Winter Work Continues on Outdoor Fields

The new scoreboard is ready for its first game on March 19, when Wabash plays Wilmington College in the first game on the new baseball field.

Old Man Winter hasn’t kept the construction crews from their continued work on the outdoor fields renovation project this January.

View the latest photos from the project here.

The new baseball stadium located behind the Knowling Fieldhouse is getting closer and closer to completion. The new scoreboard was put in place over a week ago, and fencing has been added behind home plate. The batting cages behind the right field wall are ready for the first outdoor practice. And if you take a moment to walk the field, look carefully and you’ll find all second base is in its post and ready for the first double of the season.

This mound of dirt currently sits where the center of the new soccer pitch will be located.

The new baseball stadium is not the only area that has drawn the attention of the construction crews during the blustery January work weeks. Mud Hollow field no longer has the signature backstop with WABASH COLLEGE painted across the red wooden expanse. The old baseball dugouts, and event the old familiar storage shed have all been torn down in preparation for the new soccer stadium that will be built this spring and summer. Crews have torn out the hill just east of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity house to make way for the new stands for soccer fans to view the game. The dirt from the hill will help level Mud Hollow for both the soccer field and the new practice and intramural fields that will be locate on the north-eastern edge of the complex.

The project is scheduled to be completed by the fall 2011.

The Big Red “W”

A view of midfield at Hollett Little Giant Stadium with the new red "W" now in place.

Work continued over the weekend on the FieldTurf at Hollett Little Giant Stadium. Matt Sanchez and his crew shaved and glued the giant — and I mean giant — red “W” at midfield Sunday morning. Today the crew will finish gluing the red “WABASH” logo in both endzones before starting the infill process. Once the sand and little black rubber pellets are in place and the finishing touches are applied over the next few days, the field will be ready for the 2010 Little Giant team.

View photos of progress at the stadium here.

Work is progressing on the new baseball stadium, as well. A marker is in place to designate home plate and four cement bases for the backstop have been poured. Both the first base and third base dugouts have also been defined, and will be slightly below field level. A photo album of the baseball stadium progress will be posted by Tuesday morning.

With the arrival of the freshmen class, the finishing touches nearly complete at the football stadium, and classes set to start Thursday morning, the 2010-2011 school year is underway.

Ron Thomas ’76—Commanding Respect

Steve Charles—Returned from vacation to find that last week we lost Captain Ron Thomas ’76—U.S. Navy (Retired), husband, father, and a man of faith. I don’t know how he died, and I can’t begin to fathom why.

On the website carrying his obituary a chaplain who had served with Ron when he was Captain of the U.S.S. Essex (LHD 2) wrote: "He was a fantastic boss and role model. He will be sorely missed."

In my third year as editor at Wabash I had the pleasure of interviewing Ron, soon after he took command of the U.S.S Anchorage in 1997. We titled the article "Commanding Respect," but "inspiring admiration" might have a better headline. The two-page feature showed the Anchorage on one page, and Ron with his wife, Cleo, and sons Matthew (then seven) and Marc (then four), on the other.

Here’s what Ron said about the inherent tension between being a captain of a Navy ship (and spending six months a year at sea) and being a father:

"You have to make the most of your time together. There’s no greater joy you can get at the end of a hard day than to have the boys run out before you can even get the seatbelt unbuckled and want to be close to you. And you can imagine what that’s like when you’ve been gone for six months! There’s sacrifice, but there’s joy as well.

"You do these things to try to keep your family together, and you pray and keep your faith strong."

Here’s Ron on the Gentleman’s Rule:

"If I had to say there was one thing that Wabash gave to me that my contemporaries didn’t get from whatever school they went to, it would be that rule. It has to do with leadership—it forces you to operate based on your own personal character as opposed to a set of rules. A person has to look at that one rule—carry yourself as a gentleman at all times—and ask, ‘What does that mean?’ To me it means that your own personal integrity is worth far more than a whole bunch of rules. It’s your own personal integrity that’s going to make the difference in your life."

You can read the entire article here.

We have lost about as good a man as you are likely to find.

Happy 80th, Professor Bert Stern

“People often reduce identity to biography. If they have a story, then that’s who they believe they are. But in fact your identity is infinitely more complex, nuanced, and mysterious than your biography, or anything that could unfold in your biography.

"Which is why one of your duties is to imagine yourself."
                      —John O’Donohue

Milligan Professor Emeritus of English Bert Stern turned 80 years old on May 24, 2010. This the same year in which Steerage, his collection of poems, was named a MassBook "Must-Read" Book of the Year by the 10th Annual Massachusetts Book Awards; a year in which his daughter, Anna, was married in Keene Valley, New York; and a year in which he prepared to help launch a new journal featuring the work of Vietnam vets working with Vietnamese poets, all the while continuing to teach probationers, edit for his Off the Grid Press, and spend much time with family.

The word emeritus is added to a professor’s name upon retirement. “Retired from assigned duties.” For many Wabash professors, retirement from assigned duties simply frees them to attend to the duties they assign themselves, and to take seriously that duty John O’Donohue refers to in the quote above—"to imagine themselves"—the complexity, nuance, and mystery that is so much more than biography.

The ways in which Bert has done this since his retirement have inspired many. He makes me look forward to growing older, even in the face of its pains and fears, with hope and imagination. He puts it so well: “As I’ve grown older, I realize not only the weight of time, but also the depth; the mystery deepens for us."

So I was glad to hear of Anna’s plans to celebrate his 80th birthday by inviting colleagues, former students, and friends to contribute notes and pieces to be collected and presented to Bert on that occasion. It seemed especially appropriate coming from her. I couldn’t help but recall Bert’s Wabash Magazine essay about his daughters, "Becoming Family."

And I felt honored just to contribute. Words come easily when evoked by gratitude, respect, even wonder. No doubt the dozens of others who sent their own messages felt the same way. Anna tells me that "about about 50 Wabash folks contributed, as well as an additional 70 or so people from other areas of his life."

She also sent some photos, and I’ve included one above. 

I recently heard from Bert, who is working his way with his own gratitude through responding to these many messages. In an email with the subject line "ripeness is all," he had this to say about the gift:

"The book itself moves me deeply. As usual, there’s the surprise and pleasure of experiencing bits of one’s past return from what might have been time’s oubliette.

"But much more important was the gift of faces, personalities, teacher-student exchanges, moments when students and I stood in some kind of intimacy of mind and feeling. I mean to write notes to many of the students who remember me, most of whom I remember. But that will take a while. Until then, maybe you could post this deep note of thanks to everyone who helped write this book, and especially to the students who have come back to me in this way. To me as a teacher and human being, no gift could mean more."

I thought I would post his words here for anyone reading this who also contributed to his birthday gift. And here’s Bert’s Web site, and email——for anyone else who would like to send their best wishes.

Reviewing Bert’s book Steerage, poet and University of Massachusetts Professor of English Taylor Stoerh wrote, "Like all true art, this book leaves us better prepared to look for ourselves out that wondrous window it opens for us."

You could say the same of Bert, and his “retirement from assigned duties.”

—Steve Charles

Alum’s Marina is Top Family Business in Wisconsin

Steve Charles—Just finished fact-checking a story I wrote for the upcoming issue of Wabash Magazine about Tom Whowell ’62, who, with his family, owns and operates Gordy’s Lakefront Marine, the largest full-service marina on Wisconsin’s Geneva Lake.

Tom gave me a tour of the place and a generous and fascinating interview last summer, at which time Gordy’s had earned special recognition as one of the top family businesses in the state. But that was old news: Gordy’s was just named the top medium-sized family-owned business in Wisconsin for 2010.

Another example of why we always check—and re-check—our facts!

Congratulations to Tom and his family.

Our story about Tom — "The Classic Entrepreneurial Attitude"—is being published in the Spring 2010 edition of WM, in mailboxes late July.


Health Can Be Fun, Collaboration Joyous

As the new issue of Wabash Magazine reaches mailboxes this week, readers may do a double-take.

We’re counting on it.

It’s been a while since a WM cover promised to tell you “What Women Want from Their Wabash Men” or offered tips for “More Sex & Better Sleep.” Not to mention shown Wally Wabash leering at them over a set of dumbbells in what appears to be a knock-off of a cover from Men’s Health magazine. (We prefer the word “parody.”)

But when we first envisioned this issue and I asked Kim Johnson—a health educator by degree and our designer, photographer, and writer in Public Affairs—to co-edit, we knew one thing: If we were going to try to convince Wabash men to take care of themselves, we were going to need a hook to hold their attention. A big hook.

So we took a little advice from Vic Powell (“I don’t know how you get through this life without a sense of humor”) and we took a light-hearted approach to some serious matters. Threw in Garrison Keillor, sex, a little erectile dysfunction. Did I mention Garrison Keillor?

Will it work? You’ll be the judge of that.

What I do know is that putting this one together has been joyous. Dozens of alumni and faculty freely contributed their thoughts and experiences (and a recipe) to Kim for her many contributions to this "Be Well" issue. Kim’s question—"How do you define well-being, and how do you achieve it?"—drives the book, and the energy and creativity she brought to it never flagged, no matter how many obstacles she encountered.

Professor Greg Redding ran 100 miles in the mountains for us (at least he wrote about it for us.)

President White offered an illuminating take on “live humanely,” First Lady (and family nurse practitioner) Chris White batted cleanup with a thoughtful End Notes piece.

And senior Daniel King as Wally Wabash not only didn’t complain from inside that sweatbox of a costume (no matter how many places Kim dragged him around campus), but enlisted his friend Sara Bobay for some of the funniest photos in the book.

By the time all the material got to WM art director Cathy Swick (including Kim’s great cover idea), we were on a roll. The greatest reward of being on a team is seeing your teammates at their best, creating something different, and better, than any one of you could have imagined or done yourself. That’s the joy of collaboration, and it has been a joy to be a part of these past few months.

And there’s more to come. Kim has enlisted Dean of Students Mike Raters ’83 to chronicle his own efforts to get in shape starting later this month in a blog we call “Fit for a Dean.” It’s a response to the number-one answer we received when we asked wives of Wabash men what their husbands could do for their wives’ well-being: “If he would take better care of himself, my well-being would be improved.”

Those words are printed on the back cover of the Winter 2010 issue of Wabash Magazine, coming to a mailbox near you (and available on campus later this week.) We hope you enjoy it, that it gets you thinking, and, even better, gets you moving.

And for a sneak preview, check out the new WM Online site here.



“To Love the Minds of Young Men”

Steve Charles—My grandson Myca is the first boy I’ve helped to raise from infancy. I have four sons, but the first died before he was born, and I came to know the other three only after I married their mom and they were 7, 10, and 12 years old by then. Experiencing these first two years with Myca, I regret more than ever that I missed their earlier years. I think I might have treated them with more understanding, been less put off by their surge for independence, better stood by them in their difficult teenaged years.

What prompts this reflection is a recent visit with Professor David Blix. I was walking home late couple weeks ago, noticed the light burning in his second floor Center Hall office, and stopped by to talk (one of the great luxuries of this job.)

At some point the conversation came around to Wabash teachers. David’s not only one of the best, but as a Wabash student he was taught by some of the most revered—men like Eric Dean, Raymond Williams, Hall Peebles, Vic Powell, and Jack Charles. I asked him what he thought were the essential qualities of a Wabash teacher, and David said, “I think, in a sense, one needs to love the minds of students. Here, of course, that means one needs to love the minds of young men.”

His words have been echoing in my mind ever since. In part because he captures so well an essential mindset of teaching in this place, but also because he put into words exactly the characteristic of teachers that caused me to want to be a part of Wabash College soon after I came to work here 16 years ago.

One of the first themes we went after with Wabash Magazine was “Teachers,” and for that edition I interviewed David’s classmate and closest friend, the late Bill Placher ’70. I walked into the office of one of the most nation’s most respected theologians and saw fascinating artwork—a Tibetan woodcut, a painting of Lao-Tzu “riding into the unknown,” a photograph of Bill’s father—but very few items on his wall that hinted at his many books, his extensive work for the Presbyterian church, or his own deep faith. When I mentioned this, Bill said, “I never thought about this much before, but if there were a lot of crucifixion scenes on the walls of this office, there would be less of the kind of space I try to give students.”

Anyone who ever watched Bill teach or had a long conversation with him experienced that safe “space,” that intellectual hospitality that this brilliant mind offered students. They walked away from those conversations thinking more deeply, and having articulated their thoughts more clearly than ever before, because they had been in the presence of a teacher who respected, challenged, enjoyed, and invested a good part of his life in their developing minds.

I’ve seen variations on that same hospitality as I’ve interviewed professors here across the academic disciplines over the years. These come immediately to mind—Professor Scott Feller’s genuine joy in learning alongside his students in research, economics Professor Kay Widdows’ descriptions of traveling with her students in Ecuador, theater Professor Dwight Watson’s praise for the student stage managers he has collaborated with here—and the list could go on and on.

But last week I got to see that respect and hospitality live and up-close. I sat in on Colloquium on Important Books, the course in which seniors discuss great books every Wednesday night with a different two professors for each session. The students run the class, and the professors are guests. These professors volunteer to participate—the class doesn’t count toward their course load. But Professor Brian Tucker ’98, who coordinates the course, says he never has trouble finding teachers. And teachers from Spanish Professor Dan Rogers to psychology professor Preston Bost to math Professor Chad Westphal have told me how they value and enjoy the depth, the seriousness, the humor, and personal growth so evident in those conversations, which often stretch beyond the allotted hour and a half.

It’s a place to see teachers who respect, challenge, and revel in the minds of their students, and to see how students respond when that deep respect, challenge, and enjoyment have been offered to them here for four years.

Last week’s guest professors were David Blix and philosophy Professor Mark Brouwer, who allowed me to photograph the class. Here’s a photo album from that session, along with photos from an earlier session I photographed in the fall. I’ll have some quotes from those sessions in the next issue of Wabash Magazine, but I hope these photos tell a story of their own.

We just had 325-plus prospective students on campus for Honor Scholarship Weekend. If any of them, or their parents, were to ask me why they should consider Wabash over their other college choices, I’d talk about the Gentleman’s Rule, about the opportunity to learn alongside brilliant men and women whose students’ education is their first concern. I’d add that they’ll make friends here that they’ll keep for the rest of their lives, and that they’ll be able to take chances to be the persons they were truly created to be.

But asked to give a single reason, I’ll refer them to the words of Professor Blix and what seems to me a foundational value at Wabash: You’ll have the opportunity to be taught by men and women who have come to love the minds of their students, teachers who love the minds of young men.

In photos (from top): Vincent Tran ’10 listens as classmate Edward Davis makes a point about Lu Xun’s short story, Diary of a Madman, during a Wednesday session of Colloquium on Important Books; Professor David Blix ’70; Mark Thomas ’10

Photos by Steve Charles

Inspired by Chopin and Paris

Steve Charles—Last week I celebrated Frederic Chopin’s birthday, a first for me.

Didn’t really celebrate, I guess. Just yelled out “Happy Chopin’s Birthday” to Tian Tian ’11, who is the only reason I realized that March 1, 2010 was the 200th anniversary of the great composer and pianist’s birth.

Tian’11 had dropped by my office in January, his first visit since returning from his semester in Paris. (Tian was featured in “Snapshot from an American Dream,” WM Fall 09, where we focused on his internship at the Children’s Museum and his serendipitous summer stay with Bob Wright ’87 and his family (pictured here, looking on as Tian plays the piano in their home).

He returned from France inspired.

That’s the way he described the way he felt when he walked along the Seine River on All Saints Day, November 1, visiting the grave of his musical hero Frederic Chopin.

“The French take All Saints Day very seriously,” Tian told me “Chopin’s grave was practically piled high with flowers.”

I asked Tian if he’d had a chance to practice in Paris for his recital of Chopin’s works this April and I was surprised to hear, “Not much.” One of the reasons Tian was drawn to Paris in the first place was the fact that Chopin had enjoyed one of the most creative periods of his life there. Tian wondered how living in the city, surrounded by the art, the sights, sounds, and smells of a city Chopin loved, might reshape the way Tian played his music.

And that’s when Tian used the word inspired. As soon he returned to Crawfordsville over the break, he headed for the piano to begin practicing again. He said yes, he was a little rusty, but he spent hours just playing and noticed he was playing the Chopin differently, maybe had something different, and more, to give the pieces. His piano teacher noticed, too.

“I think living in that place he loved, walking those same streets, I absorbed something,” Tian told me. “Even though I wasn’t able to play piano as much, I was inspired. And I brought that back with me.”

I picture Tian playing piano in the Fine Arts building while seniors are studying for comps, the whole day his to play the music he loves. I wonder if that playing didn’t transport Tian back to his own time in Paris, too, and the sounds of Chopin take him from the cold C’ville winter back to autumn walks along the Seine. I wonder, too, how the time in Paris will inspire his painting (Tian is an art major, economics minor).

His recital of Chopin’s work is scheduled for Friday, April 9.

Writing That’s “Charged and Alive” with Meaning

Steve Charles—“In his ability to create complex characters and pair them with suspenseful situations, Simmons stands almost unmatched among his contemporaries.”

That’s the last sentence from Publisher’s Weekly’s starred review of Black Hills, the just-published 27th book by Dan Simmons ’70. To go with the starred review his book Drood (more recently chosen among the Top Books of 2009 by Publisher’s Weekly and by Stephen King in Entertainment Weekly) received when it came out around this time last year. To go with the starred review his 2007 bestseller The Terror (also named a Top Book of that year by and Entertainment Weekly) received when it came out.

So Dan’s on a roll. But that’s not the reason I’ve been looking forward to the publication of Black Hills more than a year. Sixteen months, to be precise, since Dan was generous enough to let me read drafts of the first 79 typed pages and a section of the amazing vision in Chapter 14. And then left me hanging, wondering the true nature of the “possession” of the main character, Paha Sapa, by the ghost of George Armstrong Custer. Would Paha Sapa as an old man working for Gutzon Borghlum, succeed in blowing up the faces of Mt. Rushmore? Would that act exorcise the ghost? And did the book The World Without Us, which Dan had seemed fascinated by when I last visited, have some role in what I’ve heard is a remarkable final chapter of the book?

But as much as the unfolding events, I was looking forward to hearing Dan’s voice in this book. I know Dan’s reverence (though he might object to the use of that word) for the Black Hills area, his irritation with stereotyped and inaccurate depictions of the Lakota, and there was an intimacy and conviction in the chapters I read that reminded me of what has moved me most in my favorite Simmons works, several of which are among my favorite books, period.

One of the great pleasures of knowing a writer and his work over time is that each new book seems like a journey with a trusted guide. I always look forward to seeing where Dan will take me next, but this time the voice announcing the trip seems even more intriguing. A little like the morning in my teens when my father woke us up and said, “It’s time to go to Hawaii.” He knew we could not even imagine the beauty we were about to see.”

Okay, so Dan’s taking us to the Black Hills, not Hawaii. There’s a ghost, a survivor of genocide, and a likely explosion. So the comparison breaks down. Which is why Dan’s the writer, and I’m not.

But the voice I heard in those first chapters made me want to go along for the ride. Led me to believe I would find something true and numinous, the latter a word I had not recalled until I read this section of Black Hills:

“Numinous, the teacher and poet and historian Doane Robinson tells Paha Sapa, means everyday things charged and alive with spiritual or supernatural meaning surpassing all normal comprehension.

“Paha Sapa almost laughs. He does not tell Mr. Robinson that his—Paha Sapa’s—life had been numinous up until the time it had been taken over by wasichus and the Wasicun world.

“The world of his childhood had been literally alive with unseen meaning and connections and miracles; even the stones had lives and stories. The trees held sacred secrets. The prairie grasses stirred with truths half-heard in whispers from the spirits that surrounded him and his band of natural free human beings. The sun was as real a being as his uncle-father or the other men walking past him in the daylight, the stars over the plains shivered from the breath of the dead walking up there, and the mountains on the horizon watched and waited for him with their revelations.

“Numinous. Paha Sapa almost smiles when Doane Robinson teaches him that wonderful word.”

My favorites of Dan’s works, from Song of Kali and Phases of Gravity to Summer of Night and Winter Haunting to Worlds Enough and Time and Muse of Fire—have been charged with spiritual meaning for me. The pages I read from Black Hills were leading me that direction. So I’ve been anticipating, to put it mildly, the rest for over a year now.

It’s interesting that Dan’s book Black Hills is being published as Wabash welcomes to campus the young writer Benjamin Percy, who describes his own stories as “literary genre.” He elaborates in this interview with PopMatters editor G. Christopher Williams:

“A lot of contemporary “literary” fiction is full of gorgeous metaphors, gorgeous language, with so many stories ending sparkling with epiphanic dew. And along the way, sadly, not much happens. It’s as though authors have lost touch with what made them fall in love with reading: plot, story. And I think there’s something healthy about getting in touch with this again.

“So I’ll take a haunted house story or a Western or a tale of revenge and reinvent it through a literary lens, honoring some of the archetypes and conventions, breaking others over my knee, in an effort to make the reader feel at once moved and entertained.”

Having read some of Percys’ work, I’m really looking forward to hearing more. And the thought of his meeting with our own young writers is exciting.

I’m excited, too, to see the artificial walls between “literary” and “genre” fiction dissolved by artistry and imagination by writers like Percy, Jonathan Lethem (who was here earlier this year), Michael Chabon, and Karen Russell. Beautifully written books with unforgettable characters where something actually happens!

Of course, Dan Simmons has been doing this for years. Which is another reason I’m so looking forward to getting my copy of Black Hills.

Yale Professor Intrigued by Neuroscience at Wabash

Steve Charles—Even if Dr. Fahmeed Hyder’s accomplishments hadn’t grabbed my attention, the classes he chose to visit during his return to Wabash would have.

Since when does a former chemistry major spend most of his time back on campus in psychology classes?

Hyder ’90 spoke to students and faculty in Hays Hall last Friday on “fMRI Basics to Cutting Edge: Neuroscience Boot Camp.”

A professor of diagnostic radiology and biomedical engineering at the Yale School of Medicine, Hyder is the director of the Core Center for Quantitative Neuroscience with Magnetic Resonance at Yale. His noontime talk blended chemistry, biology, physics, and mathematics as he helped an audience from an equally eclectic range of disciplines understand this form of imaging that “is changing life science” and has “become the dominant brain mapping technology crucial to cognitive neuroscience.”

And the psychology classes he visited? Courses focusing on neuroscience (where Professor Neil Schmitzer-Torbert has a grant pending from the National Institutes of Health supporting the research he and students are doing in that field). He and Professor Karen Gunther bring an emphasis on physiological psychology that is becoming a bellwether in the College’s increasingly interdisciplinary curriculum.

Fahmeed—who majored in chemistry, minored in economics and mathematics, and took an area of concentration in music when he was a student here—was understandably intrigued by the psychology classes.

“I was trained as a chemist, and I went on to get a degree in chemistry—Wabash taught me exactly the right way to get that degree,” Fahmeed told me Friday on the way to visit with his mentor and Professor of Chemistry Bob Olson. He also noted that the work he is doing now falls far afield of traditional chemistry.

“I think the foundation my education here gave me allowed me to seek and find my own way.”

And his own way now includes disciplines he didn’t venture into during his Wabash days.

“I’m doing a lot of biologically based work, though it’s not what I was trained to do. I didn’t even take a biology course here,” Fahmeed said. “But now that I’ve attended a couple of the neuroscience courses here, I think I would have been inclined towards that. It is an aspect of biology which really brings in all the different disciplines—it brings in a little bit of chemistry, a little bit of physics, even a little bit of engineering.

“It’s an interesting and positive decision to include those courses in the curriculum. It’s a reflection of what is happening in [the sciences] now. Psychologists are speaking with physicists, with biologists—it’s good to have chemistry majors or biology majors take that course, and if the intention of the psychology department is to expand the curriculum, this seems a positive direction.”

We’ll have more on Hyder’s leading edge research in bioimaging in the Spring 2010 issue of Wabash Magazine. (He also recently had his book, Dynamic Brain Imaging, published by Humana Press.)

But I wanted to share his comments regarding this visit. It seems that whenever we’ve brought to campus outstanding practitioners of their vocations, the interdisciplinary nature of most callings becomes ever more apparent—whether it’s writer Jonathan Lethem dissolving the artificial divisions between literary genres (as our own Dan Simmons ’70 began doing decades ago) or chemist Fahmeed Hyder’s work combining biology, chemistry, physics, and engineering. The strength and creativity of the College’s faculty in these fields and the value of a liberal arts education to provide the agility to make the connections between those fields seems more apparent than ever, too.

It’s always an exciting time to be learning, but this seems a particularly good one at Wabash. Every time I hear about a new “interdisciplinary course” being offered, I find myself wishing I could be in school again.