From Center Hall: Spring 2012

by Patrick White

February 13, 2013

“Wabash Came Through for Me”

The College’s soon-to-be-completed $60 million Challenge of Excellence has transformed the heart of Wabash—teaching and learning—and established the support for as-yet-to-be-imagined greatness among students, alumni, faculty, staff, and all in the Wabash family.

When I speak to young men who are considering Wabash, I challenge them to look at themselves and see the possibilities for not-yet-imagined greatness.

I tell them, “Gentlemen, you have no idea how good you are; you have no idea what you can become.”

I urge them to see the promise of greatness in their lives, saying, “Wherever you choose to go to college, make sure it’s a place where you can learn to be a hero in your own life, where you will make of your own story something heroic.”

This is a bold promise, a bold claim, but has it not always been the promise of Wabash, a promise made every day and every year?

I see in the faces of these young men how much they want that—how much they want their lives to mean something, not just for themselves, but for their families, their friends, their communities, their country. They are told by so much in our culture, “You’re just a guy, just a small part of a world you can’t hope to shape or change; you’re a cog in an economic, political machine; an actor in some other writer’s play.”

But I tell them, “You can accomplish great things, things that you cannot even yet imagine.”

What gives me the courage to speak to these young men—what gives me the confidence to say what others might call corny or naive—are the lives of Wabash men I’ve met every day of my six years at the College, and the lives of the men and women who see in Wabash a special place, a place where the challenge of excellence is always present.

When we started this campaign, the country was (and still is) reeling from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, a time when the College was wracked by trouble and financial hardship we had not seen since the days of Frank Sparks and World War II.

In the face of these challenges we could have hunkered down. We could have simply put up the bunkers and accepted what many colleges and institutions had to accept—a challenge of survival.

But not Wabash. Not this place we love so well.

As we planned our fundraising in the dark days of 2008, I called this campaign a “Challenge of Excellence” because that is always Wabash’s challenge. It is the challenge for our individual students when I look them eyeball to eyeball in the Chapel and ask them on Freshman Saturday to promise one another that they will be teachers and guides in each other’s education. It is the challenge for new faculty and staff when I call them to greatness and leadership. It is the challenge when I speak to alumni and friends of the College, and even more when you speak to one another and accept this challenge to lead Wabash to new levels of excellence.

In response to this challenge, so many in the last four years have stepped up and said, “Wabash must remain strong and great; I will help.” And we have accomplished great things, not least of which has been completing the Challenge of Excellence (COE) goal of over $60 million more than 18 months earlier than our original deadline.

That is Wabash rising to the occasion—Wabash men, their wives, partners, friends; faculty and staff; even people with no apparent connection to the College, including those in corporations and foundations who believe in our mission and strength, our promise and our impact.

Recently I enjoyed an evening with such a group of men—members of the Class of 1962 and their wives, friends, and significant others celebrating their 50th reunion during this year’s Big Bash. I was honored to sit among these 60 men whose lives are testimony to the truth of those promises I make to students. I thanked them not only for what they had done for the College, but also what their lives mean to us, for being the men they are.

On the previous night they had presented their class gift—a check for $2,670,000. As I looked around that room I saw in the faces of these men who have become heroes in their own lives an indefatigable pride and a recognition of what Wabash has meant to them and from which rose a stirring determination to give back, to make certain future generations of young men will have the Wabash education they need to make a difference in their world.

That generosity and leadership of the 50-year reunion classes during the past few years find resonance in the youngest and newest of Wabash alumni. This past spring the Student Senate, representing all current students, completed its gift of $25,000 to answer the Challenge.

Among the contributors to that gift were members of the Class of 2012, who had been freshmen when the recession threw so many colleges, families, and nations into financial turmoil. They had watched as the College responded the nightmare that hit so soon after we had completed our strategic planning process. They wondered whether we would pull back from our promises, or stand still.

They heard Dean of the College Gary Phillips say, “We can’t lose momentum. We have to secure the things we have been doing that improve the curriculum and improve the student experience. We can’t stand still for five years because we will lose a generation of students, and a generation of faculty. Every dollar that comes to us will be more preciously spent than ever, because we have to get stronger every day.”

They saw Wabash take up the challenge as alumni, faculty, staff, and friends of the College dug deep, and they were among the first beneficiaries of a campaign that has transformed the heart of Wabash—our teaching and learning.

A few examples offer a glimpse of how all at Wabash have responded to the Challenge of Excellence:


The Legacy of Bill Placher

The fall of 2008 was a terrifying semester. With the financial markets in free fall and strife and sorrow on campus, the year culminated with the death of Professor Bill Placher ’70—the national teacher of the year, acclaimed theologian, prolific writer, beloved brother in the fellowship of learning, the best of our great students and teachers.

Wabash was Bill’s family. He left the greatest portion of his estate to the College, and discerning the wisest use of that gift has been a sacred trust.

Bill Placher modeled for us all the complex attributes of scholar, teacher, colleague, friend, and mentor. We thus chose to honor Bill’s memory by creating the William C. Placher Fund for Faculty Support to attract, retain, and nurture excellent faculty and the teaching they do both inside and outside the classroom. The Placher Fund is investing in the finest teachers and is part of the Challenge of Excellence’s goal to maintain teaching excellence at Wabash.

The COE is also supporting teaching excellence through the establishment of named professorships, most recently the John W. Bachmann–Edward Jones Chair in Economics. This fund will support a full-time professor in the economics department who also will provide academic leadership for the College’s business leadership development programs, and it honors John W. Bachmann ’60 and the excellent leadership he provided for more than a decade as managing principal of Edward Jones.

Training teachers and preachers was the original mission of Wabash at its founding in 1836, and a gift to the Challenge of Excellence from Dudley Burgess ’64 and his family ensures that this tradition will be stronger than ever. Dudley and his wife, Judy, grew up in Crawfordsville and saw firsthand the impact Wabash has on its students. The family shares a deep belief in the importance of educating others.

“We felt the teacher education program was often neglected, so we said, ‘Let’s focus on that.’”

The Burgess Family Scholarship is being awarded to teacher education students in their junior and senior years.


“Opening the World”

Search the Wabash Web site for the words “life changing” and you’ll find them most often in student blogs and entries written during courses that include an immersion study component. These professor-led journeys of one to two weeks studying everything from the history of Christianity in Africa to archeo-astronomy in Central America to the American expatriate writers in France to global health in Peru are available to all students, regardless of ability to pay—the College picks up travel and housing costs.

Whether the journey is a Wabash man’s first airplane flight, first time out of the country, or first conversation with people in the developing world, these trips have opened the world to our students. Kay Widdows, the John H. Schroeder Interdisciplinary Chair in Economics, uses that exact phrase to describe the effect of another COE-funded initiative—the Asian Studies program.

“Going to Asia opened the world to me,” Kay will tell you. The $750,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation funding the College’s liberal arts approach to Asian Studies not only opens the world for our students but also has brought that part of the world to campus.  

Last fall Professor Qian Zhu Pullen began her tenure-track position teaching Chinese history and Mandarin. Soon after her arrival she led us back to her home country to meet with representatives of Fudan University, one of China’s greatest universities, with whom we are beginning a partnership. There in Shanghai and Beijing I felt a full sense of what “opening the world” will mean for those faculty and students in our Asian Studies program—the shock of the new and the shock of recognition of what their education can mean and do.

While our immersion courses have become a signature of a Wabash education, they are augmented by the rich experiences of semester-long study-abroad programs. Just how much we value those is underscored by another unexpected gift to the COE from Trustee John C. Schroeder ’69 funding study abroad at Harlaxton College in England, where Wabash men explore an old country new to them and, what is more important, new possibilities in their own lives. A year ago two Wabash men—Tyler Griffin ’13 and Michael Jon Mondovics ’13—were elected president and vice president of the Harlaxton College student body.


Investing in Business Leaders

Enhancing business education and career development is the third goal of the COE, and support for the College’s innovative Business Leaders program has come from a vast number of Wabash alumni, including Trustee Gary Reamey ’77.

The $100,000 gift from Gary and his wife, Joanne, and matching gift from Edward Jones, where he was for many years the principal at its Canadian headquarters, is remarkable, though not surprising. Earlier this year in a moving ceremony dedicating eight prints from renowned artist Mauricio Lasansky’s “Kaddish Series” donated by Gary and Joanne in memory of Gary’s mother, I was struck by the sheer range of Gary’s gifts to the College: this powerful and significant artwork; his support of our world music program and of faculty diversity and multicultural programs; his major gift for the football field to honor his friend Dave Sewell ’78; and now this unprecedented gift for young men seeking careers in business.


Face to Face, One Student at a Time

Whatever the category of the gift—scholarships, faculty support, immersion learning, or internships in business and research opportunities in all fields—the COE is focused on the College’s intent to transform the lives of young men.

In this edition you’ll read a remembrance of Fran Hollett H’85 written by Brent Kent ’09. A recipient of the Hollett Family Scholarship, Brent first met Fran at a scholarship luncheon at the College, and Fran became for him, as she was for many, “the great encourager.”

While Fran’s role of “mother to so many of us” was exceptional, all scholarships, which make an otherwise impossible education possible, can inspire deep personal meaning for both recipient and benefactor and are a fourth goal accomplished by the successful completion of the COE—“providing opportunity and access.”

The Robert G. Knight, Jr. Memorial Scholarship is given to men of good character who are ranked in the top 10 percent of their graduating high-school class and who have demonstrated a commitment to service in their communities. Bob Knight ’55 was a consummate gentleman in every aspect of his life and his wife, Mary and sons, Rob and Andy, honor his memory by making it possible for young men of character and achievement who are engaged in their communities to attend Wabash.

I was fortunate to meet Bob and get to know him, and since his passing I have come to know and admire Mary and her sons. I see in her someone who loves and values Wabash—and the opportunities it offers and inspires in its students—every bit as much as Bob did in his life.

By establishing a scholarship in their names, Richard Hurckes ’56 found a way to honor his mentors and friends, Alex Carroll and Robert Beck ’20, for their dedication to teaching and encouragement of honor, character, and love of country. Alex Carroll, a Williams grad who in his 90s still conducts leadership courses for the neediest of students at the brave Tindley School in Indianapolis, has become my friend. His admiration for Wabash runs deeps in his being and in the scholarship in his honor with which Dick Hurckes supports and inspires Wabash men.

Jim Smith graduated with an engineering degree from Purdue in 1950 and was working toward an MBA at Indiana University when he returned to Crawfordsville to work for his father at Hoosier Crown. When his father died in 1955, Jim was elected president and CEO and sought out Wabash professors to gain the management expertise he needed but was not taught in his engineering coursework at Purdue.

As Chris and I work hard to foster possibilities in Crawfordsville, I have seen Jim’s fingerprints in leadership all over this town, and his is a legacy worthy of our respect. I am particularly pleased that this friend of Wabash, whose four sons attended the College, has built a bridge between his alma mater and the College. With his gift to the COE, Jim and his wife have established the James and Susan Smith Family Scholarship to support students in the College’s new 3-2 dual degree engineering program with Purdue. He realized such a program would have been a good fit for him, and in this gift this Purdue graduate embodies his strong belief in the power of a liberal arts education.

One more example: David Kendall’s Challenge of Excellence gift strikes close to home to me, a proud son of small-town Illinois—and to the thousands of Wabash alumni who came to the College from small towns. Kendall, Class of 1966, Rhodes Scholar, and Washington, DC attorney, has endowed a scholarship especially for students from small communities like his own hometown of Sheridan, IN. In this gift and many more, Wabash men carry on the Wabash education that has transformed their lives, opened their worlds, enriched their capacity to lead and serve.

At Commencement this year, Terry Fewell ’62—class agent for those men whose 50th Reunion I was honored to share at this year’s Big Bash—spoke to the Class of 2012 at its Senior Breakfast. He wanted to pass along, in person, the gift of wisdom a Wabash man from the Class of 1912 had given to him. You’ll read some of Terry’s words in the Summer issue of Wabash Magazine; his inspired gesture may have begun a new Commencement tradition.

What Terry did is already a part of the oldest traditions of Wabash. In the good, hard work of a capital campaign, we may sometimes lose sight of the fact that all philanthropy here is, in essence, one person giving of himself something essential for the future of the next Wabash man. That was true when pioneering Wabash Professor Edmund Hovey and first President Elihu Baldwin risked their health and the College’s finances scouring New England for support of this nascent College on the frontier, and it’s true today of those who have given to the Challenge of Excellence and to all who have worked so hard to accomplish our goals: former Dean for Advancement Joe Emmick ’92; his interim successor Tom Runge ’71; Director of Development Alison Kothe; COE co-chairmen Ted Grossnickle ’73 and Allan Anderson ’65; and so many alumni volunteers and friends of the College.

In an interview on the COE page of the Wabash Web site, Andre Adeyemi ’12 offers a clear articulation of the personal and individual impact of the Challenge of Excellence. Andre graduated in May and has since begun what he calls his “dream job” in Washington, DC. His days at Wabash, like those of so many of his classmates, were supported by numerous scholarships and grants and included multiple immersion trips, summer internships, and research opportunities. He spent parts of three of those summers working on campus with inner-city kids in Project Coach, a program sponsored by the Salisbury Foundation and Wabash. His time at the College began in that tumultuous autumn of the Great Recession of 2008 and concluded in a walk with his classmates under the Senior Arch on a sunny spring day on his way to a career he’d never imagined before his Wabash education.

Reflecting on that education and all the gifts from the Challenge of Excellence that made it possible, he says, simply but gratefully, “Wabash came through for me.”

But, of course, Andre’s own story does not stop here. Andre and the men of his generation will return the favor and come through for Wabash, as so many of you have done in your generosity and commitment to taking up the Challenge of Excellence and in the way in which your lives are lived to fulfill the mission promise of the College to think critically, act responsibly, lead effectively, and live humanely. For how you have become heroes in your own lives and give to the College in so many ways to make possible our best imagination of ourselves in the heroic lives of Wabash students, faculty and staff, friends, and alumni, I offer you my deepest personal gratitude and the thanks of all of Wabash.











Photos with captions


Photo of something pertaining to each goal, and with caption that include header plus two/three big accomplishments:

Maintaining Teaching Excellence
Bill Placher modeled for us all the complex attributes of scholar, teacher, colleague, friend, and mentor.


William C. Placher Fund for Faculty Support

The John W. Bachmann–Edward Jones Chair in Economics

Burgess Family Scholarship


Providing Opportunity and Access

Whatever the category of the gift, the COE is focused on the College’s intent to transform the lives of young men.


Alex S. Carroll and Robert J. Beck Honorary Scholarship

James and Susan Smith Family Scholarship—supporting students in the College’s new 3-2 dual degree engineering program with Purdue

Knight Memorial Scholarship


Encountering the Global Community

Whether the journey is a Wabash man’s first airplane flight, first time out of the country, or first conversation with people in the developing world, these trips have opened the world to our students.


Asian Studies and the Liberal Arts—Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant

Immersion Learning Experiences

Study at Harlaxton College


Enriching Education for Career Success

In the good, hard work of a capital campaign, we may sometimes lose sight of the fact that all philanthropy here is, in essence, one person giving of himself something essential for the future of the next Wabash man


Business Leaders Program


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