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Poetry by Rachel A. Gold

Charley's Power Pitch: A Memorial

Drew Hurley

Charley's power pitch was always a fastball. It was his best pitch, and he knew it. So, what does a baseball pitcher do when his fastball begins to fade? Charley Wedemeyer moved from the pitching mound to the classroom, still throwing fastballs the entire way.

Charley Wedemeyer was a hero; the stuff that boyhood dreams are made of. A minor league pitching star, he had only a fleeting moment of glory in the big leagues, but was always successful in everything he did. His pride and determination never let him down. Everything he attempted, he did well, and with an enthusiasm that inspired others.

Yet, he and I almost did not become friends. There was a shadow hanging over our first meeting that could have cast a negative pallor over our lives. But now, I’m getting ahead of myself....

When I first can to Santa Fe Community College in August of 1968, I arrived full of optimism, enthusiasm and excitement, but with one small caution burning in my ears: “Watch out for Charley.” Two of my graduate school classmates were already on the faculty of this small, dynamic college. One of them was leaving to pursue additional graduate studies. My faculty advisor, a consultant to Santa Fe, tried to persuade the Dean of Instruction that one of his protégés should be replaced by another. Fortunately, I did nothing in my application interviews to undermine the expectations and confidence placed on me as a prospective replacement for Ron Schultz.

To be truthful, I felt quite honored to have been selected by Professor Doyle Casteel to succeed Ron Schultz at Santa Fe. Ron was a year ahead of me in graduate school, and was the only one of my classmates and friends whom I felt had a larger grasp of the universe than I. Ron was an aggressive and precocious student who blazed a trail through his graduate course work that was the envy of his peers. Needless to say, I liked and admired him greatly.

On the other hand, my own academic accomplishments were not without some merit. My Master’s Thesis demonstrated a relationship between attitudes and behaviors. I managed to briefly (for one semester) set a school record on the National Teachers Exam. Moreover, I once amazed Dr. Casteel with my problem solving abilities. One day, he decided to give me Lawrence Denny’s “Doodlebug Test” (as presented in Milton Rokeach’s The Open And Closed Mind). He was absolutely flabbergasted when I solved the problem in about two minutes. At that time, the fastest solution recorded was supposed to have been eleven minutes with an average solution time of twenty-five minutes.

Dr. Doyle Casteel was an excellent social scientist and an outstanding teacher. It has been largely because of his successful instruction that I was able to fully appreciate Charley Wedemeyer’s greatness. That irony will not be lost on Doyle Casteel, nor is the admiration and respect I hold for him.

Yet, as I arrived at Santa Fe on the first day of August to begin my college teaching career, I did so this Casteel’s admonition ringing in my ear: “watch out for Charley.” Throughout Casteel’s consultations at Santa Fe, he had constantly locked horns with Charley. The two of them argued about everything, and agreed upon nothing. The differences between them amounted to nothing less than a fundamental debate over the purpose of social science education. Casteel argued that we must teach creativity and innovation as the best means of surviving in a rapidly changing world. Charley maintained that our responsibility was more basic: we had to teach students how to not be stupid; how to deal effectively with the daily problems of life. I was to discover that they were both right.

Despite the memory of those anxious warnings buzzing in my ears, my first experience with Charley Wedemeyer was not unpleasant. Granted, we had met in the context of a faculty meeting and he had a few unkind words for Doyle Casteel, which he grunted ceremoniously. Other than that, he was gregarious, open, accessible, alert, articulate and extremely perceptive. Moreover, his innate athletic ability showed through all that he did, despite and extra thirty pounds around the middle of his six foot five inch frame.

After that first faculty meeting, I didn’t see Charley for a while. He was promoted to the ranks of the administration and given the responsibility of transforming a dilapidated old hotel into a functional center for higher education. He performed his miracle of transformation while I settled into a comfortable teaching routine and got myself happily married.

I suppose that it was inevitable that when the conversion of the Hotel Thomas was completed that I would be assigned to teach there. In fact, I expected and wanted this teaching assignment. It was, therefore, no great surprise that there was a message waiting for me at my new office that Charley wanted to see me.

I had taken the opportunity during the intervening months to find out what I could about this enigma of a man. When I anxiously arrived for that fateful meeting, I knew a great deal of information about him. Some of the more salient facts, to my way of thinking, were these: he was born during World War I (as was my father); he had fulfilled his boyhood dream and become a major league baseball pitcher; and, he was universally admired and respected by my faculty friends and colleagues.

I vividly remember walking into his outer office that September morning and announcing my presence to the secretary, Debbie Edwards. While she buzzed Charley on the intercom, I sat in a side chair and picked up the morning paper. I habitually opened the sports page and began looking for the results of the latest Minnesota Twins game. Rod Carew when three for four. I’ve fanatically followed Rod’s career ever since having seen him play for the Orlando Twins, his first year of professional baseball.

Suddenly, Charley stood towering over me. His booming voice forced me to push Rod momentarily from consciousness. “I understand you played ball. What position?”

I dropped the newspaper and stood to face him as I explained, “I never made it past high school. I was a pitcher.”

Charley breathed an audible sigh of relief, slammed his arm around my shoulder and said, “get the paper and come into my office. Those turkeys at Buchholz (Santa Fe’s main campus) have no idea what the world look like from the pitcher’s mound.”

I finished folding the paper while I sat in the chair in front of Charley’s desk. He sat back heavily in his swivel chair and propped his feet on the corner of his desk. He opened the bottom drawer of his desk and took out two cups. From the coffee pot on the desk he poured for both of us. As he set the pot down, he looked at me, “cream? Sugar?”

“One sugar, please,” I replied apprehensively, wonder what was going to happen next.

Charley dutifully spooned a teaspoon of sugar into a cup, stirred it around and pushed the cup to me. He put a small amount of sugar and creamora into his own cup, stirred it and took a sip. He sat his cup down, looked at me and said, “it was a fastball. I got him swinging. What about you?”

“What?” I replied, stunned. It felt like I had been beaned.

“Your first pitch.” Charley smiled broadly at me, “what was it?”

Quickly I thought back to that March afternoon of 1961, when I took the mound for the first time in a real game wearing my Maynard Evans High School baseball jersey, number 26. Our fireballing right hander, Omar Shearer, had started to tire and had given up hits to the first two batters in the bottom of the eight inning. They had scored an unearned run on us in the seventh inning when Frank Johnson bobbled a bullet that scorched the third baseline. Suddenly, our 7-1 lead didn’t look secure.

I had just sat down from having warmed up behind the bench when Couch Tuttle looked at me and asked, “are you ready, Hurley?”

I swallowed hard and nodded. Suddenly, I was following his footprints to the mound. Then I was all alone. My stomach was doing an Irish jig. I wanted to crawl under the rubber and hide. I threw three warm up pitches to catcher Jim Jaworski: a knuckle ball, a medium curve and a fastball. The umpire asked, “Are you ready?”

I nodded in the affirmative and tried to keep from swallowing my bubble gum. The batter stepped to the right side of the plate and swung his bat back and forth slowly. Jim flashed two fingers for his sign, as the batter cocked his right elbow over the inside corner of the plate. Pitching from the stretch, I tossed a slow curve at that elbow.

The batter swung so hard he almost fell over. I stood up straight and walked around the pitcher’s mound. Jim tossed the ball back to me. As I put my left foot on the rubber to take a sign for the next pitch, I felt my body surge with power. Standing on that elevated mound of clay, I knew that this was the center of the universe. There is no other feeling like that.

I looked up at Charley and smiled, “I got mine swinging on a slow curve.” I tried to imagine him standing on the pitcher’s mound at Wrigley Field in Chicago, getting ready to make the second pitch of his major league career. I’m sure it was awesome.

“I was a fastballer. That was my pitch. Oh, I learned how to throw a curve, and a change-up but in my heart, I’m a fastball pitcher. Always have been,” Charley explained.

“I was so big and strong. And dumb. But, I could do anything.”

“I was born a big baby, and I grew up fast. There wasn’t anything that I couldn’t do. It was only natural that I gravitated into sports. In Chicago, where I grew up, it was either that, or crime.”

“Baseball became my great love. I was so big and strong. It was inevitable that I took up pitching. It didn’t take me long to learn that I could throw it past anyone. I could really ‘smoke ‘em,’” Charley grinned at me with a twinkle in his big blue eyes, as he pushed his hand through his once wavy blonde (now graying) hair.

“When I got older, I lost some of the zing. I had to get smarter. I learned it isn’t always muscle that counts. It’s control. In baseball, as in life, it’s who is in control. You don’t have to overpower everybody, just out-fox ‘em. You’ve got to be in control.”

“In some ways, control is a lot harder work. It’s a lot easier, really, to just go out and mow ‘em down. But you can’t always do that. That’s when you’ve got to out think ‘em. This is especially true in social situations.”

“Did you ever noticed how relieved everyone is when someone finally takes charge of an ambiguous social setting and tells people what to do?” Not waiting for my response to his rhetorical question, Charley observed, “most people are not leaders, they just want to be members of the team. The first dynamic guy to come along who gives everybody a job to do, a pat on the back, and a place on the team gets to be the hero.”

Charley beamed one of his patented wide, accepting, smiles, “ah, baseball. Those were the days. There wasn’t anything I couldn’t do.... Then, that time comes in everyone’s life -- my fastball faded.”

“That’s when I knew it was time to get out of baseball. When I couldn’t count on my fastball to keep me out of trouble, I looked around for another line of work. That’s when I took up sociology,” Charley warmly explained. I had been accepted.

“Here. Let me see that paper.” He reached across the desk and picked up the newspaper. “Have you ever taught your classes how to read a newspaper?”

As I meekly confessed that I had not, he laid out the newspaper in front of me. “Look at the front page. Imagine a large ‘X’ slashed across to the opposite corners. The lead story is always headlined in the top center. The importance of stories, as determined by the editorial staff is usually laid out in priority, from 1 to 4:

______________________
|\........................................ /|
|. \ ................................... /. |
|... \ ............................... /... |
|..... \ ............1............. /..... |
|........\........................ /........|
|..........\.................... /......... |
|............\................ /............|
|..............\............./..............|
|................\........ /................|
|.......4.........\...../........3........|
|....................\ /....................|
|...................../\....................|
|.................../....\..................|
|................ /........\................|
|.............../............\..............|
|............ /................\............|
|.......... /.........2.........\..........|
|........ /........................\........|
|...... /............................\......|
|...../................................\....|
|.../....................................\..|
| /____________________\|

.

“The same basic pattern applies to the interior pages, except that the bottom central portions have considerably less value, and are usually for advertisements. The advertisements themselves are interesting. Using them, along with a map of the area can be a valuable teaching aid. The priority of interior pages looks like this: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,” he opened the paper to an inside, two page spread and gestured with his fingers:

.

_____________________________________
|......................................|...................................|
|......................................|...................................|
|......................................|...................................|
|.................2...................|..................1...............|
|......................................|...................................|
|___________________|__________ _______|
|............|.........................|.......................|........... |
|............|.........................|.......................|............|
|............|.........................|.......................|............|
|............|.........................|.......................|............|
|............|.........................|.......................|............|
|....4......|.........6..............|...........5..........|..... 3... |
|............|.........................|.......................|............|
|............|.........................|.......................|............|
|............|.........................|.......................|............|
|............|.........................|.......................|............|
|............|.........................|.......................|............|
|______|____________ |___________ |______|

.

“The articles themselves are informative in several ways. Not only is the information important. What is left out is important, too. What else could, or should, have been said? What was left out? What’s more, you learn a lot by translating the article into simpler terms. Why say it this way, instead of that way?”

“The placement of the items. from the front to the back of each section, and from the front to be back of the paper, is also important. Each of the editorial decisions which go into the composition of a paper reflects a point of view, an attitude, a value. These values tend to reflect the society, any newspaper exists within. It is the popular record of a community.”

“Compare newspapers, within the same city and in different cities. You can learn a lot about people and communities this way. Look at what they tell each other about themselves.”

“Look for errors. Misspelt words, improper grammar, and production errors all reflect upon the vitality and viability of the paper itself.”

“Photographs are also important. Study them. Use a similar ‘X’ grid as a focal reference. Identify the people, places and things in the picture. Each of them has a story to tell. Try to find out what they are all about. Look for the details. Examine it carefully.”

“The newspaper is a remarkable teaching aid. Most people subscribe to the paper, but never get full value out of it. Teach this sort of lesson to your students and they’ll then be able to learn what they need to know.”

“Most of our students are not the ivory tower intellectuals your friend Casteel dreams about. Many of these kids are coming in here right out the farm. They have had much more experience driving tractors than reading philosophy. We need to expand their point of view. In order to do that, we first got to help them master their own environment.”

“Most of these kids are not going to be Sociology majors. For those who are, you can teach vocabulary. For the rest, we’ve got to begin by expanding their point of view. Have them consider other perspectives, points of view and ideas. Most of these kids are going to end up middle class. They are acquiring the skills to become professional employees. We can help them understand the roles that are going to be expected of them. That’s how we can best help them be productive and successful,” he sat back proudly, satisfied with the fast balls he pitched this inning.

“That’s terrific,” I replied in genuine awe. I already knew how to conduct a newspaper content analysis, I’d been doing it for years, but just for myself. It had not occurred to me to teach this skill to my students. But, I was equally impress by the content and style of his presentation.

From that day onward, I’ve been a Charley watcher, admirer and friend. We often talked about baseball. With Charley’s help, I was able to fulfill my boyhood dream. I know the feelings you get pitching in the big show.

We talked about many other things too. I was always intrigued by how he was able to get so many things accomplished. And done well, without hard feelings.

Baseball frequently entered our conversations. Often with applications that impressed me. This man also knew his sociology. We also talked a lot about people. Once when we were talking about one of several former Santa Fe Vice Presidents who had become a President of another college, Charley observed, “you know, I think back to pitching when ever I had to deal with him. I remembered the fell of pitching. The rhythms. The tension and release.”

He smiled and paused before adding, “I would imagine that there’s a pitcher’s mound just outside the window, and that I was out there on that mound pitching. From that vantage point, I’d study him just as I would a batter. I’d watch him carefully, and spot my fastballs. Nothing but fastballs.”

I’ve used that technique so many times, since Charley first suggested it, I tend to overlook how frequently I personally use it. However, I also teach my students how to use a variation of this technique to facilitate their skill at invoking sociological perspectives. I tell them to imagine that they are in a helicopter hovering outside of the walls and that they can see the people inside, but cannot hear them. I ask them to then describe the behavior of those they see inside. This technique can help you become remarkable perceptive about behavior.

So, how do I describe Charley?

That’s easy. He was larger than life. He was six foot five inches and he walked with a swagger. He had a big round face with a twinkle in his blue eyes. In many ways, he looked like Santa Claus without a beard.

He had a very disarming knack of complaining. He griped a lot, mostly about petty and trivial matters, or his personal assortment of aches and pains. His self-abasing banter disarmed people. No one feels hostile towards you when you evoke their sympathy. Charley found, through his patter of complaints, a means of touching people in deeply personal ways. It became a means of sharing feelings and, for Charley, a badge of humility.

He was everybody’s friend. He genuinely liked people and he tried to help them. He told me once that whenever anyone came to him with a problem, he felt duty bound to try to help. They wouldn’t have bothered him if they didn’t think it was worth his time. Because of this genuine love for people and his determination to help, Charley was the most popular and successful administrator the college ever had. Charley was a doer. He was a whirlwind of motion and achievement.

He was also a conscientious family man. Shortly after settling into Santa Fe he married fellow Sociology faculty member, Jane Bowman. They had a very good marriage, and a son, “Chipper.”

Charley had another family, too. Charley had been previously divorced, and had a family from his previous marriage whom he helped continuously. In fact, he supported his daughter Sharon when she came to Santa Fe as a student. She took several classes from me, during this time.

Charley had an undeniable quixotic impulse. For instance, he had a running battle with the Internal Revenue Service. The fact that he had been audited fourteen straight years got his stout Teutonic dander up. He even went so far as to get himself ordained by the Reverend Henley of the Universal Light Church in order to become a minister, and reduce his federal taxes.

Of course, Charley was a devoted Episcopalian. To be sure, part of this devoutness was Jane’s doing, but Charley enjoyed tagging along. He also had a very deep personal affection for Rev. Tom Feamster, Charley’s long time Pastor. Tom was also a former athlete; they shared much in common.

Always, Charley was the same hard-nosed pushover. He was a bear of a man with the soul of a kitten. He put up a rough exterior that quickly melted into affable serenity whenever he let his guard down. Once, in a particularly philosophical mood, he observed, “there is no wonder that people become more religious as they grow older. The more I see the miracles of life, the more religious I’ve become.”

“As a teacher, I try to look at each new class of students, at the beginning of a semester, and try to imagine what they will be like in twenty years. Not that I’d try to impose my will on them. It is just that I often wonder, if there is a purpose, a destiny, for everyone. I’ve had mine. It’s now time for me to help other people find theirs. Sometimes the pieces just fall together so easily. Too easily. Like you know the strings are being pulled from upstairs,” Charley twinkled.

“Then there are the other cases, when nothing seems to work,” he shook his head sadly from side to side. “I don’t know, Drew. I don't know. I look back at my life. Everything seems to have followed a grand plan. It all went so smoothly. It was too easy.”

“This generation of students is different. There are so many dangers and threats to life now that didn’t exist when I was a kid. We didn’t have the bomb in those days. The most dangerous thing I ever had to face was a spitball,” he grinned. “Each year it gets a little harder for me to reach these students. They have so little in common with me. Sometimes I think they live in a different world than I do.”

“But, I do try to reach them. I told my class the other day, ‘suppose Billy Graham is right. Suppose there really is a purpose for everyone. What do you think God’s for your life is supposed to be?’ I had ‘em going good. That was the best discussion I’ve had in this class. They really got into it,” he grinned at the memory, “I really got them to think.”

I cut in, “What about you, Charley? What has been your purpose in life?”

“One of my students asked the very same question. I told them that I thought St. Peter had a trick up his sleeve. It would certainly be poetic justice if all he did was ask everyone, ‘show us what you have done to help life. Show us how you have cultivated, nurtured, encouraged, and supported life in all of its magnificent glory!’”

“Now, Charley,” I chided, “that reply is really loaded. You say that because you know you’d look pretty good by this criteria. Activists are sure to be favored by this standard.”

“Not necessarily. I certainly won’t come out ahead of someone like Penny Murphy. That woman is as much a Saint as any person I know. Imagine what it is like to live with a child who, at any moment, is at the verge of death. Jack’s kidneys or liver could suddenly fail; as they have in the past. And still, she takes one day at a time and is cheerful and content with the world. I’m convinced that this child is alive today only because of the continuous love of that woman. Human tragedy has a way of bringing out the best or worst in people. In Penny Murphy, it has brought out the very best. I have never done anything that important,” he deferred with genuine respect.

“Nor have I,” I quickly agreed. “You’re correct about Penny, but you have also done a lot. Leaders always bring success to their teammates and followers. And their students,” I added carefully.

“Yeah. I have, but I’ve never had the life or death responsibility for another human being on my hands, or on my conscience. All of my efforts pale into insignificance when compared to what that woman goes through everyday,” Charley sighed.

Charley’s career as an administrator came to an end as my career in that capacity began. The old “Hotel Thomas” campus at Santa Fe was deemed to be no longer necessary when the construction of a modern new campus on 83rd Street was completed. Charley served as an interim Campus Director at the “South Campus” for a year while the college was setting up its comprehensive Nursing Programs, but he was unhappy with that assignment and made no secret of the fact that he wanted to get back to the classroom.

In the Fall of 1976, I was appointed Chair of the Social Sciences Department. One of my first duties was to welcome Charley back to the department as a full time faculty member. He assumed the mantle of instructional responsibility with the eagerness of a young pitcher given his first chance to join the starting rotation. He quickly became an indispensable member of our faculty team.

His leadership in faculty issues was unsurpassed. He brought to the classroom the zeal and stamina of a man easily half his age. His classes were always popular and successful. He was affable, articulate, insightful and gregarious. Through it all, he kept a keen sense of social perspective. He was a producing sociologist -- in that he easily rendered descriptions of behavior with canny precision.

Charley’s shrewd powers of observation, coupled with a genuine insight into human motivation made it possible for him to accomplish everything he set out to do. He knew when things were bothering people and what he could do to make them feel better. He was not gifted with psychiatric powers, but he had a knack for identifying the reasons why someone was troubled. He know enough about people to then make them feel better and become more productive and successful.

Charley was always a leader. His rules of leadership were simple and direct: help people. Everything else is self-defeating.

As a teacher, Charley was one of the best stand-up lecture-discussion leaders I have ever seen. He used newspapers, magazines and current world events to help familiarize his students with their environment, and teach sociology.

Then tragedy.

The end came very swiftly for Charley. He had always been very active and vigorous. Suddenly, there was a freak accident. He was burning some household trash in a backyard leaf fire while he was raking another pile of leaves together about 25 feet away. An aerosol can exploded in the fire, and a chunk of metal hit Charley in the eye. It nearly put his eye out.

For a period of six weeks, he was in extreme pain and had to lie still in bed, in a darkened room. The agonizing pain combined with the forced inactivity wore him down. But Charley didn’t give up. He came back. He altered his style of teaching, relying more on visual aids. His fastball didn’t let him down.

As he was recovering, Charley was reunited with one of his Chicago Cub teammates. They had several months of camaraderie together. That did Charley a lot of good. Through it all, he never gave up. He made the rounds with his golfing buddies as often as he could, and kept his classes in order.

During those last months, only once did I see him angry or upset. Jane, his wife, had become heavily involved in their community Spring Arts Festival, about which Charley complained to me loudly. In this case, I realized that Charley was just letting off steam because of Jane’s obligations and responsibilities. It all boiled down to Charley’s belief that they had too little time to spend together. When I asked him what he was going to do about it, he laughed, cocked his head to one side and sighed, “help her.”

He did, too.

Then Charley caught pneumonia. He had a slight cough when he started teaching that last September. It quickly got worse. The Doctor put him in bed for two weeks early in the semester. Charley responded to the medicine and came roaring back. Fastballs all the way.

Something was different this time, though, the old fire wasn’t the same. After returning to his classes, he began a series of closing activities. He got his financial estate into order. He finished up a lot of odds and ends. He even cleaned out his old pick-up truck.

Suddenly, my wife was involved in a serious accident. She was kicked in the face by a horse, and her eye, too, was endangered.

The day after my wife’s accident, Charley came to see me. He was a shadow of his former self, but he came to encourage me. He gave me one of his vintage pet talks and urged me to keep throwing fastballs.

That was the last time I saw him alive. He died ten day later.

Jane made a point of telling me that his last day was a smashing success. He had taught his Friday classes, and played a round of golf with a couple of his buddies. He then came home to a restful evening with his wife and son. As the three of them went to bed that night, he told Jane that he had an outstanding day. For the first time since his accident, he had gone through an entire day, doing everything he wanted to do, without any pain.

He had won. Charley had finally been victorious in his battle against pain. He died peacefully in his sleep that night. Fastballs all the way.

I watched Charley do a lot of things in his life. I was proud of all of them. I was particularly proud of his teaching. He took one basic sociological principle and a pithy law and pitched them into winning season, after winning season. Charley’s sociological principle: There is a reason for everything. Charley’s Law: Don’t be stupid.

He constantly pitched this principle to his students, with example after example, while challenging them to not be stupid. Then, he showed them how to succeed. How to find a place to belong, how to be a contributing and fulfilling part of society. He showed them that the purpose and meaning of life is everywhere, all you have to do is look for it.

These lessons of success are now embodied in Charley’s Law. Please accept Charley’s Law with the affectionate spirit he intended.

Charles John Wedemeyer
January 31, 1917 October 27, 1979



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Tuesday, 04-May-2010 14:47:42 EDT