Teaching and Learning Outside the Classroom

Kim Johnson – I was at the Boys and Girls Club one evening last week to watch my neighbors’ four-year-olds play soccer. I took my camera – it’s pretty much become my right hand – and consider it my privilege to be able to photograph the kids and then pass the pictures on to mom and dad.

I arrived about halfway through the “practice” session. The kids practice for thirty minutes followed by a thirty minute “game.” I immediately recognized the coach because I had just seen him last weekend in “A Flea in Her Ear.” The young man was Christian Krenk ’10.

It’s not every day I see a young man interacting with kids the way Christian was. With five four-year-olds running amuck, picking at each other, two going in one direction with the ball, two more the other, and one standing in the middle of the field taking off his clothes, Christian was patiently rounding up his troops and doing his best to teach them a few fundamentals of soccer.

It was obvious Christian loves soccer and thoroughly enjoyed being around the budding players. And it was even more obvious the kids loved him being there. They were hanging on is every word (sometimes literally hanging on him) and despite the fact the other team scored every time down the mini-field, he had them cheering each time they came back to the huddle so he could “draw up another play in the sand.”

I’m sure Christian is learning just as much as the kids through this experience but in a world in desperate need of positive male role models, it was nice to see this Wabash man stepping up to the plate!

Art Class Takes to Waters of Sugar Creek

Howard W. Hewitt – A lot of creativity, some engineering, and the pressure of a class final culminated Thursday with a cardboard raft race down Sugar Creek.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Art Joe Gower gave his students a fun project with serious objectives. See photo album here.

“The Great Cardboard Regatta is the final project for the Art 121 Intro to 3D Design class.” Gower said. “It’s purpose is to have the students work in collaborative groups and to utilize the skills learned from previous assignments to make a boat that can support at least one member of it’s team and float a 200 meter course down the Sugar Creek.”

All five boats made it from the launch point at Clements Canoes to a bend in the creek, perhaps 100 yards away. Three “prizes” were awarded. The team of Alex Carr, Ian Starnes and Gabriel Stancu won the race. Art Professor Doug Calisch judged the “most aesthetic” category and handed the trophy to the same group for their spaceship design.

The other winner was the Batman-themed entry of Mike Scott, Jake Huston and Stephan Mosier. Gower had me choose that winner. I based my choice on their carrying out the theme with full costumes.

“Each boat must be made out of only cardboard, tape, glue, and one 4’x4’x2″ sheet of insulation foam,” Gower explained. “Each team is given a particular time period in which
their design has to relate. The project is graded on three criteria: functional design, aesthetic design, and participation as a collaborative group.”

Gower thanked Clement’s Canoe for use of lifejackets and oars.

In photo: Starnes holds up the coveted first-place trophy.

Ford Delivers Final Chapel Talk

Wabash College’s fourteenth president, Andy Ford, spoke at the final Chapel Talk of the year. Much of the audience was made up of seniors who were anxious to hear the president that rang them in as freshmen speak one last time. Click here to listen to the podcast.

President Ford began by explaining he doesn’t really like to speak in public but was persuaded by the Sphinx Club to make an appearance in the Chapel he hadn’t spoken in since Baccalaureate 2006.

“It’s good to be back,” he said.

“Freshmen, remember the first time going home after you started here? It looked the same but felt different. Finally you realize you are what’s different,” Ford stated. “I feel that way today.”

In addressing the seniors, Ford reminded the men “life is what you make it.”

Although many of them have been big fish here at Wabash, he said “When you are a guppy out in that big ocean, it doesn’t matter. It’s not about the ocean. It’s about what you make of it.”

His final encouraging words were for the seniors to move on and let the next group of students take up the leadership roles they once had at the College. “But, come back, and when you come back, it will be different and so will you.”

Coach Johnson Honored for 37 Years

Jim Amidon — About 400 of us gathered Saturday night in Knowling Fieldhouse to honor our friend, mentor, and coach, Rob Johnson.

Rob Johnson, who for the last 37 years has been at the helm of the track and field and cross country programs at Wabash College, will retire at the end of this year. Saturday’s celebration was a modest tribute to a great man.

How do you honor someone who has become a fixture at a tradition-rich school?

His former runners, their families, fellow coaches, faculty, staff, and students honored him by their presence Saturday night. His legacy — his words of inspiration, wisdom, and even criticism — live on in all of us who have run for, worked with, and shared our lives with Rob Johnson.

For those Wabash men in future generations who will not have the privilege of knowing Rob, his name — and the impact he had on hundreds of Little Giants — will live on as long as Knowling Fieldhouse stands. The 200-meter oval inside the fieldhouse is now named in honor of Rob Johnson.

I can’t really remember when I first met Coach Johnson. I was not a runner, so it probably wasn’t until well into my time as a Wabash student. I became the sports information director for Wabash the day after I graduated in 1987 and count Rob as one of my very closest friends since that time.

Rob is not an easy friend to keep. He’s tough, cantankerous, and never checks his email. He expects you — whether you’re running for him or working with him — to always perform at your best, so he’s as demanding as they come. Should you let him down, you’ll get one more chance. And honestly, you never really wanted to let him down a third time. He embodies the whole tough love thing and when he’s mad at you, well, you know it.

Sports writers can write volumes about his record — the All-Americans, Academic All-Americans, conference championships, coach of the year awards, and his work with the United States Olympic Development Committee. I’ll let the sports guys talk about how Rob was the first and only Division III coach to serve as an assistant coach for the US Track and Field Team at the Olympics.

To me, Rob has never really been about wins and losses, conference championships, and the like. While those are nice, especially if you’re a coach or SID writing about the performances of individuals and teams, Rob matters more because he sees athletics as a useful metaphor for success in life, not a path to it.

Johnson knows what it takes for a freshman to work his way to a conference championship by the time he’s a junior or senior. He also knows that it will take twice that effort for a young man to get into medical school or law school. If he sees an athlete slacking off, he gets in his face — not because of the sports — but because of what happens in life after sports.

Back in the late 80s when we were working together on promotional materials for the cross country and track programs, Johnson used to say to me, “I’ve probably coached more doctors, lawyers, and CEOs than any coach in the country.” He didn’t do that out of vanity; he did it to make a point with me — that the Wabash program was, first and foremost, about making young men better men and helping them achieve their wildest dreams in life.

A couple of weeks ago when Jo Throckmorton was videotaping some interviews for a tribute video for Coach, Rob stopped us at some point and asked a question: “Why do you guys care so much? Why do you bother doing things like this for some old black guy you could easily have forgotten?”

After Jo had turned off the recording equipment, I leaned in close and whispered to Coach Johnson: “Why do I care? Because you cared about me when I was a 21 year-old kid starting my career. Because you and Coach Petty and Coach Pebworth taught me so much about work ethic, dedication, and passion. And because, honestly, you were like a father to me at a very important time in my life.”

I’m not the only person for whom that’s true. In fact, I bet scores and scores of Wabash men would say the same thing — that Rob Johnson was as much father as he was coach, and was always more concerned about our future than we were.

Which is why we really mean it when we say, Robert H. “Rob” Johnson is Some Little Giant!

In the pictures: Rob’s children — Bryan, Jenaffer, and Becca had moving comments about their dad. In the lower photo is Coach George Baldwin, who was Rob’s high school coach and life-long inspiration.

Obama Rally Explains Bird’s Passion

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – As mentioned in the previous entry during this trip to Philly, Jeremy Bird ’00 puts in incredibly long days. He arrives at his office at about 8:30 a.m. and with Tuesday’s Pennsylvania primary getting closer seldom leaves before 1 or 2 a.m.

It’s incredible to watch, not just because of the long hours but how each hour is jammed with detail, planning and management. I’ve now asked him several different ways where he finds the energy and his answer is largely because he believes so much in the candidate.

Friday night I got a first-hand taste of that. Bird is Field Director for Barack Obama in Pennsylvania and widely credited with a similar effort in South Carolina that helped turn the primary battle with Hillary Clinton in the Illinois senator’s favor.

Bird will be one of many Wabash men featured in a fall issue of Wabash Magazine with a theme of “Wabash Men in Politics.”

Jeremy arranged for me to have press credentials for Friday’s Obama rally in Independence Park which sets between the National Constitution Center and Independence Hall in the city’s oldest district.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, one of the nation’s great newspapers, reported the crowd at 35,000 in Saturday’s edition.  The energy was off the charts. It was like a rock concert.

At risk of being political I’ll stop there! I have written more about the rally with a photo album on my personal blog. If interested, you can click here. Saturday morning update: Knowing an insider helps! I accompanied Jeremy to the campaign headquarters and to the train station this morning where Obama was preparing for a day-long whistle stop tour. I’ve added another entry with photos. Just click the link above to go to both entries.

Bird’s not sure where he goes after Tuesday. There is something ironic about putting in such an intense and physically demanding effort and not knowing where you’ll be just a few days later.

But that’s the world of politics, he said. He does it because he believes. Bird said he learned at Wabash that you can do whatever you want to do – and right now he wants to work in a fall national campaign for his candidate.

– Howard W. Hewitt

Just Go To The Play!

Jim Amidon — I laughed so hard last night my stomach hurts this morning. Every time I twist or turn in my desk chair, I’m reminded of the great fun Chris, Sammie, and I had at the Wabash College Theater’s production of A Flea in Her Ear.

Maybe I’m just a fan of the slapstick-style and the fast pace of the farce, but it was a real joy to have that much fun in Ball Theater.

Click here to read more and see pictures from rehearsal.

Director James Phillips has conducted a silly symphony with a cast of newcomers and veteran actors alike. He told a reporter from the Journal Review that the play is akin to a well-oiled basketball team in a fast-paced game. He’s wrong, of course, unless he was referring to the up-tempo brand of basketball played by Loyola Marymount more than a decade ago.

Phillips’ production of A Flea in Her Ear is faster than a basketball game and funnier than a comedy show. Watching the actors come on and off stage, in and out of doors, falling all over the place demonstrates precise choreography and dozens and dozens of hours of careful rehearsals.

I’ve been going to plays at Wabash for 25 years and acted in five or six shows myself. I can’t remember when I had more fun than I did last night.

Spanish professor Isabel Jaen-Portillo steals the show. Maybe. Then again, she might be upstaged by the foolish, Puck-ish character played by Spencer Elliott.

But maybe Matt Goodrich’s marathon-run performance as two characters (involving about a dozen very fast costume changes) was the strongest. But wait, freshman Jorge Rostro’s boisterous, physical performance as Homenides — if nothing else — glues you to your seat.

French intern Emelie Darboise does a great job of moving from her native tongue to English in order to play a French woman in a play written in French and now translated and performed in English.

Yeah, the whole play is like that.

I’ve seen it twice now and I’m just now able to figure out who’s sleeping with whom.

Seth Einterz and Pat McAlister play delicious characters who are at once lovable and despicable. Typecast? Nah, they’re just really talented and seasoned performers.

James Morey spends half his time falling on stage; Mary Whidden (James Phillips’ wife) carries a young group mightily with a big voice and hilarious expressions; and Sara Locker is absolutely flawless in her dual role as Antoinette and Eugenie.

Clay Zook does a masterful job of running about the stage with one foot off the ground and the other kicking Goodrich’s backside, and Christian Krenk, who has but a handful of lines, makes a grand Wabash Theater debut.

I could go on and on, but my sides are aching and I need some ibuprofin.

Just take my word for it and get yourself a ticket to this riotously funny, perfectly executed romp of a good time.

Hudson Hopeful as Earth Day Approaches

Jim Amidon — Marc Hudson has a voice like a summer wind. Not a breeze, but a warm, strong, and sometimes gusty wind. In Chapel Thursday, his voice moved from whispery softness when describing emerging spring ephemerals to gale force when quoting the poetry of Ezra Pound.

When he finished his Chapel Talk previewing Earth Day and honoring Wabash’s naturalists, I sat for a moment wondering how much I’d pay just to hear him read the newspaper — strong, vibrant gusts of headlines and the steady breeze of the body copy.

An English professor and the College’s resident poet, Hudson spoke of place. “A few years ago, Helen and I decided that this place — Crawfordsville — is the place we will live out the remainder of our lives.” At the heart of this place, he said, is the Chapel.

His take on Earth Day was amazingly hopeful and upbeat. Instead of lecturing on and on about emissions, carbon footprints, and the harm we do the Earth every day, Hudson honored the College’s past and looked to the future with hope and promise.

Hudson had fond memories of his former colleague, Robert Petty, who taught biology, but was easily as well known as a poet and naturalist. “His poetry grew from this local soil,” Hudson recalled.

“Earth Day is a celebration of the health of our planet and its biodiversity,” Hudson said, noting that we can begin that celebration by simply paying attention the natural beauty around us. He spoke of the Petty Patch in the Fuller Arboretum, the spot that honors Bob Petty’s love for and knowledge of all things natural.

“As we approach Earth Day, we must understand that human action can have an important impact,” said Hudson. As an example, he pointed out the important and groundbreaking work of Biology Professor David Krohne, who has co-founded the NICHES land trust, which today protects 21 natural places comprising more than 2,000 acres.

Student Nathan Rutz, he said, and the group Students for Sustainability, did a great service by bringing attention to and helping our community understand the brutal impact of mountain top removal in the Appalachia mining industry.

“I’m also mindful of the good work of Bon Appetit for purchasing food locally,” Hudson said, noting the food service company’s commitment to local providers. He also said he believes plans are in the works for a meatless Earth Day as a way to bring attention to the disproportionately high resources it takes to get meat to market.

“So eat your sprouts and be merry,” he quipped.

“We do have a green tradition here at Wabash College. But as I look around at other liberal arts colleges, I realize that we can perhaps do things differently, do things better,” Hudson said. He discussed Colorado College’s recent audit of energy consumption and emissions, along with St. Olaf College’s wind turbine that now provides one-third of the institution’s electricity.

Hudson also told the story of poet Ezra Pound, whom he described as “a difficult poet” and a “difficult and angry man.” Hudson said that while Pound was held in prison for treason near Pisa, he produced some of his strongest poems. “They register a kind of pathos and humility that is rare in Pound’s work… In these poems, Pound becomes a naturalist; he looks closely at the natural world.”

“Learn of the green world and know thy place,” Hudson said forcefully — like a gale — quoting Pound.

“We have to take a new path — we have to — but we can be hopeful as we do it,” said Hudson about becoming a greener society. He suggested to the students, faculty, and staff in attendance that they celebrate Earth Day by taking a hike in Shades State Park or Pine Hills Nature Preserve or even a stroll through the arboretum.

“What ever you decide to do on Earth Day, just pause for a moment… and be hopeful.”

Professor Hudson’s breath-of-fresh-air take on Earth Day and the College’s role in being good stewards of the environment concluded with a lovely quote from Thoreau:

“Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.”

Bird Leads Obama’s Pennsylvania Organizing

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – Jeremy Bird ’00 is right in the middle of the 2008 Presidential Primary – in a leadership role.

Bird, the Pennsylvania field director for Democratic candidate Barack Obama, has been with the campaign for more than a year now. The Wabash religion major juggles many tasks as state director. His more than 150 staffers statewide work voter registration, voter turnout and special events. The level of detail involved is rather numbing.

In his downtown Philadelphia office Wednesday, more than 40 staffers went non-stop on cell phones, Blackberry devices, instant messaging, and even laptop computers. Bird rushed from one meeting to another, and then caught up on his e-mail. At mid-morning, he paused briefly for an interview with a reporter from the Los Angeles Times.

The pace is incredible. He arrives at the second floor state headquarters office in the early morning and often stays until 9 or10 p.m. or later. And, he does it seven days a week.

The former Howard Dean political staffer and Wake Up Wal-Mart employee has been at the center of some of Obama’s biggest wins. Bird worked both South Carolina and Maryland for the presidential contender.

While Bird toils in the long primary battle for Obama, Elliott Vice and Brock Johnson work the Hillary Clinton campaign.

The fall issue of Wabash Magazine will focus on Wabash men in politics. I’m in Philly to spend a few days with Jeremy and to absorb the incredible amount of behind-the-scene detail that goes into a presidential campaign.

– Howard W. Hewitt

The story behind the story

Professor Tobey Herzog gave the Wabash community the story behind the story of this year’s honorary degree recipients — two liberal arts graduates from different generations whose own writings nevertheless seem to agree on the tragedy of the Vietnam War. Hear the complete Podcast.

General Earl “Punk” Johnson ’38 spent nearly a lifetime in the Air Force, serving first in World War II, where he helped train the crews that dropped the first atomic bomb. Recalled to service in Korea he later commanded bombing raids in Vietnam .

“He began his military career in what was called the ‘good’ war,” Herzog said.

Unlike this year’s other Honorary Degree recipient, award-winning writer Tim O’Brien.

“Tim O’Brien was a reluctant warrior,” said Herzog, whose scholarly career has often focused on O’Brien’s work. Hismost recent book, Writing Vietnam, Writing Life, includes an intimate personal interview with the writer, along with three other acclaimed authors who have written about the Vietnam War.

Herzog read excerpts from O’Brien’s work detailing the Macalester College graduate’s opposition to the war and chronicling the damage the war did to the lives of those who served in it.

That’s where the writer and General’s views begin to converge, Herzog said. He read excerpts from Johnson’s writing on Vietnam—a now-familiar perspective insisting that the country should only go to war when the war can be won, and that the way the U.S. waged the war in Vietnam damaged not only the lives of the men who fought there, but “the spirit of the country.”

Herzog’s talk gave students and faculty plenty to think about when these two men share the platform to receive their degrees on this year’s Commencement Day.

Celebrating 100 Years of Student Journalism

Jim AmidonThe Bachelor’s 100-year history as the students’ “voice of Wabash College” will be celebrated formally this week and throughout the fall semester. The 100-year anniversary this Wednesday comes at a fitting time after student writers and photographers cleaned up with 22 awards at the Indiana Collegiate Press Association’s annual meeting two weekends ago.

And interestingly, the ICPA’s statewide conference marked the 50-year anniversary of that consortium.

While The Bachelor’s history on campus is long and consistent, the paper’s involvement with the ICPA has been uneven, at best. During my 25 years at Wabash, I’ve seen student journalists deeply involved in the ICPA and I’ve seen long stretches when students never bothered to join the association, much less submit materials for competition.

When I was a student at Wabash, The Bachelor was a proud member of the ICPA and routinely competed against much larger student newspapers, most of which were a structured part of journalism programs or journalism schools.

Through the 90s, our involvement in the ICPA fizzled, which was really a shame because we had some terrific writers, editors, cartoonists, and photographers who passed through Wabash. Chris Cotterill ’99 stands out in particular after serving as editor-in-chief for three full years and managing one of the deepest and most talented Bachelor staffs I can recall. That’s Chris with Jacob Pactor in the photo on the right.

After a 10-year hiatus, I think it was Adam Christensen who reinstated The Bachelor as a full member of the ICPA. Christensen, who served as editor-in-chief for a year, would later be named the Indiana Collegiate Journalist of the Year — the only time a Wabash man has ever earned the honor. To put that in perspective, Christensen beat out editors from the Indiana Daily Student, as well as nominees from respected journalism and communications programs at Ball State, Purdue, and Notre Dame. Adam is pictured below.

For several years — including Jacob Pactor’s three-year run as editor — Wabash’s volunteer student journalists cleaned up at the ICPA’s annual awards celebration. Wabash students won awards for best news stories, best features, best special editions, best news photos, and best sports photos.

Those were proud days for Steve Charles and me, who have served as advisors to the Board of Publications for a little more than 10 years. We’ve always said that studying the liberal arts is the best preparation for journalists; our liberally educated Wabash students proved our point.

(Which is not to mention how proud we are of our alumni like CBS News’ Dean Reynolds ’70, Time magazine’s Tim Padgett ’84, Associated Press reporter Pete Prengaman ’98, and more recently, Ryan Smith ’03, who is an associate producer for CBS’ 48 Hours Mystery program.)

Now that Howard Hewitt, a 22-year veteran journalist, has joined the public affairs staff and has been more active in advising The Bachelor, we’re thrilled with the results — our students are benefiting from working with a pro. After breaking away from the ICPA for three years, Wabash is an active, competing member once again. Under the leadership of outgoing editor-in-chief Patrick Smith, Wabash journalists won 22 ICPA awards at the annual meeting of college journalists, including seven first place certificates.

But Wabash men don’t participate in student journalism on this campus for plaques or certificates. They don’t earn grades for their work and the end-of-year stipends are pretty tiny given how much time they invest in chronicling the history of this College.

They do it because they care, because they are curious, and because they believe in continuing the tradition of being the students’ voice at Wabash College.

And on this 100-year anniversary of The Bachelor, it’s a fine thing for our students to bask in the glow of last weekend’s ICPA convention, once again proving the value of a liberal arts education that teaches students to think critically, act responsibly, lead effectively, and live humanely.