Funeral for a friend

Something happened to me last week that has never happened to me before now.

I got a phone call telling me that a friend of mine had died.

Frank Bush was 25 years older than me, and he had been ill for some time, so that wasn’t particularly surprising news. I’ve had high school classmates die, and people who were in the UW Marching Band when I was have died, so it’s not as if death is an unexpected thing at my age.

I didn’t meet Frank until 1999, the second year I was announcing Ripon College basketball on the radio. He had been at the same Ripon College games I’d attended or broadcasted previously, because he was the scoreboard operator at Ripon’s Storzer Center for many years. That was where Frank got to witness, over consecutive seasons, a coach from the same visiting college ejected twice — the first time the coach was told  by the referees to sit on the bus, the second time the coach got ejected before the game started.

I was the number three college basketball announcer until announcer number one decided to go to divinity school to become a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran minister, and announcer number two got fired after the following football season. (I worked Ripon football and basketball for nine highly enjoyable years, including two state champion football teams, with the fired announcer. That, however, is a later story.)

In the late ’90s and early 2000s, the Ripon radio station carried all of the Ripon College football games and nearly all of the basketball games. (I did announce a game in Utah, though  I could never convince them to send me to California to call tournament games.) The first year, the radio station made a deal with the local Ford dealership where we would drive demonstrators to games within the state. (That got us into trouble when we mentioned the large gas tank of the Ford Excursion we were driving one game.)

Which leads to Frank and Steve Story Number One, the day the boiler stopped working inside Van Male Field House on the campus of Carroll College (now University) in Waukesha. (Oddly enough, the day was nice enough that we briefly considered dropping the top on the Mustang convertible we were driving.) It may have been colder inside the gym than outside; fans were wearing coats. During one commercial, I could hear a vacuum cleaner running in the lobby. And so when we came back from commercial, I announced, “Back at Van Male Ice Arena …” Frank stopped laughing about five minutes later.

Frank and I got along immediately. Later that season, we were announcing a Ripon doubleheader against Monmouth College. I helped my then-pregnant wife up the bleachers, and Frank looked at Jannan and said, “Is this man molesting you, ma’am?”, to which I replied, “Too late, Frank.” That day ended with a bizarre five-point play to win the game — in order, basket, foul, technical foul against the Monmouth coach (his second of the month against Ripon), and three free throws.

That season ended with two Ripon NCAA men’s basketball tournament games. The first was at Ripon, against St. John’s of Minnesota. (For a variety of reasons, Ripon probably will not host an NCAA playoff game for as long as the current Division III postseason format continues.) That was the game where Frank earned our name for him: “WHERE’S THE FOUL?” Later at the season-ending banquet, I introduced ourselves by saying that we prided ourselves on professionalism and neutral detachment, and then played a highlights tape that proved otherwise, including “WHERE’S THE FOUL???” at least twice. (Frank thought all officials had it in for Ripon. He was, of course, correct.)

The next season featured the epic Operation Krispy Kreme. Sitting at work one day, I read a Wall Street Journal story about the cult of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Krispy Kreme had no stores in Wisconsin, but there were four in the Chicago area, including one sort of on the way from Lake Forest to Jacksonville, home of Illinois College. So I told Frank that  we needed to stop at Krispy Kreme on our way out of Chicago between halves one and two of our Lake Forest–Illinois College marathon.

By the time we left, I had a list the length of my arm of Krispy Kremes to get, from Jannan’s coworkers, who had heard of Krispy Kreme and had made orders. The Lake Forest men’s game went into overtime, which made me concerned that we wouldn’t get to the Krispy Kreme before closing time at midnight. We did get there, with 20 minutes to spare, and the place was full. Frank always marveled at how I was able to eat doughnuts, drink coffee, talk on the phone and drive a stickshift. We arrived at Jacksonville at 3:40 a.m. I got back to Ripon at the following 3:25 a.m.

Working with Frank I developed an affinity for working with partners older than me. In addition to making me feel younger than I actually am, the old guys have forgotten more about local sports than most people know. They provide great perspective in comparing teams and players of the present to teams and players of the past. And the best ones keep up with what’s going on now instead of, to quote Jethro Tull, living in the past.

I thought the Frank and Steve show was over after I took a job at a college not named Ripon, and the radio station discontinued doing college games. We fed him, he entertained the kids who knew him as Uncle Frank, and he brought over car books and magazines for me to read. Frank and I figured out that we had more in common besides sports — interest in cars, so we went to the Iola Old Car Show and the Milwaukee Auto Show. Frank had worked for several car dealerships over the years, and the stories he told about hot cars he got to drive made me envious. For another, Frank unsuccessfully tried to get his employer, Mercury Marine, to hire me. Frank moved to the Twin Cities, had a heart attack and resulting septuple bypass (so of course I told him he had more bypasses than the Twin Cities).

Then The Ripon Channel, which hired me to announce Ripon High School games (starting with a good place to start, the 2003 Ripon football season, which ended with a big gold trophy), decided to start doing Ripon College games as well. We did only home games, and no postseason games (because there were no home postseason games), but we still made sure we had a good time doing it. And then our audience expanded (theoretically) worldwide when the Midwest Conference started livestreaming games, which meant the Frank and Steve Show went (theoretically) worldwide. I like to think that Frank and I did the best broadcasts in the conference because we were not students, we therefore knew what we were doing, we prepared for games, and, well, one of us tried to be, if not neutral, then at least not outrageously biased. (We were also told in a memo the Midwest Conference sent to us announcers to respect the officials’ decisions on the air. I’m not sure Frank read that part.)

Frank occasionally had to sub for me as well because I was sometimes triple-scheduled, since I was calling high school games with one announcer, Ripon College games with Frank, and for one season Marian College hockey games. I had work obligations one night, so Frank and his old partner (who was doing high school games) did two games in Beloit. Driving home after work, I enjoyed listening to the two announcers whose combined ages were approximately 130.

The one thing we didn’t get to announce together was baseball. And that’s too bad because baseball on the radio is a storyteller’s dream. Frank called Ripon Tiger baseball in 1988 when the Tigers won their first state championship. Before the Tigers’ 2000 state tournament (when the 2000 Tigers duplicated the 1988 Tigers’ and 2011 Tigers‘ feats), the radio station carried the bottom of the seventh inning of the 1988 Class B championship game. With the score tied 3–3, Ripon’s Scott Young walked and stole second base. The catcher then failed to field a pitch, Young ran to third, and kept going. And as Frank described it, “He’s gonna run, he’s gonna run, he’s gonna score!”, but he was so shocked that his partner had to announce that Ripon had just won their first state baseball title. Frank and I, along with Jannan and one-month-old Michael, watched the 2000 title, and our two boys and I watched the 2011 title. We tried to find a radio station to have us announce the 2010 American Legion regional tournament in South Dakota, but we were unsuccessful.

Frank was from Webster Groves, Mo., whose high school has one of the longest running rivalries, against Kirkwood, Mo. Frank always let me know how the Webster Groves–Kirkwood game went. (Frank was born one year after Harry Caray’s oldest son, Harry Jr., more well known as Skip. I’m not sure Frank ever met Harry, but he knew Skip from high school.) Frank joined the Air Force after he graduated from high school, and the Air Force sent him to Truax Field in Madison. That’s what got him to Wisconsin. I knew most of the Madison history he lived through; he mentioned a couple of bars on Madison’s Northeast Side the last time I talked to him.

Frank was on Ripon’s Police and Fire Committee, where he immediately had a run-in with one of the senior committee members. (Frank was not one to suffer fools silently.) After the meeting, he called the mayor who had appointed him and said, “I thought you were my friend.” Frank also served on Ripon’s Park Board. If there’s a sport Frank didn’t help with in Ripon, I’m not aware of it.

Another fact not widely known: Frank was involved with boxing, and announced Golden Gloves boxing on WBAY-TV in Green Bay. Frank told the story of one of his sons being bullied by a RHS football player, and Frank’s offering to the player’s coach to settle it by having his son and the bully meet in a boxing ring. The bully swung and missed on his first punch, and, well, he never got another punch in.

Frank moved down to St. Louis to be close to his remaining sister. She died last year, and he was in the process of settling her estate. He had talked about moving back to Wisconsin, but he became ill shortly after that.

I’m told a memorial service will be held in Ripon later this year. He touched a lot of lives in Ripon, and beyond.

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Whom to vote for Tuesday

Tuesday is the first (or second, if you had a primary election in February) of five (or six) scheduled elections this year.

Tuesday is the correctly scheduled election for municipal officials, county supervisors, school boards and circuit and appeals judges. Oh, and there’s a presidential primary, not that many Wisconsinites have noticed. (More about that later.)

Here in Ripon, our ballot is full — mayor and four City Council seats, three Board of Education seats, and a school referendum, in addition to the presidential primary.

On or shortly before election days, WTMJ radio’s Charlie Sykes runs a segment in which he asks people who they’re voting for. The implication is that the caller supports someone enough to vote for that candidate, instead of voting for a candidate because he or she is the lesser of two evils.

(By the way: What you are about to read represents my opinion, and only my opinion, and not necessarily the opinion of anyone or any organization with any connection whatsoever to myself, past, present or future.)

In Ripon, only one alderman is running for reelection — Ald. Rollie Peabody in District 2. He is running against a challenger of whom I choose only to say that that person should not be representing Ripon in any elective body. And that’s all I’ll say about her.

I can say much nicer things about Rollie, without reservation. I’ve known Rollie for almost 12 years, since we started going to St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. Put it this way: I’m taller than he is, but I look up to him.

Rollie has been on the City Council for four years, which have been, to use the Chinese curse, interesting times. The Boca Grande whatever-you’d-like-to-call-it is in the lawyers’ hands now, and that’s all that appears to be happening with it. Sandmar Village was stalled due to drainage issues, which appear to be resolved, and so construction is slowly starting to take shape.

The Boca, uh, thing notwithstanding, if you walk through downtown Ripon, you notice that most of the storefronts are still full. Positive things have gone on in Ripon, including in downtown Ripon, even though the Boca Grande project isn’t where it should be now. The Treasury building, vacant for years, now has a restaurant in it. The Campus Theatre was renovated, as was, thanks to Boca, Roadhouse Pizza. One Mexican restaurant closed, Dos Gringos, but another has opened, Ocampo’s. One of Rollie’s colleagues on the City Council, Ald. Howard Hansen, spearheaded a downtown skating rink, which is one of the coolest improvements in Ripon in a long time. (When the winter cooperates, that is.)

Rollie is the type of person that the City Council needs — someone with a clear head and sound judgment who seeks solutions, instead of someone who will be a bomb-thrower who will contribute to no solution whatsoever, based on track record.

The Board of Education race is tough to choose because, truthfully, all of the candidates are impressive. Andy Lyke has been on the school board since 2003. Heather Hartling has been quite involved in schools, and Brian Reilly has interesting things to say on his Ripon Commonwealth Press blog. So choosing two of those three won’t be easy.

One candidate I am definitely voting for is Dan Zimmerman. I have argued here before that the biggest problem the Board of Education has, dating back as long as we’ve been in Ripon (which means probably before that too), is its lack of capability or disinterest in properly vetting school administration proposals. One example is the wrongheaded purchase of property on Ripon’s north side for a middle school in 2004 — the wrong school in the wrong place at any time. That is not to say that the schools are bad at all, but the school board is supposed to evaluate administration proposals, not merely rubber-stamp them.

From what I’ve seen of Zimmerman from his Facebook page and his appearance in the League of Women Voters candidate forum, I think you can rest assured that Zimmerman will be no one’s rubber stamp. He is one of the three I will vote for for the Board of Education Tuesday.

I decided to vote for the land purchase referendum. For several reasons, it’s a better option than the north-side site school district voters (wrongly) approved in 2004.

The presidential race has gotten surprisingly little attention in Wisconsin. I don’t believe I have seen a single yard sign,  and the TV commercials suddenly showed up a couple weeks ago like, well, use your favorite unpleasant simile.

I believe Mitt Romney will end up with the Republican presidential nomination. That makes Tuesday’s primary not particularly important in the GOP scheme of things. Therefore, instead of voting for any of the four, I’m going to write in my choice of candidate, and suggest you do too:

A taxing note from the mailbox

Saturday’s mail included this anonymous letter,  postmarked, of all places given the content, Phoenix (I tried to approximate the formatting):

Mr. Prestegard

If that land on Douglas St is such a good buy & such a great deal maybe you should buy it and give it to the school. You know a little tax here & a little tax there adds up to a lot of $tax$ money$$

I assume by this letter that the letter-writer is opposed to my blog about the April 3 Ripon Area School District land purchase referendum. The letter-writer appears to have not read at least one sentence from that blog …

I don’t know if the South Douglas site is the best possible site, or the best possible site for the money, for a future middle or high school (preferably the latter).

… but it’s nice to see people reading the blog, whether they agree or not, and whether they completely read it or not. If I win Tuesday’s Mega Millions jackpot ($356 million over 26 years, or $255 million cash), I’ll consider my anonymous correspondent’s suggestion. (Prestegard High School? Hmmm …)

The letter-writer makes a point that I suspect resonates with a lot of taxpayers, including those who will vote on the referendum. The school district is not responsible for federal or state taxation, yet the referendum may fail based on federal or state taxes more than the $4 impact (on the property tax bill of a house assessed at $100,000) of purchasing the property for future school construction.

The Obama administration (which defines “millionaire” as a household with $250,000 of annual income) has raised 21 separate taxes since it began in 2009. Anyone who buys a product or service from an American business is paying, as of next week, the highest corporate tax rates in the world. If Obama is reelected in November, the George W. Bush tax cuts and the payroll tax cut go away; both expire at the end of this year, resulting in a 13 percent increase in the highest tax bracket. Obama’s 2013 budget raises taxes on 27 percent of American households.

The state’s 2011–13 budget fixed the fiscal mess left by the Doyle administration and its apparatchiks in the Legislature, but it did not cut taxes. That means Wisconsinites still pay some of the highest income taxes in the country. Anyone who buys a product or service from a Wisconsin business is paying some of the highest corporate income taxes in the country. Instead of increasing spending (contrary to the claims of the commercials you’re sentenced to watch), Walker and the Legislature should have actually cut taxes by cutting spending.

If Walker loses his recall election, and if the public employee collective bargaining reforms are reversed, with the obvious resulting further increase in taxes, not a single school district referendum, either to exceed state revenue caps or to build or renovate school buildings, will pass anywhere in this state until the gubernatorial recall winner is himself or herself booted out of office. A Walker recall loss will result in the biggest backlash against government spending and taxes this state has ever seen — a backlash that will make the tea party look like something my daughter’s first-grade class put together.

Since our elected officials don’t listen to us, we have almost no power over federal taxation, and not much more over state taxation. Wisconsinites do have power over raising property taxes for school projects. Regardless of the merits of a school building project, or even in Ripon’s case buying land for a future project, school referenda usually pass or fail based on perceived affordability, and not always the perceived affordability of the school project.

The new president … in Ripon, not in D.C.

On Monday, I walked to Ripon College for the announcement of its new president. (You can do that when you live in a college town and the weather is amazing for this time of year.)

And the new president is …

The Ripon College community met their 13th president-to-be, Dr. Zach P. Messitte, today during a public welcome event in the Great Hall of Harwood Union. He will assume his new duties starting July 1. …

Dr. Messitte (pronounced muh-SET-ee) is currently the dean of the College of International Studies at the University of Oklahoma, where he also serves as vice provost for international programs and holds the William J. Crowe Chair in geopolitics as a faculty member. He is the author of numerous articles and the co-editor of the forthcoming book, Understanding the Global Community, that will be published by the University of Oklahoma Press later this yearHe hosts an award winning radio show, World Views, on National Public Radio (NPR) and has been in the classroom every semester teaching classes on American foreign policy. Prior to his tenure in Oklahoma, Dr. Messitte served as the first director of the Center for the Study of Democracy and held a tenure-track position in the political science department at the St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

A new college president’s résumé often tells you what the people doing the hiring see as priorities. Messitte’s predecessor came from a development background — fundraising, to use a less lofty term. He replaced a president whose background was in admissions. That was the first time a Ripon College president came from a non-academic background.

At a private college, the arrival of a new president mixes anticipation and apprehension among the staff. Unlike the faculty, college staff, including non-academic administrators below the president, have no tenure to protect them from running afoul of the new administration. Some holdover staff end up on the outs under the Not Invented Here school of human resource management.

Of course, that anticipation/anxiety teeter-totter goes the other way. Anyone hired for a new job never knows everything about that job, including things those doing the hiring prefer that candidates not know, until that person starts there. The CEO is supposed to be at least an authority on all aspects of his or her job, which at a college include, mostly in alphabetical order, academics, admissions, development and finance, and operations of an institution that feeds and houses 1,000 young adults nine months out of the year for four years. The average presidential term at a private college is around five years.

It is interesting to observe from outside the differences in how private colleges are run. Ripon College’s faculty appears to have the biggest share of influence on college decisions, even though the college’s biggest issues over the past decade or so (financial and enrollment) appear to have little to do with academics. (One could also ask what teaching has to do with management of the aforementioned operational responsibilities for a college president.) Most of Ripon’s trustees are alumni; that can either mean a lot of affinity for their alma mater, or resistance to doing things differently from when they were students.  Given the average length of a presidential term, recalcitrant tenured faculty could just decide to wait out the new guy until his or her replacement comes along. And yet without naming names, I can personally attest that the wrong presidential pick can do a lot of damage in less time than the average presidential term.

One of the more interesting lines from Messitte’s biography is that he was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, to two Peace Corps volunteers. Ripon College has a lot of Peace Corps volunteers (including my wife) among its graduates, so that’s probably appropriate. And this is the first news release announcing a college president’s hiring that I’ve ever seen with quotes from a news anchor (Judy Woodruff of PBS, with whom Messitte worked at CNN), an actress (Famke Janssen) and a former CIA director.

One of the more interesting lines from the news release is a statement I would not have chosen to make as a college PR professional:

Bob Kirkland ’81, chair of the Ripon College Board of Trustees, said Dr. Messitte reflects the highest ideals of the College while possessing the vision and leadership to help realize its vast potential.

That’s an odd statement attached to a 161-year-old college. “Vast potential”? For what? By whose definition? Nothing like putting heat on the new guy when he doesn’t even know, to quote Donald Rumsfeld, the known unknowns, let alone the unknown unknowns.

As president, Messitte will get a lot of unsolicited advice. I used to work with a Ripon College graduate who went into the college admissions field who suggested that Ripon’s best future was as a school for smart jocks. If Messitte reads this blog he’ll be the first to read this, but as Ripon’s football and basketball announcer, I think it’s a tremendous idea. Messitte’s introductory speech quoted Ripon’s retiring men’s basketball and baseball coach, Bob Gillespie, so maybe there’s some hope in that idea. (Since Messitte works at Oklahoma now, I assume he knows what a Sooner is, particularly those Sooners who can be found at Owen Field. If Ripon College uniforms turn a darker shade of red and college games include a new song called “Rally Red Hawk” that sounds suspiciously like “Boomer Sooner,” I guess we’ll have our answer.)

As someone who  has a lot of media experience, Messitte hopefully will seek a larger national and public profile for his new employer. Viewed from a few blocks away, Ripon College has seemed to me to have an oddly passive approach to public and media relations and marketing itself, particularly in this electronic media era of ours. Given Messitte’s résumé and the interesting (as in the Chinese curse) state of foreign relations today, Messitte needs to be the short list of TV and radio talk show producers’ expert lists, particularly given this election year.

Messitte’s first speech mentioned his need to listen and ask questions first. The most important initial thing for a new college president to do is to get an accurate picture of the state of the college, which means listening to the right people and not listening to the wrong people. (The corollary to that is: Don’t believe your own press, including your lofty rankings.) The “wrong people” includes those who see the college’s purpose as advancing their own careers or inflating their own power. (Any piece about higher education is required to include the Henry Kissinger quote, “Competition in academia is so vicious because the stakes are so small.”) My philosophy of personal egalitarianism, that we are all children of God, compels me to add that one should be wary of those with advanced degrees who demand to be referred to as “Doctor” when their doctorate is a Ph.D. or Ed.D., not a medical or related degree. (I got that from Yale University President A. Bartlett Giamatti.)

Ripon College occupies a place in American higher education that doesn’t at first blush appear to be a growth area. Ripon College is a traditional (students are generally 18 to 23 or so, with few older students) residential (as in most students live on campus instead of being commuters) undergraduate-only (no graduate programs) liberal arts college. Like most private colleges, it is dependent on tuition revenue for the majority of its revenue; it does not have a large enough endowment (similar to most private colleges) to be able to weather more than a couple bad enrollment years.

The other four-year-college in Fond du Lac County, Marian University (for which I was its college relations director), is less prestigious and less selective in choosing its students than Ripon. On the other hand, Marian has two areas of student growth — adult undergraduates (those who never finished, or never started, college who determine after a few years that having a degree would be useful) and graduate students (master’s and Ph.D. s) — although those areas are threatened by the growth of for-profit colleges, such as the University of Phoenix.

Ripon has never been publicly seriously interested in either adult undergraduate or graduate programs. It may be too late to get into either market by now, which puts Ripon in a challenging place given the state of higher education today, and not just at Ripon.

One of the numerous dubious complaints of the Occupy ______ movement is complaints about the cost of higher education, and the six-figure levels of student debt handed to a graduate. The complaints seem to be loudest from those  with degrees in fields that would not appear to have a lot of  jobs attached to those degrees, such as gender studies.

Those are not, however, complaints limited to the Occupiers, or to Gender Studies graduates. The mantra in nearly every American family above lower class since the end of World War II has been to go to college. While our K–12 education system appears to be treading water at best compared with the rest of the developed world despite our billions of dollars in annual “investment,” the American college and university system has no equal in the world.  Most of the world’s world-class universities, including my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, are within the U.S.’ borders.

Some would argue that there is a direct relationship between the amount of federal and state financial aid given to students and increases in the cost of college, private and public. And an argument can be made that the purpose of going to college shouldn’t be vocational at all given that we’re supposed to have several different careers over our 50 years or so in the workplace. That, however, causes others to ask why one should go to college at all.

That last point prompted two commentaries in The Atlantic from Marty Nemko, Ph.D., author of How to Do Life: What They Didn’t Teach You in School. First:

Rigorous studies have revealed that college students learn shockingly little. For example, in Academically Adrift, it was reported that 36% of graduating seniors nationwide grew not at all in problem solving, critical thinking, and analytical reasoning since entering college as freshmen!

And our sending the highest percentage of students to college in history (now 70%) has created an oversupply of college graduates. That helps explains why, according to a Pew fiscal analysis, 35 percent of the unemployed with college or graduate degrees have been unemployed for more than a year, the same rate as unemployed high school dropouts!

And then:

The government would never allow a drug to be sold, let alone subsidize it, without the drug’s manufacturer demonstrating its efficacy. Colleges receive enormous sums of taxpayer dollars. They should be required to demonstrate freshman-to-senior growth in learning and employability that even minimally justifies the four to eight years, enormous cost, and risk of not graduating. Nationwide, fewer than 40% of first-time freshmen graduate within four years. Fewer than two-thirds graduate even if given six years!

Putting a little flesh on that skeleton, I believe that, to receive taxpayer-funded financial-aid dollars, all colleges be required to demonstrate:

1) At least modest average-student growth in critical thinking, analytic reasoning, and problem solving as measured by a standardized exam selected by a national blue-ribbon panel of psychometricians, higher educators, and employers. Well-validated such instruments exist, for example, the Collegiate Learning Assessment. …

2) At least modestly improved employability of the institution’s graduates. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has long categorized jobs in terms of how much education is typically required. Colleges should show that they are capable of delivering a certain standard of outcomes for students with a certain level of achievement.

So, let’s see: Bring in students and graduate them so they can get good-paying jobs, bring in money, keep the alumni happy (see previous comment about students), represent the college well in public and in private, and leave the place in better condition than how you found it. Piece of cake — or, if you will, a box of Rippin’ Good cookies.

There is a lesson from, of all places, the 3½-year presidency of former constitutional law professor Barack Obama. The theme of “change” was hammered upon the brains of voters throughout Obama’s first presidential campaign. Obama misinterpreted his 2008 victory as an endorsement of “change,” when it was not. Voters wanted things to be better, not merely different. Change and progress are not necessarily the same thing, and while change is inevitable, positive change is not.

How Messitte does as Ripon College’s president is important because how Ripon College does is important to Ripon. The line of the night at last week’s City Council candidate forum was from a Ripon College graduate, who said that Ripon without Ripon College is Berlin. (He also is a Ripon High School graduate, so he knows of heated rivalries.) Ripon College’s town–gown relations are not perfect and need to be better. (For instance, Ripon the community would be better if more Ripon College graduates decided to live and work in Ripon instead of returning after graduation only for their class reunions.) But if you want to see what Ripon would be like without Ripon College, take a drive to Milton, which has buildings similar to Ripon’s on the campus of the late Milton College.

Before the school district votes …

On April 3, Ripon Area School District voters will decide the fate of a proposal to buy land for a future site for a middle or high school.

The land is farmland on South Douglas Street south of East Fond du Lac Street. The school district proposes to swap that land (with money attached) for land the school district purchased in 2004 near Murray Park Elementary School.

I haven’t decided definitively to vote for the land purchase/swap, but I am leaning in that direction. I don’t know if the South Douglas site is the best possible site, or the best possible site for the money, for a future middle or high school (preferably the latter). I do agree that, as a Ripon Commonwealth Press headline stated March 1, the proposal requires “serious analysis.”

It’s not clear that the proposal has gotten serious analysis from its opponents. For one thing, to answer what another letter-writer asks …

Did we the citizens entrust the school board members of eight years ago to do all the research in procuring land for future schools as described by Dr. Zimman in his history lesson? Then why is this not deemed a suitable site in 2012 when none of the demographics has changed in eight years?

… the Murray Park site was not an adequate site when the school board and school district voters OK’d its purchase in 2004. (I confess to not remembering how I voted on the referendum.) Perhaps a school board that objectively looked at administration proposals instead of reflexively doing whatever the administration wants would have given the Murray Park more serious analysis than it apparently got.

For instance, there is the accessibility of that site  primarily from Eureka Street. It took having children attending Murray Park and Quest Elementary School, as well as playing baseball at Murray Park, to see the regularly scheduled traffic tie-up at the four-way stop at Eureka and Oshkosh streets. That snarl is made worse by employees leaving Bremner Foods at about the same time that students are leaving Murray Park. Even if, as one letter-writer asserts, traffic hasn’t increased since the land purchase, traffic therefore now is every bit as bad as it was then.

(Does that make you wonder why the city hasn’t done anything about the Eureka–Oshkosh intersection given current traffic? Ask your alderman or City Council candidate.)

Four-way stops — whether on Eureka and Oshkosh, or Wisconsin 44/49 and Fond du Lac County KK — are the worst kind of intersection traffic control. How many drivers know the correct order for traffic to go through a four-way stop? (Few,  based on observation.) The design produces more pollution from idling vehicles. Because they require all traffic to stop, they also waste the only truly, provably nonrenewable resource — time.

The best alternative from a safety and time perspective, installing a roundabout, is highly unlikely given the size of the intersection, the adjacent properties, and the (wrongheaded) public unpopularity of roundabouts. As it is, any Eureka–Oshkosh intersection improvement will require City of Ripon and state Department of Transportation approval, neither of which are assured. Having the Ripon Police Department direct traffic at that intersection between, say, 3:15 and 3:45 p.m. doesn’t seem like a good use of resources given that students are going from school to home all over the city at that time.

That’s the issue of getting to the site. Then there’s the site itself, which is not connected to city water and sewer. Add to the installation costs the upward slope of the site, which will require a pump. The site apparently is too small to build a one-story school, which means a school there would have to be two stories, which means the cost of at least one elevator. If you go to new schools, you’ll notice that almost none (such as Ripon’s Murray Park and Barlow Park elementary schools) are two-story buildings, at least when they’re built outside developed areas.

As someone who shouldn’t have to demonstrate my anti-tax bona fides to anyone (and as one of the apparently few people willing to publicly criticize the Ripon Area School District), I think the $4-per-year cost (for the owner of a house assessed at $100,000) is not an onerous cost. Suggesting that what’s happening between the city and Boca Grande LLC should influence your vote ignores the fact that the Ripon Area School District is larger than the City of Ripon, and the Boca Grande issue is between the city and its lawyers, and Boca Grande and its lawyers.

Given what the state requires in school building construction, there is no site within Ripon’s developed boundaries that could host a middle school or a high school. (Infill development anyway is one of those things easier to do in theory than in practice, beginning with cost.) All you have to do is watch a high school varsity sporting event to realize that high schools are in fact showcases for the school district, because they get more out-of-town visitors than any other school district building. The claim that a new high school will necessarily have to include new athletic fields is (1) the decision of a future school building, (2) not necessarily what other school districts do (for instance, despite the new Waupaca High School, football games are still played at old Haberkorn Field), and (3) seems unlikely in at least the case of football given the investment the school district has made in Ingalls Field over the past decade.

Another reason should influence any school construction proposal anywhere in Ripon. The Ripon Area School District has three school districts to the west — Green Lake, Markesan and Princeton — whose long-term viability is in question for a combination of reasons. None of those school districts are growing in enrollment or in population. And yet they all face the costs that could be lumped together into the term “overhead” — paying administrators, maintaining buildings and buying supplies — that is not decreasing, particularly as the federal and state governments pile on more mandates, usually unfunded, onto schools. Smaller school districts also are less able to provide the kind of student programming larger (to a point) school districts can provide.

Wisconsin has 3,120 units of government — counties, cities, villages, towns, school districts and other governmental bodies. Only Illinois has more. That many governmental bodies in a relatively small state population-wise is not a formula for governmental efficiency, and it’s certainly not a formula for wise use of our tax dollars. Some future Legislature will figure that out and will use a carrot and/or stick to make school districts merge, or combine cities or villages with adjoining townships.

The way to prevent getting hit by the state stick is to take the initiative. The school district should approach its smaller neighbors to the west and discuss whether a merger might create better educational opportunities for students of the school districts while costing the taxpayers of those school districts less than now. That discussion needs to take place sooner rather than later because school district geography should influence where future school buildings, particularly a high school, are built.

Should that happen, a site outside Ripon’s developed borders is a preferable site. The South Douglas site is east of Barlow Park Elementary School, with Ringstad Drive’s future extension east of Metomen Street already part of the official city map. It’s also accessible from County KK and Wisconsin 23 without sending people into the maze that is Ripon. (Where visitors find out that Ripon has no through streets.)

The question that opponents of the land purchase/swap have to ask is: What is the better alternative? It is not the Murray Park site, which in retrospect should never have been purchased for a school building. It is not any site within the developed boundaries of Ripon. Which leaves … what?

Living Luke 3:11

Seven Ripon-area churches are beginning the Sharing Table, a monthly nutritious meal for people in Ripon and Fond du Lac, Green Lake and Winnebago counties.

The meals will be served in the Fellowship Hall at Grace Lutheran Church, 430 W. Griswold St., Ripon, on the second Tuesday of the month beginning March 13 from 5 to 6:30 p.m.

“The project goal is to provide one nutritious meal per week to families and individuals in financial, social or spiritual need,” said Leesa McShane, a member of Grace Lutheran who is one of the Sharing Table coordinators. “Our longer-range goals include nutrition education and enhancing available social services. Our intent is to expand the program as needed.”

The Sharing Table is inspired by Luke 3:11: “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”

Grace Lutheran, St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Immanuel Lutheran Church, Messiah Lutheran Church, First Congregational Church, and Immanuel United Methodist Church are combining to provide the Sharing Table. Representatives from the Ripon Area School District, the Salvation Army, the Brandon Food Pantry, UW–Extension and Community Health Network also are participating.

The Ripon, Berlin and Green Lake food pantries each provide food to 200 families each month, and are getting new assistance requests from 20 to 30 new families each week.

First Congregational Church has been hosting a free dinner the fourth Tuesday of each month since 2009. Grace Lutheran provides a free Thanksgiving meal. St. Peter’s formerly hosted Breaking Bread, a free monthly meal.

“The time has come to expand on what has been started,” said Dale Both, a member of First Congregational Church who is a Sharing Table coordinator. “By providing a monthly dinner and fellowship, the Sharing Table will be able to have an additional impact on persons of need, whether that need is financial, spiritual, or companionship.”

The Sharing Table is the recipient of a $5,000 grant from the Webster Foundation of Ripon.

Everyone is welcome to share the meal and fellowship.

A map to Grace Lutheran can be found at the church’s website, www.gracelutheranripon.com.

The Weekly Newspaper of the Year

This week’s Ripon Commonwealth Press has most impressive news:

Commonwealth judged best weekly paper in Wisconsin

After a 10-year hiatus, the Ripon Commonwealth Press once again has been named the best weekly newspaper in Wisconsin.

After being judged against the 190 other weekly publications across the state, the Wisconsin Newspaper Association named it the Weekly Newspaper of the Year Friday night.

The Commonwealth Press won 13 first-place awards, 11 second-place awards and nine third-place awards in competition against other weekly newspapers in the state.

Publisher Tim Lyke told his fellow newspaper publishers that “We are fortunate in Ripon to have readers and advertisers who expect and deserve a newspaper that strives every week to live up to the excellence of the community we serve.”

As one of his readers (and an occasional advertiser through our church) who doubles as an ink-stained wretch who used to do the sort of things the Commonwealth Press editorial staff does and still sends them news releases, I have to publicly congratulate the Commonwealth Press for its superior journalism in an increasingly difficult journalistic and business environment for superior journalism.

Editor Ian Stepleton credits the Commonwealth Press’ readers:

I have a different perspective on this “victory,” largely because I know why we won.
You.
As I’ve discovered over the almost 18 years I’ve lived here, Ripon is one special, unique place.
… And that is why we won Newspaper of the Year.
… Where else, all in one spot, can you find:
* People so engaged — for the past 150-plus years — that they not only have changed their community, but the nation (and arguably the world as well)
* A top-notch college that is so closely tied to its community
* Such technological innovation from which local names have become household brands
* Residents so motivated that nothing can hold them back, such as the late Jeanne Bice (the ultimate Quacker herself), Trent Baalke (49ers general manager), Harrison Ford (actor), Al Jarreau (jazz musician), etc.
As has sometimes been said, all roads lead to Ripon — even in a metaphorical sense, it seems.
It just goes to show this community has many, many reasons to be proud.
We at the Commonwealth are just lucky enough to be here to chronicle them.

Having exited the weekly newspaper world nearly two decades ago (while still getting occasional urges to go back — the first sign of  recovery from addiction is admitting your addiction, right?), I’m a bit envious of the Commonwealth Press. I won two WNA first-place awards for sports writing, and the newspaper we co-owned, the Tri-County Press in Cuba City, won a Most Improved Newspaper award. We did really good work at the Grant County Herald Independent in Lancaster (including for the murder trial I covered), but we won neither a General Excellence award nor a Newspaper of the Year award in my three years in Lancaster.

Of course, the purpose of journalism is not to win awards for yourself or your media outlet. The purpose of journalism is to report what’s going on so that your readers, listeners and viewers are better informed. If you want to know what’s happening in Ripon, you have to read the Commonwealth Press. (Not everything, of course, because one obligation of journalists is to report the provable truth.)

Perhaps the most impressive thing is the number of first- and second-place awards for the Commonwealth Press’ coverage of the Ripon area’s interesting (as in the Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times”) news year. That includes the recall election of state Sen. Luther Olsen (R–Ripon), the problems with the Boca Grande downtown redevelopment project, the controversy over the Rosendale Dairy megafarm and its effect on area groundwater, and the often-dysfunctional relationships in Green Lake city government.

This is despite the fact that the Commonwealth Press doesn’t really have news media competition. That is not a comment about the staff at the local radio station, which at least does some local news coverage. That is a comment about the owner of said local radio station, who needs to devote his own resources (some of which come from our church, which is why I get to write this paragraph) to local news coverage, such as having his staff attend city council and school board meetings to report thereupon. One of the Commonwealth Press’ supposed daily newspaper competition is well known (to which I can personally attest) for being unable to be bothered to cover events that occur weekdays after 5 p.m. or on weekends.

As an opinionmonger (who also blogs on the Commonwealth Press’ website), I particularly applaud the first-place award for the Commonwealth Press’ opinion pages. A lot of newspapers think printing letters to the editor suffices as an opinion section. It doesn’t. A lot of newspapers think printing controversial opinions will make advertisers angry enough to stop advertising, and readers angry enough to cancel their subscriptions. They might. Neither is an insignificant concern,  given that readers’ eyeballs are what compel advertisers to advertise, and given the diminishing small-town newspaper advertising base.

Economic pressures are making weekly journalism difficult. Print journalism is still trying to figure out how to use the Internet to get people to pay for their product instead of putting it online for free. The traditional advertiser base for small-town newspapers, local retail businesses, is being eroded by the growth of big-box and online retailers. If your two biggest revenue sources are readers’ subscriptions and advertising, and both are eroding for demographic and economic reasons, well, you can see the challenge.

One solution is for a company to purchase and operate several newspapers. (When I started in Grant County in 1988, my employer owned two newspapers and one shopper. By the time I left in 1994, he was up to five newspapers and two shoppers. He was then bought out by a company that now owns nine southwest Wisconsin newspapers, including most of our former print competitors. Another former employer owns not just the state’s largest newspaper, but many weekly newspapers as well. The nation’s largest newspaper owner, Gannett, owns 10 Wisconsin daily newspapers.

Whether chain ownership is a good thing or not depends on who the owner is. Chain ownership allows such production functions as printing, accounting and circulation to be done centrally, which, in the case of good owners, allows more resources to be devoted to the editorial product. On the other hand, Gannett owns the aforementioned 9-to-5 newspaper.

The Commonwealth Press is a throwback in that the Commonwealth Press is Ripon Community Printers’ only newspaper. (I’ve suggested to the publisher more than once, in fact, that their brand of journalism could serve other communities too.) Ripon Community Printers is one of the state’s largest printing companies and one of Ripon’s largest employers, with a worldwide customer base. (Including, of all things, Polish-language Chicago phone books.)

The Commonwealth Press is not perfect. (I used to repeat the old saw that if I ever published a mistake-free issue, that would be my last day in print journalism.) My four years on the Ripon Plan Commission included two run-ins with the Commonwealth Press where the newspaper mischaracterized things I said during Plan Commission meetings. (Part of that was my forgetting or ignoring the indisputable fact that anything you say at a public meeting can and may be used by the news media present.) In one instance the Commonwealth Press commented negatively on something I said at a meeting that no one from the Commonwealth Press attended. The following week’s Commonwealth Press included a pointed letter from the wrongly criticized Plan Commission member, which they printed.

Some claim the Commonwealth Press is excessively deferential to the powers-that-be in Ripon. (That’s a common complaint of weekly newspapers, and sometimes valid, sometimes not.) The Commonwealth Press’ sports coverage well covers the local teams, but has a strange habit of not mentioning their opponents by player names. (It’s the print equivalent of the late Ripon sports announcer Jack Arnold, who sounded as if he was calling a game featuring an Asian team, given that every opponent’s name was “He.”) And one of the newspapers’ readers is known in the office for sending emails when he sees prominent typographical errors. (The Commonwealth Press has a habit of dropping the second E from the word “eyeing.”)

These past two paragraphs are an example of the life of a weekly newspaper. Every Wednesday afternoon the newspaper gets delivered to the front door. Every Wednesday evening my wife and I read it. Fifty-two issues a year are 52 opportunities to mess up something, inaccurately or incompletely report something, or make someone angry at you. In my year and a half as an editor and co-publisher, I often felt as though the power structure of our home  community was against me, until I learned after we left that I had become a comparative paragon of weekly journalism. My former boss and business partner used to say that our subscribers liked to hate the newspaper, and if “hated” meant nitpicking beyond reason and attributing motives and agendas where none existed, he was right.

If you do anything for public consumption 52 times a year, you’re going to be criticized for something. Whether they get it right in every instance (and no journalist ever does), the Commonwealth Press is a must-read for those who care about what’s happening in Ripon. That’s more important than getting a Newspaper of the Year award, as I suspect the Commonwealth Press staff would tell you. Nevertheless, the Commonwealth Press deserves congratulations for publishing a newspaper worthy of Ripon.

“Simply Jesus” at St. Peter’s

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 217 Houston St., Ripon, is presenting a Lenten discussion series on Wednesday evenings from Feb. 29 to March 28.

The evenings will begin with Mass at 6 p.m. and a simple supper at 6:30 p.m. Discussion will take place from 7 to 8 p.m. Child care will be provided.

The series will discuss the N.T. Wright book Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters. The book, inspired by C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, asks how the church and Christians should communicate Jesus Christ’s mission and accomplishments to a world that does not know Christ. It suggests that the debates over Christ’s identity have obscured what the New Testament actually teaches.

The former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England, Wright is Chair of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St. Andrews School of Divinity. He taught New Testament studies at Cambridge, McGill and Oxford universities. Wright also is the author of After You Believe, Surprised by Hope, Simply Christian, The Challenge of Jesus, and the Christian Origins and the Question of God series, and coauthored The Meaning of Jesus.

St. Peter’s is an Episcopal church in Ripon, Wis., with a chapel in Wautoma, Wis. St. Peter’s is part of the Episcopal Diocese of Fond du Lac, which has more than 6,600 baptized members in northeast Wisconsin, the Episcopal Church of the United States of America, and the worldwide Anglican Communion. The St. Peter’s building, constructed in 1860, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Regularly scheduled services are held Sundays at 9:30 a.m. (English) and at noon (Spanish), and Wednesdays at 6 p.m. at St. Peter’s; and Saturdays at 5:30 p.m. at St. Mary’s Chapel in Wautoma. The mission of St. Peter’s is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

St. Peter’s pancake tradition

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 217 Houston St., Ripon, will hold its annual Shrove Tuesday pancake supper Tuesday, Feb. 21 from 5 to 7 p.m.

The public is invited to attend the free pancake supper in the church’s undercroft (basement).

Shrove Tuesday is the term used in the English-speaking countries of the United Kingdom to refer to the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Shrove Tuesday, also known as “Pancake Tuesday” in the U.K., was also called “Fat Tuesday” because British households tried to use the remaining fat in their households before Lent, which brought with it a stricter diet. “Shrove” is the past tense of the English verb “shrive,” to obtain absolution for one’s sins by confessing and doing penance. Shrove Tuesday gets its name from the shriving, or confession, that Anglo–Saxon Christians were expected to receive immediately before Lent.

St. Peter’s is an Episcopal church in Ripon, Wis., with a chapel in Wautoma, Wis. St. Peter’s is part of the Episcopal Diocese of Fond du Lac, which has more than 6,600 baptized members in northeast Wisconsin, the Episcopal Church of the United States of America, and the worldwide Anglican Communion. The St. Peter’s building, constructed in 1860, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Regularly scheduled services are held Sundays at 9:30 a.m. (English) and at noon (Spanish), and Wednesdays at 6 p.m. at St. Peter’s; and Saturdays at 5:30 p.m. at St. Mary’s Chapel in Wautoma. The mission of St. Peter’s is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

Town and gown

This Ripon Commonwealth Press photo of the singing of Ripon's Alma Mater proves that (1) I was at Founders Day and (2) I don't sing in public.

I spent Tuesday morning at Ripon College’s Founders Day.

Our family is associated with two of the oldest institutions in Ripon. Jannan is a graduate and former employee of Ripon College, for which I announce football and basketball. (Including Friday night’s men’s basketball game against 113-point-per-game Grinnell at 7 Central time; click here to be highly entertained.) One of the founders of both Ripon and Ripon College, Alvan Bovay, also was a founder of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. (Bovay also was a founder of the Republican Party, as a reader reminded me, in a building here in Ripon, but this post is not about partisan politics.)

It’s rather ironic that we live here. I think I was the first to visit Ripon, having spent a week at the college in June 1982 for Badger Boys State. I don’t think Jannan planned to come back to Ripon other than for reunions once she graduated in 1987 and headed off to the Peace Corps. But 11 years after her graduation, Jannan started working at her alma mater, and a year later we moved here from Appleton. Neither of us expected to raise not only “townies,” but cradle Episcopalians. (As with many small towns, no one who moves here really is a Riponite, supposedly.)

For a college whose enrollment has never exceeded 1,000 or so, Ripon College has some famous alumni, including actors Harrison Ford, Spencer Tracy and Frances Lee McCain (Marty McFly’s mother), singer Al Jarreau, and recently deceased CBS-TV reporter Richard Threlkeld. An early scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” makes a reference to a “Dr. Tyree,” the same last name as a longtime Ripon philosophy professor. Jarreau’s Wisconsin concerts have featured him singing Ripon’s Alma Mater. (Which has the same melody as Kellerman’s resort.) I have Threlkeld’s book, Dispatches from the Former Evil Empire, which he signed “From one ink-stained wretch to another.”

I find living in a small college town full of appeal. I walked to the college for Founders Day. Were it not for all the stuff I have to bring along (headsets, spotter board, clipboards,  etc.), I could walk to Ingalls Field (where football has been played since the 1880s) to announce Red Hawk and Tiger games. Before our three townies arrived, one summer a professor hosted an independent film series that included some great movies, including the original “Insomnia,” “The Opposite of Sex” (featuring this quote that must be seen, not merely read, to be appreciated) and “Kissed.” The college brings in the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra every year. Being a college town, Ripon also features businesses that would not be seen in towns of the same size without a college. (Unfortunately, that does not yet include a microbrewery.)

People associated with the college participate in all sorts of ways in community life. One professor is on the Ripon Board of Education. Another professor is our Fond du Lac County supervisor. (Which reminds me: About that county sales tax, Marty …) An assistant dean (who appears to have approximately 387 titles at Ripon) serves on the board of Ripon Medical Center. The former president of the college served with me on our sons’ charter school board. Professors and college employees do a lot elsewhere throughout Ripon.

Even though there are 13 UW four-year universities and 20 private colleges in this state, Ripon is arguably one of the few real college towns in this state. Fond du Lac has not only Marian University but UW–Fond du Lac and Moraine Park Technical College, yet no one thinks of Fond du Lac as a college town. UW–Oshkosh is the third largest campus in the UW System, but no one thinks of Oshkosh as a college town either. La Crosse has both UW–La Crosse and Viterbo University, but is not a college town. Neither Appleton, home of Lawrence University, nor De Pere, home of St. Norbert College, nor Beloit, home of Beloit College, feel like college towns either. Platteville and Whitewater are college towns.

The definition of “college town” is not merely a town with a college in it, but a town whose college is most, not just some, of the town’s identity. (So is Madison a college town? That depends on what you think is most dominant about Madison, state government or the UW. Milwaukee, despite having what should be called the University of Milwaukee, Marquette University, Alverno College, the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, Milwaukee School of Engineering and Mount Mary College, is definitely not a college town.) One could, I suppose, divide the college’s enrollment by its total population to determine the college’s effect on where it’s located. I prefer to use the test Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart used to define obscenity — you know it when you see it.

The relationship between a college and the community it’s located in is described as “town–gown relations.” Founders Day is the college’s way of honoring Ripon-area institutions or individuals — this year, Ripon Medical Center. (Which is kind of amusing given that RMC now is part of Agnesian Health Care, which is sponsored by the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes, which also sponsors … Marian University.)

Town–gown relations are never perfect. Anytime Ripon College wants to do something development-wise, it must get the approval of the city’s Plan Commission, on which I served for four years. Two controversial issues I voted for were the college’s request to close two city streets going through campus, in order to make that part of campus more pedestrian-friendly, and the construction of a new dorm. The first proposal was opposed by one longtime city resident who asserted that once a street goes on the official city map, it can, or should, never be taken off. (You may not know that there is a bypass of Ripon, which exists only on the official city map.)

As for the second issue, I don’t live close enough to campus to notice, but neighbors probably would tell you that college students don’t always act in a respectful manner toward their neighbors who are not part of the campus. That, however, is part of living across the street from an institution that has been there since 1851, an institution whose presence should be obvious to would-be property owners across the street. (Moreover, upon complaints of students speeding down one street, the Ripon police observed the street long enough to discover that the speeders were not students, but residents.) That’s also part of being between 18 and 22 years old, a period sometimes noted for poor personal judgment, as those who survived that age sometimes don’t want to admit.

The residents of a college town take particular interest in the college. That can sometimes be a challenge for college administration. I wonder, for instance, why the college doesn’t promote itself more actively nationally, or for that matter even in Ripon. I notice that since the college started charging admission for football and basketball games, attendance has dropped at football and basketball games. I suspect the college has even more events beyond sports that many Riponites don’t even know are taking place at the college. (On the other hand, I speak from experience that it’s difficult to communicate with those who don’t want to be communicated with.)

Ripon College is a residential undergraduate-only liberal arts college. It has few commuter students, almost no adult students, and no advanced-degree students. Looking at trends in higher education, one has to wonder how long places like Ripon College will remain viable given increasing complaints about higher education costs, not to mention the increasing belief that the purpose of a college education (or equivalent) is getting the first post-college job. (And let’s face it, one motivation of the conservative critique of higher education is the conservative belief that higher education isn’t friendly to conservatives or conservative ideas — a belief created by personal experience in many cases.)

Indeed, the concept of the liberal arts, which I’ve heard described as “learning how to learn,” seems not very popular these days, which is too bad. Degrees do not equal wisdom or common sense. But we need a more, not less, educated citizenry, and educated in areas beyond their vocation. (What purpose is a college education in a vocation if people are going to change their careers several times in their lifetimes?)

After Founders Day, I ate (and ate and ate and ate) lunch with Ripon’s mayor and city administrator and an alderman, where some of what’s in this blog came up. My hope is that Ripon College can serve to attract Ripon College students to stay in Ripon beyond their graduation — to, as we ended up doing, come to Ripon more often than for class reunions. Ripon needs more “townies” who realize how important Ripon College is to Ripon.