UNIVERSITY OF FINDLAY students were dressed for the occasion last year: the annual observance of International Night. In the front row, from left, were Rita Gurung, Ashmina Sherchan, Bhawana Thapa and Padma Khadka. In the back row were Rahul Shrestha, left, and Shashwot Khan. This year’s International Night will be held Friday. (Photo provided)

By JOY BROWN
and JENNIFER BUTLER
UNIVERSITY OF FINDLAY

The University of Findlay is celebrating its 50th anniversary of International Night, and the Wallen family that started it.

This year’s International Night, which is free and open to the public, will be held from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Friday in Koehler Fitness and Recreation Complex on North Main Street.

About 1,500 people flock to Koehler each year to travel the globe courtesy of UF international students, who share their cultures and countries with guests via food, fashion, music, dancing and other activities.

The annual event began with Raeburn “Rae” Wallen, a world religions professor at UF who frequently welcomed UF students from all over the globe to stay with his family.

Some students “became like family,” said Tammy Wallen Gory, the oldest of Rae and Marcelene Wallen’s three children.

Rae Wallen also loved to travel, and took more than 70 trips overseas.

Tammy remembers that her family started traveling together every summer, exploring the United States (they visited 48 states, excluding Alaska and Vermont), and eventually traveled the world.

Her dad would recruit domestic students when he traveled, and eventually organized educational tours that earned them college credits.

“Dad believed that true learning comes from direct experiences and collective sharing,” Tammy said.

The Wallen family had plenty of those, even when they weren’t traveling. Tammy said students would often come to their house to make ice cream, eat, participate in potlucks, share recipes and teach cooking to others.

The delicious food, accompanied by captivating stories, made for memorable meals, she said.

International students also frequently brought food from their home countries to share with the Wallens.

“Students were always at our house, weekends or on vacations,” Tammy said.

With the increase in visitors, Marcelene suggested finding a larger space to gather. The conversation then turned to the possibility of a larger forum in which to share food, traditions and cultures with the rest of the campus community.

International Night began in 1969 and has been held each year. The event continues to reflect the ideology of inclusion embraced by Rae Wallen as a religious philosophy.

He defined religion as “a way of life,” said Tammy, and challenged his students to explore commonalities between religions, rather than focus on differences.

The concept of diversity can be challenging, and sometimes such practices involve taking risks and questioning learned beliefs.

But because Wallen was a man who “invited everyone in,” he felt it was important to bring a variety of cultures together to better understand the world, and to foster a community of global thinkers, Tammy said.

Sharing stories, food and dance are traditions that all cultures and religions enjoy, she said.

“And everyone who knew my dad knew he loved to eat, told tons of stories, and yes, he even tried to dance,” she said.

Wallen was in charge of International Night for 31 years. Tammy said it was “his favorite thing to do at UF and what he missed the most after he retired” in 1999.

He was awarded an honorary doctor of world religions degree in 1995, and, along with Marcelene, was named a Distinguished Alumnus in 2009. He died in 2014, but his legacy lives on with International Night.

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