Archives

Alfredo Ramon

Alfredo Ramon, who taught generations of Kalamazoo College students from 1958 to 1996 in K’s foreign study program in Madrid, Spain, passed away on January 30, 2015, at the age of 92, just days before an exhibition of his paintings opened at the Centro Cultural Nicolás Salmerón on 3 February. A professional painter, inspiring teacher, and genial lecturer, Alfredo embodied in his work and personality the history, spirit, culture, and character of Spain. He was an artist of great versatility who worked in a variety of media and subjects, from portraits to landscapes to street scenes. He also worked in diverse artistic areas such as restoration, stage and costume design, and poster painting. In the words of one of Madrid’s dailies reporting his death, he is perhaps best known for his street scenes of old Madrid which captured its soul and spirit and made of him a chronicler of the visual history of his adopted city. A master teacher, he conveyed to his Kalamazoo College and other American students the essence of Spain, past and present, through its artistic treasures. His classes in the Prado brought to life the glories of a Goya or Velasquez; a trip with him to Toledo resurrected the days of the Christian kings and El Greco. Alfredo was the recipient of numerous prizes and honors, and the list of his one-man shows dates from 1955 to 2015. His works are a part of permanent public and private collections in Spain and abroad, including Kalamazoo College, where he was well known as a visiting professor and frequent visitor. Alfredo Ramon was an esteemed colleague, a loyal and true friend of Kalamazoo College and its students. His contributions to the College and K students reach back to our first program in Madrid in 1958. In recognition of his achievements and role in the life of the College, Alfredo was awarded the degree Doctor of Fine Arts by Kalamazoo College in 1991. (Obituary by Joe Fugate)

 

Gail Griffin, Professor Emerita of English

Retirement, or “retirement,” can be as alive and crackling as the mind is curious and courageous. So it is with Gail. Her recent writing is incandescent. Her poem, “Devastated,” appeared in the Southern Review last spring. Her essay “Gloria,” was published in PHOEBE. “That essay,” Gail wrote, “is about a ‘colored’ baby doll I was given as a little girl, about the suburban relationship to Detroit, and about white racial confusion and anxiety.” Gail is a trenchant and powerful essayist. Her essay, “A Creature, Stirring,” won the New Ohio Review’s nonfiction contest, judged by Elena Passarello. The essay is part of Gail’s just finished memoir, Widow’s Walk.

Gail keeps busy in other ways besides writing. Last month she became chair of the YWCA-Kalamazoo Board of Directors. She has offered several writing workshops locally, on generating memoir (at Kazoo Books and two branches of the Kalamazoo Public Library) and on writing from life’s thresholds (at the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters in Grand Rapids). She also co-facilitated three workshops on building white anti-racist allies for the local organization SHARE–headed by alumna Donna (Coleman) Odom ’67. Last November Gail co-facilitated a fourth workshop, with local poet/activist Denise Miller, at the Summit on Racism.

Doubles

Associate Professor of Psychology Autumn Hostetter

Associate Professor of Psychology Autumn Hostetter left high school equally interested in the double entendre and the double helix. She loved literature’s exploration of the human condition, and she also loved the precision of science and the scientific method.

It didn’t take long for these seemingly separate strands to intertwine. The epiphany occurred in her freshman-year, first-semester introductory Gen Psych class. “That course revealed for me psychology as the intersection of science and literature,” says Hostetter. “It is a way to study the human condition using the reason of science.”

It wouldn’t be accurate to say she never looked back. After all, she did earn a minor in creative writing along with her major in psychology (at Berry College [Mount Berry, Georgia], a small liberal arts school of some 2,000 students who enjoy the world’s largest contiguous campus [some 27,000 acres—K, by comparison, has 1,450 students on some 66 acres] and who’ve been known to quip the school has a 5-to-1 deer-to-student ratio). As commencement approached, Autumn considered an M.F.A. (as next step to a dual career of writer/writing teacher) or a Ph.D. (as a pathway to becoming a professor of psychology).

Psychology—the double helix of science and literature—carried the day. Autumn completed her Ph.D. (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and began her teaching career at K shortly after. “I always wanted to teach at a small liberal arts college,” she says. Not surprising, perhaps; nor is her academic and research interests: the psychology of language and communication.

What’s the best song ever recorded?
“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by The Tokens.

What’s your favorite childhood fairy tale or story?
“The Ugly Duckling.” The idea that what you are now doesn’t determine what you will be in the future has always appealed to me.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
“There are people here who will be very excited to see you.”

What’s your favorite word?
Crock-ah-doddle. My two-year-old son Oliver’s pronunciation of “crocodile.” I like his better.

What’s your least favorite word?
Tepid

What turns you on?
Sunsets

What turns you off?
Guns

What sound do you love?
Silence

What sound do you hate?
Oliver whining

What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
Being a writer, or something perhaps in advertising, which combines writing and psychology.

What profession would you not like to participate in?
Being on an assembly line, anything monotonous where you don’t use your mind.

What’s been a GREAT MOMENT in your liberal arts learning?
Probably that first college psychology class, discovering that the subject carried the DNA of both literature and science. The professor, by the way, was a truly gifted teacher, one of the happiest, most optimistic persons I’ve ever encountered.

Who’s the person (living or dead) with whom you’d most like to spend a lunch hour?
Amelia Earhart, mostly to learn what happened.

What memory from childhood still surprises you?
When I was 10 my family took a two-week road trip west, driving from Georgia [Autumn grew up in Augusta] to Los Angeles, stopping at landmarks like the Grand Canyon. But mostly, I sat in the back seat reading Babysitter’s Club books that I’d already read.

What is your favorite curse word?
[The word] “badwords” [exclaimed with no pause between the parts]

What is your favorite hobby?
Baking. I love to make desserts.

What is your favorite comedy movie?
Earth Girls Are Easy, a film from the late 1980s starring Geena Davis, Jeff Goldblum, and Jim Carey. My grandfather makes a cameo appearance in one scene!

What local, regional, national, or world event affected you most?
Probably the September 11 terrorist attacks.

If a cow laughed, would milk come out of her nose?
The question’s udderly ridiculous.

Abstract Thinker

I had heard two stories about Professor of Physics Jan Tobochnik, one of which turned out to be mostly true.

That one involved the surprise of college officials surrounding his arrival (let’s describe it as minimalist) at Amherst (Massachusetts) College. The 18-year-old Tobochnik had traveled from Philadelphia alone and by bus, accompanied by two large suitcases he had to schlep two blocks from the bus stop to campus. Where were his parents? “In Philadelphia,” he said with some surprise of his own. “Where else would they be?”

“Well, I don’t remember saying that,” says Tobochnik today. “But I guess my entry was a bit atypical, even for 1971.”

The second story—physics a distant second career choice behind his desire to be shortstop for the Philadelphia Phillies—is completely false. “Though I did know a professor at Cornell [Tobochnik’s graduate school] who did have to choose between physics and playing in the minor leagues,” he says.

Does Tobochnik at least remain a lifelong Phillies fan? “I try hard to,” he confesses. “But this year they’re pretty bad, so I’m kind of agnostic.”

Would acuity in physics better serve the science of fielding or hitting? Tobochnik ponders a moment or two. “Probably fielding, where there would be more time (perhaps marginally more) to think about the application of physics,” he ponders. “Some physics might apply to a player’s stance in the box or nuances in the bat swing, but the ball is on you so fast.” He brightens: “There’s a surprising amount of scientific literature published on physics and baseball. I read a lot of it in the journal I edited [The American Journal of Physics].”

This is a man who loves questions, no matter how far afield (or, “from left field”) they may seem. Jan Tobochnik is BeLight’s first physicist to endure the “Lighten Up” interview.

 

What’s the best song ever recorded?

I don’t know. I’m bad with popular culture questions. I like the Beatles. Is “Let it Be” one of theirs? Let’s go with that.

What’s your favorite childhood fairy tale or story?

I can’t really remember any, certainly nothing before the age of four-and-a-half. There is a story about me that I don’t recall but find interesting. In Philadelphia our house was near Route 1, a very busy 12-lane road. One day, around the age of 3, I apparently climbed from my crib and took a walk. I was found several blocks from our house at a drug store. It was lucky I didn’t try to cross Route 1.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

I’m an atheist. I can’t answer this one.

What’s your favorite word?

I-don’t-know.

What’s your least favorite word?

Generally speaking, any word that disparages people or groups.

What turns you on?

Abstract thinking! One of the most important things I try to do at K is cultivate in students an appreciation for abstract thinking.

What turns you off?

Bigotry.

What sound do you love?

The sound of ocean waves on a shoreline.

What sound do you hate?

Fingernails on a chalkboard.

What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?

I would like to be a politician because I think that work is so important. And yet I wouldn’t want to be a politician today because the current state of our public discourse is so ugly and polemic.

What profession would you not like to participate in?

Anything on an assembly line. It would be too repetitive.

What’s been a GREAT MOMENT in your liberal arts learning?

At Cornell I was working on a project that had to do with a theory of melting that was developed by two renowned physicists, Kosterlitz and Thouless. I remember one day having a prolonged argument about that theory with a visitor to the department. I didn’t know who he was, but my advisor later told me it was Kosterlitz. Had I known that, we wouldn’t have had the discussion that we had.

Who’s the person (living or dead) with whom you’d most like to spend a lunch hour?

Elizabeth Warren. She’s positioned to move politics in a direction in which I’d like to see it go. I would like to know what she’s thinking.

What memory from childhood still surprises you?

I attended a big public junior high school in Philadelphia. More than 1,000 students in three grades. I was the first or second fastest sprinter in that school. That didn’t last into high school. But the memory still surprises me.

What is your favorite curse word?

The one I use the most is full-of-shit.

What is your favorite hobby?

I don’t think I really have one, as such. I like to read. I read about sports. I play racquetball. I play bridge. But I don’t really consider any of those hobbies.

What is your favorite comedy movie?

“A Serious Man” is a fascinating combination of hilarious and dark. I also liked “Brother Where Art Thou.”

What local, regional, national, or world event has affected you most?

The civil rights movement and the Vietnam War shaped how I think.

If a cow laughed, would milk come out of her nose?

No

Christine Hahn, Associate Professor of Art History

22July2010 Evergood Mural, Kalamazoo CollegeChristine published an article, “Maintaining Problematic Art: A Case Study of Philip Evergood’s The Bridge of Life (1942) at Kalamazoo College.” The article appeared in Public Art Dialogue (6:1, 116-130) on May 27, 2016.

The piece is particularly interesting for any alumni familiar with the mural (see above) in Old Welles Hall. It covers the history of controversy inspired by the work since it’s unveiling (1942), including specific calls (in 1966 and in 2010) for some redress for iconography deemed offensive to and by some individuals and groups. Detailing the call-and-response to the criticism voiced in 2010, Christina ultimately suggests “that problematic public art has the unique potential to produce positive social change by staying in place.”

The article reveals much about K’s history, including Evergood’s time on campus as an artist and a teacher as well as his bona fides as an ardent social radical. Christina also introduces (from Lewis Hyde, author of Common as Air) a concept of “freedom of listening.” In his book Hyde cites Benjamin Franklin’s creation of a lecture hall where “people were free to give lectures on whatever they wanted.” In that space (Christina quotes Hyde): “Individual speakers present singular views; individual listeners entertain plurality…. The hall was thus built to serve the eighteenth-century idea of replacing the partial self with a plural or public self, one who is host to many voices, even those otherwise at odds with the singular being you thought you were when you first walked in the door….If we take free listening to be the true end of free speech, then freedom itself takes on a different aspect…intelligence arises in the common world, where many voices can be heard; it belongs to collectivity, not privacy, and is available especially to those who can master the difficult art of plural listening.”

Christina invokes Hyde’s notion of “agonistic listening amongst equals in conflict” (a notion that is at the heart of the academy and a direct contrast to “antagonism, where opponents try to silence or destroy the other”) to describe College and student responses to the controversy implicit and explicit in the work, particularly the responses that took place or were considered between 2010 and 2015. She writes: “The building Benjamin Franklin built that embraced such agonistic pluralism eventually became the Philadelphia Academy, which in turn became the University of Pennsylvania. This transformation of space, built to house agonistic conflict among equals, is a particularly fitting symbol of how physical space can potentially create a space for inquiry, conflict and debate. This type of site is necessary and important. Indeed, as Lewis Hyde argues, it is agonistic spaces such as these that are the foundations of democracy.”

The presence of the mural, Christina continues, has provided the intellectual and emotive space for agonistic listening, “has allowed these twenty-first-century conversations on race, class dynamics and elite educations to take place….[M]aintaining problematic public art in an agonistic space helps keep our understanding of the past and our vision of the future firmly in view.” A fascinating article, well worth the time to read it.

Richard Means ’52

Richard died on February 15, 2014. He was a beloved professor emeritus of sociology at the College who first arrived on campus as an undergraduate student in 1948, when he transferred from the University of Toledo. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. At K he won the Hodge Prize in philosophy and was president of the student body. He was also a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He and fellow K graduate, Joyce Allen, married in 1953.

Richard earned a bachelor’s degree in divinity from Colgate Rochester Divinity School (1956) and an M.A. and Ph.D. (sociology) from Cornell University (1959 and 1964, respectively). He served as a chaplain at Cornell (1956-59) and was ordained as an Associate Minster of the First Congregational Church (1957). He returned to K in 1961, where he received tenure (1964) and was promoted to full professor (1972). He retired from K in 1993, having served the College for 32 years.

Among the qualities that made him exceptional, wrote his colleague and friend, Dean of the Chapel Robert Dewey, on the occasion of Mean’s 25th service anniversary with the College, were his “command of a discipline, intellectual curiosity beyond that discipline, stimulating conversation, collegial support, a sense of humor, a broad range of interests and an impressive knowledge of each, a passionate concern for the vitality and quality of the College and for the problems confronting society, the nation, and the world.” His research and teaching interests were broad and deep and included the family, criminology, mental health institutions, the sociology of religion, race relations, alcohol and drug abuse, the environment, and social gerontology. Citing the breadth of his colleague’s intellectual interests Dean Dewey likened Richard to “a man in a conning tower rotating his periscope across the wide horizon to see and grasp what he finds there.” Richard wrote numerous journal articles on various topics in sociology and religion, and he was the author of the book The Ethical Imperative: The Value Crisis in America, which was used in college classes at Grinnell and Carleton, among others.

After he retired from K, Richard served as interim minster of the First Congregational Church of Kalamazoo. He then served as interim minster of the First Congregational Church of Coloma, Michigan.

He is survived by Joyce, his wife of 60 years, their three children, three grandchildren, and many nieces and nephews.

Tom Rice, Professor of Art

Tom had a solo exhibition titled “Monuments to the Ephemeral” at the Firehouse Art center in Longmont, Colorado. The exhibit opened April 22 and ran through May 25. The exhibit comprised several large ink drawings on transparent plastic that explore ideas related to the effects of climate change on the environment. Tom wrote, “As early as the 19th century, American landscape painters of the Hudson River Valley School realized that the natural resources of the Americas were under assault by industrialization. Their work idealized the pristine landscape of the Americas in order to preserve and glorify its grandeur. My work references these paintings with a renewed alarm at the effect of climate change and the fragility of the environment. Monuments to the Ephemeral speaks to environmental concerns through the futile attempt to immortalize disappearing geological features in images that are even more fragile and ephemeral. Comprised of transparent plastic and ink, these drawings have a fairly short life span. In the gallery, they hang loosely against the wall and sway with any gentle breeze caused by the movement of our human bodies. To personalize the drawings, each piece also includes an excerpt from a love letter. Like the environment, love is ephemeral and can be nurtured or easily destroyed. Both subjects confront issues associated with loss.”