The experience at Bluffton University is like no other, but sharing that experience with a family member makes it 10 times better.
My father, Thomas “Jesse” Avila, is a 1994 Bluffton College graduate. He earned his bachelor’s degree and his teaching license from Bluffton College and his master’s degree from Bluffton University. That’s him in the middle of the photo. I’m on the left and long-time Bluffton art professor Gregg Luginbuhl is on the right.
“I graduated from Bluffton in May of 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts,” said Avila. “I went back to Bluffton in January 2001 and received my teaching license in art education for Pre–K through twelfth grade in December of that same year. In December of 2011, I received my master’s degree in instructional leadership.”
It has been 22 years since my father was a full-time student at Bluffton. There have been a lot of changes he has noticed since that time. The biggest change is the name of the campus as it was Bluffton College when he attended and now is been changed to Bluffton University. Bluffton has added Neufeld Hall, Ramseyer Hall, Sommer Center, Yoder Recital Hall and Centennial Hall in his 22-year absence.
“My second year at Bluffton we started having classes in the new Sauder Visual Art Center,” said Avila. “Lincoln Hall was an all guys dorm when I was here in the 90s. During my senior year, I lived in Bren-Dell Hall on the third floor and the whole building was also a guy’s dorm, and College Avenue ran all the way to Bentley Road between Mosiman Hall and Hirschy Hall.”
My first time coming to Bluffton was in 2011, and it was miserable. We were here to watch my dad receive his master’s degree from the university. It was a very hot day, the stadium seats in Salzman were uncomfortable, and the commencement felt unnecessarily long. Neufeld and Centennial were already built by then, but Sommer Center was under construction that year.
When I told my dad that Bluffton was one of my top three school choices and the one I was planning to attend after my first couple visits, he could not believe my decision.
“It made me feel really excited that my son wanted to visit Bluffton University as a college choice during his senior year,” said Avila. “I was really happy that you decided to attend Bluffton University and go to a college where I received my degree.”
My dad came with me on my first visit to campus. There were so many emotions going through his head. He told me that it seemed like only yesterday he was starting to plan where he was going to college and when we came for my first visit in the fall of 2014, he was thinking about how it was close to 25 years ago he started his college journey.
“Walking around campus visiting buildings that I studied in was truly amazing,” said Avila. “It brought back memories of late nights working in Sauder on my art projects, playing tennis ball golf, walking from Bren-Dell to Marbeck for lunch and dinner, watching the basketball games in Founders Hall and hanging out with my friends. These are memories you never forget and I was very excited that you’re going to experience the same things I experienced 25 years ago.”
My dad still has a piece of his artwork here on campus. It is a head bust sculpture of his face as a baseball player. He made it out of clay, and it was a project that was never completed. He told me there are about four to five pieces that are in the art center from his ceramic class that were never completed. They are about 23 to 24 years old.
“When I came back for the Homecoming game, I showed them to your mom and your sister,” he said. “That was pretty exciting to say ‘Look, your daddy made that when I was a student here and it is still in this building.’ I was very lucky to be one of the very first students to work in the visual art building when it first opened and to have a piece still sitting in the there for the new students to see is very exciting.”
On Sept. 26, 2016, Gregg Luginbuhl passed away. Gregg was an art professor at Bluffton for 30 years before he retired in 2014. My father had Luginbuhl as a professor while he was a student. My dad was devastated to learn of Luginbuhl’s passing.
“I was really shocked and saddened when I found out about his passing,” said Avila. “Gregg was a great professor and a very great artist. When I was taking classes to obtain my master’s degree in 2011, I would always try to get to Bluffton a little bit early to talk with him. It was always exciting to go into the art building to see what new artwork Gregg was working on or creating. He will truly be missed and I am glad that I had the opportunity to learn from him.”
Carrying on the Bluffton tradition in my family brings me joy and to share this bond with my father makes it even better.
Photo courtesy Bluffton University