Steve Charles—The best thing about living at 615 S. Water Street here in Crawfordsville is the neighbors.

It’s a great house—Professor Ted Bedrick’s old place, and Terri Fyffe’s grandmother’s before that. High ceilings, wood floors, open spaces, and plenty of windows to let in the light. It’s the first place I’ve lived as an adult that really feels like home.

But our neighbors make it better.

Tony and Nancy Kashon welcomed us the day we moved in.

I already knew Nancy; she was assistant to the Dean of the College. Her feigned motherly scolding, no-nonsense approach to most things academic, and dry sense of humor were one of the best reasons for hanging out in that office. A lot of students did that, too. I remember Commencement ceremonies when students grabbed Nancy to have her picture taken with them. Already the mother of four sons, Nancy picked up a bunch more during her years at Wabash. The year of her retirement, faculty, staff, students, and family all sang to her in the west lobby of Center Hall. And even after her retirement, international students still got together in her backyard for a picnic.

I first got to know Tony when he offered his help as we unloaded the moving van, the beginning of a litany of assistance and advice given and tools offered (one of those tools still lies somewhere beneath my deck). We share trips in his Dodge Dakota to pick up the family extension ladder, beers on hot days, celebratory shots of Crown Royal on holidays.

Then there’s the banter across the alley with Nancy about the College, flowers, and grandkids, or with Tony about the lawn, his hobby of clowning (and my fear of clowns), or the squirrels he’s trapped in his backyard and released across town (we disagree about the likelihood of their finding their way back).

On days when my wife, CJ, suddenly disappears from the house, I know I can usually find her in the alley, talking with Nancy or Tony across their split rail fence.

Living alongside one another is like taking a long journey together. You learn what matters most to the other folks. You see the comings and going of longtime friends, parents, grandkids. You watch them take care of their parents. You watch them be there for their kids. You watch them play with their grandkids. The house is full for birthdays and holidays.†

You hear advice—like how much fun those grandkids can be, but how important it is to attend to your own relationship. When you hear that from a man and woman who have been married for 46 years, you pay attention.

You see that building a deck, or a garden, or a garage, is really about creating a space for those you love. For all those rituals and celebrations of being family.

If you’re lucky enough to live next to wise and loving neighbors like Nancy and Tony, you can learn something.

In the past few months they have taught us how love perseveres in the face of adversity. Nancy was diagnosed with cancer last year, barely into retirement. I was moved when they took time to tell us about this in person so that we “wouldn’t have to hear it from others.”
Another lesson in being neighbors.

In the months since then we’ve learned how a woman faces a terrible disease with courage, hope, and faith. We‘ve learned how a man cares for and stands firm for what’s best for the one he loves.

Nancy died Wednesday morning. Knowing time might be short, the whole family had gathered last weekend. A picture of everyone together was taken.

The last time I saw Nancy was on Tuesday. She was being carried to the ambulance through their backyard, the place where her children and grandchildren played, under the tree her grandsons climb, through the gardens she and Tony tended, the lawn Tony always mows several days before I get to mine. That space they had created for those they love. She was sitting up, looking forward, the sun on her face.

In the cold of winter this year after one of her chemotherapy sessions, she’d admitted how tired she was of the cold, how she couldn’t wait for spring and summer and those warm breezes.

“And I want to see that grandson of yours running around your backyard,” she said. I was touched that he meant something to her, that she was looking forward to a milestone in his life. I kept that in mind this spring as I churned and chopped up the soil and planted bags of seed to get grass to grow in our previously mostly barren yard.

She couldn’t see him, but as the paramedics wheeled Nancy to the ambulance, our grandson Myca was sitting on a blanket, his first time really playing on that new grass. From where I stood on the deck I could see both Nancy and Myca. It’s an image I am holding in my memory by writing this, an image I’ll recall when I watch Myca play, certainly on the day he first runs there. A reminder to tell him that the best thing about the house he lives in is the neighbors.

Note: Funeral services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday, June 23 at St. Bernard’s Catholic Church. Friends may call from 6-8:00 p.m. Sunday evening and from 10-11 a.m. Monday morning. Online condolences can be sent to

Father and Son

Steve Charles—One of the pleasures of being a photographer for Commencement Weekend is opening each of the photos for the first time. Okay, sometimes I’m disappointed (especially when I ALMOST captured an important moment but botched the focus or the lighting). But more often, thanks to our excellent digital cameras, the image I get makes me smile. Or brings tears. Or both. 

Sunday was a powerful moment for these young men and those who love them. Each photo reminds me of how lucky I am to be chronicling these people, and this place.

But one of my favorite photos of the weekend didn’t have much to do with graduating. 

The moment occurred as the faculty was filing into Chadwick Court. They were stepping out at a pretty good clip as the band played and everyone was waiting for the ceremony to begin. Classics Professor Jeremy Hartnett ’96 was among those in the procession when he caught sight of his infant son, Henry. And like the good father he is, without any hesitation that I could see, he went to him. You couldn’t miss the sudden break in the line, and I was lucky enough to get this photo.

For just a moment, just a breath or two, the very important ritual of Commencement and about 1,000 people waited on something even more essential—a father greeting his son, a son looking up at his father (in all that academic regalia.) Somehow in this photo I see what Wabash is all about, though I’m not sure why. 

Professor Peter Mikek, next in line behind Jeremy, and a father himself, stood, watched, and smiled. He waited for Jeremy to rejoin the line, the procession continued, and most in Chadwick Court hadn’t noticed a thing.

I don’t know why I was so moved by this act. Maybe it’s Jeremy’s wonderful sense of priorities. He went through this same ceremony as a student more than a decade ago, and this photo is “think critically, act responsibly, lead effectively, and live humanely” in a microcosm.

Or maybe it’s the expression on Henry’s face, that sense of looking upon one’s father with such wonder and love. I recall seeing those roles switched much of the rest of the day—the faces of fathers, looking upon their sons with wonder, love, and, in the best sense, pride.

The Stories That Hold Us Together

Steve Charles—At today’s Faculty and Staff Awards Luncheon, chemistry professor Scott Feller described his department’s curator, Pat Barker, as having a job that’s “key to our success, yet no one knows exactly what her title means and very few realize the important work it entails.”

I’ve photographed Pat at work; I’ve seen in person just how essential that work is. But Scott’s mention of essential work done without much public recognition also got me thinking about one of the other honorees at that luncheon—Public Affairs Editorial Coordinator Karen Handley.

(Click here and here for photo albums from the luncheon.)

Karen was honored for her 30 years of service to the College, and her boss (and mine), Jim Amidon ’87, wrote this for the occasion:

“Karen’s work helps advance the College in so many ways, whether helping recruit students, promote our current students, or keep alumni engaged as part of the Wabash community. She manages our online events calendar, drives much of our media relations work through event announcements and hometown press releases, and manages the production of the activities calendar and academic bulletin.

“What makes Karen stand out is her unwavering love of and dedication to Wabash College, its students, faculty, staff, and alumni.”

And all of us in Public Affairs offer a hearty “Amen” to all this.

But the one role Jim didn’t mention—Karen’s job as Class Notes Editor for Wabash Magazine—is the one where I feel that “unwavering love and dedication” most keenly.

The Class Notes is the heart of any college magazine. It’s why such magazines were first created. It’s the section where alumni typically turn first (no matter how much cool stuff the editor (me) tries to put in their path). These are the stories of alumni lives, and Karen gathers them up with extraordinary patience. You’ve got to care if you’re going to spend hours sifting through class agent letters, newspaper and magazine clippings, web sites, emails, and any other sort of correspondence the way Karen does. You’ve got to care about these people to do the work; to care about the details that have meaning in their lives.

And Karen is the champion of the meaningful detail. One example: Karen and I have an ongoing battle over whether or not to publish the weights and lengths of our alums’ newborn babies.

“Do we really need to put this in?” I’ll ask.

They sent us those details, says Karen, a mother herself. “It matters to them, it should matter to us.”

It matters to Wabash alumni, so it matters to Karen.

The Class Notes aren’t usually splashy, headline grabbing kinds of stuff. More often the stories of every day lives, but the kinds of stories that connect us: The baby just born; the adoption just completed; the wedding and the Wabash men in the wedding party; the illness faced; the incredible places just traveled; the reunion with an old classmate; the change of career and recognition of a new calling; the loved one lost, or the loved one healed.

Sharing these stories holds us together, reminds us that we are not forgotten. Karen brings them to us three times a year. No one comes up to her and says, “Wow! Great Class Notes!” It’s the kind of essential work that people may take for granted. The heart of the magazine. How often do you thank your heart for beating?

Thanks, Karen.

In photo: Public Affairs Editorial Coordinator Karen Handley receives recognition for her 30 years of service from NAWM President Jim Dimos ’85 at Friday’s Faculty/Staff Awards Luncheon.

The story behind the story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mielke Had Many Brothers, Many Sons

The memorial service for Professor Emeritus of Mathematics and Computer Science Paul Mielke ’42 was three days ago, but like the life of the man it celebrated, it’s not something the mind and heart want to let go of. You could do a lot worse things for your soul than meditate upon the lives of Paul Mielke and his wife, Mary Lou, lost to the Wabash community within months of each other.

I tried to write something about Paul’s service right away, on Saturday
night, but I was overwhelmed after hearing his son, daughters, and grandchildren remember him; listening to two of his favorite poems by William Stafford, a favorite poet of mine; hearing the wonderful love story of Paul and Mary Louise, how they loved to dance, and how their life together mirrored that dancing.

And hearing that the last thing written out by this mathematician was a reference to Micah 6:8—“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you. but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” I hope Paul realized that in his gentle manner, love for family, friends, and students, his co-founding of Crawfordsville’s chapter of the NAACP, and his support of his colleagues and community, he personified those words for many of us.

It was all too much to “sum up” in a news story. I can’t even begin to
do justice to the man. Especially for those who did not know him. And those at Wabash who didn’t know him, need to.

So we’re gathering the words his children and grandchildren spoke on Saturday and we’ll have them for you next week. Their words are what you need to hear about this man.

For now I want to pull on one thread of what Kathy, PT, Mardie, and their
children shared with us so beautifully on Saturday.

His daughter, Kathy, said: “My parents had many, many sons. Most every
Sunday and holiday, students were welcomed into our home.”

And: “When my father was a student at Wabash, his fraternity brothers
called him ‘Yogi’ for his uncanny ability to help them with his
homework. ‘Yogi, look into your crystal ball and gives us the answers,’
they’d say.

“It gave him great satisfaction to help his fraternity brothers.”

Paul’s only biological son, PT, read this about how the satisfaction he found helping his brothers was transformed into a lifelong passion:

“His enthusiasm for teaching was palpable. He was passionate about the
subject at hand. He was always prepared. It is evident that many of his
students felt the depth of his commitment to teaching. It is remarkable
how many of them remained his lifelong friends. He took a genuine interest
in their progress, both as students and as human beings, and they repaid
him by keeping in touch throughout his life.”

At Saturday’s service in the Wabash Chapel, I sat in front of one of those
students—Ted Wiese Jr. ’60. He and his wife, Sandra, established the Paul
Mielke Fellowship Fund in 2003 to pay tribute to Paul’s “mentoring of
generations of Wabash men.” There’s a brick on the Alumni Patio
representing another donation by Ted. It reads simply, “In honor of Paul
Mielke ’42.” One look at Ted after Saturday’s service made it clear how
much Paul had meant to him.

We heard from other students of Paul’s, too, soon after word of his death was posted here.

Jack Hauber ’66 wrote: “In 1967, I received an NSF grant to attend Dartmouth and learn more about using time-shared computers in high school education … not possible without Dr. Mielke. In 1971, I received one of the first MS degrees in Computer Sciences from Purdue … not possible without Dr. Mielke. He introduced the computer to Wabash and to me, and changed the lives of both. I would be honored to be considered a member of his ‘brotherhood’.”

Steve Kain ’63 wrote: “I spoke to Dr. Mielke at Homecoming and he remembered my name from years ago. I had my son and grandson with me at the time and they were impressed that a professor remembered a former student so easily. Dr. Mielke was my first advisor at Wabash, and a great Little Giant for the students.”

And this from Phil Vincent, Ted Wiese’s classmate: “Paul Mielke was one of
the greatest teachers in my academic life. He was always supportive. I switched to economics upon applying to graduate school at Stanford, but I suspect that it was his aid that helped me into the latter program; I know that I was ahead of most fellow economics graduate students in math training at that time. I had hoped to see him again at the class 50th reunion in 2010.
Wabash has lost a great son, professor, and benefactor.”

Several years ago during an interview for Wabash Magazine, Paul said,
“Wabash gave me the brothers that nature denied me.”

Perhaps knowing what it felt like to be an only son, Paul cherished more
wisely the brothers he made at Wabash and throughout his life. He never
took them for granted. He celebrated them in his photographs every bit as
much as he celebrated the beautiful places he photographed out West. I
remember looking over photographs of friends and students as we made
selections for a Faculty Gallery in the magazine. He told me stories about
all of them, then what they were doing the last time he’d heard from them.
Usually that time was measured in weeks or months.

He had many brothers. He had many sons. His niece, Cherie Dwhytie, called
Wabash Paul’s “extended family.”

He received much from this College; he gave back more.

There was a quiet strength at the center of this man who tended a garden,
but also fought in World War II on Okinawa. It was a “brotherliness” that
allowed folks like me, who met him late in his life and spent relatively
few hours with him, to feel completely at home and at ease in his
presence, even as we were learning so much.

I thought of that quiet strength as his daughter read one of Paul’s favorite poems by William Stafford, once poet laureate for Oregon, another place like Wabash and Washington State, that Paul loved. She talked about how her father taught his children to be “outdoorsmen” on their many trips to the most beautiful places in the West.

“He made us rich in the only way he knew he could,” Kathy said.


You will never be alone, you hear so deep
a sound when autumn comes. Yellow
pulls across the hills and thrums,
or the silence after lightning before it says
its names—and then the clouds’ wide-mouthed
apologies. You were aimed from birth:
you will never be alone. Rain
will come, a gutter filled, and Amazon,
long aisles—you never heard so deep a sound,
moss on rock, and years. You turn your head—
that’s what the silence meant: you’re not alone.
The whole wide world pours down.

Paul’s daughter read it, but I heard it in Paul’s voice. He spoke it as a
blessing, not only on his children and grandchildren, but on the students
and teachers of Wabash: that we, too, would discover what he had found in his life and had given back to the people and places he loved. I carried phrases from it with me as I walked home through the arboretum after the service that celebrated Paul’s life—words that spoke of him, that spoke to us.

“You were aimed from birth: you will never be alone. You hear so deep a
sound when autumn comes… That’s what the silence meant: you’re not alone.The whole wide world pours down…

“You will never be alone.”

We’ll have more about Paul Mielke next week, and in the next issue of Wabash Magazine.

“I See Myself at Their Age”

Steve Charles—Chad Westphal huddles over a coffee table in the Nicholson Elementary School Community Room with a half-dozen students. All are much younger than those he teaches at the College. They stare intently at a sheet of paper on the table—Westphal’s first draft of a design for a new skateboard park for Crawfordsville.

“I want this to be a park where every piece is used often,” the Wabash mathematics professor tells the boys. “I need you to look at this carefully, tell me what works, what doesn’t, and what’s missing.”

It takes a while for the young skateboarders find their voices. Their sport is officially banned in downtown Crawfordsville and is seen as a nuisance by some business owners. Like any marginalized group, they’re slow to speak up.

But Chad persists, and a conversation builds. Ideas, critiques, laughter. They are still talking intently when I have to leave the meeting for another assignment.

“It was good to hear their feedback on the design, and their ideas about how they can get involved,” Chad tells me the next day. “This project will happen when they get involved and we force it to be a priority.

Chad, and many others in Crawfordsville, believe it should be a priority.

“What if there wasn’t a single basketball goal in this whole town? How soon would we get one put up?” Chad asks. “If skaters are seen as antisocial and destructive, it’s probably because we’ve given them no opportunities otherwise.”

Westphal and the teachers and parents involved in the “Building a Healthy Future” project are determined to give them opportunities. The Tuesday night meeting offered an update on the project. Supporters have raised $80,000 of the $350,000 to build the skateboard park and install family-friendly playground equipment at the city’s Milligan Park.

“We want to make Milligan Park more of a family hub, to meet the community’s needs,” says Nicholson Elementary School Principal and project booster Karen Cushman. She’s been working on the skateboard park/playground project for years. Tonight she tells the skaters that it’s time for them make it their own—to get the design they want, to come up with ideas for fund raisers and presentations to city leaders and those who could provide additional money.

Westphal underlines Cushman’s comments with a story. At a mathematics conference in Portland, Oregon earlier in the month, he took time out to visit the Burnside Skateboard Park. Originally built by skaters tired of waiting for government and foundations to fund the project, Burnside became a skating mecca.

“When skaters decide to take ownership, they can be pretty effective,” Westphal says as he tells the students the story of Burnside. It not only gave skaters a place for their sport, but also cleaned up the surrounding neighborhood. Today the park, and the skateboarding, are seen as attraction and major benefit to the Portland community.

Westphal got involved with the Crawfordsville project two years ago. As a “retired” skateboarder who is sometimes mistaken for a student on the Wabash campus, he’s taken charge of helping design the park, working with a Canadian firm which specializes in the facilities.

“There are a lot of options for building a skate park, most of them really bad ideas,” Chad says. With good intentions but little money, Crawfordsville built such a park less than a decade ago. It was closed down after city leaders raised concerns about the cost of liability insurance. Without a place to skate, many young people abandoned or grew out of the sport. Those still in it have to search high and low for a place to skate.

At the Tuesday night meeting, insurance agent Chris Johnson told the group that the cost of liability insurance is no longer an issue.

“I’d like to see this project move forward,” Johnson tolds the skaters and their supporters. “Insurance shouldn’t be an obstacle.”

The project holds out hope for these young athletes, whose sport has moved steadily into the mainstream even as it has been banned in their home town.

“I’ve seen many skate parks come and go,” Chad says. “I’ve been to great skate parks that have stood the test of time, and I’ve seen some colossal failures.”

He is determined to help Crawfordsville skaters build a park that will pass the test of time.

So why is a Wabash math professor, married with two very young children, spending hours with Crawfordsville youth to build a park he and his own children may never use?

“I have a long history in skateboarding,” Chad says. “It helped shape the person I am today, and I know how it feels to not have a place to practice. Crawfordsville may not have the excitement of a big city, but we can have this skate park if we work for it.

He sees the project having a deeper and more lasting impact than simply giving them a place to skate.

“I’m a part of this community, and I want to help these kids feel like their community supports them. When I see these kids, I see myself at their age. And then I see who they can be in five, ten, twenty years.”

In photo: Westphal presents the first draft of the skate park design to students, teachers, and parents; gathering feedback on the design from the skaters.

Nutrient Catchers

Steve Charles—Since the day I first read about and then published photographs from Dave Krohne’s study on the regeneration of Yellowstone after the fires of the 1990s, I’ve wondered what it would be like to travel with him and his students, to see the world through the lens of this insightful and adventurous ecologist and biology professor. Just reading his work has changed the way I see the natural world. What is it like for his students to see that world alongside him?

I got my wish last week, accompanying Krohne and six students from his Advanced Ecology course to the Everglades. It was the second time I’ve been invited along on a Wabash spring break immersion trip to chronicle its teachable moments. I came home with the same thought as after the first: If only I’d had this kind of experience when I was a student!

I studied abroad. Twice. And my months living in the parts of Wales that inspired Dylan Thomas’s poetry were the most memorable, life-shaping moments of my college career.
But no one else from my school was on the trip, so when I returned to the campus, my classmates were oblivious to my experience. The friends I’d studied with in Wales were now far away.

Not so with Wabash immersion experiences. You travel to places like Chiapas, Israel, Spain, the Everglades, with the professor and students you’ve been studying with for months. Your common bond—learning about this place or subject. A new culture. Or a work project. Or an ecosystem or living history you’ve never encountered.

Once onsite, you learn together alongside professors who are learning, too, even as they teach. Not unlike that shared sense of discovery student interns may get with professors in bio, chem., or physics labs. But this laboratory has no control group.

At dinner you digest what you’ve seen and heard; at breakfast, you wonder what’s coming next. You learn the little things about one another you never had time for on campus. New tolerance and new respect arises. As Torm Hustvet wrote in his blog from our trip, “This is an experience that I have learned to love through my immersion trips. I have been able to experience life with classmates in a much more personal fashion and I feel that a trip such as this helps encourage the learning atmosphere of the class following the trip.”

So this moveable feast of learning comes back to campus with you. You can relive this new bond whenever you see one another: experiences, stories, even secrets in common.
It’s not better than study abroad. Just different. But today I recommend it to incoming students as an essential part of their Wabash experience.

Those of us chronicling these trips learn a little ourselves. Even though our attention is focused on the students’ teachable moments, we can’t help have a few of our own. It’s not unlike the averted glance method of finding hard to see celestial objects: the only way to see what’s important is to focus on something away from it, catching the essential object out of the corner of your eye.

Here are a few things I noticed out of the corner of my eye while traveling with Professor Krohne and his six biology students in the Everglades and trying to see the place the way they do:

1. The Everglades is a river of grass—shallow, wide, draining the peninsula from north to south. It’s been manhandled, re-directed, polluted, and yet has also been the focus of some of the most loving care men and women have ever showed the planet as they have attempted to restore and manage it. And everything you see is determined by the depth of the water it lives in.

2. It is a fragile system—even during our stay, we learned that nests of the roseate spoonbill, a bird considered a barometer of the health of the Florida Bay, were at their lowest number (272) since 1960. The Everglades protects more endangered species than any other national park.

3. It is a resilient system—we camped at Flamingo, an area ravaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma in 2005, and still rebuilding. But Eco Pond, a premier birding spot and closed until 2006, has sprung back. Much of the wildlife and birds have returned. And lots of moonflowers, as our student, Phil Rushton, discovered. We camped in a place that was under three inches of mud two years ago. Flamingo is the kind of place that makes me think of Krohne’s research in Yellowstone after the fires, or of his 2004 LaFollette Lecture “The Geography of Hope”, when he said, “I am an optimist because of, not in spite of, my science.”

4. The things you’d most likely remove to develop an area are necessary for ensuring survival of that you’d most want to keep. One example: the mangrove. They hog the beaches, are nearly impassable, and are, aesthetically, an acquired taste. But they are miracles. They protect the beaches from erosion. They can survive in salt water; their leaves exude the salt. Their branches are home to many birds, their forests anchors for many spider webs, therefore rich with insect life. Their exposed roots nurture algae, barnacles, oysters, sponges, and provide nutrients that support the areas fisheries. As Annie Dillard writes, “ they have shrimp in their toes and terns in their hair.”

Dave Krohne calls them “nutrient catchers.”

And that’s also a good way to describe †these moveable feasts of learning that are beginning to define the Wabash learning experience. Immersion trips are nutrient catchers. Wabash students and professors adapting and learning wherever they take root, no matter how briefly, catching what they can and taking it in to enrich their understanding, their lives, and, in time, the Wabash community.

My lamenting not having had such an experience when I was a student reminds me just now of a conversation several students and I had during the trip. I’m fortunate to call Professor Krohne a friend; I call him by his first name. A couple students remarked how weird that sounded; even long after they’ve graduated, they said, they can’t imagine calling him anything besides “Dr. Krohne.” Such is their respect for their teacher, no matter how informal our Everglades gatherings had been.

“I guess you call him ‘Dave’ because you’re not a student,” one of the guys said. But that’s not true. I am a student. The least knowledgeable in biology on this trip, but still a student. If we’re lucky as we get older, we’re still learning, still in wonder before the world. As Dave himself quoted in his LaFollette Lecture the environmentalist and writer John Nichols:

“Shadows of malignant scaffolds hold the planet in a very negative net. Yet it can be done. And everything commences by refusing to despair; optimism is my one irrevocable act of faith. My dream is never to let them make me a cynical old man.”

Teachers like Dave Krohne and immersion trips like this are a heartening reminder of that act of faith, and an affirmation of the dream many of us old men share.

Read about the Everglades immersion trip here.

Obama’s Field Director Turns Organizing Upside-Down

Steve Charles—When I visited Jeremy Bird ’00 in Washington DC in the fall of 2005, he called his work as field director there for Wake-Up Wal-Mart “the best job I’ve had yet.

“It combines my values and beliefs in social justice with something that could make a real impact in the world,” Jeremy said.

And he made a real impact there, helping to assure Wal-Mart’s compliance to Maryland’s Fair Share Health Care act, among other accomplishments.

But he’s having an even stronger impact now.

As field director for Senator Barack Obama’s Presidential Campaign in South Carolina, he turned traditional political organizing practices upside-down and helped deliver a pivotal landslide victory for the Illinois senator.

Now he’s hoping for more of the same in Maryland, where he’s running Obama’s get-out-the-vote operation for Tuesday’s crucial Democratic primary there.

His organizing skills have not only Obama’s attention, but the media’s. The Christian Science Monitor featured Jeremy in a December article, and the American Prospect Web site detail the work of Bird and his colleagues in February’s “The Year of the Organizer.”

The work of Jeremy and his colleagues is being seen as a model for grassroots organizing, and you can see a video of Jeremy talking about the philosophy behind the Obama camp’s “house meetings” here.

You can also read more about the former Wabash religion major in our Spring 2006 article in Wabash Magazine.

We hope to hear from Jeremy as the campaign progresses. For now, as you watch tomorrow’s results from the “Potamac Primary,” know there’s at least one Wabash man in the thick of the fight.

In the photo: Bird during his Wake-Up Wal-Mart days.

“His brightness and energy shined through”

“Few have done more for Wabash in as many ways as Paul Mielke, and the abiding love he and Mary Lou shared seemed the foundation that allowed him that service.”

I wrote those words when Mary Louise Mielke, Paul’s wife, died in November. Paul sat behind his family and with old friends at her beautiful and moving memorial service in December. And now we’ve lost Paul.

This is a man whose embrace of his alma mater was long, loyal, and generous in so many ways; I trust we’ll hear about those in the coming days from those who knew him best. But the first thing I thought of when I heard of Paul’s passing was something he told me when we were working together on a piece in the “Brothers” issue of Wabash Magazine, a gallery featuring a few of his photographs.†

Paul’s avocation, his photography was a gift to the College, giving us the best visual history we have of Wabash as it evolved through the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Just ask Archivist Beth Swift, who wisely went through them with Paul when he moved last year and donated them to the Archives. But when I visited Paul in 2004 to collect photographs for the magazine gallery, I was looking for something different, Paul’s personal take on our “Brothers” theme—not Wabash history, but a little Mielke history, too.

The two, it turned out, were inseparable.

“I come from a family of six children, but I’m the only boy in the family,” Paul told me that day. “Wabash gave me the brothers that nature denied me, so the brotherhood created by the College is very important to me.”

Portraits of many of those brothers hung on the walls of Paul and Mary Lou’s home, and as Paul gave me a tour and I recorded his words, each photograph brought a smile, a flurry of memory, and, sometimes, tears. I transcribed the tape and used it word for word in the gallery. Paul was always eloquent and spoke with such gratitude about his friends and “brothers.” If, as some say, gratitude is the beginning of happiness, Paul was a very happy man.

But the photograph I think of first when I think of Paul isn’t of one of his Wabash brothers, but of his homeroom high school teacher, Theodore Wolcott Stuart III, at William Horlick High School in Racine, WI. It is telling that Paul remained close with his teacher for so many years after his high school days. He loved those who had taught him well, be that Mr. Stuart, Paul’s professors at Wabash, or his students here.

“Ted and I remained close friends,” Paul said. “He was a splendid English teacher and a wonderful person, one of those who really shaped me. Teaching, so much more than imparting knowledge, is a commitment and a relationship.”

“Teaching, so much more than imparting knowledge, is a commitment and a relationship”—that was Paul Mielke’s credo. He went on to describe his mentor as “an iconoclast, very independent.” Then he finished with words that make me think not so much of his mentor, but of Paul himself: “He sparkled. His brightness and energy shined through.”

Here’s a link to the online version of that Alumni Gallery. It doesn’t do his photographs justice, but I encourage you to read Paul’s words, get a sense of the love behind the lens, and be grateful for the kindness, the “energy and brightness” of Paul Mielke, who found at Wabash his brothers and sisters, and returned to us a brother’s love.
—Steve Charles

The human story

Steve Charles—Indianapolis alums and fans of Tom Runge’s “Grunge Report” on the Wabash website may recall Andrew Shelton ’03 and his “new generation of cool.”

Tom linked us to John Russell’s Indianapolis Star feature about Andrew and his invention, the TrackPack Cooler, back in March, when Andrew still had most of the 11,000 backpack coolers left at his Northwest Indianapolis warehouse.

He’s since sold more than 8,000, is selling through Kroger, Marsh, and United Package Liquors in Indiana, and has been pleased to discover NASCAR is his biggest market. He’s put together promotional deals with Camping World, even made 30 special coolers for Crown Royal.†

Facing a three-month road trip to promote the product, he bought an RV that also serves as a rolling billboard, and last he Saturday drove south to the Bowl Championship Series in New Orleans.

He’ll be meeting with owners of 26 stores there, then heading out to conventions in Utah and Nevada before hitting the Daytona 500 and the NASCAR circuit that he become his bread and butter.

All this from an idea he came up during his days as an English major at Wabash.
You can read that story in the Star article.

My time with Andrew last Friday was spent photographing him for the “That Entrepreneurial Spirit” issue of Wabash Magazine and a series called “39 Under 39” that the Public Affairs staff is doing about young alumni. And what captured my attention—beside the fact that the TrackPack really is an ingenious product that would look great with a WABASH logo across it—was Andrew’s remarkable energy and his long-range vision for his company.

That energy and commitment was as important as his networking skills as he struggled to find a product designer to build the prototype (backpack innovator Larry Reid of British Columbia, whose Bora pack revolutionized that industry in 1995) and a manufacturer to build the final product overseas.

Getting an idea to the market is a tough road to navigate, and one of Shelton’s long-range goals is to make that road easier for others.

“Ultimately I’d like to help others take product from development through marketing and sales,” Andrew says. “Do for others what I’ve learned, and let people share in the ownership.”

Andrew says that when people sell their inventions to large companies, the name of that person and the story of how the invention came to be often gets lost.

“I’d like to make sure that doesn’t happen, bring the human story to the product,” says the former Wabash English major. “That human story is very important.”

Check out Andrew’s road trip schedule here.

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