Ringing in the new – a special time at Wabash

Each year at this time a little bit of magic flows over the campus. The pace picks up, the parking lots are full again and the students return to campus. You might say that the campus comes back to life as our students come back, carrying with them an infectious energy that permeates Wabash. I love to watch the students returning to their dorms or their houses, meeting their friends or a favorite professor on the mall. It is an annual occurrence, but never quite the same. It is as fresh as the students who create it. It is evergreen and ever changing.

One of the real highlights each fall is Freshman Saturday when the new class arrives. This is the day when a lifetime of anticipation meets reality, when anxious parents are still struggling with the idea that their son is now on his way to adulthood. A time when, maybe for the first time, the sons will need to figure it out for themselves – whatever “it” is. A time when the boy they have been meets the man they will become. It is a joyous time, a sad time, an exciting time and for sure, a day most parents and students will remember forever. It is a day of change. Such a day should be marked in some meaningful way, it should be noted forever in the record books, and it should be special.  I am happy to say that at Wabash it is ALL of those things.

The highlight of Freshman Saturday is, without question, the Ringing In which happens in the Chapel. All of the students sit together in the balcony of the Chapel while the parents and other family members are on the main floor.  The ceremony starts as everyone is welcomed by the Dean of Students. The Dean of Admissions gives a short welcome and a brief summary of the incoming class. Next up is the President of the National Association of Wabash Men who welcomes the class to the brotherhood of Wabash men. The ceremony ends with remarks from the President. At the end of his speech the President picks up a very special bell and rings it with vigor. And it is now official, these fellows are “In.” For the young men of the incoming class this marks the start of their lives as Wabash men. After Freshman Saturday, whatever else they may do, they are now Sons of Wabash.

As I sat in the Chapel and watched my son become a Wabash man, I was thinking a thousand different things, but also about the bell itself. Caleb Mills’ Bell is not fancy, it is not particularly oversized. The truth is that this bell which plays such a large role in the life of the College is really a humble little bell.

Let me share with you what is known about this bell and why it is so special.   This bell was first used at Wabash by Caleb Mills, a young missionary and teacher, on December 3, 1833 to call the first class of 12 young men to order. He rang it to mark the start of the first class at Wabash 181 years ago.  For a really good description of this bell and its history, here is a snippet from a speech by President Joseph Tuttle. Dr. Tuttle delivered this address in 1882 at the time of the College’s semi-centennial:


I have by me not the first clock that ever ticked in Wabash College, but the bell that rung the boys together the morning of December 3, 1833. Here it is. The good right hand that touched it is mouldering in the grave. The tongue that said that morning, ‘Let us pray,’ is silent in death. But this bell has as sharp and clear a tone as it had that morning so long ago when for the first time it did duty for the College. Its metal is genuine, and so is its tongue. And yet how well balanced it has been. Here is a groove around the mouth of the bell made by the numberless taps of its tongue of iron. It was not a one-sided bell – nor a moody bell– nor a bell given to making excuses – nor a bell with a voice that failed sometimes.

Just hear its voice. The men that used it are gone, and even the boys for whom it rung out the summons to get up, and to be at duty, have most of them gone to the long home – and those that remain have cracks in their voice which tell of age. But this bell is as sound as when it was cast and its tones as clear as when it tapped the sounds of duty near half a century ago. When the College procured a larger bell, this one went on duty at the School for Young Ladies in the old Canby Mansion. And there too it was as honest as among the boys…this bell had a hard and true heart and an honest voice for all alike. This bell has been in Professor Hovey’s family and his son has had some letters engraved on it and presented it to the College. I will read … the inscription.”

First Bell


Wabash College


1833 to 1835

Presented by H. C. Hovey



With those words Tuttle very eloquently gives us a condensed history of the bell to 1882. For the next 90 years we must leave much to conjecture. It is quite reasonable to suppose that this bell was on display for many years in the History Room of Yandes Library. We do know that many of our earliest artifacts from this time period were part of the exhibit. No longer on display, I expect that it was overlooked when the Library moved to the new Lilly building in the 1950’s. Nearly two decades later the bell was found in a closet in Yandes Hall. The year was 1971 and Professor Peteris Silins found it wrapped in old newspapers. Happily it was immediately clear what this little bell meant to the College thanks to Horace Hovey’s inscription. Horace’s father was Edmund O. Hovey  a founder and early faculty member at Wabash. Both father and son had what one might call a predisposition for preservation of the historical record. Many of the items that we have from our pioneer days come from the Hoveys.

Following the rediscovery of the bell, President Thad Seymour immediately put the bell to work to “call” the freshmen to classes and again in the spring to dismiss the seniors at commencement.  I am told that the class of 1975 is first in the modern era to be “rung in” and here is a picture of former President Thad Seymour carrying the bell.

The Ringing In at Wabash is really one of those moments that all students and their parents will remember all of their lives. It is a clearly defined moment in time, one of those rare times where there is a clear “before and after” quality. It is an occasion as powerful as it is memorable and the little bell with its clear, stong tone somehow just makes it perfect. It was a moment I will never forget.

All best,
Beth Swift
Wabash College
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Lou Ristine, a great alum!

Wabash has always been all-male, and mostly its faculty have been men as well. But as we all know, there is so much more to the story of Wabash than its men. From the beginning there have been strong women who loved this place every bit as much as the men they knew. Mary Hovey, as one of the first faculty wives, felt this love too. Her letters give us a glimpse into the day to day world of the pioneer era at Wabash. There have been so many women who have loved this old place well that there just isn’t enough time to name them all. But today I would like to focus on just one woman. Last week Wabash lost one of her very few alumnae when Lou Ristine [W1941] passed away. I was so taken with her obituary that I really wanted to share it as it really is a lesson in giving from the heart!


Mary Lou Ristine

Oct. 11, 1924-July 7, 2014

She died peacefully in Indianapolis on July 7.

“Lou” was born Oct. 11, 1924, to Thomas Earnest and Mary Edna Muir Durrett in Wichita Falls, Texas. After high school, she pursued her lifelong interest in music, studying first at Midwestern State University, then Southwestern University, and finally University of North Texas. In 1944, Lou met Richard O. “Dick” Ristine. In 1946, they were married in Wichita Falls and moved to Indianapolis. Within a few years they moved to Crawfordsville.

In Crawfordsville during the ‘50s and ‘60s, Lou and Dick raised three sons. Lou sang in the choir at Wabash Avenue Presbyterian Church. She helped launch two programs for new volunteer groups serving the local hospital, as well as the town’s first Meals on Wheels program. She hosted a morning talk show on WCVL-AM. In 1962, she was music director of the Crawfordsville High School production of “The King and I.”

Lou grew to love Wabash College. She opened her home countless times to a multitude of friends from the college, town and beyond. A frequent highlight of parties at the Ristine home at 606 W. Wabash Ave. was a sing-along with Lou on the piano. The couple also loved entertaining at their Sugar Creek cottage.

In 1970, Dick and Lou moved to Indianapolis. During their Indianapolis years, Lou co-chaired the Governor’s Mansion Commission, which selected the current site of the governor’s residence. Governor Otis Bowen named her a Sagamore of the Wabash for her service to the state. Lou helped establish the Downtown Beautification Committee, which among other things “bricked” Monument Circle. As in Crawfordsville, she helped launch Meals on Wheels. The Indianapolis Museum of Art, Second Presbyterian Church and other Indianapolis institutions benefited from her service on a variety of committees and projects during the ‘70s and ‘80s.

In 1983, Dick began working full-time for Wabash. Within a few years, Lou and Dick moved back to Crawfordsville. In 1992, in recognition of her decades of unique service, the all-male college made Lou an honorary alumna, only the second woman so honored in the history of Wabash. Following Dick’s retirement from the college in 1993, they moved permanently to Leland, Mich., where they resumed singing together in the church choir and otherwise participated in community activities. Her love of gardening, which began in Crawfordsville and continued in Indianapolis, reached its height in Leland. Everyone who passed by enjoyed the beauty of their riverside landscaping. Lou and Dick were fortunate to enjoy many years in Leland until he passed away in 2009.

In recent years Lou’s greatest pleasure was her family. She is survived by her sister, Mildred Louise Durrett Dinnin of Wichita Falls; three sons, Richard O. Jr. (Karen) and Thomas H. (Jill) of Indianapolis and James D. (Mardi Black) of Leelanau Township; four grandchildren, Emily Ristine Holloway (Benjamin), Abigail Ristine-Smith (Ryan), Jane Ristine Hixson (Timothy) and Dan Ristine, all in the Indianapolis area; seven great-grandchildren; and nieces, Patricia Dinnin Gonzales (Randy) and Sheila Dinnin Reynolds (Craig) and nephew Michael Dinnin (Lisa), all in Texas. Lou’s family wishes to thank the staff of Hooverwood for the care “Mama Lou” received there.

Memorial contributions may be made to Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis or the Leelanau Conservancy, P.O. Box 1007, Leland, MI 49654.


What a life of service she embodied! And to the above, I would simply add  that when asked to provide a picture of Lou the photos I found might serve just as well as a tribute and here they are…



















In every picture she is smiling, almost laughing. What a wonderful thing, to smile one’s way through life. Especially, I love the picture of the political convention. It shows Dick and Lou and their sons as well. And while it might be hard to see from the photograph of the convention above, but off to the right of Lou’s shoulder, in the third row is another of our honoraries…Ginny Hays.

So here is a toast to the women of Wabash, and to one in particular, Lou Ristine [W1941] a grand lady with a winning smile!

All best,
Beth Swift
Wabash College


Ps Here are links to great remembrances of Fran Hollett, the first woman named an honorary and to Ginny Hays, another legend of Wabash.






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Old News

Here is a news story from another time, a simpler time.

This little news clipping came to the Archives in the pages of a 1931 yearbook given to Wabash by an alum’s family. When I opened the book I saw two news clippings, both undated.

While it is very definitely Old News, the story is timeless. It involves a fast talking con man and a fraternity house full of nice guys. In the 1930’s a lot of good people were forced out of their homes and on to the Road. There were thousands of them, moving from one place to another in search of work or a new start.  Often, they had no transportation so they hitchhiked from place to place. Good folks offered rides and that was not uncommon. It was just what any decent fellow might do.

This news story starts with a well-meaning former student from Wabash, let’s call him the Good Samaritan. This Wabash man offered a guy a ride and the two of them came on over to the College. Our former student had planned to visit with his friends at the Tau Kappa Epsilon house. This house was, at this time, on West Main Street and many folks might know this as the home of Eric Dean, today it is the home of Dr. Lon Porter.

Back to our story, Patrick Karney, as the hitchhiker was known to his hosts, was a very friendly fellow and quickly ingratiated himself with the students. Knowing that he had no money and was in need of a place to sleep, the guys at the house invited him to stay too. Through the use of his skills as a confidence man, Karney was soon good friends with all of the fellows.

So good was Karney at ingratiating himself that he was invited on a double date with one of the students and two local girls. After the date, the con man and several of the Wabash men sat up talking late into the night. It happened that one of the fraternity men who did not live in the house needed a lift. Karney offered to drive him home using the car of the Good Samaritan.  As time passed, the students began to worry about their new friend. When two hours had gone by the students realized that Karney was long gone. Not only  had he taken the Model A Ford sedan, he also threw in three suits, two overcoats, a pen and pencil set and “several other articles belonging to the ‘boys’ at the Teke house.”

A story of naiveté and misplaced trust. It is certain that these fellows learned a lot from Patrick Karney. I am sorry to say that we do not know if the car and the other items were ever recovered. Nor do we know if Karney was ever caught.

All best,

Beth Swift

Archivist, Wabash College

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A flyer and his legacy

Eglin from his football days.

In this posting I would like to highlight the life and career of a Wabash man who was a pioneer in combat flight.  You may have heard of Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. A large base, Eglin is named for Frederick Irving Eglin [W1914]. A gifted athlete and a good friend, Eglin left quite a mark on Wabash during his time here.

Eglin’s story is pieced together from the reminiscences of his former class and team mates here at Wabash. We owe a debt of gratitude to Wayne Guthrie who wrote a sports column for the Indianapolis News in the 1970s.  Two of his articles serve up a great deal of what we know about this Wabash man.

Eglin was from the Bowery area of New York City and came to Wabash in much the same way as so many others, through the persistence of an alumnus. The story goes that Eglin was pretty good at basketball and was spotted by the alum. Wabash was basketball mad in that era and a talented player was quite a find. The alum recruited him and bought his ticket to Crawfordsville. A poor boy whose parents had died, Eglin came to Wabash with almost nothing. One friend said that when the young Eglin arrived in town, he had no money and no clothes and fainted in class due to hunger. He was taken home by a local student and in just a few days some good home cooking had him back on his feet. It was a hard road for Eglin and initially he depended upon the generosity of others for necessities, but it was not long before he found a job and got squared away.

Initially Eglin started Wabash as a “Special Student” as he had not graduated from high school. He got the courses he needed and in short order he was on his way in the collegiate course. Eglin played football, basketball and baseball and made many good friends. He joined the Delta Tau Delta fraternity and in his junior year he was elected class president and was the captain of the basketball team. Among his very good friends were the Lambert brothers.

This scan is from the senior issue of the Wabash Magazine of 1914.

From an article by Wayne Guthrie which ran in the the Indianapolis News of August 26, 1974:

M.E. “Doc” Elliott, Connersville…said the Wabash basketball team of that era was unbeatable on its home floor which was a box-like room, with only one side open to spectators, in the Crawfordsville Y.M.C.A. He added, “Those players became expert at caroming the ball off the walls and Ward, “Piggy” Lambert; his brother, Kent “Skeet” Lambert, and Eggie would run fill tilt toward the wall, make a couple of steps up the wall and hit the floor on the run beyond the rival guard. Sounds like a human fly stunt but they did it.”


Eglin met and married a local girl, Mary Oda, and joined the Crawfordsville company of the Indiana National Guard. In 1916 the unit, along with many others, was deployed to the Mexican border in answer to Pancho Villa’s raids into New Mexico. Eglin served as a Sergeant Major at Headquarters in the Southwest. Soon after returning to Crawfordsville, the unit was again called and this time to service in WWI. It is clear that Eglin served with distinction as he was immediately raised to the rank of Second Lieutenant in 1917. He moved from the National Guard to the Army Signal Corps and a biography from Eglin AFB says Eglin then completed his flight training and began to train other WWI pilots.

Eglin as an officer from the Air Force website: http://www.eglin.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123169066

Following WWI Eglin stayed in the Army in aviation and again, from the Air Force biography:

In 1929, he was promoted to captain and commanded several organizations including            the 9th Observation Squadron in Sacramento, Calif., the Provisional Administrative              Company at Clark Field, Philippines and the 40th School Squadron at Kelly Field, Texas.      Eglin was also an instructor and executive officer for the Air Corps Tactical School at            Maxwell Field, Ala. Later, he served as director of the Department of Command, Staff          and Logistics before becoming a major in 1934.

As a major, he worked as Assistant to the Chief of Staff, Headquarters Air Force at                Langley Field where he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. He also earned titles as              Airplane Pilot, logging over 3,800 hours and Airplane Observer with over 100 hours.


It was not long after his promotion to lieutenant colonel that Eglin lost his life in 1937 at the age of 45 on a mission. Wreckage of his Northrop A-17 pursuit aircraft was found on the Appalachian peaks of Ala. about 50 miles from Birmingham. At this same time, the Army Air Corps was going through a transformation and because of Lt. Col. Eglin’s accomplishments and sacrifice, the Valparaiso Bombing and Gunnery Base was renamed in 1937 “Eglin Field” which after the establishment of the Air Force later became Eglin AFB.

A story in the New York Times of January 3, 1937 provides a bit more detail on the crash that ended the life of this great flyer. The plane was flown by Lt. Col. Eglin was flying from Langley Field in D.C. to Maxwell Field in Montgomery, Alabama with Lt. Howard E. Shelton, Jr. as a passenger. The plane was in Alabama when it crashed on the afternoon of January 1, 1937. There was heavy rain falling and thick fog was reported. The NYT article says, “The wreckage lay near the top of Cheaha Mountain, highest of the Appalachian peaks in Alabama, fifty miles from Birmingham. The plane, skimming across tree tops 800 feet before it nosed into the mountainside, lost its left wing before bursting into flames.”

In August of 1937 the air base at Valparaiso, Florida was named Eglin Field in honor of this army flier. Eglin AFB has a long and distinguished history. A base history tells us that Eglin became a site for training army pilots in WWII, including Colonel Jimmy Doolittle’s B-25 crews training for raids on Tokyo. Eglin was also the site where “personnel developed the tactics and techniques to destroy German missile installations being built to support V-1 buzz-bomb attacks on England.”

It is an amazing honor to have such a base named after Frederick “Eggie” Eglin. And he was young, only 45, when he crashed. I wonder what he might have achieved during WWII, only a few years away at the time of his death. It is hard to say what Eglin might have contributed, but it is possible to say that he loved Wabash. The friends he made here, his adopted hometown where he met and married, and the old school that was happy to welcome a kid from the Bowery, all of these he treasured.

The Eglin base history finishes with this tribute:

Although Lt. Col. Eglin accomplished much in his short life, it is the lasting words of his          devoted friend, Russell Hesler of the Journal Review in Crawfordsville which may speak      most to his character, “[he] was intensely loyal to his friends, possessed a sympathetic          understanding of the problems of others and deeply patriotic.”


I hope that you enjoyed reading this story as much as I have enjoyed researching it. For more information on this amazing Wabash man, here are a few links:







All best,
Beth Swift
Wabash College
Crawfordsville, Indiana
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Sigma Chi

Recently I had a request for a scan of the old white frame Sigma Chi house at the corner of Wabash and Crawford. I pulled the file, scanned that picture and then several more and thought I would share them, just for fun today.

Here is the house that served the chapter from after World War II until the construction of the “new” house. An article in the Wabash Bulletin of December of 1947 gives us the details:

Above is pictured the new home of the Wabash chapter of Sigma Chi. The fraternity,            which for years had occupied the old home of President Kane at the corner of the                  campus, last year acquired property at the corner of Wabash Avenue and Crawford              Street. The chapter moved into the house last year while workmen still were engaged in      remodeling, but this fall activities were started with all work completed. Purchase and        remodeling of the home cost approximately $36,000. On the ground floor are the                dining room and kitchen. The first floor includes a living room, card room and library.          On the second floor are eight study rooms. A dormitory is on the top floor. The house            accommodates 28 to 30 men.

Prior to the purchase of this house, the chapter was housed in Kane House. Here is a picture of the house ready for Homecoming in 1922.

This is the east side of the house. Here is another shot from 1922.

It has always been interesting to me that while the other fraternities purchased their homes and moved to campus, the Sigma Chis went into this house. To understand how this came about requires a little background.  Kane House was built so that the president of Wabash, at that time William P. Kane, would have a suitably grand house. When President Kane died in 1906 a Wabash man, Reverend George Lewes Mackintosh [W1884], became president. Doc Mack, as he was affectionately known, was a widower. He found Kane House too big and rather lonely.

When President Mackintosh took office, the Sigma Chis were inactive. In the Little Giant Sig of 1958 it is noted that the revival of the chapter in 1909 was largely due to President Mackintosh. Seems he was a charter member of the Sigma Chis at Wabash. So as the other fraternities left their downtown halls and secured houses, the Sigma Chis were offered Kane House. Here is a picture of one of the Sigma Chi halls downtown, as captured in a photo of the class of 1896. If you look closely at the windows you will see the Greek letters marking this as the hall of the Sigma Chis. This is the Fisher block on the southwest corner of Main and Green streets. The tower at the back right is the old Methodist church by the Lane Place.

To finish our tour of Sigma Chi homes from the past, let us have a look at the architectural rendering of the next to last house which was printed in the December 1962 issue of the Wabash Bulletin.

A discussion of the proposed house from that issue of the Bulletin adds detail to the narrative:

Costing approximately $350,000, the new Sigma Chi house will occupy the fraternity’s        present lot at the corner of the Wabash Avenue and Crawford Street. Divided into three      units, the house will be a complete departure from the usual fraternity house design.            For instance, the social area is separated from the study area by a loggia – or dining              area. The kitchen area is also separated from the living-study area to provide maximum      soundproofing.

This house served the chapter for decades before the new house was built just down the street and the chapter moved into its lovely new home. After serving briefly as independent housing in 2007 the “modern” house of the 60s was demolished.

The new house stands tall on the far west side of campus. More change is coming as the new dormitory buildings will fill in that area to the south formerly occupied by small houses. In an area roughly the size of the Mall, Wabash will begin building new dormitories. The one thing that doesn’t change on campus is the drive for a “greater Wabash” and the Wabash men who step up to make that happen.

All best, 
Beth Swift
Wabash College
Crawfordsville, Indiana


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An honors scholar spring tale

I am happy to say that Spring has finally arrived! After the longest winter in memory, the flowers on campus are peeking out and everyone’s steps are a bit lighter. Last weekend was Honor Scholar weekend and the students are counting the days until the end of classes. Major league baseball opened its regular season this week so in the spirit of spring, here is a Wabash baseball story with an honors scholar tie-in.

This tale comes from Max Servies’ Wabash athletics history, Some Little Giants. Max [W1958] is familiar to alumni and friends of the college as the hard charging wrestling coach for most of the second half of the 20th century. Max also served as an assistant coach for track and football and from 1965-1998 he was the Athletic Director at Wabash. Max has a passion for the great athletic history of Wabash and has compiled it into this incredible project. Enjoy!


From Some Little Giants an athletic history by Max Servies.

1909 Baseball State Champions 18-5

Back Row:  Gipe, Adams, Puckett, Rowe, Irwin, and Coach Jones.  Middle Row:  Winnie, Warbritton, Ash, Bowers, Capt.; Lambert and Herron.   Front Row:  Starbuck, Gisler and Bridges.

The following letter was written by John W. “Bill” Irwin `09 to Coach Dave Lantz. Bill was an A-student and Phi Beta Kappa out ofCaledonia,Ohio. He enteredWabashthe fall of 1906 and graduated in three years. He tells Coach Lantz of some of his baseball experiences while atWabash. His 1909 team went 18-5 and took the Indiana Championship.

February 21, 1971

Dear Coach Lantz:

I am enclosing a small check for your baseball trip. If I were still working and not retired, I’d like to make it larger.

Yes, I pitched in 5 games in one week—three full games as I recall. But it had compensations. I was sent to the hospital nights for two or three weeks where two pretty nurses massaged and baked my right arm and shoulder until midnight. Then came a fine midnight snack when the real patients were asleep. That was almost like going to Oberlin today with coeducation and modern living. For a country boy in 1907, it was a great life. But always remember there were at least two nurses.

I am enclosing a copy of the 1908 team that included “Abe” Diddel and “Piggy” Lambert. Diddel was truly a great athlete and is yet in golf. He always maintained that “Bill Irwin prayed harder than he pitched.” I guess they thought I had some spiritual influence because I was used regularly with better pitchers on the bench.

Actually, we never had a baseball coach. My first year (1907) was the last season of Francis Cayou, who had made the Little Giants famous in football. He coached baseball at the start of my first season so it was natural for good football players to “make” the baseball team. I recall my first game was againstIllinois and a very famous basketball and football player had “usurped” first base—“Bill” Sprow by name. In the first inning a slow roller was bounced to me and I lobbed it over to Sprow. He dropped it and yelled, “Shoot ‘em over here, Freshman.” In the third inning I fielded a similar bouncer and let Sprow have it full force. I hurt his nose and lip and probably should have been kicked out of the game. We lost the game by a big score but Sprow and I became the best of friends. He quit baseball.

Following Cayou, Ralph Jones, the celebrated basketball coach of Wabash and Crawfordsville High School took over baseball. He did not know too much about the game but he could control a team. He always liked to say about me, “Yes, Bill Irwin is fast – fast to the ground.” And he was not far wrong.

My first year at Wabash was rather terrifying. I had come from a smallOhiotown with a new suit, which was not at all in style. I never wore it. Supposedly my small town diploma would not permit me to enterWabashand I was supposed to start in the Academy. Fortunately, somebody suggested I try the honor scholarship examinations and I did so. Since I taught country school when I was sixteen and seventeen, I could read and write rather effectively. The net result was that I not only got to enterWabashbut also got all my tuition paid.

Luckily I did not know one thing about fraternities or sororities. I could play pool rather well and that made up my social life. I was unknown and I remained unknown despite the fact that I began getting good grades and made the debating team. I also worked as a laborer on a new golf course and made enough to get a suit of clothes made college style  — long coats and peg-top trousers. I’ll never forget that new suit which arrived about the time I had made the baseball team. Life was transformed.

It is strange, Coach Lantz, how seemingly trivial things can so transform our lives. Even if I had the new suit, however, I did not realize the significance of the fact that certain members of the Kappa Sigma fraternity were “looking me over”. I pledged despite the dire warnings of the many, many non-fraternity friends I now had. I should say that at the time the Kappa Sigma fraternity was probably the poorest on the campus and I am, of course, happy that this is no longer true.

I have taken the trouble to type out this unusually long letter because a coach may often discover a boy who faces some of the problems that beset me my first six months at Wabash. And a wise coach can help such boys.

I should add that all was changed when I got back on campus in the fall of 1907. I was elected class president and participated in just about everything. And I decided that I could complete the work of the next three years in two years. I had studied so hard as a freshman that the following subsequent courses looked easy. Hence I could afford to spend most of my time in classes except during the baseball season without lowering my grade average – except for a couple of B grades in Botany. I had to get in that extra year of science and some day I’ll tell how Dean Mason Thomas guided me through it with the assistance of a most able partner for my field work. He was a Jake Schramm, afterwards noted at Cornell for his work in that field. I could barely distinguish between a dandelion and a thistle and Dean Thomas knew it. He also knew I could do the book work of the course, and he was a baseball fan.

I got through Botany without too much damage to my scholastic record and I became acquainted with a wise man as well as a great teacher.

With both glaucoma and cataracts as handicaps, I have typed too long a letter. Just put it aside for a rainy day.

Fortunately I have no advice for college pitchers other than to recommend – for college batters – a high fast one and a slow low one. If a pitcher can acquire control, now as then, he has an advantage over the batter – most always.

But I would be the last to deny the efficacy of “a prayer with the pitch”.


J.W. “Bill” Irwin


Bill Irwin closeup from the team picture.

This letter gives us quite a glimpse into student life in the early 1900’s. His description of his entry into Wabash is interesting. To clarify just how sharp this kid was I would add that in 1907 the honors scholarship he mentions was one of very few offered. From the Annual Catalogue of Wabash College for 1907 we learn that seven scholarships were awarded to “the seven contestants who shall, in the judgment of the faculty’s committee on entrance conditions, be deemed most worthy. Three of these scholarships, carrying free tuition for the entire college course, are awarded to the three students who attain the highest rank in an examination upon all the specified subjects…required for entrance.” The remaining four scholarships were conditional. That is, they were awarded for the freshman and sophomore years, “with the understanding that, if before the beginning of the junior year the student has brought up all arrears to the satisfaction of the head of the department concerned, and at the same time has maintained a high standard of scholarship in all his studies, the scholarship will be extended so as to carry free tuition for the remainder of the course.”

It is clear that Bill Irwin was quite smart and could pitch a winning game too! Or, as Max Servies would say, “He was some little giant!”

All best,
Beth Swift
Wabash College
Crawfordsville, Indiana

 PS – For more on this 1909 team click on this post:






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Winter Hardy

Endless winter or the start of the next ice age? Either way it is cold here in Indiana and there is a lot of snow! All of this foul weather prompted a member of the Sphinx Club to ask, “When was the last time that Wabash cancelled classes due to the weather?”

Good question! To start the research, I thought I would go back to the worst winter I remember in Indiana, 1978. To my astonishment classes were NOT cancelled in ’78. Here is what I found as I tracked back through the Bachelor.

The year is 1977 and this story starts with registration for classes in the midst of a cold snap. The Bachelor of 01/21/1977 reports that despite “sub-zero temperatures” the process clicked along smoothly. In the last part of the story Bachelor Staff Writer Rick Hemmerich reports that when asked if Wabash might cancel registration and classes due to the bad weather, Dean of Students Norman Moore replies, “This isn’t a boys’ school, this is a MEN’S school!!”

Within two weeks of that article, the school cancelled classes on a Friday. The headline of that piece read, “Brrrrr!” with a subhead of, “Elmore Day at Fifty Below.” Elmore Day was a lovely day in the fall when President Seymour cancelled classes unexpectedly.

For more information on Elmore Day follow this link to a blog posting on that subject:  http://blogs.wabash.edu/dear-old-wabash/2010/02/11/sassafras-oh-sassafras%E2%80%A6/

The conditions in 1977 were just awful, blowing snow with winds of 45-60 mph causing a wind chill factor of 65 degrees BELOW ZERO. This article by Jim Garrison tells the full tale. There were worries about natural gas supplies, exhortations to turn down the thermostat, and calls for businesses to cut back on gas usage. It seems clear that this would have played into any decision to cancel classes.

The next year is the one I remember so clearly, the Blizzard of ’78 was a big one with loads of snow, plummeting temperatures and wind, lots of wind. In the days before the internet, we played cards and games and stayed inside for days. Yet classes were not cancelled at Wabash.

A story from the Bachelor of February 3, 1978 by Greg Opfel entitled, “Blizzard Snowblinds Administration,”  notes that the closure of the previous year flew in the face of the Wabash tradition of hardy, self-reliance. It was widely supposed, true or not, that the alumni put pressure on the administration not to cancel classes again. The article ended with a note of outrage for those students who did struggle into their classes only to find that the professor was absent.  An announcement in the faculty meeting of February 20, 1978 read, “Dean Moore announced that the Student Senate had expressed dissatisfaction that the college did not cancel classes during the late January blizzard. He added that students had been particularly provoked who made the effort of getting to class only to find that the instructor was absent. Dean Moore suggested that in the future faculty unable to reach the campus might telephone WNDY early in the morning so that this information could be broadcast.”

Four years later a January cartoon by John Van Nuys from 1982 reinforces the idea that, “Classes must go on!”

In January of 1994 there was another frigid weather event. Record cold temperatures with a wind chill factor of -50 degrees prompted Purdue and IU to cancel classes, but again, not Wabash.  Writer Chris Rowland did his historical research citing the 1977 and 1978 events and he ended with Dean Moore’s quote from above about Wabash as a “men’s school.”

In January of 1997 there was another bad storm and in the Bachelor dated 01/23/1997 there was a discussion as to why classes were not cancelled. The writer, Jon Matsey, interviewed long-time faculty member and Wabash man Paul McKinney [W1952] about the 1977 closure. “Classes were called off. Much joking existed because of the closure. Doubt was cast on the robustness of Wabash men according to the punsters. Never before had such a thing happened! The Dean of Students, Norman Moore, argued that it was better to hold class because, otherwise, students got into mischief…”  The article continued with a discussion of the mechanism for cancelling classes, noting that Wabash is a residential campus and less subject to road conditions. There was commentary on the snowy, ice covered walks, but the article ended with this sentence, “Nevertheless, Wabash students seem almost to revel in the fact that they do not easily succumb to fluctuations in the weather.”

Winter storms come and go and January is usually the worst month for such weather. Bachelor stories of freezing temps, heavy snow and strong winds are common in that month across the years. One line runs through them all, classes are not cancelled at Wabash. With this in mind, it was notable that earlier this January, during the Polar Vortex, Wabash did close its doors.  The county declared a snow emergency asking everyone to stay off of the roads, period. But as class was not yet in session, the 37 year streak continues.

I close by saying that this winter Campus Services has worked away, often late into the night, trying to keep the roads and walks cleared or at least passable. Sometimes that involved starting at 3 or 4 a.m.  It has been a long winter and the folks at Campus Services deserve a big thank you for their hard work!

Here’s hoping that we will soon move into spring!

In the meantime, take care and stay warm!

Beth Swift


Wabash College

















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