By Rose Pelzl
Atis Folkmanis, ’62, and his wife Judy, ’63, are best known for their puppet pioneering, but did you know that Atis is also one of our Pro Tem Board trustees? In a telephone interview with the Record, Atis reflected on his time at Antioch, and laid out his vision for the future college.
Why did you agree to become a Pro Tem Board member?
Well, originally, before Pro Tem, I gave them a million dollars because, believe it or not, Antioch College brought my family from a refugee camp in Germany in 1949, and of course that’s changed our lives. I went to Antioch and grew up in Yellow Springs. (…) Given the situation I felt there wasn’t anything else I could do but do what I did, given that I had resources. This event was so important in determining the course of my life. If I hadn’t ended up in Xenia, Ohio, and Yellow Springs I would be a different person, you know? Growing up in Yellow Spring, given my background, was a good place.
What’s your vision for the new Antioch?
The vision we have is the vision we used to have. That is when I was going to school in the 60’s. I mean, what we’re planning is not exactly the same, still many of the same teachers. There’s plans to retain the co-op program and over-seas study and so a lot of this is the way Antioch used to be. And I went to school with Mario Capecchi, who won the Nobel Prize, you know. I went to school with Stephen Jay Gould, who was just a great paleontologist. Believe it or not, [Antioch is] still 19th in the total number of students who became PhDs. Given that we’re a small school we produced a tremendous number of very, very good students. And I think we’re going to get the same type of students.
I think people want this type of slightly different place, interactions among your friends, fellow students are very important, and the coop plan and all these. The concept, the most important part of going to college is learning how to think, and Antioch knows how to do that. Clearly there’s the impetus that it will continue to be. So I am very excited about this new thing, and I think its going to work.
How do you think Nonstop will be integrated into the new Antioch?
[Folkmanis declined to comment on the issue.]
When do you think the new Antioch will reopen?
Well, I think the tentative schedule right now is 2010, and given the current economic situation I think that would be the earliest we could do it. And I think it’ll happen.
What was your major?
I was a chemistry major, and then I went on to get a PhD in Biochemistry.
What was your favorite Co-op?
I was in the sciences so, even now probably the people who are on co-op in the sciences get paid a fair amount of money, and actually I could send myself through college because I had such good jobs. I had a job with a research firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and that was probably the most interesting. (…) Living in Boston was wonderful, and it was a very significant job. And I was fairly independent in what I could do and that kind of thing.
What was the most significant thing Antioch taught you?
Self sufficiency. You know, I’m fully convinced that if we had not gone to Antioch we would not have gone to the Peace Corp which we did after Antioch, and we would not have started our business. Because I think Antioch imbued this sense, from our experiences, that we can do things. You think that even though you’ve never done it before you can figure it out. That’s how we felt about the business.
Could you tell me a little more about your business and how it got started?
(…) I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Berkeley, but there’s this street called Telegraph Avenue and people sell their wares, people would make various things, jewelry in particular. My wife started making these Sesame Street-type puppets and started selling them on Telegraph. And in the course of doing that she started getting into realistic looking wildlife animals, and no one had ever done that. They look like the real thing from twenty paces! It was just such a good idea that it couldn’t fail. So that was 32 years ago.
(…) I think the Antioch experience was what [gave us] enough courage and so on to start a company. My feeling is that the Peace Corp background and the Antioch background were very important in that kind of decision.
Thank you so much for being one of our Pro Tem Board members.
I’m very honored to be such. Unfortunately right now things have to be done behind closed doors, and we’re not able to provide all the details. We’re very excited, and there are people involved, specifically Lee Morgan and Matthew Derr, that have been just fantastic, and they’ve been certainly a driving force for the steps forward.
Folkmanis Inc. Wildlife Puppets are for sale at the Glen Helen Nature Center.