Spring 2008: From the Editor
July 10, 2008
I know the town of Wallace, Indiana—population 100 and proud home of 2003 Indiana State Fair Queen Christy Ellis—as two people: Nancy Sharpe, a co-worker here at Wabash who died too young, still carrying her second child; and church friend Dave Yerkes, who spent part of his childhood in Wallace, living in a two-room house with a wood stove for heat. Dave’s grandfather hunted and raised rabbits for food. He’d skin them, then hang them from the clothesline. In the winter they’d freeze there, and Dave remembers waking up to the sound of them clinking together like wind chimes.
I can’t drive through this little town 20 minutes west of Craw-fordsville without thinking of Nancy, Dave, and those musical rabbits. That’s why I love small towns: the human scale of them. Jim Heynen captures it in this issue’s A Man’s Life: "I loved the fact that people in my small-town world still knew who they were talking to if they dialed a wrong number."
The indigenous people of Chiapas, Mexico, name landmarks, trees, even bends in the road after friends, relatives, or the important human events that took place there. Small towns are like that: As I walk home from the College past the homes of friends and the places we have worked, celebrated, grieved, rested, and dreamed, their names and faces come to my mind, if not my lips.
When I moved my family to Crawfordsville in the 90s, I wrote to my father, "This is a town you can get your arms around." And through some remarkable teachers, counselors, priests, and friends, in times both difficult and wonderful, Crawfordsville has wrapped her arms around my family, too.
Yet at a time when people yearn for the sense community small towns can provide, many of those places are struggling, even dying.
Heynen is not surprised: "Those of us who grew up in real small towns know they are a mixed bag." Certainly African Americans who lived in Indiana in through the mid-20th century have a different take on the state’s "quaint" villages. "Sundown towns," where non-whites were not allowed to even pass through except during the day, pockmarked the Midwest. In My Town: Memories, Professor David Blix ’70 recalls an important lesson learned when his father encountered racism at a local club in the 1960s, and this issue’s remembrances of Professors Paul Mielke and Stephen Kurtz recall their work for civil rights not only in the South, but in Crawfordsville.
But in the 1990s when the Ku Klan Klan showed up to rally, it was Crawfordsville town folks (Wabash faculty, staff, and alumni among them) who turned the racists away with the first of the town’s annual Celebrations of Diversity, an event that took on even more urgency as the town’s Hispanic population began to grow. And today, as you’ll read here, student journalist Gary James ’10, an African American from a small town in Alabama, doesn’t hesitate to call Crawfordsville "my town."
Gary is one of a growing number of students, faculty, staff, and alumni who find the best way to live out the College’s mission—the way to let it take root in your soul—is to practice it here in the College’s hometown.
President Pat White writes in this issue’s From Center Hall that "to worry about small places is not mere nostalgia…It reveals an understanding of what the human spirit needs to thrive."
One of many initiatives currently under consideration for the College’s new Strategic Plan includes the notion of Wabash being "a catalyst to assist local leadership in developing a vision for Crawfordsville and Montgomery County and their positive relationships with the College." Such an initiative could be a critical step for a College whose mission is "to act responsibly and live humanely," a College that was born in, saved by, and will always live in a small town.
Thanks for reading.
Steve Charles | Editor