1.9 Square Miles, Surrounded by Reality

A Periodic Column by Steve Duffy ‘77

January 26, 2012 – Last month or so, I stopped in to Yellow Springs shop Sam and Eddie’s Open Books to say hi to Sam Eckenrode ’83, Lin Wood ’81, and Miriam Eckenrode ’92. While there, I caught sight of a bumper sticker that made me chortle.

It said,  “YELLOW SPRINGS, OHIO—1.9 SQUARE MILES SURROUNDED BY REALITY.” I thought to myself that this certainly was still wonderfully, cosmically, and thankfully true. Every day I make a 35-minute commute from the far side of Dayton, and Yellow Springs and the Antioch College campus often seems like a totally different planet. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Yellow Springs’ community tapestry weaves in many threads that are slightly greener, more progressive, quirkier, and more artistic than the fabric outside the village. For instance, the steadfast Saturday Quakers still loyally assemble and fight for peace at midday at the corner of Xenia and Limestone, no matter how bad the weather. Bill Houston, retired Antioch College Math professor, and Hazel Tulecke are usually among that core of eternal earth-flag-waving Quakers.

The new College community is beginning to add a few new threads to this weft and warp as well. As this first Fall term was heading to the holiday break, everything on campus stopped for Fall Term’s last Community Meeting. After announcements, Community meetings would normally break up into small groups, and folks would talk over issues at hand, such as smoking and alcohol policies, what amenities we think we might need, or how we would like to run this new community. After forty-five minutes or so, everyone would return to the big room and each group’s “Convener” would report on each group’s conversation. The Wednesdays in between Community Meeting the “Council of Conveners” meets to work on whatever issues seem to need some working-over.

Fall’s last Community meeting, however, was slightly different.  The faculty and staff remained in 113 McGregor, and the students went to another room in McGregor. In 113 McGregor, Mark Roosevelt started by talking about some of our challenges. He managed to make us laugh as he peered at all of us with his eyeglasses two-thirds of the way down his nose. As he stared at us over his glasses, he deftly steered us straight into the present moment. Then, Louise Smith ’77, Dean of Community Life and former Theater professor, “directed us” by setting the stage for some soul-searching conversation about how well we thought things were going, or what could we do to make things better.

I would imagine the students also had their own similar conversations. These sorts of chats are something that has set Antioch College apart from the rest of “reality.” Moments where folks have the blessing of taking time to examine their own realities in a safe space and try to improve on them are powerful, and many places don’t take advantage of this. I am glad they happen inside this part of this 1.9 square mile piece of alternative reality.

Following the Community Meeting, everyone was invited to a shared lunch in the new Birch Kitchen. I was amazed at how tasty and healthy Antioch’s farm-connected nouvelle cuisine is.  Steamed mustard greens were nice and spicy. Beef empanadas with bits of home-grown cilantro rocked! (I cannot vouch for the vegetarian ones, but they were available.) The salad bar was a rainbow of red and and green lettuces and arugula and other gourmet greens that came straight from our own farm.  There were some orchard apples in baskets. I sat with some students and was amazed at the Olympic speed with which they can eat. I guess they have much on their plates even after they leave the table.

After lunch and a diversity working group meeting, I headed back to the OK Library and bumped into Angelica Benton-Molina ’97 and her kids. They were up from Houston to visit her dad, Ron Benton ’76, who lives in the area.  Angelica and Ron are descendants of Mary B. (Mary Benton) who worked in the Caf for many,  many years. Angelica was thrilled to be visiting and glad that we were open again. She was also glad to feel some crisp Midwest weather!

During break, the campus has not been totally quiet. The library has been getting its fire-alarm system updated. Old North Hall ceiling tiles are being bundled and sent to be recycled as part of the LEED program. Some folks from the College and African-American Cross-Cultural works (AACW) have been planning some potential activities for Martin Luther King Day.

I wonder what Elaine Comegys, former Associate Dean and great mentor to decades of Antiochians, would think of where we are and where we might be going. After she retired, she was the unofficial mayor of  Yellow Springs and would occupy a downtown bench and would still be the wise and available advisor. She was someone you would be blessed to find and someone with whom you could talk deeply about the “reality” that was just outside the Village’s borders. She was always working to make all feel welcome at the table. She is deeply missed.

Well, Happy New Year to all and a happy new term to all new Antiochians. Remember, we’re only a few pages of the Glen Helen Calendar away from long summer days.  Hope you will come back for Reunion to the heart of this special 1.9 square miles, surrounded by reality. Here’s hoping your reality is going wonderfully.      

Steve Duffy ‘77 is a library circulation specialist and special assistant to alumni relations at Antioch College.