Imagine a time when seats in chapel were assigned and when the choir had floral-print dresses.
Judith Fabisch, (B.A., ’77, ‘82) former professor of English, remembers this time well. Fabisch began attending the Grand Rapids Baptist College in 1974 at the suggestion of a neighbor; who knew Fabisch had felt God’s calling to full time work. Fabisch said she wasn’t the typical student, especially during the 70’s. She was widowed a year before beginning at Cornerstone, and had one son.
“I came back before older women in their thirties were coming back to school, so I was it!” Fabisch said.
At the time there was no student lounge, so Fabisch and a group of the “older” students would go into empty classrooms to study together. She said it was nearly impossible to find a cup of coffee on campus, so sometimes they would go hunting for coffee together.
Chapel seats were assigned during the first week of classes: you remained for the entire year where you sat on the second day of chapel. “Freshmen would come in, and fall in love the first week and sit together in chapel. And then they’d be stuck there the rest of the semester,” Fabisch said.
Today, freshman romances are a little easier to distance one’s self from. Cornerstone students can also feel fortunate that today, choir dresses only come in one color. While a student, one of Fabisch’s friends was in charge of selecting the dresses for the singing groups. “They chose dresses with a small pattern. Some had pink flowers and some had blue flowers, but they all blended together,” Fabisch said.
One summer, in order to fulfill her physical education requirement, Fabisch took a horseback riding course. She remembers one of her classmates taking the course because she was afraid of horses, and thought it would help her overcome that fear. The class took students from the basics to advanced riding very quickly.
“We went from ‘this is how you get on the horse’ to ‘we’re jumping’.” Fabisch said. “I knew how to get on, I just wasn’t sure about the jumping part. I fell off once.
With this new learning from her Cornerstone class, Fabisch said both she and her son spent much of the summer riding together. Fabisch mentioned that many students at the time perceived Cornerstone (then GRBC) to be a “rules world.” But even though the rules at times seemed inconvenient, Fabisch said they were three great years.
“None of it made any difference to me. I think I found who I was. It was like being set free, and that counteracted all the rules,” Fabisch said.
During her senior year, John Wilson, one of the Bible professors, pointed to her during the chapel. She thought he was only pointing in her direction, but after chapel he stopped her. “I just heard some missionaries speak that I think you need to talk to,” Wilson told her. Fabisch met them and even went to dinner at their house. As a result, one year after she graduated with a degree in religion, Fabisch left for Papua New Guinea. “While I was there, I realized that I was always most effective when I was teaching,” Fabisch said.
While there, Fabisch felt her son was beginning to lose his cultural identity. She also felt a strong pull to come back to school. After four years in Papua New Guinea, Fabisch returned to Grand Rapids and re-enrolled at Cornerstone.
Fabisch decided to major in English, but she said some told her it wasn’t a good idea because colleges were looking for professors who were younger and could make a career of it.
“And I still found myself here, 27 years later,” Fabisch said.
Staying here wasn’t her original plan. “I thought I’d teach here long enough to get a Ph.D. and then teach overseas somewhere,” Fabisch said. “But I felt rooted here; I’m a widow with one kid and none of my family is Christian, so this is where I had the most fellowship. It was very easy to stay here.”
Fabisch continued to travel, leaving half her heart in all the places she has been: India, Papua New Guinea, Kenya and the Ukraine.
A student in Fabisch’s creative writing class, Coach Rod Wortley (B.A. ’88), shared his reflections on having Fabisch as a professor. “Dr. Fabisch and I did butt horns a couple times during the semester. I was determined to make her give me an ‘A’ and I wound up working harder in that class than just about any other that semester,” Wortley said.
Fabisch remembers a play Wortley and his group members wrote, parodying the faculty on campus and being rescued by the hero “Captain Comet,” Cornerstone’s mascot at the time. She enjoyed teasing them, and recruited the faculty from Wortley’s play to perform it for the students, who were “mortified,” she said.
Wortley said he enjoyed working with Fabisch. “[Since 1995] we were colleagues on staff here and I’m pleased to still call her a friend.”
Since beginning to work at Cornerstone, Fabisch observed six presidents, ten provosts, and hundreds of students pass through campus. Yet through all the changes, Fabisch expressed exuberant joy for staying. “There are so many amazing people here,” Fabisch said. “If I had the choice to make over again, I would do exactly the same thing. I would come back here.”
To students she says “Relax and enjoy it, just the learning and getting to know people, and watching Christianity at work. This is such an opportunity to learn and grow, and not just learn who you are but to determine who you will become; it s incredible. And don’t sweat the small stuff!”