Thursday, August 31, 2017

A Quiet Moment

By Frank Boles

August 28th we began the process of installing our Fall exhibit, celebrating CMU’s 125th anniversary by presenting the voices of 125 people who have helped make that history happen.  Installing a new exhibit is always an exciting moment, but also a bittersweet one. Before the new exhibit can go up, the existing exhibit comes down.

I came into the library a few minutes early on the 28th, for a final chance to reflect on “As Remote as the Moon: The Soo Locks in Photos.” Every exhibit has its joys and triumphs, its trials and tribulations, and the Soo Locks exhibit was no different. There were carefully planned components and last minute decisions, usually the result of something not working quite the way everyone thought it would. But on the last morning every exhibit takes on a bit of nostalgia. All those moments of joy and concern come together to create a complicated quilt of emotion and remembrance.
What I remember most are the people who made the exhibit come to life. Michelle Briggs, the U.S Army Corps of Engineers Park Ranger at the Soo, who made the exhibit possible with a phone call asking the Clarke staff to come up to the Locks and see if we could work out a plan to deal with the historic records stored there by the USACE. She also gave a wonderful presentation to open the exhibit in 2017. There is a good reason the Soo Locks Visitor Center is worth the visit – Michelle.
Bryan Whitledge who, when the Corps of Engineers decreed that the glass plate negatives would not come to us for scanning, made the long trip to the Soo (in February) to spend several weeks on the third floor of the Locks Administration Building. He worked in a building designed to keep its inhabitants warm no matter what the weather – so warm some days Bryan worked in a t-shirt and shorts. Bryan kept three scanners running constantly, and still found time to puzzle together the occasional shattered negative.
Janet Danek, the Libraries Exhibits & Projects Coordinator, a title that ignores the tremendous work she performs in drawing up the plans for, and then installing, each new exhibit. Every exhibit tells a story, and Janet is the person who makes the story come to life. She also directs a small army of students and volunteers who seem to arrive from everywhere to help install the nearly complete exhibit. Especially noteworthy are Peggy Brisbane and Sally Rose, who regularly make installation easier by giving hours of their time over the course of a few days.
Working with Janet is Rebecca Zeiss. For years, Rebecca has created the panels that are placed on the walls. In the past several years she has taken Janet’s ideas and shaped them into the extraordinary display pieces that we place up for the public to see. Over the years, Rebecca has made every topic work – an accomplishment worth noting since some of the source material given her is less than visually stunning: way, way less.
The cooperative help of the Clarke staff is also found in every exhibit. There is the inevitable last minute, “don’t we have one of those,” “how did we miss that,” and “this just isn’t going to work – what else do we have” moments that Reference Librarian John Fierst and Archivist Marian Matyn drop everything else and respond to. It is a great way to ruin their well-planned day, and it happens often enough that I can only thank them for their patience, and not saying, “what now?”
Susan Paton, the assistant editor of the Michigan Historical Review, also has her work interrupted by an exhibit. Among the challenges in any exhibit are linguistic concerns– from subject-verb agreement to commas (and the occasional, “what on earth are you trying to say?”) – concerns Susan regularly helps us resolve. Although I dread of those fateful words spoken after an exhibition is supposedly complete, “you need to read this,” the concern is considerably lessened by Susan’s good work.
Each exhibit has a person or two who lends us wonderful treasures that bring the exhibit to life in ways the Library’s own collection could not. The Soo Locks show was no different. Gary Skory, director of the Midland County Historical Society, has loved the Locks and collected all sorts of tourist items, from pieces of tourist china to restaurant place mats. His loaned material helped us tell the story of the tourist industry that has developed around the Soo Locks in a way that we simply could not have accomplished without his help.
And I would be terribly remiss if I also didn’t mention the many student employees who make exhibits happen. Drake Smarch, who works with Janet Danek, becomes a regular part of our staff during exhibit installation. Clarke student employees are pulled from their regular assignments for all sorts of help. Sometimes what they do may not feel important to them – but it is critical. Without their help we simply could not take down one exhibit and put up another. I hope our student employees, who don’t get much glory for their help, realize how deeply their contribution is appreciated.
Thank you, everyone, for making Clarke exhibits so memorable. I will miss the Soo Locks show, but I look forward to the exhibit celebrating the University's 125th anniversary, which opens September 13th.  

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Central Marching Band

By Casey Gamble and Bryan Whitledge

In September 1923, the students of the Central Normal College were hustling around in a frenzied attempt to register for classes (Central Normal Life, 9/25/1923, p. 2). The only peace to be had on campus was coming from the newly-established marching band. Before ever taking the football field to entertain during a game, the band was given the duty of lightening the atmosphere and reminding students that their first days in Mount Pleasant were the start of an exciting chapter of their lives. It would be two months before the marching band would have their maroon and gold uniforms and would take the field supporting the effort of the players on the gridiron at an away game against Alma on November 24.

Central Marching Band, 1923

Since that time, the Marching Band has been a fixture of the fall. More than 50 years after their first appearance, the Marching Chips were there in 1974 as the football team took part in the biggest game in Central's history to that point, the Camellia Bowl, otherwise known as the Division II National Championship. Because the University was able to offer only $17,000 of the $200,000 needed to send the band to California, a little help was needed to send the band out west. Clarence Tuma led a community fundraising campaign that raised the additional money. Tuma also had a final surprise for the band.
"Before they left California [by plane, bound for Michigan], Clarence Tuma had loaded a full round of Coors Beer for the band members. As they flew over Denver, Colorado, Norm [Dietz] gave Clarence the baton, and on the downbeat, everyone opened a Coors.John W. Beery
Coming back to the present day, students new and old will be moving to Mount Pleasant in the coming days. They will be buying books, getting their residence halls and apartments in order, and catching up with friends after three months of summer vacation. All the while, just like 94 years ago, the CMU marching band will be heard in the background, lightening the atmosphere during an otherwise chaotic time.

CMU’s first football game, a clash with Rhode Island on Thursday, August 31, is just around the corner and the football team has been putting in hours of hard work on the practice field. But the football players aren’t the only ones honing their skills daily in preparation of the opening kickoff. During band week, which happens right before the start of classes, the Marching Chips are on the practice field all day, every day, whether in the blazing heat or the pouring rain. Throughout campus, the Marching Chips work on the songs and routines that will be on display for thousands of fans throughout the fall.

The cadence of the drums can be felt across the Warriner Mall, the trumpets blare the high notes that will be the highlight of their performances, and the members of the woodwinds work in numbers to create big volume that will support the whole band. All of these musicians put in hours of work to learn about eight songs for football halftime shows in addition to the dozens of pregame tunes, stand times, and of course, the CMU Fight Song.

The work doesn’t stop after band week. It should be remembered that the members of the Marching Chips are first and foremost students at CMU. Once classes start, many of the music majors will be taking ten or more classes along with their marching band duties, which includes practicing a few hours each afternoon, except for game days when some sections begin practice before 7:00 am. Graduate students and senior section leaders will help the mostly freshman marchers keep each foot together and each note in sync until the formations are performed to perfection.

And what does all of this hard work bring? Well just like in 1923, it brings cheer to the students of CMU when they need an upbeat song to get them through the day. Of course, it brings life to football games and the annual homecoming parade. It brings traditions that have been handed down through generations of Marching Chips. Finally, for the musicians who are a part of the Central Marching Band, they earn a wealth of experiences, they garner a sense of pride in persevering to accomplish something magnificent, and they make memories that will last a lifetime.

This blog post originally appeared in a different form August 26, 2014. It is one in a series of information detailing the history of Central Michigan University in celebration of the 125th Anniversary of the institution. Be sure to check out the official 125th Anniversary website – – and the Clarke’s upcoming exhibit, opening in September, for more great stories.