The Deacon Blog

A magazine staff blog with news of alumni and the WFU community

Maria Henson (’82)

Buck Cochran (’82) and friends working miracles at Peacehaven Farm


By Maria Henson (’82)

When last I checked in on Buck Cochran (’82) for the magazine, he was learning to be a farmer. He still is. “Somebody the other day called me a Google farmer. I was Googling an answer,” he said: Was it time to harvest peanuts? That’s how Farmer Buck started — on the Internet. That’s what this former Navy officer, ex-corporate executive and ordained Presbyterian minister still does — with notable success.

Community lunch at Peacehaven Farm

Community lunch at Peacehaven Farm

He continues to learn at Peacehaven Community Farm, which he has shepherded as executive director since the nonprofit’s founding during the economic crash. The farm sits on a gentle hill adorned with raised garden beds in Whitsett, North Carolina, near Burlington. When I visited Buck in the summer of 2010, he had two full-time farm employees, a board of directors and an annual count of about 200 volunteers who gardened and tended the farm (and, on a spirit-to-spirit level, each other). They all nurtured a dream to establish a working farm with housing for special-needs adults. Of equal importance, they shared a goal of meaningful labor through which volunteers and residents could form relationships.

Buck Cochran (left): 'The impossible becomes the possible.'

Buck Cochran (left): ‘The impossible becomes the possible.’

When the world is awash in grim news, it is nothing short of breathtaking to chart the progress at Peacehaven. There you will find Wake Foresters gathered around the occasional bonfire and always fanning the flames of Pro Humanitate.

• Consider a few of the highlights from Peacehaven in 2014:

• Volunteers and staff built a playground in one day, a destination for anyone.

• Peacehaven and Habitat for Humanity of Greater Greensboro teamed to build Susan’s View, a 5,000-square-foot house on the hill for residents with disabilities.

• Peacehaven gained status as an intermediary to manage the AmeriCorps VISTA program in the area. AmeriCorps volunteers commit to serve a nonprofit or public agency full time for one year.

• The iconic barn was remodeled to provide upstairs office space, and it now features 54 solar panels to supply the nonprofit’s electricity.

• The big moment arrived: residents moved into Susan’s View and so did the home coordinator and three AmeriCorps volunteers who serve as resident assistants.

• Guilford Nonprofit Consortium named Peacehaven nonprofit of the year.

Kim Harviel Sue (’82) is Peacehaven's 'personal cheerleader.'

Kim Harviel Sue (’82) is Peacehaven’s ‘personal cheerleader.’

I visited Buck a few weeks ago and marveled at the beauty of the house, the barn’s new offices and the best sight of all — a young woman pedaling as hard as she could on a three-wheeled bicycle. “Whoa! Do you think she’ll stop before she gets to the highway?” I asked Buck, feeling a type of anxiety arise I’d not felt since my days supervising my toddler niece. He studied her and looked back at me, unconcerned. “She usually makes that turn up the driveway.” And she did.

Good job, Molly Barker. She’s one of the four special-needs adults who moved into Susan’s View in December. After the final driveway lap, she rolled the bicycle back into the barn past an array of shovels, hoes and rakes neatly stored on the wall, and then she took her leave to head home for lunch. Buck and I were left to admire those tools, which have their own Wake Forest story.

After the feature about Peacehaven appeared in Wake Forest Magazine, Buck heard from one of our readers, Joe Saffron (’89), senior director of marketing at The AMES Companies, Inc. in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. He and Buck didn’t know each other, but Joe liked what he read about the farm. What did Peacehaven need? He asked Buck for a list of tools.


Liz Bailey hugs volunteer Gabbi Murray

From shovels to wheelbarrows to hoes, the list was long. Off it went. And then it was quiet for a while. “Until one day this big 18-wheeler pulls into Peacehaven, and we’re trying to wave him off,” Buck says. “No. No. You’re in the wrong place.” The driver wasn’t. Saffron’s gifts from AMES had arrived — “pallets and pallets and pallets of stuff. It was like Christmastime here. And the thing that was so amazing — he sent us construction-grade tools that look just about as good today as they did then.”

Joe told me in a phone call this month, “Some things, you know they deserve your attention, and they deserve to be rallied around. There’s a nobility in what Buck is doing that I think is unique.”

Wall4Buck and Joe became friends. They shared a love for Wake Forest and how the University and ROTC had helped shape them for their leadership roles. Both left college to become military officers. (Joe returns every spring to campus to speak to a military history class.) Buck says he’s received emails and calls from Joe that offered encouragement “in ways I’m not even sure he knows.” Buck gets misty-eyed talking about it.

The one and only time they have seen each other in person was in the spring of 2011. Joe brought his then-12-year-old daughter Carina — her name means “dear little one” — to see the farm. She collected eggs from the henhouse, and the two of them did a few chores. Joe says he felt moved by Buck’s recounting of being called in a divine way to lead the nonprofit. “I was very inspired by that,” he said.

So the next time an AMES truck rolled into Whitsett, there was no mistaking the purpose. A truck arrived with tools that had the kind of perfection that turned heads, especially those of Habitat volunteers, Buck said. They were for building Susan’s View. “If I’m supplying encouragement to Buck and it’s helping him, then I’m doubly proud,” Joe said.

ED A&TLooking back at his time at Peacehaven, Buck said he was proudest of the way partnerships and collaborations with the larger community have come together. People show up from around the region and from colleges to volunteer. Last year the volunteers numbered 1,200. In the midst of them are Kim Harviel Sue (’82), a Peacehaven board member from Greensboro, and Liz Kenney Bailey (’82, MA ’85), and her husband, Steve Bailey (MA ’88), who both teach at Elon and, like Buck, have a child with an autism spectrum disorder. “Liz has all this great expertise around folks with disabilities. Steve is the incredible educator who brings his students out to learn. … Kim Sue is like having your own personal cheerleader out talking about Peacehaven wherever she goes,” Buck said. “We would not be where we are today without them.” And then there are his buddies who have been his friends since they met freshman year: Dave Weymer (’82, P ’13, ’14), Paul Noone (’82), Dr. Landon King (’82), to name a few, whose support has meant the world to him.

ED letter 4Buck has called the Peacehaven years “the most intense period of learning and growth” in his life. The lesson: “It’s made me believe in a very deep way the power of what’s possible when you bring folks together who share a vision. And there’s nothing that’s not possible working with people like that. The impossible becomes the possible.”

How’s that for some good news for a very new year?


Honoring Mr. Wake Forest



For those who are fans of Provost Emeritus Ed Wilson (’43) — and there are legions — you missed a happy gathering of Ed and friends a few weeks ago at the Porter Byrum Welcome Center on campus. You would have had to squeeze in for the event at which the North Carolina Humanities Council bestowed the John Tyler Caldwell Award for the Humanities on the man known as “Mr. Wake Forest.”

“The award recognizes Wilson for his lifelong achievements as an advocate for the public humanities across North Carolina,” according to the council. The Caldwell Award is the council’s highest honor. Wilson joins Caldwell Laureates who have included newsman Charles Kuralt, novelist Reynolds Price, historian John Hope Franklin and Wilson’s wife, poet and author Emily Herring Wilson (MA ’62). In greeting the audience Provost Rogan Kersh (’86)  lauded the council’s judges for their “impeccable” judgment and labeled the Wilsons “our nation’s ultimate humanities power couple.”

The State of North Carolina honored Professor and Provost Emeritus Edwin G. Wilson ('43) for his contributions to the humanities.

The State of North Carolina honored Professor and Provost Emeritus Edwin G. Wilson (’43) for his contributions to the humanities.

It was an evening at which Wilson, 91, praised school teachers from his North Carolina hometown by name —  from the one who “taught me to write cursively” to the high school teacher who read “line by line” Virgil’s “Aeneid” with Wilson and two other students that year. “Public school teachers are still at the beginnings of all of our various journeys in the humanities, and without them we might well not have come to our own love of literature and language and history,” Wilson said. “We should never fail to honor and reward them.”

He also made clear the heartbreaking absence of one of the devoted friends of the humanities in North Carolina and at Wake Forest: Penelope Niven (’62, D. Litt. ’92). She helped make the case for Wilson to receive the award. “(Her) sudden death almost two months ago leaves us still mourning,” Wilson said. “Penny was a biographer, and she had grace and charm of a rare quality.”

I would be remiss not to mention the stellar introduction of Wilson by his former student, Marybeth Sutton Wallace (’86), who works as special assistant to President Nathan O. Hatch. Her remarks were sharp, wise and funny. I asked her to give me a copy, and despite its length I include it here for posterity. I feel certain the legions of fans of Mr. Wake Forest will recognize themselves in her words and perhaps will share in the celebratory air of an autumn evening. Congratulations, Dr. Wilson.

Dr. Wilson and Marybeth Sutton Wallace, who presented her introduction of him at the Caldwell Award ceremony on Oct. 30. (Photo by Norma-May Isakow)

Dr. Wilson and Marybeth Sutton Wallace, who presented her introduction of him at the Caldwell Award ceremony on Oct. 30. (Photo by Norma-May Isakow)

Wallace: I once tried to explain to a friend why it was students at Wake Forest never wanted to miss one of Professor Edwin G. Wilson’s classes, why it was that at 2:45 pm on a Friday afternoon, a classroom in Tribble, 216-C, was filled from front to back with students thoroughly enchanted, and that except for one deep resonant voice reading “The Song of Wandering Aengus” or “Kubla Khan” not a sound or shuffle could be heard.

“You could have been on your way to the beach — or the mountains,” my friend exclaimed, “or throwing Frisbee on the Quad.”

But how could the beach or mountains compare with the dizzying lake country of Wordsworth’s boyhood, the lush green of Yeats’s Sligo, or the romance of Byron’s Italy, Greece and Spain?

“You just couldn’t skip Dr. Wilson’s class,” I protested, “because you couldn’t bear to disappoint him.”  And you couldn’t bear to disappoint yourself either. “Young and easy under the apple boughs,” we had that feeling that what we were learning was nourishing our souls and fortifying us for the years to come.

We left his classroom believing we could be better people. We left his classroom believing we could do something to make the world more beautiful. And we were merely one generation of students that Dr. Wilson touched in a teaching career that spanned more than a half-century.

When I was teaching high school English in Raleigh a fellow teacher at Enloe, Dr. Sally Humble, recalled that same feeling of being swept away by Dr. Wilson’s classes when she was a student at Wake Forest in the early sixties.  As she prepared her own lesson on Keats’s “The Eve of St. Agnes” she remembered Dr. Wilson’s riveting lecture, the brilliant imagery, the rich language. She said she must have taken ten pages of notes because the lesson made such a lasting impression.  When she gleefully retrieved the dusty notebook from a box buried in the attic, eager to devour her notes and impart this wealth of knowledge to her students, she was stunned to find one sentence under “The Eve of St. Agnes”: Spellbound, she had written simply, “Dr. Wilson read the poem.”

One of the first things Dr. Wilson would do in the course of a semester was to invite each of his students by for an individual conference — just to talk — about hometowns (He loves the names of hometowns), families, favorite books, recent movies, plays — on Broadway or at the Stevens Center — perhaps even ACC basketball or Eastern North Carolina barbecue.

What struck you most in these conferences is what an attentive and interested listener he was, and how he would remember these things about you which you told him, each time you saw him. Later in the semester you would be invited to his & Emily’s home on Timberlake Lane for supper, where surrounded by rows and walls of beloved books, you might look at slides from Ireland or take an oral part in Yeats’s “Cathleen ni Houlihan.”

Ed Southern (’94) wrote an article in his student days for the Old Gold & Black newspaper paying tribute to Ed Wilson when the Wilson Wing of Z. Smith Reynolds Library was named for him in 1992. He recalls professor Bynum Shaw, who had been on the Old Campus with Wilson, saying of his classmate: “the root of it all is his great humanity.”

Now Executive Director of the North Carolina Writers’ Network, Southern says of his former teacher: “To connect so deeply with Wordsworth, Blake, Keats, or Yeats is rare. To connect so deeply with hundreds, thousands, of people, at Wake Forest and around the world, is rarer still. I don’t know anyone else who can do both. I’d be willing to bet serious money that he is the most humble, down-to-earth person ever to have a building named after him.”

caldwell copy

Dr. Wilson came to Wake Forest College at the age of 16 by way of Leaksville, North Carolina, the youngest of five children, a first-generation college student. He has referred to that time as “the start of a beautiful friendship,” echoing words from one of his all-time favorite films, “Casablanca.”  In 1943 he graduated summa cum laude and spent three years as a Naval officer on a destroyer escort in the Pacific.

“I’ve always been a Romantic, and I’ve always loved stories of the sea,” he told students in Jenny Puckett’s History of Wake Forest class. “I had never been in the ocean; I had never even been in a row boat, but the idea of going into the Navy had a romantic appeal to me.” Upon his return, he applied to graduate school, but while awaiting a response he got a fateful call from one of his much admired professors, Broadus Jones, asking him to teach freshman English for a year — and being a dutiful son of his alma mater, he agreed.

The next day he received his letter of acceptance from Columbia: Fortunately for Wake Forest and for his home state, he had already committed to teaching … and for the next six decades — with the exception of a few years at Harvard, earning his doctorate in English, he would be all ours.

In the early 1960s Dr. Wilson chaired the faculty committee that voted to end racial segregation at Wake Forest, and Ed Reynolds enrolled as the first black student in 1962. He helped establish the University’s first residential study-abroad programs in Venice and London. Always an admirer of Irish poetry and the Irish people, he helped to found the Wake Forest University Press in the mid-1970s, now the premier publisher of Irish poetry in North America. He shaped the academic curriculum, programs, and faculty at a critical time in Wake Forest’s history.

Ever gracious and generous, he never came back to the Provost’s Office on a Friday afternoon after class with an ice-cream cone in hand without insisting that all the rest of us working in the Provost’s Office have an ice-cream cone too … one of many “little, nameless unremembered acts of kindness and of love.”

Dr. Wilson is married to Emily Herring Wilson, poet, author, and Caldwell Laureate herself.  They have three children: Ed, a superior court judge in Rockingham County; Sally, executive director of Project Access in Durham, which provides access to health care for low-income patients; and Julie, Director of the Writing Center at Warren Wilson college in Swannanoa, as well as four much-adored grandchildren:  Buddy, Harry, Maria, and Ellie.

His life has been anchored at Wake Forest but Ed Wilson’s life’s work has extended to every town across this state, every corner of the country, and beyond as his students everywhere, with the force of Shelley’s West Wind, carry forward that torch for the Humanities, that acknowledgment that we are more alike than we are different. He showed us that in the most difficult times in our lives, “all hatred driven hence, the soul recovers radical innocence … and that we can “though every face should scowl and every windy quarter howl, or every bellows burst, be happy still.”

I am deeply honored to present to you the 2014 Caldwell Award Laureate, my teacher, our teacher, a man who taught us to see the “world in a grain of sand,” Ed Wilson.

Queen of Prep Didn’t Sleep Here, But I Did

When I moved to Bostwick 2-A as a freshman some years back, I arrived from Louisville, Ky., when preppy style was the rage. I came bearing lackluster dorm necessities — a dull shower pail comes to mind — but in my suitcases lay a dash of panache that included a Lilly Pulitzer sundress and patchwork pillows made of cheery Lilly Pulitzer fabric with polka-dotted grosgrain ribbons. Not until today did I learn of a heritage connection.


Lilly Pulitzer, designer and socialite

My discovery: Lilly Pulitzer, the designer of preppy pink and green clothes and, indirectly, my dorm pillows, was the great-granddaughter of Jabez A. Bostwick. I never gave a moment’s thought freshman year to the story of Jabez A. Bostwick, my dorm’s namesake. I guess I should have. It turns out he was a co-founder of Standard Oil and a devout Baptist who had no connection to Wake Forest and never visited what is now called the Old Campus or lived to see the new. But he did respond when asked to help increase the tiny $50,000 Wake Forest College endowment after Professor Charles Taylor launched a penny postcard campaign in 1883. Bostwick eventually met with Taylor and gave a firm commitment for a $10,000 gift. And he kept giving, bequeathing $1.6 million to Wake Forest in his will. He died in 1892, the largest contributor to Wake Forest’s endowment, contributing to promote the cause of religion, according to G.W. Paschal’s 1943 “History of Wake Forest College.”

Lilly Pulitzer, as befits the great-granddaughter of a titan of industry in the Gilded Age, had what has been called “a riches to riches story.” She died last year at 81 at her Palm Beach estate. In noting her death, People magazine said, “The bright, big-patterned colors that were her signature dotted country clubs from Bar Harbor to Bel Air, while trendsetters like Jackie Kennedy (Pulitzer’s former classmate at Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Conn.) and E.F. Hutton and Post cereal heiress Dina Merrill were among those who sported themselves in the shapeless shifts that became known as ‘Lillys.’ ”

Those fabrics are back, cycling around again on the fashion wheel just as they did in my day. I see students sporting the prints, and the stationery store in Thruway Center on Stratford Road offers any number of Lillyfied items from note pads to cellphone cases. I’ll never look at them the same, knowing the historical link to a rich Baptist who was bent on helping shore up a little college in the South and inadvertently gave it a splash of color down the line.


Martha Allman: Study affirms test-optional policy for admissions

On Tuesday National Public Radio’s Eric Westervelt broke the story of an unprecedented, longitudinal study challenging the value of standardized tests in the admissions process. Bill Hiss, the principal researcher and former dean of admissions at Bates College, told NPR that “this study will be a first step in examining what happens when you admit tens of thousands of students without looking at their SAT scores.”

The study found “trivial differences” in examining the college performance of students who submitted standardized test scores for college admission and those who didn’t. The research suggests a better predictor of college success is the student’s high school GPA. Wake Forest, whose test-optional policy began with the freshman class of 2009, was one of the 33 institutions studied. (This year applications are holding steady compared with last year: approximately 11,000 but with a difference: a 25 percent increase in those applying early decision, a definite uptick.) I asked Dean of Admissions Martha Allman (’82, MBA ’92) to discuss the study’s findings and what they mean for Wake Forest. Here’s our edited, condensed interview. 

Dean of Admissions Martha Allman

Dean of Admissions Martha Allman

Maria Henson: For people who have not read the study, describe its main findings.

Martha Allman: The study was done by Bill Hiss, the former dean of admissions at Bates College, one of the first colleges to become test-optional. He’s done a lot of research and recordkeeping on test-optional. He expanded his research to 33 different test-optional colleges including state schools, private schools, arts schools, historically black schools. It’s a very broad look and longitudinal. It basically shows there is virtually no difference between submitters and non-submitters in their college years. That’s the main finding.

Henson: Was Wake Forest one of the schools studied? 

Allman: Yes. We did provide data, and I spent a lot of time on the phone talking with Bill Hiss about this.

Henson: Why did you want Wake Forest to make the change to test-optional? 

Allman: In 2008 we began really paying attention to research out there about use of the tests. (Sociology professor) Joseph Soares on our faculty had done a lot of research himself on the biases of the SAT. We felt that this was a way that we could really broaden our applicant pool to attract more socioeconomic and racial diversity and also look at students who perhaps were star high school students — stars academically — but were not applying to Wake Forest because of our average SAT scores.

Henson: Did you do your own admissions tracking after the policy took effect? 

Allman: Yes and continue to do so. We found the same thing that the study found: there is virtually no difference (in college performance). When we went into the test-optional decision there was concern from the faculty, from students, from alumni that this would lessen our academic nature, that we would no longer draw really strong students, that we would become less competitive, that the students would not do as well, that we would have higher attrition. And none of that has proved to be the truth at all. As a matter of fact, last year we had more students graduating with honors than possibly we have had in Wake Forest history. We’ve not seen attrition increase, and we don’t see any differentiation between the submitters and the non-submitters. That’s the big news.

Henson: What has been the long-term trend line concerning submitters and non-submitters applying to Wake Forest? 

Allman: It’s been pretty consistent. Between 25 and 30 percent of the students not submitting. We do ask students to submit after they enroll. Some do. Some don’t.

Henson: I talked to a junior who said her guidance counselor told her Wake Forest would not let you in if you didn’t submit scores. As she put it, the thought would be there is something wrong with you. 

Allman: It’s not true at all. I think even for students who submit we probably pay much less attention to that than we did in the past. We saw this from the first year and continue to see students who have extremely high SAT scores who don’t submit (scores), saying, ‘Philosophically, I love what you’re doing and I want you to judge me on my academic merits, not on my test.’ That’s really exciting to see those students.

Campus tour for prospective students, 2011

Campus tour for prospective students, 2011

Henson: What has been the effect on campus and in the classrooms? 

Allman: We have more students who are eligible for Pell Grants, more first-generation college students and more racial minorities. All of those things have increased.

Henson: How might this study change the admissions process throughout the United States?

Allman: I think one of the exciting sentences that I read in the study was (to paraphrase) ‘With the increasing number of really high quality colleges becoming test-optional — private, public and a variety of schools — families may be reaching the point that they decide to forgo the whole testing process.’ That was a very shocking thing to read in print, but actually a very exciting thing and suggests that we may be on the cusp of a real culture change. Historically, SAT scores have been equated with intelligence. Studies and studies are showing that that isn’t true. And here we have wonderful, empirical evidence that students at selective schools perform just as well without a standardized test as they do with the test.

I have long bemoaned the students who have spent so much time in test prep, so much money and so much energy in test strategy. They could be doing other things. They could be more involved in school, more involved in fine arts or other kinds of important extracurricular and talent activities. Now this may open the door to say perhaps we have put too much emphasis on it, and we need to dial it back and concentrate on other academic issues.

Henson: What will be your next “bold move” as dean of admissions?

Allman: Admissions has to be continually nimble. We never know how the landscape is going to change and how we need to adjust. I think we need to continue to be attuned to what’s going on in the world of admissions and the educational landscape. Certainly we’re very interested in the whole area of access, making sure that first-generation college students, students who have not had a lot of the privileges of other students, have access to Wake Forest. The Magnolia Scholars Program — and the growth of that program — is a testament to that. Making our campus more international is one of the things we’re moving toward, with students coming in from China, India and Western Europe. It’s diversity writ large.

Henson: Does that mean that the Wake Forest a lot of us attended and knew is over?

Allman: I think there are common threads from when you and I went to school and (Provost Emeritus) Ed Wilson (’43) went to school to these students entering Wake Forest that hopefully will never change. The whole idea of Pro Humanitate is, I think, stronger than ever with this generation of students. (And the idea) of service, of social justice issues, of international kinds of issues. The whole student-faculty relationship — the closeness — is something that separates us from a lot of our peers. Students are drawn here because of that. Students live here, and faculty live close by, and there’s close community interaction. It’s been treasured since the time Wake Forest was founded and still is. There may be cosmetic changes in the way the campus looks. It has certainly grown. We’ve added new buildings, and the people always change. We reflect more of what the country looks like now, but the fundamental character of Wake Forest is still there, and it’s very, very strong.

Henson: What have I not asked you that you wish I had? 

Allman: The emphasis on academic excellence. I think that was the greatest worry — that we were making it easier for people to get in and that was going to affect the classroom and our graduates. That hasn’t been the case at all. We continue to attract a really competitive applicant pool. We have not scared away students. In many ways it’s considered more selective because the process has all these subjective factors: we interview students, we have an application that is more in-depth than most any of our peers and we get good press about that. Guidance counselors tell us that the admissions process is a good reflection of what Wake Forest is — that it is intentional, personal and individualistic, focusing on the whole person, not just the quantifiable.”