A store lost in time

The red brick store that sits on 307 College Avenue hasn’t changed much in the 78 years since it was built. It’s one of the few Clemson landmarks that doesn’t get renovated, updated or even painted. The faded black sign on the front reads:

JUDGE KELLER
GENERAL MERCHANDISE
REASONABLE PRICES

And when you push open the front door, you feel like you’ve wandered back in time to the days when your receipt was written on the brown paper bag that held your purchases.

The store got its start across the street in 1899. A member of the very first class of Clemson cadets, Isaac Leonard Keller left school after two years and opened Keller’s Store, stocking cadet uniform supplies. Legend has it that he could determine sizes and hems of uniforms without even measuring, and so he was given the nickname “Judge.” In 1918, he moved across the street into a wood-frame building, where the store remained until 1936, when the current brick building was erected.

The cadet uniforms might be a thing of the past, but within the walls of Judge Keller’s you can find the uniforms of contemporary Clemson students and fans. Stacks and racks of T-shirts and shorts, sweatshirts and hats cover almost every available surface. For years, they offered overalls, dyed orange, for sale.

The Judge’s grandson and namesake, Isaac Leonard Keller ’70, runs the store today with the help of his son, Ben. But that doesn’t mean you can’t see vestiges of earlier generations. Three hats that belonged to Leonard’s dad still hang on the wall. And if you look through the boxes on the shelves, you might still find a nice pair of white leather shoes from the 50s.

The Oak Tree of Clemson

If you were chatting with Jerry Reel before a meeting, it wouldn’t be unusual for him to lean over, his eyes sparkling, and share some odd bit of knowledge with you such as, “Did you know that today is St. Columba’s Day? He’s the patron saint of bookbinders and poets.” He’s a veritable font of information about any number of things, about which he can usually spin a yarn that will captivate you, amuse you and educate you along the way. And when it comes to the history of Clemson University, he can claim the title as resident expert. In 2003, the University recognized that and named him University Historian. In that role, he has written two volumes of history about the institution, the latest of which was published this spring. For decades, students filled his “History 101 – History of Clemson” course in which he indoctrinated generations with stories of the families who founded the University and the leaders who presided over it.

It’s not often that we designate a living person as a landmark or legend. But Jerry Reel just begs to be both. Sometimes referred to as the “Oak Tree of Clemson,” Reel joined the faculty in 1963 while he was still finishing up his Ph.D. in history at Emory University. He was the second professor named an Alumni Master Teacher, and in addition to being a faculty member, served as dean of undergraduate studies and senior vice provost. He directed four inaugurations as well as the Clemson Centennial, witnessing five decades of traditions and transitions. And in 2000, Clemson named him an honorary alumnus.

A native of New Orleans (of which he is justifiably proud), Reel is married to Edmee M ’82, who he will tell you that he met for the first time when she was two years old, running through the backyard, “naked as a jaybird.” The two of them have raised three children (all Clemson alums) and have advised and encouraged 50 years worth of Clemson students.

Clemson’s history in 8-inch squares

This installation of tiles tells the history of Clemson in 8-inch squares.

As you enter Hardin Hall, you’re greeted with an artistic rendering of Clemson’s history. Some very abstract, others more representational, 84 tiles spread across a curved wall that stretches for 60 feet. Installed in 2004 in the then newly renovated home of the history, philosophy and religion departments, the project was sponsored by the Art Partnership Program and funded through the R.C. Edwards Endowment. Artist Kathy Triplett was chosen through a regional competition that spanned six Southern states.

“The title [“Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny”] is inspired by the idea of the single cell and how it progresses to a complex organism,” said Triplett. “I used this idea of progression as a metaphor to represent the development and evolution of the University, from the initial spark of an idea in Thomas Green Clemson’s mind, through its expansion, diversification and growth into a complex and more open institution, which is in many ways like the growth of the individual student.”

The tiles range from the expected — commemorating Thomas Green Clemson and M.B. Hardin and the always present Tiger — to the unexpected — depicting the development of the Phorid Fly and the illusion of parallel lines.

In an interview in 2009, Triplett compared the work to a poem. “At first you grasp it with the heart,” she said.

Perhaps the best description comes from Denise Woodward- Detrich, director of Lee Gallery, who said, “Standing at either end of the installation, you can’t see the other end. Just like the arc of the University’s history.”

Always in the details

Louis Henry

I have always felt blessed and unabashedly proud that my academic career brought me to Clemson University — and doubly so that my greatest influence there was Louis Henry. He was, after all, a native son: Born in 1931 to parents who were employed by the University, he would graduate from Clemson in 1953 and some two decades later be named the first Alumni Master Teacher. I’d known nothing of the award until I picked up a 1974 Homecoming program a few years ago on eBay and started thumbing through in a fit of nostalgia. There he was, featured in a two-page article, younger than I’d ever seen him, but much the same man I’d come to know during my college years in the 1980s.

“Yes, that was quite an honor,” he chuckled when I called down a few days later, then promptly shifted conversation in another direction, a classic Henry maneuver. Of all the subjects on which he’d freely converse — and there were many — he was least inclined to discuss himself, always more interested in the person who’d taken up a seat in his office, living room, wherever.

Louis Henry was a gifted educator, and a good deal more, in part due to his belief that teachers did their greatest work outside of the classroom. It was a mantra he’d adopted early on in his career and practiced daily in his first-floor Strode Tower office. Like so many other Clemson students, I spent my share of time there. First as an undergraduate, then a graduate student and finally, for two years, as an instructor, I took any and all questions — many of them grammar related — and mooched coffee that might have been poured from a crank case. I always felt welcome there, its book-lined shelves punctuated with photographs, the manual typewriter and potted plants. It was a comfortable, easy-going space that seemed in those days Louis Henry’s natural domain.

Equal parts inspiration and common sense, that’s how I remember him and that’s what I took from two of the most valuable lessons I ever received. The first he seemed to embody: Find your passion and pursue it. His work with students over the years spoke to the depth of his commitment. The same might be said of his friendships, now that I think about it, since there was scarcely ever a conversation that didn’t involve the latest on half a dozen other folks of our shared acquaintance. A lot of those lives crossed paths through Louis Henry. Then there was lesson number two, a tough one in this high-tech, fast-paced age that holds everything at the fingertips except time. “Life is in the details,” he said, and said it over and over in the way he lived.

For the past 22 years, our conversations were split between the telephone and the occasional visit in his living room out in Central. The last decade or so saw his health compromised and his activities pared down so that eventually he had to give up his Clemson baseball tickets. Years ago we’d discovered a mutual passion for baseball in general, Clemson baseball in particular, and this near obsession became a recurring theme.

Dr. Henry’s birthday was in February, the same month the Tigers fire off the first pitch, appropriately enough. He knew all the players by name and position, could detail their respective strengths, and preferred “watching games on the radio.” And his trip out to the College World Series in 1996 stayed always fresh in his mind. Indelible, really.

“You have to go. That’s a trip you just have to make,” he kept saying until there was no missing the opportunity and I found myself on a plane out to Omaha with my 9-year-old son in 2010. Life in the details, I remember thinking then, as my traveling companion, who carries the Henry middle name, settled back and tried to rein in his excitement. Always in the details … though it may be years before we fully grasp their meaning.

There are two memorial funds for Dr. Henry set up with the Clemson Foundation: the Dr. Louis Henry ’53 Endowment, supporting The Tiger newspaper, and the Clemson Baseball/Louis Henry Memorial supporting the baseball team.

Clif Collins ’84, M ’88, largely due to the influence of Dr. Henry, is now teaching college English in Laurel, Md.