Rick Axtell’s labor of love
“Your vows today call you to be a channel of grace to one another; to practice a love that is patient and kind; a love that communicates honestly and listens intently, with a focus on whatever is true and honorable and just and pure.”
— Excerpt from Rick Axtell’s wedding homily for Nate Kratzer ’10 and Melissa Raley Kratzer ’10
Rick Axtell, H. W. Stodghill, Jr. and Adele H. Stodghill Professor or Religion, wears many hats — educator, scholar, humanitarian, College chaplain and unparalleled Baccalaureate speaker are but a few. But what is perhaps among his most joyful duties is serving as wedding officiant, a role he has performed for so many Centre College couples that he reached the career milestone of officiating at the wedding for his 50th Centre alum. And if you include the many faculty and staff members for whom he has been performing this loving service over the last 20 years, the number is even higher.
Whether the service is performed on a rooftop or riverboat, a vineyard or a park, a family farm or the California coast, Axtell says that presiding over the nuptials of his former students seems like an extension of the relationship they’ve shared during their Centre education.
“In many of these marriages, I have traveled overseas on study abroad programs with one or both of the students in the couple,” Axtell says. “The closeness that develops on those intense travel experiences is cemented by the opportunity to participate in their lives in this way.”
Following are the stories of three of “Rick’s couples,” each of which tell poignant, yet similar, stories about the importance of having Axtell join them in marriage and the profound effect his wisdom and counsel has had on their lives, both before and after the ceremony.
Ben Beaton ’03 and Andrea Zawacki Beaton ’01:
“It’s no surprise he’s married so many Centre couples,” Ben Beaton says. “Centre students love Rick Axtell and love to marry one another.”
His wife Andrea continues, “Rick embodies the best parts of Centre—intellectual rigor, personal engagement and plenty of laughs. It’s special that we will always look back and see Rick, and therefore Centre, in such a meaningful way as we started our life together.”
Like many couples, the Beatons bonded with Axtell inside and outside the classroom, saying he was still their friend and mentor even after earthquakes and rats in Nicaragua with Andrea, and debates over politics and grades with Ben.
“We knew he’d have wise words about managing relationships through stressful times,” Ben explains. “What we didn’t know is that he would deliver his pre-wedding counseling over a marathon Cracker Barrel supper. At that point we knew we had the right minister.”
Jake Hill ’08 and Leslie Hast Hill ’08:
“We really never considered anyone but Rick or any place but Danville for our wedding,” says Jake Hill of his 2010 marriage to the former Leslie Hast. “Over the four years we spent at Centre, the campus and the Presbyterian Church became very important places to us, and Rick was a big part of that. He changed the way we see the world.
“At the time we were getting married, we probably thought, ‘We love Rick. He’s taught us a lot. We love his sermons. It’d be great if he’d agree to marry us,’ Hill continues. “But in hindsight, I realize it was much more important than that. What you don’t necessarily think about when you’re asking someone to join you in marriage, although Rick always points it out, is that you’re not just asking someone to perform the service—you’re also asking them to help you and your future spouse talk though some of the most important decisions you’ll make as a couple.”
Hill goes on to describe how he remembers talking with Axtell in the months leading up to the wedding about the choices he and his wife-to-be would make as a married couple—how they would spend their money, raise their children and share their love with one another and with others.
“The beautiful words in front of the crowd were awesome, but what has continued to ground our marriage is the time we spent with him before our wedding day, both in class and in marriage counseling,” he says.
The recurring theme among Rick’s couples is his ability to make each service unique and special.
“We asked Rick to officiate our wedding because he was such a central figure in shaping our lives,” Hill concludes. “People still tell me today that the homily Rick shared at our wedding was the most personal and beautiful they’d ever heard. I remember him talking about the traveling that Leslie and I had done, together and apart, and what it said about our history and our future.”
Nate Kratzer ’10 and Melissa Raley Kratzer ’10:
“Nate and I were married on August 13, 2011,” says Melissa Kratzer. “We asked Dr. Axtell to marry us because he played a very meaningful role in our college experience and in shaping us into the people we had become.
“Taking his courses and, in Nate’s case, traveling to Nicaragua with him, helped shape both of us into the people we had fallen in love with and could build a life with,” she continues. “We also knew that Dr. Axtell would fully invest himself into this holy ceremony, just as he always gave tirelessly of himself to enable his students to have meaningful experiences in their courses and otherwise.”
Axtell not only invests of himself during the ceremony, but in preparing couples for the daunting commitment marriage entails.
“After accepting our request to be part of our wedding ceremony, Dr. Axtell sent us a quite lengthy questionnaire full of queries both logistical and personal,” Kratzer explains. “In addition to asking questions about the ceremony itself, he asked about family, background and philosophical stances.”
Some examples of these questions are:
• What is the significance of this relationship for you?
• What does this ceremony of commitment mean to you? Why are you choosing to do this? In other words, what does marriage mean to you?
• What were some of the most significant milestones, events and memories in your relationship?
• Please describe some of the most significant memories/images of childhood and beyond that have shaped you.
“Dr. Axtell took our responses to these questions, excerpts from our Biblical readings and his knowledge of our personalities to write the most meaningful and personal sermon I have ever heard,” she says. “He made those gathered laugh and cry and rejoice in what was the title of his sermon, ‘The Sacrament of the Commonplace.’ He even threw in Reformation puns, which was so appropriate for this Lutheran/Catholic match!”
Above, left to right: Jake and Leslie Hast Hill, Ben and Andrea Zawaki Beaton, and Nate and Melissa Raley Kratzer
by Cindy Long
February 12, 2016