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Fall 2019: From the Editor



In the autumn of 1995 I was finishing my first interview with Professor Bill Placher ’70 in his Center Hall office when he stood up, walked over to one of his bookcases, and pulled out a slim red volume. 

“You might find this interesting,” he said, handing me The Margins of the Humanities: The Charles D. LaFollette Lectures, 1977-1984. The pages were dog-eared, the red cover was faded, and there was a slip of paper marking the talk by Professor Robert Petty. That night I read these lines that the biologist and poet had spoken to his fellow scholars and teachers at Wabash in 1982: “I do believe that all of us can and do learn much at the far margins of our own disciplines, at the frayed borders between our own understanding and the unique knowledge of others.” 

Earlier in his talk Petty had explained that the greatest richness of flora and fauna in Indiana existed not in the deep woods, nor the middle of fields or grasslands, but where they met—those “far margins.” He applied the metaphor to academic disciplines, but I wondered whether we could say the same of the whole Wabash community. I imagined Wabash Magazine as a place like those far margins, where we could explore the richness of Wabash College by meeting as many of its people as we could, hearing what they knew, getting to know each other. 

A year later I attended my first college magazine editors conference, where I met the University of Portland’s Brian Doyle. He told us we’d been given a great gift in our 10 

respective colleges’ communities: Everyone from the students to the maintenance workers to the professors to the college cooks to staff and presidents had a story. He said their stories would bring our magazines alive, that stories “crack open hearts and open minds.” He said our calling was to catch those stories, in whatever form we could.

Brian was a devout Catholic who swore like a sailor, laughed easily, and wrote as though his eyes were being opened wider every day. My kind of guy. I had my editing and writing mentor.

Brian worked at a Catholic university, a place that believed God was incarnate in Christ and therefore to be found in men, women, and children as well. So Brian could pretty much publish anyone writing about anything. Wabash is a place of many faiths, none in particular, and—as Class Notes Editor Karen Handley reminds me—Wabash is not God. But we could still look for Wabash in people’s lives—what it taught students, how it shaped alumni, and how the values proclaimed here were lived out. And we could live those values ourselves by learning along with our readers. Suddenly my palette was as colorful and vibrant as Brian’s.

So we told stories. My boss at the time, Jim Amidon ’87, wanted more. He wanted voices—as many voices as we could gather. So we found more ways to include readers’ stories in their own words. As we did that, Tim Padgett ’84 began calling us not only an informative magazine, but an “expressive” magazine. That inspired us to include even more contributors of writing and art. When Kim Johnson arrived 12 years ago we gained a professional photographer for every issue. Now we could confidently both tell and show whatever we discovered Wabash to be in the lives and in the faces of its people. 

So Placher, Petty, Doyle, Amidon, Padgett, and Johnson formed the vision for the journey we’ve been taking in WM for the past 25 years. But our readers, writers, and artists have been the heart of it all. 

I’m still astonished by the doors that open when you say “Wabash.” We have been welcomed into lives. We’ve been entrusted with some of the most valuable possessions people have: their stories. Those generous encounters showed me my vocation—a calling I take with me even as I leave Wabash this year and others continue that work. 

i was raised on stories. In my family, my grandfather was the storyteller, and he had a story he would tell about each one of us. He wasn’t an emotionally demonstrative man; it was a way he could show us he loved us.

But we are so much more than our stories. A story is just an invitation into a life; it can be the beginning of a journey together. The greatest gifts this work has given have been the lives we’ve walked alongside these past 25 years. Some have been the subjects of stories, some have been writers and artists who have told their own. By both design and coincidence, a bunch of them are in this issue. 

We had planned to talk with Dan Simmons ’70 about the HBO series made from his book The Terror; we hadn’t dreamed we’d get to celebrate with Michael Bricker ’04, whose story we have followed since he was a student here, when he won an Emmy in September. We’d wanted to catch up with Professor Doug Calisch in his second career as a furniture maker; we hadn’t expected one of Doug’s projects to be a catalyst for his friend, Professor Warren Rosenberg, to feel fully at home in Crawfordsville. 

Some are happy coincidences, some sad. John Bachmann ’60, who we remember in this issue, was my first “big” interview as editor, making me feel at ease in his CEO office at Edward Jones’ headquarters in St. Louis. Former President Thad Seymour H’78 was an early advocate for our new approach to the magazine. Jim Dreher ’85 gave Rich Paige and me an adventure when we visited him in LA, only taking a break when he wanted to spend the evening at home with his son, Dash. 

That remembrance section has become the hardest part of the job. It’s rare that I don’t know or know of the people we’re writing about there, and tears are the price you eventually pay for the joy of living among good people. But what is that sorrow compared to all that is added to your heart, mind, and memory when you’ve known people like John, Jim, Thad, or Bill Placher, Mike Bachner ’70, Susan Cantrell, Vic Powell H’55, Tom Campbell… you have your own list. 

“what is wabash but friendship and story, the history of a hunger to know.” 

Our College poet emeritus Marc Hudson wrote those words. At our best I believe WM is both a reflection on and a reflection of that truth. I’m confident it will continue to be so in a new form with the most creative group I’ve ever worked with, now blessed to continue the job. I can’t wait to see it.

In the meantime, I hope this issue lives up to that standard. Think of it as a gathering of teachers and classmates, old friends and new. Like a Commencement party. You know the scene: Music is playing, snacks are on the table, drinks are in the cooler, stories are swapped, pictures are shown, absent friends are remembered. 

The host, with many things to tend to, is leaving a little early. Like any Wabash graduate, he’s wondering what might be next, driven by that “hunger to know” that’s been stoked here. He looks back for a moment, listens for those voices he will carry with him. He’s wondering how the hell a kid once so scared of people that he had to hide in a box got so lucky, learned so much, met some of the best friends he’ll ever have. He imagines seeing them again someday when he has new stories of his own to share.

That thought keeps him walking.

Thanks for coming to the party. 

Editor |