Victor R. Lindquist '54 had to take a slight detour between high school and college, working for three years to save enough money to attend Wabash on scholarship. That and the small matter of a stolen detour sign are two of the reasons that the retired educator is giving back by including Wabash in his will, establishing a charitable gift annuity, and contributing to the annual fund every year.
"You want to know the Wabash way?" Vic asks. "My freshman year I was having some trouble with algebra, and my professor said, 'Well, Victor, we will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3 p.m.' Every one of those professors was truly interested in how you were doing, both in class and in life."
That inspiration led to Vic's successful career as a college dean, including 23 years at Northwestern University. But it didn't start that way: Vic grew up on the south side of Chicago during the Great Depression as the oldest of five children; after high school he worked several jobs while going to school part-time at Northwestern.
Getting to Wabash
"I was working for an insurance company-started as a clerk and worked my way up to be an assistant underwriter," Vic recalls. "I had been there a couple of years and we got this kid as a trainee who had a brand new college degree. I asked him how much he was making, and he was making 40 percent more than I was-and he was a trainee!
"So I went to my boss and said I would like a raise. And he said no and explained that the kid made more because he had a degree. I said, 'But he doesn't know anything about the insurance business!' And he said, 'It doesn't matter; that's the way it is.' I got P.O.'d and began thinking about full-time college."
Vic came across an article in Good Housekeeping magazine that listed schools you could go to for a thousand dollars a year or less. He picked out 10 schools to investigate, one of them Wabash. He wrote for an application and was called by a recruiter who offered to drive him to campus from Chicago for a tour and an interview.
"I spent almost an hour with the president of the college, Dr. Frank Sparks," Vic recalls. "I didn't know how out of the ordinary that was. His final words were, 'We'd like to have you here at Wabash; what would keep you from choosing us?' I said, 'I've got four younger brothers and sisters, so I have to be doing this all on my own.' And he said, 'We can help you.' He didn't say any amount but implied there was a decision to offer me a scholarship. That was kind of pleasing and unexpected. When I got my award, that wrapped it up for me."
Vic has been grateful for that scholarship for the rest of his life.
"I have already repaid that debt, but I keep giving because I want to help one or two others beyond that," he says. "I don't have kids to give the money to, so I thought about my school."
Vic arrived on campus with one 28-inch suitcase and a bag the size of a carryon-he laughs about what college students bring with them today. He was almost 21, surrounded by freshmen who were 17 or 18, but he quickly found his place, "running around campus with my green pot and green slacks that freshmen had to wear that first year."
He found the academics challenging-and not just algebra.
"I graduated from a Chicago high school where I didn't have to do a lot of writing," Vic admits. "It was well into the first semester and I was just lumping by with Cs on my papers. Then I got back one with an A on it and my professor said, 'I always hoped you could do this; it's the best you've ever done.'
"I saved that paper for a long time. The professors were so encouraging; they all had office hours where you could make an appointment and talk. The personal part of it was very different from the experience in the larger schools, places where I served career-wise."
Vic worked on campus all the way through college, and no position was too low.
"My first job I was a crapper cleaner: I cleaned out the toilets and the washroom and the shower room, five days a week," he laughs. "That helped with my room and board. Then I got promoted to dishwasher and waiter, and then I borrowed some stepladders from my dad and got permission to have a car on campus and painted some houses and a store in downtown Crawfordsville. That was pretty good money."
Lessons learned from a detour sign
It was that car, a 1937 Buick, that led to one of the most important incidents of Vic's life. While out driving with a classmate they encountered a detour sign-which the classmate tossed in Vic's trunk to hang on his bedroom wall. The next day Vic got a call from Dean Byron Trippet, who later became Wabash's president.
"I had gone to class in the morning and come back and was putting dishes out in the dining room for lunch," Vic recalls. "We had one telephone on the second floor. Someone yelled downstairs, 'Dean Trippet's on the phone and he wants to talk to you.' Now this was God on campus; your body freezes."
Vic then related the phone call:
Hello, Dean Trippet? This is Victor.
Victor, were you out in your car last night, down near Rushville?
Did you happen to pick up a detour sign while you were down there?
I didn't, but one of the brothers did.
I just got a call from the sheriff down there. He would like to have that sign back because they cost a lot of money. How soon could you get that sign back there?
Within an hour, Sir.
I would appreciate that, Victor.
"It was a hurried lunch; I was in a big hurry to get the old Buick cranked up!" Vic laughs. "But that was a memorable experience for me in terms of the impact it had on me, because that was a felony. Dean Trippet and the sheriff just wanted to make a college prank right. But if it had gone the other way, my career would have been very different."
The Army and a long career in education
After earning a bachelor's degree in economics with a minor in psychology, Vic enlisted in the Army in order to take advantage of the GI Bill to pay for graduate school. With no blemishes on his record, he was given a top-secret clearance and sent to military intelligence school: "No guard duty, no KP, just there to learn." He was stationed in Germany during his tour of duty.
After the Army, Vic earned his M.B.A. from Indiana University and worked for several colleges, including the Rochester Institute of Technology, Washington University in St. Louis, Boston University, and then Northwestern, where he was associate dean of students and director of the career planning and placement center. He conducted research on hiring trends of college graduates and for 15 years published an annual study called the Lindquist Report that was used around the nation.
Vic retired in 1995 but still lives across the street from Northwestern in the house he chose because he hated commuting at his other jobs and wanted to walk to work. Vic made the down payment on that house in the early '70s with just eight shares of stock he had purchased in 1959.
"I bought four shares of Standard Oil and four shares of Eastman Kodak; with a brand new M.B.A. I thought I knew something about investing," he laughs. "But the market for the most part has treated me well."
The charitable gift annuity
His stock market success also led to his recent charitable gift annuity with Wabash, which he funded with appreciated securities.
"I accumulated a number of shares in a variety of corporations, and if I sold them I'd have long-term capital gain," Vic explains. "In one case the money almost doubled in less than 10 years, but I was not getting any dividend off of it. I talked to Wabash about it and about another stock I had in an IRA where the management company was taking 10 percent for management fees. With the gift annuity I got a tax deduction and I get 8 percent per year from the school. That made an awful lot of sense to me.
"I retired in '95 and here we are 20 years later and a lot of things have gone up in price. A little extra money wouldn't hurt."
He urged other alumni to consider a gift annuity. "If you've got money sitting in a savings account that's drawing 1 percent, the benefits of giving are fairly generous," he says. "It's one of those options that ought to be at the top of your list, and the college does make it easy."
Vic uses the Wabash payments for his main hobby: traveling. The only continent he hasn't seen is Antarctica. He often takes along a fishing rod and has fished all over the world, from Norway to South Africa to Australia to South America.
How Vic feels about Wabash
Vic also visits Wabash every year because of his love for his college.
"There is no question I got a good education, but it's more than that," Vic says. "If you're a Wabash man, it is like being in a large fraternity."
He then relates an incident from his 50th Reunion in 2004.
"I was sitting in the student union in the coffee shop down in the basement with a classmate of mine and this long-retired political science professor walked in and was standing in the stairwell, and he looked over and said, "My God, Vic Lindquist showed up!" I certainly didn't expect to be recognized by a professor I hadn't seen in 50 years!
"It's caring about the person, something I never forgot as a dean myself. Like Dean Trippet, if I was on a disciplinary board or making decisions as a dean of students, I always believed in giving a kid a second chance to make it right.
"It's that personal touch. That's the Wabash way."