Visionary, Leader, Servant: Milo Rediger at 100By Jim Garringer Published: Jul 23, 2013
Intellectually curious; a serious thinker; a gifted, engaging professor; and a visionary college administrator – all of these descriptions apply to Dr. Milo A. Rediger. Dr. Rediger, as he was fondly known by thousands of students during his Taylor tenure, loved students and saw the value of their impact upon a world that needed them so desperately.
A fixture on the Taylor campus for five decades, Dr. Rediger would have turned 100 this week. He was serving as president emeritus when he fell ill in 1988, and died a few days later. But even though he has been gone for nearly 25 years, his influence is still felt today.
Dr. Rediger envisioned a Taylor University that was vibrant, growing, equipping men and women for worldwide service to the Kingdom of God. Thus, he set Taylor on a course that led to expansion of not only the physical campus and student body, but also the academic curriculum and rigor of its challenges.
He served as a professor, dean and eventually president of Taylor University. His beliefs that the student learning continued beyond the classroom walls, that whatever was done should be done to the best of one’s ability, and that Taylor must always be humbly reliant on God’s providence and leading, are hallmarks of the Taylor experience.
Dr. Rediger and his wife Velma lived across the street from the Taylor campus and were parents to two sons, Nelson (an advancement officer at Taylor University) and Wesley (a veteran college administrator and consultant). While the Taylor community knew him as “Dr. Rediger,” Wes and Nelson, who have shared their memories of him with us, knew him simply as “Dad.”
A fellow college president once said of your Dad that it was better for Taylor to have had Dr. Rediger than to have had $10 million. Why do you believe that is?
He understood education as a function of a people, a community, a body – and so he wanted that body to come together to hear each other. He wouldn’t make a decision based on one person’s perspective, but he wanted one person’s perspective and he would weigh that against others. There was this tremendous emphasis on dialogue – the life of the body in discerning the future.
I think it was because of his Mennonite background that he felt that God’s will is best determined by a consensus of the people. (Proverbs 24:6 b “And victory is won through many advisers.). And I think he just enjoyed it. He really wanted to know what the other person thought and why. He loved the process. He thought an idea was a great thing, even if it wasn’t his!
He grew up in a Mennonite community that I think as he grew older he needed more full answers to life’s questions. His education he found narrow. He was looking for more complex and more comprehensive answers than he was getting. The liberal arts opened the door of the universe to him. It was the liberal arts, in a Christian context. That excited him.
I think he was disappointed when “liberal arts” across the nation began being referred to as “general education.” To him, general education implied, “Get some credits and get done.” What he wanted was that mind-opening experience in the liberating arts and I think he emphasized that here at Taylor for over 25 years here as academic dean in charge of both the faculty and the curriculum. I think the liberal arts core of the curriculum is what distinguishes Taylor.
Our distinguishing trait today at Taylor University is our community. I remember him at times talking about his dorm life with the students he roomed with – and I think that translated into how we look at community here at Taylor and students interacting with each other. That was one thing that was huge on his plate. He helped start that concept here.
Any time I see the word, “Community” used around Taylor’s campus and what it means to students, I do think of Dad and how that was something that was really very precious to him.
Do you see a little bit of your Dad in the lives of the students he mentored?
It makes my job truly exciting because I now get to see a different side of my father than when Wes and I were growing up. We knew him as “Dad” at home, but now I see he impacted these students’ lives and what it meant to them. It transformed their lives because of how he worked with them. That is what is amazing to me. He helped so many students in so many different ways.
Tell us about your “Wonder Years.”
We lived across the street. Our early childhood memories are he would come home at 5:00 p.m., we would eat dinner at 5:30 p.m., and he would go back for a 7:00 p.m. meeting. Several times a week he had evening meetings with student groups, faculty groups, administrative groups. It’s not like he brought a briefcase home and sat over a desk while we were playing on the floor. After meetings he would come home and look at our homework and on Friday nights or Saturdays we would all jump in the car and go to Marion and do our shopping for the week – we called it our errands.
Then on Sunday, we would get up early, the three of us – Dad, Nelson and I – and we would deliver the Indianapolis Star newspaper early Sunday mornings as the sun came up. Often, we would get in a car, drive 45 minutes or an hour to where Dad would preach and then somebody in the church would invite us over for a meal. And if we were lucky, we would get to change our pants and play basketball against the barn and then go to an evening service and get home late. We did that often. He trained as a preacher and he sought opportunities to preach, so we were in all kinds of churches all over this part of Indiana and then elsewhere.
Would your Dad recognize Taylor University today? Would that bring him joy?
I think he saw the campus changing like that with growth. I remember him several times talking about a number at Taylor of 2,000 someday down the road. He would have envisioned, I don’t know if it would have been to the total extent of what it is today. He saw it changing but still keeping it in a close-knit community. That was something that he talked about at different times when it came to “how do you see Taylor in the future?”
He saw it as responding to a need in the Christian community. He was well acquainted with the presidents of Gordon and Wheaton and Biola and Westmont and so-on. He saw how the different schools fit and their different distinctives. He understood the similarities and differences. He understood this sense of sisterhood. But he understood Taylor’s place in the church and in American society – and he saw it as growing.
He saw it as a stream rather than a pond. He could not sustain stagnancy. He was always thinking of today’s needs and planning for tomorrow’s needs. He would be thrilled.
Tell us about your Dad’s spiritual life.
Mom and Dad always had people they prayed for because of his preaching around the community. There were always needs and so they always prayed for different people around the community.
His prayer for Taylor’s campus was that it would grow – but grow in a way that kids would come here with a servant attitude. He enjoyed that concept and wanted students to emulate that when they left here. A lot of his committee meetings in the evenings were with student groups. That was something that, at least for Dad, was heavy on his heart that he wanted to try to impart that kind of a vision to the students he was working with on these committees.
And take a look at some of the people out there. I could go on and on about the people I have met with – it was translated to those students and that has been exciting for me to see.
I would hear him get on his knees next to his bed. I remember him expressing thanksgiving, asking for forgiveness and seeking guidance. I think that was a pattern he used – he found it in scripture and found it meaningful in his life. He was grateful for the blessings in life that he enjoyed and he was repentant for sins he believed he could not reckon with on his own.
He was very serious about whatever happened here at Taylor would be the result of God’s guidance in his life and others. The thing was, it was consistent. It was continual for him. As long as I lived in the house and before I moved away it was a daily thing for him. In fact I remember in the mornings after they had built the house in the woods (the Muselman House, the current president’s residence), and I was a college junior. He and I were getting ready to go to campus and he and I would stop and read a verse out of the Daily Bread devotional, then the two of us would pray and then come to campus.