Food and Friendship Spice Up Italy Trip

Photo taken by fellow traveler Arthur Mafli on June 15, 2005, at the home of Jeff Thickman ’78 and Igor Polesitsky. Back row, left to right: Greg Kubarych, Don Collins, Tim Kubarych, Janet Wynn ’73, Roger Kubarych, Igor Polesitsky, Jeff Thickman ’78, Paul Neal, Ruth Peterka Kolbe ’67, Martha Perry ’62, Suzanne Langworthy ’60, Sarah Rapp Garbe ’60, and Erik Inglis ’89 (faculty escort). Front row, left to right: Laura Gobbi ’91, Alice Brown O’Connor ’51, Sally Gamble Epstein ’48, Irene Neal, and Nancy Davis Plourde ’67.

Oberlin alumni and friends ventured off to Italy in June to tour Tuscany and Umbria with faculty guide Erik Inglis ’89, associate professor of art history at Oberlin, who lectured on the history and art of the region. Based in Cortona, our group followed the Piero trail through Arezzo and Sansepolcro, while also visiting Florence, Pienza, Siena, and Assisi.

Alumni living in the area welcomed us like family, sharing their knowledge and love for Italy and la dolce vita. Among our hosts was Daniel Bornstein ’72, a summer resident and scholar of Cortona, who showed us the ins and outs of the city’s sites and restaurants and arranged a private tour of the municipal library’s manuscript holdings. Costante Ceccarini ’63 and his wife, Elvira, welcomed us to their home in the hills of Siena to taste their home-grown wines and olive oils. Finally, Jeff Thickman ’78, maestro chef, invited us to his home outside of Florence, where he prepared a feast of regional dishes for us to indulge in. Prior to the meal, Jeff taught us how to properly choose olive oil and prepare bruschetta and ravioli tricolor. (See more on Jeff in his 1978 class note.) The warmth, hospitality, and Italian-style generosity shared by these alumni and their families made our time under the Tuscan sun truly extraordinary. Grazie tantissime!

––Laura Gobbi ’91, Executive Director, Alumni Association


Rediscovering the Underground Railroad: 25 Years Later

Photo Courtesy of Oberlin College Archives

It’s January 2, 1980, and nine Oberlin students are starting out on a 420-mile trek to retrace the Underground Railroad, a journey leading through the back roads of Kentucky and Ohio and into Oberlin—freedom. Donning cotton clothing, head wraps, and large brimmed hats—attire similar to that worn by fugitives in 1850—they try desperately to keep warm. Five students make the journey on foot (joined later by two more), while the other four “escapees” forge ahead in a 25-foot camper in search of churches, barns, or other secure structures offering shelter and food. As the nights grow colder, bodies become weary. Under the curious stares of passersby, the students move slowly past motorists along Route 68, often tottering along the edge of ditches. In one Kentucky town, they are chased from a barn by the bat-swinging brother of the property owner. Finally, after 33 days, the project is complete, and lessons learned become life changing. “Our mutual need for cooperation from everyone drew us so close that it was as though we were family and always would be,” said members of the group after their return. “We saw that black people, if we work together, can do anything.”

It’s been 25 years since that amazing winter term project. Curious to know how the lives of these alumni turned out, OAM was able to contact a few of them:

After graduating from Oberlin in 1981, Lester Barclay earned a law degree at Case Western Reserve University. He primarily practices custody and divorce litigation, with a focus on representing children of divorce. He lives in Chicago with his wife, Sue Johnson Barclay, and their three children. “The project was a lesson in humility, having learned the struggles of our ancestors, as compared to the petty concerns that we have today,” he says.

Herm Beavers ’81 earned a master’s degree in creative writing at Brown University, followed by a master’s degree in African American studies and a PhD in American studies at Yale, specializing in African American literature. Now an associate professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, he lives in Burlington, N.J., with his wife, Lisa James-Beavers, and their two children, ages 3 and 8. “It was a completely life-changing experience,” he says. “I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now if it weren’t for the project. It confirmed my ability to make decisions about my own life.”

Marzella Player-Credit ’82 earned a master’s degree in organizational development at Columbia University. Today she lives in Washington, DC, where she works in human resources management, primarily in health care, while also pursing a side venture in home refurbishing with her husband, Keith, a real estate developer. She has a son, age 8. “That project was something I continue to draw on, and something I share with younger people,” she says. “We are overdue for a reunion. It would be good to get together and share how we are using the lessons we learned to raise our families and face the challenges in our lives. I wish everyone well!”

David Hoard ’81 served as the leader of the Oberlin group, which received a $9,378 youth grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities—perhaps foreshadowing Hoard’s own career in fundraising. During his four years as vice chancellor for development at North Carolina Central University, he helped raise a large percentage of the university’s $50 million capital campaign. Today, as vice chancellor for development and university relations at North Carolina A&T State University, Hoard and his staff have raised $74 million toward a $100 million campaign. Living in Greensboro with his wife, Sharon, and his daughter, Hoard was named CEO in 2000 of the International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro, where he is raising $15 million for a proposed downtown museum.

George Barnwell ’81, who graduated from Columbia Law School, was appointed vice president and assistant general counsel for the Wachovia Corporation this spring. He recently relocated from Cold Spring, N.Y., to Charlotte, N.C., where he will be joined later this year by his wife, Sabrina Blain, and twin daughters. “We were trying to educate people because there were a lot of misconceptions out there,” recalls Barnwell. “I still remember the people, the different communities that we went through, the rolling hills of Kentucky. People spent time with us and valued meeting us. There was genuine kinship in that whole trip. If I could have a face-to-face reunion, I would tell [my classmates] how much our common experiences meant to me.”

"Rediscovering the Underground Railroad" In the March/April 1980 issue of OAM

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