C.G. Appleby recalls his mother asking him, “Would you rather be a big fish in a small pond, or a small fish in a big pond?” when questioning whether University of Michigan — his family’s alma mater — or Hillsdale would be the right choice.
Originally from Saginaw, Michigan, Appleby chose to study at Hillsdale College. He graduated in 1968.
Post-graduation, after attending law school at American University and University of Virginia, Appleby went on to be drafted into the Vietnam War, and was awarded with a Purple Heart award and two bronze stars of valor.
After his service in the Vietnam War, Appleby clerked for NASA and the U.S. General Accounting office in Washington D.C. He went on to the consulting firm Ed Booz Hamilton as the second top lawyer in the firm, retiring as the Executive Vice President in July 2011.
Most interestingly, the stories concerning Appleby’s time at Hillsdale include his memories as a member of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity, his role as a part of the small, close-knit community of friends and professors on campus, and studying politics.
“I was an ATO, and we’ve had the old President’s house for a long time. When I was there at Hillsdale, there were five fraternities,” Appleby said. “I lived in the ATO house for one year and then lived at a cottage near Baw Beese Lake we called ‘The Hill.”
Even in the 1960s, Appleby recalls the days of date parties and events the fraternity house would put on, standing out as some of his most fond memories in the fraternity.
“We had tremendous parties at that house. We once had a date party called ‘Pajama-Rama’ at the ATO house, and all the dates came in their pajamas,” Appleby said. “At that time, we always had great rock bands come to the fraternity house, and I had played in a small rock band in high school, so I would play on the drums.”
Some of the ATO events Appleby remembers also signify certain signs of the times of the 1960s.
“One of the parties at ATO was the ‘Vietnam Go-Go,’ where guys and girls had to wear military uniforms and nurse outfits. Even though we were conservative, we never supported the war,” Appleby said. “When I did arrive in Vietnam, I had no idea what it was going to be like.”
Apart from fraternity activities, Appleby said that there were not very many activities to do off-campus.
“When I was there, Hillsdale was still very small. My parents would come into town, and there wasn’t really any good place to go,” Appleby said. “There was a bar downtown where lots of folks would go, and I do remember a diner with a neon guy out-front. Other than that, there was not a lot to do off-campus.”
Similar to the current dynamic of Hillsdale community, due to the small town and lack of recreational activities available, this would lend to tighter-knit relationships with both students and professors alike.
Appleby refers back to a specific memory he had with the head of the English department, his roommate, and a friend of his:
They all agreed to chop down a Christmas tree at the house of another English professor.
Appleby said to “get to know professors that well” is a “Hillsdale thing, and not usual.”
Remembering bonfires, athletic games, and other social gatherings, Appleby emphasizes the special community that not only was alive when he was a student, but remains true to this day and warrants appreciation.
“You get included in life at Hillsdale. You can’t help it you see the same people, have the same professors, and frequent the same places; this all really brings you into a community.”
When describing a particular moment in his education that remains in the memory of Appleby, he said that although he cannot remember a specific moment he does recall feeling shocked to enjoy politics as much as he did.
“I was a politics and history double-major and took a range of business classes,” Appleby said. “I was not a straight‑A student by any means, but by the end of college, I knew what was going to be important to me in my lifetime.”
Appleby emphasizes how the liberal arts education he received at Hillsdale, allowing him to get a taste of multiple disciplines, contributed to the great success he enjoyed later in life.
“I’ve spent time all around the world, and think back to art and music courses I had to take, but didn’t want to take,” Appleby said. “You may not appreciate it while you are in college.”
After accomplishing and receiving accolades in a variety of manners after graduation from Hillsdale College, Appleby looks on his times at Hillsdale fondly and with an appreciation for the education he received.
“My professors made me feel comfortable in what I was trying to do. They showed me that you can be successful and will be successful if you choose to be,” Appleby said. “You have to have the drive and ambition, and if you do, then you will be successful.”