(Hand Nancy her dink)
Hello, Sports Fans! That greeting started at KMCD radio almost 50 years ago…and I’ve been using it ever since.
To all who made this day and weekend possible. To all previous honorees … and to my follow honorees… and our many friends who share this day with us: I dedicate my remarks to all of you – and to my late dear friend…Dr. John DiFazio, who, with his wife Carol, spent many years teaching in the Fairfield Public Schools …and to my former roommate Doug Pocock who had planned on introducing me but was not able to be here this weekend. Doug was photo editor of our yearbook Peira and The Portfolio. In fact, during his years here at Parsons, Doug…photographer extraordinaire…was Parsons official photographer.
Today is about overcoming adversity, getting a second chance, life-altering events and other turning points. The enormity of this honor is beyond measure. It would be a huge understatement to say…I was speechless upon receiving Dave Neff’s phone call. And, as my family can attest, I am rarely at a loss for words.
Many times they accuse me of talking way too much. That will not be the case today as I, we, for Nancy and I…look back on what brought Parsons College and Larry Litwin…and Larry and Nancy Perris together.
My highest professional honor – and personal honor, too – is when one of my students is recognized with a major award. Several have told me…THIS will be the best and I wouldn’t fully realize it until this very moment. They are correct.
As Student Number 655280 – Nancy was 656997 – I look around this vast room and know I am not alone when I say…I have experienced many…life-altering events. But without question, THEeee … shall I say, FIRST…turning point in my young adult life was when I recognized being in pharmacy school… was not for me. So, in Fall1964 I visited my high school baseball coach, who, coincidentally…I had dinner with just two weeks ago after not seeing him for many years.
Back in 1964, coach advised that I look for another school – one more geared to my interests and one in which I might be able to play baseball. When I got home, I opened a small paperback book I had been reading by Herbert Tarr called, “The Conversion of Chaplain Cohen.”
In addition to being humorous, it contained advice –
first-hand – from the Chaplain who wound up at an air base in Mississippi. Chaplain Cohen’s story and Coach Minnick’s advice led me to “Lovejoy’s College Catalogue”…and the rest…as they say…is history.
I soon accompanied a friend to meet with a Parsons College recruiter. Remember them? My friend did not apply, but I did. I got accepted, received a partial baseball scholarship, thanks to the Philadelphia Phillies, and arrived …steamer trunk in tow…at the Fairfield Train Station on Thursday, February 4th, 1965.
It seemed like 25 degrees below zero – maybe even 40 below — but I am often reminded…I do exaggerate. Like many others, I left the trunk at the station and took that long, cold walk to the campus – my new home away from home.
Early the next morning – 5 a.m. to be exact – I reported to Coach Joe Lutz for baseball practice in Fry Thomas Field House, faced a pitch from Dick Mills and immediately knew, I’d better study hard…because…playing baseball would not be my future. Coach Lutz’s words have stayed with me all these years: Sacrifice, respect, discipline and desire. Add: commitment and responsibility. Coach Lutz’s defined luck as preparation…meeting opportunity. Coach Lutz and Parsons did their share.
Another turning point, luckily, came soon after I injured my right knee playing ball. KMCD radio was broadcasting the game from Legion Field. I knew one of the announcers, Terry Shockley, was leaving the next day for a new job in Madison, Wisconsin …so I asked his partner, Dave Spilman if I could fill in. Dave asked if I had ever announced and I responded yes…a little white lie…not saying it was as a public address announcer…rather than play-by-play.
Thanks to that stretching of the truth – and a little luck – I have been in radio – in one form or another – ever since.
The most important turning point – life altering event – occurred on the first day of the Summer 1965 trimester in Student Center One. That’s when I sat down in Sydney Spade’s Drama Appreciation class. Next to me was the cutest little blonde I had ever seen. She is still cute, and still blonde…and I’d better say…still little.
We were married two- and- a half years later in September 1967…just a few months after graduation…and are the proud parents of second grade teacher Julie Beth Kramer, her husband Billy, and our son, Adam Seth, a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and his wife Claire. Julie and Billy have a 10 ½ year-old and 7 ½ year old Aidan. Adam and Claire have a 6-month old.
My Rowan University students often asked about my teaching style, why my office was adorned in green and white…or…Iowa rose, why I wore green and white during academic ceremonies (hold up academic hood), why the covers of the two books I’ve written are green and white, and why my favorite mascot is…the Wildcat. Two words: Parsons College… Parsons College.
Among the most fortunate days of my life are my high school baseball coach’s advice, my co-incidental meeting with that Parsons recruiter, getting into Parsons, injuring my knee, totally embracing the “Parsons Plan”…graduating from Parsons and…meeting… and marrying Nancy.
If it were not for Millard G. Roberts’ vision…Doc Bob… the incredible professors, preceptors and tutors, I would never have achieved the successes I have. I owe so much to so many – not only from Parsons, but from the people in Fairfield.
You may find this hard to believe: a day does not go by without my thinking about Parsons. I don’t even want to consider where I would be without “Doc Bob,” and what I observed and learned from Parsons College. It was much more than academics.
My total education included the brilliance of my dedicated professors and other faculty – plus learning a work ethic that my parents already possessed, what it meant to be a committed teacher and coach…and… social skills, which led to many incredible life-long relationships. We were constantly encouraged to succeed.
I promised myself back then, if ever I became a college instructor I would emulate Drs. Baird, Russos, Robertson, Rodner, Dr. Tree and so many others. (Hold up “Scholars Who Teach” from Parsons 1966-67)
As a 1999 Rowan graduate recently posted on Facebook, you, Professor Litwin promised to Pay it forward – and now my husband and I are, too.
In many respects, February 4th, 1965 seems like only yesterday, but I do ask…where have the years gone?– from that snowy, Thursday…flying from Philadelphia…looking out the TWA Jet window at my father, Eddie… crying like a baby while my mother hugged him…arriving in Chicago and taking the Aksarben/…a slow milk train – oh, it WAS a cattle car – getting into Fairfield and…thanking the good lord for putting off getting drafted for a couple of years. And I did get drafted right after graduation. What a commencement ceremony it was:…It was interrupted by a violent thunderstorm that knocked out the power, ironically, during the singing – of… “When you Walk Through a Storm.”
Yes, we ask, “Where have the years gone?” (pause) … The years have brought us here today – Fairfield, Iowa 52556 – just a stone’s throw from the campus whose administration, faculty and staff, …staff like Chefs Mike Young and Captain John Bailey, of “The Old South Room” and cafeteria server, Irma…they made sure we ate well…and Doc Bob and Mrs. Louise Roberts and so many others who taught us to overcome adversity, work hard, get up when you get knocked down, turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones and – like my mother – Jeannie – always said, “Larry boy, If you dream it, you can achieve it.”
One more quick, true story: Many years ago, when I was teaching a graduate course, one of my students – a teacher – shared her thoughts at HER school…about my teaching style and my approach. One of her fellow teachers, asked, “Did your professor attend Parsons College?” He sounds so much like the professors who worked with my father – Parsons Campus Minister, The Reverend Jack R. Steele. When the student shared that story with the class, I filled with emotion.
My life has come full circle. No matter what happens from this day forward, as my mother promised, I have achieved my dreams. Thank you Doc Bob,…thank you Nance, …thank you everyone here…and ESPECIALLY, thank YOU Parsons College – Go Wildcats!!!
[To comment: firstname.lastname@example.org] (See Nancy’s remarks on last week’s blog)