October 26, 2023
By Emilee Webb, Print Editor-in-Chief
As a young boy, Dr. Johnny Wink fell in love with two things: reading and playing baseball. Throughout high school, he developed a passion for both hobbies but quickly realized that his future would not be in professional athletics. He decided then and there to make a living doing the thing that he loved most: studying language and literature and teaching what he has learned to students. Now, in 2023, Wink, Betty Burton Peck Professor of English, celebrates 50 years of dedicated study, passionate teaching and impacting students.
After earning his Ph.D. from the University of Arkansas in 1973, Wink made his way to Ouachita almost by chance. The English department was in the market for a new professor, and five people who were finishing up their coursework, including Wink, were contacted about the potential opening.
“I talked to [my wife] Susan, and we decided that this was something that I should try for,” Wink said. “Ouachita was pretty back then, although it was certainly not as pretty as it is now, and there weren’t many students on campus when I came down to interview. But, one thing that sold me on Ouachita was the man who interviewed me, Herman Sanford. Although Susan and I did not know what life would be like for us here, I an Episcopalian and she a Methodist in the land of the Baptists, we decided that I should give it a shot. Ultimately, I was offered the job, and I’ve stayed ever since, all these years.”
As students journey into the Language and Literature department, affectionately known as the “Bugtruck,” they will notice memorabilia spanning five decades covering every inch of the walls in Wink’s office. Memories from a life of learning are preserved through photographs, posters, drawings and writings, each with a unique connection back to Wink. Dr. Jay Curlin, Kathryn Maddox Professor of English and Ouachita alumnus, is featured in many photographs on the walls from his time as one of Wink’s students. Wink shares that one of his favorite memories that has turned into a noteworthy parable involves Dr. Curlin during his time at Ouachita.
“When Jay was a senior, the grammar class was not required,” Wink said. “His senior year, he signed up for the grammar course, which was being taught by my wife, Dr. Susan Wink. For about a month, he was really at sea, thinking that he would not be able to understand the material. As students now know, though, it all kicked in, and he became an excellent grammarian. His knowledge of grammar was so great that his superiors at graduate school asked him to tutor his classmates who did not have the virtue of a Susan Wink. The moral of the story is that wonderful and transformative things can happen when you put a good teacher and a good student together.”
That fact remains true for all that have had the privilege to study under the guidance of Dr. Johnny Wink, who is known by students as a “disgustingly nice guy.” The 2023 spring semester marked Wink’s 50th academic year as a professor at Ouachita.
“I’m mainly just surprised that I’ve stayed here that long and have been lucky enough to have good health. It really just seems like I want to pinch myself about it,” Wink said.
His former students, current pupils and peers recognize this achievement for the impressive milestone that it is. The Department of Language and Literature honored Wink with a campus-wide reception on Sept. 19. Attendees included Ouachitonians from the past and present and colleagues and friends from over the course of Wink’s life.
“Everything was lovely at the ceremony,” Wink said. “Greg Brownderville wrote a beautiful poem. Sarah Smith and Jennifer Pittman presented me with a wonderful shirt. A couple from my distant past, Doug and Brynda, who I actually set up on their first date, came down for the celebration and spent some time with me afterward. Two students that I taught about 25 years ago were also in attendance. I invited all four of these guests back to my house after the ceremony, and we sat at the kitchen table and talked for hours. I was sitting there with people from different generations, and the chemistry was so gorgeous. All I could think was about how nice it was because I just love to bring people together. It was a lovely evening all around, and I could not have topped it off any better.”
While joyful thoughts are at the forefront when reminiscing on the last half-century, there have also been challenges for the professor. In 2019, Dr. Susan Wink, his wife, passed away. The couple served at Ouachita for more than 30 years before her death.
“The last few years have been compromised because of the loss of my wife,” Wink said. “It was as if my skies turned gray. But, the way I’ve felt about it comes from something I once heard a meteorologist say. He said, ‘well, it’s going to be a gray day but with sunny intervals,’ and that to me has been a description of my life since Susan passed away. There are so many things that I enjoy that are these spots of sunlight for me; I enjoy reading a book and being in a Latin class. I’ve got so many sunny intervals that I often think that the day really isn’t that gray after all.”
The bright spots come in the form of passionate students more often than not for the professor. Wink reflects on the most rewarding experiences of his career.
“The biggest rewards I get are from being able to be with colleagues and students in camaraderie,” Wink said. “I’m thinking about my classes that I had today and about how much I just love being there. But, my favorite thing to do of all is to grade student papers when a student means business. It really is a joy to get in a conversation in the margins of that paper. Nothing is better than grading the paper of somebody who really wants to be doing the work.”
While Wink certainly has a soft spot for certain courses, including Latin and Traditional and Transformational Grammar, his favorite class could not be narrowed down to a specific subject. To him, the material he’s teaching is only a small part of what makes a class truly remarkable.
“I can’t tell you a specific course that is my favorite,” Wink said. “The students who were in classes have counted for more than the subject matter itself.”
Dr. Johnny Wink truly exemplifies devotion to lifelong learning and study. After 50 years, Wink is still making an impact every day. The way that he has touched the lives of students has been and will continue to be long-lasting and far-reaching, and the legacy that he has created will stick with Ouachita for much longer than half a century.