Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Friday, September 21, 2018


Christ in Winter: Reflections on Faith and Life for the Years of Winter… 

In the CIW column for August 29, I wrote about my old friend, Wally Mead, who was a political science prof at ILSU when I was campus minister there, and how he did not get married until he was 80. Last Saturday, we went to his memorial service. Things were mentioned there that I failed to write about in that August 29 column.

I did tell about his dog, Kleid, and how she accompanied Wally to class each day. Bob Hunt, Wally’s poly sci faculty mate, added to the tale of Kleid Saturday, noting that Kleid had enough credits for a degree, but she kept taking the same classes over and over. Also, he reminded us that she used to clean the blackboard at the end of class. And he confessed that since he and Wally looked a lot alike, and people often got them confused, they would sometimes wear each other’s name tags at functions just to bedevil folks.

Jim Bortell, who was Wally’s pastor and friend for many years, said “Wally was the kind of person who made it easier for others to believe in God.” What a nice thing to have as your legacy.

He also reminded us of Wally’s close relationship with Michael Polyani, and how they both insisted, against logical positivism and general scientific atheistic/agnostic skepticism, that all knowledge has a personal element for which each of us is responsible.

Once when Wally went to visit Polyani in London, the famed chemist/philosopher was recovering from a car accident. His defense when hauled before the magistrate was that it happened because “I forgot that I was driving.” Now, there is a guy who thinks deep thoughts!

When I was appointed as minister to The Wesley Foundation [the Methodist campus ministry] in Normal, Illinois State Teachers College was becoming Illinois State University. The school had originally been called Illinois State Normal College, “Normal” meaning teachers college, and hence the name of the town, since the college was there first, simply an outpost train stop from Bloomington. In the 1960s, ILSU was still a premier teacher training institution, but to accomplish the change to a full academic enterprise, that move from teachers college to university, a lot of bright young professors with newly-minted PhDs were brought in. It changed not only the college but the whole of Normal-Bloomington.

Those young professors and the campus ministers—also young and new—formed a progressive cohort, advocating for civil rights and social justice, modern and inclusive ways of teaching and learning, thinking and doing, in this new academic and civic atmosphere. We challenged one another at the same time that we supported one another.

They are all gone now. Wally was the last one. So being there, at Wally’s memorial service, was a closing of the circle.

I don’t need to get back to Normal anymore now. That union of like-minded souls no longer exists. But what a great gift it was, to be part of it. I hope you have or have had a group like that.

John Robert McFarland

I’m eternally grateful to Bill White and Jameson Jones and Don Ruthenberg for persuading me to take the Wesley Foundation position at Normal.

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