Nashville (and Pittsburgh) Cats

Sitting in Nashville International Airport, I think back on the Wesleyan folks I’ve met during this trip. Some graduated more than 5 decades ago, others left Middletown only in the last couple of years. Before heading to Nashville I spent a day in Pittsburgh, where Ned Churchill ’59 and Jo-Ann Churchill hosted a reception for local alumni and parents. The conversation turned to the wonderful students who are now attracted to Wes, but also to some of the frustrations alumni experience in having to explain where exactly they spent their undergrad years. Ohio Wesleyan, or West Virginia? No, thundered Ned (who had spent many years running marketing for Heinz) “we went to THE Wesleyan University,” in mock tribute to the offensive lineman who declaim on television reports that they attended THE Ohio State University. There’s something wonderful about Ned’s pride in alma mater, a pride that made even more sense when I heard about the various accomplishments of the alumni in the room.

In Nashville our reception was at the home of Dr. George Allen ’63 and Dr Shannon Hersey. George had been Chair of the Neurosurgery department at Vanderbilt’s medical center, having graduated from Wesleyan with a passion for science, invention and car racing. While training an amazing percentage of the nation’s neurosurgeons at Vanderbilt and Johns Hopkins, George has discovered treatments and created medical devices for addressing serious conditions like the aftermath of stroke. He continues to see patients and work with young physicians, and in conversation reflected on how his Wesleyan years created the intellectual foundation on which he has continued to build for now almost fifty years.

At our reception I met Ljerka Vidic Rasmussen, a Ph.D. from our Ethnomusicology program now teaching in Tennessee. We talked about the importance of our grad programs for the whole campus and about her mentor and our mutual friend Professor Mark Slobin. Prince C. Chambliss ’70, an attorney in Memphis gave me his recently published book, Prince of Peace, a memoir of growing up in Birmingham and attending Wes in the late 1960s. He recounts that in the year before he started college Wesleyan admitted only 9 African-American students out of a class of 500 men. In his year, the efforts to open up the admission process to under-represented groups resulted in a class with 50 black men. In his memoir Prince Chambliss recalls the difficulties and mistakes in those years, but ends his chapter on Wesleyan with these words: “Wesleyan will always be on the cutting edge, leading the way for others to follow.” I hope we can live up to that!

After the reception last night Dr. Dan Viner ‘93 (a philosophy major at Wes who now has a substantial medical practice in Nashville) took me out to hear what he promised would be real Nashville music at The Station Inn. What a treat! Roland White (who backed up Bill Monroe and then Lester Flatts back in the day) had a great band that was occasionally livened up when an audience member got on stage to join in. It was a great way to close my trip to our extended Wesleyan family.

(Even better was returning to see that our men’s lacrosse team had beat Amherst (behind the eight goals [!] of  Lonny Blumenthal ’10) and that our softball team had swept a double-header from the Lord Jeffs (behind the amazing hitting of Alexis Kral ’12 and Meaghan Dendy ’10). Go Wes! The Wes!!

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2 thoughts on “Nashville (and Pittsburgh) Cats”

  1. I am most appreciative for President Roth’s kindness in mentioning my recently published memoir. The Wesleyan experience of the late 1960s was probably unlike any other. But, without the foresight and courage to lead the way to overcome the difficulties and mistakes, Wesleyan would not continue to be the exciting and innovative institution that it is today. Go Wes!

  2. We were so glad to share some Nashville hospitality with you, President Roth. It was terrific hearing your vision for Wesleyan and coming together as a Nashville/Wesleyan community. We’re excited to see Wesleyan’s presence grow in the South. Go Wes!

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