In October 2021, Ted Smith emailed to ask if I had seen The New York Times obituary for former Wesleyan faculty member Dick Ohmann. Ohmann was in the English Department from 1961 until his retirement in 1996, and Ted wondered if I had taken a class from him. I wrote Ted that I had not (I copied my email to Larry Carver ’66, one of my two English major friends—the other, the late great Jim McEnteer, will have to read it from beyond). I told Ted and Larry (and maybe Jim) that although I did not know Ohmann when I was an undergraduate, I did get to know him a bit four decades later when he asked me to write an article for a special issue he was editing for a lefty journal that he had helped to found in 1975. The topic of the special issue was teaching about the socioeconomic class system in the USA, and I wrote a piece titled “Teaching an Interdisciplinary Course on the American Upper Class,” based on a course that I had taught periodically (the reading included Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, C. Wright Mills’ The Power Elite, and more—the class was always fun to teach). Ohmann was an excellent editor, a pleasure to work with, and we subsequently traded emails now and then, including a few in April 2021 about another article I had written (this one was titled “The Corporatization of the Liberal Arts College: Even the Class Notes!”).
Ted Smith, by the way, out there in San Jose, California, has survived earthquakes, droughts, fires, and some health issues, but he keeps on truckin’, fighting for social justice and environmental issues, sitting on the boards of some nonprofits. Larry Carver, who is Class Secretary for 1966, has retired after a distinguished career as an English professor at the University of Texas, Austin, and now lives in Rico, Colorado, doing some teaching, some writing, a lot of hiking, and taking some amazing photographs of majestic views.
Our classmate Don Gerber has had two careers, one as a rabbi and the other as a furniture salesman. He retired from his rabbinical career in 1999, though he still periodically sends out rabbinical email missives to a large, mostly Jewish, group of recipients. He has continued to sell furniture to retailers. For the past two years, unable to travel because of the pandemic, he has done so online. He tells me that “Over the past two years, the housing industry has been booming, and ‘cocooning’ has become today’s ‘lifestyle.’ ‘Staycationing’ is more than a word, it is a macro-trend.” So, stuck in his hardship home base in Newport Beach, California, with his wife Bonnie, Don continues to sell furniture (and to root for Syracuse teams).
My high school and Wesleyan friend, Brian Frosh ’68 (Walter Johnson High School, ’64) makes an early appearance (page 9) in Jamie Raskin’s riveting book, Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy. When Raskin’s 25-year-old son, Tommy, committed suicide, just days before the seditionist January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, Brian, described by Raskin as “my friend, Brian Frosh, attorney general of Maryland,” helped expedite the process by which police shared with Raskin the heartbreaking suicide note that Tommy had left behind. Another Wesleyan alum, Dar Williams ’89, makes a touching appearance later in the book.
A few sets of notes ago, in reporting on my decision to retire in the spring of 2020, I mentioned that Guilford College, the small, Quaker-affiliated, liberal arts college where I taught for 45 years, was struggling to survive the double whammy of economic woes and the pandemic. A few months later the college’s administration and board were well on their way to eliminating most of the school’s liberal arts majors and firing a good portion of the faculty, but, amazingly, more than 3,000 alumni organized under the rubric of “Save Guilford College” and persuaded the board to reverse course. Guilford College now has a new president, most of the former senior administrators have departed, there are some new members of the board, and the board has a new chair. I have written about this, an article titled “Organizing during the Pandemic: The AAUP and ‘Save Guilford College,’” which now has been published in the journal Academe.
I hope you have survived delta and omicron, and that you are vaccinated and boostered for whatever comes next.
If you send me more stuff about you for the next set of notes, I’ll write less about me. Stay safe.
RICHIE ZWEIGENHAFT | email@example.com