Sharing Memories of Elkin Isaac, '48
Alumni and friends of Albion College, as well as the entire Albion and surrounding communities, are encouraged to express their thoughts about Elkin R. Isaac, '48, who passed away August 13, 2013.
Over three decades as a star student-athlete, coach and administrator, Isaac "personified Albion College," according to former Britons men's basketball coach and fellow Albion legend Mike Turner, '69. Since 1997, the annual student research symposium has borne his name.
I extend my deepest sympathy to Ike's family at his passing. I remember several important "learning experiences" as a result of my interactions with Ike over the years—lessons learned and not forgotten. He was a stalwart—a person of the highest integrity. Ike along with Morley had an important role in helping me understand many things about how to go forward in life. His coaching role was an ideal platform from which he could teach life lessons to the many generations of Albion College students whose lives he touched. He will be missed.
John Vournakis, '61
I first met Ike in 1958 at an Albion/Calvin track meet in Grand Rapids. I was a high school senior who’d committed to Albion College. I told Ike that I hadn’t participated in high school athletics but really wanted to do the weights in college. Ike gave me an old, rubber college discus and told me to start throwing. I did so every night during the summer.
I went to Albion in the fall and subsequently threw the discus for Ike (and Albion College) for four years. During that time, Ike became a mentor to me. He was a man of impeccable character who embodied all the finest values of athletic competition. Under the tutelage of Ike and Morley Fraser, I grew immensely in many of the qualities that both defined and strengthened me for four decades of parish ministry.
Rev. Thomas E. Sagendorf, ‘62
I never ran track for one of Ike’s teams, but I heard what he told one of his high-jumpers. “Son, it’s about more than jumping over a stick.” I played basketball and baseball at Albion, but I was one of his sons. There were more than a few of us over the years.
So if high-jumping was not really about jumping over a stick, what was it really about? For Ike, what mattered most is what we’re all really about way down deep: We are physical, intellectual and spiritual creations with a moral sense. Our obligation to ourselves––and an educator’s obligation to us––is to develop the best of what we’re really about way down deep. For Ike, coach, winning was never––never––merely about jumping higher than or getting ahead of the next guy. For Ike, teacher, learning was never merely about getting a job. One important thing Ike taught me over the fifty years I was one of his “sons” is how important it is to pass the ball.
He worked hard at helping us do well at the games we wanted to play, for he understood how important it is to prepare for hard times. From his boyhood in Chicago he knew well the troubles of tough street life, and he knew what it’s like to be held hostage to circumstance as a quiet hero inside the cockpit of a plane that somehow survived missions flying fuel supplies across the English Channel during World War II. Though his kind and intelligent wife, Edie, was at his side along with his loving daughter, Susan, he choked down the profound grief of losing his son, Ron, from an illness that took a talented youth and his gifts away in his prime. He knew from experience that life was a hard game to get right. It required hard work, and long study, and discipline, and mental alertness, and physical fitness, and high energy, honesty, compassion, graciousness, and passion for social justice.
We, his sons, loved this man. For most of us, our dads were so absent in their work he became the father we were missing out on. He, and his fathering, stayed with us for decades after our four years at Albion College were up. Several of his “sons” made annual pilgrimages to his home in Kalamazoo, then Lake Forest, Ill., then Fort Myers, Fla. There we talked and laughed and ate good food, and there Ike held us to scheduled “seminars” during which we, representing disciplines as diverse as physics and philosophy, had to express our views on several carefully selected major issues of the day. There, too, he called time out from our serious discussions to insist we live up to the requirements of our abductors, quadriceps, and external obliques. In his Fort Myers years he shooed us into the swimming pool along with his faithful following of old-timers in the 75-85 year-old range. Together we did his bidding––we did the daily workout needed to get in shape and stay in shape––because the body has a way of working its way into the heart and mind. It was Albion College all over again, fifty years later in Florida.
I got my worst grade at Albion from Ike. In a term paper I had inadequately described the kinesiology of the bones, muscles, and ligaments involved when a pitcher (like me at the time) throws a curveball toward home plate. “No, son,” he said, “you can do better than this.” He knew it, too.
We loved Ike, and Ike loved Albion, especially when he insisted, “You can do better than this.” He saw that the College’s future depended on its maintaining a meaningful sense of mission within an actively dedicated community. Competition was a way for individuals and groups to test their limits rather than to conquer rivals. He understood, with compassion, the problems underdogs and losers face. For this reason he kept reaching out beyond the comfort zone of the Albion campus, and tried hard to tie the College more meaningfully to a troubled and divided town. He knew that fair play could only happen on a level playing field.
Cedric Dempsey, one of Ike’s “sons” and my varsity basketball coach at Albion, informed me about Ike’s passing. I had talked to Ike by phone some days earlier and sensed that he knew his time was coming soon. He seemed perfectly at ease with the fact.
I wrote to Cedric: “I loved the man, with the kind of love that is not merely softly sentimental but based on reasoned respect for his basic qualities. Mind, body, and moral sense––these are what he educated and trained. He personified what an Albion education came to mean to me…. I’ve been thinking a lot about what ‘spirit’ is recently. Spirit is presence, and presence is power. Ike is in me, Ced, and he’s in you, too, and a whole lot of the rest of us who know––present tense––him. Our names will fade, and his will, too, but his presence will remain as a power to be reckoned with long after we become anonymous. Good things happen when the ball is passed properly––unselfishly and artfully. Ike passed his life to us––unselfishly, artfully, and with beautiful passion.”
Emilio DeGrazia, '63