Another One of Those Moments

Jim Amidon — Professor Ethan Hollander’s political science students will return from Thanksgiving break and dive into the complicated subject of nation building. The Wabash professor will guide his students to an understanding of what factors enable some countries to develop and others — even geographic neighbors — to lag far behind.
Last Friday, Professor Hollander’s students got a rare and wonderful opportunity when Tim Padgett returned to campus to give the students tangible and current examples of the material they’ll study later in the term.
Tim is a 1984 Wabash graduate, who has spent the last 20 years reporting on Latin America for Time and Newsweek magazines. His visit couldn’t have come at a better time.
Over the last five months, Padgett has reported extensively on the Honduran political situation, which began with an attempt by democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya to push constitutional reform; gained international attention when Zelaya was ousted in a mid-summer military coup; and which reaches a critical point next Sunday when elections will be held.
The international community will not recognize the new regime, nor will they recognize the results of this weekend’s election. Doing so would be, in effect, condoning the military coup, which was not only an illegal act, it stands to set the developing region back a generation.
“The election will confirm that Honduras has slipped back into the political chicanery and military meddling that typified the 1970s and 80s,” Padgett wrote in Time from the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa.
What happens in Honduras probably matters little to most of us here in Montgomery County.
But the opportunity Wabash students had to spend time with Padgett, who has traveled the region and interviewed all the key players — including the man likely to win the controversial election, Porfirio Lobo — was priceless.
In fact, Professor Hollander had distributed an advance copy of a story on the elections written by Padgett that was due to be published the next day in the international print edition of the magazine.
Talk about access! The students had the article and the author to themselves in the same week as the historic (and likely illegitimate) election.
There’s no question whatsoever that Professor Hollander will teach the students a great deal about what makes some countries rich and others poor, what it takes to maintain political stability, and why change in Latin America often occurs with one step forward and two steps back.
Padgett, though, is one of “the guys.” Twenty-five years ago, he was sitting in the same Wabash classes trying to figure out why virtually every Latin American country was exploding in civil war.
“In the 1980s, Latin America was our Vietnam,” he said. “That was the issue we talked about. We talked about El Salvador and Nicaragua.” Those discussions — with Wabash professors like Phil Mikesell and Bernie Manker — would ultimately shape his entire career.
After a one-year stint in Venezuela in the mid-80s, Padgett’s appetite was whetted to know more, to better understand the people and issues of Latin America.
He took a job with Newsweek in Chicago, and not longer after was named the magazine’s bureau chief in Mexico City. He spent the first half of the 1990s in that post, before moving to Time to cover Mexico and all of Latin America.
Friday morning, returning to Wabash after spending 10 years writing from the Miami bureau, Padgett wove a classroom narrative that included politics, history, linguistics, economics, and trade — a quintessentially liberal arts conversation.
I sat in the class fascinated by the questions the students asked; they were not superficial. The students were genuinely interested in talking about the concepts they have studied with a journalist who has spent the last 20 years on the ground, and whose job it is to interpret all of the facts and shape them into compelling stories for the world to read.
The wonders of Wabash never cease to amaze me. The greatest wonder — even after all of these years — is the loyalty and passion Wabash alumni have for the place and its students.
Tim Padgett provides a terrific, off-the-radar example. Still jet-lagged from a week in Honduras, he returned to Wabash — not to give a big, public lecture, but to spend some quiet time with student journalists, a class of political science students, and a handful of young men who have a passion for the region he covers.
Maybe one of those Wabash students will some day return, perhaps 20 years from now, and recall the day Tim Padgett came to campus to talk about a somewhat obscure election in a faraway country, and how that experience changed his life.
It wouldn’t surprise me a bit. After all, that kind of thing has been happening for well over 170 years.

Padgett ’84 Provides ‘Special’ Day for Student Journalists

Howard W. Hewitt (Bachelor Advisor)- “What’s special about this place,” asked Director of Public Affairs Jim Amidon, standing in the Bachelor office Thursday with a handful of students.

“That’s what special,” replied senior Patrick McAlister nodding toward Tim Padgett ’84 who was talking journalism with freshmen and sophomores in the adjoining room.
Padgett spent Thursday with Wabash student journalists catching up, sharing advice, heaping praise, and making suggestions. Padgett is Miami and Caribbean Bureau Chief for Time Magazine.
The veteran journalist met with approximately 30 Bachelor staffers over lunch. He talked about the changing face of journalism and his work for Time. He praised the group and its leaders for the Bachelor’s emergence in recent years as one of Indiana’s best college newspapers.
Later Thursday afternoon he met with a group of Bachelor staffers, primarily freshmen and sophomores, and critiqued recent papers, offered suggestions, and urged the students to embrace the value of the experience regardless of their future plans.
Throughout the day he emphasized how his liberal arts education plays out in his daily work and in the important pieces he writes for the national news publication.
But perhaps it was a more private gathering with student publication advisors Jim Amidon, Steve Charles, and me along with Gary James, Patrick McAlister and Chuck Summers that was even more “special.”
Dinner conversation was filled with laughter, stories and the liberal arts. The three senior leaders who have been such a big part of the Bachelor’s recent success reveled in the give-and-take conversation with the veteran journalist and Latin American expert.
The conversation ranged from politics, to Catholicism, texting, wine, national media, cigars, Wabash faculty, and late into the night on many other topics.
Padgett didn’t get to see what impressed me the most. I left early to return Gary James to campus and we ran into a sophomore who had attended both sessions. He was full of ideas and stories he wanted to write after listening to Padgett’s talks. Gary and he shared ideas and texted another student who wasn’t even at the dinner with suggestions.
Most of the students seemed truly energized by Padgett’s suggestions, praise, and enthusiasm.
That is what makes this place special!

Vic Powell at 90: “A Sense of Wonder”

Steve Charles—Vic Powell H’55—Professor of Speech Emeritus, Dean of the College Emeritus, Acting President of the College Emeritus—will be 90 years old next Wednesday, November 25. The day before Thanksgiving.

I discovered this last June at the Big Bash Reunion, where Vic and his wife, Marian, were guests of honor at the Class of 1959’s 50th Reunion. Just as they had been guests of honor at the 50th reunions for almost every one of the classes from that decade. In fact, Vic’s name almost always comes up when I travel to interview alumni, whether they’re from the 50s and 60s or from generations after he’d retired from formal teaching.

Still, it is hard to believe that this man I see almost daily from my Kane House window walking the two-plus miles from his home to campus and back is turning 90.

Read the NAWM’s Resolution honoring Vic Powell on his 90th birthday here.

So when we began putting together an issue of Wabash Magazine on “men’s health,” I thought, Why not sit down and talk with someone whose life is evidence that he knows something about the topic?

We’ll print highlights from that interview in the Winter 2010 issue of WM, but here is one of my favorite moments from our talk.

About halfway through the interview I asked Vic to define “well-being.” He’d actually been doing this through stories about his and Marian’s long walks and his wonderful friendships with Professors Butch Shearer and Jack Charles, dinners with the Degitzes and the Strawns, but I wanted to hear him sum it all up.

“I suppose you would want at least a fair measure of health, but beyond that, the network of relationships is so important. I think isolation would be soul-destroying,” Vic said. “There’s family—I’m blessed with two great daughters who call every single week—and a network of friends. A sense of well-being means you have a sense of community, people whose companionship you enjoy.”

Then he included something I hadn’t expected as being “important to one’s well-being.” He told the story of a debate he had one day with Professor of Political Science Phil Wilder at the round table in the Scarlet Inn:

“Phil and I were at opposite poles politically… and we got into it, not in a nasty way, but a real knockdown political argument. By the time the bell rang for class, there were students and faculty crowded around that table just following this argument.”

“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.”

I was moved by what I heard Vic saying: That this capacity of respectful but often vigorous disagreement that’s so essential to the well-being of a community is equally essential to the well-being of the individuals in that place.

I thought of something else Vic had mentioned earlier in our talk: Butch Shearer would often drop in on the Powells to listen to St. Louis Cardinals games with Vic (a love of the Cardinals and of Wabash College being the only two things these men had in common, Vic has often said.) One night one of Vic’s daughters heard the two men downstairs, their voices raised, debating one thing or another. The little girl ran to her mother. “I thought Daddy and Mr. Shearer were friends,” she said. And they were. Good friends. They just had an unusual way of showing it!

Vic also called Professor Jack Charles “as close a friend as I’ve had.”

“We would meet every Sunday morning in his office, smoke at each other, and solve al the problems in the world, “ Vic said. “He was the most learned man I’ve ever known in my life.”

Vic would try to stump Jack during Scarlet Inn conversations:

“No topic would come up that he didn’t know,” Vic said. “So I was gonna get him. I took out the encyclopedia and, thumbing through it, I found what I thought was an obscure queen from around 1100. It wasn’t easy dropping that into an Inn conversation, I’ll tell you that right now. But I bided my time and saw an opening and I dropped a casual reference to this queen. Charles says, “Oh yeah; she drowned her husband in a bathtub. Just like that!”

Vic laughed as he recalled the moment, then added, “He was a very special man to me.”

Finally, a few stand-alone quotes from our conversation:

On walking: “You can solve a dozen problems a day just walking, you know. Sometimes I get up feeling lethargic, but by the time I’ve walked down to the school, picked up the New York Times, go to the Inn, with my colleagues around, I’m restored.”

On “working” at Wabash: “There wasn’t a day that I wasn’t eager to get down here to teach. It wasn’t a job. I feel sorry for people who have jobs. I thought Wabash students were the world’s best, the faculty colleagues were wonderful.”

On life: “There is a sense of spirituality about life, a wonderment… a sense of wonder about the world. No, I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t think anyone else does. But there are lots of wonderful questions to think about, turn over in your mind, and pursue in all sorts of ways.”

On the family dog:
Me: What kind of dog is it?
Vic: That’s a good question. [laughs] A very democratic dog!

Vic ended our conversation, not surprisingly, with a story about Wabash students—one he calls “a wonderful vignette of Wabash students at their best.” But I’m way over the limit for blogs here, so that’s a story for another day. We’ll have more in the Winter 2010 WM.

It’s ironic, perhaps providential, the Vic’s 90 birthday comes the day before Thanksgiving this year, for there are not many men in this College’s history for whom we could be more thankful. We’ve had our share of loss this past year; watching Vic as we talked, his leg flopped over the arm of his chair, and listening to his wisdom and stories, reminded me of how rich we are at Wabash in the things that matter, and what wonderful lives we’ve been given to share. A moment and a man to celebrate.

If you’d like to wish Vic happy birthday (and I realize that I invite this at the risk of being reprimanded by Vic himself!) you can reach him by email at:

just stop by the Scarlet Inn!

Did DePauw Really Have Any Shot at Winning?

Howard W. Hewitt – Every now and then photographers will be shooting an event – say a Monon Bell game – and find something with a photographer’s eye others might miss.

The shot above taken Saturday morning in Greencastle, captured beautifully by junior Bachelor photo editor Alex Moseman, makes  you wonder if Wabash might had even a little more going for them during Saturday’s game?

Without suggestion of any divine intervention, what a cool photo on Bell Game day!

Six Words Provide Epic Monon Moment

Jim Amidon — It was getting late Saturday afternoon at Blackstock Stadium in Greencastle. A back and forth football game between Wabash and DePauw was grinding to a conclusion. Boisterous fans on both sides of the field were screaming loudly with hoarse voices.
Wabash led 25-13, but DePauw’s powerful offense was on the move.
On fourth-and-11 deep in Wabash territory, the Tigers came up a few inches short of a first down. Wabash took over at it’s own eight yard-line.
It was Matt Hudson’s moment.
The senior quarterback, who has led Wabash to so many victories, but none against his archrival, knew that a long drive would kill most of the 11 minutes remaining on the clock.
The lanky, strong-armed passer ran nine yards to the 17 on first down — a good start. But two different Wabash running backs failed to gain an inch on the next two carries, setting up fourth down.
Anyone who knows anything about college football knows the only move to make in that situation — fourth down deep in your own territory — is to punt the ball and let the defense hope to win the game.
Wabash Coach Erik Raeburn wavered; a loud buzz of chatter was noticeable from the sideline where I was standing with my camera. I could actually hear people say, “You gotta punt it, coach!” I could hear others screaming, “Go for it, coach!”
Raeburn called timeout.
Matt Hudson sprinted to the sideline, his eyes wide and bright. He pleaded with his coach to allow him one more chance at redemption — to wipe away the pain of two Monon Bell losses.
I snapped a single photo of the exchange — Coach Raeburn’s expression was one of indecision. He knew the right thing to do was to punt. He also heard — as I did — Matt Hudson say, “I will not fail you, Coach.”
Six words rang out loudest in the stadium at that moment — louder than the clanging Monon Bell or the screams from 8,000 fans.
Raeburn looked into Hudson’s eyes and seized the moment. He made one of — if not the — gutsiest calls I’ve ever seen in the 27 Monon Bell games I’ve attended. He sent Hudson and his offense back onto the field on fourth down at the Wabash 17 yard-line.
There is no quarterback sneak in the Wabash playbook. But that’s precisely what Hudson did. He dove in behind his massive, senior-dominated offensive line and got, maybe, four inches more than he needed.
With the confidence of his coach and screams of excitement from the fans, Hudson willed his team down the field on a 14-play, 92-yard drive that ate up nearly eight minutes. When Tommy Mambourg scrambled over the goal line from a yard out, Wabash claimed an insurmountable 32-13 lead with only five minutes to play.
The crowd, already at a fever pitch, went wild. The Little Giant fans knew the victory was in hand.
A late touchdown from DePauw mattered little, and minutes later the Wabash seniors were ringing the Monon Bell in a sea of fans who had stormed the field.
I can’t imagine the pain felt by DePauw’s seniors, especially their gritty and talented quarterback, Spud Dick. But I saw the pure joy and jubilation on Hudson’s face as the game ended.
With thousands of fans streaming onto the field, Hudson went the other way. He ran into the stands and handed his father, Rusty, the game ball — a present on his dad’s 50th birthday.
Hudson’s legacy as one of Wabash’s all-time great signal callers was likely already cemented — conference championships in 2007 and 2008 that resulted in playoff runs.
What he did in the second half of the biggest game of his life — hitting 10-of-11 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns — erased his bad memories of Monon losses in both of those conference championship seasons.
Historians may remember the 2009 Monon Bell Classic as one of the truly great games in the storied rivalry. Wabash broke the tie and took a 54-53 edge in the all-time series.
But there’s no doubt in my mind that history will remember one epic Monon moment — when a senior quarterback uttered six little words that convinced his coach to make one of the riskiest decisions of his career.
“I will not fail you, Coach,” Hudson said to Raeburn.
Indeed, Matt Hudson did not fail. He succeeded in grand fashion on the biggest stage of his career, and in doing so provided an epic memory for all who witnessed the 116th edition of college football’s greatest rivalry.

It’s Bell Week

Jim Amidon — It’s Bell Week.
That’s how Wabash students refer to the week leading up to the Monon Bell Classic football game. It’s a circle-it-on-your-calendar kind of week, filled with all kinds of events and activities — some of which are actually related to the storied gridiron football rivalry.
Generally, though, it’s just a week jam-packed with activities that brings the entire campus to life.
There really is a tangible change in the emotion and attitudes of students, faculty, staff, and — especially — alumni. You can just feel that it’s a very different week.
One of the great student traditions is the campus guard. Beginning last night and continuing through Friday night, freshman students will take turns guarding the campus. It is, of course, highly unlikely that rival students will make their way to the Wabash campus, but just in case, 40-50 freshmen will be on guard through the night.
You’ll see them huddled over steel barrels filled with burning wood, though with warm weather expected to continue for a few more days, the fires are likely to burn out.
While the guard itself is largely unnecessary, it is a rite of passage. I’m always surprised to hear graduating seniors reflect and say that campus guard in their freshman year was one of the great experiences they had at Wabash. A lot of that has more to do with class bonding and a unifying “us vs. them” mentality than actual campus security.
And it is a really cool tradition.
This is also a week of friendly competitions. Wabash will host a blood drive this week in the annual “Bleed for the Bell” campaign (Thursday, November 12 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Knowling Fieldhouse). Wabash tries to get a higher percentage of blood donors than DePauw — with the Central Indiana Regional Blood Center being the beneficiary of the bloody, but friendly rivalry.
Students, faculty, staff, and alumni from both schools are also raising money for the Co-Motion project, which generates a lot of cash for the Montgomery County Family Crisis Shelter and the Julian Center in Indianapolis. The two schools use the occasion of the rivalry to raise awareness of the horrors of domestic violence, while generating much-needed cash just before the holidays.
(Anyone can donate to Co-Motion. Just send a check made out to Wabash College with “Co-Motion” in the memo line, and send it to the Wabash College Business Office.)
The Wabash and DePauw rugby clubs will clash on Friday afternoon in what has become an incredible display of a sport I still don’t fully understand. Typically the rosters are filled with upperclassman students who have studied abroad and took part in European rugby scrums. Then they bring that spirit and enthusiasm back to campus with the “Monon Keg” trophy up for grabs.
On the intellectual side, it’s a big week as well. One of America’s brightest young authors, Jonathan Lethem, will come to campus Monday evening at 8 p.m. as the Will Hays Visiting Writer. Lethem, who will read from his new novel Chronic City, has written nine novels, won the National Book Critics Circle Award, and received a MacArthur Genius Grant.
It’s also a week dedicated to the arts. On Wednesday evening at 8 p.m., Wabash’s Music Department will present a concert by the Brass and Woodwind Ensembles, as well as the Jazz Band.
On Wednesday and Thursday nights, Wabash’s theater students will stage a remarkable selection of scenes from the best of American playwrights. Students taking the directing class will direct other students involved in acting courses. The result is tremendous theater on a small scale.
All of this leads up to the big game between the Little Giants and Tigers in the 116th battle for the Monon Bell. The game, set for 1 p.m. in Greencastle, is a sell-out. The high definition network HDNet will televise the game to an international audience, and the two schools’ alumni offices have arranged joint alumni telecast events in 64 cities across the country.
So it’s Bell Week, and I think it’s pretty neat that Wabash tries to make it a special, memorable week for the entire community.
Bell week is seven days of activities and events leading up to kickoff of the best small college rivalry in the country. It’s a week of Campus Guard, exciting visiting lecturers, concerts, plays, competitions, and fund-raisers that celebrate all the remarkable opportunities available at good, small undergraduate liberal arts colleges like Wabash and DePauw.
Go Wabash. Beat DePauw!

Bring Social Media to Wabash Alums

Howard W. Hewitt – The communications revolution gives everyone a chance to create community and share in ways a cell phone or even e-mail has never allowed.

This morning (Nov. 7) Brent Harris and I are leading a session on Facebook, Twitter, and blogging for Wabash alumni leaders. We have 16 Wabash men in the room and another 7 following along through a virtual classroom online.

We’re showing some of the things you can do with today’s media and electronics. The photo at right shows Bryan Hutchens ’13 working with Jon  Pactor.

The first 45 minutes of today’s program focuses on Facebook. Here is a short video I recorded as we started on a $150 flip video recorder.

My Return to Mythbusters

Jim Amidon — Not long ago, I wrote about an innovative approach Physics Professor Martin Madsen is taking with an introductory physics course at Wabash College. The course is modeled after the Discovery Channel’s hit show, “Mythbusters.”

Six weeks ago, I got caught up in the excitement of watching 40 Wabash students attacking the forces of mass, gravity, velocity, and acceleration with unbridled enthusiasm. Again, remember this is a course dominated by seniors who are not majoring in physics or math.

Since that first week when I saw them using their bodies as crash test dummies to explore the validity of automobile crumple tests, I’ve stopped in to visit the students several more times. I saw them figure out ways to drop eggs safely from atop a three-story building.

In one “experiment,” students riding on skateboard-like carts tried to catapult themselves over tall objects to see if a popular skateboarding You Tube video is real or faked.

In all of these experiments, the teams of students grapple with physics concepts that go far beyond entry-level.

So I decided to pay a visit to Professor Madsen’s class last Thursday to get a mid-semester update on how the new class is going. I asked the professor what he has learned about this new way of teaching physics to a bunch of economics and history majors.

“What’s really wild about this class is that I do far less teaching than in any other course,” he told me. He also believes the pedagogical approach is sound. The students are not just memorizing facts and numbers, they are applying the concepts, teaching them to each other, and communicating them out when they produce videos for their “exams.”

And, it turns out the students are spending between 10-15 hours on out-of-class research and project development — more than double the time they spend in the slotted lecture and lab time.

“The videos keep getting better and better each week,” said Madsen. “The students are learning how to communicate the science more effectively each time out, and the production quality is vastly improved.”

All of the students purchased inexpensive digital video cameras for the class instead of textbooks. The class also has access to a high-speed video camera that can capture up to 6,000 frames per second. By now, the students are fully competent videographers, and all of them are mastering high-end digital video editing software, too.

Last Thursday, the teams were spread across the floor of the Knowling Fieldhouse. The myth they were testing was whether a train car loaded with grain could increase its velocity by dumping its cargo while in motion.

One group of students went north on US 231 to talk to guys at the grain elevator to learn about the train cars and how grain can be dumped, and designed their experiment based on that conversation.

With video cameras mounted to the carts and set at various angles to capture the experiment, the students pushed their carts down a path then dumped the cargo of pea gravel as the carts sped across the fieldhouse.

The high-speed camera captured frame-by-frame images that allow the students to measure the rate of velocity throughout the run. By measuring all of the variables, including the mass of the cart and its cargo, the rate the cargo was dropped, and the overall rate of speed, the students are able to determine if it is possible to gain speed by dumping the gravel.

Rabin Paudel, a brilliant and advanced physics student who helps out with the class, whispered to me, “These guys don’t realize this is upper level physics they’re learning.”

Once this project is wrapped up, the students will test one more popular myth before their final exam. The “exam” is a month-long project for which the students will choose their own myth, design the experiments, produce the equipment necessary to test the myth, and write, shoot, and edit a video.

Professor Madsen gets noticeably excited when talking about how well the class is going.

“Oh, it’s definitely working as well as I hoped it would,” he said. “Just watch how the guys throw themselves into these projects. They’re figuring out things on their own — learning the science as they apply it and test it.”

The course also got some international recognition when the Discovery Channel’s “Daily Planet” program did a short feature on the slow motion techniques the students are using.

Late in the morning on Thursday, one team accidentally dumped its load of gravel for the third time. Madsen burst out laughing — so hard he turned away so the students might not notice. Moments later, he walked over, leaned down, and helped them scoop up the gravel, all while teaching them how to make sure the experiment worked the next time.

The teaching and learning, in all its forms, never stops in this class.

Note: Anyone can see the finished videos. Just go to Wabash’s YouTube channel and click on Physics 105.

My Weekend with Bill Placher

Jim Amidon — I spent the weekend with Bill Placher.
Not literally, of course. I spent the weekend reading and re-reading the words of the legendary professor of religion and philosophy at Wabash College.
Bill was one of the nation’s foremost Christian theologians whose 13 books are must-reads for seminary and graduate students in theology. Bill’s gift as a writer was that he could grapple with difficult concepts and present them with a level of care and understanding that almost any person can enjoy.
As we near the one-year anniversary of Bill’s sudden passing, I’ve been poring over dozens of his speeches. As amazing as his books are, his speeches, sermons, and homilies may be even better.
His intellect, faith, passion, and love shine through — whether in a Sunday morning sermon at Wabash Avenue Presbyterian Church, a chapel talk at Wabash, or speaking to Montgomery County high school honor students. And perhaps even more than in his books, in his speeches, Bill called us to be better, seek truth, and love one another.
Most people never heard those words; most don’t have access to his file cabinets filled with sermons. So today I’ll share a few of my favorite passages with you.
To a class of new freshmen who arrived on campus in the autumn of 1988, Placher was reluctant to give the students too much advice. He recalled his own experience 22 years prior, and knew most of the young men wouldn’t remember what he said the next day. But he did urge optimism when he said:
“It’s easy to be cynical, and in the midst of cramming for a quiz, doing a lab, getting a paper written, you will often enough get cynical yourself. Yet I’d guess that you have come to college with dreams too. Don’t forget them. Find friends worth treasuring among students and faculty. Get involved. Don’t ever be ashamed to be excited about learning. Now with the greens of high summer against the red brick, or later this fall with the trees on the east campus turned to a carnival of colors, or in a deep winter with the mall all still under new fallen snow, do not be afraid to let the magic of this place work on you.”
Six years ago on a Sunday morning in May, Bill gave a sermon at Wabash Avenue Presbyterian Church reflecting on the Gospel of John and on God’s love. He said:
“God loves us even when we’re sinners, even when we mess up, even when we fail. We don’t have to earn God’s love. And therefore we can really have agape. We can really help our neighbor just because our neighbor needs help, secure in the knowledge that God has already taken care of us, no need to look nervously over our shoulders to see how we’re doing on a scale of virtue, but free in our love…
“We’re supposed to try to love the way God does — not to win honor or praise, but just overflowing, filled with the desire to help others because they need the help.”
In Wabash’s sesquicentennial year, 1981-82, Professor Placher gave a Founder’s Day speech reflecting on Wabash’s past and positing on its future. He said:
“Never before have we needed more people of common sense and integrity, people who ought to be a products of a college like this one.
“A few such people can make a difference. It takes only one lawyer in a small town to help the unpopular defendant get a fair trial. It takes only one doctor, one scientist in a research team, to raise awkward questions about human values. It takes only one business executive, one union leader, one social worker to bring imagination to bear and find a new way of solving a problem… It only takes a few truly educated people to make a difference. If, in the years ahead, some of those few are not graduates of Wabash College, we will have failed to be worthy of the tradition we inherit.”
Finally, near the end of his life, Bill researched and wrote extensively about vocation — what we are called to do. In a homily only a handful of people heard at a private function, Bill said:
“And as we think about how to improve this broken world, let us be content with ordinary work and small callings. If there are hungry to be fed, let us do what we can to help feed them. If our neighbors or co-workers are lonely or depressed, let’s try to cheer them up. Let’s remember at the holiday season that loving our families is the most important thing we do. Above all, let us never say to God, ‘Lord, I see some good work for me to do, but I was hoping for something more important.’”
Indeed, Bill Placher was true to his calling — as scholar, pastoral presence, teacher, and friend — and all of us who knew him are better for it.