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What's New with Obie
Written June 14, 2008


Enrollment is up 20% at Oberlin College!  That's the news from Oberlin's 14th president, Marvin Krislov.

The new president made his first "Annual Address on the State of the College" at Finney Chapel on Sunday morning, May 25, the day before the 2008 Commencement.  I was there to celebrate the 40th anniversary of my own graduation.

On the left above is my view of the president's speech.  On the right, a professional photographer's view.  The pro also captured a wider image from the balcony, part of which is below.  Click on it for a link to the complete photo and others.  (Also, more Class of 1969 reunion pictures are here.)

Krislov told the assembled alumni and friends that the main division, the College of Arts & Sciences, has a record number of applicants.  That's good, because an institution offering a liberal-arts education desperately needs people with strong open minds — particularly in an age when we're rapidly using up our planet.  "Our students," he said, "passionately advocate for sustainability."

At one point he thanked someone for their "yeoman service."  The audience giggled slightly.  (Was it an intentional allusion to the nickname of our less-than-famous athletic teams, the Oberlin College Yeomen?  I can't be sure.)

One of Oberlin's advantages, he reminded us, is that it offers a big-city cultural life in a small-town setting.  (That was one of my reasons for choosing it.)

Outside the Chapel, a monument reminded pedestrians of the teaching of the College's namesake, Alsatian pastor John Frederick Oberlin, that "people with diverse perspectives can live in friendship with one another."

At my reunion, I once again experienced familiar events and places.  But what did I find (other than the new president) that was new to me?

Zucchini burgers, for one thing.  Apparently these vegetarian patties have been served at Oberlin for some time.  They were the most popular offering at the Saturday-evening picnic.  They don't taste bad at all.  In appearance, they resemble potato pancakes (with shredded carrots mixed in) that have been overcooked to the extent of being thoroughly charred on both sides.

At the athletic complex on the north end of campus, there's a new scoreboard at the football field, Savage Stadium.  The LED panel in the center was flashing its thanks to its donor, Bob Fishback of the 50-year Class of 1958.

Then it flashed, in sequence, four words that must now be the slogan of the Yeomen: 

A few hundred yards to the west, on the far side of the skating rink, there's a new facility for soccer and track.


It too has a fancy scoreboard, proclaiming it the Robert Kahn Track / Fred Shults Field.

I recall interviewing Coach Shults (the guy in the bow tie) for my WOBC radio show in the 1960s.

I visited the open house at WOBC, which looks much the same as it did on my other recent visits.  Besides the DJ, only one other person was there:  the student who will be managing the station this summer on the reduced hours of 8 am to 4 pm daily.

The station's next big project, the manager said, will be to copy its music library from CDs and LPs onto a digital server.  If successful, that will make operations much easier.  But it seems like a huge task for a station run by volunteers, because they have a lot of CDs on hand.  I mean, a lot of CDs.  Not only are there several rooms packed with shelves, there are dozens of crates sitting around.  That's because WOBC doesn't limit itself to one genre of music but plays whatever its staffers like.

Maybe, over a few years, they can copy the library one disk at a time.  Make it a rule that if a DJ wants to play something from a CD that isn't already on the server, he'll first have to put it on the server.

Words I heard . . . 

Someone in the lounge at the Conservatory was discussing a solo musician who can't get a job because he has trouble performing in a group.  "He can't play with an orchestra.  He auditions really well . . . but there's not much demand for that skill."

At the class dinner, biostatistician Bob Wolfe (a math major from the Class of '68) sat at my table.  He complained, "Janet has made me so cynical about prescription drugs, now I can't even count on the placebo effect."  He explained that until recently, when he took a new pill, he felt better.  Maybe it was because the pill worked, or maybe it was because he believed the pill would work.  Now he's lost his faith in pills.  His wife (the former Janet Chevalley, physics major, Class of '68) told us about pharmaceutical companies' efforts to get FDA approval for new medications.  Ideally, they should be tested for maybe 15 years to discover any long-term side effects.  But patients are demanding the latest miracle drugs right away, because in 15 years they'll be dead.  Therefore some drugs are being approved before anyone knows for sure that they're good.

Later, dinner speaker David Orr told a story about a little girl who misbehaved and was given a time-out.  Banished to the corner, she whispered very seriously to her brother, "Lewis, I'm really worried.  We've got to do something.  The adults are taking over this house!"

When the three-story King Building was completed around the time of my arrival on campus, they planted a tree on the south side.

The first time I noticed that its leaves were this color in the spring, I thought it must be dying.

But the tree is now taller than the building.  Apparently it's doing okay.

In front of the Allen Art Museum, they've restored a fountain that honors 1898 alumna Katharine Wright Haskell, the sister of Wilbur and Orville Wright (the inventors of the airplane).

Not far away, a plaque has also been removed for restoration.  For eight decades, it was embedded in the brick walkway at the very center of Tappan Square.  The inscription thanks 1885 graduate Charles Martin Hall (the discoverer of the aluminum refining process) for donating the walks to the college on the occasion of his 40th class reunion.  The refurbished plaque will be re-installed at the southwest corner of the square, diagonally opposite Talcott Hall.

Next to Talcott is a memorial to the Underground Railroad.  In an earlier article, I included a picture of it that I took at an earlier reunion.

Now there's a second memorial.  This design is slightly less literal, merely suggesting a trail of railroad ties leading off to the north.

The historic marker reads in part:

A key junction . . . connected at least five routes that led from slavery to freedom.  No fugitive in Oberlin was ever returned to bondage.  Freedom seekers lived openly in the town and were supported by its vibrant African-American community.  . . . All students have been welcomed to Oberlin College regardless of color since 1835.  Faculty and students, both black and white, worked together to assure safe passage on the Underground Railroad, proclaiming their loyalty to "a higher law."  . . . Oberlin was heralded as "the town that started the Civil War."

This parklet with its border of native plants is located on the former site of a gas station at Lorain and Main.  (Update:  A memorial bench was added in 2009.)

It's just east of the First Church in Oberlin, whose history notes that "by 1860 it was among the largest Congregational churches in the country.  It was during that time, while the famous revivalist Charles Grandison Finney served as pastor, that First Church became a major stop along the Underground Railroad and the headquarters of the Oberlin Anti-Slavery Society."

 (Update:  See also this note about Ripley, Ohio.)


So what else is new?  Check out my other three articles from the 2008 reunion and commencement weekend:

Learning from the Achievers
The Organ Tour
Gathering on Tappan Square


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