Delivered by Mike Scanlan '06
June 29, 2020
I want to thank Melissa for trusting me to speak today. I’m humbled and so fortunate to stand before you today as a representative of the thousands of Wenzler’s Warriors who came to Chris’ aid in the last two years with prayers, donations, positive energy, acts of kindness, and encouragement.
Across the last week, I’ve thought a lot about why we -- the army of Wenzler’s Warriors -- were so compelled to offer our support. The simplest answer is that Chris impacted each of us in profound ways.
One of my favorite song lyrics from the Avett Brothers says, “Always remember there is nothing worth sharing like the love that let’s us share a name.”
And what a privilege it is for us to share the Wenzler name ... first as Warriors for Chris ... and now as the biggest extended family that Melissa, Madeline, and Oliver could ever hope for.
Our friend Chris took his last breaths on this earth six days ago. His end came quickly. Certainly we knew he was sick, but few of us knew how rapid his decline would be.
In his absence, we’re blessed with the many lessons that Chris taught us in life. I’ll touch on a few today, but there’s one that began to stand out to me in recent months, and became so incredibly clear in recent days … the lesson of vulnerability.
Chris’ openness with his cancer battle provided us a window inside the mind of the man we already loved. In the last 2.5 years, he was, at times, scared, sad, and angry. He was unsure what each day might hold. He endured setbacks and promised to keep pushing the rock up the hill.
He was also full of joy and appreciation. He was grateful to those around him and, at times, even triumphant in his battle.
Some of his selfies were in hospital rooms with a bald head, tubes attached to his arms, and his eyes piercing through the camera with uncertainty. Others revealed his million dollar smile and that beautiful hair - God, that hair - always flowing off to the right side with such ease.
Happy, sad, or otherwise, the way he shared his journey was a Ph.D. in vulnerability. And it’s had me thinking some really deep and spiritual thoughts, not just in the last six days, but in the months as I trained to run a marathon to raise money for the Wenzler family.
One question keeps coming to mind -- why do we wait until someone is dying to tell them how we feel? Too often we avoid the honest conversations and the vulnerability that comes with expressing our true emotions.
We’re too cool, or too busy, or too unsure, or too worried about how we might come across to tell our friends, family, teachers, and coaches that we love them ... that we appreciate them … that we value their role in our lives.
Chris is gone, but his vulnerability has given us an incredible gift. As you grieve and mourn, be sure to look back through the comments on his Facebook posts. You told him that you loved him. You were there for him. You said the things to him in life that we typically wait until the end to say.
But it wasn’t just vulnerability that we learned from Chris. Take a poll of the students who worked for him over 30 years and you hear things like:
Maybe he had a chip on his shoulder for the underdog -- he wasn’t a college-level athlete and he always had to prove himself on the playing field growing up. Although, the one place he never had to prove himself was on the racquetball court where he was an absolute monster.
In a lot of ways, he was the London Fletcher of Sports Information. Chris Wenzler was our Ironman. He worked harder than anyone else. He didn’t need the glory or the attention, in fact he regularly shunned it. There was something inside him that drove him. To a person, Chris’ friends and student workers talk about his passion.
As my dad would say, ‘they broke the mold when they made Chris Wenzler.’ He was a rare breed. I’m confident in saying there will never be another one like him. His dedication to his family, to his work, to his friends, to his employees, to student athletes, and to John Carroll University is unmatched.
God has blessed me with many gifts, but unfortunately a great memory is not one of them. I met Chris in 2005 and worked for him in 2006. At the time, I knew that I wanted to work in sports, but I was far more focused on my social life than my future. And with that in mind, I don’t remember the exact conversation where Chris told me, “you should apply for this internship with the Buffalo Bills.”
He knew a guy, who met a guy, who knew a guy’s dad who worked for the Bills. I do remember him saying that he would put a call in for me, but that his recommendation wouldn’t be enough. Turns out, the guy he knew left the Bills before they started interviewing candidates. I was on my own to get the job. Spoiler alert: I got it.
But I do know that, without his belief in me, without that encouragement and that nudge, my career and my life would have been very different. And I’m one of so many people with a story like that.
My career path took me around the world and, ultimately, back to John Carroll in my current role. I can’t help but think there is a bigger plan at play. I’ve felt so fortunate to be able to support Chris in his job in the moments where cancer needed his full focus.
And I can say that, without a doubt, my life forever changed when I decided to run a marathon to support the Wenzlers. And thank God, that in spite of the fact that my actual marathon got cancelled, my friends and family helped convince me to stage Wenzlerthon.
Through the training, the fundraising, the promotion, I found a new passion. It was always there, but Chris helped draw it out of me in the final months of his life. I’m so grateful that Wenzlerthon gave many of us an opportunity to support the family and also to tell and show Chris how we felt about him.
The last eight miles of Wenzlerthon were the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Realizing it’s OK to be vulnerable, I will admit that doubt crept into my mind. I wasn’t sure I could do it. That’s when I started to think about all of you. The Wenzler’s Warriors who were there with me. I didn’t know many of you before this journey, but Chris brought us together. He built the most incredible community across the last four decades.
The end of Wenzlerthon is something that will be with me forever.
In that moment, my pain and my doubt turned into joy. And then I saw Chris. And we hugged. And I want you to know that every single member of the Wenzler’s Warriors was there. We told him that we loved him. We told him that our lives were better because of him. We told him that he inspired us.
So how do we honor Chris’ legacy? One of the SID alums reminded me about Chris’ view on what separates DIII athletics from bigger schools and professional sports. Wenz affectionately called it the “give a s--- factor.” At bigger places, it may just be a job. Here, we genuinely care about what we do because every task, every game, every athlete, coach, parent, and supporter matters.
So, I leave you today with two challenges.
Number 1: In the coming weeks, months, and years when the tributes stop pouring in and we go back to our daily lives, carve out time to check in on Melissa and the kids. If you promise to do that, I want you to raise your hand right now. And Melissa, Madeline, and Oliver, I want you to look around this room and I want you to picture all the people watching online. We are here and we are not going anywhere.
Number 2: There will be lots of ways to honor Chris. You can contribute to the Chris Wenzler Memorial Fund or the Go Fund Me accounts to support the family. You can continue to pray. But I think the way to ensure that Chris Wenzler lives on is to use your words and actions to make a difference for people the way Chris influenced you and me. Find the moments in your life and in your work where you can be a mentor. Use your gifts to encourage and to serve others. Live with love in your heart. Tell people how you feel about them. And always follow your passion.