As part of my summer job, I’ve been writing profiles of people who come to stay at the Monteagle Sunday School Assembly for our weekly newsletter, Mountain Voices. Today, I got to meet two people who charmed me beyond words. Here’s what I wrote about them. Just google Walter Sedelow and Sally Sedelow. They are freaking AMAZING. (And, as you can see in the photo below, adorable to boot.)
Meet Your Neighbors: The Eclectic Academics Next Door
“Before we married,” Sally Sedelow says, “we had one rule: We would never be restricted intellectually or geographically.” To say that Sally and her husband, Walter, have achieved that rule for living is an exercise in gross understatement. Sitting on their screened-in porch to have an afternoon chat with the Sedelows is likely to result in time disappearing as you become absorbed in conversation; these two have led fascinating, important, curious lives that are still every bit as fascinating, important, and curious today as they were when the couple were first married.
The Sedelows first came to the Assembly four years ago when they decided to give the Sewanee Summer Music Festival a try. They had previously been going to a music festival in Boston, but that was a three-day drive from their retirement home in Eden Isle, Arkansas. On their first trip to the Mountain, they lodged at the Edgeworth Inn—while they are not ardent sports fans, they recount that they stayed in Bear Bryant’s favorite room. Through an unexpected issue with lodging their second year, they came to the Assembly office one day to ask if there was a cottage available… right then, for nearly the entirety of the season. (Scott Parrish, general manager, says, “We don’t normally get walk-ins!”) The staff was able to accommodate them within a week or so. After a short stay at the Sewanee Inn, then, the Sedelows settled into summer life at the Assembly.
What was the draw to the Assembly? “The people are so wonderful, so welcoming,” they say. In 2016, they extended their stay to seven weeks; this summer, they are here for the entire season.
As seasoned veterans of the New York Chautauqua, they appreciate the variety and manageable nature in the MSSA platform; about New York, they say, “it can almost undo you” trying to balance how much is on the program. Along with the platform lectures and the Sewanee Summer Music Festival musical offerings, the Sedelows are now also taking advantage of the Sewanee Seminar and hope to attend some of the Sewanee Writers’ Conference readings, too. They find the collection of intellectual, musical, and cultural offerings here on the Mountain to be just the right mix.
Perhaps the most charming part of conversations with this dynamic duo is the sheer breadth of knowledge and experience they have collected. It’s not an exaggeration to say that each of them was critically involved in pioneering technologies we take for granted today. Sally—whose academic background is in English—was part of a group of people who made key advances in early attempts at natural language processing and artificial intelligence. Walter, meanwhile, has an academic background in history, but has worked in academic departments of computer science, library and information science, medical studies, and more. After he left the Air Force following the conclusion of the Korean War (he worked in areas related to electronic warfare), he worked with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara regarding what computing technology would mean in 20-30 years to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and national security more broadly. Walter and Sally were there from the beginning, orbiting within an era of academia where your intellectual interests could lead you to teach courses well outside the field you studied in graduate school. They took advantage, and then some.
Yet despite the impressive resumes and accomplishments of this power couple, they remain among the most down-to-Earth, unassuming, delightful people you’ll meet at the Assembly… or anywhere, frankly. They have a thirst for knowledge impossible to measure. “We love learning,” they say, “and that’s one of the pleasures of being here.” Sally, for example, decided to learn the cello in her mid-80s. And why not?
Scattered in the living room of their rented cottage, Peace & Plenty (#81), are books on topics ranging from black holes and the periodic table to genetics and physics. You know… just a little pleasure reading for their summer months. Honestly, it’s enough to make you wonder, rather sheepishly, what you’re doing with your summer.
If you have the chance to share a meal or an afternoon porch conversation with the Sedelows, don’t pass it up. They are a rare treat.