Wednesday, March 14, 2018

How People Who Fish and Read Spend A March Weekend

by Frank Boles

March 10 and 11 Robert Kohrman and I spent the weekend representing the library at the Midwest Fly Fishing Expo. That may sound like a peculiar place for us to be talking to people about the Clarke Historical Library, but with over 3,000 angling books in the library which taken together make up what is arguably the strongest collection of fly fishing books in the Midwest, spending a few days talking about our holdings among people who enjoy the sport is a sound outreach strategy.

Bob, who is a true expert on the sport and the literature, and I, who can kind of talk the talk if I have to but have never walked the walk (that is, gone fly fishing) have attended the show for several years with three goals in mind. The first is simply to let people interested in the sport know the collection exists. The second is to find individuals with book collections on the subject and encourage them to think about donating those books to the Clarke. And the third is to reach out to individuals interested in the sport to support the endowment within the Clarke that allows us to continue to grow the collection.

One of the intriguing aspects of sitting for 14 hours on the floor of the show is that you never know to what topic the next conversation will turn. Over the course of the weekend we talked to a number of Chippewa alums who groaned when they realized that for four years all those books were just a few steps away – and who we encouraged to make a trip back to campus. We also talked to a hobbyist boat builder absolutely fascinated by a model of the original Au Sable river boat that we had on display, and was interested in possibly building a full size replica. And we talked with a gentleman who may have the only surviving notes about rod construction left by one of Michigan’s most famous rod makers.

And of course there were the book people. John D. Voelker, one of Michigan’s most celebrated authors and fly fishers, once wrote, “Old fishermen never die, instead they write books about their passion.” In truth, fishermen read books about their passion rather than write them, and are equally passionate about their book collections. Those passionate readers are the reason two book dealers routinely set up shop at the show – they know there is a market there for their wares. Those passionate readers and collectors are also people to whom we like to talk.

Fly fishing in Michigan is deeply linked to the state’s history. The “holy water” of the Au Sable River is steeped in fishing lore, as are many other Michigan streams. There is also a practical aspect to documenting the sport – fly fishing is a major recreational activity and an important factor in the state’s tourism industry. The Clarke’s angling collection gives researchers, a state, national, and international perspective on the sport.

As always, my thanks to the Michigan Fly Fishing Club, which sponsors the show and again this year kindly granted us a complimentary vendor table, and to Bob Kohrman, who volunteers to spend those long hours at the table with me, and who saves the day whenever someone asks a real question about fishing or the fly fishing literature.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Remembering Bill Strickler

By Frank Boles


On Thursday, February 22 I attended a funeral for a good friend of the Clarke Library, William J. Strickler. Bill spent more than two decades as a member of the Clarke Board of Governors, many of those years as the chair. He was thoughtful, kind, cared tremendously about the library, and had a refreshing sense of humor about himself and the situations he observed. He also had little time for pomposity or pretense. Over the years I saw him lead the Board to many sound decisions, tell various people in a few polite but well-chosen words why they were being ridiculous, and stare down University presidents who forgot who they were talking to (from the safety of the sidelines – some fights a university employee does not want to be in the middle of).

When I first met him in 1991 he told me he just wanted two things from the new director: straight talk and pie if there was going to be lunch after the Board meeting. It was typical of his approach to most things.

I knew Bill well enough to recognize that he’d be more than a little annoyed if I wrote a long, flowery obituary. He’d just tell me to stop. So, I will simply tell two stories Bill told me, as best I remember them. I think they capture the self-depreciating wit and unique sense of irony that were among the reasons I so liked him.

Bill was a CMU graduate who by his own admission came close to flunking out one semester because he spent most of his time shooting pool. He fancied himself pretty good at the game, able to regularly win small wagers with his friends. One day when a pool shark from the Detroit area was in town Bill challenged him to a match. The shark eyed up his mark and said sure, let’s play one for fun.

That game went pretty well for Bill, who having shown his mettle against a pro from Detroit was feeling his oats. Then the shark said “want to make it interesting? Let’s put some money on the table.  How about a $50.?” Bill was flabbergasted.  That was serious money. But he both had a $50 and felt he couldn’t back down.  “Sure,” he said, with a bit of false bravado. The shark graciously allowed Bill to break. Bill sank a ball or two, then missed a shot. The shark, demonstrating a skill previously not shown when playing for fun, ran the rest of the table and, with the hint of a smile, pocketed Bill’s $50. Shortly thereafter Bill decided pool might not be a good investment of his time.

A second story involved Bill’s prospecting for natural gas in Wyoming. Bill was a petroleum geologist, and a good one. He transferred skills he learned in the Michigan Oil Patch into some very successful wells out West. Out West, however, environmentalists launched serious and frequently successful opposition to well drilling permits.

As is often the case among people who regularly attend public hearings, Bill became acquainted with those opposed to new drilling. A friendly and polite man, he always had a good morning and a kind word for his opponents. One day at a hearing, the regular representative of the environmental group spoke in opposition to a new drilling permit very near where Bill was already operating a successful well. The permit was denied.

Bill, always one to recognize irony when he saw it, walked over to the environmental spokesperson and told her “I guess I owe you one.”  “Why?” she asked, with more than a little surprise in her voice. Killing the proposed permit had made Bill’s nearby existing well much more valuable.  To settle up he sent the environmental group a financial donation.  It was just too good a joke for Bill to pass up.

I am going to miss Bill’s help, advice, and unique sense of humor. And I hope that not only I, but an environmentalist somewhere in Wyoming, is thinking fondly of him today. You don’t run into too many people like Bill.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Clarke Opens New Exhibit: A Thank You Note

By Frank Boles

Every exhibit opening is accompanied by a list of organizations and people to whom we are indebted. Last Thursday we opened “(dis)ABLED BEAUTY: the evolution of beauty, disability and ability,” and I would like to thank the staff of the libraries for their work in creating this exhibit as well as our CMU institutional partners, including:

 The Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders

 The Fashion Merchandising Design program within the Dept. of Human Environmental Studies

  CMU History Department 

My thanks also extend to our external institutional partner, the Fashion School at Kent State University, where many components of this show were first conceived and exhibited through a partnership between Dr. Stacey Lim of CMU and Dr. Tameka Ellington of Kent State.

The exhibit crosses disciplinary lines in interesting and informative ways. It addresses the subject of disability and ability both from a scientific and clinical viewpoint, as well from the more subjective world of fashion. In addition the show, as we have constructed it here at CMU, includes substantial additional components reflecting oral history interviews done with individuals with disabilities who are members of our campus community and also, as part of CMU’s celebration of its 125th anniversary, a discussion of both how Central’s academic program has addressed disability as well as how the campus itself has changed to accommodate individuals with disability.

I would particularly like to acknowledge the contributions of the Libraries Exhibit Coordinator, Janet Danek. Although what was created for the exhibit at Kent State was beautiful, their exhibit space is not our exhibit space, and the Kent State show had to be redesigned and sometimes reimagined to work within our galleries, while at the same time honoring the integrity of the original exhibition. In addition Janet had to incorporate substantial additions to the original show, which reflected the contributions of Central faculty and staff who had not participated in the Kent State exhibit but who helped center the exhibit you will see tonight in ways that more fully represent CMU.

Much of what you will see in the exhibit reflects Janet’s creative ability and hard work, designing the CMU iteration of (dis)ABLED BEAUTY to high standards and working within a very tight timeline. Despite all the rest of us involved, we collectively could not have created the exhibit without Janet’s many contributions. It just wouldn’t have happened.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Three Stories & Ten Poems

By Frank Boles

Over the past decade the Clarke Library’s collection of material relating to Ernest Hemingway life in Michigan has grown in both size and importance. This week, through the generosity of several friends, we will add a new item, a first edition printing of Hemingway’s first publication, Three Stories & Ten Poems.

Published in 1923 in a run of only 300 copies the slender volume is in many ways a “capstone” printed item in the library’s efforts to document Hemingway’s life in and reflections about Michigan. The title of the book’s first short story, “Up in Michigan” pretty much says everything one needs to know about what at the time Ernest Hemingway thought was important and about what he felt he could write.

The Hemingway collection now includes a wide variety of printed and manuscript material documenting the life of Ernest Hemingway. As I have mentioned many times before, the Hemingway family purchased property on Walloon Lake and built a summer cottage there. Ernest, who was born in 1899, spent every summer at the cottage from 1900 through 1920, with the exception of 1918. In 1921 he also visited, when he married Hadley Richardson in nearby Hortons Bay and the two honeymooned in the cottage.

Much of Hemingway’s adult life was shaped by his experiences in and around Walloon Lake, much more so than the family home in Oak Park, Illinois. Hemingway’s opinion about Oak Park, where he spent the other nine months of the year, has often been summarized through a Hemingwayesque sounding, although possibly apocryphal quotation, that it was a place of “wide lawns and narrow minds.”

Whatever his actual opinion about Oak Park, something Hemingway never shared in print, he did draw from and write extensively about his summers in Michigan. The Nick Adams stories tell the tale of a young man, learning about himself and the world. The stories are not biography, exactly. As Hemingway himself would write, “All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened.” Hemingway was after something more than a well-footnoted history.

The Clarke’s role, however, has been to find and preserve documentation that can serve as that well-footnoted history. Through original letters, scrapbooks of cottage life compiled by Grace Hall Hemingway for her children, published recollections, what “really happened” is told in the Clarke Library. Hemingway himself, in his many published works about Michigan, told his readers what he thought made his Michigan fiction “truer than if they had really happened.”

Friday, December 15, 2017

Some CMU Holiday Traditions

By Frank Boles

In its 125 year history Central Michigan University has celebrated the end of year holidays and the winter months that followed in a variety of ways. No one celebration has spanned the entire history of the University but many were long lived, and important themes remained unchanged.

Perhaps the earliest, and the most long-lived tradition, was a semi-formal dance held in December. The first documented dance was held in 1926. Proceeds from the dance were given to charity, a tradition that continued specifically with the dance for many years, and would be reflected in many other traditions that would develop over the years.

The first dances were campus-wide events. In the 1950s fraternities and sororities began to sponsor the event, and in the 1960s and 1970s various residence halls held dances. In the 1980s the tradition disappeared, with the last residence hall dances held in Barnard and Beddow Halls, as well as a few events sponsored by different fraternities.

As dances began to fade in popularity other events came to the fore. One of the most long-lived was the winter carnival. Held in February, the carnival featured a variety of games, floats, dances and other events. Snow sculptures were an integral part of the festival, as were “sort of” outdoor sports, such as broom hockey. The carnival was first held in 1939 and eventually ended in the early 1980s. 

One part of the carnival, however, survives to this day.  In 1979 the event featured a “polar plunge”, a fundraiser for Special Olympics where particularly brave (or foolish, depending on your point of view) individuals jumped into the ponds in front of Rose Arena. The polar plunge is still with us, including the idea of recruiting sponsors whose contributions will go to charity, assuming the person who they sponsor really does the deed!

A bit less exhilarating, but far more practical, was the Christmas Coffee sponsored by the Association for Women Students during the 1950s and 1960s, where everyone was invited to come an enjoy a bit of holiday cheer (at least as much cheer as can be derived from a cup of coffee).

A more satisfying feast was the Madrigal dinner. A madrigal is a music composition of the Renaissance and early Baroque eras. The annual holiday tradition took songs from this era and combined them with a “feast.” First held in 1977, the event featured costumed entertainment, as well as a themed meal. The event was last held in 1994, when ticket sales failed to generate sufficient revenue to fund the event.

Beginning in 1902 and continuing into the 1960’s CMU was home to a Training School, a facility where future teachers could hone their skills on real students. As did almost every elementary school of the era, the students put on a holiday entertainment for their parents. First graders dressed up as elves delighted their parents, pretty much regardless of what actually happened on stage.

Members of the campus community first began to collect items for the community charity Christmas Outreach in the 1980. The Wesley Foundation and St. Mary’s Church took leading roles in gathering clothing items on campus to be subsequently distributed throughout the community. The University’s involvement in the program grew over the years. In 2005 Finch Fieldhouse became the center for distributing the many items to members of the community. Finch continues to serve in this role each holiday season.

Fun, fellowship, and giving are all part of the CMU’s holiday traditions.

Happy holidays to all from the staff of the Clarke Historical Library.