Confessions of a Townie
by Jim Amidon 87
Like most freshmen at Wabash, I hated townies. My first day on campus,
I stood on my fraternitys porch and shouted at the townies cruising
Grant Avenue in their jacked-up Monte Carlos. I dont know why I
hated them, but everyone in the house took part. There was something oddly
primal about standing there as a fraternity, us against them, and taking
on the red neck locals from the safety of our numbers. We even mocked
the fraternities at Wabash who dared to rush townies into their pledge
Must want a nearby place to stay on walk out, we would grumble.
In my sophomore year I came face to face with the same people Id
been berating. I took a part-time job at a local radio station covering
high school sportsa job that required me to attend events like the
canoe race and the Strawberry Festival. I also collected the police blotter.
Crawfordsville radio gets big advertising revenue broadcasting the names
of everyone arrested or given a speeding ticket. Seeing the number of
arrests for bar fights, theft, and other violence did nothing to change
the perceptions handed to me by the upperclassmen in my fraternity.
But my job did dilute the hate into something more manageable. I could
work with townies; I just didnt want to be one.
Almost 20 years later, I am one. I am a chest-out-proud townie!
At the same time, as my work for Wabash has put me in touch with local
leaders, Ive learned that many residents have the same negative
opinions of Wabash students our students have toward them. Now that Im
in a position to do something about it, Ive made improving the town-gown
relationship among my highest priorities.
TWO EVENTS CHANGED MY PERCEPTION OF CRAWFORDSVILLE. The first came two
years ago, when I had surgery for bladder cancer. Chris and I, parents
of an eight month-old at the time, were paralyzed with fear and doubt.
But we were blessed by an outpouring of kind notes, flowers, gifts, and
meals from literally hundreds of people, half of whom I had never met.
I was included in prayer chains at churches Id barely noticed before
I got sick. People Id never even seen before would stop me in the
street to wish me well or ask how I was doing.
It was a frantic and frightening time in our life together, but people
in this community reached out and comforted me in a way I never thought
was possible. I gained a healthy and timely dose of respect for my Crawfordsville
Coinciding with my diagnosis was some deadline-pressing work with the
countys economic development group. Community leaders had seen Wabashs
campaign video and tapped me as a resource to produce a video that would
sell Montgomery County to business, industry, and developers. What a remarkable
acknowledgement that wasnot of my production ability, but that people
from the College could be trusted to portray the county as economically
viable, even vibrant.
That experience radically changed the way I look at the people and this
With video crew in tow, I walked into the Nucor Steel Company in the southern
part of Montgomery County on a snowy day. Plant manager John Ferriola
gave us access to the entire sprawling complex. We learned that Nucor
is the worlds largest recycler of steel, and that the company takes
the scrapby semi and rail carand transforms it into high quality,
flat rolled steel.
We donned heavy, fireproof coats and hard hats and for the next three
hours I was immersed in the steel making processthe size, scale,
smell, heat, and raw power of turning scrap into liquid, then into hardened
The factory alone is the size of a dozen indoor football practice fields.
Vats the size of a Wabash lecture room contain tons of liquefied steel
that explode with a deafening roar. What looked like hundreds of tiny
sparks were actually wads of molten steel flying through the air and landing
on our feet. As the vats finished cooking, workers moved them via remote
control across the top of the factory to be poured and extruded into the
final product. I had heard stories of accidental deaths at Nucor. With
tons of molten steel hanging above us, I realized exactly how dangerous
this work is. I understood how high-tech and precise the process is, how
each worker depends on the skill of the other, and how essential it is
that they trust one another.
Watching the bright orange liquid being poured into the extruder was a
fantastic sight. Watching the extruder kick out the steel was even better.
We stood on a cat walk just four feet above the rollers as the barely
solid steel, 30 inches wide and three millimeters thick, raced under our
feet at 60 miles an hour. Orange faded to dull gray as water was sprayed
on the flying steel, a huge coiling machine at the far end of the factory
winding it up in mile-long batches. The steam created from the collision
of scorching heat water brought our video production to a halt.
Whats one of those rolls weigh? I shouted to the guy
walking us through the factory.
Forty-seven thousand pounds.
What do you get for one of those rolls?
About $50 grand.
And how many can you produce in a day?
This guy was not the beer-guzzling, wife-beating, country music-loving
red neck I had once imagined he and every other local factory worker to
be from my days of reading the police blotter. He was highly skilled,
courageous, and concerned about his safety and ours. He was also very
proud of his industry and his employer.
Nucor, it turns out, has 530 local employees who produce two million tons
of steel each year netting over $750 million in annual revenue on a payroll
of $35 million. That day, I learned that the biggest recycler in the world
and the nations second leading producer of steel is in my back yard.
Two questions lingered in my mind: Why doesnt Wabash know
more about its corporate and civic neighbors? and Why arent
we forming useful partnerships that would benefit our students and better
prepare them to go off and assume leadership roles in communities like
The experience of shooting the video and learning about Nucorand
other industries in Crawfordsvillemade me aware of the abundant
resources of this community. Id always seen Wabash as the jewel
of the county. I think now I could make an argument that were one
of many jewels in a crown which includes Nucor, Pace Dairy, Random House
Publishing, Fleetwood Travel Trailers, Raybestos Products, Crown Cork
and Seal, and R.R. Donnelley & Sons. These companies produce groundbreaking,
tangible products that put Montgomery County on an international map.
What Ive really learned, though, is that this town, like Wabash,
is about people who care for one another and who are good at what they
do. Ive spent my entire working life at Wabash College, and the
people Ive admired have been professors, coaches, and college administrators.
Now I also look up to the men and women who make this town thrive.
The people of Crawfordsville have provided clarity in my life and a new
focus for my work. Im committed to the notion of being a good neighbor.
I also want to work with faculty and staff to help our students realize
Wabash isnt the only fish, and certainly isnt the biggest
fish, in this pond. By doing so, well help Wabash men treat their
fleeting time in Montgomery County very differently and make them better
citizens of the communities in which they will live out their lives. And,
in the end, the students might just act a bit more responsibly, lead a
bit more effectively, and, perhaps, live more humanely.
Jim Amidon is director of public affairs at Wabash.
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