Jim Roper '68 – A Liberal Arts Guy

My good friend Glen Morangie* and I had a long chat last night about a mutual friend, Jim Roper ’68. Jim is the class agent for the class of 1968 and one of those guys responsible for the tremendous turnout of members of the Class of 1968 at this year’s Big Bash.

Jim is, first and foremost, a fighter pilot. He became an instant †hit when I worked at the Air Force’s fighter pilot assignments section. Jim’s dream job, he told us, was to fly A-10s at the FEBA (forward edge of the battle area) where he could smell the cordite (gun power in the A-10’s gun). Guys who didn’t know Jim instantly considered him a great guy…

I first met Jim in Clovis, New Mexico on a late Friday night/early Saturday morning – the exact timing will forever be unknown – to Jim and to me. We followed him home after a “tactics seminar” – he supplied us with some TWR and we listened in amazement as he played the piano. Man, can that guy play. I was amazed…I didn’t think there was a fighter pilot alive that would volunteer that he played the piano, let alone play the way he could play. We sang some fighter pilot songs (all classified) and somehow made it back to the base later that morning. I didn’t know Jim was a Wabash grad and I don’t think he knew I was either.

Jim and I would later command F-111F Fighter Squadron’s together at Royal Air Force Lakenheath. We competed like crazy. I was proud of him, he had the second best squadron on the base – he will, undoubtedly, say the same thing about me. He was 493TFS/CC and I was 492 TFS/CC – it was great! The best job I have ever had – by a margin longer than the Wall of China.

Jim Roper – fighter pilot and accomplished musician, went on to become an accomplished author and the father of twins at the age of….ready for this…61. As for me…I love taking pictures and a couple even turn out OK. That should count a little…

Jim is also the guy who, in every communication with me after my prostate cancer diagnosis, mentioned I was in his prayers and he hoped I was getting along, healing, and cancer free.

If you take a step back and think about it. Jim Roper – patriot, musician, author…a liberal arts guy, right? Jim Roper…Some Little Giant!

* Glen, who isn’t a Wabash grad, is really a big help this time of year.

It's A Tough Job, But…

Howard W. Hewitt – I thought I’d give the Grunge a break as he counts down to Big Bash and provide him with a blog entry!

There is so much preparation that goes on behind the scenes for our annual alumni reunion weekend it’s hard to share all of the effort the College staff puts into this biggest of weekends.

No stone goes unturned! No effort is too big! No sacrifice was too big to assure the visiting graduates have a great experience.

To that noble effort let’s add that no wine goes unsipped!

Mary Jo Arthur, General Manager of campus catering company Bon Appetit, mentioned early in our Big Bash planning cycle that some graduates had wished for a better selection of wine during the evening meals.

Someone had to step up to the challenge, so I and a couple of other oenophile types agreed to form Wabash’s first “Official Beverage Committee.”

Arthur arranged a tasting during the spring for our committee to help select palatable wines that weren’t just the standard Merlot and Chardonnay choices! It was a tough task!

We selected a couple of interesting red wines for dinner along with some wines for Tommy’s Scarlett Nickel but we didn’t like the white wine choices. The committee reluctantly agreed another session would be in order.

So Arthur and her wine distributor set up another seven white wines for us to taste May 27. We found a couple of great selections for Friday and Saturday night’s dinner.

For those of us who are really into wine, we knew that Wabash could provide a much better vino for the buck. So we formed a committee of me, BKT Assistant Professor of Biology Patrick Burton as the resident wine geeks, along with the more pedestrian palates of the Grunge, and then Sports Information Director Brent Harris. The Bon Appetit folks joined us as well.

The results: Friday’s Big Bash Banquet: Green Lion Cabernet Sauvignon, will be the red and Donnafugata Anthilia will be the white. At Saturday’s Reunion dinners we’ll serve Calina Reserva Carmenere, a Chilian Red wine, and Oberon Sauvignon Blanc for the white.

The wines served at the Scarlett Nickel will be a variety of other wines we tasted and liked.

The Big Bash is lots of preparation and tough work, but we all sacrifice for “Ol Wabash!”

Photo: Patrick Burton tries one for the team

Did he say the Grunge had a pedestrian palate?

Little Did We Know

Last year we had a few members of the class of 1968 (pictured are the Krafts, Millikins, and Jim Roper) back for the Big Bash – they were checking it out. They had a chance to see the Class of 1967 turn out in great attendance numbers – numbers we had never before seen.

In true Wabash fashion, they proudly stated at that Bash that they would beat 1967. Now, I have to tell you, I thought Clark Dickerson ’67 and his reunion committee did a fantastic job of generating a great turnout – in many ways they made the weekend.

But these guys from 1968…WOW! They went to work with Clark’s model and really put it through its paces.

Jim Millikin as reunion chairman and Jim Roper as class agent simply would not take no for an answer and their class has unheard of numbers registered for the Bash…83 in all. If they all show…well, well see what happens.

We had one member of their class call in to register and at the end of the call he told us to contact his class agent and tell him I’m registered so he’ll get off my back!

Class of 1968 – These Guys Are Good

The Class of 1968 has their own reunion web site –

It’s the best one I have ever seen for any reunion here. But that’s not all. As of yesterday, following the close of the reunion registration, they had 83 class members registered for their reunion. That’s 17 more than last year’s record – one I thought would stand for a long time. (Of course, to be “official” they’ll all need to sign the reunion book.)

They will have a great time, to be sure! Many thanks to reunion chairman Jim Millikin, class agent Jim Roper, and web guru/chief organizer Bruce Gras for all their hard work!

Memorial Day Weekend

For many, it’s the first big weekend of summer. Of course, with gas at $4.00 a gallon, that may mean a closer-to-home weekend.

For many of us at Wabash, its a big, deep breath between Commencement and the Big Bash. The Trustees and alumni board are now home and we’re gearing up for 300 alumni and their families.

For all of us, I hope, it’s a time to take just a moment to thank and to remember…

Summers – Experience, Learning, and Fun

Wabash rising senior Wade Heiny ’09 was featured recently on the cover of the Marion, Indiana newspaper. Wade is serving as an assistant manager with the Marion Water Park, called Splash House.

It might seen like a laid back summer job but it’s much more than that. The water park is a big operation with over 140 employees. They’ve introduced a number of new features hoping to really boost community participation. With that many staff members and a large crowd, Wade will get a lot of experience. What an opportunity to exercise one’s leadership skills.

Thanks to Craig Miller ’97 for alerting us to the feature on Splash house and the photo of Wade in his Wabash College sweatshirt!

Big Bash 2008 – John Banghart '58 Will Be Here

That’s my friend John Banghart ’58 at last year’s Glee Club Reunion. By all accounts, he and his friends had a great time.

John’s spent the past year as the reunion chairman for the 50th reunion of the Class of 1958. He’s done a great job of working tirelessly trying to get maximum attendance at the reunion.

He’ll be at the Big Bash for sure – and he and I hope you’ll make it as well. There’s only a couple of days left to register – better sign up now by clicking here.

Seth Ditchcreek '04 Checks In From China

From Seth’s email to his friends…

“I am still here in Shanghai China. I am currently teaching English for Wall Street English, which has its headquarters in Baltimore. I have helped teach the students some real ‘American’ English, which makes it fun for me.

I have made a great deal of friends in my travels here in China and Asia.

There has been a devastating Earthquake here in China, of which I am sure you know. I have not been affected directly, but millions of people have. Everyday I turn on the TV and realize just how lucky I am to have the life I have. Many of my Chinese friends have family or other friends there, which is making it a tough time for them, and me as well. It wasn’t that long ago that I was in Sichuan on vacation climbing mountains and visiting the pandas, but now a great deal of that area has been destroyed. I am, for the most part, speechless when I see the photos of the aftermath.”

Photo coutresy of CNN News.

Art Professor Kristen Wilkins Saves Life

Wabash Art professor Kristen Wilkins and her fiance Jaysen Harris were credited with saving a young man form the Wabash river this past Saturday. †Evidently the young man was fishing when strong currents caused the boat to break away and start racing down the swollen river. The occupants jumped for a tree, but the young man wasn’t able to make it and was carried down the river.

Wilkins and Harris saw the young man struggling and jumped into the river, fueled by recent heavy rains. They ere able to bring the young man to safety. The Tippecanoe Sheriff’s office credited them with saving the young man’s life stating he would have certainly been swept away if not for their actions.

Kristen Wilkins – art professor AND heroine.

The Last Grunge Blog Entry – A Little Early…

At a recent alumni event, things were winding down. My chores – hand out name tags, collect the uncollected money, take a few photos – were all complete. Before I left to write the short story and publish the photos, I went to catch up quickly with a Wabash-grad, Air Force friend. As I approached, it was readily apparent that he was engaged in a “lively” conversation with the spouse of an alumnus.

As I got closer and took a seat, the lady asked my friend: “Tell me, you wouldn’t let your child join the military, would you?” The question, spoken in sincerity and seriousness, came across not as much a question but as two clearly defined, distinct statements. First, “how could you let your child join the military? Aren’t you concerned with their safety?” The second statement was clearly: “Surely you would want them to find a better career?” My friend was doing just fine, he didn’t need me as a wingman, and I elected to disengage – live to fight another day, we say (and keep my day job). Before I could get away, she looked at me and asked me the same question. I am pretty sure she didn’t know what my chosen profession was.
I said I would be proud to have one of my sons serve. I turned and moved away…and sat on my hands.

However, on the long drive home, I just couldn’t get the conversation out of my mind. It wasn’t the first time I had heard this – I’ve heard it a lot over the last nine years. But I couldn’t get it out of my mind this time. I should have told her about Sam – #1 in his class at the Air Force Academy (entrance standards, by the way, equal to some Ivy League schools) and a Rhodes scholar – I am pretty sure Sam majored in physics. Of course, there’s also: “Spike” who has a PhD; “Breck-noid” the test pilot; John, the Harvard quarterback, “Jedi” the guy who could build the TV-guided bomb blindfolded; “Mikey” who had the photographic memory and had read every tactics manual ever written and; “Burgie” who, at 600 knots, 100’ AGL, and with 4 or 5 Gs on his body, could calmly record exactly why the TV guided munition or laser designation system wasn’t working like it should – for those engineers safe and sound back in their offices. These are just the guys I flew with. There are also countless young men and women I met in ROTC who are now Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines. I had the privilege of getting to know to them at my father’s Alma Mater, a little university up north. All of those I mention, and many more (many are Wabash grads), are world class people, not dummies, and not second class citizens. They do what they do so this lady has the freedom to express her thoughts and feelings.

I was extremely proud of my AF buddy. He didn’t lose his cool, he listened, he spoke respectfully, he conversed, he didn’t argue….and he didn’t deck her. I knew he wouldn’t. He’s a Wabash man, a liberal arts graduate. He’s a gentleman. Some part of him was enjoying the conversation and the difference of opinions. Intellectually stimulating. Food for thought. A Wabash kind of conversation.

I came away thinking that this type of discussion, friendly disagreement over a pretty serious topic, is increasing missing from our society.

I should have continued to sit on my hands – the safe thing. However, the folks she talked of are my friends. My friends. And I would be a lesser person if I didn’t speak up.

This entire conversation came on the heels of the President Pat White telling the group that he challenges the young men at Wabash to be world changers. I like that – I am repeatedly impressed by the accomplishments of our guys. However, while we should stand in awe of the guys who go out and change the world, we should also pause to say thanks to those who go to work every single day trying to keep the world the same – their end goal is to protect that world and those more famous world changers. They also quietly protect and serve those folks who doubt their character, skills, ambition, and brains.

OK, I know, back on my hands.

This will be my last blog – when the day comes – it might get slightly rewritten. In the meantime, for those 7 people who have told me you read the blog, I’ll keep posting. I just couldn’t…well…you know…

When you see this one again, it’s “Miller Time” for the Grunge.

That’s the Grunge and his favorite office of all – F-111F tail number 886.

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