Students, Colleagues Bid Farewell to Four Retiring Professors
Published: Thursday, May 3, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 01:11
The four professors retiring at the end of this academic year have spent a combined 126 years teaching at Kenyon. They have helped students with projects ranging from writing a children’s book on body image to studying ant habits. They have written books about famous authors and studied ancient French manuscripts. Their future plans include spending time with grandchildren and pursuing scholarly endeavors. Which is to say, their contributions to Kenyon will not be forgotten.
Professor of Environmental Science and Biology Ray Heithaus ’68 has spent 37 years in Gambier as both a student and professor — and even in retirement, Heithaus will not leave Kenyon entirely. As a co-director of the Brown Family Environmental Center (BFEC), Heithaus plans to spend at least the next two years teaching natural history at the center. “[The BFEC classes] are about helping people learn how to teach themselves about groups of organisms,” Heithaus said. “In some categories I’m retired, in other categories I’m not. In my mind, it’s a transition from being in biology, for sure.” In addition, he is looking forward to having more time to spend with his grandchildren.
Heithaus said working with students during the summer was a highlight of his time at Kenyon. “The fun ones were when I first got here and we were taking six or seven students to the Monongahela National Forest to do work in ecology,” Heithaus said. “We’d be in tents for a month and a half dealing with rain and copperhead snakes. It was really fun to do that.” This research gave Heithaus information about the habits of ants that he later used in classes during the academic year.
Heithaus said it has been “an interesting ride all the way through.” Overall, Heithaus said he has most enjoyed his colleagues. “It’s been a really rewarding place to work because individuals can make a difference here.”
Like Heithaus, Professor of Psychology Michael Levine has taught at Kenyon for more than 30 years. After growing up in a small neighborhood surrounded by colleges in southern California, Levine was sure he would never live in a small town again. But after accepting a job offer from Kenyon right out of graduate school, Levine moved to Gambier and stayed for the next 33 years. “Once I visited [the] campus and saw the place, it felt like home,” Levine said.
Levine said highlights of his career have included helping students from the class of 2002 write the children’s book Shapesville, which promotes healthy body image, and organizing the first Eating Disorder Awareness Week in the country, which he says could not have been as succesful without Kenyon’s help. Levine said his involvement with Shapesville was especially rewarding because he was able to work “with people who are so talented and so dynamic and have taken such great advantage of their Kenyon experience.”
At the end of this year, Levine expects to start packing up his house in Mount Vernon, and ultimately plans to move to a condominium in Santa Barbara with his wife, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Mary Suydam. “I have appreciated the fact that, over the past 30 years, the students as a group at Kenyon have gotten better and better,” Levine said. “In all the years I taught here, I can never recall an instant in which anyone at Kenyon was anything but helpful in whatever I wanted to do to improve my teaching or improve my ability to work effectively with undergraduates.”
In a sense, Professor of French Jean Blacker is leaving Kenyon after 27 years to pursue her own studies. After retirement, she plans to research medieval manuscripts in France and contribute to books in French about Arthurian legends and early 12th-century poems.
Blacker said her most rewarding experience at Kenyon has been watching her students succeed. “I think every day has quite a lot of rewarding moments,” she said. “When the light bulb goes on and they’ve understood something … and they are really enjoying what they’re doing and they have a new understanding of the material and of themselves, these are all rewarding moments.” Overall, she has most enjoyed directing senior exercises; teaching Intensive Intro to French, especially to those students who have never taken a language; and teaching classes on medieval literature written in Old French.
“I’ve enjoyed it tremendously; it’s very hard to leave,” Blacker said. “I’ll miss all my colleagues and students.”
Professor of English Judy Smith will also retire after this year, but declined to comment or provide a photograph for this article. Smith, who has been at Kenyon since 1979, wrote a book in 2007 entitled Yellowbird about authors Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville from the perspective of their wives. “I believe they had imaginative lives worth telling — imaginative lives as complex and compelling as any their husbands could have imagined, could have dared to dream,” Smith said in the Connecticut College newsletter Cameltracks.
“She has a great philosophy about writing and social justice,” said former student Natalie Thielen-Helper ’14. “She believes that if you’re going to be a writer, you have a responsibility to portray a diverse range of people, and you have to be honest about them, so she really doesn’t tolerate stereotyping or caricatures of race or sexuality or anything like that.”