Dear Young Wabash (unedited version)by William Cook ’66
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When I arrived on campus late in August, 2008, to take a one-year visiting professorship at Wabash, I immediately felt comfortable. This was indeed “Dear Old Wabash.” I walked from my apartment at the back of Caleb Mills House, cutting across the Mall toward my office in Center Hall. There were Lilly Library and the Student center (now named for Frank Sparks) on my right and the Chapel straight ahead. In the distance on the left were Center and Baxter halls. The latter was brand new when I returned for my junior year in 1964, and it is perhaps a little worse for wear now. Still, all of this was familiar.
As I climb the stairs in Center Hall, I am comforted that they squeak just as they did when I climbed them for a class with Bob Harvey in the fall of 1962. In fact, my office faces the classroom where Bob taught me how to read literature well and pleasurably. If there was smoke curling out the door, I could be convinced that Bob’s ghost is still talking of Pound and Eliot and Dos Passos. Center 215 now has carpet, but there must be some of Bob’s cigarette burns underneath; although the room has lots of high tech equipment, the student desks are no more comfortable than they were in 1962. I guess faculty still understand the dangers of comfortable furniture.
I usually arrive in Center Hall a few minutes before class, which on Mondays is in Center 215, where Bob Harvey taught me literature. My World Christianities class has nine students, freshmen and seniors, religion majors and guys fulfilling a distribution requirement. It is fairly intense because students at Wabash are intense, especially when discussing religious issues. Recently, the class was lightened a bit by the presence of Dan, a Sphinx Club rhynie. Since it was the Friday before Valentine’s Day, he was dressed in pink tights, something that resembled a tutu, and had a lovely pair of magenta wings. At one point Dan raised his hand, but I didn’t call on him right away. When I got to Dan, he had forgotten his point. I suggested that he re-attach his wings because I was reasonably sure that fairies’ memories are better when they wear their wings. He re-winged and immediately remembered what he wanted to contribute to the conversation.
I do not pine for the old days, because nostalgia is about something wonderful that is lost. It doesn’t matter whether “Rhynies Read and Reading Tremble” posters decorate the campus in the fall. I don’t care that comps are in January rather than April. I like new traditions such as groups constantly repainting the senior bench and faculty serving late night breakfast to students one evening during finals week. I am happy that some of our rituals are still around, for example freshmen guarding campus during Bell Week and the beauty queen contest at Homecoming, although they somehow feel atavistic.
I celebrate Dear Old Wabash, although there are some pieces of my experience that I have long regretted. The night of our freshman bonfire, several of my pledge brothers and I hopped in someone’s pickup, drove past Yountsville, and stole (we probably said at the time ‘liberated’ or ‘borrowed’) a 2- seater outhouse, brought it to Mud Hollow, and piled it on the bonfire to the adulation of our fellow rhynies. (NB: I have been assured that the statute of limitations has kicked in here on outhouse borrowing.)
I celebrate Dear New Wabash, where a large number of students will go to the ends of the earth to study and students are engaged in high level research in all three divisions. I liked the old CC and prefer it to its successors, and I would like mandatory chapel at least once a week. But those pieces of my experience are gone, and there is need to honor them but no need to mourn them.
Actually, of course, Old and New Wabash are not two Wabashes but two iterations of what we proudly in 1962 and equally proudly in 2010 call “Dear Old Wabash.”
I shall begin packing soon, probably because I can justify taking a break from grading papers as much as of necessity. I take memories and mementos with me, including a few of Bill Placher’s books and a somewhat tawdry imitation Greek kylix that Jack Charles bequeathed to Bill and then Bill offered me just before he died. That cheap souvenir that someone hauled back from Athens many years ago will always remind me to love and honor two great Wabash legends.
More important than the trophies from Wabash are the images of this shrine of cherished memories. I could not have imagined myself speaking in Chapel, let alone doing it several times and the last time wearing my Sphinx Club ‘pot.’ I leave a newly restored Goodrich and a slightly run down Baxter. I still cannot find my way around Hays Hall. I have eaten many interesting meals in Detchon/Yandes. I’ll miss the Scarlet Inn less than I had imagined when I returned because it has lost something of its centrality in the lives of Wabash men.
More than trophies and images, I leave with new friends as well as renewed relationships with people I met almost a half century ago. Jim and Patience Barnes are once again more than Christmas card acquaintances. Vic Powell and Joe O’Rourke and John Zimmerman and Raymond Williams are on campus so often that I sometimes imagine they are hustling off to class. I leave my department, Religion, with the knowledge that it is well even though Bill Placher is gone and the department has lost his position. David Blix represents Old Wabash while John Baer, who received tenure last year, is part of the best of Young Wabash.
Most of all, I will miss the students I have taught and mentored. How will I get along without Long Cao, the great student with really ugly plaid shorts (I like to think Eric Dean and others once described me that way). I will wish for DJ Singfield, who went to Florence with me and now always greets me with a hug. Michael Carper, a freshman, took 3 courses from me this year; I have enjoyed watching him quickly grow into a premier student and leader; I’d like to watch him continue to grow. I’ll have to find out how much Hindi Andrew Kunze learned in the summer of 2010 thanks to his Dill Grant. Oh how I shall long for Seth Einterz popping into my office with a slightly goofy grin to ask a penetrating question.
Maybe my fondest memory is being in the midst of deliriously happy Wabash men on the field at DePauw after we won the Bell. The chant was, “We love Wabash,” and I joined that chorus.
My two years here have seen their share of tragedy—the death of freshman Johnny Smith and the closing of the Delt house, Bill Placher’s death, the loss of endowment that has translated into the loss of eight faculty positions, the end of C & T and its replacement soon with a still undefined new course. Although not all at Wabash would agree that the end of C & T is a tragedy, it is clear that these years will be looked back on as hard ones for the College. Yet, I leave with undiminished respect for my alma mater and genuine belief that are halls are just as classic as they have always been and that this new crop of loyal sons will continue to instate our College in the highest ranks. With and for Michael and many Jakes and Seth and all the rest, I shall continue to bellow out my praise of Old Wabash.