“What is Most Essential to Wabash?”

With the “Milestones” issue of Wabash Magazine off the press and on its way to the bindery and bound for mailboxes later this week, I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite lines from this edition.

We’re blessed to have many contributors to this particular issue—a collaboration with Allen Clingler ’03 based on his suggestion that we ask alumni how they’ve marked their “milestone birthdays”—and in the reading, editing, copyediting, and proofing process I’ve enjoyed their responses many times over.

Then there are the interviews for the pieces I wrote myself—long and rich conversations with Phil Dewey about his art, teaching, and baseball; Joe Trumpey leading me through the solar-powered straw bale house he and his wife Shelley built in Michigan; Professors Dave Krohne, Larry Bennett, and Dave Maharry generously and thoughtfully reflecting on their careers at Wabash as they prepared for retirement last spring.

The words that keep coming back to me this morning are Professor of Biology Emeritus Dave Krohne’s response when I asked him, “What is most essential to Wabash College; what is the one thing that, no matter what our budget constraints, we can never lose?”

“A certain kind of student,” Dave says. “There’s a mythology about the Wabash student that turns out to have some truth: the kid who is inherently curious, who is bright enough, has the work ethic and the discipline and the willingness to be coached. Our success is derived from the history of having a bunch of students with those characteristics.

“Our programs and particular teachers are all important, but none of it works if you don’t have those guys. The day they go away, we’re done.”

Then there’s something completely different: Howard Hewitt’s story on Tim and Jane Talbott’s Grand Alpaca Ranch. Our one truly “bona fide” journalist in public affairs—having been a reporter and editor for more years than he has teeth—Howard can cover and write about anything. He good-naturedly took on our livestock beat after hitting it off with the Talbott’s at last summer’s Big Bash Reunion.

Howard finished the piece at a time of great personal loss, yet I’ve rarely seen a writer’s joy in his work and affection for his subject shine so brightly. And he gives us that rare gem for an alumni magazine—it’s funny! For instance:

Jane Talbott arranges the animals’ “dates” and the birthing.
“We call ourselves alpaca pimps,” she says, as Tim rolls his eyes.

Shift gears to this quote from Professor of Biology Eric Wetzel written as he was developing the College’s new global health initiative after spending his sabbatical semester visiting villages in Peru:

“How best should we lead the bright and full-of-potential young men who are our students into lives in which they learn to ‘act responsibly’ and ‘to live humanely’?

“I’m confident that having students wrestle with the big issues of global health is one of the ways we can do this. These issues require the input not only of biologists, but economists, political scientists, mathematicians, historians, ethicists, among others. Not only can this be a way for students, faculty, staff, and alumni to act and to live as individuals, but I believe that Wabash College as an institution can accomplish great things—in fact, merciful things.”

Dave Maharry, founder of the College’s computer science program, talking about promoting his computer science curriculum in those early days: “Back then you still had to explain to people that computer science wasn’t just typing—that underneath the logic and algorithms being developed were significant ideas, and that’s what we would be teaching.”

Assistant Professor of English Crystal Benedicks recalls her first foray into acting (her husband, Wabash Theater Professor Jim Cherry’s vocation) in Crawfordsville’s community theater last spring:

“Over the course of the production, I began to realize that theater is more than hammered-down hysteria. It isn’t just vanity. It’s a deeply generous act of literary criticism. In my real life, I write literary criticism and teach students how to do the same. We pull apart texts to demonstrate what it shows without meaning to. At times, it can feel like the literary equivalent of pointing out someone’s slip.

“Literary criticism through acting is different because you embody the words and characters. You become them and let them speak through you until you have truly heard—absorbed and repeated—what it is they have to say. It is literary intelligence on the level of muscle memory.”

Emory Simmons ’41, on continuing his research past his 90th birthday: “90 is just a number,” he says. “Why not?”

These lines from Bruce Lawrie’s poem about his father, the late John Lawrie, a professor of psychology at Wabash from 1964 to 1994:

My father

could do anything. I used to
love to watch him move with his
supple, big cat strength. Even
at rest he was something to see:
the picture of masculine ease
smoking a cig
sipping a Stroh’s—
Humphrey Bogart between takes.
I couldn’t get enough of him

In light of the past weekend’s tragic shootings in Arizona, this excerpt from Professor Scott Himsel’s Chapel Talk last fall:

“We have too many people who listen only to Glenn Beck and Fox News. We have too many people who listen only to Keith Olberman and MSNBC. We have too many people who listen to Sarah Palin. We have too many people who only listen to President Obama.”

“We have too many people who only want to listen to people with whom they already agree.

“Are we courageous enough to read before we criticize? Are we courageous enough to believe we might be wrong? You will never have more freedom of speech than you have right now. We need you right now.”

There are many more, and I’ll add them tomorrow and Thursday. Right now I’ve got a whole different set of not-so-finished lines in my head as I’m well into editing the next issue, which is due to the art director in less than three weeks.

But I wanted to stop for a moment and savor the good words of our contributors. In 16 years editing the magazine I’ve developed the masochistic tendency of rushing from one issue to the next, practically wincing at the new issue when it comes off the press for fear of the inevitable typo or the photo or painting that didn’t print the way I’d expected, despite our best efforts. It’s a bad habit that robs me of the pleasure of enjoying our contributors’ creativity, the generosity of those we interview, and the words written and spoken in a college community like no other. I’m blessed to be a part of it. And, even with the typos, so are you.

More tomorrow.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.