Christine Purves

Faculty/Staff Service Award 2012
The award recognizes a former faculty or staff member who fostered a spirit of community on campus through relationships with others, including students whom the recipient mentored and inspired.

Christine PurvesFor Christine Purves, music and sports have always gone together.

Her parents enjoyed both, and she and her husband, John "Jack," each earned a bachelor's degree in music education from Oberlin College, where Jack also played basketball. After coming to Bluffton in 1958, Christine was a choral director and music instructor whose support of Beavers athletics has continued for 55 years.

It seems fitting, then, that Purves was honored with this year's Faculty/Staff Service Award particularly for her service
in music and athletics.

From a Mennonite background in Berne, Ind., Purves is the daughter of Martha (Baumgartner '15) and Carl Habegger, who "were both heavily into music as an avocation," she says. Married in 1943—three years after receiving her undergraduate degree—she and her husband were working for Mennonite Central Committee in Akron, Pa., when, she recalls, Jack was asked to come to Bluffton in admissions.

"I was no sooner here than Bob Kreider (then dean and later president) asked me to direct an a cappella choir," adds Purves, who later became an instructor of speech as well as choral music. That first choir, The Choraliers, was among several she directed during her roughly 15 years on campus.

She also directed a number of plays during her time in speech and drama, along with academic year-end productions of "John Brown's Body," the epic poem by Stephen Vincent Benet, and "The Sorcerer," Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera.

In addition, for a couple years, Purves handled programming as head of the campus radio station. She remembers taking a class to WJR in Detroit and being told that the station would hire Bluffton graduates before others who didn't have the same liberal arts background in college.

In 1967, "they twisted my arm again," she says with a smile, recalling the request that she become the first program director for Marbeck Center, which opened the following year. "I did it for Jack," explains Purves, whose husband had become associate director of development by then. He later served two years as assistant to the president, then two more as vice president for development, while she completed two years at Marbeck before returning to teaching.

With a shared interest in sports that was "just natural," she says, she and her husband got together socially with coaches A.C. Burcky and Ken Mast and their wives, as well as regularly attending football, basketball and baseball games.

In 2008—six years after her husband's death—Purves received the Larry W. Jones Award for support of, and contributions to, Bluffton athletics. She was cited at that time for sending encouraging notes and email messages to student-athletes—a practice she started, she says, "just because I was interested. If you go to the games, you get to know the players." That sometimes extends to knowing about family problems, she adds, remembering a father who, after his son's graduation, thanked her for helping the student-athlete through a difficult time. "I just tried to be friends," she says.

Music and sports aside, church has been a constant in her life. Beginning in 1977, Purves and her husband were educators in Botswana for nine years through the United Church of Christ. For the first three years, Jack Purves was headmaster of a remote high school where Christine taught required religious education. He then worked for six years in the African nation's ministry of education while she taught at the University of Botswana.

More recently, through Bluffton's First Mennonite Church, she has been a mentor to two young women. "Both of those girls were just wonderful," she says, calling mentoring "a big part of my life."

"I've never been bored," says Purves, who also taught elementary and secondary students and did graduate work at several universities, culminating in a master's degree in music education from Oberlin in 1975.

She still corresponds by email with—among others—many Africans she met while in Botswana, and goes to Bluffton athletic contests with the help of friends. "I hate to lose touch," she says. "People are my hobby."