Wabash Mourns Ginny Hays

Jim Amidon — Wabash lost one of its beloved alumnae over the weekend when Virginia “Ginny” Hays passed away in her home.

A memorial service will be held at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, October 5 in the Pioneer Chapel at Wabash College. The family requests that flowers not be sent. Memorial contributions may be made in Ginny’s name to the Montgomery County Community Foundation, Montgomery County Family Crisis Shelter, or MUFFY (details follow at the bottom of the story).

Ginny touched so many lives it’s hard for any one person to sum her up — to pay tribute to her — so please consider sharing your memories by posting a comment to this blog.

Ginny was passionate about and had great love for Wabash College and Crawfordsville. Her late husband, Will ’37, served as mayor of Crawfordsville for eight years and was an active member of the Wabash Board of Trustees from 1960 through 1974.

Ginny loved this community. She served the city as its First Lady and was committed to making Crawfordsville a better place to live. She demonstrated civic leadership by regularly attending City Council meetings, helping found the Montgomery County Community Foundation, creating the Crawfordsville Beautification Committee, and serving on the Boards of the Family Crisis Shelter, the Crawfordsville Country Club, and the local community theater.

She was also elected to — and proudly served — the Crawfordsville School Board.

Indiana Governor Otis Bowen named her a Sagamore of the Wabash for her commitment to Crawfordsville and the state of Indiana.

Ginny loved Wabash — deeply. She was a gracious host at alumni events near and far, and gladly opened her doors to Wabash men when they returned to their alma mater. In 1998, the National Association of Wabash Men welcomed her into the ranks of the alumni body when they named her an Honorary Alumna.

Ginny loved sports — Wabash sports. When I was the sports information director in the 1980s, I would arrive at the stadium on home football Saturdays just after sunrise to prepare for the day. Ginny was always right behind me in order to place her stadium blanket in exactly the right spot — the same spot every week — so that Wabash football players would know she was there and rooting them on to victory.

The same was true at basketball games. Ginny always cheered the Little Giants from right behind their bench.

And win or lose — continuing a tradition begun by her late husband — Ginny would write the teams notes of congratulation to honor their performance.

The NAWM noted her devotion to Wabash athletics and enshrined her in the Wabash College Athletics Hall of Fame in 2006.

Wabash College has had hundreds of loyal and dedicated alumni in its 175-year history, but few women equal the passion Ginny Hays had for this College.

We shall miss her in the stadium and at Chadwick Court, but we will hold her in our hearts forever.

Friends are invited to post their memories of Ginny to this blog entry.

Photos: On the home page: Ginny with Kathy and John Fox at the Will Hays Visiting Writer event last fall. At top:†Ginny and Kathy at the Phillip Caputo lecture. Bottom picture: Ginny with fellow Wabash Honorary Alumna, Fran Hollett.

Memorial Contributions may be made to the Montgomery County Community Foundation (118 East Main Street, Crawfordsville, IN 47933), MUFFY (190 West Main Street, Crawfordsville, IN 47933) or the Montgomery County Family Crisis Shelter (814 East Market Street, Crawfordsville, IN 47933).

Visiting Lecturer Provides “Wabash Moment”

Jim Amidon — I’ve often written about how much goes on at Wabash — in a single day or week — and I’ve often written about the unique opportunities our students have during their four years on campus.

Last week I hitched a ride with some students, and it both lifted my spirits and reinforced my feelings about the remarkable liberal arts education we provide.

On Monday, students in David Timmerman’s rhetoric course brought their studies of debating to life. As part of a class assignment to bolster what they had studied, four of them simulated a Lincoln-Douglas debate.

I wasn’t there for the debate, but I gather that the students struggled a bit, essentially having to stick with a plan, whereas earlier in the term they had been allowed to give extemporaneous arguments. The idea, though, was for the students to gain a better understanding of the series of seven debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas that would change the course of American history.

The debates were held in the late summer and early fall of 1858 and took place all throughout the state of Illinois as Lincoln and Douglas fought for a seat in the U.S. Senate. Douglas, though dogged and run down by the final debate in October, would go on to win the Senate seat. Lincoln would win a bigger prize — national prominence — and would go on to win the presidential election years later.

Fast forward from the students’ debates on Monday to their next class period on Wednesday. Instead of continuing with more Lincoln-Douglas-style debates, Professor Timmerman welcomed to his class Dr. Ronald White, an esteemed Lincoln historian who has written two honored books on Lincoln and soon will release A. Lincoln: A Biography (Random House, January, 2009).

Professor Timmerman graciously allowed me to sit in on the class.

White, who is a research fellow at the Huntington Library in California and is on the faculty at UCLA, talked at length about what those Lincoln-Douglas debates were really like, giving the students a necessary historical grounding for their understanding of the subject.

Professor White gave the Wabash students a glimpse of life on the campaign trail in 1858. He noted that there were no microphones at the debates, which were often held on the town square on elevated platforms, around which thousands of people would gather. If you wanted to hear the debate, you had to get there early — a couple of hours early — to save your spot. Otherwise, as thousands of citizens descended, you’d not be able to hear the candidates speak.

Lincoln, White explained, learned to project his voice so ably that as many as 7,000 people could hear him. White also taught the students that Lincoln would always concede certain points to Douglas, then over time turn those same points against Douglas — a graceful way of illustrating the flaws in Douglas’s views without berating his opponent.

(Makes me think our current political candidates could learn something from a talk with Professor White.)

The debates were long — really long. One speaker would open with a one-hour monologue, after which the other candidate would speak for 90 minutes. There was then time for a 30-minute rebuttal from the opening speaker. And during the whole debate, the audience would crowd the stage, often interrupting the candidates with questions.

(Again, a far cry from today’s tightly scripted, carefully rehearsed televised debates.)

“Lincoln had this amazing sense of humor,” White explained, “self deprecating humor, and he had a knack for using Douglas’s own words against him.”

Lincoln’s stove pipe hat? Well, he kept copies of Douglas’s speeches up there, and he would often pull them out to quote precisely what his opponent had said in earlier speeches.

So picture this: A class of about 16 Wabash students studying the finer points of debate — just 48 hours removed from their first attempts at a Lincoln-Douglas-style debate — having a preeminent Lincoln scholar give them the inside scoop on what made Abraham Lincoln one of the finest debaters in our country’s history. And this discussion with Professor White occurred just 48 hours before the McCain-Obama debate last Friday night.

I can’t think of a better teaching and learning moment for those rhetoric students, who will now listen to McCain and Obama differently — and more carefully — over the final 40 days of the most important election of the their lifetime.

Just another week at Wabash.

Wabash Guys Talk Politics

Jim Amidon — Jim Shella, a political reporter with WISH TV in Indianapolis for the last 25 years, sets out from the Circle City once each week to take the political pulse of Indiana citizens.

Wednesday, Shella came to Crawfordsville and sat down with five Wabash students to talk about the presidential election. Shella broadcast live from campus in the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. evening newscasts Wednesday night.

Shella had a roundtable discussion with Sean Clerget, Jay Horrey, Brent Kent, Gary James, and Patrick McAlister. All five shared their views of the candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, and talked about the issues that most interest them.

Clerget is a senior and editor of The Phoenix, a journal of conservative news and opinion, and had a summer internship with Indiana Senator Richard Lugar. Horrey, also a senior, is past-president of the College Democrats. Kent, a junior, is the Opinion Editor of The Bachelor and spent his summer on Capitol Hill. James, a junior, is the local organizer for the Barack Obama campaign. And McAlister, a junior and editor of The Bachelor, spent his summer working in Evan Bayh’s Washington office. McAlister also worked as a runner for NBC News during the Republican National Convention.

Shella led a casual conversation about why the students support the candidates they do, the types of issues they feel are important, and why this particular election seems to matter so much, particularly to college-aged students.

Shella asked Clerget and Kent, both McCain supporters, if they felt outnumbered on campus this fall. Both responded affirmatively, to which Horrey quipped, “Now you know how I felt in my first three years here!”

The students talked about working together in non-partisan ways to motivate students to register to vote, to watch and discuss the debates, and elevate the conversation.

“We’re more about having a conversation — a discussion — than demonizing the other candidates,” said Kent. The College Democrats and College Republicans will host a debate-watching party, and both groups hope to facilitate good conversations afterward.

McAlister noted that there seems to be much more energy and enthusiasm among students this election season. “It’s really about the process,” he said. “Hopefully it’s not just this year, but the start of something that will continue to grow.”

Shella is an accomplished veteran political reporter who shared his experiences traveling with Indiana’s Republican and Democrat delegations to their respective conventions.

After a somewhat lengthy conversation on the financial woes of the country, Shella complimented the students, saying, “You guys are really well informed.”

Looking Out For One Another

Jim Amidon — About six weeks ago, I was at my desk very early in the morning when Martha Riddle, a long-time employee with our Campus Services team, came into my office with some bad news.

Martha told me that our friend, Bill Melvin, had been diagnosed with cancer — esophageal cancer — and she wanted to do something to help.

I’m not a doctor and have never played one on TV, but I do know that esophageal cancer is a particularly nasty form of the disease. So immediately I was interested in doing what I could to get involved.

For those who don’t know Bill, he’s worked in food service at Wabash for about 30 years. Wabash has some loyal employees with long tenures, but that’s a really long time for someone in that kind of work.

Martha and I talked for a while and couldn’t really come up with a concrete idea of how the folks at Wabash could reach out to Bill and his family.

Enter the College’s food service provider, Bon Appetit Management Company.

Martha and I contacted Mary Jo Arthur at Bon Appetit and told her that we were interested in having some sort of fund-raiser to help offset Bill’s rapidly growing stack of medical bills. But, we were still a week or so from the start of classes and the College felt like a ghost town.

Given a bit more time, we hatched a plan.

Mary Jo reported back that her company, Bon Appetit, would graciously agree to donate everything necessary for an old fashioned cookout on the College Mall — burgers, hot dogs, potato salad, chips, cookies, and drinks.

We partnered with the Sphinx Club, which organizes weekly talks in the Chapel, and planned to have the cookout immediately after a talk given by Associate Dean of Students Rick Warner.

We got The Bachelor to give us some free publicity and we sent out a few emails leading up to the event.

All we asked was that folks come out to show their support for Bill and his family — to demonstrate that we all look out for one another here at Wabash — and make a small monetary donation in exchange for the lunch.

Last Thursday was the big day. Of course, Mary Jo, Kecia Tatman, and all the folks at Bon Appetit had everything set up and ready to go.

My concern was whether or not we’d have a good crowd of students since so few of them actually know who Bill is.

See, if you work in food service or campus services at Wabash, you’re part of a brigade of unsung heroes. People like Bill Melvin prepare, cater, serve, and clean up meals thousands of times over, and they do so without recognition or honor.

But the place simply couldn’t function without them. Period.

When our freshmen arrive at Wabash, we talk to them about community; we remind them that they have not come to a college, but have become part of a big family. I really hoped they would respond to our call to action on Bill’s behalf.

They did.

Thanks to Bon Appetit’s generosity, we were able to raise a nice chunk of money to help Bill and his family in their fight.

Martha’s dream of being able to show our support for someone who has done so much for others — so selflessly — became reality.

That got me thinking, especially when I opened Friday’s Journal Review and saw a story on the front page about a fundraiser for Laura McCarty, who also is battling cancer. It occurred to me then that about every week there’s a caring group of motorcyclists taking a ride to support someone in this community, or some organization is hosting a benefit to help those less fortunate.

It makes me feel good to know the lessons we’re imparting in our freshmen when they arrive here are grounded in reality. Here in Montgomery County, we do look out for one another, and we come together to support our family and friends when trouble strikes.

And that makes this a pretty special place to live.

Football Players Read to City’s Elementary Students

Howard W. Hewitt – Wabash men perform community service in many different ways. Some of their efforts require significant muscle and sweat. Sometimes the task requires patience and understanding.

Wabash’s Little Giant football team has had a tradition the past several years of reading to Crawfordsville Elementary Schools’ classrooms. They do it each Friday before home football games.

Friday was the first chance of the year to hit the classroom with the boys and girls and it’s rewarding to watch. The little kids at Hoover Elementary, on the city’s southside, were in awe when the big football players entered the room wearing their red home jerseys.

Jake Martin ’11 and Derrin Slack ’10 introduced themselves and the looks on the tiny faces were a mixture of awe and maybe even a little fear. But any apprehension quickly disappeared as the young men picked up their reading material and shared stories with the kids.

Slack giggled through his reading of a Dallas Cowboy Super Bowl win, noting he was a Colts’ fan. He let out a big whoop when he came to the page about the coach celebrating the team’s victory.

Martin read through his story with another class and then entertained questions and listened to stories from the children.

The kids had a great time and certainly will tell Mom and Dad when they get home about the Wabash football guys reading to them in class.

What about the Wabash men?

“That was a blast,” Slack beamed, as he headed down the hallway after his visit.

Players were scheduled to visit several of the city schools. If they were as well received as Jake and Derrin and enjoyed it as much as those two, Wabash men are having a brief but powerful impact on Crawfordsville’s youngest.


Remember Math Professor Bill Swift

The Wabash College community mourns the passing of Emeritus Professor of Mathematics Bill Swift, who died peacefully in his home last Thursday. The College welcomes comments from his former students and colleagues. Please post comments at the end of this story.

William Clement Swift was born March 17, 1928 in Lexington, Kentucky.

He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky and was inducted in Phi Beta Kappa. He received his Ph.D. from Kentucky and received the Gerard Swope Fellowship and the Margaret Voorhees Haggin Fellowship.

He was an instructor at Kentucky and Cornell University, an assistant professor at Rutgers University, and spent two years with the Bell Telephone Laboratories.

Bill was also a sergeant in the United States Army, serving from 1946 through 1948 with the 1st Cavalry Division in Japan.

He came to Wabash in 1963 and taught mathematics until his retirement in 1990. He created the Mathematics Colloquium at the College, which remains the longest-running departmental seminar at Wabash. He was an active member of the American Mathematical Society and Mathematical Association of America, and held memberships in Sigma Pi Sigma, Pi Mu Epsilon, and the American Association of University Professors. He was also author of a mathematics textbook.

He and his wife of more than 50 years, Ellen, were tremendous community volunteers and leaders. Both were active in the Sugar Creek Players theater company and helped rebuild the Vanity Theater. Bill was also active in Boy Scouts and was a driving force behind the Sugar Creek Canoe Race. Swift was the public address announcer for a variety of Wabash sporting events, but was best known as the voice of the Wabash swimming and diving program.

In 1994, the National Association of Wabash Men honored Bill’s lifetime of service to the College by naming him an honorary alumnus.

For the last 40 years or more, Bill and Ellen hosted a “Derby Day” party, which annually was one of the largest gatherings of Wabash and community people. The party was purely social, but paid tribute to Bill and Ellen’s unwavering love of the Bluegrass State and did much to improve town-gown relations.

Bill is survived by his wife, Ellen, and their eight children — Tom, Bill, Jr., Mike, Matthew, Larry, Meg, Joe, and Jim.

Memorial Service arrangements are pending.

Lesson: Don’t Leave the Field Before Halftime

Jim Amidon — I’ve been promoting and covering Wabash football for more than half my life. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve left the field at the end of a game — or a half — a minute or two early in order to get to the press box ahead of the crowd.

At Denison on Saturday, the first half lasted forever. Scoring, penalties, and a scoreboard malfunction caused the half to drag on. I was dragging heavy camera gear up an down on the sideline, and I was hot, sweating, and very thirsty as the final minutes of the half wore on. When Denison scored to pull within one point just before half, I headed for the press box… and hydration.

I paused at the top of the home stands — which are not tall like at Wabash — and watched Matt Hudson complete a couple of passes. My camera was packed up, but I thought to myself, “What if Matt has a shot at the endzone and I’m up here?”

Realizing I was standing at a pretty good camera angle, I got my gear ready to shoot and settled in the Denison parents’ section when Hudson uncorked a bomb to Kody Lemond. The pass was deflected up in the air by a Denison defender, who made what appeared to be a touchdown-saving play. I was firing away and captured 14 images of the play. The only shot I missed was when Lemond stretched out to grab the deflected ball — and only because I was jumping up and down (in the Denison section!).

Here’s what it looked like from up there, starting with excellent pass protection by Wabash’s offensive line:

The Denison defender closed very quickly and made by all accounts a terrific defensive play.

Lemond never takes his eye off the ball. He told Howard Hewitt he “kind of blacked out on that one,” but he’s completely concentrating on the ball.

This is when I think Lemond knew he had a shot at the ball. Look where his feet are — seven yard line.

Look where his body is on the shot below. Yeah, I missed the dramatic dive because I wanted to watch it, not just shoot it.

Andrew Rode realizes it’s a touchdown!

The Denison defender in this shot tells the whole story. The Big Red had played a very solid first half and had captured momentum going into the locker room. Then, with less than a minute, the entire game changed.

Moral of the story: Never leave until the final whistle blows… no matter how thirsty you are!

Walking the Tracks with Doug

Jim Amidon — When I attended the opening of Wabash art professor Doug Calisch’s latest exhibition Friday night, I couldn’t help but think of the railroad tracks that run just a few feet outside his window at the end of the Fine Arts Center.

I’ve always had a thing for railroad tracks. I love the idea of walking rails just to see where they go; to get a sense of the mysteries that unfold at every turn.

I have fond memories of doing exactly that as a child. My brothers and our friends would pack up a day’s worth of snacks and start walking the tracks near my original hometown of Greenville, Michigan — and this was long before River Phoenix and his pals made it cool in the movie “Stand By Me.”

I remember how hard it was to balance my desire to look up at the unwinding rails and wide-open skies with my constant drive to look down to see what I might discover amid the rocks and shards of broken glass.

It was a game — like kids on a beach looking for the best shells — to see which one of us could find the first busted rail spike or flattened coin. Then there were times when we would find bent pieces of steel, bullet casings, or even bone fragments, and we’d make up stories about what they were… or might have been.

And that brings me back to Doug Calisch’s impressive exhibition of found-objects sculpture and eye-popping artistic photographs. Truth be told, Doug gave me a sneak peek of his latest work almost two weeks ago, and I really haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

Part of it stems from my own interests in photography and sculpture, but it’s also because I’ve know Doug for so long and I love the direction he’s taken with the work he’s completed over the last year.

I have no idea if Doug has ever been inspired by the railroad tracks outside his office window or any rail lines whatsoever. But it’s clear to me that Doug has the same interest — the same child-like curiosity and imagination — I had when I was a kid filling my knapsack with stuff found on our railroad hikes.

Doug is a brilliant artist. When I first met him, his sculptures were painstakingly hand-cut, hand-assembled masterpieces. He had complete control over literally thousands of pieces of wood (mostly) and metal.

I’m not an art critic at all, but it seems to me that in his latest sculptures, Doug is relinquishing much of his artistic control.

Make no mistake — the massive collections of found objects are still carefully and creatively pulled together in each and every piece. My sense, though, is that the viewer is in complete control over what each piece means and the stories they tell.

His sculptures contain twisted wrought iron, doorknobs, toys, and drawings of the human body. Lots of the elements in this exhibition were gathered along the US-Mexico border; they are the very real personal belongings immigrants were forced to leave behind when they crossed the desert into the United States.

Doug’s gift is gathering hundreds of seemingly unrelated objects that when brought together tell a story.

But this time, Doug’s not telling it.

He wants you, the viewer, to come to the gallery and get lost in the sculptures; he wants to stir memories and images, thoughts and feelings with his work. And he does it exceptionally well in this latest exhibition, which is aptly named “Lost and Found, Again.”

Calisch has augmented his striking sculptures with an equally impressive collection of photographs captured in his travels across this country and abroad. The photos of sweeping landscapes dotted with objects, signs, fences, and curiosities work well with the sculptures.

Looking at both types of art side-by-side allows the viewer to wonder — even imagine — if the objects in the sculptures are connected to the scenes depicted in the images.

When I left the gallery, I couldn’t help thinking about my hikes on the railroad tracks when I was a boy, back when I wanted to take in the magnificent unfolding landscape, but also hoped that I’d be the first one to find something along the tracks that nobody else had ever seen.

In his exhibition “Lost and Found, Again,” artist Doug Calisch allowed me to do both, which is the best gift an old friend could ever give.

Note: “Lost and Found, Again” will be on display in the galleries of the Wabash Fine Arts Center through October 5. The galleries are open during regular business hours, Monday through Friday.