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Language Houses, Camp and Fair, Language Outreach Everywhere!

Charles P. Richardson and Mary Jane Kelley, holding plaque
Charles P. Richardson and Mary Jane Kelley

From The Department of Modern Languages: A Bicentennial History 1804-2004

In the Trustees Minutes for October 16, 1962, Vice President Smith reports that "we have also established three language houses this year; one in German and two in French." As noted above, this number grew to five within a few years. However, these developments were by no means the earliest attempts to provide students with a language experience outside the classroom. During most of the period since about 1900, numerous organizations and activities were created to this end: Der Deutsche Verein; Le Cercle français; Alliance française; the Spanish Club 1927; and in 1933 the Hispanic-American Club, serving Spanish and History students. 13

In addition to these more formal arrangements there is also ample documentation for dramatic productions by students dating back to at least 1910 in German, 14 and in French to the arrival of Mary Noss (1914), who staged numerous ambitious productions during her tenure. From the late sixties until her retirement in 1991, Ursula Lawson directed an annual German production, a tradition continued by Kristina von Held in 1999-2001; in French, Rich Danner arranged for several dramatic readings by students; and in Spanish, Pepo Delgado and Daniel Torres have recently presented a number of out-standing performances involving students, faculty and community members.

Of more recent origin are the language honor societies. Since 1958 German students have been invited to join Delta Phi Alpha in recognition of their outstanding achievements in German Studies. Paul Krauss, the founding adviser, served in that capacity until 1974, when the position was assumed by Barry Thomas until his retirement in 2000. Similar opportunities exist also for French, Spanish, Italian and Russian students. The indefatigable Mary Noss was adviser to both the Cercle français and the Alliance française, which served as the original French Honor Society. These two organizations have since been replaced by a local chapter (Sigma Xi, 1967) of the National Foreign Language Honorary, Phi Sigma Iota. In 1986 Professor Abelardo Moncayo promoted the creation of a local chapter (Pi Rho) of the Spanish National Honorary, Sigma Delta Pi. Since the first initiation on May 17, 1986, more than 300 students and faculty have been inducted into the organization, which also supports the activities of the Spanish section with respect to Hispanic culture and literature.

Though smaller in number, Italian students, under the long-time guidance of Bart Martello, and more recently Molly Morrison, have been active in conversation hours and club activities, including a food table at the street fair, bocce ball games, pizza parties, film showings, and Italian dinners on special weekends, which parents or siblings may attend. In 1992 the students of Russian professor Eloise Boyle (the successor to Joseph Ipacs, who nurtured the program in the face of many enrollment and financial challenges before his untimely death) reinvigorated the Russian Club (Slava), which is devoted to the promotion of Russian culture in the Ohio University campus and community.  Now under the direction of Karen Evans-Romaine, Russian students continue to participate in activities such as the Ohio University International Fair each May, an (almost) annual Russian dinner, usually called the borscht bash, films, speakers, and other cultural events related to Russian life and culture.

In addition to clubs and honor societies, students have enjoyed for at least the last 40 years an opportunity to use the foreign language at regular "Conversation Hours" in various locales, including the late, lamented Language Houses, private homes, bars and restaurants. In German these gatherings are documented as far back as 1907. Here students of all skill levels can gather and converse or just listen to the target language being spoken around them. It's not the same as being immersed in the foreign country, but it does offer an almost authentic experience.

At the initiative of Phil Richardson, Director of the Language Learning Labs, two projects are begun in 1972 and 1974, respectively. One is a French, Spanish and German summer immersion camp for high schoolers, the first of its kind in Ohio that draws participants from several states. Richardson then suggests that the department might provide a service to local high school language programs by holding a foreign language fair, with presentations, competitions and trophies (if athletics can do it, why not academics?!). Despite the skepticism of some colleagues, invitations are sent out and the response is overwhelming. If I may be permitted a personal observation, the sight of a hoard of high school students ascending the stairs to the Baker Center ballroom, with a (not quite life-sized) Spanish castle made of Graham Crackers floating Icarus-like above the crowd, is a memory not soon forgotten, especially when it became necessary in the Exhibit Hall to warn students not to eat the crackers, which had been coated with a toxic substance! With the assistance of many Department of Modern Languages faculty, every year for over 20 years the fair brought up to 2,000 high school teachers and students to campus to promote the university and the study of foreign languages and cultures. 15

Another successful initiative to address the needs of foreign language high school teachers, and indirectly their students, is the creation in 1983 of the Ohio Valley Foreign Language Alliance, with Muskingum College, Marietta College and later Washington State Community College as cooperating members. This still active alliance promotes communication and professional development opportunities among high school and college teachers. In 1989 a grant of $9,300 from the Jennings Foundation makes it possible for the OVFLA to establish a network of language alliances around the state. 16

In addition to these outreach efforts, the department also strives to keep in touch with alumni/ae through the departmental newsletter, Say There, begun in 1976. This annual publication includes information about departmental activities and faculty, and allows former students to publicize developments in their lives and keep up with fellow alums.

13 One early example for many: in the Bulletin for 1907 (p. 20) we read that the German Club ". . . meets every other Monday evening for the purpose of gaining power in the use of the German language. It usually meets at the home of one of the professors of Modern Languages. Conversation, German songs, recitations, and other German exercises are followed by light refreshments.

14 There is even a reference as early as 1885 to Miss Emily Wheeler's German students learning by heart "anecdotes, poems and the little comedy of Eigensinn" (Catalogue, p.39), although this was likely a class exercise and not a formal performance.

15 On the 10th anniversary of the fair, Richardson's leadership role in this undertaking was commemorated in verse by Barry Thomas:

Ode to a Fair Fellow (April 21, 1984)

In days of yore, quite long before It came to be the fashion,

Phil came to us and said we must Create a Fair so we can share

With high school students everywhere Our language love and passion.

Barry protested it couldn't be done: "Just think of the complications!"

Said Phil (sly fox):  "Let's try just one"-- A shameless fabrication!

We should have known he wouldn't stop Till the Fair had grown and reached the top!

And so tonight we participate In a toast to this auspicious date:

A full ten years the Fair has flourished, A full ten years by Phillip nourished.

And if the truth I must confess,

I knew from the start it was bound for success! To mark the occasion--and before we dine-- We present you now with a pewter stein.


16 For more information on the OVFLA and its accomplishments, see the 10th anniversary booklet (a Department of Modern Languages publication, 1993): "Ohio Valley Foreign Language Alliance, Bridging the Gap Between Schools & Colleges: A Decade of Collaboration."

International Opportunities

In its first 150 years Ohio University was not lacking in international contacts. Although foreign students were rare, many of the faculty were either foreign or had studied abroad. Among these were Professors Super, who had studied in Leipzig, Germany; Gordy (Dr. Phil. from Leipzig); Noss (Docteur d'Université); Robinson (Docteur ès Letters); Tausch, from Halle, Germany; Doernenburg, from Germany; Le Rossignol (Canada); and many more.

With the arrival of President Baker in 1945, however, international education receives a big boost. By 1950, after the ravages of WW II have been somewhat repaired, the Ohio University catalogue contains a statement welcoming qualified students "from outside the continental limits of the United States." Interested students should apply to the Adviser of Foreign Students (p.34). The first adviser was probably Professor Whitehouse (Spanish), who died in 1954 and was replaced by Professor Renkenberger (French). In the same year, under "Cultural Opportunities," the catalogue lists foreign study and exchange programs in France and Spain for the summer and the junior year (pp. 37-38). These appear to be the first foreign study programs offered by the language departments. For later developments the reader may consult the College of Arts and Sciences publication "Studying Abroad at Ohio University: 1967-1999."