Willamette University

Turning Points Written by You

In the last edition of The Scene we added a small insert card that posed a big question: What one moment changed your life forever? Our hope was that the prompt would generate a bit of a dialog – a readership response that could yield a feature like the one you’ll read below.

You delivered.

We discovered during editing – much to our own delight – that the volume of responses exceeded the room we had available in the magazine. We received a host replies that we’ve published here in their entirety.

Take a look at what these alumni have to say. Many of their personal turning points involve Willamette specifically, but not all of them do. We think that the compilation can tell us about some of life’s more interesting paths, but perhaps it also teaches about the nature of the Willamette community as a whole.


Chris Doering ’81

Holden, Maine

There have been many turning points in my life, but three stand out. The first was being recruited to Willamette as a swimmer by Jim Brik. Up to that point, I had assumed that I would go to the minor state college in my hometown, and live at home while I did so. Breaking with my past and relying upon myself as I had to do at Willamette was a tremendous opportunity to grow.

The second was the time I spent in London during my last semester at Willamette. The experience was not what I might have had if I had gone to Barcelona or Moscow. It was, however, a big step for me. I had not traveled much outside the U.S., and my eyes were opened to the larger world.

Finally, after a year of post-college idling, I joined the Navy to be a Naval Flight Officer. I flew F-14s off of aircraft carriers and visited Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, Thailand and the Philippines. I was constantly in school and challenged to meet the demands of my occupation. As someone once told me about this job, when we graduate college, it is like we are given a box of crayons with which we color, and we make the best pictures we can. Eventually, we have a few crayons left — maybe gray, black, dark blue. Accepting the challenge of a career in the military is like being given a whole new box of crayons.


Josh Norman ’97

The biggest turning point in my life was having a Japanese roommate my freshman year in Kaneko Hall. That experience fostered in me a strong interest in Japanese people and their culture, which led me to become an International Peer Counselor and summer RA for Japanese students for three years during my time at WU.

All of these great experiences with Japanese exchange students motivated me to participate in the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) program for two years after graduation. After coming back to Oregon and working for a brief period, I felt a strong desire to return to Japan. I applied for and received a Japanese government scholarship for graduate studies in Kumamoto, Japan in 2000. After completing my PhD in 2006, I was fortunate to be hired as a full-time instructor of English and cross-cultural communication at a women’s university in Kumamoto.

I got married in March 2008 to my fiancé Mie Horiuchi, and I will likely be in Japan long-term. If it wasn’t for having a Japanese roommate my freshman year, I’m not sure where I would be today.


Rose Barker ’05

It was 8 a.m. on a very foggy morning in Krakow, Poland. I hadn’t slept a wink — by my own election. It was my last night in Krakow, and the furthest thing from my mind was sleep.

The purpose of my trip was to give a lecture at the International Debate Education Association symposium, of which Willamette sponsored my attendance. Providence would have it that my life would change forever for an unrelated reason. That last night in Krakow, a Greek graduate student attending the symposium would impart a simple truth: Find adventure in every moment. Lighten up. Live.

We spoke until 8 a.m., the hour I loaded into the hotel van with Willamette Professor Robert Trapp to head home. The night’s exchange would prove to be the most pivotal discussion of my life. The Greek gentleman’s words were not complex. He was not teaching me, but simply recounting his life story. I returned home with my epiphany clutched to my chest. I wrote 40 pages of reflection in one week. I was finally engaged in living life fully.

That early morning enabled me to do what I thought impossible. I have since worked for a Grammy Award–winning musician, become an ambassador for a worldwide travel organization (www.couchsurfing.com/people/rose) and recently took a leave of absence from my job in Salem to live in Ecuador for one year. I have no regrets. And I am forever indebted to God and that grad student to have the opportunity to truly embody “carpe diem.”


Doug Houser ’57, Willamette trustee

In the fall of 1953, I was a freshman Beta Theta Pi pledge. I had gotten good grades in high school and planned to go to law school at Stanford following graduation from Willamette.

I had a fun first semester at Willamette and learned that if I didn’t take final exams, I could still get a “B” grade. I went home early at Christmas and got a straight “B” average, 3.0 GPA. When I returned to Willamette following the Christmas break, I was taken aside by Beta House President Bob Packwood ’54 (later U.S. Senator) and Senior Beta Dan Dearborn ’56, who read me the riot act and said, “Mediocrity and a 3.0 GPA will not get you where you want to go!”

The excellent advice, friendship, and mentoring I received from my Beta brothers and the fine undergraduate education I received at Willamette made it possible for me to get a full tuition scholarship to Stanford Law School and fulfill my goal of being a lawyer.


Leonard S. Laws ’39

My life changed forever when I took a mathematics course from Dr. Chester Luther in Willamette University in 1939. I decided I wanted to teach mathematics in a small college like Dr. Luther did. I obtained an EdD from Michigan State University and spent a lifetime of teaching at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kan., a Methodist college.

Editor’s note: Leonard Laws went on to create turning points for other future mathematics teachers in Kansas, including Joe Anderson, who wrote, “Dr. Laws was instrumental in my choice of life’s work. I became a mathematics instructor, and attempted to inspire others to enjoy the subject. ...Dr. Laws was a great mentor. I only wish I could have been a more promising student for him. But maybe my struggles with mathematics helped me to be more aware of struggles that my students had.”


Bart White ’67

What changed my life? Quite simply, taking the initiative to speak with the management at KSLM radio about starting a weekly radio program to promote Willamette University. At the time, WU had no student radio station and, fortunately, my proposal was accepted. “Bearcat Roundup” began airing at 8 p.m. each Wednesday in the spring semester of 1966, and it gave me the opportunity to interview coaches, athletes, administrators, student government leaders and popular culture celebrities visiting campus.

This learning experience led to a full-time career in the radio industry after graduate school, a successful radio marketing and sales consulting business, and 30 years as a professor of broadcasting at Western Kentucky University, where I have written two hard-cover radio-oriented business books for major publishers.

Willamette gave me the confidence to pursue my passion, even before I had graduated. My journalism and English professors were exceptional and always encouraged me to “learn by doing,” whether I was writing for the Collegian or stepping out into the marketplace by convincing a local radio station to give an inexperienced student the chance to become a radio host.


Melanie Hawkes Hodge ’96

It began with the map Heather (Beebe Stevens ’96) had hung on our apartment wall as we planned our trip to Europe — but that wasn’t the moment. It began with a set of watercolors and a paintbrush — that wasn’t the moment, either. It began with a desire to travel to far-flung places, a taste for books about polar exploration and an instinct to go north, and then further north again. It began under the midnight sun. But alone, none of these were the moment to change all other moments.

The moment: a table in a hostel on one of the Lofoten Islands (Norway). I was painting one of my promised postcards home. Vikings, fishermen’s rorbus, the midnight sun featuring. A cycling Brit sat opposite reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez. A cup of tea (or more precisely, two). Some conversation. A map painted with imagination and adventure, the promise of romance.

We’re now married with two children, and I travel the world as a diplomat’s wife. Britain, Jordan, Belgium, Croatia. I am still looking at maps, still painting and still reading books about polar exploration. I still never know when someone important might sit down at the table opposite.


Brian Reick MM’91

Just before entering my second year at the Atkinson Graduate School of Management, my long-time friend and former teammate Ken James called to tell me he had just accepted the head coaching job in men’s and women’s cross country at Willamette University, and asked if I would serve as his assistant. Not ever having considered coaching, I accepted his offer, primarily out of loyalty.

Over the next seven years, I discovered the inner confidence to speak in front of groups — the position provided me the opportunity to share my experiences as a competitor of average ability with a strong work ethic. I discovered the reward in helping others rise to challenges, gain confidence and achieve their goals; it rivals that of achieving personal success. I also discovered the ability to “balance” a developing business career with my unexpected passion for coaching. I would take a deep breath before each season started in late August, and adrenaline would carry me through the last meet in November.

The lessons I learned through coaching still benefit me in both my personal and professional life. I will always feel I received more than I gave. The only greater thing I could hope for is that our former athletes feel the same way.


Brian F. Krieg ’82

In the early summer of 1980, I had the unique opportunity to travel behind the Iron Curtain to the Soviet Union as part of a very small group led by geography Professor Tom Detwyler. I went based on my major in political science; however, the Soviet travel bureau Intourist changed much of our itinerary to visiting art museums instead of learning about new towns and planned development. This trip exposed me to some of the greatest works and collections of art in the world, and ignited an interest in art that remains high today.

Upon returning to Willamette, I was motivated to take several art history classes with Professor Roger Hull. Then, instead of going on to law school as planned, I went to business school and majored in marketing. What I learned in his art history classes has served me well, leading to many awards for advertising and marketing materials and a very rewarding career. Those experiences were pivotal for my career. I capped that in 2005 by finally getting to go with Roger (and Professor Adele Birnbaum) on Willamette’s Florence program, where I had the joy of being a student again.


Barbara Woodworth Saigo ’64

I came to Willamette at a young 16, a country girl from small rural schools, full of enthusiasm, optimism, good cheer — and a full share of inexperience. My mind and spirit soared in the enormous world of knowledge and activity that opened before me. I reveled in the diverse opportunities to participate. My days were too short to take all the courses I wanted to take and do all the things I wanted to do!

I was blessed to have Professor Martha Springer as an advisor. She changed my life one day with a question followed by a statement: “Have you thought about going to graduate school? You could teach at a university.” I was blown away that she saw me in that way, and I am forever grateful. Perhaps a similar moment would have come to me elsewhere, but I have my doubts.

That a professor whom I admired could have such faith in me and cared enough to perceive that I needed help and advice at an important point in my life filled me with inspiration, confidence and gratitude. That Professor Cecil Monk shared her opinion and helped me through the next stages of entering graduate school was a second amazement to me. I deeply and fondly appreciate all of my WU professors and classmates for enriching and shaping my life.


Steve Scott ’75

My turning point came near the end of my sophomore year at WU, in April 1973. Bob Wells ’74 and I marched into the office of our advisor, Professor Richard Gillis, to announce we would be leaving WU to “tour Europe by rail” for a year.

As always, Dr. Gillis was excited. He told us he, too, would be leaving school — but to explore Japan as faculty leader for the first group of WU students to attend Tokyo International University (then the International College of Commerce). He told us fascinating stories of his first trip to Japan and great plans for this next one. He would take 25 WU students for a semester, he said. Well, by now you could guess that Dr. Gillis sold Bob and me on the idea of exploring a foreign country while still staying in school.

That afternoon led me to more than the memorable experience of being in the first group of WU exchange students to Japan. It also sparked the desire to earn an international MBA at the Thunderbird School for International Management in Phoenix and a career in international sales and marketing at IBM, Tandem Computers and now HP. And I met Mari, an ICC/TIU student, who became my wife of 29 years and mother of my two children. Dr. Gillis’ good humor and enthusiasm for life left his mark on many WU students over the years, including me.


Christa (Abbott) Hutchison ’03

Given the recent political fervor throughout the country, I have been reminded of a moment that changed my life. Like many students at Willamette, I was an ambitious politics major. Late in my senior year I was notified of a position open with one of our senators in Washington, D.C.

For this small-town girl, D.C. was the ultimate in success. I quickly submitted my resume and was called for an interview. It was a long process, but it eventually came down to me and one other person. I was so convinced that I had the job, I sold all my furniture and bought a one-way ticket. The day after graduation, I learned that I had not been chosen for the job. It was devastating. I felt adrift. I had become so focused on one direction, that I lost sight of all my other options.

That was my defining moment. I learned that life is not about what happens to you, but how you deal with it. I picked myself up and moved to Portland. I got a job, an apartment, and eventually met my husband, a wonderful event that would not have happened had I gotten the job in D.C. My life-changing moment was learning to deal with life, and I’m glad I did.


Mari Wildt Radford ’85

When my husband of 19 years died suddenly, my life trajectory, as I saw it, suddenly stopped. I had two boys, ages 10 and 12, and at least another 40 years of living to do. How would I fill it? I spent a year making sure my children were stable and that we had a place to live. Then I started exploring my options, considering things I never had before. I wanted to wake up every morning excited to go to work. I wanted to make a difference in the world. I wanted to show my sons that life goes on and our legacy is how we spend it.

My Willamette academic career had been less than stellar. I liked to say I majored in socializing with a minor in history. I was young and unfocused. And because of that, I never really considered graduate school. But at 42 I needed to jump start my life and re-engage my intellect.

My moment of change occurred when I entered the Community and Regional Planning Program at Temple University for a master’s degree. Not only did I find validation of my earlier work and life experience, but I discovered that I loved the challenge of learning again. Willamette had given me the tools I needed, but it took some intervening years before I was ready to use them. As I write this, I am within weeks of completing my degree, and looking forward to making communities better places to live, work and play — for everyone.


Gregory N. Smith ’75

In the early ’90s, I had worked my way up the corporate ladder. After years of 60-hour workweeks with some of the finest brokerage and law firms in Seattle, I needed a change.

One drizzly winter night, I was walking through Pike Place Market after a workout at my upscale health club. A gaunt African-American man wearing scratched wire-framed glasses and a ragged army fatigue coat emerged from the shadows. “Please, sir,” he said, “I’m very hungry. Could you possibly give me some money so I could get something to eat?”

Don’t give panhandlers money, the public service signs warned. They use it to buy alcohol and drugs. Normally I heeded the advice, and continued on my way, but tonight I wanted to call this fellow’s game. We were near a produce stand that hadn’t closed for the evening.

“You’re hungry?” I said. “How about I buy you an apple?”

“Oh yes, sir,” the man said. “Thank you. I’d like an apple very much.”

“Here, I’ll buy you two apples,” I said, selecting a couple from the bin and holding out a five to the Korean man tending the stand. At that moment a hollow-eyed woman appeared at my side and touched my arm. She, too, was attired in a thin cloth coat, dirty and ill-suited to the weather.

“Please sir,” she said, “buy me an apple. I’m hungry, too.”

I looked at the Korean, who had lowered his eyes, then reached for two more apples. “Keep the change,” I said, and fled into the night.

A year later, I’d sold most everything I owned and bought a sailboat. After several years sailing around the world, I resigned from the state bar, wrote a book and decided to dedicate myself to working for social justice.


Janice Belknap ’03

When I entered Willamette as a freshman, I was on the fence between becoming a chemical engineer or a high school chemistry teacher. The truth is, I had already decided engineering probably wasn’t for me, I just couldn’t break the news to my dad until I had given college some time. Over time the truth came out, and everyone was happy with my decision.

Then in the fall semester of my junior year, I took “Introduction to Teaching.” The class was great, but the outcome was somewhat disappointing. I suddenly knew there was no way I could be a high school teacher. I still loved chemistry, still loved the idea of teaching, but couldn’t handle the reality of the classroom.

As I sat on the third floor of Olin one day, pondering my future and lack of plans, an older student said offhandedly, “I’m looking at pharmacy school.” I asked her a few questions because I had never even heard of that as an option (medical school, optometry and nursing were all quite familiar to me), then did some research of my own. I found that through pharmacy, I could use my skills in science and my passion for helping people without wielding a scalpel or spending years in residency. By the end of the day, I had a new plan, and I haven’t wavered since. After a year of post-baccalaureate studies to finish my prerequisites and four years of graduate school, I finally finished my pharmacy degree last June.

Throughout my internships and first few months of work, I have only become surer that I made the right choice. I often wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t taken “Introduction to Teaching” or if that fellow student hadn’t talked to me on that particular day. I’m sure I would have found a fulfilling career path, but I’m definitely enjoying the one I’m on now.


Joan (Robinson) Rhodes ’64

In 1962–63, Willamette enabled me to attend the Institute of European Studies in Vienna, Austria and still get credits toward graduation. During that year, I was able to travel all over Europe and even into countries under Communist rule. As a political science major, this was an invaluable asset to my education. The experiences of that year exposed me to a wide variety of viewpoints, and this helps me even today to better understand some of the crises the world faces.

Because Willamette is a small university, I was able to assume leadership positions that I would probably not have taken in a bigger school. Professionally, I became a teacher, counselor and school psychologist. My experiences at Willamette did a great deal to increase my self-confidence, and they have had a very positive impact on my life. Thanks, Willamette.


Mary Louise VanNatta ’86

The Bistro at Willamette changed my life. I returned to Willamette, after graduating the previous year, for a visit and coffee with a friend. I met a fellow student of hers from Atkinson Graduate School of Management. He was getting ready for the Brownwater Regatta. Little did I know that Harvey Gail MM’88 and I would get married a few years later. We celebrate our 19th anniversary this year!


Scott Crane ’94, MAT’95

When I reached the summer before eighth grade, I had a pivotal backpacking trip with my family and my church. We were gathered around our campfire one night on a ridge in the Jefferson Wilderness Area. Our pastor had everyone bring something they had found during the day to the fire that reminded them of God, and each person shared a little about what it meant for them to be there and how they found God in our experience together.

When it came to my father’s turn, he stared off into the growing darkness for a while in silence, which was encouraged and supported companionably, then made this (for me) life-changing statement, paraphrased from my childhood memory: “I didn’t bring anything, and I don’t really know if there is a God or not. But when I am out here out in the midst of all this,” he said, gesturing into the dusk-filled mountaintop sunset, “I think perhaps this is the closest I can come to belief.”