One of Those Days

Steve Charles—Friday morning I got an email from my friend Mark Shreve ’04—a link to photos of a spiral staircase Nic Bitting ’07 and his colleagues at Seattle Stair and Design are building in a place called Highbarn.

 The grandson of a woodworker, Nic was an art major and sculptor here at Wabash. Good writer, too. We’ve published his essays and his article on Geoff Faerber ’98, founder of Flying Pig Adventures, where Nic learned to pilot and guide whitewater rafts down the Yellowstone River during the summers between his Wabash semesters.

Nic’s long-time friend Kyle Long ’07 once described to me his amazement watching Nic, who knew nothing about rafting when he showed up at Geoff’s door, confidently pilot a raft-full of people—parents, kids, grandparents—safely down that river, so far from where he grew up. He learned the river, he learned the people, he learned to love the work and

But when you look at this work he’s doing Seattle Stair and Design, you can’t help but feel he’s found at least a part of his calling. I hear he’ll be headed to grad school soon to study it further. We hope to have a gallery of his work in the 39 Under 39 issue of Wabash Magazine.

Friday afternoon began with a call to Zach Hoover ’01—an interview for that same 39 Under 39 issue. Zach’s family is a big reason I came to work at Wabash and was able to stay. His mom, Janet, now a pastor in Indianapolis, was a colleague of mine at the magazine where I used to work; she found the ad for the editor’s position here. She was my copyeditor for the first couple years of Wabash Magazine, and when she and her husband Jerry noticed that my old Volkswagen bus kept breaking down whenever I dropped off the manuscripts for proofing and realized that I might not be able to make my daily commute from Indy to Wabash much longer, they “sold” me their late model Corsica at a ridiculously cheap price for “whatever you think you can pay each month.”

Zach comes from exceptional folks; he’s carried on their legacy in his own way, one of several guys (including Jeremy Bird ’00 and Kyle Hall ’00) to go through Harvard Divinity and then find ways to serve they couldn’t have imagined when they were here at Wabash.

Zach is a community organizer in California, currently with LA Voice, working with churches, synagogues, and other groups to help communities survive, thrive, and realize their dreams in the context of something greater than themselves. He talks about walking alongside these people, thinking with them, listening. He explains how he got the job, and you can see it in a video on You Tube:

 “I was in my third year of divinity school and trying to decide what I was going to do next. I Googled something like ‘faith,” “justice,” and “community,” and “San Francisco Organizing Project” came up. I read the job description and thought, That pretty much sounds like me.”

He says he believes he has found his vocation. At least for now.

Zach said this in his Commencement Speech at Wabash in May 2001: “If we can smash together, mate the partners whose names are think, reflect, actualize, and do, then we will bless others and we will bless ourselves, even in the brokenness of relationships, forgivenesses, mistakes, and lives. Perhaps we will sweeten our world.”

Zach is sweetening our world. His own, too. Her name is Saskia, and he married her in December. She’s originally from Nicaragua, I believe, but named after Rembrandt’s wife (read the magazine to get the story on that one.) And Zach is also a cyclist and road racer in California.

We’re all pilgrims, really, whether we’re on the move physically or just emotionally or spiritually—always looking for home. My friend Kyle Nickel ’03 was on the road last year, spent some time in Colorado after a taste of grad school in Georgia (where he had a part time job as a groundskeeper at Andalusia Farm, Flannery O’Connor’s old place. He sent me a vial of soil from there that I’ve kept nearby as I’ve been re-reading her works this year.) I hadn’t heard from nor seen him for a year, so getting together with him, Nate Mullendore ’07, and art professor Doug Calisch was both a relief and joy.

“Making literature and craft beer back home in Connorsville” is the way one of Kyle’s friends describes the latest chapter of Kyle’s life. He seems to be thriving. And, if the writing he just sent me for the next issue of WM is any indication, writing better than ever.

I realized part way through the conversation with these three that I was the odd man out; they’d all traveled together before on Doug’s photography immersion trips out west. Doug and Nate work together with the Friends of Sugar Creek, where Nate is project coordinator. And as we were sitting on the banks of that creek, enjoying beer at the Creekside Inn, the late Mike Bachner’s daughter Fern stopped by our table, and I was reminded that in a few weeks we’ll be dedicating the Mike Bachner Reserve, a new nature preserve and great place to put your canoe or kayak in the creek—the same creek that drew Mike to Wabash and kept him here for more than three decades.

Doug had to leave early the next morning to set up an exhibit of his work in southern Indiana, Nate’s evening was just beginning and us old guys weren’t a helpful part of that, and Kyle had a two-hour drive ahead of him to get home to Connorsville. So after a couple hours of catching up, laughing, reminiscing (including some memories of Mike and the chickens that used to guard the lights at his barn), and some talk about Flannery O’Connor, we said goodbye in the parking lot around 11.

 My head was spinning, and it wasn’t the Newcastle I’d enjoyed an hour earlier. I’ve either written about or published the work of all three of these guys. I learn something knew every time I read or see how they come at the world.

 A somewhat reclusive and certainly introverted type, I can’t believe I have job that has led me to friends, conversations, and good times like these. To spend an hour talking to people who are changing the world like Zach Hoover is. To receive casual emails that open my eyes to a new kind of beauty. To catch up with a friend and find he’s taken an even wiser direction than I’d imagined, and can still write circles around me. And most of  this work being done by guys I knew first as students here at Wabash.

The men
in my family have always been travelers. We rarely feel completely at home anywhere. But a day like this in the company of these Wabash men gets me awful close. Driving home I thought of William Stafford’s line from his poem “Grace Abounding,” one I’ve though of often since I‘ve been here at Wabash—“I am saved in this big world by unforeseen friends.”

Lunch Celebrates Philanthropy

Jim Amidon — For the past several years, Wabash College has hosted an event that it calls the “Celebrating Scholarship Luncheon.” It grew out of the College’s donor relations program spearheaded by Marilyn Smith.

The idea was to invite to campus Wabash’s loyal alumni and friends who have provided generous endowed scholarships and grants that allow so many young men to attend the College and receive an unparalleled liberal arts education.

The event allows the donors to meet and get to know the students who receive their scholarships and their families. See the pictures from the luncheon.

After the first Celebrating Scholarship Luncheon, a bunch of us were debriefing and kept referring to it as a “nice event” with a “good feeling.”

And it has continued to provide warm feelings and terrific opportunities for donors to see the magnitude of their gifts through the experiences of the students who benefit from those gifts.

For some reason, last Saturday’s luncheon has really stuck in my mind. I guess the biggest reason why is that never before has scholarship and financial aid support been as important as it is likely to be for the next several years. Some parents of our prospective students have lost jobs, while others have seen their investments tumble with the stock market.

Wabash’s endowment has taken a big tumble, too. Investment income from the College’s endowment fuels our aggressive scholarship and financial aid program. As I have written here before, Wabash’s greatest tradition is providing a top-notch education to any qualified student, regardless of their financial need.

And the need has never been greater.

Sitting at Saturday’s Celebrating Scholarship Luncheon, I was heartened by the large turnout — over 450 students, parents, donors, faculty, and staff gathered in celebration of the philanthropic tradition.

This year, the keynote speakers provided great examples of how scholarships transformed their lives.

Luke Messer ’91 (above right) talked about coming from a single-parent home in Greensburg, Indiana, and how he could not have dreamed of a Wabash education had it not been for a big scholarship package. “Essentially, I came to Wabash for about $1,000 per year,” he said.

Messer was able to study overseas at Oxford University after receiving a Brian Bosler Overseas Memorial Scholarship. He graduated from Wabash summa cum laude, attended Vanderbilt Law School, and has been a legislator, political leader, and attorney in Indiana ever since.

Messer talked about how Wabash provides “a value-added educational experience” because of the close, personal relationships students have with faculty, and how the faculty pushes students harder than they ever imagined.

“I think something Wabash does better than other schools is to educate thoughtful leaders,” Messer said.

The second speaker was junior Sam Prellwitz, who talked about the risk his family took when he was growing up when they converted their dairy farm into a strawberry farm. He compared his Wabash experience to growing up working in the dirt of his family’s Wisconsin strawberry farm.

“I’ve been here three years and my life has been transformed,” he said when talking about his professors, fraternity brothers, and cross country teammates. He had planned to major in history and become a high school teacher and coach, but all of his plans have changed. “Three years ago, I hadn’t been trained to ask the hard questions.”

He now plans to attend divinity school to become a minister.

“Young men come to Wabash College and change the way they think,” Prellwitz said. “They are shown they can make a difference. Then they do make a difference.”

In Messer, who graduated 18 years ago, and Prellwitz, who is about to complete his junior year, there are two shining examples of the power of Wabash’s scholarship program.

A kid from a working-class, single-parent household in southern Indiana and another kid from a strawberry farm in Wisconsin, both linked through philanthropy and both lives transformed by their Wabash education.

Philanthropy at Wabash is a bit like a patch of strawberries at the Prellwitz farm. Through their gifts, alumni and friends plant seeds that when sewn and cultivated produce amazing results.

Prellwitz said it best: “Promising young men are provided an opportunity to attend Wabash College… four years later, there is a bountiful harvest.

“Because of your generosity,” Prellwitz said to the donors, “every year there is a bountiful harvest.”

And that harvest is worth celebrating.


Reynolds Offers a Different Taste of World History

Howard W. Hewitt – Distinguished professors, authors, and other notables make their way to Wabash College throughout the academic year. Some of these visitors are "newsworthy" for local media, some bring a message to a wide audience, and others are academics bringing their experience and research to campus to share with the community.

It’s also worth noting that in late fall and early spring the schedule is full of events, with 2-3 speakers a day not unusual. So students, faculty, staff, and the public affairs folks have to pick and choose. When I saw Jonathan Reynolds, a young world historian, was going to be speaking Thursday night I volunteered to go hear his talk. We don’t "cover" every academic talk and this blog entry probably shouldn’t be considered coverage.

But it is valuable to share the wide range of people who visit Wabash to broaden students’ education. Reynolds caught my eye because he teaches at Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, Ky. NKU sits atop a hill overlooking the Ohio River about 15 minutes from downtown Cincinnati. I know that well because it’s my alma mater.

Professor of History Rick Warner introduced Reynolds as one of the bright young world historians in the country. Reynolds’ take on world history is probably different than you’ve ever heard before. He started by noting that world history has long been defined by geography, environment, and cultures. But he suggests food plays an equally important role. His talk was titled: "Every Bite is a Taste of History: How Food Complicates and Enriches our Understanding of the Human Past."

His easiest example was to think of Italians and pizza. Pizza and Italy – a logical combination, he said. But nothing on your typical pizza – mozzarella, tomatoes, basil – comes from Italy. Those ingredients come from other parts of the world.

"Food confounds our traditional borders," Reynolds said. "Nobody is eating stuff they were eating 1,000 years ago."

He used an example from Northern Kentucky. He noted NKU had a new student center with a food court. Walking by one day, he saw the food selections with one being a sushi bar. Certainly, he exclaimed, young people in the midwest were not eating sushi 1,000 years ago!

He talked about how sugar and its rapid spread across the continents drove the industrial revolution. He did all of this with tremendous energy, enthusiasm, and humor.

The point is there are many different perspectives, collections of research, and methods of working a classroom or podium. These ‘academic lectures’ are often very enlightening. They challenge your mind to think about things in a new way.

And, after all, isn’t that what ‘critical thinking" is all about?

Rhetoric Seniors an Accomplished Bunch

Jim Amidon — Rhetoric Professor Todd McDorman asked me to swing by the Caleb Mills House on Tuesday night to take a few pictures of the senior rhetoric majors at a banquet that both honored the seniors and welcomed the Brigance Forum Lecturers Robert Hariman and John Louis Lucaites.

See the pictures here.

I sat quietly in the corner waiting for dinner to conclude, but listening to the lively conversations the students were having with their invited guests, as well as familiar faces like Joe and Bev O’Rourke, Vic and Marion Powell, and Jack Oest, William Norwood Brigance’s grandson.

When dinner concluded, Professor David Timmerman welcomed everyone to the living room and, alternating with Professor McDorman, talked about the accomplishments of the six seniors who majored in rhetoric.

What a remarkable group.

Three of them — Josh Gangloff, Pat Long, and Dan Masterson — were members of the Wabash football team which set an all-time record for most wins (40) and won three straight North Coast Athletic Conference titles.

Gangloff, a fierce nose tackle on the football team, is a soft-spoken leader whose Christian outreach has extended as far as Botswana and as close as the young people at Pleasant View Baptist Church here in Crawfordsville. Gangloff will pursue a master’s degree in divinity upon graduation, while working in his family’s business.

Masterson, while not the stars of the team like Long and Gangloff, minored in theater. He appeared in two main stage productions and in the Studio One-Acts. I’ll most remember Dan for his gripping performance as a dirty cop in the spring ’09 production of The Pillowman.

In addition to an amazing senior project for his rhetoric major, Derek Hickerson also spent last summer working on a “Know Indiana” research project with Professor Timmerman. Hickerson’s original research focused on James Matthew Townsend, Indiana’s third elected African American legislator. Hickerson researched the legislation Townsend authored to repeal Indiana’s “Black Laws.” And though Townsend’s bill was voted down, a year later a similar bill passed through the Indiana legislature.

From his research, Derek wrote an article for Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History, the award-winning journal of the Indiana Historical Society. That issue hit the newsstands in the Winter 2009 edition.

Matt Dodaro, star baseball player, also is a rhetoric major. I’ve taken a couple hundred photographs of Matt diving for ground balls from his position at shortstop and crossing the plate after smashing a home run onto Jennison Street. I never knew he was a rhetoric major until last night, nor did I realize that he’s started every single baseball game during his four-year Wabash career.

Finally, the professors paid tribute to Grant Gussman, whom I did know was a rhetoric major. I knew that he won the famed Baldwin Oratorical Contest. I knew he had won both state and national titles in forensics. But I didn’t know Grant was, perhaps, the most decorated forensics student in recent history.

I also learned that Grant finished his course work in December and has been coaching a speech and debate team back home. Beginning this summer, Grant will begin training for the Teach for America program and he’ll spend the next two years working at a high school in New Orleans. Teaching science!

The evening concluded when the professors presented Gussman with the Joseph O’Rourke Prize, which honors the outstanding senior rhetoric major. It was a touching occasion to see the expressions of pride and joy on the faces of Joe and Bev O’Rourke, seated closely to their dear friends — Jack Oest and the Powells.

And it was clear from his expression that Gussman, too, was honored to receive the prize named in honor of a legendary speech and rhetoric professor.

I did end up snapping the photo of the six senior majors on the front porch of the Caleb Mills House. But I left with a terrific feeling about the accomplishments of the seniors and the potential for greatness they have — as teachers, lawyers, ministers, and representatives of Wabash College.

Another Bestseller, But No Rest for the Writer

Steve Charles—Last week I was watching Dan Simmons ’70 reading from his novel Drood to a packed University Bookstore in Seattle (courtesy of my computer and YouTube). I was pleased to see that he seemed to be enjoying himself almost as much as the readers gathered to hear him.
And what’s not to enjoy: adoring readers, great reviews from across the country, including Booklist, Chicago Tribune, anda starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, for this, Dan’s 26th book. Director Guillermo del Toro wants to make it into a movie.
There’s this in Open Letters: A Monthly Arts and Literature Review:  “This is a new Dan Simmons, writing the best books of his life. His next one is awaited now with almost a wonder of anticipation.”
And in March Drood hit #14 on the Publisher’s Weekly Bestseller’s List.
So I wrote Dan to congratulate him on all this. He’d just come off the book tour and I’d hoped he was relaxing a little, and, as I put it, “enjoying the well-earned rewards of your hard work on Drood.”
And, of course, he isn’t. At least, not much. You don’t become a writer of Dan Simmons’ caliber by resting on your laurels. Super Bowl winners may head to Disney World, but writers—even writers of critically acclaimed best selling books that the hottest Hollywood directors want to make into movies—just head back to work.
The first thing Dan mentioned was that Drood had thus far not gone as high on the bestseller lists as The Terror, his historical novel that made all kinds of “Best Books of 2008” lists. He’s had to push hard to get the cover he wanted for his next book.(Simmons’ book covers are an art to themselves.) And that work in progress—Black Hills—is due to the publisher in April, and Dan has a ways to go to finish it.  
Black Hills is a real change-up from Drood, which was a real change-up from Muse of Fire, a wonderful novella published in December 2008 that brings out Simmons’ voice and love for literature —a song of a book—in ways that take me back to why I first came to so admire and enjoy his writing 12 years ago. And Muse of Fire was a real change-up from The Terror.
But writing the books he wants to write regardless of genre has long been Dan’s stock in trade. It used to frustrate his publishers. Maybe it still does. But some of them are grimacing all the way to the bank.
I don’t recall Dan taking very many days off since I’ve known him. That first time I interviewed him was an exception. It was 1997 and he had just finished The Crook Factory—about the spy ring run by Ernest Hemingway in Cuba. It was his 16th book published in only 11 years as full time writer. He’d been an award-winning teacher and educational innovator in Colorado before that, but he’d spent his summers on his other vocation. The schedule he described took me aback. He spent 17-hours  almost every summer day writing.
Dan was generous enough to tell me how his first story came to be published, and we shared the anecdote with readers in the Fall 1997 Wabash Magazine:
Then, in August of 1979, in the summer house behind his wife’s parents’ home in Buffalo, New York, Dan typed the first paragraph of The River Styx Runs Upstream, a story about a boy’s mother whose body is "resurrected" apart from her soul. He paused, and thought: This will be my first story to be published.
Two years, hundreds of pages, and too many rejection slips later, Simmons’ gut feeling of being on the verge of success went sour. At his wife Karen’s urging, he did something he’d sworn he’d never do—he attended his first writer’s conference.

"It was my swan song. I went to hear and see the writers present and to begin to view writing as a hobby rather than an obsession," Simmons writes in the introduction to his short story collection Prayers to Broken Stones. The story of his encounter with writer, editor, and "enfant terriblé" Harlan Ellison—a man with an inquisitor’s zeal for wiping out bad writing—is a classic. Simmons hadn’t even planned to bring a manuscript and only placed his story on the reading stack because hundreds of works had already been submitted; odds were that Ellison would never see his, and after another workshop member was told to quit writing and find another hobby, "like gardening," Simmons was hoping he wouldn’t.
No such luck. Ellison picked up the story and lambasted the author for having the gall to submit such a lengthy tale. Simmons prepared for the worst.
But as Ellison read the story he began to cry. Then he turned to face the writer.
"He told me what I had known for years but had lost the nerve to believe-he told me that I had no choice but to continue writing, whether anything was ever published or not," Simmons writes. "He said that few heard the music but those who did had no choice but to follow the piper."
Before he asked Simmons to submit the story to the annual Twilight Zone magazine fiction contest, Ellison added a warning: "Now that you have that knowledge, you are doomed to spend the rest of your life working at this lonely and holy profession . . . Your relationships will suffer . . . Nights you will go without peace or sleep because the story doesn’t work."
Ellison told the workshop audience that he’d just sentenced Dan Simmons to "a life of unending labor, probably very little recognition, and a curse that will not be lifted, even after death!"
But the reinvigorated writer was undeterred. He drove home and revised the manuscript, and the story tied for first place. Flush with success, Simmons wrote Song of Kali, a psychological horror-thriller that reaches its climax when an American writer’s infant daughter is kidnapped by members of the death cult of the Hindu goddess Kali. Simmons had researched the tale while studying in India on a Fulbright Scholarship in 1977. The book not only found a publisher, but made its author the only first-time novelist ever to win the World Fantasy Award for best novel.
Critics were particularly impressed with Simmons’ ability to raise what could have been a pulp-fiction thriller to a higher level "with fine characterization, prose that rarely escapes control, and, above all, a keen moral sense."
I think of this story—and of Harlan Ellison’s words—whenever I’m fortunate enough to correspond with Dan Simmons. Especially this: “Nights you will go without peace or sleep because the story doesn’t work.”  I know that part of the prophecy has proven true.
And, considering the fact that Dan’s last two books total more than 1,500 pages between them, I think it’s hilarious that Ellison was pissed off at Dan “for having the gall to submit such a lengthy tale!"
But Dan also told me that day that “a writer’s life is, by and large wonderful.” 12 years later, I think he still believes that. That the blessing of creating these works runs deeper than the curse.
I also remember the words that concluded our interview. A quote from Joseph Conrad, describing the writer’s duty: “Our task is to share. To share what we hear… share what we feel…and to share what we see. And no more. and it is everything.”

A colleague of mine once said to me, “It is a great blessing to have a writer for a friend.” I know the blessing—the inspiration, the comfort, and the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual adventure—this friendship with Dan Simmons is for me.  A quick check online reveals how much his work means to his millions of readers and those he mentors at his online “Writing Well” forum. And a few Wabash students were fortunate to experience that mentoring up-close through the College’s Hockenberry Internship in writing that Dan sponsored to honor his Wabash friend, Duane Hockenberry.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a Wabash man anywhere whose work revels more fearlessly and joyfully in the liberal arts than Dan Simmons’. (Check out Muse of Fire, for one, and you’ll see what I mean.)

In this year Wabash Dean Gary Phillips has declared “the year of the writer” at Wabash, how fitting that the best writer the College has ever nurtured should have one of his most acclaimed successes.

I just wish he’d take some time to rest savor that success once in a while. Of course, I also have to admit that I’m really looking forward to reading Black Hills.

You can read more about Simmons at

Watch Dan’s reading at the Seattle bookstore here


Honor Scholarship Weekend Coming Up!

Jim Amidon — Wabash College is bustling with activities from late August until early June, but few weekends carry more importance than Honor Scholarship Weekend.

Surely if you are reading this blog, you’ve heard of Honor Scholarship Weekend at Wabash. The College has been hosting high school students on campus in a merit-based scholarship competition for 116 years. In fact, Wabash’s Honor Scholarship competition might just be the nation’s oldest scholarship program.

Beginning this Friday, Wabash will welcome around 400 high school seniors, who will spend the weekend on campus taking exams. All students will take English and mathematics tests, plus two other exams of their choice — foreign or classical languages, biology, chemistry, or physics.

The tests are hard. In fact, if I remember correctly from a very long time ago when I was a high school senior, the exams are about on par with the final exams Wabash students take at the end of introductory courses in those subjects.

Most guys will walk out of the classrooms scratching their heads and saying, “What just happened to me?”

Many will not, however. And for those students who do well on the exams, scholarships up to $80,000 are available — $20,000 annually over four years at Wabash.

Given the financial situation out there, I have a hunch we’ll have increased attendance this weekend as students try to maximize their options.

In fact, that’s probably why Wabash has received a record number of applications for admission in the Class of 2013. The College had never received more than 1,465 applications, but surpassed 1,500 a month ago.

Why the increase?

There are a couple of reasons. First, Wabash has a seasoned admissions staff, dedicated corps of volunteers, and a proven record of demonstrating the value of a liberal arts education here.

Second, I think students are probably applying to more colleges this year. In a tough economy, it would make sense to have as many options as possible. And years of data indicate that liberally educated workers have greater flexibility in a constantly changing job market, which makes schools like Wabash very attractive “investments.”

There’s also the financial side. For 116 years, Wabash has provided scholarships to bright students. The College also continues to be one of the few schools that will meet a family’s demonstrated financial need, and has a “need-blind” admissions policy.

That means that any academically qualified student, regardless of family income, who gets his paperwork in on time and who has the board scores and class rank to be admitted, can have a spot in the freshman class.

Honor Scholarship Weekend is more than tests and scholarships, though.

Think of it as a test drive for the high school seniors who spend the weekend here. They’ll certainly get a sampling of the academic rigor of Wabash after taking four exams over two days.

But they’ll also get to know faculty, staff, and coaches. They’ll eat the food, hear the Glee Club sing, see the Little Giants in action on the baseball field and track, and they’ll spend the night in fraternities and dorms.

It’s as close to a preview of the college experience as we can provide high school seniors. Wabash is all about “fit,” and this is a critical time for students to feel like Wabash is a good fit for them.

We’ll also demonstrate how a Wabash education, while pricier than public universities, is worth every penny.

Parents will have an opportunity to eat lunch with Wabash faculty and see how focused they are on teaching and learning. Parents will also see presentations by students who have done undergraduate research with faculty. And a number of students and professors, who spent last week traveling the world on Immersion Learning trips, will talk about their experiences in Spain, Italy, Brussels, and Belize.

Typically, two out of every three students who attend Honor Scholarship Weekend will enroll in the fall. So the guys here Friday will also get to know the men with whom they’ll be spending the next four years.

There’s a lot at stake this weekend. For the students, there is $3.5 million in scholarship money up for grabs. For Wabash, a good Honor Scholarship Weekend means a full freshman class in the fall. For our community, a big freshman class also means a good shot to our local economy, not to mention the many ways in which Wabash students volunteer.

So please join all of us at Wabash as we roll out the red carpet to welcome our visitors, who will come from both coasts and just up the street.



Oh, the Places They Go

Jim Amidon, March 9 — The Wabash Bookstore has a red T-shirt with some Dr. Seuss characters on it with a tagline that reads, “Oh, the places you’ll go… at Wabash College.”

I was thinking a lot about that story, Oh, the places you’ll go, last Friday as I watched dozens of students and teachers loading into vans and departing for Spring Break.

If you don’t know the Dr. Seuss story, Google it and read it online. Like all Dr. Seuss, the lines are playful and light, but a powerful message is hidden in the rhymes.

“Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away!”

You see, Wabash College students are traveling the world this week.


And all I can think of is Dr. Seuss.

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes; you can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

Why not Florence, Italy? What about Brussels in Belgium? Take a dip in the seas of Belize or a romp down Madrid’s ancient streets.

That’s what Wabash students are doing this week.

Over 125 Wabash guys are traveling with their professors to extend the classroom from West Wabash Avenue around the globe. Another 125 are traveling with the Glee Club, working on mission trips, or playing sports in the sunny south.

Those guys in Belize? They are students taking a biology and aquatic ecology class with Professor Eric Wetzel.

Professor Bill Cook is leading his history students through Italy, where they’ll get up close and personal with their studies of St. Francis of Assisi.

“Out there things can happen and frequently do, to people as brainy and footsy as you.”

Other students will gain a deeper understanding of the politics and economics of the European Union — in the heart of the action in Belgium and Germany with professors Peter Mikek and Ethan Hollander.

“You will come to a place where the streets are not marked. Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked. A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin! Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in? How much can you lose? How much can you win?”

Spanish teachers Dan Rogers and Isabel Jaen-Portillo hope their brainy students studying Baroque art and architecture in Madrid will do all their walking and talking in Spanish, not English.

“You’ll get mixed up, of course, as you already know. You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go. So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act."

It’s that kind of daring and exploration that makes immersion learning really work for Wabash students. We thrust the students far outside their comfort zone where they are often confronted with problems and languages foreign from their own. Solving those problems and learning to communicate effectively is a powerful way to learn.

“You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed. You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead. Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best. Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.”

Thirty-five Wabash guys will be at it with hammers and saws, wheelbarrows and shovels, helping the impoverished people of New Orleans regain their dignity and pride.

“On and on you will hike and I know you’ll hike far and face up to your problems whatever they are.”

Fifteen Wabash athletes raised a few thousand dollars each to travel to Botswana, where they’ll continue the missionary work begun a year ago. They’ll spend a week with orphans, and using the international language of sport, will bring a little happiness to their lives.

“And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and 3 / 4 percent guaranteed.) KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS! So… you’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So… get on your way!”

Here’s wishing all Wabash folks, faculty and students alike, safe travels and good learning as they move mountains, near and far.

Note: Ten groups of Wabash students and teachers will be keeping live web journals or blogs with photos and stories of their travels. Check them out at


Wabash, Morehouse Draw Big Concert Crowd

Howard W. Hewitt – The Wabash College and Morehouse College Glee Clubs combined voice Saturday night in Indianapolis to kick off their respective spring concert tours.

See photo albums here and here.

The North United Methodist Church, at 38th and Meridian, billed the concert as “Together Again.” Indeed, the clubs performed together in 2006 in the same venue but this year drew an even bigger crowd filling pews to near the back of the church.
The acclaimed Morehouse Glee Club comes from the nation’s largest, private liberal arts college for African-American men. The Morehouse Glee Club gained acclaim singing during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Morehouse opened the program with five songs and then Wabash followed up with its entire set, with an intermission at midpoint. Morehouse then returned with its College Quartet and the entire club performed Betelehemu sung in Yoruba which brought the entire audience to its feet.
Then the evening’s most anticipated moment came when the clubs combined voice for Ev’ry Time I Feel The Spirit, directed by Morehouse Director Dr. David Morrow, and Brothers, Sing On, led by Wabash’s Dr. Richard Bowen.
The crowning moment of the concert was again the singing of the two schools’ alma maters. Wabash graduates joined the combined choirs as the Wabash Glee Club led the singing. Then Morehouse alums locked arms with the Morehouse students to honor their school.
The joint concert beings a spring tour for both school. The Wabash men will be performing in Pennsylvania throughout the week. Morehouse sang at an early morning worship service at North Methodist before hitting the road for its spring tour.
The combined effort is something special. It begs for other such collaborations across the unique niche of liberal arts colleges for men!

Thoughts and Musings on Chapel Talk

Kim Johnson – I always love going to Chapel on Thursday mornings. I don’t know why more people don’t go. This morning was particularly entertaining. Professor Cook talked about the time he’s spent in the Chapel as a student, as a father of a Wabash man, and now as a faculty member. Somehow I can see him as a student just really shaking this place up forty-some years ago. I found myself wondering who the “Bill Cook” of this generation is.

Click here to hear a full audio Podcast of Cook’s Chapel Talk.

I haven’t heard a Chapel Talk that I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed. I never regret taking an hour away from my work to go but often regret the times I don’t make it. Some topics may be seemingly innocuous but there is generally a pearl of wisdom tucked in there somewhere. There are weeks I wonder. But then the speaker comes back around I think, “Hmm. That’s not what I expected.”

I’ve discovered that the “feel” of Chapel seems to really reflect the tone of campus. In the fall, Chapel is always full. Of course, that’s because the freshmen pledges are required to be there. But there’s a great energy and a buzz among the students that reminds me why I love this place so much.

Spring semester begins quiet and rather ho-hum. It’s cold outside and students think there are better things to do than come to Chapel. “Old Wabash” is rather dull and the men just don’t seem to be too excited about anything. Walk outside – same thing. More and more editorials in The Bachelor complain about this, that, and each other. But what it all comes down to is the need for a sunny, warm day, and a swift kick in the butt – myself included.

As Spring Break approaches and the temperature warms up a bit (today!!), Chapel starts buzzing a little bit more. Today, “Old Wabash” was upbeat and the fists were raised a tad bit higher. The chorus was a little louder and the faces of the men seemed to be a little more engaged. So it goes with the feel on campus, finally. Welcome back, men. It’s good to see you again!

Artist’s Work Invites Your Questions

Steve Charles — I was in Wabash College’s Fine Arts Center writing about the upcoming art exhibition — “The Art of the Question: The Paintings of Samuel Bak” — when two women who were not supposed to be there walked into the room.
One of the women is a friend of mine, and as she gazed around the gallery at the paintings she exclaimed, “How beautiful!”
I looked at her, wondering whether to tell her the painter was a Holocaust survivor.
“Oh, such deep colors,” she said. “And the shapes and figures seem to flow across the canvas.”
The woman she’d walked in with was also taken with the art. She was examining one in which the human subject seemed to have been swept away, leaving behind only a disembodied suit.
“It’s as if the painter is removing himself from the scene, the way an artist steps away from a painting as he works,” she said.
I just had to tell them the story.
“The artist was born in Poland just before the Holocaust,” I said. “When he was nine years old, his father was sent to a labor camp and he and his mother were hidden for a time in a Benedictine monastery before being sent to that same camp.”
Now I had their attention.
“On the day that 250 children were murdered in that camp by the Nazis, Samuel’s father smuggled him out in a bag of sawdust. Samuel and his mother escaped. His father was shot along with all the other laborers 10 days before the camp was liberated by the Allies. Samuel and his mother were the only members of their family to survive.”
The women’s mouths were open, but they were silent. Then they politely thanked me for telling them the story. My friend whispered something to me, and they left.
It wasn’t until they’d walked out the door that I realized I had just done to them the very thing I despise others doing to me when I look at art for the first time. I had heard their initial reactions to the work, dismissed their remarks as naive, and given them the education they needed to see the paintings as I did.
These were a Holocaust survivor’s artistic response to despicable acts, to the pivotal human tragedy of the 20th century, I thought. How could these women see beauty here?
Then I recalled that I had come to the gallery before the show opened, in part, to look at the paintings by myself; to come to my own conclusions. Wabash Dean Gary Phillips, who has published books about Bak’s work, told me that he wanted to hear what people saw for themselves in these works — without a teacher, a scholar, or a danged writer looking over their shoulders. Before they knew the artist’s story and what the paintings are “supposed” to be about.
Bak himself has said, “I am an artist who mostly asks questions and rarely offers answers.”
He and Gary want to know what questions these works evoke in us.
I’d gone to the gallery that day to ask my own questions. But I couldn’t. I’d interviewed Gary, who had studied Bak for years. So I knew what I was supposed to see. And I certainly couldn’t look beyond the sorrow of Samuel Bak’s story to find anything beautiful.
But those two women had.
That’s when I remembered what my friend had whispered to me as she left the gallery that afternoon. This woman, who had lived through the dictatorship of Idi Amin while growing up in Uganda, told me, “Each of those millions of people had their own talents, just as this man has. Millions of talents were lost. What would our world be like if they had lived?”
As I was walked home down the tracks that pass behind the Fine Arts Center, I realized that these women had done as Gary had hoped. Thanks to them, I’m finally coming up with my own questions.
So in this column in which I’m supposed to tell you all the reasons you ought to see “The Art of the Question: The Paintings of Samuel Bak,” I’ll say nothing more. In fact, try to forget what I’ve told you here. Just please come. Tell us what you see, not what you think you’re supposed to see. Our thoughts must be more than the echoes of someone else’s thinking.
Take advantage of this chance on Monday to meet one of the most important painters of the 20th and 21st centuries. Tell him the questions his paintings raise for you. From what I’ve read of the man and seen of his work, he’d love to hear them.
"The Art of the Question: The Paintings of Samuel Bak," opens today, March 2, in the Eric Dean Gallery of the Fine Arts Center at Wabash.  An opening reception and conversations with Samuel Bak will begin today at 5 p.m. and end at 7 p.m.