May 01, 2018

The Bristol Collection and memories of Michael Simon

Letters From Beloit College Magazine readers.

Bristol Collection

Thank you for the wonderful article on
Frances Bristol’s collection of textiles.
We were very pleased to donate to this
work to preserve and conserve these
materials. Congratulations to Beloit
College for understanding the importance
of this collection and, in particular, how
it could benefit current communities in
Mexico. This aspect is very significant for
cultural resources. Museum collections
that inspire, share, and contribute to
greater understanding are great, but even
more relevant are collections that provide
information to the communities that may
have lost the earlier knowledge and want
to regain these skills. The next time we are
in Beloit, we look forward to visiting the
Logan Museum and seeing some of this
marvelous collection.

Chris’71 and Beth Flickinger Padon’70
Long Beach, Calif.

 

Michael Simon memories


My ninth semester at Beloit, I had to take
one class to complete my chemistry major,
but I was finally able to take a class totally
for fun. I took an “Art for Dummies”
class with Michael Simon (probably had a
different name in the catalog). One of the

first things he had us do was to copy from
a cut-up piece of a photograph (a square)
onto a larger piece of paper. None of the
students saw the full photo, only our little
piece. Then we handed in our assignment
and he put together all our hand drawn
squares into a collage. It turned out to be
a photo of Michael, and frankly it looked
like real art to me. I wonder now if the
college or Michael kept our collage? I
suspect not, and maybe it was only artistic
in my eye.
Even though I only had this one class,
and did not go on to be an artist, I fondly
remember taking such a fun course.
Michael influenced even a chemistry/
Spanish major like myself, with one

course, and in fact with this one assign-
ment.

Cam Murray’80
Stillwater, Minn.


“You got an incomplete last semester.
Please get your butt in gear.” —Michael
Simon, 1983.

“It took a while, but I finally did.”
—Michael Lemmons’84, 2018.


Decades after my last class with him, I still
hear Michael Simon’s Hungarian accent. It
follows me to my classroom where—after
five newspapers and four jobs as a print
photojournalist—I now teach high school
English and journalism. Teaching helps
me remember my Beloit days. I address
students with my favorite Michael Simon
quote, “Hello, good people.” It reminds
me of the time and energy he invested in
me and my desire to be a compassionate
photojournalist. It worked. On occasion, I
even use the “please get your butt in gear”
quote.
I’ve seen many things through a Nikon.
I knelt before Johnny Cash, shooting him
as he autographed an 8x10 photograph
for a wheelchair-bound nursing home
resident. I learned one never jokes around
Secret Service agents. I didn’t make a
complete idiot of myself as I—while
photographing him—asked Elie Wiesel a

question. Reporters usually do such. They
expect photojournalists to shut up and
shoot. I’m glad Simon never stayed silent; he
always challenged me. Maybe that’s why
I always hear Simon’s words. It’s why my
students hear him, too.

Michael Lemmons’84
Amarillo, Texas


I was not a student of Michael Simon’s,
but I sat next to him in a class he audited
while I was at Beloit. He made himself
intellectually available, spoke with
warmth, and he kept professional and
ethical boundaries that would be assumed
today, but were ahead of his time.
At that time, at least three of my
professors (in several departments) were
romantically involved with fellow female
students—women who were legal adults
but had unequal standing in the power
structure. There were no tenured women
in my department. Michael conducted
himself with curiosity, humility, and
respect in all encounters and understood
there were lines not to cross (and he
brought so many new perspectives to the
class).

Janet Lane’79
Lexington, Mass.


Hands shaking, I remember placing
my freshly printed black and white
photographs on the chalk ledge of Michael
Simon’s blackboard one day during the
fall semester of 1993.
After a short pause for reflection and
before inviting me to tell the class about
my photos and why I chose the subjects I
did, I remember him saying in a kind and
reassuring tone, “You’re images are always
so moody, Jill.”
God bless that man, for what he should
have said was: “Jill, you really need
to take some more time to understand
how to use your camera and to properly
develop your images in the darkroom.”
And, while I failed miserably on the
technical side of things, Professor Simon

Professor of Art Michael Simon regularly assigned a drawing exercise to teach students about tona...

continued to draw me out and encouraged
me to speak about my photographs and
how I felt about them. Wherever he saw
even a glimmer of talent or hope, he
nurtured it in his gentle and unassuming
style and I adored him for that—as we all
did.
Although I declared my major early
and finished college in a breakneck
three-and-a-half years (which included a
semester in Ghana), I was a late bloomer
in many ways. I did not ‘take’ to academia
quickly and classes like Professor Simon’s
were a godsend because they required a
completely different set of skills. Instead
of being buried in textbooks, I was out
traipsing around, zooming in on the world
to look at it in its minutest detail and then
back out again; pondering the workings
of my pinhole camera; and discovering
the wonders of developing one’s own
photographs.

I still have my photos from that
semester, but unfortunately they are
becoming increasingly curled up at the
ends. Despite my near obsessive care of
all of my other photographs (think Mylar
sleeves), I guess I never took care of those
photos because I never felt they were
any good. That said, I never threw them
away either. I suppose because they were
my last physical reminder of that special
semester spent in the basement of Wright
Hall.
Of all the things that I enjoy doing
today, I am happiest when I am out
shooting—discovering the world and then
sharing it with others. I sometimes wonder
what Professor Simon would say today if I
put some of my (albeit color) photographs
on that ledge? Actually, I think I would
rather not know, but I think he would
appreciate that I still keep trying.

Jill Keehner’95
Düsseldorf, Germany

 

Summer Term send off
I was glad to see Cam Murray’s (1980)
photo on the back of the last magazine
[shown below]. The young woman
wearing the overgrown glasses is

Judy Schroeder’81. She organized the
“funeral” for the summer term. And that’s
[professor of mathematics] Phil Straffin
right behind her, I think, also a pall bearer.
[Professor of history] Bob Irrmann gave
the eulogy, while Warren Harshbarger’78
and Alden Solovy’79 gave Christian and
Jewish meditations. Alden became a
cantor. He offered a Hebrew chant. The
“grieving widow” was a campus character
named Opal Kruse, who ran the snack
bar in the old Union (Smith Hall). Opal
dressed in black with a long black veil.
She carried a roll of toilet paper and
seated herself in front of Middle College.
Every time she shook with grief someone
rolled the toilet paper further out until it
reached College Street!
It was a zany occasion, but behind it
was real sadness at the end of the Summer
Term, the existence of which guaranteed
the famed and beloved Beloit Plan. When
Martha Peterson had to bring the college
back to nine-month operation, rather than
year round, the Plan was gone, never, I
suspect, to return!

Tom McBride
Professor Emeritus of English
Janesville, Wis.

Funeral for the Beloit summer term, Phil Straffin and Judy Schroeder, Max Kunin in the red hair.


Also In This Issue

Xilong “Tony” Zhu’13 standing at attention in military garb.

Alumnus Swept Up In Homeland Security Snare

more

Six Faculty Members Retire At Year’s End

more

Walk of a Lifetime

more

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