Hinga was “One of Us”

Former Vice president of student affairs Bill Hinga with Brad Depke '82.

Former Vice president of student affairs
Bill Hinga with Brad Depke ’82

He was the Vice President of Fun, according to the Central Ray.

Bill Hinga, who died May 9 at age 88, spent 38 joyful years at Central, retiring as vice president of student affairs in 1993 but never losing the spirt of a 19-year-old sophomore. To Central students, he wasn’t an administrator, he was their friend. His smile and wisecracks were ever-present, as was his compassion.

“He was a student at heart,” says Brad Depke ’82 of Third Lake, Illinois. “He was one of us.”

Which made it feel even more surreal the day Depke angrily slammed his hand on Hinga’s office desk. From 1976-81, Hinga also served as Central’s highly successful men’s track and field coach, and Depke, a headstrong all-American sprinter, thought Hinga was going to push the team too hard in a meet the week before the Iowa Conference championships. He stormed out of the office, jumped on his bike and pedaled furiously to nearby West Market Park, where he parked next to a picnic table and fumed.

“About 10 minutes later, here comes this car,” Depke recalls. “I hear the door close. And I look up and here comes Hinga walking toward me. I thought, ‘Wow, now what’s he doing.’ He comes up and says, ‘Dep, you were right, I was wrong. Let’s have fun.’ And we just sat and talked.

“I could have been in my room, I could have been anywhere. He got in his car looking for a kid on a bike in Pella and he found me.”

Hinga also found Tony Wilson ’71 of Des Moines, who made an uncharacteristic misstep, caught stealing an auto part from a local junk yard.

“This was during the Vietnam War,” he says. “I was sure I would be kicked out of school and end up in the military. My friend and I marched back to school. We knew we were doomed. But Dean Hinga called us into his office and he talked about how disappointed he was in us and says that he knew that was not our character. He just admonished us to go back to class and make sure we did what we were supposed to do. My livelihood was on the line and he gave us a second chance.”

The conversation proved more powerful than a jail sentence.

“Him being disappointed in us meant a lot, we had such great respect for him,” Wilson says. “It was almost like letting your dad down.”

Wilson didn’t stray again, graduating and teaching elementary school for 30 years, while serving in the national guard throughout.

“I was able to touch a lot of lives based on his grace and understanding,” Wilson says.

Depke’s conversation sparked a life-long friendship that resulted in many return trips to Pella. Parkinson’s disease and a couple of strokes made movement and speech for Hinga difficult, but Depke patiently wheeled him around campus or through his family’s old neighborhood.

“I just fell in love with the guy,” Depke says.

Meanwhile, Wilson is only now telling his story.

“It’s amazing, he made such an impact on me that when he passed away, I felt l really needed to be there for his memorial service,” Wilson says. “Even though I didn’t stay in contact with him, he remained a special person in my life.

“It just shows you how one person’s gift of grace can really make a difference in someone’s life.”

It was a gift Hinga shared with Central students for 38 years.

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