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A Summit at The Hotel
Written October 8, 2018

 

When I was a student at Oberlin College, there was a lodge at the corner of College and Main Streets called the Oberlin Inn.

It resembled a 20th-century motel with an upscale restaurant.

Neighboring it to the north was the 501-seat Hall Auditorium with its 75-seat little theater.

Recently the Oberlin Inn has been replaced by a brand-new building officially named the Peter B. Lewis Gateway Center.  Below we see how it appeared during construction.

The restaurant is now “1833” (the year the college was founded), and the rest of the inn is “The Hotel at Oberlin” (with its entrance away from the corner).

The wing in the foreground houses the college's Admissions Office on the ground floor and the Center for Convergence above it.

I would describe the Center for Convergence as a collection of various-sized glass-walled classrooms in which all the tables and chairs are on wheels.  Functionally, however, we can say it's “a modern and flexible educational space.”  Its purpose (take a deep breath) is “to refine the art of creative and integrative multidisciplinary inquiry in students as a means for them to interpret and address social, cultural, artistic, political, and scientific questions.”  They call it StudiOC.

The last two letters stand for Oberlin College, so they should be articulated separately, right?  “Studi  O.C.”?  But no, it's pronounced “Studio C.”  Sounds like it ought to be part of the radio station.


I'm a member of the Planning Committee for the 50th reunion of my Class of 1969, to take place in May 2019.  Eight months in advance of the reunion, we got to stay at The Hotel at Oberlin for a weekend.  The event was called the Alumni Reunion Planning Summit because others were there too, including another 50th-reunion committee from the Class of 1970.

Most of our meals and meetings were held on the second floor.  Some had a view of Tappan Square from the spacious Tappan Room, which is behind the glass wall on the left of the photo below.

Others were in the smaller Lucy Stone Room.  I've drawn a blue rectangle to outline this meeting room's location.

Within the lobby of the building, a network of green glass marbles climbs the low ceiling and vertical wall enclosing Lucy Stone.  I didn't notice any plaque explaining this decorative motif, but it seems artistic.


Our welcome dinner was on Friday evening, September 28, 2018.  We learned that the main library over at the Seeley G. Mudd Center, which everyone calls the “Mudd library,” would henceforth have its very own name to honor a member of the Class of '84 — a famous person of whom I'd never heard.

It's now the “Terrell Main Library,” named for Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954).

Of course, she was in Oberlin's Class of Eighteen-eighty-four.  She was one of the first African-American women to earn a college degree.

Mrs. Terrell became an activist for racial equality and women's suffrage in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  That's her on the right at the age of 89 on a picket line protesting restaurant segregation in the District of Columbia in 1952.


The next morning, I woke up before dawn and turned on CNN to see what was happening in the world.  I usually keep the TV volume low to avoid disturbing folks in neighboring rooms, so I use the Closed Captioning feature in order to read what the newscasters are saying.  The CC wasn't very useful at first; there must have been an inexperienced operator transcribing the words, because they were largely garbled nonsense.  But then a more competent operator must have come on duty at 6:00 AM. 

The skies began to brighten.  This was the view from my window overlooking The Hotel's entrance, where the drop-off roundabout was blocked off by orange traffic cones and yellow tape.  The lighted windows on the left are on the stairway landing leading to StudiOC.  Silhouetted against the sky is the tilted fly tower of Hall Auditorium.  But on the near side of the auditorium, a new wing is nearing completion:  the Eric Baker Nord Performing Arts Annex.

From another angle later in the day, the metal on the front of the Nord Annex dazzlingly reflects the sun.  The new wing includes rehearsal spaces, new restrooms and dressing rooms, a costume shop, and a scene shop — all much needed. 

And it adds an intermediate-sized performance space for an audience of 250 to 300 people, the highly-adaptable Irene & Alan Wurtzel Theater.  The Wurtzel's gala opening is scheduled for December 13 with a performance of Cabaret, a musical composed by John Kander of Oberlin's Class of 1951.


At noon, part of our committee left The Hotel to check out some of the event spaces we were planning to use in May.  I wasn't sure I wanted to tag along because I tend to tire when walking very far, but as it turned out I made the 1.3-mile round trip with no ill effects.

The midpoint was at the Knowlton Athletic Center, in a room I described here as a “glassed-in clubhouse and social suite for VIPs.”  There we ate a buffet lunch while a field hockey game was in progress.

I sat next to Biz Glenn Harralson, who inquired about my work in TV graphics for live sports.  She uses Closed Captioning because of partial hearing loss, and she asked whether my job is like that (it isn't).  She noted that CC is especially helpful when the spoken words are in an unfamiliar accent, such as British.  However, it can be out of sync during live programs being transcribed in real time; the printed words are necessarily delayed from the spoken words, and a frustrated Biz sometimes gives up.


Back at The Hotel that afternoon, we heard a panel of five current students describe what it's like on campus today.

You know how soldiers are required to identify themselves by name, rank, and serial number?  It seems that collegians nowadays introduce themselves by name, class, and pronouns.  This is to avoid inadvertently disrespecting each other's gender identity.  “I'm Kam Dunbar, Class of 2019, and I use he/him/his.”

And, of course, there are no more freshmen, only “first-year students.”


That evening's dinner was just for the 50-year committees.  I chose to mingle, joining a table of slightly younger alumni.  To my right were the presidents of the Classes of 1970 and 1971, Mark Christensen and Jan Weintraub Cobb, both of whom I remembered from our days at WOBC Radio.  And then another WOBC alum from the Class of 1970 arrived and sat down on my left. 

Michael J. Lythcott had used his commanding voice to host several different DJ shows.  I had forgotten the details until I checked my collection of old Program Guides, but it turns out that during February through April of my senior year, Mike actually had the shift ahead of me.  After his late-Tuesday-night “Soul Patrol,” the station left the air at 2:00 a.m. until I signed back on at 7:00 with Wednesday's “Sunrise!”

The previous semester, Mike had spun records on Monday afternoons (“Soul Rendezvous”), and as a sophomore he'd been in the Friday-dawn time slot (“Soul Sunrise”).

At the dinner, he regaled us with his life story.  He told about growing up black in Oklahoma City, when the high school prom was mysteriously canceled but the white kids held their own dance.  Also in the early 1960s, his grandfather Dr. George Lythcott spent six years in West Africa.  Michael visited Ghana, where he talked with the famed activist W.E.B. Du Bois, a family friend who gave advice to “little Lythcott.”  We told him he should write a memoir or at least record an oral history. 


Saturday night featured an Alumni-Student Networking Reception at StudiOC for general career advice.  For example, I talked with an Asian student who shared some of my interests in electronics and broadcasting.


At breakfast on Sunday, Manuel Carballo, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, described the incoming Class of 2022.  Of 805 first-year students, 58% are women and 27% are students of color.  That's Oberlin's highest-ever percentage of minority students. 

When asked about their political beliefs or views, an overwhelming 81% describe themselves as liberal or somewhat so.  Given Oberlin's reputation, this is hardly surprising.  A reported bit of dialogue:  “You've become a hippie liberal!”  “I've always been like that; that's why I'm here.”


Then we Sixty-Niners returned to StudioC, where Alan Goldman, the College's Associate Director of Gift Planning, talked to us about fundraising.

 

In a meeting the day before, we had set a goal for the five-year period that will culminate with our reunion.  We're tallying everything the members of our class contribute to the College between 2014 and 2019, and we've decided to aim for eight million dollars.

As of our last Summit a year before, we had already raised $4.25 million.  Now, four years into the five-year plan, we've raised $5.12 million.  Alan says the target is “eminently achievable.”

And of course, we're not asking for ourselves but for the students.  Our class gift will be announced soon.

 


That concluded our meetings, so I checked out at noon on Sunday.

Looking back, I noticed that the entrance to The Hotel at Oberlin still has no sign identifying it as such, but at least the traffic cones had been removed. 

Then I saw what the cones had been protecting:  two spirals freshly carved into the cement, spirals of words, the outbound sequence highlighted in crimson and the inbound one in gold.

The words seemed almost random.  “Some that were away from us Some that were not away from us and not purple Some that were not vesper for a sparrow ... created like a season or double ... backwards inside by numeral in wallet or lampshade.”

After I returned home, online research revealed that the puzzling poem is “Some That Were, Some That Were Not” by Tan Lin.  His “ambient” style samples fragments from other writings.  This poem is based on his family's migrations as well as the migratory patterns of birds.  The inward spiral refers to birds coming into Ohio because of climate change, while the outward spiral is about those birds who are leaving the state.  Soon each space in the parking lot will be marked to depict one of these species.

Tan has collaborated with his sister Maya Lin, who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.  The poem is part of the Lins' exhibit called Ohio Trilogy.  Another part is “A Remnant Garden,” a piece of native Ohio ecosystem in the center of the parking lot.   And the third part consists of those glass marbles I saw on the wall in the lobby, which are supposed to represent the aquifer system of the state.  The whole Trilogy is described as “An Ecological Primer.”

Eventually, one hopes, visitors will be able to learn the significance of all this.  There will be pamphlets and signs.

 

TBT

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