A Man Who Blessed Others

by Gail Wilson Lew

One of the fondest memories I have of "Van," as Dr. Charles Van Riper liked to be called, was the very first time I got to meet him. I was home from college on my summer break when I got the idea to visit this icon of speech pathology.

l wasn't about to go by myself. I asked my father if he would take me to meet Dr. Van Riper. I was in Kalamazoo, Michigan, only about an hour from where my family lived. My father was not at all hesitant about the idea. So off in the car we went. Van lived in an old historic looking house with lots of acreage of greenery and trees. The tree lined driveway seemed so long at the time that I thought we would never get to the actual house.

We parked the car and knocked on the back door by the driveway. My heart was pounding. I was so glad my Dad was there to do the initial talking. His wife Catharine answered our knock, and after telling her of our request she let us come in, but only on the condition that we would just stay half an hour. (We found out later that she was very protective of Van's health so that he would not be overtaxed from the many visitors be received.)

On our way through to the living room we passed a beautiful sword Fish mounted up on the wall. Van had caught it while he was in the Bahamas. And then, there he was sitting in his favorite chair in the living room smoking a pipe. He was very cordial and warm to us. l was trying to be fluent and tried not to say too much. I told him that I was a speech pathology student and that I knew Carl Dell, one of his former students, a speech pathologist

Finally, I got up enough courage to ask him a question that was important to me. "How fluent does a stutterer have to be to became a speech-language pathologist?"

His reply to me was, "Do you know of any bald-headed barbers that can still sell hair tonic?"

Van was trying to tell me in a nice way that if people don't see that you have your own stuttering under control, how can you be an effective speech and language pathologist. He was right!

Most of all I am amazed at the amount of work he produced while be was in his 70's and 80's. He was supposed to be retired! But this didn't slow him down. He managed to revise several times his university textbook entitled Speech Correction, one of three major textbooks on speech therapy used in universities all over the country. It will soon be coming out in its latest ninth edition. Van also authored many other articles on speech pathology.

It was great privilege for me to hear from him the stories of his early life. Every stutterer should look at Van's life and learn never to despair over it. Van started out having very little hope in life, and even tried to commit suicide twice. Van came through some very grave beginnings and ended up a very blessed man who blessed many others.

In a moment of Van's stuttering, his father had said words to him that left its mark upon him, "What! Am I going to have to support you the rest of your life?" In the early years of his life, Van would never have dreamed in his wildest imagination that he would end up financially secure, married to a wonderful wife, having a family, being a pioneer in a new field, and changing and giving hope to thousands of people. His life answered the challenge of his father's statement

Van would often say that stutterers are "survivalists." Through all the hard knocks they have had to endure in life, they learned to survive. He sure was living proof of this.

He once said: "Confidence comes when we do battle and succeed. It comes when we accept a challenge instead of running away from it."

added with permission of the author
September 8, 1998