College Bids Fond Farewell to Retiring Faculty

Don Jacobs, David Gedalecia, and Larry Stewart remembered by students, colleagues

June 26, 2012 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — Don Jacobs, David Gedalecia, and Larry Stewart touched the lives of many students during their long tenures with the faculty at The College of Wooster. Now they are being remembered fondly by those they taught and those they worked with as they embark on the next phase of their lives: retirement.

Jacobs came to Wooster 36 years ago and became an inspiration to both students and colleagues. The esteemed professor of physics, who is credited with saving the department in the late seventies and early eighties when it had fallen on hard times, leaves behind a legacy of leadership and mentorship that will not soon be forgotten.

The soft-spoken but resolute Jacobs has been hailed for his empathy as well as his expertise during his four decades at the College. “I always tried to put myself in the position of the student, who was learning the material for the first time,” he said. “I encouraged them to follow the process step by step rather than trying to skip to the end.”

That approach endeared him to both students and faculty. “For me, Don Jacobs is and always will be a model for combining teaching and research in a career,” said John Lindner, professor of physics and longtime colleague at Wooster. “He was a superb teacher and one of the best researchers to devote his entire career to an undergraduate institution. His contributions to the College were enormous.”

Shila Garg, professor of physics and former provost, praised Jacobs’ collegial nature and academic acumen. “Don was my mentor and role model,” she said. “He is an incredibly accomplished scientist…respected by his colleagues and students for his knowledge, patience, helpfulness, and ability to explain difficult concepts.”

Indeed, that may have been Jacobs’ greatest strength. “It has always been my goal to help students apply their basic knowledge in trying to figure things out,” he said. “I’ve also tried to build their confidence by helping them learn how to learn.”

Likewise, Wooster’s students have kept Jacobs sharp over the years. “Our students always asked wonderful questions,” he said. “They were always inquisitive young people, and that forced me to keep on top of the material.”

One of those students, recent graduate David Simpson, a physics major from Gilroy, Calif., praised Jacobs for his knowledge, enthusiasm, and experience. “He was always a great resource for students,” said Simpson, “and he was always willing to help (them) when they ask."

Gedalecia arrived at the College in 1971 with an interest in teaching Chinese history, and the prospect of doing so at Wooster was very attractive. “The History department gave me free rein to develop a variety of courses on China and Japan at both introductory and advanced levels, which was unusual at many liberal arts colleges,” he said, “but it was the opportunity to work with students in Independent Study on East Asian and other topics that made for a long-lasting and challenging career at the College.”

During his 41 years at Wooster, Gedalecia dedicated himself to his discipline and to his students. “I was told by my mentor at Queens College (CUNY), Professor Bernard Solomon, a master teacher of Chinese language and civilization, that one should try, based on all that he had absorbed in his training, to convey as much of his learning as he possibly could to his students,” said Gedalecia. “This is something I tried to do every day at Wooster.”

As an educator, Gedalecia had many memorable moments, but none more notable than his final day of teaching in May when Madonna Hettinger, professor of history and chair of the department, organized a surprise reception outside of his classroom. “When I opened the door to leave, I was greeted with all sorts of cheering and clapping by my colleagues and students and was urged to play a farewell song on the five-string banjo, which my wife had brought for the occasion,” he said. “This celebration absolutely floored me, and I shall forever be grateful to Professor Hettinger, and her husband George, who took numerous photos, and those who came by to make my last class truly special.”

What Gedalecia appreciated most about Wooster was the faculty camaraderie, which helped him to sustain his scholarship and teaching, and the students who inspired him with their thirst for learning and self-development. “The students allowed people like me to contribute something to their achievements as student-scholars,” he said. “I hope they will say that they have a better understanding of Chinese history and culture as a result of my efforts, that I contributed to their overall educational progress, and that we had some fun learning from each other.”

Stewart came to Wooster in 1967 as a leave replacement for Ray McCall, ostensibly for one year while finishing Ph.D. dissertation at Case Western Reserve, but he wound up staying for the next 45 years, and he never wore out his welcome. “I stayed because I really couldn’t imagine a better place to be,” he said. “That's not empty rhetoric. I really have tried to imagine the perfect job and the perfect place to live, and they always come out looking like Wooster. I've been able to spend my days talking with interesting and engaging students about topics that we care about. I can't imagine anything better.”

Witty and engaging, Stewart was able to entertain as well as educate his students, and he has many fond memories of his interactions with them and with colleagues during his nearly half-century on campus. “Obviously I have wonderful memories of the classroom and of working with students, but I also have very fond memories of working on committees,” he said. “I realize that most believe that anyone who likes committee work has some kind of personality or character defect, but I am convinced that the system of faculty governance has been and (still) is central to making Wooster the college that it is.”

Like others with long tenures at the College, Stewart had some opportunities to move into administration, but demurred. “As much as I admire and respect those in the administration, I've had no regrets about staying in the classroom,” he said. “I simply wouldn't want to do anything else — and it may be that I wouldn't have been very good at anything else.”

As for his legacy, Stewart said he really doesn’t think a lot about what students say about him — at least he tries not to — “because what I do shouldn't be about me. What I do as a teacher should be about the student…I hear educators talking about wanting their students to respect them, and I'm sure that's a good thing. However, I'm more concerned about respecting students and perhaps about helping them respect themselves. As I read over notes from former students, I realize that many of them do indicate that I gave them confidence in their own abilities. I don't know whether that is true or not, but I hope it is.”

Joining Stewart in retirement is his wife, Carol, former director and longtime teacher at The College of Wooster Nursery School. She joined the operation in 1980 and continued through 2012. Her tenure included 13 years (1990-2003) as director, during which she carried on the legacy of former director Clare Adel Schreiber, whose love for music, animals, and nature, and her belief that children should be active participants in their own learning, continues to influence the school to this day. “Hands-on-learning is the key,” said Stewart. “If we instill in the child a love of learning, I feel a child’s time spent at our nursery school has been a success.”

Also retiring after a long tenure is Gary Thompson, who logged 40 years at the College. He started as an intern while completing his graduate degree at Kent State and was then hired as assistant director of Lowry Center in 1972. Four years later, he was named director of camps and conferences, a position he held until 1990 when he was promoted to director of human resources. “I've truly enjoyed every year here," he said. "Interactions with my co-workers and student employees were an important part of the reasons that Wooster was a great place to come to work every day."

Unlike Thompson, who held several positions at the College, Kathy Jerisek’s career began and ended in the campus bookstore. Hired by Don Noll in 1973, Jerisek spent the next 39 years in one spot, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t see or affect change during her career. On the contrary. She also was promoted several times, first to general merchandise manager, through which she served as the primary buyer, and then to store manager. “It was a very enjoyable experience,” she said. “I was able to travel and meet a lot of people in the (college bookstore) industry. It was also nice to see our students as they moved through their four years at Wooster.”

Another longtime employee who recently retired is Bob Rodda, director of Lowry Center and Student Activities. Rodda believed strongly that it was important to find ways to bring together faculty, students, and staff, and he spearheaded special events for that purpose. The most important measure of success was if students took responsibility for an event or activity, and creatively carried it out. “Doing things with students, rather than to them is where real buy-in and education occurs,” he said. “Saying ‘Hey! We did it!’ is as important outside of class as it is in.” Among Rodda’s many achievements was the establishment of Common Grounds, an alcohol-free venue where students could gather socially.

Diane Lash joined the physical education staff in 1989, and during the next 22 years handled a variety of responsibilities, including training and supervising student workers, drawing up contracts for athletic events, and processing invoices. “I loved it,” she said. “I felt we were one big happy family. We all looked out for each other. I thoroughly enjoyed working with the coaches and the administrators. It was an exciting time, especially during tournaments. We had so much fun.”

Helen Barbera spent 25 years in dining services, but she was best known to her students as “Rose,” a friendly and helpful mother-like figure who kept a watchful eye over her beloved “children.” Primarily a cashier over the years, Barbera always greeted students with a smile and treated them in a kind and compassionate manner, which made her a favorite for a quarter century. “I loved the students, and I loved my job,” she said. “I always enjoyed going to work.”

Rounding out the list of retirees with 20 or more years of service are Marie Tarleton and Shirley Foltz, who spent most of their careers cleaning up after others. With a combined tenure that exceeded half a century (Tarleton 33 years and Foltz 27 years), they worked just about everywhere, from residence halls to academic buildings, interacting with students, faculty, and staff along the way. “The people we worked with were great,” said Foltz. “We especially enjoyed interacting with the students. They just made our day.”