Lucas Keefer didn’t take his toaster with him when he moved from Dayton to Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
Keefer, a post-doctoral research fellow in psychology at UD from August 2014 to June 2016, left to accept a tenure-track position at the University of Southern Mississippi. He also left behind the state where he has family, including a 1-year-old niece, within a three-hour drive.
Yet Keefer, who’s lived in four states during the past 10 years, is used to being in transit — and has studied the impact of just this type of mobility. While he was at UD, he co-wrote a paper with Omri Gillath, associate professor of psychology at the University of Kansas, that suggests highly mobile people are more likely to view possessions as disposable — and, in turn, friendships and romantic partners as well.
Keefer and Gillath outlined the findings from their four studies in the paper, published in the April 2016 journal Personal Relationships. Together, they suggest that people who are more mobile think of their belongings as disposable, which perhaps is what also leads them to think of their relationships as disposable.
“When you put it all together, mobility is indirectly affecting our commitment to our relationships because it changes how we feel about our material possessions and, likewise, how we feel about relationships,” said Keefer, who’s seen the study results play out somewhat in his own life.
“I definitely ascribe to that first part of the process, that people who move often are more willing to throw things away,” he said. “I would throw away all my belongings except my computer, books and guitar (when I move).
“But I don’t know if that’s affected my relationships,” he continued. “My data would suggest that it has, but if so I’m not aware of it.”
Molly Blake ’96 still mails friends and family handwritten birthday cards — despite the fact that, as the wife of a recently retired Marine, she has moved 11 times since college graduation. Her seventh-grade daughter has attended seven schools.
“There have definitely been people who I’ve been great friends with and have lost touch with, not for any malicious reason but because some people just are not great at keeping in touch,” Blake said. “I happen to be really good at keeping in touch. I learned that from my mom, but also from being in a military family. I work hard to cultivate my friendships because I’ve needed them. I had a baby while my husband was in Iraq, and it was the military connection that made it easier. Military families really rely on each other and create a very special bond.”
While a romantic relationship led to Blake’s move-a-lot lifestyle, Keefer and Gillath found romance may be a casualty for other highly mobile folks.
UD alumnus Paul Sozio ’15 agrees: “I was dating a girl when I was in Argentina and, while it was exciting at the time, we went back to our respective countries when we left Argentina,” said Sozio, who has lived in Honduras, Nicaragua and Argentina during study abroad programs and while working for nongovernmental organizations. “Going into it, you think, ‘This probably isn’t a permanent thing’ in the back of your head.
“But for me, you can’t put up a wall and think, ‘I don’t want to get close to anyone,’ because it’s more important to cherish the time you do have together and be present,” he added. “You have to know that the people you really click with, you’re going to stay in touch.”
Jake Muniak ’14 has moved between Ohio, Nicaragua, Denver and Seattle since graduation and is now a travel service consultant for South America Travel. He agrees that many friendships fade with frequent moves, but others remain solid.
“A real relationship takes a lot of work, and that becomes more so when you don’t see that person every day,” he said. “I visited my college roommate in Chicago when I was traveling from Ohio to Seattle and it was like, ‘Wow, I don’t know the next time I’ll see you.’ We made plans to meet up on St. Patrick’s Day 2017. He might have to come to Brazil to make that happen.
“Making plans is one thing. Following through is another ball game.”
After many years of a highly mobile lifestyle, Blake also has found certain friends — particularly those from her UD days — stand the test of time.
“Most people at the age of 42 have their group of friends they’ve had since they graduated from college and moved into their house,” Blake said. “We don’t have that. We have friends all over the place. We’ve never had family near us so we can’t be like, ‘Let’s go to my parents’ house on Sunday.’
“This is part of why I treasure my true friends so much,” she added. “My Dayton roommates and I just had our 20-year reunion. I love those girls. It means a lot to me that we can get together and hang out as if no time has gone by.”
Kaitlyn Ridel ’13 wanted to live in Washington, D.C. — and she does, although it’s taken some moves back and forth between there and her hometown of Cleveland, as well as between Boston and Dayton, to make it happen. Now, Ridel is a brand and communications specialist for FiscalNote.
“My family is very close, and they’re all in the Cleveland area,” she said. “I’m the only one who’s kind of stayed away so I feel like an oddball sometimes, but I’ve always loved politics and policy so D.C. seems like the right place for that. My career, for now, is going to come first, and my family understands that.
“I do love Ohio, but I need to see if I can make D.C. work,” she added. “I have a really great set of friends here and a great job and want to see where it goes.”
In their paper, Keefer and Gillath note that mobility can have two effects. Moves within the same community are unlikely to have much impact on social networks. Long-distance moves, on the other hand, are likely to result in both geographical and social network changes.
Today, young people such as Ridel and Muniak often focus on the places where they want to live, and then find jobs.
“Having a job where I can be mobile and make enough to pay off my student loans is a goal, and this job provides that,” Muniak said. “I’m at that stage in life where I can stay in a hostel with 30 people and sleep on the floor. One day, I will want to lay low and settle down, and I want to know I squeezed everything out of that time when I could be transient.”
Sozio grew up in Cleveland, where his parents planned trips that helped him catch the travel bug.
“I’ve been stateside for two weeks and I’m already wondering where my next trip will be to,” he said after returning from Nicaragua. “I need something to plan and look forward to.”
For Blake, after all her moving about, she’s ready to settle down in her new home in Littleton, Colorado — a place she and her husband selected for their love of the mountains and skiing and the fact that her family has a vacation home nearby.
“We bought a house that’s a bit of a renovation project,” she said. “We’ve never had a clean slate to make our own and build that dream deck and fire pit.”
Settling down also means Blake can add some color to her home’s style.
“Now we have this huge house, and we don’t have any furniture,” she said. “Before, everything we owned was beige or brown so if we lived in a historical charmer or a new hacienda house, it would fit.”
Yet Blake isn’t used to having much in the way of stuff.
“We’re lean and mean and ready to move at a moment’s notice,” she said. “If we can’t get both our cars in our garage because there’s too much crap in there, we almost lose our minds. We have drawers that are completely empty and closets with one thing in them.”
“We’ve had houses we’ve rented and sold and it was the same situation,” she added. “Even big stuff like a house — I still had no connection to it.”
Indeed, Keefer and Gillath found this to be typical of highly mobile people.
Their paper also notes one practical aspect of moving has received little attention in existing residential mobility research: When moving, people must decide what possessions are worth moving and what can be left behind.
“If we were to time travel to a place when everything we owned was a family heirloom, perhaps we wouldn’t throw things out,” Keefer said. “So potentially in places high in residential mobility, we
also have a culture of easily replaceable consumer goods. But those and other implications are still open questions.”
Ridel, Muniak and Sozio are with Blake when it comes to traveling light. Ridel has moved photo albums and a good Italian cooking pan from place to place but otherwise rents furnished apartments. Muniak and Sozio move functional things, such as solid boots and a good rain jacket and,in Sozio’s case, a guitar.
“I’m not a very good interior decorator because everything I have is secondhand,” Muniak said.
For Sozio, living and working in places such as Honduras and Nicaragua where many people are impoverished also caused him to look at his belongings in a different way. “You look at your own material possessions and reconsider what you really need and what is really valuable,” he said. “There are some things you should cherish, but generally speaking it makes you less attached to stuff.”
So what does this research say about the human experience?
“The conceptual thread connecting these is the similarities between our relationships and objects,” Keefer said. “We have a willingness to throw things away and a willingness to get rid of relationships. In a way, we’re treating people as objects, and that’s what draws this together.”
But finding the big picture would require additional research.
“Whatever connects mobility to whether or not we keep relationships is more complicated than we have the data to tell,” Keefer said. “The connection to moving and keeping relationships is complex. The human story and why this is important is a question that is still a bit open.”
And with this study, he added, no conclusions can be drawn about whether or not this willingness to dispose of belongings, and therefore relationships, is healthy or unhealthy. Nor does the study take into account the ever-growing influence of technology and social media on our relationships and ability to maintain them.
Gillath noted the research findings show “we need to pay more attention to people’s moves and mobility, and we need to think about the ease of moving and the ease of getting rid of things and of ties, because it might result in various relational difficulties down the line.
“There is a connection between how we view our lives and our physical surroundings and how we perceive our social ties,” he added. “And we pay a price for the ease of mobility and the tendency of people to dispose of things in their lives.”
For Keefer, “Maintaining old ties seems like a double-edged sword. It can meet some social needs to stay in touch, but it can be stifling to forming new social circles in the new location. There is some advantage to knowing someone nearby who can feed your cat when you’re out of town. Ultimately, we are social beings.”
Beings who, when settling in a new home, have a much easier time getting a new toaster than finding new friends to feed that cat — and so much more.
To read more on the research article this article is based on, please here .
What we keep, and what we leave behind: Findings from the residential mobility research
The paper published in the April 2016 journal Personal Relationships by Lucas Keefer and Omri Gillath was a merger of their interests.
Keefer’s research focuses on attachment to objects, and Gillath’s on attachment to friends and romantic partners. After working together in a University of Kansas lab, they decided to join forces to examine the question of how mobility relates to our material possessions and how we relate to close
They also looked to past research conducted by Jewish German psychologist Kurt Lewin, who wrote in a 1936 paper about Americans’ penchant to quickly make — and discard — friends. They also examined more recent research by Shigehiro Oishi of the University of Virginia and others.
“We had this idea about how mobility relates to material possessions and human relationships, and we found that research from 80 years ago is still very applicable,” Keefer said.
To build on the work of Lewin and others, Keefer and Gillath conducted studies in which participants completed questionnaires, including a “Willingness to Dispose Inventory” designed to assess people’s willingness to dispose of objects and close relationships (friends and romantic partners). Participants also were asked about their history of moving.
Studies were held starting in 2009 at the University of Kansas, where Keefer did his graduate work before coming to UD. Another three studies were held every year or two as Keefer and Gillath tweaked and added to their body of work and research findings.
Four studies were part of the research presented in their paper, “Generalizing Disposability: Residential Mobility and the Willingness to Dissolve Social Ties.”
Study one examined whether the perception of objects as disposable is associated with perceiving friends in a similar way. It showed people’s tendencies to dispose of objects and social ties are related.
Studies two and three tested whether high residential mobility makes people more likely to dispose of objects, which in turn results in an increased willingness to cut certain social ties. The studies demonstrated that a history of residential mobility (study two) and increasing residential mobility (study three) likewise increase the willingness to dispose of objects and, through that, dispose of social ties.
Study four compared the geographic and relationship aspects of residential mobility and tested whether changes in social networks have a direct effect on what the researchers called “relational disposability.” This study showed that the relationship aspect of residential mobility is crucial in affecting relational disposability.
“The more a person has moved or relocated, the more he or she had to dispose of his or her possessions (at least some),” Keefer and Gillath write in their paper. “The more he or she disposed of possessions, the more likely he or she is to see possessions or objects as disposable. Once such a disposable approach was adopted, it may be extended or generalized to social ties, coloring the perception of people or social ties as more ephemeral and easily ‘disposed.’
“Taken together, the four studies provide consistent support for the idea that higher residential mobility results in higher willingness and tendency to dispose of social ties,” the paper reads. “Our studies provide support not only for an association between attitudes toward objects and people but also provide evidence that this perspective has important implications for the study of close relationships. Pressure to act in specific ways toward material objects — in this case, to dispose of them — may have subtle yet important implications for how people act toward other humans.”
To read the full article, “Traveling Light,” click here .
It’s a warm, sunny night, the sun is hanging on the mountain range in the distance, and Molly McKinley ’01 is rolling down the tundra.
Tundra rolling may be a time-honored tradition more often carried out by children and the resident grizzly bears, but it’s also how McKinley likes to celebrate a warm summer night in Alaska: going side-over-side down the alpine biome. Throw in a handful of wild blueberries and she might just be in heaven.
Welcome to 99-year-old Denali National Park, one of the amazing American places protected by the National Park Service.
It has been 100 years since the National Park Service was founded, and in that time 412 wilderness areas and historic sites, natural wonders and national monuments have been created, recognized and protected. The oldest, the National Mall, was designated 226 years ago and grandfathered into the Park Service; the newest, Stonewall National Monument, was inducted June 24 of this year. Dubbed “America’s best idea” by writer Wallace Stegner, the National Parks model has been exported to countries around the world.
While the National Parks are full of monuments and glaciers, endangered species and civil rights memorials, perhaps their most important assets are their stories. Stories that celebrate natural wonders, such as the bristled trees of Joshua Tree National Park, and stories that reveal devastating human histories, such as the slaughter of 300 people in Sand Creek, South Dakota, and the internment of 117,000 Japanese Americans during World War II.
Those stories are at the core of the National Park Service mission: to preserve, “unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”
As the National Park Service prepared for its centennial celebration in August, University of Dayton alumni reflected on the important roles our parks play in society today and regaled us with their own stories of the National Parks and its mission.
Discover History: Preserving
Perhaps it’s natural that history major Ann Honious ’00 ended up working for the National Park Service, a leader in historic preservation and responsible for preserving everything from the stories of Paleo-Indians in North America 12,000 years ago to the Chesapeake Bay landscape associated with both the beginning and end of slavery in the United States to the Wright brothers bicycle shop.
Honious began at the Park Service in 1992, surveying historic buildings and parks and cataloguing historic structures. She worked at the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park before becoming the second employee at the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park. She then went to the Gateway Arch — formally the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial — where she oversaw for nearly six years the history, museum and ranger programs.
Today, she’s the deputy superintendent of Capitol Parks East in D.C. and the administrator for roughly 15 parks east of the Capitol, including the historic home of Frederick Douglass and Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens.
“I’ve always been interested in telling stories, and the National Park Service gives an opportunity to tell those stories where they happened,” says Honious. That’s the National Parks’ purpose: “They help you find or get to know your country — whether that be on a hike in the Grand Canyon or a visit to Independence Hall.”
Or on a tour of one of the nation’s 11 National Battlefields.
When Dale Floyd ’68 walked the parks and fields of the American South back in the mid-1990s, he wasn’t looking at the trees or the animals, he was mapping Civil War battlefields in his mind’s eye. And on paper.
For nearly five years the historian served on the Park Service’s Civil War sites advisory commission, helping determine the nation’s most important Civil War battle sites. The Army had already done much of the heavy lifting, identifying 10,500 Civil War battles, and Floyd and colleagues used that documentation as a jumping off point. They narrowed the list to about 500 sites of import and set out to investigate.
With U.S. Geological Survey maps in hand, Floyd walked the sites, inspecting fields and pastures, determining the significance of the battles waged, and the condition of the land and any remaining artifacts. He evaluated what threats existed to the sites, and what might in the future. Some of the battlefields were mostly gone, developed or encroached upon. Artifacts at others had been mined by individuals.
In the end, Floyd and his co-authors drew up an argument for preservation of many of the sites. Without it, the report said, the nation stood to lose fully two-thirds of its major Civil War battlefields. Soon, the American Battlefield Protection Program was established and, in 1996, Congress signed into law the American Battlefield Protection Act. Under the National Park Service, the ABPP “promotes the preservation of significant historic battlefields associated with wars on American soil.”
Today, the Park Service oversees 11 National Battlefields, four National Battlefield Parks and one National Battlefield Site. While not all of the nation’s Civil War and Revolutionary battle sites are encompassed within the National Parks, many are. Antietam National Battlefield, for example, commemorates the bloodiest one-day battle in American history, a day where 23,000 soldiers were declared dead, wounded or missing after 12 hours of battle. Preserving such history is part of the Parks’ mission — and value.
“The Park Service is custodian of important properties,” says Floyd, who has since retired. “And the Parks are the conservators of what are supposed to be our most important historical properties.”
That historic conservation extends to manmade technology and its consequences. For instance, there’s the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park, which “preserves and interprets the history and legacies” of the Wright brothers and one of America’s great African-American poets, Paul Laurence Dunbar. Kimberly Juhnke ’02 is one of many UD alumni to intern as an interpretive ranger — think educator in a uniform — at Dayton Aviation.
To Juhnke, having a program that tells the story of the people and experiences that changed America is critical.
“Each site you go to you learn something new. It’s important to know where you came from, and what happened in our country,” says Juhnke. “The Wright brothers, for example, were such innovative men, and they never even graduated from high school. That’s a testament to that time period.”
While some sites celebrate innovation and American spirit, others serve as testament to American ingenuity gone unchecked, including the Johnstown Flood Memorial.
In the late 1800s, the wealthy citizens of Pittsburgh bought a reservoir, converted a dam and created a massive lake for a private resort. They altered the dam but failed to maintain it properly and, in 1889, a storm destroyed the dam, killing 2,209 civilians below. The Great Flood, as it’s known, also led to the creation of the Army Corps of Engineers. And yet, says Juhnke — who worked at Johnstown, Allegheny Portage Railroad National Site and the Flight 93 Memorial for a year after graduation — few would really know about that flood, or that devastation, were it not for the National Parks preserved memorial.
Preserving cultural and natural places may be core aspects of the Parks’ mission, but education is paramount. Education — about wild plants and animals or about historic events — inspires people to protect the parks for the future. It also shapes dreams.
Steven Roberts ’97 knows this firsthand.
It was a balmy Florida evening in 1997 when Roberts, alongside Greg Leingang ’97 and Brian Boynton ’98, first discovered the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. The classmates had mapped their spring break by National Parks, arriving seven parks later at the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine.
Studying history growing up, Roberts had learned about Jamestown and about the Mayflower, but no one had ever taught him about the influence of the Spanish. As the lights burned below the walls of the Castillo, turning it into a glowing castle, Roberts knew he’d be back someday.
“The Castillo, built more than 300 years ago, isn’t just an old building, it tells special stories about freedom, about defending family, about sacrifice,” says Roberts. “Creating those experiences in real places has a huge power to help people find their own values, to find their own meanings in America’s special places.”
Roberts has spent the 20 years since that visit sharing the stories of America’s past through National Parks, beginning at the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park where he worked as a seasonal park ranger. Later, at Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial, he revealed the lives of those who fought in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. He worked at James A. Garfield National Historic Site and Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
“I found specialness in the places,” says Roberts. “These were authentic places that had real stories of America for people to experience and actually become a part of during their visit.”
That Parks mission of education — and of sharing something important about America’s past with visitors from around the world — is ingrained in Roberts. “We help people care about their national parks, and about these national stories, and about these special resources. We hope they will get excited about them and also want to share these stories and become stewards of their own national parks. These are the people’s parks.”
Now, 20 years after that initial visit, Roberts is back at the Castillo where he serves as chief of interpretation and education.
If the Spanish arrival to America and their influence on the United States seems like ancient history, try donning Jeff Malik’s ranger hat.
In the high, cold desert of Kemmerer, Wyoming, there’s neither cactus nor bare earth in sight. Instead, sagebrush and mesquite and hardy vegetation clings to the earth, and prairie dogs run wild. A rock outcropping, Fossil Butte, hangs above the remains of an ancient lake. In that ancient lake are the fossilized remains of palm trees and alligators.
Malik, who is currently completing his master’s in public administration at UD, spent the summers of 2009 and 2010 at Fossil Butte National Monument, working as an interpretive officer, doing everything from leading tours to managing invasive species. The most exciting part of the job, however, was providing environmental education and especially fossil education.
Fossil Butte is home to 50-million-year-old fossils — among the best preserved in the world — and as such, it’s a destination for many families. One trail leads to an active resource quarry where researchers dig for fossilized fish. Visitors can watch the dig and, perhaps more important, rangers and researchers let kids lift up slabs of rock, look for fish and measure the fossils found.
To Malik, that kind of firsthand education is what makes the National Parks so important. They’re an opportunity for people to directly connect with nature, and with some of the most important parts of America.
“I mean that both in a natural environment setting and in a historic setting. It lets people experience these places firsthand, in a way that there’s no other chance for them to otherwise,” says Malik. “There’s just nothing that can compare to a kid going camping for the first time or seeing herds of bison in Yellowstone or viewing the Grand Canyon.
“That’s where the power is; that potential for a transformative experience.”
Which perhaps explains why the National Park Service is celebrating its centennial.
Explore nature: preserving
Today, 480 threatened and endangered plant and animal species exist within the areas protected by the National Parks, and the Park Service is charged with reducing the risk of their extinction while simultaneously telling the stories of these places, plants and animals to those responsible for preventing that extinction — the public.
McKinley, outdoor recreation planner at Denali National Park and resident tundra roller, has countless tales about the National Parks and run-ins with endangered species. The view from her office window in the woods offers spruce and alder and, quite routinely, a moose, but a short drive or hike leads to a world covered in tundra. Denali is green in summer, white in winter, and brown during spring — or mud season. Then, for a short time in autumn, there’s an explosion of color as the tundra comes alive in a way most people don’t expect. There’s a fabric to the place, says McKinley, a carpet of purples and reds and oranges.
During her Park Service career McKinley has spent a day perched on a glacier using a battery-operated chainsaw disassembling a decades-old plane crash for recycling. She has come upon a moose kill and a bear dining on that kill, and she has learned, midway through a river crossing, that caribou huff through their nostrils at humans. And, there was the day that, while surveying a new trail location, she looked up to discover one of those
endangered species the Parks seek to protect — a lynx — just 15 feet away.
“One of our goals is to not interrupt the activity of the wildlife if no one’s in danger, so I was just hanging out with this lynx,” she says. “Me and a lynx, for kind of a long time, and the lynx wasn’t scared of me and I wasn’t scared of it. But there’s this huge beautiful cat, with tufts of fur coming out of its ears, and huge paws that allow it to walk on the snow in the winter, and to be that close to such a different, beautiful, amazing creature is really special. I feel really blessed by those opportunities.”
Coming to Alaska is striking and sometimes hard to wrap our heads around, she says, but that’s part of the enjoyment: “Everything here is so darn big. The mountains are big, the landscape is big, the mammals are big. I think for some people it creates a baseline shift in how the world around us can feel. And, when the world around us feels really big, it can make you feel really small. Or, it can make you feel awed and inspired.”
Which is what the Parks are after: preserving natural places for education, enjoyment and inspiration. In fact, the National Parks stewards, and celebrates, some of the most spectacular scenic places in the United States. There’s the windswept Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan, one of the of the 88 coastal and ocean parks in the system; the 4,700 caves and karsts scattered across the country, such as the lava tubes at Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho; and the star-filled skies over the buttes of Canyonlands National Park. And then there’s Old Faithful.
Yellowstone National Park, home to Old Faithful, became the world’s first national park in 1872, decades before the creation of the National Park Service. In August 1916, the Department of the Interior was overseeing 21 national monuments, 14 national parks and two national reservations, with no umbrella organization to run or manage them. With support from journalists, the National Geographic Society and more, Congress passed the Organic Act, establishing the National Park Service, and placing the 37 parks under its protection. Chief among those was Yellowstone. Today, Yellowstone encompasses 3,472 square miles, 500 active geysers, 900 historic buildings, 1,800 known archeological sites and two endangered species: the Canada lynx and the grizzly bear.
Melissa McAdam ’83 has seen much of this and more. Some of it from her office window, which on this day offers a view of a grazing female elk framed against a backdrop of historic buildings. Nearby, a tree bears the weight of a giant owl condo. The nests there have produced multiple flocks, and a parliament of owlets is fluttering among the branches. Tourists stand below, cameras trained on the baby birds, oblivious to the elk grazing nearby.
McAdam landed at the world’s first national park in the early 1980s on a lark. A friend had returned to UD raving about her summer working at Yellowstone, and so McAdam followed suit. In 1982, between her junior and senior years, she spent the summer working in reservations at Yellowstone. She returned in 1983 (and met her now husband, Rick), then left for a while to “try to do the real job thing.”
But Yellowstone beckoned. By 1985 they had returned for good.
“For us it’s the scenery, the feeling of openness, of spaciousness. When you grow up in the suburbs of the east, as I did, this is a different experience. It’s a feeling you can breathe,” she says of her decision to make Yellowstone home.
McAdam began her career as an accounting technician, then volunteered in the public affairs office before landing a job in the emergency communications center. She’s been working full time for Yellowstone National Park ever since and today holds the title of supervisory budget analyst. Her staff handles everything from human resources to procurement to budget management for the resource management and science branches of Yellowstone. Or the animal, vegetable, mineral branch, as she calls it.
“I like the idea of being part of a community — such a tight knit community — that’s also tied to a mission,” she says. “I’m still amazed by the wildlife. And the features — I don’t spend enough time at Old Faithful, but the features are unlike any other in the world.”
And then, there is the intersection of exploring nature and discovering history; of cultural and environmental preservation. Saratoga National Historical Park — one of the nation’s 50 National Historic Parks — melds cultural preservation and natural exploration. The park, in upstate New York, is rural, and the Revolutionary War battlefield that comprises the majority of the park has been protected from much of the encroachment that has happened at other historic sites. Saratoga has one big looping road that encompasses much of where the fighting happened in 1777. There are 10 places you can stop to see significant battle sites, and trails — paved and unpaved — jut out from each.
It looks much as it would have in the 1700s, says Jason Huarte ’02, and that means this park has given him an appreciation for the American Revolution and how difficult life was.
“It makes you pretty grateful for what we have now,” says Huarte. “Just a couple hundred years ago there were guys cutting down trees and building walls so lead balls didn’t go through their bellies.”
Huarte, an engineer and the supervisory facilities operation specialist at Saratoga, has seen his share of National Parks. He was sent to the Statue of Liberty after Hurricane Sandy and helped the National Park Service design a whole new docking system at Ellis and Liberty Islands. He has seen the massive red sandstone cliffs and narrow slot canyons of Zion National Park and most of the monuments in Washington, D.C. And of course, there were the years he spent as an engineer with the National Park Service in Alaska, flying on four-seat floatplanes to the wilds for a project, or helicoptering into the middle of nowhere to oversee construction.
“You see bears fishing in rivers, hear wolves at night. … And you’re on the clock. People save their entire lives to go see the things I saw while on the job,” he says.
Such wildlife may be why Huarte’s veneration extends beyond Saratoga and to the Parks in general.
“It makes you appreciate how rich of a country we are in natural resources. You have Alaska with glaciers, and then you have Death Valley — all in one country.”
The proud holder of a National Parks Passport — a little booklet filled with stamps that track every check-in at every National Park, Monument or Site — Huarte has already been to 112 of the 412 National Parks. Like many alumni, whether they work for the Park Service or not, his life goal is to visit them all.
“They call the National Parks America’s greatest idea,” he says. “I think it’s true.”
Citizens are reclaiming their neighborhood, and UD is nourishing the partnership.
The Twin Towers neighborhood in East Dayton was once a thriving residential community with a prominent business district.
That all changed in 1962 with the construction of U.S. Route 35 through Dayton, which forced thousands of Twin Towers families to relocate and many of its businesses and industries to close.
“It was a very traumatic time in the neighborhood,” said Leslie Sheward, president of the Twin Towers Neighborhood Association, who has lived in the community for all of her 60 years. “They tore down over 5,000 homes and displaced over 20,000 residents — that was just in this neighborhood alone.”
Sheward, a plain-spoken woman with a shock of gray hair, recalled her childhood home being among those taken by the highway project.
A partnership among the University of Dayton, East End Community Services and Mission of Mary Cooperative is working to transform the former Lincoln Elementary School site at 401 Nassau St. into an urban farm and greenspace.
Long-term plans call for the mostly vacant 5-acre site, dubbed Lincoln Hill Gardens, to feature greenhouses, community garden plots, natural playscapes, a wetland restoration area, a community education kitchen and performance pavilion.
“What it means to the community is a chance to, for once, be given back to, instead of taken from,” Sheward said.
Lincoln Hill Gardens is the first high-profile project for the University’s Hanley Sustainability Institute. Established in 2014 with a $12.5 million gift from the George and Amanda Hanley Foundation, the institute aims to extend the University’s sustainability efforts across campus and into the Dayton community. Its goals include creating an urban agriculture demonstration project in the community that can be sustained and reproduced elsewhere in Dayton and beyond.
“It’s an opportunity for UD to learn and benefit from the important conversations we are having with crucial community partners,” Pair said.
Downtown Dayton and its surrounding areas is considered a “food desert” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture because there is limited access to healthy and affordable food within a half-mile radius — particularly for low-income residents.
Located less than 2 miles from the University’s campus, Twin Towers is a community where 63 percent of the children live below the poverty level, more than double the statewide average.
The neighborhood’s population boomed during World War II, when thousands of people flocked from Appalachia to work in its war-time factories.
But the U.S. 35 construction continued for nearly 10 years, until 1971. During that time, Twin Towers began its decline from a prosperous, self-contained community to a deteriorating neighborhood blighted by crime and boarded-up homes.
In recent years, Twin Towers has worked with area partners to address those issues by tearing down vacant homes, building more affordable housing, increasing police patrols and opening an outreach addiction center.
The Hanley Institute hopes to increase food accessibility in that area through Lincoln Hill Gardens, said Tess Keener ’15, who served as project coordinator through May.
“It is building on partnerships that we already have in making the University a leader in the regional food conversations, which are really prevalent with former Congressman Tony Hall’s new initiatives to reduce hunger in Dayton,” she said.
Keener began working on the Lincoln Hill Gardens project in summer 2015 as the Hanley Institute’s first undergraduate fellow. She continued to coordinate the project after graduating in December, and then left in May to take a full-time position at Homefull, a Dayton nonprofit that works to end homelessness.
The Hanley Institute funded a site development plan by MKSK, a Columbus, Ohio-based landscape architecture and urban design firm whose projects also include RiverScape MetroPark in Dayton.
The institute also paid for construction of three greenhouse-like hoop houses at Lincoln Hill Gardens and is covering maintenance and utilities fees for the site.
“We would like other communities to see what has been done on the Lincoln Hill Gardens site — the site of a former Dayton Public Schools elementary school — and say: ‘Gosh. We have some vacant land in our area; we’d like to do something similar in our neighborhood,’” Pair said.
The Lincoln Hill project officially launched in January with a site assessment, information gathering and goal setting by MKSK and the project partners. In February, the first public meeting was held to solicit campus and community input.
But the garden’s roots go much deeper, stretching back several years.
In fall 2013, the University became partners with Growing Power, an urban agriculture training and growing site in Milwaukee. Will Allen, Growing Power’s founder and chief executive, visited Dayton to speak on campus.
George Hanley ’77 and Amanda Hanley were interested in using Growing Power as a model for Dayton, said Ryan McEwan, associate professor of biology.
In January 2014, McEwan and other faculty and community members traveled to Milwaukee to learn how to implement an urban agriculture project with community support. Additional faculty and community members attended Growing Power workshops in subsequent months.
“The purpose of it was to think about how the University of Dayton could engage in urban agriculture in the region in a general sense,” McEwan said. “I think that was really the first step in the whole thing.”
Meanwhile, East End Community Services was eyeing the former Lincoln School site. Dayton Public Schools closed the school in 2006 and demolished the structure in January 2012, scraping the surrounding turf down to the glacial till.
It also overlooks St. Mary’s Catholic Church, a Romanesque-style church built in 1906. Twin Towers takes its name from the church’s two matching spires.
Sheward said area residents gather at the top of the hill to watch the city of Dayton’s Fourth of July fireworks display and to shoot off their own firecrackers and rockets. People also use the site for sledding and four-wheeling, as evidenced by the visible ruts from truck and all-terrain vehicle tires.
To the north, the former school site slopes down to a densely wooded area. The ground to the west drops sharply down a 25-foot grade to an existing, man-made rain garden for storm water runoff.
East End Community Services was concerned about development at the site, said Kate Ervin, the nonprofit organization’s director of community development and a 2006 graduate of the University’s Master of Public Administration program.
“A lot of neighbors were afraid when the school was torn down a few years ago that something would be developed that wouldn’t be a community asset,” Ervin said. “East End really wanted to ensure that we got the land and it would serve neighborhood purposes.”
In 2015, East End purchased the site from the city of Dayton for $35,000 with funding from an Ohio Housing Finance Agency grant.
Conversations about using the site for urban agriculture started well before East End acquired the property, said Stephen Mackell ’13, urban farm manager for Mission of Mary Cooperative.
“We spoke with them several years ago about the 5-acre site — what could happen up there and how we could make urban farming a little enterprise to eventually employ people in the neighborhood,” he said.
Founded in the spirit of Mary in 2010 by Michael Schulz ’07 and a group of lay Marianists, Mission of Mary is a faith-based nonprofit organization focused on food and economic social justice issues, especially healthy food access and affordability. University faculty, staff and students often work alongside Mission of Mary staff on service learning projects in the community.
Mission of Mary operates three urban agriculture plots in the Twin Towers neighborhood, totaling about 2.5 acres of land. Lincoln Hill Garden will be the fourth and largest, as well as the first to have large-production hoop houses.
Pair said Marianist urban gardening dates back nearly a century.
“Urban gardening is not a new idea for the Marianists,” he explained. “Mission of Mary is the latest rediscovery and exploration of that central concept of community building.”
A native of Findlay, Ohio, Mackell started volunteering for Mission of Mary as an undergraduate and joined the staff full time after completing his bachelor’s degree in economics and philosophy.
As with Mission of Mary, the University has enjoyed a longstanding relationship with East End Community Services. After the launch of the Hanley Institute, East End and Mission of Mary looked to the University as an essential partner in the project. They asked if UD wanted to be involved in a formal way.
In early 2014, Mackell made five University-sponsored trips to Growing Power in Milwaukee to see if Allen’s urban agriculture techniques could be applied to the Lincoln Hill project. He accompanied McEwan on the first trip.
“I’d say that’s when things got serious about the partnership among the three organizations: Mission of Mary, East End Community Services and UD,” he said.
The partners’ goals for the project were outlined in MKSK’s public presentations. They include providing an educational and research space for learning about sustainable land and food practices; creating a community green space for outdoor recreation and experiencing nature; and creating an urban farm that produces healthy food and provides job training and income for the community.
Aligning those goals with the wants and needs of both residents and faculty hasn’t always been an easy process. In early April, workshop discussions about MKSK’s conceptual plans at both East End’s community center and a campus ArtStreet gallery turned contentious.
At ArtStreet, McEwan expressed fears that Lincoln Hill Gardens would become an overly landscaped park with well-manicured lawns, as opposed to a more natural setting where he could engage his environmental biology students in research projects involving native plans and ecological restoration.
“Where do UD students fit in?” he asked.
Concerns also were raised about striking a balance between public spaces and semi-private zones such as Mission of Mary’s garden plots.
Another meeting that evening for Twin Towers residents was even more heated.
The nearly three dozen community members who gathered were a mix of ages and races and included both longtime residents and recent arrivals to the neighborhood.
“An urban farm doesn’t make sense to me; an urban park does,” said Liz Hopkins ’12, a Brooklyn, New York, gallery director who was working with artists at the nearby Davis-Linden Building in East Dayton.
Sheward stood and countered that Twin Towers is in a food desert. Devoting 1 acre for food production would still leave another 4 for development.
“It is crucial to the future of the community,” Sheward said.
Glenda Lamb-Wilson, a Demphle Avenue resident, said she was looking forward to having a garden plot at the Lincoln Hill site. Her property sits at a 45-degree angle and is covered by shade, making it difficult to grow vegetables in her own yard.
Other residents voiced concerns about the possibility of light pollution, and public art displays becoming hazards on the sledding hill.
MKSK principal Darren Meyer and designer Brett Kordenbrock took notes on the feedback at these meetings for consideration in preparing the final site plan.
“Fundamentally, when you come full-circle, what an amazing educational opportunity for students, staff, faculty and graduate students to see the nature of these conversations as they unfold with our community partners,” Pair said.
Lincoln Hill Gardens will allow students to work on projects that meet both learning goals and community needs, said Kelly Bohrer ’96 and ’01, director of community-engaged learning in the University’s Fitz Center for Leadership in Community.
For example, students in Bohrer’s sustainability research classes designed possible site elements, including aquaponics and composting facilities, that were presented to MKSK. In addition, students in associate professor Suki Kwon’s art and design course worked with Niels Braam, MKSK’s environmental graphic designer, to develop branding and signage proposals for Lincoln Hill Gardens.
“Our hope is that the implementation of each piece of the design that the landscape architect ultimately gives us has community members fully involved and students fully involved,” Bohrer said.
Mackell stood atop a tall ladder directing construction of the metal tubing frame that will support the plastic covering of the first greenhouse-like structure.
Nearby, dozens of students pounded metal stakes for the second hoop house into the rock-hard turf with sledgehammers.
A large pile of dark compost was poised to enrich the garden beds.
Less expensive than a traditional glass greenhouse, a hoop house warms plants and soil by retaining incoming solar radiation from the sun through plastic sheeting. “We can grow year-round in it just by passive solar heating; not actively heating it,” Mackell said.
One hoop house is a fixed structure for growing seedlings, plant propagation and year-round production. It also includes space for student research projects.
The other two are on wheels, so they can be rolled to cover adjacent garden plots. This allows for both indoor and outdoor production, depending on the crops and time of year.
“It essentially allows us to grow twice as much food on the same amount of square footage because we are able to stretch the growing season on the front and back ends of the season by moving the greenhouse back and forth,” Mackell said.
He expects to have the hoop houses covered by fall, so they can grow produce throughout the winter.
One of the student volunteers was Léa Dolimier ’16, a Maryland native who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in environmental biology and a minor in sustainability. She was a Mission of Mary intern during the spring semester. She said her goal is to work on a nonprofit farm in a city.
“The University of Dayton really stresses being part of your community and the service aspect and working together,” Dolimier said. “I think a lot of people embrace that idea and want to come out and help.”
Sheward, who received the Fitz Center’s 2015 Mattie Davis and Joe Kanak Community Builders Award, watched the hoop house installation and talked about her hopes for Lincoln Hill Gardens. She is eager for the performance pavilion, which would bring people out of their homes for movies and storytelling.
“When we were an Appalachian community, the storytelling is what continued the richness of the community,” she said.
Local lore includes St. Mary’s Church, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. During World War II, the church was a high point in Dayton and the lights in its towers were used to help U.S. military aircraft land at what is now Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
“The nuns and the priests used to go up there and they would change the colors of the lights,” Sheward said. “My grandmother and my mother lived here through the war, so they knew that the lights in the towers had different meanings.”
Sheward said her dream is to perform the play Stone Soup at the pavilion. The folk tale, in which a hungry traveler manipulates villagers into sharing their food by contributing ingredients to a pot of soup, shows how people can make something significant through many small contributions.
“Stone Soup is a very good story to use for community telling,” she said.
The final site plan was revealed to residents July 3, as neighbors gathered at Lincoln Hill for a cookout before watching the city’s fireworks display.
Artist renderings and schematic designs were arrayed on a large kiosk made from wooden pallets. Community members gathered around the drawings and commented favorably about the plans.
“This is a long way from when I went to school here,” said Anthony Stanford, of Dayton, whose mother still lives nearby on Beaumont Avenue.
He has watched the site’s transformation from a vacant lot, and he hopes progress continues.
MKSK’s plan calls for the project to be implemented in five phases, contingent on fundraising and additional community partnerships.
Already, the first phase — construction of an urban agriculture education facility — is nearly complete. Though not yet covered, the hoop houses are home to crops of tomatoes, peppers, beets, summer squash and eggplant.
The second phase will add community garden plots. The partners hope over time the nature playscape, a sculpture hill with walking paths, a wetland exploration area, the education kitchen and a performance pavilion will follow.
Ervin called the plan a road map that offers the partners professional guidance on how to move the project forward and realize their vision. Mackell agreed.
“It is all very exciting,” said Mackell, who brought his wife and infant daughter to the fireworks event. “The way the project will be implemented in stages allows community members, students and faculty to be involved in different stages and to see it develop over time.”
Sheward stood by the display with fellow residents, discussing how the project might improve their quality of life.
She is excited by the possibilities but sounded a note of caution — perhaps born from the hardship of Twin Towers itself — about bringing Lincoln Hill Gardens to fruition.
“I know it will be a reality, but like every good plan it takes money and time,” Sheward said. “I just want everybody to realize that no dream is achieved overnight.”
A shorter version of this story first published in the autumn 2016 University of Dayton Magazine
His first day as the 19th president of the University of Dayton was full of that familiar UD word — “community.” On July 1, Eric F. Spina toured Kettering Labs, where students showed their research to restore the environment or repair our bodies with nanotechnology. He and his wife, Karen, attended Mass and lunch with the Marianists. He shook hands with international students and community partners. He met with faculty leaders. And he took selfies with all excited to meet the #UDNewPrez.
Spina, who served Syracuse University for 28 years, including nearly nine as vice chancellor and provost, emphasized his commitment to Catholic, Marianist traditions, engagement with the greater community, support for students and faculty, and research excellence.
He’ll be carrying those themes with him as he talks with campus, community and alumni groups during the next six months on his listening tour. What he hears will help shape the University’s strategic vision for the next 20 years.
We sat down with Spina to hear what he had to say about his first day, his family and his plans for the presidency.
Two days before you started, you joined Dan Curran and Brother Ray Fitz for a photo shoot. What do three presidents talk about when they get together?
Dan I’ve worked with closely, and he has been so gracious, warm and supportive. Brother Ray is an icon here, and to have him part of that day for me was very special. The conversation was light, and primarily we talked about their support for me and their love for the institution.
It’s fun, and so much of what we do is heavy and serious. It’s where our students and increasingly our alumni are, so I want to find ways to be accessible. I like Instagram, which I frame as “a day in the life.” I’m going to try to make it diverse enough so followers understand what a president is trying to do to make the university better.
What emoji describes your first day?
The one with the huge smile. And the one I’d put next to it is the one with the hearts in your eyes.
On your first day, the students working at RecPlex changed the music to help welcome you. What music do you like?
On my phone I have a mix with everything imaginable, from modern to some Italian tunes, but my favorites right now are Dave Matthews, Rolling Stones and Amos Lee. It needs to be heavy with a good rhythm, especially when you’re getting tired at the end of the elliptical. The Rolling Stones work especially well.
What’s the story behind the blue tie with red airplanes you wore on your first day?
It was a gift from my friend Andrew Hermalyn, executive vice president of 2U, a company that supports online education. If you look at it carefully, it goes from birds with an occasional plane to planes with an occasional bird. It’s a great tie.
A photograph from your first day in the office shows a nameplate on the desk, a coffee mug on the shelf and hardly anything else. Since then, what have you brought in to decorate, and what is its significance?
Pictures of my family, because that’s my home. I did bring in one thing from Syracuse. In 2002 I received the Chancellor’s Citation for contributions to academic programs. It came with an original piece of art, a drawing of a candle that represents this light in the world that we needed after 9-11. I was fine with leaving Syracuse University, but the relationships I had in my life at Syracuse are with me in that picture.
Why is it important that we remember UD started as a primary boarding school for 14 boys in 1850?
You said 1850 — it’s a long time ago. We’re an institution with an incredible history that we have every reason to be proud of. Those 14 boys, the graduating class we had last May of 2,108 and all those in between — there’s a web of connectivity and impact not only in Dayton, not only in Ohio, but in the country and the world. I’ve read enough and learned enough about how Blessed William Chaminade was wise enough to know that this world is always changing. As a Marianist founder, he didn’t look back but forward. That transformation from boys’ school to college, from college to research university, and from commuter to residential, those are big changes, every one of which has been absolutely right for the institution, for the region, for the country, for society. We have modeled in the past what we need to continue to do. We like who we are and we want to be better, but our call from our history is to be the disrupter. Where really do we need to be in 20 to 35 years?
We like to bike together, so we’re looking forward to hitting the trails. We like to hike. We love art, museums, history. We went to the Dayton Art Institute but also spent a few hours with Willis Bing Davis and his wife, Audrey, in their art studio in West Dayton. They are obviously talented artists but also humanitarians, givers and leaders with a humility and dignity they bring to art education and supporting youth. Art is a passion for Karen and me, and communities are important, so that was really a great two hours.
You’re trained as an aerospace engineer. What interests you?
Karen and I visited the Museum of the U.S. Air Force, and I know all the planes. My favorite is the XB-70 Valkyrie — Mach 3, heavy bomber, huge inlets, cool plane, great name. My father was born in 1925, his mother in 1896. My grandmother died not too long ago, and I think about how her life went from having never heard about the Wright brothers to aircraft that can fly halfway around the world. Change over time is really amazing, as is what we’ve done as a species in terms of harnessing technology.
What will help your children, Kaitlyn and Emery, both students at Skidmore College, feel at home in Dayton?
Karen has done it — she has created some warm, inviting, welcoming places in their new rooms with some old and some new. People here are so welcoming and supportive, so meeting them and creating those connections will be exactly what they need. And my daughter needs to find a restaurant with really good steak.
Are your children interested in becoming engineers like their parents?
No. Neither one will be a practicing artist, but they are both incredibly talented — our daughter has a minor in studio art and our son could as well. They are both more humanists and artists than they are engineers.
Name one way being trained as an aerospace engineer colors the way you see the world.
My mom was an artist, and I do rely on my gut, but whenever possible I like to see data.
Name one way being a Catholic colors the way you see the world.
The values I have around social justice come from my mom, who was a huge devotee of Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton; I have The Seven Storey Mountain on my bookshelf at home. What can Catholicism do in terms of rolling up its sleeves and making a difference in the world? In small ways and large ways this has colored my view. At Syracuse, my focus on diversifying the student body and hiring deans of color and female deans was central to my frame of Catholicism.
It’s still a new coat that I’m wearing. I’m very cognizant of the fact that there are a lot of us working together, but ultimately I’m responsible for all these students. It colors my decisions of what we do, the directions we take and money that we spend. So I feel a paternal or at least avuncular responsibility for our students.
Name one way that being the son of teachers colors the way you see the world.
A lot of what we do is teaching, and there are always opportunities to teach people, to be patient and understanding of people’s context and help them in one way or another. We’re all teachers and we need to think more about how we all engage others in a teaching way.
If you could sign up for one UD class this semester, what would it be?
Presidency 101. But if it has to be a real class, I would choose art history.
What do you want to accomplish in your first 100 days as president, both professionally and personally?
Professionally, the only thing I want to accomplish is listening. I come here with an agenda to make the place better and an agenda around diversity of all kinds. But beyond that I don’t know what we should do as a university, so I want to listen. Personally, it’s connecting with people. You could say it’s the same as listening, but I’m a person who draws energy from relationships. Both Karen and I want to get to know people and people get to know us, what our values are, what we think about the University, what we want for the University.
Do you miss Dinosaur Bar-B-Que?
Have you found a substitute here?
No. I went to a Cincinnati Reds game and someone said, “This barbeque stand is the best.” And it was a ballpark and it was late in the game, but it was not Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.
Do you have a favorite restaurant so far?
We’ve been stuck on Wheat Penny, which is really cool. We like Roost. Park was good. We like eclectic. There was a place back in Syracuse we went to often enough that I didn’t have to order two courses because they knew what I wanted. We’re looking for that here.
Coming from America’s Snowiest City, will you miss the snow or will you bring it with you?
I hope I’m not bringing it with me. I won’t tell you that when I was in Pittsburgh for four years, in New Jersey for five years, or in Washington, D.C., for a year, they all set records for snow. Once upon a time, I actually went to the record books and counted how much snow I had lived through. It was an astonishing amount. So I hope I’m not bringing the snow with me.
Wilbur Wright offered this advice to young people on how to succeed in life: “Pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio.”
Adjunct professor Peter Newman would add to that, “and go to school at the University in Dayton.”
After all, we are the Flyers for a reason, Newman said. And so, in his course The Legal Environment of Business, Newman asked his students to read The Wright Brothers by David McCullough.
The 2015 book, Newman said, fleshes out the historical fact we all learned in second grade — that two brothers from Dayton invented powered, controlled flight — and gives us insight into both the rules of business and the personal traits required to be successful entrepreneurs.
“There is more to being successful than just following the rules,” said Newman, an adjunct professor in both business and law with more than three decades of experience in labor and employment law, corporate compliance and alternative dispute resolution. “You must be ethical, empathetic, optimistic, brave. The Wright brothers embody the traits of successful people that we should try to emulate.”
Newman wondered what lessons his students would find in the pages of the Wrights’ lives, so he had them write about it. Junior Nicolette Dahdah found inspiration.
“When we look back at the past, we should admire and seek to emulate the humbleness they carried to the enterprise, the dedication that made sure they saw it through to the end, and the perseverance to take the dream of flight and bring it into reality despite all their setbacks,” she wrote. “For what is an entrepreneur if not one who tests the limits of society’s thinking and wonders what barriers can man break today?”
In addition to reading McCullough’s book, students visited one of the Wright historic sites in the Dayton area and snapped a photograph. Students knelt at the brothers’ gravesites in Woodland Cemetery, posed in front of the Wright Cycle Co. shop and stood on the replica front porch of the boys’ childhood home less than 3 miles from campus.
The assignment, Newman said, also provided a historical context for their business education at UD. Students who knew nothing of Dayton’s history learned through McCullough that, in the era of the Wrights, Dayton inventors held more patents than those in any other city — good motivation for the next generation of entrepreneurs, Newman said.
Sophomore Ally Ayoob snapped a selfie at Hawthorn Hill where Orville spent his latter years. She wrote that, as she continues her education and enters into professional life, she will draw on the lessons she learned from the Wright brothers and from McCullough, who made their story come to life:
“As a University of Dayton entrepreneurship major, I am both humbled and inspired by the rich entrepreneurial history from which my university and its city draw so much pride.”
In reading The Wright Brothers, it is evident that Orville and Wilbur had a great deal of determination. Despite countless setbacks and negativism coming at them from every direction, the brothers never gave up on their dream. When it first became known that the Wrights were interested in building a flying machine, they immediately received negative feedback. People called them fools and cranks and thought they were trying to achieve the impossible. It wasn’t until nearly a decade later when people were able to witness the flights for themselves that they would rescind their comments. It would have been easy for the Wrights to become discouraged. Additionally, once Wilbur and Orville began building and testing their planes, they struggled for years in coming up with designs. Whether it be in designing the frame, wings, propellers, engines or any other aspect of the planes, each proved to be a great struggle. Wilbur and Orville could have concluded that, after multiple failed attempts in design (for each of the different parts), flight was simply not meant to be. They had to persevere through bad runs, failed attempts, and above all, plane crashes. The worst of these crashes, Sept. 17, 1908, left passenger Lt. Thomas Selfridge dead and Orville in critical condition. That Orville would later return to the air shows his commitment to aviation. —Carmen Bender, junior, international business management
A saying that their father constantly preached to them was “good mettle.” In other words, embrace the challenge in front of you. They met every project and task in front of them with a mindset full of passion and heart. This would result in heated arguments and isolation, but it would also consume them in a beneficial way. John T. Daniels, the amateur photographer whom the brothers had document their progress, once referred to Orville and Wilbur Wright as “the two workingest boys I ever knew.” Innovators today view their work as work, whereas the brothers viewed their work as life. When one shares this perspective, the discipline, the work ethic and perseverance come without question and without hesitation. —Patrick Duggan, sophomore, marketing
Otto Lilienthal, a pioneer who made great progress in flight from observing birds, provided the basis for all men pursuing flight. McCullough wrote of the Wright brothers’ use of Lilienthal’s data tables, “The difficulty was not to get into the air but to stay there, and they concluded that Lilienthal’s fatal problem had been an insufficient means of control — ‘his inability to properly balance his machine in the air,’ as Orville wrote.” At this moment, the Wright brothers decided to throw out Lilienthal’s data and start from scratch. The Wright brothers used their creativity and developed their own testing methods in a wind tunnel with small models. If the Wright brothers were not willing to challenge and change the status quo, they would not have been able to invent the
airplane. —Tianmu Luo, senior, marketing
Personality differences between Wilbur and Orville helped contribute to the success of the brothers. Wilbur, four years older than Orville, was the senior leader in the partnership. He was often described as critical, or, as McCullough wrote, “always ready to oppose an idea expressed by anybody.” In terms of business, critique is beyond important. Wilbur did not critique to offend anyone but to have, as McCullough wrote, a “new way of looking at things.” This critical attitude developed higher expectations, and when expectations were not met, Wilbur was often more discouraged than his younger brother. Wilbur became so discouraged that at one point he said, “Not in a thousand years would man ever fly.” Yet when discouraged by repeated failures, it was Orville’s spirit of ambition and generally optimistic attitude that brought Wilbur right back to the next calculation. While Wilbur had more confidence in his work as time progressed, Orville continuously displayed a high, hopeful, contagious spirit. —Kayla McLaughlin, junior, accounting and operations
The brothers did not believe they had what it took to be businessmen because they did not think they had any tenacity. Wilbur wrote, as conveyed by McCullough, that “the boys of the Wright family are all lacking in determination and push.” But the tenacity of the brothers was evident. As the brothers started to make headway in flight, people did not believe they had what it took to go any further. McCullough wrote that “as far as the reaction in Dayton, probably not one person in a hundred believed the brothers had actually flown in their machine, or if they had, it could only have been a fluke.” Hearing comments such as these would be enough to hinder many entrepreneurs, but for the brothers it was simply fuel to keep progressing. Instead of hanging their heads and giving up, the brothers continued innovating to show these doubters that they could and would achieve their goals. —Andrew Hoffman, sophomore, entrepreneurship
Orville and Wilbur needed a place to test their airplane in a place of high wind, no trees and sand where they could land. The brothers researched and contacted the weather bureau, and Wilbur asked Octave Chanute, a French-American civil engineer and aviation pioneer, for advice. They concluded that the small island of Kitty Hawk was the perfect secluded place for their test runs. Their creative place, though, was not always a perfect place. McCullough wrote that “they had endured violent storms, accidents, one disappointment after another, public indifference or ridicule, and clouds of demon mosquitoes. To get to and from their remote sand dune testing ground they had made five round trips from Dayton, a total of seven thousand miles by train, all to fly little more than half a mile.” Entrepreneurs need a place for their idea to be tested, a place for it to come to life and become a reality. —Corinne Cowan, junior, marketing
One of the earliest examples of ingenuity in the lives of the Wright brothers is described by McCullough; while still in high school, “Interested in printing for some while, Orville had worked for two summers as an apprentice at a local print shop. He designed and built his own press using a discarded tombstone, a buggy spring, and scrap metal.” Orville exemplified that self-drive has no age requirement, an important lesson to all aspiring entrepreneurs. Later in their journey, Wilbur had to rely on his ingenuity when The Flyer arrived to the Bollee factory in shambles. McCullough described, “Those who worked with him at the factory marveled at his meticulous craftsmanship, how he would make his own parts when needed, even a needle if necessary.” He took matters into his own hands and fixed the problem himself. —Megan O’Kane, sophomore, marketing
Everyone is very quick to praise the risks the Wright brothers did take but often overlook their more important ability to identify the risks they were not willing to take. From the beginning, Wilbur and Orville decided that they would never fly together. That way, if tragedy were to strike, one of them would still be around to carry on the legacy. They realized that their work was far more important than the enjoyment they would experience flying together. It was not until 1910, shortly before Wilbur’s death, that they flew together for the first and last time. Their risk management abilities were also seen in their everyday work. The brothers never let the opinions or wants of others affect their work. It did not matter who was watching or how big the crowd was — including a planned demonstration for the U.S. Senate and others at Fort Myer — they would not fly in poor conditions or take unnecessary risks just to please the crowd. Risk
management is vital to the success of any business. Not only their success but also their lives relied on their ability to judge risk. —Mary DeCrane, sophomore, leadership
At no point during their experimentations and successes did the Wright brothers seek to lord their performance over another member of the field, nor did they boast in their own time of their accomplishments. They offer us a lesson in humility. When we contrast that to how today’s business practices work, it’s a startling and shameful difference. The Wright brothers spent $1,000 on their flight venture; aviation pioneer Samuel Langley spent $70,000 on his failed attempt. “[B]eing the kind of men they were, neither said the stunning contrast between their success and Samuel Langley’s full-scale failure just days before made what they had done on their own all the more remarkable,” McCullough wrote. More importantly, instead of belittling one of the key figures who had inadvertently competed with them to be the first to achieve the power of flight, they praised him for being so generous to their cause and assisting them in their own efforts. Wilbur even stated that Langley deserved credit beyond the jeering and cruel amusement his failings brought him from the community because he shared with the brothers the drive to pursue a dream that many found foolish and impossible. If competing businesses worked hand in hand to pool resources and intellect in order to harness the vast shared knowledge between them, humbling themselves to put aside differences and work for mutual gain, the atmosphere of the marketplace would be astonishingly changed. —Nicolette Dahdah, junior, communication
Although Wilbur and Orville maintained ownership of their machine and depended on each other instead of outside sources, the brothers made the right friends and hired the right employees, both of which were crucial in their success. The Tate family, friendly Kitty Hawk locals who allowed Wilbur to stay with them when he first arrived in North Carolina, often helped the brothers build structures and execute experiments on the dunes, McCullough wrote. Charlie Taylor was an employee of the Wright Cycle Co. who proved to be, as McCullough wrote, “more than a clever mechanic, he was a brilliant mechanic and for the brothers a godsend.” It was Taylor who built the engine that would allow the brothers to make aeronautic history Dec. 17, 1903. Invested, excited, innovative employees such as Taylor are at the heart of a business. Personal relationships are also incredibly important, especially to new businesses. Friends and family are usually a business’s first supporters, first sales and first marketing resource. They provide advice and goodwill and may even volunteer time and resources to the venture. Without the Tate family and Charlie Taylor, the Wright brothers’ path to creating the airplane could have looked much different. Entrepreneurs need to recognize just how important friends, family and employees are to their businesses and utilize these relationships as influential assets. —Ally Ayoob, sophomore, entrepreneurship
A sociologist at heart, Curran reshaped the University in his 14-year tenure as president
Daniel J. Curran traveled to China in the spring of 2002 with an eye on the future. The cadence of the trip itself was familiar — an academic exchange filled with formalities to help bridge a cultural divide. But this time, just two months before he would become the University of Dayton’s 18th president, Curran envisioned a grander path of globalization.
He traveled with Fred Pestello, who was provost at the University of Dayton, and Greg Dell’Omo, associate vice president at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, where Curran served as executive vice president and vice president for academic affairs. As Curran participated in a signing ceremony between the University of Dayton and Nanjing University, a ritual that signals the start of a relationship, Pestello leaned over to Dell’Omo and whispered, “Can he do that? He isn’t even president yet.”
“Welcome to the world of Dan Curran,” replied Dell’Omo, who is now president of Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.
Bold and strategic, high-energy and personable, Curran doesn’t like to wait. He had a vision for the future of higher education, a streak of impatience and the tenacity to make things happen — characteristics that would enable him to bring meaningful change to the University as it embarked on a new millennium.
“It was clear that Dan was going to be an ambitious president who was going to push the University in new and exciting directions,” recalls Pestello, who is now president of Saint Louis University. “Today, there are hundreds and hundreds of Chinese students studying at the University of Dayton as a result of the initiatives that began with that first trip in 2002.”
The China visit, the first of many in Curran’s 14-year tenure, set the stage for his presidency, an era in which the University of Dayton opened to the world and experienced unprecedented growth. Curran brought a global perspective — and so much more.
His legacy can be summed up most easily by the numbers: From 7,000 undergraduate applicants to nearly 17,000. From 42 undergraduate international students to 939. From a campus of 212 acres to 388 acres. From $47.5 million in sponsored research to $98.6 million. From an endowment of $254 million to $500.4 million. While other universities had cutbacks and furloughs during the Great Recession, the University of Dayton had its pick of top-choice candidates, growing the faculty while expanding diversity, academic depth and program breadth.
During Curran’s tenure, the University adapted its academic program to meet the changing times. It launched the nation’s first accelerated law degree; started physical therapy doctoral and physician assistant practice master’s programs; introduced one of the nation’s first bachelor’s degrees in human rights studies; and offered the state’s first master’s program in clean and renewable energy. It was the first American university to open a freestanding institute in Suzhou, China. Today, the University of Dayton China Institute hosts research and educational opportunities for students and faculty and provides educational services to the workforce of multinational companies at Suzhou Industrial Park.
In addition, the University redesigned its undergraduate general education curriculum, the Common Academic Program; launched the Dayton Early College Academy, a charter school serving urban students underrepresented in higher education; and instituted a Human Rights Center and the Hanley Sustainability Institute.
“It’s been a pretty amazing 14 years of change,” says Sandra Yocum, associate professor of religious studies, who was on the presidential search committee that recommended Curran.
His time in Dayton also can be measured by his accolades: Leader of the Year from the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce; Most Outstanding Volunteer Citizen from the Dayton Development Coalition for 2006 and 2015; and the Joseph E. Lowery Human Rights Legacy Award from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a civil rights organization founded by Martin Luther King Jr. In 2011, he was named one of the 10 most influential people in Dayton. He is the only person to twice receive the Regional Leader of the Year award from the Dayton Business Journal.
Yet in keeping with the Marianist spirit that he has honored at the University, Curran shares the credit. “I came into the right situation — a solid foundation built on [former president Brother] Ray Fitz’s legacy, a board that said, ‘We want you to be bold; we want you to be yourself,’” he says. “It just allowed me to move quickly.”
When Curran became president of the University of Dayton, some may have wondered how the first lay president would maintain the University’s deeply held identity. They needn’t have worried. Faith and community — core Marianist values — have always been at the center of Curran’s life.
One of three children, Curran grew up in suburban Philadelphia, where he attended Catholic schools. In his early childhood, he belonged to Our Mother of Good Counsel parish in Bryn Mawr and lived on Dayton Road — perhaps foreshadowing things to come.
Curran was a first-generation college student, and he originally considered studying engineering. Instead, he decided to major in business at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. His father, a truck driver, wasn’t happy when he later announced that he was switching to sociology.
“What job will a sociologist get?” his father asked him.
“I’ll be a professor,” replied Curran, who had an abiding interest in criminology, poverty and social issues.
That would be the first step on a path to university president.
Curran, 65, spent 23 years at Saint Joseph’s, a place where he collaborated academically with his wife, Claire Renzetti, who is also a sociologist (and is now the sociology department chair and Judi Conway Patton Endowed Chair in the Center for Research on Violence Against Women at the University of Kentucky). They met while doctoral students at the University of Delaware, and together taught and wrote textbooks, such as Women, Men & Society, an exploration of gender issues.
Curran made his first trip to China as part of their honeymoon tour of Asia in 1985, a time when the Communist nation was still a closed society and few Americans ventured there. He was fascinated by China’s internal migrants, the “floating population” who flouted state rules about where they must live and traveled alone to other parts of the country. He saw the potential to collaborate on criminology research with Chinese academics.
Curran had a sense that China, the most populous country in the world, would grow as a global force. Since then, he has made about 50 trips. “Much of what happens with any relationship with China is built on personal relationships. It’s very important that they know you,” Renzetti says. “He feels very comfortable in Chinese culture.”
Meanwhile, as a professor at Saint Joseph’s, Curran took on roles that built his administrative and organizational skills and that brought him closer to students — serving as director of first-year orientation and academic adviser of the men’s and women’s basketball teams. Eventually, Curran moved into leadership posts: dean, vice president for academic affairs, executive vice president.
When the University of Dayton began its presidential search in 2001, the search firm contacted Curran, but it wasn’t the right time. The president of Saint Joseph’s had just been diagnosed with a serious illness, and Curran and Renzetti were building their dream house and hadn’t even moved in.
But the search failed to identify a suitable candidate, someone who could connect with faculty, staff and students and shepherd the University through the emerging challenges of higher education while remaining true to the Marianist tradition. The recruiter contacted Curran again, and he agreed to visit.
Curran, Renzetti and their two boys came to campus just before Christmas in 2001. They met three times with then-President Brother Raymond L. Fitz, S.M. ’64. “I was struck by how humble he was and his emphasis on community,” recalls Curran. He also saw a university with a strong base for growth.
In February 2002, Curran accepted the offer and would begin in July. At the formal installation the following spring, the University of Dayton rector, Father Gene Contadino, S.M. ’62, gave Curran a lapel pin that the Marianists had designed for him. It features the University’s chapel dome and the Marianist cross.
“He went out of his way to do this to say, ‘You’re part of the Marianist family,’” says Curran, who wears the pin every day. “From the very beginning, I felt the Marianists were around me all the time. You never feel alone.”
At the same time, Curran had the freedom to act decisively and make the changes he felt the University needed to remain competitive. He moved with the swiftness of a CEO, not the ruminative pace of an academic. That came as a bit of a jolt to the faculty and staff, who had yet to grow accustomed to his style.
Beth Keyes, vice president for facilities and campus operations, recalls that shortly after his arrival, Curran shared his concerns about the look and feel of the campus. Why were trucks parked in the center of campus? And what about those dreadful tennis courts, surrounded by a chain-link fence? The core of the campus should be a unifying spot for students, he said.
“I learned early on that just a passing comment from him is not a passing comment,” Keyes says. The trucks and tennis courts were soon moved, replaced by an expansive grassy mall — and later, a statue of Marianist founder Blessed William Joseph Chaminade was added, donated by Curran and Renzetti.
In December 2002, just months after taking office, Curran told Keyes he wanted a new residence hall. It would provide updated space and enable the University to move students out of older buildings, which could then be renovated. It would contain classroom space and a bookstore.
And he wanted it to open within 18 months. “There’s no way we can plan that and have it open in 18 months,” Keyes remembers thinking. But Curran stayed firm. Instead of spending a year just in design, the project used a speedier design-build process. Construction began on Marianist Hall in May 2003, and it opened in August 2004.
In fact, the timeline inspired the builders of ArtStreet to accelerate their work so the housing and multi-arts facility in the student neighborhood could also open in 2004.
Capitalizing on other opportunities required both pragmatic reflection and swift action. Shortly after Curran was selected, he learned about ongoing negotiations for a 49-acre site owned by NCR Corp. that could greatly expand the campus. The catch: Part of the property was a “brownfield,” a former
factory zone with contaminated soil and asbestos in the remaining buildings.
After much study, Curran recommended going forward with the $25 million purchase. The board of trustees agreed unanimously, and the sale was finalized in 2005. In partnership with the city of Dayton, the University obtained about $5.5 million from two Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund grants to assist in the cleanup.
In 2010, he proudly announced that GE Aviation would open a major research facility there. This spring,
Emerson Climate Technologies opened its own innovation center, The Helix, which it built on the site.
In 2009, with Dayton still reeling from the Great Recession, the city lost its largest company. While NCR announced its move to Georgia, the University underscored its commitment to the city by purchasing NCR’s former world headquarters. The 115-acre site contained a sprawling building with 455,000 square feet of space. The University of Dayton Research Institute moved into the building. “This is an exceptional opportunity for the University of Dayton to invest in our future — and this region’s destiny,” he said.
No one was surprised that Curran had stepped forward to boost the region’s fortunes. He had served on the boards of numerous community organizations, including as chair of the Dayton Development Coalition and as a member of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce. “Dan is looked at throughout the community as one of the top leaders in the entire region,” says Jeff Hoagland ’91, president and CEO of the coalition. And the University “has been the economic driver that has changed the way people perceive the city of Dayton and the entire region,” he says.
For Curran, improving and expanding campus was part of a greater vision for the future. Most of the student body came from Ohio and the Midwest — a demographic that was shrinking. Curran saw that geographic diversity would strengthen the University while enriching the student experience.
The University would need to shed some modesty and spread its message. A new viewbook for prospective students projected a bold image. “THIS BOOK DOES NOT HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS” it said in bright red letters on the cover. Inside, amid provocative questions (“Do you perform community service because it feels good or because it looks good on your résumé?”) and an eye-catching design, the viewbook touted the University’s accomplishments and unique attributes.
Affordability arose as a major concern nationally, and the University responded with a tuition guarantee: University-funded scholarships and grants are adjusted every year so that net tuition stays the same for the entire four years.
Today, the student loan debt burden of University of Dayton families has declined while the first-to second-year retention rate reached 91 percent, an all-time high. The retention rate is even higher — above 92 percent — for entering African-American and Hispanic students. About 57 percent of first-year students are from outside Ohio, compared with just 37 percent in 2007. The number of applicants continues to rise, boosting the University’s selectivity. International students come from more than 50 countries. “For the student who can’t study abroad, they do have various slices of the world here in Dayton, Ohio,” says Interim Provost Paul Benson.
Meanwhile, Curran endorsed a collaborative approach to emerging issues when he re-established the University’s Educational Leadership Council with strong faculty representation. It is co-chaired by the University president and the president of the Academic Senate and includes the provost, deans, and vice president for finance and administrative services as well as faculty and student members of the executive committee and committee chairs of the Academic Senate.
Curran’s move was “very Marianist,” says Carissa Krane, professor of biology and president of the Academic Senate. “In a very true and tangible way, faculty have a seat at the table for strategic discussions,” she says.
As Curran worked to strengthen the University of Dayton community, he kept students and the student experience at the core of every decision. He has a professor’s sensibilities and can’t walk across campus without pausing to greet students who call him “Dr. Dan.” He formalized a student connection to the president’s office by creating the President’s Emissaries, and he regularly dines with students — in his house or theirs.
Curran showed his comfort level with students when he attended a fall 2015 rally in support of students at the University of Missouri who had toppled their own president over a failure to adequately address racial tensions on campus.
“I’m here as a sign of solidarity with the students, faculty and staff,” Curran told a student reporter with Flyer News as they all braced themselves against a brisk wind off the Central Mall outside Kennedy Union. “I think the statement they’re making about dignity is very important for the University of Dayton. It’s at the heart of our mission.”
When racial concerns have emerged in recent years at the University, Curran became directly involved and opened his office as an avenue to address the issues, says Mike Lofton ’05, vice president for partnerships for myEDmatch, a job-matching website for teachers and schools. “He’s never run away from any hard issue as it concerns students on campus,” he says.
Lofton was one of the first emissaries and vice president of the Student Government Association. Curran became a mentor and friend. “I look up to him so very much in all phases of life,” says Lofton, who is now on the board of directors of the University of Dayton Alumni Association.
In 2014, Curran waded into a very different student gathering when a celebratory throng poured out of houses and residence halls to party in the street after Dayton defeated Syracuse to advance to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. For a few moments, students held Curran aloft as they chanted “Dr. Dan! Dr. Dan!
Dr. Dan!” The incident made the national news.
“A person asked me, ‘Weren’t you frightened to walk into a crowd of students?’” Curran says. “No, it was a natural thing to do. It’s just not the way I’ve ever felt about the students. They care about me, and I care about them.”
When he steps down at the end of the academic year, Curran plans to take a yearlong sabbatical, which will include resumption of his academic work in China. A long-distance bicyclist, he has already checked out the bike shops in Suzhou.
As president, he says he finds his greatest joy in seeing the success of students, faculty and staff. Now he is looking forward to
returning to the place where he began — the classroom.
It won’t be hard to find Professor Dan Curran at the University of Dayton. On game days, he’ll be in the stands, cheering for the Flyers. His contract as president included a clause guaranteeing him basketball tickets for life.
Otherwise, he’ll be doing what sociologists do: Studying concepts of social justice. Mentoring students. Building community. He’s ready for the next chapter. “Who knows what the future brings?” says Curran.
Michele Cohen Marill is a freelance writer based in Atlanta. As someone who grew up with the ideal of Southern hospitality, she was touched by the great Marianist spirit of caring and community at the University of Dayton.
Loved ones are praying for the recovery of Coral Flamand ’13 after a catastrophic car crash. Medical science says her rehabilitation is not possible, but her parents’ Catholic faith holds out the hope of a miracle, perhaps through the intercession of a saint. Father Chaminade, founder of the Society of Mary, could be that saint.
In 1980, some plucky U.S. college kids and amateur players won an Olympic ice hockey game against a team of experienced Soviet players. In the game’s closing seconds, ABC broadcaster Al Michaels delivered what’s still the most famous call of his career: “Do you believe in miracles?”
But “The Miracle on Ice” wasn’t a miracle. It was a hockey game.
Here’s what a miracle looks like: Thousands fed with five loaves and two fishes. An enemy’s approaching army blinded by a handful of dust. Lazarus resurrected.
On the afternoon of Friday, Dec. 13, 2013, Coral Flamand ’13 was in her Honda Civic turning left onto Montgomery Road in Cincinnati when a Cadillac Escalade T-boned the driver’s side of her car, sending it with her flying into an empty lot.
In the moment before the collision, Coral was on her way to her apartment to study for the last final exam of her first semester in law school at the University of Cincinnati. She didn’t really want to be a lawyer, said her mom, Diana, herself a family law attorney in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Coral wanted to understand legal systems so that she could be an effective advocate for people who are marginalized and dispossessed.
But those plans couldn’t protect her from the hard facts of physics and biology at the moment of impact. It was late afternoon when Diana, sitting in her San Juan office at the end of a long week, started to get calls about her daughter. Around 5 o’clock, emergency responders asked for permission to transport Coral by helicopter to University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
“They told me, ‘It’s very bad. You need to get here as soon as possible,’” she said.
Diana left the office for the airport that moment, somehow making it through San Juan’s Friday-afternoon, Christmas-season rush hour in time to catch the next flight to Miami, which took off at 6:15. She sat in a middle seat between two strangers, praying she would get there quickly enough that her daughter would not die alone.
Coral was the baby of the family. The sibling nearest in age, her brother Francois, was 10 when she was born. “She was a surprise,” Diana said. “But from day one, you could tell this child was different.”
From an early age, “she had the gift of the word,” said her father, Luis. “She could always speak and write beautifully, in both English and Spanish.”
She was always, he said, conscious of the suffering of others. Back in fifth grade, her parents got a call from her school about a fight. They learned Coral was sticking up for a girl whom other students were calling “faggot.” In high school, Coral went with the Jesuits on a mission trip to Paraguay and returned without her suitcase because she’d left everything behind for others. She liked to borrow her father’s Economist and Time magazines and could tell you exactly what was happening in Darfur.
When it came time for college, she was admitted to the University of Chicago but chose Dayton instead, partly because it had the nation’s first program in human rights studies and partly because her brother Francois was a Flyer, Class of 2004.
At UD, she was a dedicated writer to the letters to the editor page of Flyer News. In one, she criticizes, with care and respect but pulling no punches, UD’s decision to provide shuttles to the local Walmart, “a corporation that has been criticized for anti-union and deplorable human rights practices for years,” she wrote. In another, she protests what she sees as lackadaisical responses to incidents of racial bias.
“She was always getting into other people’s fights,” her father
said. “She was a very determined girl, always advocating for the other person. It’s one thing to have gifts, but it’s another to use them in service of others.”
In the hours after her crash, Coral’s family converged on the hospital in Cincinnati. Coral’s oldest brother and godfather, also named Luis, drove six hours straight from his home in South Carolina. It fell to him, as the first to arrive, to make the initial medical decisions on his sister’s behalf. Another brother, Juan Carlos, came in from Arizona. Her third brother, Francois, lived in Panama but was in Miami for work and met Diana at the airport gate.
When she landed, Diana called her son Luis to find out whether Coral was still alive. He said yes.
“Then don’t tell me anything else,” Diana said. “That’s enough for now. And don’t tell your father. Just have him call me. I will be the one to tell him.”
Coral’s father Luis was across the ocean in Spain, settling in for the evening on the final day of a six-week religious retreat sponsored by the Jesuits. It was a long time to be away. Diana had offered her blessing for the trip on the condition that he bring back an image of the Virgin of Montserrat, the patron saint of Catalonia. Diana had chosen to give a virgin saint to each of her four children. She had already picked out Our Lady of Fatima, of Carmel and of Lourdes.
Until the accident, the plan was for Luis to arrive from Spain back in San Juan on Monday. Coral would take her last exam in Cincinnati that day and arrive back home on Tuesday. On Wednesday, they’d celebrate her birthday together. When he got Diana’s call, he instead flew to Cincinnati immediately. Another call, from Francois, went to Myron Achbach ’58, a family friend and, for many years, the admission director at UD. Francois knew Achbach could quickly find a priest to perform the sacrament of anointing the sick.
On the flight from Miami to Cincinnati with Francois, Diana prayed: “Father, I’m not going to argue. I’m not going to bargain. Thy will be done. But if we can have a miracle, please.”
They landed around midnight in northern Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati. Diana stepped out into the December cold still wearing the sandals she’d put on that morning in San Juan and went to the hospital. Early the next morning, Father Eugene Contadino, S.M. ’62, arrived and anointed Coral.
On the Glasgow Coma Scale — a three-part scoring system that medical staff use to evaluate a patient’s level of consciousness — Coral initially scored 3, the lowest possible number: no eye opening, no verbal response, no motor response. Anything under 8 is generally considered a coma state. Still, there was a neurologist on hand — he’d stayed behind so others could attend an office holiday party — who took her into surgery, something he later told the family “was a human decision, not a medical one.” He had a daughter around Coral’s age.
With the medical team’s intervention, Coral survived the collision, but just barely. She did not break her neck or sever her spine, did not lose a limb or have her organs sliced to bits by metal. All three of her car’s airbags deployed. Nonetheless, her injuries were catastrophic. A note from one of her UC Medical Cener doctors outlines the litany of her trauma: “a traumatic subdural hemorrhage, traumatic subarachnoid hemorrhage” — explaining where her brain was bleeding — “carotid artery dissections” — the tearing of arteries in her neck — plus various bone fractures, a “grade 2 spleen laceration,” a collapsed lung, “and other minor injuries.”
Broken bones and lacerations heal.
The lasting damage has been to Coral’s brain. The same doctor’s note describes her as “mentally devastated.” She is quadriplegic and bed-bound, unable to care for herself or make her own medical decisions. In photographs, her body is contorted, her hands curled up against her chest. Her face wears a pained expression.
Coral’s medical condition lies in the consequences to her brain of being hit squarely by an SUV going 58 mph. The impact violently bounced her brain around the inside of her cranium, causing severe damage and bleeding that severed her brain’s ability to communicate with the other parts of her body. Her heart beats, her lungs breathe and her mind thinks, but her muscles wait in vain for signals to move. Her medical prognosis is bleak. If it holds, she will never walk, never say another word, never bite into an apple nor extend her hand with the sign of peace at Mass, and never insert herself into anyone else’s fight ever again.
After a year in hospitals in the States, Coral now lives back in her childhood home in San Juan. Her parents renovated the garage into a new room for her with a hospital bed and other medical equipment — “like a studio apartment,” they say. It’s just off the kitchen. There’s a futon by the door where one of them now sleeps every night. They’re worried saliva might accumulate in her mouth and choke her, or that she might slip into an awkward position and be in pain, her father said.
“Most importantly, we do it so she knows she is not alone, so she feels protected and cared for always,” he said. A small statue of the Virgin of Montserrat — the one he brought back with him from Spain and sat next to his daughter’s hospital bed in Cincinnati — remains with her also.
“I know that miracles have already happened with Coral,” Luis said. “First, she is alive. Second, she is there; her being is there. She is already a miracle.”
Medical science doesn’t offer a path for Coral’s recovery. In the weeks after the crash, one physical therapist advised that physical therapy was not only hopeless but unethical. Her parents know this, so they pray for a sign that God’s will aligns with their deep hope to have their daughter back closer to what she once was. They pray for her brain to redevelop the connections with her body that will enable her to be made more whole again. They are praying, they say, for the miracle of her rehabilitation.
The doctrines of their Catholic faith hold out the possibility that God may grant this miracle, perhaps through the intercession of one or more saints. The Catholic Church’s canonization process has four steps of recognition — servant of God, venerable, blessed and saint — and confirmation of miracles moves a person up the last two steps toward sainthood. The designation “blessed,” the third of the four steps, reflects the official doctrine of the Catholic Church that a person is in heaven and that one miracle is already attributed to his or her posthumous intercession.
Claims of miracles are investigated by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the precursor of which was established in 1588 by Pope Sixtus V. The current congregation has 34 members whose charge, according to the Vatican, is to annually prepare “everything necessary for the pope to be able to set forth new examples of holiness,” including the approval of miracles.
Today, the go-to miracle is healing, recoveries neither predicted nor explained by medical science. The belief in healing miracles can be subject to the abuse and exploitation of people desperate for cures. Just in March, Pope Francis introduced new regulations to curb perceived abuses in how contributions made to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to reimburse investigation expenses are regulated.
But what, exactly, is a miracle? The word itself comes from Greek, thaumasion, “something that is extraordinary in itself and amazing or inexplicable by normal standards,” according to one standard reference source. But it adds that a miracle is more than something inexplicable. Its essential nature comes not from what it is, but from what it signifies. A wonder becomes a miracle when it is understood as a revelation of the divine, a sign that can be read only through the knowledge that God is with us.
But do miracles really happen? I wondered this as I spoke on the phone to San Juan with the Flamands. We throw the term “miracle” around casually, referring not only to a hockey win but “the miracle of birth,” for example, even though we understand well the mechanisms of reproduction. As the Flamands talked with me from their home about praying for a real miracle for Coral, who I imagined lay nearby, they moved uneasily between past and present tense, the ground constantly shifting underneath them between who she was and who she is.
The 18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume went as far as to use the language of transgression when he wrote about believers in miracles. He argued that advocates of miracles, by definition, are willing to allow that God capriciously violates the very laws of nature. Hume dismissed witnesses to miracles as deluded or deceptive. “No human testimony can have such force as to prove a miracle,” he wrote.
That may be so, but I know that my mother, like Diana, is certain of miracles. She has told me more than once that she felt the guiding hand of an angel when I was a baby. We were in a car in the mountains of Europe — the Italian Alps, I think — when a truck careened around a blind corner. Her quick, evasive turn of the steering wheel sent us toward a sheer drop off a high cliff, irretrievably, she says, until the hand of an angel turned the wheel back at the very last possible moment before we slipped over the edge. I’ve always suspected that maybe the car corrected because our wheel hit a rock or something, but could that not also be grace?
Our recognition of what we call miracles has a long history, not only in the Catholic faith but in all of the world’s major religions, according to Kenneth Woodward, the former religion editor at Newsweek, who published a book in 2000 analyzing the stories about miracles told by various religious traditions. Both the Buddha and Jesus are said to have walked on water, he points out, and both Jesus and Mohammad are said to have ascended into heaven.
The Gospels ascribe roughly three dozen miracles to Jesus of Nazareth. His first was turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana, and from there he variously cured lepers, the blind and others, exorcised evil spirits, and even cursed a fig tree, which then withered. The greatest miracle of his life was his own resurrection after his crucifixion. When his apostle Thomas doubted, Jesus invited him to “reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands” and “reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my sides,” according to the luminously beautiful King James translation I grew up reading. And then he damned Thomas (but only figuratively, with faint praise): “Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: Blessed are they that have not seen,
and yet have believed.”
That’s as good a definition of faith as I’ve ever read: not having the evidence in hand, yet believing anyway. The Gospels frequently model this version of faith. When Simon Peter has cast his fishing nets again and again without success, Jesus tells him to try once more. He complies, and the nets fill. When disciples have failed to heal a man’s epileptic son, the man still kneels before Jesus and professes his faith. “All things can be done for the one who believes,” Jesus tells him, and he heals the boy.
To Christians, Jesus of Nazareth was the Word made flesh, God become man. “The coming of Jesus represented the reappearance of God in the world,” Woodward writes, a reappearance that was “manifest chiefly through the miracles, or signs, of Jesus.” But his life on Earth lasted but 33 years, his ministry just three of them. Then he was gone again, leaving behind evidence but with himself no longer seen.
After Christ’s ascension into heaven, the Christian saints continued to work miracles through the power of the Holy Spirit with the invocation of Jesus’ name, according to the Catholic tradition. With time, indications of miracles ascribed to the intercession of the faithful and holy came to be understood as evidence of sainthood. With more time, these miracles came to be ascribed posthumously.
Woodward points to Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, as an important turning point in this understanding. After his murder in his cathedral in 1170, a monk was stationed near the altar steps where Becket died to record claims of miracles attributed to him.
“Fifteen years later, the records showed over 700 cures and other miracles,” according to Woodward. He says a shift was underway in the Church’s understanding of miracles.
“From the late 12th century onward, the papacy required posthumous miracles as signs from God, especially for nonmartyrs, confirming the [canonization] candidate’s reputation for holiness,” he writes. The candidates’ miracles were seen not only as signs of God’s presence in the physical world but as signs of their own closeness to God.
In addition to praying to the Virgin of Montserrat, the Flamands pray for the intercession of two current candidates for canonization. Blessed Carlos Manuel Cecilio Rodríguez Santiago, who died in 1963, was a native Puerto Rican and layperson of the Catholic Church, and was beatified in 2001. Blessed William Joseph Chaminade, who died in 1850, was beatified in 2000. He founded the Society of Mary, which founded UD. In the bureaucratic and often lengthy process of canonization, each man is blessed, just one miracle away from being declared a saint. If the Flamands’ prayers are answered, Coral’s
rehabilitation could be that miracle.
“God has been very merciful in giving us the strength to accept his will and have the internal will to deal with this situation with — I can say it — with joy,” father Luis said. “There is a purpose for everything.”
The miracle already ascribed to Rodríguez is the cure of a 42-
year-old mother diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s malignant lymphoma who had prayed to Rodríguez for intercession. If another miracle is attributed to him, he will become the Catholic Church’s first Puerto Rico-born saint.
The Congregation for the Causes of Saints has already attributed one medical miracle to Chaminade, the healing of a Buenos Aires woman suffering from lung cancer. The congregation declared her cure “scientifically inexplicable.” Three thousand pages of investigative materials for another possible miracle, the cure of a St. Louis high school student suffering from Askin’s tumor, a kind of sarcoma, was forwarded to Rome in 2010, but the congregation did not judge it a true miracle without medical intervention “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“There is a rigorous process in Rome,” said Father Martin A. Solma, S.M ’71, provincial of the Marianist Province of the United States. “Should Coral be cured, we would begin a local process, involving medical records, testimony and expert witnesses. At the conclusion of the local, diocesan process, the entire documentation, sometimes totaling thousands of pages, would then be sent to the Vatican for the lengthy process of study, verification and, finally, judgment.”
Solma personally prays for Coral daily. “She was a UD student, and the circumstances of her accident are heartbreaking, especially for her parents,” he said. “As believers, we accept the possibility that God can so touch the human person that healing, experienced in both body
and spirit, happens.”
Just after Coral’s accident, her family stayed in a hotel for a few days and then moved into her apartment. There they saw signs of the woman she was becoming and understood her in new ways. Her friends from Dayton and Cincinnati told them stories they’d never heard.
“We learned so much about her, things we never knew,” Diana said.
They knew that in her last two years at UD, “some sort of metamorphosis was happening. Her worldview was evolving,” as her
father Luis put it.
When Diana offered to buy her a new bag for books when she started at UC, Coral said, “I can make do with what I have. I have what’s necessary in life.” Diana saw this commitment to live simply when she entered Coral’s apartment. “She had just the bare things,” Diana said.
On a wall near a simple table where Coral ate and studied was a cross decorated with three flowers and the words “faith hope love.” Luis called it “the icon.” It took months of going back and forth between hospital and rehab rooms and nights of sitting at Coral’s table before he paid any attention to the framed image just below it. It was a giant peace sign with the word “Imagine” in large letters across it.
“I never paid attention to the ‘Imagine’ poster, which meant nothing to me,” he said. “One night, I wondered why only these two objects on that wall in that position.” He Googled it and read John Lennon’s iconic lyrics. “I started to look at the two items as one, and suddenly it made all the sense in the world. … I was so consoled at that moment.”
The juxtaposition spoke to Diana as well: “We believe it defines Coral, her beliefs and mission in life.”
Back home in Puerto Rico, Coral is
beginning to express herself again through the movements of her eyes, say Luis and Diana, something doctors and therapists said was unlikely to happen. “At first, they thought we were distraught,” Luis said.
Diana put it more bluntly: “Everybody thought we were crazy.”
It’s an encouraging sign for them. The girl with the gift for the word is finding a voice again, however tentative. “Her most precious gift was the ability to talk,” Diana said. “The inability to communicate must be the worst thing for her.”
Through the movements of her eyes, they say, she picks the color for her manicure or gives her consent for her daily physical therapy.
“She’s there,” Luis said. “She reads. She cannot talk, but she processes things in her mind. She watches TV. She follows politics and is into what’s happening. She reacts. She’s very much aware of time and space,” though, he added, her processing time is longer. “Only another miracle will make her walk. She knows this.”
The key for her and for them, the Flamands say, is that they have kept faith and found the strength to accept what has happened rather than struggle to make sense of it. “Thy will be done,” as Diana prayed on the way to Cincinnati.
They live, they say, comforted by the sacrament of the present moment, which encourages grace through a selfless abandonment to God. Memories are in the past; pleasant or not, you can’t do anything about them now. The future is similarly beyond grasp. “But we have today,” Luis said.
Even though medicine fails their daughter, the revelation of God’s will continues in their lives, they say. As they pray for the miracle of her rehabilitation, they say they already see many miracles, in her tiny steps toward recovery, in her continuing ability to benefit others around her, such as doctors in training or other families struck by
sudden accidents of their own.
“A miracle can be right in front of you, but you have to see it,” Luis said.
“This is not easy,” Diana said. “I wake up every morning and wonder how we will do it. And every night, I’ve won, but it’s not me. I see little miracles every day. Coral’s doing this for me.”
And every night when they pray for her rehabilitation, their prayers don’t ask for better understanding. The miracle they seek, if it comes, will defy understanding. They are asking to deepen the inexplicable mystery of faith.
Prayer for Coral
We believe, O God, that You are the author of life,
and You hold all of creation in Your eternal embrace.
Because our faith tells us that we live in the palm of
Your hand and we are never outside of Your care,
we beg most earnestly that through the intercession
of Blessed William Joseph Chaminade You will
restore to full health Your servant, Coral. It was
You who gave her life, it is You who can bring it to
fullness. We pray our need in union with Mary who
is our model disciple today and forever.