William Arthur Ward once wrote, “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” For many Notre Dame alums, that inspirational teacher was discovered at some point during the four years they studied in the shadow of Our Lady atop the Dome. In turn, that inspiration may have provided confirmation about an intended major field of study. Or perhaps it was just the opposite, leading to a whole new pursuit of specialized knowledge. In looking back, the Golden Domer asked readers to identify their favorite professor and to provide the reasons behind their selection. Enjoy and remember…
Dan Kimball ‘68 – “My favorite has to be Robert F. O’Brien, Associate Professor of Music. Of course, no one who knew him for more than five minutes ever called him anything but OB. I studied under him, worked with him and traveled with him for all four years.
He was the only professor I looked up to visit after graduation on my few visits back to campus. He taught me that I could do things I had never done before. Junior year, when I signed up to audition for the concert band he asked if I would audition for a seat in the French Horn section in spite of the fact I had never played the French Horn even once in my life. With his encouragement I taught myself to play in less than a week. Even today I am not afraid of doing things I have never done before. Few people have influenced me the way he did.”
Mary Ann Topping ’79 – “This made me dust off a few cobwebs and think about the professors in my undergraduate life. I was an American Studies major and although the major scored really low in after graduation employment opportunities (I never even knew a career office existed on campus), it was so much fun - and it was the professors that made it that way!
Elizabeth Christman left the corporate world of Book Publishing as a literary agent to teach a class in that subject at ND. I took her course "Writing for Publication". She encouraged all of us to become the best writers and critics we could be and did it with such a personal approach that we all felt mentored and supported. She even had us over for a class dinner at the end of the semester in her home. Talk about someone who had ultimate faith in her students…she served spaghetti with red sauce to all of us in her white carpeted living room! It was wonderful to have someone who cared and who remembered each and every one of her students! She was one of two female professors I had during my four years at Notre Dame. As the 3rd class of admitted women into the University, this was unusual and welcomed.”
Gary Sobolewski ’74 – “My favorite professor was David Appel. I was a Marketing major, and Dr. Appel was a young professor back in the mid-70’s. As opposed to many professors, he was much more laid back, and had conversations, not lectures. He always brought the topic into real world terms. I always looked forward to his classes.
He ultimately rose to chair the Marketing Department. He passed away in 1999 at the all too early age of 56, a victim of Alzheimer’s disease.”
Robert J. Gibbons ’69 – “It was the art history class I would take from Professor Robert Leader that would open my eyes to places and experiences far beyond.
There was, of course, an official syllabus and a grey-covered book he had written that was lavishly illustrated. But Dr. Leader didn’t teach from that book; he would set up a slide projector in the middle aisle and a screen at the front of the room; he taught from the slides he had taken in his travels to cities large and small, all across the world.
But what stayed with me is that he had been there! Perhaps that only encouraged me to go where he had gone, to see some of what he had seen, to show it to my children - to understand it and to try to share my appreciation for it.
I once Googled Dr. Leader, and recognized him and his moustache immediately. I was surprised to find that he had been party to an important historical event. As an 18-year-old Marine, he was in the squad that captured the summit of Mt. Suribachi and famously helped to raise the flag on Iwo Jima on February 24, 1945. He was wounded in later fighting there and married the nurse who helped him recuperate.
He came to Notre Dame to teach in 1953 and stayed for 36 years. He passed away in 2006 and his obituary noted that for many years, his art history course was “…the most popular elective.”
And for me, the one professor that made all the difference.”
Cindy Lupica ‘80 – “Professor Tom Sudkamp was one of my favorites. Tom was a young math professor, working toward his PhD at Notre Dame. Given his age, to us students he was hip, savvy,
and fun. He was also an amazing basketball player, having been Mr. Bookstore in 1977 and the Bookstore Basketball MVP in 1978.
“Suds” lived on U.S. 31 in a second-story apartment above a business - maybe a hardware store. He regularly invited students to his apartment for food and fellowship. He was also kind, caring, and helpful to those of us who might have sat in the back of his class, sometimes paying attention, sometimes not.”
Joe Hornett ’76 – “I picked my major (Management) based on all of the faculty in that one department. Bill Sexton, Gerry Sequin, Sal Bella, and John Houck were all forces to be reckoned with, each in their own right, and as a team they were just incredibly special. They were all engaging and approachable, while their classes were both rigorous and entertaining. And the added bonus of John Houck was that he always brought a touch of his own Notre Dame professor/mentor into the classroom…Frank O’Malley. These men were quite the group…teaching business WITH ethics.”
Jeanine Sterling ’76 – “I was an English major during the 70’s, and we had an incredible faculty. One of my favorite teachers was Professor Tom Werge. His expertise and interests ranged far beyond one category of literature. I was lucky enough to take two of his classes before graduating – one on the writings of Mark Twain and one on Dante’s Divine Comedy. Just a little eclectic! He was one of those teachers who really read our essays and gave detailed, wonderful feedback on our writing. I use his advice to this day as a researcher and writer. He was also the kindest teacher I’ve ever had, sharing stories about his family and his beloved Cubs – and always having time to meet, talk and advise.”
Cathy Wedelstaedt ’79 – “My favorite professors were Dr. Rudy Bottei and Dr. Xavier Creary of the Chemistry Department. They were excellent educators and taught well organized, yet
challenging lectures and labs focused on analytical chemistry and structural organic chemistry. I had a real interest in pursuing chemistry as a career, but was uncertain as to an area of specialization. They helped me discover my passion in analytical chemistry and materials characterization. Because of them, I ultimately pursued these areas in graduate school and was blessed to have a wonderful industrial research career in these fields.
Jim Minta ‘79 – “Emil T. Hoffman who taught freshman chemistry would be my favorite. His Friday seven question quizzes were legendary and none of the other professors would dare schedule any tests on Fridays.
One story about Emil involved me picking him up at the airport in Jacksonville, FL. He was our UND speaker. At the time Emil was confined to a wheelchair so I knew he would have trouble getting in my BMW sports car, so I used my son’s car that had multiple Wake Forest decals on it (he was a student there at that time). Emil looked at the car and said there was no way in hell that he was getting into a Wake Forest car. I told him that it was this or nothing. He was a great speaker that evening.
After that encounter, every time I was back on campus I would make sure to visit him. He would sit on a bench outside the Administration Building, rain or shine, and visit all of his former students.”
Tom Broz ’72 – “I can’t go without saying how grateful I am for the support that was provided to me by Donald A. Linger who was the Chairman of the Civil Engineering Department my Junior and Senior years. As i was nearing graduation I decided I wanted to go to grad school and specifically I wanted to go to the University of Illinois to study structural engineering. The University of Illinois was the No. 1 ranked Civil Engineering Department in the nation at that time, and I did not think there was any way I would be ever be accepted there. I was certainly surprised when I received a letter from Nathan M. Newmark the Chairman of the Civil Engineering Department at the U of I not only saying I had been accepted but also I had been given a full financial ride through a research assistantship. I found out later that Dr. Linger had picked up the phone and had called Dr. Newmark to speak to him about me and as we say, "the rest is history!"
Maryanne Rogers ’76 – “I had many wonderful professors at ND but one who really stands out is Fr John Dunne. He was such a joyful and inspiring teacher. I took a Theology course from him my Junior year about life and death which I found particularly insightful and meaningful. Most of my classes were math and science so this was a welcome break!”
Jack Bergen ‘77 – “I didn’t have to think long about this. Professor Ray Powell was a tough SOB. His teaching style was "no nonsense", but I learned so much from him. You could tell he had a real passion for his profession, and for that to show through for a 19 year old was meaningful. Even though I was an "accountant" for only a short time in my career, the fundamentals he ingrained in me, and all his students, would stay with us forever. To this day, I still remember him drilling, "$ signs at the top of a column and under an add line.” Seems basic, and at the time petty, but he taught discipline in addition to the mechanics of cost accounting. I still use this in any excel spreadsheet I create today!”
Bill Schneider ’75 – “Rev. James J. McGrath, C.S.C. was my Botany Professor, but he was so much more than that. He was my advisor, my mentor, my confidant, my boss, and my friend. I think he took a liking to me because we shared a similar background, we both came from big Irish Catholic families. He was a kid from Brooklyn, I was a kid from Queens. Given both of our backgrounds we never thought we'd go to The University of Notre Dame, but we did. He didn't just teach me Botany though, he taught me to appreciate all species of life. He instructed me in Oenology and all of the wonders of winemaking, and that grappa was the stout of wines. He also taught me how to photograph and develop my own pictures looking at the life cycle of plant morphology. He took me to the dunes and we spent time at St Joseph's lake collecting plankton, pickerelweed, and bulrushes.
He also counseled me that failure wasn't defeat. I went to him when I got the first D of my life and it was in Physics. I thought it was the end of the world and he told me it wasn't and that I would learn from it. Then he told me if that wasn't convincing enough, he failed Physics when he was a student here. We laughed and it alleviated my fears.
Once when I was working at the Biology lab, I brought my girlfriend to not only impress her with my fetal pigs, but to actually enlist her help in order to get my work done. Fr. McGrath came down unexpectedly, recognized my con, and rescued her to attend his wine and cheese gathering instead. He told her, "Let's leave Bill so he can finish his work.” He knew what I was up to.
Fr. McGrath taught me that the study of Biology was more than a textbook, he taught me that all life forms served a purpose in the universe. They were all connected, contiguous, and interdependent. My studies with him would reveal that all of life is something of man, but more importantly, something of God.”