Dear faculty, staff, and students;
I write to you today from New York City where Jen Schuller and I are visiting with alumni, donors, and Trustees. Our trip is going well: the weather is quintessential “fall perfect;” the alumni social, hosted by Norman Kelker ’61, was chock-full of interesting friends; my additional meetings with a handful of alumni with whom I had not yet met have yielded a new set of contacts; and the trip cost only a fraction of what we estimated thanks to Trustee Bill Recker who donated hotel points to cover our accommodations. I have relished my time in the big city, enjoying immensely the hustle and bustle that marks life here. There is no coincidence that this particular New York trip (around the 15th anniversary of 9/11)–coupled with Professor Altman’s Library Forum on Martin Heidegger last Wednesday–has made me ponder the notion of places and spaces and their impact on finding, being, and growing.
As we think about “place” I challenge all of us to reclaim the one we have. Together, let’s create a narrative of possibility about our place, the one replete with the physical spaces and historical places to wander and wonder.
I call us to better organize our time, talents, and resources to use our unique place as a key catalyst for student learning and growing. Already this summer, we have used donor and grant funds to renovate the exterior of one of this region’s oldest century homes: our very own Bonney Castle. In a similar vein, Trustee Recker helped us make improvements to Koritansky Hall this summer. If you have yet to visit either, this fall I encourage you to not only to step in but to hang out and do a little research on these fabulous places and the history they represent.
As we revitalize these precious gems of places, Jen and I will work hard on this trip and others to see if we can find friends who will invest in Buckingham Place and the Garfield Robbins Zimmerman House. If you don’t already know it, James A. and Lucretia Garfield lived in the Zimmerman House from 1863 to 1874, and it was their home base during his service in Congress. I would love to open the doors of each house this year for student, faculty and community use. Imagine, in creative fashion, how cool it would be to use either one or both of these one-of-a-kind treasures as learning labs or social gathering places.
Outside spaces are also special at Hiram. Last weekend a small group of us joined Lucy Chamberlain ’77 and Professor Denny Taylor ’73 on Alumni Volunteer Day to give much needed attention to the gardens behind the Pendleton House. On that same day another small group gathered at the James H. Barrow Field station for clearing projects there. Meanwhile, the walkway gardens in the center of campus are overflowing with wildflowers and plants thanks to the time and attention of faculty member Debbie Kasper and her family. The campus green outside of Hinsdale now holds a sitting log positioned carefully by the hands and saw of faculty member Don McFall. Countless green projects need to continue to be launched and maintained … can they be the focus of a class or student organization project for the year?
My ponderings on place and space are not all ethereal. I am acutely aware of other spaces, concrete and technical alike, that need attending. Hence, I am pleased to announce progress in these areas, too. As this picture shows, over the summer we installed new bleachers in Price Gym. The bleacher project was made possible thanks to the generous contributions of Robert Siedle ’56, Todd and Faith Morris ’62/’64, Marty Clague ’64, and the Rosenthal Foundation. Around the same time, Frank Ventura and his staff in Information Technology were given the green light to oversee Phase I of our technology improvement plan. Over the summer, we upgraded the high-speed wireless in the residence halls. I hope this greatly improves student satisfaction in this area, as it had been a justifiable point of concern for a while now.
I leave NYC with a deep respect of what this place has been through and how it continues to thrive as a (those here would argue the) quintessential city of the world. I want Hiram to thrive as a prototype of what we are: an increasingly rare but relevant place where distractions are relatively few and far between. I make no apology for it being that kind of place; the perfect one to find and become your best self. Ask any of our alumni during this week’s Homecoming and I bet they will tell you that that self will take you anywhere you want to go.