rise and mingle
with the red Tigris wind…"

And anger rose in his voice as he considered those willing to send the children of others to die:

"Friends, fellow citizens,
War is the worst inhuman thing,
and burying your child,
even in peace,
is like placing into a boat
every little possession you held dear
and pushing it into the breakers."

He introduced his current project, a book-length poem entitled "Swimming the Acheron" after the mythical River of Sorrow that encircles Hades. This work-in-progress is a homecoming to the epic form he’s translated and written in previously; there’s also anger at the doctor who delivered Ian, anger at himself, and guilt.

"I must follow my son down into the darkness…"

"The next part of the poem, I hope, will have more light," Marc practically apologized. "In it, I talk to my father. And I hope, finally, to talk to my son in this poem, and then make my way back home."

Not wanting to leave us in a darkness he’s known for too long, the poet concluded with the recent "Late Summer Stanzas," and its world where "August was gold out my window."

"One of my great pleasures is gardening; I love sunflowers," Marc said, introducing the piece."And if you have sunflowers, you will have goldfinches. One of the great joys of gardening is watching the goldfinches feeding as they balance on the backs of the sunflowers."

It was a cheerful image, but walking home I couldn’t help but recall the poet’s "Swimming the Acheron." The title is no mere literary reference. Marc is a good recreational swimmer. And in the poem "July 29," he writes:

"My boy also
is a swimmer, for whom desire
annihilates distance.
He is my dolphin, my little Odysseus.
Death could not steal
from his eyes the dawn
of his homecoming."

As I walked home, I thought of Marc and his daily swims at lunch hour at the Allen Center and how they might have inspired his "Swimming the Acheron"—what he might see there, who he might speak with, and what he’ll come back to tell us. I wondered if some of us who have known loss may be following in his wake.

I came to a reading looking for resurrections. What I found was a poet come home with hope. As his colleague, Tom Campbell, noted during his introduction, Marc’s is "a voice we’ve needed during these difficult times."

The generous applause following Marc’s reading lent Tom’s words a hearty "amen," and the poet seemed to genuinely enjoy this homecoming.

As Marc said earlier that evening, "It takes a bit more time to find the poetry of Indiana than it does the poetry of the Cascades, or Puget Sound, or Iceland. A more subtle beauty, it requires a more rooted heart. Perhaps the muse is a little thinner, but the vein grows deep."

—Steve Charles

“Ease and confidence”

Steve Charles—In November of last year, Indiana Solicitor General Tom Fisher ’91 flew in from Indianapolis to watch mentor and “big brother” Greg Castanias ’87 present oral arguments before the United States Supreme Court.

On March 20, 2006, it was Fisher’s turn before the Justices, representing his state in Hammon v. Indiana, a decision that will have major implications for the prosecution of domestic violence cases in the U.S.

And Greg was there to support him.

Tom was marvelous in a very difficult argument,” Greg said after watching his friend’s moment on the legal world’s biggest stage. “He took on some rather aggressive questioning from Justice [Antonin] Scalia and completely held his own, debating with Justice Scalia (and other Justices) fine points of constitutional and pre-constitutional history, such as the trial of Sir Walter Raleigh."

Fisher had presented the facts of the case earlier in the year to Wabash students, when he was a member of a panel on government and religion. But on Monday his audience was a bit more daunting—at least to most of us.

From watching the six advocates in the two cases argued today, no one would have known that this was Tom’s first argument before the Court, because he seemed like he had done this a hundred times," Greg said proudly. “Tom possesses an ease and confidence on his feet that I can only hope I have on my best day.”

Photo: Tom Fisher enjoyed his visit with Wabash students and faculty.

Remembering Han, 1985-2006

Jim Amidon — Tuesday night members of the Wabash community came together to remember their fallen friend, Han Jiang, who died Thursday in an automobile accident about five blocks from campus. Linda Weaver, Carolyn Goff, and the whole cadre of Wabash Women provided a wonderful banquet of foods and desserts for Han’s Tau Kappa Epsilon and International Student Association brothers, community friends, and a few members of the faculty and staff.

It was typical Wabash: Hugs, handshakes, tears, and warm stories of a quiet, naive kid who came to Wabash from China, but got the most from his experience here. I asked Alex Goga for images of Han that might better illustrate the person; Alex answered my request with pictures of Han at the TKE Christmas party, hanging out in his room, eating Chinese food, and cheering at the Monon Bell Game. The pictures tell the story of a young man who had a very full and meaningful life at Wabash College.

My heart ached for Bo Jiang, Han’s father, when he arrived in Detchon Center. Bo had been to Wabash before in his capacity as both father and educational diplomat for the Chinese consulate in Chicago. He talked about the continuing need to build strong educational relationships between China and the United States and cited Wabash as a good example. Then he mustered the courage to speak of the kindnesses extended to his son and his family by the Wabash community. He even took the time to accept the sympathies from the entire crowd after the event, greeting each person with a warm and meaningful hug.

Many of us had hoped that by attending Bo would see the impact his son had on the Wabash community and be strengthened by it. Perhaps that was the case, but clearly he provided strength to the students, faculty, and staff in attendance with his warm hugs and handshakes.

Few can imagine the pain Han’s parents, Bo and Ying Huang, are experiencing. They have invested their lives in trying to provide international educational opportunities for Chinese students, and have invested all of their resources to provide their only child a Wabash education. Today they have only Han’s memory and their work to sustain them.

For Wabash, Han’s death provided a painful opportunity for students to come together in support of one another; to laugh, cry, and be angry together; and to remember someone who touched their lives but who now is gone. Those students will honor Han in death for the love he gave them in life.

Han Jiang

April 15, 1985 to March 9, 2006

Some Little Giant!

A Contrast in Marketing Challenges

Howard W. Hewitt – The 11 Wabash students studying marketing during spring break week got a real contrast Wednesday and Thursday and a realistic look at opportunities and challenges businesses may face.

Thursday the group traveled to South Bend, In., and visited the College Football Hall of Fame. The Hall has been in South Bend for about five years after a long run at Kings Island, Cincinnati.

Read the students’ blog about the week long experience and see more photos here.

The students toured the beautiful facilities and met with its marketing manager to discuss the challenges. The Hall is drawing about 65,000 visitors a year with a large portion of those coming on Notre Dame home football game weekends. The challenge is to substantially grow the number of visitors on a very limited budget.

In contrast, the student’s visit to Scott Smalstig ’88 and Joseph David Advertising in Muncie was a high-energy hour and a half planning strategy for an elite island resort community. Smalstig led the students through an exercise looking at marketing strategies for the wealthy community.

The contrast and road trips added spice to a week of classroom learning. The students really got involved when taken on sight to look at challenges and opportunities within the field of marketing.

In each city, a few alums joined the students for dinner at nice restaurants to talk about their careers and days at Wabash.

It might not have been the beach, a European immersion experience, or even time at home, but clearly the 11 men had an enjoyable and educational break.

In photo: The Monon Bell rivalry is just one of several represented in the College Football Hall of Fame at South Bend.

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