Professor of Theology Jordan Wales described the memorial service for former philosophy professor Don Turner like only knowing one verse of a song, and “suddenly being in a canyon” which echoed other voices singing the whole song.
“I felt like I was saying ‘Hello’ to him in a new way, even though we were all saying ‘Goodbye,’” Wales said.
On Saturday morning, March 23, Hillsdale College faculty, students, and members of Hillsdale Free Methodist Church congregation gathered to celebrate and remember the life of Professor Donald Turner. A former philosophy professor at the college, Turner died of cancer on Nov. 11, 2018, after teaching at Hillsdale for 18 years. Hillsdale Free Methodist Church and Linda Turner, Turner’s mother, hosted the service and luncheon to share stories and memories of his life.
“It was very moving to me, because it was not just the community of Hillsdale professors and students who were there, but the wider community of the church, the choir of which he was a member,” Wales said. “But he was absent, he who had always been at the center of every gathering.”
Rev. Keith Porter began the service by reading from Ecclesiastes 7 — “a philosophical book to celebrate the life of a philosopher,” he said.
Stephanie Acosta Inks, a former student of Turner’s, shared stories with the congregation about how as a professor, Turner’s encouragement helped her through many difficulties during her four years of undergraduate school. Inks said he did this by making himself and his time uniquely accessible to his students.
“He would start every class — and I took six of them — by telling his students that they could call him at any time, even if it was at 3 a.m. And they did,” she said.
Inks also shared his willingness to provide an ear to his students continued beyond the classroom, and her friendship with him even supported her during her postpartum depression after the birth of her first child.
“I remember talking on the phone to him, and he said to me, ‘You must just want a warm meal and an uninterrupted shower.’ I thought to myself, ‘How could he know?’” Inks said.
Professor of Philosophy and Culture Peter Blum also spoke at the memorial service.
“It’s hard to talk about Don, and there is a reason for that,” Blum said. “Don never talked about Don. Don talked about you.”
Blum shared that Turner’s ability to connect with people of different values than himself was one of the qualities that made him so loved. He also said Turner, former head of the Star Trek club on campus, was the first to introduce Blum to multiple fantasy and science fiction books, a comment which sparked a laugh from the room.
Blum also shared a passage from C.S. Lewis’ “The Silver Chair,” when the character Puddlegum declares he will “stand by the play world,” even if it does not exist, because it is a much better world than the false one created by the evil queen. Blum said Turner had the same unwavering faith as Puddleglum.
The Town and Country Chorus, the community chorus group of which Turner was an avid member, sang at multiple parts of the service. The church also played a mock commercial made by the church community a few years prior, in which the minds of Turner and other church board members are controlled by Porter.
“Thanks to Turner, science fiction and fantasy infiltrated our board meetings,” Porter said, laughing.
Wales shared that after the service, he was inspired and spent the rest of his weekend considering how Don Turner might have handled various situations, while planning his 10-year-old son’s birthday party.
“How much fun it would have been to plan it, to discuss my ideas about this King Arthur birthday party with Don Turner,” Wales said.
Porter concluded by reading several passages of Scripture about having a lasting faith through times of difficulty.
“That’s the faith and confidence Don had, and I saw it in his life and the people that he touched,” Porter said.