Making a difference for others

By Walt Meske '62, education


Currently retired in College Place, Wash., Walt Meske served as WWU’s dean of men from 1975 to 1982, and WWU’s vice president for student affairs from 1986 to 1991. In 1996 WWU honored Meske’s service by establishing Meske Hall (the west wing of the Conard Hall residence hall complex) as a home for upper-division men.    

In my second or third year as assistant dean of men at Walla Walla College one of the guys I chose to be an RA was Keith Corbett. Keith was studying for dentistry, and he and I hit it off. He had developed into a very spiritual, positive leader on our campus, and I admired how he worked with the men on his hall. We talked a lot, and he came by to see me a lot. One day during his senior year, about a month before the college’s big alumni weekend, Keith came to see me. “Dean,” he said, “I want you to do me a favor.” I asked what I could do, and his answer surprised me. He said, “I want you to baptize me.”

I couldn’t believe it. I asked him, “Keith! You’re one of the spiritual leaders on this campus and you’ve never been baptized?” Keith explained that his mother was a Seventh-day Adventist, but his father was not. His father’s rule was that none of his kids could be baptized until they were 21 years old. So, Keith respected his commitment to his father, and by that I could see that he was honoring his father on earth and his father in heaven. 

Keith was the first person I baptized in the college church. Of course, I was nervous, scared to death. On that alumni Sabbath the church was packed full, and I was practically shivering the whole time. I baptized Keith. But there’s more to this story.

I gave my RAs a lot of responsibility to work with the guys on their hall. During my trainings I would tell them, “When you’re an RA if you catch a guy sneaking around or acting up, or if they’re drinking or you can smell something else on them, take them outside and talk to them. Don’t bring it to me. I want you, their RA, to be the first person to work with them to do what’s right. You can tell them ‘I’m not going to tell the dean this time, but if it happens again, I’ll have to involve the dean.’ Even if it happens again, I want you to use your judgment to try to help them a second time. And if you can’t help them, then you have to tell me.’

Just a couple of years later, I hired a new RA. When we were going through training, I started to explain to the group how I expected the RAs to work with the men on their hall and to lead them to a commitment of a truthful, Christian life. That’s when the RA spoke up. He said, “Let me explain how this works.” And then he turned to the guys and told about the trouble he’d been in, how his RA, Keith Corbett could tell what had happened, and how Keith told him, ‘If you’re living in my hall you aren’t going to be doing this. You’re going to live a life of respect and a life for the Lord. Don’t ever do this again. I won’t tell the dean this time, but I will next time.’

In that moment I realized that Keith’s influence was still affecting the lives of men in our dorm. And then later those men influenced other men in our dorm. I can only imagine the lives these men have affected that I know nothing about. They were guys who took responsibility and carried it out with God’s leading. That’s powerful. Of all the thousands of stories and memories I have from Walla Walla College, remembering those RAs is meaningful to me because I got to be part of the kind of lives that made a difference for others.

Walt Meske served in student life at Walla Walla University for 12 years.