Steve Charles—Jon Pactor has come up with some of the best ideas for Wabash I’ve known in my 17 years at the College, the annual national WABASH Day of community service and the recently completed Alumni/Faculty Symposium “Wally at the Wheel” among them.
But when he ran this one by me I wasn’t so sure.
“I’m going to endow a chair,” Jon told me on the phone a couple of months ago. “The Vic Powell Chair.”
I recall an uncomfortable silence. Did he have any idea how much it would cost to endow a chair, a professorship, here? Since when did my friend who drove a Wabash red Volkswagen Beetle have that kind of cash?
“Not a professorship,” Jon said before I could figure a polite way of questioning his sanity. “I’m endowing a real chair.”
I laughed, thinking he was joking, as Jon is wont to do, both verbally and in his choice of fashion.
“In the Scarlet Inn, at the round table, with a plaque on it.”
“Something like, The Vic Powell Chair of Intelligent and Respectful Conversation. What do you think?”
I didn’t know. I tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to making a complete fool of myself (except in print)—I’m even more wary when it comes to my friends doing the same.
“Good. I think it’s good idea, Jon,” I said, the way you might tell a friend that singing a solo unaccompanied at a karaoke bar is a good idea.
It was the kind of thing only Jon could think up. A perfect combination of his quirky sense of humor, his love for this place, his affection and gratitude for his teachers, his fearless knack for finding ways to make good things happen. And it all converged with a moment to honor the man who taught generations here the meaning of honesty, civility, integrity, and camaraderie. What was not to like?
And, what the hell, I thought. He’s going to do it anyway.
So I was all in. I even added a photo gallery of the Scarlet Inn in the upcoming issue of Wabash Magazine to celebrate the dedication.
But I worried about how others might respond. So I walked over early Friday morning, either to get a good spot to take photos, or, if things went the way I feared, to be there to support Jon.
I should have known better.
The place was packed. Retired faculty and staff, current faculty and staff, students, alumni. Professors Dick Strawn, Joe O’Rourke, Jim Barnes, Raymond Williams, Dave and Ginny Maharry, Bill Doemel, Tom Bambrey, Robin Pebworth; younger faculty like Rick Warner, Will Turner, Jen Abbott, Dwight Watson, Wally Novak and his wife, Kathleen, Will Oprisko, David Blix, Jim Amidon, Joe Haklin, Brent Harris, Rich Woods, Mike Raters, President Pat White and Chris, among others too numerous to mention.
Tom Keedy had arranged the purchase of the chair and the plaque, and Beth Swift had helped with the photograph—they were there. Mary Jo Johnston and Bon Appetit had donated the food Tessa and Kecia put out for the reception.
They were there to celebrate a man and a family who mean different things to each of us, but much to all.
And best of all, there was Marion (I can’t see her without hearing Vic’s voice: “My child bride”) and their daughter, Carol.
Someone commented to me that this intergenerational group of Wabash men and women had never been together in the same room before. Yet it had a feeling of homecoming.
The only way it could have been better is if Vic had shown up himself. And perhaps he was there, in the hopeful and unexpected ways we carry those we love forward; as Jon said, “Vic Powell, like so many of the professors here—they live in me.”
You’d be hard pressed to find more fitting, remarkable, or enjoyable tribute.
The plaque on the back of the chair reads:
The Dr. Vic Powell Chair
Of Intelligent and Respectful Conversation.
He served and loved Wabash, 1947-2011.
You can click here for photos and quotes from the event.
So, thanks, Jon, from all of us, for your vision and the risks you take to love this place and people. It really was a great idea.
I never doubted you…
“I thought it was important that students see faculty disagree with each other, argue with each other, but clearly respecting each other and enjoying each other’s company.
“Disagreement didn’t mean disregard or enmity. We could disagree and argue, but there was a fundamental respect for each other.”
—Vic Powell H’55