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  • Reverend James Squire

Good Trouble Maker

When I arrived at EA there was a guest speaker who was part of the history of the school. His name is the Reverend Hamilton Aulenbach, who was a rector of an Episcopal Parish in Philadelphia. Shall we say he generated a lot of conversation among the faculty and student body. The students loved him. The faculty felt he was a major distraction and thought that his visits should end with the new guy, me, arriving on the scene. I was curious about how one group of people were so positive and the other so negative so I had him come and speak in chapel. As a matter of note, I continued to have him speak in chapel until his death.

He was in his 80(s) and had more energy than the energizer bunny. He always scheduled his visits to EA with time spent at the Valley Forge Military Academy where he slept in the dorm and ate with the cadets. Part of his custom during his visits to the military school was to get up on a table after dinner and do pushups while the students counted out loud. He was a showman with substance. He was outrageous and contagious.

The faculty didn’t like him because his sermons would always run over, he would make unannounced visits to classrooms and was a one-man tornado of sorts. He was a ball of energy at an age when most people would slow down a bit. But even after his death students remembered and appreciated his visits as I kept having him come back because of the great positive impact he had the student body. Regarding the faculty, I employed that age old piece of wisdom that “it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.”

So why did he make such a huge impact on the students? His sermons were simple and straight forward. He was a showman of epic proportions and he had two phrases that the students remembered after their graduation and throughout their lives. He would state, “It’s great to be alive!” and have them shout back to him in form of a cheer, “Joy, Joy, Joy!” This was repeated several times. This would be followed by referencing a traffic light, “It’s not going to get any greener!” which they would shout back at him repeatedly like a cheer.

At alumni gatherings years later, the students would ask me how the “Joy, Joy, Joy” guy was doing. Since the school was diverse particularly in political and religious diversity. I made sure that we had speakers from across the entire spectrum so the students could identify what helped them the most and learned the difference among various traditions. Of course, the chapel services were Christian focused.

The student speakers, in my opinion, were the most noteworthy. Other speakers were people such as Robert Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury, Morgan Freeman, and many other famous folks as well as the not so famous who led exemplary lives. But it was this small in stature but big in enthusiasm fellow in his 80(s) who I had to help get into the pulpit who also had a tremendous impact on the students and faculty. The medium, Ham Aulenbach, was the message. That authenticity is what students respond to, always has been and always will be as well the simplicity and importance of his words. “Joy, Joy, Joy! It’s great to be alive! It’s not going to get any greener.” Get moving forward!

Perhaps that is why I thought of him when I read the following anecdote from the website, Makes Me Think, “Today, while I was driving my grandfather to his doctor’s appointment, I complained about hitting 2 red lights in a row. My grandfather chuckled and said, “You always complain about the red lights, but never celebrate the green ones.” Ham would have loved that someone picked up the mantle of his cause to celebrate the positive! He was worth the good trouble that he made! As a plus the faculty came around to appreciate his visits as well.

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