Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Leaving Bluffton a better place

I remember meeting Jim Satterwhite, professor of history, for the first time. I was a reporter for the Courier at the time, sent to interview him for a story. His office had books piled floor to ceiling, making it seem more like a book-lined corridor with a paper-covered desk at one end, than an office.

I don’t recall as vividly meeting Willis Sommer, vice president for fiscal affairs, for the first time. I’m sure it was in class, as he taught accounting at the time and I started out as a business major.

Both Jim and Willis are officially retiring this year.

Jim was granted emeritus status at the 2010 Academic Awards Forum. He had taught at Bluffton from 1984 until health issues led him out of the classroom a few years back. His strength of putting his words into actions, such as spending his summers serving as a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams in Hebron, Poland and other locations, endeared him to many.

The first annual Jim Satterwhite Award in Peace Scholarship and Activism was presented in 2009 by the Peace and Conflict Studies program to a graduating senior with a demonstrated commitment to peace scholarship and peace activism. (Kristen Shelly is the 2010 recipient.)

Willis joined the faculty in 1979. It’s been interesting getting to know Willis outside of the classroom - the “woohoo” when he announces a positive year-end balance; the random all-campus email drawing our attention to a beautiful tree in full bloom or an update to a construction or renovation project; the care and deliberateness he puts into financial decisions which he knows will effect fellow faculty and staff across campus.

In recent years, Willis has overseen many construction and renovation projects. In a piece written for the internal Community Connection newsletter, he reflected on the various projects:

When I am involved in new construction projects, I often personally rank them in relation to past projects. Since the three planned projects will be my last I offer the following list as project highlights during my tenure.

Most campus changing project-Centennial Hall: I still remember the excitement of moving faculty into their offices in July 2000. Can anyone now imagine our academic program without this building?

Most useful short-term project-North Complex: For four years, 1996-2000, this modular building provided four large classrooms and offices for EBA faculty and BCOMP staff.

Better than anticipated project-2003 Marbeck Addition and renovation of the former Barn area: I generally can visualize the final result when the first sketch is made, but not with the addition. The result was far nicer than I imagined.

Most meaningful project-Baseball memorial and field enhancements: I found it very meaningful to be part of the planning process for the memorial and to draw the first sketch for the baseball field improvements.

Most beneficial renovation-College Hall disability access addition: Besides providing accessibility, the addition will make College Hall more inviting and aesthetically pleasing.”

Willis will be recognized during a "Celebration of Service" banquet on May Day.
Willis and Jim, we are grateful for your steady and calm demeanors, for your laughter and for your undeniable positive influence on Bluffton University.

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