Letters to the Editor
A lasting impression
I am a former Kenyon student, Class of 1985, and read the haunted Old Kenyon fire stories in the Fall 2007 Bulletin. The article mentions "paranormal investigator" Lori Schillig's visit to campus in 1999, when she "picked up a strong intuitive impression of a person falling or jumping from a window."
In 1984 or perhaps 1983, there was another fire in Old Kenyon that I started (drunk with a cigarette in bed). Fortunately, no one but me was hurt. In addition to smoke inhalation and a few small burns, I suffered cut feet and a cracked pelvis from, you guessed it, falling from the third floor window.
The Collegian did an article on it at the time. It's an embarrassing footnote to my unfinished career at Kenyon. I did eventually sober up (more than twenty years now) and had a kid (eight years now). On the plus side, it was thanks to my irresponsibility and recklessness that smoke detectors were finally installed in Old Kenyon. I don't know if I was the "impression" that Lori Shillig picked up on, but I thought I would throw my two cents into the "it is said" lore of Old Kenyon. Lastly, I'd like to say that even though I did not graduate from Kenyon, my three years there were a vital learning experience, spiritually, emotionally, and academically.
--Jim Gibson 1985
One cute football team
The Fall 2007 issue of the Alumni Bulletin is just packed with wonderful photographs. I especially loved Howard Korn's portraits of Professor Serfass and Professor Turgeon as well as Emily Zeller's sublime photo of the 1947 football team--five of the cutest guys I ever saw in my life.
--Susan "Siouxsie" Hillenbrand Avallon '85
Singing Sunday songs
An a cappella singing group was very active when I was a student, and it preceded those in your KQ trivia question published in the fall Bulletin. I believe it was led by a student, Gordon E. Brown '53, who subsequently entered medical school. I am in possession of a recording labeled "Songs of Kenyon, The Kenyon Singers, Paul Schwartz, Ph.D., director."
I'm certain that there must have been other groups preceding the early 1950s. In the early years, Gambier was not a very exciting place to be, and singing college songs after Sunday lunch in the Great Hall (first seating only) was as close at it could come to being a highlight of the week.
--Lewis Portnoy '55
A visual delight
A month or so ago, my wife and I were strolling through an old warehouse building in Sarasota which has been converted into antique dealer stalls. Rounding a corner, I found myself mesmerized by a Metropolitan Museum of Art photo print. It was Steichen's The Flatiron. I kept glancing at it again and again and quickly purchased it.
A somewhat kindred experience befell me upon the arrival of Volume 30 Number 1 of the Alumni Bulletin (Fall 2007). The entire issue is a visual delight. Great organization and choice of graphic elements and photos and their croppings and positioning. The overall graphic design was exceedingly well crafted, methinks, and the result is a most appealing communion of modernity, human interest, and academe. The "Haunted Kenyon" cover photo is splendid, and I've found myself glancing at it repeatedly on the coffee table where it sits.
The Bulletin's prose continues, remarkably, to improve with the graphics that cradle it so well. I'd grade the issue summa cum. Congratulations to editor Shawn Presley and his staff.
--John Hartman '47
Good ghosts and good men
I enjoyed your stories of "Haunted Kenyon" (Fall 2007). I want, however, to expand on your story of the Old Kenyon fire--not to correct you, but to provide a firsthand account and pay tribute to a real hero of that night, Edward H. Stansfield Jr. '52.
Ed awoke me in my room in Leonard, where we were pledging Beta Theta Pi. He had me look out the window, exclaiming that Old Kenyon was on fire. I saw a glowing in a first-floor window, threw on some clothes over my pajamas, and looked out the window again. By that time, four of five windows were showing fire behind them.
The dance that night was called an informal dance, and many Kenyon men, including myself, did not have a date. Instead, as assistant to Richard Shirk '49, the campus photographer, I took photos at the dance, using all but one sheet of film in the film holders for my 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 Speed Graphic. I had purchased it from Dick when he bought his 4 x 5 Graphic. Sadly, two of the last conversations I had that night on the sidelines of the dance were with Jack McDonald and Ed Brout, both of whom perished.
As soon as I dressed, I dashed out with my camera and the one sheet of film in its holder, and snapped the first picture of the fire, which was later used to determine where the fire started.
Back to Ed Stansfield. He had whoever was holding the ineffective fire hose in front of Middle Kenyon spray him with the water to offer some protection, then he dashed into the building and proceeded to pound on bedroom doors. He later told me he found George Pincus standing in his burning room and led him outside. George, however, succumbed to his burns. Ed's leather jacket had some of George's skin adhered to the shoulder, where he held on as Ed led him out. I don't know how many others made it out due to Ed waking them, but he will always be remembered by me as a true hero and my best college friend.
Dean Frank Bailey was also a hero that night, organizing, directing, and comforting us the next morning along with many of the dates coming back on campus from the Pines and other lodgings. The sight that awaited them could hardly be believed. Naked chimneys of scarred brick, previously covered over, showing them what were individual room fireplaces; giant, long bolts that held the buttresses from bowing out, now drooping from almost melting in the intense heat.
You have probably read the news reports and other descriptions--the flames more than two hundred feet over the roof, eating over the tops of firewalls to then consume both wings. No archival report can describe completely the horror of that night. My classmates and I will never be able to forget.
If there are ghosts from that fire, I can only feel they are good ghosts because they were good Kenyon men.
--F. Wain Harrison '52
Dispelling the Poltergeist myth
I enjoyed Wendy MacLeod's 'Haunted Kenyon' story in the fall issue of the Bulletin. In fact, when I was reading it, I got so spooked I had to get up and turn on the TV (because unlike what we learned in Poltergeist, it chases ghosts AWAY). It was genius reporting to go into the security files. I wondered if Wendy received any stories about Ascension? When I was at Kenyon, stories were told about the sound of footsteps following you down the center stairwell late at night. I felt it one night, or so I imagined, but I can't remember what the story was behind the ghosts there. Thanks for an enjoyable read!
--Deirdre van Dyk '85
Bravo for local-foods effort
My wife Janet and I receive the Bulletin as parents of a member of the Class of 2005 (J. Geoffrey) and former members of the Parents Advisory Council, and I was engrossed by the article "Along Local Roads" (Fall 2007) about Kenyon's initiatives to work with local farmers and to use their produce in the campus dining service and in broader collaborations.
As a professor of educational leadership who studies college presidents and as a former student affairs administrator, I have known of many good ideas that have floated in and out of campuses over the last three decades and more. Projects such as this, especially those involving multiple players and planning steps, do not happen by good luck or fortune. They happen because good ideas, whether percolated up from informed and interested members of communities--as is primarily the case with the Kenyon program--or pushed top-down, or a combination, are actually enacted and integrated into the administrative and management systems of an organization.
Though obviously still on the road to full development, awaiting the long needed renovations of Peirce and the completion of plans for the regional facility in Mount Vernon with Kenyon as a strategic partner, this is a ground-breaking story in the annals of the life of campuses across the country. Former President Rob Oden had the foresight earlier this decade to raise the issue and do something about the preservation of farmland and open spaces around the College. Though I don't know the full inside scoop, this program must also have had the leadership support of President Georgia Nugent and her core administrative cabinet, including those responsible for managing the relatively new campus dining service group and the dining staff itself. Clearly faculty and students, including some early student instigators from Geoff's class, have also contributed their vision and volunteer interests, as well as their learning and knowledge, to the cause.
Bravo to Kenyon for its leadership in an important environmental, economic, and community effort that, among other things, brings "gown" together with "town," and that shows that the ivory tower can and should extend itself to the broader world.
--Stephen J. Nelson P'05
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