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Embracing the Second Half of Life

Five alumni find joy and meaning as they serve in new ways after retiring from their first careers. by Jennifer Grant ’89

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Truth is, many of us live in a status-update world. Those of us who have incorporated social media into our lives will routinely tweet or post status updates to Facebook, allowing others a window into our thoughts or activities. Our updates may be as mundane as what’s for dinner, or as momentous as a baby’s first photos. #gottashare*

But you won’t read news on Facebook or Twitter about the lives of the five alumni featured here. All five were raised—and reader their own families—before the advent of social media. After enjoying fruitful first careers, each of them has embarked on a second half of life dedicated to the humble service of God and others.

Because none of these stories could be told in 140 characters or fewer (a la Twitter), we’ve decided to create biographical status updates about these five, so that all may see how the God whom they serve has worked, and continues to work them and through them in their latest ventures.

Dan ’68 and Judy Smith Norman ’69 #awitnessinaddis

Dan and Judy Norman met at Wheaton in the mid ’60s when they both played in what was then called the “concert band.” They married in 1969 and later became the parents of two daughters and a son. Over the course of their marriage, they lived all over the U.S. as she worked as a part-time nurse and he attended graduate school, taught, and served in the U.S. Army. Then they settled in the state of Washington, where she worked in high-risk obstetrics and he worked as a flight control engineer for nearly 30 years. But this wasn’t their final move.

In their mid sixties, the Normans now work with SIM in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Dan teaches systematic theology, historical theology, and philosophy at the Evangelical Theological College, while Judy works primarily with babies born with cleft palates who struggle to gain adequate nutrition because of their hindered ability to nurse.

Despite unanticipated trials and frustrations, the Normans thank God for leading them to Ethiopia in 2006. They enjoy discovering a new culture through Ethiopian friends and colleagues. They feel privileged to lead a Bible study for Chinese nationals who live in the country and had never previously been exposed to Christianity or the Bible. There are more Chinese people in Ethiopia, the Normans note, than all other foreigners combined.

“Faith is much more of a real experience here on a daily basis for Ethiopians, as well as for missionaries,” Dan says. “In the U.S., we felt quite self-sufficient by comparison. We see God leading in many ways, and God gives us strength and grace to deal with some difficult situations.”

Pete Willson ’50 #bringingGodgloryinhumility

As homesteaders in Canada in the 1910s and 1920s and the parents of ten children, Jim and Grace Willson modeled a life of faith and hard work that has been carried on by their youngest child, Pete, to this day.

After graduating from Wheaton, Pete worked as a high school coach and P.E. teacher in schools in Illinois and Iowa. He often spent summer months painting classrooms and doing other maintenance work for the school, work he continues to enjoy.

“I can sit and read for a few hours, but I need activity,” Pete says. “Work is very enjoyable.”

Pete returned to Wheaton 14 years after graduating and took a position with the alumni office. He later joined the P.E. department and coaching staff and then served as Wheaton’s head wrestling coach from 1974 to 1990. A champion wrestler while at Wheaton, Pete rose to national attention as a coach. In 1990, he was inducted into the National Wrestling Coaches Association Division III Hall of Fame, and in 2001 Wheaton renamed the Wheaton Invitational—one of the top small-school wrestling tournaments in the nation—the Pete Willson-Wheaton Invitational.

But Pete won’t crow about these accomplishments. Now 84, Pete speaks of the enjoyment he gets from his handyman business and his sometime collaboration with fellow former Wheaton faculty member Jim Mann. He speaks fondly of his wife June Coray-Willson ’50, five children (all of whom attended Wheaton), 16 grandchildren, and 19 great-grandchildren. But most of all, his attention is focused on the God he continues faithfully to serve.

“God’s plan is not for us to be important and bring glory to him,” Pete says. “But it is for us to be humble and unimportant so that all may see his glory.”

Dr. James Mann HON #thepleasureofworkwelldone

Emeritus mathematics professor Dr. Jim Mann taught at Wheaton for two decades before retiring in 2002. He still lives in town and speaks with a southern accent that points back to his roots in the Appalachians, in tiny Bluefield, West Virginia.

As a student, Jim attended summer school at Wheaton for only one month, but it was enough to change the course of his life. “I met my wife at Wheaton,” he says. Celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, Jim and Dottie Weyenberg Mann ’59 raised four children and are now grandparents to nine.

After earning his doctorate at Harvard, Jim went on to teach and publish, contributing to several mathematics textbooks and writing numerous scholarly articles. What he treasures most from his first career, however, are the relationships he enjoyed—and still enjoys— with students and colleagues.

“Working with Pete is one of my greatest joys,” Jim says. “Pete’s an extrovert; he’s friends with everybody. He’s a good influence on me. Mathematicians, you know, can be introverts.”

Jim says doing handyman work is quite different from the work he did as a professor. “There’s immediate feedback and real gratitude when you paint a room or fix something that’s broken.”

Jim also volunteers at Habitat for Humanity one day every week. He notes that working in a person’s home affords him the opportunity to come to know clients and share his faith. Several years ago, he learned that a person for whom he had done work had committed suicide. He resolved that from then on, he would engage with his clients about their interest in attending church and leave a card behind with information about his own faith community.

“You can often give more advice to people when you’re a handyman in their home than a pastor can,” Jim says. “I see God’s hand in what I do.”

Carolyn MacKinney Raffensperger ’54, M.A. ’85 #seeingGodineverymoment

Carolyn Raffensperger lives in Big Bay, Michigan, which she describes as a “glorious place.” Her home is a log cabin near Lake Superior, heated by a wood stove, in the company of “eagles, deer, moose, otter, ice fishermen, and someone at the door to see that I am all right.”

She’s lived in Big Bay since 2006 when she was called to the pastorate of Community Presbyterian Church. In an area of the country that averages more than 150 inches of snow a year, the 81-year-old says that living there “takes a lot of time and effort.”

“The town is isolated and resistant to change,” Carolyn says. “The challenge is to be faithful to Jesus Christ, to love people, and to help them to be faithful.”

Like the Normans, Carolyn had a “former” life in Chicago very different from the one she now leads. She raised five children and is now grandmother to nine. Her R.N. is from West Suburban Hospital, and much later she earned her master’s degree in Christian education from Wheaton’s Graduate School. She also studied piano at the Conservatory of Music for nine years and has traveled the U.S. on two national tours as a pianist with the L’Abri Ensemble.

In 1995, after serving as a layperson for many years in her Presbyterian church, Carolyn received her M.DIV. She then moved to New Castle, Indiana, where she served as associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church for nearly a decade. In 2006, she relocated to Big Bay, where she serves as the only pastor and as the pianist.

“My greatest joy is when people ‘get’ the Scripture: when they hear it and understand it, when they want to pray, and when visitors are nourished by the love and grace of the congregation,” she says. “I see God’s hand every moment, in the people who come my way and in his care.”

*“The # symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages,” according to the Twitter Help Center.

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