Alumni Honor Their Own
by Steve Charles
September 27, 2014
A teacher whose “outsider’s perspective” brought new ways of thinking to thousands of Wabash men was honored at Wabash College Saturday, alongside the mother and father of four of those students.
Milligan Professor Emeritus of English Bert Stern and Jim and Susie Smith were named honorary alumni at this year’s Homecoming Alumni Chapel, which celebrates the spirit of Barney Hollett ’36 and pays tribute to outstanding alumni and their service to the College, their communities, and the world.
“In this Chapel we celebrate the people who have made and continue to make our alma mater so special and her impact so far reaching,” said National Association of Wabash Men (NAWM) President Greg Estell ’83.
“You alumni are our greatest story, the great truth of the wonderful things we do here,” said Wabash President Gregory Hess. “Alumni Chapel is a celebration of all the College’s loyal sons.”
The newest of those honorary sons, Stern H’62 arrived at the College in 1957 and taught more than 4,600 students during 39 years. After his "retirement" in 1997 he taught probationers in the Changing Lives Through Literature program, co-wrote The African American's Guide to Heart Disease and Heart Wellness, published his own poetry in a much-lauded volume, and founded Off the Grid Press. Research he began during his year teaching China in 1985 resulted in his new book, Winter in China: An American Life, which tells the story of Crawfordsville native Robert Winter’s nearly 60 years living in China during its most tumultuous years.
“Today, we honor, cherish, and embrace the outsider’s perspective you brought to us,” Estell told Stern from the Chapel lectern. “It’s a vantage point that brought other worlds to thousands of Wabash students.”
Jim H’50 and Susie Smith H’75 sent four sons to Wabash, but their service to Wabash goes much farther. The president of HC Industries, Jim graduated with a degree in engineering, but he also embraced the liberal arts education he saw at Wabash.
“The study of the liberal arts gives students today an opportunity to confront the questions about what they really believe,” Jim has said. “It also gives them skillsets in writing, in thinking things through, and having an opportunity to debate those questions with other students and faculty.”
The Smiths are community leaders and recently established a scholarship to support Wabash men in the College’s dual degree engineering program with Purdue University because they “are convinced that a liberal arts education brings immeasurable value to a person entering engineering fields."
“You model for younger generations what it means to be service-minded citizens, and this community is stronger and more robust because of your love and dedication,” said Estell.
Dudley Burgess ’64 was honored with the Frank W. Misch Alumni Service Award for "his love of and service to Wabash in a way that provides a model for all Wabash men to follow.
“You have given so selflessly to Wabash for half a century and never asked for anything in return,” said Estell. “Today, however, the National Association of Wabash Men is proud to place you in the spotlight for all that you mean to your alma mater.”
Ray Jovanovich ’84 earned the Fredrick J. Urbaska Civic Service Award for his philanthropic work in the Philippines following last year’s Typhoon Haiyan.
“Within days, you and your friends procured and distributed more than ½ ton of relief goods in Leyte Province and established The Yolanda Project Foundation, helping to establish a field clinic and pharmacy, continuing aid as government food and aid efforts ceased,” said Estell. “You make your alma mater proud, even as you cause us to reflect and reconsider our own priorities in this difficult world.”
James Dimos ’83 was honored with the Clarence Jackson Career Service Award for representing the highest ideals of the College in his legal practice.
“Attorneys around Indianapolis refer to you as someone who provides ‘wise counsel to counselors,’” said Estell. “You’ve also found pro-bono work for those living on society’s edges equally invigorating, changing lives with a deft touch and healthy dose of compassion.”
Jeremy Bird ’00, the National Field Director for Barack Obama in 2012 who used cutting-edge analytics to deliver victory to the incumbent President, received the Jeremy R. Wright Young Alumnus Award.
“The motivation for your work is people, not numbers,” said Estell, who recalled an article describing how Bird grew up in a trailer park with working parents who struggled to make ends meet—a childhood Bird now uses as inspiration to “go to work everyday to fight for kids like that, who watch their parents work hard but still remain one problem away from catastrophe.”
“Your struggle has improved the lives of millions,” Estell said. “And it has been a wonder to watch.”
An entrepreneur who has shared his expertise, connections, and home with dozens of Wabash students, Martin Brown ’06 was honored with the Alumni Career Services Award.
“Almost since the day you graduated from Wabash you have been a resource for our Schroeder Center for Career Development,” said Estell. “You have advised students by email, phone, and in person, and you have shared with the men of Wabash your soaring entrepreneurial spirit. You give back in ways that truly and directly benefit our students.”
A teacher in Houston, TX who used crowd-funding efforts to bring four of his students to campus last year, Jeffrey Soller ’12 was one of two men earning the Wabash Alumni Admissions Fellow Award.
“Your outstanding teaching skills honed in Teach for America clearly made an impression on those young men, because all four of them applied to the College,” Estell said. “It has become clear to this Association that there is no end to your passion for Wabash or to the amount of creativity you are willing to pump into your efforts to 'spread the fame of her honored name.'"
Also teaching in Texas, Oscar Torres ’01 was honored as an Alumni Admissions Fellow for becoming a virtual extension of the College’s Admissions staff in McAllen, TX.
“Since you became a teacher and coach at Pharr San Juan Alamo Memorial High School, Wabash has received 6 to 10 applications from Memorial students every year,” Estell said. “It’s a long way from the Rio Grande Valley to Sugar Creek—1,418 miles, to be precise—but that hasn’t prevented you from chaperoning groups of 15-20 students on visit programs here at the College.”
Concluding the ceremony, which serves as the fall meeting of the NAWM, Estell thanked those attending and led them in a final round of applause for the honorees.
“Homecoming allows us to pause and to celebrate the special bonds of the Wabash family,” he said.