An(ne) Amazing First Lady

Jim Amidon — Wabash College held its 168th Commencement exercises on Sunday, starting with the Baccalaureate Chapel and ending with 203 young men earning their sheepskin diplomas late in the afternoon.

Commencement traditions continued with the awarding of honorary doctorates to a pair of prominent alumni, inventor Bruce Baker and Admiral Alex Miller. There was even a surprise for outgoing president Andy Ford when he, too, was awarded an honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters

This year was not completely traditional. This year marked the end of the Ford era at Wabash, an era of growth and prosperity for the College dating back 13 years. President Ford was honored with tributes, resolutions, and even a Sagamore of the Wabash from Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.

For me, though — and for President Ford, I suspect —†the highlight of the weekend came Saturday night when First Lady Anne Ford was paid the ultimate compliment. The National Association of Wabash Men named her an honorary alumna in the Class of 2006.

She certainly deserves that diploma.

She might not have attended many classes, if any, but she certainly earned her stripes as a Little Giant. From traveling the country meeting alumni to serving as a most gracious hostess on campus, Anne Ford has played a pivotal and dynamic role along side and apart from her husband.

Believe me when I say that what Anne means to Wabash goes way, way beyond the “behind every good man” cliche. Anne has become as synonymous with Wabash as anyone.

The citation that was presented to her Saturday night captured in small measure what she has meant to Wabash, its faculty, staff and students, and its alumni. In even smaller measure, it celebrated her role in the Crawfordsville community as a board member for the Christian Nursing Service, Montgomery County Community Foundation, and Youth Service Bureau.

If you have a young child, you probably know that each year at Halloween she decorates the Elston Homestead and dresses up to pass out candy to happy trick-or-treaters. She loves kids — anybody’s kids — and seems to bring out the very best in children.

If you served on a local agency board with her, you know that she always knows exactly what to say — to cheer you up, make your day, or get you to think differently about something.

As Kitty Haffner said in a recent tribute, “Anne is the kind of friend everyone needs: she makes you laugh, she doesn’t take life or herself too seriously, she takes time to listen and care, and then she stretches your comfort zone from time to time.”

Alumni adore Anne so much that when President Ford travels to Los Angeles or New York on behalf of the College, the first question from alumni tends to be, “Where’s Anne?”

Alumni are fond of her because makes them feel at home when they return to Wabash, and she takes the Wabash they remember and love out to them, whether that’s Orlando, Seattle, or Tulsa. The National Association’s tribute Saturday night made all of us at Wabash feel good because it acknowledged her many contributions in making Wabash a stronger institution.

To quote the tribute, “Anne, there are simply not enough adjectives to describe what you have meant and will continue to mean to Wabash College. But in the true spirit of Wabash, one phrase sums up our feelings for you: Anne Ford: Some Little Giant!”

For so many of us in attendance Saturday night, that gesture was a fitting addition to a weekend of tributes and traditions.

Sophomore Hams it Up With Robin Williams

Howard W. Hewitt – While we spend lots of time noting the interesting student internships and summer jobs, often our Wabash students share other interesting experiences they’ve had away from campus.

Bryce Chitwood ’08 recently returned from New York City with several great memories of his trip. While in the Big Apple, the Oklahoma native visited MTV’s popular TRL program and met comedian/actor Robin Williams.

Chitwood was in New York with his family for his brother’s graduation from the Juilliard School. His brother finished with a degree in vocal performance, with a focus on opera. The family all flew in for his senior recital.

Chitwood’s mom had a brush with a pseudo-celebrity, of sorts, – with a Wabash connection. She was shopping and stopped by the David Letterman Show then visited the neighboring deli that Letterman often features on his program. The deli owner, Rupert, was in the store that day and just happened to be wearing a Wabash College shirt.

It turns out the shirt was given to Rupert by Collin Lanam ’06 right after Colling graduated from Crawfordsville High School before starting his freshman year at Wabash.

Williams and Rupert weren’t the only celebs the Chitwood family encountered. Bryce also met JoJo during the TRL program then ran into Julia Roberts who was exiting a Broadway theater.

Class of 2006: Reflection and Wisdom

Jim Amidon — You read so much today about how young people are disconnected, lack focus, care little about the past, and are only whimsical about the future.

If you really believe that, spend a little time with a college senior about to graduate. You’ll come to support the adage, “Don’t believe everything you read.”

I’ve spent a fair amount of time with seniors who will graduate from Wabash College this Sunday. What I have discovered is that their emotions range from melancholy to frightened; from nostalgic to ecstatic.

What surprises me most, however, is how reflective our young men are at this point in their lives. Sure, the big, real world awaits, but for the last four years they have been given a wonderful, rare opportunity to exist — to thrive — in an environment that is tough, but supportive.

For three of those four years, they never realized how good they’ve had it at Wabash. Only when it’s all about to end do our young men look back at their time in Crawfordsville as the best time of their lives.

The soon-to-be graduates will make surprise stops in the offices of faculty and staff. “Just passing through,” they say. But pretty soon they are sitting down and talking with great affection and appreciation about their Wabash experience. These “passing through” conversations reaffirm all that we hope the Wabash experience will be for the young men who enroll here.

I’ve had about a half-dozen such visitors in my office in the last week. One was Curtis Eilers, a very talented, soft-spoken, but confident young man who has no concrete idea what he’ll be doing next fall. His future is uncertain, but he is a young man capable of changing the world in ways I cannot even imagine. I really do have that much confidence in him.

Curtis is feeling the full range of emotions that every college graduate feels. He knows he’s made the most of his senior year, sure, but he might be thinking a bit about what he didn’t accomplish in years one through three. Funny, though, because he wrote for several student publications; led at least two campus organizations; and hopes he’ll get the necessary grade point average to graduate magna cum laude (probably a safe bet).

We talked about everything. What struck me, though, is how he feels about the environmental group, Green Corps, which he has helped to lead for several years. About two months ago, the organization morphed into Students for Sustainability (SFS), with a shifted focus and new goals. Inspired by the visit of an environmental writer and activist, SFS got motivated to make a difference on the Wabash campus.

Soon, re-tooled bicycles, painted green, began showing up on campus, courtesy of SFS. Curtis sent a message to the community to use the bikes to avoid driving short distances. No locks, no keys, no secret hiding places; just bikes for community use.

And he’s proud of having accomplished that goal. But as we talked, he kept inserting the word “we” in conversations about next year. Clearly, like so many Wabash students, Curtis would like to rewind the tape to have the opportunity to aggressively take hold of his Wabash education.

He started to tell me that he’s been trying to insure the long-term future of the Green Bikes program and SFS, and in doing so he said something like, “I don’t think the younger students realize how they can influence decisions at Wabash.”

Ah, the illustrative moment: that very special moment, which too often comes as a Wabash man’s time on campus is winding down, when he suddenly realizes the entire institution exists for the students.

The timing of this revelation doesn’t surprise or sadden me. It’s a natural process of maturation that occurs on this campus — particularly this campus — and it usually happens early in the senior year. It should not surprise you, either, that every time the Wabash Board of Trustees meets, the College Life Committee does the bulk of its business while talking with students.

To tweak the famous advertising slogan: “When Wabash students talk, administrators listen.”

On their way out of Crawfordsville, Wabash seniors try to pass along their newfound wisdom to freshmen and sophomores. But those younger guys — like the seniors a few years ago — don’t listen. They, like generations of students before them, will only come to realize how truly special their Wabash experience is when it’s almost over.

Know this, Wabash Men of the Class of 2006: You have left your mark here. Now go forth and change the world.


Dead Week and Finals: The Year Winds Down

Jim Amidon — Remember what it was like during final exam week back in your high school or college days?

I don’t remember a thing about my Wabash College final exams. I remember the week itself quite well, but the exams have long faded from memory.

Perhaps what I remember and what I don’t is due to the fact I’d been going hard for 16-18 weeks. Finals week meant finishing three or four papers; cramming hard to make up for weeks of procrastination; pulling all-nighter’s; and mixing coffee with hot chocolate and dark cocoa with hopes of getting an extra hour of studying in before falling off to sleep. (Recall that those were pre-energy drink days.)

We’ve changed a few things at Wabash over the years. Last week was what we now call “dead week,” which might be the most poorly defined week of the year. “Dead week” is anything but dead. It’s the most lively, thriving week of the year. From a tribute to donors on Sunday through club banquets, academic awards ceremonies, student films, senior cookouts, student art exhibits and installations, and even a faculty rock band concert, last week was jam-packed.

The term “dead week,” though, suggests something different. It’s a week when professors aren’t supposed to give extra tests or assign papers in advance of finals week, which started Monday. It was a great concept a few years ago when students actually convinced their professors to go for the idea.

Perhaps I would be more accurate in suggesting that “dead week” was a great idea in theory.

In reality, “dead week” does not provide for extra study time for final exams. In reality, students use the week to wrap up experiments, complete papers, and finish projects that were supposed to be done weeks ago.

As smart as our Wabash men are, they all hold Ph.D.’s in procrastination. The sunny and warm weather of the last month surely hasn’t helped.

So this is an odd week. The students will be going through a sleep-deprived ritual not unlike how I described my finals weeks of 20 years ago; all-night study sessions and copious amounts of caffeine-laden drinks.

For the students, it is the most important week of the year. But for administrators at the College, people like me, this is the deadest “dead week” of the year. Those of us who spend the year supporting, celebrating, and nurturing student excellence can only sit back now; sit back and reflect on the year. The students are now done with us.

President Ford, early in his career at Wabash, once told me that he didn’t like summers on college campuses. I thought it was a curious statement at the moment. Then he said something like, “When there are no students here, there is no energy.”

The energy that is Wabash is slowly slipping away this week; students holed up in their study rooms, library carrels, and secret study spots preparing for final exams. There are no activities, no art openings, no sporting events left this year.

We will have one final burst of energy before we close the books on the 2005-2006 school year: Commencement.

A week from Sunday, we’ll once again have our spirits lifted — our batteries recharged — when the president rings out the Class of 2006. He will say something like, “Go forth and be good men.” We will applaud with vigor to honor of these “good Wabash men.”

We shall be uplifted knowing they are well prepared to tackle any challenge life presents. And we will anxiously await the third week of August when it starts all over again.

Only at Wabash

Jim Amidon, April 25 — The curtain had fallen on the Wabash College Theater production of The Braggart Soldier on Friday night. The large crowd in Ball Theater, which had spent the better part of two hours laughing at the slapstick performances, clapped in appreciation as the cast emerged, one by one, for the curtain call.

Big applause for the lead players — guys like Matt McKay and Denis Farr and Dickie Winters — and then came Janathan Grandoit, a minor, but very funny character. Grandoit played a servant forced to dress as a woman… and took his curtain call wearing a bridal gown.

With the crowd still cheering, Grandoit invited his longtime girlfriend, Delphia Flenar, a Butler University student, to join him on stage. And there, in a white wedding gown, he got down on his knee and asked her to marry him. The cast surrounded the couple, throwing confetti and the crowd roared with delight. Every recent bride in the house was crying, even some women married 20 years.

Grandoit will go to work this summer for AFLAC in Indianapolis, while his bride-to-be finishes up at Butler. They’ll be married after her graduation.

Imagine that a student with a only bit part — a servant no less — could steal the show at a Friday night performance. And do so at the curtain call when the play had ended. Congratulations to Janathan and Delphia.

Only at Wabash.

The Wonder of the Arts

Jim Amidon — Fifteen or 20 years ago, Wabash was in need of pretty substantial upgrades in its science, athletics, modern languages, library, and arts facilities. When it came time to begin raising funds and starting construction, College Trustees and Administrators chose to start with the Fine Arts Center, a decision which made a lot of people scratch their heads.

But it was the right decision. A good liberal arts college — no, a great liberal arts college — must be committed to the arts. Wabash demonstrated this with the addition of the Randolph Deer Art Wing and the music wing, including Salter Hall. Add a third full-time faculty member in each of the three fine arts departments has also demonstrated the College’s commitment.

A little over a decade has passed and the results are marvelous. The quality of our student musicians, thespians, and visual artists is as good now — consistently — as it ever has been. Anyone who heard George Colakovic’s recital in Salter Hall or caught this year’s Glee Club in concert realizes there has been a tremendous improvement in talent (not to mention the acoustics of that fantastic facility).

I attended the Senior Art Majors opening reception Monday night. We’ve probably had more talented individual artists in recent years, but as a group these four men hold up as well as any senior class in memory. And they are distinctive. I’ve watched Tim Parker throw running backs around like rag dolls on the football field for three years; it is nice to see what a delicate hand he has for sculpture. I think so differently about Adam Miller’s vibrant paintings after learning that he is color blind. Bill Whited’s installation — especially the "design them yourself" crawling creatures — is unique and thought-provoking. And David Murphy’s pottery is not only beautifully created, but artistically significant.

That same night I caught a dress rehearsal of Jim Fisher’s production of The Braggart Soldier. Five minutes into the show and I was as entertained as I have been in years in Ball Theater. The casting is perfect and includes a range of usual faces (Matt McKay, Denis Farr, and Sterling Carter), but also features some new faces (Braden Pemberton, Joe Martin, and Ali Ahmed). Farr and Dickie Winters even designed the costumes for the show, which you’ll appreciate even more after seeing the show.

Indeed, there was wisdom in that 1980s decision to put the arts first when it came time for funding and building. Now the community must put the arts at the top of the list again — at the busiest time of the year — to make time to celebrate the talents of our young men.

Hardest Time of the Year

Jim Amidon — I was rushing across the Wabash campus last Thursday — running behind, as usual — when a student approached me.

“Do you work here?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“For very long?” he inquired

“Yes, almost 19 years,” I told him.

“Were you a student before that?” he wondered.

I told him I was and at this point in the conversation with my wristwatch ticking away, I needed to speed things along. I asked him how I could help.

He shrugged his shoulders, looked around at the blue skies and budding crabapple trees, and finally had the courage to ask his primary question:

“Is this really the hardest time of the year? I mean, I’m just a freshman, but…”

I cut him off to put him out of his misery. “Yes,” I said, “when the weather warms up and the grass turns green, all you want to do is be outside goofing off with your friends. But the last two weeks will make or break your semester.”

He wanted to know how to get through it — how to focus on finishing papers and preparing for exams, while not wanting to spend a single minute in class or his study room.

My advice for this frustrated, but honest young man was: head for the library basement, find a table buried in the stacks. There, I told him, he couldn’t tell if it was day or night, sunny or raining. There, I suggested, he could find his focus.

We chatted a few minutes longer and I ran to my next stop. I saw the young man the next day and asked him how he was doing.

“I got three papers finished yesterday. Thanks for the advice!”

I only relate this story in such detail because for those of us who have been around Wabash for a long time and see mid-April as the beginning of the end of a long year, our students face a brutal challenge.

They must find focus and do so when — for the first time in six months — the weather is decent enough to play golf, throw a Frisbee, take a hike at Turkey Run.

Guys who really want to succeed and end the year with a bang must force themselves to resist nature’s urges to come outside; they find a study table in the library or their study room and hit the books. Those who don’t find that focus face the very real possibility that the previous 16 weeks of work will have been for naught.

What I told the young man —†in addition to my secret study spot in the basement of the library — was that he needs to take a regular look at his wall calendar. By doing so, he’ll realize there are only two more weeks of classes; two more weeks of hard work and sacrifice.

He understood what I meant and said, “You know, I have a chance to get a 3.3 GPA if I don’t mess it up.”

The young man reflected on all the hard work he had done to this point and made the tough decision (remember how nice it was last Thursday?) to stay inside to finish his papers.

That’s the type of discipline most freshmen don’t possess. They learn it over time at Wabash and if they don’t they typically won’t graduate. It often boils down to something that simple.

That discipline and focus is also, I think, the key to the success of our alumni. You can’t get very far in this world if you lack the discipline and focus to complete projects on time; to sacrifice the desire for instant gratification for long-term success.

I’m glad I ran into that young man and I’m happy we spent 10 minutes talking. But I’m not sure who got the greater lesson: the young man seeking advice or the guy who gave it. The encounter served as a helpful reminder to me, too.

Community Takes Advantage of Wellness Fair

Howard W. Hewitt – Wabash College’s Wellness Fair brought students, faculty and staff to Chadwick Court April 12.

The annual event offers plenty of information along with blood pressure checks, cholesterol screenings, and even a free massage.

It’s events like the wellness fair are a real value-added benefit to the College community. The early morning crowd was large and steady, the presenters said. The booths opened at 6 a.m. and closed at 1 p.m.

The participating services included: Dr. Louis Metzman, Kroger Pharmacy, American Red Cross, Athena Sports and Fitness, AHEAD Coalition, Russell Chiropractic, North Montgomery Parks & Recreation, SAMS Club, Industrial Credit Union, Cigna Healthcare, American Cancer Society, American Funds, Family Crisis Center, Crawfordsville Extreme Fitness, Massage Therapy Clinic, John Hancock Services, St. Claire Medical Center (Free Cholesterol Screenings), Northridge Chiropractic

Scholarship Luncheon: A New Tradition

Jim Amidon — They say Wabash is a tradition-rich school, and it is. They also say traditions at Wabash take decades to form. Now that I’m well into my third decade at the College, I know for a fact that traditions take, on average, about three years to take hold.

The latest, greatest tradition is the Celebrating Scholarships Luncheon, which was held for the third year in a row. As President Andy Ford aptly pointed out, the luncheon has come to signify spring on campus, even though snow showers fell from the sky at this year’s event, which was attended by over 300 students, donors, parents, faculty, and staff.

Ever since Marilyn Smith of the Advancement Office hosted the first Celebrating Scholarships Luncheon, those of us on the north side of campus have been saying out loud, "Why haven’t we been doing this for years?"

It seems like such a natural, common sense thing to do — matching scholarship recipients with the alumni, friends, and foundations who gave the gifts to establish the scholarships. There’s nothing more exciting for those of us in Advancement than to see people like David and Betty Givens ’56 meeting the young men who benefit from their generosity. That connection provides a living philanthropic link between our College’s past and its future.

Vic DeRose ’74 has come to all three luncheons, I think, and he loves nothing more than meeting the guys who have earned his family scholarship. And the students suddenly have learned to network, too; Vic is a very connected person in the business world, whose contacts can benefit DeRose Scholars long beyond their time at Wabash.

It was a bit of a family reunion for Fran H’85, Tom ’56, and John ’59 Hollett, who enjoyed their time with men who have received scholarships in the Hollett name.

And true to the three-year tradition, the link between past and future was made when the guest speakers at the event were a past scholarship recipient, Nelson Alexander ’90, and a current scholarship winner, David Fitzgerald ’06, who spoke eloquently about the College’s philanthropic tradition.

Alexander, who received the Charles Maurice Hegarty Scholarship, was recently listed as one of the "40 Under 40" in Indianapolis and is the managing partner of his law firm. Instead of focusing on the success he has gained at such a young age, he challenged students to pursue their real dreams at Wabash, something scholarships allow them to do. Fitzgerald, a recipient of the John B. Goodrich Grant-in-Aid, issued a gentle reminder: "Remember the help you received and return that favor to future Wallies throughout the years."

Indeed, the Celebrating Scholarships Luncheon has evolved ever-so-quickly into an important, calendar-marking Wabash tradition.

Williams’ Visit: A Gift for Wabash

Jim Amidon — Terry Tempest Williams will pack her luggage today and head back to Utah, leaving me thinking, "Now that’s what I call a Visiting Artists Series event!"

Her two-plus day visit to campus was nothing short of a gift to the students, faculty, staff, and this community. Stuck in the doldrums of a soggy, foggy, gray spring, we were rescued, if only temporarily, by Williams’ love of people and place.

I left Tuesday night’s reading — and this may surprise some — speechless. So did lots of others who attended and listened as the acclaimed writer, naturalist, and activist read a brand-spanking new work (two hours old) about Montgomery County’s Shades State Park and Sugar Creek, along with significant passages from her book, Red: Patience and Passion in the Desert.

Her prose is breathtaking, and leads the reader (or listener) to a more perfect world, a world where we bury political axes to come together to make right choices and good long-term decisions about the world we share. Her powers of observation, whether of the Redrock Wilderness or the stunning gorges of The Shades, are beyond this writer’s words. Thankfully, she captures the subtleties of natural beauty in words that sing to us.

Wiliams spent Monday on campus, delivered a lecture to a large crowd on Monday night, spent time in classes on Tuesday, went with Mike Bachner and Pat Galloway to The Shades on Tuesday afternoon, and she then gave, perhaps, the finest reading ever in the Salter Concert Hall. Of course, she has wonderful material, but her spoken voice is so lovely, so beautiful that it adds depth and passion to the printed page.

What impressed me most, though, and others with whom I’ve talked, is how sincere and caring Williams was with each interaction she had with students, faculty, staff, and friends of the College. Within minutes, she knew the name of every student in Marc Hudson’s class, as well as the name of every student in Helen Hudson’s Crawfordsville High School class. She answered every question with honest candor, and evoked a rare trust in our ability to have meaningful conversation and debate, even when we disagree.

She hugged alumnus (and fellow Utah native) Ryan Yates, who drove out from Iowa to attend the reading. After the reading, she sat in the front row next to Alix Hudson and Grey Castro to get their reactions. She put her arms around the students who have founded the College’s "Students for Sustainability" group. She shook hands, gave autographs, and posed for photos. But mostly, Terry Tempest Williams engaged on a deeply personal level with each and every individual she encountered.

Indeed, Terry Tempest William’s visit to campus was a gift; a taste of eternal spring to lift us from our winter doldrums and carry us through this school year.

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