Obituary: Warren Watson

This is the obituary of one of my favorite professors & characters from my time at Antioch College. He was really an amazing man and I wish I had spent more time with him. Our cats, Goblin & Finnegan, are from a litter born in his house. I’ll try to write down some of my memories of him and stories he told in another post (or may make a video since there’s someone collecting videos about Warren). But for now, this is a small glimpse at a really amazing person:


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Warren Z. Watson Photo
The legendary Dr. Warren Zachary Watson passed away peacefully at home with family and pets on April 13 after a series of complications following a fall. He was preceded in death by his wife of 35 years, Jamie, who passed away in 1992. He is survived by his wife of 15 years, Anne Bohlen.

Warren was born in South Sioux City, Neb., in 1935, the second of six children. His family moved frequently, finally settling in Wisconsin, and his early life was marred by poverty and abuse. At the age of 2 Warren contracted osteomyletis and his parents left him at the Hospital for Crippled and Destitute Children in Chicago, where he essentially lived until age 11. A misdiagnosis led to a series of surgeries that mangled his knee and leg, leaving him in a lifetime of daily pain. He also received hundreds of x-rays to his head in experiments to develop the flexible dental x-ray. However, University of Chicago tutors mitigated his suffering there by helping him to develop and focus his prodigious intelligence and energies on the life of the mind and he was encouraged to follow his interests.

As a teenager he built his own ham radio and it was a Canadian broadcast of saxophonist Charlie Parker that introduced him to one of his life-long passions, bebop jazz. Always a competitor, he won the statewide marksmanship competition and played a mean game of ping pong. He was a renowned card player, inevitably winning at sheepshead, cribbage, poker and bridge.

Warren attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he received a bachelors and masters in math and a Ph.D. in the history of sciences in 1969. While a student he met the first love of his life, Jamie Beth McKahan. They shared a love of jazz, intellectual pursuits, and were intensely involved in the tumult of the civil rights, student and anti-war movements. Warren and Jamie were on the frontlines of every major demonstration, including Chicago ’68, Pentagon ’69 to Moratorium ’70 and beyond. In 1957 they married and began their family,

While completing his dissertation, Warren taught at Stout State Teachers College in Menominee, Wis., and at Monteith College at Wayne State University in Detroit. He and his family arrived during the riots in the late ’60s. The city was destroyed to the edge of campus. The sounds of tanks and armored personnel carriers reverberating in the streets only strengthened their resolve to fight injustice. Warren was an exciting and highly regarded professor/activist who brought the world, including Frank Zappa, into his classroom. He once paid for the bus that carried his students to a march protesting the inauguration of Richard Nixon in Washington, D.C., causing him to lose his teaching position and be labeled a world revolutionary.

Warren was born in South Sioux City, Neb., in 1935, the second of six children. His family moved frequently, finally settling in Wisconsin, and his early life was marred by poverty and abuse. At the age of 2 Warren contracted osteomyletis and his parents left him at the Hospital for Crippled and Destitute Children in Chicago, where he essentially lived until age 11. A misdiagnosis led to a series of surgeries that mangled his knee and leg, leaving him in a lifetime of daily pain. He also received hundreds of x-rays to his head in experiments to develop the flexible dental x-ray. However, University of Chicago tutors mitigated his suffering there by helping him to develop and focus his prodigious intelligence and energies on the life of the mind and he was encouraged to follow his interests.

As a teenager he built his own ham radio and it was a Canadian broadcast of saxophonist Charlie Parker that introduced him to one of his life-long passions, bebop jazz. Always a competitor, he won the statewide marksmanship competition and played a mean game of ping pong. He was a renowned card player, inevitably winning at sheepshead, cribbage, poker and bridge.

Warren attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he received a bachelors and masters in math and a Ph.D. in the history of sciences in 1969. While a student he met the first love of his life, Jamie Beth McKahan. They shared a love of jazz, intellectual pursuits, and were intensely involved in the tumult of the civil rights, student and anti-war movements. Warren and Jamie were on the frontlines of every major demonstration, including Chicago ’68, Pentagon ’69 to Moratorium ’70 and beyond. In 1957 they married and began their family,

While completing his dissertation, Warren taught at Stout State Teachers College in Menominee, Wis., and at Monteith College at Wayne State University in Detroit. He and his family arrived during the riots in the late ’60s. The city was destroyed to the edge of campus. The sounds of tanks and armored personnel carriers reverberating in the streets only strengthened their resolve to fight injustice. Warren was an exciting and highly regarded professor/activist who brought the world, including Frank Zappa, into his classroom. He once paid for the bus that carried his students to a march protesting the inauguration of Richard Nixon in Washington, D.C., causing him to lose his teaching position and be labeled a world revolutionary.

He landed at Antioch College in 1969 and found his true love teaching undergraduates at an institution where people who did and saw things differently were prized. He was an inspiring and beloved professor of physical science for 25 years. He taught math, computer science and history of exact science, was director of the Science Institute and for 20 years director of academic computing. He became a full professor in 1993. He hand-built a mainframe computer, bringing the college into the computer era, co-hosted a weekly jazz show, “Alternate Takes,” on WYSO, mentored and trained the student-staffed fire department, Maples, and became a trilobite aficionado and fossil hunter.

Warren lectured at Oxford University, traveled to Scotland, Majorca, Spain and Jamaica with his family, and participated in a faculty trip to Mexico and Cuba in 1994. In 1996 he presented the faculty lecture, “Finding life at Antioch.” That same year he delivered a farewell commencement address. After retirement he became an emeritus faculty and worked with Quantum Leap Innovations to develop virus interdiction firmware. He also added film noir to his teaching repertoire in Antioch’s communication and media arts department.

Warren was a true Renaissance man who wore many hats, both literally and figuratively. He was a member of the Cherokee Nation, a devoted husband and father, an accomplished fisherman, avid naturalist, camper and whitewater canoeist, running rivers throughout the U.S. Always a fan of high-speed driving, Warren was an accomplished mechanic and served on a Formula One racing team. He was also a well-known amateur agronomist whose crops made a splash nationally. He built canoes, refinished furniture, rebuilt motors, renovated his Victorian house, mastered the art of gourmet cooking and was a talented photographer.

Warren was a dedicated volunteer firefighter at Miami Township Fire and Rescue and was honored as firefighter of the year. He became the first certified paramedic in Greene County and was instrumental in making the emergency medical service a part of the department. He also served as the MTFR squad captain for many years. In that capacity, he drove the first ambulance into Xenia after the 1974 tornado, which was a life-changing experience.

He is also survived by his brother, Lloyd Watson; sister, Judy Parson; children, Wendy, Mark and Esme Watson; daughter-in-law, Cheryl Clesen; grandchildren, Zachary, Nicholas and Emily Watson; mother-in-law, Mary; brothers-in-law, Stephen, Patrick, David, Kevin, John, Thomas, Arthur and Rob; sisters-in-law, Monica, Beth, Maureen, Judith, Margaret, Joan and Julie; nieces and nephews, Chris, Andy, Ned, Emily, Joe, Thomas, Matthew, Ellen, Maeve, Claire, John, Paul and Madeline.

A celebration of Warren’s life will be held Saturday, May 23, in Yellow Springs. Contributions can be made to Community Mercy Hospice in Springfield, Ohio. Condolences can be sent atbohlen@gmail.com.

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This is also posted at http://www.antiochians.org/s/1050/qs1_index.aspx?sid=1050&gid=1&pgid=252&cid=648&ecid=1081&sparam=warren&scontid=247 and http://www.ysnews.com/ (but they don’t have permalinks for content and is not searchable so it will disappear next week 🙁 )

“Oh, my beautiful dreams for the college!!” – Horace Mann

A mental core dump of my feelings about Antioch College announcing it’s closing it’s doors on 07/01/08

I’ve been trying to find a way to put into words what I’ve been thinking since I heard Antioch College was closing. I’ve e-mailed and chatted with a number of friends since I heard about this and that’s helped me frame this a bit but I’m still mostly in shock. I am on a family vacation in WV right now and only can get online once kids are in bed and I can sneak off to the main lodge, so I didn’t hear about this until 10:30 PM on Tuesday 6/12 when I got hundreds of e-mails from various friends, chat lists etc. A good friend from Antioch, Adam Schwartz, said ‘I feel like I just found out a close friend has terminal cancer’ and that pretty much summed up how I felt that night. I went to bed that night and had dreams of going to reunion and chatting with Bob Devine and others about possible ways to revive Antioch. My sub-concious was still optimistic in my dreams, just like how I still have chats with Michael Groteke, a friend from Antioch who died in a car accident while we were still students back in the early 90’s. Gee dreams about Antioch not living up to it’s potential… “Oh, my beautiful dreams for the college!!” – Horace Mann on his deathbed.

“The personal is the political”

As An Antioch Student

Other folks have summarized Antioch’s 150+ year history much better than I ever could so I’m not going to try here. Instead I’m just going to speak to my own dance with Antioch beginning back in the fall of 1986 when at a college fair in Yonkers, NY a fellow Hastings High School student, Kerry Donnegan I think, asked me if I had seen the booth for Antioch College and suggested that I look at it. For some reason this recommendation stuck and I requested literature from Antioch. It arrived and immediately caught my eye with it’s all lowercase logo and font over crayon scribbles. Totally non-pretentious, non-standard, humble and eye catching. The fact that it had a co-op program, which a friend of the family had sung the praises of regarding his alma-mater Drexel University won more points in my book. I applied to Antioch and like 8 other schools via the ‘common application’ and got accepted to most. A few months later when chatting with a friend at a YRUU conference in Vermont he said he had just come back from visiting this really cool college in Ohio and he was going to apply. When he said it was Antioch I pulled out my acceptance letter and said ‘You mean this Antioch’. He said there were lots of other YRUU folks out there and that sold me on it. I showed up in Fall ‘87 sight unseen and while I had a love/hate relationship during my time there, I considered it home and, the faculty, students, campus environment, made me who I am today.

Antioch Staff

In 1992 when I graduated I ended staying as the CG Budget Manager / Community Manager as part of ‘The Collective’ and then after that I was hired as the ‘Assistant to the Dean of Students’ from June 1993 to June 1996. I was the ‘Assistant Director of Technology Resources’ from June 1996 through October 1997 when I finally escaped the Yellow Springs gravity well and moved to Ellsworth, ME. This was a fascinating time for me, to see the college from another point of view. It was fun being the ‘He used to be a student here, he’s ok’ guy in the administration, until entering students in Fall 1997 started calling me Mr. Baya. Ugh.

Antioch Alumnus

However I didn’t fully escape, I was on the Alumni board from 1997 through 2000 and returned a number of times during that period for Alumni Board meetings. Since then I’ve been in touch with a number of CMs trying to offer some ‘institutional memory’ on some matters CG, ComCil related and most recently finally found some Record editors willing to accept my offer to help them get the Record back online. Since they apparently couldn’t figure out how to get online on the campus server I got them set up with their own website on my server and spent dozens of hours setting it up and posting articles up only to be served with ‘cease and decist’ type letter from the college president as soon as the site began to get any traction. For the past 8 months I’ve been corresponding with Record editors & CMs trying to find out what hurdles needed to achieved before the Record could get back online and what a coincidence that the college president finally put things in writing last week enabling this again. Prior to the closing announcement Christian Feuerstein, a fellow Antiochian friend with publishing experience, and I had sent a number of letters back and forth with this falls Record editor planning on getting her new software, saving her money on printing, getting the Record online and really showing what some alumni volunteer time partnering with a campus office could do. We may yet do this but certainly spending the time setting up a site that will no doubt get ripped down on July 1, 2008 when the college officially closes.

The ‘new Antioch’ in 2012

First off, a reality check. I don’t believe it’s going to reopen in 2012, or at least not in any manner that resembles the Antioch I know and love. A watered down mainstream college with the same name perhaps, but with all new faculty and no ‘institutional memory’ from the Antioch I know and love. If the Board of Trustees think alumni are going to blindly support this ‘new Antioch’ I think they are sorely mistaken. They’ve just killed the Antioch I know and love and now they want me to trust that they can rebuild it bigger, stronger, faster than before?

“Fool me once …”

Here’s the thing that gets me. Even if Antioch College returns with a ’state of the art campus’ (which means what exactly? fresh paint, new furniture and high speed wireless campus wide and a new PR campaign now with serif’d fonts?) in 4 years, and for the sake of argument lets say they find a fleet or really good faculty that are somehow not tenured elsewhere and are willing to trust and work for a place that closed it’s doors 4 years earlier, and again, for the sake of argument, lets assume that by some stroke of luck & dedication by Alumni and current faculty that some ‘institutional memory’ is passed on.. oh and that they can find a bunch of students willing to pay lots to attend a ’startup’ college with no upperclass students and existing community or track record of quality, who’s to say that if in 4 years there’s a downturn in enrollment or a ’stumble’ for some other reason, the Board has already made it clear they believe that closing the doors is an option on the table.

“But I’m not dead yet…”

Maybe if the college is separated from the University and it’s board is filled with activists and visionaries with a sense of responsibility and mission then maybe… maybe. But will Antioch University let the college, and it’s endowment, separate? What would be their motivation to let those assets go besides lots of really angry alumni writing them? Surely the Yellow Springs real estate prices alone are worth a pretty penny, and if the penny pinchers on the BOT only look at things as ‘bottom dollar’ then I don’t see them letting the college spin off, least without ’selling’ it at fair market value which means we’d have to raise 10’s of millions just to do that, let alone enough money to operate the college etc. Guestimates for all this total over $50 million. I doubt the ‘committee of 17000′ alumni can muster that unless a few sugar daddies of granting institutions step in.. and why would they? Antioch’s already pronounced itself dead, surely there are more worthy places that didn’t throw in the towel. Anyways, I don’t see them letting this go willingly, and is it really worth raising money to ‘buy’ it from them? Could we form a new college easier? Or should we create the Antioch Scholarship program to assist and encourage activists & truth speakers at other colleges? I have no idea. I guess my optimistic subconscious still has a need to keep some part of Antioch alive.

Disgusted

The Board of Trustees closing Antioch College just disgusts me on many levels. Losing money or not, the only reason the satellite campuses exist is because Antioch College spent it’s money opening them instead of building an endowment. Antioch University itself is solvent, it can afford to have the college run at a loss, at least for long enough for them to follow through with their recent 5 year commitment to help the new curriculum gain traction etc. Bob Devine has explained in far better detail than I could ever summarize how the BOT basically screwed the college over the past decade through policy changes and requirements. Even if this wasn’t the case, the fact that they even considered closing it proves that they just don’t feel the same way about the college that I do. I know I’d consider and attempt every other option before closing the place. It’s bigger than just a part of a business, it’s an organization with a mission that I signed up to be part of back in fall 1987 when I started attending and I know I’d do just about anything to keep it open if I were entrusted with it’s care. It’s clear to me the Board doesn’t feel this way, or at least all board members who didn’t resign as soon as this decision was made (I heard at least one did, so it’s good to know there was at least one person in that room in Seattle that made it clear this was NOT a reasonable option). Frankly I’m still shocked that this option was on the table, I certainly never heard that things were dire. I thought we were in an expected downturn in enrollment because we just switched our curriculum and while things weren’t perfect we were progressing and moving forward.

Parallels

This is another example of how more mainstream generic businesses eventually kill off the small specialized unique places. Home Depot & Lowes kill off small hardware & building supply stores. Borders, Amazon, B. Dalton, Waldenbooks kill off small bookstores. Super Wal-Marts kill… well just about everything including supermarkets. In this case the weekend campuses have become the bread and butter of Antioch University and the unique little small college with students who speak out and attend protests and make the news have become a liability. Those on board just consider the university a business, they clearly have no sense of mission for the college itself, if it ain’t profitable, kill it. Sure this is the way to treat a business, and if that is all Antioch College is then fine, treat it as such. In my book it’s much much more. Guess this is why I’m not on the BOT, I care for Antioch in a non-logical irrational manner, it means too much too me.

“The Medium Is The Message” or “…and the horse you rode in on”

Also this “4 year break” sends other messages. That the board feels all the current faculty were ‘part of the problem’ and aren’t competent or worthy of the roles they currently hold. They just ripped dozens of tenure contracts to shreds. How can they expect to get any decent new faculty after doing this? Any wise person would be pretty leary to trust going to work for place that just pissed on those it had made promises to only 4 years prior. I’m sure they’ll find some folks, and maybe some of them will be good, but it seems like a really shakey assumption that they can just restaff the place. As if quality faculty are an easily replacable commodity. Just cogs, throw out the old and get some new ones. It also does the same for any current students, you’re not worthy, you’re disposable, we have no respect for you or our commitment to your education, please leave so we can bring in new students in 4 years that wont be infected by your bad influence. I haven’t heard officially if this ‘closing the doors’ kills the UE 767 contract but I can only imagine that it does. Another ‘cost saving measure’ by releasing the college from the “oppressive” hold that a workers union has on it. The Antioch 2.0 will no doubt be Union free… just like the McGregor School & University offices… and Wal-Mart.

Immortal

On the night I heard about this one friend said this was like hearing a close friend had terminal cancer. But the more I think about it, it’s worse than that. As much as it hurts, we all know that other people we know are going to die someday.. hopefully a long time from now, but we know we’re mortal.. But organizations like Antioch you expect to outlive you, and that the time you spent studying, volunteering, and working there were part of something bigger, something eternal, something immortal. This is what makes this announcement even more shocking, I just truly believed Antioch would go on beyond me and that maybe my money & time spent to help there would count for something bigger. For the record that ’something bigger’ is NOT Antioch University, I feel no allegiance to the University or those other campuses even if they ‘carry the DNA’ of Antioch College, as one trustee insists. I am glad they exist and I’m sure they are doing good work, but my heart belongs to Antioch College.

What I need to hear

I need someone I trust and respect that knows Antioch… not Steve Lawry, not Art Zucker (BOT Chair), not anyone in the Antioch PR or ‘advancement’ offices.. someone like Bob Devine, Susan Eklund-Leen, Jimmy Williams, or John Feinberg to convince me that the ‘new antioch’, or that whatever alternative organization/plan/movement/granfalloon comes along, is worth supporting. Until that is achieved the $200 I just spent to attend reunion this year is the last donation I’ll ever make. As far as I’m concerned Antioch University have proven to be poor stewards of the college and until someone I trust convinces me they are worthy of trust again, I’m out.

Postscript from Owen, my 4 year old son

Upon hearing that we are going to visit the ‘big school’ that daddy used to attend, it was clear that Owen had heard some other conversations about Antioch earlier in the week when he said ‘Is that the school that is broken?’.. Yes, son… yes it is

The next chapter

I am attending the Antioch College Reunion on 6/21 – 6/24 and have e-mailed all friends I could think of encouraging them to join me. If nothing else it’s a chance to say goodbye before faculty & staff we knew as students disperse, and maybe, just maybe there will arise a plan to move forward with. Join me.