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How Close?

I just read Dave Zeitlin’s “Hope is Part of the Plan” [July|Aug]. I don’t know how I would respond in the face of a violent act that took my mobility. I hope that I would be as strong and resilient as Kevin Neary and his family. Concerning the attack on Kevin, Darian (Kevin’s former classmate) said, “It makes you think not only about the horrible thing that happened, but it makes you wonder how many times you’ve had a close brush with something like this and not even known it.” This statement sums up the thoughts that I frequently have when I hear about violence. Any one of us could be Kevin.

Amelia Zellander EAS’03 Chicago, IL

Worth the Risk

Recently I lost my father. At his shiva, I heard story after story of his selfless kindness and generosity, among his many positive qualities. Upon reading about Adam Grant’s new book, Give and Take [“Good Returns,” July|Aug], it is clear to me that my father was unquestionably a “giver.”

Grant’s research on social interaction and reciprocity styles revealed to him that there are three fundamental categories of people: givers, takers, and matchers. He notes that givers are the most likely of the three to land at the bottom of the success ladder. Surprisingly, he says, the givers are also the most likely to finish at the top of the ladder.

Despite growing up poor, it is clear that my father ended life at the top of the success ladder. He started and grew two significant-sized profitable businesses, had enormous employee loyalty, had a huge circle of friends, was widely respected, married and raised three well-educated children, and was extraordinarily humble and charitable. I am extremely proud of my father’s legacy and submit that being a giver is well worth the risk.

Stuart D. Sherr W’78 Bloomfield Hills, MI

Take Off the Ritz?

I am a proud graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, but was struck by the difference in the visions of the University presented in two articles within a few pages of each other in the July|Aug “Gazetteer” section.

First, in “Tom Friedman Predicts the Future(s) of Higher Education” the New York Times columnist is quoted as being concerned that “the model of higher education is going to blow up if it cannot find a cheaper way.”

Five pages later, in the article on the renovation of Van Pelt’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library, William Noel, the director of the Special Collections Center, comments that the new space, “makes you feel like you’re in a very high-class ritzy hotel.”

This provides an interesting contrast in how universities can spend their limited financial resources to achieve a valuable future. And, I guess it gives current and prospective students the chance to assess the trade-off of how good it feels to be educated in ritzy surroundings versus the feeling of being in debt for tens of thousands of dollars once they’ve obtained their degrees.

I understand this is too simple a comparison. But it reflects to a degree the choices top schools like Penn are making as to how they spend their money to attract and then educate their students. Simpler surroundings probably wouldn’t depreciate the quality of the education Penn provides. On the other hand, maybe its customers are looking for resort-like accommodations.

Jim Waters WG’71 Pearl River, NY

Pleasant Surprise

I was touched by the article ‘The Reluctant Reunion Goer” [“Alumni Voices,” July|Aug]. As someone who went to college (in India) during the pre-Facebook era (in fact, the pre-email and pre-texting era!) I could readily relate to the joy and pleasant surprise experienced by the writer while rediscovering connections with old classmates with whom one may not have been in contact for decades, due to the lack of desire, time, opportunity, technology, or all of the above. Recently, during the wedding function of my daughter, two “strangers” walked up to me and introduced themselves and within no time we started talking nostalgically about the good old times of our engineering school days, some 40 years ago. The best part of this mini-reunion occurred when the two classmates specifically mentioned to the newlywed couple (my daughter and her better half), “Your dad was the brightest star in our class—always number one.”

Narayana Raghupathy, parent Norwood, MA

Uneasy Reader

To the author of “Uneasy Rider” [“Notes From the Undergrad,” July|Aug]:

You were very, very lucky not to have been sexually molested, murdered, seriously injured in a crash, or a responsible party in a crash injuring someone else. That is nothing short of a miracle. I seriously question the motives of the Gazette editorial staff in publishing this roadmap to suicide. The fact that you wrote about this trip as an adventure rather than a boneheaded act of youthful idiocy is what is truly concerning. I urge you to give some thought to why you felt compelled to place yourself in danger and seek road heroes in such sketchy, dysfunctional characters.

Jane Imber WG’80 Boulder, CO

Better Path to Justice?

As I read the article on Sujatha Baliga and her work in restorative justice [“Alumni Profiles,” July|Aug], the jury in the murder trial of State vs. Zimmerman was evidently having problems in their considerations and had asked the judge for clarification of their options.

We will never know exactly what transpired to result in Zimmerman firing the shot that killed Trayvon Martin. It appears that bad judgment by one of these young men—and perhaps by both—produced an outcome that neither of them foresaw or desired.

The murder trial has been a national spectacle. How much better the outcome might have been if prosecutor, victim’s family, and the accused could have sat down together with some one like Sujatha Baliga.

CB Henderson M’50 Gainesville, FL

Honoring Bob Odell

I’ve been waiting to read in the Gazette a deserved profile or editorial on the passing in December 2012 of former Pennsylvania head football coach and All American, Bob Odell [C’43]. Prior to returning to coach Penn from 1965 to 1969, as a Penn player Odell was the 1943 Maxwell Award winner for best all-round college football player and first runner-up for the Heisman Trophy. Unless I missed the Gazette story, I don’t believe anything has appeared.

I was on the roster of three of his Penn teams, one being runner up to Ivy League co-champions Harvard and Yale in 1968, which were Penn’s only defeats that season. Personally, I was a reserve and not a big factor in that success.

But the head coach is more than someone who sets the depth chart of who plays on Saturday. He touches players’ lives in many unseen ways. One was in Bob’s recognition of high-school athletes in recruiting players for Penn. This opened a life-changing opportunity for many young men to attend the University. I count myself very fortunate to have had that opportunity, and I owe it to Bob.

A head coach is an example to everyone around him. Coach Odell was as honest and straightforward a man as I ever met and this has always inspired me. Besides the opportunity he gave me to attend a great university, he also gave me chances on the playing field, as he did everyone on his team. This has taught me perhaps the biggest lesson, to recognize and value and convert on one’s opportunities, for they are rare and fleeting. While it’s up to us to make something of them, they often are provided by someone who took an interest in us.

I thank Coach for taking an interest and for his example that has helped shape my life. I’ll continue to look for his tribute in these pages.

David Barudin W’69 Roanoke, VA

Bob Odell’s obituary appeared in the Mar|Apr issue. Our sports blog also included him among “Quaker legends” who died in 2012, in a post dated January 14, 2013. Both sketch in the details of his achievements as a Penn player and in his coaching career. Concerning tributes, however, it’s difficult to imagine a more representative or heartfelt one than this.—Ed.

Proud No Longer

I once was proud to have been an undergraduate, a graduate student, and an assistant professor of anesthesiology at Penn. I am proud no longer. The steady erosion of my confidence in the University’s self-proclaimed elite status exploded in a mushroom cloud of sadness, anger, and contempt when I read Anthea Butler’s patently racist—and barely literate—rants concerning the “white Christian God” and the Zimmerman verdict that she posted in the July 14 edition of [“Gazetteer,” this issue].

I cannot guess whether you will publish this letter; it depends upon whether your intellectual cowardice or your elitist arrogance prevails. In any case, I invite you to publish the writings of your own associate professor so that alumni, as well as parents currently paying for their sons and daughters to attend your institution, can make their own judgments as to the value that the University of Pennsylvania adds to their dollars. If you do, I suspect that many potential donations to the University will cease, as mine most certainly have done. And, to paraphrase Professor Butler, “that ain’t gonna be good.”

Richard W. Lieberman C’71 M’75 GM’78 Boca Raton, FL

Off on Annenberg School Age

As an employee of WFIL-TV Channel 6 (now WPVI-TV) in Philadelphia from 1967 to 1971, I was a co-worker of Rev. Carter and Patricia Merbreier, hosts of Captain Noah and His Magical Ark, during the show’s early years at the start of their successful 28-year run. Carter and Pat Merbreier were wonderfully talented and well-loved.

In reading a letter published in your July|Aug issue about Rev. Merbreier’s recent essay in The Pennsylvania Gazette [“Alumni Voices,” May|June], I experienced a sensation similar to what Mark Twain might have felt when he observed that reports of his death had been greatly exaggerated, though in my case in reverse.

The writer of the letter stated that the English courses in TV Journalism and Writing he took in 1964 and 1965 predated the Annenberg School. For the record, the first class of Annenberg matriculated in fall 1959 in an old Gothic-style building (long gone) at the corner of 36th and Walnut Streets. It was a one-year master’s degree program. I was a member of the second graduating class in June 1961. There were 20 of us. One of our classmates was the late James DePreist [W’58 ASC’61 Hon’76] [“Obituaries,” May|June], who went on to a distinguished career as a major orchestra conductor.

In my case, a few years after graduation I founded WISH 99.5 FM in Boston followed by KISS-100 FM (later Y100) in Philadelphia. My years at Annenberg helped propel me toward a successful career in broadcasting. Though now retired, I still remain connected as a lifetime member of Broadcast Pioneers. Walter Annenberg [W’31 Hon’66] has long served as a role model, both as a communicator and philanthropist. One of my most satisfying gifts has been funding the Daniel Lerner Family Endowed Scholarship at Penn to benefit students of music and communications.

Daniel Lerner C’54 ASC’61 Merion Station, PA

Follow Your Calling

It is with sadness, but not surprise, that I read Don Block’s and Dominic Manno’s letters regarding James Martin, who has followed a religious course of life instead of a professional one [“Letters,” July|Aug, following the May|June “Expert Opinion” essay by Martin, a Jesuit priest, on Pope Francis’ Jesuit background].

To call James Martin unambitious shows a lack of understanding of the challenge of church work. To say God is an imaginary being means that a good mind is being terribly wasted, because a truly good mind would honestly evaluate the evidence and the facts, and not merely repeat the current popular academic creed. Many have evaluated the facts and believe faith in Jesus to be a reasonable faith.

While I am not Catholic, nor do I work for a religious organization, I, too, have been called unambitious by a fellow Penn grad for not pursuing a graduate degree. Instead, I chose what has been, by far, my most ambitious project, raising and educating my six children to be good thinkers, good citizens, and good Christians. Perhaps in a few years I will finish my graduate degree, write my book, or start my company, but I doubt any of those will be as challenging as my current career.

I applaud all of you whose list of accomplishments is long, varied, and professional, but don’t look down upon those whose lists are not. Instead, I encourage you to look seriously at views that are different than your own, especially the claims of Christ.

Jennifer Frey Crispell C’93 La Plata, MD

Devoid of Civility

I noted that the Gazette reserves the right to edit letters for clarity and civility. Therefore, after reading Dominic Manno’s letter, in which he likens Jesus to the tooth fairy, I am curious as to what guidelines the Gazette uses to edit for civility as Mr. Manno’s letter was devoid of anything civil.

David DiFusco W’90 Randolph, NJ

Penn alumni have sharply divergent, and strongly held, views on just about any subject—and certainly about religion (see above) and politics (see below). As regular readers of the “Letters” section know, we try to give writers as much leeway as possible to express their opinions forcefully, and even, at times, hyperbolically.—Ed.

Creature of the Constitution

In theJuly|Aug Gazette, the letter from Steve Gidumal titled “A Question of Philosophy” was right on. Unfortunately, you did not publish the entire text of the letter, which I found on your website. You should have published it all; it was superb.

Apparently, Gidumal was responding to criticism of his earlier letter commenting on “We All Built That,” an essay by Steven Conn [“Expert Opinion,” Jan|Feb].

Conn was promoting big government. As an example, he wrote that free-market education does a terrible job—a straw man that is demonstrably false.

Examples of ineffective, wasteful and destructive federal programs are legendary. The modern trend of turning over law-making and enforcement to regulatory agencies (big nanny-state at its worst) will haunt the economy for the next quarter century, maybe longer.

Conn defines our federal government as a collective reflection of ourselves. It is not that at all; rather it is a creature of the Constitution, limited to the powers numerated therein.

John S. Thomas CE’52 Bradenton, FL

How About Right-size Government?

Mr. Gidumal says that we had the “smallest central government of any of the large industrial economies” during the 20th century. Where did that come from? My recollection is that the government was greatly enlarged to steer us out of the Depression—to our benefit, I believe. There was also enlargement to cope with two World Wars. Small government?

Will the small government types let us know the day that the government becomes the correct size, or will the “call of the wild” continue until we arrive at total anarchy? The size of government is not like a hat size. It should be as big as it needs to be to do the job, and if that includes regulations to protect and involve the people—so be it!

Leonard Cohen W’48 Tarrytown, NY


We were consistently mistaken in our spelling of the off-air name of beloved children’s television-show host Captain Noah. The correct spelling is W. Carter Merbreier, and not Merbeier, as we had it in both his May|June “Alumni Voices” essay and in the responses to the piece published in the July|Aug “Letters.” Our apologies to Rev. Merbreier (at least we spelled Noah right).

“Glen Berger’s Amazing Spider-Man Experience,” in the July|Aug issue, incorrectly stated that Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark had the highest weekly revenue ever for a Broadway show. By the time our story ran, for six months that achievement had rightfully belonged to the long-running Wicked (produced, as it happens, by alumni Marc Platt C’79 and David Stone C’88). Spider-Man held the record for much of 2012, but was overtaken in the week ending December 30, 2012 by Wicked, which at this writing remains the champ.

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