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WM Dear Old Wabash


As I loobacat over 20 years in the Archives at Wabash, I see thousands of stories still untold. To me, it is always about the story. Yes, we house a lot of facts and figures—lists of clubs, fraternities, athletic teams, and more. We have photographs—thousands of photos of students, faculty and staff, teams, glee clubs, visitors to campus, events, and even the landscape. But what these photos represent are stories. 

I have written about the great and the good, the known alumnus, and the fellow who was not widely known outside of his sphere of influence. Take the story of Tiny Knee W1924 as an example. From a blog post I wrote about him: “As a senior at Wabash, Tiny was a member of the four-man team which won the 880-yard and medley relay at the Drake Relays in Iowa. On campus, Tiny was a big man. He studied psychology, served on the student council and as president of the Athletic Association, and was a member of Kappa Sigma and the Little Giants Club. 

“More than just a great athlete, Tiny was also a great man. For 40 years he coached in Ripley, Tennessee, and is described in a half-page Happy Birthday ad placed in the Ripley paper by the local bank in 1968 as, ‘Outstanding coach in football and basketball, and a prime mover in the development of track and field sports in West Tennessee. Planner and builder of one of the state’s most beautiful sports arenas, named after him, Irvin Knee Field, and one of this area’s outstanding recreational complexes, known after him, as Tiny Town.’” 

I have had the chance to study, in depth, Will Harrison Hays W1900, president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors and head of the Hays Office, which enacted a production code for the movies. More than just a censor, Hays was at the center of Hollywood for more than 20 years. 

Byron Price W1912 was in charge of the World War II Office of Censorship, created to ensure that sensitive defense information did not appear in the press. Price responded to President Theodore Roosevelt’s plea to head the office by saying that the system must be voluntary. He thought, given the chance, the press would cooperate in this war effort. 

At the time of WWII there existed magazines, newspapers, radio, and movies. Price was in charge of the first three and Hays had the last one covered. During the war, every bit of media in America was overseen by Wabash men. And both were Phi Delts! 

One morning, as I came in, the phone was ringing. It was a fellow from the National Biography Project wanting information on Andrew Jackson Moyer W1922. It seems Moyer was instrumental in the industrial production of penicillin during WWII. 

Or there is the story of one of our greatest archival treasures—an original poster of the first Notre Dame University vs. Wabash College football game. Notre Dame beat the pants off us 30–0, but the poster survived and it is a fragile beauty. I did a post on this rivalry, featuring an article by Dick Banta W1926. 

Dick Hughes ’65 read the post, which included a very bad picture of the old poster. Hughes contacted me to see if Wabash might want the original poster. “We sure do!” I answered. The poster formerly hung in the cafeteria of the Ball Brothers department store in Muncie, Indiana. When it closed, a friend of Hughes’ attended the auction and bought the poster for him. We took the poster to Chicago for preservation treatment and conservation framing. It was then that we discovered that on the back of the poster was a letter from a Notre Dame player to his parents, reporting on the game. The poster is now safely double framed for our visitors to enjoy both the poster on the front and the letter on the back. 

I have made some very good friends while at Wabash. There is Jon Pactor ’71, perhaps the greatest friend to the Archives. Jon and his wife, Andrea, paid for the digitization of the historic Bachelor newspaper from its founding in 1908 up through 2010. The digitized issues are now loaded onto a platform accessible on the alumni web page via the e-services section. With a Wabash login, you can search more than 100 years of student journalism. What did grandpa do at Wabash? Look him up. What about the national championship basketball team—the first one in 1922? Look it up. 

The Pactors have recently made another significant gift dedicated to the preservation of Wabash’s archival materials. They are true friends of the history of Wabash. 

There is Jim Rader ’60, who, as a student, stumbled onto the fact that Ezra Pound taught here in the early 1900s. He wrote a Bachelor Pan-Hel article on the subject, which led to a lifelong research project on the life of the troubled poet. 

Or there is Moe Brand ’57, who, not long after I started here, sent along an Arvin countertop clock radio—a wedding gift from Frank Sparks, former president of Arvin. Later, when Brand came back for Big Bash, he came to visit his radio. We have been friends ever since. 

Getting to know Dick Ristine ’41 is perhaps one of my greatest delights. That man knew and lived more history than any other single member of the Wabash family. Descended from a founder, son of the treasurer of the College, and nephew to Insley Osborne, revered professor of English in the first half of the 20th century, Ristine saw and heard a great deal of history. As he visited the College for the last time, I was privileged to chat with him. Sharp as ever and with a welcoming smile, Dick was, even at the end, the epitome of a Wabash man. 

As I come to the end of my career here, my only regret is the many stories still out there. Because in the end, each member of the Wabash family has a unique story. As they say, so many stories…so little time. 

Beth Swift | Archivist for the College