November 1, 2012

The Original Sad Bear: Dr. John S. Reist (Updated)

The bewildering wisdom of Dr. John S. Reist will live on through his students.

Reist, a fine whistler, a rascal, and a beloved professor of English at Hillsdale College, died early Thursday in Kalamazoo, Mich. He was 76.

Colleagues at the college confirmed his death after a long illness. The professor was to be celebrated by friends and former students at the college on Friday. That event has been postponed, but prepared remarks by Chase Purdy are now available.

Visitation hours for Reist will be 5 to 8 p.m., Monday, Nov. 5  at Eagle Funeral Home, 40 S. Manning Street, Hillsdale. The funeral will be 2 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 6, at Holy Trinity Parish, 263 Spring St., Hillsdale.

Reist's rambunctious style of lecturing — which synthesized one-liners, show tunes, college football trivia, and a deep knowledge of literature — made him divisive among students, but also created a devoted following, including through this blog, The Sad Bear, named in honor of one of his many energetic sayings.

Reist announced his retirement in September 2010, leading to a profile in The Hillsdale Collegian. The story is no longer online (PDF here).

"A cheerful whistle, a bobbing newsboy's cap — certain evidence of the approach of one man: John Reist ..." the story began.

Reist joined the faculty in 1985 and "became known for peace signs, off-color humor and 'how I met my wife' stories." He said students at the college needed to "chill out" every once in a while. He found comfort in stirring the pot.

An ordained Baptist pastor, he preached at Jonesville Presbyterian Church. He had baptized at least four students and married at least 30 college couples. He served in the U.S. Army.

"I used to think heaven was going to be beer kegs and broads," he told the newspaper. "Now I think it's going to be books."

Obituary for John S. Reist

Undelivered remarks on John Reist, by Chase Purdy, 11/5/12
Daniel Silliman remembers 11/2/12
A eulogy for John Reist (Dr. Michael Bauman) 11/2/12
Fairfield Society to honor Reist 11/1/12
Students reflect on Reist's passing 11/1/12 
'He's got forearms like railroad ties' 11/1/12
Reist for grad speaker 3/5/12
Quotable quotes of Dr. Reist (Facebook group)

No tribute could do justice, but we are left with his words, a short message about his retirement in 2010, and this video message.

Updated: We're trying to capture the thoughts of Hillsdale alumni and friends. For now, here's this collection of them, in Storify:

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Blogger Chase said...

I'll elaborate on this in a later post, but I think it's worth noting that Dr. Reist was one of the happiest men I've ever known. He lived a long, good life, and with the woman of his dreams. He laughed every day, and had a steady of audience of students in which to sing at, and tell jokes to.

Sad Bear.

November 1, 2012 at 3:31 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Hey, now! Whoa, now! Sad bear."

November 1, 2012 at 3:41 PM 
Blogger Josh Peterson said...

Thanks for posting this, Chase.

November 1, 2012 at 4:34 PM 
Blogger JHitts said...

You left off "The Rev." in his title.

November 1, 2012 at 4:36 PM 
Blogger Fr. Mark Perkins said...

I had Reist for but one class--when I was an ignorant freshman too stupid to appreciate it--but his presence pervaded my Hillsdale experience on campus and at the occasional party. There's nothing quite like watching Reist absolutely scandalize poor, chaste freshmen in September.

Reist is a legend marked by the unforgettable stories he left everywhere he went. One of my favorites:

A friend of mine was talking to the father of the girl he wanted to marry--asking permission, actually, for the daughter's hand in marriage. Being that it's Hillsdale and all, the father naturally refused and, also in good Hillsdale fashion, my friend acquiesced to the man's will.

The conversation happened to occur in the Dow Center lobby, and as the father was explaining his reasons for refusing, and my friend was begin to feel the sickness of rejection overpowering him, he heard the unmistakeable, eternally cheery whistle of the Reverend Doctor Reist approaching--the tune as out of place amidst my friends disappointment as a canary in a coal mine (or Christmas carols on the Western front--"Silent night, holy night... INCOMING!!"--but I digress).

Reist began to pass by--stopped, turned, saw my friend, rattled off, "Why the long face? who's the broad?" chortled, and marched on without waiting for a response.

Fast-forward almost exactly one year. My friend, being a conservative, evangelical son of Hillsdale, had been working very hard to please his prospective father-in-law and decided, again, to ask for the man's blessing. The two met once more in the abandoned lobby of the Dow Center.

My friend says his piece and waits. The father of his girlfriend pauses, then begins to voice his many concerns about my friend's financial situation and the relationship and so forth. As my friend's stomach begins to sink, he hears, yes, that whistle. Enter Reist, who stops--"Who're you fellas talking about? Whatsername?"--chuckles, and moves on with no pause for an answer.

November 1, 2012 at 8:34 PM 
Blogger Tony said...

Mark, this is awesome. We'll definitely share more soon, including, of course, The Bread Martini.

November 1, 2012 at 8:40 PM 
Blogger Greg said...

"What is God's name? Well, it's Andy. You know, from the old hymn. 'Andy walks with me, Andy talks with me...' " - Dr. Reist

You are loved and missed my friend. Smoke 'em if you got 'em.

November 2, 2012 at 1:34 AM 
Anonymous Tommy Ogden said...

If you were sitting in Dr. Reist's office, chuckling at his pipe and pouch sitting stop the "Thank You for Not Smoking" sign, and someone walked in and told the two of you that a beloved Hillsdale professor had passed, you know what the Reverend Doctor would say:

"I thought he'd never leave!"

Thanks for everything, John. May you swiftly rest in the Kingdom.

November 2, 2012 at 8:57 AM 
Blogger Chase said...

Mark - I agree with Tony, that story is terrific.

November 5, 2012 at 12:48 PM 
Blogger Matthew C Smallwood said...

My own favorite:
"There's Heilgeshichte, and horse-geschichte, and you have to learn to tell the difference...."

God speed, Dr. Reist, we will see you again.

December 27, 2012 at 10:31 PM 

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