Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Sustainable Sandy Ives

Only last night did we discover that our beloved college professor Sandy Ives passed away in August. I am remiss to realize that SP and I have been living in our own media free bubble for the past three months. Had we known about his memorial yesterday we most certainly would have been there. Why post about him here?
The man is a lesson in sustainability.
Sandy was an emeritus Professor of Anthropology as well as the Founding Director of the Maine Folklife Center at the University of Maine in Orono. Sandy was dedicated to preserving the rich oral history of this magnificent state of Maine and the folk songs to accompany it. He was a man interested in "how people shape and bring the past into the present; how people shape the world they find around and within them into apposite forms they can share with others. " He had extensive knowledge of the historical lumber industry in Maine and the world it created in our states history. Sandy is also featured on the blogs Sustainable Music and Cultural Sustainability.
Sandy researched and wrote books on "long-dead" men and the stories and songs told about them. Woodsmen and River Drivers was his first graduate project which evolved into the amazing video documentary called From Stump to Ship, which I remember watching with rapt attention in class. This aspect of Sandy's own folk life was a huge draw for SP as a forester. I fondly recall the fun banter of the lecture, his thick white beard, and when he might launch into song and dance mid story. Vahlsing Pollutes It is one of those songs, a song he created to the tune of "Waltzing Matilda" about the historical sugar beet industry in Maine. Sandy's book Drive Dull Care Away was a memoir that details the rich history told through songs in Maine and Maritime Canada. Other books by Sandy can be found here and I highly recommend them for any fan of Sandy, Maine, or history.
As a professor, we have many fond memories. SP and I agree, Sandy's lectures were ones we would NEVER fall asleep in. They were too interesting, and Sandy too captivating! He was the storyteller emeritus. We remember Sandy for his squinty eyed look of a sea captain with the thick white beard. He made everyone happy and had a voice with a timber and cadence that warmed the soul, and I was amazed by how wonderfully it changed when he sang.
His lectures were the most interesting and memorable of all my 4 years at UMO. In fact we both recall a lecture that left the biggest impact of all. In a 100 plus person lecture hall, Sandy walked in, set his stuff down at the lectern, picked up a chair and set it on top of the desk. Sandy did not make a peep, but stood there for a good 5 minutes that felt like an hour. Finally, Sandy spoke, saying, "And now you all understand the concept of dramatic tension" the very thing that good story telling is all about. I recall challenging him at one point over a statement I found to be misogynistic. I wish I could remember the exact conversation, but SP recalls I came home rather frustrated and being less than happy with him. I guess I got over myself and the idealistic bubble I was living in because he remains one of my favorite professors ever. Sandy gave the weirdest tests - 100 true or false questions, but even if you got it wrong you could defend it on the back of the page and if you reasoned well you would get credit for a good defense argument. What Sandy taught us more than anything was the importance of cultural history and the appreciation of the stories in our heritage. SP was fortunate enough to be one of the first to interview him for the folklore archives in the 1990's. Unfortunately, the tapes were lost in one of the moves. Sandy loved classical guitar and played, but by the time we knew him he didn't play it anymore or even listen to it because he was too deaf. He was a huge fan of Andrew Segovia, so Sandy's deafness bothered him greatly. Music was a huge part of Sandy's life, and a life that he realized quickly out paced him. Sandy, recalled to SP, that he was hip but realized that he was out of touch and time had passed him by when he took his son to his first rock concert - Moby Grape. Sandy definitely did something right, because his son went on to become a musician. You can hear a collection of Sandy's music here.
SP and I sat at dinner tonight talking about Sandy to our kids. Sandy was a favorite and memorable teacher for each of us, and neither of us required Sandy's course as a part of our major. We are remiss that we did not keep in good touch with him. SP made a point of stopping by his office any time he came past campus. Sandy always remembered who he was, and SP loved seeing that unopened bottle of Red Star Ale sitting behind his desk, one that SP brewed in the 90's. The two of them often talked about returning to those interviews to delve deeper into Sandy's research and writing - the work that filled his heart and spare time. SP even introduced his parents to Sandy, and SP's father Junior really enjoyed meeting the man who had documented the historical years of things held true to his family of hunters and foresters.
Sandy was seldom out of our heart and mind. I was filled with tears last night to learn of his passing. Sandy was one of those people who you wish was immortal, like Santa Claus. It is in the passing of Sandy Ives that we ask you to think back to those teachers that made something more of your life and to find those stories or memoirs that need to be shared and documented. It is in our history that the richness of life is found. I toast to Sandy, and hope he is up there sharing some stories with HiHo and Junior. We will be with you all too soon, but until then we will do our best to preserve the history we are all part of creating. So do your best to keep the past alive and preserve its stories that are steeped in rich tradition. Thank you Sandy for touching our lives and leaving your indelible mark. We are sharing you and your stories and songs with our children. You live on in our hearts and the lives of our children. Thank you Sandy Ives.


Maine Mom said...

I posted this as a link on my Facebook Page, stating, " According to Shane - I would be really good at writing obituaries. We will never forget you Sandy Ives. Thanks for your inspiration. " I received the following comments I thought I would add.
From Chris, "This is sad. I wasn't aware he had passed either. He truly was a remarkable man. And... I'd agree with SP. Great write-up"
From David, "SP is so very right. That is one of the best obits I have read."

Maine Mom said...

My brother in law reminded me that Sandy was also used as a fictionalized character in one of Steven Kings books. Another comment came in from Colin, who I went to both HS and College with. Colin said, "I came across your post about Sandy Ives. That's a shame. I still remember the first time I met the man down in his basement office with his old golden retriever. He's the reason I got into anthropology. Sad news but what a positive impact on a lot of people's lives."