The Orr Connection

By Justin Lyon
  March 24, 2002

Among the Living Maya
Why Immersion Learning?
• The Orr Connection
Blessed to Be Here
The Man Who Wrote The Book
Padre e Hijo

He didn’t know exactly when we’d arrive in San Cristobal, so I didn’t expect to see Wabash College trustee David Orr ’57 waiting for us at Na Bolom, the museum/lodge where our students were scheduled to stay. But there he was, greeting each Wabash student with a handshake and giving each a folder containing all they’d need to know about San Cristobal and the experts they’d be meeting.

Later, Nancy Orr’s walking tour showed everyone the lay of the land and enough landmarks so we could make our way around.

The Orrs’ warmth transformed Na Bolom into a home away from home, and their connectedness to the community made San Cristobal a college away from campus.

"When you go to gatherings at most Americans’ homes, you meet other Americans," Chiapas Photography Project Director Carlota Duarte says. "When you go to the Orrs’, you meet Mexicans. They’re genuinely interested and concerned about the people, and that’s known and welcomed here."

That welcome translated into learning opportunities for Wabash students. Practically every encounter students had in Chiapas was orchestrated by the Orrs—from the rehearsal at the Indigenous Theater and lectures from anthropologists and economists to our exhilarating descent into the tomb of Pacal the Great. David even drove us to the College’s first South of the Border admissions visit.

A retired vice-president of Ameritech, Orr eschewed the beach and golf course retirement route, instead following his interest in Mexico and his wife’s passion for the culture and welfare of Mexico’s indigenous. The couple moved to Chiapas in 1992—living there through the Zapatista uprising—and renovated and now operate San Felipe Flores bed and breakfast. The College’s C&T faculty was the first large Wabash contingent to bask in the Orr’s hospitality in San Cristobal. a town that is becoming a sort of Wabash extension campus and retreat.

At a farewell reception at San Felipe Flores, after mariachis and the rest of us finished a rousing if not melodious rendition of "Guadalajara," Juan Carlo Hernandez ’04 handed the Orrs a thank you gift.

"On behalf of all of us, thank you for all you’ve done for us," he said, his words echoed by the students standing around.

"Let me just say that the feeling is mutual," Orr responded. "Nothing beyond my family has been more important in my life than Wabash College. I have a birthday coming next week, and I can’t think of a better gift than having you guys here."

We left San Cristobal much the way we came—only with the help of David Orr. When our bus for Tuxtla Guttierrez Airport didn’t show, Orr quickly called a van, packed the rest of us in his blue Chevy Suburban and drove us "down the mountain" to our flight. He didn’t drive away until we were all safely in the terminal.

"This course plugged into the Wabash community in ways that haven’t happened before," Professor Dan Rogers says. "I’ve never planned a course before in conjunction with an alumnus; I’ve never planned a course in conjunction with a member of the board of trustees. But to have a trustee be such an important advisor to the course was an incredibly positive experience.

"And maybe just as important—David and Nancy model the lifestyle and attitude about learning and about interacting with different cultures and participating effectively in those kinds of situations that we need our students to see," adds Rogers. "Here’s an alumnus who could live wherever he wants to live and chooses to live in Chiapas, chooses to be engaged in the culture, and what’s more, chooses to devote a substantial amount of time and energy into helping two professors and his alma mater put something like this together."