Every August, when it’s time to go back to school, I always think back to school beginnings of my lifetime from Kindergarten to graduate school. I remember some very clearly, others not so, but the one that stands out for me this year is forty years ago this week, when I registered for classes and began my study for my Master’s Degree, at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Kentucky. One reason it stands out is the picture above and the people I came to know and care about in that year and in those subsequent. To say my life changed substantially is probably an understatement.
Why Eastern Kentucky? They were the first to offer me a graduate teaching assistantship in their English Department. Having such an assistantship was important for me to be able to study. Secondly, the move coincided with my father’s retirement. He asked my mother where she would like to live, and she said, to no one’s surprise, Kentucky. The assistantship offer and the move, as it turned out, were a good fit. So in August, 1974, we left Muncie, Indiana, and moved to a house at the corner of West Main and the Tate’s Creek Pike, where my parents would live for the next eleven years.
I remember climbing the steps the to Wallace Building, where the EKU English Department was then located, and thinking that I would never come to love this place as I loved Ball State. How wrong I was. The Wallace Building was new, situated at the east* end of the old football stadium, and looked out onto the quadrangle which also included the new Chapel of Meditation, and the Powell Building, which at that time served as the student union.
There were eleven of us who served as teaching assistants that year: Danny Miller, Darryl Hovious, Ron Ball, Dewey Weddel, Jane Taylor Boster,, Alice Nevels, Jennifer Riley, Patti Pigg, Owen Branum, June, whose last name does not come to me right away, and me. At age 30 I was the oldest one of the group, and we all shared an office on the third floor of Wallace. Thankfully, we were never all there at the same time! We never expected, going in to that year, that we would come out the other end as an extremely close knit group. There were lots of things we never guessed, but most of them were happy.
Our “beloved” faculty, included Charlie Sweet, Jack Culross, (who were actually not much older than I was I think,) and Edith Williams, who truly was beloved, and after whom I think I’ll pattern the rest of my teaching career. Edith was outrageous, Charlie was “cool” because he was good-looking and didn’t wear socks with his loafers, and Jack Culross…well Jack was just Jack. They all had wonderful senses of humor and when we invited them to our graduate school parties, of which we had several, they actually came and enjoyed themselves. They later told us that they had never had a group of TA’s such as ours, and we took it as a compliment. Almost everyone of us gloried in being different.
Fond memories: study sessions at the old library; Jack Culross’ Literary Criticism class, which almost all of us where in, and during which we often got into arguments that had Jack crossing his arms over his chest and leaning against the chalkboard, looking at us in amazement; Ron Ball’s reaction to my being divorced; Patti’s love life; our Milton class taught by Byno Rodes, who taught us about Moses’ brother A-run, (Aaron) and his wife Ma-ree Pal (Mary Powell); Darrell’s hilarious-to-the-point-of-crying recitation of the prologue of Milton’s Paradise Lost” as Gomer Pyle; trips to Berea with Danny, to country dance and to pick daffodils in the spring; Charlie Sweet giving me a B on my first graduate school paper, and telling me what to do to improve my writing, but also telling me to not stop talking in his class or any others (now you know who to blame?) and all of us reading Bleak House ahead of time for our summer Victorian Lit. class, taught by Culross, and then being told it was full and we couldn’t sign up for it, a circumstance which would raise anyone’s ire, and then protesting to the head of the department. until we finally got into the class; and oh so many more.
I must not forget to mention my dear friend Libby McCord, who although she wasn’t a TA, was a close friend of Danny’s and enrolled in grad school too. She was one of the gang, and she is still my friend to this day. I hope she reads this with love.
Most of us scattered after graduation in August of 1975, but I had one more course to take that fall so I didn’t graduate until after taking my graduate exams in 1977. We kept in touch for a while, had a reunion, the picture above, in the fall of 1975. Some went on to earn their doctorates, others to teach. Some we lost touch with for years. But Danny, Darrell, Libby, Ron, and I always kept in touch. Danny went on to become the head of the English Department at Northern Kentucky State, and left us too soon in November of 2008, just after the election, when he died of a stroke. I still exchange Christmas cards with Alice Nevels, and Libby and I are still in touch via Facebook.
And so it goes. My Master of Arts in English gave me many opportunities to teach at the college level, including my present job at Butler for the last nineteen years. Harold and I were married in the Chapel of Meditation in 1976, and lived in Richmond for four years afterward. My step-son graduated from Madison Central in 1980 and my step-daughter graduated from Eastern in 1982. I became good friends with Libby’s mother and father, and her sister Sally was my student at Model. I will always be thankful that Eastern chose me, and that it has become as much home to me as Ball State. It is truly “My Old Kentucky Home”.
*directions are hard to divine in Kentucky sometimes because nothing is as straight as it is in Indiana.