Burk Belongs in Olympian Company

Thank you for your timely piece on Penn’s Olympians [“Penn in the Olympics,” July|Aug]. I would, however, like to suggest a possible addition—Joe Burk W’34 Hon’88 [“Obituaries,” July|Aug 2008].  Although not an Olympian, he certainly belongs in their company.

Joe rowed in Penn’s varsity boats and, after graduating in 1934, began racing in the single scull. Joe won 46 consecutive races in the single scull, from 1937 to 1940.  He was the US and Canadian champion for those four years. In 1938, he won the Diamond Challenge Sculls at Henley and, in doing so, set a course record that stood for 27 years.  He won the “Diamonds” again in 1939, became known as the “world’s greatest oarsman,” and was awarded the James E. Sullivan Award, given to the country’s outstanding amateur athlete.  In this award’s 80-plus year history, only Joe Burk and Jack Kelly C’50, mentioned elsewhere in your article, received this award for rowing.

Joe won the 1940 Olympic tryouts.However, the games were canceled because of the war. Who can doubt that he would have won gold had he been able to compete?  Joe, nevertheless, did “medal” during the 1940s, receiving a Navy Cross as a PT-boat commander in the Solomon Islands.

Joe Burk coached the Penn varsity boats from 1950 to 1969. Although not technically an Olympian, those of us who rowed for him were blessed by this unique man and by this wonderful coach and athlete.

Charles Salembier  C’62 Waynesboro, VA

Chance Omission?

Nice article about Penn Olympians, but you missed Britton Chance [“Obituaries,” Mar|Apr 2011], who won a gold medal at the 1952 Helsinki Games in 5.5 meter yachting.

I will also say many of his children have done well in sailing, most notably, Britton Chance Jr., yacht designer of many famous racing boats, including a few America’s Cup ones, and Jan Chance O’Malley [CW’68], two time Yachtswoman of the Year.

I won’t bore you with more, just wanted you to know. 

Peter Chance GEE’78 Mantoloking, NJ

Impact of 1900 Olympians Continues

Dave Zeitlin’s article, “Penn in the Olympics,” really caught my eye. The impact of the 1900 Penn track team that started the University’s Olympics streak is still felt throughout the country today—and with a solid ongoing Penn connection.

Alexander Grant, George Orton, and Joseph McCracken, members of that team, founded Camp Tecumseh on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee in 1903. Their mission was to “make good boys better.” One hundred and nine years later the mission continues unabated.

Legendary Penn football coach George Munger Ed’33 became the camp director in 1952 and served until 1976. Needless to say, large numbers of Penn students and alumni have served as counselors before, during, and after his tenure. Many high school students have come to Penn having found their way there in part through their association with these mentors and friends at Camp Tecumseh. 

H. Alan Hume M’53 Sidney, ME

There Was YA Before HP

While it was terrific to see a number of authors profiled in your article on young-adult literature [“What’s ‘Ya’?” July|Aug], I was quite taken aback by some of the claims about how new the field is.

Statements such as “It had to have started with Harry Potter [in 1998],” and “There didn’t seem to be a market for [YA books for boys]. And then about five years ago, suddenly there was,” are remarkable in their ignorance. I can only imagine how Chris Crutcher, Neal Shusterman, Walter Dean Myers, Gary Paulsen, and legions of other established authors would feel at having their decades of successful work summarily dismissed.

It is emphatically not the case that there “[weren’t] enough [YA titles]to warrant its own section of the bookstore” when the profiled authors were teens themselves. Susane Colasanti graduated in 1995; I graduated in 1999 and at that point I had already been working as a library page for 10 years. When I began working in public libraries in 1989, there was not only a shelf but indeed an entire section of the library devoted to young adults.

We even purchased double copies of some titles so that we could shelve them both in the Junior Room—designed for readers up to 8th grade—and in the YA section downstairs, where high-school students could go for a space all their own.

In the 1970s and into the 1980s, authors such as Norma Klein were exploring topics such as teen sex, single fatherhood, cancer, and abortion. Myers was blazing a trail in telling the varied stories of African-American youth. Lois Duncan was writing mystery novels; Norma Johnston was exploring the emotional depths of turn-of-the-century adolescence; and toward the end of the decade Lawrence Yep began illuminating Asian America through historical novels.

There were even the Stephenie Meyers of the age—V.C. Andrews and others who wrote vivid, soap-opera-esque tales of sex and familial dysfunction.

The Gazette does an important service to its readers in lifting up and publicizing the valuable contributions of the alumni authors profiled in your article. I hope that next time, your magazine is more careful to fact-check the claims made. 

Amanda Bergson-Shilcock CGS’99 Glenside, PA

Rush of Memory

Many years ago (1947-1950) while my husband was in medical school, I worked as a laboratory assistant in the Department of Research Medicine under Dr. William C. Stadie. In the department library was a quite old book by Benjamin Rush about mental diseases. While my experiments “cooked” in their water bath I sometimes browsed through it. Many of the things that are mentioned in “Rush’s Remedies” [July|Aug] I remember clearly, including the special chair.

Another thing that I remember, not mentioned in the article, was a chapter concerning the influence of the phases of the Moon on mental illness, “lunacy.” I wonder if it was the same book or a different one. Also I wonder if anyone knows what became of the book in the department library. Could it still be there, buried somewhere on a shelf? I feel certain that the old lab has undergone many reiterations since my time, but if possible I would like to know what that department is like now. 

Phyllis S. Tuddenham Naples, FL 

Jarring Placement

It’s great to see happy, exuberant faces smiling out from the pages of The Pennsylvania Gazette. But if you, like I, had been absorbed in Buzz Bissinger’s description of the neonatal unit where his sons started life [“Is That All There Is?” July|Aug], you may have felt stunned to confront the Alumni Weekend photo gallery that began when you turned the page. That was an unfortunate and unnecessarily jarring placement. 

P. Witkin C’90 San Francisco 

Respectful Disagreement

When I initially read Walt Gardner’s response [“Letters,” July|Aug] to the article about Angela Duckworth’s [“Character’s Content,” May|June], I was more than a little upset. I took him for another apologist for the public schools. I say this having experienced our son’s time in Los Angeles public schools, where Mr. Gardner taught, and where we were faced with some teachers of dubious value. However, I decided to review Mr. Gardner’s blog and after reading several of his columns I must say that this man thinks well and writes meaningfully and I must recommend his writings (Google “Walt Gardner blog”).

I still disagree with him in certain cases and still think he is off-base to criticize KIPP since at least there some students can do better than they might in public schools. I also am confident there are some lousy teachers in the public schools and that teachers’ unions often have too much power, but Mr. Gardner is working to improve the situation and should be applauded. 

Richard Fausett W’63 Rancho Mirage, CA 

Proud of Penn-KIPP Connection

Walt Gardner claims that the success of KIPP—a national network of high performing charter schools for historically underserved children—is due to self-selecting students. That is the complete opposite of my experience with KIPP. Entering my 12th year with KIPP, I am continually moved by the many KIPP staff members across the country and their commitment to putting disenfranchised students on the path to college and a better future.

After graduating from Penn and teaching in Baltimore, I had several options for my next steps. I chose to join the KIPP School Leadership Program, which trains aspiring school leaders to open KIPP public charter schools in underserved communities. Like KIPP co-founder and fellow Penn alum Mike Feinberg C’91, I had seen firsthand how students were struggling in traditional public schools, and knew they could do better with some additional innovation and support. So I founded the first KIPP school in Baltimore, and went on to become executive director of the KIPP Baltimore organization.

All KIPP schools are open-enrollment public schools. There is no admissions test, and no barriers to entry. Independent research has shown that KIPP consistently enrolls a student population that has lower initial test scores than neighboring districts. At KIPP Baltimore, we go door to door in our surrounding communities to recruit students for KIPP.  We sit down with families—as many families as we can—to speak with them in person about the education we offer and the commitment we make to get kids to and through college. If Mr. Gardner accompanied us on one of these visits, he would see that the vast majority of parents we talk to, regardless of their situation, jump at the chance to send their children to a school that offers a longer school day and year, a college prep curriculum, and teachers who are willing to do whatever it takes for them to excel. 

We have parents, teachers, and students sign a pledge called “the Commitment to Excellence,” which describes the level of commitment needed for every student to learn. This is not, as Mr. Gardner implies, a contract, but a way of letting everyone involved know what it takes for students to really succeed. It also represents a promise to our students that we will stick with them throughout the journey to and through college. I believe all public schools, traditional and charter, should send that message loud and clear.

I am very proud that my alma mater and my education network have formed a strong partnership to help increase access to college for students from low-income households so more KIPP students can graduate from Penn. I hope Mr. Gardner and other fellow Penn alumni will visit KIPP schools and see firsthand how KIPP is truly helping children from low-income households change their life trajectories for the better. 

Jason Botel C’97 G’97 Baltimore 

Boomers Made Things Happen

In her essay, “Seems Like Old Times,” Rachel Del Valle is dead wrong in the assumptions she makes about Baby Boomers and how we felt about the times in which we grew up [“Notes From the Undergrad,” July|Aug].  I doubt if many of us didn’t “grasp the importance of Gloria Steinem, In Cold Blood, shift dresses, Robert F. Kennedy, and Simon and Garfunkel” at the time everything was taking place. We were passionate about the issues of our times, from music and feminism to Viet Nam and even the clothes we wore. Has she not heard of our sit-ins? Our marches? Bra burning? Woodstock? Events of the ’60s and ’70s didn’t just happen—our generation made them happen.

I worry about Del Valle’s generation, if they look back and only see the aesthetics and lack of technology and miss the greater passions and beliefs that drove us. Does her generation truly care about anything except their iPhones? Why aren’t they rallying against the fact that a woman still earns only about 72 cents for every dollar made by a man? Perhaps if she too had to fight for some of the rights that our generation made possible—like the career opportunities she seems to take for granted—she would have more respect for us and view us as more than a quaint, old-fashioned fashion statement. 

Nancy Levine Intrator CW’74 White Plains, NY 

Good Work

The Pennsylvania Gazette is an excellent publication. I don’t always get the time to read every article but when I do, I really enjoy it. Please keep up the good work.

I really enjoyed Rachel Del Valle’s article “Seems Like Old Times.” I don’t know how much feedback you get but I think her article was entertaining, informative, and well-written. I’m sure she will be very successful in her career as a writer. 

John C. Bradley, staff Philadelphia 

Too Young

Loved “Seems Like Old Times,” and I have the same sentiments as those expressed by Rachel Del Valle. However, there was one error that made me smile: folks would not be able to look back at the 1960s with rose- or any-colored Buddy Holly glasses; he died in 1959. 

Edgar Geigel C’86 Windermere, FL 

Good Time for a Walk

I have just read the moving essay entitled “Pilgrim’s Progress” by Beebe Bahrami  [“Alumni Voices,” July|Aug] and could not help remembering a pertinent poem attributed to the Nobel prize-winning poet Juan Ramón Jimenez which I recall as follows: “If you hasten/ time, like a golden butterfly,/will flee before you.// If you tarry/time, slowly like a patient ox, /will follow you.”

If we could all find the time to decelerate and “walk through those remote places where the speed of feet was the speed of life.” 

Rafael A. Mirabal-Conde WG’54 Caguas, PR 

Opportunity Embraced

I was overjoyed and exceptionally proud of Penn when I read the article about Penn’s partnership with the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation Institute’s Visual History Archive [“Gazetteer,”July|Aug]. Hooray to Penn for bringing the Visual History Archive to a larger audience, and hooray to the many academic programs at the University that are embracing this wonderful opportunity. 

Sally Carpenter C’97 The Dalles, OR 

Undeserved Honor

I was stunned to read that the University had awarded an honorary degree to David Petraeus, the head of the CIA and former commander of US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan [“Gazetteer,” July|Aug].

According to the Gazette, the citation accompanying his honorary degree from Penn credits him as follows: “You worked to protect the population and launched thousands of reconstruction projects, trained security forces, built roads and reopened schools.” Has Penn forgotten that the American invasion of Iraq was a de facto war crime, or, as the press gingerly calls it, a “war of choice”? We attacked and invaded a country that had done us no harm and was not a threat to us. Our invasion contributed, directly and indirectly, to the deaths of more than 100,000 Iraqis and destroyed or polluted much of their country. Petraeus was a leading participant in this. The aforesaid citation is simply the standard apologia of imperial powers. The University should be ashamed of itself. 

Gary Leiser Gr’76 Vacaville, CA 

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