Chris Blake, associate professor of English and communications, is saying goodbye to Union College where he has taught for the past 24 years. Blake chose to retire now because he feels God calling him to focus more on writing. “Last year would have been too early, next year would have been too late,” Blake said. “Also, I’m old.”
Before teaching at Union, Blake served as the editor for Insight Magazine, a role which introduced him to Union College. Blake presented during a week of prayer and was captivated by the strong feeling of community the campus had. “There is a friendliness here that is endearing,” he said.
Coincidentally, the person who will assume Blake’s course load also followed him as editor at Insight, Lorie Peckham.
Over the years, Blake has written seven books, collaborated on many other publications, been a sought-after speaker around the world and received first place in the Associated Church Press national awards for featured writing and humor. In addition to his own writing, Blake has empowered many student writers, such as Heather Bohlender whose book, Honestly, I’m Struggling, is a memoir about her time volunteering in Cambodia. “Mr. Blake thought of the idea and then supported me along the way,” Bohlender said in a 2010 interview. “I’m incredibly grateful for all of his help.”
Along with teaching nine classes each year — including college writing, critiquing film, and conflict and peacemaking — Blake has also been heavily involved around campus and in the community as the chair of the Interfaith Peacemaking Coalition of Lincoln, sponsor of the Union College chapter of Amnesty/Tiny Hands International, and co-sponsor of Union Squirreldance Film Festival.
Blake said what he will miss the most is seeing the “Ah-ha” moment in a student’s eyes as they suddenly understand something, and participating in a community with redemptive aims. Blake’s final advice for students, both new and graduated, is, “Don’t do your best; do your balanced best. Seek more to understand than to be understood. Remember: communication is the key to life.”
Blake has always been a favorite of students. This year, he was selected as the Professor of the Year by the Union College library. To be nominated, students submitted a description on why they believed a certain teacher deserved to receive the award. In almost every submission, students said that Blake went above and beyond to help his students.
“One of my favorite classes at Union has been Chris Blake’s creative writing class,” said Maddie Temple, a junior English major. “He’s encouraged me to explore my creativity outside of a box. He’s a fantastic professor with great wit and a passion for writing.”
“Even when he gets super behind on grading, he lets you know it’s because he wants to give substantial feedback,” said Emily Wood, a senior communications major. “Also, the materials handed out in class are never dull and always relevant. Blake has the best balance of structure and flexibility in the classroom.”
Other students praised Blake’s genuine care and passion for what he taught in every lecture, test and film. “I want to teach ‘how’ to think, not just ‘what’ to think,” Blake said. “That my students would learn there are many sides to every situation and story. That they would learn to love God. That they would become better communicators and therefore better lovers.”
Blake created a bumper sticker, “Union Makes Better Lovers, 1 Corinthians 13,” in the 1990s that administration confiscated from the Campus Store. While still missing from the store, the phrase has endured and the Union president traditionally gives one of the contraband stickers to newly engaged students or employees.
Blake is planning on a high-energy retirement. He’s already started on three books — two non-fiction and one fiction. Aside from the more mental challenges of writing and “incorrigible punnery,” as Blake puts it, he will spend more time with his grandchildren and pursuing his outdoor hobbies. He looks forward to perfecting his disc golf throw and mountain biking over “the precipitous peaks of Lincoln.”
“Chris Blake has the gift of healing,” said Mic Henton, Union alumnus and youth pastor for College View church. “He hasn’t raised the dead or miraculously fixed broken bones, but from his teaching, friendship and ability to listen, God has healed many broken souls. Chris has devoted his life to loving others, doing justly, and walking humbly with God. I’m honored to call him a friend and mentor, and I can’t wait to see what adventure God has next for him.”
By Elizabeth Bearden, student writer