Steve Charles — One of the fringe benefits of being technologically incompetent is that you get to know, and often rely upon, very good people. At Wabash, one of those people for 15 years has been Rod Helderman, our systems maintenance technician at Information Technology Services. He’s been the guy you call when your computer’s fried, your laptop battery burned out, or anything else goes wrong with your computer hardware. One of the friendliest folks on campus, one of the folks you were always happiest (and most relieved) to see walk in your office door.
We lost Rod over the weekend. The news came to us this morning. A heart attack, we’re told. When I saw his name under the “Sad News” tag on the email, I first assumed he’d lost his dad or older family member. Rod was too young to have a heart attack. But as we learned in a cruel lesson last year when we lost Mike Bachner, you’re never too young.
So now we’ve lost another who seemed to be in his prime, truly enjoying life. Rod had been running marathons these past couple of years, doing things he thought he’d never even try.
And though I don’t know Rod well enough to even begin to write anything that would do this good man justice, I don’t want to stand by silently either. You can’t lose someone like Rod and not say something. This will have to suffice until we get more official information.
So this I know: He served in the Navy, on nuclear submarines (had a picture of a sub on his office door), and he could tell you all about that work. He loved his wife, Jeannine, who worked with us in here in Advancement; his daughter, Tamara; and his son, Mike, who graduated from Wabash in 2003. Rod was proud of that. He loved being a dad.
He liked basset hounds, had their pictures in his office, had at least two, one of them a rescue, along with a couple of other dogs (basset wannabes, I think he called them). It takes a man with a certain sense of humor—perhaps an eye for the absurd—to fully appreciate this duckbill platypus of the canine kingdom. Rod would describe his dogs’ misadventures with glee, their hound dog baying with delight. He seemed to enjoy their peculiar habits. They made him smile.
That may say something about why he put up with us at Wabash for 15 years.
His work at Wabash? Well, you know how lucky you are when you actually find a good auto mechanic in your neighborhood? Rod was that for us and our computers. He made it his job to make sure we could do ours, and in 12 years here I never lost more than a morning because of a computer hardware breakdown. There are certain essential jobs at a college with hundreds of computers. Rod’s is one of them.
His work in IT services went well beyond that, from introducing recycling measures to teaching some of the IT Tech courses to advising on computer hardware issues for the various centers on campus, and more. He had much to teach.
But what I valued most about Rod, I think, was his patience with me when I had problems, his sense of humor (patience and a sense of humor are two of the most required virtues for our long-suffering IT support folks), and how generous he could be with his time.
Several times during the year I’d find myself in Baxter Hall finishing an interview or story and I’d take a detour through the Baxter basement where Rod worked and stop by his office. He’d usually have something torn apart on the bench (in this virtual age, what a relief to see a man actually working with his hands on something tangible!), but he’d always look up, take the time to answer my questions, and talk for a while. That’s how I found out he’d run the Mini-Marathon in Indy (more like a fast walk, he said, in typical self-effacing style, but his runner’s number was up on his bulletin board), along with the Irish Fest there, and a Humane Society fundraiser in Lafayette, where he and Jeannine live. He was a person you could relax with, a person you could depend upon. He always took time for you, the time you needed, and that’s a vanishing grace in our culture.
With Rod’s death, more of that grace leaves us. Others who knew Rod well will have more and better things to say, but I didn’t want the day to pass without saying something about this good man. I am angry that we have lost him, but I am grateful to have known him. I thought he would have more time, and he should have. I will miss his patient voice on the other end of the phone, his laughter. I will greatly miss our conversations.
You can write to the family at this address: 2225 Beck Lane, Lafayette, IN 47909-3115.