Lettered With Loving Care

As the president of the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, Vina Mikesell, who died August 15, raised the awareness of many in the community about discrimination toward women.

As a member of the Crawfordsville School Board, she helped move the community toward the decision to build a new high school.

At Wabash she was the College’s calligrapher, and from 1981 to 2008 she lettered the name of each graduate on his Wabash College diploma. Wherever their diplomas are displayed, thousands of alumni have their names inscribed by her hand with loving care.

We talked with Mrs. Mikesell in 2008 as she prepared to letter diplomas for the final time.

How long does the process take?
Mrs. Mikesell: I allow about 2½ weeks to do the work. Writing on sheepskin is unique. Each diploma is different. Some are thin; some are thick. Some accept ink easily; some don’t. You must allow each diploma to dry thoroughly, separated from the others. Any moisture touching the surface creates puckers. Humidity affects drying. Graduating seniors have to be reminded not to touch their diplomas with the roses they receive upon leaving the stage.

Any favorite memories?
Perhaps two or three times over the years, I was asked to do a paper diploma for animal rights activists.

But the most memorable event concerning the diplomas occurred last May. Phil and I had moved to an upstairs downtown apartment after selling our house. In the middle of the night, a policeman knocked on our door to say that the building on the corner was on fire and we had to leave. My second thought was the diplomas. I carried my pens, ink, and the all-important list, and the policeman carried the box of diplomas downstairs, where he secured them in his car.

As soon as I had a place to put the diplomas, I retrieved them. For the next few hours we watched the fire consume several buildings, but not ours. Luckily, we were able to move back in the next day, and I could continue my work.

It has been a pleasure to do this work for the College and to know that the diplomas mean so much to the men of Wabash.