A Memorable Assignment

The article about the Nursery School, (“Celebrating Children,” Summer 2003) and Joseph Stone's research, reminded me of an epiphany that occurred for me there. Vassar was the most stimulating part of my long education up to a Ph.D., including the midnight discussions in the dorm, taking or auditing courses in 11 departments, majoring in art history, learning to look closely at works of art. Along the line, there was a course involving observation of children in which we had to describe exactly what happened for five minutes. It was like the comic strip “Brick Bradford in the Eye of a Penny,” in which a microcosm reveals the world. Later, Dr. Stone discussed our experience with each student, and I was unable to verbalize why I was so moved, or even what I had learned. I have been doing research for 50 years, and at the heart of it all is the extraordinary insight one gets from detailed observation. In my case, it is of speech, as a psycholinguist. I study natural interaction, armed with tape and video recorders. I am sure the impact of Stone's superb assignment was what steered me there.

Susan Ervin-Tripp '49
Berkeley, California

Ohio's Bicentennial

Just a correction or perhaps clarification in the Vassar article about Dr. Cornelia Dettmer '53 (“Restoring Pride,” Summer 2003): in the first column of page 13 it says, “More than 20 projects were completed to celebrate Ohio's bicentennial in 2002.” Perhaps the projects were completed in 2002, but the bicentennial of Ohio's statehood is this year: 2003. It sounds as if Cornelia is doing a great job!

Carol Cronk Cole '54
Terrace Park, Ohio

Fitness and Body Image

It was wonderful to see the Quarterly highlighting the college's efforts to promote holistic fitness in your recent article, “Committing to Lifetime Fitness”(Summer 2003). It has been our experience that the college puts a great deal of work into helping members of the community stay fit and healthy, and we're glad the Quarterly is recognizing these efforts. That's why we wonder about the ridiculous artwork that accompanied the article. The artwork includes images of men whose upper bodies are two or three times as wide as their waists, and waif-thin women. Very few people, at Vassar or elsewhere, look like this. Those that do very often struggle with disordered eating, steroid abuse, exercise abuse, and other unhealthy behaviors. Distorted images of the human body do nothing to convey a sense of fitness, and have no place in an article that does not specifically address body image dysmorphia. We request that you consider the important ramifications of images such as these when choosing the artwork for future articles.

Laura Usher '02
Williamsburg, Massachusetts

Krzysztof Sakrejda '02
Eugene, Oregon

Julie Tozer '03
Nanuet, New York


Thank you for a snappy magazine. The updated covers and articles do the college proud!

Betty Goff Cook Cartwright '40
Memphis, Tennessee

In Memoriam

It was the evening of June 5th when I learned of the passing of Mr. Thaddeus Gesek, professor emeritus of theatrical design. I remember my first class with him vividly. He struck me as a funny little man whose methods of getting his point across—broad hand gestures, mouthing sound effects—were far removed from the conventional podium lecture. I might have considered him mildly eccentric had I not completely understood what he was trying to say. Great advice came to me that following spring. During a wrap party—a stately affair with generous quantities of beer and vodka—the director, a senior drama major, in a moment of clear sobriety, looked at me and said, “Take classes with Gesek. Trust me, just take them.” I'm happy to say that I followed the advice. Throughout the four years I studied under Mr. Gesek, his role in my life grew from teacher to mentor, then mentor to friend. Our talks were not just about the academic lessons at hand, but about history and the world, our lives and our families, our hopes and our fears. On one occasion, Mr. Gesek gave me a shoulder to cry on when I needed it most. I think he would have made a great therapist. But then again, Thaddeus Gesek made a great many things. To me, the defining heart of Vassar lay not with its campus, nor even its students. Its greatest resources are those teachers who, through their passion, knowledge, and integrity, make a difference in the hearts and minds of their students. And what a teacher! Gesek was a visionary whose instruction would take an hour to hear and a lifetime to master. He loved using common things in uncommon ways, finding exotic textures within the seemingly banal. The man could literally turn a cardboard box into a work of art. When we last spoke in February 2003, I had no idea how ill he was. His voice was strong, his energy and enthusiasm seemingly boundless. With his death, I mourned not just the loss of the man, but his unfinished work, his unrealized dreams. I'm proud and grateful to have had him in my life. I shall not see his like again.

Adam McDaniel '96
Glendale, California