Fiat Loose Ends

As we prepare for the return of our students and the start of a new semester, I wanted to wrap up a few loose ends from the media that came to our attention during the mid-winter break—loose ends that also are threads from which the Alfred University story is woven.

First, the Philadelphia Inquirer  ran a story on Warren Sutton ’61, HD ’17, that mentioned the honorary degree Alfred University bestowed upon him in 2017, atoning for the treatment he received from some University administrators when he began dating Dorothy Lebohner, the daughter of the University treasurer. While we have told the story before, new insights have continued to emerge. One is how forgiving and generous of spirit Warren is, and was, for giving us the opportunity to redeem the University for a 60-year-old injury against him. Another is how unassuming Warren remains, even though he was, in the words of classmate Gary Ostrower ’61, professor of history, the University ombudsman, and Saxons’ fan extraordinaire, one of the greatest basketball players ever to wear the purple and gold. Indicative of the kind of unassuming man Warren is, he admitted that on account of his introverted nature, he always had a more difficult time shooting free throws—because he was in the individual spotlight—than making two-point shots from the field.

Warren and Dorothy have been in contact off and on during the years since they left Alfred, but I heard from Dorothy for the first time just before commencement when Warren was to receive his honorary degree. I found her generosity and character akin to Warren’s. She relayed how pleased she was that Warren was being recognized, and how grateful she and Warren both felt “to have been involved, at least in a small way, in making our country a better place.” Finally, Dorothy conveyed that she forgave her father when he became ill with cancer, despite the hurt that he had caused to Warren and her.

We still remember Warren’s remarks during commencement (found at 40:10) stating that he has learned to face difficult issues, rather than run from them. Equally poignant, though, was his comment that even though he was at Alfred for a little less than five semesters, and the circumstances of his leaving were painful, he realized what an impact Alfred University had on his life. He remains friends with a number of the people he knew at Alfred University 60 years ago. Many other former classmates have reached out with warmth and congratulations since we announced his honorary degree. Through their eyes, “I found out who I am,” Warren said.

While we occasionally falter, as we did with Warren, our University remains committed to social justice, and that is why we are so proud of the work being done by many of our alumni, including Emma Buckthal ’05, who earned her J.D. degree summa cum laude at the University of Buffalo School of Law in 2010. Now she is a senior immigration staff attorney, working ensure that people understand the differences among refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants with the Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project.

Ben Pelto ’12 is a young alumnus who is using his talents to explore difficult questions about our global environment. Ben, who earned his master’s in Geosciences from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in September, 2014, is now working on his doctorate at the University of Northern British Columbia in the Natural Resources and Environmental Science department. His “cool” career takes him out onto glaciers, where he is measuring the effects of the soot deposited on them by wildfires thousands of miles away. He and others are finding that as the layers of soot build up on the surface of the glaciers, it makes them retain more of the sun’s heat and accelerates their melting.

From Don McPherson ’84 MS, ’88 PhD, and ’18 HD, co-founder and chief science officer for EnChroma, the company that makes glasses that correct for color-blindness, comes a light-hearted tale about a man who “popped on the EnChroma glasses, then popped the question” to his long-time girlfriend. Back story is that the man wanted to be able to see color so he could verify that the deep-blue stone in the engagement ring matched his now-fiancee’s eyes. Technology by an Alfred University graduate to the rescue!

Some sweet words about Alfred University from Mayaan Zilberman, a clothing designer turned sugar artist who created the business Sweet Saba. Mayaan took a summer school course in ceramics at Alfred University and credits that experience with leading to her latest professional pursuit: “I went to school for ceramics at a really amazing school upstate. I was at Alfred University. That’s where a lot of the big ceramics people went to school. That’s where I learned about glazes. I felt so strongly about the things that I loved to do and, probably because of the way I was brought up, I knew that if I loved what I was doing enough, that there had to be something in that and I just had to go for it, “ she told Forbes magazine.

From the New York Times comes an article on a unique piece of photographic history, found in the archives of the Susan E. Cohen and William S. Johnson Creativity Project. Cohen and Johnson, art historians, persuaded four trailblazing photographers—Robert Heinecken, Dave Heath, Robert Frank, and Alfred University’s own John Wood, professor of photography—to collaborate on exploring creativity in photography.

According to the Times, “The group eventually determined that the project would culminate in an exhibition at the Visual Studies Workshop, a hotbed of experimental activity in Rochester, founded and run by the powerhouse photographer and thinker Nathan Lyons The artist Joan Lyons, his wife, would design the catalog.” Another tie to Alfred: the late Nathan Lyons ’57, ’06 HD, and Joan ’57 both graduated from our University as did their daughter, Elizabeth ’82, an accomplished glass artist.

The Cohen and Johnson archives have now been acquired by the Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin.

And one final bit of levity: Buzzfeed put together a list of “times the internet wasn’t so awful in 2018,” and at the top of the list was an Alfred University story. A post defending Larry Greil, professor of sociology, for dressing up as “Papa Smurf” for Halloween that went viral with the comment that Larry deserves respect for trying to do something special for his students. Point taken, and we could have told him there are many more faculty and staff members at Alfred University who do that “something special” for their students, year-round, not just on Halloween. (Although Larry makes an amazing Papa Smurf!)

So, Fiat Loose Ends that help us weave the Alfred University story!