"As Knauff's former student, Jimmie Rodriguez, now a Wabash senior, says with a smile: "It's hard not to get interested in Wabash when your physics teacher keeps telling stories about the place at the beginning of class."
Roundin' Up Wabash Men
When he drove Joe Gracia '99, Tony Martinez '98, and Anthony Perez '98 to Indiana during spring break in 1993 to get a look at Wabash, he didn't realize he was opening up a Texas-Crawfordsville admissions pipeline that has brought 12 of his students to Wabash in six years.
What he did intend was for students from his predominantly Hispanic high school to get a shot at the best education possible. If that meant he had to drive them 1,300 miles to get a look at it, so be it. And if the College was grateful enough to award him the alumni recruitment prize in 1997, that's just icing on the cake.
Knauff's mission is to get his students into good schools, preferably out-of-state schools where they can better focus on their studies, and preferably Wabash College. But when you're a teacher deep in south Texas, you have to be creative in educating your students about an all-male college in the Hoosier state.
Knauff says it was Joe Gracia who really got the ball rolling.
"I put my Wabash banner up on the wall the first year I was at Robstown," says Knauff, who attended the College for three years before completing his degree at the University of Houston. "On Monday mornings, Joe would come to class 15 minutes early to rub it in that my team, the Houston Oilers, had lost again, while his team, the Cowboys, had won.
"Up to that point, I hadn't mentioned anything about Wabash, but Gracia told me that he had been watching the Bills play and noticed that after their tight end, Pete Metzelaars, caught a touchdown pass, Wabash College was flashed on the TV screen as his alma mater. He remarked that he didn't know a player could get into the NFL from a small school."
"I told him more about Wabash and it's rich football history and he said, 'I don't think I'll ever be big enough for Division I schools, but I don't want my senior year in high school to be the last year I play football. I want to play football in college just for fun.'
"I told him Wabash could be just the school for him."
One year later, Gracia and two other students approached Knauff with the idea of a road trip to several schools in Indiana and the midwest. Months later, Wabash was rewarded with the first three of its students via Knauff. He has been bringing students ever since, and Wabash admissions counselors now make yearly visits to Knauff's classroom.
The Rochester, Indiana native learned the value of alumni recruiting when he was a high school senior. "Alumni were the main reason I went to Wabash," Knauff says. "My junior high principal, Bob Burwell '39, used to tell us his Wabash football stories. Our family dentist, Dr. William Von Der Lehr '51, used to fill my mouth with utensils so I couldn't interrupt him while he told me why I should go to Wabash. Ira DeGoss '03, a friend of my grandfather, was a loyal Little Giant fan and contributor who invited me to his house in my senior year to tell me about Wabash.
"Of the five colleges I was considering, the only alums who ever bothered to talk to me were from Wabash, even though I was fifth in a class of 92. So by the time I was filling out applications, Wabash was my first choice."
Knauff carries on that alumni recruiting tradition today. His relationship with his students doesn't stop after they've reached college. Exchanging letters and email are rewarding parts of the process for the teacher, especially if the student is discouraged or overwhelmed at the time.
"If they are down, I try to send them something, sometimes a greeting with a phone card, or maybe some money for pizza," Knauff says. "I enjoy getting their email, even if it's just one or two paragraphs, because it keeps me in touch with how they're doing."
"Larry has a close relationship with his students, and they know that he cares about them, cares about their future," says Associate Director of Admissions Walter Blake, who has teamed up with Knauff from the College side.
It's likely that Knauff's concern for his students and
his enthusiasm for Wabash will continue to bring in Wabash men from Corpus
Christi. As Jimmie Rodriguez, Knauff's former student and now a Wabash senior,
says with a smile: "It's hard not to get interested in Wabash when
your physics teacher keeps telling stories about the place at the beginning