David Waas, Deborah Waas and Erin Gratz
25 50 75
Three generations celebrate special reunions at Homecoming

avid Waas ’47 said it is a happy coincidence that three generations of his family had special reunions at Homecoming this year.

The professor emeritus of history had his 75th, daughter Deborah Waas ’72 had her 50th, and granddaughter Erin Gratz ’97 had her 25th.

As David begins naming all the family members in multiple generations who attended Manchester, it is evident that they cover many graduation years.

The Manchester connections began in 1914 and ’15 with his parents. Three generations have graduated from what was then Manchester College. The fourth generation? David says the great grandkids are a still too young to commit.

Deborah Waas spent her first year of college at the University of La Verne in La Verne, California, before deciding to switch to her father’s alma mater.

“I knew I would get a quality education at Manchester,” she said, “and the family pull was really strong. My father, my sisters, my grandparents, my aunts, my mother – a lot of people in my family attended Manchester.”

Deborah majored in elementary education with an emphasis in music, which came in handy during her 30 years as a schoolteacher, 25 of which were spent teaching music.

Some of her favorite memories are Manchester theatrical and musical productions she participated in, such as 110 in the Shade and The King and I. She also fondly remembers music theory with Professor Emeritus of Music John Planer, whom she described as “scary, fun and funny all at the same time … His classes were very enjoyable because of his approach.”

Erin Gratz, her daughter, grew up in California. Erin also chose to come to Manchester from across the country. She wanted a private liberal arts school and had that “familial and nostalgic” connection.

“Both sets of my grandparents lived in North Manchester and both of my grandfathers taught there,” she said, “so Manchester was always just a beacon of light for me as this place we would always go.”

Her other grandfather was Jim Gratz, associate professor emeritus of health, physical education and recreation, joining the faculty in 1962. He coached the Spartan baseball team for 24 years, and served as athletic director, wrestling coach, assistant football coach and assistant track coach during his tenure that ended with retirement in 1987. After his retirement, he served for a time as the executive director of the M Association.

Erin enjoyed her classes and professors. In particular, she remembers joining a friend in taking an independent study course about women in European history with Professor Emeritus of History Mark Angelos.

David ‘47 and Becky Brightbill ’46 Waas
David ‘47 and Becky Brightbill ’46 Waas
“That friend and I still talk about that class because it was so challenging,” she said. “We would have to prepare the material for the class and present it to Mark every week.”

Erin majored in sociology and minored in gender studies, along with working at Funderburg Library. She has since received a master’s degree in academic librarianship and now works as a sociology librarian at Orange Coast College in California.

Before going to college, David Waas developed a magic act and took it on the road. During the Depression he also repaired shoes and bicycles. He became an ordained minister and pastor in the Church of the Brethren at age 16.

After starting school at Manchester, he met the love of his life, Becky Brightbill ’46, in chapel. After graduating with a degree in history and getting married in 1947, David worked in a number of places before settling back at his alma mater in 1964, where he taught history until his retirement in 1991.

He taught that history is first and foremost about people – about their thoughts, feelings, failures and accomplishments. As one person wrote when he received the Alumni Honor Award, “Each lecture was a progression of ideas, people and anecdotes leading up to a comprehensive conclusion … He focused on history as if it were a vast tapestry of interwoven events and people.”

You could say that the tapestry of Manchester is also interwoven with their family, and Homecoming 2022 is proof of that.

“How often does it happen that you have three generations that are 25 years apart in their graduations from the same school? It was serendipitous,” Erin said.

“I rarely come back for Homecoming,” her mother Deborah said, “but when we realized that we were 25 years apart and this was 25-50-75, we just felt all three of us needed to be here.”