Letters to the Editor
A magical hometown
I greatly appreciated "Terms Of Endearment," the Editor's Page of the Winter 2008 Bulletin. I have often found myself at a loss for words when someone questions my deeply rooted love for Gambier and Kenyon College. To those who have never been, it is just a little dot on the map, but for me it's where I grew up. It's where my family, for generations, have farmed and lived. The village is "home" in the greatest sense.
Even as a young Wiggin Street Warrior, I knew there was something magical about my hometown. The people and the landscape were unlike anywhere else I'd been, and I remember feeling lucky.
Autumn has always been my favorite time of year. Although I do not get back to visit nearly as often as I'd like, the character of Gambier is something I truly cherish.
Water balloons, riots, and memory lane
I rarely do more with the Alumni Bulletin than scan the class notes and obits to see if I recognize any names. However, "Only at Kenyon" (Winter 2008) caught my attention. During my years on the Hill, there definitely was an A**hole of the Year Contest at the conclusion of Spring Dance Weekend, though attendance was sparse due to the fatigue/drunkenness factor. The "honor" was generally awarded by acclamation.
I was a member of the Delta Phi fraternity and there was a "water bagging machine." Victims were more surprised than hurt and were able to laugh it off. However, there were occasions when some of the big athletes in Leonard Hall took offense and marched across the way to clean house on the perpetrators. By the way, the "machine" was so powerful that on a good day it could launch a balloon over Leonard Hall onto the road behind. This opened up the possibility of trying to lob a balloon onto unsuspecting traffic (convertibles?).
I specifically remember a spring riot in 1968 or 1969. Some DPhis broke out the bagging machine, and the audience loved watching who would be the next unsuspecting victim. Then everyone began to break out the beer. The Delts or Betas produced fireworks, which were set off from a tree. Unfortunately, the tree caught on fire in kind of a smoldering way, so the well-meaning drunks began to take turns feeding the fire. By nightfall, half the campus was standing around outside.
At one point our beloved security guard got chased from the area when the crowd began to chant his name. Eventually, Dean Edwards appeared and began to pace a circle around the quad and instruct everyone to return to their dorms and go about their business. He had the presence to pull that off, and thus the "riot" ended.
Thanks for the stroll down memory lane!
--Bill Kobelak '69
The trestle party and the train
I thoroughly enjoyed your article about Kenyon traditions ("Only at Kenyon," Winter 2008) and think I can flesh out a few of the items.
About bagging, you emphasize projectiles directed from Hanna Hall toward Leonard Hall. My recollection is that the preponderance of air power was in the opposite direction, and involved more water-filled balloons than dry cleaning bags. (Dry cleaning? Kenyon?) I believe it was the residents of Middle Leonard who were accountable for the ultimate escalation of baggie weaponry--surgical tubing. This alarming advance in guidance-system technology, air velocity, and explosive force was tantamount to going nuclear.
You cite "a story about a group of students" who once stopped a train during a trestle party on the Kokosing. The story is true. I was an eyewitness, though my sensory acuity at the moment might justifiably have been called into question. The participants were Delts. It was the first warm day of spring, probably in 1967. The rest, regrettably, is a bit of a blur. I do recall that when the provost of the College and the Knox County sheriff arrived on the scene, the revelry was still in progress.
The principal apprehension afterwards was that the impromptu trestle party would cast Delta Tau Delta into another long period of social probation, a status all too familiar to the fraternity in those years. Dean Edwards, a good man, chose instead to assign blame individually.
I wish the Beta Rock, which squatted heavily between Leonard and Old Kenyon, had found its way into your story. There was even a song about the Beta Rock. The lyrics were a fervent call to the particular bodily exertions required to make the massive rock seaworthy.
--John Carman '68
"Win with 'Guin!"
You did a good job covering the A**hole of the Year event, which, as you noted, reached its apex in the late 1960s ("Only at Kenyon"). I well remember it, though I never attended the event.
Still, what fascinated me was the level of politicking that actually went on. Naturally, no candidate was promoting himself. This was done by others bent on belittling him. Much of the work was done by word of mouth and crude signs and posters. However, one "campaign" clearly sticks out in my memory. This was for some poor guy who, by the gait of his waddling walk, was nicknamed "The Penguin." This became the basis for an imaginary and far-reaching campaign based on the slogan "Win with 'Guin!" There were even campaign stickers to this effect, carrying the longer motto: "Win with 'Guin! The 'Guin is a Heinous Anus! Get to know the 'Guin--in a few moments you will discover that he is YOUR MAN for this year's race!"
I never did learn if The 'Guin won.
--Stephen Christy '71
Aqua regia and the well cap
I read "Only at Kenyon" with much delight. It seems that there will always be some evolution in college traditions, but there is much of the same DNA. A couple of things come to mind.
Regarding fighting back in the 1920s, there was some remnant in '67-'68. The Betas for a time held Tuesday Night Fights in which various members of the frat would wear sixteen-ounce gloves (more like pillows) and flail at each other.
I also recall that shortly after Philander's Well was capped, there was a riot devoted to that sacrilege. The cap was some black metal that was unceremoniously placed there by someone unknown. At the riot, state police appeared, to no avail. Someone procured aqua regia from the chemistry lab and poured it onto the cap. Goodbye, cap. Ultimately, however, The System prevailed and the cap was replaced by the engraved piece that is there now. It was painful for us to see an end to the tradition of urinating in the well on the way to take our Lake Erie College dates to their rooms in local homes.
Other riots were caused by Charlie Imel's decision, as Gambier constable, to put an end to jaywalking in "downtown" Gambier, and by the expulsion of one of our more beloved characters, who will write in and confess if he wants to be identified. A fourth riot broke out just because it was spring, I would guess. That cost us the fabled Rally Tree.
The "bagging" segment is cause for dispute. The DPhis were mere rookies at the art. They were the target of Beta marksmen, particularly Mike Walker, Jay Natoli, and Dave Bushnell. The "student's mother" may actually have been my father, who was just missed by an atomic bag (the plastic insert from a two-and-a-half-gallon milk box). Mindless Mick dropped it and thought I would kill him. My father thought it was the funniest thing he had seen in a while. Peace reigned.
--Thomas Arthur "the Octopus" Hensley '68
Editor's Note: A number of alumni told us about the demonstration that erupted spontaneously one spring Sunday in 1964, after newly appointed Gambier Marshal Charles Imel began fining students for jaywalking and parking violations. David Foote '66 gave the College archives a newspaper clipping describing the event, along with a letter that he wrote to his parents at the time. (See his letter to the editor, below.) The newspaper article noted that students blocked the road, tore up and brandished stop signs, and marched to Imel's home, where they chanted and sang--but refrained from walking on a freshly seeded section of the front lawn. Charles "Chuck" Imel came to Kenyon in 1938 as the College's first regular swimming coach.
Uproar at the well
I believe that spring riot began with the march to Chuck Imel's home. The following spring we had another riot. On March 27, 1965, I turned twenty-one. After celebrating all over town, George "Terry" Irwin and I were walking back to Leonard. When we reached Philander's Well, we were appalled.
Recently the College had tried unsuccessfully to fill in the well, but students had opened it every time. But here in front of us was a much more sinister apparatus. The hole was covered by a large metal disk and it was not movable. We went in search of a pickax. I will not tell you where we found the implement, as breaking and entering was necessary (remember, we had been drinking for many hours). Unfortunately, the pickax was useless. The disk would not move.
We returned to Leonard and started making up flyers (it was about 2:00 a.m. at this point). The flyers said something like "the rape of Philander's Well." I don't remember how or where we put the flyers, but by lunch the campus was in an uproar and everyone was gathering around the well, blocking traffic. People were shouting, "Riot, riot," and the crowd grew. Eventually President Lund showed up, and, pipe in hand, he promised to have a suitable marker replace the blank disk. That was the second spring riot.
If we had a spring riot in 1966, I must have missed it. I was busy with comps, and I spent most of my time in the library. Of course, at some point the Delts pushed a piano out of the Delt Lounge (top floor of Leonard); that was quite a feat. Brought all sorts of people to watch, but I don't know if it occurred in '66 or earlier.
--Dave Foote '66
Senior Boys Tea
Let me tell you of my own experience at the trestle in the spring of 1960, my senior year.
The awarding of the cup to the "best," or at least the most outrageous, drinker among the seniors that year was an event not to be missed. The event was called Senior Boys Tea and always occurred early morning on Sunday following the spring dance.
I was proceeding down the hill toward the Kokosing and the trestle when I tripped and slid down the path. Only later did I realize I had sprained my left ankle. Self-nominations had already begun, and a senior was atop the trestle proclaiming why he and no one else deserved the cup--a real cup, by the way. Undaunted, I proceeded to climb up next to him, a drink in hand.
When he finished, I started my own nominating speech, but before I really got into it I found myself on the way down into the river amidst the cheers of the crowd along the river bank. I came up, glass still in hand, and made my way to shore fully expecting to receive the award. Had I not come up with glass still in hand? But, alas and alack, I had been pushed by a townie. He was soundly thrashed by a fraternity brother (we of the now long-gone ALO fraternity) and later was arrested when it was discovered that he had been robbing things. The award went to the previous speaker.
Back at our house (several of us lived off campus), I discovered that in addition to the sprained ankle I had a fairly deep gash along my left buttock from having brushed against a steel rod sticking up from the river bed. Imagine if I had landed just a bit to the right! And you can imagine what I had to explain to the nurse in the emergency room at the Mount Vernon hospital!
--J. Thomas Moore '60
A safe place for religious questions
The moderate and thoughtful treatment of religion ("A Quest for Higher Meaning," Winter 2008) is a much-needed antidote to some aspects of our contemporary American culture. I was a student at Kenyon in the mid to late 1980s. For the most part, I would say that the College had a neutral stance on religion, the student body as a whole had a neutral or dismissive attitude, and the faculty had a neutral attitude or they just wanted to avoid the topic.
For my part, I was and still am a deeply religious person. I am the son, grandson, and great-nephew of Episcopal priests. I started studying Buddhism in seventh grade and started reading philosophy in high school. In the summer after my freshman year, I started studying with Native American religious elders in Montana and Saskatchewan, and I continue to learn from these elders each summer.
I liked Karl Stevens's depiction of the "night campus." I worked in higher education for seven years on two different small, isolated campuses. Students are looking for safe places where they can explore big questions and share their personal perspectives. They are ripe for such exploration of religion, even if their answer to religion is "no." The natural beauty of Gambier encourages this kind of personal growth. Kenyon did not have these kinds of safe spaces when I was a student. I am pleased that they can be found today.
Kenyon was founded on a religious impulse. "He climbed the Hill and said a prayer and founded Kenyon College there," goes the song. I hope that the Bulletin occasionally addresses religion as it is lived by students, faculty, and alumni.
--Eric Williams '89
The Kenyon I remember
What a delightful issue of the Alumni Bulletin (Winter 2008)! Jeff Corwin's beautiful photos ("Golden Season") brought memories cascading, as did Dan Laskin's "Only at Kenyon."
On warm autumn days, a bunch of us climbed the trestle and dipped in the Kokosing in our undershorts. The possibility of an occasional freight train gave an added frisson of excitement. I remember the fraternities singing on Middle Path. Sad that that is no more. Rosse Hall, which Corwin captured so beautifully in that autumn light, reminded me of movie nights. And I love that the dear old chapel has remained as it was. I did a lot of walking and dreaming on the then-unpaved country roads that radiated from the Hill. Kenyon is a different place now, but thank you for bringing back the one I remember.
--Art Johnson '55
Better than good enough
I remember Professor [Maxwell Elliott] Power from my courses when Charles Thornton was the senior professor ("Magic in the Matrix," Winter 2008). Thornton was working on limb regeneration with salamanders and frogs, and I assume Power continued in that study. Power was very thorough in his teaching and meticulous in helping students with such things as preparing tissues for cutting with the microtome, transferring to slides, and properly staining and finishing the slides. We learned, step by step, the tedious process of leaving the specimen in each of many solutions for specified time intervals.
When I started medical school, I felt better prepared than many of my classmates. I was very saddened when Maxwell Power died prematurely. There is an old saying that "perfection is the enemy of good enough." However, I believe, and have taught my students, that good enough is not good enough. Professor Power believed this and he pushed us to do better, which at times was tough, but that's why Kenyon is so wonderful.
--Ira Eliasoph '48
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