Our VISIONS Across America trip to Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia (the last of the eastern states!) will be remembered for its unique sounds and smells: A jet engine, fresh-baked brownies, a professional football team’s locker room, hot asphalt, wet sheep, and an impromptu living-room banjo concert.
Alumni in these three states are an eclectic bunch. We met folks in big cities, suburbs, and small towns. All had great stories to share.
We started with a daylong drive to Indianapolis to meet with two alumni in that capital city. The first was Dr. Douglas McKeag (’68 zoology), professor emeritus and former chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine. He’s also the founding director of the IU Center for Sports Medicine and has been on the sidelines as the team physician for a number of university and professional sports teams. We met Doug at the impressive Lucas Oil Stadium on the south side of downtown Indianapolis; after some wrangling with the facilities folks, Jim was allowed to photograph Doug on the concourse and even in the Indianapolis Colts’ locker room. Pretty cool!
Later that day – after lunch in a downtown Indianapolis eatery and a quick peek at the excellent Indianapolis Museum of Art – we were treated to a toe-tapping banjo/fiddle concert at the home of Donald Somers (’58 ag journalism), accompanied by his friend, Bill Banker.
In an email to me, Don described himself as a “rabid banjo enthusiast,” and that was pretty obvious once I saw his music room filled with banjos (above) and learned that he had more banjos in the closet and under the bed…a real banjo explosion. Don played in a bluegrass band in Milwaukee, Wis., but he now plays “old-time clawhammer style” every week with friends near Indianapolis. He even treated Jim and me to a banjo rendition of the Iowa State fight song!
Continuing east the next day, we dropped in on Nate Carr (’85 sociology), one of Iowa State’s most outstanding wrestlers of all time. Nate was busy working with a group of young wrestlers at Troy Christian School just north of Dayton at a Carr Wrestling Club summer camp, but he took time out to visit with us. Nate’s a husband (he met his wife, Linda, at Iowa State), father of seven children (oldest son Nate Jr. wrestled for Iowa State and graduated in 2012), coach, minister, Olympic medalist – and just a super nice guy. We got to meet Linda as well as their youngest son, 14-year-old David.
Our next stop was hands-down the sweetest experience we’ve had on our VISIONS Across America travels. I think I may have gained a few pounds, and I certainly got my sweet tooth satisfied – all thanks to Mark Ballard (’84 family services; MS ’86 professional studies in education). Mark is co-founder and co-CEO of Sugardaddy’s Sumptuous Sweeties, a brownie and blondie boutique bakery in Columbus. These are not your ordinary treats…they are decadent and amazing. Believe me, I tried a lot of different flavors (caramel, peanut butter, and toasted coconut with cashews, to name a few) and I could very easily work my way through the rest of the menu (cherry almond, nutty blonde, campfire s’mores, chai spiced, cinnamon, rich mint, and more) – all hand crafted in small batches and sold fresh the day they’re made. Mark is a master marketer and businessman, and he’s taken Sugardaddy’s way beyond a typical local bakery: His company has received national attention from the Food Network, Ellen DeGeneres, InStyle magazine, and many others. You can visit Sugardaddy’s three locations in Columbus or order on the Web.
Morgantown, W.V., is home to the newest member of the Big 12: West Virginia University. We met two alumni in Morgantown and also took a tour of WVU’s Erickson Alumni Center, one of the nicest alumni facilities I’ve seen. (Join us there this fall for a football tailgate!)
Our first alumni visit was with Michael Clow (’78 naval science). We met him at the Morgantown Municipal Airport, where he is director. It was a hot day – way too hot to be photographing someone on the tarmac, if you ask me. But Michael spent the last decade-plus in Florida, so he was used to the heat, and Jim will do anything to get a great shot. (I preferred sitting in the air-conditioned pilots’ lounge.)
We woke the next morning to stormy skies and steady rain. This was not a good thing, because our travels took us to Susan Elkin (’70 applied art), owner of Cobun Creek Farm. Susan has 38 lovely acres, a flock of Coopworth sheep, geese, chickens, peacocks, angora goats, a house full of purebred Maine Coon cats, and a couple of Great Pyrenees (the polar bear of dog breeds) to guard the sheep. By the time we left, we were both wet from the rain, muddy from the sheep, and I was covered with cat hair (my own fault, I’ll admit). Susan’s place is like a real-life petting zoo.
I’ll be writing more about each of these alumni and posting some of their stories in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, the big countdown is really on: 39 states completed and just 11 more to go! Next up is Nebraska, the Cornhusker State (and a super quick drive from Ames!)