Six Degrees of Central

Barb Watson ’83 and her adopted son Danny play with nesting dolls from his home country.

The Traveling Mothers

In 2008, two eight-year-old Russian boys slept in beds next to each other in an orphanage in Petrozavodsk, just over 300 miles from the Arctic Circle. Although they weren’t brothers, they both had Scandanavian heritage, were part of the same family group in the orphanage and were going to Iowa in June. Early that same year, Barb Watson ’83 was certain she wanted to adopt a child. She signed up for Camp Hope, a nonprofit that pairs older orphans from Russia with American families looking to adopt. One of the two boys, Daniil, came to Barb’s house for a week.

Celia Novelo Huante ’91 and her son Kirill.

In contrast, when Celia Novelo Huante ’91 and her husband David first heard of Camp Hope, they weren’t sure if adoption was the right choice. Already the parents of two girls, they had flirted with the idea of adopting internationally. So they came to a Camp Hope event, where they met the other boy, Kirill. Celia was moved immediately. “He was so sweet,” she says of Kirill. “We needed a son, and he needed parents. We met him on a Monday and decided on a Tuesday. It was fate.”

Meanwhile, Barb bonded with Daniil (Danny, for short), who had lost a father to tuberculosis before being taken from his mother because she was unfit to raise him. Despite all the hardships he had gone through in his young life, Barb found him joyful, a boy who loved pranks and always had energy for the next thing.

Both women had made up their minds. They were going to adopt. At a meeting Barb hosted for other families, Celia stuck her head in the kitchen and saw a painting of the Central bridge. “Did you go to Central?” she asked in shock.

Barb Watson ’83 and her son Danny

It turned out the women had been born a world apart—Barb grew up in Iowa while Celia came from Merida, Yucatan. She enrolled at Central on the urging of George Ann Huck, the director of Central’s study abroad program at the time. Despite their different origins, their paths in life led them separately to a single orphanage nearly 5,000 miles from Pella.

Since then, the two women have become close friends—especially as they struggled through the adoption process, which involved several trips to Russia and difficult legal complications. After the adoptions were final in 2009, Barb and Celia, both based in the Des Moines area, began spending more time together. And Daniil and Kirill—already “family” in the orphanage—became close friends.

“I never could imagine that someone from Merida would end up going to Central, settling in Iowa and adopting at the same time I did,” says Barb. “I truly believe because of these two little boys that we will always stay in touch.”


The Supportive Scholars

When Rod Camp taught at Central in the 1970s and 80s, he wore jeans to class, which was very unusual for a Central professor at the time. He always graded papers and tests immediately, slipping the results into students’ mailboxes within a day. He taught with films and novels, in addition to traditional textbooks, and always seemed to be lecturing from memory, even when he had notes. But for Joe Klesner ’80 and Shannan Mattiace ’90, Rod did more than teach Latin American politics. He sparked in them a passion, and he has seen them through as they fulfilled it.

Joe has viewed Rod as a mentor ever since he took his second political science class with the professor. “You don’t expect everybody to end up like their favorite professor, but I did just that,” says Joe. After graduating from Central, he earned a doctorate in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When it was time to decide what to do next, he consciously chose teaching over research, just like his mentor. For 27 years, he has taught Latin American politics at Kenyon College in Ohio.

Clockwise from top: Joe Klesner ’80, Shannan Mattiace ’90 and Rod Camp.

Despite his focus on teaching, Joe hasn’t given up research or publication. He’s been helped along that route by Rod, who has often involved him in political surveys and publications. Rod now teaches at Claremont McKenna College in California. Most recently, Joe wrote an article for The Oxford Handbook of Mexican Politics, for which Rod was the editor.

Shannan wrote an article for that book, too, at Rod’s request. The two have never lost touch since her first year out of college, when Rod helped set up an internship for her in Mexico as a Rotary Scholar. Upon her return, Shannan earned a doctorate in government at the University of Texas at Austin. As a professor at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, she has invited Rod as a guest speaker, and the two have collaborated on publications and seen each other often at conferences. “He is one of a few people that has literally changed my life,” she says of Rod. “He has in many ways directed and shaped my career. I wouldn’t be in this particular line of work without him.”

For a testament to the deep academic relationships forged at Central between professors and students, you need to look no further than the names of the three Ph.D.s on the The Oxford Handbook of Mexican Politics.


The Three Musketeers

Lynn Herndon Howard ’74, Jerry Vroegh ’74 and Marty Sartipi ’74

When Marty Sartipi ’74, Lynn Herndon Howard ’74 and Jerry Vroegh ’74 arrived at their condo in Key West this winter, it brought back a crisp and clear memory: the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.

After becoming enamored with the palace during a class visit, the trio had returned later for a day trip and picnic. But a quick look at the animal prints smothering the condo of mirrors brought them back to reality. It was 2012, nearly 40 years since they had studied abroad in Paris, and they were back together again.

Although they didn’t stay close over the intervening years, the friends did keep in contact through letters and Christmas cards—and later through email when that technology hit the scene. It was through this medium that they learned both Lynn and Jerry would be in Florida around the same time. Marty decided to hit the Sunshine State, too, and they organized a reunion in Key West.

Marty and Jerry after a water fight in the moat of a castle in France.

The trio first met as French majors at Central. Lynn and Marty were assigned as roommates, and at first Marty thought they couldn’t be more different. Marty had traveled—to France in high school and then a summer in North Carolina—and Lynn seemed shy and had stayed close to home. Jerry, on the other hand, was always cracking jokes. He did spot-on imitations of their professors.

Their senior year, they all decided to study in France together. On a tight budget, they often ate at the hot dog and crepe stands in the Latin Quarter and delved into flea markets for deals on jeans. They used discounted train tickets to travel around the country. When Jerry wanted to go for a walk, he would come into the courtyard of the women’s dorm—the farthest he was allowed to go—and yell up at the windows until Marty or Lynn heard him.
“We could talk about almost anything,” said Lynn. “We shared a common goal in our travels—to get to know the people, culture and language of France.”

Lynn and Jerry overlooking castle ruins.

The three friends—all from small towns in Iowa—spent one last evening together at Marty’s wedding in Pella soon after they returned from France. The reunion in Key West—though not as exciting as the Luxembourg Gardens or the Palace of Versailles—was a meeting of three kindred spirits who bonded before they had even begun their careers. It was a perfect trip for retirees reminiscing about how they got their start. And it didn’t hurt that the margaritas were good.


How have you connected with other Central alumni or faculty members throughout the years?

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