When I started at Wesleyan College in the fall of 2002, I was six hours from home. I didn’t really know anyone, and I was very shy. Throughout my college career, I was not what one would call an exemplary student. None of that ever mattered to Reverend Bill Hurdle. No matter how insignificant I felt, he always knew my name. He remembered everyone’s name. It was a gift he had. I remember being amazed by this gift at a spiritual retreat I attended during my first year at Wesleyan. We sat at a table with this older gentleman who was the chaplain of the college. He wowed us with his cognitive skills. He told us about his family, mentioning everyone by name. I couldn’t help but think at the time that he was probably one of the coolest old guys I’d ever met.
When we decided to crush some berries and tattoo ourselves with different designs, this man was game. I’ll never forget watching in awe as he allowed a Wesleyanne to paint a purple-tinged sun on his face, then raised his arms and roared with a grin as if he were a cave man. How could anyone help but love such a man?
When my father lost his job, a friend suggested I talk to Rev. Hurdle. I remember sitting in his office, worried about my family. He just talked with me, and it helped. When I came back for my second semester, feeling full of myself as the “experienced college student”, Rev. Hurdle was there to grab me as I passed his office and ask about my holiday and, most importantly, about my dad and his job.
Over the years, Rev. Hurdle was the person who was always around campus, chatting and laughing with students, guarding the wellbeing of us, his beloved women. When I first heard the news of his passing, I was sad but took a moment to process it all. I wasn’t hurting yet. Then I remembered a lonely first-year looking on as a 70-something-year-old chaplain raised his arms in a symbol of victory, berry sun on his forehead and a smile on his lips.
The tears came. I remembered speaking with a man on the phone whose wife had fallen and broken her hip, thinking I should know the voice, realizing later that I had just dispatched an ambulance to my favorite member of ministry. I remembered a man who sat with my fiancé and myself in his office, counseling us on the importance of maintaining a relationship with one another throughout our marriage while telling us anecdotes about other couples for whom he had officiated, as well as tales of his own marriage. I remembered laughing to myself as my wedding director questioned his ability to remember the order of the ceremony. “Don’t you know,” I should have said, “Rev. Hurdle remembers everything?” I remembered a man who showed up for our rehearsal and ceremony in spite of the fact that he’d just had cataract surgery and his wife was recovering from a broken hip.
I remembered a man who, as he struggled to walk with a cane, insisted on carrying his own tray in the dining hall. I remembered the first time I saw him sitting, not standing, in OSP to greet others, being shocked because it was in that moment that I realized even legends must fall. It was probably the first time I had seen him looking frail. Sometimes years would pass in between seeing Rev. Hurdle. Even as the voice began to fade, the words were always the same: “Hey, Shelly!” Just those two words meant that I mattered. They were always accompanied by a smile and a hug. There was always a genuine interest in my wellbeing.
Rev. Hurdle devoted himself to that which was positive and uplifting his entire life. He spent his last 17 years (12 of which I knew him) encouraging the women of Wesleyan, making each of us feel as though we were strong. There’s power in a name. The man who remembered them all, he taught us that. He prayed over us. He built us up and showed us that it was okay to be great, to be who we are as proud Wesleyannes. After all, he was the wisest of them all.