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How a Capital Education Helped This Late-Blooming Author

Upon graduating from high school in 1979, I knew I would attend college in the fall; however, it took me a while to choose the college and even longer to declare my major, a decision that didn’t happen until well after I moved into the dorm.

I quickly learned most of my fellow students possessed more definitive reasons than I for attending Capital University. Many were Lutheran (I was not). Others had alumni in their families. (My family had never heard of Capital.) Some lived in or near Columbus. (I lived three and a half hours away.) And several were drawn to specific programs for which Capital was renowned, such as the nursing or music programs. (I was unaware of the excellence of these programs.)

I eventually chose Capital because it seemed to fit me. The size, location, and broad course offerings appealed to me, but most of all, it was the feeling I got when I first visited campus. Something about the atmosphere was both comforting and exhilarating. I was ready to learn the words to “Pride of the Purple”!

Capital had gone through a rough patch in the late 1970s. During my freshman year, Harvey Stegemoeller became Capital’s new president. He was charged with the task of cleaning up the then-faltering university in more ways than one, but mostly I recall the “Spit and Polish” program he implemented, offering student organizations cold hard cash for cleaning the campus inside and out. The dorm room I moved into was filthy. My mother – and the mother of fellow freshman Jackie who lived across the hall and eventually became a good friend and roommate – was appalled at the condition of the rooms. The moms promptly found a nearby hardware where buckets, rags, a mop, and cleaning solutions were purchased. We scrubbed and scrubbed, emptying bucket after bucket of black water down the shower drains. I was already qualified for President Stegemoeller’s “Spit and Polish” program.

That was my introduction to Capital and I’m delighted to report that four years later Capital had been transformed into a different place, one that was shiny, bright, and full of new promise. When I visit the Capital University of today, my eyes fill with tears and my heart swells with pride at the beauty of the campus and the advancements made there. I like to believe the freshman class of 1979 was, in part, responsible for the transformation students enjoy today. A little “spit and polish” can have a long-lasting effect.

Fast forward to 2020. Though it has been a year of challenges and even tragedy throughout the world, it’s been pretty darn good for me so far. In May, I published a book I’ve been working on for six years; a memoir titled “River Love – The True Story of a Wayward Sheltie, a Woman, and a Magical Place Called Rivershire.” The story is set at my home on the banks of the Boardman River just south of Traverse City, Michigan. It’s about a rescue dog that changed my life, the amazing piece of land where I live, and my personal journey through a rather difficult time. The process of writing and publishing “River Love” has caused me to reflect on how Capital prepared me for this milestone 37 years after graduating with the Class of ’83.

As I mentioned, I hadn’t declared a major before leaving for college. I got to Capital and took some placement tests. It was clear I wasn’t going to be a mathematician; I “tested into” Math 101 or Math 105, if I intended to really apply myself. Yes, Math 101. Not Algebra 101. Not Geometry 101. English and the arts were calling! I was assigned an advisor and together we came up with a major: Public Relations, then classified as a multidisciplinary major that, in my case, intertwined studies in English, speech, art, and business. (Trust me when I say I wasn’t the star pupil in my accounting class. Too many numbers involved for my taste!) I was on the yearbook staff and wrote for the “Chimes,” causing the editor, Denise Trainer, her fair share of frustration as many of my articles came in slightly post-deadline. (Ironically, I am submitting this article to the same Denise Trainer Russell, Capital’s director of Communications.) I took many writing classes and eventually my advisor told me I was one class shy of obtaining a writing minor. I added one more such course and voila! I left Capital possessing a B.A. in Public Relations with a Professional Writing minor.

Did I run right out and light the world on fire with my mad writing skills? Nope. I did take on jobs that involved writing press releases, newsletters, articles, etc., including the position I currently hold as marketing director for an ice rink in Traverse City. However, deep inside I had a strong desire to write a book someday, but for decades made no attempt at such an accomplishment. It took a sweet little Sheltie to enter my life for that to happen.

So, here I am, 37 years post-graduation with my first published book. One might think with all the time that has passed, my distant college degree had only a marginal effect on my ability to write a book. Au contraire! First of all, my love of writing that developed throughout high school blossomed into a passion during my years at Capital. Skills I learned through coursework and extracurricular activities played a major part in my ability to create, cut, rewrite, cut some more, and continue writing my manuscript.

During the process, I pulled books off the shelf that had been required for courses I took at Capital. (I’m really good at hanging on to things.) I thought about my teachers and recalled their instruction that helped hone my ability to not only compile the copy necessary for the jobs I have held over the years, but also develop a narrative people might enjoy reading.

And maybe, just maybe, my daily Capital experiences – going to class, writing articles good enough to be featured in the “Chimes,” singing with the Chapel Choir while serving as its first female manager under the amazing leadership of Dr. E. Richard Shoup, and pledging the struggling Pi Phi Epsilon sorority during a time when the pledges outnumbered the actives – instilled a spark of confidence I could draw upon these many years later, a spark turned inner voice whispering “you can do this, too.” These are some of the things a Capital University education can do for a person, even 37 years later.

My reflections on the time I spent at Capital continue as I write this article. Some of my dearest friends to this day are Capital friends. The older I get, the more these people mean to me. The memories grow fonder, too. Since making those memories, life has handed me joys and triumphs, trials and tribulations, no different from everyone else. In “River Love,” I tell of a difficult time in my life and the steps I took to clear away the smoldering discontent that overwhelmed me. In the process, I encountered messy parts of myself in need of cleansing. Memories of Capital – experiences, accomplishments and cherished relationships – helped buoy my spirit and turn my focus toward the positive.

Our special alma mater has also had its own share of ups and downs. Through introspection, internal housekeeping, hard work, and the courage to scrub away at the messes we encounter along the way, people and institutions alike can evolve into something more nuanced, more complete, revealing a fresh approach and new perspective.

Yes indeed, as I learned many years ago at Capital, a little “spit and polish” can make a world of difference, both in the present and for the future. For these lessons and more, I will always be grateful for the choice I made to attend Capital and learn the words to “Pride of the Purple.”

For more information about Tricia Frey and her book, go to