Wettstein did not just preach religious ideals; he lived and expressed them in his deeds. His spirit of tolerance, compassion, and respect for diverse views was a guiding force at Rollins. As his former faculty colleague Hoyt Edge said, “He was always a voice of reason and compromise in faculty meetings. Arnold was the conscience of the College.”
The Dean had a gift for motivating his students to learn and exciting them about service to society. Although he always placed students and other colleagues in the forefront, he was the driving force behind the finals week pancake breakfasts, the World Hunger Committee, and the concerts on behalf of Oxfam to alleviate hunger in poverty-stricken countries. For years, Rollins’ contributions to Oxfam outstripped those of much larger universities. He got students involved in Daily Bread, which feeds Orlando’s homeless. For Rick Taylor ’81, he embodied a characteristic aphorism of St. Francis of Assisi: “Proclaim the gospel boldly, and if necessary, use words.”
Wettstein initiated service-learning courses in Jamaica, Guatemala, Uganda, and Ghana, and helped to initiate projects for Habitat for Humanity International—activities which have become a centerpiece of Rollins education today. He once told an interviewer, “Well, what inspired me was … I felt I couldn’t really teach ethics in an affluent society very well without having a confrontation with the problems as they really are. You just can’t come to any significant ethical conclusions when you’re sitting in your chaise lounge or driving your convertible to the beach.”
Though his dignity and wisdom made him a figure of reverence, Wettstein was also “cool” in an endearing way to young people. He accepted students’ non-academic aspirations and interests and nurtured them intuitively. “As intelligent as Arnold Wettstein was, I will always remember him for his ability to suspend the social mores of what a dean of the Chapel ‘should’ be like and ‘ought’ to do, and make decisions that were instead inspired by love,” said Woody Nash ’90. “He knew that as architecturally impressive and sacred as the Knowles Memorial Chapel is, it was spiritually lifeless unless it attracted and served the Rollins community.” Perhaps one of the achievements of which Wettstein was most proud was marrying more than 500 Rollins alumni in the Chapel.
Wettstein had a mischievous sense of humor that endeared him to many; he loved the theater, pranks, and witticisms, and took pleasure in life’s everyday absurdities. At bottom, however, he was a deeply serious man who spent his life pondering life’s greatest mysteries, understanding and finding common ideals among the world’s various religions, and working to help his students, his community, and the world at large to find peace and harmony. He took pleasure in people’s differences, yet worked to help them see their common humanity. He wanted people to take themselves less seriously, but find serious purpose in their lives.
“Arnold loved life,” said John Langfitt ’81MS, who served as Wettstein’s assistant dean and coordinator of the Sullivan House campus ministry. “He enjoyed adventure as well as theological and intellectual discussion. He was a peacemaker and on the cutting edge of the important ethical issues of the day. He broadened Christianity into a world perspective. He laughed and loved and worshiped and played, but he took us to a higher level of intellectuality and spirituality that made us more excited about God and life.”
Not long after Wettstein died, his son Fritz ’83 had an experience that embodies the influence the dean had on so many people. “It’s hard listening to the readings at church and not thinking about how Dad would interpret them,” Fritz said. “I was at a service where the minister read Matthew 10:39. ‘Jesus said: Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.’ He explained that these words were recalled and written down at a time when an early Christian’s risk of death and possibilities at martyrdom were very real. He went on to give a good lesson on bearing the cross for Christ. Still, I sat and wondered, ‘What would my Dad say?’”
For many Rollins alumni pondering life’s mysteries in adulthood, we wonder, what would Dean Wettstein say about that? As he always wanted us to, we must draw our own conclusions, but our spirits are buoyed by the memory of his confidence in us.
Arnold Wettstein is survived by his wife of 54 years, Marguerite; sons, Ted and Fritz ’83; daughter, Deborah ’77; brother, Calvin; and six grandchildren.
Contributions in memory of A. Arnold Wettstein may be made to the following organizations:
■ Oxfam America, oxfamamerica.org, 226 Causeway St., 5th Floor, Boston, MA 02114;
■ Heifer Project International, heifer.org, 1 World Avenue, Little Rock, AR 72202; and
■ Habitat for Humanity International, habitat.org, 121 Habitat Street, Americus, GA 31709.
A Web site designed by Wood Nash ’90 containing remembrances of Arnold Wettstein by alumni, family, and friends; photos; and other material related to the Dean’s life has been established in cooperation with the Wettstein family at arnoldwettstein.ning.com.
DVDs of Dean Wettstein’s memorial service at the Knowles Memorial Chapel can be purchased for $15 from Josh Chesarek ’09HH, who filmed the proceedings for the Alumni Relations office. Go to simplethoughtproductions.com/2008/09/29/arnold-wettstein-memorial/ or call 407-619-9716.