In recent days, our beloved Alma Mater, Montreat College, has been in the local news, primarily due to a potential merger with another university. In the end, the merger failed to materialize, which has relieved many in the Montreat family of faculty, students and alumni. It has put Montreat on the front burner of all of our minds, and has caused me to recall even more treasured memories, especially in the light of my previous post concerning father figures.
During the years I attended school at Montreat, Dr. Larry Wilson was the Dean of Students. Dean Wilson was and still is a solid man of the highest degree of Christian integrity. He was very visible among the college community, and had the gift and ability to engage the student body in an affirming and encouraging way. Square dances were a regular part of student activities, and Dean Wilson was always there, calling the square dances along with the Stoney Creek Boys. Part of his role as the Dean of Students at Montreat was to keep law and order, and to see that all of the students were treated fairly and responsibly by each other, as well as by the faculty and staff. He was also in charge of appointing all of the RA’s in every dorm and making sure all of the dorm residents practiced civility. Dean Wilson had the right balance of toughness and grace, and he garnered the respect of everyone on campus.
Montreat was not your typical college campus. There were no fraternities or sororities, or any crazy wild parties. College life at Montreat functioned more like a summer camp, and unruly behavior usually came in the form of mischievous pranks. As the new kids on the block, my roommate and I wanted to make our mark by falling right into the ranks of the pranksters, so we constantly strived for new ways to pull them off. Truthfully, they were all very mild in nature, ranging from the old standards of leaning a trash can full of water against a door and then knocking, to bowling in the hallway, to completely moving a friend’s room to the janitor’s closet across the hall. One time we filled a Pringles can with baby powder and released it into the window fan of another dorm mate while he slept. This one required that we position ourselves on the roof, just over his 3rd floor window, which took us to a new level, and one that would lead to our eventual retirement as pranksters.
One November evening, my roommate and I decided to go on, what we now called, “roof maneuvers.” That particular evening, we came up with this hair-brained idea to take a 50-gallon drum that had been left on the roof and roll it off of the top of our three-story dormitory. We thought that if it landed on our target spot, it would eventually roll all the way down the hill on to the parking lot of Gaither Hall, one of our classroom buildings. The drum was full of rocks and dirt, which made moving it particularly challenging. We put the drum on its side and rolled it to the edge of the building, directly over our target spot, out of the way of any potential bystanders. It was the moment we released the barrel and sent it on its way down that we realized we had done something terribly wrong. The barrel hit the ground and literally exploded on impact, shaking the ground and causing a thunderous explosive noise. People came running out of the lobby to see what had detonated, and as we saw them coming out, we quickly ran across the roof, made our way off the building, and quickly went into hiding.
In the days that followed, word spread around campus about the infamous deed and that the fate that awaited those responsible for this incredible act of stupidity was possible immediate suspension from school. After a few days of staying incognito, the guilt finally got to us and we turned ourselves in to Dean Wilson.
It is ironic and sad that my first ever conversation with Dean Larry Wilson came in the form of a disciplinary reprimand. As a fatherless young man, I grew up having an innate fear and reverence for male authoritative figures. Dean Wilson was that, but there was also a very compassionate and gracious side to him that emerged in that meeting. He was very swift and stern in his application of justice. He placed us on hall restriction for the remainder of the semester, which basically meant that we had curfews and could not leave the Montreat campus on the weekends. However, Dean Wilson showed me much grace by allowing me to remain in school, when he had every right to suspend me.
That would be the last act of immature stupidity that I would commit, and I vowed from that day that I would regain the trust and respect of Dean Wilson. I can’t speak for him, but I sensed that day that he must have also seen something in me – something worth cultivating and developing. I say that because the very next year, he appointed me as one of the RA’s for Davis Hall, and for the duration of my sophomore year, I worked alongside Dean Wilson and the rest of the RA’s to help preserve law and order for the Montreat Campus. To further add to his positive, graceful reinforcement of me, Dean Wilson presented me with the Campus Life Service Award during a ceremony at the end of my sophomore year. I was shocked, humbled, and appreciative of the grace Dean Wilson had showed me my freshman year and the confidence he placed in me to work with him.
Dean Wilson retired from Montreat in 1993, and continues to live there in the Montreat community. Living in Asheville for the past 23 years has given me the opportunity to see Dean Wilson on occasion. When we do see each other, the conversations are always casual and somewhat brief, and they often revolve around our mutual Montreat experiences. Recently we were able to get together and have an extended visit and conversation – one, in which, I shared about this blog and the motivations and inclinations behind the writing of it. I brought up the infamous episode of the roof barrel, and expressed my appreciation to him for the grace he had shown a young, fatherless, immature freshman, and how his confidence in me had made such an impact on my life. I had the opportunity to personally thank him for that and communicate to him just how huge and significant that was to me.
He proceeded to share with me his story, which I had never heard. His mother passed when he was just 11 years old, his father died when he was 15. We talked of the void that existed inside a fatherless child’s heart and the similar ways and techniques we used to cope and compensate for it. When the conversation was over, we both agreed that our lives have been blessed in spite of the void, and that God has been better to us than we deserve.
The time we spent together that morning was precious and priceless, and I am so thankful for men like Dean Larry Wilson who showed grace when he had every right to execute judgment, who poured himself into many more people’s lives other than mine, and holds a special place in my heart as a shining example of the Heavenly Father’s mercy, grace, and love.