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Remembering First Amendment Champion Louis Ingelhart

by Hank Nuwer

Journalism legend Louis Ingelhart had a deadline that he met last evening. I don’t think there was one Doc ever missed.

It was 4 p.m. Sunday when I visited him at Ball State Hospital in Muncie for the last time. I called, “Doc, Doc,” and he fluttered one eye briefly in recognition. He may not have known who his visitor was, but he damn sure knew his name. There was only one “Doc,” and he knew it.

 Photo: Doc’s induction into Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame

“He sure has had lots of visitors,” remarked a nurse as I left.

I no sooner walked into my house after making the long drive from

Muncie, then Doc’s friend Fred Woodress was on the phone with the 5

Ws, H and many Ts for Tears.

About 7 p.m., the family had respected Doc’s own last wishes penned

in a living will, said Fred, himself an octogenarian.

The switches to the equipment keeping him artificially alive were shut off.

A moment or two later, he was gone in January, just shy of his birthday on the 10th.

He went fast. But then again, Doc always was in a hurry. He only had 80-odd years to finish his appointed rounds.

Doc never retired from his self-appointed job to be a vigorous

defender of the First Amendment. He was a Cerberus of student press

rights. He emphasized that the word “student” ought to be lopped off student press rights. He wanted student publications to be subject to the same standards of excellence as every other publication.

Doc criticized my then-abrasive prose style in 1985 when I taught at Ball State and then wrote a column for the Muncie Star-Press.

His suggestions helped me make the switch from amateur freelancer

to professional journalist. He said that a journalist ought to set down the facts and let the readers interpret those facts. “You have to respect readers’ intelligence, Hank,” he said.

He had a great sense of humor. When he called me one day to boast

that he had one a Hugh Hefner First Amendment Award, I asked if Playboy was going to put in his picture with staples through his middle.

I saw him right before Xmas, taking my dog into his retirement home. “They just put my bio on a CD,” he said.

That was just like Doc to switch from print to electronic journalism in his old age.

And wouldn’t you know he was a compulsive writer to the end,

penning his own obituary. You wouldn’t believe the word count—four

pages!

He always asked me to read his copy in manuscript form. I made tons

of suggestions on words to strike. He ignored every suggestion.

We talked by phone about his electronic bio just days before he was

hospitalized.

“Now stay off of those bulls, Nuwer,” he said, signing off, referring to a dumb decision I made to try rodeo bull riding two years ago.

I made a smartass reply.

Now, of course, I wish I would have said something more profound,

but maybe not. No one loved a smartass remark more than Doc did.

He was loved by his family, colleagues, cohorts with College Media Advisers, Student Press Law Center, and a ton of other respected organizations, a legion of journalists, and his students.

Respected and beloved, he also was revered, a journalist’s journalist.

Without his crusading, the Hazelwood decision might now be applied

to college periodicals as well as high school pubs, but he fought all administrators who dared treat a student newspaper as a private message board.

Mark Popovich, a colleague of Doc’s at Ball State University, was quoted as saying that Doc was a second father.

None of “Doc’s Boys” wanted to let him down. That would have been

like letting down your own Dad.

Right now Old Doc is about to raise a little Hell in Heaven, writing a letter to the editor of the local celestial rag.

Not even St. Pete would dare bowdlerize his copy.

But keep down that word count, Professor Ingelhart.

Nah, he won’t listen, I’m sure. That’s what made Doc…Doc.

In his honor, let me end with 45 tight words of copy he cherished to the end:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,

or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom

of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to

assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

 

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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