Although I graduated from Wheaton in 1985 (at the age of 60), I don’t believe I’d given much thought to the day-to-day operations and preparations for events at the college until my youngest son, John [Mitchell], joined Wheaton’s Building Services Department in 1993. That’s when I first began to hear about what he referred to as the “smoke and mirrors” that contributed to the success of almost every campus event, and throughout the next 17 years, John was to share with me funny, frustrating and incredible stories of Wheaton’s behind-the-scenes staff—Wheaton’s unsung heroes.
The individuals who collectively are Wheaton’s staff work at all hours, on weekends as well as weekdays, in the daylight and in the dark. They arrange for food, reroute the traffic, keep the campus safe, deliver packages, unlock doors, make the lights turn on and the toilets flush. They monitor the weather, ring chapel bells, and move tables and chairs. To the rest of us (alums, students, faculty, guests), the day-to-day operations, meetings, events and landmark occasions just happen.
John was Wheaton’s supervisor of materials management when he died of cancer in 2011. To my surprise, I was contacted in 2012 about an event the staff and Wheaton was planning to hold in his memory. Last April, the Second Annual John Mitchell Memorial 5K Race/Walk was held.
Of course, the 5K is a fundraiser for the college—and, as John would say, “That’s a good thing.” It’s also one more event the staff magically makes happen, and, as John would say, “That’s par for the course.” It is also an event the staff chose to create—and perpetuate—keeping alive the memory of one of their own. Last year, the 5K raised money in order to create an outdoor picnic area on campus, dedicated in his memory—specifically for Wheaton’s staff—and that would have touched John’s heart.
So, to those “unsung heroes” working behind the scenes before, during and after every campus event for students, faculty, alums and the community, please consider this letter a “song.”
Thank you, Wheaton staff members—for the magic.
Bernyce Mitchell ’85