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John Weber: Turtle Club Rules

By Sally Anne Flecker
Story originally published in fall 2014.

John Weber, emeritus professor of marketing, knows a useful metaphor when he sees one. One summer his grandchildren presented him with the charter for their newly formed “Turtle Club,” with its three rules: Have fun. Be nice to everyone. Think about turtles once in a while. It didn’t take long before Weber, called ‘Weebs’ by family, friends and students alike, saw the way the sweetness of their vision dovetailed with important principals he tries to impress upon his Notre Dame students. 

This was in 2009 up at the lake house Weebs and his wife, Hannelore, a member of the Notre Dame German faculty, built 25 miles northeast of the University. Hunting for turtles is one of the classic activities there. The couple has the run of a 300-acre lake connected to another, smaller one. The channel between the two bodies of water is a perfect place for turtles to hang out. For a turtle hunt, Weebs will take the boat and go floating through the channel. “I manipulate the boat, and the kids catch the turtles,” he says. “If we catch a lot, we let them go. If we catch a few, we bring ’em back. The kids give them names and play with them. After day or two, we take them back to the creek and let them go to be caught another time.”

Weebs may be “emeritus,” but he’s not quite retired. He has tried — and failed — to retire three times. His compromise is to teach one course each semester. Lately, he’s been teaching social media, but no matter the subject, he always tries to impress upon his students the importance of social skills to their business life. So the following spring, when seven students visiting Weebs saw the Turtle Club charter, it didn’t seem that much of a stretch to induct them into the club. The induction ceremony involves the wearing of colorful turtle hats, a minute or two of “turtle talk” where everybody utters a cacophony of nonsense sounds and words at the same time, and the swearing of the Turtle Club oath.

From there, the Turtle Club has done nothing but grow. It now numbers more than a thousand members, many of which are Weebs current and former Notre Dame students. And the reach of the Turtle Club is extensive. Some Notre Dame ACE graduates have inducted entire classrooms of their students as a way to encourage bonding. Over time, the traditions of the Turtle Club have grown as well. There are social get-togethers drawing 40 to 80 local members just about every month — golf outings, bowling, snow tubing and, of course, tailgating. Most of the Turtle Club social gatherings involve the sharing of stories as a way of people getting to know one another — and as a source of inspiration for the requisite Turtle Club nickname. (Wouldn’t you love to know the stories behind “Father Goldfish,” “Pickle-Head” and “Unfair Disadvantage?”) Weebs always finds a way to remind members that the promise to “think about turtles once in a while” is a call to respect and make a point of acknowledging the many support and service people behind the scenes who help us do our jobs better and make our lives run more smoothly. “I’m a big believer in building relationships through shared experiences. It’s a lesson in social skills,” he says. “It’s about breaking out of your shell.”