Memories, Unnerving and Otherwise
The article on the evolution of Skimmer Day [“From Skimmer to Fling,” May|June] brought back an unnerving memory. I happen to be the arrested Penn student who was suspended following that 1955 spring “Rowbottom” in front of the DKE house referred to in the article.
Philadelphia police were out in full force that night. It was total bedlam, followed by arrests and brief incarcerations. Thanks to the intervention of the University chaplain, my suspension was reduced from permanent to temporary and I was able to take my final exams during the re-examination period that summer. But the story does not end there. After graduation and law school, I returned to the campus to serve as the Development Office’s first planned-giving director. Now, those are better memories.
WM. James Harman C’56 Sarasota, FL
No, Kudos to You
The magazine cover celebrating Skimmer that was reproduced in the May|June Gazette was a real blast from the past for me, because I drew that image over half a century ago. I wasn’t even sure it was mine until I saw my “Berky” signature on the lower right of the image. It is quite a thrill to see something published so long after it was created. Surprisingly, it still looks good. I am amazed that it was archived. It brought back many pleasant memories of Skimmer and my Penn undergraduate days.
Kudos to the staff for finding it.
Henry Berkowitz ChE’56 M’63 GM’70 Villanova, PA
No Recollection of Rowbottoms
Upon receipt of the May|June issue of The Pennsylvania Gazette, I was delighted to see there would be an article in the magazine about the history of Skimmer Day and the years that followed. By way of background, in the spring of 1954 and 1955, I was on the Skimmer Day Committee, and in the spring of 1956, I was the Skimmer Day chairman. During all three years, Skimmer Day was run with people from The Spirit Committee, of which I was also chairman.
During those years, Skimmer Day was the primary social function of the year. Huge crowds attended the crew races on the Schuylkill River. I am not an authority on Penn Rowbottoms, which, if my memory serves me, were usually a somewhat spontaneous event.
The Gazette article seemed to imply that the Rowbottoms of the mid-Fifties were the direct result of Skimmer Day. Not so. For one thing, Skimmer Day was at the Schuylkill River, Rowbottoms were on campus. Also, I was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon and have no recollection of problems from Rowbottoms at our house. At my current age of 80, I would be the first to admit that my memory of events that far back cannot be 100-percent relied upon. Despite that, I remember no connection between the Skimmer Days I was associated with and Rowbottoms.
However, the article was a nice walk down memory lane for me. Over the years, I have wondered whatever happened to Skimmer Day. Now I know.
R. Theodore Moock Jr. W’56 Dallas
In Defense of Dorm Rules (and Single-Sex Bathrooms)
“From Skimmer to Fling” was surely an interesting, well-researched article, but it did contain some paraphrasing, as in the quote attributed to me: “You hear about date rape and all that stuff on campus [today],” she says. “Believe me, it was going on,” which I never said.
Basically I said that it couldn’t have been going on in great numbers—because there were so many dorm rules—which provided advantages—and also—humor here—an excuse to go home if you didn’t like your evening.
In a nutshell, the curfews, parietals, and other dorm regulations were set up by Elders who understood human nature and proclivities, and knew how to prevent certain problems before they started. Without a dissertation on the dissolution of common sense as it applies to student housing, suffice it to say that there would be far fewer allegations of date-rape on today’s campuses if the men weren’t living in the women’s dorm.
When Hill Hall began its transition to co-ed status (I saw a guy in our bathroom end of spring semester 1970) I moved out, and became—to my knowledge—the first student to sign up for and land a solo apartment at the opening of Superblock in fall 1970.
Unless one’s future life includes living in a commune, I’m still hard pressed to figure out how co-habiting with strange men provides meaningful life experience for women students. And it’s just a recipe for trouble.
Carol Miller CW’72 New York
We stand by the accuracy of the quote, but regret that it did not fully capture Carol Miller’s intended meaning. —Ed.
Rah-Rah to Acid Rock
“From Skimmer to Fling” brought back fond memories. Steve Marmon’s recall of “the last ‘true’ Rowbottom” neglected to give personal credit to then-dean of women, Alice Emerson. Her quick thinking defused a potentially dangerous sophomoric situation.
Attending Penn from 1966 to 1970 gave one firsthand experience in the evolving social times. Going from the rah-rah jacket-and-tie days of 1966-67 to drug-infused times nodding off while sitting on the floor listening to acid rock was truly transformative. Unfortunately for Penn, there is a financial cost of this sociological Doppler effect. It seems to me that alumni giving for the undergraduate classes of 1970 to 1974 has always been noticeably poor. Perhaps the smoke-filled haze prevents us from properly recalling dear old Alma Mater.
Jim Zucker W’70 New York
He Didn’t Do Skimmer, But Has the Hat
“From Skimmer to Fling” brought this thought to my mind: I never did participate in Skimmer Days or Rowbottoms during my time at Penn, but I’ve been wearing a skimmer pretty much ever since. As a ragtime musician (my single act) and as the leader of a Dixieland (read traditional) jazz band, the skimmer and the red vest have always been part of my costume.
Eliot Kenin C’61 Martinez, CA
Skimmer Days, Rowdy Times
My husband (Vincent B. Harris Jr. W’51) and I have both read the article on Skimmer Day in the May|June edition of the Gazette.
When growing up, he and his family lived in a three-story masonry and wood house, and the address was 3805 Spruce Street in Philadelphia. Years later the house was bought by the University and demolished for the erection of what was intended to be a women’s dorm. We have been married for 63 years and remember all kinds of details of those growing-up years.
We have a black-and-white photo in an album that shows me on a Skimmer Day in May 1950, wearing the familiar straw hat. All the young men wore jackets and ties while walking to the river to watch the races.
We also remember well the rowdy times when there were Rowbottoms. In those days there were trolley tracks on Spruce Street and when excitement was high, kerosene was poured and set afire by students.
Vincent was a member of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity where there was a paneled room for singing and drinking beer. I was never a student at Penn but I was there so often, we still have our own beer mugs with our names on them.
Mary B. Harris, spouse Gwynedd, PA
Who Built It?
Regarding “A New Home For Trauma Care” [“Gazetteer,” May|June], I’d like to point out the omission of a mention of the building’s design team, many of whom are Penn alumni. Philadelphia’s EwingCole (of which I am part) were the design architects and architects of record, as well as engineering team. The project’s manager, John Gerbner C’73 GAr’76 has undergraduate and graduate degrees from Penn; so does the senior designer on the job, Saul Jabbawy C’89 GAr’93 (who is also a former faculty member); and project designer Derrek Molenaar GAr’11 got his master’s from the School of Design.
We shouldn’t ignore the effort it takes to put together such a great project, and we should celebrate the talent that Penn produces as well as their contributions to our city.
Buzz Leffelman GAr’09 GFA’09 Philadelphia
Good Stories, Bad Spelling
First of all, great stories so much of the time! Much better than my other alumni magazines (William & Mary and University of Miami).
But on behalf of Nick Benz EAS’96—featured in “Dogfish Head Gets a New Head” [“Alumni Profiles,” May|June]—and the rest of us Penn alumni from that little mafia town upstate: our hometown is spelled Hazleton, not Hazelton.
Other famous Hazletonians include the actor Jack Palance; the murderer/Hollywood chef John Sweeney; Judi Ann Stish Ross Nathan Guiliani (Rudy Giuliani’s most recent wife); and Louis Barletta, the right-wing mayor featured on 60 Minutes who banned Spanish being spoken in town. And, in one of the consistently excellent episodes of Baltimore: Life on the Streets, a visiting detective played by Lily Tomlin accompanies a mafia informant “upstate,” to Hazleton.
Thanks much for good editing.
Molly Lutcavage C’7 7 Gloucester, MA
More Than Our Data
Robert Wachter’s essay, “Reviving the Doctor-Patient Relationship” [“Expert Opinion,” May|June 2015], raises important questions about the future of the doctor-patient relationship and the role of technology. Most unnerving to me was Abraham Verghese’s important observation that “interns meet a fully formed iPatient long before seeing the real patient … The iPatient is getting wonderful care all across America, but the real patient often wonders, Where is everyone? When are they going to come by to explain things to me? Who is in charge?”
Verghese’s insight raises the larger question of what exactly should be the focus of the medical profession’s attention. As tech writers such as Sherry Turkle, Jaron Lanier, and others have suggested, our notion of the human is in the process of being reshaped by the digital. We are, however, not the same as our tools or their outputs. The human person exceeds her data. And, while medical technology is amazing, we must be aware of the importance of the interpretive process; we must not let the technologies become so commonplace that we defer to them entirely—whether we are doctors, healthcare staff, or patients.
As an older mother who was subjected to a battery of tests, two of which were misleading, during my pregnancy, I can attest to how tempting it is to defer to the authority of technology and how essential it is that we see the output of our tools as only part of the larger picture of diagnosis and care.
I might add that one way to ensure better, if still “messy, imperfect, and non-digitized relationships,” is to encourage pre-medical and nursing students to take a broad range of courses, including humanities courses, during their college careers. As a pre-med mock interviewer at Penn in the 1990s, I can attest to the importance of the humanities in developing not only interview skills, but also sophisticated interpretive skills (so necessary in the diagnostic process), empathy, critical suspicion of seeming certainties, and, more generally, comfort with the ambiguities that inhere in the many challenges that healthcare professionals face.
Kathryn Conrad G’93 Gr’96 Lawrence, KS
A Question for Holocaust Survivors
“Documenting the Unspeakable” [“Alumni Profiles,” May|June] made me wonder if Barbara Barnett ever asks Holocaust survivors what they think of Israel’s treatment today of the Palestinian people. I would love to hear their perspectives on the situation, since the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust is so often used as justification for Israel’s actions over the years and today. Soon the Holocaust survivors will be gone but their voices now might help bring peace to the area.
Liz Fisher WEv’91 Pleasant Hill, CA