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“I’ll Push You”—The Other Side of Friendship

Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray

Steve Charles—When I heard that the movie “I’ll Push You” was about two best friends—one in a wheelchair—on a 500-mile Camino de Santiago pilgrimage across Spain, I assumed the hero would be the pusher. Patrick Gray, who so loves his friend that he’ll do anything to help him.

And that’s not wrong. But it’s only half the story.

That’s only half of what friendship is, not to mention what love is. Because the real hero of the story is the guy in the wheelchair.

And this is how our hero introduced himself Sunday night after a screening of the movie in Salter Hall—the first words he uttered as he wheeled onstage:

“I’m sorry you had to see my butt crack up there.”

So this is a hero of a different sort.

The disease that put Justin Skeesuck in the chair is called Multifocal Acquired Motor Axonopathy. Ironically, MAMA, for short. MAMA’s vicious. She makes your immune system attack your nerves, tearing them down bit by bit. Justin first noticed symptoms when he was 16, six months after he’d been in a car accident. The onset was slow.  He was able to pursue a career as a designer, get married, have kids. But he says he could feel the disease ravaging its way through his body nerve by nerve.

“I would get twitching and cramps in whatever muscle was going to go next.”

“We spent years trying to make him better and he’s just getting worse and worse,” his doctor says in the film. “And the hardest thing is telling him what’s going to happen.”

Justin and Patrick have been friends since grade school. They were born a day apart in the same small town in Oregon. They practically passed each other at the hospital doors. Justin’s dad says “the boys have never really gotten into trouble, but let’s just say they’ve created a little havoc.”

There are pictures of them at one each other’s graduations, with their girlfriends who become their wives who become the mothers of their kids. All smiles and goofy looks.

Then there’s this picture of Patrick carrying Justin on his back on the beach some time after the diagnosis. The friendship deepens. Patrick tears up when he describes watching Justin struggle. He says he wishes it was him instead, and he says it in such a way that you realize it might be easier for him.

One day Justin is watching a Rick Steve’s Europe episode on PBS about the Camino de Santiago and wonders out loud if he could do that—if he and Patrick could do it. And Patrick, being the friend you can always count on, says, “Sure. I’ll push you.”

But the pastoral images Justin saw on the travel program don’t show the 4,000 feet they’ll have to climb the first day, the creeks they’ll have to ford, the two days of “something a lot like Kansas” they’ll have to cross in the heat, or the treacherous descents. It all seems like a moderately difficult walk on film—unless you have wheels and about 200 extra pounds to push up those hills, those rocks, through that mud. And part of the wheelchair breaks early on.

About 3/4 of the way, after a place they call the iron cross, Patrick cramps up—his legs become twitching, painful muscle. He’s lying on the road face down and some people who have been helping are trying to massage the cramps out. A family that has joined the two friends for a couple of days now has to stay longer, as the two friends are about to face one of the toughest stretches of the trail to get to the town of O Cebreiro.

Patrick is  struggling with his soul as much as his body—he regrets taking a job that has taken so much time that he doesn’t see his kids as much as he used to, that he isn’t there for his wife, who earlier in the film calls Patrick “my best friend.” Everyone else in the film has called Patrick “the kindest man I’ve ever met” and “generous to a fault,” but when Patrick is first thinking about helping Justin do the pilgrimage, his wife says, “Why not?” As  if the next line could be, “You’re not here anyway.” Patrick remembers times he’s been dismissive with his kids. His need to control things, putting others at a distance. Insisting he can do things by himself. And it’s weighing on him more heavily than the 10 or 12 times a day he has to lift his friend out of his wheelchair.

That’s when more friends show up. Friends along the way. People who have heard about Justin and Patrick, know the difficulty of this particular section, want to help them make it.

It’s a tough moment for Justin. He’s used to letting Patrick help, but now all these strangers?

“But I’ve learned that if you don’t let people help, you rob them of the joy they find in that,” he says. “The joy we find in helping one another.” And the next scene shows Patrick walking in the lead unfettered by the chair, all those friends doing the pushing.

“It’s the first time since we got here that I haven’t been connected to the chair in some way,” Patrick says. He seems disoriented.

But the scene at the top of the hill is joyous—all those friends taking turns pushing, encouraging, hugging, laughing. The very heart of the film. And only because Patrick can’t do it all by himself and Justin’s true humility allows others to step in.

When the friends reunite with their families at Santiago de Compostela, Patrick embraces his wife and says something to her, but we don’t hear it. It’s all tears and smiles.

And there’s this line from a guy who was with Patrick and Justin their first week on the Camino, an EMT:

“In my work I see people on the worse day of their lives; they call me when they don’t know who else to call. I’ve watched people die. What really matters at the end of the day, in that moment when your life suddenly changes, is the people around you, and the relationships you’ve built throughout your entire life. Taking the time to stop and be there for a friend, in whatever capacity they need. We can all do more of that in our lives. We can all take that time.”

 

After the film screening in Salter Hall Sunday night—after Justin’s opening crack about his crack—Patrick told us what he said to his wife at the end of that journey: “I am so sorry for all the times I’ve broken your heart.”

His wife’s response: “If you never broke my heart, how would I be able to love you more?”

He has since left the job that took him away from his family, and he and Justin now tour with this film and write full-time. Patrick’s marriage, and family, rejuvenated.

The half hour Q and A following the film was the most honest—at times funniest—public conversation I’ve heard in 22 years here. And it continued at the book signing, lots of words of encouragement, lots of laughter.

The philosopher Jean Vanier writes: “We human beings are all fundamentally the same. We all belong to a common, broken humanity. We all have wounded, vulnerable hearts. Each one of us needs to feel appreciated and understood; we all need help.”

Vanier also believes that people like Justin—who are living something we’ll all go through in our own way one day—help us to see that deepest truth.

Justin says in the film: “It’s a hard pill to swallow, and it’s something that I continually work through in situations where I have to rely on others to move me forward. I can’t do anything. I feel helpless. I kind of feel like a burden in some ways. And that’s a natural way of thinking.

“I have to continually let it go. I have to continually trust and love and let them find their joy in it.

“Because they love it.”

 

A group of students who walked the Camino last spring with Professors Dan Rogers and Gilberto Gomez as part of a Wabash class had a long lunch with Justin and Patrick on Sunday. Dan says they mostly swapped stories about the people they met there.

“The Camino is never just about you,” one of the friends in the film says.

There were about 160 people at the screening on Sunday evening, a good number of them students, and many of those students stuck around after the Q and A to talk.

You wonder how this film, meeting these guys, will fit into their liberal arts education, their understanding of what it means to be a man.

 

This event was funded by alumnus Larry Landis and other donors to the President’s Distinguished Speakers’ Series, as well as the Lecture and Film Committee.


My Summer as a Painted Turtle

by Aaron Webb ’20

California for a 20-year-old from Indiana is mystical—a dream world filled with granite ridges dotted with green and brown pines; miles of beaches sprinkled with blues, reds, and pinks deposited from the seemingly infinite ocean; and endless streams of sunlight that warm the skin and spirit.

When I was hired to work at The Painted Turtle, a camp at Lake Hughes, CA, for kids who have been diagnosed with serious medical conditions, I prepared myself to work in beautiful California. I prepared myself to travel around the state, taking in as much of its natural treasures as possible before my time was up. I prepared to bring back stories of spiritual journeys through the towering sequoias and whimsical follies on the beach.

I had not prepared to see the world’s unlimited, unlabeled, and unavoidable beauty as seen in the lives of Nando, Roy, and Nathan.

Nando embodied cool, maintained an “I’ve been here before” air about him.

Regardless of the unshakable California heat, Nando committed to a look featuring black high-top Vans with white accents streaking from heel to toe, black denim cuffed to reveal the socks covering his ankles, T-shirts that ranged from all white to black with “Thrasher” sprawled across his chest, and always topped off with a headband to maintain the center part in his swirling, dark hair.

Nando calculated when to show his personality but would always humor us counselors with a slight chuckle and sly grin whenever we would crack a bad joke or make fools of ourselves.

Nando knew camp, and you could tell.

Roy’s facial expressions provided the counselors with everything we needed to know about his thoughts and feelings. Roy was nonverbal—the few times he did speak his voice was faint, and he never spoke more than five words. He used a wheelchair to get around and braces to help support his legs. Roy’s fluorescent shirts and pants mirrored his personality.

Roy loved camp, and all you had to do was look into his eyes and his broad, beaming smile to see it.

Nathan loved theater. He knew by heart parts of his favorite musical, Hamilton: An American Musical. He would quietly perform the songs, accents and all, as we wandered from activity to activity.

Nathan quickly became a leader for the others in our cabin. He was always one to crack jokes and fuel the silliness camp promotes, but he was just as willing to be vulnerable, to provide eye-opening insights that forced us to think, to feel.

Nathan wanted others to feel the magic that camp had instilled in him, and he would do whatever it took to pass that gift along.

But Nando never danced with us, never felt compelled to participate in that, our favorite post-meal ritual. Which was fine. At camp we believe in challenge by choice. Everything is possible and encouraged, but nothing is forced.

Soft-spoken, Nando never embarked on long-winded responses or contributed to the pool of goofiness that amassed whenever the cabin had some downtime.

Nando preferred to observe.

That changed when our cabin paired with another, and the campers in my cabin got the chance to mentor younger campers. Being a mentor gave Nando a way to show everyone who he truly was. He began engaging more with his cabinmates. He allowed more of himself to show. He was a tremendously supportive mentor, and would do anything to encourage the others.

He became the heart of our cabin. A grin that defined camp’s power and magic.

And by week’s end, Nando could be seen dancing next to the camper he mentored, joy in his face and moves. Nando was always compassionate, loving, and intelligent. He was just never given the chance. Camp gave him that chance.

Roy rarely stopped smiling. From shooting arrows at the archery range to swimming in the pool, Roy’s smile came to be standard equipment.

Nothing ever got to Roy—until he encountered the high-ropes course.

The most emotionally and physically demanding activity at camp, the high ropes force campers to face their fears and doubts, to search for courage they may not know is within them. For a camper who relies on a wheelchair, the high-ropes course can seem impossible.

For Roy, the ropes course was the impossible.

Under a cloudless blue sky we harnessed up and prepared to take on the ropes course, Roy included.

He was nervous. The beaming smile faded to a frown. He had overcome so many challenges in his life, but you could tell that the ropes course was something else. Bigger. Still, Roy prepared to take on the challenge. We transferred him into the black mesh sling that would cradle him as he ascended to the top of the course, where he was placed into the wheelchair waiting for him.

I followed behind to lend a helping hand. A tension-filled exchange of commands flew from counselor to counselor to ensure that Roy was safely locked into the rigging. The stress showed on Roy’s face. He stared off into the distance. Then he reclined in his sling and was guided to the ledge of the 30-foot-high platform, and on a count of three he was released to a whiz of cable and rigging.

For a few brief moments Roy achieved a freedom that kids with his conditions rarely, if ever, feel. He was flying.

The smile that defined Roy returned as he descended. Kids who come to The Painted Turtle camp are given the chance to live without labels, and, as the camp’s founder Paul Newman put it, “raise a little hell.”

Roy told the world that anything is possible louder than any of us could shout it, and all through a smile.

Nathan’s week at camp was nearly over, and the emotion-filled Bale Closing (we call each cabin a “bale,” the collective noun for a group of turtles) hit him with that realization all at once. Bale Closing was a time for reflection, and Nathan had a lot to think about. He had met and made friends with so many others dealing with the same condition as his own. As Bale Closing finished, the guys in our cabin began making our way to closing campfire, the official end to camp. Nathan walked alone, his head dipped and eyes closed.

I worked my way up to Nathan to check on him. We talked about some of the moments he had experienced with his fellow campers, and before rationality or pride could intervene, we were walking side by side, arms slung over each other’s shoulders, crying. Not tears of bitterness or regret, but tangible reminders of camp’s importance in a time when joy and love are hard to find. As we neared the campfire, Nathan mustered enough composure to mutter, while shaking his head, “Best week of my life.”

Aaron Webb ’20

Nando, Roy, and Nathan each have given me more than I ever deserve. They taught me how life should be lived, regardless of our circumstances. Nando’s love, Roy’s smile, and Nathan’s vulnerability each hold more meaning than any of those solitary moments on a trail or beach parties I had imagined for myself when I dreamed of California. They taught me to be true to myself and love completely and wholly, to live unlabeled and unlimited, to live unafraid, to be emotional in times when emotion and genuineness are needed more than ever.

They teach me to be a Painted Turtle, wherever I go.

 

Aaron Webb is a philosophy and pre-med major and received the Dr. Paul T. Hurt Award for All-Around Freshman Achievement at Awards Chapel last April. The Painted Turtle is a summer camp program in the Los Angeles area for children with cerebral palsy, hemophilia, kidney and liver disease, and a variety of other chronic and life-threatening medical conditions.


Homemakers

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Betty Allen H’57

Steve Charles—As the self-proclaimed official photographer for Associate Director of Communications Richard Paige’s Wabash on My Mind podcasts, I get to sit in on some of the most interesting conversations on campus. The highlight of my Homecoming Weekend was Rich’s interview of Betty and Bob Allen as they anticipated Betty’s being named an honorary alumna of the College. (Watch for the podcast on the Web site in the near future).

Rich does a great job of honoring his guests by taking these conversations seriously while welcoming them and helping them to relax behind the mic. It wasn’t long before Betty and Bob were laughing and taking turns reflecting on DePauw (Betty’s alma mater), Wabash (Bob’s), their first year as a married couple in Mud Hollow (ask them about “rocking the roof”), their life together as Bob rose through the ranks at AT&T, and their children.

Betty recalled an essay she’d been assigned when she was a girl; she had been asked to write down her life goals.

“I’ve saved it, and I re-read it just recently,” she said. “I wrote, ‘I want to be a good wife and mother.’”

“She’s been a perfect mother,” Bob said, and he described with gratitude the loving home she had created for him and for their children.

I felt a surge of gratitude myself; Betty is about the age my own mother would be today had she lived. I was taken back to grade school and those forms we had to fill out at the beginning of the school year:

Name:
Address:
Phone number:
Occupation of father:
Occupation of mother:

Dad was an insurance agent. I didn’t know what to write for mom.

“Homemaker,” she told me, and she said it proudly. It had been her life goal-the hardest work and, for her, the highest calling. Betty Allen’s vocation: A good wife and a good mother. “The backbone of the family,” as Betty’s honorary alumna citation puts it.

Consider the fact that Bob and Betty have contributed millions to the new independent housing on campus, and Betty’s a home builder, too!

Sunday morning I was listening to On Being on NPR as the cultural anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson spoke about what the word “homemaker” meant to her. She described women doing this work as “composing a life, as if throwing a pot or painting—a creative act.”

She said you’ll even see this tendency when homemaker enter the world of business: “They often maintain an awareness of whether their decisions are for the general good, they notice discomfort, distrust and try to resolve it. They support people working together.”

“Homemaking is creating an environment in which learning is possible,” Bateson said. “That is what a home is. That is what we want the home we give to our children to be—places where they grow in many different ways, they learn how to connect with other people, they learn how to care for others, they learn skills, their own capacities, how to trust other people, how to trust themselves.”

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Professor Kealoha Widdows H’07

That got me thinking about Professor Kealoha Widdows—a woman who chose a career path very different from Betty Allen’s. Here’s part of the citation NAWM President Rick Cavanaugh read naming Kay an honorary alumna.

“Your steadfast belief that your students need to see the world in order to be effective leaders in it is seen in the many immersion learning courses you have taught. You have led students to three continents, including Ecuador to study the political economy of oil production and Europe to learn about policy-making in the European Union. You have brought international visitors to our campus who have enriched students’ experiences.

“We are told that your name translates to ‘love’ and ‘a great friend who will always be by your side.’ For nearly three decades, you have stood by the sides of scores of Wabash men you have taught, mentored, loved, and cheered on with admiration.”

The work Kay Widdows and all our best teachers, men and women, do—the dedication and heart they bring to that work—sounds a lot like Bateson’s definition of homemaking. It’s a sign of the times that many of today’s professors do that work both at Wabash and for their own families.

 

At the beginning of Saturday’s Homecoming Chapel, President Hess urged returning alumni to “remember that Wabash is always your home.”

Those words would be little more than wishful thinking if not for generations of women who have loved this “College for men” and its students—teacher/homemakers like Betty Allen and Kay Widdows. The well-earned standing ovations for Betty and Kay at Saturday’s Chapel were a moment to give thanks for them all.

A teachable moment.


What Wabash Is All About

“People often ask me what Wabash is all about,” said Professor Emeritus of Classics John Fischer H’70 to guests gathered Sunday in the Sparks Center Great Hall for the Honorary Degree Luncheon.

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Fischer at the podium during Saturday’s reception given in his honor in Detchon Hall.

That’s the same John Fischer celebrated Saturday by Professor Jeremy Hartnett (at a reception hosted by Fischer’s Lambda Chi sons and brothers) for his “generosity, genuineness, zest for life, and devotion to students and friends.”

The same John Fischer who brought the word “feckless” into the Wabash lexicon, and whose honorary degree includes that very word, praising the “jubilant humanity” he “modeled and cultivated as a colleague, professor, and motivator—no, caretaker—of the feckless.”

“’Feckless’ is just such an appropriate marker for your approach to students,” Hartnett said in honoring his mentor. “You didn’t view us as though we were flawed, but just as if we were in need of a bit more oomph and direction. To be called ‘feckless’ by you sent a clear message: Get off your rear end, face the task in front of you, and get to it. It’s a word that warms my heart when I hear a rookie faculty member use it even today, since it means that Fischerian spirit, so central to good work at Wabash, lives on.

“You modeled being a professor at Wabash that we strive to imitate: engaged with and deeply committed to our students, but also calling them on their bullshit.”

So when John Fischer talks about what Wabash is all about, we’re wise to listen.

“I have yet to come up with the perfect word,” Fischer said, “but what I do use is ‘intimacy.’

“That ‘intimacy’ seems to be at the very heart of what we are all about and what I think of when I contemplate my years here. The key to it all is the relationship between professor and student, advisor and advisee, the open and not shut office door.

“I recall my advisees with great pleasure and think about all of the things we talked about whether in my office, in the Scarlet Inn, in a fraternity or dorm, or in my home. We talked about everything… One becomes friends with current and former students. I have had the great good luck to be part of many of my former students’ lives.

Dan Degryse ’83 greets his former advisor and teacher.

Dan Degryse ’83 greets his former advisor and teacher.

“Teaching here was great fun and I learned how to teach from my colleagues, the remarkable Jack Charles and Ted Bedrick. The combination of their mentoring and my classes with first-rate students made me a better teacher. I also learned other things outside of the classroom about the Midwest, soccer (my involvement with the beginnings of soccer here was a different education—I could not be prouder of my own players back then and their successful contemporary descendants). I also learned about the Monon Bell which resides, I am happy to say, where it belongs.

“The genuine openness of the Midwest and, more importantly, its native, bright students was a gigantic discovery for me and watching these students come to the College, find their footing, and move on is still something I regard with pleasure and delight. I was involved for some years with the off-campus study program and it was simply fun to help our students to find somewhere they could augment their education. It was a sheer pleasure to behold the energy and life such an experience would add to a young man’s time at Wabash.

“I also was advisor to the Lambda Chis, which was fun, interesting, and challenging. I enjoyed the relationships formed there and was happy to watch young men come in their first year and emerge four years later with firm sense of self and sound bond with the College and the fraternity.

“Thus, I taught and was educated myself in numerous ways during my four decades here. I reveled in amiable colleagues and bright eager students.

“I hope that “intimacy” and that bond is never diminished here: it’s what makes a Wabash education so powerful.”

 


Alumni Enrich Student Learning

Fresh off preparing a meal for Wabash trustees, Cuoco Pasta Founder Mark Shreve ’04 taught students how to make pasta during an impromptu session in Professor Rick Warner's kitchen.

Fresh off preparing a meal for Wabash trustees, Cuoco Pasta Founder Mark Shreve ’04 taught students how to make pasta during an impromptu session in Professor Rick Warner’s kitchen last week.

Steve Charles—The connections between alumni and students set Wabash apart from most colleges, and grads enrich learning here in many ways.

Often that learning takes place during an internship at an alum’s workplace. But when alumni return to campus, we get a close-up look at the real-world perspective they offer students, not to mention the variety and liveliness of those interactions.

Last week I photographed the visits of two of those alumni: Mark Shreve ’04 and Frank Buerger ’73. Take a look at “Never a Job” and “Learning Happens Everywhere Here” at Wabash Magazine Online.


10 Promising Trends of 2014

Steve Charles—As the editor of a quarterly journal, I tend to view the year’s significant events as being connected to larger trends and to the history of the College.

2014 had more than its share of those promising connections. Here are 10 I noticed as I gathered stories for Wabash Magazine this year:

burnett lores A Rhodes and Three FulbrightsJacob Burnett ’15 being selected our first Rhodes scholar since Jeremy Robinson ’04 coincided with Susan Albrecht’s first year in the newly created post of graduate fellowship advisor. Correlation does not prove causation, but for the past several years faculty and staff—from Professor Eric Olofson and his Graduate Fellowships Committee to Albrecht’s work this year—have become more intentional and focused on helping students obtain graduate fellowships. A Rhodes scholar and a record three Fulbrights—Adam Barnes ’14, Patrick Stroud ’14, and Sebastian Garren ’14—all in one year. That’s a promising trend.

riley pelton happy for winGolden Age of Wabash Sports—I had the pleasure of photographing the soccer team’s stunning 1-0 win over nationally second-ranked Kenyon in October, and that win led to a record-breaking season for regional Division III Coach of the Year Chris Keller’s Little Giants. For me it could be a metaphor for the entire fall sports season. A conference championship and play-off appearances for football, regional championship for cross-country, strong individual athletes in all sports, and honors and national respect for the coaches. And all built off the momentum of last spring’s NCAC track and field titles.

Wabash SID Brent Harris says it was the best fall sports season in Wabash history. Even tossed around the term “the Golden Age of Wabash Sports.” And he should know.

“That Floor Was Like a Fraternity”—That’s how Jim McQuillin ’72 describes the second floor of Wolcott Hall during his Wabash days, when he was mentored by fellow Wolcott residents Bill Placher ’70 and David Blix: “We were a brotherhood, and as tight a group as you could imagine.”

Those words came to mind last May when President Greg Hess announced the construction of new independent housing, due to open Fall 2015. Pair that with a new fund established by Clay and Amy Robbins that will support student-centered events on campus, then factor in programs that find increasing numbers of students doing their “student jobs” in businesses and organizations in Crawfordsville. It seems the quality and breadth of student life at Wabash is improving all around.

Matthew Deleget & David Diaoloreshoto by Rossana MartinezA Great Year for Wabash Artists—Matthew Deleget ’94 earned one of the art world’s great honors when he was invited to exhibit at the 2014 Whitney Biennial in New York City. Nathaniel Mary Quinn ’00 exhibited “Past/Present” at the Pace Gallery in London and earned critical praise and much notice both in and outside of the art world. (Read the Huffington Post and Brooklyn Reader articles.) Not bad for an art department that used to be housed in the Yandes basement!

All this in a year of transition for the art department. Filmmaker and painter Damon Mohl brings his own awards to his rookie year as a professor at Wabash, Professor Elizabeth Morton returns from sabbatical with more curating opportunities for Wabash students, and Professor Doug Calisch will celebrate his final year at Wabash with a retrospective of over 30 years of work next fall.

And while we’re talking fine arts, Professor Mike Abbott directed what may be the most remarkable theatrical collaboration I’ve seen in 20 years—a staging of Guys and Dolls that brought together music and theater departments as well as the campus and Crawfordsville. Contrast that raucous musical with Professor Jessie Mills innovative and well-received (as in standing ovations every night) production of the dialogue-free play Stage Lights. Just two of many reminders of the gift Wabash theater is to the College and the local community.

Then there was songwriter Dan Couch ’89, whose second hit with Kip Moore, “Hey Pretty Girl” went platinum in 2014, even as the songwriting duo was pioneering new musical territory for Moore’s second album.

Any prospective students out there interested in a Fine Arts Scholarship? They should be.

An English Department in Transition—Agata Szczeszak-Brewer delivered a remarkable and challenging LaFollette Lecture, Eric Freeze published a book of essays titled Hemingway on a Bike, Jill Lamberton taught the College’s first course in audio rhetoric, and Marc Hudson published more of his acclaimed poetry (an interview with him will be published in the Silk Road Review later this month).

Professor Emeritus Bert Stern was named an honorary alumnus and published his  “long simmering promise”—the biography of Wabash alumnus and pioneering American in China Robert Winter. Tobey Herzog’s final class before retirement was a wonderful template for others to share the works that fired their own passion for scholarship and teaching.

But Professor Emeritus Tom Campbell died in July. His class on the personal essay was the forerunner to our courses on writing creative non-fiction. I was remembering how Tom had returned to campus after his retirement for one of Eric Freeze’s readings, ever the supportive colleague. I know he believed the non-fiction writing courses were in good hands. But it is the man we miss.

Professor Hudson retires this year; Warren Rosenberg soon after.  The “old guard” made certain through recent hirings that the department will always be a great one, in the tradition of Don Baker and Walt Fertig, who preceded them. I wish I could be an English major here today!

But Stern, Campbell, Herring, Hudson, Herzog, and Rosenberg—those were vintage years.

Standing Really T.A.L.L.— 430 on 4/30,the Wabash Day of Giving in April, raised more than $465,000 in 24 hours thanks to social media and the tremendous response of alumni, students, and faculty and staff. (Many of those donors were first time givers.) The Annual Fund ended the fiscal year with its second highest total in Wabash history, and fundraising journals took notice.

President Hess had listed “expanding the culture of philanthropy at Wabash” as one of his first four objectives leading Wabash forward. Associate Dean for College Advancement Joe Klen’s creative experiment paid off (and no matter what they’ll tell you now, plenty of people doubted it on 4/29). It will be interesting to see what’s next.

Like a Phoenix Rising—When I arrived at Wabash 20 years ago the College was rumored to be considering dropping the speech department. Look at that department (the Department of Rhetoric) now! It has hosted Brigance Colloquia and other national conferences. Professor Todd McDorman delivered the 2013 LaFollette Lecture. And led by chair Jennifer Abbott, faculty and students have led conversations in Crawfordsville and other communities to address and work to resolve previously intractable problems. Assistant Professor 
of Rhetoric Sara Drury, inspired by Wabash legend W. Norwood Brigance, is director of the Wabash Democracy and Public Discourse initiative, which last fall hosted the first Public Discourse Summit with keynote speaker David Kendall ’66.

Classics, a department that took a hit during the Great Recession, is experiencing a similar resurgence. The 2014 Suovetaurilia turned the once insular department picnic into a reenactment of an ancient feast and a tasty celebration of learning for nearly 250 guests at Goodrich Ballpark between double-headers. One goal, as Assistant Professor Bronwen Wickkiser puts it, is “to make the ancient world more accessible for students, and to experience what the senses teach us about life in the ancient world.” Chair Jeremy Hartnett ’96, a former student of Professor Emeritus John Fisher H’70, as well as of David Kubiak and Leslie and Joe Day, is working on research with faculty from other departments, showing the innately interdisciplinary reach of the Classics.  And after retirement, the Days have stayed on to help teach courses and bring their expertise to the  curriculum. It’s quite a legacy!

“Doing Science” as a Way to LearnDean of the College Scott Feller was a newly arrived chemistry professor when I first interviewed him in the mid-90s. His Goodrich Hall office was packed with computers (parallel processors he used to create the “Little Giant Supercomputer”) and students. That day there were two in a space the size of a large closet, both working with Scott on his National Science Foundation-funded molecular modeling research.

Scott believes that students learn best by “doing science” alongside their teachers, that their questioning of assumptions and conventional wisdom can benefit high-level scholarship and research. He believes that sort of teaching and learning is worth the extra time required to include them in the work.

That model became the seed for the first Celebration of Student Research, Scholarship, and Creative Work (which he put together with Charlie Blaich) and has become a template for teaching across the sciences and social sciences, particularly in psychology. It’s reached the humanities, as well. It’s the way I wish I’d been taught in college.

Scott is also a hobby farmer and was hired at Wabash by another farmer, then-Dean of the College Mauri Ditzler ’75. Mauri thought it was no coincidence that so many scientists came from farming backgrounds. As boys, they had to learn to solve problems creatively and with limited resources—perfect training for a young scientist.

Scott being named Dean was an affirmation of both his collaborative way of teaching and his way of solving problems. And added another farmer to the list of Wabash deans!

Four to Watch—President Hess calls them “liberal arts plus”—four initiatives in which students apply and enrich their liberal arts education. I’ve been watching two of them—Global Health and Democracy and Public Discourse—since their inception. I’ve seen the conviction, passion, and teaching ability behind them. I’ve seen the difference they can make in the world. Knowing the people involved with the other two—Innovation, Business, and Entrepreneurship and Digital Arts and Human Values—I’m confident these initiatives will be equally transformative.

They will also give the world focused and tangible way to see and experience what a liberal arts education can do. Keep an eye on these four and your opportunity to be involved. I’m really looking forward to telling these stories.

“Taking Them Farther”—This one’s more personal to me, but it stands for something bigger. In September I took my grandson, Myca, to watch the Cole Lectures given by class of 2012 classmate Pete Guiden and Patrick Garrett in September. Patrick is Myca’s dad.

Patrick grew up in Crawfordsville but had never set foot on campus prior to his application to Wabash. He earned a spot on the waiting list but had to attend Indiana State for a year to prove he was Wabash worthy. Once here he thrived, thanks to his talents, his own determined effort, and the caring and skillful teaching of professors like Amanda Ingram, David Polley, and Jane Hardy. Now he’s working on his PhD at the University of Miami in Ohio; he returned to Wabash for the Cole Lecture to present his research.

Patrick’s visit reminded me of something I heard from Professor Emeritus Raymond Williams H’68 years ago in Center 216. He spoke of recruiting students with less than stellar academic records and “taking them farther” than any other college could. This College, he said, is particularly good at that.

I took that in faith when I first heard it from Raymond, but I’ve witnessed it as fact many times since, and none more profoundly than last September. I know what it means to Patrick, I know what it means for Myca.

When Wabash “takes a student farther,” we take a family, even a community, farther, too.

That, more anything else we do, makes me look forward to our work in 2015.


Extraordinary Encounters

Indiana pastors with the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program worshipped with Nobel Prize Laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu last Friday on his 83rd birthday.

Indiana pastors with the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program worshipped with Nobel Prize Laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu last Friday on his 83rd birthday.

“Check out the attached picture,” Associate Professor of Religion Derek Nelson ’99 wrote to me in an email last Friday. I opened the attachment to find what you see here: Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu in liturgical vestments, standing with a group of Indiana pastors from the Wabash Pastoral Leadership program.

So what are they doing in South Africa? (Other than receiving Holy Communion from one of the most famous peace activists on the planet, that is—and on the same day this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winners were announced.)

That’s pretty much what everyone I told about this photo has asked. Apparently the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program—one of the College’s four Centers of Distinction—is also one of the College’ best kept secrets.

Time to get the word out.

Funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. and founded in 2008 by Professor Emeritus Raymond Williams H’68, the program selects up to 18 Indiana pastors who in their first five to ten years have demonstrated high potential for significant leadership. They participate in a series of meetings, conversations with outstanding leaders, and two study tours over a two-year period. I have photographed a few of the sessions here on campus. I have seen the safe space and remarkable support, guidance, and inspiration the Center provides these gifted and dedicated servants of their congregations, and that they give one another.

They express their gratitude for the program in testimonials on the program’s Web site that capture well the deep need the Center is meeting: “I had been told plenty of times that I needed to be a good leader, but I was given little space or time to reflect on leadership,” one pastor writes. “Part cloister and part think tank, the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program has been a tremendous gift in my life that has created a community for theological and practical reflection on leadership.”

“The Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program was the greatest opportunity to grow as a pastoral leader I’ve ever been given,” writes another.

The current group is the second immersed in a study tour of South Africa, and Associate Director Libby Manning says “the trip has tied together so many of the community issues we have been studying with the pastors. We’re learning about the ways that education, conflict resolution, economics and immigration play into the health and well-being of our communities, and the place that the churches have in that ongoing process.”

The pastors toured Robben Island on Monday, guided by a former prisoner there and cellmate of Nelson Mandela, Eddie Daniels.

While most of the visit is carefully arranged, the encounter with Desmond Tutu was “mostly a case of being in the right place at the right time,” says Nelson, who in 2013 was named the Center’s director. A colleague of Derek’s was hosting the pastors at Stellenbosch University at the same time the school held a conference with Bishop Tutu. “So the pastors were on his radar screen, and the dean of the cathedral in Cape Town invited them to daily Mass.”

The pastors are blogging about their experience in South Africa at the Center’s Web site, where you’ll see one way the College’s original mission—”the training of teachers and preachers”—is being lived out in new, important, and unexpected ways.

 


Steeg Knew the Human Heart

Steve Charles—Ted Steeg ’52 once told me, “If you have a workable and consistent perception of what is in the human heart, you can communicate with anyone, any time, anywhere, through any medium.”

STEEG-obit-master675 Ted, who died July 7, had that “workable and consistent perception” and practiced it most famously in film. His documentary about Wabash, A Way of Life, captures “the human heart” of Wabash like no other project I’ve seen in any medium. In it we meet Wabash legends like Eric Dean, Fred Enenbach, Vic Powell, and Eliot Williams. We sit on the College mall and listen as President Thad Seymour delights upperclassmen with awful poetry during the infamous Elmore Day, then we watch him welcome with sincerity the new class on Freshman Saturday. And we see Doc Keith Baird ’56, fresh from his work on Apollo 13. It’s like watching your family’s best lost home movies; that is, if Steven Spielberg was the one in your family who liked to play with the camera.

Ted wrote: “What I was really trying to do with the whole film was not just make audiences hear and see what’s great about amazing Wabash, but also feel it.” Watch A Way of Life here on the College’s YouTube channel and you can feel it, too.

But Ted’s strongest medium was face-to-face. He lived “in the moment” all his life and long before the phrase became fashionable. He understood the power (though I can’t imagine him using the term) of simply being present. His friend Dan Wakefield recalls in Creating from the Spirit the day he began expounding to Ted the virtues he found as a beginning yoga student:

At first I thought he was trying to joke away my enthusiasm for living in the moment and shutting off the noise that the yoga postures provided. But that wasn’t it.

“You yo-yo. Why do you think I’ve been playing sports all these years?” Ted challenged. “That’s what sports does—puts you in the moment and shuts down the mental noise.”

Ted and I exchanged many emails and collaborated on several projects, but I recall his presence most keenly from an hour-long conversation we had at Crawfordsville’s Holiday Inn in the late 1990s. Ted had been in town for the first meeting of Wabash Magazine’s editorial advisory board. He offered to meet me for breakfast and talk some more. He was one of those people who put you at ease and, in that relaxed moment, the conversation and creativity flowed. I left feeling affirmed, inspired, and freed to think in new ways about our work here. And with two of the best ideas we’ve ever had for the magazine and which still guide us today.

The poet William Stafford wrote, “I’m saved in this world by unforeseen friends,” and Ted Steeg was one of those friends for many, and certainly for me, for Wabash Magazine, and my vocation here. His presence will be missed by many, especially by his daughter, Amy, his grandchildren, and friends like Wakefield, who in a tribute in NUVO Magazine wrote, “Ted was known to us as ‘The Horse’—a nickname that meant someone who was strong—the one you could count on, the one who could carry the load and never complain.”

Watch Ted’s A Way of Life on the College’s YouTube channel.

Ted reflects about making A Way of Life.

Read Dan Wakefield’s tribute in NUVO magazine.

Steeg discusses the most significant event of the 20th century in filmmaking.


A Love/Hate Take on Big Bash

Steve Charles—I didn’t know what to say.

Chet Turnbeaugh ’14 had shown up at the Class of 1964 Reunion in Littel Lobby to give President Hess a poster he’d made as a thank-you gift, and the new grad had been mingling with guys coming back after 50 years in the world. Now he was leaving Wabash for that world, we were shaking hands goodbye, and I—who had watched Chet’s transformation from awkward freshman to bold, thoughtful, and creative graduate—couldn’t think of what to say.

Chet Turnbeaugh ’14

Chet Turnbeaugh ’14

Chet is a talented and caring young man who has taken big risks. He may accomplish a lot in the world. For his sake and the world’s, I hope he does. But he’s a good Wabash man whether he does or not. He’s going into the arts, a tough and often thankless way to make a living. I wanted to offer good words, a way to thank him for what’s he has come to mean to us. And he seemed to be waiting for something wise.

But all I could manage was a nod and a goofy smile. I’ve struggled in similar ways saying goodbye to my sons. “Stay in touch,” I told Chet. Oh, how original! How moving! I just don’t do goodbyes very well.

As Chet walked away from Wabash I waved—upping the awkwardness quotient—then turned around to my work of photographing the 70-plus-year-old men who had come home.

I have a love/hate relationship with the Big Bash Weekend.

I love meeting alumni, hearing their stories at Scarlet Yarns and colloquia. I revel in welcoming back friends; I love catching up and seeing how we’ve changed, how quickly our friendships are renewed.

I love Big Bash one-on-one.

But I hate the crowds. I feel a practically pathological anxiety in gatherings of three or more. I deal with that anxiety by doing my job as a photographer. I shoot most of the big events through 85mm or 135mm telephoto lenses, breaking the  “mob” down one person at a time. Then I can see my friends again.

And I publish those images to encourage other crowd-anxious souls, hoping they’ll overcome their concerns and attend reunions. Taking this work-like approach in the midst of friends has its consequences. I often block the very connections that make Wabash Wabash. A wall against the very story I’m trying to tell.

On Saturday, seven Wabash guys and a professor tore that wall to pieces.

I saw Andy Dreitcer ’79 in Lilly Library and called out to him. I had covered Andy’s work on reconciliation for the College’s Pastoral Leadership Program, and we had reprinted a heartbreaking and illuminating personal essay of his in the magazine. I yammered at Andy for so long Saturday he almost missed Alumni Chapel Sing.

At Chapel Sing Kent Merrill ’64 caught up with me as I was taking photographs. I had enjoyed Kent and Midge’s hospitality years ago during a visit to their home outside of Knoxville, TN, where I’d photographed the beautiful furniture the retired doc had made. I’d had a blast taking pictures in his shop. As Jim Durham ’64 would say later that night of his longtime friend, “Kent’s been a person of compassion and integrity since I first got to know him in the 6th grade.” Kent’s stopping me there at Alumni Chapel Sing made me feel remembered and I held on to that sense of belonging throughout that big event.

Last spring we shot a video on campus with Jeremy Robinson ’04 about his former student Francisco Huerta ’14. We’d told other stories about Jeremy’s teaching, but this one brought it all full circle. I felt the pride Jeremy’s Wabash teachers would have felt if they’d been there with us, so I gave him a hug afterward, told him how proud we were of him. A bold thing to do, given I wasn’t a professor. But if Bill Placher or Dan Rogers had been there, I’m confident they would have done the same—I did it for them. Jeremy was back again for Big Bash Saturday and returned the favor on his way to present a colloquium session on teaching, a kind gesture in the middle of a long day that reminded me why I love this place and that I belong here.

At the Psychology Reception, Visiting Professor Teresa Aubele-Futch and I were talking about one of her students and co-researchers, Brad Wise ’14, who hopes to attend graduate school in 2015. Although the professor will be teaching at St. Mary’s College next year, she’s taking Wise to a conference next fall to co-present their research and make grad school connections. “But you won’t be a Wabash professor then,” I said. “I believe in him,” she told me.

Rev. John Sowers ’99 was a compact force of nature when he was a student but our exchanges then were mostly light-hearted. Saturday for our Scarlet Yarns audio project he talked about how his friend and mentor Coach Max Servies ’58 had also been a surrogate grandfather to him. Then John’s classmate and fellow preacher and pastor Josh Patty talked about the ongoing relationship he has with the late Professor Bill Placher ’71 through Bill’s books and I had to wipe the tears off my viewfinder. I reminded Josh about the time he had listened to me bemoaning the rambling nature of my talk to group of Wabash alumni in Pittsburgh after I’d decided to ditch my script and go “off the cuff.” He had told me then that our presence is the gift we give each other, and often the script gets in the way. He said I didn’t have to be perfect, just had to show up and be genuine.

Jesus Campos ’04 shares his story for the College's Scarlet Yarns audio project.

Jesus Campos ’04 shares his story for the College’s Scarlet Yarns audio project.

Then Jesus Campos ’04 showed up at the Scarlet Yarns table. Jesus was my son’s pledge brother, we’d had him over for Thanksgiving when he was a student, and he had struggled mightily with the English language and Wabash academics when he arrived here from Texas. Talk about overcoming the odds! On Saturday he expressed his gratitude to Wabash and the many people who had taught and supported him here. It was joy to hear him speak, and fun, too, as we reminisced about his pledge class’s antics. I’ve rarely felt better about being a part of this College community.

Jesus is helping others now as a social worker in Philadelphia. He said some of his Wabash classmates don’t feel as though they deserve to come back for their reunions. They’re not successful or rich enough to give back the way they want to or feel they should. They think they haven’t done enough in their lives to be worthy of being embraced by their teachers and their classmates. Jesus and I talked about ways to help them see that’s not the point of a reunion: You don’t come home because you have money to build another room on the house; you come home to be with your family.

I got so caught up in the conversation as we walked out of Lilly Library that I forgot my camera and barely made it in time the cover the Class of 64 50th Reunion Dinner. There Steve Cougill ’64 was the final speaker during an evening of stories. He had attended Wabash for six semesters but hadn’t felt like he really was part of the class, didn’t “deserve” to join them at their reunion. His Kappa Sig pledge brothers and all his classmates were happy to see him.

“It’s just been wonderful being back with you guys again,” Cougill told his classmates. “At the Chapel Sing today we were singing “Old Wabash” and I could hardly keep singing because I was getting choked up, just being back with you again. It’s been a great experience, and I hope you guys all come back for our 55th.”

 

So now I know what to say to Chet Turnbeaugh: “Come back.”

“No matter what befalls you, think about your friends and the teachers who believed in you and come back.

“Don’t wait until you think you have achieved or earned ‘enough’ to come back. We knew you when you were dreaming and struggling, singing out of tune the world’s longest fight song, and those friends and family embraced you then. How much more so now?

“Whether you’ve ‘made it’ or you’re down on your luck, come home. Whether you graduated from Wabash or left after a semester, if this place has meaning to you, come home.

“Don’t wait until you’ve got hundreds or thousands or millions of dollars to give to your alma mater. As my friend the Rev. Josh Patty ’99 might say, ‘The present you bring is your presence.'”

If Wabash teaches us nothing else, she teaches us that. And she reminded me over and over again at this year’s Big Bash.


For the Love of the Game

Professor of English and Commissioner of the Wabash NBA (Noontime Basketball Association) Tobey Herzog H’11

Professor of English and Commissioner of the Wabash NBA (Noontime Basketball Association) Tobey Herzog H’11

Steve Charles—Center 216 got noisy last Thursday.

Professor of English Tobey Herzog H’11, his red #41 Chicago Bulls jersey pulled over his signature blue Oxford cloth shirt, was showing video clips from the championship game of the second Chicago Bulls Fantasy Camp he attended back in the 1980s—the one where he won the MVP award—and as they watched that old footage, 30-plus students were cheering him on.

They laughed at a tongue-in-cheek interview with Bulls radio announcer Johnny “Red” Kerr (not to mention the ’80s short-shorts uniforms and some of Herzog’s middle-aged, hirsute teammates). They applauded as he was introduced for the game, and groaned when he missed his first shot. A few minutes in Tobey said, “Okay, that’s enough,” and stepped to the computer to turn off the video. But the students protested.

“You’ve gotta score,” several called out.

Seconds later they got their wish when Tobey was fouled and hit his first free throw. The gleeful cheers from students were so loud Professor Warren Rosenberg heard them halfway down the hallway. He’d later ask his long-time English Department colleague what the hell was going on down there.

Tobey was just telling stories—personal stories. This one was about his love of basketball: The first shots he took as a kid after his neighbor put up a goal; the exhilaration he felt every day he’d go there and shoot baskets by himself; the joy of playing on his junior high and early high school teams; the trauma of not getting playing time when a new coach took over; the redemption he felt years later when he was named MVP at the Bulls Fantasy Camp; and why more than a half century after he took those first shots, he still plays the game in Wabash’s NBA—the Noontime Basketball League.

All this to set up a conversation about two works of literature—John Updike’s poem, “Ex-Basketball Player,” and Pat Conroy’s memoir, My Losing Season, a book that includes the line, “I have loved nothing on this earth as I did the game of basketball.”

They are literary works that explore, among other things, relationships between fathers and sons, coaches and players, athletes and the games they play and the dangers of living for the glory days of the past.

And you couldn’t have imagined a more moving, hilarious, and enjoyable catalyst for thoughtful conversation about those works than Herzog’s personal stories. His love of basketball connects and resonates with the 18-22 years olds fresh from their own glory days of the sports they love and encourages empathy from the less athletic. Here’s a guy who, in his 60s, can still drain a 15-foot jumper over younger, taller players; who has cheered on the generations of Little Giants from the bleachers of Chadwick Court and Hollett Little Giant Stadium to the sidelines of Knowling Fieldhouse. And that same teacher also loves the works of Dickens and Hardy, Fitzgerald and Miller, Kosinski and Keats, Hemingway and O’Brien, among others. The ultimate scholar-athlete.

The revelation that his stories could be an entre for his students to the very literature that has enriched his own life is a recent one for Tobey. Students in his Modern War Literature class complained that Herzog—a Vietnam veteran and a leading scholar of Vietnam War literature and biographer of veteran and author Tim O’Brien—wasn’t bringing enough of his own war experience into the classroom. Could his own personal stories have helped students better understand and have empathy for the authors and characters in those works?

So in this final year of teaching before his retirement, Tobey took perhaps the greatest risk of his teaching career. He created a one-time class, The History of Herzog, in which he would guide students to the literature that has enriched, shaped, and informed his life. And he would introduce those works he loves with personal stories of when and why those authors and their works came to mean so much to him.

Teaching for Herzog has always been about the material, not the teacher. Putting the spotlight on himself is so contrary to his nature; maybe that’s why this class is working so well. “It could still go off a cliff,” he says. But if it does, it will do so in glorious flames.

I’ll save the details for the article I’m writing about the class for Wabash Magazine, but suffice it to say that by taking this risk and making himself vulnerable, he’s creating a safe space for students to do the same, and perhaps they’ll receive a similar gift this literature has given their teacher.

“They may not remember me,” Tobey told me after class, “but they may remember some of these stories; they will remember some of the literature, and that may be important for them, may help them some day.”

tobey talks closeloresIn the same room a few days later, Tobey gave his final public academic lecture before his retirement (he will give the last Chapel Talk this semester in May). The room was packed; several of us sat on the floor. This time faculty colleagues from across the College along with staff and students were the audience, and the focus was his work as a scholar of Vietnam War literature.

Taking cue from his success in The History of Herzog class, he opened with stories. Personal stories. About his father and his father’s war stories, his mother’s war stories from the home front, his own stories from Vietnam, and the story of what led him to focus his scholarly research and writing on Vietnam War literature.

“I have always been fascinated with war stories and the tellers of those tales,” Tobey said. Those stories will be the final works he’ll be introducing to his students in The History of Herzog class in the coming weeks, and I plan to attend those sessions to finish my article.

For now the image that stays with me from The History of Herzog is from last Thursday: Tobey leans over the podium, reading glasses in hand, and listens to a student’s reflections about the John Updike poem. Hands go up across the room as the professor encourages the student to extend his point, then calls on another who makes a connection with the Pat Conroy memoir. Tobey responds with surprise—“whoah!”—then smiles and nods like a point guard who just dished out an assist to a teammate for a slam dunk.

Forty-plus years and the teacher still loves the game.



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