Kirvin Hodges Retires and Heads for Kansas

A litany of phrases describe the journey of Kirvin Hodges thus far: digital photographer, certified scuba diver, underwater photographer, industrial scientific photographer, archival framer, Navy sailor, Vietnam veteran, ham radio operator, Harley-Davidson motorcyclist, member of Rolling Thunder, husband, father, grandfather, and now Kansas farmer.

Hodges, who came to Vanderbilt in May 2001, was the history of art department’s first digital imaging specialist. During his eleven-year tenure he helped move the department’s visual resources center from the analog world of slides to the digital world of images, expanding the digital collection to include nearly 40,000 images before retiring on June 1.

Two days later he left for Kansas with his wife Jan, driving his 1998 Jeep Wrangler and pulling a trailer with his prized Harley-Davidson custom 1200 Sportster Screaming Eagle and other possessions. He will oversee the 160-acre family farm, including cattle, crops, and natural resources, near Murdock, Kansas, about 30 miles southwest of Wichita.

Celebrating their 39th wedding anniversary this month, Kirvin and Jan are, in a sense, returning home. The poet T.S. Eliot expressed it more eloquently: “We shall not cease from exploration/And the end of all our exploring/Will be to arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time.” Kirvin was born and raised in Pratt, Kansas, and although Jan was “an Army brat and lived all over the world,” he said, her roots are firmly anchored in Kansas, her family having acquired the rich farmland many years ago.

In the late spring for the past five years he and Jan have taken a three-week, 2,000-mile round-trip to the farm on his Harley “sporty.” During these visits he has worked on the property and reconnected with many of his high school buddies from Pratt, about 30 miles west of Murdock. They have enjoyed relating stories from the past and shared their hopes for the future, mostly reminiscing with the mustachioed guy they used to call “Lloyd” because he resembled Lloyd Bridges, star of the popular TV program, Sea Hunt. Having discovered a love for the ocean on family vacations to Catalina Island, Kirvin constructed his first wet suit. He became a certified scuba diver when he was 10 years old and later started the first scuba diving club in Kansas, known as the Descenders. “After harvest was over, I taught scuba diving lessons to all my friends in the swimming pool of the Catalina Motel in Pratt, which was run by my father.”

The former Navy sailor did four tours of duty off the coast of Vietnam on the flight deck of the USS Kitty Hawk from 1965 to 1969, where he worked directly with the pilots on aviation egress systems and maintenance, specifically on ejection seats of F-4 aircraft, the top of the line jet bomber used in Vietnam. “There were 9,000 people on the aircraft carrier, the same as the population of my hometown of Pratt.”

After Vietnam, Kirvin attended the Brooks Institute of Photography, Santa Barbara, California, where he graduated with a B.S. degree in industrial scientific photography, and most importantly, where he met Jan, a fellow student who shared an avid interest in photography. One of the first certified professional photographers in California, Kirvin taught for a year at Brooks before moving with Jan to San Luis Obispo where he ran the audio visual and photographic lab for the School of Architecture and Environmental Design at California Polytechnic State University. Together they redecorated and rebuilt an old studio (Horizons Studio), and Jan launched her career in portrait photography.

Kirvin’s scuba diving skills enabled him to do underwater photography off the California coast at Santa Barbara, while simultaneously testing a single lens camera with fish eye lens. Through Brooks he had the opportunity to assist Jacques Cousteau in filming an underwater documentary in the Pacific. In 1974 he was named Industrial Photographer of the Year by Industrial Photographer and was elected president of Gold Coast, the professional photography association of California.

For someone who is accustomed to “being connected,” Kirvin is confronting a major change: he will not have access to the internet—“at least,” he adds, “for the foreseeable future.” He is resurrecting an earlier interest in ham radio “both as a pastime and a means of communication” and plans to broadcast as KFØSI (his call sign) from his revamped ham radio station on the farm. Kirvin became a ham radio operator in California in the mid-1970s, later earning his advanced class FCC license in Colorado, where he managed an archival frame shop for a fine arts gallery in Aspen. He loved the mountains and fondly recalls camping and biking trips with Jan and their twin daughters, Kimberly and Lindsay.

Riding his Harley to Vanderbilt every day—rain or shine—represented a lifestyle for Kirvin, not a hobby. He calls his bike “Not Forgotten” in honor of compatriots who never returned from Vietnam, and he flies the MIA/POW and American flags on the back of his bike. Next year he and Jan plan to ride to Washington, DC, to join with other motorcyclists—half a million engines revved up this year—for the Memorial Day Weekend. Rolling Thunder is an annual ride from the Pentagon through Washington that brings together thousands of veterans from around the world. On Sunday they cross the Memorial Bridge and cruise by the Vietnam War Memorial, where a ceremony is held on the afternoon of Memorial Day.

One of the first projects awaiting Kirvin in his new life as a Kansas farmer is the construction of a storm shelter, a work shed, and a garage. The work shed and garage will be built on a concrete slab with the shelter, encased in fiberglass, directly beneath the slab. “If you ever come to Kansas to visit us,” said Kirvin, “drive a few miles out from Murdock and look for the front porch displaying a 4’ x 6’ American flag and a 4’ x 6’ MIA/POW flag. That will be our farmhouse.” ~Fay

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