One String at a time: YS Townies react to Antioch closing

Banner on the Emporium, Yellow Springs, OH. Photo by Migiwa OrimoBy Jonathan Platt

The assassination of JFK, the Challenger disaster, the attack on the World Trade Center… These are all events for which people remember exactly what they were doing when they heard the news. On a much smaller scale, most villagers of Yellow Springs knew exactly what they were doing and where they were doing it when they received the news of Antioch’s closing.

Lori Askeland was at Tom’s Market when a friend came up and told her. “I felt like I was punched in the stomach.” Askeland, an Associate Professor of English and Director of the Women’s Program at Wittenberg University, is one of the many supporters from the village who are not Antioch graduates. “A lot of my friends are faculty at Antioch and I couldn’t imagine what it would be like if Wittenberg announced that they were going to close.”

The Yellow Springs community now waits in anticipation as the saga of their college unfolds. Of the villagers surveyed, most are sympathetic and want to see the college continue without interruption. Others are ambivalent, believing that the signs of financial disaster were apparent for a long time. Jim Smith, a home improvement contractor, nursed a beer in mid-May of this year with a T-shirt reading, Titantioch. The picture showed the Main Building sinking into the ground.

There is a small minority that believes that what is done is done and it is time to move on. Carlos Landaburu wrote to the Yellow Springs News, “I am saddened like everybody else about Antioch. But the spirit of Antioch lives on as its DNA permeates this village and is carried over everywhere by the thousands of alumni…” He also writes that efforts to save the college are futile and that reviving it after four years of restructuring would also be a mistake. Landaburu closed his letter with, “Let the dead rest and be honored, and the living go on living.”

As an alumnus and a villager, I was extremely upset with the news of Antioch closing. I too, wrote a letter to Yellow Springs News and compared the tragedy not to a death but to when my father lost his job and pulled out our financial support. Many other villagers expressed the closing on personal terms. “I feel the village has had a heart attack,” explains Askeland, “because Antioch is at the heart of our community.”

Open Books (Next to Tom’s Market). Photo by Migiwa OrimoIn early July, a few weeks after the Board’s announcement, the village held an emergency town meeting at the First Presbyterian church. The hall was without air conditioning and despite that the meeting took place in the evening, the temperature hovered at a hundred degrees. Regardless of the extreme heat, over four hundred people filled the church to show support. “That meeting was truly amazing,” recalls Askeland, “I remember sitting on stage and looking out on the audience. There was no more standing room so people were outside the windows looking in.”

After the town meeting a series of sub-committees were formed to address specific tasks. In the weeks following, sub-committees met at the Senior Center, Epic bookstore, and private homes. Sub-committees focused on many aspects in saving the college, including media, letter writing, signage, orientation and fundraising. Their current organization is titled as Yellow Springs in Support of the Antioch College Revival Resolution and they work closely with the Antioch Alumni Board.

I became involved with the Orientation Committee. It became clear to me that the new students coming to Antioch were quite possibly the most important incoming class in the history of Antioch. I wanted to insure that they receive the warmest welcome possible from the village. One of the things we decided to do was solicit businesses in town to donate free or discounted stuff. The response was courteous and generous. Most business owners were well aware and appreciative of new students contributing to the retail market of Yellow Springs. Dino’s and Emporium are giving free coffees, Rita Caz is offering each new student a free guitar string and the Yellow Springs News is giving each student a free copy of a book detailing the history of Yellow Springs. Other businesses explained that Antioch students give them very little business and didn’t feel the need to offer any discounts. Overall, however, businesses inundated us with offerings that students will find in their welcome packet.

The following week will be the first time that community members and Antioch students will be together with the knowledge that this may be the college’s last year. We hope that community members step forward and express the importance of Antioch student’s presence. We organized a potluck for incoming students in hopes of doing just that.

The community’s response when asked to feed their fellow Antiochians has been overwhelming. We hope to see a stronger bridge develop between students and village members not because of the recent tragic development, but despite it.