Letter box

(Photography by Samantha Chapnick [CC BY-ND 2.0])

Readers sound off

Alumni write about Burton-Judson memories, English professor Michael Murrin, good square meals at Valois, and more.

Recovered memories

I was delighted to see the cover of the Fall/21 issue of the University of Chicago Magazine. I cannot help with your request to identify the student and date of the photo. It is evident that it is before 1956, when I arrived at Burton-Judson as a first-year student. I believe the picture is of the east (Burton) side of B-J. On the left is Mathews House (merged in 2010 with Linn House), where I lived for two years on the top (fourth) floor. I was in a two-room suite with two roommates. Our suite looked over the area to the east, occupied then by deserted, flimsy, temporary housing for the veterans who swarmed onto campus after World War II. A few months after we arrived, the land was cleared and construction was begun on the new Law School.

The picture shows the student entering the Burton gate. I do not remember that gate ever being open; perhaps earlier it was. We all entered the complex at the west (Judson) entrance, as I believe is the case today. At the end of the walkway in the photo is the entrance to the Burton dining hall. Examining the photos in the library archive suggests that when B-J was built in 1931 there was no direct entrance to the dining hall as there is in the picture and now; rather, one entered the dining hall from the lounge area to the left. So I conclude the picture is from some years after 1931.

In the basement of the dining hall was the tiny studio of WUCB, the student radio station, broadcasting then only to the campus. I spent too many hours working at the station, neglecting my studies, as was easy to do in those days since nobody had to go to class. I became station manager and helped move the station to Mitchell Tower, where the call letters became WHPK and the station eventually broadcast broadly to the South Side.

John Schuerman, SB’60, AM’63, PhD’70
Professor Emeritus in the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice
Keene, New Hampshire

I do not know who the student is walking into Burton-Judson Courts, but it brought back memories.

I lived in Burton-Judson Courts from the fall of 1963 until the spring of 1965 as an MBA student. I haven’t been back since then, and I always wondered if Burton-Judson Courts was still there. It has probably been remodeled or rebuilt a couple of times since I was there.

Thanks for bringing back some memories for me!

John Szwast, MBA’65
Camp Hill, Pennsylvania

I have no idea who this is in the photo or when it was taken but can say that it could be any one of the hundreds of lost souls I met in 1964 as an entering freshman. I lived, if you can call it that, in Salisbury House in B-J for some of the oddest two years of my life. In retrospect it seemed to go on forever and was always somewhat of a madhouse. But I survived.

David Tepper, AB’69
Berkeley, California

My guess is that the Fall/21 cover photo was taken in the mid-1950s. At that time the administration perceived a crisis in undergraduate enrollment. In 1955 the smallest number of bachelor’s degrees in the 20th century were granted. There were many reasons: low birth rates in the 1930s, the completion of graduation of WW II veterans, and more. But University chancellor Lawrence Kimpton was focused on another problem. In a speech to alumni, he said that the problem was that “there were just too many queer kids” on campus. (The Maroon ran a gag issue with the headline “Last Queer Kid Leaves Campus.”) Kimpton began a campaign to convince prospective students, their parents, and their guidance counselors, that Chicago’s undergraduates were “normal.” The campaign included hiring a photographer to take carefully posed photos of College students, well but casually dressed, smiling and chatting, with campus landmarks, like the C-Bench, in the background. My guess is that this photo dates from that campaign. Perhaps someone had the wit to realize that the golf clubs were a bit much.

John D. Lyon, AB’55
Los Angeles

We appreciate readers’ efforts to identify the student in and date of our Fall/21 cover image. For the answer to the mystery, see this issue’s Editor’s Notes, “Cover Stories.”—Ed.

Pleased to oblige

Thanks much for the profile of the new president (“Magnifying Vision,” Fall/21). Much appreciated.

George T. Karnezis, AM’66
Portland, Oregon

Video revolution

Reading about the media archives of Chicago video pioneers (“History on Tape,” Fall/21) reminded me of David Affelder, AB’72, who was among the first to recognize the possibilities of portable video at the University of Chicago. Affelder was a student government president with a wicked sense of humor, a leader (if leaders were allowed) of the Students for Violent Nonaction, who sometimes used student government funds to buy and distribute joints during campus events.

He established an office in Cobb Hall, I believe, where he found money to buy a couple of Sony Portapak systems that were lent out to students (including me) with even a half-baked idea about how they might be used. I created a project to videotape rehearsals for the musical Oh, What a Lovely War!

Affelder died at age 26 in 1977 on a wilderness expedition in Alaska, according to a couple of online sources.

Steve Mencher, AB’73

He came, he saw, he ate his food

One of my strongest memories of going to school at the U of C was going to dinner at Valois four to five times a week for two years (“Feast Your Eyes,” Snapshots, Fall/21). I had a good appetite after growing up on a small farm in the Sacramento Valley. I hadn’t ventured far from home—the farm, the American River, and four years at the state college across the railroad tracks.

The food at Hutchinson Commons and International House couldn’t nourish me like the “working man’s dinner” at Valois. And to keep my equilibrium at school, I played basketball and squash at Stagg gym at about four o’clock most afternoons. On my way back to the dorm at 55th and Blackstone at about five, I’d circle around to 53rd and get fed like a working man—meat (usually nice tender roast beef au jus), potatoes, and a vegetable with plenty to drink.

I don’t remember many students eating there at that time of day, but such a rich set of customers: Polish mothers with two or three kids, old men retirees, the tradesmen with their soiled clothes and dead-tired looks on their faces, and the talkative servers behind the glass-plated display of food. A lot of Polish was spoken, and we talked to one another at the square tables in the small dining space. The 60ish manager would take a break from serving and make the rounds of the 10 to 12 tables. He’d generally stop at my table and say, “Johnny boy, don’t drink so many of the Nehis, your mom wouldn’t like that!”

Didn’t stop me since I’d lost three to five pounds on the courts that day. While drinking, I’d be thinking back to the basketball game, where sometimes Sihugo Green, the great guard-forward from Duquesne University then on Chicago’s NBA team, the Chicago Packers, would be practicing at Stagg before the season started or during the season when the team had a day off. Joy at Stagg and in Valois’s dining room for a country boy who came to the big town.

John M. Lewis, SM’63
Sacramento, California

Love among the volumes

I loved the picture in the Fall/21 Magazine captioned “Where the Life of the Mind Goes for Company” (Snapshots), and indeed it brings back fond memories of “study dates” in 1965–66 with my then-girlfriend Leah Elizabeth Webb Schroeder, AM’68. I was able to attend Chicago thanks to a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, as was Leah. But once we started studying together at the long tables in the great reading room, I suddenly discovered a hitherto-undiagnosed attention deficit disorder that made it impossible for me to sit still for longer than 10 minutes, while Leah could literally sit and study for hours on end.

Maybe Leah, a poli-sci student, simply found Hans Morgenthau more intimidating than I, a history student, found the kindly William McNeill, LAB’34, AB’38, AM’39. In large measure because of Leah’s devotion and McNeill’s patience, the two of them united to get me through my PhD in 1975, Leah taking time off from her Washington, DC, duties as chief of staff to a Louisiana congressman to type the dissertation chapters that McNeill quickly reviewed and returned.

I’m still periodically afflicted with an inability to sit still, but dear Leah stuck with me for 52 years of marriage until her untimely death from pancreatic cancer in 2019. And after a decidedly un-academic career in the CIA, which the Magazine profiled in 2004 under the overly dramatic title “Spy Guy,” I found to my surprise that I had managed to concentrate long enough to earn a medallion from Georgetown University for 20 years of service as an adjunct professor in the School of Foreign Service. How about that?

Richard Schroeder, AM’65, PhD’75
Washington, DC

Stacks of memories

I had a library happy place, but the library was Regenstein (“Where the Life of the Mind Goes for Company,” Snapshots, Fall/21). My friend Sarah Kagan, AB’84, introduced me to the location in the stacks where the library kept bound copies of old issues of Vogue magazine. We would sit on the floor and pore over them, chatting away and comparing fashions through the years. I cherish the memory.

My memory of O-Week centers on what was for me a momentous occasion, the Aims of Education Address (“Rolling Admission,” Snapshots, Fall/21). After having said goodbye to my parents outside of Rockefeller Chapel, as all incoming students were doing, and walking inside, I was all of a sudden aware of how much attending college was going to change my life. I settled in to listen to Joseph Cropsey, distinguished service professor emeritus of political science, speak, and something he said impressed itself on my brain: he stated that we should be skeptical but not cynical. I thought that this was a very important point he was making—and I still do.

Rosemary Caruk, AB’83
Berwyn, Illinois

A gentle man and a scholar

I was saddened to read of the passing of Michael Murrin (Deaths, Fall/21), a wonderful scholar-teacher and a model of deep yet humble knowledge, clear critical thought, constant intellectual adventure, and gracefully demanding instruction. I was fortunate to take his intro to critical theory during my first quarter in the Committee on General Studies in the Humanities, and later to take his seminar at the Newberry Library on Renaissance allegorical epic.

Michael lectured from well-ordered notes on five-by-seven notecards, and as I recall, he would start each class meeting as if he were composing an essay, with a brief introduction in which he would say, “Today’s discussion will go one of two ways” (or three, depending on the day). And inevitably, without my having any sense of manipulation or whiff of deliberate guidance, that was precisely how the discussion went. He knew his material so well; had read, thought, and prepared so thoroughly; and was so familiar with centuries of tradition of discussion and debate.

On the rare occasion when a student posed a question to which Michael had no ready answer, he never faked or flubbed. Rather, he would pause to consider, and then say with a small smile, “I will get back to you on that.” And he always did, starting the next class with a well-researched response to the student’s query, drawn, I’m sure, from sources in the immense and carefully curated collection of books in his office. I have no doubt that Michael regarded every such question as a delightful opportunity to enhance and expand his own understanding of the complex set of scholarly topics that he loved to explore, and to share his newfound insights with his students.

I recall Michael explaining his writing process to me in the following way: he would never commit pen to paper until he had done his research, both primary and secondary, and had spent a great deal of time thinking and constructing and reconstructing the edifice of ideas and words. Only then would he write, having already done the bulk of the drafting and revision in silent thought. What a remarkable, careful mind! What a giving and gracious teacher!

Seth Katz, AM’85, PhD’91
Peoria, Illinois

When I read about the death of Professor Michael Murrin in the Fall/21 Magazine, I was stunned. I felt a profound loss.

For 10 years, between 1968 and 1978, Michael Murrin was my professor, my adviser, my mentor, and my friend. He was seven years older than I, but he was clearly my elder—in knowledge, wisdom, and kindness. I was fortunate to have had him, along with William Ringler and David Bevington, guide me as a graduate student through the complexities and wonders of the English Renaissance.

During his half century of teaching at the U of C, I’m sure hundreds of Murrin’s graduate and undergraduate students, as well as his colleagues, had a similar appreciation of him.

Michael Murrin’s death has reminded me of the lasting impact the University of Chicago and its professors have had on me, professors who demonstrated an equal measure of brilliance and kindness.

John Spevak, AM’68, PhD’78
Los Banos, California

Admirer from afar

This has happened thousands (or tens or hundreds of thousands) of times in the history of the University. (Genders do not matter; all combinations may be substituted for the nouns and pronouns used.)

Early in his first year at the University, a young man noticed a young woman. Well, much more than noticed her. He thought she was beautiful; he knew she was smart (a U of C undergrad); and he sensed she was kind. When he mentioned her name to others who knew her to varying degrees, they all agreed with his opinions of her. And he learned he was not the only young man who admired her.

Of course, he was busy with his studies, part-time work, friends, and social life with several wonderful Chicago women. Yet any day that he saw her—though they were few—was ipso facto a good day. But she and he shared no class, dining hall, activity, or friends; he could think of no way to approach her; and a rejection—however gentle—would have been devastating. She did not know his name, much less anything about him. So their lives never really met.

Still, to this day, when he remembers his years in Hyde Park, she often appears. Grateful for the good feelings she brought him, he always hoped she found much happiness, perhaps with a loving family, advanced education, a rewarding career, close friends, interesting travel, and a long, memorable life. He checked each arrival of the University of Chicago Magazine for any mention of her. In the Summer/21 issue he was relieved not to find her name on the Deaths pages, so he went to the Alumni News.

I wish to thank Laurie Buehler, AB’73, for summarizing her post-Chicago life, class correspondent Lyn Ragan, AB’72 (Class of 1973), for including Laurie’s note, and the University of Chicago Magazine editors for publishing it.

Tom Grassey, AM’71, PhD’83
San Diego

Delving into Durkheim

Great to read your interview with David Axelrod, AB’76 (The UChicagoan, Fall/20). It got me reading Émile Durkheim’s Suicide, which David says he read to great effect while a student at UChicago. My reading of Durkheim revealed the opposite: the great Durkheim didn’t know how to distinguish “Reformed religion” from “reformed religion,” and, among other big errors, stated his belief that Protestantism’s diversity reveals less uniformity of belief than Catholicism’s, hence more suicide. Looks like he never met a Pentecostal or an Assembly of God member. You won’t find any less uniformity in each of the many Protestant denominations than you’ll ever find among Catholic believers.

Andrew D. Tempelman, AM’66, PhD’72
Nashua, New Hampshire

Belling the cat

I am writing to comment on the article “Meet Nestor the Midway Cat” published in the Core Summer/21 edition. Scientific investigations show that free-ranging domestic cats have a major negative impact on wildlife (see the articles “The Impact of Free-Ranging Domestic Cats on Wildlife of the United States” and “Domestic Cats and Their Impacts on Biodiversity: A Blind Spot in the Application of Nature Conservation Law”). I see that Nestor carries a little badge around the neck. One solution to save some birds would be to have the free-ranging cats carry a tiny bell that would alert the wildlife the cats may attack.

Yun Freudenberg-Hua (College parent)
Little Neck, New York

The University of Chicago Magazine welcomes letters about its contents or about the life of the University. Letters for publication must be signed and may be edited for space, clarity, and civility. To provide a range of views and voices, we encourage letter writers to limit themselves to 300 words or fewer. Write: Editor, The University of Chicago Magazine, 5235 South Harper Court, Chicago, IL 60615. Or email: uchicago-magazine@uchicago.edu.