The Deacon Blog

A magazine staff blog with news of alumni and the WFU community

The penguin that’s proud to be a Deacon

Deacon, and his brother or sister -- keepers still don't know the sex of either penguin. Watch a video  of the penguins.

Deacon, at left, and his unnamed brother or sister — keepers still don’t know the sex of either penguin. Watch a video of the penguins. Photos courtesy of Greensboro Science Center.

We know plenty of alumni who name their dogs Deacon, but a penguin named Deacon? That’s something we don’t hear every day, or ever for that matter.

Just down the road at the Greensboro Science Center there’s a new African penguin chick — one of two hatched in late August — that was recently named Deacon. In a story on the penguin chicks, the Greensboro News & Record took note of the unique name: “A Science Center patron bought naming rights in honor of a friend — and faithful Wake Forest fan — who died of ALS.”

The newspaper article didn’t mention the name of that faithful Wake Forest fan. But we knew it had to be Pete Moffitt (’84), who lived in Greensboro before dying of ALS in August 2013. Pete was indeed a huge Wake Forest fan and a friend to many here on campus.

A quick look at his wife’s Facebook page confirmed the penguin connection. Susan Gunter Moffitt (’86) posted a photo and this message several days ago: “Here is the newest member of the Moffitt family. Welcome Deacon! We are truly honored by this offering of friendship and love! Pete would be so moved by your thoughtfulness Washburn family.”

Deacon Taken September 10

When I called Susan Moffitt to learn more, she was still filled with gratitude to the Washburn family. The Washburn family — the Washburns and Moffitts have been friends for years — purchased the naming rights to the penguin. She didn’t know the penguin’s name until Jess Washburn made the announcement last week at the Science Center. (The second penguin is still unnamed.)

Washburn explained why he chose the name to honor his friend: “Pete was a passionate, devoted Wake Forest fan. Through winning and losing seasons, Pete was a die-hard. He rarely missed a game and always kept the faith!”

Deacon the penguin has a good Wake Forest lineage. In addition to Pete and Susan, Pete’s father, William E. Moffitt (’52), and late uncle Robert Moffitt Sr. (’58), are also alumni. Pete and Susan’s twin daughters, Mary Layton and Hastings, are high school seniors who are considering Wake Forest. (An athletic scholarship and the Moffitt Courage Award at Wake Forest are named for Pete Moffitt.)

Susan was on a mission this morning, searching for a “Proud to be a Deacon” pin to stick on the penguin. No, not the real penguin, she assured me, but a stuffed penguin much loved by one of her daughters, whose room is filled with penguins. How special is that?

— Kerry M. King (’85)

The father of Wake Forest ROTC

20140920homecoming0848

If you graduated from Wake Forest between 1940 and 2000, you probably knew, or at least knew of, Robert Helm (’39). Odds are good that you, or a friend, had Helm for “Meaning and Value,” “Space and Time” or some other equally challenging philosophy course. It was what I didn’t know about the retired philosophy professor that left me surprised and impressed Homecoming weekend.

If you were at the Wake Forest-Army game Saturday, it had to warm your heart to see Helm – 97 years old and looking spiffy in a bow tie and Wake Forest #1 jersey – hitch a ride with the Demon Deacon to “open the gate” at BB&T Field.

Helm’s service to Wake Forest is unparalleled. He joined the faculty shortly after graduating, left for a few years to serve in World War II and then rejoined the faculty to teach until 2002. He was named to a distinguished professorship in 1983 when he was appointed Worrell Professor of Philosophy.

But he was honored, appropriately, at the Army game for what I suspect many at BB&T Field didn’t know about him until they heard the P.A. announcer describe his service to his country and school. Lieutenant Colonel Helm served in World War II in France, Luxemburg and Germany. He was with the 89th Infantry Division in General George Patton’s Third Army as it fought its way across Europe.

When he returned to Wake Forest in 1947, he persuaded then-President Harold W. Tribble to pursue an ROTC program on campus. According to Bynum Shaw’s “History of Wake Forest College,” about 300 colleges and universities submitted applications to the Department of Defense to start ROTC programs on their campuses; 32 were selected, including Wake Forest. The Wake Forest ROTC unit had offices and classrooms in the basement of Binkley Chapel on the Old Campus; drills were held on the athletic playing fields. Helm served for years as faculty coordinator and chairman of the ROTC committee while continuing to serve in the Army Reserve.

Honoring Robert Helm at BB&T Field were (left to right) Charles  McCartney,  John Yingling ('74), Robert Caslen and Richard Beale.

Honoring Robert Helm at BB&T Field were (left to right) Charles McCartney, John Yingling, Robert Caslen and Richard Beale.

Since 1951, nearly 2,000 Wake Forest graduates have been commissioned as Army second lieutenants. If you’ve ever been to Commencement, you know that the commissioning ceremony is one of the highlights of the day.

An impressive trio of officers who got their start through the Wake Forest ROTC program was on hand to honor Helm at BB&T Field. Major General (Ret.) Richard Beale (’64), Major General (Ret.) Charles McCartney (’69) and Major General (Ret.) John Yingling (’74). They are the only Wake Forest Army ROTC graduates to be promoted to the rank of Major General. They were joined by Lieutenant General Robert Caslen, superintendent of the United States Military Academy.

The day before, Helm was recognized at the Half Century Club luncheon — for alumni who graduated 50 years ago or more — for the 75th anniversary of his graduation from Wake Forest. Beale, who was there, too, to celebrate his 50th reunion, was eager to talk with me about Helm, calling him “the father of the Wake Forest ROTC.”

20140920homecoming0820“He’s a patriot. He was part of that generation that Tom Brokaw refers to as ‘the greatest generation.’ He understood the importance of serving your country when the time came,” said Beale, who retired in 1996.

“What he realized by serving in World War II … he understood the importance of having people enter the Army and the commissioned officer corps who had a liberal arts education from a fine college or university to blend with the engineering background of the officers that came in from West Point. He had a vision when he got back to campus, and he approached Dr. Tribble about the merits of bringing ROTC to the campus.”

And that’s why Robert Helm was chosen to open the gate.

— Kerry M. King (’85)

The hitchhiker’s 76th reunion

Fred Williams Sr. ('38, JD '40) with his son, Fred ('67, JD '69), and daughter-in-law, Susan ('67).

Fred Williams Sr. (’38, JD ’40) with his son, Fred (’67, JD ’69), and daughter-in-law Susan (’67).

I doubt there’s any alumnus who can top Fred Williams Sr.’s story on how he came to Wake Forest.

Williams (’38, JD ’40) celebrated his 76th reunion at Homecoming this year. Let that sink in for a moment: it’s been 76 years since he graduated from Wake Forest College. And he’s a spry 99 years old.

It was 81 years ago this month that Williams arrived on the Old Campus. It was a long road from his boyhood home in Trion, Georgia: 510 miles, he tells me on a sunny afternoon Homecoming weekend. It’s a good eight-hour car ride today. Back in his day, it took him two full days: He hitchhiked. The entire way.

Williams’ cousin, Jake Howell (’32), had convinced him that Wake Forest was the place he should go to college. He didn’t waste any time applying. On a Saturday morning in early September 1933, he headed out to Highway 27 and stuck out his thumb.

“My dad spent $12 for a steamer trunk, and I put everything that I had in there and shipped it Railroad Express to Wake Forest, North Carolina. I had never been there, didn’t know anything about it” other than what his cousin had told him, Williams said.

Two days later, he was standing in front of Hardwick’s Drug Store on White Street in the town of Wake Forest with $70 in his pocket. He found a place to live on the second floor of Wilkerson’s grocery store ($32.50 for the semester) and headed over to campus for orientation.

Everything was going smoothly until registrar Grady Patterson (’24) asked him for his bursar’s card, Williams recalled. “I had never heard of one. I said ‘where do you get one?’ He said, ‘Across the hall.’”

That led him to the office of bursar E.B. Earnshaw (1906, MA 1908), who explained that tuition was $100 and fees were $37.50. Williams remembers their conversation like it was yesterday. “He said, ‘I can let you sign a note for tuition, but you’ll have to pay your student fees.’ I said ‘I don’t have any money.’ And he said, ‘You can’t pay your student fees?’ And I said ‘I don’t have any money.’ It seemed like it was 15 minutes, but it was probably only a minute or two, and he said, ‘You know, I’m going to let you register.’”

20120425williams9318

Earnshaw’s faith in the young hitchhiker from Georgia was well-placed. Williams went on to graduate from law school and have a highly successful career as a lawyer and commercial real estate developer in Greensboro, North Carolina. And he’s given back to the school that gave him a chance so long ago, endowing a scholarship and a distinguished faculty chair in the law school.

But Williams admits that he made a mistake naming the scholarship: “Instead of the Fred Williams Scholarship, it should be the E.B. Earnshaw Scholarship,” he says. “Wake Forest made my life.”

— Kerry M. King (’85)

An off-the-court reunion in Vietnam

Al Koehler ('63), at left, and Butch Hassell ('64) at their impromptu reunion in South Vietnam in 1966.

Al Koehler (’63), at left, and Butch Hassell (’64) at their impromptu reunion in South Vietnam in 1966.

As a history buff and longtime Wake Forest sports fan, I was intrigued when I received a grainy, slightly blurry photo of two American GIs from former Deacon basketball player Al Koehler (’63). Al predates me to Wake Forest by 20 years, but I recognized his name; along with more widely known teammates Len Chappell (’62) and Billy Packer (’62), he was on Wake Forest’s 1962 Final Four team, still the only Wake Forest team to advance that far.

The photo shows Al and teammate Butch Hassell (’64, P ’94) at an impromptu alumni reunion in, of all places, South Vietnam, in 1966. The trifecta of Vietnam War history, Wake Forest basketball and a reunion of Deacon buddies was irresistible, so I called Al and Butch to learn more. Long before text messages and cell phones, how had they managed to find one another at a time when thousands of U.S. troops were pouring into South Vietnam?

There wasn’t any military strategy or secret intelligence involved; Koehler simply played a hunch to see his old friend. Koehler had already been in Vietnam for six or seven months when he heard that a transportation unit from Ft. Eustis, Va., was arriving in Long Bien, a major staging area for incoming U.S. troops. Koehler had trained at Ft. Eustis and knew that Hassell had, too, and he knew that it was about time for him to come to Vietnam.

Al Koehler makes a move to the basket in 1962.

Al Koehler makes a move in 1962.

So he did when any enterprising Wake Forest graduate would do. He hopped in his Jeep for the 45-minute drive to Long Bien from his post in the Delta south of Saigon. “I took Sunday afternoon off and went up there and asked around if anyone knew him,” Koehler says matter-of-factly. (I wasn’t surprised when I learned later that he had a long career as an FBI special agent.)

Hassell picks up the story. First of all, he wasn’t thrilled to be there. He expected to serve stateside in “special services,” i.e., playing basketball. That all changed with the troop buildup in the mid ’60s. That’s how he found himself in Vietnam, needing a friend, and Koehler showed up.

“I look up and he’s sitting there in a Jeep, in his nice-looking uniform, being driven by a chauffeur,” Hassell says. “We were putting up tents; it was muddy, dirty, during the rainy season, and I started throwing mud at him.”

But he couldn’t have been happier to see his old teammate. “To tell you the truth I was as homesick as I could be, so seeing a good friend from back home was a real pleasure,” he says.

Butch Hassell drives to the basket in 1964.

Butch Hassell drives to the basket in 1964.

They were a long ways from their glory days playing for fiery Baptist preacher and coach Bones McKinney. Koehler was a 6’2” guard from Rahway, New Jersey, who also played on the Wake Forest baseball team. Hassell was a 5’11” guard from Beaufort, North Carolina, who had been an all-state quarterback in high school. The “Yankee” and the coastal Carolina boy became good friends and roomed together during basketball road games.

Both were backups on the 1962 Final Four team. Wake Forest lost to Ohio State in the semifinals before defeating UCLA by two points in the consolation game to finish third in the nation. Hassell laughingly notes that he scored two points against UCLA, although not THE two points. (Tommy McCoy scored Wake’s last two points on free throws, but it was Billy Packer’s defense that sealed the win.) Koehler and Hassell broke into the starting lineup the next year, splitting time at one guard position. Hassell was named second team All-ACC in his senior year in 1964.

Both were in ROTC and joined the Army after graduating, Koehler in 1963 and Hassell a year later. After their impromptu reunion, they went their separate ways in South Vietnam. Koehler was an executive officer of a transportation unit that unloaded ammunition from ships in the Saigon River onto landing craft for delivery to shore artillery units. Hassell established signal sites around the country. (Hassell relates one other story: he once received a box of golf balls and a wedge from classmate Bobby Edgerton (’64) while in Vietnam.)

The Z. Smith Reynolds Library Special Collections houses letters from the Civil War, World War I and World War II. Donations from Wake Forest alumni veterans would be much appreciated. Please contact Tanya Zanish-Belcher to make your letters available for future generations.

The Z. Smith Reynolds Library Special Collections houses letters from veterans. The library is seeking additional letters, particularly from alumni who are Vietnam veterans, to add to the collection. Please contact Tanya Zanish-Belcher for more details.

Both men finished their tours of duty safely and returned home. Hassell had married a classmate, Joyce Hassell (’64), shortly before leaving for Vietnam, and he had a long career with a paper and chemical company; he’s retired and lives in Isle of Palms, South Carolina. Koehler was director of criminal investigation for the N.C. Department of Insurance following his long stint with the FBI; he’s retired for good now and living in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Since that first reunion in South Vietnam in 1966, they’ve seen each other at football games and basketball reunions and at Homecoming. But nothing can ever match the surprise and excitement of seeing an old friend in a war zone far from home.

— Kerry M. King (’85)