He’s kind of a legend: Four of Wheaton College’s presidents knew who he was before they actually met him. If you’ve never met Clarence Edwards — more commonly known as C-Train — chances are you’ve at least admired his swagger as, with a Wheaton Thunder hat resting jauntily on his head, he makes his rounds on campus.
Born and raised in Chicago, C-Train also spent time working on his grandparents’ farm in Forrest City, AR. He has served as an employee on Wheaton’s campus for nearly 30 years, and you can find him cleaning Traber and Fischer halls, traveling with a varsity team to assist them with their needs or even advising the men’s hockey team.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
WR: What did you do before Wheaton, and how did you come to work for Wheaton?
CE: Before Wheaton, I was in Chicago most of the time, and I basically did alternating jobs. I was in college, as well — I went to a junior college in Chicago; it was called Wilson Junior — now I think it’s called Kennedy King. I was part of the draft out of college and was in the military for 13 years. I ended up overseas in a few places like Germany, Italy and Korea, and all over the states. My last assignment overseas was South Korea, and I got orders there to come to Wheaton College — I had no idea what that was about. My last military assignment was Wheaton College ROTC Department, and I was in there from ’79 to ’82. I got out of the military in ’82; I got to know a lot of people while I was in the military, like the cadets and all those guys involved here, so when I got out, I stayed here in the area, at Wheaton College, and I started working for the food company here: Back then it was called Saga. Then, I think in ’88, when they decided to build the new dining hall … the school decided to take over cleaning the dining hall. I (then) switched over to the college employment. I’ve been here ever since.
WR: What does a typical day on the job look like for you?
CT: Well, there’s basically a lot of building maintenance and cleaning. Right now, I clean Traber and Fischer. I think I’ve probably been in every building on this campus since I started working for the college. That’s a typical day. Then, after that, in the evening, I do athletics stuff. If I include athletics, my typical day probably runs from 7:30 in the morning to usually, sometimes, 11:00 at night. I get a break in between, go get some dinner, get some lunch.
WR: You can often be found in the SRC, and we know you work with the Wheaton College Hockey team. Can you elaborate on your work in these areas?
CE: I got involved with hockey probably, officially, around ’84. I went to a few hockey games, and I had no idea what I was getting into. Don Church was working with them but was going to stop (because) he was a track coach. They asked me if I would help out. One day, this hockey player came running out of the football stadium at a football game, screaming at me going, “C-Train, can I talk to you?” and I said, “Yes,” and he said, “I’m on the hockey team,” and I said, “Yes, I know, I’ve seen you play out there.” He asked, “Can you help me with hockey?” and I said, “I don’t know a thing about hockey,” and he said, “Just the little things, please.” I said, “What’s that supposed to mean?” and he said, “Well, to make sure we have water, make sure we have towels.” So I said, “Ok,” and I started helping them. At that time, the Athletic Director, Tony Ladd, asked me, “Why don’t you become the advisor? You’re always there.” So, I took the role of advisor, and I’ve been at it ever since.
I work a lot of other sports, as well. It’s my secondary job, which is basically voluntary, but I travel with a lot of the sports teams, so that’s fun but it’s a lot of work — I just got back with baseball spring break. We did laundry three times down there, we washed the uniforms and got them ready for the next game, so it takes about three hours.
WR: Would you say you have a favorite sport?
CE: Well, I’m with hockey the most — I’m responsible for them, basically, but I enjoy working with all of them. It’s a blessing for me to do that because I’ve gotten to travel so many places and see so many things that I could not afford on my own, so basically … it doesn’t cost me anything to go with them because I help with the laundry, make sure they’ve got everything done and taken care of and all that, and it just works out great. I use my own vacation time to do it, so it’s great. I love hanging out with (students).
WR: Since you began helping the hockey team, can you recall any memories or highlights of your time with them that have stood out to you?
CE: My highlight with them is when they decided to have prayer with the other team after each game. Especially at home games, we ask the other team’s coaches if they would mind joining us in prayer after the game is over with, and they say sure, so we have no idea what the impact is — only God knows what that’s about. I remember one time, the first time people officially saw us do this, we shake hands, we part but then the guys come back onto the ice and they thought there was going to be a fight. And I said, “No, don’t worry about it, there’s no fighting.” One game, this lady came down, and she asked me, “You work with the hockey program at Wheaton College?” and I said, “Yes, I do,” and she said, “Well, I just want to thank you. Me and some of the other parents in the stands really appreciate you guys and the impact you have on our sons on the other team. I watch you praying, and they really need it.” And I said, “Well, we do what we can.” It’s fun, we have a good time. Things like that have impacted what I do, and that’s why I love it so much here.
WR: Where did the nickname C-Train come from?
CE: Actually, my real name is Clarence Edwards, but this came from two guys, Donnie Nelson and Dean Montzingo. They started calling me C-Train out of the blue, and I would not answer them because it wasn’t my name, and they got right close to me and they said, “C-Train,” and I said, “That’s not my name,” and one of them goes, “It is now,” and I was like, “Ok.” And so they followed me everywhere, they took me out to eat and paid for movies because they wanted to advertise the name. So they’d stand up in the restaurant after we ordered and say to people, “Can I have your attention please,” and people stopped whatever they were doing, and they pointed to me and said, “May I introduce you, this is C-Train,” and I was trying to hide under the table somewhere. They followed me everywhere, and it stuck.
I asked them how they came up with it, and of course, typical smart college students, they said, “We did some research. Your first name is Clarence, you were born in Chicago, and at the time, there was an A and a B train in Chicago. You’re the C train.”
WR: Ok, so in the beginning, you weren’t too keen on the name. How do you feel about it now?
CE: Oh, I love it. It’s been there ever since, and each president that’s come here — Dr. Armerding, then Dr. Chase, Dr. Litfin and now Dr. Ryken, and each one knew who I was before I introduced myself to them. I saw them get inaugurated, and then they would see me and say, “You’re C-Train, right?” “Yes, that’s me.”
Dr. Ryken was here ever since I’ve been here, he was a student when I worked here; he’s young. So, when he first got here as the president, he wanted to meet as many faculty and staff as he could for about 15-20 minutes in his office. So, I’m sitting there waiting my turn to meet him and his secretary says, “C-Train’s here to see you,” and he says, “Oh yes, I know who you are, C-Train.” We go on in and talk, he asks me this and that, how he can be a good president, telling me about his open door policy, and I say, “Ok, sounds good,” and I get up to leave, and he says, “Will you pray for me?” And I said, “Yes, I’ll pray for you,” and I kept on walking, and he said, “No, I mean now.” I came back and said, “Why don’t we pray together?”
WR: You may possibly be the most famous person on campus.
CE: I keep hearing that, and I wonder what I did. The thing is, there’s students here now that say, “You knew my dad,” or “You knew my mom,” and I say, “I did? Ok, yes, I did know them!” And then their parents come in and say, “This is my son,” or “This is my daughter; this is C-Train, he was here when I was at school here.” I’ve been here that long — I must really like it. I tell you, I do like it.
WR: What is the most rewarding part of your job? What keeps you going?
CE: The most important part is just the feeling that this is where God wants me and that he put me here to make an impact with the students, and he uses the job, I always say, as a vehicle for that purpose because I most certainly do enjoy working with the people here: the faculty and staff. One of the most enjoyable things is getting to deal with the students, getting to know them and talking to them, and just the idea that they’re willing to talk to me. I have lunch with a lot of them, and we chat and talk. A lot of parents come here, and they say to me, “Will you look after my son or daughter?” and I say, “I’ll do what I can.”
It’s rewarding. I truly believe that God rewards you when you do what he wants you to do in your life. That’s how I like to look at it. Is it a lot of work? Yes. But, it’s a lot of fun, as well; there’s a lot of enjoyment in it. I would say that nothing is free. You work hard, and you do different things, and it comes back to you, and it’s rewarding.
WR: What are a few pieces of life advice that you would give the Wheaton College student body?
CE: Do what you feel is right in your heart, listen to good advice and always trust in the Lord to lead you in the right direction because he will. If you’re struggling with something, don’t just let it settle in you. Talk to somebody about it, pray about it, go to the Lord with it, and he’ll put someone in your path to help you. I think I’ve talked to quite a few students on this campus who just want somebody who will listen to them. I did counseling in the military with a couple soldiers who had problems with alcohol and drug abuse. I never went to counseling school, but I just pray and ask God to help me say the right words and do the right things, and I believe I was able to help quite a few people in quite a few situations.
Always spend some time in the word, have some quiet time before you get into the Bible … just quiet, alone, by yourself. I’d also suggest that you join a prayer group and get involved in church. When you have some time, just relax and go to the Lord in quiet time, pray and ask for his guiding wisdom — he’ll give it to you. It may not come as fast as you want it to, but it will come.
WR: There are rumors that you’re retiring soon. What’s the word from you?
CE: I’ve heard that rumor, too, but I didn’t put it out there. No, there’s no plan for that yet. I’m trying to work as long as I feel God gives me the strength to work and as long as I enjoy it. It all comes in the context of working with people, and to me, that’s part of the job. Without that, then the job would not be what I see it as being. It would not be as enjoyable. I think I was born and raised as a people person; I think it’s what God put in my heart, and I realize that. If I was to turn that off or turn it down, I would not be as happy as I am. I love people too much to have that happen. I think, in order for that to continue, I’ll continue to do my job to the best of my abilities and continue to live my life the way God wants me to, in a way that will impact other people.
WR: Is there anything else you’d like to add, any further advice for students?
CE: Know that I’ll keep doing my best here, knowing that’s what God wants me to do and to continue to use the gifts that God gave me to talk with people. I would add that my prayer is for the college community to work together, always praying for the entire student body and faculty and staff, that things will work out for everyone, for their families and loved ones. I always pray for safety when traveling, in big travel times like spring break, summer break, stuff like that. I always pray for all the sports teams, to have safety in traveling, and that they will have an impact on their opponents — for Christ and his kingdom.
With all the stuff that’s been taking place on campus lately, I’ve been in prayer for this school; I’ve been in prayer for the president and the staff of the college, Paul Chelsen and others who are involved in Student Development, and all who have been involved with the things that have happened on campus. It has been a heavy burden on them. I pray and ask that God gives them the strength and wisdom as they deal with that situation. I pray for the students who were involved in this, not only ones that carried out the acts, but the ones that it affected — that they would be strong and be able to get over it, that God gives them strength.