Choir Alumni Return to Sing the Dean Home
By Bobby Davis ’82
Under the direction of Alexander Anderson, former Chapel Choir director and member of the music faculty (1969- 1989), glorious music filled the Knowles Memorial Chapel during the September 21, 2008 campus memorial service for Dean Emeritus Arnold Wettstein. Shimmering notes flowed from the Chapel’s refurbished organ and voices swelled in musical praise from the choir of some 40 Chapel Choir alumni who returned to sing at the service—a fitting tribute to a man who cherished the connection between the religious services he conducted and the sacred music that enhanced them.
Inspired and organized by former Choir member and Rollins computer programmer Susan Curran ’76, this sentimental gathering drew Choir alumni from across the country. They first convened on Saturday afternoon, the day before the service, to reminisce about their beloved dean at an event that held special meaning for them: a barbecue prepared by Johnny Johnson, son of the late Johnnie Johnson, Chapel sexton from 1953 to 1989, whose regular barbecues were a cherished Choir tradition. “The last time we had Johnnie’s barbeque was in 1989 during Alumni Reunion Weekend, when Chapel Choir alumni from 1974 to 1988 were invited back to bid farewell to Alex Anderson before he headed off to become music master at Haileybury College in Hertford, England,” Curran said.
Seems foods was the key to the singers’ hearts—make that voices. Curran recalled another important Choir tradition: the Sunday morning “Donut Ministry.” “We had to show up one hour before the Chapel service started to warm up, go over the hymns, and rehearse one more time,” she said. ”Then we had a short break to robe, and we had coffee, tea, OJ…and donuts. I can’t remember who gave it the name ‘Donut Ministry,’ but it stuck. Basically, if you fed us, we’d sing.”
After an emotional reunion at the barbecue, the Choir alumni spent a few hours rehearsing in preparation for the next day’s memorial service. On Sunday, you’d have thought they had been singing together for years. And one couldn’t help but feel the presence of the dean who so loved the sound of music reverberating in the halls of his beloved Chapel.
As former president Thaddeus Seymour ’82HAL ’90H said of the Choir reunion, “Thanks for this wonderful gift to all who loved Arnold.” Bruce Barber ’82, who played the organ during the ceremony, turned that sentiment around in his own message: “Though sad for the occasion, the reunion of so many of us is Arnold’s last wonderful gift to us.”