By Colin Zalewski
"God has brought us to the desert to die," Dick Mandeville lamented to his wife, Judy. Less than two days after moving to Spokane they were already sinking in quicksand. After barely making it to Whitworth for his new job as Whitworth's associate dean of students, God's desire to send them there was looking like a mirage. They were running into one wall after another. Sunny Spokane was not proving hospitable to its newest residents.
While many of the school's students from the past two decades associate Mandeville with Big 3s and conduct meetings, they are unlikely to know that he almost never made it to Whitworth in the first place.
In 1990, he and his family ran into roadblock after roadblock on their trip from Colorado to Spokane for his new job at Whitworth. But before getting to his story, who is this man and what does he do?
Mandeville was raised in Columbus, Mont., a town slightly larger than the 1,300 students he now oversees. For him, these days at Whitworth revolve around the Student Life office's mission to "grow adults, and build community." Each day he works with resident directors and resident assistants to accomplish this goal.
"[I am] trying to create a good living community in every one of the residents halls for all 1,300 people that live here," Mandeville said.
Former Whitworth resident assistant and current resident director Josh Cleveland, '01, said his time at Whitworth has been characterized by Mandeville's consistency and vision. His work has developed the Student Life program including the addition of theme houses. Furthermore, he has been influential in shaping the building of new residence halls and the geographic layout of the school.
Mandeville's focus, though, has always been students. Cleveland added, "He's a really wise and compassionate man. He's able to see into people and he deeply cares about people." Reflecting on Mandeville's past 20 years Cleveland added, "He's impacted every student in some way or another."
It's an impact that began in 1990. Shortly after Mandeville had completed his doctoral program at Northern Colorado University in college student personnel administration, an opportunity opened up for him. It was coincidentally from someone he had hired years earlier while working at Western Montana College.
"A person who I had hired, Tracy Riddle… told me that there was a position open here [at Whitworth] for associate dean of students," he said. "So I applied for it and eventually got the position."
However, landing the position involved some nail biting.
"They offered me the job the first time, and I said I can't accept this; I don't know if this is where God wants me to be," Mandeville said. "Then there were no other alternatives, so I called them back a week later and said, 'if you'd still have me I'll come with a whole heart.'"
The school was open to the idea, but they had brought in another candidate for the position. Mandeville said the worst part was the anxious waiting process to hear the school's decision and if he still had the job.
"My prayer was, 'please God give me the confirmation that this is the right place,'" Mandeville said. Initially, he added, "God was silent on this."
Then Whitworth said yes. While this may have been the confirmation the Mandevilles were looking for, their test of faithfulness was just beginning.
Now it was time to find a house in Spokane.
"We called the realtor, told him how much money we had and we wanted to live within five miles of Whitworth," he said. "The guy literally laughed."
Then the realtor said it would not take long to see all the houses that met their qualifications because there were so few. So they came to Spokane with their young children, Chelsea and Garrett, both of whom had gotten chicken pox along the way. Prior to leaving, they had gotten one family in Spokane's contact information, that of Sam and Judy Palpant, which they lost.
"We get to the Apple Tree [Hotel], they had lost our reservation," Mandeville recalled.
Despite all things going wrong, God remained faithful to him and his family. The hotel gave them two rooms to help accommodate the sick children. The next day they went out with the realtor.
"Within a five mile radius, which probably means [perhaps] 70,000 houses, there were three in our price range," he said. Mandeville began expressing to Judy his doubts about God wanting them in Spokane.
Judy said, "Who's bigger, God or the realtors in Spokane?"
"Give me a few minutes," Mandeville recalls saying.
The next day they found a house being sold by a Presbyterian pastor named Joel Crosby and his wife.
Mandeville said, "We walked three feet into the house and Judy said, 'I love it.'"
However, the asking price was well above their limit. But the pastor and his wife generously accepted the Mandevilles' offer for $3,000 less than the asking price. Furthermore, they got involved with Crosby's church, Knox Presbyterian Church.
Upon attending a potluck at the church, they found what they saw as further confirmation of God's grace. Walking into the room, Mandeville heard his name being called. It was the new athletic trainer at Whitworth, Russ Richardson, whom Mandeville had helped come to Christ years earlier at Western Montana College. Richardson then introduced them to none other than the Palpants, whose contact information they had lost in the move. Mandeville said they had an instant connection, which deepened into a friendship culminating in the Palpants becoming Garrett's and Chelsea's godparents.
God was building their owncommunity in Spokane just as he has helped Mandeville do for Whitworth students for the past 20 years.
The blessings bestowed on Mandeville and his family in their journey to Whitworth are affirmed everyday by how enthusiastic he is about his job.
"This is the least political place I've ever worked at. People are really pulling for each other instead of trying to establish their own turf," he said. "I didn't know Christian higher education like this existed."
What has kept Mandeville at Whitworth for all these years after such a journey getting there? As he simply said, "It's that good."