“Beneath the Whispering Maples” finding relevance on social media


by Alex Kirkpatrick, Digital Editor

The definitive history of Simpson College, documented in the late Joe Walt’s “Beneath the Whispering Maples,” is now finding relevance on Twitter.

Professor of political science Kedron Bardwell completed Walt’s more than 800-page book in 30 days over the summer.

His findings are posted under the Twitter handle @WhisperingMaple using the hashtag #30DaysofWalt.

The idea, Bardwell said, was to honor Walt, who taught at Simpson for more than 50 years.

“I’m sure Joe’s motivation of writing the book was simply his love of Simpson and telling the story of the people who changed it and built it,” Bardwell said. “I think the idea that resonates throughout all of Simpson’s history is this idea that higher education, particularly a liberal arts education, is important.”

Bardwell said he was struck by how integral the Methodist Church was in the early years of Simpson, saving the college multiple times from financial collapse.

“The typical thing that would happen, if Simpson was having financial problems – many times near closing – is they would have a service and someone would get up and say, ‘We can’t let this die. This is what God wants us to do is continue this college and minister to kids and have this value of higher education in the Methodist church,’” Bardwell said.

He also said student activism, especially in the late 20th century, was a highlight of Simpson’s history, when students started to aggressively participate in social change which had not been the case before.

“The period during the Vietnam War was tumultuous but very interesting,” he said.

Bardwell spoke at the All College Convocation and recounted the story of when students rallied together to lift a dancing ban, which reached national headlines.

The Schenectady Gazette, now The Daily Gazette, reported the story on March 27, 1933:

“The 50-year-old ban against dancing at Simpson College will be lifted next fall, it was disclosed tonight by a member of the board of trustees.

Student dissension reached a climax Friday when A. V. Proufoot, president of the board, was greeted with a shower of eggs and oranges at the conclusion of a speech, in which he referred to the suspension of six students for refusal to sign pledges not to dance.

The student body voted today to make a personal apology to the board president.”

In the present day, people should be looking for the deep history of the organizations they belong, according to Bardwell.

“Think of the fraternities and sororities,” he said. “Some of them have been in existence here since they started in the 1880s. It’s amazing to think that these organizations have been working here for more than 130 years.”

Bardwell encourages students to read a sliver of Simpson’s history to see how organizations or events were formed.

“You could start an organization, and it might be here 100 years from now,” he said. “That’s a pretty cool thing for a student who is engaged on campus to think about.”

Bardwell noted multiple examples of student activism in modern times, including the “End of the Isms” March, Agents of Change and Simpson Votes.

He hopes using social media will get students more interested. The Twitter account, @WhisperingMaple, already has more than 140 followers.

The main impact, Bardwell said, is for one to understand that the past is just as relevant as today.

“The lesson in the book, overall, is you can change things if you just get educated, involved and make a difference,” he said. “We don’t expect you to receive an education and get a job, but also get in the world.”

Bardwell rates the book four stars out of five, reasoning that Walt’s writing is exhaustive yet interesting.