How does a place define us?
This was an important question for five Denison fraternity brothers of mine on our two-day reunion in Granville to attend a Bruce Springsteen concert in Columbus. The Boss is an important thread in our lives, so the anticipation built weeks prior to the March 9 show.
What none of us anticipated was that the concert would become a minor footnote — and that our 48 hours together would be deeply profound in ways we never anticipated.
While several of us had been back to campus on a periodic basis, others had not, so in many respects it was a homecoming for them. As Peter Sparks ’78 said, “We were fortunate to be thrown together at Denison, because those four years shaped us as people.”
All six of us — me, Tony Padgett ’78, Howard Fish ’78, Hunter Nickell ’78, Peter Sparks ’78, and resident comedian Steve Pisanelli ’78 — hailing from New Hampshire to Florida and places between, together for the first time in 40 years. It was time to catch up: how are the kids, how’s your health, funny you look like your Dad back when we were students — and stories, endless Denison stories.
Each of us headed off in different directions before dinner to take in the sights of a college experience long ago. I visited the Doobie (formerly WDUB), and station manager Kat Colvin ’23 in Slayter Hall. It was my second day on campus as a freshman that I stopped by the station and never left during my four years. It has given me a 50-year career in radio, television, and film. The connections made at the Doobie by countless students through the years has led to careers in broadcasting, sports, and communications.
On day two, we connected with students at the Knowlton Center for Career Exploration. Hunter had been asked to speak of his long career as an executive in TV sports. In reality we all spoke to these very gifted students.
At one point the question was asked, “How many of you have had a professor who’s had a profound impact on you at Denison?” Every hand shot up from the students and from all six of us. For many, those connections have and will endure.
As Tony said: “The thing I remember most about the administrators and the professors was that they truly cared about us and wanted us to succeed.”
From our interaction with the students, we were able to connect two with contacts in film and television sports immediately.
We then made our way over to President Weinberg’s office. It became readily apparent he has an encyclopedic mind for detail — including the names of students and current and past professors — and a clear sense of the direction of liberal arts in America. There has been a dramatic increase in applications to Denison under his leadership to nearly 15,000 per year, and an acceptance rate of just 17%. Quality over quantity.
As we left his office to head to the concert, Peter’s wife called to say the concert had been postponed due to illness. Postponed!
What does one do when receiving news like this?
Quickly we went into crisis mode. This calls for a beer to cogitate and ruminate, and then it calls for food and dinner. And so back to the Granville Inn we went. It was during dinner, with laughter wafting from our private dining room, that I realized our friendship went so much deeper.
At that moment I think we all realized our friendship as a kind of sacrament that had metamorphosed from a very special time in college to intense joy that we have survived and flourished and held onto the bonds of brotherhood. The deeply immersed liberal arts education we received at Denison prepared us for the long journey we’re on — just like it will for the students we met during our return to campus.