Ken Brown Memorial Service
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Jo Young Switzer
On behalf of the students, faculty, staff, alums, and friends of Manchester University, I want to express our thanks for Ken’s good life. Ken Brown was a man of intellect, intense commitment to peace and justice, and faith. He was gentle. He was adventurous. He was a teacher.
In peace studies, Ken carried on the dreams of Dan West and Andrew Cordier and Gladdys Muir and Bill Schule and Allen Deeter. He kept his eye on the big issues, not the trivial ones. He asked big questions about curriculum, not niggling small questions. He was gentle, he was bold. He didn’t shy away from controversial writings or complex issues. When I was the academic dean, I became increasingly suspicious that each year, Ken researched the U.S. Department of State “do not travel” list of countries and then proposed his January class for one of those countries. When I told him about my suspicion one time, he looked up with that sweet gentle grin that we’ve all seen a hundred times and just smiled.
At a college that values student learning above everything else, Ken Brown taught well. He posed ambiguities and hypothetical situations to get students to think deeply about the biggest questions of war and peace. He organized powerful January classes to Viet Nam and Cuba and across the U.S. South to visit places important in the civil rights movement. Ken’s questions and very long pauses got our students to think.
His life also motivated students to act on behalf of peace and justice. At the core, Ken Brown’s students developed ability and conviction.
Powerful teaching like that requires a strong support system. We thank Viona and Katy, Michael, and Chris for holding things together at home when Ken was teaching. Not only did you handle the mowing, cooking, cleaning, but you also welcomed students to your home. For decades, Monday evenings found students drinking tea, eating popcorn and discussing important issues of the day. Students would say “don’t forget Kenapoc tonight at Ken’s” but we all know it was Kenapoc at Ken and Viona’s.
Viona, thank you for all you did – almost always behind the scenes – to help our students learn. You shared Ken’s time. You opened your home to students. Your home – with its pottery and old chairs and sweet dogs – contrasted with their residence hall rooms. Your artistic eye created warm, homey spaces. Your gentle and feisty spirit enriched us all.
Viona, Manchester University did not pay you or give you an official title, but we know that you have been an essential part of the Manchester University Peace Studies program since you and Ken arrived. Thank you.
The last portion of that poem by Scott Nearing reminds us that Ken is still teaching us to become persons of ability and conviction.
“ . . . He held his purpose through the years.
He holds it still.
His place on life’s great evergreen
Must now be filled by others
Who, with equal courage,
Greet the sun;
Bide the storm;
Glory in the star-shine
And at last
Loosen their hold on life, and move
Into the great beyond.
Those best can go who best have served.
He lived and loved ardently.
Our debt to him is paid
As we take up his tasks.”
The people of Manchester University thank God for Ken Brown and his full life. He was a good teacher. He was a good man.
“October,” Scott Nearing, 1920.
Jo Young Switzer is president of Manchester University.