Almost heaven, Alma College


John Denver performance poster in the October 6, 1969 edition of the Almanian Newspaper. John Denver performs with acoustic guitar [LEFT]. His lyrics to his album Rhymes and Reasons [RIGHT]

A rumor has circulated campus for far too long without a clear answer. Did John Denver perform at Alma College? Did he perform Country Roads for the first time here? The answer to both of these questions is yes. And he performed not just once, but multiple times from 1969 to 1971. Although his arrival was a rumor, we can now look back and confirm his impact on campus life over fifty years ago.

American Icon, John Denver, launched his solo music career by performing in small venues and college towns across the United States. Remarkably, John Denver made one of his earliest debuts at Alma College in the Fall of 1969.

John Denver led music concerts across the United States at the height of the Vietnam War. One of those performances was right here at Alma College. In October, he performed his album Rhymes and Reasons live. A room of 800 spectators in Alma, Michigan, watched history unfold before them as John Denver sang music inspired by friendship and love. Words that would eventually work to bring home a generation fighting a war few wanted.

His lyrics were meaningful, and the Almanian called him a “poet” and “sensitive to human emotions.” John Denver was so well-received at Alma College that he would return in the Spring of 1970. There, he would play Rhymes and Reasons again. An album that exploded in popularity upon its release the previous year.

Times were changing, and the campus felt different, politically. Especially towards the war in Vietnam. Students had been conscripted into the war, and peace seemed like a distant memory. When Americans grew to oppose the war, musicians became the voice of change. Musicians like John Denver picked up their guitars and played at venues and parks to protest the war. Students especially were highly receiving of this entertainment and a cause to end the violence.

The Almanian writers – in the same edition of the newspaper – directly opposed the war in Vietnam. “The Vietnamese people have fought a long time against western imperialism. People in America must realize and condemn this imperialism to effectively oppose the war.”

John Denver sang words etched in the memory of those who remember protests against the war. “For the children and the flowers are my sisters and my brothers. Their laughter and their loveliness could clear a cloudy day.” Alma College loved his music because they saw him as a poet of their generation. The lyrics were printed in the October edition of the Almanian. Proof he performed these songs live in a casual setting before they went on album.

In 1970, John Denver returned to Alma with new songs. “The way he sings reflects all the things John Denver is.” His music was poetry, and his poetry was music. He performed Leaving On a Jet Plane on two shows on the Alma College campus. The 13th and 14th of January were sold-out performances. Crowds stood in applause and demanded an encore.

One of his last performances at Alma was in February 1971. Alma welcomed his return, and he sang Country Roads for the first time before its release in April 1971. Alma College students who attended the concert were among the first to hear that iconic song most people know today.

When he arrived, he apologized for being late. “When he got on stage, he explained that he had fought with the blizzard and that the weather had won by forcing his car into a ditch.” Country Roads may have been forgiving, but Michigan roads were not. He then promised he would do his best to give an excellent performance. He did.

Linda Heiss – former Almanian writer – described the atmosphere that John Denver created in his performance.

“The concert was informal and relaxed which made the bleachers seem more comfortable than usual. He entertained well because he wasn’t Just performing, he was expressing himself. He sang songs which were full of life and which surveyed life in our country. The second part of the program consisted mostly of songs of his beliefs concerning people, life, war and America, very poignant.”

“The crowd experienced and informed John that he had made up for being late. That they enjoyed his outstanding concert was evident by the final standing ovations he received. What can be said but…. Thank You, John Denver.”

Incredibly, John Denver performed here at Alma College. What changed? Why have the wandering musicians stopped their pilgrimage? Perhaps, when we societally adjust to life in Covid-19, more artists will emerge to sing of friendship and love. If they do, send them to Alma College.

The Spanish flu at Alma


Young College men – some in uniform – wearing cloth masks to help prevent the spread of the Spanish Flu in 1918.

“Fashions change, even in war times.” These were the opening words within the December edition of the Weekly Almanian. At this point in time, Alma College emerged into a new chapter of its history. President Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany and a deadly form of influenza was spreading globally. Faces familiar to students—friends, family, professors and neighbors—were either off to war in France or covered by a cloth mask.

Amid The Great War, Alma College quarantined in an attempt to slow the spread of the deadly respiratory infection known to millions as the Spanish Flu. By 1918, the Spanish influenza virus had claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands worldwide. Its arrival signs were felt around the state, from Detroit, Ann Arbor, Traverse City, Lansing and even here in Alma.

Masks became a necessary measure to combat the spread of this respiratory disease. Even over one hundred years ago, the Alma College student body’s reaction to masks has remained constant.

“Now must the eyes smile instead of the lips. Now must the forehead and the ears blush in place of the cheeks. Truly the eyes must bear the heaviest burden of expression.” The college was handling the pandemic well in 1918. Students and faculty were more than happy to help their neighbors in a time of social and political upheaval.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Alma College students would uphold the college’s mission statement values. For students to “think critically, serve generously, lead purposefully and live responsibly as stewards of the world they bequeath to future generations.” The generation that lived through the pandemic performed all of these values and more to help stop the spread of the Spanish flu. Today, our campus follows in their footsteps.

Life changed at Alma, and the graceful way the writer recorded the campus—despite the circumstances—brings a smile to one’s face.

“Dr. Brokenshire wears his mask as he attends to everything—religiously. He never pushes it to one side or up or down, nor does he sneak breath around the corner, but always sees to it that his voice and every breath is carefully strained.”

Student men of the SATC—Student Army Training Corps—sang at Alma College’s Chapel in December 1918, adorned with cloth masks distributed by the Red Cross.

“Chapel was, at first, the place of many amusing sights. The seats were filled with mummies who had been embalmed in sitting postures in order to watch the world revolve. Soon, however, there was much discomfort when, as they sang, the notes would re-echo and roll around inside the masks awhile before finding the outlet over the right ear or under the left eye. Sometimes this process would cause an unpleasant sensation called a tickle, so that the unfortunate person forthwith sneezed. Whereat the righteous drew away and whispered influenza.”

These values will always have relevance. Even in a society battling over masks, Alma College has always done what is right for its community.

A taste of victory


In the section “From Our Boys in the Service,” writes Major Frank Knox, alumni of Alma College in the November issue of The Weekly Almanian. On September 21, 1918, Knox led a 150 square mile offensive into French territory held on by the German army since 1914. Despite the resistance, the Yankees brought fresh soldiers onto the Western Front—a sight that the British and French were more than ecstatic to witness by this point in the war.

Major Knox had experienced combat on the Western Front for the first time, but this was far from his first war. Knox left Alma his senior year and joined Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War in 1898. As an experienced combat officer, he writes a letter about his offensive in Europe.

He describes his first battle as “a wonderful experience [and] quite impossible to picture on paper.” Major Knox was on the ground with the first offensive actions by the United States against the German army since entering the war.

“Thank God I lost no men killed and only a few sent to the hospital without exaggeration I think I may say I have lived my greatest hour. A second battle can hardly come up to the first in the wealth of experience given.” By this point in the war, the German Spring Offensive had failed to bring a decisive victory in the Western Front before the Americans could arrive. Morale among German soldiers had reached its lowest point since the beginning in 1914.

Major Knox was confident with his judgment and the men he oversaw. “Our boys are employing their natural skill in baseball in handling grenades. They use a short arm quick throw like a catcher trying to nip a runner at second—and their aim is deadly.”

The concept of a round hand grenade—from its conception—was designed around the size and shape. Until the second World War, they were made to simulate a baseball for physical familiarity among soldiers. Perhaps, Knox may have had some bearing on this concept in practice. One may speculate, but we may never know for sure.

Major Knox’s infantry battalion in the camp away from the fighting. “Our camp is pitched in a woods which forms a part of our front and we find at least some security from shells and bombs by sleeping in holes in the ground.”

Artillery accounted for a majority of the casualties in The Great War. Arguably, only second to disease, such as the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. A reality of the human condition that is all too familiar to the people of the modern world.

Major Knox had an enormous responsibility on his shoulders. He and many other United States officers have been handed problems that the Allies have been struggling with since the war began. Only with this new help and the German War economy’s wearing down can the United States make a difference to end the bloodshed.

Writing home from Russia, a historical outlook


Map of Allied operations in Archangel, Russia [Left]. American rifleman, Russian rifle. Defending the critical rail junction at “Verst 466” with the 339th Infantry Regiment, Sept. 24, 1918 [Right].

The AEF – American Expeditionary Force – had decisively defeated the German Army on the Western Front on Nov. 11, 1918. The Great War closed, while a new – more bizarre – chapter opened. Two months prior to the end of the war, President Woodrow Wilson – a politician who ran on a non-intervention policy – moved to send men of the AEF to Russia.

The President must have been troubled by this intervention. The United States felt pressure to join the effort to contain Bolshevism’s spread in Russia and support their allies – Britain and France. Five thousand soldiers of the AEF made up the 339th infantry division. These were men from all temperaments across the state of Michigan. During the late summer of 1918, these Michiganders completed their training in Fort Custer and were prepared to embark on a transport ship to Archangel, Russia.

Several of these men were Alma College students who put their education on hold to fight in the Great War. The Weekly Almanian published a section called “From our Boys in the Service” every edition during the First World War. Letters were printed from students and alumni who were active in the AEF. Private Russel – an Alma College student – wrote to his Mother on Sept. 10, 1918:

Somewhere in Russia:

Dear Mother,

At least we are somewhere and in Russia at that. I suppose everything is all O. K. at home. I surely hope so. I never felt better in my life. I do not know whether I have gained in pounds or not because all the scales are balanced in Russian.

Russia does not look as old as I had expected. All the streets are either mud or cobblestone. There are a few street cars. The horses are all very small and pull from a yoke in the form of an arch, over their necks. All of the axles are made of wood and are well greased. The Russian dress is surely queer. I saw one fellow who had a purple silk shirt on that I would like to get my hands on. Some of the girls look like Yankees in their dress. The Russian churches have large globe domes, generally gilded. They have lots of huge bells which, when they ring, ring steadily for about forty minutes. One of the churches around here has a large picture in it. Looks like a hand painting but of course it isn’t because the weather would soon destroy it. Another church has pictures of saints all over on one side.

There are plenty of wooden sidewalks around here. The Russian language is surely a tongue-twister. Already we have mastered a few words like good and no good thanks, the names of towns, cigarettes, dog, etc. They make a noise like a rattle snake to stop their horses.

Well I must close, with love to all.


Even one hundred years ago, Russel conveyed the Alma College code of ethics; to foster curiosity abroad and approach his situation from a position of learning. His letter also carries melancholy for his home he had left behind. Moreover, yes – only a Michigander would act as polite as Russel does, despite the perilous circumstances.

For Russel and for the rest of the 339th from Michigan – who more than likely left home for the first time – will have to combat disease, the harsh cold and maintain morale. It would slowly turn into an intervention that none of the men could justify themselves as to what purpose they were serving in Russia.

Alma College in World War I



“There can be no turning back.” These were President Woodrow Wilson’s words when he asked Congress to declare war on Germany in early April 1917. Debates across the United States ensued concerning the extent of militarization. Over one hundred years ago – at the cost of five cents per copy – on April 10th, 1917, The Weekly Almanian opened with this question to the campus community. Will military training become a part of the regular course of the male students of the College?

The College answered with an almost unanimous agreement to prepare students and select professors for training. The writer’s introduction begins, “now that war has been declared and that real action seems imminent, it is the duty of every able-bodied man to prepare himself for the aefence of the flag, and for the liberation of the world from a German autocracy.” Life at Alma – as well as the rest of the nation – was about to change.

Name-known figures of Alma College spoke their minds in The Weekly Almanian. Dean Mitchell – known now as the name of Mitchell Hall on north campus – was hesitant to military mobilization at Alma College. He spoke to the interviewer explaining that “I don’t’ believe in military training because I think it tends to create a military caste, where the civilian has no rights such as a military man has, when it comes to respect. However, I believe it is now in order, and we ought to have it.”

However, a multitude of students and professors were in favor of training. Many of the professors quoted in the article have had prior military training and believe it to be more beneficial than athletics. Aside from the recent declaration of war, Alma College life thrived as it usually did.

The Almanian added personal touches. Advertisements of local businesses could be found between the articles’ margins. Alma College Alumni took the time to write about what they were doing and where they have been after they graduated. Wright Hall once had a section of the Weekly Almanian where students would report where they were traveling to on weekend breaks from school. Although these early editions of the Almanian were – for the most part – not that long ago, much of their language read of mannerisms and topics from a bygone era in Alma’s history.

With the addition of this new section of the paper, histories long-forgotten; of times where students would gather by the Pine River or socialize in Wright Hall; might come back. Not in a physical sense, but in something far more important than that. Remembrance.

In the words of Frank Hurst – class of 1904 – to the song “I Want to Go Back to Michigan,”

“There’s a school in Michigan,

And I often wish again,

That I was back just to live those days once more;

Then was I a student gay,

And I’d while the time away

On the river at night; by day I’d study, snooze and snore.

And lonesome soul am I,

Here’s the reason why: –

I want to go back, I want to go back,

Back to Alma College years;

Back through smiles and tears;

Back to Wright Hall and the dears;

I miss the teachers – the cruel creatures

That made me bone ’till four a.m.

They thought we came to College just for knowledge,

Nevertheless, we bluffed in classes and buzzed the lasses;

And our work was mostly play.

My heart would jump with glee

Could I but only see

Alma today!”

Political organizations pop up on campus


Graphic by Weston Hirvela

As campus adapts to the changes of hybrid student life, many of the former – and some new – political organizations have begun to meet and plan for future events.

Despite many of the recent restrictions, the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) and Students of Liberty have made an effort to make an impact on campus politics.

YSDA has come into the new semester after a string of successful events following the campus shutdown. Although most are virtual, they have seen a great amount of success with their latest endeavors.

“We have to be more flexible to the changing rules on campus due to social distancing, but having virtual events can be effective,” said Tanvi Sharma (’21), YDSA Co-Chair.

YSDA holds their meetings at 7:30 every Thursday on the Chapel Lawn. Their meetings are welcome to all students interested in the political process, and ideas of socialism. The YDSA is among the most active clubs on campus and hosted a fruitful fundraising event over the summer.

“We had a successful conspiracy themed event that was entirely virtual. It was incredible to see the effort our members put into their presentations, and we were able to raise so much money over Zoom!” said Sharma.

The Conspiracy Night event was conducted entirely online, and members were able to raise over $500 for R.I.S.E. Advocacy. The YDSA has worked with R.I.S.E. in previous semesters, and intends to hold further Conspiracy Night fundraisers in the future.

As prior established groups make plans, a recent political student club has formed to hold open discussions.

A new student political organization – Students for Liberty – has been approved by Student Congress to move forward in the process of becoming a permanent campus group. Students for Liberty is a local political organization organized by students of multiple political positions, and has plans to establish themselves in the campus community in the near future.

The organizations aim to welcome students of all backgrounds to their discussions. Students of Liberty meet Monday nights at 9:45 in DOW Science Center.

Students for Liberty was organized by several students over the summer to provide an outlet for third party ideas on campus.

“When you come to college, it’s the time to explore who you are as a person. Understanding who you are before you get involved in the election process is important,” said Austin Popp (’21), Students of Liberty Co-Founder.

“The aim of our group is to not force libertarian values on campus. It’s to help students find their beliefs,” said Popp.

“We are not exclusive to libertarians. We want to accept people of all creeds and have them feel welcome. The goal of our group is to have conversations about modern issues,” said Ethan Zalac (’22), Students for Liberty Co-Founder.

Students for Liberty plans to set up tables for voter registration on campus before the 2020 election in November. The Students for Liberty also plan to work closely with YDSA to open voter registration tables to encourage the voting process.

As November draws closer, YDSA and Students for Liberty will plan on hosting regular meetings and encouraging students to venture forth and continue developing their political philosophies.

Tuition increase poses challenges


For many students on campus, the high tuition expenses of attending school have placed a barrier between the student and service institution in terms of where their money goes. Transparency between students and the college helps put myths to rest concerning why college has a cost.

Tuition encompasses two definitions of costs. A published cost covers tuition, fees and average room and board. Net cost is the published cost minus federal, state and Alma College financial aid and scholarships.

Understanding the difference helps clarify where tuition payments go as a reality of attending Alma College. Beginning with the different definitions of tuition helps clarify where and why tuition benefits the campus and the students.

“The terminology between net cost and the published cost is important. It is the net cost that considers all the financial aid and scholarships,” said Jeffrey Swears, Chief Financial Officer.

Tuition increases for several reasons, both internal and external concerns that are generally impossible for the institution to prevent.

Inevitably, tuition costs rise every year due to gradual increases in inflation as general costs increase for all goods and services that the college purchases; costs are passed on in the form of a tuition increase.

“Inflation certainly affects increasing tuition. At the same time, we focus on affordability, regarding keeping costs as low as possible in order to keep a quality education affordable for our students,” said Swears.

The purpose of tuition as a value is to provide a high quality education and living experience for all students on campus. That also covers a fair wage for staff and services on campus that are provided for students.

“All schools face the same thing. We all try to provide the best quality education and living experience we can, but we want to pay the staff a fair living wage,” said Swears.

The best means for the college to keep tuition affordable is to be efficient with the costs that come with maintaining a private college. Student affordability is a high priority of Alma College.

When it comes to affordability, the relationship between fixed scholarships and increasing tuition rates can become a topic that is often lesser understood by the general student populous.

“Scholarships do not increase with tuition cost. In a Freshman’s arrival year, they are awarded a level based on their financial need and merit. The college keeps this rate flat because we want to award as much as we can. If tuition increases, then that is a difference that students end up paying,” said Swears.

The smaller the college, the lower they can keep the published cost. Therefore, the gap between rising tuition and fixed scholarship rates can stay at a cost-effective level.

“For Fall 2019, Alma’s published cost will increase by 2.85%, the lowest such increase in at least 15 years,” said Swears.

The highest cost that colleges face is maintaining and improving campus utilities, facilities and equipment for future generations. The costs for people who live and use student services on campus primary make up the base of this cost.

“Beyond that, we have costs for technology and educational support costs. We have the buildings themselves. We have to maintain residents’ halls and all the buildings on campus. Student meal plans are another considerable cost out of tuition,” said Swears.

All of the listed services add up to the total cost of tuition for providing an education. As those costs increase, the cost of student tuition rises correspondingly to meet that shift.

“In 2017, Alma College’s net cost was the third lowest among 7 Michigan MIAA schools,” said Swears.

The faculty at the Student Service Office do their best to provide efficient, affordable education for students at Alma. Their work is important and appreciated by many students on our campus.


Students intern over the summer


For many students on campus, a summer internship is a great way to get career experience, personal responsibility and a new perspective within their desired field of study. Internship opportunities can often accommodate a broad spectrum of individual interests and personal goals.

The process of finding a summer internship doesn’t have to be a challenge. The first step to finding or refining the process can be as easy as making an appointment with the CSO, Center of Student Opportunity.

Alma College provides an outlet for students to get in contact with potential employment opportunities through the CSO. Instead of taking the process on alone, a team of professionals guide students toward success.

“Carla Jenson and Maddie Moenggenburg have been invaluable. Carla showed me the program and Maddie helped me figure out what I needed from an internship,” said Asiel Clark (’20).

Clark was approved to intern at CIE, which stands for the Council for International Exchange. Her internship will be based on a casting company in London, England.

“This internship is critical to me because I’ll have a chance to figure things out. This is something I’m interested in because I’m in theater and I’m interested in all aspects of theater production,” said Clark.

“Elon Brisette and Carla Jensen have both reviewed scholarship applications from me, and Maria Jones strongly encouraged me to apply. Everyone there has been incredibly kind to me as I’ve gone through the process,” said Clark.

The faculty in the CSO are trained to help guide students towards the vast array of opportunities available for successful students.

“The CSO helped me revise my resume before I applied for my internship,” said Laney Alvarado (’20).

Alvarado was approved for her internship to work at CMH in Washtenaw County. CMH stands for Community Mental Health, which provides helpful services to individuals who suffer from mental health disorders.

“I’m going to be observing and shadowing social workers and phycologists,” said Alvarado.

Through the Psycology Department, Alvarado will focus on shadowing and personal research. One aspect of her research will take place at Oakland University, and the other will be with CMH.

“This research opportunity will help me figure out my path. I recommend everyone to go out into the real world and see how career paths work, beyond Alma College,” said Alvarado.

Students can also find great travel internship opportunities by applying for a Posey Global Scholarship, An Alma College Scholarship that funds students to pursue their passions on an international level.

“As long as a student has a good idea and strives to become a better global citizen, then the process of obtaining a P-Global is achievable,” said Alvarado.

A Posey Global is a perfect source for students looking for service opportunities, research topics and helping people from different walks of life. This scholarship opportunity helps it become more practical for students on campus to take on internships and not break the bank in the process.

“You can do anything. It’s a good way for students who have fewer resources to achieve larger, more impacting goals without having to be concerned about course credits or money,” said Alvarado.

The P-Global scholarship centers around what best works for students and how they want to travel. Students can apply alone or group up and engage in opportunities together. The preference lies with the interest of the individual and their plans to further their experience.

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