Turkey Day with a Side of Mercy

While it always hurts to come across hateful comments about my father on social media, last month, I started receiving such comments on my personal accounts. Anger has often been my initial response in such situations. Recently, I did something unexpected, I paused and remembered a song I was learning, a song about mercy and how we all could use it.

I changed my focus and quickly recognized both the hate and pain surging through this troubled individual. The prudent option here was to ignore what was not really an attack, but an individual in pain, lashing out; in addition, adjusting my thinking helped me deal with such posts. I wondered where else “mercy” was needed…

Every semester, I perform for the Music Appreciation class at the college. This time, in addition to the usual presentation about oral tradition and Appalachian folk music, I added a current song I was learning. While the song is still in need of a final polish (and an amp for the strumstick), it felt right to sing about mercy. This holiday season, in addition to thankfulness, where do you need to show mercy? Is there a rift from long ago in need of attention? Are you still avoiding family members with differing political views? Perhaps it’s time to “mend the bond.”

Thanks for reading and have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Time to stock up on Lip Balm!



Family, Church, and Local Community College

During my first year of college, Dr. John Willson’s history class mapped a substantial portion of America’s history through study of “Family, Church, and Local Community.” Expanding on Dr. Willson’s famous phrase, I observed a connection to education. Last fall, I accepted a part-time position as afternoon secretary at Kellogg Community College’s Fehsenfeld Center. To be completely honest, I questioned whether I should instead pursue a full time teaching position. However, I recognized something special here.

I first began working at the Fehsenfeld Center in the fall of 1996, teaching Transitional English and serving as a paraprofessional. Teaching at this level improved my understanding of the writing process. If students could master a quality paragraph, they could readily transition to the college essay. This experience served me well when later teaching Freshman Composition. I also met fellow instructors; many were members of the local community: Lawyers, high school teachers, business and community leaders, etc. They offered a unique combination of education paired with real world experience.

The Fehsenfeld Center also brings in a lively group of local students who, year after year, often form a learning community. Many become friends, form study groups, and succeed together. As an Adjunct Instructor for the past two decades, I was already part of this process; however, I wanted more. My brother once shared that secretaries are the sergeants of an institution; without their leadership, facilities could not function effectively. In addition to time in the classroom, I discovered that assisting students in the office often increased the classroom connection. I enjoy hearing about their current semesters and future plans, providing assistance if they are feeling frustrated and need a small nudge, perhaps a starting point for an assignment, someone to help brainstorm summer options, or just an ear to listen.

The Fehsenfeld Center offers a unique learning experience for the residents of Barry County:

• Want to complete core classes close to home and transfer to a four year institution? Did you know that 4 out of 10 students who earn a four year degree begin at their local community college? (insidehighered.com)

• Want to pursue a class or two at an affordable price and see if college is the next step?

• Interested in learning a trade? Come learn about our welding and manufacturing programs.

• Want to explore special interest classes? Perhaps you might enjoy Pastor Anton’s Life Long Learning Class, The Bible: A Closer Look.

• Want to earn an associate’s degree and take on the world?

Come see me in the office!

Thanks for reading!

The Greatest Generation Goes to College


With April Fools’ Day just around the corner, I decided to share a classic prank from my mom’s notebook collection.  Over several years, Mom rode the California Zephyr to Denver each month to take care of Grandma Clare.  She always had a notebook with her to keep busy during the long journey.

Long journeys provide the ideal time for reflection.  This past winter, in particular, provided many afternoons to remember, reflect, and record.  My blogging adventure started 4 years ago.  The journey has given so much, healing during tough times, direction and focus when challenges emerge, improvement as a writing instructor, and keeping up with old friends while making new  with each post.  From time to time , I will share some of the earlier, more memorable entries.

Thank you, readers!

The Greatest Generation Goes to College by June Bernard Roche

Originally published November 22, 2012

…While horses were not my favorite animal, I grew up around horses because of my Uncle Bill and other horse people who were trained to invade Italy at Anzio because the invasion was too rough for a mechanized assault and would be completed with horses and mules. I grew up with Cavalry jokes like, “a pack of Horse Dropping Cigarettes–untouched by human hands.” (Which hit me as great humor in 4th grade)

The cartoons of Bill Mauldin were part of my life after the war. I loved the one of the old cavalry sergeant shooting the disabled jeep. Willie and Joe were a good impression of my thoughts about WWII.

Bill Mauldin jeep

Later in life I got to know the real Willie and Joes who came home and went to college on the GI Bill. At my school, they would tell the tale of these men who had survived the Battle of the Bulge, had shot at Kamikazes coming at their ships and survived the war often with wounds both physical and mental.

They came to campus and among the adjustments were things like getting in trouble for lighting a cigarette. One group of them presented a little surprise at chapel one day. They had filled all the pipes at the Hillsdale College Baptist Church with chicken feathers. The next morning the school assembled for mandatory chapel. The opening hymn began to the accompaniment of a flurry of poultry feathers. As these feathers floated, sometimes in little puffs powered by crescendo from the organist, the chapel became a very scene of collegiate glee as the prank was one of the greatest ever dared.

Our ex-GI’s paid to have the organ cleaned, graduated and went on to become successful in all sorts of endeavors. Eventually one became the President of the Board of Trustees at Hillsdale College as well as numerous trustees. They were the greatest supporters of our little school as were their wives, many of whom they met at the school.

At homecoming they always returned, and I felt privileged to work with, travel with, and party with this greatest generation. They have been leaving us slowly over the last ten years, but the spirit of these boys who weathered the depression and then were sent into the hell of war was the example set for my generation who followed them. We are still trying to live up to your noble sacrifice and courage.


June Bernard Roche was born in Brooklyn, NY, during the depression and spent her early years growing up in Pennsylvania on the campus of Lafayette College. Ironically, she was to live on college campuses for nearly forty years. In 1955, she married George Roche III. They lived in Virginia and Florida while George completed his years of service in the Marines. Later, June taught high school French while George completed his Ph.D at CU Boulder.

They moved to New York in 1965 when George was named Director of Seminars at FEE, the Foundation for Economic Education. June taught French at Dobbs Ferry High School. In 1971, they moved to Hillsdale, MI, where George became the President of Hillsdale College. In June’s words, “We were at Hillsdale until 1999, and we worked very hard to make the college the best institution possible. Since 1999, I’ve dealt with cancer, much memorable travel with family and friends, open heart surgery, the joys of grandchildren and now my first great-granddaughter, and learned how to deal with the winds of change that buffet our lives.”

The First Leaves the Nest

Last month, Chad and I delivered our first born to college. What a memorable day! The night before, many aunts and uncles provided an official Irish clan send off. Several aunts even threatened to attend Siblings’ Weekend. The few hours spent at the college streamed by in a blur, visiting with students and staff, the memorable mob of students who helped unload, Opening Convocation, the tears and hugs between students and parents, giving a blessing to our child, the quiet drive home…

Patricks send off

Despite attempts at mental preparedness, the first leaving home proved a bittersweet transition. While Patrick will be home for vacations and summer, he truly no longer lives with us. What an odd adjustment. As parents, we spend so much time teaching life skills: Independence, a strong work ethic, the value of education, etc. When our young men and women take those first steps towards independence, a part of every parent holds on and hesitates before finally letting them go.

Fortunately, a busy routine greatly aided this transition. Between high school football, an increased teaching load, the fall harvest, and other responsibilities, my mind focused on other things. The many activities also limited communication with Patrick, so he could begin his new journey without a nagging parent.

I composed a short poem about this experience, remembering high school English class when Mrs. Bell taught iambic rhythms:

The First Leaves the Nest

Our summer path was filled with joy,
Yet time draws near for our dear boy.
Goodbye full house, he’s out the door,
And now our numbers slip to four.

Thanks for reading! Happy Fall from Cairn Hill Farms!

Fall at Cairn Hill Farms

Remember your Roots

dad and mom

George and June Roche, Dad’s Graduation from the University of Colorado

A few weeks ago, I placed a few requests on social media, asking for comments about my parents and their time at Hillsdale College. The thoughtful responses brought back many memories from several generations of students. Growing up at Broadlawn, the students of Hillsdale College were central to my parents’ lives whether through day to day college business, a student in need of additional financial assistance (one of Mom’s many missions), or a student in need of a home-cooked meal or family movie night (usually John Wayne westerns). I loved seeing the students come and go; several of them are friends today. I’m thankful for the example my parents set regarding students’ needs outside the classroom. I think it makes me a more effective educator…

My father and your father were great friends. That friendship was formed with their evolvement with F.E.E. And The Mount Pellerin Society. I met your father briefly in the early 70’s and I could not help but be impressed by his obvious intelligence and boundless energy. Most importantly to me though was was a kind man. It was what drew me to Hillsdale. I met your brother George, who was in my class I believe, and we had some fun together. I also had the honor of introducing your father at a school business function. I was so awed by reading his credentials that I must have looked shocked, but he saved the day with his big warm smile.

~Henry Hagemann

I graduated with your brother and his wife, and worked for the college after graduation. During those years, I had the opportunity to witness your mother in a variety of social and business settings. On each occasion, she conducted herself as a great lady should, with intelligence, integrity, compassion and grace. Hillsdale was lucky to have her.

~Cheryl Lieblang

I had the pleasure of meet George Roche while attending Hillsdale College from 1993-1997. A great guy with a ton of knowledge.

~Tommy Sudduth

I attended Hillsdale from 1975 to 1979. As editor of the Collegian in the fall of 1978, I had a number of dealings with your father, all of which were cordial and even when we disagreed about publishing a story he did not like, they were still very respectful. Your mother was a wonderful woman, always warm and welcoming when I came to the house for an event.

~Benne Hutson

It wasn’t any particular story while I was there. It was after. His power of personality, immense gift of observation was mind blowing. To come back 10 years after graduation and be met with a handshake, by name with no tag, and throw my jersey number in for good measure! Wow, wish I had paid as much attention while I was in school. What he understood was how to make an environment of immense learning without many of us even realizing the absorption we were experiencing. That’s my memory and fondness for George. A name I was required to use when I attempted a meager Mr. Roche at that very meeting.

~Jim Shuster, Class of 1985

It is with great joy that I share my glimpses of June and George Roche while a student, and then an employee, at Hillsdale College from 1976 to 1983. My first memory of seeing June Roche was when I was a transferred-in sophomore in 1976. Mrs. Roche was walking with her husband and President of Hillsdale College, the George Roche, near Central Hall. They appeared to be in deep conversation and thought, walking slowly side by side, listening to each other and speaking with one another with great deliberation. They made a striking couple and that vision of them expressed many of the elements embodied at Hillsdale—tenderness, concern, beauty, listening, discussing, elegance, timeless grace. At that time I did not know who these two were but later discovered their identities. As busy as they both must have been that urgency of day to day life did not show in their demeanor as they walked and talked with each other. After that I saw June many times at Broadmoor as I would walk into town from Waterman Hall. She was often in the company of her youngest, their daughter Maggie. Seeing them together was dear to recall. June gave off the “aroma” of gracious calm that came from living a life consecrated to God, family, school and country. That kind of spiritual beauty cannot be bought, manipulated, falsified or affected. I infrequently saw June when I attended CCA lectures and cultural events on campus. My deepest memory of George was as a student, a senior, who was a few credits short of graduation requirements. I was told by the registrar that I had to go see George to obtain approval for walking across the stage with my class of 1979 in May. Having not really known him while studying at Hillsdale, this mission was daunting. I laid out to him a solid plan to attend summer school in June and July of 1979, finish the few classes I needed to fulfill the requirements of my BA degree, on a promissory note of sorts to follow through on my plan. His side of the conversation was comforting. He said I could walk across the stage with my class and would be handed the leather “holder” of my degree but no degree. That was a perfect solution. It was principled, easy, and only I would know. While this may have been a standard practice at Hillsdale, to me it was a sort of “salvation” which meant everything to me and for which I have remained every grateful. When I began working in the Admissions Office I would see June and George at various recruiting dinners held at Hillsdale, at Homecoming events and always at the seasonal CCA lectures, dinners and cultural events on campus. Their stewardship of Hillsdale College as the President and First Lady was impeccable, thoughtful, firm, compassionate and lovely to behold.

~H. (Kuhn) Bryant, 1976-1979

I had the pleasure of knowing Dr. & Mrs. Roche both as a student from 1975- 79 and as an employee of the College from 1979-81.  On one occasion as a student, I was part of a group invited to have dinner at Broadlawn with Jack Kemp, it was impressive to listen to these fine American leaders.  Dr. Roche was always very supportive of our efforts on the football field.  I remember Dr. Roche and then Athletic Director, Jack McAvoy being very close and spending a lot of time together on campus and on the road raising money for the school. As a member of the Development Staff (now Institutional Advancement), I had the opportunity to watch our charismatic former president and his family interact with many supporters of the College.  They always treated me and those I observed with respect and dignity.  Dr. Roche had a presence and like he friend Coach McAvoy was an intimidating figure – together they were a powerful combination.

~Keith Otterbein

Any one who wishes to add thoughts, please share your comments! Thanks for reading!

College or Bust!



As my eldest ventures into the world of higher education this fall, I pondered what helped me the most in my college years and what I might have done differently. Ever the list maker, I came up with some tips that helped me succeed:

  1. Sign up for a lighter load the first semester. In addition to taking fewer classes, try to take easier courses while adjusting to college life.
  2. On the first day of class, introduce yourself to a couple students and exchange contact information. That way if you forget to write down the homework, miss a day of class, or have any questions, you have contacts from the classroom…plus a great way to make friends.
  3. Anything your instructor writes on the board belongs in your notebook! If your instructor takes the time to write something on the board, you probably need to know what’s there.
  4. Only miss class if absolutely necessary! Even though work can occasionally be made up and notes copied, there is no substitute for being there, absorbing the information. During my college years, I discovered that if I missed more than one class, my grades would suffer.
  5. If not a morning person, do yourself a favor and avoid 8:00 classes (at least for the first semester while you adjust to the new routine).
  6. If you use a memory stick, take good care of it! My senior year I lost ten pages of my senior thesis by tossing my computer disk among textbooks, kleenex, and notebooks. Learn from my mistake and take care of your equipment!
  7. When writing essays, start the writing process as quickly as possible, allowing time for at least three drafts. Additional suggestions for producing quality essays can be found here.
  8. Have fun, get to know your classmates, and try new things! College is about experiencing life and making life-long connections…enjoy the journey!

Thanks for reading!

Empty Chairs at the Table

MK and dog pic


This weekend has given a glimpse of things to come. One child ventures on his first college visit and another travels on a school trip. While our youngest remains home, I can’t help but think of the limited time remaining before these kids head out and spread their wings…kind of bittersweet for me.

I look forward to watching my children’s adventures into adulthood, but I will miss them so. My happiest moments have been those little times, especially around the dinner table. We would discuss history, religion, or politics yet quickly escalate to uncontrolled laughter so intense that milk or mashed potatoes would occasionally fly. Our dinner table served multiple purposes: homework, canning, wine making, family meetings, fondue night, Sunday breakfast, Thanksgiving dinner, the list goes on…

My grandparents used the same table as far back as Grandad’s years as a Prohibition agent, even cleaning his government issue 12 gauge on that same table. Growing up at Broadlawn, that table had a place of pride in our breakfast nook where we ate most family meals. I remember Granaw peeling vegetables and Dad and Granaw playing their whirlwind rounds of cribbage. I remember games of Connect Four, hiding unwanted food (usually turnips) under the heat register, and late night pizza with my sister and our friends or planning the occasional mischief.

Chad and I consider ourselves fortunate to carry on this piece of family history. When the table joined our home, I remember Chad’s prayer of thanks for continued adventures with this special piece of furniture. This weekend in particular as I miss my boys, I can’t help but feel both joy and sadness as I walk past the table that has witnessed so many generations, and held so many memories and so much love.