No. 132

FRIENDS OF MADURAI

Charles “Charlie” Ryerson, who was a Shansi Representative to Madurai from 1955 to 1958, passed away on September 24, 2016 in Princeton, New Jersey. Dr. Ryerson graduated from Oberlin College in 1955, and landed in Madurai, India soon after. In a time when Shansi was debating its fledgling presence in Madurai, Dr. Ryerson renewed Shansi’s interest in being in Tamil Nadu and being connected with American College. At the same time, it seemed to inspire him as well. For the next three years, as Dr. Ryerson has noted, “It might seem paradoxical, but the deeper I led my students into English, the more I was drawn into Tamil culture.”

 

When reflecting on his experience as a Shansi Rep at American College, Dr. Ryerson wrote, “The special English classes, however, were the core of my work and identity. My admiration for Principal Savarirayan and Bishop Newbigin has never waned. Their vision, and the loyalty and creativity of my students, are at the heart of my continuing affection for, and gratitude to, the American College. I learned the important lesson that teaching always involves learning.”

 

Shansi Rep Joe Elder (Madurai, 1951-1953) recalls a 1957 visit from Charlie Ryerson and Gail Baker, the other Shansi Rep in Madurai, while he and his family were living in tents outside a village in north India. Joe recalls that “We stayed up late a couple of nights discussing by kerosene-lantern light the Shansi program Charlie and Gail were reviving in Madurai. Charlie’s enthusiasm for Shansi was tremendous. His ideas were creative. Charlie (and Gail) played major roles in framing the Shansi programs in American College and Lady Doak College that thrived for decades. Our photograph of that Shansi reunion shows me giving Charlie a haircut as our two kids and Gail Baker look on.”

 

Dr. Ryerson remained connected to American College, and generations of Shansi Representatives and Fellows encountered him on visits to Madurai. Current Oberlin Shansi Board Chair Ziyad Hopkins, Shansi Fellow to American College from 1992 to 1994, recalls one such visit. “I remember Charlie coming to Madurai while I was there, perched in the then Shansi “guest room” above the bursar’s office and the mirror image of the Shansi Rep” apartment.  He held court and expressed shock— shock! — that my parents were coming to visit (when he was a rep, he arrived by ship coming via the Suez Canal) and that the coddled reps now had a working landline in the apartment (albeit international calls placed through an operator and installed only months before I arrived).”

 

Dr. Ryerson will be fondly remembered by his friends, colleagues, and the many students he nurtured during his long career, among them the many members of the Oberlin Shansi family in the U.S. and India. You can find more about Charlie Ryerson’s life in his obituary in the New York Times.

Richard “Dick” Dudley passed away on Tuesday, July 26 at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland, CA surrounded by family and friends. Dick served as one of Oberlin Shansi’s first Representatives in India, inaugurating a connection between Oberlin and Madurai that remains vibrant today.

 

It was certainly appropriate that Dick would help bring Oberlin and Tamil Nadu, India together as he was born there in 1930. His parents were Congregational missionaries in the village of Aruppakottai, and he grew up fluent in both English and Tamil. In 1943, Dick’s family returned to their native New England, and from 1947 to 1951 he attended Oberlin College, where he majored in history.

Dick returned to South India in 1951 as a Shansi Representative. He taught English at Pasumalai High School in Madurai, and organized a living cooperative. This was a challenging experiment among students who were raised to associate tasks like cooking and cleaning with caste and gender roles. Dick spent a third year in Madurai at Gandhi Gram, a Gandhian village development and teacher training institution, helping to build a cooperative leatherwork center and interacting with diverse activists in the Indian national development movement.
 

Being a Shansi Rep had other rewards. While in Madurai, Dick fell for Anna Carol Kingdon, a fellow Obie who also served as a Shansi Rep at OCPM elementary school in Madurai. They married while he was serving in the Army, and they moved together to California where Dick studied political science at UC-Berkeley. He served as a professor of political science at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California until his retirement in 1994, and was remembered by one colleague for “his incredibly wry sense of humor, understated, hilarious, and, yes, the most honest man on campus.”  

 

Dick’s connections to India, and to Shansi, were well transmitted to the next generation. His son Justin was born in India, when Dick spent two years as the coordinator of the University of Wisconsin’s year-in-India study abroad program. His son Shannon would later become a Shansi Rep himself, living in Madurai from 1982 to 1984.

 

For more on Dick Dudley, please visit http://www.sunsetviewcemetery.com/obituaries/Richard-Dudley-2/#!/Obituary

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