I first met Dan Evans 43 and Dick Ristine 41 when Anne and I came to campus 10 years ago to interview for the president position. At the time, both Dan and Dick were trustees working at the College, Dan as chief investment officer and Dick as chief development officer. They were unusual because their friendship began before Wabash, but other trustees participating in the interviews could boast of similar friendships: President of the Board Chuck Goering 51 and Jim Keyes 50; chairman of the executive committee David Givens 56 and Tom Klingaman 52; David Orr 57 and Bob Allen 57; and Joe Barnette 61 and Don Smith 59. Barney Hollett 36 and Don Fobes 34 had already spent over 60 years together making music and playing golf. I have marveled ever since at how many men made friends for life at Wabash.
The number and duration of such friendships seem extraordinarily large and long, even though I have not actually counted them. They crop up all the time and are not limited to friendships among fraternity brothers or teammates. They include friendships between independents as well as between independents and fraternity members. They also include men who attended just a couple of semesters. Some have a geographic base, where the friendships began, or were reinforced by proximity, in Evansville, Ft. Wayne, Peoria, or Jasper. The most moving of all these friendships are those linked by bloodgrandfathers, fathers, sons, and brothers.
Regardless of when the friendships began, they are sustained by common experience. Learning from the same professors, even though 20 years separate the courses; singing the same fight song, even though Chapel Sing no longer features W haircuts; studying for comps, even though senior study camp ended years agoall of these common experiences enable friendships to thrive. Wabashs small size must also contribute in some way to forging these relationships, as do the freedom and responsibility that come with our particular brand of single-sex education. The basic values young men bring with them when they first come here also play a part.
The exact causes of such deep and long-lasting friendships may elude us, but the results do not. They provide fun and cheer in the good days and care and advice in the difficult days. They serve up memories even as they provide opportunities for new ones, for keeping in touch is as much about the past as it is the present and the future.
Less obvious is the way these friendships sustain root values. When life spins, or is pushed, out of control, the opportunity to reminisce, as well as to talk with genuine friends about deep issues, is a blessing that recalls what is important in life. It reinforces the sense of your own history and values, of your place and worth. You keep in touch with others, but more importantly you stay in touch with your self. Knowing thyself may be the greatest benefit of all these lifetime friendships that seem so characteristic of this special place.
Ford is the president of Wabash College.