How Cliff Schimmels changed my life. I think.

Sometimes one conversation changes the course of your life for good. You are heading one direction and someone pours counsel and direction and affirmation into you. Suddenly, you are heading another direction. That happened to me sometime during the spring of 1980. I say “sometime” because I can’t remember the conversation.

I graduated from college in November 1979, a few months ahead of my class. I worked full-time in data processing. I remember thinking that I didn’t want to do that the rest of my life. By summer 1980, I was heading toward a college teaching career. During the summer I took history and philosophy of education, did an independent study in teaching higher education, and was accepted into a masters degree program for the fall.

But I don’t remember how it happened.

My sister thinks it was Cliff Schimmels. “He did that for a lot of people,” she said recently. I think she’s right. Since my summer courses were all with Cliff.

Cliff was unconventional. Cliff was an education prof at Wheaton College. He had taught history and Latin and coached high school football, then earned his PhD and taught education. He started writing and spent 6 weeks going back to high school as a student. When he preached or spoke in chapel, he gave one point sermons. As you were waiting for the second point, he walked to his chair. And you replayed his words over and over.

Our lives intersected at church. He taught the college-age Sunday school class at the church I was attending. I loved his teaching. I must have spent some time some day talking with him about my studies, my interests, my life.

I think that we work too hard to make our conversations memorable. Maybe we should work harder to help people be different.

So, who turned your life?

An obituary
Cliff’s teaching tips

8 thoughts on “How Cliff Schimmels changed my life. I think.

  1. josephruizjr

    I think you are right Jon, I know I labor at making conversations memorable in the social media space especially. I am grateful for the thought –


    1. Jon Swanson

      so do I, Joe. I want to be insightful. I want to be quoted. But when I’m doing that, I’m making it be about me. Instead, what if I focused on encouraging and affirming.



  2. Rich Dixon

    As a recovering teacher, former students occasionally stop me in a store or restaurant and recount how I made a difference in their lives. I’m always surprised, and usually I don’t recall specifics. Of course it feels good, but I always thought of myself as one of many raindrops that form a river. After reading Cliff’s teaching tips. I’d bet that’s how he saw himself.

    I’m think maybe the least effective way to make a difference is by trying to be THE GUY who changes a life (and demanding the credit), sorta like folks who keep track of how many people they’ve personally led to Jesus. We’ve already got a savior. Cliff sounds like a man who understood his role and took it seriously without taking himself too seriously.

    Ironically, that’s the best way to get others to take you seriously. And that’s what happens at 300words. Thanks.


    1. Jon Swanson

      I think that you are right about Cliff and influence. And I know that you are right about you. You are have a bunch of raindrops in each of those rivers of influence watering the lives of each of those students. And each of us.

      You are also right about how he didn’t take himself seriously but he took each of us seriously.

      and thanks.


  3. Jill

    It’s gonna sound cheesy…of course, but you are one of the people who turned my life.
    I know…blah blah blah
    I’ve watched you walk through so many things.
    Happy things
    Sad things
    Challenging things
    Scary things
    I’ve seen you broken and discouraged
    I’ve seen you strong and courageous
    I’ve seen you joyful and hilarious
    I’ve seen you angry and frustrated
    I’ve watched you create
    I’ve watched you process a thought
    And be okay with not having an answer right away
    I’ve watched you try new things
    I’ve watched you give up on something

    I’m thankful for the way God wrote our stories together.
    I think sometimes we take that for granted with siblings.
    But I’m thankful for what I have learned by watching you
    I’m blessed to have been mentored by you in my faith
    And encouraged by you when I thought my life was over
    And loved by you unconditionally.

    You have shown me how to be a good parent
    And a good writer
    And how to do algebra (I just threw that in there to see if you were still paying attention)
    And how to reach out to people
    And how to be quiet
    And how to worship

    Hmmm…perhaps I need to learn to write without using the enter key.


    1. Jon Swanson

      I remember that algebra very clearly. I learned a lot about myself in those conversations as I couldn’t figure out how to help you learn what was to me intuitive.

      Thank you dear sister for your words of affirmation. and your life of affirmation, too.


  4. Frank Reed

    There have been several people for me but they did just what you said, they made me different.

    I can rattle off a few names no one would know but just in this exercise I have had a realization. The one who can TRULY change my life, Jesus, is the one I probably listen to the least. Now that’s a kick in the shin if there ever was one.

    You keep me thinking Jon. Thanks.


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