Thirty years ago, when I first arrived at Webster College (as an Assistant Professor in the Education Program), I learned that Harry James Cargas, Professor of Literature and Religion, had written more than 20 books. So, I decided to send him through the campus mail a proposal for a book, Understanding Troubled Young Adolescents Who Have Problems at School: Case Studies. Because of the kind of person he was and because of his extraordinary generosity and devotion to writing, Harry called me and made an appointment to discuss my book proposal. We were not in the same department or studying similar topics. And yet, he continued to meet with me on an annual basis for the next 16 years. He encouraged me to get up very early and write everyday. He told me to write about everything that I felt passionately about, even topics that were outside my field of study and areas of expertise. He told me to write and rewrite, to pursue what I felt was important, and to have the courage of my convictions. I followed his advice.
Through our conversations, Harry and I discovered that we had a common interest in track and field. (He once ran the 100-yard dash). Girls were not allowed to compete when I was young. But, in my late thirties, someone began coaching me in the 400 and 800-meter races. I loved it. Harry recognized that I had great enthusiasm for sprinting and competing. So, despite my lack of coaching qualifications, Harry hired me to be a part-time assistant track coach at Webster University. (These events could not have happened at any other university in the world: a literature and religion professor with a love of sports served as a university’s athletic director and an education professor with a love of sprinting served as a university’s running coach).
Harry James Cargas (1932-1998) signed his communications, “Peace in Deed” – not “Sincerely” or “Yours Truly” – but “Peace in Deed.” He was not just a professor (one who professes, avows, declares); he reached out to others and gave of himself. He wrote about principled people who were willing to stand up for their beliefs and those who were willing to help others. He wrote Reflections of a Post-Auschwitz Christian (1989), Conversations with Elie Wiesel (1992), Voices from the Holocaust (1993), and 28 other books.
Compared with Harry’s thirty-one books, my professional accomplishments are modest; I have written many articles, but only one academic book.
I am grateful that Harry James Cargas believed in me. I strive to do the same for my students: I try to persuade my students to challenge convention and not accept the limitations that others try to impose. I try to “show them the ropes” and motivate them to work hard. In the last three decades, I have helped students present at professional conferences, publish their work, start their own businesses, travel the world, and run marathons. In those ways, I try to “walk the talk” and live, “Peace in Deed.”