Artichoke liqueur, shirtless comprehensive exams and an all-time faculty basketball draft
On a cold March night in his final semester, the legendary history professor walked into the Crawfordsville-beloved Backstep Brewing Company, armed with his classic Birkenstocks and socks. Peering from beneath his staple black felt Outback hat, he spotted three senior editors of The Bachelor waiting for him at the far end of the bar, offer- ing the first of many cocktails in exchange for (mostly-true) tales from a 34-year career as a Wabash history professor.
In the classroom, Professor Stephen Morillo H’91’s historical themes have focused on world history, medieval history and military history. Of all the courses he’s taught, one of his favorites—which demonstrates his albeit-quirky style—was World Naval and Maritime History 1000–1800, which he co-taught with Professor of Chemistry Dr. Lon Porter.
“Why Lon Porter in Chemis- try, you ask? Because I invented a tabletop naval combat game, and he was my game master,” Morillo said. “And that works so beautifully. We had big battles going on, and it was such a great course.”
As a long-serving chair of the history department, Morillo has seen his fair share of senior com- prehensive exams. Many were good. Others were not.
Morillo explained a secret deal struck during an otherwise-successful oral comp. The comp started off strong and normal, with great free-flowing discussion. But somehow, during the exam, Morillo and the student agreed that the ultimate comp grade would depend not on his oral performance, but on a one-on-one game of Formula D (a racing board game) the next day.
“He came back the next day, and he did well enough to pass,” said Morillo.
“One of my favorite things for making cocktails these days is Cynar, an artichoke liqueur.”Stephen Morillo H’91
But not all students demonstrated such academic or board game mastery. During Morillo’s first year—in one of his first ever comps—he served as major examiner. As Morillo recalled, one student was so nervous, sweating and visually shaking. He kept missing early softball questions. So Morillo tried something different.
“So I tried to back it off,” said Morillo. “Just let him tell us about himself. I asked, ‘You grew up on a farm, right? Did you have a dog? What’s your dog’s name?’”
The student could not answer.
“He could not remember his f—king dog’s name,” Morillo laughed. “That’s how frozen up he was.”
But it all worked out in the end. The panel decided to tell the student to come back and retry his oral comp in March. As Morillo put it, he came back with no problems, did a great job and passed.
Other Morillo comps stories were just… odd. He told of an early 2000s oral comp with a double major in history and art. Morillo described him as a conventionally-attractive, stereotypically-art-major-looking guy.
“He walked into the comps wearing short shorts, boots and nothing else,” said Morillo. “He passed! He did just fine.”
Morillo is a cocktail enthusiast, with tastes ranging from the classics to the bizarre. He always loves a good Old Fashioned or Gin and Tonic (many rounds of which were necessary to produce this article). He also mentioned Aviations and Paper Planes, classic drinks that his wife Lynn is also a fan of. But it’s not all standard recipes.
“One of my favorite things for making cocktails these days is Cynar, an artichoke liqueur,” said Morillo.
[Editor’s note: The Bachelor made sure to verify that Morillo truly said “artichoke” and that he was comfortable releasing this detail on the record]
“It goes great with bourbon, cranberry juice and Angostura bitters,” said Morillo. “It’s got a kind of earthy flavor and an undertone of bitterness to it. That goes really well with things with- out overpowering with its own flavor.”
Dr. Morillo swore that he has, in fact, served cocktails with artichoke liqueur to other (presumably human) people, who he swore enjoyed them.
Beyond the jovial historian is also an artist. Morillo recalled his worst job ever: graphic designer for a plastic cup company in his childhood home of New Orleans. Morillo designed the art for commemorative cups, including many cups for Mardi Gras.
He fondly recalled his favorite product from that job: designing the commemorative cup for the Pope’s visit to New Orleans in September 1987.
“I drew it—the atheist drew it!,” said Morillo. “So I put my signature on his sleeve, as if it were a Morillo-designer cassock.”
Morillo has continuously fed his artistic streak, whether in New Orleans, Oxford or Crawfordsville. Over his Wabash career, he contributed many editorial cartoons to The Bachelor, eventually teaching student cartoonists in his “Cartooning 101” series.
“I’ve had plenty of ‘aha!’ moments in class and good feedback. That positive feedback really makes me feel like I’m in the profession for a reason—it pays off.”Stephen Morillo H’91
Morillo is also an NBA player—no, not that one. The Noontime Basketball Association is a group of faculty and staff (and years ago, townies) who play basket- ball against one another. Morillo is a firm believer in what he describes as the “ancient Greek liberal-arts mindset”—a holistic education focusing on strong minds as well as strong bodies. To fuel his academic and artistic endeavors, he has been a long- time player in these faculty basketball games.
“The best remaining part of my game at this point is passing,” said Morillo. Nevertheless, we asked him to draw upon his many
years of experience to draft his all-time faculty basketball team. After placing himself at point guard, Morillo provided the fol- lowing roster:
Shooting Guard, Team Captain: former professor of English Tobey Herzog H’11
Small Forward: Dean of Admissions Chip Timmons ’96
Power Forward: former professor of mathematics Mike Axtell
Center: Professor of Psychology Preston Bost
All this talk of warfare, masculinity and athletics led to a question too-oft repeated from the lips of errant Fox News hosts: are today’s men less masculine than they used to be? Have Wabash men gone soft?
Morillo doesn’t think so. He recently taught the same course—War and Conflict in the Middle Ages—both at Wabash and at West Point.
“Wabash men way out-performed the West Point cadets on that one,” Morillo said. “Wabash students are just more creative, and that’s partly West Point’s fault. I had a couple students in that class tell me it was the first time they really felt like they were in college. West Point micromanages every decision about their lives, they don’t teach leadership or teach people how to make good decisions.”
And in moments like these, Morillo realized that Wabash was indeed the right place for his storied, varied and quirky career.
“This has been a good place for me to teach,” Morillo said. “Both because I like teaching and I’ve liked the students. Wabash guys have relatively low levels of cynicism and low levels of privilege, and are therefore really rewarding to teach. I’ve had plenty of ‘aha!’ moments in class and good feedback. That positive feedback really makes me feel like I’m in the profession for a reason—it pays off.”
Farewell, loyal son.