A Capitol Idea
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"Back then, we felt isolated out here, and even Wabash men who had worked here a long time didn’t realize how many alumni lived in the area," recalls Greg Castanias ’87, one of 12 founding board members of the association. "Today, Dave Pancost ’69 is on the College’s Board of Trustees, I’m on the National Association of Wabash Men Board, and we know of 345 alumni in the area."
Castanias says former Assistant Dean for Advancement Connie Harris helped the group realize how many more Wabash grads in the area wanted to get together and be more involved with the College. He cites founding members Larry Blount ’65, Paul Cunningham ’67, John Hauber ’66, Greg Horman ’92, Pierce Klemmt ’72, Tyce Light ’87, Roland Morin ’91, Fred Obenchain ’62, John Ohmer ’84, and Dennis Whigham ’66 for their role in getting things started.
"But a lot of the credit goes to Jim Graham," Castanias says, and Blount concurs.
"Jim was the one who took the initiative, promoted it, and sustained it in its first several years," says Blount of Graham, who died of cancer in December 2004. "His enthusiasm and organizational skills brought it together. He arranged to have a table for us at the Fort McNair Officers Club on a monthly basis, and that gave us the structure we needed for regular meetings. And Jim was our first president."
So it was no surprise last year when the group named its externship program for current Wabash students after Graham. Six students, each paired with an alumnus, explored their career interests during a week-long work experience in DC. The students returned to campus with stories of vocation-shaping moments, and one headed back to DC in June for a summer-long internship.
"Dave Pancost was a driving force behind the internships," Castanias says. "He has a well-earned reputation of helping alumni coming to DC find connections for careers."
Blount says the association is also a vehicle to arrange for college fairs, with Fred Obenchain the most active alumnus in that effort.
The breathtaking view of the U.S. Capitol from Castanias’ Jones-Day law firm has been the setting for receptions for Wabash faculty in town for national conferences, as well as for Wabash on the Road events.
The group also organizes outings to Washington Senators and Wizards games; is the only regional association with its own website; and most recently took on two projects for Wabash Day, the NAWM-sponsored national service event.
All that activity requires a committed board and a willingness to share the work; the Capital Association is a model for developing new leadership.
"All of our founding board members but one are off the board now," Castanias says, and that cycle is intentional.
"Our new president, Bert Salinas ’97, graduated from Wabash a week after we passed the by-laws for the association," Castanias says. "You’ve got to have the right mixture of people long established in the area and ‘young Turks’ committed to staying in the area."
The formula works, but the heart of the association’s success can be seen in Blount’s description of those early meetings at Fort McNair.
"Even without a specific agenda, we always found it sufficient to gather, eat, and enjoy one another’s company."