Ask a student from Professor Doug
Calischs photography course what comes to
mind when he thinks of Kansas, and hes likely
to say hula hoops.
Bill Watson 71 should be
The president and CEO of American
Water Purification, whose avocation is conserving
his states tall grass prairie, used the hula-hoop
to make his point to 12 Wabash students he welcomed
to his weekend house in El Dorado, Kansasthat
theres a lot more to the states landscape
than most drive-by tourists think.
Caleb Selby 04 can still
quote Bill from memory:
If you were to throw a hula
hoop out on the unplowed Kansas prairie you would
find the most diverse ecosystem in the United States.
I wanted to share the prairie
with themone of the most beautiful ecosystems
in the country, but also one of the least appreciated,
Watson says. So he invited Calisch and his students
to camp by a creek on his 200-acre family farm at
the western edge of the tall grass prairie. He,
his wife, Mary Helen, and daughter, Sarah, hosted
the group for steaks on the grill and a most-welcome
swim in the pool. Then he arranged for them to experience
the Flint Hillsthe largest contiguous section
of tall grass prairie remaining in the U.S.in
the way it ought to be seen: by horseback.
You move slowly enough to
see the land close-up and take it in, but youre
up high enough to see the immensity of it,
Watson says. Appreciating the prairie requires
a new way of seeing.
The views were unmatched
by anything Id seen before, and the whole
experience was incredible, says Ryan Smith
03, who gave the group an even better chance
to see prairie grasses up close after he dropped
his $700 camera during the ride. Thirty minutes
of searching by five guys found the camera intact
and Smiths appreciation for the size of the
prairieand the patience of his classmatesdeepened.
We had a great time with
the group, Watson says. And perhaps
I was able to instill the beauty of the prairie
in these guys hearts and minds. They are the
leaders of tomorrow; I consider it a deposit for
Bills knowledge and
fervor for the prairie land has inspired many of
us, Shaylan Owen 05 wrote in his journal
as the group headed farther west.
Watson was one of 11 alumni who
hosted the Colleges immersion photography
class during their three-week round-trip from Crawfordsville
to Colorado and dozens of points in-between. Calisch
had written to alumni along his planned route six
months earlier to find out if any of them would
be interested in hosting students. He also wanted
suggestions for learning opportunities in the area.
Calisch says the response of alumni was encouraging.
People who hadnt had
contact with the College in years offered their
help, and their ideas really enriched our itinerary,
The alumni hospitality bridged
generations and set up some of the more teachable
moments on the trip.
John Panozzo 89 led the
students in an assault on the summit of Longs
Peak, the most physically demanding day of the excursion.
Although dangerous weather halted the attempt at
13,000 feet, Owen was elated by the experience.
The intensity of the days
events instilled in me an intense respect for Colorados
majestic peaks, and instilled in all of us a higher
faith in our own abilities, Owen wrote.
I was totally impressed
with the way these guys gelled as a team, and when
they set up and took down camp, they would have
made the U.S. Cavalry proud! says Panozzo,
who spent four days with the group. Any time
you get to climb a 14er, thats a memorable
thing, and to do it with these guys made it even
better. It was really comforting to know that these
guys could have been my friends when I was at Wabash.
One thing that bothered
me about Wabash when I was there was that there
was very little influence outside of Indiana,
Panozzo says. I wanted to show these guys
things theyd never seen before, do things
theyd never done.
An amateur photographer himself,
Ernie Lewis 58 hosted the group in Estes Park,
Colorado, welcoming students to his home and renting
the Wild Basin Lodge for a dinner with one of the
states top nature photographers, James Frank.
He also arranged for Frank to spend a day in the
park with the class.
Nature photography isnt
the focus of what I do, but the technical information
and his approach to composition were very helpful,
says Shay Atkinson 04.
Owen was impressed by the attention
to detail in Lewiss homemade from a
variety carefully selected woodsand appreciated
the paintings, Navajo rugs, and Pueblo pottery there.
He made us feel so welcome,
Owen says. He and Lewis continue to correspond and
trade favorite photographs of the area.
Its good to feel a
part of the College in some way other than sending
a check, Lewis says. We were able to
trade stories about things theyd done on campus,
some of the pranks, and they sounded similar to
the ones Id been involved in many, many years
Its the young men
attending Wabash who are the College, not the reports
and write-ups you get, and this was a chance to
get to know that College, says Lewis. This
makes it a much more personal thing.
Students seemed to appreciate
alumni involvement, whether it was Panozzo leading
them up Longs Peak or Tom Vernon 52
hosting them in his familys vineyard earlier
in the trip.
The Columbia vineyard is
great, Matt Hagen 05 wrote after the
groups first night with the Vernons. The retired
University of Missouri professor is also co-owner
with his son of a restaurant, which served the group
20 pounds of ribs.
That meal really raised
my expectations for meals for the rest of the trip!
The quality of meals dipped the
next night, but the groups growing realization
that, as Wabash men, they are part of a larger group
that spans the country, did not.
The hospitality has been
nearly overwhelming, Trevor Hall 03
wrote. The value of the trip would be a lot
less without the generosity of the people who have
helped us along the way.
And Watsons hopes that the
students way of seeing could be
enhanced to appreciate the Kansas landscape he loves
should be bolstered by this final journal entry
from Kyle Nickel 03:
Day 21 Clinton State Park,
While I have marveled at the novelty and
immensity of mountains and canyons and dunes and
deserts, have felt privileged to leave my footprints
there and was sad that I could not stay, the west
Kansas ground has touched me differently. It is
as though I have been homesick for that empty
creek bed and its endless line of sturdy cottonwoods
all this time and not known where my soul yearned
for until my boots made their way through the
sagebrush and cactus. It must have been the isolation,
the solitude, the beauty of simplicity.