Liza Petra - Executive Director of the Guilford Foundation
I have been lucky to have had many wonderful teachers in my life (including my mom), however, the one that really stands out (sorry mom) is Karl “Chip” Case.
I first met Chip as a senior in high school in early 1990 when I was deciding where to go to college. Chip was the self-appointed athletic recruiter for Wellesley College, a lonely job at the Division III women’s college at that time—but he was highly effective. I enrolled in the fall.
Chip mentored several types of us “kids.” There was the “academic star type,” who seemed to fire on all cylinders and just needed a subtle word of guidance here and there. The “international transplant type,” who came from across oceans and mountains to this weird, snowy New England world and needed a life translator and local champion. The “geniuses of economics type,” for whom he held a special place in his heart and ensured internships, letters of recommendation, and jobs held in the most prestigious places. And finally, the “scratch and dent” kids. You know, the kids who came to Wellesley with some baggage. Brimming with potential, yet carrying a spotty history of decision-making. And if you were a “scratch and dent kid,” and also happened to be an athlete, you had no choice but to be pulled into Chip’s orbit. I was one of Chip’s “kids,” of the scratch and dent variety of course, but all his kids, regardless of “type” received the same wisdom, love, comfort and attention. My story is just one of hundreds of testimonies to Chip’s influence and dedication to his “kids.”
Twenty-seven years ago, when I entered Wellesley, I was an immature, irreverent and cocky athlete, made somewhat bearable by healthy parts of insecurity and lack of self-confidence. By the time I graduated, I was immeasurably more secure and self-confident—and as a result, probably (I hope) a much nicer person. Much of my growth can be credited to Chip and his dedication to me and his other “kids.”
How did that happen? Partially through athletics. The legend of Chip’s basketball team of the 90s is the story of a team that during the 1989-1990 season experienced a win loss record of two and twenty. That’s two wins and twenty losses. Just two years later, thanks in large part to Chip’s tutelage, we lost just one game during the regular season, and went on to the win the Eastern College Athletic Conference tournament, putting our record for the year at twenty-four wins and just two losses.
The other part was academic. Around the end of my first year at Wellesley, Chip told me that he had written down and sealed in an envelope what I would do after graduation. Based on his adulation of and constant talking about a former mentee and Rhodes Scholar, I had my suspicions that he had similar aspirations for me. With his encouragement and faith in my ability, I proceeded to work as hard as I could, at practice, at work, and in the classroom. And, my senior year, wouldn’t you know it, I was selected as a Rhodes Scholar candidate to represent Wellesley. I then earned a spot from my home state of New Mexico and was on my way to the finals. The fact that I was National Finalist and in that room with some of the most accomplished and dynamic college seniors in the nation was nothing short of stunning. It was more than I had ever been, and more than I ever thought I could ever be. I ended up losing the scholarship to another, more worthy candidate, but I never lost the feeling that I had something significant to offer the world.
This was his greatest gift—he believed in his “kids” and he helped us to begin to believe in ourselves. And it is that gift of Chip’s that we carry with us forever. He touched so many, so profoundly and with such care and subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) guidance. Chip passed away after a long illness in 2016, and a few dozen of his “kids” came together to celebrate his life and his impact on us. Our stories were similar—full of laughter and hijinks, getting through tough spots, and becoming better humans, all because of Chip. The power a teacher has on a life is profound. I am eternally grateful that I fell into Chip’s orbit and will always be indebted to my experience as one of his “kids.”