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Xavier Magazine | July 26, 2017

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After Hours

Felix Winternitz

For eight hours every day, work is the priority for the University’s faculty, staff and administrators. But at the end of the day, well, it’s the end of the day: Time to unwind, test the boundaries and exercise something more than gray matter. For some, this means jumping in a canoe and navigating raging whitewater rapids. For others, it means sitting down for a game of Japanese chess or standing up in front of a crowd and singing great choral works. Their interests are as diverse as the University itself, but they all share one thing in common: Whatever their pleasure, they pursue it with passion.

A DOSE OF H2OHHHH

Susan Namei’s Mecca isn’t the National Road, but the National River—West Virginia’s New River Gorge National River, to be specific. Among the oldest and most challenging waterways in North America, it’s become a second home to the nursing instructor and veteran whitewater canoeist.

Prompted by what she calls a “near fiasco” canoeing trip in Canada, she took paddling lessons with the local Sierra Club chapter in 1989 and immediately became hooked. The sport, she says, is a free-flowing adventure, avocation and psychological expedition all in one.

“Since each river is different and various water levels create different dynamics on the same river, it is very much an intellectual as well as a total body sport,” she says. It also creates great stories to spin while sitting around the campfire.

“The first time I was on a trip after canoe school, we went about 100 feet and got pinned on a rock. I asked my partner what to do, and he had no idea. Someone soon came to our rescue and gave us instructions to lean down-stream. So we did and off the rock we came. Later, we were among several boats that capsized because of a big wave. It was somewhere between 4 and 10 feet high.”

“As someone was trying to pull me into their canoe, I couldn’t get my leg up because my pants had fallen down around my knees. After some pulling and tugging by the rescuer, the pants came back up enough so I could get in. We had a lot of laughs that night. After that, I was hooked.”

What life lessons does Namei take from her avocation?

“Our lives are like the river—there are many turns and twists with obstacles appearing out of nowhere. With the right skills, you can use the current to your advantage and maneuver around the obstacles. Canoeing a river is a journey and not a destination.”

BRUSH WITH GREATNESS

The idea of wall murals immediately conjures up images of gigantic art forms such as those in the Cincinnati Museum Center—grandiose artistic statements that dominate even the museum’s massive rotunda. For Dorinda Giles, however, wall murals are as simple as a child’s plaything.

The associate vice president for information systems spends her free time painting and recently tackled a wall-sized mural in her grandson’s bedroom. The painter spent most of her Saturdays last spring on the endeavor, creating a literal Jurassic Park—or, more accurately, Cretaceous Park—filled with T-rexes and long-neck bronto-sauruses on his bedroom walls.

“My grandson is very into dinosaurs, and his room is a real dinorama,” she says.

Giles’ tyrannosaurus rex, for instance, is a real looker—almost 60 teeth, all serrated. As an artist, she’s had to reach back 70 million years or so for her subjects.

“My inspiration has come from a number of posters and books, but all the pictures are done freehand,” she says. “It is great fun.”

If you find yourself lucky enough to wangle an invitation to view Giles’ handiwork, don’t forget to bring your video camera. And, of course, be sure to pack the raptor repellent.

HEAVENLY VOICE

If you’ve ever heard a wedding singer crooning “Ave Maria” in Latin, or a soloist performing Mozart’s “Wait on the Lord” in the pews, you might well have been listening to Kara Rettig-Pfingstag. The coordinator of pre-professional health advising in the department of biology began singing in choirs 14 years ago. Today, she sings in churches twice a month as well as on all major church holiday services. Plus the occasional wedding.

“I’ve always loved to sing,” she says. “In fact, my dad has an old reel-to-reel tape of me singing my heart out to all kinds of kids songs. It was just about the same time I started talking, so it’s almost like I skipped the ‘learning to talk’ stage and went right into singing.”

So why just limit her talents to liturgical songs? “I enjoy the fact that liturgical singing is all about what your voice, your gift from God, can bring to the service and to the worship of God,” she says. It’s also given her the chance to learn a few things about life.

“I’ve learned to not be afraid of taking risks and to just put your fears and insecurities aside and just sing your heart out,” she says. “That’s how I think everyone should live life. Don’t be afraid to live and to jump in and do something new or something you never imagined yourself doing, because you never know—you might just enjoy it and have fun.

“Whatever life gives you, throw yourself into it and enjoy because before you know it, you might be 85 years old and sitting in a retirement home full of ‘what ifs’ and regrets, wondering how you let life get away.”

ON THE MOOOOOOVE

When Phil Glasgo leaves behind his role as associate professor of finance, he puts himself out to pasture. Literally. Glasgo raises Angus beef cattle on a farm in Indiana. Glasgo comes by his side interest honestly, growing up on a central Ohio dairy farm. When Glasgo was 12 years old, his dad switched to raising beef cattle.

“As a result of baling hay in the hot summer sun, milking cows twice a day, 365 days a year and performing other objectionable farm chores such as hauling manure, I knew the one thing I didn’t want to do was end up on a farm,” says Glasgo. “In fact, as a math major at Ohio University, when the guys were going out partying on Friday night, I thought about pitching manure, baling hay and milking cows—and went back to studying.”

Why then the hobby? “As much as I hate to admit it, apparently farming was still in my blood, and I get a lot of pleasure out of seeing the calves born in the spring,” he says.

After earning a Ph.D. in finance at Ohio State, he met his wife, Dana, whose family had a farm near Guilford, Ind. The two moved onto the 114-acre farm, and by 1982, he had a herd of about five cows. That number grew to 70 cows and calves.

Even with fences, cattle escape from time to time. “Last year, we had a knock at the door at 3:00 a.m. Sunday,” he says. “It was the neighbors telling us that we had about 25 cows in our front yard. With the boys’ help, we held an impromptu roundup—still in our pajamas—and returned them to the field.”

It keeps Glasgo on his toes. “I refer to them as my organic lawn mowers, and in the fall I eat one of the lawn mowers,” he says laughing. More seriously, Glasgo adds, “I do insist that my family finish any meat dish they eat, but not the vegetables.”

LESSONS IN SHOGI

To say Alan Baker plays chess is akin to saying Ken Griffey Jr. plays a little baseball—a gross understatement. An assistant professor in the department of philosophy, Baker indulges in the complexities of “shogi,” or Japanese chess.

“In my opinion, shogi is actually a better game than Western chess,” says Baker. “The most important difference is that in shogi the pieces are all the same color. Different Japanese characters are written on each piece to distinguish them from each other. The two players’ pieces point in different directions. When you capture your opponent’s pieces, you can turn them around and drop them back on the board as your own. This ‘paratroop’ aspect of the game makes it much more tactical and aggressive than chess.”

The game is actually a distant cousin of Western chess—both derive from an ancient form that started in India. Shogi, however, is played very rarely outside of Japan. Inside the nation, though, it is extremely popular, with a flourishing professional circuit, world championship, TV programs and newspaper columns.

“I was given a plastic shogi set for my 13th birthday, but I did not start playing regularly until my mid-20s when I visited Japan in 1996,” says Baker, who has been playing Western chess since he was 6 years old and competing in numerous tournaments.

Indeed, Baker won the Eden Park chess tournaments in Cincinnati in 2000 and 2001. By pure coincidence—and to Baker’s good fortune—Cincinnati is also home to one of only four shogi clubs in the United States. The others are New York City, Wash-ington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

“The other place I play shogi is on the Internet. I can log onto Japanese shogi servers and find thousands of potential opponents at any time of the day or night,” he says. “These online games are played in real time, with the board and pieces appearing on the screen in front of you.”

Once, while visiting Japan, Baker was invited by the local shogi club to a match against the teacher in charge. “We played a hard-fought game that lasted over three hours, a game which he eventually won. We had no language in common.”

“I found out later from a friend that the teacher had been amazed to find a foreigner who could play shogi to a reasonably high standard.”

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