Below are a collection of memories about Valley Forge Christian College. I have rehearsed them often while falling asleep or driving a long distance in the hope that I do not forget the details. Feeling especially nostalgic today made me want to record them. Perhaps I won’t have to rehearse them as much now.
“All my life I want to be a Patriot. Bang! Bang, baby! Bang! Bang!”
After arriving on campus for a week or so in the fall of 1993, Rachel and Jamee told Josh and I that the Cross Country team needed more male runners. If they didn’t get more runners, they may not have a team. I think that all Josh and I heard was, “Girls,” and we were sold. The first day, we ran hills up Mary Hill Road. Running hills was a terrible idea. Hills go uphill. When hills don’t go up hill, they go down hill, which is bad, as well. When we weren’t running up or down hills, we ran out Seven Stars Road to a quarter-mile gravel track and sprinted. One day right before practice, Josh and I ate a medium pizza from Bob’s Haven Deli. Surely pizza would empower me to run better. It didn’t.
On the first race, we went for a warm-up run- a warm-up run of 5 miles. FIVE MILES. TO WARM UP. I had no idea that running involved so much running. I came in last place. People were eating their bagged lunches by the time that I crossed the finish line at 43 minutes. The winner finished in half of that time.
However, running sparked something in me: Courage. And, courage’s cousin: Not-Fear. Sports were rare for someone who was my size. I was average to below-average at throwing, kicking and especially physical contact. Bumping into another player during an athletic competition usually meant that my teeth were rattled, my contacts were knocked out and it hurt a lot. Running didn’t have the hazard of running into another person.
I discovered that I could run for a long time. Moreover, each race had faster finish time than the one before. In my final race of my first season I had my fastest time, we were at Roberts Wesleyan for the National Championships. Snow was on the ground. A lot of snow. It was cold. In my wisdom, I covered my entire body in Atomic Balm while getting ready in the locker room. If I could get used to shivering in the locker room, it wouldn’t be as much of a shock when I walked out into the cold. Thirty-two minutes later (and still in last place), I crossed the finish line. Not sure about the Atomic Balm but I really did want to get back inside.
Running led to trying other sports like soccer, volleyball and baseball. And the best part was, I even got a nickname: Pete.
“Who gave me this flower I’m holdin’? I guess I gave it to myself again.”
After running on the Cross-Country team, I was introduced to JC Powerhouse Coffeehouse. Dave Seyfried and Mike Leo were hilarious. The Somethings and Rainchildren became the soundtracks of my college experience- even more than Jars of Clay, DC Talk, any of the Winds of Worship, The Cranberries, The Counting Crows or the Gin Blossoms. The skits were the funniest performances that I had ever seen. I needed to be a part of this.
The first act was a Gimplestein and Brownfunkle number in the theater. The student center was only operational for my first semester so I never experienced the beginnings. Gimpy and I practiced in the hallway of #91 Down and I can’t remember the tune or the words. What I remember is that people laughed and wanted more. No one in the audience knew that I was not very cool in high school. In fact, I was probably a geek. There, on that stage, I started over. No one knew how awkward I was at Roswell Kent or Garfield. Here, people liked me; they really liked me. If running helped me to be courageous, Joe C and JC Powerhouse fanned a flicker of self-confidence. It wasn’t long before Paul, Pat and I were singing about a hot dog, Beth Bertone, being a Jesus Freak and the being house band with Steve, Josh, Jason and Dennis.
“Just wave at him. He can’t hear so he probably won’t talk back to you.”
Several jobs occupied my time at Valley Forge: Clerk at J. Riggins at the King of Prussia Court, delivery guy for the “Evening Phoenix” newspaper and delivery guy for Bob’s Haven Deli (to this day, still my favorite meal). My favorite job, however, was cleaning and straightening the Chapel. Each night, I rearranged the maroon Chapel chairs into neat rows, picked up trash and ran the vacuum. Straightening 500 chairs each night in silence was therapeutic. I walked into a cock-eyed room and left it ready for the next day.
Some nights, worship teams or drama teams practiced. It was months later that I was told but one group had convinced a member of their team that I couldn’t hear or speak. And, for some reason, I only waved at them while they rehearsed.
“Today’s reading from The Blue Book is…”
Most people go to college for the classes. I did too. New and Old Testament with Brubaker, Youth Ministry with Comenzo, Romans with Dippold, A/G Theology and Hermeneutics with Marino, History of Christianity with Miller were my favorite courses. Up to this point, I had a haphazard sense of theology and ministry. These classes helped me find channels or courses in which to focus my thinking. Never before had the rapture or St. Augustine or crisis ministry been explained so clearly and helpfully. I was a sponge; an over-sized-flannel-wearing, Doc Marten-wearing sponge. While I didn’t truly enjoy reading until a year after leaving Valley Forge, my thinking began to stretch and focus at the same time through my exposure to ideas in the classroom.
“I could do that.”
Two men had the greatest impact on my life during those years: Tim Wolf and Mr. Tavani. Tim and Mr. T were in the Student Life office and I enjoyed talking with them (and still do). There were two defining moments with Tim Wolf where I felt a stronger sense of direction for my life in Higher Education. The first was at a welcome back event in the fall of 1995. Tim and I sat and talked about the upcoming year and it was here that I learned that I could work at a college as an occupation. Up until this point, I was planning on being a pastor but that night talking with Tim opened my eyes to see that there were other vocational opportunities that were just as important as working with church folks but I could work with college folks.
The second defining moment was during a crisis on campus. A member of the student body had unexpectedly passed away during the school year. To help students process their grief, Tim invited anyone who was interested to come to the big classroom outside of Chapel to talk. The room was full of students seated at desks. Tim spent the next hour or two sharing his thoughts and hearing the concerns of the students. He affirmed their grief and confusion and let them speak their minds. I didn’t know the student too well but wanted to support my friends who did. As I watched Tim navigate the collective grief and pain, something in my heart said, “I could do that“. I could help students make sense of their joys and pains.” From this point on, I wanted to work with college students.
“I’m not here to be your friend. I have enough friends already.”
Mr. Tavani was new to Valley Forge. I was a resident assistant my senior year and Mr. T was hired only weeks before the school year began. We had all gathered outside of the Admin building to leave on a retreat and he arrived: shirt collar popped, laughing loudly, fingers running through his thick Italian shock of hair. Who pops their collar anymore? This was 1996 not 1986!
We arrived at the retreat site and spent the day as a whole group. It was great to be with Jake and the other RAs and talk about the upcoming year. That night, we met- just the male RAs with Mr. T. He started our small group with, “I’m not here to be your friend. I have enough friends already.” I guess that a lot of people would have bristled at that: “Who was this new guy? And, why wasn’t he even interested in our friendship?” I, however, didn’t feel this way. I was hooked. What I heard from his statement was, “I’m not here to have favorites. I’m not here to fancy-pants around and waste time. I’m here to help you guys work with your students and kick butt for Jesus while doing it!”
This was the beginning of a great mentoring relationship between Mr. T and I. We spent hours upon hours talking about college, learning, love, communication, family, parenting, girls, relationships, or being a dad. We drank a lot of tea and listened to jazz records. I could go over to his apartment whenever I wanted to talk. He let me ask dumb or embarrassing questions. He was always excited to see me. He always sent me away encouraged. He fed me. He didn’t laugh at the immature things that I said or did. He believed in me. Away from home, he parented me.
“Meet at the G-Lodge for lunch?”
Lastly, I made friendships. I am disappointed at the reality that I no longer see my friends from Valley Forge except through Facebook. Moving 12 hours away from college and the east coast has lead me away from many of their new homes.
I would have never made it without Gimpy, Tim, Luis, Josh, Fresh Dan, Pat, Gary, Jake, Abie, Dave and Phil; Rachel, Jamee, Sara, Carrie, Jeannie, Dorie and Janel. Without my friends on the cross-country team, the soccer team and in 91 Down (#9), my life would have been tasteless and boring. Knowing that my friends would be in the same seats at Chapel or for dinner, gave me rhythm to my day. Knowing that we would stay in the dining hall until Chris kicked us out gave me the satisfied feeling that the day would be closing soon. Eating at TD Alfredo’s or the G Lodge Diner; walking through Valley Forge National Park; visiting Ocean City, NJ each Labor Day; getting a sub at Wawa before curfew; going on a spring break trip to Myrtle Beach; walking into a crowded room at Josh C’s side the night that he got all of his hair cut off; playing roller hockey; watching “So, I Married an Axe Murderer” or “Son-In-Law” in #5 Up; going to the laundry mat on Saturday mornings or just making up a stupid game that involved smashing each other’s hands on the table, my life was enriched with their presence.
Many times since then, I have wished that we could get back together so that we could help one another navigate through the stages and questions of life following college: buying a home, electing a president, picking a church, becoming a parent, reading good books, having a real job or just following Jesus.
Whenever I left campus to go on break or just went to Wawa, it was my friendships that I couldn’t wait to return to.
I knew that it wouldn’t last forever but I hoped that it would.
Sometimes I think
we could have gone on.
All of us. Trying. Forever.
But they didn’t fill the
desert with pyramids.
They just built some. Some.
They’re not still out there,
building them now. Everyone,
everywhere, gets up, and goes home.
“On The Strength Of All Conviction And The Stamina Of Love”
Jennifer Michael Hecht