From IWU Magazine, WInter 2008-09
Argus alumni turn back the news pages at reunion
Story by AMELIA BENNER
Photos by LORI ANN COOK
Former staff members Sarah (Zeller) Julian ‘07, Becky Welzenbach ‘07, Jim Dorsey ’68
and George Vinyard ’71 enjoy swapping tales of their editorial travails at the Argus
Former Argus editor Jim Dorsey ’68 will never forget the road trip he and five fellow student
journalists took during spring break 1966.
En route to Florida in a car with valve problems, the group spied a banner promoting
a Ku Klux Klan rally near Montgomery, Ala. The budding reporters decided to attend
and then report what they observed in the paper, which has been students’ source for
campus news since 1894.
“We had grannies in their sheets, and babies in their sheets — and six preppies from
Illinois,” Dorsey recalled with a laugh. During the rally, one Klan leader told the
crowd, “I want you all to look around and point out the FBI informants.” The Wesleyan
Dorsey recounted the story at the first-ever Argus staff reunion, held during Homecoming weekend. Organized by Karin McDowell ’00, the
October reunion allowed Argus alumni — whose graduation dates ranged from the early 1950s to 2008 — to share memories
and explore the Argus office on the Memorial Center’s second floor.
“It was really great to see alumni from throughout the years being united through
their experiences at the Argus,” said Sarah (Zeller) Julian ’07, a former editor. “The event was a way for some of
us younger alums to find out more about what the campus was like during national conflicts
like the Vietnam War, but also to share our common experiences — late nights designing
the paper, conflicts with administrators and a desire to learn what journalism is
Alumni recalled Harvey Beutner (shown standing in above photo) as a guiding voice
for the Argus newsroom.
Many former staff members were surprised that the room was no longer partitioned into
separate offices and is now filled with computers instead of typewriters. But the
beloved boar’s head above the fireplace — the unofficial Argus mascot that mysteriously appeared in the office during the 1980s —was a familiar sight
for many and a popular backdrop for photos.
The Argus Homecoming issue, published on Oct. 3, also included a special supplement with guest
columns by past editors. The issue’s front-page headlines reflected the issues of
the day — the stock market crisis and the impending presidential election — as well
as campus events and opinions. Several reunion attendees praised current staffers
for their willingness to connect with what’s going on beyond the campus bubble.
Thomas Wetzel ’72 shared his memories of one of the most turbulent periods in Wesleyan
history with current editor Julie Regenbogen ’10. Not long after taking the editorial
reins in the spring of 1970, he and his staff tackled their first major story: the
shootings at Kent State University on May 4, 1970, in which students, some protesting
the American invasion of Cambodia, were killed by members of the Ohio National Guard.
“There was a real fear that there were going to be demonstrations — even violent ones
— right here,” Wetzel said. Instead of cribbing their coverage from the national wire
services, an Argus reporter called Ohio and stayed on the line for four hours to get
first-hand accounts of the shootings. The paper published an expanded edition that
week, covering both the events at Kent State and the reaction on campus.
Chris (Calvert) Zippe ’02 (with baby Muireann), Angela Nelden ’03 and Brian Duffy
’03 peruse bound volumes of past issues in the Argus’s eclectically decorated office space.
Wetzel hoped for a slow news week following that issue, but then, while working in
the Argus office past midnight on May 12, he heard someone yell “Fire!” Soon fire
trucks surrounded Presser Hall, home to Illinois Wesleyan’s School of Music. “The
image that I remember is music students sitting on the curbs, absolutely in tears,”
Wetzel said. When it was learned that arson caused the fire, which damaged the Presser
stage and several practice rooms, many assumed there was a connection to war protesters
— though two juveniles later confessed to setting the blaze.
Wetzel’s own “trial by fire” as a new editor wasn’t over yet. That spring was marked
by student protests, cancelled classes, and an appeal to cancel that June’s commencement
as letters to the editor poured into the Argus office.
“And that,” Wetzel said with a laugh, “was my introduction as Argus editor.”
Unlike Argus staffs of later decades, “our crusades had nothing to do with society,”
said George Allison ’51, who spoke at the reunion and also penned a column for the
Argus Homecoming issue. “They had to do with things like dancing and having Coke on the
second floor of the Memorial Center.” At the more-conservative Wesleyan of the 1950s,
students couldn’t even drink soda — let alone the glasses of wine served at the Argus reunion — upstairs in the Memorial Center. Allison and his colleagues wanted to change
Under Allison’s leadership, the Argus hired a big band and “had a really marvelous dance,” he remembered. “We filled this
place, and I think we even made money because we sold so darn many tickets.”
And that, Allison said, was “how we got Coke onto the second floor of the Memorial
Several former staffers expressed fond memories of Bernie Gummerman, who printed the
newspaper for many years, and longtime Argus advisor and Professor of English Harvey Beutner, who died in 2003. Remembering Beutner,
Wetzel paused, overcome by memories. “His love for us and ours for him,” he said,
“transcended” the advisor–advisee relationship.
Jim Plath, who chairs the English Department and is the current Argus advisor, also shared his memories of the legendary journalism instructor, adding that
Beutner was a “tough act to follow.”
“Working with journalists is kind of like being a parent,” said Plath, now in his
20th year as Argus advisor. “It ages you prematurely and it keeps you young.”
Click here to visit the Argus Web site.