Retiree Reflections

3:15:24 PM CDT - Thursday, September 08, 2005

(biographies in alphabetical order)

John Born, associate professor, History

The boxes stacked in his new home's garage will provide plenty to keep history faculty member John Born busy in retirement. They are filled with books that he finally will have a chance to read, he said.

Born and his Kansas-native wife, Patricia, recently moved to Waxahachie, Texas, which is south of Dallas, to be closer to his elderly mother and Born's Texas roots. "I'll miss Kansas," says Born, who never lost his Texas twang during the four decades he lived and taught in Wichita. "I think the people in Kansas are friendlier than in Texas."

Born says his best moments at WSU were relating to the students. "I had more fun in classes than any other experience at WSU." It was at the University of Texas that Born became hooked on becoming a university professor. "I had the most magnificent history professor ever, Harry Bennett," says Born. "He was my greatest inspiration." That inspiration had a lasting effect - "I still have the notes from his class," Born admitted.

During his academic career, Born focused on early American history, writing a number of papers and reviews about the American Revolution and Thomas Paine, who authored "Common Sense" and wrote the famous words, "These are the times that try men's souls." While at WSU, Born received a number of National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships. He also conducted seminars and workshops in American military history one summer at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. During the 1970s, he also served as assistant dean in the Graduate School.

"I really enjoyed working with my colleagues," Born reflects, "with special recognition to Denise Burns who is the greatest secretary the department ever had."

Jharna Chaudhuri, professor and chair, Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering

Jharna Chaudhuri has taken her considerable talents to another university, but the impact of her 20 years of teaching, research and administrative work in the mechanical engineering department in WSU's College of Engineering lives on.

Starting as an assistant professor in 1984, Chaudhuri regularly earned promotions and more responsibility. From June 2001 to December 2004, she was professor and chair of the mechanical engineering department.

Her accomplishments as department chair include helping faculty establish a new computational fluid dynamics laboratory, leading the department to a successful 2001-02 ABET evaluation for the department's undergraduate program, reorganizing all of the undergraduate and graduate laboratories, and offering distance learning courses.

In her last year as department chair, the department has funded research of about $2.5 million in crashworthiness and impact dynamics, control and manufacturing, fluid dynamics, and composite design and materials. She also prepared an extensive Kansas Board of Regents review for the department's undergraduate and graduate program.

As a researcher, Chaudhuri received research grants from federal agencies, national laboratories and local industries. She published 90 research papers in refereed journals and refereed conference proceedings. She presented more than 80 research papers in national and international conferences, and she graduated nine doctoral candidates and 36 master's students.

Chaudhuri appreciates the experience she gained at WSU. "I was focused to be successful in excellence in teaching, research and administration. WSU helped me to do that. I admired President (Warren) Armstrong since he tried to promote research and the image of the university in the outside world.

"I have many good memories of WSU and Wichita. People were very friendly and I am still in touch with many of them."

Chaudhuri is currently professor and chair of the department of mechanical engineering at Texas Tech University. It's the largest department in the College of Engineering with 820 undergraduate students, 70 graduate students and 23 faculty. "My previous experience of being the chair of the department at WSU is helping me a lot in my current job."

John Davis, police captain, WSU Police Department

After working 36 years in the WSU Police Department, it stands to reason that Capt. John Davis might have a few stories.

Streaking was a big fad in the 1970s. During a homecoming parade on sorority row, a couple of students were streaking on motorcycles wearing nothing but a smile, according to Davis.

"I stopped them in front of about 100 sorority girls and asked for their driver's license," says Davis. "Neither had one, so it took time to run a radio check. They had to sit on their motorcycles for about 10 minutes before I let them go with a warning."

Davis also recalls working traffic control at Levitt Arena on a cold, wet night with Detective David McCullough. Davis says McCullough was so cold-blooded that he wore electric socks. "On that day he was standing in a puddle of icy water working traffic control. I was working traffic next to him when he started doing a dance. I looked down at his feet and his electric socks had shorted out and were smoking."

In 2004, Davis was awarded the Laura Cross Distinguished Service Award, which is presented to WSU employees or retired employees who have given exceptional service to the university.

Whether you know him as a photographer, an archivist, a documentarian or a law enforcement professional, Davis has made many lasting connections with those who have come and gone at Wichita State.

Davis has enjoyed working with people and keeping them safe while on campus. "WSU has been a rewarding experience just working with people, the good and the bad; I found there is a little good in almost everyone."

Although there are many people that he came to know and appreciate during his years at WSU, he puts President Don Beggs, Shirley Beggs, and Roger Lowe among the top.

In retirement, Davis plans to continue to do a lot of photography, and spend time visiting his children in Texas, Alabama and Hawaii.

Donald Foster, assistant professor, Physics

Donald Foster may have officially retired in May, but he isn't closing the books on teaching. He'll continue to teach in the fall semester since the physics department's roster has fallen short with a faculty departure. Foster can appreciate the challenges that face a department chair, who has to ensure there are enough faculty to teach classes, since he served as department chair from 1978-1990 and as interim chair from 1993-94.

When he finally enters retirement, Foster plans to look for more volunteer opportunities and continue with his creative and culinary hobbies. For several years, he has volunteered with the AARP Tax-Aide, which provides free counseling and preparation service. Other volunteer possibilities he's considering are helping at the area attractions of the Sedgwick County Zoo and Wichita Botanical Gardens.

Foster also plans to continue with his hobbies, which include taking ceramics classes at the Wichita Center for the Arts and home-brewing beer. He's not afraid to take on cooking and baking duties either, he says, helping his wife, Deanna, a physics and physical science teacher at Wichita East High School, in the kitchen.

Foster, who earned his doctorate in physics at the University of Kansas, joined the WSU faculty in 1966.

Eileen Hawkins, clinical coordinator, School of Nursing

Eileen Hawkins was a nurse practitioner in Kingman, Kan., when the College of Health Professions asked her to coordinate its family nurse practitioner program. The new NP program was an outgrowth of WSU's partnership with the University of Kansas in a consortium on the state's rural health care concerns. That was in 1992 and, "I was very content in my role as NP in Kingman," says Hawkins, teasing that, "I think they were just desperate for a nurse practitioner to take this role."

Actually, the veteran nurse had just completed a master's at WSU so nursing professor Donna Hawley knew her and her work. Hawkins had every intention of continuing to practice in the Kingman area, and taking on a new role with a lot riding on it had not been in the plan.

Now she looks back and says she has enjoyed the best of both worlds.

"I've really seen the NP roles grow not only in understanding by the community but that the program itself has just grown by leaps and bounds," says Hawkins. "We've seen it grow from the first class of six people. We had to put a cap on it at 20; we are full every year and have a waiting list." She's also proud of the way the college has implemented the use of standardized patients for student practice and evaluation. Those are live human models, often actors, who are paid for their performances as patients.

After 40 years as a rural health practitioner, though, it's time to slow down. She retired from practice two years ago. Hawkins and her husband plan to travel and enjoy their grandchildren.

They might have to make that time, however. Hawkins is involved in the Kingman community, including being the organist for the Methodist church. She is on the Wheatland Center board of directors. She'll also keep coming to campus for yoga classes at the Heskett Center.

"I've been blessed to work with such dedicated faculty here," says Hawkins. "And the students, I'm going to miss them. There's a trade-off so you can just appreciate that and have wonderful memories."

Bruce Johnson, police captain, WSU Police Department

Longtime patrol officer, patrol sergeant, detective, lieutenant and captain, Bruce Johnson recently retired after more than 23 years with the WSU Police Department.

After starting his career working with the Hays Police Department and Ellis County Sheriff's Department, he joined WSU when his wife took a job with Boeing-Wichita.

Johnson has had a variety of responsibilities during his career at the university, such as command of the support division that includes community services, dispatch, records, student cadets, van driver training and the shuttle bus service. He's particularly proud of finishing his master's in administration of justice in 1991.

Not everything was easy. As a detective working with David McCullough, he recalls getting reports with little or no evidence and no suspects. "Yet on many of these cases we were able to develop information that led to case clearances," says Johnson.

He remembers one snowy and extremely cold December day when students were trying to go home at the end of the semester. "Larry Keller and I did about 260 jump-starts at the residence halls and nearby off-campus housing. At one point, both of our patrol cars would die when we tried to do a jump-start. Luckily it was too cold for crime."

Johnson says he is blessed with many friends at WSU and, luckily, few enemies.

He'll keep busy in retirement by continuing to work on the B-29 project at Boeing, where he's been a volunteer on rebuilding "Doc" for the past five years.

Vernon Keel, professor, Elliott School of Communication

For the first fall since 1946, Vernon Keel isn't going to school. For 59 years, Keel was either preparing for his own education or that of others when fall rolled around.

Throughout his teaching career, Keel has been involved in the national debate of the future of the communications field through membership in several national organizations.

"I tried to play out some of that debate in my roles" as an administrator at the University of North Dakota and then at WSU, he says, overseeing the marriage of mass and speech communication into one school at both universities.

But it was the creation of a new school of communication at WSU that he calls "the high watermark of his career." After 23 years at UND, Keel joined the WSU faculty in 1989 as the founding director of the Elliott School of Communication.

While he refers to his UND efforts as more of a reorganization, it was at WSU that he was able to more fully implement a program that was seamless and innovative, he says. Keel's mantra became "people, programs and facilities" as he oversaw the school through its formative years. During his first two years at WSU, nine new faculty were hired. Four years later, ground was broken for a new $4 million facility, Elliott Hall.

An expert in the field of mass communication law, Keel is also proud of helping create in the late 1990s the Kansas Sunshine Coalition, a group committed to open government and freedom of information. It's fitting that the coalition recently became housed within the Elliott School.

In 1996, Keel resigned as director of the Elliott School to teach full time and do research. Since 2000, he has been on phased retirement, teaching full time in the fall semesters only. A resident of Colorado for the past five years, Keel has lost no time in becoming involved in academics and freedom of information. He's been named an affiliate professor with Colorado State University and is working on freedom of information activities with Colorado's Society of Professional Journalists. He also finds the landscape ideal for his love of hiking, biking and skiing. Since 1985, he and his wife, Bernadette, have also enjoyed summers at their cabin on Lake Bemidji, Minn., where he proudly displays his Minnesota Viking windsock, a team he's been faithful to since his graduate school days at the University of Minnesota.

Patrick Kehoe, assistant professor, Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures

While Patrick Kehoe has long been grounded in the classics, he'll be spending some time looking skyward in his retirement.

When Kehoe arrived at WSU in 1974 from a position at Temple University, he was the sole faculty member in the classical languages.

"There was a job to be done in teaching Latin and I expanded that to Greek," says Kehoe, who received most of his training in the classics at the University of Toronto. He received degrees from the Seminary of St. Pius X in his home state of Kentucky and the University of Cincinnati, but he also studied theology for a year at the University of Innsbruck in Austria.

While Greek had been listed in the university's catalog, courses in the language had not been taught since the 1950s, so in 1975 Kehoe enlisted the help of his wife, Virginia, a fellow classicist, to teach some of the Latin classes while he restarted the Greek program. When she left WSU in 1979 to teach at Wichita Collegiate, Kehoe became the sole instructor in both programs. "It was a very heavy load," Kehoe says of teaching as many as 16-18 credit hours worth of classes each semester. His departure now has left the classics program future up for discussion within the Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The classics have long been credited with helping people enhance thinking, imagination and even the understanding of English grammar. For Kehoe, having students tell him they had a better command of grammar was "very enjoyable. That feeling of being an important part of a student's education was very satisfying," he says.

In retirement, Kehoe plans to continue his love for reading the classics in Latin and Greek. He's also had an interest in science, particularly astronomy, and plans to put to use a recent gift from his son - a telescope.

Darryl Neighbor, assistant director, Educational Talent Search/Project Discovery

Darryl Neighbor's career in education spans 40 years, but the 11 years he has worked for Educational Talent Search/Project Discovery at Wichita State were especially fulfilling.

Neighbor taught music in rural school systems for eight years, and worked as a guidance counselor for 21 years before joining WSU in September 1994. "I jumped at the opportunity to work directly with low-income and potential first-generation students to help them get into college," said Neighbor.

His responsibilities at WSU included recruiting 300 students each year, helping students apply to college and for financial aid, taking students on campus visits, and teaching study skills to participants in the middle school summer enrichment program. Neighbor also provided annual performance reports to the U.S. Department of Education.

The job has had its share of challenges. "Probably the greatest were learning the ins and outs of the program database, learning to be comfortable with the computer and keeping up with all the changes in financial aid each year," said Neighbor.

"I have learned how to deal with a high level of stress, I am much more flexible in dealing with people, and I have learned to appreciate diversity."

Neighbor said that in addition to helping first-generation students continue their education, the most rewarding aspect of his job was saying, "I work for Wichita State University." He also enjoyed working triage at enrollment.

He says some of the people he has come to appreciate in a special way while working at WSU are Sandy Ludlum, Ginger Cox, Ron Kopita and Larry Ramos. Regarding the Division of Student Affairs, Neighbor notes, "their positive orientation toward customer service."

Neighbor says, "It is a pleasure to work for a university that is continually working on becoming user-friendly and putting customer service at the top of the list."

In retirement, Neighbor and his wife, Gloria, plan to enjoy their grandchildren and travel extensively. He also plans to pursue his hobby of wood carving.

Jim Pernice, academic support specialist, University Computing

For 37 years Jim Pernice put his technical skills to work as an IT technician with the university computing office. However, just because he's now retired doesn't mean he's going to quit tinkering with technology and machines.

From restoring his 1974 Corvette to volunteering at the Kansas Aviation Museum restoring old aircrafts, Pernice is still putting his knowledge and patience to work.

"Restoration can be a very slow process and there's a lot to be learned along the way," Pernice says.

It seems natural for Pernice to spend his retirement working on projects that test his skills and learning curve. Working in the technology business, he saw firsthand the explosion in computer technology over the past few decades.

"When I first started out in 1967, the computing center was two rooms in the old engineering building," Pernice says. "We were using equipment that most people had never heard of, but it kept the job interesting because technology was always changing."

When desktop PCs first arrived on campus in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Pernice participated in a number of training programs with different technology vendors.

"I really enjoyed earning the certifications from some of the major companies," Pernice says. "Being certified by the different computer makers was really something back then."

Besides his continued technology work, Pernice and his wife, Lori, recently built a new home and have been busy moving in and landscaping.

Even as busy as he's been during retirement, Pernice recently reflected on his normal duties at the beginning of each school year.

"I was just thinking about each year setting up the computers in the ballroom for registration," Pernice says. "Normally I'm over there for two to three weeks monitoring equipment and setting up. It was different not being a part of that process."

Richard Pratt, senior administrative assistant, Mathematics and Statistics

No matter where he worked on campus, Richard Pratt always enjoyed having fun and helping students.

Whether it was in the registrar's office, the Counseling and Testing Center, the Westside Campus or the mathematics and statistics office, Pratt enjoyed creating memories and working with other people focused on helping the university.

"There wasn't a single office I worked in that I didn't enjoy," Pratt says. "I worked with some great people and I got to meet some wonderful students."

While at the Westside Campus, Pratt often came across students who just needed help with the registration process or were uncertain of how to get enrolled. It was those students who got to see Pratt at his best.

"This whole process just looks so overwhelming to people who haven't been through it before," Pratt says. "Every student is different and I just tried to always address their concerns and point them in the right direction."

After spending 29 years working in the state system, Pratt isn't sure what he'll do in retirement to take the place of all those enjoyable years, but he's at least hoping to stay busy.

A self-proclaimed "computer freak," Pratt loves working with electronics. He's begun selling items on eBay, and he's in the process of digitizing old family photographs, movies and conversations.

"I've just always had an interest in these types of gadgets, and now I've got a lot more time to fill," Pratt says.

Although definite plans for his retirement are unclear, Pratt isn't ruling anything out, especially anything that would allow him to keep helping people. "Who knows, I may even go back to work someday, I just don't know when or where," Pratt says.

Donald Skokan, assistant instructor, University Libraries

When reference librarian Donald Skokan heard the words, "This is a simple question," he knew the answer would be anything but simple. But he didn't mind. "I liked being a resource for people," Skokan says.

For the past 10 years, Skokan would help students and teachers find practically anything they needed in the WSU Libraries. "I think the university job was the best I've had," said Skokan, who had been a high school English teacher and librarian in Nebraska before moving to Wichita when his wife, Ellie, took a job at WSU. Although he already had a master's degree in educational administration and media, he completed a second master's in library science from Emporia State before working in Koch Industries' research library.

While his wife, Ellie, is just starting to savor retirement, Don says he's "gotten a taste of having that extra freedom" since he went to working half time the past few years. The two love doing outdoor activities, including biking, hiking and camping together.

Elvera Skokan, biology lab coordinator and assistant chair, Biological Sciences

Just two months into retirement, Ellie Skokan is relishing the extra time she has to spend in her garden and to attend family reunions. She and her husband, Don, who retired from WSU at the beginning of June, as well, have already been to two family reunions and were planning to attend another.

With her responsibilities for advising undergraduate students and coordinating lab coursework in the biological sciences area, Skokan spent many hours, including summers, meeting with students, running the department's undergraduate labs, and helping with curriculum development. The long hours she spent doing those activities, however, didn't go unnoticed - or unrewarded - by her colleagues and peers, who nominated her for the President's Distinguished Service Award, which Skokan won in 2003.

Skokan said she and her husband enjoyed the college life of lectures, fine arts and even sports. "We're pretty eclectic as far as our interests go," she explains of the varied activities they took in at WSU. They plan to continue those interests, along with reconnecting with family and doing outdoor activities.

Robert Town, associate professor, School of Music

Turning a lifetime passion into a monumental legacy wasn't exactly Robert Town's goal when he launched his teaching career in 1963. So Town spent his first 20 years at WSU performing, directing, teaching and inspiring young organists - his legacy, as with all teachers, resting in the hands of the future.

Then local philanthropist Gladys Wiedemann became a fan of Wichita State's organ program and the award-winning students Town was turning out.

"The success of my students through the years was the first and primary attraction to the need for an organ," says Town, who in 1978 oversaw two of his then-top students, Dennis Bergen and Wayne Slater, as they applied for and both won Fulbright Scholarships in the same year.

"It's the story of all stories," Town says about working with then President Clark Ahlberg, former fine arts dean Gordon Terwilliger and Wiedemann on a gift large enough to purchase a world-class organ.

The story's happy ending lives on in the sounds of excellence coming from Wiedemann Recital Hall, the specially designed home for the custom-built Marcussen organ, a $500,000 investment by Wiedemann and a huge project for Marcussen and Son in Denmark.

Then, thanks to Sam and Rie Bloomfield, an organ series was endowed, with Town as director. The series and the Marcussen have attracted the finest organists in the field to perform in Wiedemann Hall over the past 20 years.

University organ programs, however, have experienced decreasing enrollment nationwide since the mid-1980s. But Town ensured the endurance of an organ professorship by bequeathing part of his estate to endow the position.

Further assurance came this spring with a faculty of distinction endowment from Dennis and Ann Ross that the College of Fine Arts can use now to mount a search for Town's replacement.

Town, who will serve on that search committee, will stay on at WSU in an adjunct position this year.

Julian Triana, power plant operator, Central Energy Plant

Even after 17 years of service to WSU, Julian Triana isn't ready to stop reaching out to make a difference.

Now, following his retirement from the university, the former operator at the university power plant is ready to take on the role of community volunteer.
"I'm ready for some of the great volunteer opportunities around the community," Triana says. "I want to stay busy, and I can't think of a better way than this."

Triana's agenda includes helping the Salvation Army with its annual school supply drive and working with a local cancer support organization. As a prostate cancer survivor himself, Triana feels he'd be able to help patients going through the process.

"I remember how it was, all the people who supported me, so I'd like to turn around and do the same for others," Triana says.

His willingness to work comes as no surprise to those who knew him during his stint on campus. Mark Brotko, assistant director for WSU energy services and Triana's former supervisor, says that losing a co-worker like Triana creates quite a void.

"Julian was a great worker who always strived to expand his knowledge base," Brotko says. "I think everyone here really misses the work that he did-I know I do."

Despite his ambitions to stay busy with volunteer work, Triana also hopes to travel during his retirement. An avid sports fan who once worked as a clubhouse assistant for the Wichita Aeros minor league baseball team, Triana has several dream vacations in mind.

"I've always been a Green Bay Packers fan, so it would be great to go up and see a game at Lambeau Field," Triana says. "I'd also love to get away during the spring and go down to Florida to see some of the spring training baseball games."

While Triana is looking forward to his retirement, he won't hesitate to look back on his years at WSU.

"I enjoyed all of my time there because I worked with and met so many wonderful people," Triana says.

Rebecca Tucker, instructor, Mathematics and Statistics

When it comes to mathematics, Rebecca Tucker could literally sing its praises. Tucker, who it seems was genetically destined to become a mathematician, has a strong passion for singing.

Since moving to Wichita in 1984 from Fort Scott, Kan., to teach at WSU, she's been part of the Wichita Chorus Sweet Adelines International. The 65-member chorus is currently a regional champion chorus and will compete in next year's international competition in Las Vegas. Tucker, a baritone, also sings in the choir at her church, University Congregational.

Tucker comes from a family full of mathematics teachers. Her mother and father met while pursuing math graduate degrees. Her father went on to teach math at Emporia State University. Her paternal grandfather taught in the field at Kansas State University, and two of Tucker's siblings hold math degrees and are college professors.

Tucker isn't putting away her calculator and grade book anytime soon, though. Although she officially retired after teaching a calculus class this summer, she'll be back this fall teaching intermediate and college algebra as a lecturer. Helping students learn to appreciate mathematics has been a source of satisfaction for Tucker during her time at WSU.

Considering Tucker's passion for performing, it's not surprising that one of the pleasures she's enjoyed at WSU is its musical and theater productions. "The university has a fantastic fine arts department and they put on very good shows," she says.

The following honorees were either unavailable, declined participation or their names were received too late to be interviewed for this publication.

  • Carmen Bribiesca - Controller's Office
  • James Duram - History
  • Stephen Gladhart - Public Health Sciences
  • Margaret Haddock - Office of Purchasing
  • William Hays - School of Community Affairs
  • Kathy Jones - Controller's Office
  • Nancy Kraemer - Health Professions Dean's Office
  • Peter Martinez - Custodial Maintenance
  • Phillip May - School of Accountancy
  • L. Ann Moser - Human Resources
  • Judith Turner - Administration and Finance
  • Lyle Turner - University Computing
  • Margaret Wood - Graduate School
  • William Wright - Postal Services

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