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Jasmine Ernest Robinson – trailblazer, activist, Radio DJ, Author, Musician, Athlete, Wife and Mother – Inspiration to all who met her.

We received word here recently of the passing of Jasmine Robinson, a woman with a big smile and a bigger heart. Jim Amidon’s notice of her passing was an excellent piece of writing, summing up her life succinctly. I thought I might add to her story by sharing some Archives materials, including her words from the Black Oral History project of the 1980s. Thanks to Bill Doemel for reminding me of it!

It is always sad to hear of a member of the Wabash family passing. It so often feels to me like we have lost something big, a piece of our history has gone. This is especially true in the passing of Jasmine Robinson, who broke the professional color barrier at Wabash in the 1960s. Wabash had employed other Black women, but they were maids, janitors, or cooks at the fraternities. Jasmine was, however, the first woman of color to work in a professional role in all of Crawfordsville. When Paul Mielke hired her to work in the computer center here at Wabash in 1963, she was indeed the first woman of color to work professionally here.  

At the top of the page I listed a few of Jasmine’s better-known accomplishments. I start with trailblazer, because for all her long life she was busy forging the way for those who would follow. It was in this line that she spoke to classes here at Wabash about what it was like to be on campus during the Civil Rights movement. To elaborate on her perspective, here are Jasmine’s own words from a transcript of a Black Oral History project undertaken in the early 1980s. The project looked at Wabash and the Black Experience and there was a second section which was Crawfordsville and the Black Experience. Jasmine, interestingly, could speak on both topics. She was interviewed by her friend Dr. Paul Mielke of the Mathematics Department in 1982. Here are some details of her life and quotes from the oral history project or Jasmine in her own words.  

Jasmine was born on a farm in Putnam County just outside of Greencastle on May 8, 1927 as one of six children, she was the youngest. Living on a farm ensured that there was always enough to eat. When asked about life on the farm and discrimination she responded, “All of our neighbors were white, but we didn’t have any problems. We would go to their farm and help them and in return they would come to our farm and help us harvest. We looked at each other as just people.” 

As a high school student, Jasmine was barred from the local drugstore where there was a soda fountain. Here is her description of that situation, “I noticed it [discrimination] when I entered high school because of the difference in skin color of my sister and myself. Then I was aware of it. She could go into the drugstore and site down and have a coke and I couldn’t because I was darker than she was.” 

Jasmine came to Crawfordsville in October of 1947 after she married Andy Robinson, a local fellow. It took no time before the difference in society was made clear. “I remember distinctly that when we moved here there was a Welcome Wagon…I am afraid they did not welcome us.” In addition, it was very difficult to find housing as whites would not rent to people of color. They found one apartment with a Black landlord; however, no children were allowed. As the couple were expecting their first child, it was a short-term solution. They found other housing through their church with an unused second floor space in a family home. Their next home was Andy’s father’s house. When forced to move again, a white friend suggested that perhaps they could build their own home. They applied to a local savings and loan and were denied, despite their excellent credit and job stability. When their friend heard of this, he went to the bank and, “…and after some strong persuasion they gave us a loan (laughs) and we built this house that we are now living in, in 1964.”

When asked about the sorts of jobs available to her she replied, “I hate to say this, but overt discrimination in employment was a general practice here. Employment opportunities apart from domestic and janitors were few, if any.” Jasmine continued that there was, “an unwritten law,” that Black women, “…were to be maids and the men were to be janitors.” Her first job here in town was at a restaurant, peeling vegetables. She worked at a nursery school and earned money sewing, which continued to be her passion throughout life.  

Paul asked her, “Did you ever feel treated as though you were not a person in these jobs?” She answered, “Some people respected me as a person and there were some who didn’t and in those instances I had to tune them out. I had to work, my husband’s paycheck was as small as mine…There were times when one would become depressed because you could not be yourself, you could not express what you felt with white people.” 

Jasmine continued to seek out opportunities to better her employment and took a class at the Indiana Business School in Lafayette. In the meantime, she continued her quest for a better paying job and despite being turned down at more than one local manufacturer, she was hired at Hoosier Crown, a company that made bottle caps. Asked how she was treated there, “I was the first Black woman to be employed by industry. I am sure management accepted me and I would like to believe most of the employees did also.”

Jasmine met Paul Mielke at an NAACP meeting here in town, she was among the founders of the local chapter in 1959. Paul mentioned that there would shortly be an opening in the Computer Center at Wabash. Jasmine elaborated, “I don’t know if I ever told you, but I really didn’t believe you (laughs). After eight months of employment at Hoosier Crown, you did contact me and offered me a job in the computer center at Wabash College. I came to Wabash in October 1963.” 

In another portion of the oral history, Mielke asked about her relationship with Black students, “I have tried to let them know that we are here, if there was a need that they could call on us. I tried to indicate that if there were dances, and the girls needed a place to stay, they could stay here.” There were dinners for all Black students at the Robinson home and so many conversations. Andy and Jasmine provided grounding and support.  

Jasmine loved music, especially jazz and often wished for an outlet for that music. Not one to sit idly by, wishing for change, she made it happen with a show on the College radio station called Cooking With Jazz where she played her favorite jazz tunes. A catchy name, it was later used as the title of her legendary cookbook featuring many of her best dishes, along with those of others.

[Editor’s note: A copy is held here in the Archives, but there is also one available for checkout from the Lilly Library.]

Not only could Jasmine “spin the platters” she was also an accomplished musician who played the organ for her church and was the Musical Director there for over 45 years.  

On the list of accomplishments must be her status as a championship bowler. Her love for bowling lasted a lifetime. She was a member of a group of Wabash women who competed on the national level. Jasmine kept bowling until she couldn’t but returned to the game in 2014 at the age of 87. Not surprising then that she was added to the local lanes’ Bowling Hall of Fame in 1988.  

A loving wife to Andy and devoted mother to her two children, Jasmine was an inspiration to anyone who met her. Her dazzling smile, elegant style and unbounded enthusiasm for life were clear for all to see. At Homecoming in 2007, the National Association of Wabash Men honored Jasmine Robinson for her service to the College and its students by naming her an Honorary Alumna, the highest honor they can bestow. In addition, the computer center in the Malcolm X Institute is named for her, as a nod to her groundbreaking career and the MXI instituted the Jasmine Robinson Pioneering Woman Award.  

In The Bachelor of March 24, 1988 Jasmine was the subject of a feature called “20 Questions: Jasmine Robinson” she was asked what was the best advice she ever received. Her answer was, “Never get too big to apologize.” Asked about her greatest ambition she answered, “I always wanted to be a counselor at a college or university.” Based on a lifetime of support, advocacy, and a loving outlook to so many young Wabash men, I would say that she surely achieved it.  

Godspeed Jasmine Robinson. 

All best,

Beth Swift 

Archivist 

Wabash College  


An unusual commencement – 1957

As I post this blog, we are in the midst of the corona virus lockdown. Many are the stories of loss, whether the loss of a job, loss of business, loss of things we never even thought about, and the greatest loss of all, loss of loved ones – neighbors, family and friends.

So much we’ve lost and yet we have found a great deal as well. The simple pleasures of a slower time. A time when there is nowhere to rush off to, when appointments and activities are on hold. We have found ways to connect and alternatives to in-person activities.  As Wabash prepares to celebrate its first ever virtual commencement, here is a story of another unusual graduation gleaned from past pages of The Bachelor.

At Wabash in the spring of 1957, the 125th of its existence, things were clicking along in fine fashion. Robert Minor Hurt of the class of ’57 had just been elected as President of his fraternity, Phi Delta Gamma. Hurt was also a popular member of the Speaker’s Bureau and a talented debater. When the fraternity gathered for its election of officers for the fall semester, it was odd that the president was absent. Some thought that perhaps he had gone to Indianapolis, where a recent storm had knocked out some phone lines. This, they thought, would explain his lack of contact. When Wednesday evening arrived and no word was received, Dave Orr [W1957] went to President Trippet to report Hurt missing.

The Phi Delts gathered to discuss possibilities and his friends, “…recalled that Pine Hills had been one of Hurt’s favorite spring study places.” A search party took off to check. Here is their report from The Bachelor of May 24, 1957.

“Student Posse Rescues Bob Hurt in Midnight Search of Forest Area

“Campus tragedy was averted early Thursday morning when a 100-man search and rescue party found Bob Hurt, Phi Delt senior missing for 36 hours, lying semi-conscious at the base of an 80-foot precipice at Pine Hills.

“Hurt, missing since mid-afternoon Tuesday, was found about midnight Wednesday by Joe Malott, Mike Cummings, Ron Rossie, and Dan Millar following the earlier discovery of his car abandoned in the rutted road leading into the secluded forest area.”

The riveting story of the search team follows as taken from The Bachelor and lightly edited:

Hurt Rescuers Relate Story

by Bill Morgan News Editor

(Printed below is the story told this writer by the search party that first reached Bob Hurt in Pine Hills, Wednesday night.)

“It was about 11:05 p.m. when eight of us and Phi Delt Faculty Adviser Ed Gullion got to Pine Hills. We pulled into a drive leading back into the woods but couldn’t go far in the car…the rains during the past twenty-four hours had made the ground too soft.

“We started walking up that muddy road – none of us really expecting to find Hurt. We’d only gone about twenty-five yards when Gabbert said, “There’s his car.” It was funny how calmly he said it…

The Search Begins

“We checked the inside of the car, and somewhat melodramatically peered into the trunk. There was no sign of violence, and no trace of Hurt. We decided to split up and start searching the woods – three of us would follow the road while the rest looked more carefully around the car. Gullion left us to phone back to the house that the car had been found.

“Since Cummings had been out there several times with Hurt, he knew where Bob usually went to study, and he led us [Malott and Millar] through the mist and the mud to that spot.

“Seeing no evidence of Hurt having been there, we waited for word from the rest of the group. The other five arrived within a few minutes and reported they’d found nothing around the car.

The Second Clue

“About 11:20 p.m. Hamer and Lodovisi spotted three footprints. On closer inspection we noticed a tree root sticking up out of the ground, a couple of sliding marks…and a cliff! It was a drop of 70-100 feet to the bottom, where we could see a stream of water. We couldn’t make out many other details from the top with our flashlights…Malott was ready to try to crawl down the side of the cliff to look…

“Cummings remembered a path a short way ahead that led down along the creek…So four of us went down to search. The other four stayed at the top of the cliff, where the footprints had been to guide us to the right spot with their flashlights.

“After following a winding trail to the bottom, we found that the path came to an end…We had to walk down the middle of the creek.

Search Ends

“Then as we approached the spot beneath the footprints, we heard a moaning sound. Three or four feet from the edge of the creek we spied Hurt. He was lying in a bed of stones. Marks in the mud indicated that he may have crawled – literally crawled – the three or four feet from the water’s edge to where he was now.

“When we got closer, we saw he was lying on his stomach – trying to prop himself up on his hands. He looked around. The glare of the flashlight was in his eyes…I don’t think he knew who we were right away.

“The first words we heard Hurt say were, “It seems that I’ve had a little accident.”…then after we told him our names, and got across to him that we were friends, he said: “Where have you guys been? What have you been doing?” He looked at his watch and said, “I haven’t been able to move for a long time.” The watch was still running.

Hurt’s Condition

“He was very pale and obviously in a state of severe shock. His skin was yellow. His eyes never closed…they gave us a glassy stare. When asked how he was, he said, “All right…” We asked where he hurt, and he complained only of his left knee.

“We could also see a deep cut above his left eyebrow, which he had apparently gotten during the fall…

“A couple of us looked around for some dry wood to build a fire…and finally got a small one going…using some handkerchiefs and a T-shirt to kindle it. We covered him with our coats and shirts to help keep him warm…but he still complained of his left leg being cold.

“He finally ‘came out of it’ enough to realize what was wrong with him: shock, a cut on his forehead, exposure, and his left leg. He insisted he hadn’t fallen…but he said he’d sprained his left leg and trying to favor it he hurt his right leg, too…He said he’d been trying to make a walking stick to help him get out. Hurt couldn’t explain the cut on his forehead, or why he’d been lying in the water – fully clothed.

Others Arrive

“Under Gullion’s direction we fashioned a make-shift stretcher of blankets and started carrying him back up the creek, and out the way we’d come.

“We’d moved him about 100 yards when (Athletic Trainer) Stebbins got there with a stretcher and his training kit. A conservation man with him said he knew an easier way out…but that we’d have to go back the other way.

B.K.T. Arrives

“About that time, President Trippet arrived on the scene, fully dressed in a suit, a cigarette in one hand, his overcoat over the other arm, his homburg tipped down over one side of his head – walking through two feet of water as casually as if taking a jaunt between Center Hall and the Chapel.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a calmer person in such an emergency…and a person with such a deep interest. He’d climbed and slid down the treacherous paths, waded down the middle of the creek, and announced that he was staying with Hurt ‘til they got him out.

Retreat

“By this time several more people – mostly students and county officials of some sort – had arrived, and we started carrying the stretcher back down the middle of the creek, up a hill, and out to the road. The whole trip back with the stretcher took us an hour or better.

“There wasn’t any path for us to follow most of the way…and I remember at one place the mosquitos were so thick you could grab a handful right out of the air. One of the fellows said he’d swallowed a couple. The ambulance was waiting at the road and we shifted Hurt from the stretcher to the ambulance cot, and they rushed him off to the hospital.

“I glanced at my watch…It was shortly after 2 a.m. – the three longest hours any of us had spent were ended.”

Here is a summary of Hurt’s condition, again from that same issue:

“Hurt’s injuries include a fractured left kneecap, fractured left hip, slight fracture of the pelvis, partial collapse of the right lung, and miscellaneous cuts, scrapes and bruises. At the time of his rescue, he was in a state of severe shock from which he has now emerged.

“On Thursday, he was given blood transfusions and oxygen, and fed intravenously.”

The paper carried a bulletin from Culver noting that Hurt was conscious, but in critical condition and stating that no visitors were allowed.

The story continues in the June 6, 1957 edition.

“The black academic dress of the commencement procession was mingled with the white clothes of hospital employees this morning when Bob Hurt, still convalescing from his May 22 fall, received his B.A. degree from his bed in Culver Hospital.

“The special ceremonies took place at 9:45 a.m. this morning with President B.K. Trippet, Dean B. A. Rogge, and Dr. J. Crawford Polley, Secretary of the Faculty, officiating. Also attending were Hurt’s parents.

“The presentation was parallel to that just given the class during the regular commencement.

“Hurt was also elected to Phi Beta Kappa and received his certificate and was initiated at the time of the special commencement by Dr. Trippet, a past president of the society.”

One can imagine the relief of all of Wabash to have found this young man, rescued him and watched his recovery. An unconventional commencement with a happy ending. One hopes for the same as we prepare to graduate the class of 2020 via modern technology with hopes that all may return to campus in the future for a proper celebration of their achievements.

All best,

Beth Swift

Archivist

Wabash College

Crawfordsville, Indiana


Apollo 13 M.D.

This is the iconic picture of the three astronauts of Apollo 13 from left-right Fred Haise, Jim Lovell and Jack Swigert aboard the Navy rescue ship Iwo Jima. Taken just after splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on April 17, 1970. Picture from JSC/NASA.

While working from home during this time of the great shutdown, I was interested to hear that this month marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission. We so loved the movie Apollo 13 and watched it a number of times, including again this past weekend. My husband’s family has members who have served NASA as well. We are a family of space folk. However, my true delight came in remembering one of Wabash’s most loyal sons and his part in the Apollo 13 drama.

The picture above is that iconic shot of the three weary fellows just coming off their retrieval helicopter. And see that face in the red circle just behind Fred Haise’s waving arm? That is Wabash man, and for many years Wabash’s doctor, Keith Baird [W1956].

Keith graduated from high school in Evansville and came to Wabash before leaving to join the Army.  Following basic training he was posted to the Korean theater during that war. When his hitch was up, he returned to Wabash where he was a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. After graduation in 1956, Keith entered the Indiana University Medical School. Dr. Baird served his residency in Iowa. When that was completed he returned to Crawfordsville and entered family practice here. In a bold move, Keith went to work for Grumman Aircraft on Long Island, the company that manufactured the Apollo Lunar Module. It was through this connection that Dr. Baird went to NASA to serve on their medical staff.

In February of 2011, Keith gave a chapel talk recounting that time in his life. Here is a link to that talk: https://youtu.be/81PbaEGf5V8

As readers of a certain age will remember, the splashdown of the Apollo astronauts was always a big thrill. To know that a Wabash man was on the scene only makes the delight that much richer. If you haven’t watched Apollo 13 in a few years, I most highly recommend it. A great movie celebrating the achievement of science and man’s quest to reach for the stars.

All best,

Beth Swift

Archivist, Wabash College

Crawfordsville, Indiana


Crawfordsville Streetscape – circa 1910

This old postcard shows us East Main Street in downtown Crawfordsville. To place this the picture into modern Crawfordsville, the building at front left is now occupied by the Little Mexico restaurant. If we could walk into the right side of the image and turn to our right, we would be staring at the old Bank Cigar Store. The building on the right with the two horses and carriage out front is now the Four Seasons Market.

Perhaps the most notable feature of this picture is the set of railroad tracks running down the middle of the street. These tracks were for the Interurban railway which ran multiple times daily to and from Indianapolis.

If we were to walk into the photo and away from the viewer to the first intersection that is at Main and Green Street. What is interesting is that on three of the four corners (northeast, northwest and southwest) those buildings are all gone. One was lost to a massive fire, one was pulled down to build a new building [the bright and shiny “new” Elston Bank] and the third, the old Crawford Hotel, to a lack of care which resulted in its demolition.

However, the block on the left or southeast side is still as it was at this time. It has not been moved or over restored. It is still standing and we hope it stays that way a good long time!

All best,

Beth Swift, Archivist

Wabash College

Crawfordsville, Indiana


Gone and [Mostly] Forgotten

Campus Power House

This is a picture of the Power House at Wabash from 1885. This was located on the area we now call the Mall. It sat about where the flag pole is today and the view is as if we are standing in front of Lilly Library looking east. The building we can see in the background is Peck Hall, located on the future site of Waugh Hall, now Hays Hall of Science.

It is only fitting that we can see Peck Hall in the background as the Power House was built specifically to power the scientific and electrical machines of the new Peck Hall. This scientific building was home to chemistry and what we now call physics, but which was then known as natural philosophy.

An additional, and we have to suppose greatly appreciated, function was as the heating plant for the college. The boiler replaced the sooty coal stoves in Center Hall. Here is a brief description of the photograph written by Harry Lebo. He was the entirety of Campus Services for many decades. When the old boiler went fritzy, Lebo could coax it back into action.

This building and the smokestack were demolished and new ones built further south on campus, behind the Chapel, where they stand today.

Peck Hall was a very modern building in its time. It was the brainchild of John Lyle Campbell, a Wabash alumnus, scientist, and professor. Campbell served as Secretary to the Centennial Exhibition of 1876, the giant world’s fair in Philadelphia that attracted more than 10 million visitors. As a result of his participation, Professor Campbell returned to Wabash with miraculous new technology—Edison’s electric light. Campbell demonstrated that technology with a show of lights in the east campus [now the Arboretum] that amazed the population. This was made possible by the machines in the Power House.

The headline of this article implies most do not know of this building. A true statement aside from those students who took Dr. Leslie Day’s archeology class in the 1990s. This group dug at the site and found a few old things. Still, most members of the Wabash community don’t know of this previous use of that location.

Peck Hall was demolished just after WWII and replaced with Waugh Hall which was demolished and replaced with Hays Hall. Wabash College is constantly changing and the alteration of this area is a perfect example of the march of progress.

All best,

Beth Swift

Archivist, Wabash College

Crawfordsville, Indiana.


Campus circa 1880s

This is a Sanborn fire map from the late 1870s. These maps were used by insurance companies to rate the fire hazards of a building. What is great about these maps is that they tell us a lot about a particular building, what it is made of and also how it was heated.

If you have ever wondered about your neighborhood in the past, these Sanborn fire maps are a real treasure trove of information.

I hope you enjoy this old map and to help you get your bearings, I have added notes about each location shown. For instance the building on the left about midway is Forest Hall, which is described as “Boarding” as it was then used as a boarding house for students. This also shows the first of three locations of Forest on this campus. It was purchased by Caleb Mills and moved to his land near campus from its original location overlooking Sugar Creek. Mills later donated it to the College.

The building located on the left, at bottom and labelled “Museum” is the old Polytechnic building which was repurposed as the Hovey Museum. Roughly on the spot where our Amory/Gymnasium is today.

In the middle of what we now call The Mall is a power plant which was built to power the machinery in Peck Hall, home to physics [natural philosophy as it was called then] and Chemistry.

As to a date on this map, we know it is post 1872 as it shows the wings of Center Hall, completed by 1872. We also know that Peck Hall went up in 1878, so it is later than that. The map is older than 1890 as that is when Yandes [now Detchon] was completed.

All best,

Beth Swift

Archivist

Wabash College

Crawfordsville, Indiana


President Thaddeus Seymour – gone, but not forgotten…

Seymour leaving commencement holding the Caleb Mills bell. The ringing in as freshmen and ringing out as graduates is a tradition created by Seymour. This tradition was prompted by the discovery of the Bell during his tenure here at Wabash.

In late October we received word that former president Thad Seymour had passed. As I read the news I was sad, it seemed like something vital was gone from the world.

To be clear, although my husband’s family knew the Seymours quite well, I had never met Thad Seymour in person. It was only as Archivist that I interacted with him. Still, he had a way of making everyone feel like they mattered to him.

Seymour leading his iconic “Give me a W” cheer.

Thaddeus Seymour was immensely popular with the student body. Shown here in the midst of his famous cheer during football season, Seymour could really bring the crowd to life. It is interesting to me that in nearly all of the pictures that we have of him, he is almost always in motion. I came to have a sense of him as a fellow who embraced life to its fullest.

The first contact I had with him was in connection with some items he wanted to send to the Archives. From there we continued an irregular, but always delightful, correspondence. He kept an eye on Wabash, utilizing new media like a digital native. In one instance when I posted about Wabash cancelling classes for the blizzard of 1977, it drew a swift reply.  Here is the post that drew him in: https://blog.wabash.edu/dearoldwabash/2014/02/06/winter-hardy/.

Seymour reads a selection from a volume of James B. Elmore’s poems.

Among the things that Seymour will be remembered for is a warm appreciation for autumn’s most beautiful day. Ask any former student what they most remember about President Seymour’s time here and they are likely to tell you that it is Elmore Day. Thad Seymour was bothered that there was no fall break scheduled for Wabash men. To rectify this, Seymour came up with Elmore Day. This holiday was named for Montgomery County’s most famous, and least admired, poet James B. Elmore, known to history as the Bard of Alamo.  

On some beautiful day in the fall, President Seymour would wake up and declare that day was Elmore Day. Classes were cancelled and students were encouraged to get outside and make the most of it. Back on campus, Seymour would read from the Bard’s works.

Here is a sample of Elmore’s immortal work:

In the spring of the year, when the blood is too thick,
there’s nothing so rare as a sassafras stick.
It strengthens the liver and cleans up the heart,
and to the whole system new life doth impart.
Sassafras, oh sassafras, thou art the stuff for me!
And in the spring I love to sing, sweet sassafras, of thee.

Here Seymour entertains a small group of students
on Elmore Day at Wabash College.

The students loved it while most of the faculty did not, as it threw off exam and lab schedules. Seymour himself noted that one of the first changes when he left here in 1978 was the end of  Elmore Day. A pre-scheduled fall break was substituted.

Seymour left Wabash and went to head Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. There he found that there was a similar holiday, no longer celebrated, Fox Day. Here is a short blurb from the Rollins College web site. “The savvy fox found his way back to campus in 1979, during Thaddeus Seymour’s administration (1978-1990). Seymour said, ‘When I was president of Wabash College in Indiana, we had a similar day called Elmore Day. It was very natural to me, and I believe any sensible college should have a day like this.’ So the popular Fox Day was reinstated and continues today. “

This picture, a large copy of which hangs in the 1832 Brew in the Library, was taken in 1974 on Elmore Day. When the picture first went up, I sent President Seymour an email with a few questions about the car. He responded quickly that this classic is an old family car – a 1929 Packard Phaeton convertible. He told me that it was still in the family and still running.

Seymour spent his retirement years seemingly everywhere at once, volunteering and working to make his adopted town in Florida better and better. Here are two links that highlight just a sliver of this good work. The first link is to a story on National Public Radio about driving and aging. Coming home from work one day ten years ago I heard this NPR piece. Needless to say I was stunned as I was listening to Thad Seymour talking about driving older folks to their appointments in Florida!  

https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120537339 Seymour’s portion starts at 9:19.

https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120537339

Our last email exchange was in May of this about Thaddeus Seymour, Jr.’s installation as acting president at the University of Central Florida. A proud father, Thad sent along this link to his son’s first commencement. https://twitter.com/ucf/status/1128439850057682944?s=11

Thad Seymour in Chapel during his last visit to campus several years ago.

Thad Seymour was many things, husband, father, dean, president of two colleges and magician, he was also just a little bit larger than life. For the nine years that he headed Wabash, Seymour engaged with the students in such a close personal way that they bestowed upon him a loving title, full of respect and admiration – “Dad Thad”. I note simply that it is always said with warmth and humor – which seems to me a fitting tribute.

All best,

Beth Swift

Archivist

Wabash College

Crawfordsville, Indiana


Tin Pan Alley hitmaker

As Archivist of Wabash College I am forever surprised by the stories I encounter of our alumni. Truly, these good men pop up all over the world and in all sorts of interesting professions. This post is yet another story, new to me, and full of interesting information. Lee Orean Smith was the son of a local merchant and a member of the Class of 1895. His father was Robert C. Smith who was a druggist here in Crawfordsville. Some readers may remember the old Gold and Blue drugstore, later Joe’s Market and the College Street Deli on South Water Street near the old CHS. Lee attended Wabash as a student in the preparatory department, as did many local fellows. However, Smith did not stay at Wabash, but transferred to DePauw to study music. Now before we get too excited, it was simply because Wabash did not offer the classes he needed to pursue his life’s ambition. In the early 1890’s Wabash did not offer classes in either music or art. I mention these two areas as Lee Smith was an incredibly talented fellow who excelled at both.

So talented, Lee could have made a living as an artist/illustrator. Here are several scans of his artwork, taken from the Ouiatenons of 1893 and ’94.

This first page is all Smith, he drew the header and the footer and a closer look at the central portion of the page shows us the Wabash College gymnasium and athletic field. Historically accurate down to the small sketch of Forest Hall just to the right of the goal posts. Forest was moved around campus a bit before settling in its current location. Here is a closer look.

 

 

The most delightful aspect of these drawings are their whimsy and tremendous detail. Each of his sketches are exceedingly clever, and more so the more time is spent with them.  The next image was drawn for the page of the NHS and features a cow, a horse, ten owls nicely line up on a branch and a budding scientist is napping under the tree. Just below that is a banner for the odds and ends page. Again his wit shines through in the miscellaneous items he sketched in the barrel, and out of it.

Perhaps his most impressive Ouiatenon sketch was the one above created for the baseball section. His work really brought this annual, published by the Junior class, to a higher level. But my personal favorite is this little section of a larger page. Is that him by the fire? In a photocopied picture of him, he is sporting quite the handlebar mustache, as was the fashion at that time. I believe that it is a sketch of the artist, plucking away at his guitar, warmed by the fire.

All of this artwork aside, Smith’s chosen passion was music. Smith’s father, Robert was an extremely talented musician who played with several local groups. It was said at this time that the Crawfordsville Orchestra was equal to any in the Midwest. Often Lee would also play with various bands in town. It is clear that music came second nature to him. He played the violin, viola, cello in his father’s orchestra and, lest we doubt his talent, in the town band he played in the brass section on whatever instrument was most needed. He left Wabash and enrolled in the DePauw Conservatory, where he completed their coursework in record time. After graduating from DPU, he taught music for a time in Indianapolis. He found that teaching was, “too slow for him…” according to an article from the Metronome magazine of March, 1932. Smith’s response was to take work as an orchestra conductor, “…in every city in the country of over 5,000 in population, waving the stick for concert, musical comedy, light and grand opera for some fifteen years.” Smith traveled until he decided he had traveled enough and wanted to settle down. It was at this point that Lee Orean Smith truly found his calling, as a composer of music. Here are several scans of his sheet music that we have here in the Archives.

In all, Smith wrote music and/or lyrics for several hundred published songs. As a part of expert testimony in a copyright case in 1917 Smith said his output to that point was in the neighborhood of four or five hundred songs, the majority of which were published. As Smith continued to work in Tin Pan Alley for at least another couple of decades, it is sure that his body of work runs to even higher numbers. Some pieces were published under an alias as we see in the piece below.

Down in the bottom right corner there is an autograph. Here is a closeup of that inscription. It says, “Compliments of the composer Lee Orean Smith (Leopold Lamont).”

A tremendously talented fellow with an amazing body of work. While researching for this post, I came across a sound clip of one of his songs. It reminded me of the music one might hear on an old-fashioned merry-go-round. It may be hard for us to process an appreciation of the importance of sheet music in the time before tv and the internet, even before radio. This was a time when there was a piano in most parlors and fun was had by playing and singing along to these hits out of New York’s Tin Pan Alley.  A composer as prolific as Smith was quite well known. Here is a link where you can hear one of his pieces.

https://adp.library.ucsb.edu/index.php/talent/detail/41035/Smith_Lee_Orean_composer

Lee Orean Smith was a very talented man with a tremendous body of work in the musical arena, isn’t it nice too, to see his artistic talent. Truly it seems that whatever Lee touched he excelled at. Truly a great Wabash story!

All best,

Beth Swift

Archivist

Wabash College

 

 

 

 

 


A life of service – Some Little Giant!

The men of Wabash are leaving their mark on the world in so many ways. One of the best ways is when they work to improve their community. Many are the alums who volunteer, lead important initiatives or in other ways model their commitment to the Wabash motto which is to educate men to think critically, act responsibly, lead effectively, and live humanely. The subject of this piece lived his life in just this fashion.

 

This is Spilman’s plane in a field south of town, photo from a piece in the Indianapolis Star of May 5, 1974, written by Spilman.

Louis Spilman entered Wabash in 1916 as a graduate of Crawfordsville High School. He left college when America entered the Great War, training as a pilot. Spilman trained in Indianapolis and at the age of 19 was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Army air forces. Having been certified to fly, he borrowed a plane from the base and in a stunt designed to heighten attendance at a local bond rally, Spilman flew into history. Planes of this era had no hi-tech navigational equipment, to fly directly to Crawfordsville, Spilman followed the Interurban rail tracks from Indy to town. It was this plane, piloted by Louis that was the first airplane to land in Crawfordsville. This was early in aviation and the plane and its pilot were a big deal at the time.

This photo from the same piece, as above, in the Indianapolis Star of May 5, 1974 and written by Spilman.

The stunt served its purpose well and created quite a show in the field south of town. Spilman reveled in the cheers, then offered to take those who were willing for a short ride in his plane. As we might suppose, not many wanted to fly, but among those who stepped right up was Emily Jane Moon of Crawfordsville. Here is a great photo of the two of them on that day. So young and full of joy.

It reads like a plot from an old B movie, but Louis and Emily were married and, true to their vows, it was until “death do us part.” They moved to Virginia where for several decades Spilman owned and ran a newspaper called the Waynesboro News-Virginian. His two sons are Wabash men and in his weekly column, Spillman often wrote about the Little Giants of Wabash. What is even more interesting, he named the local school team the Little Giants as well. Seems Louis was quite an influential fellow in his adopted hometown. He is described as “…influential in securing funding for the construction of Waynesboro High School…” So much so that the city school named its auditorium after him.

Yes, Louis Spilman gave back to his town, but he never forgot his Alma Mater. And while few might remember this jaunty fellow, the men of the Stagg Bowl team have a lasting token of his love for Old Wabash in the rings he made possible with his generous gift in 1978.  Wabash noted his accomplishments with an honorary degree in 1980. Here is the thing with this good man, he is one of thousands of good men Wabash has turned out over its history. Every day they get up, go to work, support their families, give back to their community and lend a hand where needed. They think critically, act responsibly, lead effectively, and live humanely. Or, as we like to say around here, they are SOME LITTLE GIANTS!

Beth Swift

Archivist

Wabash College


Campus Scenes circa 1920

This post features several photographs from the John Parrett Collett scrapbook which he created while a student at Wabash in the early 1920s. Collett, class of 1924, attended Wabash during the roaring 20s and his scrapbook gives us a good bit of insight on his time here at Wabash. Collett came from a long line of Wabash men and pledged the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. In his scrapbook he carefully pasted in Bachelor articles regarding sporting events, dance cards and more. Luckily for us, this scrapbook also includes photographs of campus at that time.

For this picture of old Center Hall above, I have highlighted a couple of features no longer in place. The first is in the foreground of the red box and is the college drinking fountain – now an obscure planter west of the Chapel. The second item, no longer there, is the Junior Fence. This fence was erected not long after the senior bench was dedicated. The fence was removed for the construction of Waugh Hall following the second world war.

Above is another picture which includes Center Hall. This one I love for the fellows ambling along to class, perhaps in Peck Hall or perhaps they are off to Yandes Library for a bit of studying.

This is Peck Hall, named for its donor. In this building pictured above generations of Wabash men learned chemistry and physics. It was taken down to build Waugh Hall, which is now the site of Hays Hall of the Sciences. Hays Hall replaced Waugh Hall as the home of Biology and Chemistry. It was named Hays in honor of Thomas Alvin Hays [W1955]. Hays, a member of the Board of Trustees since 1985, spearheaded the Campaign for Leadership which provided the funds to erect this building.

This photo was taken in the Arboretum [east part of campus] looking out toward Wabash Avenue. To get a feel for the location, the red square encloses the Herron House, a brick landmark with a tower, just across from campus. Just to the left is the future site of Trippet Hall.

This might be my favorite picture of the bunch! It is of the Grant/Wabash corner. I especially like the brick of Grant Street.

Lastly, there is this picture of the Class of 1924 taken during their freshman year. Collett is highlighted right in the middle of the group. John P. Collett loved Wabash College. As a student he was heavily involved on campus including as Editor in Chief of the 1924 yearbook, President of the Wabash Pan-Hellenic Council, Bachelor staffer, very active with debating, a member of the Wabash Players – a theater club and forerunner of the Scarlet Masque, a member of the Student Council and President of the Law Club among may other activities. Beginning in 1939, Collett served Wabash as a member of the Board of Trustees. From 1965-1975 he was President of the Board. For several decades, John Parrett Collett served Wabash well, with this donation of his student scrapbook, his family adds to his contributions by giving us a look at student life for the “Hell-Roaring 500” as the student body of that time came to be known. A real treasure for the Archives, and one we are delighted to share!

All best,

Beth Swift

Archivist

Wabash College



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