Getting a Superb Education in Kalamazoo

 When I arrived at Kalamazoo in 1964 I had no idea just how much seven years in that comfortable Midwestern city would shape my life.
An indifferent high school student, upon completing community college in Grand Rapids I went west and worked as a deck hand on a Swedish freighter bound for Australia. After five months of week after week, $100 per month physical toil, I realized the value of higher education and was ready to study.
Fortunately one of my first classes at Western Michigan University was economic development with Lou Junker. Lou was a maverick, a pioneer nutritionist, with a passion for learning and making the world a better place.
While working on the M.S. Parrakoola I became fascinated with international trade. Our cargo was a case study in comparative advantage.  Among much else we took Caterpillar earth moving equipment and Douglas Fir timber to Australia and brought frozen beef and Fosters Lager back to Los Angeles.
Lou Junker provided a theoretical foundation to practical economics.  He was an institutionalist, a follower of Thorstein Veblen and Clarence Ayres. Junker stood apart from the rival Keynesians and neo-classicists. He ruffled feathers and challenged conventional thinking. Rejecting my timid response to his question of how many books I read each week, Junker put me on a study program—economics, anthropology, history–and monitored my progress. In part because Milton Friedman, Kenneth Boulding and other luminaries spoke on campus, ideas sprang from the right and left, making my and many other heads spin.
Luckily, I learned early the importance of finding passionate professors who required hard work and thinking. By now I understood the value of general education and took advantage of outside events.
From political science, for example, particularly European Political Systems, I learned of various forms of parliamentary democracy. I have long enjoyed classical music because in music appreciation cellist Herbert Butler taught us how to listen. My interest in architecture began with historian Peter Schmidt’s lectures on Victorian homes in Kalamazoo. Bob Dye’s year long seminar on the films of Ingmar Bergman made a huge impression, so much so that I spent a summer in Stockholm absorbing what I could of that vibrant, brooding north European culture.
I became enamored of the arts. Nearby Nazareth College devoted a semester to the stunning Kenneth Clark Civilization series that had been popular on public television. I became a regular at the springtime Kalamazoo College Bach festival. Once when seated on a bench on the K College quad, composer and artist in residence Aaron Copland wandered past. We talked for ten minutes.

Twice I represented Western at collegiate conferences at the United Nations. There were the intellectually challenging graduate seminars at Oxford and in Yugoslavia. The latter was my first exposure to the then still remote, mildly exotic Slavic world. Visiting six Yugoslav republics and Kosovo over a five-week period, there wasn’t one scholar who imagined that 30 years later their country would disintegrate into horrific ethnic conflict.

Because I was interested in South Africa, when drama professor Zack York was casting his adaptation of Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country, I auditioned and got a major part in the first play staged in Western’s Laura Shaw Theatre.

I was fortunate to be in Kalamazoo during what might be called the cultural revolution of the turbulent 1960s. So many things were new and exciting. Stereophonic sound was electrifying. Later Beatles music opened closed minds. Food coops and organic food were revelations, sensible and cheap. Rock and roll was pervasive and anti-war protests constant.  Jane Fonda, William Kunstler and Alan Ginsburg all spoke on campus. Yes, the country was divided but for the most part debate was constructive and healthy.
As a vibrant college town Kalamazoo rivals Ann Arbor and surpasses most Midwest locations. Because Upjohn pharmaceuticals was headquartered there, the city attracted educated, enlightened people from all over. Kalamazoo’s downtown mall was the nation’s first and on its fringes were funky book stores, bars and restaurants. Michigan News remains as it was and there’s a fine common-folks restaurant next door where the CharSteak used to be, remnants of an earlier time.
213 Elm St.
I probably learned more from conversations and music evenings at Vern and Margaret Berrys Victorian home on Elm Street than in many classes. The Berrys raised five children there and took in foreign students as well. Margaret’s percolator was always ready with cup of coffee. There was Indian food and interesting people. Doors were always open. Artists worked in the carriage house in the back. The Red Clay Ramblers from Chapel Hill played in the living room.
Most of all Kalamazoo stood out for its wonderful people, many of whom from are still there. Times change but Kalamazoo remains a special place where one can get a superb education. #


One thought on “Getting a Superb Education in Kalamazoo

  1. Barry, wonderful mini memoir of your life in Kalamazoo. I didn't arrive there until 1969, but thanks to meeting John, I too got to participate in the Berry's world of talk and music and friendship with so many, students and townies.
    I am just back from the final concert of thr Gilmore International Keyboard Festival and I can assure you Kalamazoo remains an exciting little town in so many ways.
    Be well!


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