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Cigars & Academia

The hallowed halls of higher learning often contain a whiff of cigar.
Gene Crume
From the Print Edition:
Danny DeVito, Winter 96

(continued from page 3)

Ron Beck has been prowling this small university town for more than 25 years. After graduating from Western in 1968, Beck attended the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. Shortly thereafter he came back to Western Kentucky, where he has served as the assistant dean of student affairs, associate director of alumni affairs and director of planned giving, his current position. The one constant in this mix is his love of cigars.

"Actually, I started smoking cigars when I was a junior in college during finals week," Beck says as he enjoys a Rolando Perfecto outside the Craig Alumni Center on Western's campus. "My roommate was a cigar smoker, and we sat out on the lawn late one April day and smoked cigars while we were cramming for our finals."

Beck almost always wears a serious expression that is punctuated by a firm brow and deep, inset eyes. However, his expression warms and his eyebrows lift when the subject turns to his passion for cigars. "One of the unique things about working in the university environment is the freedom that it offers for individual expression," he says. "That is one of the hallmarks of university life."

With the passion of a preacher gliding into the crescendo of a Sunday sermon, Beck warms to his subject. "Working in this environment for almost 26 years, you have the opportunity to work with young people who are generally highly motivated and a more inquisitive type of people. In the process, you set higher standards for yourself in all facets of life--and that would include cigars."

The cigar has served Beck in other ways. It isn't uncommon for him to make note of a donor's love of cigars and share a smoke upon subsequent visits. The art of donor relations is the process of cultivating friendships. While the relationship may be as much professional as it is personal, the cigar enhances the bond much like fine conversation between old friends. Beck agrees: "The cigar is a currency of friendship among fellow cigar smokers."

A few years back, Patricia A. Cooper published an interesting study of the work culture of American cigar factories in her book, Once a Cigar Maker: Men, Women and Work Culture in American Cigar Factories, 1900-1919 (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1987). Cooper defines work culture as "the patterns of daily work into which any newcomer would be initiated after a time--the unwritten rules, the ways of doing the job, and how one thought about his or her work. But work culture is not simply a collection of interesting traditions. I found a coherent system of ideas and practices, forged in the context of the work process itself, through which workers modified, mediated and resisted the limits of their jobs."

Practices that "modified, mediated and resisted the limits of their jobs." Cooper could have easily described the university lifestyle and its cultural affair with the cigar.

Gene Crume is the director of alumni affairs at Western Kentucky University and a regional freelance writer.


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