Giving Thanks for Return

Demorest - Stephanie, Matthew, and Zeb Homecoming 2015

Stephanie (Cox) g93, Matt g97, and their son, Zebidiah, talk with former Professor Arlan g64 and Sally (Sweet) g62 Birkey at Homecoming 2015.

By Stephanie (Cox) Demorest g93

In this modern American culture, we are driven by schedules: appointments, meetings, commitments, as well as last-minute texts and phone calls. In all the busyness, it is difficult to take a breath, let alone take a break and reflect on what is meaningful in our lives and worth living for! So as the calendar year flows, I am relieved when there is a “holiday.” There is indeed something holy about setting aside days for reflection. Thanksgiving and Christmas are two times set apart for remembering those things for which we are grateful to God for all He has done for us and providing us a Savior in the birth of Jesus.

This year I have reason to be especially thankful, for God has recently called me back to the place where He began a great work in my life. This past summer, I began thinking about applying for part-time work to use my time more productively now that our son is getting older. The very week that I had been praying for God to show me His direction in this matter, I received a message from Michael Mortensen g91 asking if I would happen to be interested in a job at the Fort Wayne Alumni Center. My first reaction was, “Really, God?” I had graduated from Summit Christian College at the beginning of the merger transition; I returned years later to teach introductory Bible classes at TUFW; then, in my second year of teaching Greek, I was here at the time the closure was announced. I was not sure what was left of the university that had so molded my life. I guess I thought it was all a thing of the past that had come to a complete and final end in May 2009, with the university’s final graduating class.

Believing that God must have a plan, though I did not understand it, I pursued the contact from the Alumni Center. How surprised I was to find a thriving ministry of my alma mater actively extending care to me and to generations of alumni who have passed through the doors of Fort Wayne Bible Institute, Fort Wayne Bible College, Summit Christian College, and Taylor University Fort Wayne. I immediately connected with friends old and new and was amazed to encounter the diligent work of all these people coming together to celebrate God’s work in our lives over the years.

On August 1, 2015, I began working as the Program Assistant for the Alumni Center. It has been such an encouragement to me to be back in contact with so many of my professors, friends, colleagues, and former students. I had forgotten how rich these relationships that I previously had were. And it feels like I am connected to a much larger history this time around. I am meeting and developing relationships with people who were here at different times than I was, and so I am getting the opportunity to see the ministry through their eyes. God is completing my picture of His work through this place.

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Volunteering at Alumni Center Leads to Job

A nervous knot tightened in the pit of my stomach as I seated myself outside the interview room. I was early; the place seemed deserted, and I wondered for one panicked second if I was in the wrong building. The interview looming before me seemed unconquerable, like a wall too high for me to climb. As a greenhorn Millennial with only two years of experience, I doubted that any employer would give me a chance. It felt like freshman year all over again.

That thought made me smile. College was a formative time for me, in the most positive way. And the great thing about freshman year is that things can only go up from there.

I reminded myself of this as I heard voices and approaching footsteps. It’s not all about the skills and experience, I told myself, it’s about the mission. Could I get behind University of Baltimore’s mission of caring for alumni? I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders, and whispered a prayer.

The Fort Wayne campus is where I learned to love alumni. I conducted a Professional Writing practicum at the Fort Wayne Alumni Center during my senior year at Taylor University, and the experience changed me. Director Michael Mortensen g91 was my very first supervisor, who trusted me enough to let me take responsibility, throwing me creative curveballs that, with his help, turned into meaningful written pieces. Dr. Jay Platte g69 sized me up the way musical geniuses tend to do, but was willing to let me into his memories, playing audio clips and displaying photos from his student days at Fort Wayne. And Bill and Joyce Gerig g61 made the Alumni Center a home away from home, with genuine hospitality that I have rarely found anywhere else.

Michael Mortensen g91 hands volunteer Kathryn Fenstermacher the first issue of the Fort Wayne Vine, which she wrote most of the articles.

Michael Mortensen g91 hands volunteer Kathryn Fenstermacher g13 the first issue of the FW Vine, which she wrote most of the articles.

But the alumni—those alumni amazed me. I used to read over my notes from an interview and marvel at the true stories of God working through alumni in profound ways. From ethically based business owners to overseas missionaries, each alum had a unique and beautiful story of God’s guidance and Kingdom impact. I was challenged. I was inspired. I was blessed.

This taste of serving alumni stayed in my mouth through graduation and two years of working in a government office. When my husband and I took the plunge of relocating to Baltimore this summer, I felt a yearning to get back into the college environment. I wanted to hear from alumni again, to listen and to be amazed. In the middle of a very long job search, I learned about a vacancy at the Office of Alumni Relations at the University of Baltimore. That was May 30. Applications were due June 1.

Life has taught me that the word “coincidence” needs to be redefined. Rather than “luck” or “chance,” it should mean “an open door” or, in my experience, “Providence smacking you upside the head.” If God had not given me the opportunity to intern at the Alumni Center, right now I might be in a very different place.

My experience with the Alumni Center was one of the building blocks God laid as part of the foundation for where I am now and for where I will be in the future. I’m just getting started here, and I can’t anticipate how long I will stay. But I know that Fort Wayne is where God started my passion for alumni, and I can say in His own inspired words, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6, ESV).

Kathryn Fenstermacher g13 volunteered with the Alumni Center in 2013 as a Professional Writing intern. She currently resides in Baltimore with her husband, Scott g13, where she works as the Alumni Relations Assistant with the Office of Alumni Relations at the University of Baltimore.

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Thoughts from the Kitchen Table

By Marian Douglas cs17

Idyllic (excellent abackyardnd delightful in all respects). That is my thought as I sit at the kitchen table in the Alumni Center, peering out at the backyard. That ramp right in front, the one creating those lovely leading lines, I watched Joe Sheil and John Motter g67 fix that on my first day.

Of all the weeks to start my internship at the Alumni Center, none could have been better than Staycation. I got the chance to meet and speak to the volunteers, including Elaine (Voss) g61  and Joe Sheil. They’ve been volunteering a week of their time to the Alumni Center for several years.

Getting to speak to the Sheils gave me an insight that I otherwise would have missed. As a teacher, Joe has belonged to a dozen or so schools. He never attended or worked at Fort Wayne Bible College, but he feels a connection to the people and mission of the school represented by the Alumni Center.

“The people that are here have that sense of ministry, that sense of vision,” Joe said to me. “Sometimes as people go to college, they are very idealistic. And they usually lose that, but the people here still have that sense that they will go out and conquer the world for God.”

You’ll probably see me use the above quote a couple of times. It just captures what I felt during my first days here so well. I would walk into the Center and feel God here in a way I wish I felt Him everywhere.

Matthew 18:20 says “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I with them.” (NIV)

I didn’t understand this verse before I started writing this blog post. Yes, I knew it, had even memorized it for AWANA growing up. But I knew it out of context. Usually when I read this verse, I think of hands raising during the worship service as people get caught up in praising their Lord together.

In preparing for this post, I read this verse and the surrounding ones.

Matthew 18:20 is about more than a temporal feeling that we get while worshiping. It’s about relationships: about the church coming together in action and God affirming those actions. The verses beforehand speak about how whatever we bind/loose on earth will be bound/loosed in heaven.

When I spoke to volunteers, they all had the same main reason for giving their time. As Eileen (Vorse) Crandal g61 said, “It’s a service to God.” Everything these volunteers do is for the glory of God. And I believe that’s why it’s so easy to see God’s hand at the Alumni Center.

I can’t help but think that when people come to give their time to the Center, they are binding everything that the Center stands for. They’re continuing the mission and building relationships here as they give time and interact with each other, all committed to Christ.

Even though the backyard is beautiful, it’s really the interactions here that mean the most. Whenever two or more Christians work together on a common cause, we get a tiny piece of what heaven will be like.

And that’s what is idyllic about the Alumni Center.

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Dr. Frank composing at the piano

I think you will agree: Dr. Rene Frank’s brilliant musical compositions proclaim his legacy.  He was a sacred music genius.  Shaped by a German classical education, forced from his native land by Nazi oppression, and fire-bombed out of his home in Japan, he, and his wife Louise, made their way to the United States and Fort Wayne Bible College.  At FWBC, he intentionally refocused the upheaval, trauma, pain, and uncertainty of everything he had previously known, into expressing his newfound faith in Christ through 20th-Century musical idioms.  In my head, I can still hear the concert choir singing his unique, Ho! Everyone that thirsteth; Come ye to the waters…

A great deal of what I know about living a fulfilling life, as well as the wonderful world of music, I owe to him.  Though an exacting composition professor, and a no-nonsense musical mentor, he loved being a personal confidant and an engaging, caring friend.  I, like so many others, was privileged to experience both the genius, as well as the human side of Dr. Frank.

Yes, the genius side literally rewrote the last four measures of my choral arrangement of the hymn, Man of Sorrows, What A Name!, an arrangement commissioned for the California choir tour.  I had struggled for days, in vain, on those final measures.  He did them in three minutes.  And, when I asked him if it was wise for me to join YFC musical ministries for a couple of years after graduation, his wise, human side said, “Only if you plan to stay for five years.  It will take one year to figure things out, and another year to just get started on what you want to accomplish.  That gives you three more years to really do something well.  Stay for five years!”  He was right.  I stayed for fifteen.

I can still see Rene and Louise on their evening walk down the north side of Rudisill Boulevard, heading for Foster Park and another opportunity to “smell the roses.”  I can feel him sitting beside me in the front passenger’s seat as we drove to Bloomington, Indiana, to hear Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, as performed by the Indiana University School of Music.  I can smell the sukiyaki as Mary and I sat across the kitchen table from Rene and Louise, chopsticks in hand, eating from colorful porcelain bowls they had brought with them from Japan, bowls we still have.  These were the precious, invaluable, unforgettable, and eternally shaping moments that provided guidance for a lifetime.

Our last encounter occurred in the Lutheran Hospital cardiac unit.  Dr. Frank had experienced a heart attack, and was propped up in bed on several pillows.  He greeted me, as usual, with a big smile on his face.  I think he knew the end was near.  His greatest concern was for Louise.  We chatted and prayed together.  And, I left his room wondering if we would ever meet again on this earth.  But, in my heart, I was praising the Lord, as I still do, for crossing my path with a very human genius, one of the most “significant others” I have ever known.

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The Vine Keeps Growing

As I pulled a chair up to the table in the Eicher Conference Room in the Fort Wayne Alumni & Friends Resource Center, it felt like business as usual. Michael sat across from me, reviewing a project I had sent him and offering suggestions for improving it. I edited an article as we waited for the other staff and volunteers to arrive. But when a special guest, former TUFW professor Dr. Pam Jordan-Long, arrived, and I remembered that this day was different. This was my last day at the Resource Center.


Dr. Jordan-Long is my professional writing advisor. To wrap up my practicum, she conducted a site visit to ensure I met all the requirements to pass the course. As we led her on a tour of the Resource Center, it felt like my first day all over again. Except this time, I knew the deeper stories behind each room, book, and knickknack in the house. I knew our vision to care, connect, and celebrate.

Photo via Michael Mortensen

There is so much to say about my experience with the Fort Wayne Alumni & Friends Resource Center that I could write a blog post every day for the next six weeks and still not do it justice. I learned about writing: Reaching an audience, having a “you” attitude, honing my voice, versatility. I learned about teamwork: Communicating, receiving criticism well, adapting to other work styles, flexibility. I learned about nonprofit work: Providing resources, partnering with the community, working with a shoestring budget, fundraising. These skills will be invaluable to me as I enter the “real world” in just a few weeks.

But the most rewarding lesson I learned, hands down, was to lean in to this community of Fort Wayne campus alumni, listening, learning, and returning the warm embrace you offered from my very first day. The story of the Fort Wayne campus, and the stories of each of your lives, are what turned four credit hours into a life-giving experience. Every hour I invested was invested back into me through the volunteer team, through encouraging feedback from alumni, and through the rich memories you shared with me.

I have come to realize that any type of writing—from news to novels—is all about story. And story is all about people. This semester, you allowed me to live part of the Fort Wayne story, and that story has become a part of me that I will take with me wherever I go. I pray that my writing brought back memories of people, places, and events so familiar to you, yet so new to me. I pray my words brought healing, not pain. And I pray that every page I wrote contains a thought, a sentence, even just a word, that meant something to you and drew you closer to God.

Dr JThat last day felt surreal as I pulled out onto Rudisill Boulevard at the end of the afternoon. When I took this road for the first time, the landscape was snowy and gray; empty, yet full of possibility. Now, as I turned onto Broadway, the lilac bushes on the edge of Foster Park were in full, aromatic bloom. The sun shone brightly and the earth was living and growing. Joy welled up in my heart as I realized that, even if I never drove this way again, those flowers would keep growing. The Master Gardener will still be at work watering them, just as he waters the “Vine of God’s own planting.”

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The Memory-Making Business

Have you ever thought about the process that went into designing your favorite t-shirt? It’s a basic question for graphic designers; but for people like me with little to no experience in the fine art of design, it never occurs. Until last week, that is. As part of a design class I’m taking this semester, I’ve been assigned to create a t-shirt design. I have decided to create a design for the Fort Wayne Alumni & Friends Resource Center, perhaps one that could be distributed to volunteers. I was delighted with the idea until I found myself sitting in front of a blank screen, waiting for creativity to fall from the sky. So I began looking around frantically for inspiration.

FalconsOne of the places I looked was the Fort Wayne Alumni & Friends Resource Center’s online store. It was the perfect place to start: It offers a variety of Fort Wayne-themed wearables, from basic t-shirts to cozy hoodies. Whatever year you graduated, your slogan is available. “Falcons Forever” stands out in gold letters on one t-shirt. “Fort Wayne Bible College” in blue stretches across the front of a crewneck sweatshirt. They even have a TUFW baseball cap. Whatever your fashion preferences, these items let you sport your school pride in style. In need of a wearable for our Chick-fil-A Alumni Spirit Night on May 7? The online store is the place for you.

Photo via Online Store

My perusal of the online store didn’t stop with the t-shirts, and I quickly forgot my design assignment. In addition to their clothing line, the online store offers a charming set of collectibles shaped like buildings from the Fort Wayne campus. Place a tiny Founders or Schultz Hall on your desk to remind you of your campus days. Placed on a bookshelf, it may even inspire you to rekindle some scholarly habits, like picking up a book and reading. The charming wooden replicas also make great gifts for Fort Wayne alumni-in-laws.

Romans book

Speaking of reading, our store offers paperback copies of five books written and published by Dr. Wes Gerig g51, including signed copies. His outline study of Romans is our bestseller so far. We also offer a pocket-sized volume of Jorge O. Masa’s biography of Samuel Morris. Any of the selections would make a great addition to your summer reading list. Gerig’s Lessons from Life for Life from the Old Testament is on mine.

Photo via Online Store

1967-68 Singing Collegians LP cover webPerhaps the most intriguing products we offer are our CD/DVD selections. Campus quartets, Singing Collegians, and Ira Gerig singles are all preserved on CD, the music evoking a time of spiritual significance, according to Archives Coordinator Dr. Jay Platte g69. We also offer several inspirational albums recorded by alumni. One of these isn’t for sale; rather, we send it out to grieving alumni as a sympathy gift. (See our Facebook page to join us in praying about some sad news we received this week.) Our DVDs are equally varied: Familiar faces are captured on promotional films and anniversary montages, and our Fort Wayne Historic Films feature snapshots of the campus’s history since way back in the 1940s.

Photo via Online Store

You can find some meaningful memorabilia in the online store. But when you choose to purchase an item, it’s also a meaningful investment in the Resource Center. Profits from our store have been used to purchase equipment that helps us complete projects more efficiently, or to offer more products, like the recently released “Ira Gerig +” album. This year’s sales lagging behind last year’s by about $2,000, and while we’re not overly concerned with the numbers, we want to continue offering products that our alumni find meaningful. We specifically hope to compile more audio recordings and video footage onto CDs and DVDs for alumni to enjoy. Even if you aren’t interested in buying, take a moment and browse our online store. It’s just one more way we care, connect, and celebrate.

After exiting the online store, I found that blank page still waiting for me. But my quest for inspiration was not in vain. Inspired by the products available in the online store, I plunged into designing my very first t-shirt. Who knows—in a few months it might be our next bestselling product!

What items would you like to see added to our online store? If you were designing a t-shirt for the Fort Wayne Alumni & Friends Resource Center, what would it look like?

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A Time to Scatter Stones, and a Time to Gather Them

“There is a time for everything . . . a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them” (Ecc. 3:1a, 5a). The American culture doesn’t care for verses like this. We’re always looking for closure, always moving ahead, gathering stones as we go and being careful not to drop one. We are taught to whine when we don’t get our way and to push a point rather than listen. It bothers us to leave any stone unturned—or uncollected.

Blog 10 photoLast Saturday’s Alumni Council meeting at the Resource Center testified to what a haven the Fort Wayne campus was from this selfish mindset. Eleven Council members—10 in person, one over Skype—gathered around the table to consider how we can improve our mission to care, connect, and celebrate. These alumni sacrificed nearly half their day and several hours of sleep to join us bright and early, and they remained fully engaged throughout, tenderly gathering and scattering the stones God placed in their midst.

Photo via Michael Mortensen

As we helped ourselves to a continental breakfast, Michael Mortensen g91 opened the meeting with a devotional from Psalm 50:15. Then we started the day with prayer. It was touching to see these alumni—from diverse backgrounds, ages, and situations in life—humble themselves before God, unified in committing the meeting to his guidance. This set a tone of authenticity for the entire meeting.

I was amazed at the ground we covered in just over five hours. The Council ran through routine reports on the archives, events, volunteers, and awards. In each category, a common theme sprang up: we need to engage more alumni. Archives Coordinator Jay Platte g69 is hoping to offer the option of off-site archive work. Additionally, he would like to get alumni involved in contributing to this blog, Fruit from the Vine, after I graduate. It could become an outlet for more alumni to share their stories, especially those who live far away.

Funding tends to be a tricky issue in group discussion, but the Alumni Council was full of ideas for meeting the Resource Center’s needs. We established the importance of alumni contributing financially—even with a $5 gift—because it shows that our work is valuable to you. Alumni support is essentially our “stamp of approval.” (If you’re curious, our current need is approximately $17,000 by May 31 if we are to meet our budget.) But the Council agreed that participation, not dollar amount, is most important. Keep an eye out for our new approach to giving in the spring FW Vine, to be mailed in the next few days; the FW Falcon, to fly mid May; or coming soon here.

Speaking of the FW Vine, the Alumni Council approved the theme for next season’s magazine: the Pastoral Ministries program. We would like former pastoral ministries students and faculty to share how the ministry field has changed over the last few decades. We plan to revisit the concept of “full-time Christian ministry” and what that entails. Do all pastors stand behind the pulpit, or could they be cleverly disguised disciples of Christ?

Blog 10 Alumni Council Working SessionThe morning marched on and became the afternoon. Some members had to slip away, but others stayed to carry on the conversation over lunch. We talked about the upcoming Staycation in June, about connecting with young alumni via texting, about various odds and ends that weren’t on the agenda. And at the very end, when everyone was full of food and fellowship, we discussed our identity.

Photo via Archives

The Council agreed that our branding image remains elusive. How could we possibly choose one title, slogan, or metaphor that would encapsulate the entire history of the Fort Wayne campus, with its many changes through the years? We considered emphasizing our official title, the Fort Wayne Alumni & Friends Heritage Association. We considered changing ‘heritage’ to ‘legacy,’ emphasizing the continuing nature of our ministry at the Resource Center. We considered dropping both in favor of “The Vine Community.” We even considered starting from scratch. The minutes stretched on; Council members offered suggestions and respectfully critiqued each one. Finally, Brad Ulick g88 issued a halt. “We need to commit this one to prayer,” he said. So, we ended the meeting the way it began, letting the discussion rest, to pick up again next time.

The Alumni Council meeting was very much like a family dinner around a common table. Issues were brought up, admissions were made, and suggestions were offered. Some things remained unresolved, but we pushed back our chairs with a feeling of satisfaction. Because where there’s honesty and community, it’s all right to leave loose ends. Like scattering and gathering stones, the Alumni Council recognize that it’s important to hold tightly to the works God calls us to—and to let go of everything else. So they gathered close to one another for a few hours, engaging in that remarkable love and unity unique to the Fort Wayne campus.

 Are there unresolved issues you would like the Alumni Council to discuss? What “stones” has God called you to gather, and what “stones” has he called you to scatter?

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