Legacy of Gratitude
The decades-long love of a couple deeply committed to one another; an adoration of a language and a culture; the devotion to an alma mater—Christopher Townsend-Wolfe '73 has established an estate gift that honors all of those, an endowment that will benefit future K German Studies students forever.
It's a story of beauty, gratitude and irony. Chris, after all, didn't major in German. ("I was economics, until I found that too difficult and sort of stumbled into political science.") Nor, by his own admission, was he a high achieving student. ("My grades were terrible.") And his foreign study lasted about one day—"I fled Europe for love," he laughs.
Thereby hangs a tale.
The Kalamazoo College chapter of the tale starts in 1969, when Kalamazoo Loy Norrix High School senior Chris Wolfe, who had been accepted by the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Kalamazoo College, chose the latter.
"I was won over by K's small size, which seemed right to me; its academic excellence, which is underestimated in my opinion; and the beautiful campus," says Chris.
"I was familiar with the campus because of a high-school night class I'd taken in speed reading. The class met in Bowen Hall," a Hogwarts-like building still vivid in Chris's memory even though it was gone before he matriculated.
"And my family lived next door to Richard Klein, a 1953 graduate who later became a trustee. He was my mentor."
K was not easy for Chris. "I'd had a difficult boyhood and was still growing up. When I started college, I was shy and insecure and felt out of place much of the time," Chris explains. "I had yet to recognize that I was gay. I was undisciplined, and in class my performance was poorer than it should have been. I didn't exploit all that K had to offer.
"Even so," he added, "I felt K to be a good and safe place for struggle, a place where you'd land okay no matter how shaky the take-offs and turbulence."
Not long before Chris was to depart for foreign study, he met and fell for the love of his life, Scott Townsend, who worked for the City of Kalamazoo. So, it was with mixed feelings Chris waited in New York City with classmates to board a ship for Europe.
He boarded, but when he arrived in Bremerhaven, "I was there for less than 24 hours before deciding to return to Kalamazoo to be with Scott," says Chris.
"I don't recall what excuse I gave to Dr. Fugate. I remember only how understanding he was. In the end, he allowed me to come back and develop a relationship that lasted 45 years." (Scott passed away in 2016.)
Chris had never taken a class from Joe Fugate, who was a professor of German in addition to the director of foreign study. In fact, Chris wasn't very proficient in German. "I remember barely scraping by in Irmgard Kowatzke's class, and I loved her as a professor." Apparently, she planted a seed.
After ignoring German and Germany for decades after graduating from K, Chris visited the country and began a multi-year (and ongoing) autodidactic immersion in the language and the culture. Today he's fully fluent in German and visits friends there several times a year.
The gratitude he feels to Professors Fugate and Kowatzke and the love he holds for German culture and language (especially mid-20th-century German literature and history) guided the designation of his estate gift, which eventually will provide scholarships for German Studies students.
After K Chris earned his law degree from the University of Notre Dame, magna cum laude, and, later, an L.L.M. in taxation from New York University. He practiced law for a short time in Kalamazoo before he and Scott moved to New York City. There Chris practiced until his retirement.
He provided critical work following 9/11, helping manage the battery of attorneys involved in the legal work surrounding the issuance of death certificates for those killed in the attacks. His legal work also helped achieve incremental progress in gay rights germane to corporate and hiring practices. Most of all, the lifelong relationship of Chris and Scott was an inspiration to many on the power of love and commitment. "A small thing, perhaps," says Chris, "that continues to bring the greatest satisfaction."
The K Endowment
To learn more about the Kalamazoo College endowment, please contact Andy Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org or 269.337.7327.
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