Professor selected for speakers bureau


March 16, 2000|By Jean Marie Beall | Jean Marie Beall,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

THE HOOPLA OVER Y2K issues and predictions of the end of the world are long past for most people.

But for Uniontown resident Robert Kachur, an English professor at Western Maryland College, the subject was the basis of his presentation in a statewide competition by Maryland Humanities Council.

Kachur's presentation earned him the honor to be one of 38 experts to form the council's Millennium Speakers Bureau for its "Celebration 2000." His first presentation will be the end of May at the public library in Berlin, Md.

"The Maryland Humanities Council sent a press release to the college and the dean of faculty sent a memo out to the faculty," said Kachur, who joined the college staff in fall 1998. "We basically had to do a short version of our presentation. I sent in a proposal called `Apocalypse 2000.' I then went to an audition at the Maryland Humanities Council in Baltimore."

Kachur said the subject has long interested him.

"I want to get people to look at ways the end of the world is talked about and how that is shown through films and books," he said. "I want to examine that when people talk about the end of the world, they're not really talking about the end of the world. Their talk about the end of the world ends up being an argument on ways to change the world."

Kachur said he would use several films to illustrate his point. One of those will be the 1968 film "Planet of the Apes." The other will be "Armageddon," which came out in 1997.

"During the civil rights era, there was a lot of concern about power reversal and whites felt that the world as they knew it was coming to an end," Kachur said. "In the film `Armageddon,' you have a blue-collar guy saving the world. It was a statement about men and blue-collar men exerting themselves. In the movie, the computer experts aren't able to do anything."

Kachur said he will look at literature, but film will be the main focus.

"Film is so easy to get into," he said. "Film always reflects where we, as a society, are coming from."

Kachur is a 1983 graduate of the University of Virginia with a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Kachur taught at the University of Massachusetts before going to Western Maryland College. His specialty is 19th-century British literature with a subspecialty in 19th- and 20th-century horror fiction.

He was "very pleased" by his selection.

"I was thrilled," he said. "The college is very pleased to have a representative."

Kachur and his wife, Susan, have two daughters, Helen, 7, and Adelaide, 4.

Author thrills pupils

Award-winning author Robert Newton Peck brought the house down, or rather the gym, at New Windsor Middle School this week when he passed on reflections of his childhood and his writings.

Peck entered the gym looking like Jack Palance, with black pants, black cowboy boots, a black fringed leather cowboy jacket and topped with a black 10-gallon felt cowboy hat.

The author of more than a dozen books, including "Soup for President," which earned him the Mark Twain Award for writing in 1981, inspired pupils.

"I'm very grateful you wanted me to come," Peck told pupils. "A long time ago I was a kid."

The kids roared, applauded and stomped their feet.

The author recalled his first stab at writing.

"I went to a little one-room schoolhouse," the 72-year-old Peck began. "It could fit into that little red rectangle in the corner of your gym. My teacher stood before us and said, `Your homework for tomorrow ' "

Peck was drowned out by the sounds of groans, then laughs.

"I said, `Mama, what am I going to write?' "

Peck ended up writing a poem, which he recited for pupils.

"I took it to school and she put a little gold star on it."

Such was the beginning of Peck's writing career. Before he finished, Peck imparted wisdom.

"We teachers and authors forget what it's like to be kids again," he continued. "But in that one-room schoolhouse, my teacher didn't try to give us false values or self-esteem. She gave us self-discipline and self-control."

About writing, Peck was emphatic.

"You never write about feelings, you write about things, about stuff," he said. "Writing is not telling the story but showing the story."

Reading teacher Dianne Hoffman said she knew Peck through her membership in the Maryland State Reading Association.

"He was coming up for that and he came a day early so he could speak here," she said.

Pupil Katherine Edrington of New Windsor said she was a big fan of Peck's and particularly loved his book "Nine Man Tree."

"I've read his book five times," she said. "I loved it."

Jean Marie Beall's Northwest neighborhood column appears each Thursday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

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