Basket of Memories of Early Days of the Values Institute

By Roberta Christie
Former Assistant to the Vice President for Student Affairs
Florida State University

The Institute was just one of several bright ideas that Jon Dalton, vice president for student affairs (VPSA), brought with him to FSU. My position, at the time, was assistant to the VPSA, and as such I was involved in these special projects.

I worked with Institute planning mainly during the early Wakulla Springs era.  Even in February (which can be—and was, at times—cold and rainy), we knew that Wakulla Springs and the lodge would delight our conferees and make their stay memorable. But, to assure that our conferees left knowing how rich and precious North Florida is, we included the Wakulla Springs River Cruise and an optional visit to nearby St. Marks Wildlife Refuge in the schedule. Our guests got a sense of the “real Florida” cruising by Spanish-moss draped cypress trees, gawking at sunning ‘gators, and admiring the wading and diving birds. I remember one year, on a misty, windy afternoon, taking a vanload of guests to the Wildlife Refuge. Spotting an eagle perched in a tree relatively close to the road, I asked our driver to stop so we could get out to look. My estimation of my northern colleagues sank when not one bothered to get out to get a good view of our national bird.  But later, when we came upon a large alligator sunning on the far side of the canal, all tumbled out to see. A few insisted that the ‘gator was fake; that a living animal would not stay that still while a group of 10 people stood barely 15 feet from it. I suggested that someone wade across the canal to check. No one took me up on that challenge, and we returned to the lodge with everyone intact. And when I think of the Institute, I invariably think of William Sloan Coffin, who after repeated visits became “Bill” to many of us.

Brilliant, loquacious, wise and full of good humor, he brought enormous energy and spark with him wherever he went.  Luckily, I got him to myself one afternoon in Tallahassee. He wanted to visit the Museum of Black History on FAMU’s campus, so I drove him over, and we spent an hour exploring that fascinating collection. I also introduced him to a friend, FSU and Harvard history graduate, Dr. Bob Hall, who had come to one of the sessions. It turned out that Bill knew Bob’s parents during the days of the Civil Rights Movement and that he first met Bob when he was a bouncing baby boy. It was lovely to see them in each other’s company again after all those years (See photo).Thanks again to the Institute connection, I had a chance to become better acquainted with one of the Big Names in student affairs. Art Chickering and his wife Jo were my guests in Oaxaca, Mexico, where I moved after retiring from FSU in 2004. They and their daughter and her husband—all fascinating folks with many travel adventures to share—were in Oaxaca for a University of Vermont course on traditional healing practices. So, you can see that in my “basket” of Institute memories, my memories range from alligators and eagles to some of the finest thinkers and actors in our field. It was a privilege to be just a small part of making it all come into being.