When my father, Professor
of Economics Steve Schmutte, died on Dec. 14, it was the first time since
the fall of 1962 that the Wabash College student body did not know him
as either a fellow student or a faculty member. That's a shame.
My father arrived
at Wabash College that year as salutatorian of his Cathedral High School
class and a first generation college student. There he found Ben Rogge,
the mentor who would shape his professional life and send him down a path
to become a mentor to hundreds of Wabash men himself.
A child of the 1960s, my father, like his generation, was somewhat rebellious. Teaching and research were the avenues to tenure and full professorship, but he was at Wabash to teach, and always that was his focus. That commitment was recognized with both the McLain McTurnan Award for Teaching Excellence from the College and the Sphinx Club Outstanding Teaching Award from his students. He was the consummate teacher, with a curriculum vitae filled not with journal articles and scholarly publications, but rather the achievements of decades of Wabash men who were his students. And he never ceased to take pride in their accomplishments.
Among the many young men he recruited to Wabash was Pete Metzelaars '82. There was perhaps never a more humorous sight than that of my 5'9" dad showing a young 6'8" Pete Metzelaars around Chadwick Court. One night, Pete and his wife, Barb, were at my parents' house along with several other Wabash students. Pete sat on the couch, playing with a Rubik's Cube, when suddenly he realized he'd solved the puzzle. That Rubik's Cube was on a family room shelf in my parents' house in Crawfordsville, and later Zionsville, for years.
A few days after my father's death, I received the current issue of Wabash Magazine. Inside was news of Rade Kljajic '77 receiving the Alumni Award of Merit for his work with underprivileged children in Chicago. My first thought was how proud my dad would have been to learn of the award and Ray's work.
My second, though, turned to a quote that I put on the program for my dad's memorial service: "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." I think that Ray would agree that a bit of Steve Schmutte continues to influence a group of kids in Chicago.
For many of my dad's students, his influence remains an important part of their lives. He pushed them hard and taught them well. As a result, for many, their success has exceeded even the wildest dreams they held when they were "rung in" as freshmen in the Chapel. So, while my father raised two daughters, in a sense, his was a life with many loyal sons.
Even before he arrived in Crawfordsville, my father loved sports. As a high school freshman, he won an Indianapolis Star writing contest, and for two years was batboy for the Indianapolis Indians. A member of the football, wrestling, and baseball teams at Cathedral, at Wabash he was always a devoted fan with vigorous words of encouragement at pre-Monon Bell game pep rallies. I remember the days when a victory at Little Giant Stadium or on Chadwick Court was a rare thing; but always, we were there.
When Wabash played in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl in Phenix City, Alabama, my parents were chaperones to a busload of students making the trek south and supporting the team. Shortly thereafter, the Crawfordsville cable company began taping the football games and broadcasting them on Monday evenings. For a time, my dad was the color man for those broadcasts, traveling with the team to Wheaton, Dayton, Hope, Albion's delightful Sprankle Sprandel Stadium, and of course, to DePauw. There are those in the Wabash family who still remember the post-game wrap up after the Stan Parrish-led Little Giants completed their perfect season with a home field win over the Dannies. Typically a man of few words, my dad went on and on and on and on after that game. He followed the basketball team with equal zeal and was often on the sideline supporting the baseball team as well.
Among those attending his memorial service in December was Kevin Benefiel. Kevin told my mother and I he had never had my dad for a class, but he remembered that my dad always had supported Wabash athletics. So he came.
I had e-mailed Jason Dyer '85 to let him know about my dad's passing and the planned memorial service. I received an auto-reply that he was out of the office until after the first of the year, so I didn't expect to hear from him. But at the funeral home, I looked up, and there was Jason. He explained that he had stopped in the office, read his e-mail, and headed to Zionsville from his home near Dayton, Ohio. Such was the affection my dad engendered among his students.
My father took great pleasure also in his relationships with fellow Wabash faculty members. He enjoyed being a part of that community of scholars and rarely missed lunch at the Scarlet Inn. Being an economist-and himself-he brought lunch from home and in more recent years a plastic yellow Green Bay Packers cup from his office to save the dime the Inn would charge for a cup of water. At the faculty round table, he entered into spirited, yet collegial, debates on subjects of all manner. Whether it was discussing the relative merits of the Cincinnati Reds versus the St. Louis Cardinals with Vic Powell or any number of business or political issues with David Hadley and Phil Mikesell, he always enjoyed the exchanges.
Included in those debates over the years wer,e of course, those centering on coeducation. My father made no secret of the fact that he thought Wabash should admit women. We talked about the subject a great deal during the last trustee study on the issue. He thought Wabash should admit women not because something was lacking in the education of Wabash men, but because it could be better, and women deserved that education, too.
Just as he wanted his students to reach higher than they imagined they could, so too, he thought that the College should always strive toward an ever-better Wabash.
Of course, no discussion of my father's life would be complete without reference to his well-documented medical story. Ten days after his 37th birthday, my father received a heart transplant at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond. I was 16, my sister 12, and we were swept up in a wave of activity as in a month's time he moved from transplant candidate to the recipient of a new heart. He was part of an experimental government study, but in those days I never gave much thought to the enormity of what he had done. There wasn't time.
In many ways, I guess that there was never time to think in those terms. His health rebounded and shortly he was back in Baxter Hall, teaching a full load of courses and chairing the newly-established Benjamin A. Rogge Committee.
Then, 13 years later, my father had a second transplant. When I called former Wabash football coach Stan Parrish with the news, his immediate response was "he's the bravest man I know." How odd that over the years, I had never thought of my father in quite that way. In all that he did, understatement ruled.
That quiet strength to which his family was so accustomed was much more to those with a different perspective. In a letter to my father just days before his death, Tom Wingard '84 wrote: "your heroic efforts to get back to teaching so immediately taught me to never give up, and to continue doing what you love."
I think that is one of the things I respect about him the most. Heart transplants happened, he dealt with them, and he moved on. He didn't want his health to define him, there were many things more important than that.
At the core of it all was his teaching. With support from a Lilly Endowment grant, he even developed a class on healthcare economics as a result of his experience. Inside the classroom and out, he was always teaching.
And in the example of his life, we all have learned many significant lessons. If in the end, the quality of a life is measured not in length of years but in lives touched, there can be no doubt Steve Schmutte achieved uncommon and unending success. And if being a Wabash man is defined by adherence to the Gentleman's Rule, my dad was a Wabash man through and through. pulled quote: