Calvin: A Life in Stories: Part 4, Ohio State

Each Monday for the next several weeks, I will be publishing one section of the biography on my father I created in collaboration with over 30 contributing writers. Each story brings a unique perspective about my father. Last week I shared part 3 of the writing project that focused on my father’s life life as a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) volunteer Bolivia. This week in part 4, the focus is on my father’s life as a graduate student at THEE Ohio State University. Enjoy!


Introduction (here)
Part 1: Ohio (September 12, 1953 – September 1971) (here)
Part 2: Goshen College (September 1971 – June 1973) (here)
Part 3: Bolivia (September 1973 – September 1976) (here)
Part 4: Ohio State (September 1976 – December 1979) (below)
Part 5: Bolivia (January 1980 – July 1992)
Part 6: Pennsylvania (July 1992 – December 1997)
Part 7: Georgia (December 1997 – July 2004)
Part 8: Italy (July 2004 – December 2015)
Part 9: Virginia (December 2015 – Present)

PART 4: Ohio State University (OSU)
OSU Grad - 1976-79.png

OSU Vignettes
Writer: Marc Papai
(OSU Classmate and Roommate)

I lived with Calvin for a year while at Ohio State University (OSU), and appreciated his deep love for justice, his insightful mind, and his sense of humor. The vignettes I remember from those days are pretty trivial—the day he jumped in to sweep mounds of suds out the back door of our house on Patterson after I decided that “dishwashing soap” of the liquid variety did not actually go into the dishwasher (who knew?). Or that time when he slept through the massive blizzard of ’77, after the power had gone out, and the rest of us woke to temperatures in the house of 38 degrees, and there was Calvin still asleep under nothing but a sheet.

Calvin was a leader in our fellowship, a Bible study leader as I recall; and as a graduate student spent a lot of time studying. Calvin and I, as well as our other Mennonite roommates (I think I was the only non-Mennonite) debated the great issues of the day – mostly about poverty and justice — and Calvin honestly was pretty quiet in those dinnertime debates. He was more thoughtful than loud. When he did say something, it was often an unusual perspective, he was always able to think for himself, and not just parrot what he had heard or what others were thinking. Calvin was, and is, his own man.

43 West Patterson Days
By Bob Suter
(OSU Classmate and Roommate)

I met Calvin in the fall of 1976. We were both in the agriculture economics program at OSU. Being the last to join a group of ten (five and five) house roommates in the 41/43 West Patterson Avenue house, we didn’t get an individual room on the second floor. Our space was the “attic” area, a knee-walled, slanted ceiling room running the full length (of one half of the house) with a small window facing the street. Being the remotest part of the house afforded some privacy except one had to go through the only bathroom to climb the last flight of stairs to our room. The house was located four blocks north of Lane Avenue, the northern edge of the campus, an area with many student renting places to live. Parking was always an adventure, sometimes nabbing a spot right in front of our porch, sometimes circling the block a few times and settling for a spot some distance away.

We shared the evening meal together, one responsible for food preparation and another doing cleanup. Mac and cheese was a staple well before today’s newfound popularity. Old, discolored, reheated hot dogs were packed for an on-campus microwave lunch. When the last ones were finally thrown out the stray dog that frequented our backyard sniffed them and walked away in search of something better. General house cleaning was less of a priority. The kitchen floor got a good cleaning when regular dish soap was put into the automatic dishwasher. Upon opening the dishwasher door, a flood of soapsuds spewed out and we broom swept them out the back door. The floor was cleaner than it had ever been since we moved in. The bathroom was another story. During Spring Break, a friend used our house for his wedding reception. Upon returning, the living room was nearly unrecognizable – he had replaced missing light bulbs, painted the walls, vacuumed the floor and put in a new sofa.

Calvin and I participated in intra-mural hockey, playing on the OSU ice rink late in the evening hours. I can still see the anguished look of pain on his face as his arm hung limply having suffered from a dislocated shoulder. It was after one of those late night hockey games that the blizzard of ’78 struck. In the early morning hours, wakened by a shaking house, Calvin peered out our attic window and declared it is snowing sideways. Classes were cancelled and we trekked down the middle of traffic-less High Street in search of a grocery to resupply our food stock. Often our wintertime evening studies were punctuated with cars revving engines and spinning tires, attempting to climb the slight grade of snow/ice covered West Patterson Avenue. Eventually we grabbed our coats and went out to give the slipping car a push until it gained enough momentum to make it up and leave us in relative quiet.

We shared favorite and un-favorite professor stories, sat on the floor of the punch card computer lab waiting to see if our program ran successfully (in the pre personal computer days), made occasional trips to the Laundromat, fought for a spot on the campus bus and hunted for on-campus parking spots.

Having recently returned from an MCC assignment in Bolivia, Calvin had some interesting items decorating our attic room. We had many conversations about Bolivia and MCC life, which in turn led to a meeting with Rich Sider and later an MCC term for me in Bangladesh.

Calvin started to make frequent trips to the south part of the campus, namely the house where a female student named Jan lived. As it goes with college-aged guys, this led to the ribbing of potential marriage and loss of one’s “freedom.” But Calvin gained a lifelong friend and partner who shared in his international aspirations.

Courting Days at OSU
By Jany (Huston) Miller
(OSU Classmate and Eventual Wife)

In the fall of 1976, Calvin went to Ohio State University to complete an undergraduate degree in Agricultural Finance. He had spent two years at Goshen then went to Bolivia for three years and was now at OSU to finish his undergraduate degree. I had just graduated from Covenant College in Biology and decided to pursue a BS degree in nursing, also at OSU.

While there, we both attended Intervarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF), an interdenominational group of about 50 people and I began to get to know Calvin and his brother Bob, also at OSU. I quickly learned that Calvin had just returned from Bolivia (where was that?) after three years and although not as outgoing and talkative as his brother Bob, he had a quiet confidence with one sole purpose in mind, to return to Bolivia after finishing his degree.

It soon became commonplace for many of us in IVCF to hang out together on weekends and go bowling or play games over at the double house where ten of the IVCF guys, including Calvin, lived. I got to know Calvin a little better and learned that he and around four or five others in the group were Mennonites. Having only had one mistaken blind date in my life with a guy who had grown up Mennonite, but left his family for a motorcycle gang (another story for another day), I really didn’t know much about the Mennonites. Because I was asking a lot of questions about how the Mennonites could be pacifist when the Old Testament was full of God telling the Israelites to conquer and kill people living in the Promised Land, Calvin gave me two books. One of them was War, Peace and Nonresistance, which is not an easy book to read or understand.

Our first date was sometime during the winter quarter when he invited me on a triple date (safety in numbers?) to see an OSU hockey game. It was a lot of fun and I thought Calvin was a nice guy. We did have more dates but were also dating other people during the next year or so. A custom the five guys in Calvin’s half of the house had was to invite one of the IVCF women over to cook supper for them. This served two purposes: to have a home cooked meal and to test out the woman’s cooking ability. I had my turn once and think I passed the test.

Over the next year and a half, Calvin and I spent more and more time together. Some of our dates were going to Bernie’s Bagels, playing tennis (he quickly gained the nickname Lover Boy), and going to the movies or music concerts. By the winter of ’77, Calvin had become an important part of my life. However, there came a point when he didn’t call me for over a month. I would see him at IVCF but he would barely talk to me. I began thinking that maybe I had misread the relationship and perhaps I should forget about this guy.

Then one weekend, he called me out of the blue and asked me to go with him to Oberlin College (over four hours away!!) where he was going to speak about MCC to a group of students. What was he thinking after not calling me for over a month and now he wanted me to take a 4-5 hour trip on a Saturday night? At first I said ‘no’ but my roommate convinced me to go and take the opportunity to have a long talk with him and decide one way or the other if I wanted to keep “dating” him.

We went to Oberlin and so began ’the date’ that was the turning point in our relationship. At Oberlin, I was impressed by the way Calvin spoke with confidence before a group of people. It also had the extra advantage for me of learning more about MCC. I began to see him in a very different light.

On our return to Columbus, we stopped in Mansfield to eat at the Yellow Deli, a unique sandwich shop that had started in Chattanooga where I had once lived. When we returned to the car, it was cold and starting to snow lightly. Upon turning the car on, Calvin immediately realized that something was wrong so we drove to the closest gas station. Unfortunately, it didn’t have a garage and it was already getting late. Calvin suspected it was a water pump problem making it impossible to drive all the way back to Columbus. So now what were we going to do?

A young man at the gas station said we could stay at his parents’ home so we reluctantly agreed. When we arrived at the house, he said not to worry if his parents, who were out, returned drunk and yelling at each other.  I took one look at Calvin and we decided this wasn’t a good idea. So we added water to the car and drove to another gas station with a garage that was closer to the interstate exchange.

There, another man who was working on his truck looked at our car and agreed with Calvin that it was the water pump. It was now after midnight, the garage was closed and our options were looking slim. Calvin did make some calls on the payphone to parts stores in Columbus but was getting nowhere. The man with the truck realized we couldn’t do anything till morning so invited us to stay at his parent’s house for the night. After the first experience, I was very leery but it did seem better than a cold gas station so we gave in and took him up on his offer.

The young man woke his parents enough to tell them that they had stranded overnight visitors and proceeded to take us to the spare bedroom. I quickly told him we weren’t married and he said not to worry, his parents would never know. However, we told him the couch and floor in the living room was fine so that is where we slept.

To make an already long story a bit shorter, the next day the lovely older couple made us a big cooked breakfast, Calvin’s roommate Mark brought a new water pump up from Columbus, the man let Calvin and Mark use his warm garage and tools to fix the car, which took all day, and the woman made all of us a nice lunch. The repairs were finally completed by 5pm that afternoon and Calvin and I were able to return to Columbus.

This date was a game changer in our relationship, as our eventual marriage is great evidence. After spending a most unusual 24 hours together, I had learned a lot about Calvin. He handled himself well before a crowd of peers speaking with passion and confidence, he responsibly handled a situation with his car that didn’t have many good options and lastly, we were able to work together and maintain our cool in this difficult situation. Needless to say, I received a lot of suspicious looks from my 19 other housemates about where I had really been for the last 24 hours. However, this is my story and I am sticking to it.


COMING MONDAY, February 6, 2017:
PART 5: Bolivia Redux (January 1980 – July 1992)


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