College Honors Great Educators Who Shaped Great Institutions

by Steve Charles

May 13, 2007

Hanover College President Rusty Nichols ’61 and Wabash Dean Emeritus of the College Raymond Williams H’68 were praised as "two great educators who have shaped and nurtured two great educational institutions" as they were awarded honorary degrees at Sunday’s 169th Commencement at Wabash College. (Click here for a photo album.)

"Your legacy at Hanover will endure for generations to come," Wabash President Pat White said, awarding an honorary Doctor of Laws to Nichols, who will retire next month after 20 years as president of the southern Indiana liberal arts college. "You have put that college’s students at the forefront of all activity and planning. You have raised the expectations of students, faculty, staff, and alumni. And you have guided the college with clear principles that include personal and academic excellence, respect, and responsibility."

Awarding the Doctor of Divinity to Raymond Williams, President White noted that Williams’ arrival at Wabash in 1965 helped to "usher in a Golden Age for the Wabash Religion Department.

"For over 40 years you have blessed the students, faculty, staff, alumni, and trustees of Wabash College," President White said of Williams, who in addition to being the foremost scholar of Swaminarayan Hinduism, is also the founding director of the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion. "You have blessed us through your excellent teaching and innovative scholarship, a combination that is your lasting legacy at your adopted alma mater."

At a luncheon preceding the ceremony, President White offered a toast to both degree recipients.

"We have heard so many speak with such respect, even reverence, even amazement, not only of your personal gifts of integrity, humility, and wisdom, but for the work you’ve done in leading and shaping Hanover," President White said, honoring Nichols.

 Turning to Williams, he said: "As a scholar as a teacher, as a department chair, division chair, and a year as dean, you led the college. That service is but a tip of the iceberg of your leadership and your influence on of this great college over many years, and as a beneficiary of your many years of leadership, Raymond, I salute you."

"I am humbled to be here," Nichols said, recalling his Wabash student days, when he attended Chapel services and heard talks by professors Byron Trippet, Ben Rogge, George Lovell, Vic Powell, and others who had a profound influence on his life.

"Wabash College has been able to do something that I’m not sure any college in the country can do so well—to take raw material, unknown talent, and give them the ability to do something they themselves didn’t know they had the ability to do.

"All I’ve tried to at Hanover is to take the ideas of Byron Trippet, Ben Rogge, and George Lovell, and transplant them to a new environment, to perpetuate the free society in a graduating class of about 200 every year. I’ve tried to help them go out and do what Vic Powell and Ben Rogge taught me to do.

"What Wabash did for me was to take me as a boy and make me a man, and I want to thank all of you who helped me get here," Nichols said, noting that both he and his wife, Pat, are from rural Montgomery County. "Thank you for helping a farm boy and farm girl realize a dream."

Calling family "the foundation of everything," Williams introduced his wife, sons, daughter, and granddaughter, as well as members of the Lilly Endowment Inc. and the Wabash Religion department, paying particular tribute to Professor of Religion Emeritus Hall Peebles.

"When I first came to be interviewed for a job at Wabash and met people like Hall, Paul Mielke, and Vic Powell, I was so impressed by that group of faculty that if I’d had any money, I would have paid to become a member of this faculty," Williams said. "I actually had the good judgment to turn down a higher offer elsewhere to join this faculty, and being a faculty member here has been the pride of my life and career."

"It’s more of an honor than you can imagine or know for me to be here, especially to be among so many dear friends and people I’ve known for so many years and who have contributed so much," Williams said. "A career at Wabash College is a great honor in itself, and this is an honor beyond all deserving, but one I shall cherish more than any other I’ve ever received."

In photos: Raymond Williams and Rusty Nichols after receiving honorary degrees during the College's 169th Commencement; President Pat White offers a toast to fellow college president, Rusty Nichols.


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