“His brightness and energy shined through”

“Few have done more for Wabash in as many ways as Paul Mielke, and the abiding love he and Mary Lou shared seemed the foundation that allowed him that service.”

I wrote those words when Mary Louise Mielke, Paul’s wife, died in November. Paul sat behind his family and with old friends at her beautiful and moving memorial service in December. And now we’ve lost Paul.

This is a man whose embrace of his alma mater was long, loyal, and generous in so many ways; I trust we’ll hear about those in the coming days from those who knew him best. But the first thing I thought of when I heard of Paul’s passing was something he told me when we were working together on a piece in the “Brothers” issue of Wabash Magazine, a gallery featuring a few of his photographs.†

Paul’s avocation, his photography was a gift to the College, giving us the best visual history we have of Wabash as it evolved through the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Just ask Archivist Beth Swift, who wisely went through them with Paul when he moved last year and donated them to the Archives. But when I visited Paul in 2004 to collect photographs for the magazine gallery, I was looking for something different, Paul’s personal take on our “Brothers” theme—not Wabash history, but a little Mielke history, too.

The two, it turned out, were inseparable.

“I come from a family of six children, but I’m the only boy in the family,” Paul told me that day. “Wabash gave me the brothers that nature denied me, so the brotherhood created by the College is very important to me.”

Portraits of many of those brothers hung on the walls of Paul and Mary Lou’s home, and as Paul gave me a tour and I recorded his words, each photograph brought a smile, a flurry of memory, and, sometimes, tears. I transcribed the tape and used it word for word in the gallery. Paul was always eloquent and spoke with such gratitude about his friends and “brothers.” If, as some say, gratitude is the beginning of happiness, Paul was a very happy man.

But the photograph I think of first when I think of Paul isn’t of one of his Wabash brothers, but of his homeroom high school teacher, Theodore Wolcott Stuart III, at William Horlick High School in Racine, WI. It is telling that Paul remained close with his teacher for so many years after his high school days. He loved those who had taught him well, be that Mr. Stuart, Paul’s professors at Wabash, or his students here.

“Ted and I remained close friends,” Paul said. “He was a splendid English teacher and a wonderful person, one of those who really shaped me. Teaching, so much more than imparting knowledge, is a commitment and a relationship.”

“Teaching, so much more than imparting knowledge, is a commitment and a relationship”—that was Paul Mielke’s credo. He went on to describe his mentor as “an iconoclast, very independent.” Then he finished with words that make me think not so much of his mentor, but of Paul himself: “He sparkled. His brightness and energy shined through.”

Here’s a link to the online version of that Alumni Gallery. It doesn’t do his photographs justice, but I encourage you to read Paul’s words, get a sense of the love behind the lens, and be grateful for the kindness, the “energy and brightness” of Paul Mielke, who found at Wabash his brothers and sisters, and returned to us a brother’s love.
—Steve Charles

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6 Responses to “His brightness and energy shined through”

  1. Beth Swift says:

    Dear Steve,
    I will miss Paul, but I can’t help thinking that he is where he wanted to be, with Marylou.
    As I am sure you understand, I am so glad that I was able to bring his photos into the Archives. They will live on here for a very long time and I have a good, smart guy working on the collection. They are a visual record of life at Wabash for much of the 20th century, but Paul was worried about giving them to the Archives. He said he would probably just throw them away. The photos were not ordered the way he always thought they should be and amidst everything else that he did he had not found the time to “properly” organize them. He was adamant that he did not want to create one more project for me to have to untangle. I thought about that and a few weeks later, I came back to him with the concept that it would provide good work for a student for a long time to come. That was it, once I got the issue of the photos couched in terms of how this collection would create work for a student, he was all for it.
    I was there with him the last time he was at his house. His photos were the last things to leave Jefferson Street. I am still glad that I was there with Paul as he left the house, so that he was not alone. It was one of those moments that will stay with me always.
    He was a great friend to my family and a great advocate for the Archives. I will miss him.
    Beth

  2. Cheryl A Dwhytie says:

    I am a niece of Paul and Mary Lou. My mother was his oldest sister, Mildred. Through out our growing up, my parents would visit Paul and Marylou and he would always have a new photo or frame to show. As I had children of my own, we would visit them and get entirely spoiled. Paul would always take us on a tour of the Wabash campus and show us the latest improvement or addition. He was very proud of the classroom he developed, where the seats turned in a complete circle so that he had everyones attention as he would put his instructions on the blackboards that went around all four walls of the room. The smallest things brought him joy. When he was diagnosed with problems with his bones, he would indulge in ice cream as a way of getting more calcium in his diet. When my children were 5 and 7 we visited and I had to keep an eye on Paul, because he would sneak away and take the two children for ice cream. Not just once a day, but multiple times. He got quite a kick out of breaking the rules with mom. He loved his extended family at Wabash as much as he loved his family. He and Marylou will be sorely missed.
    Cherie (Ultsch) Dwhytie

  3. Steve Kain says:

    I spoke to Dr. Mielke at Homecoming and he remembered my name from years ago. I had my son and grandson with me at the time and they were impressed that a professor remembered a former student so easily. As a Latin teacher later at Crawfordsville, I had both their son and daughter as students. Mary was the only person that the school could find as a sub teacher when I was teaching Latin. My wife, Sharon, and I were married throughout our days at Wabash and the Mielkes were one of several families who supported us during our college days. Dr. Mielke was my first advisor at Wabash and was typical of a great Little Giant for the students.
    Steve Kain ’63

  4. Jack Hauber says:

    In 1967, I was selected to become the representative from Loomis School to receive an NSF grant to attend Dartmouth and learn more about using time-shared computers in high school education … not possible without Dr. Mielke. In 1971, I received on of the first MS degrees in Computer Sciences from Purdue … not possible without Dr. Mielke. He introduced the computer to Wabash and to me, and changed the lives of both. I would be honored to be considered a member of his “brotherhood”. Peace is now with both Paul and Mary Lou.
    Jack Hauber
    Class of ’66

  5. Phillip E. Vincent says:

    Paul Mielke was one of the greatest teachers in my academic life. He came back to Wabash while I was a student and became one of my main advisers. Although my progress as a math major went down- rather than up-hill, he was always supportive. I switched to economics upon applying to graduate school at Stanford, but I suspect that it was his aid that helped me into the latter program; I know that I was ahead of most fellow economics graduate students in math training at that time.
    Ted Wiese, a Phi Delt brother and fellow math major, and I visited Paul and his wife during our 45th reunion in 2005. He was cheerful and animated as usual and obviously very happy to see us. I only then learned that he served as a gunnery officer (Marines?) in the South Pacific during World War II — I believe he was at the the battle for Iwo Jima, for example. He has a son who lives in our area near Palo Alto, but we were never able to arrange getting together when he visited here in years past. I had hoped to see him again at the class 50th in 2010.
    Wabash has lost a great son, professor, and benefactor.
    Phil Vincent, Class of 1960, Portola Valley, California

  6. Al Hart says:

    Dr. Mielke was one of my favorite professors at Wabash. He took a special interest in my future and was vital in getting me accepted into the post-graduate program at Indiana University. Dr. Mielke wanted me to consider Harvard and arranged for me to have an interview there, but Boston was too far away from Indiana emotionally at that time in my life, and I chose IU instead. His efforts and contacts made it possible for me to continue my education.
    I remember when I decided to move to Colorado after graduation that Dr. Mielke wanted me to check out Rocky Mountain Camera Repair because he had used them for repair in the past. I still think of him when I drive past their building on South Broadway in Denver.
    I will always owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Mielke, Dr. Swift, Dr. Wilson, and the other Wabash Professors who influenced my decision to attend Wabash, helped me improve his Mathematical abilities, welcomed me to the Wabash Community and launched me into my future career.