Wabash Moments: Within These Walls

  March 30, 2004

The Chapel is the architectural focus of the Wabash campus, but this fall and winter it was the spiritual and emotional center as well.

You could feel it as Dr. Charles Miller '49, Steve Randak '76, and Dr. Tom Roberts '70 received their honorary Doctor of Science degrees during September's dedication of the new science building.

Miller, recently retired from the National Institute of General Medical Science after a career funding and shaping scientific research around the world, made eye contact with his family from onstage, and they smiled back, keenly aware of the significance of their father's return to this place.
Roberts' team at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute is on the leading edge of research reducing cancer to the status of an annoying illness, easily controlled with medicine. His mother sat in a Chapel pew to see her son honored, just as she had for Awards Chapel and on his Commencement Day 34 years ago.

Generations of Wabash Randaks-from Ed '42 to Mark '71-saw Steve, a nationally award-winning biology teacher, lauded for "giving young people courage and the means to follow their best instincts toward that which is beautiful and natural-the good earth around us."

When the Glee Club sang Alma Mater, Dr. Miller turned to face the students at the back of the stage while everyone else faced forward.

"I hadn't heard that song sung like that in 40 years," Miller said afterwards. "I wanted to hear their voices, see their faces, hear every word."

At October's Homecoming, Mary Ann Salter, wife of late Wabash president and professor Lew Salter H'57 and a beloved First Lady, stood beside President Andy Ford, whose work has secured the College's future for the first half of the 21st century, as both were named Honorary Alumni to one of the heartiest standing ovations in recent memory. The smiles between them, and the laughter and reminiscing between Ford and the five National Association of Wabash Men presidents who have served with him, was a reminder of how unexpected friendships enrich those whose bond is the good of the Wabash community. (Homecoming, page 44)

Mrs. Salter returned to the Chapel stage in December to join her voice to those of alumni, students, professors, staff, and local residents as the Crawfordsville Community Chorus-once a thriving tradition under the leadership of Bob Mitchum H'59 and revived last year-sang Handel's "The Messiah."

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler, speaking to students and visiting teachers during his three-day residence at Wabash as the first Will Hays, Jr. Visiting Writer.     

The holidays also brought a moving Christmas Festival of Readings and Carols-the tradition carried on by Professor Bill Placher '70 and the religion department in memory of professor Eric Dean H'61. This year our youngest reader ever-Professor emeritus Vern Easterling's eight-year-old granddaughter Kristen Albrecht-stepped up onto a piano stool to reach the podium mike and read to the hundreds gathered the story of Jesus' birth in a manger. The ceremony ended with an intercession for Professor and Dean emeritus Paul McKinney '52, at home nearing the end of his long struggle with cancer.

On January 10th the Chapel was our sanctuary for grieving the loss and celebrating the life of that beautiful mind and man who had so often brought "the fire" to the Chapel podium during his 55 years as a student, professor, and dean of the College-an extraordinary colleague of Wabash students and teachers and, to so many of us, the epitome of the liberally educated man. ("Remembrances," page 68)

Only 82 years old and middle-aged compared to many Wabash buildings, the Chapel's steeple has been lifted by spirited voices celebrating their greatest victories and the joy of sons and daughters returning to receive the College's highest honors, and it is anchored to Wabash soil by generations of young men's footsteps, the anxiety of freshmen on their first day, the reflections of seniors on their last day, and the sorrow of a community saying goodbye to our most beloved colleagues and friends, fathers, and sons.

"The poetry in the life of a college like Wabash is to be found in its history," Byron Trippet said. And within this Chapel's walls.