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The Dust Bowl is Educational and Personal for McKenzie

Mike McKenzie's grandfather took this photo of a dust storm bearing down on Manter, Kan.

Mike McKenzie couldn’t figure out why his mother never returned to her childhood home in western Kansas.

“My brother and I tried numerous times to get her to go back,” said McKenzie, associate professor of philosophy and religion. “We thought it would be fun for to see the place and some of her friends. I just didn’t get it.”

He got it after making the trek to Johnson, Kan., himself.

“It’s an utterly exposed place,” recalled McKenzie. “You’re exposed to winds and weather on all four sides.”

And that made life tough for Maxine Carter, her mother; father, who was a wheat farmer; and sister—especially in the 1930s  when the Dust Bowl, a period of severe dust storms, caused major ecological and agricultural damage on the Southern plains.

The Dust Bowl lasted 10 years and made activities typically taken for granted—breathing and eating—a challenge. Children wore dust masks and women hung wet sheets over windows to keep the dust out of their homes. Crops were blown away.

So powerful were these rolling waves of dust they would “obliterate the sun,” recalled McKenzie’s mother.

And it wasn’t just dust storms that the young Maxine Carter was forced to survive. Tornadoes, ice storms, and blizzards would “force kids into storm cellars and they wouldn’t know if their farm or home was still standing until they came out,” said McKenzie.

Maxine Carter was born in 1922 and moved to Oregon in 1936. She will never return to Johnson or Manter, Kan., where her family lived before heading to the Pacific Northwest.  And her son now understands why.

Maxine Carter and her family lived in this house in Johnson, Kan., before moving to Oregon. The photo was taken from an upper floor at the old Stone School, the only point of elevation in the town.

“My mother had a good home life growing up but a scary place,” he said. “I understand why she doesn’t have fond memories of her early life in Kansas.”

While acknowledging the highly personal nature of this story, McKenzie saw it has a perfect fit for his Environmental Ethics class that he his teaching this semester.

“The Dust Bowl is the greatest environmental disaster in this country’s history, and I decided to do a large segment on it in my class,” he said.  “I couldn’t bring my students to Kansas so I am bringing Kansas to them.”

McKenzie teamed with Troy Cusson, instructional design manager in the Wertman Office of Distance Education (WODE), to create a video that features an interview McKenzie did with his mother in January as well as photos his grandfather took in western Kansas in the 1930s.

The Dust Bowl exhibit in Lightner Library brings 1930s Kansas to life.

And, he partnered with John Locke, director of instructional design and multidisciplinary studies in WODE, to construct a Dust Bowl exhibit in a Lightner Library display case.

“Students and others will see artifacts from the Dust Bowl and the display case itself looks like a farmer’s cabin from the 1930s,” said McKenzie. “There is even some actual Kansas dust.”

One of Locke’s biggest challenges was to find a way for people to view the video (it runs on a loop and headphones are available for listening) without impinging on the “rustic” quality of the display. So, he built cabinet and gave it a “rough finish to create an aged look.”

He also created a “window into a dust storm” by backlighting an image of a 1930s dust storm.

“John did a terrific job of bringing 1930s Kansas to life,” said McKenzie.

To further enhance his students’ knowledge of the Dust Bowl, McKenzie is planning a field trip to nearby Hunt Country Vineyards “to see how a modern farmer (Art Hunt) employs sustainability in his day- to-day operations. The class will engage in some hands-on activities and get to see good farming practices put into use, as contrasted with those on the high plains of the 1930s that helped spawn the Dust Bowl.”

Finally, McKenzie recently screened Ken Burns’ The Dust Bowl.

“Everyone loves stories,” said McKenzie. “Ken Burns tells a story and that is what we did. It’s a story about my mom. It’s personal, but at the same time it’s educational.”

Beyond 9 – 5

Carol Sackett and two of her paintings, "Still Waters," left and "Sunrise," right.

By day, Penn Yan resident Carol Sackett manages the circulation desk at Lightner Library, a post she has held for 32 years. But through March 7, visitors to Keuka College can glimpse a different side of her, as seen in three oil paintings gracing the walls of Lightner Gallery.

Sackett’s paintings are on display alongside numerous other works from members of Keuka’s faculty and staff, whose job titles may not necessarily disclose the individuals as creative “artists-in-residence.”

Beyond 9 to 5: The Hidden Talents of Keuka’s Faculty and Staff runs through March 7 in Lightner Gallery,located in Lightner Library. It features  a range of artistic mediums, including painting, photography, ceramics, glass work, digital art, and film.  More than 20 faculty and staff members submitted work for the show, including President Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera.

During a special artists’ reception – open to the public – Thursday, Feb. 21 from 4:30 – 6 p.m., the exhibit will also feature select culinary art from four members of the faculty and staff. The exhibit remains open daily during library hours, available online at: http://lightner.keuka.edu

Hand-painted glass by Doreen Hovey

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The Burned Over District Focus of Community Luncheon Series Presentation Dec. 6

Starkey Methodist Church

During much of the 1800s, wave after wave of new religious movements spread across Central and Western New York, earning it the title The Burned Over District.

The Burned Over District will be the focus of Keuka College’s next Community Luncheon Series presentation Thursday, Dec. 6.

Led by Michael McKenzie, associate professor of philosophy and religion, and Troy Cusson, instructional design manager in the Wertman Office of Distance Education (WODE), the presentation begins at noon in the Gannett Room of Lightner Library.

McKenzie combined his writing and research skills with the videography and editing talents of Cusson to create a 60-minute DVD that takes viewers on a tour of many of the exact spots where these religions either got their start or caught fire.

The DVD, three years in the making, doesn’t cover the entire Burned Over District—McKenzie and Cusson traveled throughout Yates County and into Wayne and Seneca counties—but uncovered plenty of material nonetheless.

McKenzie and Cusson traveled to such places as the house of Jemima Wilkinson, the Sacred Grove where Joseph Smith claimed to have had his visions that launched the Mormon Church, and many of the actual sites of the vibrant and explosive Methodist denomination.

Mike McKenzie, associate professor of philosophy and religion.

“It’s hard to believe, because Yates County seems so quiet these days, but once it was a hotbed of religious and spiritual activity,” said McKenzie. “It was fertile ground, and not just for potatoes and carrots. And that’s the reason for the DVD. We want students and others to understand that what it is isn’t what it used to be. This county had its day, and it had a story to tell.”

Tickets for the luncheon are $12.75, $2.50 of which goes to the Penn Yan Keuka Club Scholarship Fund. The fund provides an annual scholarship to a local student attending Keuka College. Seating is limited, so reservations are advised.

Make checks payable to Keuka College and mail to: Office of Alumni and Family Relations, Keuka College, Keuka Park, N.Y. 14478. Reservations may also be made online at http://events.keuka.edu.The reservation deadline is Monday, Dec. 3.

For more information, call (315) 279-5238 or e-mail spevents@keuka.edu.

Yates County a Key Part of The Burned Over District

During much of the 1800s, wave after wave of new religious movements spread across Central and Western New York, earning it the title The Burned Over District.

The region became the birthplace (Palmyra) of Mormonism, while Jemima Wilkinson, an evangelist and one of the first American-born women to found a religious movement, eventually settled in what is now the Town of Jerusalem near the Keuka College campus. And while Methodism wasn’t founded in Western New York, it certainly thrived.

“At one time there were 19 Methodist churches in Yates County,” said Mike McKenzie, associate professor of philosophy and religion.

McKenzie combined his writing and research skills with the videography and editing talents of Troy Cusson, instructional design manager in the Wertman Office of Distance Education (WODE) to create a 60-minute DVD that takes viewers on a tour of many of the exact spots where these religions either go their start or caught fire.

The Burned Over District: Religions of Central New York doesn’t cover the entire district–McKenzie and Cusson traveled throughout Yates County and into Wayne and Seneca counties–but uncovered plenty of material nonetheless.

They discussed the video with Executive Director of Communications Doug Lippincott on WFLR in Dundee.

Listen to the Show

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Watch the Film

About Keuka College Today

Keuka College Today airs the fourth Thursday of every month from 8:30 – 9 a.m. on WFLR (1570 AM and 96.9 FM).

 

A “Blank Slate” To Fill

Students Elise DeAndrea and Marie LaBrie on a Tabula Rasa visit to Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn where Harriet Tubman and William Seward are buried.

Question: Where can a college student discover that nothing – even outside the classroom- is “off-topic?”

Answer: Keuka College, where learning outside of class can sometimes rival learning from a seat, where everything from icons of Buddhism, to towering wind turbines, to abolitionist history, to tattoo artistry, can invite questions and spark intense discussion among students with a passion for learning and exploration.

But it has not always been so.

Keuka used to have an honor society that began fading and died out in the early 2000s, “so the last decade, we’ve had few opportunities for the intellectually curious student,” said Mike McKenzie, associate professor of religion and philosophy.

Few, that is, until 2009, when then-sophomores Stephanie Lange, Aaron Golly and Kelsey Marquart dialogued with McKenzie about starting a group that could “find a way to learn outside the typical confined classroom setting,” Lange said.

They chose the name Tabula Rasa, which is Latin for “blank slate.”

“It’s the idea that we’re sort of born a sponge and we can fill up with knowledge,” said McKenzie, citing philosopher John Locke as the founder of the concept. “To expand someone’s mind, by definition, you have to get them outside their intellectual comfort zone.”

“A lot of the classes that you take are very cerebral, and you have to work through different problems. This is a step away,” explained junior Ross Gleason of Rockingham, Vt., who is helping lead Tabula Rasa this year with junior Sarah Marquart. “What do you want to learn? Ok, go do it. It’s always more interesting to go and experience something yourself. It allows you to get a broad view.”

Icons of Buddhism were discussed at a Tabula Rasa event.

Indeed, Tabula Rasa has covered a wide breadth of exploration. For example, the group hosted a former Mennonite, who spoke about her experience, and later, a Buddhist shared elements and icons of that faith. They visited a winery to learn the difference between traditional and organic wines, and stood underneath giant wind turbines at a wind “farm” in Cohocton. And, they explored historic roots of the Underground Railroad during a visit to Auburn’s Harriet Tubman home, William Seward House Museum, and Fort Hill Cemetery, where Tubman is buried. A two-night visit to a private observatory for stargazing was another outing last year.
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