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  • Writer's pictureDoug Neckers

Eulogy for Lee Wenke

My wife, Suzanne and I, were long time friends of Lee and Joan Wenke. Lee Wenke was a man of impeccable ethics. Joan, to whom he was married for more than 60 years, told me when Lee stood for something, as a matter of personality he took it on regardless of consequence. When the Nation was at war sending boys to die in an inexcusable way in Viet Nam, he ran for Congress in Michigan’s 6th congressional district as a candidate for Peace. Lee lost 2:1 and eventually the War was ended; but he did his part in urging that outcome long before it was politically popular.

And when a president at a university where he was employed in a high executive position wanted him to divert funds from a project a donor intended to fund to the president’s discretionary funds, Lee said ‘No’ and lost his job because of it.

He had promised the donor for the university that the funds were given for a certain outcome, and his word to him was his law. That’s what mattered to Lee.

Curt, Joni, Donna - you know this I’m sure, but your father was a man who lived by his ethical ideals and kept his word.

Lee also colored boldly outside the lines. I first met him when we were both residents of an old, should have been condemned long before, Cosmopolitan fraternity house on 13th street near Hope College. Lee had an interesting sense of humor; he had the uncanny ability to make funny of things the rest of us just took for granted.

And he had a certain irreverence that made others laugh at traditions of the day too. Just before our graduation on June 6, 1960, Sue and I had gone to Lawrence, KS to finalize arrangements there for my beginning graduate study, and her teaching 7th and 8th grade, in the fall. When we returned a couple of days before the 6th - no one dare miss graduation rehearsals we were told - the campus was in an uproar. Some one or group of ones had stolen the pulpit from Dimnent Memorial Chapel and the poor leaders of worship therein had to use music stands from which to read their lessons, rather than a heavy oak piece of furniture given the College by Queen Juliana of the Netherlands. What a sacrilegious disgrace said the administrators… a music stand, no less; not the Queen’s pulpit.

After a period, the evil doers fessed up - Lee and another had hauled the heavy pulpit down the chapel stairs and stashed it in amongst the graduation robes that were soon to be used by that year’s seniors. The evil doers had to expect someone would find the pulpit amidst the robes - though no one looked. Who done it didn’t last very long, but long enough.

Now what must be done with these ner’d wells? For the first time in College history a meeting was called of the most important committee of committees - academics are good at making committees you know. A select group of faculty, administrators and student council leaders, of whom soon to be wife Joan was one, was hurriedly called into session. And after Joan’s recusal, the vote was unanimous. Suspend the bad guys from school for three weeks. So it happened. So Lee is likely one of only two Hope graduates in history to have been expelled from school two days before they were supposed to graduate.

Eventually he got his degree. And he had the audacity to come back to Hope as an administrator a few years leader to boot. (Some members of that committee of committees were still around, he said, and didn’t speak to him. - but their day had passed anyway.)

As things turned out, I finished my degree in Kansas just as one of my closest advisors there - Cal Vander Werf - announced he was moving to Hope to become its 8th president. Almost immediately Dr. Vander Werf asked me if I would consider joining Hope’s faculty which I did in 1964. Hope in 1964 was facing many challenges, not the least of which was a perennial one - money. So Dr. Vander Werf began immediately to expand the office that hunts for funds outside the college - the development office. I really respected what Lee had done both as an irreverent undergraduate and in becoming a peace candidate when many of us felt as he did - the War in Viet Nam was wrong. So I made an appointment with Dr. Vander Werf and told him about Lee Wenke.

Lee’s compassion for others, and ability to assess what a college or university program needed, coupled with his inherent sense of donor’s wishes to give for programs would, I suspected, work out well for the College. Others saw this in Lee too, and Lee and Joan moved to Holland in 1966. This became a turning point in his career. In living his version of the American dream, he made himself one of the best development officers in

America. During the last years, after he retired, he consulted for colleges run by the 7th Day Adventists, and more, by the Church of Nazarene.

There, at Point Loma College in San Diego - now Point Loma University - he made some of his most significant contributions. After Lee was allowed to graduate from Hope, he enrolled in a graduate program in political science at Michigan State University. At mid-semester he and Joan were married and moved into student housing on the campus.

Lee finished his degree, but then had to earn a living. So he applied for a teaching job in history at one of Michigan’s finest high schools, Lansing Everett High School. He got the job, Joan told me, but only after he agreed also to teach German. Joan also told me that Mrs. W. Curtis Snow - a long time member of Hope Church and former organist here - who had taught Lee German at Hope, merely rolled her eyes when she heard that news. But I’m sure Lee made it work; and his restless soul also led him to run for congress as a candidate for peace in that place too.

Lee led a life of energy, compassion, and service. Those of us that knew him, knew his ready laugh and deep joy in doing something no other intended or had thought of. When we lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Lee,Joan and the kids stayed with us for a couple of days on their way to California. We took he, Joan and the kids to a mountain lot we had purchased located under the tram way leading to Sandia Peak. As we were coming down the mountain we came upon an apple farmer’s overturned truck. The Wenkes, Lee and the kids, managed to pick up enough of the poor farmer’s apples to last them all the way to LA. And Lee did this all the while laughing while he worked.

I can only share a few stories; suffice it to say there are many more. It’s been my honor to share some recollections of a life well lived by a person of highest ethical character.

Since Lee must have known a bit of German when he taught it in high school, I close with the words Johannes Brahms found from scripture as he wrote what was likely his most famous work - a work I learned here from Jim Tallis; Brahms German requiem, first performed in the later burned out Bremen Cathedral on Good Friday 1868. - I’ll save you the German, because the King James English version is beautiful in itself.

“Blessed are they that mourn.”

“Behold all flesh is like the grass; it witherith. But the Lord’s word remains; and the redeemed of the Lord share share eternal joy”.

“Lord teach me to know that the souls of the righteous are in God’s hands.” And then in deference to the memory of Frau Schnee;

“Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen - Herr Zebaoth’ - How lovely is thy dwelling place oh Lord God of hosts.”

“For I tell you a mystery - the trumpet shall sound; death is swallowed up in victory.”

And finally

“Selig sind die Toten”

“Blessed are the dead. The spirit speaks that they are at rest.”

So dear deep voiced Lee your memory is cherished by us - your wife Joan with whom you shared a life for more than 60 years; your children Curt, Joni and Donna - your grandchildren - sister and many friends here and elsewhere.

WE know now that the spirit speaks and that you are at rest with your soul. For your loved ones and myself, be in God’s hands.

Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen. How truly Lovely is thy dwelling place;

Doug Neckers

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