SHARE

“I’ve got prin­ciples. If you don’t like them, I’ve got other prin­ciples.”

Former Pro­fessor of Chris­tianity and Lit­er­ature John Reist was quoted saying this by Tony Gon­zalez ’08, who wrote the statement down while taking one of Reist’s classes, along with other gems such as: “Why do I know every­thing and you don’t?” and “If everyone said what he wanted to, right now, civ­i­lization would col­lapse.”

Gon­zalez part­nered with fellow alumni to create a blog titled “The Sad Bear,” a website that has pages filled with Reist quotes. It is a tribute to a man who taught English at Hillsdale College for more than 20 years.

Now the Fair­field Society is paying tribute to that same man, who staunchly sup­ported the society during his career at Hillsdale.

The event, titled “Thanks for Sharing,” will take place Nov. 2 at 4 p.m. in Dow Lead­ership Center Room A. Three people will be speaking at the event: the Rev. Irv Reist, John Reist’s iden­tical twin; Pro­fessor of English James Juroe, a friend and former col­league; and former student Chase Purdy ’09.

“Of all the faculty, no member has attended the Fair­field Society func­tions more reg­u­larly or more enthu­si­as­ti­cally than John Reist,” said John Somerville, pro­fessor of English and faculty adviser of the Fair­field Society.

The society decided the event would be an apt way to honor John Reist and thank him for his support.

Somerville met John Reist more than 20 years ago when Reist was one of three people on the interview board during Somerville’s appli­cation process.

“I can’t, in just a few words, describe John Reist in any way that’s sat­is­factory, but I love him and am glad we have the oppor­tunity honor him in this way,” Somerville said.

Reist had a mon­u­mental impact not merely on campus, but off campus as well. He pas­tored a church in addition to his campus duties, a church James Wegmann ’10 attended. Wegmann said that during the dif­fi­culty of freshman year, John Reist taught him that the Kingdom of God takes all kinds.

“Making the trek out to the church could be tedious during the winter,” Wegmann said. “And I got my fair share of speeding tickets while trying to make it back for Sunday brunch.”

Wegmann said the sermons helped strengthen his faith.

“I’m still trying to apply all Pastor Reist’s wit and wisdom,” he said.

Reist impacted campus in an uncon­ven­tional way. Stu­dents described his class session in a variety of ways, including: random, ener­getic, unpre­dictable.

“He would break into song or recite entire lines of plays or dia­logue or poetry one after another, and then, imme­di­ately after that, talk about the Heisman trophy members,” Gon­zalez said. “He would then follow that up with joke about someone he saw nodding off in his class.”

Stu­dents described Reist’s class as both “chaotic” and “moving along at an incredible pace.”

“So many things from his classes and our dis­cus­sions have stuck with me,” Gon­zalez said. “More so than almost any other pro­fessor.”

Gon­zalez went on to detail a story he remembers Reist cov­ering in class — a story about a little boy who loses faith in his hero.

“It had a really complex set of ideas,” he said. “Reist just went straight at it, illu­mi­nating it in many dif­ferent ways. He was able to blend the most weighty, sad, and curious ideas and emo­tions with comedy in a way that was almost bewil­dering.”

Gon­zalez said the mixed approach gave him a fuller under­standing of what was going on in the lit­er­ature.

“More so than anybody else, Dr. Reist speaks in a way that to me rep­re­sents how the brain actually works,” he said. “So it is chaotic, right? Your brain can think all these weird asso­ci­a­tions quickly and that’s chaotic. He embraced all the asso­ci­a­tions in class.”

Purdy, who took one of Reist’s class at least once every year he was at Hillsdale, said Reist was the very first pro­fessor he had in class.

“I had him for an 8 a.m.,” he said. “I didn’t really know what to expect, and walking out of his class that first day, I still didn’t know what was going on. He had a very spe­cific teaching style. It took a little bit to catch on.”

Purdy said his teaching may or may not have been rooted in the text, but stu­dents always walked away feeling as though they had learned some­thing — if not about the text, then about life in general.

Purdy said Reist was the same person one-on-one in his office that he was in class, except for the fact that if you were with him one-on-one you had the oppor­tunity for more serious con­ver­sa­tions.

“You had this sense that every­thing was con­fi­dential,” he said. “In that sense, he gained a lot of trust on campus.”

Purdy said that when Reist taught at Hillsdale, he was always very keyed-in to campus life. He had friends across depart­ments. In addition, Purdy said Reist was a staunch believer in campus press, specif­i­cally The Col­legian. Reist is the one who came up with the name for the school paper’s satire page, The Hellsdale Col­lision.

“When he had a problem with what was going on, Reist was never afraid to speak up,” Purdy said. “He seemed to think of himself at least in part as a kind of compass for the school. He felt an oblig­ation to speak his mind, and this made him a real asset to the school.”

Gon­zalez, who will also say a few words at the Fair­field event, said John Reist an unde­niable impact on his life.

“I’ve never met anybody like Dr. Reist,” Gon­zalez said. “And I’m a news reporter — I’ve met a lot of people — just no one like him.”