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Paul Willis


Here, Mr. Hoerth

A Wheaton freshman, 40+ years ago.

In the fall of my freshman year at Wheaton College in Illinois, I took a required survey of the Old Testament. I would have taken the class anyway, because I hoped to major in biology and biblical studies en route to becoming a doctor on the mission field. In the meantime, however, since I seemed to be spending most of my weekends on rock-climbing trips to Devil's Lake in Wisconsin, I was not passing my calculus class, which did not bode well for my plans to attend medical school. But I did like climbing, and was sincere about biblical study, and I noticed that the Old Testament had a few mountains in it.

The OT survey was taught by a wry and patient man with a small, dark mustache. He told us to call him Mr. Hoerth. Not Professor. Not Doctor. Just Mister. I liked that about him. In response to our questions, he would say things like "I would tell you who it was that Cain married, if I were Abel." He also told us that he was an archaeologist who spent his summers digging around in Israel and Palestine. That the clock tower of Edman Chapel was in fact filled to the brim with potsherds from previous Wheaton expeditions, and if anyone wanted to help him catalogue these precious items, we should let him know. To my knowledge, no one volunteered. That red-brick clock tower was pretty massive, and I, for one, could think of better things to do in my spare time—like climb red quartzite in Wisconsin. When Mr. Hoerth would call the roll, I would sometimes cling to the facade of the building under the second-story window until he intoned my name. Then I would clamber over the window ledge and calmly say, "Here, Mr. Hoerth."

We would both keep a straight face. That was the cool thing about it.

Several years later, as a senior, I asked my creative writing professor to fill me in on graduate school. "Like, how does that work?" I asked.

"I've heard that in the summers you teach climbing in Yosemite," he primly said.

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