“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.