Remembering Rod

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.

  1. Thanks Steve for writing this. The silence on losing this good man is overwhelming. I talked with his wife, Jeanine yesterday she stressed that Rod was adament about not wanting anything. Yet, somehow, I think he would smile at what you have wrote and to know that he will be missed!!

  2. This definitely is sad news. Rod you will be missed.
    – Ryan

  3. Thank you for your wonderful words about someone I loved very much. Rod was my nephew, but really more like a brother. We are only 2 years apart in age and grew up together in Worthington, IN. For anyone who has ever blinked while traveling south on 67, Worthington is in Greene County a little south of Spencer. Rod lived there with his Mom(my sister), Dad, his sister Karen and brother Derrick until he graduated from high school. He joined the Navy and traveled the world but he never lost sight of his roots.
    Rod was always so much fun. I loved his laugh which was always at the ready any time we were recalling our silly adventures growing up together. He enjoyed fine food and wine. We often met for lunch or dinner in Indianapolis when his sister Karen would visit from West Virginia. As with anything in this fast paced day and age, those times together seemed to become fewer and farther between.
    Karen called me Saturday to tell me about Rod. We cried together and wondered how something like that could have happened to someone who took such good care of himself. It still does not seem real. Even as I am writing these words I can’t believe that it is.
    Only 56! How can that be? Out on his morning run…something you do for yourself; for your well-being. We never know when someone we love will be taken from us, or when our time on earth may be finished. All we can do is live every day to its fullest, love our families, make good friends, and laugh alot. That is what Rod did, and that is why I will miss him so much.

  4. Marvin and Beverly Cook

    A thanks to Steve Charles
    for his beautiful article about Rod. We were grateful to see it written and sent on to us. Rod was our nephew, and very special to us too. Thank you again!

  5. I just found out about Rod’s passing and like you I find it hard to let the day pass without making some comment. I worked beside Rod (literally, the office next door) for some years. I was really touched by Rod and I think this is an appropriate eulogy for him. I always felt like I knew Rod well, and yet not at all. He was a very quiet and self-effacing man. Usually when speaking to him I would learn more about what his dogs were doing rather than himself. He always struck me as a very gentle soul, and never seemed bothered by college politics or small-town dramas. He was just….Rod. He was the office stalwart; always there when you wanted to chat or needed to complain. And even though I had not seen him for a very long time, I am nonetheless struck hard by his passing. I give my condolences to his family and friends.

  6. I did not know Rod fixed computers, I thought he worked on Apple’s. The only time I ever saw Rod, he was drinking beer, shooting shots of tequila, and eating brats.
    I have known Rod for about 25 years and he was definitly every bit of what the above message says about him. Rod was the same as a brother, I will forever miss him.

  7. Since I am nearly 75 and lived most of my life post high school in Florida and other Navy related states, I did not know Rod, but remember spending time with his mother in the 1940’s as Norman and Marvin were near constant companions during our teen years. I still maintain contact with Norman and Marvin invited Norma and I to spend the night with them in Washington State during our 50th wedding anniversary trip in 2004. Don Harris, classmate

  8. Thanks Steve, for your kind words about Rod. He sure was a great guy and he’ll be missed. My first technology-related job was working for Rod down in the basement of Baxter Hall, cleaning computer mice and keyboards, and lugging computers back and forth from his office as he repaired them.
    In time, and under Rod’s close supervision, I graduated to slightly more advanced tasks. I got to know his family (including the dogs) and he became a real friend in addition to a boss. I’ll always be gateful for the years I got to spend working with Rod, for everything he taught me, and for the time we spent together.

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