Readers had more questions for Carol Ramey ’68, director of the North American Center for Marianist Studies, than we had space in the Big Questions section of the Autumn 2012 issue of University of Dayton Magazine. Here are additional questions with her answers:
What do you understand by your commitment as a member of a Marianist lay community? What difference does it make in your life? Is there anything special about your way of being Catholic as a lay Marianist? —David Fleming, S.M., Dayton, Ohio
My Catholic faith is the foundation of my Marianist commitment, and my Marianist commitment deepens my Catholic faith. Parish life is one component of my quest for God and meaning. Marianist spirituality fulfills a longing in me for an experience where the Word of God is broken open through conversation among peers; where prayer is creative and varied; where trust for deep faith sharing builds among members; where we read the Scripture and the newspaper together, where we ponder and plan activity against the injustices of the world and the church.
The Marianist style of community is prophetic, I think, to the larger church — offering the Marian dimensions of church as complement to the Petrine and the Pauline traditions. Had I not met the Marianists, I wouldn’t have the hope I have for the church because I’ve wouldn’t have witnessed what it could be.
How/when did the Marianist charism capture your imagination? What aspect of Marianist charism do you feel is most needed in the world today and why? What have been the benefits and challenges of lay people being more integral in Marianist leadership around the world? —Crystal Sullivan, Kettering, Ohio
I was drawn to the Marianists at UD in the early ‘60s. I was captivated by the congruence between the Marianist lay community on campus and the documents coming out of Vatican II. The opportunity to change the church and world was electricity for we who were on the threshold of being in the world as contributing adults. I was intrigued by how Marianists spoke of Mary — she was admired as much for her courage and risk taking as she was for her humility and receptivity.
For me, the elements of the charism are a package deal. Each of the five pillars — faith, community, inclusivity, Mary, and mission — is critical for our times. But, community is probably at the center right now — both church and culture struggle with bringing people to a sense of deep purpose and belonging, handling complexities and limits, and living in peace and justice within local and global diversity. Community is both a destination from which to draw strength for the mission and a vehicle by which contemporary approaches to ministry and concepts for social structures for equality can be created.
Lay leadership is at the roots of Marianist life. Blessed Chaminade trusted the capacities of lay to promote zeal, education and practical resources for the early communities, which operated quite well for 16 years before the Marianist religious were founded. The purpose of the orders was to support the growth of the communities, not lead them.
Today, frankly, the most evident benefit is that most of the ministries are continuing despite the fewer numbers of professed Marianists available for leading the apostolic works — dedicated and professionally prepared lay individuals are insuring this for the future.
The challenges are around integrating Marianist spirit into all aspects of institutions’ operations — for example, most Marianist board by-laws require the participation of vowed religious on the boards — this taxes leadership right now. Ongoing educational and formational efforts to support leaders in mission integration need funding and qualified resource people.
How has your position at NACMS evolved over the years? What is the most important function that NACMS serves? —Celine O’Neill, Kettering, Ohio
The reason we exist has stayed the same — we continue to see our core mission as education in Marianist history, spirituality and apostolic approaches.
What have changed are the methods of delivery and our audience. Staff and I have had some steep learning curves — virtual learning, electronic publications, new technologies and avenues for networking, how to meet the interest in information and enrichment among an increasing diverse audience, providing scholarship in Marianist studies and current interpretations of the founders’ thoughts, and staying up-to-date on the Marianists around the world. Our audiences now are a mix of lay and religious, young and old, Catholic and those from other faith traditions.
Doing all this in a cost-containing manner has become more challenging. Serving a growing number of people is gratifying. And we know we need staff members who grew up with or have learned about the newest, latest, electronic devices and the “cloud.”
You have committed a great deal of your life to becoming an expert in Marianist history, traditions, and values. How has Marianist culture influenced your own life as a lay person. —Marge Cavanaugh ’67, Arlington, Va.
The learning and habits go back and forth between my life and work. The culture of the workplace reinforces how I pray, how I apply my talents, how I try to foster good relationships with friends and family and how I strive to put “first things first.” The experiences of lay community, family life and sense of mission and ministry as a lay person help me talk and write about the charism and its manifestations in terms that most people can understand and live out.
In many ways my work has enhanced my personal life choice to be a lay person. In short, my Marianist background assures me that doing ordinary things during ordinary days can be holy.
The people and resources to which I have access through my work help me understand and follow through on the responsibilities that accompany saying “yes” to the universal call to holiness. The Marianist silences and virtues really help keep me on track.
I often try to bring the joys and struggles of my lay life experiences to how I interpret things Marianist in my work. Being a woman, wife, mother and grandmother often provides me with stories and images that I use to relate Marianist history, traditions and values.
How did your time at UD lead you to your present role at the North American Center for Marianist Studies? Do you have interaction with present UD students that are as involved with the Marianist family as you were when you were a student? How is their involvement similar to yours when you were a student? How is it different? —Ed Brink ’82, S.M., St. Louis
My Marianist education at the UD took place in and outside the classroom. My history and political science majors prepared me in the timeframe of the Marianist founders and with an understanding of how change happens in a society. Theology and philosophy exposed me to the traditions of the church as well as the vast changes on the horizon. My extracurricular activities were primarily situated within the Sodality. Several SMs accompanied us and taught us about things Marianist. I left UD primed for the work ahead. I left UD committed to forming Sodality-like communities wherever life took me. I continued to learn from mentors. With SMs, I co-presented yearly seminars for S.M. and F.M.I. novices on Marianist lay life. In 1988, a Marianist brother asked me to consider working at NACMS as an editor. I said “yes!” Six years later, I became director.
I have some contact with involved students through programs for them on campus. I see great similarities between current UD students and my cohort. My formation was structured a bit differently than the present programs for students — in a large group, we heard talks and held discussions in a small building called “The Shack.” Small groupings around specific ministries met to plan good works, but we had the young Brother Ray Fitz nearby who was challenging us around systemic change to society!
The Marianist student communities are reminiscent of off-campus houses that many of us chose to live in together to support the faith journey. The cadre of faculty and staff who work with the students now in both formational and mission includes more lay folks, as most of our mentors where S.M. on the faculty and the F.M.I. who worked in the women’s dorm.
And like my experience of leaving UD behind, most graduates today must create communities in which to continue their Marianist interests. Of course, we didn’t have Skype; we had to make do with newsletters!
The following are the questions and answers — some in a longer form — that appeared in the Autumn 2012 issue of University of Dayton Magazine.
I’ve heard it said that the Marianist charism is a gift for both the church and the world. Can you explain what that means? —Tony Garascia, South Bend, Ind.
Scripture tells us “The gift you have received, give as gift.” (Mt 10: 8-19) Blessed Chaminade did just that — he shared the elements of the charism by providing a complex of methods designed to bring ordinary people together to sustain them in a deep faith life, to instill in them a hopeful disposition toward the world, and to inspire in them a determination to work with zeal for whatever would address the needs of the times.
As the church is for the world and operates within the world, the benefits of this gift extend into the culture.
The Marianist approach for transformation of church and culture continues to blend living within a faith-based community with a mission to serve the world, pursuing virtue in ways that equip us to interact with the world as catalysts for positive change, and a style of organization that brings diverse voices to important conversations. And, the gift gives us a woman, Mary, who prods the church and the world to scatter the proud, to give the hungry good things, and to raise up the lowly.
As in Chaminade’s situation, we need both laity and religious to bring his vision to life. Chaminade taught that through our common baptism, lay and religious have equal rights to and responsibilities around giving the gift we have been given.
Would you briefly compare and contrast the Marianist and Jesuit orders and what they offer to students and to the world? —Doug Davidoff, Arlington, Mass.
My study over the years has been focused almost exclusively on Marianist spirit and education. My knowledge of the Jesuit approach to life and education is very limited. However, the fact that both spring from Catholic tradition creates a common foundation from which the Holy Spirit offers the gifts of the Jesuit and Marianist charisms.
Both work to build the Reign of God through fidelity to the Word and responsiveness to those in need. The Gospel is proclaimed and strong faith is developed in ways central to all their ministerial works. Sodalities — what we call “lay communities” were part of both. The two orders sponsor educational institutions which integrate academic programs with living life as a whole person — one who is supported and challenged in the physical, intellectual, moral, social and creative aspects of life in a global reality. Students in Catholic schools usually thrive because all elements of the human experience are incorporated in a faith based environment. Each charism, though, offers the opportunity to learn about the Gospel and life by stressing particular elements of the Jesus’ teachings.
Marianists emphasize formation in faith and family spirit (community and equality within diversity). Additionally, they provide a culture in which one finds quality, integral learning; education for service, justice, and peace; and a facility to adapt and change as needed. All five characteristics — inspired by the Spirit — give witness through a focus and intensity throughout the school that will brings everyone more deeply into the Christ life. Marianists call all this “Mary’s Mission” — as she bore Christ into the world and taught him, she teaches us how to form Christ within ourselves and others and bear Christ into all times, places, and circumstances.
Do you think Chaminade was a good delegator of authority and, if so, what might we learn from him? —Joseph Stefanelli ’43, S.M., Cupertino, Calif.
Yes, I do. His design and implementation of the Three Offices from the first days of the Bordeaux Sodality and his inclusion of this method of organization into the Constitutions of the FMI and SM gives clear indication that he was a great delegator. As I understand delegation, it is meant to distribute the workload, to prepare people for more responsibility and leadership and to draw out the various gifts of all those involved in an enterprise. It allows for distinct perspectives to be honored and discussed. Through the deliberation, the best of the practical ideas and spiritual wisdom can surface and be weighed in light of a common good. Chaminade’s Offices do all of that and more.
He had confidence in persons who, like Adèle and many members of the sodalities, were much younger than he. He relied as persons such as Marie Thérèse, to whom he entrusted important work, even though she did not have the background he did. Chaminade was aware of most of what was going on, but he did not seem to micro manage the situations.
What can we learn? I hope that leaders learn that delegation is part and parcel of leading, but in ways that serve both the community or organization and the individual. Chaminade really tried to avoid throwing people into the deep end of the lake. From him, we can learn that mentoring and developmental experiences, good spiritual guidance, formation in virtue and provision of practical skills must always be available. And most importantly, we have to learn how to foster a common sense of the mission. Chaminade always reminded those to whom he delegated responsibilities that their work was the work of Mary.
The Marianist finds special inspiration in the actions of a frightened, young woman who chooses to say, “Yes.” Today’s young women and men are bombarded with a multitude of choices — career, personal, social, political and technological. How do Mary and the tradition of the Marianist speak to these young men and women today? How can the Marianist charism serve as a guiding source in the lives of all people, young and old? —Kevin Wisniewski ’94, Centerville, Ohio
I believe the guiding source for today’s young people in the midst of frightening uncertainty can still be found in inspirations from Mary. The story of the Annunciation deserves serious meditation and reflection. Here are a few principles I’ve been taught by Marianists.
First, get used to living with ambiguity. I don’t mean to sound flip — life just will often present multiple options and unexpected changes. I reflect on the very ambiguous situation Mary was in with the Angel’s visit, and I see her peacefulness at the conclusion of the encounter. So, I will myself not to panic. I will myself to avoid the option that offers immediate relief from the anxiety. It was hard when I was young; it is still hard
Secondly, learn the art of pondering. I would often fall into the routine of weighing risks and benefits, which gives good information, but pondering is more about listening for the voice of the Spirit. I say the phrase, “Mary pondered these things in her heart.” Her heart — not her mind. As Chaminade counseled, I try to listen “to the attitudes of the heart.”
Trust in God is the third aspect of letting Mary influence us. Mary, after asking a simple question — “How can this be?” and after listening to a pretty unbelievable answer from the Angel, says “Let it be done according to Thy Word.” At the start of the visit from the Angel she is troubled. At the end of the visit, her destiny is defined, without knowing what that really means. She just states an act of faith.
Mary’s trust in God had to be challenged by many episodes in her Son’s life, especially as she stood at the foot of the cross. Did the ambiguity go away? We don’t know except that the frequent reference to pondering infers it was still a factor in her faith life. Accepting ambiguity and learning to ponder as Mary did, I think, will bring us to the kind of trust she had.
In your best imagination, what do you see as the future of the Marianist Family and its strong growth over the last few years? —Michael O’Grady ’69, S.M., San Antonio
My vision of the future is sometimes grandiose — I imagine the church and its hierarchy taking charism more seriously and drawing upon the gifts of each to renew and refresh what some say is an institution in trouble. Imagine lay people, well steeped in theology and living in the light of the Gospel, working alongside clergy and religious from parishes up to the Vatican offices. Imagine if the church developed a network of small communities dedicated to strong internal dynamics where faith, hope and compassion radiated out as a light on the mountain top. Imagine the same communities with robust activity for the improvement of quality of life from local neighborhoods to the scope of the planet. Imagine people flocking to these communities to see how God has worked such miracles! Now that would be the “spectacle” that Chaminade often spoke about.
I do keep a smaller version of that vision in my heart. My imagination and my vision for the future are fueled by hope — the virtue that helps us trust in movement from what is “not yet” to “ what can be.” My hope stays alive from the experience of being with young adults who are on fire” with Marianist spirit and who are engaging in service projects for social change. My hope comes from the commitment of long-time members in lay communities, from the spirit alive and well in Marianist schools, retreat centers, and parishes, from the faithfulness of communities and affiliate groups whose members have lived to an old age and who are going to stop meeting only because of increasing health issues and transportation problems.
How can the imagined scenario become real? Well, as you mentioned there is a spike in the growth of communities of young people. Young adults throughout the world are engaged in Marianist formation programs and starting to create new communities in our tradition.
I’ll admit to some gloom and doom moments. Too many of my fellow travelers in life have left the church over the scandals, rigidity of what is defined as moral truth, and its lack of inclusion of lay people in all the ministries of the church. My vision on some days includes all these folks coming home.
A final part of the my vision is related to vocations to religious life and the priesthood. I envision men and women who pursue this type of vocation because the world desperately needs their witness of unconditional love, simplicity in all things, and listening above all the chatter for the voice of God.
For our next issue, ask your question of Father Paul Vieson, S.M., ’62 director of the Marianist Archives. Email your question to firstname.lastname@example.org Comment
These walls can talk.
“I am home.” “Be. Love.” “The best we can be is good for each other.” “So many roads to ease my soul.” “I awoke this morning, tired and dirty, I felt full!”
These are just a few of the seemingly random, yet deeply personal, thoughts University of Dayton students have scribbled on the walls of a dilapidated, $100-a-month 1930s farmhouse in the hills of Kentucky they call home for nine weeks each summer. The UD Summer Appalachia Program is the University’s longest-standing campus ministry service program. This year’s group of 15 students, now back on campus, departed UD May 29 with vanloads full of donated food and clothing in tow.
For nearly half a century — 47 years, to be exact — UD students have lived among the people of Salyersville, Ky. It’s a tiny, rich-in-spirit slice of Appalachia just 227 miles away from campus but worlds apart in way of life.
Of Salyersville’s 1,600 residents, about 18 percent are unemployed and more than 40 percent live below the poverty line. And that was before a March tornado devastated more than a dozen businesses, a Catholic church and a middle school in this close-knit community where family ties run deep.
Each summer, students run a free day camp and teen center and volunteer at a nursing home. They give up most of life’s material trappings — TVs, cell phones and computers — share a bathroom with one sink and sleep on the floor or in bunk beds in a house with no air conditioning.
In fact, they reside in more primitive conditions than many of the people in this largely isolated, rural community where some live in aging trailers in the hollers and others have taken up residence in comfortable middle-class homes on a main road.
“We have a great outhouse, and if you want to take a shower, it’s out back behind the barn or you can bathe in the lake,” says Brother Tom Pieper, S.M. ’67, who’s been traveling to Salyersville with the students for 13 years. The students affectionately call him “BT.”
“We don’t go down to save people. We go down to learn and reflect and live together in community,” he says.
That’s a message that resonates with the UDSAPers, as they call themselves. “I feel I was born to do this,” says Jann Knappage, a senior dietetics major from Medina, Ohio. “I felt called to do this. When you have a strong gut feeling, someone once told me it’s like the Holy Spirit pushing you in a direction.”
Taylor Beyerle, a senior special education major from Vandalia, Ohio, packed her summer’s belongings in a 12-inch Tupperware container. To her, the summer was about learning the difference between what she needs and what she wants.
It was “hotter than hell” the summer Donny Rambacher ’12 lived in Salyersville, but he looks back on the experience as one of the best moments of his life. Later, he returned for a weekend to photograph the people he met and record their stories in their own words for a major project in an upper-level visual design course.
The students Rambacher lived with became some of his closest friends, ones he says he will cherish forever.
“We played a lot of euchre, did everything together. I liked Sunday night prayer because it was a way to remind us why we were there. But I particularly loved waking up, opening my eyes and reading a new quote on the wall,” he says. “It’s a place full of memories.”
BT sums up best what a summer in Salyersville is all about: “If you don’t want to be changed, don’t apply.”
That’s worth writing on the wall.
Brother Tom Pieper, S.M., is planning a 50th reunion of UDSAPers. To reconnect, join the UDSAPers Connect! Facebook page or email tpieper1 (at) udayton.edu.No Comments
And another half-dozen players from Dayton also are seeing professional success
This was a magical Major League Baseball season for the Oakland A’s and Washington Nationals, both of which have treated their home fans to pulsating victories in the last at-bat of many games.
And those walk-off wins — so named since the winning team then heads to its dugout — normally means that a member of the bullpen for the A’s and Nats gets credited with a victory. That has been good news to Oakland’s Jerry Blevins ’05 and Washington’s Craig Stammen ’06, a pair of former Flyer hurlers who are quality big-league relievers.
“We have very similar teams in the sense we are led by good pitching, both in the bullpen and the starting rotation. We have a youthful team and it seems to be the same on both coasts, with us on the West Coast and the Nationals on the East Coast,” said Blevins, a teammate with Stammen at UD.
Blevins, a former Dayton walk-on, was drafted by the Cubs in 2004 and made his Major League debut with Oakland following a trade in 2007. Blevins has been a reliable lefty out of the pen with a solid ERA of 2.61 and a record of 4-1 in his first 43 outings.
“It has been awesome, to be honest. The more we win, the more (the fans) come out,” Blevins said. “It has been the most fun environment in the Coliseum that I have been a part of.” The A’s had 13 walk-off wins by mid-August to lead the majors, while Washington had 24 comeback wins and eight walk-offs heading into August.
Right-hander Stammen was drafted by the Nationals in 2005 and broke into The Show as a starting pitcher for Washington four years later. After mixed success as a starter, Stammen has used a devastating slider out of the pen for a Nats team that had the best record in the big leagues for much of the year. He was 5-1 with an ERA of 2.48 in his first 43 appearances.
“It is going to be exciting. Every player wants to be playing meaningful games in September. We will see how we handle the pressure,” Stammen said.
For Blevins, a reunion sounds good: “Hopefully we can meet in the World Series,” Blevins noted. “That would be cool,” Stammen added.
Besides the two, six former Flyers were with minor league affiliates or independent league teams. Pitcher Mike Hauschild was 1-2, 2.19 in his first 14 games with two saves with the Greenville (Tenn.) Astros in the short-season Appalachian League after he was drafted in the 33rd round by Houston in June.
“It is definitely a dream come true to play pro baseball,” Hauschild said. “I am just happy the Astros
Also with Greenville was infielder Brian Blasik, who signed with Houston as a non-drafted free agent. The former UD star hit .322 in his first 183 at-bats with the Astros after appearing in the NCAA Regionals last spring with Hauschild, now his roommate in the minors.
Pitcher Cameron Hobson was 7-3, 5.02 in his first 16 starts with High Desert in the high Class A California League in the Seattle farm system. Pitcher Burny Mitchem ’11 was signed by the Cardinals as a non-drafted free agent and was 1-0 with an ERA of 2.45 in his first 11 outings in the Gulf Coast League.
Outfielder Bob Glover ’12 and infielder C.J. Gillman ’12 joined the independent Windy City Thunderbolts. Glover was hitting .255 in his first 191 at-bats and Gillman hit .267 in his first 135 at-bats.
David Driver is a freelance writer who has covered minor and major league baseball for 20 years. He also contributed to UD Magazine on former Flyers who played basketball and soccer.No Comments
You read us, and you like us. For that, we are appreciative.
And we also know what you’d like to see changed.
Respondents to the 2012 University of Dayton Magazine reader survey — emailed in May to a statistical sample of readers including alumni, students, parents, donors, faculty and staff — reported that they overwhelming rate the magazine’s content as excellent or good. Photography and cover received an excellent or good rating from 91 percent of respondents, writing from 89 percent. All results are plus or minus 4 percent.
Regarding the statement, “UD Magazine strengthens my personal connection to UD,” 32 percent strongly agreed, 58 percent agreed, and 10 percent disagreed or had no opinion. When asked how the magazine strengthens the personal connection, 71 percent reported that magazine content reminded them of their UD experience; 58 percent said the magazine is a source of continuing education; and 33 percent said the magazine encourages them to support UD.
You are most interested in the class notes section, with 46 percent responding “very interested” and another 31 percent “interested.” This statistic may reflect UD’s unique feeling of community; data collected from nearly 100,000 university magazine readers from across the country show that respondents from doctoral, private universities reported an interest in class notes that was 13 percentage points lower than UD’s findings.
UD Magazine readers are also very interested in reading stories about:
• athletics, 33 percent of respondents
• campus facilities and growth, 31 percent
• history and tradition, 30 percent
• alumni chapter activities, 23 percent
• campus controversies, 21 percent
• student achievement, 18 percent
• religion and faith-based issues, 15 percent
• student research and academic experience, 12 percent
• faculty research, 9 percent
Twenty-three percent of respondents spend an hour or more with each issue of UD Magazine, and 54 percent respondents say they read all or most of the magazine.
Most report that they prefer to read the print version of the magazine, and only 10 percent report they are likely to go online for additional content, an indication of the need to strengthen the quality and content of the magazine’s digital offerings to increase interest.
An area for improvement is the magazine’s credibility. Only 35 percent of readers indicated that the magazine consistently portrays the institution accurately and objectively; 39 percent said the magazine contains some spin; 13 percent said the magazine only portrays the university is a positive light; and 3 percent report UD Magazine is not a good source of objective information. (Ten percent had no opinion.)
And we hear that you want our staff — who live and breathe campus daily — to remember to include references for those far removed from campus. One respondent wrote, “When I see photos of a changed campus, I cannot make the comparison between then and now. From brief visits back, I love what has been done, but sometimes the pictures in the magazine are hard to recognize.”
UD Magazine remains the top way that our audience learns information about the University. Because of magazine content, 43 percent of readers have recommended UD to a potential student; 33 percent have contacted a classmate or friend; 34 percent have discussed or forwarded an article or issue; and 35 percent have made a donation to UD. One respondent wrote that the magazine “allows me to brag about UD to others and show them something tangible to back it up.”
Some readers still miss our old newsprint tabloid, while others note that they love the magazine format. “Keep experimenting, but gradually,” writes one reader. “Overall, I think it is a good product.”
Look for the 2013 survey in late winter. In the meantime, suggestions are always welcomed at email@example.com.No Comments
Matty Toomb ’90 (COM) and Annie Kidd Toomb ’90 (MKT) live in Mason, Ohio, with their children. World travelers, they’re already planning their Thanksgiving 2013 trip to Hawaii to see the Flyers in the Maui Invitational. They write, “Matty is vice president of sales and marketing at American Thermal Instruments; Annie is vice president of the household and a volunteer extraordinaire. We started dating our first year at UD and were neighbors on Lowes our senior year. Within a year of graduation, the three guys at 443 married three of the girls from 438, right across the street. The two remaining housemates from 438 married classmates of the guys at 443.” Matty was a co-chair for the Class of 1990’s 20th reunion.
Like Matty, housemates Jim Kuchman and Chris Hodge dated their future wives through college: Jim Kuchman and Lisa Ferrari Kuchman live in Birmingham, Mich., with their three children, and Chris Hodge and Michelle Miller Hodge and their three children live in Mason, Ohio. The other 438 housemates are Margaret O’Brien-Jones — she married Jeff Jones — and Jackie Scheetz Quigley, who married Patrick Quigley.
Every few years, Annie’s housemates get together — most recently for a surprise baby shower for the Kuchmans in Michigan. Says Lisa Kuchman: “I gave the crib away in October 2008, and a month later … surprise.” Son Quinn (pictured, middle) was born Aug. 9, 2009.
The Toombs describe their children as “a scholar, an athlete and a comedian.” Joe, 15, excels in class and plays golf at St. Xavier High School; Shannon, 12, usually plays two sports per season and is good at all of them; and Kyle, 9, tells jokes and stories to keep his family and classmates in stitches.
American Thermal Instruments — 2 miles from campus — was founded in 1981 and produced aquarium thermometers. It now produces temperature sensors for the food, pharmaceutical and medical markets and uses electronic data loggers, a temperature monitoring app and cloud system. Matty says it’s the first temperature system of its kind.
Matty used email, social media and even poetry to promote the Class of 1990’s 20th reunion in 2010. He even managed to bring a popular UD band, the Dumbwaiters, out of retirement for the occasion. His “marketing memories” approach worked: the ’90 contingent attracted 232 alumni and guests.No Comments
Follow Eric Benbow ’94 into the woods, where he’s challenging students to move beyond the suspect world of TV forensic science and answer questions that could give new life to the study of death.
“So what? Who cares?”
The questions came two decades ago from the back of the room — a senior, tall with black hair and glasses. Two dozen bored faces that only moments ago had been watching the clock were now fixed on Eric Benbow, a junior transfer student completing his first year as a biology major at UD. He stood alone at the front of the classroom.
Twenty minutes earlier, he had dimmed the lights and flipped on the overhead projector. The illuminated screen showed an aquatic insect that filters water through fans on its head in search of bacteria to eat. With chalk in hand, Benbow had filled the blackboard with crude drawings, formulas and key points, hypothesizing how water flow might affect the insect’s life cycle. Then came the questions.
“I said something, but it wasn’t very good,” said Benbow ’94, now an assistant professor in UD’s biology department. “Probably to the effect of, ‘Understanding stream flow characteristics and the insect’s responses to changes in flow could lead to the ability to control their population.’ I forget exactly.”
But he hasn’t forgotten the questions. They have followed him through life — in Ohio woodlands, through Ghanaian streams, into labs and classrooms — and directed his mission as a researcher and an educator answering his own questions and sparking new ones in the minds of the next generation of scientists.
I spy a fly
Benbow and two students hunched over a pig carcass, not believing what they were seeing.
It was late May 2011, unseasonably cold, and the sky had been dumping rain all night. Their lanterns looked thin in the blackness. Three-inch thorns on honey locust trees stretched to shred their yellow ponchos. Slippery mud sent them sprawling. Low-hanging limbs slapped their wet faces.
Roughly four hours earlier, they had placed six fresh pig carcasses in woods outside of Dayton. They were returning now, just before midnight, to study the progress of their decomposition. The trio was studying how bacteria and insects, particularly blow flies, interact in decomposition and how that information can be used to improve estimates of how long an organism — be it a pig in a science experiment or a murder victim dumped in the woods — has been dead.
“Flies don’t fly in the dark, though we don’t fully understand why,” Benbow said. “Because of this, it’s generally accepted among forensic entomologists that flies don’t lay eggs at night, or in cold weather or the rain. If you find a maggot on a carcass in the morning, it is assumed eggs were laid that morning or before nightfall the day before.”
The waterlogged team expected to confirm this. Instead, they witnessed a female blow fly walk out of the pig’s nostril, scamper a few feet and then disappear. Shining a flashlight into the nose, the three scientists saw what looked like 30 to 50 small grains of white rice, arranged in a pea-sized clump: blow fly eggs.
“Write this down,” Benbow told his students. “What you just saw isn’t supposed to happen.”
So what? Just a month before their nocturnal discovery, a criminal case was decided based in part on evidence of blow fly larvae on a dead body. A forensic entomologist testified about time of death. What were the chances, he was asked, of flies laying eggs on the victim’s body in the middle of the night under dry, warm conditions?
“He said it was incredibly unlikely or would never happen,” Benbow said. “But there we were, under the harshest conditions. We saw it. If a criminal investigator assumes eggs were laid in the morning when they were actually laid the night before, the post-mortem interval would be off by 12 hours.”
Who cares? Senior biology major Maureen Berg ’12, who was with Benbow that night. She followed up on the unusual incident with a research project of her own. Returning to the same woods at nightfall, she set out several baits — some on the ground and some suspended 3 feet off the ground — under high light, low light and no light conditions. The experiment tested which conditions were most favorable for a blow fly to lay eggs at night.
Berg observed no nocturnal egg laying, even under high light; however, the baits on the ground and with the most light were consistently the first to have eggs deposited in the morning. She is working the results into a paper she plans to submit for publication. Benbow encourages his students to explore new ideas and pursue work of professional quality.
“There are times students see something in the field that I’ve taken for granted, but they see something because their eyes are fresh,” he said. “I always make sure they get credit.”
Pebble in a stream
As a boy, Benbow spent summer days wading and digging in the streams of State Farm Park in northeast Kettering, Ohio. He’d bring crayfish, minnows, leeches and other creek creatures home, where his mother allowed him to keep them.
Years later, when he once described his fieldwork to his mother, he said, “You know when I used to go out to the creek to hunt for crayfish and catch minnows? I’m doing that now but with a $10,000 piece of equipment instead of a Styrofoam cup.”
He still visits those streams with students and also with his 4-year-old daughter, Arielle, whose favorite activity with Daddy is putting on flip-flops to wade in the water and dig up critters.
“At a recent parent-teacher conference at Arielle’s preschool, I learned that she is always digging up worms and bugs to show to the other kids,” he said with a proud smile. “And she does it in heels and a dress.”
Both of his daughters — Alia is 1 — will be entomologists, he said, only half joking. “I at least want them to appreciate insects, not to be afraid.”
So far, so good. Arielle confidently picks up millipedes, but she avoids centipedes (she knows they bite). And when Benbow’s wife, Melissa Fortman Benbow ’04, finds a spider crawling in a corner, it’s Arielle who runs to her rescue.
“You know, Mommy, this one won’t bite,” she’ll say as she scoops it up in her hand and releases it outside.
Still, there is a flyswatter in Benbow’s home: “Flies carry pathogens,” he said.
Death becomes him
Forensic science is under the microscope. In 2009, the National Research Council issued what Benbow characterized as a scathing report criticizing the forensic sciences for a lack of sound scientific research.
Benbow is among a team of researchers at the forefront of responding to this report with two articles published in 2011 on the future of forensic science research. That same year, he received a grant from the National Institute of Justice (in collaboration with Texas A&M University and the USDA-Agricultural Research Service) to fund his research on the interaction of insects and microbes in body decomposition. The nearly half-million-dollar grant was UD’s first from the NIJ and its first for forensic research.
“DNA fingerprinting was the only one that escaped strong criticism from the NRC,” Benbow said. “But for the rest of the forensic sciences, too much evidence is anecdotal, and there is virtually no data on error rates. We don’t know how often these techniques are wrong.”
Meanwhile, thanks to popular TV shows like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, the general public is fed the perception that forensics can pick out the tiniest of threads to unravel an entire case.
“It’s a glammed-up, fabricated portrayal of forensics, and this can hurt cases,” said Benbow, who has worked on several cases and testified in one. “Juries have an unrealistic expectation of evidence, that a scientist can simply go out to a crime scene, find all of the evidence and close the case. But it’s a lot of work, and the data aren’t always crisp and clean.”
In a recent experiment, Benbow and graduate student Andy Lewis ’08 — the third person with Benbow and Berg that night in the woods — found that for a person on trial, the difference between “guilty” and “not guilty” could be 85 feet.
Blow flies are often the first insects to lay eggs on decomposing remains, usually within hours or even minutes after death. The larvae hatch and develop through life stages — called instars — at a rate closely linked to temperature. The warmer the air and soil, the more quickly they grow.
From the time they hatch until they reach the third instar, they are simply growing bigger — about the size of a grain of rice at first instar to 10 times larger by third instar — feeding on the rapidly decomposing carcass. During the third instar, they stop feeding and crawl away in search of a dark, moist place to burrow, become pupae and begin the process of metamorphosis to become flies.
On average, in Ohio’s summer climate, the entire process — from first instar to pupae — takes five to seven days.
Combining the size of the oldest blow fly larvae with data on temperature and other environmental conditions, forensic entomologists can calculate the age of larvae and thus determine the time of initial colonization, biological data that then assists in establishing a time of death.
“It is, therefore, essential that investigators locate the oldest larvae at a crime scene, otherwise the interpretation of the insect data can be compromised and erroneous,” Benbow said.
When forensic entomologists arrive at a scene, they search for the oldest larvae, looking under leaf debris and digging up soil samples. They collect the larvae using forceps or common tablespoons and often kill them by dropping them in ethanol or boiling them in water to stop their growth. For this, some entomologists carry camp stoves into the field.
Most forensic entomologists recommend a search radius of 10 meters for the oldest larvae. Like with flies and egg laying, it’s conventional wisdom that larvae burrow into the ground to begin pupation within 2 to 10 meters of the carcass.
But in Benbow and Lewis’ study, the larvae from two of six pig carcasses moved farther, with one larval mass traveling 14 meters and the other 26 meters — about 85 feet.
“Our study suggests that in a forensic case with insect evidence, there would be a one-in-three chance that the oldest larvae would not be collected if the search stayed within the current recommendation of 10 meters,” Benbow said.
Missing the oldest larvae could affect a time-of-death estimate that might bolster or contradict an alibi.
Still, even with improved research, Benbow knows there will always be uncertainty. Expert testimony will always be expert opinion. But what he hopes he can offer is solid, objective data that can establish a degree of certainty.
“If we can go from making estimates with, for instance, a 50/50 probability to something like 85 percent based on research and data, then you can start giving juries something more concrete to consider, something more objective,” he said.
Forensic entomology has long been an isolated field of study, but Benbow and his colleagues are finding ways to link it to other disciplines. Benbow considers himself a forensic ecologist because of his research on the interactions between microbes and insects. How does the soil composition of where the body is laid affect insect behavior? How do bacteria interact with — even communicate with — insects? What if a body is dumped in the water?
This last question nagged at Jen Lang ’10, now a graduate student in Benbow’s lab. The research on decomposition in water is remarkably slim, and even fewer studies have focused on the role of bacteria. But as a microbiologist who “likes going outside,” Lang couldn’t resist pursuing an answer.
She studies biofilm — the slime on rocks — which is rich in biological diversity. “It’s like a rainforest on a smaller scale,” she said.
Under Benbow, whom she describes as a mentor, she has linked her biofilm research and aquatic insect behavior to estimates of post-mortem interval, or time after death. This new approach caught the attention of the American Society of Forensic Sciences, which awarded Lang, Benbow and collaborators a small grant this summer to explore interactions of aquatic insects and biofilm formation on decomposing pig carcasses.
Lang is also organizing a session on aquatic entomology at the Entomological Society of America’s annual meeting in November. She enjoys dabbling in multiple disciplines, likening her work to quiltmaking: “I’m looking at data and research from different disciplines, synthesizing that information and using it to explain new ideas.”
Her approach is essential to good science, Benbow insists, and he urges all his students to think beyond a narrow focus.
“Don’t get me wrong. I still believe in becoming highly specialized, knowing how to do your part really well,” he said, “but you need to know how to connect that with what others are doing. Not everyone can do that, but that’s what I teach my students.”
Even with the National Research Council report, Benbow and his colleagues have met some resistance toward their novel, collaborative approach, often from fellow scientists asking pointed, emotional questions at conferences. But he welcomes it.
“No one has ever tried to look at the interactions between microbes and flies, so I get some scrutiny, but that’s good for the science. That’s the whole point of the NRC criticism, that forensic science had gone unchallenged for so long. We’re just advocating for better science.”
For the living
Benbow received his doctorate from UD in 1999. Soon after, his phone rang. On the other end of the line was Richard Merritt, a Michigan State University professor who at the time was one of just six scientists certified by the American Board of Forensic Entomologists.
Merritt had just received a grant to study the effect of road salt on aquatic insects, and he had been discussing the topic with UD biology professor Al Burky, Benbow’s doctoral adviser. Within days, Merritt hired Benbow to do postdoctoral work in his lab.
Benbow quickly saw the connection between such research and forensic entomology. “It was just a different group of insects in a different environment,” he said.
A few years later, Benbow and Merritt applied the same set of knowledge to a different problem: Buruli ulcer, a disfiguring tropical skin disease thought to be transmitted by a biting water bug.
“I knew nothing of disease ecology, but I was interested in this case,” Benbow said. “I approached it as a microbe/insect question.”
Victims of Buruli ulcer suffer raw, gaping wounds that can overtake an entire limb and force amputation. Children younger than 15 in sub-Saharan Africa and the elderly in Australia are its primary victims. The social stigma can be profound, with permanent disfigurement making it difficult to find a spouse or a job in developing countries of Africa. Scientists have long recognized a connection between the disease and bodies of water such as slowly flowing rivers, ponds, swamps and lakes, but the exact mode of transmission is unknown.
In Ghana, Benbow was part of a team of researchers to run tests in the field. Until then, all of the experiments that implicated the biting water bug had been done in the lab. Wearing waders to protect against infection, Benbow spent hours in ponds and streams collecting bugs and water samples. It got so hot, Benbow recalled, that he often wondered whether his waders were leaking as they filled with sweat up to his calves.
His research produced no strong evidence to support the water bug hypothesis. The disease remains a mystery, but Benbow is today among the top researchers in the world studying the transmission of Buruli ulcer into human populations, acting as a consultant for the World Health Organization, which labels Buruli ulcer as one of the most neglected but treatable tropical diseases. More than 50,000 people in 30 countries have contracted the disease, though it often goes unreported.
“The interaction between bacteria and insects affects all kinds of systems,” he said. “The more we understand these interactions, the better we can apply it to forensics, disease prevention, the health of our water systems; the possibilities go on and on.”
In a Science Center classroom full of first-year biology students, Benbow put up a slide of an aquatic insect with the filtering fan on its head — the same one he put up decades ago in the room right across the hall.
He told his students the story of his junior-year presentation. He told them about the questions: “So what? Who cares?”
Then he pointed to the insect and asked them, “Do you know what this is? It’s a black fly larva.”
It carries disease to hundreds of thousands of people all over Africa, he told them: river blindness. It uses the fans on its head to filter water and feed on the bacteria. Could this natural process be used against it? If an insecticide were developed that could be dropped into streams, would the larvae feed on the particles the way they naturally do? Would that kill them? If so, thousands of people could be spared from disease.
Then he told them about mosquitoes, which lay eggs in aquatic habitats and whose larvae feed on algae and bacteria. What if you could disrupt their feeding through a better understanding of how the microbial communities interact with early larval development, he asked them. Would that reduce the spread of malaria?
“So what? Who cares?”
Nearly 20 years after he stumbled through a response to that simple challenge, after 20 years of research in aquatic habitats, disease ecology and forensics, Benbow has a list of ready answers: Buruli ulcer. Disease transmission. Scientific inquiry. Crime victims’ loved ones. Students asking big questions.
“A lot of scientists are in it just for the data, they’re not interested in how their data can be useful. Yes, the science is interesting, but once you’ve testified in court, once you’ve visited victims of Buruli ulcer, once you’ve seen how your data can have an impact on people’s lives, that’s what keeps pushing you forward. That’s why it matters.”
Cameron Fullam is assistant director of media relations at UD. He writes stories about science, the arts, education and the University’s Catholic identity.No Comments
More than 100 years ago, on an island far, far away, a bushy-bearded man hauled his big boxy camera up to picturesque hilltops and down to cascading waterfalls, capturing life on glass plate negatives.
The Society of Mary appointed Brother Gabriel Bertram Bellinghausen, S.M., to introduce its educational mission to the Hawaiian Islands, according to Kimberley Neuenschwander, assistant archivist for the Marianist Archives. Bellinghausen took over St. Louis College in Honolulu in 1883 and increased the size of the student body tenfold over the next 22 years. It was just one way in which he was prolific.
While in Hawaii, Bellinghausen shot nearly 2,000 photographs, which Father Paul Vieson, S.M., director of the Marianist Archives at UD, describes as “marvelous” and “incredibly clear.”
“They’re very valuable in the sense that they record pictorially all the flora and fauna and a lot of the life in the Hawaiian Islands in the late 1800s and early 1900s,” Vieson said.
Bellinghausen saw it all through the 8-by-10-inch glass sheets — panoramic views of the Marianist order lined up in heavy black robes outside St. Louis College, stark shots of bunches of ripe fruits, portraits of the Hawaiian monarchy, collages of St. Louis College’s track and field stars, crisp views of Honolulu’s architecture and more.
But in his day, capturing these images was no simple feat.
“It was a big set-up to take the pictures,” said archivist Jennifer Gerth. “The [glass] plates themselves, that was the actual film he put in the camera.”
Today, the Marianist Archives holds approximately 1,250 of Bellinghausen’s plates, boxed and neatly lined up across 23 shelves, secured with neon green bungee cords. Before arriving at UD, this set of plates traveled from Hawaii to Cupertino, Calif., the site of the former Marianist Pacific province’s archives, Vieson said. The provinces were later combined, and their archives consolidated in Dayton. Vieson said other plates remain at the University of Hawaii and the Hawaii Historical Society.
“The people giving them away didn’t know just how valuable they would be,” Vieson said.
Neuenschwander said Bellinghausen’s photographs have been displayed at UD at least twice. Tom Patterson, adjunct visual arts teacher at Stivers School for the Arts in Dayton, scanned the plates several years ago and printed a selection of them for the exhibitions. The scans were also sent to Chaminade University, right next to what is now known as St. Louis School.
“These photos are valuable for us [the Marianists] because they give us pictures of the schools we had,” Vieson said. “They’re also valuable because there are pictures of the brothers and priests who were there — Marianists and other missionary groups as well — which you otherwise might not get. They really are a treasure.”No Comments
Leo Schulte ’78, who may or may not be the author, called our attention to this mystery for young adults, the first of a projected trilogy. The title page claims it is presented by Hamish De’Lamet and Chandral Ramon, who may or may not exist and who claim to live in Lynchburg, which may or may not be in one of several states. And who knows about the anonymous author of the journals those two found? One very real Edgar Award-winning writer describes the book as “Sam Spade (with overtones of Holden Caulfield) … a can’t-put-it-down-once-you’ve-started-novel.”No Comments
A book by David J. Ulbrich ’93
During World War I, the size of the U.S. Marine Corps reached 75,000. Following the “war to end all wars,” Americans had little interest in preparing for war, let alone victory. By 1936, the size of the Corps had shrunk to barely over 17,000, less than a quarter of its 1918 strength. During Holcomb’s tenure as commandant of the Marine Corps, the service grew 22-fold to 385,000 in 1943. Ulbrich’s book is the first to document the role of Holcomb — a man with vision, managerial ability and the art of persuasion.No Comments
A book by James W. Yanosko ’89 and Edward W. Yanosko
For James Yanosko and his father, Edward, it started simply with some old photographs of their family and its roots generations-deep in the neighborhood lying across the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh’s tourist-filled downtown Strip District. Then they gathered more and more photos from the area until James Yanosko said to himself, “I think I have a book.” So, too, did Arcadia Publishing, publisher of the Images of America series, which celebrates the histories of cities and neighborhoods.No Comments