One of the virtues of a small liberal arts college is that there is a greater chance for direct, personal relationships with senior faculty even when you are an undergrad. For example, the first semester of my freshman year I had been in the Wester home, which was an inspiration. Don and Janie had built a home that with the best available technology of the 1980's was energy efficient and environmentally sustainable. It was filled with Janie's art and Don's books. Books everywhere, but well organized, in wooden shelves with glass doors.
My sophomore year I began working with Don as one of his graders, a job I kept for three years. As his student employee, I grew personally close to Don and benefited from the many conversations.
One day he mentioned reading a book that week, which to me was shocking, that he could read the entire book in one week. When I said as much, he said he did that all the time and assured me I would one day too. He was correct, of course, as I now read 70-80 books a year.
Working for him, I also became the tutor for Intro to Philosophy, hosting a weekly session with students reviewing what they were doing in the class and answering their questions. This was my first opportunity for teaching philosophy.
I remained living in Shawnee the five years I commuted to the University of Oklahoma in Norman to work on my Masters and Ph. D. During those years I was an active member of the First Baptist Church of Shawnee where the Westers were members. So through those years of grad school at OU, my friendship with Don deepened.
And we live in a small world, as my connections to the Wester family have grown. Son Mike and I served as deacons at First Baptist Shawnee. When I moved to Oklahoma City in 2005 to pastor at Cathedral of Hope, Tom Wester attended the church. And then I was very surprised when I moved to Omaha in 2010 and son Donald Junior was a member of First Central. Donald and I became good friends as well, initially bonding over stories of his dad. I got to participate in Donald’s ordination, and he even served on the staff of First Central for a while, before moving to Arkansas to pastor. Don, Sr. participated in the ordination service for his son, a fun moment for me.
This week so many messages have been shared by former students and colleagues about Don and his impact. Today we will celebrate and honor a great legacy.