It’s a little after 8 a.m. on the last Sunday in June and Eric Glendening stands inside a church where he is unpacking shiny, bronze Schulmerich handbells from large, black suitcases. The handbell quartet he leads rehearses before the church service begins at 8:45 a.m.
He’s been a bell ringer since the sixth grade. He’s also professor and chair of the department of chemistry and physics at Indiana State University.
Practice ends and the church begins to fill with people arriving for the service, during which the hand bell quartet will perform “Holy Manna” and “Celebration.” Glendening makes final adjustments to the placement of the bells on the tables that hold them, then faces the congregation.
Amidst the rustling of people moving around and the soft sounds of voices, he suddenly breaks into a full-out, can’t-be-manufactured, so-happy-to-see-you smile. It’s rich, a memorable moment to observe. The no-words-spoken greeting is directed at his wife Sanae, who has seated herself in a pew at the front of the church. For more than 25 years, she has nurtured her husband’s bell ringing avocation. That’s a story we’ll get to.
Each of the following six people is a practitioner of the art of life.
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John Ford, ’94, GR ‘96, has played the bass guitar since the seventh-grade. That’s bassguitar, which provides the foundation, the tone, the feel, the style of music and the lead. He’s also a microcomputer/network consultant at ISU.
“We had a country radio station in the front half of our house the whole time we were growing up. When I was in kindergarten, I would play a tape of something called ‘Evening Vespers’ while dad or whoever would go eat supper,” said Ford. The whole family — four sons and two daughters —worked at the radio station as soon as they could push buttons. “Family vacations would be dad going to help somebody with another radio station,” he said.
Ford’s brother Pete was five, maybe six-years-old, the first time he went to a sleepover at friend’s house. “He was floored because the family didn’t own a radio station.”
Ford played music full time for several years, followed by a stint as a news photographer. At ISU for about 17 years now, he said, he likes the diversity of people and ideas.
His brother Mark Ford, a computer support center manager in the ISU Office of Information Technology, is a bass guitarist with the popular blues band Dicky James and The Blue Flames. The band is heavily booked on weekends and John fills in for his brother about twice a month.
Playing music is a necessity for John’s life. “I have to do it. If I don’t do it, I’m not very happy.”
John plays bass guitar nearly every Monday night during jam sessions at The Verve in downtown Terre Haute. Some of the jam sessions are absolute train wrecks, said Ford, but some of them are fantastically brilliant.
“It’s like any art. The things that you’re trying to achieve are often very intangible and it’s often difficult to identify what it is that you’re trying to achieve,” Ford said. “You are trying constantly to improve.”
He’d skipped the jam session the night before — opting for a motorcycle ride with daughter Sarah and wife Tracy. Sarah, a President’s Scholar and a sophomore at ISU, received her motorcycle license this summer, said John. Tracy Ford, ’89, GR ’05, works as a video production manager in communications and marketing at ISU. They’re a three-bike family — a balance of individuality and togetherness. A fourth motorcycle is likely in their future for the youngest of the family, high school freshman Colin Ford — also a bass guitarist.
“If you don’t have balance,” said Ford, “you have imbalance. Right?” It’s taken him a long time, he said, to not define his self-worth totally on the basis of professional career accomplishments.
Balance for him now is family, work, playing music, taking photographs, riding motorcycles and friends.
“Probably one of the best ways to validate your own station in life is by the quality of your friends and the quality of your friendships,” he said. “I’m remarkably blessed.”
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Jack Fox, ’93, is a self-taught painter drawn to abstract landscapes, in particular. He’s also director of development for the ISU Foundation.
Pursuing art “helps me be more creative in my job. It’s good training for thinking outside the box and for not doing things the way they’ve always been done.”
He calls himself an introvert. “But anybody who knows me would laugh at that. The way I process information is introverted. I’m a verbal conservationist, but also a ham and jokester and a prankster.”
He started selling his artwork because someone visited his web site jackfoxart.com and asked him to donate work for a silent auction. His first solo art show took place in a coffee shop in downtown Terre Haute and his most recent was at the Terre Haute Country Club.
The ethereal music on Fox’s web site is Sigur Rós. He doesn’t understand the Icelandic words of the songs, he said, but the rhythm and energy of the music is a match for how he paints.
“I have a strong desire to create something that doesn’t exist rather than to recreate an exact representation of something that does exist,” he said. “My simple artist statement is ‘I have to create’.” His other criterion is that it’s important “to not be snooty.”
Social justice themes reveal themselves in some of his work, most poignantly in a painting titled “No Shame Little Sister.” Fox wanted to use his art to bring awareness to the plight of women and rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo and to raise money for a mission that serves those women.
Fox’s “Cathedral” paintings were not inspired by a church, but by his parent’s home and a favorite Ralph Waldo Emerson quote: “All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.” Fox, a former pastor and hospital administrator, said, “It’s important to not limit ourselves to worshipping inside a church.”
Although he always has an art project in the works, he does take breaks to pursue other interests, such as fishing, being outdoors, architecture and interesting design. He occasionally writes poetry.
He paints in a home office/studio. Fox and his “very supportive wife” Lori Ewing Fox, ’91, have two daughters, Caroline and Chloe, ages 11 and 7.
Fox, who loves “totally hanging out in a world of possibilities,” said he’s enjoying nurturing his daughters to creatively express themselves.
“I enjoy putting a blank canvas in front of them and encouraging them to create without boundaries,” he said. “They’re my dreams right now.”
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Jill Shutt, ’87, started writing songs when she was 12.
On a recent summer week day, her 15-year-old son Will Rupert is working in the ISU theatre box office, while she’s in her office at the ISU Foundation where she is assistant director of donor development.
Note: She works with Jack Fox. “Yes, we’re the Jack and Jill of the foundation,” she chuckled. On the job, they share humor and a desire to make people laugh. “People who are artistic are usually warm and friendly,” said Shutt, “and can adapt to lots of situations and people.”
Shutt mastered adjustment to people and the geography of pursuing a career in music — including New York City, San Francisco and Nashville.
Some two decades ago in San Francisco, she performed eight shows a week on stage, plus working part-time. She understudied the lead role for Val Diamond in Beach Blanket Babylon, known as the longest-running musical revue in theatre history. She performed the lead often during her more than two years with the show.
“It taught me the importance of stamina and keeping in shape. It’s kind of like being an athlete — doing that many shows.”
Her success in San Francisco proved affirming. “I grew up in Terre Haute. I go out there. Nobody knows me. It gave me confidence to audition for that and to make it and to keep making it,” she said.
Next stop: Nashville.
That chapter could be titled: Music, Marriage, Two Babies and Change of Plans. “Suddenly the pursuit of fame and fortune wasn’t as important,” she said.
Then came a move to Michigan with her musician husband. They eventually divorced. He’s now in London and she’s counting her blessings to be in Terre Haute with the kids. “It’s good to be back home.”
Her daughter Claire Rupert is 12 and has declared that acting is her brother’s thing, but not hers, said Shutt. Claire loves Japanese anime and drawing. Will loves theatre, music and performing.
ISU Summer Stage, now known as Crossroads Repertory Theatre, and Terre Haute Community Theatre are familiar territory for three generations of the Shutt family. “I was kind of raised at Community Theatre,” said Shutt, whose parents Chuck and Jean Shutt met in college working in theatre. Jill has two sisters, but she’s the only who pursued music as a career.
Now she’s in the creative “stewing” phase about a putting together a new show. In the years since her return to Terre Haute, she’s been a regular at The Verve and some other venues, but in the past couple of years she paused for a breather. This summer she was feeling the artistic performance itch again, she said. Then along came an invitation to perform at Blues at the Crossroads.
Artistic expression provides balance in life, said Shutt. “You have to nurture all sides of yourself.”
But the best part, she said: “Now, I sing for fun, for the pure joy of it!”
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John Beacon’s artistic pursuits are less about the end creation and more about the process.
“A lot of what I do with art is in my desire to be really good at something,” said Beacon. “The result is not nearly as important as the path I took to get there.” His quest has carried him from detailed pen and ink drawings to building flintlock rifles from original designs. That’s the short list.
Mostly he does a lot of drawings, a combination of pen and ink and watercolor. Extreme detail. Realistic. “If I do an architectural rendering, you’ll be able to see curtains blowing in an open window,” he said. He’s completely self-taught and his best work has been given away, mainly to relatives.
He hesitates, he said, to call himself an artist. “I have an eye for composition. For example, anyone can take a picture, but not everyone can take a photograph. A photograph is art.”
Beacon said, “I don’t draw or build furniture for others. I make things I like, and if they appeal to others, that’s a bonus.”
Life seems a small container for a man with so much energy and inquisitiveness. “I wish I could play the banjo really well, but I can’t. I admire people who specialize and are really good at one thing,” said Beacon. “I try many things and manage to be okay at some.”
He builds furniture using mortise and tenon joints. He’s a runner and a sailor. With the exception of 39 days, he’s run every day since July 6, 1972, That translates to not running only one day a year for about 40 years. That same self-discipline is reflected in his artistic pursuits.
Beacon lived in Maine and became fascinated by the woodland Indian tribes of New England. He admired the skills tribesmen had in making primitive hunting weapons and the accuracy they were able to attain. That interest translated to his making of an authentic bow and arrows from local materials and displaying them in a quiver made from hides.
His interest in flintlock rifle making stemmed from the beauty and grace of those weapons made by blacksmiths on the frontier using only basic tools. In 1969, he met an Illinois farmer who had been building rifles from scratch since 1945. “He wouldn’t talk to me at all until I read three books he had in his collection on the art and history of the flintlock,” said Beacon.
Typically, it takes about 400 hours to build a rifle, said Beacon. He relies on only a few modern conveniences — he buys the barrel and the lock. He built his first flintlock rifle in 1970 and his fourth is nearly finished. This work requires considerable concentration. “You get so far into the process that any mistakes become irreversible.” A particular inletting may require an hour or more to plan in order to ensure accuracy.
“As much as I enjoy being vice president of enrollment management, marketing and communications at ISU, I find it satisfying to draw or make something with basic tools much as our forefathers did hundreds of years ago,” Beacon said.
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Kandace Hinton was the shy and quiet one in her musical family, where every gathering ended with song, in particular, sacred music, gospel music, said Hinton.
Her father Joe Hinton was a soul singer. His hit song, “Funny How Time Slips Away,” written by Willie Nelson, was 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1964.
While growing up “my mother was my favorite singer and my sister is outstanding,” said Hinton, who wasn’t attracted to the solo singing spotlight but rejoiced in the experience shared with others. Music became a metaphor for her scholarly pursuits and teaching. She’s an associate professor in ISU’s educational leadership department.
Hinton has sung and been involved in three recording projects. A question to her about the CD “Come Let’s Worship” (1996) on which she performs with Salt of the Earth, a Detroit-based contemporary gospel group, elicits a response not about her singing, but about her sister’s CD. Hinton was the executive producer for Kim and Him (2007) featuring her sister Kim Hinton. Kandace Hinton, an alto, is one of 15 singers and eight instrumental musicians who perform on the CD. Hinton’s first performance recording experience was 1987, a vinyl recording on the “Be Inspired” label and featuring “The Inspirations,” a gospel quartet of Kandace, her sister and two other women.
Hinton has served as a minister of music for churches in Indianapolis and Evansville. She’s the founder and former director of the New Hope Music Academy in Evansville that operated for about 10 years. The academy provided piano, percussion, dance, voice and drama lessons to children in the center city at no cost to families. Hinton modeled it after the community music program at ISU, she said. Dwindling funding and other challenges prompted its shutdown. “I still have a vision of providing a performing arts school for children K-12,” said Hinton. “It’s one of my goals for life.”
Hinton’s research interests focus on African-American women in higher education, multicultural identity development and institutional support of community-based programs.
Hinton’s recently created theoretical model on the professional development of African-American women higher education administrators stems in part from her youth and young adult experiences in church. She calls her model N.O.B.L.E. (Nexus of Black Leadership Efficacy) and she wanted to honor scholar Jeanne Noble, who conducted research on African American women in higher education.
Women’s leadership training begins at an early age and often in church settings, said Hinton, pointing to her own experiences as president of the Sunshine Band at church, Easter and Christmas speeches and other activities.
“I’m passionate that the voice of women, particularly African-American women, should be heard at the leadership level in both church and higher education,” said Hinton. As a lifelong student of music, including formal study of the social and cultural aspects of music, she uses music metaphors in her teaching.
“Music,” she said, “it’s who I am. It’s my passion. And I love teaching in this leadership program at ISU.”
* * *
Eric Glendening grew up in central Iowa where he played piano for seven years and trombone for 12, but his appreciation for handbells spans a majority of his life.
“Bell ringing is teamwork in making music,” he said. “You have multiple people, in essence, playing a single instrument. You see all the notes on the sheet music, but you only play the few notes that you’re assigned.”
Glendening leads the handbell quartet at Memorial United Methodist Church, which owns a five-octave set of bells — that’s 12 bells per octave and a total of 60 bells. Imagine 60 bells spread across a length of 36 feet of table space.
For some musical works, the handbell player uses a mallet to strike a bell and create a tone. But there are basically two types of ringing — “off-table” and “in-hand.” Off-table involves the handbell player picking up the bell, ringing it and setting it down. In-hand ringing includes either two-in-hand, one bell in each hand, or four-in-hand, more challenging, and involves holding two bells in each hand.
Glendening is a former member of the Crossroads Hand Bell Ensemble, a local community choir that disbanded about six years ago. He’d like to hear from people who are interested in bell ringing. “It would be fun to form a community choir again.”
Glendening credits his wife Sanae with encouraging him on many levels — from pursuit of an airplane pilot’s license to his longstanding interest in handbells. Sanae was born in Japan and moved to the U.S. when she was eight years old. The couple met in college. She teaches at Meadows Elementary School in Terre Haute and they have two adult children, Sarah and Brett.
In 1995, Glendening interviewed for several academic positions and the one that most interested him was at ISU. His research involves the application of computational chemistry methods in physical organic chemistry.
Sanae had never visited Terre Haute and Glendening had been told that it was difficult to get teaching jobs in Terre Haute.
“She didn’t say yes or no; she didn’t say anything” when he told her that ISU had offered him a position. Her eventual implicit “Yes” to the move had nothing to do with his professional aspirations or her own teaching prospects. She simply told him that she had telephoned three churches in Terre Haute and that he could choose from three handbell choirs. The move was on.
Nine years later, Glendening was in his ISU office when his mother telephoned from Pella, Iowa.
“’Can you be in Romania in three days?’” she asked. This day was unusual. His mother never called him at work and his wife rarely showed up at his office.
With Sanae atypically in his office and this unexpected long-distance request from his mother, Glendening replied: “I can’t. My passport has expired.”
Sanae, listening to the conversation, declared: “We’ll make it work.” Many phone calls later, lots of paperwork, a quick trip to Chicago, and two days later he was in Bucharest, where he spent nine days filling in for an injured bass bell ringer who couldn’t make the trip with his mother’s handbell choir.
About a week after he returned from that trip, the Terre Haute church handbell choir received an invitation to go to Russia in 2005 and perform in Moscow and later Voronezh.
“I don’t have to think about it,” said Glendening. “Let’s go!”
And, of course, they did.
Patricia Krapesh is a freelance writer who lives in Terre Haute.