Dr. David Wendelken Passes on a Legacy

Black and White Photos by Yo Nagaya

Color photo by Hannah Adams

Students, faculty and friends describe him as a mentor, both wise and supportive. After 40 years and 80 semesters, Dr. David Wendelken is retiring from teaching at James Madison University.

Dr. Wendelken began teaching at JMU in 1975. He founded and advised several publications at JMU: Curio, a general interest community feature magazine (1978); Madison 101, an orientation guide (1999); and South Main, a campus feature magazine (2000). Three years ago, he started 22807, a student lifestyles magazine. All of these magazines have been part of the magazine-production class he has taught since 1978. Wendelken also advised the campus newspaper, The Breeze, for 25 years.

Brad Jenkins, a 1999 JMU graduate who returned to JMU in 2006 as The Breeze’s general manager, worked closely with Wendelken when he was a student working on the newspaper. He also took two of his classes (Feature Writing and Feature Magazine Production) as a student. In 1999, Wendelken encouraged Jenkins to help create one of the publications Wendelken has begun at JMU, Madison101, a guide to the university for new students.

“He trusted me and another student to basically launch a brand new magazine,” Jenkins said. “That’s one of the things he does so well…he sees potential in students and then gives them the ability to get some experience and practice.” In 2012, Wendelken began thinking about another publication called 22807, and he called on another student to develop it. “There was an empty hole in the publications, so Wendelken and I and a group of other students kind of mind-melded and came up with 22807 as a culture publication,” said senior media arts and design major Griffin Harrington. Over the past three years, Wendelken and Harrington have been working closely together to carry out their vision for 22807. “We worked a lot on who would be right for each role,” Harrington said about the magazine. “It wasn’t as much as a line of advice for him, but a mindset that he gave me that I’m not going to be able to do it all on my own and that I need to find the right people and bring in the right talent.”

Wendleken also makes it a point to have a relationship with his students outside the classroom. In the fall of 2014, Harrington photographed the wedding of Wendelken’s daughter. “We had a glass of champagne together…it was cute,” Harrington said. “He’s been really cool about having me be a part of his outside life too, not just inside the walls of Harrison.” Wendelken has a knack for guiding students and helping them discover their hidden talents. Jenkins remembers that when he took Feature Writing, he was more interested in hard-news stories and didn’t think he’d be able to write features. But Wendelken saw and developed his potential.

“He sort of encouraged me that I could do it,” Jenkins said. “He recognized the talent in me and told me I should do it [feature writing]. And now if I had to pick something, it would be that over anything else.” Wendelken has given his students countless pieces of advice over the years to help them pursue their dreams, whether in journalism or another field.

“He always told me to take it slow,” JMU alum Spencer Dukoff said. “That’s been some powerful advice in a world where you’re always hurrying and fudging the details.”

Harrington calls Wendelken a “real father figure to everyone at JMU.” “His office is where I go when I need some help,” Harrington said. “He’s one of the most important heads I bounce ideas off of [for projects].” The “king of publications,” Wendelken has left his mark all around the world. “When I think about his mark on Madison, I think about all the journalists who are carrying his lessons, his mentorship and all those things into the business…I’m sure all those people are like me passing along his lessons, so it’s kind of like this ripple effect of mentoring,” Jenkins said. Students and faculty say they will miss his wise words, wry sense of humor and, of course, the animal lover’s stories about his adopted cats and his adventures taking birding photos all over the world.

“I’ll miss just having his perspective on things,” Jenkins said. “I’ll miss learning from him as I watched him teach and interact with students.” Although he will not be returning to JMU in the fall, Wendelken will continue to carry his love for journalism and photography with him throughout his life. “He’s talked about all these bird adventures he’s going to go on like traveling to South America,” Harrington said. “He’s going to take his wife and his camera and just look for birds.” And as he does, he will likely read some magazines on the way.