Calling All Call Outs

The first week of school featured a couple hundred email notes about things lost and things found, things for sale and things to be had for free… if you were quick enough.

Week two of the school year has featured an abundance of “call outs.” Depending on your mood, you could theoretically attend as many as 20 call out meetings for various groups on campus — all in one week.

In the last week you could, if you wanted, attend intro sessions for — and this is a partial list — Acoustic Cafe, Wabash Conservative Union, The Bachelor, The Wabash, College Democrats, the Dork Club, Newman Club, sh’OUT, Cycling Club, Volleyball Club, The Caveman, Outdoorsman/Bass Club, Ultimate Disc Club (didn’t it used to be Frisbee?), Wabash Cooking Club, Spanish Club, German Club, Biology Society, Society of Physics Students, Cigar and Pipe Club, Crew Club, Wabash Christian Men, Glee Club, Spanish Club, Wamidan, and the Freestyle Wrestling Club.

You could also sign up for music lessons and could apply for about two-dozen decent ESH jobs, if you were so inclined.

I’m thinking about having a call out for a Call Out Club. First thing on the agenda for my new club would be to think of other thing to have call outs for.

I almost attended the call out for the Martial Arts Club until I realized that my morning caffeine hadn’t yet kicked in. I got confused and thought it said m-a-r-i-t-a-l arts club, and figured I might get some tips on being a better husband. As it turns out, I’m too old for Kung Fu and, well, probably too old to learn new tricks for being a better husband. So I didn’t attend that call out.

The Modern Languages Department stole some bandwidth and bulletin board space with announcements for its kickoff picnic Thursday night. I don’t speak a lick of German, French, or Spanish, but I could smell the hog roasting from a mile away. So I went and took a few photos. I talked with Jane Hardy for a while, then shot some more pictures. And since it was such a nice evening, I shot still more photos.

Not to be outdone, the Physics Department lured its current and prospective majors and minors with a cookout of its own. As I walked out of my office, I could see grill smoke across the campus. Of course, I figured cookout meant it would be OUTside, but I quickly discovered the action was inside, where there was fire and shattering glass. Think I’m kidding? Click here to see for yourself.

So instead of hitting the instant delete button on your computer the next time you see “Call Out” in the subject line, take a closer look. As soon as the calendar clears up a bit, there will be a call out for the Call Out Club. You won’t want to miss it. And if I can get the Bio Society guys to help out, we might just cook up something really cool! Oh wait, I meant Cooking Club!

Who said there’s nothing to do in Crawfordsville?

President White Explains Planning Process

Howard W. Hewitt – Wabash College’s strategic planning was put into perspective Thursday after President Patrick White gave the first Chapel Talk of the new school year.

“We often say we stand on the shoulders of Little Giants before us, but if all we do is look down we might not see clearly and we might fall,” the President said in outlining plans.

White announced he would create a President’s Student Advisory Committee to the large crowd of Wabash men gathered for his talk. The Committee will advise the president throughout the year and provide input to the strategic plan.†

President White also announced he would ask 40 members of the faculty and staff to join committees to work on various areas of the new plan. He hopes to deliver the strategic plan to Wabash College Trustees during their May, 2008, meeting.

“All colleges do plans,” White said. “But some do plans out of necessity. We have the fortune of planning from a position of strength.”

White noted the first-week census counted 917 students – perhaps Wabash’s largest-ever enrollment. He noted the endowment is strong with more than $380 million and the completion of a very successful annual fund drive.”

The strategic planning will go hand-in-hand with a master plan on campus facilities, White said. But he warned the students not to think of strategic planning as a boring exercise, but a chance to have a hand in shaping the College’s future.

“This may sound technical and dry, but it’s very, very important work. You as students must help us. It’s the men and women in the Chapel today who must carry Wabash forward. We’re Little Giants when we stand tall, but we’re Little Giants even more when we see far.”

Hear White’s full Chapel Talk by clicking on this Podcast.

Dean of Students Tom Bambrey will give the Sept. 6 Chapel Talk.

Johnson Tribute Demonstrates Depth of Wabash Relationships

Jim Amidon — Even though I’ve been around Wabash College for a very long time, it still surprises me how quickly things get rolling around here when school begins. Seems like yesterday that students reported to campus, but when I look at the calendar I get the sense we’re in mid-semester.

College — like every aspect of our lives — can often be brutally over scheduled.

In addition to football and soccer scrimmages, the cross country team hosted its annual Charlie Finch Memorial Alumni Meet Saturday, and in doing so welcomed scores of alumni who returned to say farewell to their former coach, Rob Johnson.

Click here to see photos from the tribute.

Coach Johnson, who has led the cross country program since 1972, stepped aside this year to allow Roachdale native Roger Busch, a 1996 Wabash graduate and multiple All-American runner, to take the reins of the distance running program.

While Johnson will continue to coach the indoor and outdoor track teams, the outpouring of love and affection for what he’s meant to his cross country runners was the theme of a special tribute that followed the alumni race.

Greg Birk ’77 (with Coach, below) did most of the event planning for the tribute. He called and wrote dozens of cross country alums from across the U.S. and urged them return in honor of Coach Johnson.

Why so much love for a coach? Because win or lose, Coach Johnson has always been true to his student-athletes. He has high expectations of them, but he doesn’t hold their hands or pound his chest with loud motivational speeches. Coach Johnson is beloved because he gets it; he gets Wabash and helps his athletes focus on the big picture that is their future.

“I’ve probably coached more doctors, lawyers, and CEOs than anybody in the country,” is usually how Johnson introduces himself to people who don’t know him or Wabash College.

Note: He never mentions how many All-Americans he’s coached , which is what I mean when I say, “he gets it.”

So while the packed first weekend schedule did catch me a bit off guard, the love the alumni runners showed for their coach does not. That’s the kind of place Wabash is. It’s a college that is made stronger by the intensity and depth of the relationships and connections that are forged here.


Jim Amidon — About a week ago, Chris and I took our daughter to “meet the teacher” night at her new school. With system-wide reorganization fully implemented, we shifted from Hose to Nicholson and I actually found myself lost in the maze of hallways that at Hose I found so familiar.

How sad is it that I had to stop to ask for directions in an elementary school?

Sammie, a third grader, had some anxiety about the new school, too. I told her that every student in the city who had to shift schools probably had the same feeling. Our kids are working through new teachers, schools, cafeterias, gyms, hallways, and routines.

“Seems more strict,” Sammie told me after the second day of school. I reminded her that she said the same thing after her first day at Hose.

“Did I say that,” she asked.


Then, on Thursday, I laughed out loud when I went to pick her up from school. Never knew Honda equipped its cars with autopilot until I was halfway to Hose, only to realize my daughter wasn’t there. Then, once I got to Nicholson, I went the wrong way and got backwards in the pick-up loop.

Many of us who are parents are working through new routines, too, though I firmly believe our children will transition much easier and more quickly than any of us will.

The whole new school/new routine thing took on new meaning for me when I sat in the Wabash College Chapel on Saturday listening to Dean Steve Klein and President Pat White talking to the 250 new freshmen and their families. It’s a one-hour rite of passage we call the “Ringing In Ceremony.”

President White was reassuring in his comments to parents in a way only a father who has been there and done that can be. When he told parents that their sons were in good hands, he spoke from experience. He’s been through the process once as Wabash’s president, but can also fall back on the experience of having sent his three children to college.

Still, I don’t think many parents in the crowd were really listening to him. Their eyes might have been fixed on the podium, but my hunch is that their minds were drifting back into memory. They had to be thinking, “Wasn’t it just yesterday when we took him — with back pack and Star Wars lunch box — to elementary school?”

Instead of seeing President White, most folks were seeing images of skinned knees and touchdown catches, while remembering the heartbreak their sons felt when girlfriends dumped them or the anxiety they felt when they handed their sons the car keys for the first time.

Some of the dads in the crowd were smiling and beaming with pride at the fact their sons are attending a fine college with an excellent reputation, a college for men, no less.

Many of the moms were wiping tears from their eyes, no doubt sad that their little boys are, well, no longer little boys.

There’s a lot of emotion packed into that one hour. It’s essentially the time when parents realize their sons are on their own with all the joy, fear, and anxiety that brings.

I can only imagine.

When the ceremony had concluded and President White had rung the Caleb Mills Bell, reality settled in for both parents and students. I felt a wave of emotion come over me as I watched moms hold on a little longer when they hugged their sons and kissed them goodbye. Through the tears of sadness came a sparkle of pride and a sense that everything is going to be okay.

By this morning, those same moms are dying to speed-dial their sons’ cell phones. They will, I hope, know not to do it. They’ll learn quickly enough that Wabash men need a little space, a little time. And those same sons, now Wabash men, will do well not to call home too often, especially at first.

While I’ve never dropped off a child at college, I’ve watched it 25 times here at Wabash. And I can say with some deal of certainty that everything will be okay.

After all, our children adapt and adjust to transitions far better than their parents.

An Awful but Essential Lesson

Steve Charles—Wabash junior Nathan Rutz gave up his usual summer job at the camp where his family vacations to spend a month in a ramshackle house with a group of other young men and women trying to help the people of West Virginia save a part of their state from being literally blown from the map.

This internship with the Coal River Mountain Watch—part of a program called “Mountain Justice Summer” which seeks to end the practice of “mountaintop removal” coal mining and the damage it’s doing to people, communities, and the environment in the Appalachians—changed Nathan’s life.

It’s my job to chronicle such teachable moments. So when Nathan offered to show me around after his internship was over, I picked him up in Cincinnati and we headed for Whitesville, WV.

The folks he’d worked with greeted him with hugs. One of the researchers noted how Nathan’s “willingness to roll up his sleeves and do what needed to be done” had been a morale booster for the group. And listening to Nathan talk about the people in the Whitesville community he’d gotten to know, to enjoy, and to respect, I understood why he’d become so dedicated to this work.

But it was our trip up Kayford Mountain, to a place they call “the Gates of Hell,” that really opened my eyes to Nathan’s transformation.

He’ll articulate this all better than I in the next issue of Wabash Magazine, but here’s a moment from my own experience on the mountain that I’ll never forget:

Nathan was showing me the graveyard where the family of the mountain’s owner, Larry Gibson, are buried. He recalled Larry teaching him to walk between the headstones, never on a grave itself. This mountain is sacred ground to Gibson, who was born here in the 1950s when the family owned 500 acres. He returned in the 1980s when coal companies had acquired all but 50 acres of that land.

You can see what mining has done with that acquisition in some of the photos I took that day. Kayford Mountain is torn apart and surrounded by devastation, the top of the nearby mountains blown apart, the rumble and clanging of D9 bulldozers and the barks of diesel dump trucks the constant soundscape.

Nathan pointed across a the now desert-like valley to a mountain that looked like it had been given a mohawk.

“That’s another family cemetery,” Nathan said of the narrow band of remaining trees. He said that the mining companies weren’t allowed to surface mine cemeteries, so they had tunneled underneath this one. Some of the graves had fallen in.

A few minutes later I met Larry Gibson, the man they call “the keeper of the mountain,” and I asked him if, after years of protesting, testifying before the state legislature and Congress, and spending time in jail for acts of civil disobedience—after seeing 250 of West Virginia’s mountains destroyed by mountaintop removal mining—he still had hope that he could stop it. What I didn’t know was that only a few days earlier, 12 more grave sites on the mountain had been destroyed by mining.

“I couldn’t keep doing this if I didn’t have hope. You have to have hope.”

An note of anger rose in his voice.

”But they’ll never get this part of the mountain. This is my foothold. They’ll never get that cemetery. They’ll never get my home.”

I’ll never think of coal as “cheap energy” again.

Last summer, Nathan had a front row seat to an American tragedy of our own making, and he took the stage to try to stop it from getting any worse. He has seen mining companies and government let it all happen, seen the economic dilemma in which the people of the region find themselves trapped. He has watched a state disregard its natural and cultural heritage and put it’s own children at risk (read about Marsh Fork Elementary School) so the rest of us can keep the lights on—awful lessons but essential ones if one is to learn to live, as Wabash insists, “to live humanely in a difficult world.”

Nathan’s story will appear in the Fall 2007 issue of Wabash Magazine. Here’s a photo album from my time with him. It was, thanks to Nathan, the most teachable moment I’ve experienced in my time at Wabash.