Getting to know...Jhon Akers
Jhon Akers took the road less traveled to Wofford College, and that has made all the difference. From his roots in California, to his high schooling in Switzerland, to his undergraduate work at Middlebury College in Vermont, to completing his Ph.D at UCLA and teaching at North Carolina State University, he has been on the go.
“I liked North Carolina State, but it wasn’t the ideal I had of higher education and it wasn’t where I wanted to be,” says Akers, who has relatives going back six generations in Spartanburg, S.C. “When the opportunity to come to Wofford came up, I took it, and I’ve been here 15 years now. That’s the longest I have been anywhere.”
Traveling has always been in his blood, but something else captivated Akers as a sophomore in college…the classical guitar. He started studying at Middlebury, and when he moved to Spartanburg, he learned of writer Carl Sandburg’s love of the instrument. Sandburg lived in nearby Flat Rock, N.C., and his home is a national historic site operated by the National Park System.
Akers became fascinated with Sandburg after reading one poem in particular: The Guitar, Some Definitions. Soon he was inspired to share with everyone else.
“I started to collect some of his writings and read more about his interest in the classical guitar, and about his meetings with the Classical Guitar Society in New York City,” says Akers. “I put together a program. It has given me a chance to play and recite and dramatize and narrate, and in the last nine years or so I have presented this dozens upon dozens of times.”
Here is a list of places Akers has performed …
• He has played five times for the U.S. Department of the Interior at the Carl Sandburg home in Flat Rock, NC.
• He took his program to the Sandburg Days Festival in Galesburg, Ill, where he will perform again this spring as the featured performer for the April 2009 event
• He has shared his work with the Guitar Foundation of America, the University of South Carolina School of Music, the North Carolina School of the Arts, and the Telfair Museum in Savannah—thanks to the work of Frank Stanton, Wofford class of 1938
• He has played for more than 100 churches, senior groups, schools and libraries
• He has developed a version of “Sandburg and the Guitar” for young people, shared at both the Free Library of Philadelphia, Pa. (spring 2008), and for the Roanoke (Va.) Library system this past September, 2008.
“It has been a very enriching experience for me,” says Akers. “I love to do this.”
His passion is expanding, too. He has developed two new programs, both tied to Sandburg, directly or indirectly. One is about the guitar in the Spanish speaking world that includes many Spanish language writings inspired by the guitar…writings Sandburg wanted to see translated and published in an anthology—which Akers is working on. Another is a program on Justin Holland, the African American pioneer of classical guitar in the 1900s who preceded Sandburg and paved the way for the classical guitar today.
“These programs give me a chance to do what I love, which is share my love of the guitar, perform, recite, narrate and give people a little bit of an historic and musical perspective on the classical guitar in the United States and the Spanish speaking world,” he says.
Here at Wofford, he teaches classical guitar classes and the beginning levels of Spanish. He has taken eight groups of students to Mexico. He has also started the Troubadour Series, bringing more than 70 classical guitarists to the Wofford campus over the past eight years.
As if that isn’t enough to keep him busy, he also coaches soccer. In fact, in 1994 he started the woman’s soccer program at Wofford. Having survived that experience, he says he is sticking to performance and the planning of cultural events at Wofford. He is currently the assistant director of cultural events and working with Oakley Coburn, dean of the library, to promote these events to students, the Wofford community and Spartanburg.