Vanderbilt Magazine

End Sheet: In Their Own Words

Who was your favorite professor?

John Aden (VU Special Collections and Photo Archives)

Many of my Vanderbilt professors remain vivid in my mind and memories. During my 52-year career as a teacher, they served as varied, but always inspiring, models for a deep dedication to the art of teaching. I can still picture John Aden lying on the front desk of the classroom while reciting Robert Browning’s “The Bishop Orders His Tomb.” Bill Pursell playing the piano during our final exam for the music theory class. John Compton making those hyphenated terms from Phenomenology absolutely clear in his warm and earnest way. Phil Hallie playing Frank Sinatra singing “My Funny Valentine” in the Aesthetics class. Cyrus Hoy, small at the podium but so large of mind, leading us through Renaissance nondramatic poetry. Hamilton Hazlehurst, in his first year at Vanderbilt, teaching us to create slide presentations for the Art History seminar. Raphael Demos, retired from Harvard but vibrant at Vanderbilt, diagramming “the Divided Line” from Plato’s Republic. Gentle, brilliant Donald Davidson bringing Hardy and Conrad to life. I could go on.

—Lalise O’Brien Melillo, BA’64

My multiple Russian language classes with Richard N. Porter set me up for success as a Soviet specialist in the U.S. Army. While serving as the Army attache in U.S. Embassy Moscow in 1995, I was designated an interpreter for President Clinton when he visited Moscow for the 50th anniversary of World War II victory. On returning to the U.S. in 1996, I called Porter and told him how I had used Russian professionally for some 25 years and had interpreted for the president. He was delighted to hear that he was instrumental in my 26-year military career, in the language respect.
— Theodore C. Wilson, BA’69

George Becker was an influential professor in my education beyond sociology. I loved his class. I never missed it. I was so fascinated by what he taught that I changed my minor to sociology. One day, I got tragic news about my sister. I was so distraught … that I missed his class. Professor Becker had a very strict attendance policy. I remember bursting into tears telling him why I missed his class, and he was beyond kind. It was my first real family tragedy, and he taught me my first real-world lesson in compassion. He did not dock my grade for missing his class but was my first introduction to “bending the rules” in the name of compassion and exception to the real-life punches life can bring. I have carried his compassion and humanity in every role I’ve served and every team I’ve led. He and I kept in touch through letters over the years until his death. He was and continues to be an incredible influence in my life and in the leadership positions I hold.
— Stephanie Clayton Thompson, BA’98

Nancy Schulte (VU Special Collections and Photo Archives)

Cecil Jones and his wife, Jane, together with Nancy Schulte, who directed a number of Vanderbilt University Theatre productions, were a central part of my years at Vanderbilt. I would regularly stop to see them every time I was in Nashville. I treasure the relationship with them. I stopped to see Cecil and Jane about four years ago with my husband and a friend. My friend was amazed, not only that I had a 40-plus-year relationship with a professor and his wife and that they would cook a brunch for us, but also that Cecil remembered my roles in VUT productions that were 40 years in the past.
— Freeman Durham, BA’80

In Philosophy 101, Professor John Lachs transformed the way I learned to think about and apply information. From that semester in his Introduction to Philosophy, I took a sharp turn from what I thought was my career path and confidently explored new paths. I attribute my decision to attain a J.D. to those hours of learning.
— Jenny Osment Habecker, BA’82

In Robert Birkby’s Constitutional Law class, he would have the class study a different issue each week that the U.S. Supreme Court had addressed and evolved in its thinking. I was very ready for the subject when I got to law school.
— Sam Wallace, BA’73

Prof. Holger Herwig (VU Special Collections and Photo Archives)

I took Professor Holger Herwig’s classes every semester I was at Vanderbilt. I was the only freshman in a classroom full of history majors and veterans of earlier Herwig classes. It was quite a challenge to keep up, but it was far and away my favorite class, and Herwig’s lectures were the best I’d ever seen. I think I struggled to get a C+ that semester, but by sophomore year I had turned on a number of friends to Prof. Herwig, and by senior year his classroom was filled with a bunch of us. Herwig became my adviser and I think of him often. In our Vandy friend group 33 years later, we still talk about those classroom experiences with him. To this day, I have remained keenly aware of German and Austrian history and the Holocaust. I have lived and worked in Germany with my wife, Jeane Marie “Jeamer” Anderson Nichols, BA’91, MEd’98, and our first child was born there.

— Chris Nichols, BA’90

[I enjoyed] any class taught by Harold Weatherby, Leonard Nathanson or Vereen Bell—all demanded excellence but in different ways.
— William G. Colvin, BA’73

Marshall Eakin took seemingly esoteric classes like the History of Portugal or the History of Central America and turned them into fascinating explorations of places, people and eras that still impact our lives today. He taught me to think in a way that profoundly shaped my career.
— Chris Cavanaugh, BA’86

Ben Bolch taught statistics and computer and other classes. I reconnected with him 10 years ago and regularly have coffee/tea with him and discuss current economic situations, questions, concerns and politics locally, nationally and globally.
— Gray Oliver Thornburg, BA’76

[I remember] Frederick Conover and his restriction on referring to analytical balances as scales.
— Horace Estes, BA’61

Studying under Walter Harrelson changed my life. I invited him to preach my ordination sermon, and he kept his promise to do so even when the farewell celebration for a retiring colleague was scheduled the night before my ordination and he had to leave the party early to get a red-eye flight to make it to Austin where I was to be ordained. Because of him, I pursued and received a Ph.D. in Hebrew scriptures almost 30 years after I took his intro class. He was my teacher. He was my mentor. He was my friend.
— Pamela Owens, BA’70

Jesse Spencer Smith has always been my favorite professor throughout my master’s journey. The class Transformers was a really interesting experience because Jesse would make the class very interesting and conversational. It was so much fun to attend the class, and just being a part of the class felt very wholesome.
— Meena Muthusubramanian, MS’22

Joel Harrington, my adviser, all but forced me to study abroad during my junior year when the Brown University program at the University of Bologna accepted me. I was hesitant (read: wasn’t going) because most of my friends were juniors and would be gone when I got back. Professor Harrington flat out refused to let me stay, and because of that I went on to get my Ph.D. and do a Fulbright year in Padua, Italy, to do archival research for my dissertation. I am back in Padua every spring break to stay with friends, and none of that would have happened had Professor Harrington not offered some “tough love” at the right moment.
— Michael Alexander, BA’99

Rev. Dr. Dale Andrews was my academic adviser and mentor. While at Vanderbilt, I experienced a trifecta of loss—that being, one enormously important person in my life in each year of my studies. I lost my partner in the first year; I lost my father in the second year. Dale was instrumental in helping me get through. He used to tell me, “Dawn, just keep swimming. You can’t drown if you just keep swimming.” Dale was a very humble man who often said, “I have more questions than answers.” He left me an example to follow that will carry me throughout my ministry, which is to always remain humble and curious. And kind. Dale was very kind. My trifecta of grief was complete when Dale died quite unexpectedly in my final year of studies.
— Dawn Bennett, MDiv’18

I first had Earline Kendall, also a Peabody alum, in 1979 when I took her class on the History of Programs for Young Children. Earline was my major professor and also served on my husband’s committee. We graduated, moved to Michigan where we spent a 40-year career teaching at Eastern Michigan University, and stayed in touch with Professor Kendall over the years. We visited her at her home in Nashville, Martha’s Vineyard and this past April at her home near Knoxville. Throughout my life, Earline Kendall has been there supporting and encouraging me. I passed on to my students what I learned from Professor Kendall.
— Karen Menke Paciorek, PhD’81

As a neuroscience major, lively discussions of great poets or aspects of long forgotten culture in Representative British Writers with Roy Gottfried were a welcome reprieve from hours memorizing neuroanatomy or calculating membrane potentials. I have always carried forward my memories of the course as a reminder to try to stop and enjoy the richness of the lived human experience without being overly bound up in the hustle and bustle of life.
— Adam Stark, BA’16