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Aug. 6, 2021

Alumnus voice: Indebted to Michigan State for 70 years

Robert “Bob” Reising is an alumnus of the College of Arts and Letters. He earned his B.A. with special honors in English, language and literature in 1955 and was a member of the MSU baseball team from 1951-55. Reising earned his doctoral degree in English from Duke University.

Originally from New Haven, Connecticut, I was recruited to play baseball. Ironically, it wasn’t on the field where I found my greatest success. It’s been over 70 years, and I can still remember the teachers, professor and mentors who made an immeasurable impact on my life as a writer and academic.

My life as a Spartan began in 1951 and, fortunately, I’ve had multiple opportunities to experience campus life since that time. After I graduated in 1955, I returned as a part-time instructor from 1958-60 as I worked on my doctorate in English. Then, I returned twice as a visiting scholar during the fall semesters of 2003 and 2004.

John Abbott Clark was one of the greatest scholars I had the privilege of knowing. I have one son, and he is named John Clark Reising. How is that for impact?

I met John Abbott Clark during my sophomore year in an American lit survey. He was a stunning teacher whose class always filled up right away. He was such an easygoing, affable man who was interested in everything and everyone. His approach was much different than most — not the stereotypical university professor. Instead, John was exceptionally generous with his time and advice when solicited.

We had some things in common as athletes and, perhaps, that helped to foster a connection. I still have my first book he gave me — a book of essays that he edited, dated 1939. It’s probably the most precious book in my library. He was a citadel of knowledge — truly one of the great teachers. We kept in touch until his death.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Glen Swarthout who taught freshman English. He became well known for some of his novels later turned films: “Where the Boys Are” and “The Shootist,” which was actor John Wayne’s last work. I remember Glen was especially encouraging of my abilities after I wrote an essay about an athlete who played for Yale. That encouragement gave me a tremendous amount of confidence.

I met Russel Nye’s acquaintance during a doctoral seminar in 1959 when I was teaching part-time. He was a professor of English from 1941 to 1979, and it was through my encounters with him that my interest in Native American literature was born. His affirmations of my study of “The Tomo Cheeki Papers,” Philip Freneau’s essays supposedly created by a Creek Indian satirizing early American culture and ideologies, left me speechless. His expertise and encouragement undoubtedly shaped the direction I focused my studies.

At the University of North Carolina at Pembroke in 1971, I secured a grant to prepare an introductory course in American Indian literature. By decade’s end, I had taught the course numerous times, developed a second AIS course, “The Native American Literary Renaissance,” and published “Jim Thorpe: Tar Heel,” a monograph treating Native American athlete Jim Thorpe’s two summers of baseball in North Carolina, 1909 and 1910. Had it not been for Nye, I likely would not be in the position I am in currently as I team with Thorpe's great-grandson Jim Thorpe Kossakowski on "Between Warring Worlds: Jim Thorpe, The Rest of the Story."

Unexpectedly, in the spring of 2003, an area journalist approached me with an irresistible invitation to team with him on a biography of Carolina-born Archibald Wright “Moonlight” Graham, the baseball player, medical doctor and researcher catapulted to global fame in in the hit movie “Field of Dreams.” Thus, was born “Chasing Moonlight.” And when I journeyed to East Lansing a few months later, two biographies invited attention.

It was during this return to campus that I connected with Professor Douglas Noverr, former chairperson in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric and American Cultures and faculty member for 48 years. Quickly, he became another Michigan State professor to whom I feel uncommonly indebted. Together, we did a presentation on Thorpe in 2004 and, several years later when I wrote an article about Ernest Hemingway, prompted by Robin Williams untimely death, Douglas provided invaluable guidance as I completed research in preparation for the piece. During my back-to-back fall semesters as a visiting scholar, his wisdom and good sense strengthened my present truth-telling convictions.

The connections I made and the memories of my time at MSU are as important today as they were 70 years ago.

I WILL forever GO GREEN!

Note: Banner photo taken during a reunion of the 1954 MSU baseball team, the longest regularly reuniting team in the history of American intercollegiate athletics.

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