QUICK HITS: Fred Yaniga – Hillsdale Collegian

Yaniga enjoys a beer with a buddy after beating cancer. Courtesy | Fred Yaniga

What’s one trend from the ’80s you wish would come back? The mullet. I had a proto-mullet. I played ice hockey in high school and had this long-ish hair flowing out of the back of my helmet. Those glory days are gone, and I long for them. What is the most impactful expe­rience you’ve had? I chipped away at the Berlin wall. I was a junior in college in 1989 in Hei­delberg. I never would have thought in a million years that when I went to study abroad, the world would change in front of me. I was there. I was able to jump into it and be a part of it. It changed my life. I found my vocation there as I danced joy­fully in the streets of Berlin with mil­lions of people. Berlin, for many, was a place of sorrow and of hor­rific memory. After being there and rejoicing in that his­toric moment, I had to come back to my home country and share the expe­rience.

Fred Yaniga holding a piece of the Berlin Wall and a picture of himself tearing it down. Courtesy | Fred Yaniga

What is one food you couldn’t live without? I’m a home brewer. For me, food is hops. I dream about hops. Lent is coming and my fast from all things beer is near. Those dreams of hops are the spice of life that will sustain me. What’s one thing you believed as a college student that you’ve since changed your mind about? I was an advocate of the death penalty for a long time. I had a con­version on that point in 1999, when Saint Pope John Paul II came to St. Louis, where I was studying. I went to see him, and there was a man on death row in Mis­souri at that time. The pope called for the com­mu­tation of his death sen­tence and I was very con­flicted about that. It took me a long time to move past that but I accepted it as the right thing and have since grown into under­standing it. What’s one thing you believed as a college student that you still believe today? Hard work beats smarts. My dad gave me a mechanical pencil when I was a freshman on my first day of college. He said, “I go to work with tools every day. This is your tool.” I took that really seri­ously and I got straight As. I was not a straight A student in high school. What is one thing you wish more people knew about you? I was the 1985 hacky sack champion of Cleveland, Ohio. What’s the best gift you’ve ever received? I was an exchange student in Germany in high school. My host family gave me a novel called “Faust” by Goethe. It’s a very human story about failure and redemption. It was given to me in the Christmas of 1986 and I taught using that book last semester. What’s one word people use to describe you? Streng. Strict. I like to have fun, but I also am no-non­sense. What’s one book you think is under­rated? “The Giver” novels. I think they have an incredibly strong pro-life message. The movie that was made about it really cut that message short. I also really like “Stargirl.” What is one piece of advice you try to live by? Wenn schon, denn schon. If you’re going to do it, do it right. Don’t live life in the rearview mirror. If you could spend a day in the life of any movie char­acter, who would you choose? Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day.” What is your favorite Bible verse? 1 Samuel 3:10. I taught Sunday school for a long time, and the story I loved to teach is the story of Samuel in the temple at Shiloh. Eli says, “When the Lord is calling you, go back and say, ‘Speak O Lord, your servant is lis­tening.’”  How would you spend $1,000,000? I would upgrade my Ford Focus, because I’ve wanted a truck for a long time. I’ve never had a truck, so I have truck envy. I’d probably also pay off my mortgage and make some strategic dona­tions to char­ities that are important to me. I wouldn’t retire or quit working. What is the most inter­esting question you’ve ever been asked at Parents’ Weekend? A parent asked me, “Why, after all the evil that Germany did in the second World War, would you study German?” It just so hap­pened at the time I was teaching about a film called “The Mur­derers are Among Us.” It deals with exactly that problem. My answer to that parent was, “What better example of a people who have incredible potential intel­lec­tually and artis­ti­cally, and squander it, yet are able to later rise above that?” How do you hope to impact your stu­dents? I try to emphasize small lessons, like to never be sat­isfied and to always strive for more. Really good isn’t good enough. Cri­tique doesn’t always have to be always neg­ative. In academia, you have to have a thick skin and receive cri­tique and turn it around to make your work better. The only way to get really excellent is to take cri­tiques that hit hard. 

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