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Buddy Moore­house smiles for the camera.
Courtesy | Col­legian Archives

Hillsdale’s campus houses a politician, a news­paper editor, a film­maker, a stand-up comedian, an ordained min­ister, and a magician. His name is Buddy Moorehouse.

Moore­house is an adjunct instructor of doc­u­mentary jour­nalism at Hillsdale. His rela­tionship with the college began in 2014 when John Miller, director of the Dow jour­nalism program, invited him to speak to his sports­writing class. Miller con­nected with Moore­house after watching his 2012 Emmy-nom­i­nated sports history doc­u­mentary “Black and Blue.” The film tells the story of Willis Ward, a Michigan col­le­giate football player in the 1930s who was benched in a game against Georgia Tech when they  refused to play against a black athlete. Ward’s best friend was future pres­ident Gerald Ford.

“It was this amazing untold story about friendship and racial pol­itics in the 1930s,” Moore­house said.

Michi­gander by choice, Moore­house was born in Illinois but grew up in Ypsi­lanti, Michigan and has largely remained in the state since. He studied jour­nalism at the Uni­versity of Michigan and wrote at the college paper which launched him into the media industry.

“As soon as I wrote my first story and saw my byline in the paper for the first time, I knew that was what I wanted to do with my life,” Moore­house said.

He spent 27 years as a news­paper reporter and editor at a number of outlets but left the field when the industry started to col­lapse in 2009.

“I knew at the time I didn’t want to get another job working in news­papers because I wanted to do some­thing dif­ferent, and I knew that probably wasn’t going to be a growth career,” he said. “But I still wanted to do some­thing that involved storytelling.”

He and a friend, Brian Kruger, started a small film­making company.

“We were going to make and tell these doc­u­men­taries about great Michigan sports stories that maybe people had for­gotten about or didn’t know much about,” Moore­house said. “Neither one of us had made a doc­u­mentary before. Brian had a back­ground in editing and shooting videos and I had a back­ground in researching and telling stories, so we figured we could learn on the fly and figure out the other part of it.”

Their first film was “The Girl in Cen­ter­field” which is about the first girl to play little league baseball. Their first film to make it to TV was “The Legend of Pinky Deras, ” the story of the greatest little-leaguer in history. It aired in 2010 and earned them their first Emmy-nom­i­nation. Their breakout doc­u­mentary was “Black and Blue.” It also led to some of the most impactful moments of Moorehouse’s career.

“He was one of the most remarkable ath­letes and people in Michigan history. As an athlete, he was absolutely incredible,” he said. “It amazed us that this story had never been told before. Nobody in Michigan knew any­thing about the story.”

After he brought the story to light, Ward’s alma mater secured his legacy

“They decided to name the biggest room in the union the Willis Ward lounge. When they had the ded­i­cation for that, it was one of the great moments of my life,” Moore­house said. “When I went in there, I knew if we had not found this story and been able to tell it, Willis Ward’s legacy would have been for­gotten at my alma mater. That, in my life and my career, is the coolest thing that has ever happened.”

He always shows the film to his doc­u­mentary film­making class.

“It really shows the power a doc­u­mentary can have, of really changing things and getting people to realize things that they didn’t know before,” Moore­house said.

Moore­house is cur­rently teaching the class for the third time. Miller brought him on full time so he could bring video jour­nalism into the Dow jour­nalism program.

“The idea was that we were going to teach the stu­dents how to make doc­u­mentary films and that all the projects we did were going to be stories about Hillsdale College,” he said. “One of the things I learned is that as amazing a history as Hillsdale has, there are no doc­u­men­taries out there about Hillsdale’s history. No college in America has a richer history than Hillsdale College, and it’s a crime there are no great doc­u­men­taries out there about it.”

Each semester, the class has col­lab­o­rated to make a short doc­u­mentary about Hillsdale’s lost stories. The first class Moore­house taught in spring 2021 pro­duced “A Better Kind of Glory,” a film about the 1955 Charger football team. The team was invited to play in the Tan­gerine Bowl in Orlando, Florida but refused because their black ath­letes were pro­hibited from playing.

“One of the things that never came out until we did the doc­u­mentary is that it was not the college’s decision to do that. It was the players’ decision to do that,” Moore­house said. “The coach at the time, Muddy Waters, had the team vote to decide what to do. They decided either we all play or none of us play. It is a remarkable story that illus­trates the special place that this college has.”

Moore­house and the stu­dents spent the semester researching and putting the film together. 

“The cool thing is we were able to find two of the players that are still alive, and we were able to capture them on video and get them to tell us the story. If we’d waited another five or ten years to tell that story, it might not have been pos­sible,” he said. “We immor­talized them, we immor­talized that story there, and you have the ability to do that with a doc­u­mentary. You need to capture these stories when you can. I told the stu­dents,  ‘You’ll always have a place in Hillsdale’s history because you were the ones that told that story.’”

He said this story is one of the most remarkable in Hillsdale’s history.

“Hillsdale, which was founded as an abo­li­tionist college, had always had these ideals that people were equal, no matter their race or nation­ality or gender or whatever. Push came to shove at that time, and they had to stick up for what the college truly believed in,” he said. “Unlike Michigan in the Willis Ward case, Hillsdale made the right choice.”

Stu­dents in the film­making class said they have enjoyed learning from Moorehouse.

“He is one of the most inter­esting, well-versed human beings I’ve ever met because he’s done so much,” sophomore Claire Gaudet said. “I think being a doc­u­men­tarian really lends itself to learning a lot of little things about this world and, in his case specif­i­cally, the state of Michigan. It’s been so nice being a sponge absorbing all these cool little things in his class.”

Moore­house said he agrees his back­ground is more diverse than most Hillsdale professors.

“I’m kind of the stereo­typical person who can’t figure out what he wants to be when he grows up,” Moore­house said. “I don’t nec­es­sarily have the richest back­ground of anybody, but if anyone has a more diverse back­ground at Hillsdale College, I’d be inter­ested in hearing about that.”

Senior Reagan Gen­siejewski took the class last semester and loved the experience.

“Jour­nalism aside, Buddy is one of the most inter­esting men I’ve met and has lived such an accom­plished and full life,” Gen­siejewski said. “I look up to him as a jour­nalist but as a person as well.”

Above all, she said his doc­u­mentary film­making class has been an excellent oppor­tunity for her edu­cation in journalism.

“He instilled a con­fi­dence in me as a jour­nalist and video sto­ry­teller. There were moments I felt uneasy about my work or projects, but his faith in me or my work never wavered,” Gen­siejewski said. “That’s awfully inspiring as a student beginning to work in journalism.”