The Bristol Collection and memories of Michael Simon
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 assignment.
“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.
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).
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
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.
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