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Since Stroup was three years behind Jones in school, the students’ paths didn’t cross often. When they did, it was usually in the shadow of their respected teacher. Once, when they were both in college—Jones was a senior at the University of Michigan and Stroup was a freshman at Western Michigan University—the two ran into each other at the Dickson School while each was home on break. Jones, Stroup remembers, was wearing his ROTC uniform. “We had lunch together right under those windows,” Stroup says, pointing to a bank of windows covered in old chicken wire and surrounded now by peeling mustard paint. “He asked me what I was going to do. I said ‘I feel called to be a teacher.’” Jones told him he was going to be an actor. “I thought it was the wildest thing I ever heard of,” Stroup says.
Stroup did become an English teacher. And several years after Crouch retired, until the new Brethren High School was complete, he took Crouch’s place in the classroom overlooking the ball field.
Over the decades, Stroup followed Jones’s career through Crouch, who remained in close correspondence with his famous former student. One day in the 1980’s, Stroup recalls sitting in Crouch’s living room in the small, shingled house where Crouch lived around the corner from the Dickson School. Crouch was approaching 90 years old, widowed and going blind. He told Stroup about an invitation James had offered him to see a play he was starring in. Stroup thinks it may have been the Great White Hope on Broadway. (Jones remembers it as perhaps a production of King Lear.) Jones offered to send a private limousine to pick up Crouch and take him to the airport, then arrange to have an escort for him at all times once he’d arrived. “Donald said, ‘I’m really flattered to be asked, but I’m too tired to do that,’” Stroup says.
Crouch died several years later. But not before he had the last of his three books of poetry published and was named poet laureate of Manistee County.
Stroup has one other clear memory of Jones. The event happened while they were both in high school, on the stage in the small basement auditorium inside the wing added in the 1930’s. The gym floor is falling through the ceiling into the auditorium now, and debris is everywhere. Stroup points through a window, to the stage. “See, you can make out the edge of the proscenium,” he says. “That’s where James did The Raven. That’s the greatest thing I’ve ever heard. He was a senior in high school. He stood up on that green stage. He was wearing all black. The curtain was parted far enough for him to be seen. I was just, just so inspired, I thought That’s the most wonderful thing I’ve ever heard in my life. We were having a cakewalk to raise money. During the intermission James did that.” Stroup looks through the old glass pane a few moments longer. “I told James while he was here that that was probably when I decided to be an English teacher.”
Ironically, part of the $40,000 that Jones raised in his two recent sellout performances at the Ramsdell will be used to demolish this wing—the stage, Crouch’s English classroom, the gym and all. While losing those rooms is unfortunate, everyone involved in saving the Dickson School knows that what really matters is that the school’s original foundation, the architect has assured them, is solid.