|Tribute to Founding Friend of Davidson's JYA Wuerzburg Program
March 06, 2007
Contact: Bill Giduz
Prof. Dr. h.c. Reinhard Guenther, a great friend of Davidson and its Study Abroad program in Germany, died on January 31, 2007. “Kanzler” (Chancellor) Guenther received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Davidson in 1985 in recognition of his cooperation in helping relocate the JYA program from Marburg to Wuerzburg.
As a tribute to his late friend Kanzler Guenther, Professor Emeritus of German Erich Wruck recalls below the history of Davidson’s Junior Year Abroad and Kanzler Guenther’s many kindnesses toward the Davidson College students in Wuerzburg.
Forty-five years ago I was invited to visit Davidson College when Mr. Grier Martin was its president. Coincidentally, a week before that the newly appointed Secretary of State and Davidson alumnus Dean Rusk had preceded me. President Martin told me that Mr. Rusk had suggested that Davidson’s graduates attain a higher proficiency in foreign languages. And when I was asked how this could be done in regard to German, I replied that having a German House, where about 40 students live and have their meals for one academic year while speaking only in German, and having an exchange program with a German-speaking university for about 25 juniors, was the course of action one would have to take to meet the Secretary’s wishes.
| (l-r) Herr Jovanovici, director of the Wuerzburg foreign students office, Kanzler Guenther, and Professor Emeritus of German Erich Wruck.|
For the idea of an exchange program I found a strong ally in Professor Joe Embry with his colleagues in the French department. He proposed that in the summer of 1963 while I had planned to do research in Germany that I find a suitable university willing to cooperate with us. At that time the university in Marburg seemed to be the best choice. After I had made my recommendation with appropriate explanations to the various committees, the faculty gave its approval. In late summer of 1964 Davidson’s first JYA groups headed for Germany and France, respectively.
Unfortunately, the political climate at Marburg—and at a few other German universities—changed drastically, affecting the benefits students were expected to gain, so that when in 1983 President Spencer appointed me to head the German department, I made it my top objective to find a better exchange partner in Germany or perhaps Austria. In this endeavor Dean Zimmermann was my strongest supporter and he deserves the major credit for our eventual success. Searching for a new JYA-Germany Home
In the summer of 1984 I traveled to Germany and visited eight universities, hoping to find one which would, in my estimation, provide Davidson and its students with a congenial academic as well as social atmosphere. That turned out to be the alma julia in Wuerzburg with her incomparable head administrator Kanzler Guenther, ably assisted by the director of the Akademische Auslandsamt, Herr Jovanovici with Herr Dieter Thoma. When Kanzler Guenther retired in 1992, he had held that position—appointed by the Bavarian government—for eighteen years, longer than any other university chancellor in Germany.
After only a few words at our first meeting in his office I knew Kanzler Guenther was an uncommon man. Having been born and having grown up as an ethnic German in the newly created country called Czechoslovakia, he was relieved when his home town Marienbad became German again in 1938. Among other things, it meant that for him as a young athlete there was a larger area for participation and individual undertakings. Thus he rode on a normal touring bike to Dresden and back on a weekend, covering a distance of about 250 miles while crossing the Erzgebirge mountain range twice. But before he could finish the Gymnasium he became a soldier, only to fight in the last major battle between the Oder River and Berlin. Though badly wounded, he survived the war and while recuperating learned that the Czechs had begun to expel the three million Sudeten Germans, his fellow countrymen. Much later he was re-united with his parents in Bavaria who luckily were not among the 300,000 that had become victims of the ethnic cleansing program in this part of Eastern Europe.
It was very difficult for Kanzler Guenther to return to the life of a secondary school pupil, but he needed the Abitur to study law. During this trying time he met an American family who assisted him in various ways. This experience in part explains the generosity he showed to me and my students.
In 1985 he and the “Rektor” of the University of Wuerzburg, Prof. Dr. habil Berchem, were invited to come to Davidson to participate in our annual convocation. Rektor Berchem addressed the student body and the assembled faculty as the featured speaker. Both visitors received doctorate degrees honoris causa. Afterwards the exchange program agreement between the two institutions was signed. The following year then the program in Marburg was terminated and that in Wuerzburg began.
|(l) Faculty Dean T.C. Price Zimmermann and (r) President John Kuykendall present Kanzler Guenther with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at a 1985 convocation.|
In Wuerzburg, Kanzler Guenther personally welcomed our students in his office. This was followed by a festive Weinprobe in the centuries-old “Buergerspital.” In December our students alone were the Kanzler’s guests at the Christmas concert in the old and restored university church (the Neubaukirche started in 1586). A week later followed the Christmas dinner in the Kanzler’s Keller for our students and parents if they happened to be present. This rule applied also to the events planned by the university’s Auslandsamt (Foreign Students Office).A Gracious Host to Davidson Students
The following summer semester the Kanzler took our students to various places like schools, factories, county governments. In July we were his guests at the Kilian’s Fest along the Main River, and last but not least we met downtown for our farewell dinner. Aside from these Kanzler specials our students made excursions to Brussels, Aachen, Koeln, Bremen, Hameln, Goslar, Bamberg, Coburg, Fulda, Weimar, Dresden, Nuernberg, Muenchen, Heidelberg and Jagsthausen, Berlin, and Frankfurt. In these places we visited not only museums but also attended performances in theaters and concert halls, on the average of six per year. Davidson at Wuerzburg was instrumental in helping Kanzler Guenther crack the Iron Curtain by starting a cooperative program between Wuerzburg and the Martin-Luther University in Halle. No other West German university had any contact in the so-called “German Democratic Republic.” The first trip occurred in the summer of 1989. Kanzler Guenther was accompanied by Davidson Prof. Corriher.
Kanzler Guenther was interested in having exchange programs for students and faculty members worldwide. Besides Davidson, the University of Texas, and SUNY, he established exchanges with Brazil, Canada, China, Chile, France, Korea, Poland, Spain, and others.
|Kanzler Guenther looks toward college registrar Sue Ross at the 1985 ceremony establishing Davidson's JYA program in Germany.|
Very helpful for me as the resident director in Wuerzburg was the fact that Kanzler Guenther—whenever possible—introduced me to important and influential persons like Germany’s foreign minister Dieter Genscher, Fuerst von und zum Castell, Herr Schaefer, the owner of Kugel-Fischer in Schweinfurt, both the bishop and mayor of Wuerzburg, and so forth.
There cannot be any doubt that from 1986 until Kanzler Guenther’s retirement in 1992 there was no better junior year abroad program in Germany. It was a lucky coincidence that I had Professor Zimmermann as my dean in Davidson and Kanzler Guenther as the head administrator in Wuerzburg.
Kanzler and Frau Guenther retired to Schongau in the Bavarian Alps. We stayed in touch and Mrs. Wruck and I visited them whenever we had a chance, the last time being in October 2005. Admittedly, he no longer was the outstanding athlete of his youth, but I never imagined it would be our final Kaffee and Kuchen get-together. Frau Guenther told me that in the morning of the last day in January the Kanzler had gotten up ahead of her and gone downstairs to their living room. She followed him shortly and found him lying on the floor dead. His good heart has stopped, but he has enriched us all.
Dr. Erich O. Wruck
429 Pine Road
Davidson, NC 28036
Posted By: Bill Giduz