STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 05/06/2011

Good Friends, Faithful Presence

Two presidents, two first ladies: Stan and Judy Gaede and Jan and Jud Carlberg at Westmont College, where Stan served as president until 2006.

Judy distinctly remembers the first time she met newly arrived Jan. The Carlbergs were temporarily housed at Bromley Hall, and Judy dropped by to say “hi.” Heather and a very tiny Chad were playing on the floor, and Jan welcomed Judy in as if they had been friends from day one. Jan’s fresh face and warm smile had something to do with it. But there was an instant rapport that would endure for the next three (going on four) decades. They soon found themselves having lunch together, trading stories and feeling like they’d been friends forever. When I asked Judy why, words like “warmth,” “love of beauty” and “self-deprecating sense of humor” came tumbling out. But in the end she noted that Jan was such a compassionate listener. She could tell a good story, of course (as we would learn over the years), but her first inclination was to probe and listen. And learn.

Learning. Not a bad trait for someone in leadership at a college, come to think of it, and something we would increasingly come to appreciate about both Jud and Jan over the years. Of course, given our multiple connections—children named “Heather,” spouses working for each other, and names that seemed to sync up with personality traits (Jud and Judy; Jan and Stan). But the truth is, these are two bright people who used their minds to better serve others (including one another). Jud would eventually become a national leader in higher education, serving on boards like CHEA (Council for Higher Education Accreditation)—setting standards for American higher education. Yet he rarely talked about these honors. Instead he learned; met people whom he would later use as advisors, for one thing, becoming ever more adept at matching resources with needs and opportunities. Remembering, in other words, what he had learned, and putting his knowledge to good use back at Gordon.

Jan’s memory was a tad more dangerous. I discovered that personally when she coerced me and four other (dimwitted) faculty members to mimic a Jackson Five dance routine at the Black and Blue Review. If you had even a modest gift, she employed it. And so Russ Camp wound up playing a piano solo of “Three Blind Mice” on one occasion, with a live lab rat trotting across his shoulders. And Dick Gross (bless his heart) even consented to doing a standup Rodney Dangerfield routine. Eventually Jan managed to get the entire Theatre and Communication Arts Department faculty to conspire with her, which is why we now have the Golden Goose Awards (and a hundred other things). But the point is, Jan can see the possibilities in others and bring those possibilities into being by pulling together and inspiring the team needed to do the work. Bill Belichick, eat your heart out.

In one thing, of course, they are not alike. Jud is a bit more, let us say . . . organized . . . than Jan. In fact, he’s more organized than anyone I’ve ever met in my life. It is one of the keys to his effective leadership, actually, since he is almost never overwhelmed by the turn of events but, rather, calmly turns to meet them head on. And how can he do this time after time? Because “the events” are not enemies for Jud; or even obstacles, in their entirety. Rather, they are the equipment given to accomplish the task at hand. In other words, Jud does not confuse ends and means. He is not organized for the sake of organization but for the sake of the College he serves. For that reason he has no trouble saying “That’s a good point,” and even moving in a new direction if such a move would bring about the desired outcome. The goal isn’t to prove how right you are, after all; the goal is to do the right thing as God gives you the wisdom to see the right.

And so today we have a campus that is loaded with beautiful buildings, to be sure; but they contain a community of people significantly more stunning than the buildings they occupy. People who enjoy one another even when they disagree. Faculty who pursue different avenues of study but love the same Lord. Students who are stretched far beyond that which they thought possible, now stretched around the world doing the impossible with the Light they have been given.

And what accounts for all this beauty in both form and function? Well, it’s a long history of faithfulness from A. J. Gordon forward. Prayers uttered; and prayers heard. And the blessing we gratefully acknowledge in this season is that Jud and Jan Carlberg have stood four-square in that tradition. They have been faithful with the gifts God has given them to the benefit and joy of all of us who have served with them. Thanks be to God.

Stan D. Gaede, Ph.D., has been scholar-in-residence at Gordon since 2006, after serving as president and provost of Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, for a decade. He is also currently president of the Christian College Consortium (CCC). Gaede—who was a member of Gordon’s faculty 1974–1996—has published many books and articles, including An Incomplete Guide to the Rest of Your Life (2002) and When Tolerance Is No Virtue (1995). He and his wife, Judy, have three grown children: Heather, Nathanael and Kirsten.

NEXT: Jan Carlberg: Words Matter