Event at IPFW explores life-changing legacy of Fort Wayne Folk School
Bob Hanauer had a tough life at home and had dropped out of high school five times.
Then one day Hanauer opened a local high school alternative magazine, where an ad for the Fort Wayne Folk School caught his attention. He called the number listed from a gas station pay phone.
Now 64, Hanauer said the connections he made there changed his life.
The school and its impact will be discussed during the program “The Almost Woodstock: The Legacy of the Fort Wayne Folk School” at 3 p.m. Sunday in Rooms 222-226 in Walb Student Union at IPFW, 2101 Coliseum Blvd. E.
“I was hoping for the Folk School that if you thought for yourself and felt good about yourself, it might lead to a more compassionate society,” said Terry Doran, 76, who founded the school in 1971 with Ron Oakerson, a friend of Doran’s brother, Jan.
PART OF A MOVEMENT
The Fort Wayne Folk School was part of the Free School movement that swept America in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Free schools were modeled on Danish folk schools, which featured limited structure, said Doran, a longtime local filmmaker and advocate on various local, state and national issues.
The Fort Wayne Folk School was based in upstairs office space in a building that once stood at 628 S. Calhoun St., The News-Sentinel reported in December 1971.
The Folk School began with community classes, which were sessions on an array of topics taught by volunteers who had knowledge or interest in a topic area, Doran said. The classes met wherever the instructors and students agreed to meet, including in people’s homes.
The Fort Wayne Folk School soon evolved into also accepting eight full-time, high school-age students, said Doran and Hanauer, the latter of whom was one of those students. The emphasis was on learning and exploring rather than memorizing and passing tests.
“We had tuition, but nobody ever paid,” Doran said of the cost of $25 per class for full-time students.
The Folk School also attracted a lot of other young people.
“All these kids came from all over Fort Wayne to hang out in the Folk School,” said Doran, adding that most of them attended North Side, South Side and Snider high schools.
Hanauer had attended North Side and then had gone to Northrop before discovering the Folk School.
He felt at home in the Folk School and formed a close bond with the other full-time students there, he said.
Geography class, for example, was taught by a man who had hitchhiked all over the world, Hanauer said.
One of his favorite classes was “The Basis of Morality,” a philosophy class taught by Catholic priest the late the Rev. Larry Kramer.
On the first day of class, Kramer presented students with a lengthy outline of what they could cover that semester. Then he told them they could follow the outline, or they could tear it up and brainstorm about what topics they wanted to cover in the class.
They all tore up their course outlines, and the class was amazing, Hanauer said.
Before going to the Folk School, Hanauer described himself as an angry young man who argued frequently with his father.
At the Folk School, “I learned self-control,” he said. “I learned a different, more peaceful way of thinking.”
That summer when he was home again working on the family farm, the change in him was so evident his father stopped him one day and gave him a dollar, saying, “‘This is for your school,'” Hanauer said.
Hanauer ended up having to help out on the farm and didn’t get to return to the Folk School for his second year there, but the experience laid a foundation for the future.
He eventually started college locally and then later graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wis.
“I didn’t know where my life was headed before that,” he said of the Folk School.
Young women involved in the Folk School, who were interested in issues affecting women, organized a public forum on those topics, which led to the start of the women’s movement in Fort Wayne, Doran said. Doran’s longtime “Theater for Ideas” public issue-discussion forums also began through the Folk School.
LEAVING A LEGACY
But folk schools didn’t last. Most closed in the early 1970s, including the Fort Wayne Folk School in 1973, Doran said.
The local school had struggled to raise money, he said. It also seemed to succumb to idealism — Folk School students felt inspired, and then some became disillusioned when their classes didn’t maintain or elevate that level.
“My philosophy is you’ve got to do it yourself,” Doran said.
After the Folk School closed, Doran said he didn’t think about it for a long time because he believed he had let people down.
He began to remember and appreciate those days again when Katherine Fobear, a former post-doctoral fellow in IPFW’s women’s studies department, began interviewing him for a research project on the Fort Wayne Folk School and the Free Schools movement.
Fobear, now an assistant professor of women’s studies at California State University in Fresno, Calif., will be the main speaker at Sunday’s “Almost Woodstock” event.
The title of the event refers to a plan by Folk School students to organize a regional concert – an idea similar to the famous Woodstock Music & Art Fair in August 1969 in rural New York. The local plan was halted when an area sheriff took the Folk School to court and obtained a legal injunction blocking them from holding the concert.
Doran said the goal in all of his work has been to “narrow the space between people.”
“The best of the folk school is beautiful,” he said. ” … I don’t know if anything I have done in my life can match it.”
WHAT: “The Almost Woodstock: The Legacy of the Fort Wayne Folk School” will feature a discussion about the impact of the Folk School. The main speaker will be Katherine Fobear, a former IPFW faculty member who now is an assistant professor of women’s studies at California State University in Fresno, Calif.
WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Rooms 222-226 in Walb Student Union at IPFW, 2101 Coliseum Blvd. E.
COST: Free admission.
NOTE: Fort Wayne Folk School co-founder Terry Doran also organized RiverDrums, an event featuring dance, music and cultural activities from 11 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Saturday in the downstairs theater at the Allen County Public Library, 900 Library Plaza.