Founder's Week: Wabash Film "Rings True"

by Steve Charles

November 14, 2007

Wabash archivist Beth Swift led the audience on a "campus tour of Wabash through history" for the first half of Tuesday’s "Wabash in Pictures and Film" presentation. But the showing of the film "Wabash: A Way of Life" in the second half of the program took her on its own journey in time.

"The film presents such a clear view of Wabash College in the 70s," Swift said of the documentary, which was written and directed by alumnus Ted Steeg ’52, an award-winning filmmaker working out of Greenwich Village, NY. "It is just a great piece, like a time capsule, except that its message is just as true today."

Wabash religion professor David Blix ’70, who was a Wabash student a few years before the film was made, had a similar take.

"Somehow, I had never seen this film before," Blix said. "I was very deeply moved by it—but especially by the scenes with my old teachers in their earlier days."

Those teachers included some of the College’s legendary professors, including Eric Dean and Raymond Williams, filmed as they taught their classes. Professor emeritus of speech Vic Powell, who was in the audience Tuesday night, gives his own perspective of liberal arts education in the film. The audience also sees and hears professors David Greene, Fred Enenbach, Greg Huebner, Paul McKinney, and Eliot Williams, among others, along with many students and several distinguished alumni of that time.

"Watching the students talk about Wabash and seeing the faculty teach taught me a lot," Swift said.

Swift’s own presentation taught the audience a lot about Wabash, from the College’s founding on November 21, 1832, through the 1990s. While covering the changing shape of the campus over time and highlighting turning points like the fire in South Hall that nearly destroyed the campus, the archivist shared some student pranks, as well. After the Civil War, for instance, Wabash students amused themselves by firing the college cannon at an outhouse.

Concluding her portion of the presentation, the archivist noted that the College’s signature founding moment—when the ministers and lay founders knelt in the snow to dedicate their new venture—occurred on November 22, 1832.

"This year, the 175th anniversary of that moment falls on Thanksgiving Day," she said, adding that looking back at the history and efforts of those who served the College, we have much to be thankful for.

Wabash Director of Public Affairs Jim Amidon ’87 introduced Steeg’s film, calling "Wabash: A Way of Life" one of his "all-time favorites." Amidon then read comments made by the filmmaker after being informed his work would be shown as part of the College’s 175 anniversary celebration

"I’d already seen a bunch of schools across the country, and knew one reason Wabash was different: the level of ‘engagement.’" Steeg wrote. "Almost everyone on campus seemed happily and fully committed to what they were doing. The energy was exciting and palpable. How to capture that on film?

"That’s what I was trying to do with the whole film: make audiences not just hear and see what’s great about amazing Wabash, but also feel it."

Beth Swift said Steeg succeeded in doing just that.

"This movie will pass along the essence of that time here to the future. The students, the teachers, the alums—it all still rings true."

DVD copies of Ted Steeg's film are now available for check-out at the Lilly Library and for viewing in the Archives


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