Remembrances

March 24, 2009

David Owen Justice ’65

I had the honor of spending a few hours with David on Wednesday, September 10—the last day of his life.

We had known each other for 51 years.

David and I met in Mrs. Tidrick’s English class in the first week of ninth grade in September of 1957, and we became good friends.

I remember when he came back from his first summer in Germany in 1960. Standing, then sitting, in my parents’ living room, he recounted his experiences as a 17-year-old doing construction work in Germany. He recalled seeing the Eiffel Tower on the way there. We made a pact that someday he and I would go to France together.

When we were seniors in high school, David and I came to Crawfordsville to see his brother, Courtney, at the Wabash Sigma Chi house. I knew Courtney was taking Greek, and I wanted to major in Classics. A year later, David and I found ourselves applying to Wabash College along with four other people from the Logansport-Delphi area. Four of us pledged Sigma Chi, where we worked, complained, and suffered through pledge hazing. We shared our ambitions, our dreams, and our budding academic accomplishments.

David went to Washington, DC his junior year for a foreign studies program at American University. While he was there, I put in a late night call and challenged him to join me in France the following year.

We did go to France, and had a wonderful intellectual journey in Paris. David met, then married, his late wife, Marina, and I had the honor of being his best man. The times were wonderful and exciting. We went back to Wabash, and Marina gave birth to a daughter, Kirsten. David and I sweated out Marina’s labor experience in the smoking room reserved for expectant fathers and family.

The next year he and I went to Indiana University, where I was sometimes Kirsten’s babysitter. David spent two years finishing his graduate course work, then spent a year studying at the Universitat Hamburg.

When David returned from Germany, Courtney helped to arrange an internship for him with the Department of Education in Washington, DC. I was teaching high-school Latin in Cumberland, Maryland and visited
him on weekends.

I was not doing well. I was no longer happy in the job, and my life seemed stalled. David insisted I had the strength I needed to move forward. He had the most wonderful way of supporting his friends by appreciating their talents—both visible and invisible to others. Using David’s confidence as support, I went back to graduate school and worked on my doctorate.

I can’t tell you how many extraordinary people I met in David’s living room during those years. He was becoming a mover and shaker. David and Marina hosted many of my friends when they came to Washington for various functions. They would regularly ask me about David, so well did they enjoy the hospitality at the Justice house. On hearing of David’s death last week, one friend from that period told me that he always had assumed that David was a superior person. Smart, good-looking, socially adept, he was deeply friendly and generous.

Over the years, David and I reflected on our experiences at Wabash. Deeply appreciative of the liberal arts grounding the school had given us, we sometimes lamented the Euro-centrism of our education.

We also had many conversations about the intractable problems of development in emerging nations. We discussed issues of class, colonialism, tribalism, nationalism, etc., and how they affected the economic development, and what might be done, and how. Our great hope was that humanity would learn how to build sustaining economies for the people of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Without my friend’s intense interest in improving the lot of mankind, I would not have been pondering these issues. Thus, there is going to be an endowed chair at Wabash College named for David—The David O. Justice Professor of Developmental Economics. This professorship will be dedicated to the study of improving economic conditions in developing nations.

—Bruce Baker ’65


William C. Placher ’70

Bill was always brilliant and insightful. He had a way of explaining his point of view that was at once soft-spoken, cheerful, and compelling. This was true even at Peoria High School, where we were both active in speech and debate. Bill was an uncommon high-schooler. He was strong in character, reflective, wise beyond his years. He was the most talented person I knew in high school and turned out to be the most talented person I’ve ever known.

As talented as Bill was, he never tried to impress you with his talents. To his way of thinking, his talents were gifts—for which he could take no credit and which came laden with an almost sacred duty to use them, whenever and however he could, for the benefit of others as well as himself.

And that is exactly what Bill did, as all who knew him will attest. This was certainly true in his Wabash years. Was there ever a time when Bill did not think critically, act responsibly, lead effectively and live humanely?

In the late 1990s, as fate (or luck) would have it, Bill became one of my son’s professors. Like many freshmen, Dave came to Wabash needing to get—and to keep—his eye on the ball, and Bill (and others) made sure he did. Some time after Dave graduated, Bill and I had a conversation about how important a student’s choice of a college can be. Referring to Dave and several of his classmates, Bill said—and there was no mistaking his satisfaction as a professor in being able to say this—that Wabash had made a difference in their lives. I’m sure that Bill, like most of the Wabash faculty, had many conversations like this with parents of Wabash students. At how many schools, I wonder, do such conversations occur? At how many schools are there teachers like Bill who know their students well enough even to have such conversations? By the way, with no prompting from me, Dave took as many of Bill’s courses as an English major/history minor could take.

Bill would wince upon reading this, for he shunned praise and thought of himself, fundamentally, as a sinner dependent upon God’s grace—just like everyone else. And Bill would be the first to say that no one is indispensable. I agree, but Bill’s passing will surely test that proposition.

—Steve Bowen ’68


Thomas E. Topper ’70

I first met Tom Topper briefly as part of the Sesquicentennial Celebration of the founding of Wabash in 1982 while a Wabash junior. It was the first time I had received the warm handshake and the comforting smile from this very honest and true Wabash gentleman. I was able to get to know Tom, however, after I graduated and as we continued to serve the NAWM. Tom ultimately served as the president of the NAWM, always looking for ways to promote and prosper the cause of Wabash.

Our career paths later allowed us to connect once again in Evansville after Tom returned to Evansville as a general and vascular surgeon, and I followed with my career as an attorney. I’m thankful the paths of our lives allowed us to connect again, particularly with the Evansville Association of Wabash Men. Alumni in the Evansville area all knew Tom as the cement that held our Association together. He was the one always promoting our next luncheon meeting, the annual golf outing and other special events. Now others will have to fill the void left by Tom’s absence.

Despite his ubiquitous service to Wabash, Tom found the time for such causes as his clinical teaching at IU Medical School, other graduate teaching programs, and supporting higher education close to home with the University of Southern Indiana. Tom’s friends saw him equally involved in local civic clubs that brought him no notoriety or fame, but he worked passionately with them nonetheless. It could be a cancer fundraising dinner, or pushing a broom for the local West Side Nut Club. Here was a man without a pretentious bone in his body, and yet his brilliance, gifts and accomplishments were such that other men would have grown vain in their time.
Not Tom Topper.

Aside from his family, he perhaps found his greatest joy in the music and the arts that lift a man’s aspirations higher. Just ask the Evansville Philharmonic, the New Harmony Theater, the Evansville Civic Theater, or the Southwest Arts Council. Ask his family who have the art that Tom collected over the years, both fancy and frivolous. And speaking of frivolous, none of us that knew Tom we could be silent about his healthy sense of humor.

Tom embodied for me, perhaps better than any Wabash man I know, everything that I have grown to understand and value in my Wabash experience. He always lifted you up, he never talked over you. He always had time for you, and never met a stranger. Even a few moments with Tom in the hospital hallway left one’s spirit higher. He lived the life a true Wabash man should aspire to live—one tirelessly striving
to better his self, his family and the community around him.

May I offer one last time, a good ole’ "Wabash Always Fights" for you, Tom.

—Todd Glass ’84


Johnny Dupree Smith ’12

His band director at Desert View High School, David Stivers, told the Tucson Citizen that Johnny Smith was "one of the best students we had in the band. He knew his music better and before anyone else. That is who he was."

"He had to be the best—better, quicker than anyone else. And he was."

His pledge brother, Matthew Summers ’12, told The Bachelor about the night another pledge missed his kitchen-cleaning shift, and Johnny did the work for him.

"About a half an hour later I went down to the kitchen, and it was almost completely mopped," Matt said. "It was John who decided to grab a mop and cover for one of his brothers. He was a pretty quiet person. But once you got to know him, he was a real good guy who cared about everybody, cared about the house. He was a Wabash guy all the way."

Another pledge brother, Grayson Stone, recalled the first time he met Johnny.

"It was Honor Scholarship Weekend and I was in an upperclassman’s room playing ‘Call of Duty 4’, and he came in walking in, giving us one of his deep-voiced, ‘What up, guys.’ We all talked and joked around and talked some more for about an hour.

"Johnny and I took the same Honor’s test, and when we were done, we decided that the test had definitely taken us. We did our house interviews and were waiting to get the last two bids together. He got his before me, and reassured me that I would get mine.

"Johnny had high ambitions. He loved Wabash. For a freshman tutorial assignment in which the students were to write about a color they observed, Johnny wrote about the green and lush Wabash campus. He was a son, a sibling, a future Delt, and a Wabash man."

At a memorial service in the Wabash Chapel, President Pat White said, "Now a brave man full of gifts and promise is gone. We cling to his memory, and we must carry on his promise in our lives."

Elliott Allen ’10 left these words on the Senior Bench, which had been painted in Johnny Smith’s honor.

"Graceful wings with a heart of gold, and a soul resolute; you humbled us with your presence, a true friend, a true brother."

—Steve Charles


William Clement Swift H’67

Bill Swift was an excellent mathematician with the potential of doing significant research. His mentor at Kentucky told him he would be wasting this opportunity should he accept a position at Wabash. But he wanted to deal with students. He never regretted his decision.

He initiated the Wabash Math Colloquium. Bill was very proud of the program, although he critiqued all talks by explaining what the speaker intended to say or should have said. His own talks were subjected to an even more rigorous analysis. Even while delivering a talk, Bill was considering how to improve it.

When mathematicians from Indiana, Purdue, and the University of Illinois decided to have a monthly seminar at a mutually convenient location, their plan was to alternate between Wabash and DePauw. The first meeting took place at Wabash hosted by Bill. He was such a gracious host that DePauw was never contacted. Armed with cookies fresh-baked by his wife, Ellen, and an urn of coffee brewed to a secret family recipe, Bill would greet the participants giving to each the same attention he gave members of his freshman class. The affair, now referred to as The Wabash Seminar, attracted distinguished mathematicians from around the world to Wabash.

One of Bill’s favorite stories was of a DePauw professor who, while visiting in England, tried to describe the location of DePauw. After she mentioned that it was close to Wabash, a mathematician responds: "Wabash is where Bill Swift holds that seminar." The seminar was known internationally and often referenced in research papers, but many at Wabash were unaware of it due to the smooth unpretentious manner in which Bill conducted it.

In his classes he was totally focused on the subject at hand. This prompted many a Swift story. He enjoyed them all, especially one involving my wife. She audited a small class of his to hear him discuss the book he had just finished writing. After she attended the first meeting, he encountered her in the hall and inquired as to why she had missed class. He had expected to see her there.

His love of mathematics and willingness to participate in it at every opportunity masked a man of many talents. He was in several stage productions, often stealing the show; led a scout troop that camped out in fair weather
and foul; announced swimming meets with a flair. Perhaps his least known activity was the design of an insert for a pipe. Noticing that I spent an inordinate amount of time tamping my pipe, he undertook a design of an insert that would burn evenly and then be discarded. He produced drawings to scale and researched patent lawyers. Becoming acting chairman of the department diverted his attention.

But what especially set him apart was his ability to accept people as they were from the most naive to the most sophisticated, in a calm non-judgmental manner. He devoted the same attention to his slowest student as he did to his best student. The intellectual giants among whom he moved so comfortably received the same consideration. To share in Bill’s tenure at Wabash was an amazing experience.

—Professor Emeritus of Mathematics David Wilson H’70

Photo: Ellen Swift with her children and grandchildren at the memorial "service" for Bill Swift at Camp Talitha.


Virginia "Ginny" Hays H’98

Ginny Hays was a "force."

To many in the Crawfordsville community, its leading lady; she was Crawfordsville. To Wabash students she was the elegant, yet always genuinely friendly, Mrs. Hays, a loyal fan present at all home football and basketball games. To her children she was mother/mom, a source of strength and…a hoot; and, to her grand children, she was Nana, and not like anyone else’s grandmother.

Ginny insisted that when this day came there was to be no fuss: "Just bury me in my Mercedes …22 yrs old and 18k miles…with Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ blasting from the speakers."

Ginny had many facets, and each of our memories is viewed through the prism of each of our personal experiences

Modeling last year, at 85, she said to Ruby Elliot, "…remember shoulders back, head held high"…a metaphor for her view of life.

Virginia Lee Henderson Hays was born 86 years ago in Robinson, IL, to hardworking farmers. After graduating from Central Business College, her first job was secretary to the Gov. of Illinois…her first job was the governor’s secretary. But, then she was no ordinary farm girl. Her marriage to Bill in 1942 began a life that included Washington, DC; Sullivan, IN; Beverly Hills. She was as comfortable at a White House dinner or an evening with the Beverly Hills gang, and their close friends Barbara and Ralph Edwards, as she was talking with the men trimming the trees at the farm and the mechanics at Dwight’s. She handled it all with energy, style, and always a sense of humor. She was at heart a farm girl, but what elegance and grace.

So it is natural that her happiest years were in Crawfordsville in the home she and Bill built next to the Wabash College campus or at her beloved Rock River Farm southwest of town.

When I first appeared at that home to take her daughter, Kathy, out for a date, Ginny opened the door, beautifully dressed, standing tall and elegant, with a white poodle at her heel, and with hand extended said, "Hi, I’m Virginia Hays." To a small town Wabash sophomore, she was more than slightly intimidating. More than three years later at our wedding, as Kathy walked down the aisle of the Wabash College Chapel on the arm of her father, looking absolutely beautiful, I suddenly got teary and glanced at Ginny. She squared her shoulders, raised her chin and eyebrows, and gave me that look. She was a Force! And for 43 years my most avid supporter.

To her four granddaughters, Nana was a kick, their Auntie Mame, a blend of grit and grace, and a role model. Her granddaughter Amanda writes, "Nana taught me pride, grace, humor and to fearlessly be yourself. No one stood taller or more elegant and yet was so genuinely kind. I was so proud to be her granddaughter; and she was unlike any grandmother my friends had."

Megan and Amanda remember their trips with Nana and Gooddaddy to Valley and the Lazy JD ranches near Cody, WY, and her mischievous side…water fights at the well…or jumping off her horse during the crossing of
a branch of the Shoshone River to fill her hat with water to throw at the girls…or before dinner deciding to race from the front porch of their cabin to the river, the girls gaining on her until she jumped the split rail fence, hair flying, long legs gracefully clearing it without missing a step.

Caitlyn remembers her as, "one of the most refreshing, genuine, and funny people I have ever met."

Ginny’s children Kathy and Bill remember her love of the land. She was most happy at the farm or astride a horse. Bill noted that with all her travels and the places she lived, Mother never lost touch with her roots, as a farm girl from Southern Illinois.

She loved and revered the earth. Her love of land gave her true peace.

"There will be one of you for all time. Fearlessly be yourself." That quote, which is on the refrigerator door still today, was placed there the night before Ginny’s daughter Amy started middle school.

"Little did I know how often I would and do reflect on those words," Amy writes. "Mom lived her life that way. She taught me compassion, tolerance, and grace. My father was my peaceful warrior; my mother was and will forever be my hero.

—edited from a remembrance by John Fox ’64

 


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