Concord Music Hall
Jeremy Wagner
Lovers Lane

Media: March 2018

| February 28, 2018 | 2 Comments

John Landecker

 

In 1968, John Records Landecker was in his final semester at Michigan State University (after beginning his college career at Grand Valley State), when he suddenly got an offer he felt he couldn’t refuse. A big AM rock station in Philadelphia (WIBG) wanted him to be their new nighttime jock. The only problem was that Landecker had to start immediately, which meant he had to drop out of school.

Far from being an easy decision, this was a gut-wrencher for John. His father Werner was a professor at the University of Michigan, and Landecker knew that nothing meant more to his dad than his oldest son getting a college degree. On the other hand, the whole point of getting that degree was landing that first job, and here the job had been handed to John on a silver platter. If Landecker waited, it was highly doubtful another great offer like this would come along. At the time, John’s father was on a sabbatical in Germany, so before contacting him, John sought the advice and counsel of his in-laws (John was married and had a young daughter at the time) and his professors. All of them urged him to leap at the offer.

John did as he was advised, and his National Radio Hall of Fame career proves that he made the right call. On the other hand, in his memoir Records Truly is My Middle Name, Landecker still counts telling his parents about his decision as among the most difficult things he ever had to do. It has always gnawed at him that he never got that degree.

Len O’Kelly, a former colleague of Landecker’s at WJMK radio in Chicago, and a current Associate Professor of Multimedia Journalism at Grand Valley State University read this portion of the book with great interest. Was Landecker really that close to getting his degree? He asked for John’s transcripts at his various college stops including Grand Valley State, Michigan State, and Columbia College (John took some film classes there in the ’70s). Along with the Dean of his college, Frederick Antczak, the two academic experts added everything up, evaluated how those credits translated to modern day levels and got the results.

“I’ve heard the story often,” O’Kelly said. “’I was one class away, and never finished.’ Usually, that’s not the case. This was one where it was – John had gone his whole life thinking that he had missed out on completing his degree, and I discovered that he was so close. I knew I had to find a way to invite John back home to Grand Valley to finish it.”

He devised a way for John to do an independent study course, which would essentially be a writing assignment about his career. As soon as that idea came to him, O’Kelly realized something else. John had already written an entire book on that subject. It was in the library at the university. Would this qualify? The dean agreed that it did. All that was necessary now was getting the funds to pay for those remaining credit hours. The school managed to find those funds through various sponsorships, and before they knew it, John Records Landecker had qualified for a degree.

The only person who didn’t know about it was John.

When Len O’Kelly invited John to speak to his class about radio, Landecker had no idea what was about to occur. He was there to talk to the kids. He regaled them with tales of his own days Grand Valley State–stories that were not exactly academic in nature–including a great prank he and his roommates pulled on the kids across the hall when they somehow got an entire VW Bug into their living room while they slept.

As Landecker recounted these stories, he looked out at the room and told the students that they were going to be one up on him in a few months–they were going to be college graduates, while he was merely a dropout. At that point, O’Kelly showed some of Landecker’s old report cards on the screen.

“Stop showing that,” John said, embarrassed by his low grade in French. O’Kelly pointed out that John had actually been on the Dean’s list during his college days, something John didn’t even recall. He also said that the school had added up all the credits he had accumulated, and at that point, Dean Antczak walked up to the front of the room holding something in his hand.

“John Records Landecker,” the Dean said, “Congratulations. You are now a member of the 2017 graduating class of Grand Valley State University.”  Dean Antczak handed John his diploma. “Is this for real?” Landecker asked, shell-shocked. “It is.” said the Dean. “This isn’t some bullshit honorary degree?” Landecker asked. “No, it all fit together,” the Dean responded. “You have all the credits necessary to earn this. This is a real college degree. You are now officially a college graduate.”

Landecker couldn’t say a word for about twenty seconds, obviously moved by the moment. He struggled to process what was occurring and did his best to maintain his composure. It was clearly an important moment in his life. Everyone in the room could see his emotional reaction. The room was silent, waiting for John’s response. When he could compose himself enough to speak, he finally uttered the words he had been waiting 50 years to say.

“I came here today a college dropout, but I’m leaving a graduate.”

Landecker plans to attend the commencement ceremony in April.

-Rick Kaempfer

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Category: Columns, Media, Monthly

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Comments (2)

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  1. Looper says:

    Wow what a great story . Congrats to legend

  2. Michael Pisani says:

    Congratulations!

    “…Take the long way home…”

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