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Fall 2019: From Center Hall: Men of Vision



In listening to alumni on the road and alumni, students, faculty, and staff from the on-campus community and from across the generations, I’ve noticed that three values almost always come up.

Not long after we announced the upcoming construction of the new $13 million Little Giant Stadium, Football Head Coach Don Morel received an email from Mike Perkins ’80. Mike was excited by the news. “It is time for a better facility,” he said. “I have wanted to see a new stadium for years. 

“But now that it is time to say good-bye, I can’t help but feel a bit sorry to see it go.”

Mike had attended games at the stadium for 51 of its 54 years. He could recall where he sat with his father during his first game there on September 20, 1969, and much more: 

“As I look around this stadium, I see where my parents and brother sat at all the games,” he wrote. “I see where Bill and Ginny Hays and Barney and Fran Hollett sat at every game. I still see in my mind the times when President Thaddeus Seymour stepped out in front of the home crowd at a critical moment in the game and yelled, ‘Give me a W!...’ and the crowd’s response was so loud that ‘WABASH’ would echo through the stadium. I still see President Lewis Salter playing drums in the pep band. I see Rem Johnston, the Big Cookie, with camera in hand, taking hundreds of photos…” 

Mike’s reverie is particularly moving because what he remembers is not a stadium, but the people in it. Fans whose common bond was not just cheering for the Little Giants, but the great education they either received, supported, or taught at this place. The structure and the field were the frame for a much bigger picture. 

i was reminded of how much of our memory at a college is embodied in material culture. That’s not unique to Wabash, but here it is, let’s just say, giant-sized. Think of the Center Hall steps—not just the image, but the feel of the handrail and the slight give of the steps, not to mention the sound when dozens of students descend them. They’re like the portkeys at Hogwarts—objects you can touch that instantaneously take you to a different time and place. 

Not all traditions and touchstones evoke such fond recollection. There was a junior fence here for a long time, site of the Frosh- Soph Scrap. From more recent history, I don’t hear too many happy reminiscences of the greased pole fight. 

On the other hand, I recall a photo of Jean Williams H’53 watching the demolition of Waugh Hall in 2000. Jean said she was proud to see Wabash ride “the wave of the future,” and all knew that Hays Hall was a vastly superior facility to serve our biology, chemistry, and biochemistry students. Yet think about the memories of her husband, Elliott (“Bugsy”) Williams and his students that must have been flowing through her mind at that moment. 

But buildings and traditions may come and go as long as their absence does not alter or diminish the deep-seated values of the institution. We will pause, honor, and find ways to remember them, but we will continue with our mission as a College, and if our decisions are wise, we’ll be stronger for the next generation of students. 

what are those values? What is that deep well the College draws from that gives us life? I’ve spent the last year traveling across the country to more than 30 cities for events for the Giant Steps Campaign as this issue goes to press. In listening to alumni on the road and alumni, students, faculty, and staff from the on-campus community, I’ve noticed that three values rise to the top across the generations. 

First is an exceptional liberal arts education. 

Second is a holistic education, educating not only the mind, but, as President William Patterson Kane said, “the man himself”— mind, body, and spirit, in the classroom and outside, on- and off-campus, and as embodied by the Gentleman’s Rule. 

The third is an exceptionally dedicated, student-centered faculty—teachers and scholars. 

These are the springs that feed that deep well and fill the cup we all drink from. 

They also are the springs that are fed by the generous alumni, faculty, staff, students, and friends who have given to the Giant Steps campaign, which has raised nearly $177 million of our $225 million goal. 

When I’m on the road I’ll occasionally hear alumni concerned about what they are reading in the newspapers about higher education. They worry that we must have climbing walls and lazy rivers here, too, like at some other colleges—that the education is not what it once was. And it’s not—it’s better. The faculty is stronger than it has ever been, and the students are deeply engaged, creative, working hard, and achieving on campus and off. The latest rankings in Princeton Review and College Factual place our academic departments and career services as good as or better than they have ever been, and graduates are reaching their first destinations after Wabash at record rates. 

The best way to confirm the strength of today’s Wabash is to see it for yourself— return to campus. There’s always a good reason to come home. 

Once in a while at these Giant Steps events I’ve given an alum this assignment: “Reach out to a good friend from Wabash. You’ve got two weeks.” Another time I took a picture of one alum and sent it to the person he had said was one of his best friends at Wabash. I texted, “You guys need to talk.” And they did. 12 

Perhaps that’s a fourth essential value—Wabash men are brothers, those connections are the greatest gift we give them, and they draw strength from one another long after they graduate. 

an exceptional liberal arts education. A holistic education. A dedicated, student-centered faculty. The Giant Steps Campaign is making great strides in supporting this essence of the Wabash experience. As president it is my responsibility to sustain these essential values. When we get it right, alumni and their families for generations to come will return to campus from lives profoundly enriched by their Wabash education. They’ll see this new iteration of Little Giant Stadium, or our re-imagined Lilly Library or other new learning spaces that frame their own fond memories. They’ll stand with the friends they made here, each recalling the teachers and others who changed their lives. They’ll be men of vision—men with grateful hearts, educated in mind, body, and spirit, who have shaped our world and future for the better. 

GREGORY HESS President |