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Spring/Summer 2019: The Big Question

WM asked our readers: “If you were given a second chance to relive any moment in your life, what would it be and why?”

From Russia With Love
I’ve made lots of mistakes in my life, but most of them were inconsequential. However, one thing—if I had done it differently—might have had repercussions in international espionage and intrigue, and I’ll always wish I could do it over.

In 2006 I went to London with a tour group to study Fine and Decorative Arts. We stayed at the Millennium Mayfair Hotel, a nice middle-class hostelry that catered to an international clientele. One evening as I was crossing the lobby on the way to my room, a man came up behind me and said, “I just got in from Moscow. Will you go have a drink with me?” 

I looked at him in astonishment; he was probably in his 30s and I was a white-haired grandmother, hardly the kind of woman to invite pick-ups. (Coming up behind me, he may have thought my white hair was platinum blonde, and my plaid skirt and black sweater were deceptively youthful.) 

“You need to find a younger woman,” I said kindly, and we went on our separate ways.

I thought no more about the incident until I got home, a few weeks later, when I received a letter from the hotel informing me that a Russian spy named Litvinenko had been poisoned by polonium, secretly placed in his tea in the hotel’s Pine Bar as he met there with two other Russians; since the hotel’s records showed that I had visited the Pine Bar that evening, I would be wise to see my doctor and be tested for radiation.

I remembered that I had gone into the bar the day after being approached by the Russian man to buy a bottle of wine to take to dinner, and had walked past a table where three men were drinking tea, but I had not been very close to them. My doctor said that if I HAD been exposed to polonium, there was nothing he could do for me; and since my family insisted I did not glow in the dark, I figured I had not been exposed to the poison and didn’t worry about it. I merely followed the news stories about the case with interest. 

People who knew I had been there asked me repeatedly if I could identify any of the Russians in the news stories, but my encounter with them had been so brief that it was useless.

But what if I had gone with him? What if I had spent an hour or more with him? What might I have learned from the man? What might he have disclosed accidentally? I would certainly have been able to recognize him, at any rate. And what a story I’d have to tell! 

For an old woman from a small town in the Midwest, an adventure like that would be pretty unusual. But, obviously, I’ll never know. 

Jean Williams H’53 

My Heart’s in the Highlands
I want to relive my semester in Aberdeen, Scotland. 

It was such a formative experience: learning a new culture, knowing what it is like to be a foreigner, and meeting so many people from all over the world. 

I went to my first professional soccer match there, which began my love for that game. Now soccer is a huge part of my family—my children play and we watch a lot of matches in person or on TV. 

I remember climbing the hills of Braemar with Wes Zirkle ’98 and Mark Doyle ’98; we spelled “WABASH” in rocks at the peak. I wonder if it’s still there. I remember going to church at the St. Machar Cathedral, which was built in the 12th century. What an amazing sense of history! I think about the Robert Burns dinner where I had my first taste of haggis. I keep trying to convince my wife to try it, but she’s refused so far. 

It’s incredible how those few months in 1997 became such a part of my life. 

Benjamin Coleman ’98

To Spin Again
I was a contestant on Wheel of Fortune in 2003. While the episode was crazy thanks to one of the other contestants, it was such a once-in-a-lifetime moment. I wish I could be on the show again! 

Nikki Carpenter 
Coordinator of Enrollment Office Operations

Savoring Saturdays
My wife, Corinne, and I lived as expatriates in the Netherlands from 1993 to 1996. Our home away from home was a smaller Dutch city called Zwolle. Our apartment was in a 200-year-old building above a clothing shop on a pedestrians-only shopping street in the heart of the old city. 

My work hours were long, but Corinne and I decided that Saturdays would always be our day to put everything down and enjoy life in the city. Rain or shine, every Saturday was the market day in Zwolle and vendors would set up booths in the main square and nearby side streets to sell their goods: cheeses, vegetables, fresh fish, baked goods, you name it. We’d go out each morning and browse the booths as well as the local shops. We’d always pick up some fresh foods, have lunch overlooking the square, and without fail have a late afternoon coffee and pastry at a cafe or at home after picking something up at one of several incredible bakeries near our apartment.

Every day we lived there brought a new sight, sound, or smell to soak in. We knew our time in Zwolle would end, so we never took a single day for granted. We tried hard to savor it all. 

If I could relive just one—any one—of those Saturdays that Corinne and I spent together in Zwolle— taking in the market, milling through the crowded streets, enjoying the community that had come together each week—I would choose that...and savor it just a little bit more. 

Michael Hodges ’85

I left a job that I loved in New York for a job in Milwaukee—a job I quickly came to hate—largely because of the much higher compensation being offered. Work should be about human fulfillment and not about the money. 

Roger Bowen '69

The Courage to Say “No”
I wish I could relive the moment I came out of the interview for my first job out of Wabash. I remember saying to my dad that the company seemed to have good people but it looked “sterile.” I had failed to get even a response to myriad job applications I had submitted at the time, much less an interview. This was the only opportunity I had, and I was desperate. I felt like I couldn’t say “No.”

I was at that post in Wheeling, West Virginia, for two months before the company fired me for essentially standing up for myself. I went through a kind of existential crisis and was so ashamed that I lied to people at home and Wabash, saying that things were fine when they weren’t. 

Through encouragement from friends, family, and mentors at Wabash, I worked my way out of that rut, and my once-cynical and mean demeanor changed. I found out the hard way how important it is to be honest with yourself and others and how crucial patience is, no matter the circumstances. 

I got my second chance when I became a staff writer for the Banner Graphic in Greencastle a year ago. Was it all meant to be? What if I had, indeed, said “No” to that first job? 

Brand Selvia ’17

Anchors Aweigh!
In the spring of 1958 the Navy shook up an all-men’s Midwestern college by sending a woman recruiter to Wabash. I was curious because my Uncle Carl had been in the Navy and was awarded a Purple Heart. As a graduating senior, I was looking for a job.

I asked the recruiter if I would get my first choice of duty stations. She said, yes, if I did well in Officers Candidate School (OCS). I wanted to go to Hawaii because my Aunt Hilda, who had been in the Women’s Army Corps during WWII, lived there. 

Recruiters don’t always keep their promises, but I did well in OCS and was posted in Hawaii.

What a great opportunity for a 22-year-old to be at sea as an officer on a destroyer in the Pacific Fleet. I became third in command of the USS Brister, with more responsibility than I ever had in my life. 

After three years at sea, I came back to San Francisco to be released from active duty. I missed my Navy buddies who always had my back. They became my lifelong friends.

If I had it to do over again, I would make the Navy a career, and for the sake of camaraderie. You could not make any better friends. 

Bob Brockfield ’58

When I was in my senior year at Wabash, I fell in love with a DePauw junior. This distracted me from properly preparing for comps, and I barely passed. However, when I had to study for final exams and my board exams in medical school, I studied as I knew I should have while at Wabash. The result was excellent final grades and I passed my board exam.

I have always regretted that I didn’t do so well when preparing for comps at Wabash. However, I do not regret marrying the woman, my wife for nearly 63 years now, who had a temporary impact on my study habits. 

Charlie Reinhardt ’55 

Breakfast With My Grandfather
The bagel crunches in my mouth. I should have made coffee before the bagel was ready. Now I am forced to eat without my caffeine rush. I look over at my grandpa as I chew. 

Whenever I visit we have breakfast together. He always smears peanut butter—crunchy, I think—on his bagel even when there’s cream cheese in the house. I’ll never understand that. His glasses, black-rimmed and rectangular, are down on the end of his nose as he leans over and peers down at his crossword puzzle. The black of the rims are stark against his white hair. He always does the crossword and I can’t keep up with him, his pencil moving fast and the eraser hardly ever making an appearance. I tell myself it’s just because I’m reading sideways. It’s not. 

I grab my coffee and sit back down at the table. We eat in a comfortable silence and I listen to the sound of the pencil on the page. 

Nicholas Budler ’19

Coach Woessner
During my second year at Georgia Tech as a graduate student in the engineering and business schools, I was also a volunteer basketball coach at a local high school. I coached the freshman team that went 14-1. Coaching became a passion of mine. 

That same year I met with GT basketball coach Paul Hewitt, who asked me to check on the freshmen (who included Chris Bosh) from time to time and make sure they had someone who had been there before to talk to about school and academics. I agreed and reached out a couple times, but when I didn’t get much response, I moved on. 

During my third and final year at GT, I stopped coaching at the high school and focused exclusively on school, the same year Georgia Tech went on to a No. 1 ranking and made the NCAA Finals. Had I stayed with mentoring the players in 2002-2003, I may have thought about asking Coach Hewitt about a graduate assistant coaching position and might have been on that Final Four trip. Maybe we wouldn’t be talking about Boston Celtics Coach and Depauw graduate Brad Stevens, but Indiana Pacers Coach and Wabash graduate David Woessner. 

David Woessner ’00 

Brotherhood of the Bell
I wish I could relive the moment with Coach Olmy Olmstead ’04 after the Monon Bell Game my senior year. It was right after we told the guys down south, “Good game.” I’ll never forget it as long as I live. If I could go back to that moment and embrace him one more time in pads and a helmet, I would feel so much joy. 

Kyle McAtee ’19

Navigating Differently
I have always been interested in technology and computers; I grew up on Apple IIs and TRS-80s and was pretty adept at writing code. When I was in graduate school at the University of Illinois, Marc Andreessen was developing the web browser Netscape Navigator. I took a computer science class to fulfill one of my graduate school requirements and found it very interesting. After I aced one of the tests, my professor asked me to consider moving my major from architecture to computer science. It was a growing field and he felt I would be successful in it. 

I declined, but ever since Netscape Navigator was sold for more than $4 billion, I have always wondered what might have happened had I taken him up on it. Maybe there would be a building at Wabash with my name on it ;-)) 

Eric Rowland ’85

I’d like to relive my college graduation at Wabash. Life has been good to me ever since, but there was something thrilling, invigorating, and frightening about all of the possibility that seemed to stretch before me. It was a gorgeous spring day; my parents couldn't have been prouder. I think I gave a kick-ass speech (it probably was pleasantly average, in reality), and I felt—because of the very nature of Wabash and the love and support it gives its students—like I was the most special boy that had ever entered creation. 

Fortunately, I regained humility in short order, but it was nice to feel like Superman for an afternoon. 

Roy Sexton '95 

Proud Daughter
I’d like to relive the moment when I told my dad I did not think he loved me.

It was my senior year in high school. Born in 1931, my father was a typical man of his era—strong, strict, and in control. There were nine of us kids: seven boys and two girls. 

I thought my dad was the biggest male chauvinist there ever was. He spent his time with the boys, fixing things, planting gardens, working (two, sometimes three jobs), going to football practice, being a scout leader, and volunteering as a firefighter. All I ever saw him do was come home from wherever he was that day, grumble about any bad thing anyone did wrong, tell Mom all the plans for the next day, then go to bed.

I saw my mom cater to him. She had all of us to take care of but she was always at the door before he left for work with his lunch bucket in one hand and a thermos of milk in the other. Whatever time he got out of bed that day, Mom would immediately fix him breakfast. If she was off doing something else, one of us girls had to do it. She always begged us kids to be quiet so he could sleep. If he wanted something, he would look at it and, if Mom or any of us were around, we’d bring him whatever it was we interpreted he wanted. If you gave him the wrong thing you instantly knew it by the look in his eyes. His chair was a big recliner and Mom always made sure his favorite things were conveniently within reaching distance on the smoking stand beside his chair, which held his paper, a drink, a bag of peanuts, and an ashtray, which he used for the shells. 

He always wanted to do boy stuff—camping, fishing, sports, and working on cars and tractors. 

I was about to turn 18 and had about all of this I could take. I had turned into quite the rebel child with Mom, so I thought what the heck, I will just say what I think. So one day after I was recovering from some medical problems we passed each other in the hallway and he asked me how I was. 

“Dad, I don’t think you love me,” I said. He turned to me and asked, “What?” I said, “All you do is worry about the boys; you never do anything for us girls.” 

He looked at me and said, “I do not know why you would think that.” As he walked into his bedroom and closed his door, I could see a tear going down his cheek. 

We never talked about that moment again. As I grew older and moved out of my rebellious stage, got married, and had a family of my own, I realized my words were the farthest thing from the truth. Everything my dad did was for his family. He taught us—his sons and daughters—to think critically. He volunteered as a firefighter to be a good community member and always acted responsibly, and he worked with scouts to teach them to lead effectively and live humanely. He did not have a degree from Wabash College, but he was what a Wabash man strives to be. 

Dad died at the age of 57; I was 26 years old. 

I thought I would have time to tell him I was sorry, that I adored him, and that I understood now why Mom doted on him. If I could relive that moment again, I would tell him, “I’m feeling fine. Thank you for all you do for me, and for our family.” 

Catherine A. Metz 
Director of Human Resources