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The Power of Words

by Robert E. Chipman ’74, October 9, 2010

“The Power of Words” Tribute to Donald C. Mundinger
Board of Trustee Meeting | October 9, 2010

Homily by Robert E. Chipman ’74 | Charter Trustee

The sage, first generation American, Benjamin Franklin, often wrote of the virtues of mankind in his Almanac. Franklin believed there were 13 virtues for moral perfection … frugality, moderation and humility … just to name a few. One that continues to make me think is the virtue of silence. In fact, Franklin wrote, “Avoid trifling conversation.”

In our world today, silence is a devalued quality. Our world is full of noise … words coming to us from the radio, television, computers, cell phones and music devices … each day is so full of sounds … of words. Perhaps you, like me, wish to sometimes just to enjoy the quiet while driving, walking or relaxing.

The times were interesting and exciting on this campus in 1972. Longtime president L. Vernon Caine had just announced his retirement at the end of the academic year. I was fortunate enough to be elected by the student body to serve as a member of the presidential search committee. We met in [Tanner Hall’s Faculty-Trustee Room] and discussed the new direction the College must forge. I recall how impressed I was with the diligence and sincerity of the Trustees to lead the College into change and improvement.

Three finalists were called to campus in early 1973. I cannot remember much about two of those finalists for the presidency, but can never forget the third – the academic dean of Valparaiso University. He brought with him his wife, June, and their three children. The dean was 43 years old, tall and slender.

After the visits, the search committee met to discuss the three candidates. Again my memory is weak concerning two of the finalists, but the discussion concerning Dr. Donald C. Mundinger went something like this … “He is a soft-spoken man. Is he too young? Too inexperienced? He is a man of few words. Can he lead the College to a new level?”

The rest, so they say, is history … this man of few words became the 11th president of Illinois College. Dr. Mundinger became a visionary leader and scholar for 20 years at this institution. Perhaps when some future College historian writes a history of Illinois College, maybe for our bicentennial in the year 2029, the Mundinger years might be regarded as the “golden years” of the 20th century … and perhaps of the entire history of the College.

Don Mundinger’s two decades of service were marked by record enrollment, new construction across campus, significant endowment growth and the expansion of the faculty. He directed two separate campaigns during his presidency raising more the $20 million to improve the College. He often referred to himself as the College’s chief fundraiser. He was successful in that work.

I never had the opportunity to serve as a trustee under his leadership. I did know him though as a dedicated family man, a tireless community leader and a strong proponent of the liberal arts.

President Mundinger knew the power of words. Many times I heard him speak both formally and informally. He used words well. He was not “wordy” or “flashy” in his speech, but sincere in selecting just the right words at the correct time and then being done.

Yes, a soft-spoken man … a man of few words. Certainly, Dr. Mundinger was the right leader at the right time for Illinois College.

The author of the Book of Hebrews in the New Testament writes that we are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.” There is the sense in this writing that those who have gone before us are cheering us on “as we run the race marked out before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

We can take comfort in those words…and rejoice in the lives of those who have gone before us.


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