Catching Up with Professors Emeritus and Emerita

by Kristyna Bronner ’14 and Steven Bodnar

Professor Emeritus of Sociology Jim Spates P’00, P’11 retired in 2014 after more than 40 years of teaching at the Colleges. Over this period, he led eight terms abroad, chaired two Curriculum Revision Committees, twice served as Chair of the Sociology Department and co-taught the Two Cities course for more than two decades with Professor Emeritus of Economics Pat McGuire L.H.D. ’12.

Currently, Spates is writing a book on the sociological thought of 19th century British art and social critic, John Ruskin. He also oversees a blog introducing modern readers to Ruskin.

Though some have written on Ruskin’s social thought in the past, according to Spates, no one has ever tried to make his sociological insights accessible to an intelligent audience. In this book, he intends to make modern readers aware of the continuing relevance of Ruskin’s social thought to the problems of our time. “I take it as my task to introduce Ruskin’s genius and importance to a generation that no longer remembers him,” he says. “The blog is one way to do that. The book is another.”

In addition to his work on Ruskin, Spates, who lives with his wife, Jennifer Morris, in Geneva, frequently travels, recently visiting Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Japan with several current and former HWS faculty members. He is also heavily involved with a group of local citizens in an attempt to save one of the most important (now abandoned) buildings in Geneva, The Dove Block at the corner of Exchange and Castle streets. The group intends to dedicate the third floor of the building to a museum/memorial to renowned abstract expressionist painter Arthur Dove, Class of 1903. Dove created some of his most important paintings in the building during the 1930s.

Professor Emeritus of Geoscience Donald L. Woodrow P’83, GP’15 came to the Colleges as an assistant professor of geology and rose to full professor in 1975. He was co-founder of the Environmental Studies program, co-founder of the Department of Geoscience, and co-designer of the Science-on-Seneca Program.

He served the Colleges as associate dean of faculty from 1991-1994 and is a past recipient of the faculty’s scholarship and teaching prizes. He retired in 2001 and received the Distinguished Faculty Award in 2010.

Since 2002, Woodrow has worked as a consultant with the Coastal and Marine team of the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif. There he has worked on sediment cores from San Francisco Bay and a fjord in Alaska. With colleagues, he completed a study of heavy minerals in sands from the San Francisco Bay, its tributaries and nearby coast line.

He has also been teaching at community colleges in Berkeley and Oakland. The community colleges have put him in contact with intriguing people, different challenges, and, as at HWS, lots of fun. He says he has learned a lot.

Woodrow serves the Richmond, Calif., community in several ways, including as president of the Point Richmond Neighborhood Council and the Richmond Neighborhood Coordinating Council; a board member of the Contra Costa County Library Commission, the Friends of the Richmond Public Library, and the Richmond Public Library Foundation; a member of the Richmond/UC Berkeley Committee planning UCB’s new World Campus in Richmond and a committee overseeing safety planning at Chevron’s Richmond refinery.

Associate Professor Emerita of Mathematics Ann B. Oaks ’74, P’84, P’85, P’89 graduated magna cum laude from William Smith College, later returning to join the HWS faculty in 1979 where she taught for 23 years. Her scholarship, which focused on the effects of cognitive and affective factors on learning mathematics and additional work on the influence of gender in mathematical achievement, is nationally known.

In 1994, Oaks received a special citation from the William Smith Alumnae Association and the Hobart Alumni Association recognizing her as an exemplary member of the HWS community who achieved her goals first as a nontraditional student and later as a faculty member. She also won the Faculty Prize for Teaching in 2002.

“I enjoyed teaching and interacting with my students,” Oaks recalls. “The math majors were wonderful and I stay in contact with some of my former students. Hobart and William Smith really is a great place.”

Following her retirement, Oaks returned to HWS to teach a number theory course and also served as interim director of the Center for Teaching and Learning.

As an alumna, professor emerita and parent of three graduates, Oaks remains deeply connected to the Colleges. In April 2016, Oaks and her daughter, Kathleen Menn-Oaks ’89 will attend the HWS parent and alum tour of Ireland guided by Professor Emeritus of Economics Pat McGuire L.H.D. ’12 and his wife, Sandy.

Currently, Oaks lives just a few miles from campus in Oaks Corners, N.Y., where she enjoys growing orchids and collecting antiques.

Professor Emeritus of Political Science Joe DiGangi retired from teaching in 1997 after 30 years at the Colleges. He served on many committees, advising Honors work and pre-law students, led study abroad programs and co-founded the Washington, D.C. public policy program. The professorship that bears his name was endowed by alumni and alumnae to honor a member of the political science faculty. DiGangi received the Distinguished Faculty Award in 2002.

DiGangi lives just outside of Washington, D.C. in Arlington, Va., and serves on the Fine Arts Advisory Panel at the Federal Reserve Board. He also works with the Supreme Court Historical Society and is a member of “just about all” of Washington, D.C.’s museums. He also serves on the board of a small theater company called the WSC Avant Bard.

“There is rarely a day when I sit home and have nothing to do,” says DiGangi. “Every once in a while it’s nice to have one of those days.” DiGangi, who used his first paycheck at the Colleges to buy artwork, remains an avid art collector. He has donated numerous works to the National Gallery and Phillips Collection.

He remains connected to many former students and has been actively involved in both the semester in D.C. as well as the Day on the Hill program.

Professor Emerita of Religious Studies Mary Gerhart retired in 2005 after more than three decades at the Colleges. During her tenure, she collaborated with the late Professor Emeritus of Physics Allan M. Russell P’81, P’86, initiating one of the Colleges’ first bi-disciplinary courses. For their work, they received a Science and Religion Course Prize Award from the John Templeton Foundation. In 2011, Gerhart received the Distinguished Faculty Award.

“I really enjoyed my work at the Colleges since the very beginning, primarily because of the bi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary emphasis,” says Gerhart who taught courses such as “Myth, History and Theory” and “The Religious Imagination.”

Following her retirement, Gerhart moved to south-side Chicago and has remained an active scholar. She was a Senior Fellow at the Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion at the University of Chicago and recently lectured on violence and on Hildegard of Bingen.

The author of several books, Gerhart continues her scholarly work. Her book, New Maps for Old: Explorations in Science and Religion (2001), coauthored with Russell, is scheduled to be reissued by Bloomsbury Press in 2016.

Currently, Gerhart is a member of a group of scholars who regularly meet to discuss their latest papers at the nexus of science and religion. She also belongs to a poetry discussion group. Gerhart says her membership in both groups is an extension of her interests and experiences at HWS.

Professor Emeritus of History Marvin Bram P’91, L.H.D. ’99 retired in 1997 after 27 years at the Colleges. At HWS, he was given the freedom to construct non-traditional courses, pursuing his own historical discipline: symbolic history. He received the Alumni and Alumnae Associations’ Distinguished Faculty Award in 2003.

“Hobart and William Smith are among the very few colleges in the country that if you could persuade your colleagues that what you were doing is important enough, they would support you in doing it,” he says.

Bram lives in Geneva and has devoted his time to projects in the public sphere. He is working to revise the language in the existing Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, which is currently moving through legal at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Bram spends much of his time writing, including a 1,000-plus-page book called Humanity, which is being edited by a publisher. Bram also writes plays, stories and essays, which he self-publishes on Amazon. When he’s not writing or working for the greater good, Bram enjoys playing the violin, taking every chance he gets to play in classical trios with friends. He also enjoys hosting former students for visits at his home in Geneva.

Professor Emeritus of English Jim Crenner retired in 2008. During his 41 years at the Colleges, he served as department chair three times and once as interim director of the Writing and Rhetoric Program. He led four semesters abroad.

Crenner resides in Geneva with his wife, Professor Emerita of Art History Elena Ciletti and stays involved with the Colleges, mainly through attendance at literary readings, formal talks, musical and theatrical performances and the Friday Faculty lunch talks. He continues to write and publish poetry, to read, to travel and cultivate his gardens. Some of his time, however, is devoted to volunteering in the Geneva community.

Crenner has worked at the Food Pantry of the Geneva Center of Concern for the past several years. “It has surprised me to witness just how steady is the stream of needy Genevans passing daily through the Pantry doors,” he says. Crenner also works with the Literacy Volunteers of Ontario-Yates, meeting with a local Chinese couple each week to help them improve their English. “It is my experience that volunteer work does at least as much for the server as the served,” he says. “Simply, it allows you to feel useful in a good way.”

Professor Emeritus of English Ted Thiesmeyer retired from the Colleges in 2001. During his 33-year career, he served as assistant dean of students in addition to teaching in the Department of English and serving as department chair several times. He was one of the first two Ombudspersons appointed by the Colleges. Thiesmeyer and his wife Elaine, a professor emerita at RIT, still live south of Geneva in the lakeside house they bought in 1968. Together, they run a software company that began while Thiesmeyer was teaching at HWS.

As an offshoot of a multidisciplinary course he taught in called “The Mechanical Bride,” Thiesmeyer became interested in computers. Along with his wife, he developed one of the first grammar checkers for English prose in the 1980s. It began as a tool to help teach composition (Editor) becoming a professional publication and eventually a small business.

The Thiesmeyers have continued the business into retirement and have customers in more than 70 countries. The software is currently being evaluated for possible acquisition.

“I have a lively international correspondence and spend much of my time working on the Internet,” Thiesmeyer says of his typical day. “Thanks to the Internet, we have continued our business while traveling – off Cape Horn, in Istanbul, Alaska, Mexico and the Mediterranean.”

Professor Emerita of English Claudette Columbus retired from the Colleges in 2003 after a career teaching late-18th and 19th century literature and traveling abroad on two Fulbright grants to Peru. She also led two terms abroad to London and one to Ecuador. Columbus was one of the first two Ombudspersons appointed by the Colleges. During her time on campus, she played an instrumental role in creating the women’s studies and Latin American studies departments. She was the recipient of three faculty awards, one each for teaching, scholarship and public service. She was presented with the Alumni and Alumnae Associations’ Distinguished Faculty Award in 2014.

Columbus currently lives in a retirement community in Durham, N.C., which is also home to many retired professors from Duke and the University of North Carolina, keeping the environment intellectually stimulating. Columbus occasionally offers courses at Duke University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Though enjoying life in North Carolina, Columbus misses the Colleges.

“I miss daily interactions with the creative and lively faculty of the Colleges. I miss the students who always add unexpected spice to daily life,” she says. “I miss the beauty of the campus on beautiful Seneca Lake. I miss the adventurous students. I miss everything, except the winters of New York State."

Professor Emeritus of Economics Patrick McGuire L.H.D. ’12, who chaired the Economics Department multiple times, led several study abroad trips and helped establish the semester in Washington, D.C., taught his last class in 2010. He came out of retirement to serve as interim provost for one year, “officially” retiring in 2013.

While he has no “typical day,” McGuire remains connected with the Colleges, most recently serving as co-chair of the Culture of Respect Committee along with Mara O’Laughlin ’66, L.H.D. ’13.

Recently, McGuire conducted a study with several students from Professor of Sociology Jack Harris’ P’02, P’06 class on the economic impact of the Smith Opera House on the City of Geneva. He sits on the board of directors of the Finger Lakes Credit Union and is currently serving on a committee to help create a comprehensive master plan for Geneva.

“I still enjoy all of my academic interests; I’m a reader of the newspaper and the relevant journal articles. I like interacting with my former faculty colleagues, who I admire and respect,” he says.

McGuire and his wife, Sandy, travel often; in the spring of 2015 they visited World War II sites in Germany and in April 2016 will offer their fourth guided tour of Ireland for alums and parents.

Professor Emeritus of Political Science Peter Beckman retired in 2001 after 30 years at the Colleges. During his tenure, he advised students, led several study abroad programs and published multiple books. In 2012, Beckman received the Alumni and Alumnae Associations’ Distinguished Faculty Award. He now lives in Chapel Hill, N.C. with his wife, Toby.

“Since leaving, I taught part-time for several universities in the Chapel Hill area—but that turned out to be work, so I retired again!” he jokes.

His focus has shifted from writing about nuclear weapons and international relations to fictional murder mysteries. Three of his novels have been self-published and are available on Amazon and at the College Store: A Lecture to Die For, Of Mountains, Sunsets, and Murder and In Terror’s Wake. The protagonist in his books is a professor of political science at a small liberal arts college in upstate New York. Beckman is currently working on his fourth novel.

Of his time at the Colleges, Beckman says he continued to learn every day. “That’s the part I miss most,” he says. “I got a hell of a fine education at Hobart and William Smith even if it took me 30 years to graduate!”


Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.