By G. Barry Davis ‘75
John Montini was a graduate of the Geneva College class of 1936, and in the fall of 1970 he was the man in the admissions office who held my fate in his hands.
I was a less-than-motivated student in my high school days, and as Mr. Montini looked at the disheartening transcript that was my academic past and scanned the letters that were written in my behalf, he saw something.
“Mr. Davis,” he said, looking over the rims of his glasses. “Everything in your records indicates that college and you shall never mix. In fact, everything in these records suggests that Geneva would be taking your money from you.”
So, that was it, I thought. But then he looked back at the papers in his hands, turned his chair away from me and bowed his head. There was silence in the room, which seemed to last an eternity. Finally, he turned back to me, stood up and walked around the desk.
“Mr. Davis, common sense tells me to reject you as a student at Geneva, but something — something in those letters, has touched my heart, and I am going to give you a chance.”
He extended his hand and a smile crossed his face. “Welcome to Geneva College, Mr. Davis. This is the easy part of your journey. What you take from this place, you must first be willing to put in here.”
Thanking him with stunned disbelief, I turned to go before he changed his mind. But, before I could make clean my escape, he called out, “Mr. Davis! Grace has given you a chance to become something you could never have imagined. Mr. Davis, please don't mess with grace.”
During my time at Geneva, Mr. Montini became a mentor and friend, listening to my concerns, and making sure that I was not wasting the opportunity that I had been given. On commencement day, Mr. Montini searched me out from among the line of giddy near-graduates. Stopping in front of me, he folded his arms and peered over his glasses.
“Mr. Davis,” he said, “you made it, so I see. Remember that you have received grace upon grace in your life, and an agent of grace you must be from now on.”
He offered his hand for what would be the last time, and a smile spread over his face. “God works in mysterious ways, Mr. Davis. No one would ever have bet the farm that you would be here four years ago. But, sometimes, God can see what no man can. Remember that, Mr. Davis. Remember that.”
A few years ago, I wrote an e-mail to Ginny Caldwell, then director of alumni relations, and told her of my wish to honor a few of my former professors, as well as Mr. Montini. It began as a short note, but something moved me to share with this person how much Mr. Montini had meant to me and to my family. This was her reply:
“Your letter concerning Mr. John Montini brought tears to my eyes, and I had to write you and let you know how pleased he would be to know how highly you thought of him and what a blessing he had been to you. I am his daughter, Ginny.”
I had no idea that Ginny Caldwell was Virginia Montini ’68, and with that simple letter, I felt that I had reconnected with Mr. Montini.
Since then, my own and my family’s faith has been tested and strengthened through our long journey with my wife — the pain of her pancreatic cancer and her subsequent death. During that dark night of the soul, Geneva College ministered to us. There were weekly e-mails from people I had never met, telling me that they were praying for Gloria, Lacy and myself. Cards came regularly, along with gifts, and with each card, each gift and phone call, a grace enfolded us that made my entire family realize what a blessing Geneva was to us.
With Gloria’s death, Geneva’s ministry of grace did not end. Family and friends were amazed that Geneva had taken such an interest in the affairs of a long-graduated alumnus, but in my heart, I was not. The spirit that gave Mr. Montini the power to be an agent of grace to me so many years ago is still at work in the faculty and staff of the college today.
After life had returned to a sort of new normalcy, Lacy and I drove to the campus to thank all the people who had ministered to us. We met so many people that day and felt so much love washing over us that both Lacy and I could not drive home, but sat in the car talking. It was then that my daughter looked at me and said, “You know, Dad, this is a special place. The people are so loving, so caring. Kind of like, well, I don't know — it’s a place that I'd like to go to school.”
Now Lacy is walking those paths that I trod some 30 years ago. The Montinis still have an active interest in the Davis family, as Ginny (Montini) Caldwell has taken on a mentoring role with Lacy, sending her cards and watching over her as her father did for me so long ago. But it is the unchanging grace of this place — the welcoming atmosphere, the nurturing attitude and quiet faith — that has made Geneva the starting point for my walk of faith and for my daughter’s as well.
In the past four years, on average, 90% of Geneva students are working or in grad school within six months after graduation.