Moving on: Milton Reigelman

Posted by Centre News in English, News 13 Jun 2017

MiltonThe faculty are the core of Centre College. Of all the College’s constituencies, they are the ones who are here the longest. It is they who nurture the culture of the place—the sense of common purpose, the collegiality and the passion and energy—and that they share so enthusiastically with their students. This spring, seven of our most venerable professors retired. Before moving on to new adventures, they took time to answer a few questions for our summer issue of Centrepiece.

I pretty much bumbled into English. I thought of going on in philosophy, my undergraduate major, until I realized that in graduate school I’d have to take a lot of post-1900 philosophy courses that didn’t much excite me. While working at the Washington Post, I glibly thought, “I’ll be an investigative reporter!” Later, when I was sort of stuck in Baltimore, I took a Johns Hopkins night course on the 19th-century American novel and realized that great works of literature include not only philosophy and journalism but everything else any human being could ever need or want to know.

In 1971, Centre College President Tom Spragens offered me a one-year job as visiting instructor in writing and as reference librarian because the faculty was up in arms that their students couldn’t write and the students were up in arms about the library director. Truth to tell, I knew precious little about being a reference librarian. But I was undeservedly lucky: Mary Sweeney, Charlie Hazelrigg ’37, Paul Cantrell, and Roberta White somehow talked the dean and the president into keeping me on. No one in the history of the world has had better or more generous mentors than those four giants.

My zaniest class was an Integrative Studies combination of the American city and an upper-level French course that Ken Keffer and I taught in the winter term of 1985. We’d discovered a $99 train deal: unlimited travel anywhere in the eastern third of North America. (Back then, few Centre students had ever even been on a train.) We drove the students over icy roads to Cincinnati, where they began their 38-hour train ride north, first to D.C., then on to New York, where we spent the nights at a sketchy hostel and the days with Centre Board Chair Jim Evans ’43, who showed us a New York few get to see and treated us like royalty.

Then on to Chicoutimi, in northern Quebec, north of the Arctic Circle (in January!), where Ken had learned they spoke only French and had trés cheap homestays. (On arrival, we heard that an earlier visitor had frozen to death trying to get from his car to his front door.) We stayed indoors, bonded, and learned a lot. I’ve never run into a student from that adventurous group who hasn’t conspiratorially pulled me aside for whispered reminiscences—after 37 years!

The thing that gives me the most pleasure is seeing Centre students being transformed by something that happens to them in a Centre course or, very often, by spending a semester abroad.

As for the future? 1. Learn to play Chopin well enough to give a small concert in my basement. 2. Three longish writing projects I’ve put off for years. 3. Mary Robin Spoonamore ’91, owner of Jane Barleycorn’s Market & Bar (in the old Freddie’s), has promised to train me as a part-time bartender.

by Milton Reigelman

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