Donald C. Mundinger Memorial Service
Illinois College Rammelkamp Chapel | October 17, 2010
Remembrance by The Honorable Steven R. Bordner ’77
June Mundinger, members of the Mundinger family, Dr. Steuer, current former colleagues of Dr. Mundinger, treasured friends and guests. I was pleased to accept the invitation to be here today as I want to recall my memories of President Mundinger, both as a student and as a friend, and to honor his service to Illinois College.
Dr. Mundinger and I both arrived at Illinois College in the summer of 1973. He as president of the college with an already impressive array of accomplishments at Valparaiso University, and I as a freshman from a small town in central Illinois. I recall those golden high-spirited days of my youth spent happily here at this hilltop. The halcyon days of exuberance are for me gone. The names of Ford, Ryan, Seator, Jamison, Frank, Leam, and Mundinger rang our then as they do now only in my memory. The poet, Robert Frost, in his contemplative poem on fading autumn leaves reminds us that “Nothing gold can stay” and yet here today, on this campus, we come to unlock and vaults of our memories and share the golden treasures of days long ago spent here together. Our memories and our lives are richer for sharing those golden moments.
Allow me to recall and recall with me our kind, generous friend, Don Mundinger.
He was proud of the faculty and staff at Illinois College. He saw how their care and concern for students contributed to the positive development of young people into accomplished graduates and leaders of future generations. Dr. Mundinger set the tone and led by example. I had the great honor and distinct privilege of coming to know Dr. Mundinger and his wonderful wife, June, and to continue that friendship for many years. I came to admire Dr. Mundinger as I interacted with him in many ways. He was always warm and inspiring.
As a member of the IC debate team, I traveled across the country from Seattle to Philadelphia and Los Angeles to Atlanta and many places in between. My debate partner, Judy Schuessler and I, brought back to IC many regional and national trophies. Dr. Mundinger enjoyed the fact that IC competed well on a national level in debate. He frequently summoned me to his office to congratulate Judy and me on a successful debating tour. His favorite line to us, the college, and to alums was “Illinois College may not be able to compete with Notre Dame in football or UCLA in basketball, but we can debate them and we can win.”
He took special pride in noting our victories over Ivy League Schools.
Such small incidents of praise left a great impression on me and I witnessed such small acts of kindness and thoughtfulness on the part of Dr. Mundinger throughout my college years and beyond. He enjoyed sharing the successes of life with everyone. And everyone, students, faculty, and friends responded warmly to his constant support and generous recognition of achievement. He took great pride in recommending IC students to graduate schools and employers. He always enjoyed heralding the fine attributes of Illinois College graduates.
In 1976, Dr. Mundinger presented me with a book entitled, “Small is Beautiful.” In his inscription in the book, he recalled a conversation from nearly a year earlier which occurred in the Reading Room of Tanner Library when, on a Saturday morning he sought to read the New York Times and I sought to persuade him to find additional funds for the student model United Nations Program. I remember well his response, he said, “Steve, Illinois College is a particular type of college for a particular type of student. We can’t be all things to all people. If we try to do that we will fail. We are a small school trying to do great things, and we must set priorities.”
I was disappointed until the following week when I learned that the Model UN budget had been increased by 50 percent. Clearly, he had listened and clearly he granted my request – but most importantly, he listened when he could easily have said, “I am sorry, I am busy.” – something I never heard him say.
Then it was time for me to listen to him. On a crisp autumn afternoon at approximately 3:30, Dr. Mundinger strolled by Sturtevant Hall just as the local beer distributor was delivering to the each of the literary societies their weekend allotment of kegs of beer.
As the delivery man was clanking down the rear basement steps to Rhoer Hall in lower Sturtevant, Dr. Mundinger asked me, as president of that literary society, “Steve, do you think it would be possible to have the beer wagon deliver the kegs after classes have ended on Friday afternoon?”
Such a small and reasonable request, when he could have ordered, insisted or demanded it. How could I say “no”? Thereafter, all kegs were delivered at 5:30 on Friday afternoon. Such as the humaneness of Dr. Mundinger.
After my student years at Illinois College, Dr. Mundinger and I remained in close contact. On one occasion he asked me to join him and Dean Eldred in visiting Lyle Woodcock, an alum in St. Louis. He indicated to me that Mr. Woodcock had a collection of western art which featured many pieces by the American Regionalist Artist, Thomas Hart Benton. Dr. Mundinger knew that I had some Benton pieces in my collection and that I had delivered a lecture to the American Regionalist Artists. He thought Mr. Woodcock would enjoy visiting with me about his art. As it turned out, Lyle Woodcock was a friend of Thomas Hart Benton and had one of the largest collections of his works in the country. We had lunch and spent a delightful afternoon discussing his oil paintings and lithographs. During these discussions, Dr. Mundinger casually mentioned that it would be nice if Illinois College had a gallery in which to display both student exhibitions and fine works of art on loan for various shows. Mr. Woodcock, made happy by the small gesture of spending a wonderful afternoon with us, provided substantial funds for such a gallery in the McGaw Fine Arts Building. Dr. Mundinger’s small, but beautiful gesture to Mr. Woodcock ended in a lasting gift to the college.
In later years, Dr. Mundinger and I corresponded and on several occasions we met at Union League Club in Chicago where we enjoyed wonderful long lunches accompanied by a dessert of red raspberries with cream and brown sugar followed by a glass or 2 of port of sherry. We discussed politics and exchanged updates of Illinois College. These small, beautiful lunches led to great and treasured memories.
If my point hasn’t been very well made, I want you to know that Donald Mundinger knew that the most important things in life often consist of small, kind and generous things which we do for each other. That was in large part the genius of Dr. Mundinger. That is what contributed to his great success. He built a new library, new dormitories, and a fine arts center and created an endowment which was the envy of schools across the nation. These are great and monumental achievements and they were accomplished by cultivating the small, warm and intimate friendships of countless benefactors.
My life has been greatly enhanced by the wisdom and example of Dr. Mundinger. He taught me that small is indeed beautiful and that great things can be accomplished by small, beautiful acts of human kindness.
So to Dr. Mundinger, teacher, administrator, mentor and friend, we commit to our memories your countless acts of kindness. We will miss you, but by your example we will make this a better place – one small and beautiful step at a time.