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The Grunge Report: The Men Alongside Us

by Tom Runge '71
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Summer vacation. According to Webster, a "vacation" is "a time of rest and relaxation." Believe it or not, there are still folks out there who think that when the students go home, we do as well.

That doesn’t happen. As you have seen on the College’s Web site and in this issue of WM, our faculty, staff, and young men have been hard at it this summer. From Ecuador to on-campus research to internships, they have been busy learning outside of the normal academic year. Wabash’s mission statement in action—24/7/365.

Yet I am at the age where a little R and R is a good thing. In my younger days, vacation (or "leave" as we called it in the Air Force) meant "working in civilian clothes." These days, I truly enjoy vacation and the rest and relaxation that comes with it.

Summers have increasingly added another "R"—reflection. Most of that is personal, of course. Carol and I just celebrated our 39th wedding anniversary. We have six fabulous grandchildren, and our sons and daughters-in-law bring immense joy. We have now lived here twice as long as anyplace else in our entire married life. We’re almost settled. (After 19 moves, I think there may be only one or two left.)

But I’ve also been reflecting lately on this thing some call Wabash sentimentality.

I talked to Greg Teague ’88 this past week. Greg returned for his 20th reunion at this year’s Big Bash and he came away a changed person. Greg told me it was this reunion that brought it all back—how much this College and his experience here meant to him. How much his classmates meant to him. How important it is to keep Wabash strong. Independent. Traditional, in a state-of-the-art way. Talking to Greg got me fired up.

During the same couple of days, I received a note from Mark Dill ’75 and a picture of the Phi Delt mini-reunion held at the home of Ed Pitkin ’71 in July. Two things struck me as I looked at the picture. First, honestly, was that everyone was older! I guess I expected everyone to have long hair and sideburns and to be wearing peace symbol t-shirts.

The second thing… the smiles. You can’t fake those smiles and you don’t make the trip back from California and Vermont unless there’s something special at the end of the trip.

This placed called Wabash and the men who conquer the challenges here alongside of us change us forever. It’s not unlike my experiences in pilot training. You start out wondering who all these guys are. Worried if you belong. You transition to friendship. Farther along the way, it becomes a deep friendship of shared challenges and experiences. From there it goes to life-long wingman—someone who will always be there—just a phone/radio call away. You would walk through fire for them and you know, just know, they would do the same for you. Nothing needs to be said. You know it.

And it’s at reflection time that you realize that those experiences, and even more importantly those wingmen, are among the most important treasures you have accumulated in this life. Gold? Money? Big job title? Nothing compared to those guys!

That’s why the Phi Delts make that trip. That’s why you should do the Big Bash. Celebrate a little. Reflect a lot. In your own way thank those guys for being there when you needed them to be, even though you didn’t know you needed them there at the time.

Don’t wait until later, my friend.

—Tom Runge ’71, Director of Alumni Affairs;