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Early Lessons
Vera Studio
MacMurray College

Updated January 13, 2017 | By Bob Fugett

MacMurray College

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Distance Learning is One Thing: but social media is neither

It was as if every cleaning service in the world had combined to descend on campus the night before, finished their work, and scurried away only the moment before.

Each leaf on every tree along the crisscrossed walks connecting dorms and facilities were flipped and spritzed until every stem, vein, and lamina were fresh and new.

Spread across the commons hundreds of thousands of grass blades were buffed and polished to a sparkle using only the slightest dusting of an early spring humidity.

Small interspersed flowers and plants green but not grass had all been touched with equal respect.

This perfect work extended down to the very air molecules themselves all gently scoured till gleaming, tossed back up into the singing blue mirror sky.

Soon there would be cicadas.

If not for the few scattered clouds which tempered the light, it would have been too much.

For this tiny midwest campus, MacMurray College, it all meant just another typical springtime morning, routine and mundane, vibrant and eternal.

Slightly removed from the light and under trees where a breeze still flipped a few leaves winking, I walked head down beside Dr. Hilda H. Hale coming from her senior-level class in Modern Literature.

My rare lucidity had been goaded upon me by the threat of exams.

So though it was a few days since the last party, I still had the relieved feeling of being just returned to earth from an extended off-world odyssey into panic.

I could not look Dr. Hale directly in the face.

Today was the day before her midterm, and she had stopped class when a friend and I arrived late surreptitiously slinking to the side of the back row.

With not a glance toward us she turned away from the blackboard and said, "Class, today we have visitors. Welcome Marc and Bob. They must have heard about tomorrow's test."

She did it so smoothly I was looking around excited to see the special guests when I realized it was us.

Now Dr. Hale was walking beside me coming from MacMurray Hall (which everyone called the science building) beginning the route past the spired Georgian chapel and along the sidewalk through the broad grassed corridor between Rutledge and Jane Hall up to the substantial three story library then over to the modernist student union—the Irma Latzer Gamble Campus Center.

No impractical ivy, but mature trees and shrubs were all around.

Her comment was cautionary, "You know, Bob, people are different. Some are stronger than others—drugs affect people differently. Some people may get by for awhile, but for others..."

She meant that Marc might survive our activities while I probably would not.

She asked, "Have you been writing?"

I shuddered a small reply, "A bunch of poems but none are any good."

Ashamed that I blurted, I ducked a little further to the side, winced, and waited for the standard response I always got from people when I slipped and said something like that, "Oh, I'm sure they are nice. You are good at that sort of stuff."

But without hesitation Dr. Hale stated flatly, "Bob, it is good you know your writing is not good, because if you know it is bad you will be able to figure out why and fix it."

"Oh wow!" rushed my thought between breaths, "That was refreshing. Somebody finally giving me credit for knowing what I'm talking about. Makes perfect sense, too. Maybe I can get better."

She had just nudged me toward a process I would follow for life.

Write everything down. Put it aside. Read it again later (aloud) to see why it sucks. Throw away 98% and start over. Do that again and again until it is fixed.

That nudge came before I understood how this ittzy bittzy out-of-the-way college was compressing me into an education equal to any in the world, so I missed the fact my walking beside Dr. Hilda Hale was no accident.

She had tracked me down after class to do what all great teachers do always: make an impression.

MacMurray College was full of these great teachers.

A large class was 15 students, most were smaller, and almost all were taught by a PhD who expected us to think and perform like one ourselves.

I would not know the full truth about the quality of what was provided until my later involvement with some people at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.

The commonplace excellence at MacMurray was easy for me to take for granted, because Dr. Hale was fairly typical of a faculty where almost every classroom teacher was a full professor holding a PhD in their field—often with International renown as well.

I began to assume this was bottom line for college educations, because like most people I thought there was a great divide between what was provided by small schools and the gold-standard of the well known Ivy League.

I was wrong, and here is how I found out.

It was years later, and Marc was off teaching English at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand.

My wife's sister was working at Cornell, mostly in the Human Services Office but for a brief time actually Dean of Students.

Having one of their own employed at Cornell elevated the school above my wife's family's prejudice that Harvard was the only place worth attending, so eventually two of my nephews were studying at Cornell.

Over non-alcoholic Jell-O eggs during one Easter dinner in Ithaca my sister-in-law pulled out a recent term paper of one of the nephews.

A very big deal was made about how hard Cornell was, how incomprehensible the assigned topic was, how impressive it was that my nephew could write such a profound paper.

After much ado and passings around, the paper was handed to me.

I read it carefully saying, "This is terrific. Very deep subject. Wonderful work."

But what I knew was this; the topic was merely standard college fare, and the writing was sophomoric at best.

Due to the fact I had written a few dozen of my own sophomoric papers on the same and similar subjects at MacMurray years before, I knew sophomoric very well when I saw it.

I also knew this was not the time to mention it.

Actually I loved the paper, because it brought back memories.

What struck me as odd was how the mothers did not see it for what it was.

Since that nephew was already gone to work on the next paper, he was not there to hear them, so their comments were well beyond simple motherly pride and support.

I struggled to understand, "How can they think that? There is nothing particularly hard, unique, nor excellent about that paper. Why are they so bowled over impressed? Just a standard college topic rather poorly executed."

I managed to keep my mouth shut long enough for the answer to strike me.

It didn't take long—a few years at most.

Maybe my realization came when the younger of my two nephews at Cornell later showed me his own senior thesis which was excellent while the moms were oblivious.

Of course!

That earlier paper only appeared typical to me because MacMurray College had force fed me a world class education despite my best efforts to avoid it.

On the other hand the mothers had gone to just another college; and, given the time and place, it was one where women were never expected to become other than, well, moms; so as hard as that job may be (and it certainly is) there was no particular need for a rigorously disciplined research, analysis, documentation, and publication process.

Sure it was false logic, but that is how things were.

As for me, I found the rigorous process I learned at MacMurray was not just valuable for an academic; it was crucial for all sorts of things in the real-world when the goal was something innovative, creative, and long lasting.

By the time I was reading the Cornell student paper, I had already enjoyed an insanely exciting job as Assistant Studio Coordinator for one of the world's top fashion design studios then teamed up with my wife to put together our own successful art and music studios which in part resulted in my composing the very first commercial release of all original all digital music produced using a totally new technology (which I was beta testing) while my wife, Mary Endico, was well on her way to selling over 21,000 of her own original hand painted watercolors world wide.

That is just a selected sample.

Briefly, not one bit of what I was doing could have happened without my four years in the academic pressure cooker at MacMurray College, and that despite the fact I left school a few credits short of my degree.

As for the moms their orientation toward the teaching staff at Cornell was also skewed.

The word faculty was always said with a slight tone of ecclesial devotion.

What I observed in the teachers at Cornell was, to me, not so unapproachable.

They could have easily been transplanted to MacMurray with no notice taken.

Certainly they had the energetic infectious excitement about their area of study that almost guarantees success from their students.

Certainly they had turned that energy and infectious excitement into disciplined world class courses of study—the kind that would ever after serve their students well, even those whose immediate academic success was less than splendid.

As for those facts though, didn't they merely articulate the bottom line standard for higher education?

I myself felt no awe toward the Cornell professors, only a comfortable familiarity like they were old friends from Mac.

Swap Cornell PhDs to MacMurray or MacMurray PhDs to Cornell, it wouldn't make a difference.

Not really.

Well, maybe there was one difference.

There were more PhDs per capita students at MacMurray, and that allowed for such things as a top professor having time to track down a struggling low performer and plant a seed.

It also allowed for my requests (as a senior) for admittance into an oil painting class plus an applied-music piano performance class; both those requests were granted despite my having little background in either area.

I had pleaded, "Well, these are electives, and they are what I am going to be doing for the rest of my life after I leave school, so I would just like to get started."

Sadly not everybody is lucky enough to attend a MacMurray, or a Cornell, or a Harvard (did I mention MacMurray), or a similar institution in order to mingle with preeminent instructors intent on teaching best practices process, so the Cornell moms had missed getting a ride on that particular boat.

Not to mention they also missed the equally important parts not handled by any college faculty.

Turns out all my best friends at MacMurray were also distinguished educators.

They were only at MacMurray for the moment, just long enough to pick up their certifications and run off to find the best place to settle into their teaching careers.

Doubtless they had no interest in waiting for somebody to hand them a piece of paper telling them it was ok before they started educating.

The major requirements for their careers were an unflagging concern for the people around them, a willingness to take a careful informed look at a situation then respond accordingly, and the drive to continually improve their programs based on what they learned from their students, so with golden opportunities provided by challenges like me, they were all moving full burners straight ahead.

Simply said: all my friends taught.

Freshman year Nancy Ahrens, Holly Chepko, and Mary Rockefeller, dragged me to the library every night and made sure I stayed awake in the stacks churning out research paper after research paper, speech after speech.

I happened to enjoy a fortunate lack of money which helped focus my attention when Bruce Mathieson started charging me a quarter every time I responded to a question or statement with, "Huh?"

Judge Judy would be proud of him.

Every submitted assignment had to be typewritten, so my lack of money also meant I could not hire a student typist but had to teach myself to type.

Sometimes I forgot to swipe the return lever and typed off the end of the page and onto the typewriter roller.

Cindy Pavlak helped by laughing at me and shrugging when I had to start over.

Time to man up and perform like Cynthia!

Dr. Hale once pointed to her as a research role model, "Take a look at Pavlak's papers. She has this down to a science."

One semester Patti Seib kept my hands off her by shoving a French textbook in my face, and that got me through another year (sophomore) I had no business surviving.

Rich Firebaugh kept me healthy by showing up saying, "We're doing the 10. Get your sweats on."

He added that if we couldn't get out to run the 10 mile loop we could always, "Take a bunch of Ex-Lax and beat our legs with a hammer. Does exactly the same thing only quicker."

Every time a major test was nearing, somebody from one of the dozens of little study groups would find me and roust me out of nonsense to make me come sit and listen.

"Look, you don't have to answer anything. Just get in here, sit over there, shut up, and listen."

Robert Meyer showed me how to use a darkroom and gave me a roll of film (a king's ransom) for practicing.

It was a long time after before I realized that trying to find Bob in the yearbooks is like looking for Waldo, because although he was a major force in producing the books, he was himself an absent enigma and somewhat ahead of his time.

Steve Ambra and Peggy Dorn showed me how to do paste-up for Charybdis, the campus newspaper (sometimes transmuted to Scylla).

Also Steve once made me sit in his room while he finished a paper before going to get John Dahlem (also just finishing a paper) to drive me to the hospital after I had so carefully planned my own death and taken the pills.

Actually I never have quite forgiven Ambra for that one... not for the delay in delivering me to the hospital but for not saying, "The fuck you did!" then killing me himself with his own bare hands.

Marc Bergman kept me awake one night making me read A History of the English Language before a Dr. Rose final.

Everybody agreed that book was the best example of what one would expect a college text to be.

It was a few inches thick full of detail after dreary detail of such things as the tiniest sections of phonemic changes and typographic alterations to guessed at verb endings progressively simplifying or becoming more complex one direction and then another again and again over hundreds of years in languages that were English but you wouldn't know it (sort of like how nobody will be able to understand this page soon enough) and all of that tedium was broken only by long to even sometimes multi-page footnotes which were themselves more minutiae ridden still.

All this without recordings of words that had not been spoken in centuries.

Marc would yelp, "Fuggit! You still awake? Keep reading. Don't try to memorize it. Just pay attention and keep reading. And no, we're not taking a break. You can sleep after the test."

Years later one of the authors of that book wandered into my music studio, and I got to tell him how everybody characterized his work.

He started laughing so long and hard I almost had time to record it.

There were also people adept at tying it all together with a quick summary.

Jay Edelnant (who went on to edit dictionaries) once described the typical question from a Dr. Rose bluebook final as being: "Describe the universe and give three examples."

He also once derided me for being stupid beyond belief after I told him how much I liked the music playing in his room, but when he told me what it was I gasped, "Wow, and you even know the name of it?"

"Yes, moron, I know the name of my favorite music! Who does not know the Brandenburg Concertos? By the way, it's Bach, dufus. You're in college. Try to learn something."

I had arrived.

Jim Sharp pushed one of my proudly finished papers back at me smirking, "Sophomoric drivel."

I thought, "I know 'drivel', better look up 'sophomoric'."

There were plenty of other people who had equal impact on me, so if anybody is here reading but failed to receive mention, you are quite welcome and do not need to thank me.

As an aside I should mention I did some teaching myself.

I taught Bob Bell how to flick his finger against his cheek to make a sound like a rain drop.

It was a skill taught to me by somebody in the back of high school study hall where we used it to drive the Physics teacher nuts as he walked around looking for the leak that first sounded over here, but then sounded like it was coming from over there.

Robert is now a lawyer, and I believe he still cleverly uses the rain drop as a court room distraction to put opposing counsul off their game in order to get somebody an acquittal or maximum sentence depending on which side he is being paid to be on.

Almost forgot; some people taught me without a word.

When I took the oil painting class as a senior, I got a closer look at the school's most prolific student artist, William Cooper.

Bill had taken over the unused third floor skywalk connecting the Art Building to Main Hall having already filled up every other available space campus wide.

That is how I learned what true artists actually do; they make things, lots of things, lots and lots of things, and they never stop making.

A couple years later I was in familiar territory when I started seeing the same behavior from artists at the Vera Newmann art studio.

Here comes a big grand finale summary.

For my job as Assistant Studio Coordinator (for 25 world class artists) I was required; to stay awake and be self-motivated, to not sound like a dweeb, to be careful and not type off the page, to do the whole thing over if it wasn't right, to handle backup for the darkroom, to organize and report information just like a newspaper, to put in long focused hours answering my own questions, to learn the names of everything around me, and to not drivel on.

It was all the stuff I had very quickly learned at Mac.

Maybe a person doesn't need to get to a campus to learn like that, and there are great opportunities to learn differently, but too many helpful subtleties of close contact with other people are lost without "being there," so it is a lot harder to get the same sort of quick and certain learning without the full on-campus immersion experience.

People do it, but it is harder and takes longer.

Remove the close proximity of a strong group of competitive students all being pressure cooked by the same engaged and challenging faculty, and the fine result is never going to be achieved as efficiently.

Why would anybody serious ever want to take a chance trying to put together a virtual experience to replace the real thing?

Which brings us to today.

The idea that a community can be built online without bodies being next to bodies is just ludicrous.

If that is your only choice, ok, but otherwise don't fall for it.

Here, take a look at the icons below but do not click them.

All three of these icons (and others like them) are nothing more than corporate logos, and somebody gets paid for making you click one every time you do it.

The term 'social media' refers to nothing social nor anything media but is merely a marketing slogan trying to get your eye off the ball and onto a page of advertisements.

One can only hope smart phones and ear-buds will always be confiscated at the doors to Campus Centers everywhere—just the way firearms were collected at the doors of Old West saloons.

Equal danger.

Distance learning is one thing, but social media is neither.

Is it any wonder former students of MacMurray periodically return to be in the same space with others who attended at the same time they did, hoping for just one more huff off, "Something happened here, Man! Something really happened."

People show up because it beats clicking icons, and right now is possibly their last chance to stand with others holding on to the railing of the Campus Center while watching the full horizon behind Henry Pfeiffer Library explode into another one of those famous broiling sunsets that always steps away too soon from the autumn evening.

Routine and mundane, vibrant and eternal.


Irma Latzer Gamble Campus Center
Tartan Yearbook - 1971
(scanned pp. 18-19; 11/09/2016; image is flipped left > right as found in yearbook)


Homecoming Reunion 2012
October 19-21

MacMurray College, Jacksonville, Illinois


CAVEAT: While the history of a place never changes, places do change over time, and the quality of past faculty and students gives only the vaguest insight into the possibility of quality in the present faculty and students; therefore at this college your mileage may vary.



For this tiny midwest campus, MacMurray College, it all meant just another typical springtime morning, routine and mundane, vibrant and eternal.

This page written by Bob Fugett 04/09/2012 keeping in mind

 MacMurray College 2012 Homecoming Reunion
Class of 1972 in particular


Ok, Google. Have at it.

The next eleven chapters are currently on loan to: Sugar Loaf Guild.



Copyright © 2012 Bob Fugett, all rights reserved, hands off
page created:  04/09/2012
last updated:   01/13/2017


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