Oberlin Alumni Magazine

Winter 2010-11 Vol. 106 No. 1 OAM Home | Oberlin Online


Kohl Jazz

Reading Kristin Ohlson’s article about the Bertram and Judith Kohl Building (Fall 2010) was truly inspiring. It was made all the more poignant given the sad news of Professor Wendell Logan’s passing only weeks after the opening. As a jazz studies major, I recall spending countless hours in Hales gymnasium, and while those of us in the program wore it as a badge of honor, we also felt that jazz at Oberlin deserved better. The Kohl Building represents a great achievement for the Oberlin community and the jazz studies program and is a physical representation of the heart and soul that Wendell poured into jazz at Oberlin. I was never the most talented musician in the department, but Wendell always insisted that my classmates and I give the music the honor and respect it deserved. It’s thrilling to see the fruits of his labor and to be able to say that jazz now has a proper home at Oberlin.

Jonah Berman ’03
Cambridge, Mass

As a liberal arts student, I played in Oberlin campus dance bands from 1943 to 1949, excluding several years as a paratrooper in the Pacific. Thus, the jazz article was of extreme interest, particularly the reference to Paul Williams, who, if I’m not mistaken, was also leader of a popular local mixed racial group under his band name, Count Williams. With the Count at the keyboard and vocals, they performed mostly at a Lorain County supper club know as Richies (or Ritchys?). A 1940’s bandmate, Bill Kohler ’50, says he encountered the Count at the piano in a Con practice room in 1945. He was a hugely talented pianist and entertainer. I remember being hired by the Count to play at a dance at a college in western Ohio. We traveled in two large Buick sedans with a bass fiddle and drums tied to the roofs. Happy memories.

Peter Weinberg ’49
Stamford, Conn.

In the early ’50s, we presented Duke Ellington, Woody Herman, and Count Basie (twice) to sell-out crowds in Finney Chapel, with no cooperation from the conservatory. I am proud to have been one of the promoters of these concerts and respectfully suggest to Dean Stull that the answer to "how we got from there to here" was due in part to many students who helped get these events on stage.

Jerome Nelson ’56
Silver Spring, Md.

Not Your Average Joe

I just finished reading an obituary for Joe Gurtis. How to fill in the blanks? Joe was gruff, speaking rarely, and then in short, pithy remarks—full of meaning. Joe had a wry sense of humor. But those he coached loved him, and he loved them. Joe could be blunt, and usually was. But he helped to raise a lot of other peopleʼs children to the threshold of maturity. He cared deeply about Oberlin. (It hurt him to his very core when an Oberlin team would lose to Wooster.) But mostly he cared about doing what was best for the kids who came out for the athletic programs at the college. He and Mary Culhane (MJ to everyone and recently deceased) were respectively mens’ and womens’ athletic directors at Oberlin. For too many years those were titles with responsibilities (often self-imposed) and little authority. They were mother and father surrogates for so many students at Oberlin. And they worked as a team, professionally and in their private lives. If, for example, there was a swim meet at Oberlin, they saw to it that the pool and the stands were ready, whatever the hour—if they had to put out the lane markers themselves or sweep the trash out from the previous night, they came in early and did what needed to be done. They gave of their time freely, to faculty and students alike, as well as to townspeople. My wife and I are among many who learned how to swim properly from Mary. She made a remarkable impact on our technique, style, and above all, our self-confidence and self-image. I got to know Joe and Mary several years ago when I was asked by Dean MacKay to serve as business manager for Physical Education and Athletics. There were some problems. But thanks to Joe and Mary, we sorted things out, the programs prospered, and we made improvements in the quality of physical resources. My fondest memory of was when Joe said to me, "Youʼre a real son of a bitch, but youʼre a gentleman." Coming from Joe this could only be taken as a compliment.

Ira S. Steinberg
Emeritus Professor of Philosophy
Oberlin, Ohio

See—We’re Interested!

Four times a year, the Postal Service delivers the alumni mag to my house. Here’s why I dread those days:

1. The class notes remind me that I’ve wasted my life.

2. I’ve accomplished a lot as a writer and activist, none of which would interest the alumni mag editors. I’ve published maybe 2 million words, but no books. I led a grassroots lobby that convinced our Republican state legislature to overrule their bureaucracy and fund our state’s peer support centers. With others, I generated a change in the state guardianship to give more legal protection to parents with mental illness who are pressured to give up guardianship of their children. Members of my recovery skills classes have said I gave them hope and changed their lives. But I’ve never been promoted to associate professor, played a recital in an empty European church, or gotten a grant to study spinach or start a do-good project anywhere.

3. The class notes are listed chronologically from earliest to most recent. Each month, there are fewer notes in front of my class, and more notes behind me. Just the opposite is true in the death notices.

Ken Braiterman ’69
Concord, N.H.

Editor’s reply: 1. There are about 10 good class notes in your second item; 2. Nonsense—we’re totally interested in you; 3. Me, too. I’ll see what I can do about that (I’m guessing not much).


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