1968 – Fall ’19 Class Letter

Bob Martin

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Dear Classmates: I suspect that, like a lot of you, I left Ripon with a feeling that I could have done a lot more, not only for myself but for the College. So when VICKY PORTH TOBIAS ’68 urged me in 2005 to become Class Agent, I accepted. Since then, I’ve been writing these letters for 14 years, as well as coordinating three class reunions. Particularly after our 50th reunion last year, I felt that I was able to finish some things that I left undone in 1968. With that in mind, I’m happy to report that the class agency reins will pass to PETER UHRIG ’68 once this letter is published.

I chose Peter not only on the recommendation of classmates but also because he has been a steadfast supporter of the College and our class, through annual giving, reunion attendance and contacts with friends from 1968. He is also facile with the written word. I wish him all the best, and thank all of you for the support you’ve given me over the years.

College News: The College celebrated Commencement on May 19 with the graduation of 152 seniors and the keynote address by Marc Edwards, a University Distinguished Professor of Civil Engineering at Virginia Tech. Called the “plumbing professor” by Time magazine, he is best-known for leading the research group that uncovered both the 2001-2004 lead crisis in Washington, D.C., and the 2014-2016 water disaster in Flint, Michigan.

JOHN HERMES ’68 and Cynthia Cortright were married on May 4, 2019. John reports: “I met the love of my life at Ripon on Feb. 7, 1965. We had a wonderful marriage. On June 7, 2016, Susan lost her six-year battle with cancer. I do and will always miss her. Fortunately for me, after a couple of years, I met Cynthia. She has a doctorate in music from the University of Oklahoma and is a wonderful piano player and person.” Congratulations to John and Cynthia.

As we go to press, Sun magazine is considering a submission from TOM SELSOR ’68 for its “Readers Write” section. I have condensed it here. It’s a great narrative about a young student’s intellectual journey, with Ripon in a strong supporting role:

“It was late September 1965 and I was entering my sophomore year as a psychology major at Ripon College, having hitch-hiked there from my hometown of Berkeley, California. I had registered for an elective English course in 19th Century American Literature, and at the recommendation of my professor, William Martz, had gone to the campus library that morning to begin reading Billy Budd, Sailor. It was the last and shortest novel of Herman Melville’s, never published in his lifetime, and found in his attic after his death.

“I started reading at 8 a.m., skipped two psychology classes and finished about 9 p.m. The next morning I walked into the administration building to request a change in my major from psychology to English. I thought a psych major would teach me the mysteries of human behavior and thinking and identity. But nothing so far in over a year had even suggested the mystery and depth of this short novel of the complex moral dilemma between Man’s Law and God’s Law, between the head and the heart.

“The woman behind the desk appeared confused and nervous. ‘I think you need approval from your psych advisor to do this,’ she said. ‘You’d better talk to her first.’ I said ‘No, I’ve already made my decision. Please change my major to English.’

“In an entire year at Ripon as a budding psych major, I had never found anything remotely as absorbing and charged with depth and insight as this dilemma of true innocence vs. guilt, good vs. evil, innocence vs. guilt.

“Three years later, I would enter graduate school at the University of Wisconsin and later graduate with a doctorate in 19th Century American Literature. My advisor at Wisconsin was Merton M. Sealts Jr., who had joined with Harrison Hayford from Northwestern University to edit the definitive edition of Billy Budd, Sailor. And what was my 265-page dissertation titled? ‘A Thematic and Structural Analysis of Billy Budd, Sailor.’

“Thanks, Ripon College, Herman Melville, and professors Martz and Sealts, for setting me on the right track for a rewarding career of learning, discovery and teaching.”

All the best,