|Professor Marion Hardman|
© 2015 Michael Swickard, Ph.D. One person in college made me a writer. Previously I had resisted every effort to make me a competent writer while in public school. At college I was a good photographer, radio announcer and television director but not much of a writer by choice.
Last week was the dedication of a lecture hall at New Mexico State University. One of the names on the building is Marion Hardman who passed away years ago but is alive in my writing. Here is what happened:
In 1970, as a sophomore at NMSU, my advisor said, "You'll never graduate if you don’t take English Literature." I replied, "I’ll take it, but no one can make me like poetry."
Marion Hardman was listed as the professor. Looking like someone’s grandmother, Professor Hardman stood at the lectern the first day and through thick glasses softly called the roll. She seemed frail and out of touch with the modern age.
I looked at my watch impatiently. Then oddly an hour went by without my notice and she ended the first class. She began by saying, "Many of you young people are worried about the Vietnam War which is being fought as we speak."
She had my attention. I was in Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps and thought often about the Vietnam War. She said, "A little more than a hundred years ago Walt Whitman had many of the same thoughts that you are having today."
Then from memory she quoted some of the Whitman poetry. Despite my resolve to not learn poetry, I was mesmerized. When the class ended I was enthused. I have never seen anyone transformed so completely.
The Professor Hardman that ended the class could leap tall buildings in a single bound. We hung on her words, everyone in the class. I wish you could have heard her. She had the ability to hold a class on each word, to change students with ideas. More importantly to me she had the ability to bring out talents in students.
Professor Hardman was the first person to tell me I wrote interesting things, and if I mastered the technical aspects, I would be a good writer. She said it in a way that was not insulting and she handed me a book on writing.
That semester I spent every available minute working on writing. She smiled at the end of the semester and told me I had really improved. I beamed.
She took each student that way and helped each in their own way to develop their special talents. I would not be writing this column if I had not have taken her class. I see her gift to me in each column I write. That Place Name, Hardman Hall, has special meaning to me.
That is the value of place names. Every building, road, mountain, etc. has a name. Most people just use the name to know the place. Example: the name of the tallest mountain in the United States has been known on maps as Mount McKinley.
Last month by order of the Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, it is now Denali, which means tall in one of the seven indigenous languages. Naturally those from Ohio where President William McKinley was born and is buried prefer the former name.
This opens the debate about place names: what should be the criteria for changing existing place names. And who should be in charge of place name changes. New Mexico is full of place names that reflect many cultures, how should we arbitrate a desire for a different place name?
For example: if the Native Americans in the Albuquerque area want the Sandia and Manzano Mountains to reflect what they were known by for centuries before the Spanish arrived, how do we decide the name to use?
More so, what about the WisePies Arena which was known only as The Pit in Albuquerque? Should dollars name it? It seems we need two things: place names that are measured and fair to all citizens and we need to make sure that the story of these place name people is well told.
Changing place names is a can of worms with the top off now.