K Westhues Homepage

Index of tributes to deceased relatives, colleagues, and friends





Kenneth Westhues, 2020

Currey Hall, built in 1956, demolished in 2012:  
convenient, functional, nondescript, charmless.  

In memory of

John S. Chambers, Jr., 1918-2007
            Lt. Col., USMC; Professor of Political Science, University of San Diego

Horace W. Fleming, Jr., 1944-2009
            Provost, Mercer University; President, University of Southern Mississippi

Rolf E. Schliewen, 1939-2008
            Founder and President, RES International, Ottawa

O. Kendall White, Jr., 1938-2020
            William P. Ames Professor of Sociology, Washington and Lee University


This memoir is about a circle of graduate students I was part of at Vanderbilt University from 1966 to 1968, but it begins with an altogether different student circle I learned about in 1961, when I was a sixteen-year-old farmboy in rural Missouri.

The aged pastor of our parish died that year. He had been kind to me, a mainstay for my adolescent identity. I felt his loss deeply.

The priest who presided at the funeral was even more grief-stricken. I understood why from a mimeographed memoir he shyly handed out afterwards on the sidewalk in front of church.

The memoir described how, while in seminary in the 1920s, these two men and two additional classmates were good friends, so close they put a label on their relation. They had studied the Book of Revelations in a theology course and read there about the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” They called themselves the “Four Horsemen of the Applesauce.”

I don’t know what this moniker meant. It was probably an inside joke. What matters is that the bond among the four students meant so much they gave it a name, so much that decades later, the lone survivor of the foursome would write and distribute a little essay celebrating their connectedness.

Was that a futile thing to do, just an old man beating his head against the wall of hard reality, that his friends from youth were dead and he himself nearing the same end?

No, it was an eternally good gesture of one human reaching out to another. Human individuals die, but connections between them endure, multiply, ripple on and on. It is a plain fact that I still remember the grieving priest handing me that memoir about the Four Horsemen of the Applesauce. And now, kind reader, you are connected to the Horsemen, too. They are indeed long dead, but their relation extends to us and abides with us.

The same goes for the group I belonged to at Vanderbilt in the mid-1960s. This webpage is the digital equivalent of that mimeographed page the old priest gave me about him and his friends.

Our group’s boundaries were soft. There were seven of us, more or less, joined by having been randomly assigned rooms on the ground floor of the graduate men’s dormitory, Currey Hall. It was one of six identical nondescript dorms in the Kissam Quadrangle. A corridor ran the length of each floor, with about a dozen small single rooms on either side, each with bed, desk, bookshelf and closet. There were shared bathroom facilities and a common room for watching TV.

This physical setting was convenient and functional but charmless. It was no loss to architecture when the entire quadrangle was razed in 2012. What matters here is the group that formed on one floor of one building in the fall of 1966, among students commencing work toward an MA or PhD in a social science. We were all new to Vanderbilt, new also to Nashville and to Tennessee.


I’m pretty sure it was Kendall White who came up with a name for our circle. Ken was a native of Salt Lake City, from a devout Mormon family. He had served a mission for the church and done his MA thesis at the University of Utah on the neo-orthodox movement in Mormonism. Commencing doctoral studies in sociology at Vanderbilt was his giant step into the larger, secular world. He still wore his temple garments – not out of devotion, just because they had not yet worn out. We called him Mormon and teased him about his “holy underwear.”

I suspect one reason Ken and I bonded was that we were both in transition from an insular religious world – Mormonism for Ken, Catholicism for me – into the mainstream of Western thought. We took many of the same courses, each of them a push toward broadening our horizons and thinking in secular terms, outside the boundaries of our origins.

Ken had the marks of a true intellectual: constant reflection, irreverence, questioning, also listening, openness to others’ experience, effort to understand both sides of any argument. He was slow of speech and deliberate, routinely provoking discussion of some topic in philosophy, religion, history, or politics. He could find humor in almost anything. If our group had a center, Kendall was it. He was the kingpin. When the Mormon began to refer casually to “the Currey Hall Forum,” the rest of us knew what he meant and began to use the term.

O. Kendall White, Jr. and Arlene Burraston-White in 1990, portrait by Atlanta artist Philip Carpenter. By permission of the artist and of the owner, Dr. Thomas Murphy.


I did not join this group on purpose. In those first weeks of the fall term, 1966, I was like any new student, finding my way around campus, buying and studying new books, attending classes, getting acquainted with fellow grad students in my department, trying to settle into some kind of routine. I was making many new friends. The guys in Currey Hall were not the only ones.

Then came Friday, 21 October 1966. I would cut all my classes that day in order to take the physical examination my draft board in Fayette MO had ordered me to take. A few months earlier, I had talked the four old patriots on the board into allowing me one year at Vanderbilt, but they had said that would be all, that come next June I would be a soldier. They wanted all the preliminaries out of the way so that I would be ready to go when the time came.
I told none of the guys along the corridor about this, or where I would be that Friday. It was my business, not theirs, and I was in turmoil over it. I had already decided that the War in Vietnam was wrong and that I would refuse the draft. But what then? Would I be allowed to do alternative service? Could I survive years in prison? If I chose to escape to some other country, where would the money come from? Could I bear bringing shame on my family?

I hoped the war might end in the next six months. Or maybe, with luck, I would flunk the physical. Charlie, the fellow whose room was across from mine, had told me a hearing defect had gotten him deferred. Maybe I, too, had some disqualifying condition.

I got up early that morning and left before dawn, because I had to report at the testing center in downtown Nashville at 6:00 AM. The day was entirely routine, perfunctory. None of the doctors found anything wrong with me.

On my return to the dorm in late afternoon, Rolf Schliewen literally ran down the hall to greet me. Rolf was enrolled in sociology as I was, but he was oceans more qualified. He spoke fluent English, though he was German through and through, a native of Berlin. His physician mother had raised him and his sister after his father died in the war. Rolf had graduated from the Free University, served as an officer in the German Army, and read more classics in social science and philosophy than I had heard of.

“Where have you been?” he asked. “We got worried when nobody had seen you, and then we saw today’s newspaper still lying at your door, so we called housekeeping to let us into your room to check on you.”

That was how I learned that the Currey Hall Forum was real. He didn’t say, “I was worried.” He said we. Somehow, over the past six weeks, the guys along the corridor had formed a circle that included me and that noticed when I was not there. I took huge comfort in this knowledge, after a day of being ogled, poked and prodded by nameless army processors.


Becoming a group was easier because we were all in pretty much the same financial boat: a fellowship or assistantship that paid about $2000 a year ($16,000 in 2020 dollars). This was enough to make ends meet, not enough for extravagance. We all counted our pennies.

Terry was super-frugal. He had come from Georgia for a PhD in political science, specializing in the United Nations. He had the same fellowship as I, but faithfully put ten percent of each monthly check in a savings account. I could not see the point.

John Chambers was especially austere. Forty-eight years of age, he was the  wise elder of our group. He had retired as a Lieutenant Colonel after 24 years in the Marines, then left his wife Budgie with their seven children in San Diego to spend one year at Vanderbilt completing coursework for a PhD in political science. John was old enough to be the father of any of the rest of us and he had already excelled as a soldier, but he never showed the slightest sense of superiority. He related man-to-man with the rest of us, a fact that lifted him still higher in my eyes.

John carried himself ramrod straight, smoked a pipe, went to Mass on Sunday, and dressed for class in a smart jacket and tie. He looked so distinguished that once, when we were out to eat at a crowded restaurant and waiting what seemed like forever to be served, one of us (I’m told it was me) pointed John out to the maitre-d and said he was a visiting Member of Congress on a tight schedule.

John joined in such outings but rarely, instead staying in his room to eat canned soup or beans. I had the impression he sent every spare dollar back to his beloved Budgie and the kids. His plan was to return to them as soon as he was ABD, then write his dissertation while teaching at the University of San Diego.

Parental subsidy may have sweetened the financial condition of some guys in our circle. Cars were one measure. John did not have one. Neither did Terry. Ken White and I each had an old clunker Ford. Rolf had brought his heaterless Volkswagen bug with him on the ship from Germany.

Charlie was the only one of us with a stylish car, a white Buick convertible. Charlie came from Hattiesburg MS, where his father owned the dealership. If he had more money than the rest of us, he did not flaunt it. He was an easygoing, down-to-earth, authentic Southerner, had the Confederate Battle Flag hanging on the wall of his room. His passions were European history and recordings of classical music that he handled as if they were jewels.

Horace Fleming may also have been a little better off than the rest of us. He had joined a reserve officer training program while still a student at the University of Georgia and would begin active duty after doctoral study in political science at Vanderbilt. In return, the army helped pay for his schooling. A man of many talents, Horace also picked up money playing back-up for would-be stars in Nashville’s country music industry.


The main thing we did was talk. Each of us aspired to an understanding of human affairs broader, deeper, and more scientific than that of the average citizen, enough to earn a livelihood as a professor, researcher, author, an expert of some kind. That aspiration informed everything we talked about. Conversations ranged from social theory to cheap places to eat, from travel to politics, from history to world affairs. None of us was much into sports, none hellbent on getting rich. We were scholars.

What Donald Trump has famously called “locker-room talk” was frowned on in our circle. Sex was still closely linked to marriage. The 1960s cultural revolution was still in an early phase. Sex-segregated dorms were still the rule. Chivalry lingered. Horace was devoted to his fiancée, a girl named Steve, in Atlanta. Rolf proudly showed us a photo of Wita, his fiancée in Germany. John sorely missed his wife. The rest of us were single, in no hurry to get married. We were all men preoccupied with our intended life’s work.

The Forum was politically diverse, not an echo chamber for any partisan position. Kendall was farthest left, iconoclastic, bohemian, turned off by America. Rolf was leftist in a European way, but proud of having served in the German Air Force.

John had spent twenty-four years in the Marines and had retired as a high-ranking officer, yet there was nothing doctrinaire about him. He was not at all a warmonger. He had moved beyond his past and was intent on becoming a learned man.

Three younger members of the Forum were gentlemen of the South, disinclined to dissent. Horace was probably the most conservative, but no one could mistake Charlie for a Northerner. Terry was more mainstream, more the way I would have been, had I not been so bothered by the war and torn between conflicting ideals.

The conversations among us tended to transcend partisan politics.

I never sought validation from the Forum guys for my own politics. I worked in Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign in 1968. I don’t think any of the others did. Somehow – thanks mainly to Ken White, I believe – an ethic of respect for privacy and political difference was entrenched. Beyond camaraderie, decency, and tomfoolery, our group revolved around trying to make sense of human life on this planet.


The Forum activities I remember best were excursions off campus. The most routine of these were to budget eateries, especially pizza joints and pancake houses. I don’t believe any of us had meal plans with food services on campus.

Quite a few outings were farther afield.

Charlie invited us that first winter to his parents’ fishing cabin on a creek near Hattiesburg. Ken, Rolf, Terry and I joined him for the break from classes. I'm not sure we caught any fish.

Civil War history fascinated both Rolf and me. Charlie drove us in his convertible to visit Lookout Mountain and the Chattanooga battlefields.

Ken White had some connection to the writer Rachel Maddux, who lived on a farm in western Tennessee. Her novel, Walk in the Spring Rain, was being filmed at the time, with Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Quinn as leads, and Maddux was tending the goats that were part of it. Ken drove Terry and me in his decrepit Falcon to visit Maddux and her husband on their farm.

Late in 1967, after Charlie had finished his MA and gone off to teach in North Carolina, he and Ken White arranged a Forum get-together in Gatlinburg. We used my car for the trip. It was larger than Ken’s. Its brake line leaked, so that I had to stop from time to time on winding mountain highways to replenish the fluid, lest the brakes fail altogether.

I did not appreciate how much the Forum meant to Horace until he and Steve planned their wedding in Atlanta. He said he wanted guys from the Forum as groomsmen. Three or four of us obliged. The night before the wedding, we and some of his Atlanta friends drank and partied at our hotel. At some point an argument arose, probably about politics. One of his cousins, a police officer, opened his jacket to show his handgun. It was not in a holster, instead wedged between belt and belly. Ken White's face went the colour of his name. He declared it was time for bed.

After Rolf and Wita had married and she had joined Rolf in Nashville, I invited them to visit my parents’ farm for a taste of American rural life. They made the trek to Missouri in their beetle. Wita’s English was still limited. My mother enlisted a neighbour lady, a German native, to help make Wita feel at home.


The Forum shaped the lives of all its members, but mostly in subtle, gradual ways. An exception was a day in late May, 1967. The semester had ended. Ken White would drive his little Falcon home to Utah, travelling north to St. Louis and then west on Interstate 70. Since my home in mid-Missouri was not out of his way, I would hitch a ride with Ken, then he would spend his first night on the road at my parents’ farm and see my hometown.

John Chambers would also hitch a ride. The cheapest way for him to get back to his family in San Diego was by train from St. Louis. He would ride there in the car with Ken and me. We would drop him off at Union Station before continuing on to my hometown. The three of us agreed to depart fairly early, probably 9:00 AM.

Remember, I wrote above that Ken White was slow of speech. In fact he was generally slow and sure, like the tortoise in Aesop’s fable. John and I were packed and ready to go at the appointed hour, but Ken said he still had things to do, would not be ready for another hour or so.

Impatiently killing time during this delay, John and I walked over to the Campus Center to drink coffee and chat. That is when something snapped inside my dear friend John. It was as if his anger at all the silly academic hoops he had had to jump for the past nine months, his resentment of the humiliations and disappointments of this academic year, suddenly surfaced.

“I’m going over and tell those sons of bitches what I think of them,” he said, motioning toward the building where political science professors had their offices. John rarely used foul language, and I had never heard him say anything in such a determined tone of voice.

“Don’t do it, John,” I said. I reminded him that he had achieved what he had come to Vanderbilt to do: complete the coursework and year of residency for his PhD. He could return to San Diego triumphant and write his thesis at his own pace. Venting his spleen now would mean throwing all that away.

I could not dissuade him. Maybe I should have tried to restrain him physically, even slugged him if need be, but the Forum had a tacit rule of nonviolence. Anyway, I was more or less frozen with shock.

“Wait here,” he said, and out the Campus Center door he went.

“I did it,” he said when he returned. He was smiling with satisfaction, as if he had recovered in ten minutes all the dignity lost in the past nine months. He told me he went from one office to the next and calmly told the occupant what he thought of his exaggerated sense of worth and unwarranted pomposity. He had not waited for a reply, just gone on to castigate the prof nextdoor.

John sat in the back seat on the trip to St. Louis. Every time I turned round to speak to him, he was still smiling, happier than I had ever seen him. Neither Ken nor I shamed him in any way for what he had done. He had gone up in my estimation.

Photos at right
from the
John S. Chambers
Memorial Page
at Legacy.com

Left: John Chambers as a
     member of the United States
     Marine Corps.

                    Right: John Chambers in
                    2006, the year before
                    his death.


After shaking hands with Chambers at the train tracks in St. Louis, I never saw or spoke with him again. I meant to do so, never got around to it.

At last, in 2010, I had a talk to give in San Diego, and resolved to reconnect with John. I looked him up online, learned that he had a long and successful career teaching (without a PhD) at the University of San Diego, where he was known for being not just smart but helpful, humble, kind – and well-dressed. I also learned that he died in 2007, almost eighty-nine years of age. I’m sorry I never got to thank him for the lessons he gave me, in courage above all.


Schliewen and I deepened our friendship in 1970-1971, when we were both on the faculty of the University of Guelph. Rolf locked horns with the authoritarian department chair, who managed to force Rolf out before being forced out himself. Rolf moved to teach at Dalhousie University in Halifax. I visited him and Wita there, but Rolf soon left academe altogether for high-tech consulting in Ottawa. He used his initials for the name of the company he founded, RES International. It had become a major software firm by the 1990s, serving patent offices and regulators of intellectual property not only in Canada but in Russia, China, South America, and elsewhere.

I saw Rolf just once more. We had dinner together in Ottawa sometime in the 1980s. He told me he had never regretted for one moment leaving academe. Yet he seemed chagrined that he had not finished his PhD, made a point of telling me he had a number of PhDs working for him – as if it mattered. Credentials be damned, Schliewen was the Currey Hall Forum’s brightest light. He had the same problem Chambers had: knowing too much already when enrolling in a doctoral program. Like John, Rolf could not take academic rituals seriously enough, nor perform the required obeisances.

Rolf died suddenly in 2008, at the age of 69.

Obituary of
Rolf E. Schliewen in
The Ottawa Citizen

Gravestone of
Rolf E. Schliewen
in Gatineau,
Quebec; photo from
The German
inscription is the
"Everyone his
own priest."



The 1990s were the heyday
of Rolf Schliewen's software
firm in Ottawa. His success
as an IT entrepreneur
was celebrated in the press.
He was on good terms with
the Liberal government, and
travelled with Prime Minister
Jean Cretien on trade
missions to China and South
America. (Photo credit:
Ottawa Citizen)


Fleming and I lost touch, probably because we went in very different directions. While I was commencing a new life in Canada, Horace was an army Captain in Vietnam, winning a Bronze Star for heroism in combat. On his return to civilian life, he finished his PhD and joined the faculty of Clemson University in South Carolina. Later, when Strom Thurmond chaired the US Senate Judiciary Committee, Horace served as its Chief Economist. He was founding director of the Strom Thurmond Institute at Clemson, and for many years Provost of Atlanta’s Mercer University.

In the midst of such rise in the administrative hierarchy, the Currey Hall Forum stayed lodged in Horace’s memory. In 1997, I received by post an elegant invitation to his inauguration as President of the University of Southern Mississippi. This was in Charlie’s hometown of Hattiesburg. Horace hoped all the guys from the Forum could attend. We had a cordial exchange of letters. I think Charlie represented the Forum at the ceremony.

After four years at USM, Horace returned to Mercer. He died of a brain tumor in 2009, sixty-five years of age.


Obituary of
Horace W. Fleming
at Legacy.com



Horace Fleming as President
of the University of Southern
Mississippi in Hattiesburg.
He served in that position
from 1997 to 2001, after
which he returned to
Mercer University in
(Photo credit: University
of Southern Mississippi)


Memorial of
O. Kendall White, Jr.
at the Mormon
Social Science


Mainly thanks to Kendall White, our dear Mormon, the Forum lived on even after we all moved away from Nashville. Ken finished his PhD – not speedily but surely. It was an organizational study of the Nashville Housing Authority. He joined the faculty of Washington and Lee University in Lexington VA, and remained there for half a century, until his death in 2020.

Ken wangled a lecture invitation for me in Lexington in 1977. At his initiative, Charlie and Terry joined us there the next day for a Forum reunion.

Because of our shared interest in the sociology of religion, Ken’s and my paths crossed every few years. He spoke at several conferences I organized in Canada, and contributed chapters to volumes I edited.

Our last meeting was in 2013, when Anne and I spent two days with Ken and Arlene in Lexington. They took us to the George C. Marshall Museum and Library, a celebration of a great man’s legacy. They showed us the stable that was home to Robert E. Lee’s horse, and the tomb of Stonewall Jackson, with the scatter of lemons left there by admirers. We reminisced about the Forum quite a lot. It was a circle of friends that enlivened the Mormon no less than me.


As a tribute to four men who have passed on, this memoir may hold some interest for their surviving kin, their colleagues and friends. If Charlie and Terry are still living, the paragraphs here may bring back fond memories. There were six or eight additional students on the fringe of the Currey Hall Forum. They may appreciate knowing what became of fellow students they once knew.

For everybody else, this memoir illustrates and confirms the truth Martin Buber wrote about, that what is most real in human experience is not individual persons -- not John, Horace, Rolf or Kendall or whoever. Nor is it any collective like “residents of Currey Hall” or “graduate students at Vanderbilt.” The main reality is what happens between individuals: “man with man” in Buber’s words, or “you and I.” It is the connections individuals make with one another.

I am forever grateful for what happened between us members of the Currey Hall Forum. Grateful also to you, kind reader, for letting me tell you about it, thereby extending its touch to you, just as an old priest’s handout long ago connected me to the Four Horsemen of the Applesauce.