Lay Down Your Weary Tune: SVC Says Goodbye to Dr. Wissolik

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This semester marks the end of a long and prominent career for SVC faculty member Dr. Richard Wissolik. After nearly 50 years as a professor at Saint Vincent College, Wissolik will be retiring at the end of this semester. On Friday, April 8, students, faculty and alumni gathered in the Fred Rogers Center to reflect on his career and the mark that he has left on the SVC community.

This gathering was not a typical retirement party but rather a jovial roast where past students and friends of Wissolik came to share comical stories and enlightening moments.

Wissolik has been a Professor of English at Saint Vincent College for the past 48 years. He was a Fellow of the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at California State University, Long Beach and a Fellow of the Saint Vincent College Center for Northern Appalachian Studies. He is a recipient of the General Arthur Saint Clair Award for Historical Preservation, the Executive Director’s Award of the Pennsylvania Federation of Museums and Historical Organizations and he is a member in the Military Order of Saint Maurice (Civis).

Before coming to SVC, Wissolik directed programs for Catholic Relief Services in East Africa where he developed self-help school lunch programs, nutrition programs, oversaw shipments of U.S. Title III commodities and other goods through the Port of Mombasa for distribution in Kenya, Uganda and parts of Central Africa.

In 1968, his first year at Saint Vincent College, Wissolik founded the Saint Vincent Community Camerata. He also produced a number of stage shows, including Gilbert and Sullivan’s “HMS Pinafore,” and he sang the roles of Balthasar and Habakuk in the medieval music drama “Play of Daniel.” Several of the speakers at the roast fondly remember the image of Wissolik in a pair of his wife’s tights at many of the Camerata practices.

After Dr. Dennis McDaniel opened the roast, Archabbot Douglas Nowicki began the festivities by thanking Dr. Wissolik for the lasting impression that he has left on the Saint Vincent College community. “Dick Wissolik has accomplished many things over the years that Saint Vincent will abide forever: the Camerata, the Bayeux Tapestry, the wonderful work with the Center for Northern Appalachian Studies, the many students whose lives you’ve touched over the years,” said Douglas.

Dr. Wissolik is a co-founder, director and general editor of the Saint Vincent College Center for Northern Appalachian Studies. Since 1991, SVC students have worked with the Center, gathering and assisting in the publication of oral histories of veterans, teachers, coal miners and persons from several ethnic communities in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Several of these publications include “Listen to Our Words: The Oral Histories of the Jewish Community of Southwestern Pennsylvania,” “Out of the Kitchen: Oral Histories of Women in World War II” and “An Honor to Serve.”

The speakers at the roast included current and past faculty members, students, friends and family members of Wissolik, who were all quick to regale the audience with the hilarious stories and praise for the guest of honor.

“When I first met Dick… it was very obvious that there was a extraordinary and crackling intellect there,” said Dr. George Liner, Associate Professor of Philosophy at SVC.

Perhaps one of the highlights of this emotional night was the comedic relief of a special video put together by the English Department and produced by Mr. David Safin of the Communication Department. The video was a message from all of the people that could not attend the roast, such as Bob Dylan, the mysterious woman of the Bayeux Tapestry, Richard III and a U.S. soldier who bored a considerable likeness to Donald Trump. Bob Dylan was played by senior English major Joseph Walker, the mysterious woman was played by Dr. Marybeth Spore, Richard III was played by Fr. Wulfstan Clough, and the soldier was played by sophomore John Wojtechko. This satirical video highlighted several of Wissolik’s academic accomplishments throughout his long career at Saint Vincent College.

Dr. Wissolik has published several seminal articles on the Bayeux Tapestry and the Norman Conquest in Medium Aevum (Cambridge), the American Benedictine Review and Annuale Mediaevale. His publications also include a critical essay on Old English heroic poetry for “The Dictionary of Literary Biography,” “The Bayeux Tapestry: A Critical, Annotated Bibliography,” “Bob Dylan: American Poet and Singer” and “Bob Dylan’s Words: A Critical Dictionary and Commentary.”

One of the final speakers of the night was Wissolik’s son, Damien Wissolik. He joked about his father’s tendency to quote Shakespeare at the drop of a hat for any and every situation or question in life. He ended his speech reflecting on the lessons that Dr. Wissolik provided him not simply as a teacher but as the most important teacher of them all, a father.

“They say the best measure of a man is not measured in dollars…[but] in the friends and the people that they surround themselves with as well as the positive influence that they make on others along the way,” said Damien Wissolik. “You taught me not just by words but what you have done in your everyday life. You taught me to [be] tough yet to be humble, to show kindness, to have integrity, to be confident. I never did take one of you classes here at Saint Vincent but I never had to because I had you as my teacher, every step of the way in the most important classroom of all.”

The final speaker of the night, Dr. William Snyder, read an original poem full of puns and inside jokes that kept the audience wondering where he would take them next. He also brought former SVC student Ed Graybill to sing a meaningful Bob Dylan song entitled “Lay Down Your Weary Tune.”

Dr. Wissolik will be missed as a teacher and mentor who has inspired innumerable students and colleagues alike to pursue their dreams and engage in meaningful academic and social activities. Dr. Wissolik will remain as the director for the Center for Northern Appalachian Studies.

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