Four Critical Happenings in My Penn Life

Author: George Rieder, WH’53

I. It was at the Freshman Orientation Camp when famed Rusty Callow, Penn’s legendary Crew Coach, spoke around an evening campfire. Wearing his varsity sweater, he told a story about a commercial developer who asked his builder son-in-law to construct a high quality residential house. Nothing but the best craftsmanship and materials would suffice. Midway in the construction process, the son-in-law started cutting corners and allowing important details to slip. When the house was finished, his father-in-law proudly announced the home was his free and clear. In effect, the young man had to live with what he had created.

Coach Callow encouraged us to think deeply about what we were creating in our college experience:

* Building on a firm foundation with a sense of where we were going;

* Thinking seriously of the framework or structure of our campus experience.

* Recognizing that disciplined study and action allowed for no seemingly easy shortcuts.

* Viewing this Penn experience as part of a journey where we would associate with and learn from a diverse array of students and faculty.

One message rang in my ear and stayed with me over the years: “If it is to be, it is up to me.”

II. “Dr. Bob” Gerhardt was the Lutheran Church pastor at the Christian Association. Along with Dana Howe, the renowned Philadelphia settlement house leader, Dr. Bob planted a few words that have stuck over the years. One evening as we were leaving the C.A., he looked up and pointed at a star. “That one’s for you, George. Never forget it.” He went on to say:

Just like that star, I was never alone.

* Remember that in giving is the greatest getting. Generosity counts in life.

* Seek to determine your unique strengths and purpose in life. Be conscious of surprises as your real education here evolves.

*  Be thankful that discovery is unending as long as you use it to make a difference in this world,

III. He was a quiet, understated, brilliant giant. He was a distinguished Professor of English and President of the University of Pennsylvania.  Clearly, Dr. George William McClellean encouraged the heart in his teaching and life. It was Hey Day 1953 when unbeknownst to me he had invited my parents to the awards ceremonies. Dr. McClelland knew I was privileged to be recognized. After the ceremonies, he sought out my parents saying , “You must be proud of your son.” My mother was in tears when she told me of Dr. McClelland’s generous act of kindness. My instant responses were:

* I was so proud of my parents who loved me, raised me to be a good citizen, saved for my education, and were adored by my fraternity brothers and friends.

* I was so thankful for the professors and others teachers who opened new worlds of learning for me.

* I was fortunate to have classmates, fraternity brothers, teammates, and coaches,Mask & Wig, Kite & Key partners, and fellow Friars who supported me. I felt thoroughly engaged in a rich and rewarding four years on campus because of them.

* In retrospect, they were part of developing my managerial and leadership styles, of valuing people’s ideas no matter their job title or education, of listening to people before leading them, of establishing authentic relationships.

IV. Suzanne “Sue” Copeland, CW ’53, and I met on a blind date in our junior year. Music, more specifically Mask & Wig, was our common interest. Though quite different in personality types (Sue is a private, introverted person and I an outgoing, extroverted type), we shared some sturdy values—love of family and country, honesty, loyalty, and doing the right thing.  Her wry sense of humor offset my penchant for telling lengthy stories. We laughed a lot, sang and danced a lot, enjoyed the company of neat friends a lot. Our love never stopped growing for 56 years of married life. Sue was my anchor, a devoted wife and mother, a saint in caring for terminally ill parents, generous in giving her time to community activities. Her literary talents often helped me clean up my articles and prepared speeches. What’s more, my Sue made me feel whole.

And, it all began at the University of Pennsylvania. Every time I sing “Any Distance between Us” from the 1952 Here’s Howe! Mask & Wig Show, I think of her—and smile.

George (on the far left) and his friend at their 60th reunion for the  Class of 1953 this past Alumni Weekend.

George (on the right) and his friend catch up at their 60th reunion for the Class of 1953 this past Alumni Weekend.

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1 Comment

Filed under Alumni Perspective, Guest blogger

One response to “Four Critical Happenings in My Penn Life

  1. Pingback: Four Critical Happenings in My Penn Life | Frankly Penn | College Events

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