Forum: January-February 2002

January 31, 2002

 

Bonkers for Bonk

Editors:
When I saw the title "Bonkistry" on the front cover of the July-August 2001 issue of Duke Magazine, I immediately turned to the article to find out what had happened to Dr. Bonk since 1978, when I had him for introductory chemistry. I rank him in the top two of all the professors in my academic career, primarily due to the exquisite clarity of his presentations, but also because of his compassion. During the chemistry lab final of my first semester at Duke, my calculator battery died and I did not have a spare. I tried to complete the calculations to the required nine significant digits by hand, but managed to finish less than half the test before time was up. I appealed to the graduate student to let me find another calculator so that I could complete the test, but he said I would "have to talk to Dr. Bonk." The thought of approaching the man who "wrote the book" on introductory chemistry was quite intimidating, but he made time for me that morning to speak with him. He arranged for me to complete the test later that day, undisturbed in the chemistry library, with a fresh calculator, and gave me all the time I needed. Thank you, Dr. Bonk, for treating me as more than "just a number" at Duke. I wish you well in this next segment of your academic career.

Patricia M. Cisarik-Fredenburg '82
(via e-mail)

Editors:
My aborted career as a chemistry major, Professor James Bonk must understand, is assuredly not his fault. Thanks to an extraordinary high-school chemistry curriculum, I came to Professor Bonk perhaps a little better prepared in chemistry than the average freshman. Instead of letting me coast, however, Professor Bonk simply ratcheted up the expectations he had for me. Even in a survey course with more than 150 students, Bonk demonstrated an atomic perspective: each student is unique, with the ability to react one-on-one with a professor's intelligence, and capable of catalyzing a profound learning experience across the rows of the lecture hall. No, the chemistry department's loss came when I realized I would rather write about science than do science. After some years as a science writer, struggling to explain the intricacies of a subject that always resists simple explanations, I came to appreciate James Bonk's talents and dedication even more.

John Kador '73
(via e-mail)

Cover Shock

Editors: I am shocked and dismayed to see the cover of the July-August Duke Magazine. I wonder if the magazine staff understands the content of the cover? Such ghastly language should not appear on the cover of the Duke Magazine. Please understand the material you are printing. That is the job of the editor.

Frank Wang (via e-mail)
Sandusky, Ohio

While it is not the magazine's intent to offend, it is also not the magazine's intent to censor the artistic expression of the calligraphy studies by C.C. Wang. The prominently displayed character translates: "To Ask."

Conservation Question

Editors:
In reading "Lemur Laments" [July-August 2001], I was puzzled at how little was written about the current state of conservation in Madagascar. Without more resources and attention, Madagascar will soon lose most of the already scarce habitat where lemurs belong. It seems odd for researchers at the Duke University Primate Center to spend so much time studying the evolution and physiology of lemurs, and then pay relatively little attention to the lemurs' long-term future.

It seems that the lemurs' fate and the Primate Center's fate might be better addressed by focusing more resources on places in Madagascar like Betampona and Ivoloina, where Duke is already providing some assistance. The Primate Center could team up with other parts of the Duke community, like the Center for Environmental Education or the Center for Environmental Solutions, to provide increased attention to the lemurs' plight in Madagascar. Duke students and researchers, in turn, would gain greater access to one of conservation's most compelling challenges. The lemurs, the students, the researchers, and the Primate Center could all benefit.

I don't expect Duke to solve all of the environmental problems in Madagascar, but I do think a more holistic approach to lemur conservation will improve the situation for all involved.

George D. Ivey '91
(via e-mail)

Town-Gown Talk

Editors:

Your recent article ["Taking the Initiative," September-October 2001] described the major efforts Duke has undertaken to make itself a true partner in the Durham community. Many residents have a vivid recollection of the years during which Duke seemed aloof from the community, but the actions by President Keohane and the trustees in 1996 really changed the relationship.

Durham has benefited significantly from Duke's efforts in the schools, the revitalization of housing in economically disadvantaged areas, and the development of housing for Duke faculty and staff in Trinity Heights. All these commitments have made the areas surrounding the Duke Campus a better place to live.

Residents of Durham need to remember that Duke can't solve all our problems, nor should they be expected to. Duke's primary mission is to maintain a first-rate educational and research institution and a medical facility second to none. We, the residents, benefit from the successful execution of this mission. Duke attracts well-educated faculty and staff to Durham. And we have access to outstanding medical facilities.

We applaud Duke's efforts and hope that the relationship between the community and Duke continue to strengthen.

W. Barker French '63
Durham, North Carolina


Editors:
I wanted to take a moment to applaud your article on the partnering between Duke and the surrounding neighborhoods.

The mention of Lakewood Elementary School brings back memories of some of the most precious times in my life, and of myself at perhaps the best I've ever been. It was the fall of 1974 when the call went out to the fraternities asking for students to help tutor challenged students in the Durham area. The idea appealed to me and I signed up. I was paired with Ava Hobgood, a second- grade teacher, and Mr. Woody, the principal over at Lakewood. I remember my initial visit as if it were yesterday: Twenty-two students, nineteen of them black (and for me, who grew up in a lily-white borough in New Jersey, this was an eye-opener), and fifteen of them, I was told, from broken homes, some of whom didn't even have a father figure in their lives. It was the beginning of a wonderful journey for all of us.

The plan was for me to spend about an hour a week at the school tutoring some of Mrs. Hobgood's children in reading and arithmetic. Soon, though, I found out that the school had no phys. ed. teacher and that it was up to the individual teachers to run their own gym classes. Mrs. Hobgood confessed that she had no talents in that area and wondered if I might have an extra hour each week to take the kids out and teach them kickball or softball--something to let them get some organized run-around time. Did I become a hero! It got to the point where my arrival was the basis for "incentive" behavior: The kids knew that if they misbehaved, they'd lose their time with "Mr. Skip," and my one-hour sessions soon turned into ninety-minute sessions--thirty for tutoring, sixty for activities.

During that year, my junior, I was president of the DUMB [Duke University Marching Band], active in my fraternity, up to my ears in engineering classes and organic chemistry--and nothing enriched my life like "my" kids. I renewed my commitment during my senior year and had another wonderful year, often bumping into the kids I'd come to love the year before.

Recently, my engineering team here at the Ford plant in Norfolk decided to enter a "Partners In Education" program with an elementary school just down the street. We go over there for about forty-five minutes each Wednesday. I have two darling little girls (one in third grade and one in fourth) under my wing with whom I'm hopelessly in love.

As I write to you on this beautiful afternoon, somewhat overcome with emotion, I pray that the now thirty-two-year-olds who meant so much to me are happy, healthy, productive members of their communities, even though they have surely forgotten Mr. Skip. Yes, I sit on the floor with my little girls and I realize that all these years later, after twenty-three years of hard work in a dog-eat-dog industry, three great kids, and lots of volunteer coaching, teaching in Junior Achievement, and booster clubbing, those forty-five minutes a week may still be the best that I ever am.

May God bless everyone associated with Duke who has come to realize that Duke is by no means a sequestered, unapproachable hamlet nestled within Durham; it is a part of the town, wealthy in money and talent, that is able and eager to be a vital part of the community. But it didn't just start recently. It goes way back. Your article reached way into my soul and made me proud of what I was once part of and reminded me that even now, what I do down the street is such an important part of my life as well as those whom I can only hope to touch.

Skip Heyman '76
(via e-mail)

Doing unto Others

Editors:

Regarding "Under the Gargoyle" [September-October 2001]: Whatever happened to righteous anger when evildoers visit destruction upon us?

If we as a nation could be outraged by the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, where the deaths of innocents (albeit military) reached half the number of those who died on September 11, why can we not commit to destroy the evildoers this time?

Our reply to the Japanese "day of infamy" defined our commitment to destroy their war-making power, knowing full well the cost might include the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans and Japanese, both military and civilian. That was anger at its best. Now comes President Keohane, who writes: "If the abdication of our common humanity that led to this horrible attack is allowed to seep into our own lives and minds, then the terrorists will have achieved their diabolic aim."

I ask: Who abdicated? What common humanity? Common to whom?

To avoid condemnation of evildoers is a current phenomenon. Duke of the 1940s and 1950s (my years) would have focused first on the evildoers and then on the 4,000 persons who were incinerated and crushed--and their 7,000 children left behind. We would not have worried about over-reacting against mass murderers and their protectors.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair put these attacks in perspective. Why not print his speech to the House of Commons for all to appreciate the proper response to these evildoers?

C. Lee Butler '52 J.D.'53
(via e-mail)

'I Wish I'd Called'

Editors:

The Duke community lost six alumni in the horror of September 11, and one, Todd Rancke, was a friend of mine. We spent a fair amount of time together our last two years at Duke, including our last two spring breaks. I realize hardly anyone who reads this will have known "Rancks," but we all know someone like him. Ask anyone to describe Todd, and they would immediately say, "a good guy." It seems in all the memories I have of him, he's smiling and laughing.

We played a lot of basketball together. I've always believed you learn a lot about a person by playing ball with them, and Todd was a "pass first" guy who you always wanted on your side. After graduation, we both ended up in Charlottesville at U.Va. for grad school. We played ball in the city league, and briefly shared a house one year.

Then he went back to New Jersey and I went to California--we hadn't been in touch since.

Since I learned of his death, on September 30, I've struggled to come to grips with his being gone. I've learned he has three young children. I've looked through my photo albums from Duke and cried. Todd was a good guy--no hard edges, and probably could have used some. I wish I'd called.

Anyway, I somehow feel his death places a greater responsibility on me to live my life--and maybe on you, too. I now understand--really understand--that tomorrow may not come, and that what I do today needs to be done so that I have no regrets if there is no next day.

How? First, I must pursue the career, the activities, and the people that evoke passion in me. It is so easy to fall into a career, for example, that is comfortable, or begets comforts, yet is uninspiring. I was trained to achieve, to succeed, and the process of getting there was of secondary importance. September 11 and Todd's death make that not good enough any more.

Second, I need to do more to nurture my relationships, because I know more than ever that it's the people in my life that make it special. Todd was one of those people, but we both let things fade as we pursued career and family on opposite sides of the country. I wish I'd called.

The final realization I have is the need to make sure I'm giving something back to others. Todd gave me a lot--he was upbeat, enthusiastic, and nonjudgmental. That he should be taken away, that someone so positive should disappear for no good reason, leaves me grasping for a way to fill the void. As I look now at my two-year-old son, so excited by each day, so constantly curious, I'm reminded to do more for those around me. I have no illusions about changing the world, but rather the need to make sure I'm doing my part to make it better.

The Duke community lost a good guy on September 11. His name was Todd Rancke, and he was my friend. I wish I'd called.

Rick Seidel '81
(via e-mail)

Readers who wish to share reminiscences about Todd Rancke '81, Michael Taylor '81, Rob Lenoir '84, Peter Ortale '87, Todd Pitman '93, or Frederick J. Rimmele III M.D. '94 may send them to the features editor or Visit "In Memoriam" to contribute.

Print Edition Correction: In "Taking the Initiative" (Duke Magazine, September-October 2001), Mary Davis, program coordinator of the Juanita McNeil-Joseph Alston West End Teen Center, was misidentified as the wife of Fred Davis. The Rev. Fredrick Amos Davis is married to Judith Hayes Davis. We apologize for the error.