January 16, 2019

Basic Elmos, Crawford Gates, and Alumni-Student Connections

Alumni share their own memories of the Basic Elmos, Crawford Gates, and the connections between alumni and students.

More to the Basic Elmo story

What a great article on the Basic Elmos in the fall 2018 magazine! I arrived at Beloit in the fall of 1974 as a transfer student, so I missed out on their early and probably most memorable antics. I did manage to be part of the Suppose That softball team during the summer of 1976, and I remember when we played the Wobblies, the Marxist-themed softball team. I think the Wobblies lost the game the minute they saw the Suppose That team members dressed as brownshirts.

I went on the German seminar in fall 1975 along with Phil Erickson’77 and others, and I recall that all of us on the seminar gave a presentation to the families that hosted us. Phil told a penguin joke in German and got quite a laugh. A few days later the same joke appeared in Bild-Zeitung, a German tabloid. I don’t know who submitted it, but I am fairly sure that it must have been someone in our audience at the presentation. Or perhaps it was Phil.

My eldest, Katie, has just started college, and I hope that there is a bit of Elmo-ish silliness at her school, too.

Eric Schroder’77
Bangkok, Thailand

One thing you left out [of the Basic Elmos story] is the way the Elmos actually became known on campus—it was through a postering campaign. There were small pieces of paper with the words “Beware of Basic Elmo” stamped on them and postered all over campus in a sneaky kind of way. It was after weeks of seeing the little signs that I discovered what it meant and who they were.

I remember they pulled a stunt in the quad where at least one person rode a unicycle down a wire from one of the “new” dorm buildings (opposite Chapin). I also have a strong memory of them sending off one of their water balloons from the dorm building where security was housed. They probably didn’t want to mention that.

Lynne Southerland’74
Los Angeles, Calif.

Your cover story on the Basic Elmos brought back many memories of their explosively spectacular and well-attended happenings (David Letterman must have taken notes). However, I’ve found that this quieter Elmo scene is the one that’s stuck with me through the years: Walking home from campus, probably to write a paper, I looked up to see Peter Valentine’76 pensively riding his bike down the street … with a typewriter tied to the back, bouncing and clunking along behind him. Poetry in motion.

David Wright’77
Wellfleet, Mass.

Kudos for the amusing “slice of life at Beloit” article on the Basic Elmos. And kudos to those students for not taking themselves so seriously and injecting balance into their lives. I must have just missed their hijinks, having graduated in 1972, and wish I had been around to experience them firsthand.

Another suggestion is to look into the anonymous publishers of what I believe was called (uninspiringly, but maybe that was the point) the Beloit Times. It was a sporadic alternative to The Round Table, printed on mimeograph paper and somehow distributed campus-wide without most of the student body ever knowing who they were, although it was rumored it was some class of ’73 funsters. It was a purely hilarious “gossip rag” but amazingly accurate. I should know—I once was the butt of a story of one of those not-terrible-but-definitely-stupid things we tend to do only in college. Hope you can do more of these types of articles!

Paul Malinowski’72
Littleton, Colo.

These guys can claim whatever they want about the name Basic Elmo. I was there at the first usage of the term, and they are wrong. Perhaps they heard the term used somewhere and liked the sound of it. But the football team of fall 1971, well before any of these kids were on campus, had a player named Elmo Ruffin’76, who was a charismatic youngster. We, the football team, referred to his antics as “Basic Elmo.” Whatever came after that, they can own, but the first usage was in reference to Elmo Ruffin.

David Huddle’73
Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Crawford Gates

I was sorry to read about the death of Crawford Gates. I was the stage manager of the Beloit-Janesville Symphony Orchestra from 1979-80, including working on the premiere of his fifth symphony based on C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra. Gates was a demanding but fair boss. I will also not forget a course I took with him on operas, which took us to the Lyric Opera in Chicago to attend five operas, including Meistersinger and Peter Grimes. We studied the operas thoroughly so we understood them and their composers before we went. Gates was an outstanding teacher who, as a working composer, was very good at teaching us what the creators of these operas were trying to do. His opera class was one of the best courses I had at Beloit.

Martin Morse Wooster’80
Silver Spring, Md.

Alumni-Student Connections

A few years ago, I was glad to see an article in Beloit College Magazine about four undocumented students attending Beloit because I spend most of my time in retirement supporting immigrants, both documented and undocumented. One of the four students became a friend who helped me meet other students in social justice and environmental (my profession) groups at the college. Discussions with these groups impressed me. In the spring 2018 magazine, another article appeared about students visiting the [U.S.-Mexico] border, and a letter by President Bierman focused on alumni connections with students. My recent campus visits have all included participation in Pablo Toral’s political science classes, where students truly participate in presenting and discussing material. I am impressed with students like Laura Savage’18, who selected experiences, wrote grant proposals to the Weissberg Foundation, and organized trips. The experience of planning and participating in these trips—something quite different from their life experiences—changes students and creates leaders in such important areas as immigration.

While my wife, Kathleen, and I have made financial contributions to the college, our greatest gifts were to send our son and daughter, and now our grandson, to Beloit.

Bob Norris’66
Longmont, Colo.

Also In This Issue

  • Rankings That Matter

  • Beloit’s Buccaneer Boat Club is renewing enthusiasm for recreating on the water.

    Going with the Flow

  • Skip Davis’59 leads a first-of-its-kind geology field trip at Baraboo Hills, WI.

    In the Company of an Expert Alumnus

  • Writer and food blogger Tenaya Darlington’94 teaches writing at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. One of her recent books is about the iconic Philly cheese shop Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese.

    How to Cure Homesickness: Try the Salami and Cheese


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