Houston, a Hauler, and the Meaning of Hope

Alejandro Reyna ’17 – The Wednesday evening before hurricane Harvey made landfall, I joined my brother, Dorian, for a drag racing event in Terre Haute, Indiana. My brother owns a diesel performance shop in our hometown of Houston, and we left his shop with his photographer, one of his mechanics, and his 45-foot trailer hauling his seven-ton race truck. After realizing how severe the flooding in Houston was, the trip was cut short, and we left Terre Haute Sunday morning. The plan was to leave the race truck in College Station, Texas to make more room in the trailer and spend the nearly $10,000 donated by other diesel performance shops around the U.S. on supplies for shelters in Houston.

Alejandro (left) gathers supplies for Hurricane Harvey.

We arrived at College Station Monday afternoon and emptied the trailer. Victor, the shop’s photographer and social media guru, made a post on the shop’s Facebook page, and the Texas A&M Aggie community was tipped off. The first 30 minutes after pulling into the Wal-Mart parking lot were chaotic. So many students were already waiting to load food, supplies, and over 200 cases of water. To be honest, I actually teared up. For the next four hours, college students dropped off what were obviously snacks and supplies they had just purchased for their upcoming semester. We realized more than seven tons of supplies had been donated when we noticed how the much the trailer tires were bulging.

We arrived at a church in northwest Houston and so many parishioners showed up that we unloaded the supplies in under 30 minutes. All these strangers kept asking “Where are y’all from?” and with a smile my brother told them, “Just ten minutes down the road.” He was not joking and as much as we would have loved to go home, the freeways to get further into Houston were all flooded. We had no choice but to go back to College Station.

Though we could not get home, we were blessed when we got back to College Station. A current freshman at A&M who had helped us load supplies earlier that day invited us to his dad’s restaurant. Even though he had class the next morning, he cooked six meals and was adamant that we not pay. It was already midnight by the time we left and my brother got a phone call that one of his friends had booked and paid for two hotel rooms.

Tuesday morning, we set up at the same Wal-Mart parking lot. Later that night, we unloaded the trailer at a high school shelter in East Houston that was running low on food. A school board member walked us into one of their two gymnasiums. Not one of us was ready for what we saw. Hundreds of families and individuals that had been evacuated from their homes were now taking shelter at this high school. This was the hardest moment of the week for me.

What are you supposed to feel after walking out of a shelter knowing that those families might have lost everything, or worse, someone? Some of these parents’ eyes were red and swollen, and my brain tried to reconcile the emotions from that image while watching children running around playing. Those kids had just met for the first time earlier that day and were now carrying on with being kids.

The only thing that I could feel was hopeful because feeling anything else such as thankful that anyone I knew wasn’t in that shelter just felt wrong.

Trailer with supplies donated for Hurricane Harvey

I continue feeling hopeful because the solidarity I saw those three days was present at Wabash College, my alma mater and a tiny liberal arts school in the middle of Indiana, and a million other places around the U.S. I am hopeful and optimistic that all of the support from selfless individuals will remind those affected families that they are not alone. Even if you don’t catch their name or meet them, someone is always there to help.

Wednesday, we headed to Austin, Texas, where U.S. Army Veteran and Purple Heart recipient Sgt. Omar “Crispy” Avila had coordinated the donation of enough supplies to fill the trailer for the third time. This trailer full was dropped off at a church in North Houston. Veteran Sgt. Omar goes by Crispy because he was badly burned in Iraq after his convoy was bombed. Crispy is now a veteran charity advocate and finds any way he can to help others.

That afternoon, my brother made the decision to head to his shop for the first time in over a week. He parked the trailer outside his shop and walked onto his property. Friends and family had been there all day helping with demolition as the entire property flooded more than four feet, but when they saw him, the completely stopped what they were doing. Everyone knew this was a dreadful sight for my brother. The office, breakroom, and computer systems were destroyed. In his truck yard sat over 50 diesel trucks whose cup holders were filled with water. In that moment, he realized his business and livelihood were at stake.

No time to lose. We all got to work cleaning, and, after about an hour, Crispy showed up. He bought my brother a new printer, computer, and phone so that my brother could be back in business. For the next week, the shop had friends and family show up to help clean.

My brother Dorian is the one person I personally know who was affected by hurricane Harvey. He is the same man who was leading the effort to transport supplies using his trailer. Not once during those three days did I think my big brother and role model would be affected so directly. Even during the week of rebuilding and cleaning, my brother and his wife coordinated a clothing drive at their shop and received and helped distribute an 18-wheeler worth of relief supplies sent to them by friends in Maryland. He’s my role model for a reason.

My experiences taught me true solidarity, the meaning of hope, and how important it is to answer the call when someone needs help. Sometimes the call comes from a friend or family member and your duty to them is binding. But sometimes that call comes unexpectedly from strangers and duty binds us more so than ever.

Creativity Leaps Off the Page

Every yearbook publishes senior photos. It’s a rite of passage.

In the 1970’s, The Wabash took the practice to new heights, publishing photos taken in different campus locations often with a prop or two, including significant others, babies, and even pets. If you remember the ’70’s, it looks completely normal.

When it came time for Class of 1977 members Bob Kniskern, Bob Snodgrass, and Mark Van Buskirk to submit theirs, the gentlemen were hoping for something out of the ordinary. Inspired by equal parts Butch Cassidy and Salvador Dali, the guys, and photographer Ben Thomas ’75 came up with the photo below, shot on location in Waynetown near a mobile home Kniskern and Van Buskirk lived in as seniors.

Class of ’77 members (from left) Bob Kniskern, Bob Snodgrass, and Mark Van Buskirk channel Salvador Dali and Butch Sundance in this senior pic taken by Ben Thomas ’75.

And the photo remains memorable to that group 40 years later.

“We ran together toward the road from the farm field across the road from our trailer and jumped into the air together over the ditch to get some good air underneath us,” Kniskern explained via e-mail. “It took a lot of takes before our photographer buddy Ben was satisfied he got one that would be cool.”

Thomas was inspired by “Dali Atomicus,” the 1948 Philippe Halsman portrait of Salvador Dali that appeared in Life magazine. It’s the one where Dali, three cats, an easel, a chair, a painting, Dali, and some water are all suspended in the frame.

“’Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ was not far from memory at the time, and they happy attitude of the gang’s successful migration is well reflected in our charging brothers’ faces,” Thomas recalled.

The nearly full-frame print was done in Thomas’ darkroom in the wiring closet on the second floor of the Phi Psi house on H&W Control film. He used a Leitz Tiltall tripod and a 300mm f5.6 Canon FD lens on his F1 camera. He was at least a hundred feet away from his subjects to get them

Philippe Halsman’s “Dali Atomicus.”

framed that way.

“In retrospect, it would have been better on a more contrasty film, even if it would have been grainy,” Thomas said. “If I ever see the negative again – I have no idea where it is, but I may still have it – I may have a go at it. That film I used, while very, very fine-grained, was notoriously lacking in contrast.

“It’s still one of my favorite photos, regardless.”

While the whereabouts of the negatives are in question, the final print still survives. “I have the only print from the original negative for that photo,” Van Buskirk said.

“It was fun and we wanted to be different,” Kniskern said, “and I think we succeeded.”

Reflection on Big Bash 2017

Alumni Chapel Sing

Alumni Chapel Sing

Ian Ward ’19-

With Big Bash 2017 in the books and being able to meet Wabash greats and watch friendships reignited, it reminds me Wabash is special.

You can have a conversation with an alum celebrating his 50th reunion about fraternity tradition, having only met five minutes before. Everyone has a connection to common experience even with a 40, 50, or even 60-year gap. Nearly 42% of living alumni in the class of 1967 came back for their 50th reunion. It may be a number, but at a college where we have only 12,000 living alumni, 42% is amazing.

Three days, and five meals, and 320+ alumni descended on campus to relive college days for a few hours, and renew their love for this place. I heard countless stories, from pledge brothers helping an injured brother get ready for a date, to hearing how freshmen had to fight sophomores to keep their treasured freshman pot. I could tell the great traditions that we hold today were built on the shoulders of these generations of Little Giants. There was a feeling of camaraderie in every room, whether it was men from 2007 hanging out with Wabash men from 1967, or just the class of 1987 together. I could feel the love the alumni have for this place, and readily shared it with people like me; a current student. How else can you explain alumni coming from 36 states and three countries just to meet up for a mere 60 hours? How else can you explain a record setting $9.6 million 50th reunion gift?

You can’t. Speaking to alumni from the 1960’s up to the class of 2012, it’s apparent that the common links that connect Wabash men are there, from how they got here, to their paths on campus. They are all unique, highlighting the individuality of this place. There is no one word or phrase to describe it; it’s just SPECIAL.

At Big Bash 2017, I saw the paths alums have taken from remaining in Crawfordsville, to living across the globe. The choices they have made like going to law school 15+ years after graduating from Wabash. Then I thought of the contributions these men have made to society. They have made medical devices to save lives, run political campaigns, and defended our freedom on the battlefield. Through their support they have provided generations of students with top of the line facilities, the ability to immerse ourselves in travel, help us get jobs through Career Services, and provide the best education we can get. It makes me wonder what my story will be? What will I do and how can I, as a Wabash man, contribute to such a special place in my heart?

As a rising junior, I don’t really know what my path will look like in 2019 when I graduate, however, after listening to others, and contemplating for myself, it is apparent that many Wabash men feel this way at some point. It’s growing up. It’s becoming a man. It’s learning. It’s thinking critically. It’s never selling myself short.
This is what makes Wabash special, not the buildings and trees, but the company you keep, the connections you make, the ability you think for yourself. To paraphrase current Dean of Students Mike Raters ’85, “Be gentlemen guys, you are Always Wabash men.”

The Diligence of a Wabash Man

Christina Franks — When students need a little extra help with their work, they often turn to their professors. But who do professors turn to when they need help with their work? Sometimes, it’s those very same students.

Wabash College students are often called upon to help their own professors as they publish research. Many times students are asked to be editors, which can be a daunting task in itself. Other times, however, students are asked to take part in a professor’s research from beginning to end, which means that the College offers its students a chance to have their names on published work before they graduate.

Cole Crouch ’17.

“Having the opportunity to be published before graduation is a huge deal,” said Director of the Schroeder Center for Career Development Jacob Pactor ’04. “These experiences solidify the real-world applications of the learning and professional development we hope our students experience daily.”

In the summer of 2016, Assistant Professor of Rhetoric Jeff Drury had focused work on Robert F. Kennedy that he thought would make for a great summer project with a student. So he hired Cole

Crouch ’17 as an intern for eight weeks, hoping the experience would be beneficial for both of them.

“I knew I could benefit from the diligence of a Wabash man, and I thought the student could benefit from the experience of going through the research process,” Drury said. “Cole was a great fit for the internship. He is someone who is eager to learn and open to new experiences. Our work together was a true partnership. We both contributed to the writing and revising, and I had total trust in Cole’s work.”

Though the now-graduated rhetoric major had research experience in this particular field and had writing experience, having been the Editor-in-Chief of The Bachelor, this was a brand new challenge.

Jonathan Murdock ’19.

“Co-writing and publishing a paper is a lot of work,” Crouch said. “However, it prepared me for senior year and it will help me in law school with writing more extensive and critical pieces. I thought we balanced well and had fun working together all summer.”

Taner Kiral ’17 and Jonathan Murdock ’19 say they also had a lot of fun working with Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science Colin McKinney when they joined his mathematical history research and worked through its applications.

“Working with Dr. McKinney was a lot of fun, and it was convenient having someone passionate and experienced to guide Taner and me as we edited, checked, compiled, created, and presented,” Murdock said. “I find it hard to believe that I would have gotten an opportunity to work as closely as I did with Dr. McKinney at a larger institution. To think that, as a sophomore, I have submitted an academic paper for publication in conjunction with my professor is amazing to me.”

Taner Kiral ’17.

The benefits for students is obvious. As undergraduates, working so closely with a professor and having published research will help immensely as they work on résumés, apply for graduate schools, and try to make themselves stand out.

As someone who has been working with students through the Wabash 3D Printing and Fabrication Center since 2015, Associate Professor of Chemistry Lon Porter knows that the experience can have a great impact on the professors at the same time.

“To know that I had some small part in introducing the students to what I believe will be the thing that sets innovators apart in the future makes me feel like I’m giving them a leg up in achieving their goals and dreams,” Porter said. “And that’s the best thing you can ask for as an educator.”

The Best Problem Solver on Campus

Richard Paige — Nearly lost in the shuffle of Senior Week and Commencement was a noteworthy announcement out of Goodrich Hall.

Yang Yang ’17 was named the FortKnight of the Year. Again.

Four-time FortKnight of the Year Yang Yang ’17.

Every other week, the mathematics department issues a Problem of the Fortnight that is open to any member of the Wabash community. Submissions are judged both on correctness and elegance. Nods are given for solutions, while the best ones are posted. The person with the most solutions over the course of a year is named the FortKnight of the Year.

To say he’s the best problem solver on campus might be an understatement. Yang has earned the FortKnight distinction four years in a row.

“We don’t keep good records, but I’m guessing no one has done it before,” said Mathematics and Computer Science Professor Robert Foote.

For the physics and mathematics major who earned distinction on comps, the uniqueness of this accomplishment is as appreciated as an elegant solution. To hear him describe it, each problem was 20 minutes of fun.

“It’s funny to think of this as a big deal for me at Wabash,” Yang said. “It’s just interest that drove me to do this. Every time I saw the problem, it was a fun diversion. There are some problems where the formula looks beautiful and once you get it, you get so excited about it.”

Now that he’s moving on to study physics in graduate school at the University of Minnesota, Yang has another problem left to solve – the weather.

“Summers are nice,” he says, “but it’s going to be cold.”

The Promise of a Silent Hour

Richard Paige — The pause lasted 12 seconds, so I knew the answer was meaningful.

During a recent visit to Phoenix, where Stephen Batchelder ’15 teaches eighth-grade science, I asked him about his favorite Wabash memory, and he took that long pause before responding.

“There are a lot of favorite memories,” he starts slowly, “but the one coming to mind right now, I think because its April now and the Springtime…”

He went on to describe “Poetry Hour,” a time during the spring semester his senior year that he and classmate Ryan Horner would carve a free hour out of a week and meet at the Senior Bench to share things of interest, whether it was a piece they had discovered or something one of them had created.

“We would kind of sit there and be quiet with each other and do some writing of our own,” Stephen remembers.

Ryan fondly remembers that shared time well, including the text message that started it all.

“Stephen sent me a text completely out of the blue, saying that he would be at the bench at so and so time, probably reading or writing a little bit of poetry, and that I’d be welcome to join him,” he says via e-mail from UC Davis, where he is finishing a master’s in creative writing.

It didn’t take long for these Poetry Hours to become a regularity, even a necessity. Nearly everything about the get-togethers were malleable. Sometimes they read (Horner started reading David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” during one of these sessions), other times, they wrote. They even took it on the road to places like Sugar Creek or Shades State Park. The only constant was friendship.

“We hardly ever talked,” Ryan shares. “Occasionally we would read aloud from whatever we held in our hands, no intro, no context, just conjuring poetry out of silence and then returning to silence afterward. Stephen is one of my best friends, someone who I look up to and who I know I can trust with anything, and the bench was our kind of shared space.”

Anyone’s senior year can rush by, and for Stephen and Ryan, those moments on the Senior Bench were much-needed respites of calm as a new chapter of life was dawning.

“When various responsibilities had piled up and the real world was calling out from beyond the gate of graduation, that’s when the promise of a silent hour, spent in mutual appreciation of something beautiful, at a special place with a dear friend, was enough to keep holding the world together for another week.”

Change of Plans

Not everything in college goes according to plan, not even for those focused and driven like Riley Lefever ’17.

One doesn’t collect 158 career victories on the wrestling mat, four national championships, including a spotless 129-0 mark against Division III opponents, and lead his teammates to three consecutive top-five national team finishes without those two adjectives linked closely to his being.

He came to Wabash thinking he would be a math major until his confidence was shaken by his first calculus class. “I didn’t do so hot,” Lefever explains.

That same semester, he also took an introductory English class with Professor Warren Rosenberg, which Lefever says sparked an interest in creative writing and literary theory that continues today.

“Anybody who knows Professor Rosenberg knows how awesome he is,” says the four-time champ. “That experience definitely persuaded me to take more English classes. I became an English major because of Professor Rosenberg.”

Riley Lefever relaxes in Rogge Hall.

The professor quickly returned the compliment.

“In the case of a student like Riley the pleasure is particularly great,” Rosenberg says. “He is an exceptional person and it is very gratifying to know that taking a class with me had an effect.”

Rosenberg went on to say he was particularly pleased that Riley, on the heels of that appearance in English 101 as a freshman, also signed up to be in Rosenberg’s final class at Wabash (he retired in 2016), where students took a deep dive into great texts, like “Moby Dick.”

“Riley showed me that not only did he have the skill, courage, and fortitude to win all of those wrestling national titles, but he had the requisite skill, courage, and fortitude to read, truly understand, and gain pleasure from studying such challenging literature.

“And, no,” he says, “it never gets old to hear a student believes you played some part in his making such an important life decision.”

Computerized Poetry, Is This a Game?

Two questions entered my mind when I found this tweet.

A computer makes poetry. Where is the humanity? How does that work as a teaching tool?



Thanks to the author of that tweet, Assistant Professor of English Derek Mong, I discovered the answers had all the elements of a good Wabash story: Enduring Questions (EQ), a dash of Kurt Vonnegut, the efforts of a computer, and the requisite suspicions.

Dr. Derek Mong.

Students in his EQ class had just read Vonnegut’s “EPICAC,” the classic 1950s short story where one unromantic computer programmer uses a supercomputer to generate love poetry to woo a co-worker. Being a professor of American literature and poetry, Mong knew that computers have created poetry in chance fashion, and the results reside an avant-garde world of poetry. Setting out to further engage his students, he went digging.

“I pulled the first links that looked sort of interesting, that I could clickably generate poetry,” he says. “I brought them into class and asked the students is this poetry knowing it’s a computer that made it?”

Mong says his students didn’t write it off immediately, but there were suspicions. The computer could recognize syllable length and was filling in spaces by surfing text. Click a button and a quatrain or a haiku was generated. Seeing it work made them curious.

From there, Mong had his students do a found-language experiment. Collect 10 sentences at random in the library, put them down in a notebook, take that material home, and create a poem or short story using the found material. Now, it becomes a teaching tool, because it creates limits similar to how the computer operates.

“It changes our idea of what authorship is,” Mong says. “Our associations with poetry are individual genius at a desk creating beauty. That’s what Vonnegut’s story pokes at. If a computer can do this, what are our ideas about the creation of literature? It’s useful intellectually for students to ask what are the possibilities of computational poetry, and for me what are the ideas of how poetry can change.”

Perhaps that change can inject an element of fun.

“A lot of what’s happening with these poems is play,” he says. “Can this be a game? Can I go on to write poems that are playful, game-like, and fun?”

Crossing the Unexpected Line

Growing up, Jordan Smith ’17 said there wasn’t much for high school students to do in his hometown in northwest Indiana.

Jordan Smith ’17 wearing his DC’s Country Junction shirt.

They were pretty close to Chicago, but that was expensive. There was the mall, but that was normally overrun by middle school students. And because they weren’t 21 years old yet, that ruled out a lot of the other options.

So Smith and his friends learned how to line dance.

“I had a group of friends who always wanted to go to this place called DC’s Country Junction,” Smith said, “and I was always turned off by it because it was country. So they spent a good six months trying to trick me and get me to go.”

Finally, his friends’ efforts paid off. Smith thought they were carpooling to go celebrate his friend’s birthday. Instead, he ended up at DC’s Country Junction without a way out.

“It was $5 to get in,” he explained, “and I’m the type of person that, if I’m going to spend money, I’m going to at least attempt to enjoy myself.”

It took a while, though. The first time he got out on the dance floor, Smith laughs remembering how he didn’t know how to do anything the other people were doing. There was a lot of confusion, and a lot of bumping into other people.

For many, that type of experience would be a turn off. But for Smith, it was a challenge he wanted to take on.

“I went back the next week and got a little bit better. And then the next week. At first, I just wanted to show people that I could do this, but then I eventually started to like it.”

So then for three years straight, the dance floor of DC’s Country Junction was where Smith could be found almost every Saturday night.

Though he doesn’t get back home much anymore, Smith can still be found breaking out some of his line dances at local clubs and bars. Sometimes he dances alone; other times, people who know the dance jump right in there with him.

“DC’s Country Junction taught me two things: to never judge a book by its cover and that you’ll never know what you like until you try it,” Smith said. “I saw the word country, and automatically assumed that it was not for me.

“It doesn’t come up much in conversation,” Smith laughed, “but I still remember how to do most of the dances, and I will happily do them anytime, anywhere if you ask.”


Humanizing Prison

Richard Paige — We weren’t 50 feet inside the dual fencing that surrounds the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility when the catcalls came from two inmates shooting baskets at outdoor hoops.

This had the makings of a very uncomfortable immersion experience.

The maximum-security facility in Carlisle, IN, was the destination for Assistant Professor of History Sabrina Thomas’ History of Mass Incarceration class. It was an opportunity for 18 students to step inside those 14-foot electrified fences topped by razor wire.

It was supposed to be a reality check.

“We are studying prisons, we are studying systems, theories and ideas,” Thomas said. “We’re looking at the prison objectively as academics, and we sometimes forget that this is a real thing with real people involved.”

From the maximum-security Restrictive Housing Unit (RHU), where inmates are escorted to and from cells by pairs of guards with handcuffs and leads, to the minimum-security J-House, where the dormitory style housing provided more smiles than anticipated, the students saw those inmates on their turf.

The tour included a visit to the PLUS unit (Purposeful Living Units Serve), a faith-based outreach program that provides hand-made quilts and clothing to the surrounding community, as well as a stop at the Educational Department, where one student got an impromptu lesson.

History of Mass Incarceration students view the maximum-security Restricted Housing Unit from inside a security pod.

“I was surprised by our close contact with the inmates,” said P.J. Mays ’19. “Often times they would say something just to make contact. In the educational facility, one guy said to me, ‘this is not what’s up,’ and his message was obvious.”

The RHU might have provided the most eye-opening experience. From their vantage point inside a security pod, the students could see four hallways of maximum-security cells, watch inmates transferred to and from, and get a peek inside those cells from the bank of video monitors on the guard’s desk.

It was an immediate lesson to the real impacts of prison, especially since the RHU was the first building on the tour, and just moments after those initial catcalls.

“It was powerful to see in real life,” said Evan Frank ’19. “It’s like caging people. They are able to obtain some access to the outside world if they are really fortunate, but they are completely isolated. They can’t do anything.”

Multiple times during the tour, we heard that prison is its own city. It’s no different than any other community. At times, admittedly, it felt like we were the center of attention on this tour. At times, it felt like prison tourism.

“Everything we’re talking about in class has real-life effects,” said Thomas. “There are human consequences. (The tour) definitely humanized the idea of incarceration. “It may have humanized it a bit too much.”