California Stories

Jim Amidon — My public affairs colleagues Steve Charles and Howard Hewitt are having a tough time starting their engines this morning. That’s because they flew in from the West Coast last evening and are a bit jet lagged from their quick four-day journey to San Francisco.

They’re dragging, yes, but they are also wearing proud smiles — and should be.

Last summer, Howard spent two weeks in California on assignment for Wabash Magazine, which Steve edits. The goal was to meet as many alumni as possible, learn about their lives, and tell their stories in a themed issue of Wabash Magazine called “California Road Trip.”

The issue, which we envisioned a full year ago, rolled off the presses late last week, thus the occasion for Howard to return to California with the magazine’s editor in tow.

Last Friday night, almost all of the people Howard interviewed separately in June came together to celebrate the achievements of their fellow West Coasters. It was a remarkable evening made even more special by new President Pat White’s first visit to the Golden State.

The magazine debut party was held at the John Pence Gallery in downtown San Francisco. The owner, John Pence, is a 1958 Wabash graduate whose life story is told in the magazine. A veteran of the Navy and former airline executive, Pence owns what is known as one of the “premier Academic Realism galleries in the United States.”

Hewitt also interviewed three first generation college graduates — Hugo Mariscal, Anthony Avitia, and Ernie Vela. All three are children of Mexican immigrants from Salinas, California, which is known as the “salad bowl of the United States” for its produce production.

Since graduating from Wabash, Mariscal, Avitia, and Vela have returned to Salinas. All are school teachers, administrators, or counselors, and they hope to introduce more young people to the wonders of a college education. Their story, though, is more about the challenges they face while educating young people in an environment of gangs, poverty, and violence.

Imagine a magazine that pays tribute to a wealthy art gallery owner AND three of the eight Wabash men from Salinas who are first generation Americans!

(Actually, Steve does a wonderful job in every issue of Wabash Magazine to lift up a full range of Wabash people and their experiences — CEOs and poets alike.)

I would love to have been in the gallery with Steve, Howard, and the other 50 Wabash alumni and friends who gathered there. I know for a fact it was the first time such a diverse group of Wabash’s California alumni have been together.

When Wabash officials usually travel to California, it tends to be for very specific alumni events in major cities, and usually there’s a good bit of fund raising cultivation going on.

Perhaps that’s why this trip — and Howard’s trip in June — is special. Wabash went a few thousand miles to honor in story and photos men who truly do make a difference in their communities, and returned almost a year later to again celebrate the Little Giants of California.

Howard kept a blog site of his experiences last June. After spending an evening with Avitia, Vela, and Mariscal, Howard wrote, “The thing that’s tough to explain here is the appreciation they felt for a visit by someone from Wabash. They talked about it in my presence and when I was not around, as well. The sincere gratitude and the time they took to share their stories were really special.”

Maybe it’s the power of the stories — and our chronicling of them — that really sets Wabash apart from so many other colleges and universities.

For almost a dozen years, Steve Charles has been preaching the value of our individual histories, our stories, and our lives. And he’s practiced what he’s preached. He listens carefully as others talk; picks up subtle references that illuminate someone’s life; and honors every person — every story — with dignity and grace.

I’m so proud of the work Steve and Howard do on behalf of Wabash College. I think you will be too when you see their collaborative efforts and read the wonderful stories of our West Coast alumni. Give me a call if you want a printed copy of the magazine. Or, just go online and access all the stories and photos at www.wabash.edu/magazine/

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One Response to California Stories

  1. What an awesome collection of articles and research for alumni of Wabash. I think it is a good thing to see what the college has helped jump start people to do. Keep up the good work — it sounds like it was worth the effort!