New faces and new projects (but same fun) at Kin Takahashi Week 2011

New faces and new projects (but same fun) at Kin Takahashi Week 2011

June 22, 2011
Contact: Karen B. Eldridge, Director of Communications

Sporting khaki pants, work books, a T-shirt dated 2005 and a cap that reads “Jesus said OLD IS GOOD, Luke 5:39,” Herb Catlin ’55 looked like the majority of volunteers who had come to Maryville College for Kin Takahashi Week.

He looked like a laborer.

But back home in Cookeville, Tenn., Herb is “Father Catlin,” a retired minister who serves as a supply pastor in Episcopalian churches throughout Middle Tennessee. Chances are, his parishioners are more accustomed to seeing him in an alb and stole.

Catlin doesn’t shy from talking about his years in the ministry – or his stints as a volunteer in an Israeli kibbutz and the Israeli army – but what he likes about “KT Week” is joining with people who may hail from various locations and backgrounds but are bound together by a desire to do something meaningful for an institution they love and believe in.

The annual gathering of alumni, parents, students and friends who contribute hours of manual labor to the liberal arts college ended June 17 and celebrated a record number of participants (126) and a record number of projects (50+).

“We make a contribution to the school – not just a token payback,” Catlin said of fellow KT’ers.

Classmates Abby Crosby McKean ’55 and Martha Freeny Cummings ’55 were fellow KT participants this year. Because of the close-knit culture of the College, Catlin also was reunited with friends from classes ahead of and behind his.

And he was reunited with alumni like Dr. Dorsey D. “Dan” Ellis ’60 and Sondra Wagner Ellis ’60, whom he has befriended through KT Week’s 16 years of existence. Ellis, dean emeritus and William R. Orthwein Distinguished Professor of Law emeritus at Washington University Law School in St. Louis, Mo., is currently the chairman of the College’s Board of Directors. But for KT Week, Ellis leaves the suits and ties at home and, like Catlin, packs work pants, work boots, previous KT Week T-shirts and ball caps.

“Dan Ellis was dean of a law school!” Catlin pointed out. “But here, he joins in the work just like everyone else.”

The motivation, according to Catlin, is the desire to give back to an institution that has figured prominently in their lives. A native of Upstate New York, Catlin came to Maryville because it was a quality, four-year education that he could afford.

“In 1951, room, board and tuition was $750 a year,” he said. “There’s no way I could have gotten a four-year, college education if not for Maryville.”

A German major while a student at Maryville College, Catlin said he remembers reading Gottfried Keller’s 1874 story “Kleider machen Leute” (“Clothes Make the Man”). For at least one week every year, it is not true for Herb Catlin.

“The sermon of KT Week is ‘Leute machen die Leute.’ People make the people,” he said.

Or, perhaps, during KT Week, “T-shirts make the people.”

For the third consecutive year, Abby Crosby McKean ’55 has paid for the KT Week T-shirts that are handed out to participants. This year’s design, which was created by current MC student Tabitha Baum ’14, includes the clever slogan “We’re not just a community, we’re KIN.” Under artwork of silhouetted people holding hands are these words: “In memory of Bob McKean ’56.” Bob was Abby’s husband of 51 years before his death in 2008. He was also an alumnus and faithful KT Week volunteer.

Despite her loss, Abby has continued to make the trip to campus from her home in Columbus, Ohio. This year, she brought along 15-year-old granddaughter Molly Torok, who also lives in Ohio.

Jokingly, Abby wouldn’t admit to bringing Molly with the ulterior motive of getting Molly interested in her alma mater (“It’s a long drive; I wanted a companion,” Abby explained), but she did admit to wanting her granddaughter to understand and appreciate the specialness of Maryville College.

And Molly, on her first visit to Maryville, got it. Sanding and staining lapboards alongside her grandparents’ friends, she said she was impressed with how everyone works together to make the 320-acre campus and its facilities even more beautiful.

“The people are so nice. They make you feel welcome, included,” Torok said, adding that she plans to return for future KT Weeks.

Nineteen-year-old Emily Amidon was back for her second year. The granddaughter of alumni Forrest Amidon’56 and Katie Marston Amidon ‘57, Emily may be returning to Maryville College in August – this time, not as a volunteer, but a transfer student.

“I enjoy hearing the stories that my grandparents tell – stories from their days in college,” she said. “I hope to have those stories to tell one day, too.”

Emily worked in landscaping and, later in the week, joined Molly on the lapboard project. She said it’s “nice to see the result [of the hard work] right afterward.”

Said grandmother Katie: “It’s a joy having [Emily] here. I like sharing her and seeing her interact with the other volunteers. She just blossoms when she comes here.”

Molly Torok wasn’t the only volunteer experiencing KT Week for the first time.

Over at Cooper Athletic Center, several former football players livened up the football locker room with coats of orange and garnet paint.

Alumnus Jason Brooks ’97, a current member of the Maryville College Alumni Board, worked with college administrators on determining a project that would appeal to former athletes and younger alumni who had not volunteered for KT Week previously.

“We’ve had almost 10 guys from the 80s and 90s decade that were football players who have been in here putting a couple hours in after work,” Brooks told a reporter for a WBIR television news story. “Some have taken vacation days to come over and work.”

In addition to cleaning, taping and painting the walls, these younger alumni found themselves sharing and listening to stories about pre-season camps, coaches, other teammates, games and road trips.

In another part of Cooper Athletic Center, several alumnae repainted the locker room for the women’s basketball team. Today, most of the walls are painted a motivating orange.

But before turning in their paintbrushes, alumnae Ruth Light Fox ’64, Kathy Bishop Burrow ’68 and Debbie Graham Flurkey ’73 penned a “good luck” note to the team, written in marker on a dry-erase board.

“Lady Scots! Enjoy your locker room,” it reads. “Painted with love, KT Week Alumnae.”

KT Week is very much a labor of love, according to alumnus Sheridan H. “Dan” Greaser ’60, who is also vice chairman of the College’s Board of Directors.

Greaser has helped organize Kin Takahashi Week since 1997. The idea was sparked, actually, from a conversation he had with classmate Tom Eberhard ’60.

Eberhard hypothesized that scores of alumni – especially those who couldn’t contribute thousands of dollars to their alma mater but were no less devoted to her – would return to campus to give what they could – time. Time to complete manual labor projects like painting, constructing, cleaning, planting, pruning and cataloging that the College’s employees didn’t always have.

He was right. That first KT Week drew 43 alumni, students, parents, friends and donors, and it has grown steadily over the years. Alumna Sylvia Heard ’61 and her husband, Don, make the KT Week trek annually from Lake Oswego, Ore. It’s not uncommon to see generations of one family participate. This year, alumna Katherine Best Caputo ’01 volunteered along with her alumni parents, Ed Best ’68 and Caroline Nunn Best 72, grandmother Sarah Enloe Nunn ’47 and great-aunt Nannette Enloe ’52.

MC staff and faculty sign up as volunteers, too.

“The program is now a summer fixture in the MC maintenance schedule,” Greaser said.

At a wrap-up dinner held June 17, he reported to college administrators and volunteers that 3,535 hours of work had been donated during the week.

Among the major projects: constructing a handicap ramp for the International House, pressure washing the football field bleachers, painting and fixing bleachers at the soccer field, constructing storage and a loft inside the Clayton Center for the Arts, spreading truckloads of mulch and, with great help from President Emeritus Dr. Gerald W. Gibson, identifying and sorting recently acquired blueprints of campus buildings and facilities.

“Using an ‘arms length’ labor cost – what it would cost the College to hire a contractor to do the same work – the total ‘added value’ of the projects to the College was over $100,000,” Greaser reported.

Kin Takahashi Week is a unique program among colleges and universities in the United States, the leader pointed out. Clearly, though, it’s something they may want to implement.

“Our volunteers return each year because of gratification of seeing a job accomplished, they enjoy the ‘homecoming’ atmosphere of seeing old classmates and friends and meeting new volunteers, and they enjoy a week or a few days of just doing something meaningful and different,” he said.

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the fall 2016 semester is 1,197.