Things Remembered

about Charles Van Riper

Most people who knew Charles Van Riper, have special fond memories of him. Below is a place to share those special memories. If you have one you would like to add, please email Judy Kuster

Charles Van Riper had a zany side to him (just ask his grandkids and students). This picture shows him babbling to his bubbling fountain. He used to sit in his Secret Garden every happy hour (weather permitting) and on this day he was fascinated by the dancing and gurgling of the fountain, so much so he wanted to join in the merriment himself! The fountain was a garden hose weighted down by a brick immersed in an old pig scalding kettle which came with the old farmhouse. Leave it to CVR to have thought of how to turn an old cast iron pot into a thing of great delight.

personal correspondence, Andrew Amor (May 17, 1997) One day, repairing a compost shredder, he sheared off his two left middle fingers. "Looking down at the pile of green shreddings, I saw to my surprise some scarlet there and thought it beautiful until I suddenly realized that the color came from my shredded fingers." The next day he spread the bloody compost in his rose garden. He quipped, "The roses that year were never redder. I recycled myself. Not many men have been reincarnated as a rose."

From an obituary written for the SFA Newsletter, winter 1994-95, by Albert T. Murray at Van Riper's request. Winter night. Stopped by a police man, accusing me of flying at too low an altitude in a Chevy Nova (why, its short wings didn't allow for more). I found that I had locked myself out of my car when the cop ordered me back to it to get the car papers. The cold was so bitter that he asked me to sit in the police car while a new car key was delivered from home.

While he wrote the excess speed ticket, I noticed his scar after a cleft lip. Started talking, eh, he talked, I stuttered. A lot. After a while I said that I'd noticed that he had had a cleft and also mentioned that his speech was real good. No nasality. Did he get help anywhere? "Ya know Van Riper?" he asked. "Ssssure, I said. My ttteacher". "Can't give a brother a ticket, can you?" said the cop, smiling and tearing it up.

Anders Lundberg, Sweden (May 15, 1997) Prior to being asked to edit To The Stutterer for the Stuttering Foundation of America, I was "summoned" to spend the weekend at Doc Van's cottage so that he could impart to me his words of wisdom regarding how to be an editor, how to work constructively with those who would be submitting essays, and how to work with Malcolm Fraser, who was then Director of the SFA.

Upon my arrival, Van gave me his rifle and sent me into the woods to shoot a pheasant for supper. Although I had seen several pheasants while driving to the cabin, none could be found. Finally, I was startled by two pheasants as they emerged from the bushes. I shot and missed. After reporting my lack of success, Van gave the rifle to Paul Czuchna who returned in about 20 minutes with the evening meal.

While dinner was cooking, Doc Van took me outside and showed me a place where lots of ants were milling aimlessly about. He told me I had ten minutes to watch them, to figure out what they were up to, and to determine which ant was the leader. He said this was a lesson in increasing my powers of observation. I never did figure out what they were doing, but eventually I thought I identified the leader. Doc Van never said whether I was right or wrong -- only that I tried hard and was off to a good start.

After dinner, we sat and talked for several hours Suddenly he said, "Well, I'm pooped and I'm going to bed." He did, and the bull session was over. Now, some 25 years later, I still feel the warmth and humanness of this man. I feel his impact.

Stephen Hood (May 22, 1997) A colleague of mine when he was much younger had a young son who was beginning to show some disfluencies, and he figured there wasn't anyone better to go to so he called Van and made an appointment. He drove out from Philadelphia to Kalamazoo for this. Van talked to the boy for a while and then took him outside to walk around the yard behind the house. There were some chuck or mole holes here and there, and Van began telling the boy that the area was magic because there were leprechauns that lived in the holes. After building this idea up in the little guy's mind, Van came up to one hole and said that he thought it looked particularly interesting, commenting at the same time that sometimes the leprechauns were known to leave some of the treasure lying around. He reached in the hole and pulled out a 50 cent piece, which he gave to the boy as a memento. He had planted it there in anticipation of his little visitor.

C. Woody Starkweather (May 24, 1997) Woody shared what he said may be an apocryphal story, but a good one, on Stutt-L (May 30, 1997). It seems that Van gave a parrot to Wendell Johnson that he had trained to say "To Hell with Iowa." Johnson trained the parrot to stutter and sent it back.

C. Woody Starkweather (May 30, 1997) I spent a week with Van and Katy in about 1980. I was still living in France at that time and had just translated If Your Child Stutters: A Guide for Parents into French: Mon enfant begaie-t-il? Van let me ride the old tractor and I later learned that VERY few people were allowed that rare privilege. In the evenings we sat out in the Secret Garden and gossiped about people past and present ( I have never divulged his thoughts on others nor will I ) as well as about conferences, new challenges, moving ahead with videotape projects, etc. Herky the dog was still alive then but very very old. He sat next to us at dinner...I also got to pick strawberries and raspberries and see the perfect (almost) potato. I was still smoking cigarettes and Van was still smoking his pipe in those days and we met at 6 a.m. over coffee in the bow window for deep philosophical conversations. He always amazed me by his knowledge of both English and French literature and he could reel off "ou sont les neiges d'antan..." as fluently as any Frenchman. We kept up a very lively correspondence until the month he died. When my father died, I went through and kept all of his correspondence with Van---and there are reams of it...all very interesting, some rather risque.

Jane Fraser, (June 3, 1997) The absolute truth in the following story is perhaps questionable. Van could "doctor up" actual events to make them shine. He'd have a twinkle in his eye when so doing. But this is the story Van told us about when he was fifteen and attended Bogue Institute in Indianapolis. It guaranteed a cure for stuttering, provided that you'd sign a statement upon your departure from "therapy" stating that as long as you used the Bogue method, you would not stutter. The Bogue method consisted of swinging the arm in time to verbal utterances. Late in the course, this was reduced to a swing of one's finger with the hand being placed in the pocket of the trousers.

Van went swimming at the YMCA (where the men used to swim without suits) to celebrate his "graduation." Pocketless in such a setting and loath to display his finger swing, relapse into stuttering appeared full force upon the scene.

Fred Murray (August 26, 1997)

I wish I had loved him more, seen more of him, yet I loved him always and saw as much of him as he would allow. He loved his privacy and all of us respected it to the hilt. At his memorial weekend celebration of life we were invited to his home and I felt like I was intruding on his privacy when we traipsed through the house like we had never done before, even though every one of us had been in that house several times.

In memories of being in his classes, I recall Dr. Van telling us such shocking stories and they were to harden us to the cruelties of life and to protect our future clients from us becoming horrified at anything they would possibly tell us.

That attribute has dominated my life, maybe good, maybe bad, I don't know. A lot of people want to know why and how I was able to leave it all at work when I went home. Sometimes I could and sometimes, I stayed awake hours trying to figure out what was wrong so I could help a client.

Memories, I guess that is what life is all about.

Gretchen Fifer, (May 20, 1999)

A few years ago, about 15 or 20 of Dr. Van's former students went out to his house for a long chat -- an eerie experience in that there had been almost no changes, and I found myself sitting in the living room with its rag carpet fashioned by his wife, Katie, in the late 1940's, and much the same ambience as when the entire student body of the program, all 25 of us, gathered every Wednesday night of each semester for her coffee and cookies and his seminars in psychology.

A long ago memory: Walking with Dr. Van Riper on the campus of WMU near the School of Education's kingergarten room, where my daughter and his son were both enrolled at the age of 5 during summer school session. Puffing his pipe, he opined "now that we're going to whole word reading, we'll see lots more children with articulation problems in the schools." He was right, of course. I graduated two years later, and such children were already inhabiting classrooms in the two school districts I served, all 250 children on the case load in 17 schools. My crowning achievement was learning to back my car out of snow banks during Michigan winters. My sorrow was hearing that clinicians in NYC schools had case loads of 400 to 500.

I remember another cogent piece of advice he gave long ago when asked how he could find the time to write his books, with a heavy teaching and clinical schedule. He indicated that one needed to sit down and write each day before retiring for the night, and that the first sentence was the most difficult.

Kay Butler (September 3, 1999)

Notes about Charles Van Riper from William Shearer, Professor Emeritus, Northern Illinois University, former graduate assistant (1951-1954), Speech and Hearing Clinic, Western Michigan University, (September 8, 1999)

I was in Dr. Van's Seminar in Stuttering, in 1967 he was semi-retired so I was lucky to have a class with him. As an introduction to the Seminar in Stuttering, ( billed as, look no further if you can get this method to work), he told this story. A father who was a commercial fisherman returned home carrying a bucket of foul smelling fish. He looked up from the gate to see his young son, running to meet him, calling out, "DDDDDDaddy, I I I am so hhhappy to ssssee you." No sooner were the words out of the boy's mouth when the father, cursing and berating his son's speech, picked up the kettle of fish and dumped it over his son's head. And that was the end of his son's stuttering.

I remember the psychologist in him, loving to poke fun at us and trying to get us to expose our "soft under bellies" and continually trying to discover our neuroses. I remember one session especially, when he had us floating above our bodies, imagining what? He had us meet numerous stutterers, not just our fellow grad students who also were persons who were disfluent. One who was the most interesting was an older man, perhaps thirty, who shared lunch with us and did not stutter a word. We all thought it was a joke, but of course Dr. Van explained that his was the worst type. He often took students who stuttered to live with him and his family (perhaps they came to Western just for that purpose) I remember one in which part of his strategy for therapy was everything in threes, three taps, three flowers,etc. all signifying the three words "I Love You".

Now for some quotes:

A psychologist, a professor, world famous author, fisherman, father and grandfather, a man who stuttered and who I felt never resolved some inner aches, a pioneer in the field who certainly did "erect a perpendicular". Thanks for the opportunity to revisit a little of my time at WMU.

Sally Sarvey (October 16, 2000)

I remember the weekend back in the early 60s when our assignment for speech therapy was to go out into the community to purchase something or ask for directions. We had to pretend we were hard of hearing, had a speech defect, a limp or some other physical affliction and record the reactions of the person who waited upon us.

That was the weekend I had invited a friend from Albion College to Western for the dance. Saturday afternoon, I gathered my courage and went with my friend to a gas station not too far from campus. I stuttered as I tried to ask the attendant for directions to somewhere on campus. He patiently gave them to me...without so much as turning away or flinching uncomfortably. I never expected that response and was interested to find out why he didn't give me the more common response. I asked him why he had not reacted more impatiently with me. He replied, "You are about the 25th stutterer I've had in here today!

Sharon (Sanderson) Liles (April 28, 2001)
Class of '64

last updated April 28, 2001