Reflecting on Willie’s Last Game
President Robin Baker

Every so often I’m reminded of just how precious life is and how important community is to each of us. This fall, on a rainy Oregon weekend, those two truths hit home for me with the loss of Willie Stoffer, a former George Fox student and a diehard fan of our Bruin football team.

Willie had struggled with various forms of cancer for many years. And yet, in the face of serious disease, he was a constant encouragement to many of us. If you looked carefully on a Saturday afternoon during football games, you would always see Willie sitting in a wheelchair, close to the field, cheering the team on. He gave the team life and inspiration, and in turn they provided him with a sense of community.

Leading up to our final home game in early November, Willie’s father Brad informed us his son was not doing well. The doctors said there was little else they could do – Willie’s death was a matter of time. Brad told me the Friday before that it would be unlikely they would make it to the game. Willie was just too weak. Then, early Saturday morning, I got a text from Brad saying Willie just wanted to come to campus for a few minutes and meet with the team. Brad pulled in and we moved Willie into the locker room, where he was invited into the players-only meeting. Later, while Willie watched the team warm up on the field, two players ran over and rolled his wheelchair into the middle of the team huddle. You could hear the cheers and words of encouragement.

Robin, wife Ruth and Willie take a selfie at a university event this fall.

Then something happened one rarely sees on athletic fields. The coach of our opponent, Scott Westering of Pacific Lutheran University – a committed Christian and a friend of our coach, Chris Casey – learned about Willie and his struggle with cancer. He asked if his team could give Willie a cheer and pray for him. The next thing we knew, the entire PLU team gathered around Willie. Every player hugged him, and Coach Westering kneeled and prayed with him. Two teams preparing to face each other in an important game took time to embrace a young man and walk with him, even if only for a few minutes.

When the game started, we took Willie back to the car. We gave him one last hug and a word of encouragement. All of us deeply wanted Willie to know that, even though his life was brief, he made a significant difference in the lives he touched at George Fox. His fierce courage and positive spirit were always evident. The next morning, I gave the sermon at Newberg Friends Church and told Willie’s story. It was emotional, but I wanted the congregation to know that, even in our pain, God is present. After the service, I received a note from Brad informing me his son had died early that afternoon, peacefully and surrounded by family.

In this issue of Journal, we bring attention to George Fox alumni who are making a difference in the world. I’m thankful I had the opportunity to know one such young man, Willie Stoffer, who made an indelible impact on the campus community and all those who knew him.

Robin Baker
President