It was three days full of belly-laughing, donkey-snorting, mascara-running good times with 350 humor writers from around the country.
And there I was, sitting in Sears Recital Hall, trying not to cry.
A fellow attendee at UD’s biennial Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop had just stood up. Her name was Kate.
She had come here from Newtown, Conn. “I was funny and lost my funny,” she told us as we rummaged our pockets for tissues. “I came here to find it again.”
We knew she hadn’t just lost it. This writer had her funny ripped from her in her own hometown by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter. When would it be OK, she wondered, to laugh again?
It’s when life makes us ask such questions that we need laughter the most.
At the workshop’s keynote dinner, Phil Donahue reminded us of the power of laughter as he talked about his good friend, the late Erma Fiste Bombeck ’49. The father of daytime talk shows and the mother of misadventures had been neighbors in Centerville, Ohio, each raising stair-step children while launching their careers.
In her writing, he said, was an honesty that touched the world. She popped balloons of pretense with daggers of laughter. Her humor was revolutionary.
“Motherhood was sacred,” Donahue said as he intoned popular sentiment: “‘Oh, how blessed you are. Oh, what a wonderful mother you are.’ Mothers were on pedestals. And Erma would do a column something like, ‘I am going to sell my children.’ She punctured that pretense, and she was speaking for millions of women.”
My own mother taped Bombeck’s words to our goldenrod-yellow refrigerator door — not the words about selling us, as far as I can remember, though I certainly would have deserved it for digging a pond in the backyard and filling it with frogs, which attracted crows from three counties.
Millions of women also taped Bombeck to their fridges, taking strength from the joys of an imperfect life
with this sister who cautioned us to never have more children than we have car windows. It is a community that stretches through the miles and across the decades and that, every two years, materializes at UD, where a young Erma was told by her English professor, “You can write.”
This April, Donahue repeated the phrase, adding a charge to use our words to move mountains. “We have an assembly of people of conscience here … and you may just be the people who will make our lives better,” he said.
With their words and their support, the attendees embraced Kate from Newtown, who later wrote, “My three days in Dayton were extraordinary, and when the laughter died down I learned this above all: the line between tragedy and comedy does exist, and while laughing in the face of any horror is nearly impossible, the only way through the tears and darkness is with laughter and light.”
Did you hear about the great Toldeo War? No? Then you weren’t sitting around the Tedford kitchen table in 1984.
The World Book Encyclopedia was more common on our dinner table than a glass of spilled milk, and my all-elbow adolescent self spilled enough to float the entire 22-volume set. Alongside pork chops in mushroom sauce, my parents served a heap of curiosity with a side of disbelief that could only be remedied by a trip to the bookcase.
My father, Clint, loved history. As a boy, this son of a farmer whose fields lay adjacent to an Army artillery range looked to the skies for his future. He had read all about Charles Lindbergh, the pioneer aviator who, like him, had grown up in Little Falls, Minn. Charles and Clint graduated from the same high school 40 years apart, and my father followed in his flight path and became a commercial airline pilot.
Dad’s black leather flight case smelled of hydraulic fluid and the thin air at 30,000 feet. Inside, next to his flashlight and logbooks, was a pocket dictionary, worn by repeated thumbing. Watching him leaf through it demonstrated to me, a girl with abysmal spelling skills, that with the right resources anything was possible (and, yes, I just misspelled “abysmal” twice before getting it right).
Which leads us to those hallowed blue-bound World Books. At supper that evening in 1984, when we challenged his assertion that a war was fought over what we knew as Toledo, Ohio, he sent us thumbing through the volume “O.” We learned that the only casualty, other than a stab wound, was suffered by Wisconsin. Not yet a state, Wisconsin lost its “head” — what would become Michigan’s Upper Peninsula — when President Andrew Jackson brokered a truce that allowed Ohio to keep the disputed “Toledo strip” by giving Michigan the resource-rich wilderness.
If you thought this column was about history lessons or family dinners or encyclopedias, you are wrong. It is about cancer. My father was diagnosed in 2002 with glioblastoma multiforme, a brain tumor. After surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, the still-growing tumors pushed out his knowledge of the Toledo War. While he remembered our names, he did not know which end of the videocamera to speak into when recording his last message to us. He died in 2003.
I did not want to write a feature on cancer. Like young Gracie Ehemann in Jennifer Broo’s high school biology class, I did not want to talk about a disease that has killed my father, my cousin, my grandma and so many others.
But, in sitting and talking with her students, I found hope. And then there’s the story of Maryland teenager Jack Andraka. Motivated by the death of a neighbor, he developed an easy test for pancreatic cancer. If science could find a way to harness the enthusiasm of 15-year-olds, the problems of the world could be solved. Broo’s students are joyful and honest and curious. They refuse to take “no” for an answer in the way only a know-it-all teenager can. I hope every high schooler in America will learn from Broo’s cancer curriculum.
We all deserve to have every seat at the dinner table filled with those whom we love. It’s time to find a cure for cancer. It’s time for this great war to be over.
Read about the teaching of Jennifer Sunderman Broo ’04 here: http://udquickly.udayton.edu/udmagazine/2014/03/war-of-the-21st-century/.
Standing with hands submerged in a sudsy sink, surrounded by my college housemates, I was reminded of my life at UD.
Doing dishes was not one of those memories.
At 114 Chambers St., our dysfunction manifested itself in towers of starchy pasta pots and dinnerware. Some of us bullheadedly refused to wash a dish that wasn’t ours. Others of us had no conception of the need for dishes to be washed.
Since then, we’ve all learned a few things, such as how much we mean to one another. That was reinforced this October when five of us rendezvoused in Chicago for a girls’ weekend. It was our first quorum since a 2005 wedding. We had meant to reunite a year earlier for a 40th birthday celebration, but a birth and a death and other messy stuff called life just got in the way. As we cooked and ate and talked and did one another’s dishes, we understood just how much we had missed, and how much we had missed one another.
At TEDxDayton Nov. 15, Justin Bayer ’01 revealed the secret to success. It’s the kind of simple solution we’re all born with but, sometime between birth and high school, the tag washes away and we simply forget how to care for ourselves.
“Success is happiness.” Justin’s wide smile crinkled both corners of his eyes as he stood on stage at the Victoria Theatre before a packed house ready to be infused and inspired. He told the story of his guidance counselor who once … twice … five times told him to visit the University of Dayton. The Cincinnati high schooler had no intention of attending a college 50 miles to the north. But he acquiesced, and he visited. “I call that visit the turning point for the rest of my life — something just felt right,” he said.
He found his MARV — meaning, accomplishment, relationships and vitality. Justin uses the acronym to describe the path to success. In his business, Welcome to College, he shares the MARV philosophy with students to help them avoid becoming national statistics like the 56 percent of college students who report feeling lonely, 44 percent hopeless or 85 percent overwhelmed.
College, for me, was a good first step. But moving into that crummy landlord house on the Dark Side and living with always smart, forever talented, often loud women who during the next three years challenged me daily changed my life. As one housemate said in Chicago, at UD was the first time she felt like a rockstar. And in the glow of one another’s spotlights, we all grew to realize our dreams. These women are my MARV.
Two weeks after that reunion, I again had my hands in a sudsy sink, this time in Bowling Green, Ohio, for the funeral of Patrick Fitzgerald ’66, the father of Kerri, my Chambers Street roommate. He will be remembered as a happy grandpa whose eyes crinkled as he smiled, a champion of public television and human rights, a lover of family, friends and Jameson, which we raised to him in a toast.
Sounds like success to me.
The thousands who flocked to Denver were rapturous.
Me, I was mostly annoyed.
Pope John Paul II had swooped into our smoggy city and brought with him tidings of joy for the youth of the world. He also — perhaps rightly, after the 1981 attempt on his life — brought a hyper- vigilant and imaginative security detail that saw in my rusted fire escape a potential sniper’s nest. It seems the pope, when looking for digs to inhabit during the 1993 World Youth Day celebrations, did just as I had done months earlier — decided the red brick charm a stone’s throw from the capitol outweighed the accompanying view of junkies stumbling over from Colfax Avenue. For more than a week, we were neighbors, him in the apartment building behind mine and me un- able to take out the trash lest one of his snipers mistake me for an assassin.
I was annoyed, but I was also in awe.
Growing up Catholic, I saw images of the pope everywhere. I close my eyes and envision the calendar that hung on the landing to my grandmother’s basement — him in profile, red cape, hand raised in blessing. He was larger than life, real but surreal, someone with a hotline to God yet for whom we prayed.
This celebrity was not lost on a young boy who, during a 1980 visit to the Vatican, went up to JPII to ask for his autograph (which he signed, “JPII”). My husband, raised Presbyterian, remembers thinking, “I don’t know who this pope guy is, but he must be famous — look at the house he lives in.” When he and his family returned to Dayton — and to UD, where his parents worked — the Flyer News ran a photo of the family palling with the pontiff.
Those who hear my husband, Kevin Anderson ’93, tell the story sometimes have the unconscious reaction of reaching out to touch him. It’s a response to the holy that I also witnessed on campus when Pope Francis was elected last March. In times of excitement and anticipation, as well as fear and sorrow, we seek a physical closeness to fill in the gaps of what we cannot articulate. Campus gathered around streaming coverage of the pomp at the papal palace to the point of nearly overwhelming campus band- width. We sought out students with Argentinian ties and those studying abroad in Rome. Each of us was drawn to the event by something different — the process or pageantry or potential — but the enthusiasm was interdenominational and infectious. And, as we do so much on this campus, we celebrated it in community.
Back in Denver all those years ago, I shook off my annoyance, walked into the parking lot separating our buildings and looked up. There was JPII taking a rooftop stroll. I had no words to describe what I felt but, grabbing Kevin’s hand, I knew I was close enough.
The joke is, you don’t need bug spray — just bring Michelle.
And so they did. We were four adults — ages spanning four to six decades — standing in a field, but in the dark we could have been mistaken for being 4 to 6. Fireflies danced while every mosquito in the neighborhood laid in an intercept course for my right ankle.
We left our bug jars at home but brought along an iPad, whose glow displayed the coordinates we sought: west-northwest, just beyond the cottonwood tree on the rise, behind from which the International Space Station would emerge in minutes.
Four grown-ups, a few up past even our grown-up bedtimes, waiting for the 33 seconds when that orbiting hulk of metal would catch the rays of a sun spreading noon on the other side of the planet and make the ship visible to our bits of human existence, necks craned, staring at the vastness of space.
Makes our world feel small, and leaves us in awe.
It’s not a revelation that happens only when standing in the dark. In full daylight, when our senses are otherwise occupied with work and flat tires and family and cupcakes, we get a nudge that wakes us up, the unseen hand of an origami artist folding the corners of our wide world until we all meet.
Flyers know what I mean.
In this issue, Art Elias ’75 tells about running into Flyer fan Harry Delaney while on a walking tour in Florence, Italy, and Dr. Dan Curran strikes up a conversation with a two-time grad in a hotel lobby in Xi’an, China. Flyers have met in a countryside pub in Ireland, law workshop at Harvard and a beach in Thailand.
For this Flyer, it happened on a hike up to a waterfall.
In the Columbia River basin, just east of Portland, Ore., Multnomah Falls sends water crashing 620 feet into a pool below. The parking lot feels like Disney, with children pleading for ice cream while adults with short fuses smolder in the mist. My own extended family, there in August to celebrate my sister’s wedding, added to the mayhem, with my 85-year-old cousin forging up to the falls while my brother and his brood planned our next adventure before this one was even complete.
It was not the wildlife I had hoped to see, so I grabbed my husband’s hand and started up the verdant pathway to the overlook.
The last thing I thought about was what I was wearing; the second to last thing were the strangers passing by.
Then a voice stopped me.
“Hey, Dayton Flyers. I went to Dayton.”
It was Corey Woodson ’05, who had spotted my Flyers soccer jersey, a prize from a raffle two years ago.
We talked only for a moment, about his move west, about the wedding that brought me there, about him sending the magazine a class note. Then he continued on his way, and we on ours.
It’s not science — like how a mosquito finds its prey — that explains these encounters. In a world of 7 billion people, 106,950 alumni are but a blip. But still we find one another.
Maybe it’s pride that makes us voice our affiliation, or that Marianist spirit of welcome that compels us to reach out to others. Maybe it’s recognition of the vastness of space and the awe that a simple hello can inspire.
Want to make our great, wide world feel small? Just bring a Flyer.
Send your story of Flyer encounters to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll run some in the next issue.
A little, lonely tree stands in the vast Central Mall, and the students embrace it.
Not literally — you won’t find them hugging this twig. But when we asked our readers through Facebook to help us choose a cover for the autumn issue, current and recent students often chose the sapling, pictured here, to illustrate “deep roots.”
That’s why I love asking questions and gaining feedback. Most often, I discover something I never knew to look for.
Like when I wandered into new student orientation and sat in Formica-topped desks with more than a dozen first-year students. I expected to learn what they thought of the first-year read, This I Believe II: More Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women. In the chit-chat din of a room mercifully darkened for this early hour, we discovered we had something in common: We all lived in Marycrest. Their “lived” was quite recent, as in that’s where they awoke a half hour ago and rolled out of bed, down the hill to the Humanities Center and into their first UD classroom experience. For me, “lived” was 1990, when I was barely 18 and the Humanities Center was but a patch of grass with a mammoth forsythia bush.
Marycrest is just a building — bricks and bathrooms and doors we walk through every day, holding them open for the person coming after us.
And while a tree is just a tree, in it students saw promise, hope, potential. They saw evidence of what has sprouted on campus, a liveliness in the setting, a simplicity of meaning. I saw a Charlie Brown tree that didn’t have roots deep enough to embrace all I wanted to tell in the story of James Kielbaso’s first trip to campus in 50 years.
What I came to see was that the little tree wasn’t about him — it was about them.
We received hundreds of votes on the cover, and I should be careful not to compartmentalize our readers or second-guess their reasoning. When I posted the images, I wasn’t looking for a straight tally to tell us which we should choose; I wanted to know whether yellow leaves were preferred over green ones, whether statues gave the image meaning or diluted its purpose. Instead, I got a glimpse of how we relate to this place, how we see ourselves reflected in this campus, how we learn we belong.
These are answers to a question I never knew to ask from people who share with me a common connection.
A magazine cover may be just a photo, a dorm just a building. But UD is never just a school, something to which we can all agree no matter how deep our roots.
I’m not a fan of boxing — watching hits that barely dent muscled flesh threatens to shatter my eye sockets — but I am a fan of the boxer. Michael Gaffney’s story of his year with Muhammad Ali [“Muhammad and Me,” Page 28] intrigued me because of the intimate lens the photographer had into Ali’s life; I also must admit I glow each time a Flyer does something of wonder and worth. But the photographs completely overwhelmed me. In Gaffney’s book, I can see the physical transformation Ali undertook to rid his body of any softness that contributed to his title loss against Leon Spinks. I see calves famous for conveying deft footwork, arms triggered for the assault. Gaffney captured Ali’s mischievous smile, behind which I see cheek muscles that could crush a can.
By those images, I am both awed and envious.
It’s the same feeling I get when I watch the Dayton Contemporary Dance Co., which begins another year as UD’s community artist in residence. That bodies can be so graceful and powerful seems implausible. In the darkened theater, I squeeze my husband’s arm as a man who seems twice my size leaps in interpretation of an ostrich or airman or pusher or preacher, each muscle moving precisely thanks to training and talent.
I do not look like a boxer. I do not move like a dancer. I occasionally run because I know I should (and because my dog is bored). I poke at my soft spots and order the Peanut Buster Parfait. And I love to watch others move.
This summer will be a cornucopia for spectators who believe bodies are finely engineered temples. Among my favorites at the Olympics will be Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. I will refuse to breathe for the five minutes before — and the 9-point-wow seconds during — Bolt’s race to again prove he’s the fastest human alive. I will devour everything from shot put to sailing, and my dog will be bored.
Before Gaffney met Ali — and before Cassius Clay took the name Muhammad — Ali won the light heavyweight boxing gold in Rome in 1960. In 1996, the former boxer, ravaged by Parkinson’s, set the Olympic torch afire in Atlanta. As I watched through my living room TV, I could see that his loss of strength had not diminished his spark. I said I am envious of exhibitions of strength. But I am equally amazed by what that strength — or lack thereof — says about obstacles overcome, goals attained and limitations accepted. The muscles are not the story; the man is.
What I crave more than anything is a good story, to feel close to people tough as nails or mushy as soft-serve. When they are made real — through words, images or interactions — a sliver of that enigma called humanity is revealed. And I am once again awed.
At 14,000 feet, where the air is thin and the view epic, my neurons began firing and fitting together millions of years of earth history.
The Rocky Mountains at my feet were infants compared to the Appalachians of my textbooks, yet in their horns and valleys I could see eons of ice, wind and rain that weathered their eastern brethren down to nubs and were eventually, inevitably, doing the same here.
I got to 14,000 feet by climbing three flights up Wohlleben Hall and fast-talking my way into a geology majors-only summer field course at a high-altitude laboratory in Colorado. In the department’s basement geology lab, I had learned to name the rocks I collected in my youth and emptied by the pocketful into cardboard boxes lining the garage. But I wanted to experience their homeland, learn about the percolating juices of ancient volcanoes that forced liquid minerals through fissured granite to cool into the giant pink crystals my childhood self saved by my bedside.
I say fast-talking, but it was really slow, deliberate, calculated thinking that got me to Colorado. Not my own, but that of the department chair, Charles Ritter. I pleaded my case, and — after saying no, since I was not a geology major — he relented and made me promise: you will become a minor.
Dr. Ritter took a chance on me, and I won. That field course stoked my fire to learn about everything around me and reinforced the importance of hands-on, experiential learning, no matter the subject. That spirit continues through the Charles Ritter Undergraduate Geology Research Fund, something my husband — a geology major who legitimately went on the field course — and I support through gifts to UD.
When we were student and professor, I was part of Dr. Ritter’s learning community. Today, we are also neighbors. I sit in his living room on the brown leather sofa with his beagle, Snoopy, at my feet. Dr. Ritter sneaks another cookie off the plate his wife has set before us on the glass-topped coffee table that displays his geologic specimens. We talk of family, of pets, of the basketball season. He tells me stories of the rocks under the cookies or of Flyer geologists decades my senior, people I will never meet but who are inexorably bound to me through this great teacher.
I am a geology minor. My field course was in 1992, but when I look at each mountain and valley, hillside and river, I give thanks for my high-altitude experience. My education eventually, inevitably, changed my perception and widened my community forever.
—Michelle Tedford ’94
A Flyer News editor asked me a lot of questions for a story last year, but only one really stumped me: What’s your favorite spot on campus?
The obvious answer came to mind: the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception. It’s been the heart of campus since long before any of us got here. It remains the center around which all of UD revolves, not only geographically but spiritually and in misson and purpose.
But I was one of 20 people on campus they were profiling that issue, and my guess is the other 19 had the same first gut response. We couldn’t all say the same thing. Plus, she had asked for my “favorite” spot, not most important, or most meaningful, most inspiring, highest, loudest, prettiest, funkiest, strangest or the one most likely to make going back into the office an impossibility. Some places make you want to just sit and think forever.
My favorite, huh? The criteria were all mine to decide. If I could be anywhere on campus right now, where would I be? Posed that way, the question got a lot harder, but I eventually answered: Baujan Field under the lights at a Friday night soccer game in autumn.
No matter where I sit, the views are spectacular. From the north stands, next to St. Joe’s, the game unfolds from a television broadcast’s best camera angle. A line of ash trees and the student neighborhood shape the horizon, and from just below, we can hear nearly every word as Coach Mike Tucker coaxes his players and works the officials.
From the south stands, the view is field level, and the players gallop past at Division 1 speed. I like to sit right on the grass at midfield, often barefoot on a sunny day. Feet away from the edge line, we hear the players’ hurried chatter, a constant rhythm that buzzes between the smack-smack of cleat on leather that sends the ball flying impossible distances. St. Joe’s, majestic and colleagial, defines the horizon from this side.
Those two horizons, the brick edifices to the north and the student houses to the south, are another reason I love this liminal spot. If the chapel defines so much of what UD is and aspires to be, so too do places that symbolize the connection between learning and living, places where life’s ambitions and everyday experiences merge into a seamless whole of presence and continuity.
I could’ve named many such places, everywhere that students are learning that knowledge and service and leadership mean most when they are formed and shared in community. They do it off campus too, on retreats, internships and trips to study abroad, everywhere their education takes them. I like those places, too.
In these pages, we describe updates to the campus master plan, changes that have arisen from extraordinary opportunities we’ve seized to expand the physical campus. Some familiar spots on campus are being transformed — if you haven’t already, lay your eyes on the spectacular new Central Mall when you can. With the new land, the boundaries of campus have expanded, an adjustment of mental geography as much as physical.
There will be more favorite spots to choose among in the coming years — a residential complex on Caldwell that will be every bit as familiar to future students as Marycrest is now, facilities in the new GE Aviation building where students will spend untold hours becoming researchers, a University Center for the Arts near the corner of Brown and Stewart streets where creating and experiencing great art will change how we see our world, to name just a few.
A place is just a place, of course, a physical bit of dirt or wood, brick or steel. It gets its meaning not from what it is without us, but from what we become in it — what we do and dream and create, and how we help others do the same.
Maybe that’s why, on this campus, it’s so hard to pick just one.
I confess that when I think about regeneration, the subject of one of this issue’s features, my thoughts are not about science so much as science fiction and mythology. I think of poor Prometheus chained to that rock, his liver growing back each night so that an eagle could return to devour it each day. It was his eternal punishment from Zeus for giving fire to us mortals. Some days I think I know how he must’ve felt.
But such thoughts mark one difference between me, an editor, and a scientist like UD’s Panagiotis Tsonis. In the capacity of a newt to regenerate the lens of its eye, he sees the possibility of one day unlocking similar mechanisms in our own mammalian bodies. A fountain of youth may dwell within us all — but here I am thinking in metaphors again.
You can see regeneration as a more purposeful metaphor in this issue’s story on the River Stewards, who are helping put the region back in touch with the five rivers that the city’s founders first settled around. As a community, we turned our collective back on them a century ago, answering a devastating flood with high levees. Today, regional leaders look hopefully at a renewed embrace. Recreation and tourism, economic development, environmental stewardship — they could all flow together in the plans being laid today with the help of our students and their boundless visions of what the future can be.
The rebirth of the river is but one sign of a broader renewal throughout the region, driven in part by a regeneration of the University itself. This fall marks the beginning of the 10th year of Daniel J. Curran’s presidency at UD. As another feature story notes, the University has experienced a remarkable decade by any measure — the academic strength and geographic diversity of incoming classes, physical growth, infrastructure improvements, endowment health, internationalization and more.
It results from careful planning and calculated risk taking, of course, but those are tactics any well-run organization might claim. More than those, the momentum springs from our Marianist vision, our commitment to, in the words of Father Chaminade who founded the Marianists, read the signs of the times and act. The University community has acted boldly and with ingenuity under Dr. Curran’s leadership, positioning the institution for decades to come.
I see the changes daily outside my office windows, which overlook the 50 acres UD purchased from NCR in 2005. Tennis courts have sprung up and soccer practice fields are dramatically improved. Further in the distance, ground has been broken for the new GE Aviation R&D center.
And across Brown Street, life has returned to campus classrooms and the student neighborhoods after a long, hot summer. With the new generation of students, there is also a regeneration of our Marianist commitment to educate for adaptation and change in community.
And maybe that, too, is a little how Prometheus must’ve felt when he handed over the secret of fire.