Getting Personal: Ken Cuffey

Getting Personal is an email Q&A with a local personality. Here, a chat with Ken Cuffey of Champaign, president of the Urbana Seminary, where he also serves as a professor. In the Nov. 11 newspaper, we'll have a chat with Christine Catanzarite, the director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Illinois.

What time do you typically get up? What do you do the first hour of the morning?

Around 7. In the first hour, I exercise outside (most of the year), get coffee (so I can be awake) and grab breakfast, usually a bowl of healthy cereal (e.g., Basic Four, Kashi).

What did you have for lunch today? Where? With whom?

Ate a sandwich I'd made as I drove across town to run errands. So I ate in the car by myself today.

Best high school memory?

Graduating. Come on, lots of us were relieved to get out of high school! College and beyond was way better.

Tell me about your favorite pair of shoes.

I'm a guy. This makes no sense whatsoever. Anything I wear that is comfortable is good.

What does a perfect Sunday afternoon include?

Grab lunch with friends; exercise outside (probably bike or otherwise hike); read paper (Sunday comics!); nap.

Was there one book you read as a child that you still cherish? Own? Read?

The astoundingly well-illustrated "Children's Bible Story," any number of books about trains, World War II and the Civil War. "Make Way for Ducklings" (which I read to my children too and now look forward to reading to grandchildren). "The Longest Day."

Where on Earth are you dying to go? Why?

Seoul, South Korea — one of my sons is working there. New York City; Greenville, S.C.; St Paul, Minn. — where my other three children live. Alaska, Mongolia — because I'm fascinated with extreme locations. Rome, to spend longer in the ruins. Prague, to return to a city of huge impact on my whole family: Two of my sons met their spouses and got married there. Who'd have guessed there would be two family weddings there?

Tell me about your favorite pet.

None could compare with Sparky — the small papillon who grew up with my four children. He was full of energy (usually), super loyal and alert.

Have you discovered that you are becoming like one of your parents? Which one and how?

Both of them in different ways. I realized that I handle pressure or tough situations like my mom — with a determined and deep sense of loyalty and a desire to make sure I was doing what was right. Her serious nature and focus on high standards in education and study. My dad in much of my sense of humor, which is a bit quirky. His love for science and the natural world. Also in not wanting to draw attention to myself (clearly this column isn't helping with that!). Like both of them, in the high value they placed on family and the children of the next generation, as well as the delight in grandchildren.

What would you order for your last meal?

Steak (no more worries about red meat if it's the last meal) and salmon.

What can you not live without?

Not much. Not sure there is much of anything I couldn't live without. Other than relationships with my family — children and grandchildren, others — and close friends.

Who do you have on your iPod?

Don't own one yet. Never bothered to get one.

What's the happiest memory of your life?

God bringing each of my four children into the world. What amazing moments those were: two on a June 16, then also a Dec. 17 and March 4!

If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite?

I'm not playing by your rules here, but I'd have all my kids, everyone in their families and important in their lives, and let in a bunch of my friends. Or Tim Keller, Michael Card and Tremper Longman — to listen to their insights.

What's the best advice you've ever been given?

Your life is at the mercy of God, not any person. (Thanks, Elaine!) Study hard, get ahead. (Thanks, Mom! "But I've already got a head." — me at 14.) God will work it all out. (Thanks, Mom!)

What's your best piece of advice?

Listen to God and do what he says since he is true and trustworthy, and all is ultimately under his control. The Bible makes sense as a whole, and Christ really is the center of history and its driving goal.

What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?

I worked at Associated Engineering Consultants (Nashville, Ind.) as an office gofer. Minimum wage, whatever it was in the 1970s., i.e., not much.

What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at that decision?

In the early 1990s, I was in a position as pastor of a church in northern New Jersey in the New York metro area. I left work in the Northeast to come here to teach in 1994. Arrived at the decision by assessing where I seemed to be most effective (in classroom teaching and personal mentoring of people who desired to lead and serve others) and listening to those around me who loved me dearly.

Do you have a bad habit? What is it?

Which one should I start with? Probably the biggest one I struggle with now is staying up too late since I am naturally a night owl, and my energy keeps on flowing the later it gets. Makes it harder to get going in the mornings.

How do you handle a stressful situation?

I think, pray and listen. Pray because Christ needs to be my source of wisdom and since he is sovereign over all that happens down here. Think because God gave me a mind, and wisdom comes from listening to him, to others he puts in my life and assessing the circumstances, in order to process my options and steps forward. Listening keeps me alert to what I need to learn from a situation. I bike. To ride the bike is my favorite form of exercise, gets me outside and back in touch with the seasons, lets off steam. Affords me the chance to think. (In bad weather I can go to the gym.) I sleep on it. This often allows for readjustment of my attitude as I gain a fresh perspective. I call family or friend and talk the situation through.

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