Daryl Baldwin was strolling across Miami University’s campus when his cell phone buzzed with an unrecognized number calling from Chicago.
Usually the 53-year-old father of four would have ignored it, thinking it would be a telemarketing call.
But for some reason on this sunny September morning three weeks ago Baldwin didn’t.
Little did he realize it was global fame calling, offering with it a $625,000 grant.
The female voice on the other end wanted to confirm he was the director of the Miami University Myaamia Center and asked “is there a place we can talk privately?”
“I said ummmm okay,” so he walked into stairwell of Phillips Hall on the Oxford campus and sat alone on the stairs.
“And she says ‘are you familiar with the MacArthur Foundation?’”
“And I said yeah to some extent I am but not in a detailed way. And she said ‘let me explain it to you.’”
The foundation official then told Baldwin, who has spent decades studying, preserving and sharing the language and culture of the Native American Miami Tribe in relative obscurity, that unbeknownst to him he had recently attracted the attention of the MacArthur Foundation.
The Foundation annually presents so-called “genius” grants – a no-strings-attached stipend of $625,000 that may be used in any way winners see fit. About two dozen winners — often ranging from novelists to artists to scientists and academicians across the world — are nominated without their knowledge.
And then she told him he was among the 23 MacArthur winners this year.
Baldwin is Ohio’s first winner since 2004 and the first from Butler County and Southwest Ohio.
“She then asked me, ‘how does this make you feel?’”
“And I said, I don’t have any words. I don’t know. I mean it kind of just hits you,” Baldwin told the Journal-News as he sat in the Myaamia Center’s campus office in Stanton-Bonham House.
“One of my first thoughts was: Is this real?”
“It’s a surreal experience to have a call out of the blue with that sort of information … and at some point in the conversation I remember saying I’m really humbled. And at some point it becomes emotional that others felt enough about my work to support me getting this award,” he said.
Baldwin is more than deserving, said James Oris, associate provost for research and scholarship and dean of the Miami University graduate school.
“Having Daryl recognized as a MacArthur Fellow is a reflection of the special relationship that has developed between Miami University and the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma,” said Oris.
“Daryl is the thread that ties that relationship together. I have seen firsthand how Daryl’s, and the entire Baldwin family’s, passion for the revitalization of the Myaamia language and culture has had an enormous impact at all levels, from toddlers, to school-age children, to college students, and to their parents and grandparents.”
“The sense of identity, belonging, and community among members of the Miami Nation that has arisen is due in large part to Daryl’s leadership,” said Oris.
This week Baldwin returned from a meeting with Miami Tribe officials in Oklahoma.
On Friday — off campus at the university’s ecology center farm — he showed off a garden of historically rare tribal corn raised from preserved seeds.
Standing amidst the corn rows he compared the corps flourishing to the flowering of awareness of his and other Miami descendants about their ancestral roots.
“A lot of people kind of parallel this corn to (Myaamia) language re-vitalization. The corn is coming back and the language is coming back,” he said. “We are very much thought of as a people from the past, not a living people with a past. This work (Myaamia Center) is about moving the language and culture into our lives today.”
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