A Soulful Woman

Mary Louise Mielke was the wife of Wabash Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science Paul Mielke ’42, but I attended her memorial service Thursday in the College’s Detchon International Hall wanting to learn much more than that.

As it turns out, “faculty wife” wasn’t a bad place to begin.

As her son-in-law John R. Roberts noted, being the wife of a faculty member during the 40 years Mary Louise served this College “was like being a minister’s wife: a job with no position description, certainly no salary, but with heavy obligations and expectations.

“She was legendary with generations of Wabash students who were hundreds, thousands, and even continents away from home. She gave them a home, Sunday dinner, and perhaps even the mother’s care they needed.

“The way she touched their lives may have seemed to them like random acts of kindness. But there was no randomness to it. That was Mary Louise. She had a remarkable spirit of kindness, caring, and giving.”

Her daughter Margery recalled the hundreds of “hungry, lonely homesick sons of Wabash” her mother welcomed into their home.

“She loved those Wabash boys as if they were her own sons,” Margery said.

So it was right that Detchon Hall was packed last Thursday, that President White and Professor Mielke’s close faculty colleagues were there along with friends and family to honor this woman who served Wabash in the ways that define a college community at its heart. Mary Louise was one of those who gave our students those outside of the classroom moments that endear this place to alumni, the acts that make one’s alma mater literally a “fostering, nurturing mother.”

She did so with hospitality, “remarkable kindness,” good food, her performance and teaching of music, with her work as a librarian.

But that was just the tip of very bright and warm flame.

You felt that warmth as her daughter Kathy read Emily Dickinson’s “Nature, the gentlest mother,” one of Mary Louise’s favorites:

“Nature, the gentlest mother,

Impatient of no child,

The feeblest or the waywardest,

Her admonition mild…”

You heard it as the soprano voice of her granddaughter and professional opera singer Elizabeth Andrews Roberts—no doubt the most beautiful voice ever to grace this room—energized the air with Schubert’s Litanei. You could imagine a grandmother’s wonder and pride at such a voice coming from the grandchild she once held as a baby.

You heard it in the words of her daughter Margery as she recalled not only her mother’s many talents, but also a surprising sense of adventure : During World War II, Mary Louise led her girl scout troop on a 400 mile journey from Crawfordsville to Beaver Island, Michigan on single-speed bikes with balloon tires.

You heard it when Margery recalled how her mother loved not only playing music, but teaching it, how she enjoyed playing flute in the kitchen with her son Paul and daughter Kathy, and how she was tickled when the dogs joined in!

“In her mind, the perfect quintet was bassoon, oboe, and flute, with soprano and alto dog.”

She was a musician, a natural teacher, a librarian, a quilter and seamstress, and a lover of words—whether reading Virgil, doing the New York Times crossword, or reading aloud to her children and grandchildren.

“How can so much goodness, loving-kindness, and generosity of spirit be housed in such a small person?” Margery Mielke Roberts wondered aloud.

And that’s what most moved me Thursday—seeing how those talents and virtues continue to be housed in Mary Louise Mielke’s children and grandchildren. I’ve never been to a memorial service where the “departed” seemed so present in those she loved—in the singing, in the reading of her favorite Latin quotation by her granddaughter, Caitlin, in the embraces between readings, in the shared laughter at family jokes, in the carefully crafted quilts laying on the the table in the corner.

“We never doubted for one moment that she loved us; that was her great gift to us,” Margery Roberts said. “Her love was the bedrock on which we built our lives.”

It still is. As Mary Louise’s granddaughter, Jessica, added: “My grandmother taught me some of the most important things I will ever know—how to knead bread, how to knit, that words matter, and that loving means forgiving.

“Last summer I asked my husband what he thought the soul was, and he said, ‘the human capacity to love and to forgive.’ If that is so, my grandmother was a soulful woman.”

—Steve Charles

The Coach as Teacher

Steve Charles—With the exception of the Monon Bell Game, Little Giant football isn’t the beat I cover here for Public Affairs. And even at that Game, my assignment is “crowd shots.”

At Homecoming, I don’t take game or queen contest photos. I photograph Wamidan, the Jazz Band, Brass Ensemble, and the Glee Club at that evening’s Homecoming Concert.

No one on our staff should have less to say about the departure of Chris Creighton. No one knows less about him as a football coach.

But I do know and respect him as a teacher and mentor. And the first time I caught a glimpse of that was, strangely enough, in my arts beat over at Salter Hall.

Little Giant quarterback Russ Harbaugh ’05 had just finished showing one of his documentary films, either Beside Myself, Russ’s film that traced the history of Wabash’s study of coeducation and the controversies surrounding those studies, or Thy Loyal Sons, the film he completed his senior year. I can’t remember which, as Creighton saw them both.

I do remember thanking Chris for attending the screening, which I realized, almost as soon as I said it, was a little like thanking a father for coming to his son’s play. But Chris was gracious, said he “wouldn’t miss it.”

Chris would later say that the experience of making that film and the response it received from the Wabash community contributed as much if not more to Russ’s confidence and remarkable senior year on the football field than any training or change of technique.

Chris sees his players not just as athletes, not just as students, but as human beings. His approach to the College’s mission to educate mind, body, and spirit is among the most holistic I’ve seen in 10 years at Wabash. He understands that men often bond most strongly working alongside one another, and that young men, particularly those of us who are kinesthetic or tactile learners, learn best not while we’re sitting on our butts in the classroom, or even engaged in debate afterward, but while we’re on the move, when we’re doing something, putting what we’ve learned into tangible, physical practice.

The football team’s 2006 immersion trip to Panama exemplified that understanding and approach. Ostensibly a trip to play a football game in Panama, Creighton, history professor Rick Warner and their colleagues shaped it into service learning/immersion trip with a football game at the end.

“Something extraordinary has happened to 39 of our students this week,” wrote Warner of the trip. “They have become immersed in a society considerably different than their own, rubbing shoulders with ordinary people in a developing country. Most importantly, they have reflected on the value of working toward an understanding of a different culture.”

This wasn’t just a coach making sure his students were doing well in the classroom; this was a coach extending that classroom into the world.

I believe coaches and professors can learn much from each other about the most effective ways to reach and teach Wabash students, and I believe all of us who care about teaching and learning could have learned from Chris Creighton. The good news is that history professor Rick Warner, Creighton’s partner in crime on the Panama trip, has just been granted tenure, so that learning is still possible.

As Rick has written, “I’ve realized that there are fruitful ways that professors and coaches can work as partners in bringing the world to our students. Not only do we teach the same students, but important life lessons well beyond the realms of academics and athletics can be learned when such partnerships are forged.”

The photograph of Coach Creighton I’ve included here reminds me of this holistic approach he brought to Wabash. Not wearing a headset or Wabash coach’s shirt, he’s on the sidelines of a different sort in this picture I took last spring at Commencement. Chris was watching and listening intently as Patrick Millikan ’07, the Little Giant lineman and NCAA Postgraduate Scholar, one of those 39 men on the Panama trip, delivered his 2007 Commencement Address.

“Proud of him?” I asked as Patrick finished and his coach and teacher applauded.

Chris just nodded and said, “Sure gonna miss him.”


Steve Charles—“It might seem odd for a woman to claim such a kinship to a ‘school for men,’” University of Arkansas Professor Marta Collier writes in her essay “My Brothers for Life” in the latest Wabash Magazine. “But I found mentorship that I needed as an undergraduate, a young wife, a graduate student, and new university professor among the staff and faculty of Wabash and the Malcolm X Institute.”

Professor Collier’s story is unique—she met her future husband, Willyerd Collier ’75, when she was a student at Earlham College and he was brother in the formative years of the Malcolm X. Institute at Wabash.

“I attended Earlham College, but I feel more like an alum of Wabash,” she told me at last year’s reunion of the MXI, and I asked if she’d be interested in telling the Wabash community why that was the case. She writes beautifully about her experiences in this issue of the magazine.

Marta Collier (below left) and her story were one of the first inspirations for this issue devoted to daughters of Wabash and daughters of Wabash men. Another was Leslie Hunt, the daughter of Steve Hunt ’76 who was in the national spotlight last year as a finalist in Fox TV’s American Idol. Getting acquainted in Chicago with the music of both Leslie and her dad (the finest percussionist ever to attend Wabash) was a highlight of my summer, and Leslie’s photograph (above) graces the cover of this issue.

But every bit as compelling are the essays by “faculty brats” Susan Easterling Albrecht and O. Henry Prize-winning author Alison Baker, who recall very different experiences of what it felt like to be a girl growing up at “a college for men.”

Susan’s piece celebrates “coming full circle” at Wabash, where she grew up, works, and now sees her children joining the Wabash family.

Alison’s essay, at once humorous, insightful, and poignant, unveils the interior life of her years growing up at the edge of the Wabash campus. As she writes, “Pluck up a little girl who’s prone to daydreams, deposit her on the campus of a men’s school, and what’s she to make of it?”

I hope you’ll appreciate, as I did, the candor and tenderness of the writing in this issue, from Professor Bert Stern’s “Becoming Family” to Tom Runge’s reflections on the daughter he lost and Pat White’s thoughts on being the “necessary dad” to two very capable and accomplished young women. The “Daughters” theme not only allows us to view the College through a different lens, but her sons, as well.

I think you’ll be impressed by the creative ways men like Chris Braun ’81 and Denis Kelly ’84 find to share Wabash with their daughters. And our Faculty Notes article about professors Kay Widdows and Melissa Butler and their expedition through the Amazon on what Kay calls ‘the best immersion module I’ve ever led” reminds us how these women are such effective teachers and mentors of Wabash men.

We open the issue with a remarkable photograph by Thomas Florsheim ’53, taken during one of his many visits to India. We close with a photograph of a remarkable woman, Jasmine Robinson, on the day she was named an honorary alumna of the College. Another reminder of why it is as difficult to imagine Wabash without the inspiration and influence of woman as it is to imagine Wabash not being a college for men.

I hope you enjoy reading the work of the many and varied contributors from the Wabash community to this issue of Wabash Magazine, which arrives on campus tomorrow and in many of your mailboxes this week.

A Filmmaker in the Liberal Arts Tradition

Steve Charles—One of my greatest frustrations in trying to cover the lives of Wabash alumni for Wabash Magazine is that I just can’t keep up.

Even with the help of class agents, professors, advancement officers, and great alumni affairs and public affairs teams, some important achievement or event always seems to fall between the cracks.

On the flip side, when we do finally hear about such moments, catching up is a blast. Learning—often, learning a lot—is always in the mix

Take award-winning filmmaker Richard Elson ’69, for instance.

When I last contacted him for an article back in 1999, he’d already produced the Academy-Award nominated The Colors of My Father, the extraordinary documentary about Canadian expressionist painter Sam Borenstein as depicted by Borenstein’s daughter, Judith.

He had produced Bonjour Shalom, a film about a neighborhood in Montreal where a community of Hasidic Jews lives side-by-side (though not without tension) with French Catholic neighbors. The film earned numerous awards.

In 1999 he also produced What if… a film about Judith Merril, the science fiction writer and host of the original Dr. Who series who was an icon of sci-fi’s heydey in the 1940s and 50s. The film won the Best Portrait Award at the International Festival of Films on Art.

He’d recently released Bittersweet Deliveries, an intimate portrait of young unemployed men and women in Montreal who deliver food to the elderly and form strong relationships with them. And he had completed The Mystery of the Blue Whale, which won the Rolex Grand Prize at the International Festival of Maritime and Exploration Films in Toulon, France.

The only thing all these films had in common was Elson’s passion for the subject matter. Through his production company, Imageries, Ltd., Elson was taking risks to tell the stories he believed needed to be told.

So as I was contacting alumni for a feature in the Winter 2008 issue of Wabash Magazine that we’re calling “That Entrepreneurial Spirit,” Richard’s name was among the first that came to mind. And Richard had just emailed me with change of address form, so I knew exactly how to get in touch with him.

I wondered what he had been up to lately. Richard sent me a link to the website of one of his latest projects and I ran a Google search of his name to find some other recent work. Talk about missing some remarkable accomplishments!

In 2002 he produced Chiefs, a six-hour TV series about the lives of such remarkable First Nations chiefs as Sitting Bull, Pontiac, Poundmaker, and Black Hawk.

Next he suggested to Gary Beitel (pictured with Elson at left), with whom he had worked on Bonjour Shalom, that Beitel direct a documentary about Montreal’s famed Chez Schwartz deli. The result is, as one reviewer put it, “a film to drool over.” (See the website here.)

He’s currently working with Oscar-winning director Terre Nash on “Once Upon a Story”, a feature documentary about storytelling.

I’m grateful that Richard has agreed to answer my questions about filmmaking and entrepreneurism for our Winter issue. But I’m more grateful for and amazed at the work he has done in his remarkable career as a filmmaker in the true liberal arts tradition.

Read Elson’s answers here to the question we asked him in 1999: What was the most significant achievement in your profession during the 20th century?

Soul Mates

Steve Charles—Proofing the upcoming issue of Wabash Magazine, I was re-reading a story I wrote a couple months ago about Steve Hunt ’76 and his daughter, Leslie.

The article begins with Leslie’s appearance as a finalist on Fox TV’s American Idol, but the piece is also about the musical gifts Leslie inherited from her dad, who is one of the most gifted musicians (and certainly the most talented percussionist) ever to attend Wabash.

During one of my trips to Chicago to hear Steve play free jazz with his band at Hotti Biscotti (one of the few places you can still hear music in a smoke-filled room!), Steve talked about his friendship with fellow Class of 76 musician Eric Johnson. Hunt, Johnson, Kyle Jones ’78, and Andy Murduck ’78 were the core of a group that played together on campus during Hunt’s Wabash days. Besides their many gigs on campus and around town, Steve has fond memories “of playing music late into the night in the basement of the Chapel.”

“We were like soul mates,” Hunt said of his friendship with Johnson, a friendship which continues to this day. Johnson chose music as a profession and lives in New York, while Hunt has a day job as vice-president of the Architectural Division of Northfield Block. The third band member, Kyle Jones, went on to law school, served as a legislator in Maine, and was instrumental in shutting down a nuclear reactor there. The trio was reunited in 1997 when they recorded their CD “Breakdown,” under the name EKS Crew—E for Eric, K for Kyle, and S for Steve, playing their style of jazz better than ever, 30 years after Wabash.

In the Wabash archives I found a photo of Hunt and Johnson from their Wabash days. Steve Hunt is looking up, watching Johnson, just as I watched him do three decades later in Chicago with his fellow musicians at Hotti Biscotti.

Playing music solo has its rewards, but there’s a reverie playing in an ensemble that is beyond anything a soloist will ever know. See if you can’t find it in Steve Hunt’s eyes in this shot I took of him playing at Hotti Biscottti. Then that look, with a more youthful intensity, in the photo from his Wabash days playing with Eric Johnson.

Soul mates.

Read about Steve and Leslie Hunt in “American Idyll,” the cover feature of the Fall 2007 Wabash Magazine, in the mail in time for the holidays.

A Well-Centered Tone

Steve Charles—I knew Mary Lou Mielke mostly for her gentle hospitality the several times I visited the Mielke’s home to work with her husband, Professsor Emeritus Paul Mielke, on photo spreads for Wabash Magazine. The walls were covered with photographs of landscapes and friends, but as you made your way upstairs, the pictures were of children and grandchildren. Her health was declining and moving around the house was difficult, yet she never lost patience with me as I asked about the pictures, and she lit up when we got to those of the children and grandchildren, the legacy of love that survives her.

But I also knew her from Wabash archive photos that show her performing music at Wabash (most famously at a rally for 1968 presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy) where she played in various ensembles and taught students from 1957 to 1985. She leaves a legacy there, too, through the Mary Louise Denney Scholarship.

A memorial service is planned for December, but with so much time elapsing between now and then, it seems fitting to keep this wonderful woman in our memories, and her family in our thoughts and prayers. I asked Professor Emeritus of French Dick Strawn, who played music with Mary Lou for four decades (including as part of the “Flat Baroque Ensemble!) to write a brief recollection of his friend from the perspective of a fellow musician, just to tide us over until that service:

“The other day I listened to a tape of Mary Lou Mielke playing the flute. ‘Plangent’ came to mind. I had to look it up: ‘1. having a loud reverberating sound; 2. having an expressive and esp. plaintive quality.’ Number 2 was it, often; number 1 only when she joined some band or other, and she frequently answered appeals for help. Who else was so dependable, could read anything at a glance, and played like a charm? She claimed not too much like anything post-Beethoven, preferably post-Mozart, but she played with understanding anything put in front of her. For someone so short of breath for so many years, she sustained a tone and phrased musically like a professional. A well-centered tone, not piercing. Silvery. She passed that understanding to her students and to her oboe- and bassoon-playing children and was the pivot of many a chamber-music ensemble at Wabash and in town.”

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 look forward learning more about Mary Lou from those who knew and loved her best, and to celebrating her life at the memorial service. I’m told there may be music; perhaps a chance for us to hear that “well-centered tone” she passed along to her children and students.

A Way of Life

Steve Charles—Filmmaker Ted Steeg ’52 spent his first years after Wabash in Greenwich Village, sharing an apartment with screenwriter Dan Wakefield and immersing himself in the “alternative society” of the New York City of that day—the new journalism of the Village Voice, the writing of Kerouac, Salinger, Mailer, and Ginsberg, the music of Thelonius Monk and Mabel Mercer, and the efforts of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement.

“Being in New York in the 50s was like being in Paris in the 1920s and 30s,” Ted said. “It was where it was happening; all the new stuff was happening right here.”

Not the typical Wabash man’s life of the 50s, perhaps, but no film I’ve seen has captured the spirit of Wabash and a liberal arts education as well as Steeg’s documentary, “A Way of Life.”

The music of Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” plays as it opens with scenes of the frontier Wabash would be carved out of, and it just gets better from there. It is beautifully filmed (there’s a vividness of color video just can’t capture), creatively shot, and it gives you a chance to see and hear the Wabash of the 70s and some of the men who made that community.

We see Wabash legends like Eric Dean, Fred Enenbach, and Eliot Williams. We sit on the College mall as President Thad Seymour reads awful poetry with a straight face on the infamous Elmore Day, then we watch him welcome with sincerity the new class on Freshman Saturday.

It’s almost like seeing 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.

I got to know Ted Steeg during his service on the Wabash Magazine Editorial Board a few years ago. He always had creative, workable ideas, several of which still drive the way the magazine is put together. But seeing this film, I understand even better how fortunate we were to have him on that board, and how fortunate the College is to have his documentaries in our archives.

Archivist Beth Swift will be showing “A Way of Life” tomorrow at 7:30 in Salter Hall as part of her presentation “Wabash in Pictures and Film”, itself a part of this week’s Founder’s Day celebration marking the 175th anniversary of the College’s founding.

If you want to see some of those legendary names from the College’s history and get a better sense of where we came from, you ought to be there. And given all the talk of tradition on this campus, it’s fascinating to look back at the 70s and see what tradition was then—what has gone away, and what is very much alive today.

Watching Ted’s movie, I couldn’t help notice how often he used the word “independence.” He calls Wabash “a way of life, of character, independence, and excellence.” It emphasizes the fact the College has no government or church support. The College’s goal is to educate men to be “independent, free-thinking individuals.”

Independence. That’s Ted Steeg. That’s what he went to New York to find, that’s what he brought back with him to make this film. As his friend Dan Wakefield said of their venturing to the City: “We had decided to take risks, and we had come to New York to become the best we could be.”

Photo: Ted Steeg during the ceremony marking his donation of his films to the College archives. Ted’s most recent appearance in film was in front of the camera, as he and Dan Wakefield were interviewed for the 2004 film New York in the 50s.

“The years but make it holier”

Steve Charles—The love story of General Lew Wallace and his future bride begins at a piano. A piano that, until yesterday, was right here on the Wabash campus.

The exact ages and dates are sketchy as laid out in Lew Wallace: An Autobiography, but the story goes something like this:

When young Wallace (who would become Crawfordsville’s most famous resident) was about nine and attending the preparatory school at Wabash, he invited himself to the home of Issac Elston, who had the finest house in the region. He’d heard that the Elstons had a piano among their exotic furnishings. Never having seen such a “big musical machine,” he stopped by for a look.

“A party was in progress,” Wallace would write in Autobiography. “I worked my way, Indian-like, to a window through which the whole interior was in view. In a little while, sure enough, a young lady went to the machine, opened it, and began a song with an accompaniment.”

That young lady was Susan Elston, age six. It was the first time Wallace laid eyes on the girl he would come to love and marry.

The piano remained in the Elston Homestead, which was eventually donated to the College by Isacc Elston III and has since been the residence of Wabash presidents. The piano was moved to the Wabash campus during the administration of Andy Ford, stored in Baxter Hall.

Wabash music professor Larry Bennett knew about the piano, and as he was completing his term as department chair this year, wanted “to tie up some loose ends,” including giving the public access to the historic musical instrument. He contacted local woodworker Don Livingston, who did a beautiful job restoring the cabinet of the piano. He contacted Crawfordsville Public Library Director Larry Hathaway, who helped arrange for the piano to be received by the Library’s new Carnegie Museum.

The piano itself is remarkable. Built in Boston by Timothy Gilbert in the 1830s, it is number 680 of about 4,000 “square” pianos made by this innovative craftsman, who later patented improvements to upright pianos as well as a square piano with “an Aeolian attachment”—a combination piano/reed organ.

Purchased for Susan Elston, probably in Cincinnati, the piano was transported to Crawfordsville from Boston via the Atlantic Ocean, Mississippi, Ohio, and Wabash Rivers, and finally up Sugar Creek, which was navigable in those days.

But photographing this 170-year-old piano in Salter Hall yesterday morning and touching the fragile keys before it was moved to its new home, I couldn’t help but think of young Susan Elston, her delicate fingers playing while her future husband, still a boy, saw her for the first time through that window at the Elston Homestead.

The next time he saw her she was 18 years old, and all grown up. Wallace writes of that moment in Autobiography:

“Fifty years and more [ago], and I can blow the time aside lightly as smoke from a cigar, and have a return of that evening with Miss Elston, and her blue eyes, wavy hair, fair face, girlish manner, delicate person, and witty flashes to vivify it.

“There are young people who think a man past 70 may not be moved by the love of his youth… [Yet] far from so much as dimming the recollection, the years but make it holier.”

An Awful but Essential Lesson

Steve Charles—Wabash junior Nathan Rutz gave up his usual summer job at the camp where his family vacations to spend a month in a ramshackle house with a group of other young men and women trying to help the people of West Virginia save a part of their state from being literally blown from the map.

This internship with the Coal River Mountain Watch—part of a program called “Mountain Justice Summer” which seeks to end the practice of “mountaintop removal” coal mining and the damage it’s doing to people, communities, and the environment in the Appalachians—changed Nathan’s life.

It’s my job to chronicle such teachable moments. So when Nathan offered to show me around after his internship was over, I picked him up in Cincinnati and we headed for Whitesville, WV.

The folks he’d worked with greeted him with hugs. One of the researchers noted how Nathan’s “willingness to roll up his sleeves and do what needed to be done” had been a morale booster for the group. And listening to Nathan talk about the people in the Whitesville community he’d gotten to know, to enjoy, and to respect, I understood why he’d become so dedicated to this work.

But it was our trip up Kayford Mountain, to a place they call “the Gates of Hell,” that really opened my eyes to Nathan’s transformation.

He’ll articulate this all better than I in the next issue of Wabash Magazine, but here’s a moment from my own experience on the mountain that I’ll never forget:

Nathan was showing me the graveyard where the family of the mountain’s owner, Larry Gibson, are buried. He recalled Larry teaching him to walk between the headstones, never on a grave itself. This mountain is sacred ground to Gibson, who was born here in the 1950s when the family owned 500 acres. He returned in the 1980s when coal companies had acquired all but 50 acres of that land.

You can see what mining has done with that acquisition in some of the photos I took that day. Kayford Mountain is torn apart and surrounded by devastation, the top of the nearby mountains blown apart, the rumble and clanging of D9 bulldozers and the barks of diesel dump trucks the constant soundscape.

Nathan pointed across a the now desert-like valley to a mountain that looked like it had been given a mohawk.

“That’s another family cemetery,” Nathan said of the narrow band of remaining trees. He said that the mining companies weren’t allowed to surface mine cemeteries, so they had tunneled underneath this one. Some of the graves had fallen in.

A few minutes later I met Larry Gibson, the man they call “the keeper of the mountain,” and I asked him if, after years of protesting, testifying before the state legislature and Congress, and spending time in jail for acts of civil disobedience—after seeing 250 of West Virginia’s mountains destroyed by mountaintop removal mining—he still had hope that he could stop it. What I didn’t know was that only a few days earlier, 12 more grave sites on the mountain had been destroyed by mining.

“I couldn’t keep doing this if I didn’t have hope. You have to have hope.”

An note of anger rose in his voice.

”But they’ll never get this part of the mountain. This is my foothold. They’ll never get that cemetery. They’ll never get my home.”

I’ll never think of coal as “cheap energy” again.

Last summer, Nathan had a front row seat to an American tragedy of our own making, and he took the stage to try to stop it from getting any worse. He has seen mining companies and government let it all happen, seen the economic dilemma in which the people of the region find themselves trapped. He has watched a state disregard its natural and cultural heritage and put it’s own children at risk (read about Marsh Fork Elementary School) so the rest of us can keep the lights on—awful lessons but essential ones if one is to learn to live, as Wabash insists, “to live humanely in a difficult world.”

Nathan’s story will appear in the Fall 2007 issue of Wabash Magazine. Here’s a photo album from my time with him. It was, thanks to Nathan, the most teachable moment I’ve experienced in my time at Wabash.

The spirit of friendship

Steve Charles—“There are two kinds of people in the world,” Wayne Hoover tells me as we sit in the Main Street Pub in Monticello, Illinois. I’ve driven here from Crawfordsville in an air-conditioned car. Wayne has ridden here on his bicycle from San Francisco over the Sierra Nevada, the Rockies, across the plains and into our 90-degree, 80-percent humidity heat. He’s about 2/3 of the way through what he’s calling “The Larry Turner Memorial Cross-Country Challenge,” a journey he’s making to honor a lost friend.

“The first kind of person walks in the room and says, ‘Well, here I am.’ We all know these guys,” Wayne says. “The other type of person walks in and says, ‘Ah, there you are.’ Larry Turner was that kind of guy. He would walk the halls at the University of Kentucky (where Turner was associate dean of agriculture) and whether you were the dean, the secretary, or the president of the college, Larry was interested in you, your family, your kids, and how you were doing. His focus was never on himself.”

So when Turner was killed when Comair Flight 5191 crashed while taking off the Lexington Kentucky’s blue grass airport in August of last year, Hoover was determined to focus public attention, at least for a few weeks, on this remarkable man and the things that mattered to him—his family, friends, 4-H and the agricultural leaders he had nurtured.

“I know how these things work,” Wayne says. “You have a tragedy, everyone says how terrible it is, and then three or four months later, everyone’s back into their own thing, while the wife and kids are still dealing with the loss.

"Larry was an outside-the-box kind of thinker. So I thought, Let’s do something outrageous to draw attention to these things that mattered to him.

“Sometimes on this trip," Wayne laughs, "I’ve wondered if maybe we didn’t choose something a little too outrageous!”

There was the horizontal snow, sleet, rain and near hypothermia in Donner Pass; the fog outside of San Francisco so thick you could barely see the road, much less the road signs; the 30-40 mile per hour head wind that cut the average speed from 18 mph to 5 and turned a 108 mile ride in Kansas into a 12 hour ordeal.

But Wayne says it’s been an eye-opening, once-in-a-lifetime adventure. He’s writing a book about the journey, and I’ve asked him to reflect on the trip for a future issue of Wabash Magazine. But here are two anecdotes from the road that go well together:

"I remember the day we were climbing Mount Rose around Lake Tahoe," Wayne recalls. "A 9- or 10-mile climb, beautiful but grueling, and two of our riders, Erin and Eileen, were so exhausted that they didn’t think they could go on."

†So Andrew, another rider, rode with Eileen, and I rode with Erin, placing my hand on her back and pushing her up the mountain. We’d say, ‘If we can just make it to the next sign, we’ll be okay,’ and we did that, sign by sign, all the way up. You have to break the trip down and help each other out. That way, we all win together."

A few weeks later, the tables turned.

"On this 108-mile day into the wind in Kansas, my right quad was in so much pain that I was literally crying on the bike," Wayne says."Riders came up and put me in a formation they call ‘the rocking chair’— a guy in front, a guy on each side of you, then one on the right, one on the left, and they put their hands on my back and pushed me for 30 miles."

"Everyone on this ride is going to have a day when you just feel like you can’t go on. And with this team, you’re going to have three people that day who say, ‘You don’t have to. Today, we’ll do it for you."

During such moments, Wayne Hoover realizes more than ever that this ride isn’t only about riding in honor of Larry Turner, but also in the spirit in which he lived.

Howard Hewitt – Hoover arrived Sunday, July 8, in Crawfordsville and left Monday morning for a "short ride" of 58 miles to Indianapolis. After breakfast, the group cycled onto the mall at Wabash where they were greeted by President Patrick White and Director of Alumni Relations Tom Runge.

Hear Hoover talk about the experience. Also, see previous story on Hoover’s trip.

Photos: Wayne in front of the courthouse in Monticello; heading down the road toward Champaign-Urbana.

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