Works in Progress: With Experience Comes Wisdom
by Jim Amidon '87
George Belmore is the College's oldest sophomore--by nearly 25 years--and after diving head first into the Wabash experience a year ago, he's eager to make up for lost time.
Students and professors at Wabash know instantly that something is a little different when George Belmore sits down in class for the first time. Some wonder if he's an alumnus returning for his 25th reunion and just sitting in on a class, or if he's a reporter writing a story, or maybe even a classroom observer of sorts.
While he's just about old enough to be reunioning for the 25th time and does have a background in the media, George Belmore is an active participant in the life of Wabash. He's the College's oldest sophomore--by nearly 25 years--and after diving head first into the Wabash experience a year ago, he's eager to make up for lost time.
Born in Milwaukee, Belmore graduated from high school and rushed into a career in the restaurant business. He owned and operated a franchise in Texas at age 18, learning all aspects of running a small business. But after a decade of closely watching payroll, personnel, and expenses, Belmore burned out and decided to try to land a job in radio.
"I sent tapes all over the country, hoping to find a job someplace," the smooth-voiced 45-year old says over lunch in Sparks Center. "I'd been driving trucks in Louisiana and Mississippi for a while, making five bucks an hour, and finally got a job in Frankfort, Indiana in radio. Six months later, in August of 1984, I was in Crawfordsville working for WCVL."
A decade later, Belmore had been in and out of radio a couple of times with stints shoveling out horse stables and working on factory lines in between. "Five years ago I was standing in an assembly line dreading my existence as the parts came flying by; it was a very mundane lifestyle. I knew then that I wouldn't last another 20 years living like that. And I'm not saying that it's not good work; it is, but I knew that it wasn't for me."
That's when George discovered theater at Wabash. As a local resident, he auditioned for the lead role in the College's production of Scratch and was soon infatuated with life on stage and at Wabash. He followed with a perfectly cast role as "Mr. Lies" in Wabash's critically acclaimed production of Angels in America, and soon after found himself filling out an application for admission as a Wabash freshman. There was a catch--a financial catch--for a man who spent more than half his life living from paycheck to paycheck. He almost always had to work two jobs to pay rent on a house trailer and put food on the table.
Still, Belmore applied and gained admission to Wabash in spite of a pretty shoddy high school transcript. "You could say I was a screw-off in high school; I didn't take it very seriously," he says with a smile. Yet in the spring of 1997 he competed for and won a Wabash Fine Arts Fellowship, helping cover his costs to attend Wabash. "When I found out I won a scholarship to such a fine institution, I couldn't believe it. It was the happiest day of my life," he says.
Having completed his freshman year at Wabash, the theater major/music minor can't believe how quickly the year flew by and how wonderful the experience has been thus far. "My first year was more than I ever could have imagined," he reflects. "I've made the most amazing friendships with students and professors, which was really important to me coming into Wabash. I wondered about how I would be accepted, as a non-traditional student in the classroom, but everyone has been helpful and friendly, and people have treated me like everyone else."
"Sure, at times, the year has been an emotional roller coaster ride, but it helps knowing that I have people to turn to when I get stressed out."
Adjusting to an academic load for the first time in 27 years was a bit of a problem in the beginning, especially when Belmore landed a role in Wabash's production of A View from the Bridge during the first month of his freshman year. But he stayed focused and continued to get the most out of his Wabash experience. In addition to a pair of leading roles on stage (including an hysterical portrayal in Charley's Aunt), Belmore won first place at the Indiana State Speech Tournament in Dramatic Interpretation and played tuba in the brass ensemble. "My only regret," says the Alpha Psi Omega initiate, "is that I didn't have time to be a member of the diving team under Coach (Gail) Pebworth."
Time. That Belmore has such a strong notion of time as fleeting and that he wants to squeeze every last second out of Wabash shows the maturity of his years, especially at a time when college students are stereotyped as apathetic.
"The many things I did at Wabash in my first year gave me a great deal of confidence. I've tried to stay focused on what's in front of me and I work ahead as much as possible. The syllabi that the faculty provide are great because they allowed me to work ahead, which I did on weekends, so nothing ever hit me all at once."
While so many Wabash men spend their weekends trying in every way possible to distance themselves from the academic pressures of college life, Belmore retreats to his home, a house trailer roughly 45 miles from Crawfordsville. Holed up there, Belmore rehearses lines for upcoming plays, reads weeks, even months ahead for classroom assignments, and tries to decide what lies ahead in life after Wabash. "My advantage is that I have the focus and drive I didn't have at 18," he says.
"I was in my 40s with no opportunities," he continues. "I couldn't even turn on a computer a year ago, and now, less than a year later, I've done a PowerPoint presentation. After just one year at Wabash, there are so many doors opening for me--there are no boundaries in life any more. That's what my first year at Wabash has done for me."
The spring semester showed Belmore at his best. After winning the speech tournament title, he was awarded the Theater Performance Prize at the College's Awards Chapel. He even made the Dean's List for academic excellence, something that was previously beyond his wildest dreams. "I now have the highest GPA I've ever had in my life," he says, "and I've accomplished that at one of the finest colleges in the nation. That's given me the confidence to do anything, accomplish anything I set out to do."
The confidence Belmore has gained is not unusual at Wabash, though his path to it certainly is. And it hasn't all been easy. "I really struggled in foreign language and I take advantage of going to the writing center whenever I get stumped," he says. "I know I'm not the smartest guy, but I will work hard and take nothing for granted."
He's hoping to move into Martindale Hall this fall so that he can focus even more keenly and save himself long drives home after theater rehearsals. For Belmore, it's all about time and getting the most of what he has left. A semester in the New York Arts Program in his junior year remains an exciting possibility.
"I've only got three more years left at Wabash,"
he says, "and I know they'll go by just as quickly as my first year.
So I really want to be a part of the whole scene, get the most I can out
of my time here. This opportunity that the College has given to me is so
important that I want to make the most of every single day."