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PROFESSORS OF THE CENTURY, PART II



Clinton F. Larson, Professor of English

I nominate Clint Larson. He made me think and expanded my horizons.

—Douglas B. Pulley, ’66, Los Gatos, Calif.

Truman G. Madsen, Professor of Philosophy

I nominate Truman G. Madsen. His teaching ability has affected my life regularly for 40 years. His ability to communicate in understandable language and to make concepts applicable to everyday experiences is one reason his teachings have remained as guiding principles in my life.

—Ernest "Jay" Hardy, ’60, Fresno, Calif.

Ray T. Matheny, Professor of Anthropology

Dr. Matheny is an excellent professional and academician. He sacrificed much to balance his time between research and students. His work in establishing the BYU Field School in southern Utah is well documented.

Dr. Matheny was an effective mentor for students needing guidance in understanding the blend of science and theology required to study archaeology at BYU. He freely shared his wisdom when appropriate and pointed us in the direction of bishops and counselors as required.

Many of his students have grown to be business and academic leaders. We remain indebted to Dr. Matheny's caring efforts in the sciences and in the art of being human.

—Grace L. Duffy, ’71, Summerville, S.C.

Hugh W. Nibley, Professor of Ancient Scripture (6 nominations)

I couldn't believe, as I read the winter 1999-2000 issue of Brigham Young Magazine, pp. 36-43, that you did not include Hugh Nibley as one of your top 10 BYU professors. He is certainly more famous and celebrated a scholar, both inside and outside the Church, than any of the other nine that you profiled. Furthermore, seven of your nine ended their BYU careers as far back as the 1970s. Whoever was on your selection committee must be as old as I am.

When I joined the Church in 1960 and began what continues to be my fascination with Church history, I soon determined to quit my job with CBS television in Chicago and get a master's degree at BYU (1963-64). Why? Mostly to experience the outstanding individuals on the faculty there, especially in the areas of religion, education and communications. Among the ones I really valued were Carmon Hardy, Heber Wolsey, Alonzo Morley, Richard Cracroft (who was in my city ward bishopric), Hyrum Andrus, etc., but most particularly, Hugh Nibley. Through his books and Church magazine articles, his reputation had become known even to a new convert.

My faculty advisor was Hyrum Andrus. I asked him about one of Nibley's courses called, The Primitive Church; "What's it about?" I asked. He chuckled and said, "It will be about whatever Brother Nibley is studying at the moment!" I took the class for credit, and it was one of the most incredible experiences I'd ever had. What we studied was ancient texts, in Coptic and other ancient Middle Eastern languages, those that had been found at Qumran, Nag Hamadi and elsewhere. He would read these texts, from the original languages, extemporaneously, sometimes criticizing their translation into English in the texts he used.

What fascinated me most was that his teaching "technique," if you could call it that, violated every canon of good teaching I was learning in my education classes. He would lecture as he walked down the corridor to the classroom, lecture the entire class time (unless someone waved a hand in his face to ask a question) and continue to lecture as the bell rang and he exited the room back down the corridor. He gave no homework assignments, other than to tell us the names of the books from which he was quoting, gave no quizzes, assigned no papers, etc. He pointedly didn't bother to learn our names, although we were a relatively small class of graduate students. He said he had tried to learn the names of all his students in his early days of teaching, but there had been so many, he didn't even try any more. Yet we never felt insulted or slighted by that.

At the end of the course he assigned several open-ended questions, from which we could choose four to answer, at home, open book, and turn in by a certain deadline. He gave us no guidelines or parameters of what he expected. Just a limit in length: one-half page on each question, as I remember. I drafted, edited, rewrote and then typed my answers, single-spaced on two pages, taking exactly one-half page per question. I crammed as much as I could into those half-pages. I was so anxious as I turned in the exam and waited for the result. It was the entire basis for the grade for the class. I had no idea of whether I had given him what he wanted and expected. I had no clue what grade I would get. Finally, I went back at the appointed hour and got my test. To my incredulous delight, there was an ‘A’ at the top of the first page. He made no written comments on the paper, except to correct my consistently erroneous spelling of the word "apostasy." I still have no clue what he expected.

Being in his class and trying to take notes was like visiting Niagara Falls and trying to catch its falling waters in a teacup. Nibley spouted continuous fountains of knowledge, seldom, if ever, writing anything on the blackboard and never using any audiovisual aids at all. It was up to us to catch or make note of whatever we could. Eventually the tendency was to forget about taking notes and just let the waterfall of spewing knowledge wash over you. But despite his violating all the canons of traditional good teaching, this was one of the greatest learning experiences I've ever had, witnessed by these sharp memories of it that have lasted these 36 years. He was just a unique phenomenon of education and scholarship.

I decided then to take all of his classes I could, but to audit them, to eschew the pressure of grades and credit, but I got just as much out of it anyway, in a relaxed fashion. He didn't care whether you were auditing or taking for credit, or had just walked in off the street. He was just excitedly sharing, as Hyrum Andrus had correctly predicted, the products of his latest research into materials in a variety of ancient languages, all of which he was fluent in. His forums, devotionals and other speeches and presentations were just like his classes, an endless waterfall of knowledge.

But through it all emerged several things which made one forget all of the instructional "sins" he was committing: First, a wonderful sense of humor and irony; sometimes he seemed like an eye-twinkling elf or leprechaun. Second, a humble and selfless attitude; never did he think it unusual or self-glorifying, the amount of knowledge, ability and accomplishment that he had achieved or had been gifted with. The focus always was on the current project of research. Third, a testimony; everything he discovered and communicated was supportive of a testimony of God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, modern prophets from Joseph Smith to the current one, and the true and everlasting nature of the gospel and revelation to man.

And of the Book of Mormon, how I envied those in his Book of Mormon classes, which were restricted to foreign and non-member students, as I recall, so I was not eligible. So he was both the worst teacher (methods-wise), but the one that gave me the best learning experience that I've ever had. Contact with him alone was worth the year and a half, the money and the effort of coming to BYU to get a master's in communication! Surely he warrants your strongest consideration for the other slot among your top 10 BYU teachers of all time. His era at BYU overlaps those of most of the others you've named. Here's hoping many other alumni voices will be added to mine in his nomination.

—Robert W. Donigan, MA ’64, Kapolei, Hawaii


We just received and read with astonishment your selection of "Top 10 BYU Professors of the 20th Century." It is inconceivable that Hugh Nibley was omitted!!! He influenced thousands, not only through his books, priesthood lesson manuals, and articles in Improvement Eraand Ensign,but also through his classes and public lectures. One huge influence is FARMS, whose existence and most associated scholars are there because of Bro. Nibley.

While my father would agree with Bro. Hales as a top 10 choice, he would have to say that in physical science none was more important than Harvey Fletcher. And Prof. Hall, the synthesizer of diamonds, made more important contributions than almost any other. And if you are going to select a physicist also important as an administrator, Franklin Harris should not be overlooked.

As a former student of and TA for Bro. Bradford, I agree with that choice. I would also add that William Dyer was influential as a sociologist, teacher, consultant, and founder of organizational behavior in the School of Management (and teacher of most of the present faculty therein).

There are also current faculty members, such as Noel Reynolds, whose absence from the list is conspicuous. And as teachers of religion (and other disciplines) with profound impact on many, Lynn McKinlay and Chauncey Riddle should not be overlooked.

—T. Allen Lambert, ’66, Ithaca, N.Y.


You have made nine excellent choices for the BYU professors of the 20th century. In my opinion, number 10 is Hugh Nibley. Here are my reasons:

1. At 90 years of age (as of March 2000) Nibley still comes to the library to do research on his writings. Currently he is finishing "One Eternal Round," which is about the hypocephalus shown in facsimile no. 2 in the Pearl of Great Price.

2. He has affected the lives of many people, from basketball player Kresimir Cosic to converts like myself.

3. He has written over 15 books and over 200 articles, not to mention the many talks he has given.

4. He has not only written about ancient history and religion, but is a critic of society (in favor of Zion) and has met with the Brethren concerning the temple endowment and other topics.

5. Although he was never an administrator of any kind, he served for many years as a gospel doctrine teacher, helping members of the Church arrive at an eternal perspective towards life.

6. He has not taught for some years now; yet even freshman students have heard of him and are awed by his knowledge and wisdom.

7. Finally, BYU Todayconsidered him important enough to feature him on the cover of its February 1984 issue.

—Gary Gillum, MLS ’71, Springville, Utah


Hugh Nibley has done more to inspire combining a spiritual and scholastic study of the Book of Mormon than any other person or group of men I know of. I know he touched the students he had, as I associated with some of them. But I admire the worldwide scope of his teaching and the inspiration he has been not only to his students but also to thousands such as myself who never had a class from him but who found his scholarly approach—mingled as it always was with the spirit and without the slightest wavering on his part relative to basic and even profound gospel subjects—to be enlightening, uplifting and superbly documented. His is the stuff that adds a scholarly dimension of confidence to an already existing testimony born of the Spirit.

—Jay A. Ferrell, Marysville, Wash.


It was hard for me to believe that Hugh Nibley was not among the nine nominations featured in your winter edition. Nibley is a BYU icon. He is the consummate defender of the faith, not just at BYU, but for Church members throughout the world. He has inspired two or three generations of students to pursue courses of education in a wide variety of disciplines and to seek employment in teaching and doing research at BYU and other universities. He is a role model and idol for those who themselves are held in the highest esteem by students and faculty at BYU. Hugh Nibley has been a counselor to prophets and apostles. And who has been more prolific in the written word that has reached around the world and continued to inspire study by graduates and non-graduates than Hugh Nibley? My nomination words are inadequate and certainly not prepared with care, but they come from a great depth of feeling.

—Russell Fotheringham, ’97, Canyon Country, Calif.


Brother Hugh Nibley—never has there been a professor with greater knowledge; yet he is the most humble person I have ever known.

—Diana I. Stanley, ’96, Saint George, Utah

Henry J. Nicholes, Professor of Zoology (2 nominations)

The two greatest teachers in my BYU life were father and son, Joseph K. Nicholes (chemistry) and Henry J. Nicholes (zoology). Both taught a very demanding curriculum and made it fun and understandable.

Henry J. Nicholes had learned a lot about teaching from his father. His physiology and anatomy class was a favorite of everyone studying for a degree in zoology or taking pre-med or something related. He was always available outside of class to help someone that was struggling. I don't know how long he stayed at the Y. I had some classes from him during one year, but that was all and they were all superb.

—Jay A. Ferrell, Marysville, Wash.


Dr. Nicholes taught physiology. His last lecture of the year he opened the class up to anonymous questions regarding the birds and the bees. His classes were packed for these lectures. He was nearly 70 and he married a 29-year-old co-ed after his wife passed away. The students loved him. He's in my top ten!

—Thomas J. Payne, ’82, Vista, Calif.

Joseph K. Nicholes, Professor of Chemistry (4 nominations)

I would like to submit the name of Joseph K. Nicholes, professor of chemistry, in nomination for the unfilled 10th spot as per the winter 1999-2000 issue of BY Magazine. By 1950, I had served in the Pacific during World War II as an army infantryman and had completed a mission for the Church to the Palestine Syrian Mission. I came to BYU as a freshman in the fall of that year on the GI Bill as an unmatriculated student who had entered the military before finishing high school. It had been more than six years since I had left school, and I was very concerned about taking some of the more difficult courses because of my lack of background.

With trepidation, I enrolled in my first quarter of inorganic chemistry in a class taught by Professor Nicholes. The results of my first exam confirmed my worst fears, and I felt unprepared and inadequate to compete. After the class session in which we had been given our test results, I went up to Professor Nicholes and asked for permission to speak with him. I expressed my concerns to him; then, in his kind, gentle manner he encouraged me to continue, giving me excellent counsel on what I could do to succeed in his class and in my future education. He told me I could come to him at any time, and he often came by to see me as I worked in the laboratory. He gave me confidence in myself as no one had ever done before. We became friends, and I worked very hard—not so much for good grades, but in order to vindicate his confidence in me.

The school year ended, and I was an ‘A’ student in chemistry! I have always been grateful to him for giving me the encouragement and help that I so sorely needed at a crossroads in my life. I shall always remember him for his kindness and gentleness and for his genuine concern. My life was changed forever, and I grew in confidence and ability from my contact with him to where I became a successful and diligent student.

I married, and when we had our first child Joseph K. Nicholes came to the hospital to be among the first to offer his congratulations. I went on to receive my BA and MS degrees at BYU and a professional degree at the University of California, and, by the standards of the world, I have been successful. Even though I am now in my retirement years, I know in my heart that I owe so very much to Joseph K. Nicholes and what he did for me—so many years ago.

—James J. McFarlane, ’53, MA ’55, Morgan, Utah


The two greatest teachers in my BYU life were father and son, Joseph K. Nicholes (chemistry) and Henry J. Nicholes (zoology). Both taught a very demanding curriculum and made it fun and understandable. I believe Joseph was dean of chemistry at that time, but I am not sure. Joseph's lecture class was in one of the large lecture rooms of the brand new Eyring Science Building. But even in that setting of a very large class, each person seemed important to him. He was always in good humor and prepared to demonstrate new concepts in a way that simplified them for the students. I can still close my eyes and see that class of almost 48 years ago.

—Jay A. Ferrell, Marysville, Wash.


I have always thought that I attended BYU during a "Golden Age" (1935-39), and my belief is strengthened by my observation that six of the nine Top 10 BYU professors listed in the winter edition were at the university during my time of attendance. At the risk of further overloading the list of nominees with another professor of this era I would like to nominate Professor Joseph K. Nicholes, professor of chemistry. Professor Nicholes was a very inspirational teacher who made an indelible impression on all of his students. He is directly responsible for many students choosing chemistry as a life work and then going on for advanced degrees. Among his students was Dr. Paul Boyer, a Nobelist, who praised Prof. Nicholes in an article in BY Magazine about a year ago. Several BYU chemistry teachers were his students. Drs. Albert Swenson, Smith Broadbent and Clark Gubler come to mind. Professor Nicholes portrayed chemistry not as a dull science, but as a living heritage with untold possibilities for serving mankind. He loved and took an interest in each one of his students, and was a constant source of encouragement to many during the Depression era, when discouragement was rife. I, for one, owe him a debt of gratitude which I can never repay.

—Shirl E. Cook, ’39, Hereford, Ariz.


I was very pleased by your list of outstanding professors of the 20th Century. For the open slot I wish to nominate Joseph K. Nicholes, who was a professor of chemistry from the mid-1930s until the late 1950s or perhaps the early 1960s. Professor Nicholes was, to my recollection, the most popular professor in the Chemistry Department. He was a superb teacher and showed a deep concern for the progress of each and every student. Albert Swensen, retired professor of chemistry at BYU could tell you much more about Professor Nicholes.

—Floyd C. McIntire, ’36, Denver, Colo.

Leon E. Orme, Professor of Animal Science

My recommendation for the 10th spot is Dr. Leon E. Orme from the Department of Animal Science. I would nominate Dr. Orme for two main reasons: he was technically competent and passed it on to his students in classes, and he demonstrated more concern for his students than any other professor I have encountered—and I have been to a lot of schools. Leon Orme was recognized in the field of animal science in his major area of emphasis, which was meats. He held national positions in the professional organizations he was a member of and conducted and published pertinent research. He also received much national recognition in these societies, notably receiving the outstanding teaching award both in the western section of the American Society of Animal Science and in the American Meat Science Association. His classes were up to date and required a great deal from his students. He also he kept them aware of what was happening nationally and brought national recognition to the Animal Science Department at BYU. Everything he did, from speaking to producer groups to judging livestock shows, reflected well on the university. He also worked to link the large Church agricultural holdings with agriculture at BYU, providing numerous good learning opportunities for students. Students always came first for Dr. Orme. He advised the student clubs—especially the Block and Bridle Club—and coached the meats and livestock judging teams. He took a personal interest in his students. This interest ranged from helping them find internships, schedule classes and find needed jobs to giving needed blessings to students or their spouses in times of trial and need. As with all good teachers, he made life exciting and challenging for his students. He always emphasized taking full advantage of the opportunities available. Overall he was an exceptional teacher that more than deserves the recognition.

—Keith Adams, ’75, Farmersville, Ohio

George W. Pace, Professor of Church History and Doctrine

I would like to nominate Brother George Pace, not only for his teaching ability, which is wonderful, but also for his compassion and commitment. He truly cared for his students and gave hours of his time, even taking them into his home when the need arose. As one of those students who had the opportunity to spend a week in the Pace home, I know that he lived the things that he taught, as did his lovely wife. He gave hours to counseling and strengthening students’ testimonies, both in class and individually. In the years following my time at BYU, my five brothers also had the opportunity to learn from Bro. Pace. Perhaps the greatest lesson he taught was by example during what must have been difficult time for him. My brother, who was in his class, sat in a devotional where a general authority straightforwardly denounced a teaching on prayer which Bro. Pace had been teaching in all sincerity. Later that day, as my brother walked into his class, he wondered what would be said. Bro. Pace responded by stating his love for the general authority and faithful following of the brethren. My brother and others in that class learned more in that moment about truly following the Lord, without excuses or rationalization, than all the lecturing in the world could have taught. As a family, we will always be grateful for the great influence that Brother George Pace had in all of our lives.

—Ramona R. Hazlett, ’74, Pocatello, Idaho

Melvin J. Peterson, Professor of Church History and Doctrine

I might add a vote for Melvin Peterson, my Book of Mormon professor. I was a non-member at the time I took his class, and frankly, at the time I thought what he was teaching was a "bunch of hooey"…God and Christ appearing to an illiterate 14-year-old boy…right!! Only later did I come to fully appreciate Brother Peterson's quiet yet sincere presentation of the Book of Mormon and of how it came about. He was very patient with a "doubting Thomas," and did not turn me off to a later investigation of the gospel (I was baptized a year after taking Brother Peterson's class). I doubt that he ever knew I joined the Church, and he probably doesn’t remember me as a student, but he did have a profound influence on my life.

—Steven Taff, ’69, Gig Harbor, Wash.

Alvin H. Price, Professor of Child Development and Family Relationships

My choice for #10 would be Alvin Price from the Child Development Department. He was an awesome teacher, entertaining as well as intelligent. I learned an awful lot about the development of children, and any man who would wear a hippie wig to talk about adolescent behavior deserves a reward. He was wonderful and definitely unforgettable.

—Debbie Miller Williams, ’74, San Antonio, Texas

Klaus-Michael Seibt, Professor of History

No hesitation on this one. K. Michael Seibt was my favorite professor at BYU. He was the instructor for a required world history course during fall 1982. Wow! He made me think! I prepared all week for his class and didn't even resent it.

Tough but inspirational, academically. Although I had many fine professors, none made the impression he did. I can still recall so much of the information from that course, long after I have forgotten other courses in their entirety!

Although he was a very entertaining and intelligent man, the reason he made such a lasting impression was the way he brought out the best in me. Even with a large class, I felt stimulated and motivated each week. I never skipped his class the way I did so many others.

I don't normally respond to opinion surveys, but I feel obligated to acknowledge a wonderful teacher and say thank you.

—Sheree L. Setzer, ’80, Phoenix, Ariz.

W. Cleon Skousen, Professor of Ancient Scripture

Having just received my alumni magazine, I noted with interest your request for nominations for professors of the century. The professor for whom I feel the most pleasant memory, and for whom I hold an abiding respect, is W. Cleon Skousen.

Brother Skousen taught me the Book of Mormon, a document with which I had absolutely no familiarity whatsoever. As a practicing Roman Catholic I knew virtually nothing of Mormons other than that our state's governor had been George Romney, who was most well-loved by all Michiganders.

The programmed learning approach which Brother Skousen employed, while perhaps inclusive of certain controversial bits of his personal bias not inconsistent with his well-known ultra-conservative bent, was very effective as a teaching method. The work was a bit laborious, what with all the carbon papers and nightly assignments, but the results were students with a very good handle on this "scripture."

I found that through his classes (I recall taking the second course under his tutelage also) I knew more about the text than many soon-to-be missionaries who shared dorm space with me in Hinckley Hall. I can still recall much of the material these 25 years on.

More importantly, I found Brother Skousen to be immensely respectful of my own beliefs and faith, and I most appreciate how he took many opportunities to share with my classmates any occasion to demonstrate commonality between the Mormon faith and my own Catholic faith. Specifically, I recall him mentioning one day something to the effect that "Brother Hayes and we share a common abhorrence for the notion of abortion, do we not, Dennis?"

I appreciated his kindness and self-assurance with a stranger—something I did not always enjoy from other professors, many of whom, upon learning of my non-LDS status, tended to engage me to a far lesser degree.

How he stands in a long line of fine and excellent professors, I am quite sure I am unable to say. I felt a need to salute him. If he is still alive, I wish him all the best.

—Dennis Hayes, ’74, Allen Park, Mich.

Jay M. Smith, Professor of Accounting

I would like to nominate Jay M. Smith, Jr., professor of accounting 1972-1995, for the #10 spot on top 10 professors. Jay Smith dedicated his entire career to teaching. Even though he could have been brilliant in the professional world of accounting and have had a very lucrative lifestyle, he chose to use his expertise in training the younger generations to be the best that they could be and to excel in their profession. Over the past 27 years, I have heard comments from many former students who have said, "Prof. Smith was not my easiest teacher, but I came out of his class with a sure knowledge of what he taught, and I had worked for every point." They had learned to work hard and strive for a higher level of self-discipline.

He was always available to help any student who had questions, and often had them in his office when I would come to visit. Even though Prof. Smith did not teach the masses of students that English, religion and math teachers did, he touched all of those who took his classes and felt a passion for the profession of accounting. He led by example and enthusiasm.

The main reason that Prof. Smith should be considered for this position is not only for what he did while at BYU, but for the legacy he left. During most professors’ final years, the thought is many times, "Only two more years until I retire." Prof. Smith's thoughts were, "How can I make this program better for the future before I leave it?" He spent his final years furiously working to revamp the entire accounting program. He made it more student-friendly, having the teachers rotate through the students instead of students going to so many classes. He put in hundreds of extra hours at home and visiting other colleges to make the program the best that it could be.

That new program has been so successful that it has been copied in many other colleges now. They have realized the positive aspects of it and have correlated it into their programs. Prof. Smith envisioned it and helped inspire others to envision it. He also stayed long enough to see it implemented and watch its beginning success. Not many teachers have the desire to leave with a bang—by the time retirement comes, they are tired and ready to quit. It is true that the last couple of months before he retired, he was looking forward to his new passions of genealogy and temple work, but that was only because he had seen and assisted in instigating and fulfilling his vision of what an even greater accounting program BYU could and would now have.

I watch the efforts of this professor from a unique standpoint. I am his daughter, so I saw the hours of effort he committed to BYU. I had four brothers take courses from him, three in the old agenda and one in the new agenda, and I saw them work harder than in any other class, not getting an easy break just because they knew the teacher. I have beamed with pride in many places that I have visited in the country, running into people who had my father as a professor and listening to them say how grateful they were for his influence in their life.

Jay M. Smith, Jr. will always be #1 in my book, but for his dedication to BYU and his vision and success in restructuring the current accounting program, I think he should at least fit the bill for #10 on your list. Thank you.

—Cynthia S. Clyde, Mapleton, Utah

Vern Sommerfeldt, Professor of Ancient Scripture

I heartily endorse Vern Sommerfeldt of BYU's Department of Ancient Scripture for the 10th spot on your list. Brother Sommerfeldt is, in my experience, the most gifted gospel teacher in the entire religion department and probably the entire university. I recognize this is a strong claim, but the vast majority of his students would agree with me, making me only one of many to tout the wonderfulness of this man!

Brother Sommerfeldt has an uncommon ability to bring the Spirit into every class. His love for students is always evident. His knowledge of the scriptures is sound. Most importantly, he gives his students tools necessary for a lifetime of enjoyable, soul-saving, consistent scripture study. You might say, "Isn't that what all religion professors do?" I can only reply that it would be great if they did! Placing Brother Sommerfeldt on your top 10 list would be a wonderful way to honor a man who has dedicated his life to the gospel, to the scriptures, and to his students!

—Matt Connelly, ’99, Bountiful, Utah

Albert D. Swensen, Professor of Chemistry

I would like to nominate Albert D. Swensen for the 10th position in this category. He was an outstanding professor in the Chemistry Department.

—Louise Esplin, ’72, Ft. Collins, Colo.

Stanley A. Taylor, Professor of Political Science

I nominate Stanley Taylor for one of the top professors of the 20th century. I found Dr. Taylor to be actually interested in how his students were learning and how they were applying this knowledge to the world. He invited students into his home, and he shared a world of experience with us and made us want to go on to important things. Some of his students became assistants to presidents of the United States and major players on the international stage. His lectures were always full of meaning, and his presentation made the material real.

—Brent Hall, ’69, Vernal, Utah

Gordon K. Thomas, Professor of English

Thank you very much for your latest issue. Your wonderfully nostalgic look at the last century mended the sore spot left on my heart by a really bad "you can't go home again" moment I had in front of the new library only days before. So while BYU is no longer "my" BYU, you reminded me that my time there is intact in my heart and memories. I treasure those years as some of the happiest of my life.

I was especially moved by "A Lingering Influence: Top 10 BYU Professors of the 20th Century." While I have had many wonderful teachers over the course of obtaining my degrees, Gordon Thomas of the English Department remains my most influential teacher. Dr. Thomas awoke in me the desire to be more than a merely good student when he wrote across the bottom of a paper, "Ideas this good deserve careful proofreading." It was a small piece of criticism, but with it he changed the way I thought about myself as a scholar. Over the course of two classes, he challenged me to strip away the dross in my writing and thinking and clearly attack the issue under discussion, seeking communication and provoking response rather than simple acknowledgement. I never felt that I fully met his expectations, but I never felt diminished by my failures either.

I didn't become an English teacher because of Dr. Thomas; but as one I can more fully recognize his strengths today than I could as a student. He remains my ideal, and I actively strive each semester to bring to my students the excitement and love of learning that he brought to my classmates and me. And Dr. Thomas, if you're reading this, I'm teaching students that writing a well-crafted, two-page paper is easier (and more rewarding) than writing a five-page paper that says nothing.

—Mary Hjelm, ’90, Idaho Falls, Idaho

Douglas F. Tobler, Professor of History

I would name Douglas Tobler, of the History Department, as, at least for me, the top professor I encountered at BYU. What made Dr. Tobler such a great teacher was that he had unrelentingly high expectations of his students—he accepted no excuses and he graded mercilessly. It is quite possible that my GPA would have been considerably better if I had not sought out his classes, but it is certain that I would not have learned nearly as much. He was the rare (almost only) teacher I encountered at BYU who consistently insisted that students produce their best work and who could (and did) unerringly identify a second-rate effort. Frankly, I rarely cracked a book in my four years at BYU because there was generally no need to—his classes were the wonderful exception.

While his expectations were high, he also consistently put forth his best efforts in instruction. His lectures were fascinating. He told the story of history as well as anyone I have ever heard, to this day. It was clear that he loved history and he loved teaching. I remember meeting at his house for the final reading of our senior project papers, eating homemade brownies and hearing his insightful dissection of my work.

—Jim Shultis, ’73, Shoreline, Wash.

Kent Van De Graaff, Professor of Zoology (2 nominations)

My all-time favorite professor was Dr. Kent Van De Graaff, who taught (and wrote the texts for) Anatomy and Physiology. His lectures were fascinating and his labs were fun. From freshman general education to my master's courses, I never worked harder in any class than I did in anatomy. But what really stands out in my mind is his zest for life, even after having most or all of his stomach removed because of cancer. He loved teaching and the subjects he was teaching, and he passed on his enthusiasm to his students.

—Janette Ashby Adams, ‘89, Spokane, Wash.


I would like to nominate Dr. Kent Van De Graaff, professor of physiology 1980-85. He was a wonderful teacher and motivator! The classes were huge, and all loved him.

—Eric E. Stones, ‘85, Moses Lake, Wash.

Steven C. Walker, Professor of English

I hope I am not too late to submit my recommendation for your #10 position of favorite professor of all time. No such list would be complete without Steven C. Walker. As I recall, his classes always had standing-room-only sign-ups, and I don’t remember him ever turning anyone away when the time came to sign add cards. He would have us introduce ourselves, one by one, on the first day of class. Often there were well over 120 of us in any given class. Five minutes after we introduced ourselves, most of us strangers to both him and each other, he would recite back to us, making eye contact all the while, our names, one after the other, thereby personalizing his mode of teaching.

Such was my first introduction to Dr. Walker, or "Steve," as he was affectionately referred to by those of us who were brave enough to sign on for more than one of his courses in English literature. His classes were lively and articulate, humorous and humoring to those of us who fluctuated between despair of ever memorizing enough facts for a biology test and glee from recalling Dickens or Browning lines for one of Steve’s own comprehensive exams. He treated all of his students as individuals and accepted all arguments or opinions as valued contributions to his class discussions. Once he even told one group of us that we were "a wonderfully cantankerous group" and that he for one "loved us beyond comprehension."

I value many experiences of my days at BYU, but none more than those I spent at the feet of this wonderful professor, mentor, hero, and friend. His recent Christmas card told me that he was pondering the possibilities of retirement. I hate to think of future generations never knowing for themselves what a truly treasured addition he made to the BYU lineup of esteemed teachers.

—Sara E. Gaston, ’92, Lancaster, Calif.

Mack J. Wilberg, Professor of Music (2 nominations)

I would like to nominate Mack Wilberg as one of the top 10 professors in BYU's history. I auditioned for the BYU concert choir for four years in a row and finally got in during my senior year, 1993-94. It was worth the wait. My time with Brother Wilberg was the highlight of my years at BYU. For an hour each day I was challenged, moved and inspired. I got to perform in the hymns of thanksgiving broadcast (which I still listen to daily), in general conference, in Music and the Spoken Word with the Tabernacle Choir, and at a national conference in California. Brother Wilberg was a master composer and conductor, but also a master teacher. I now sing in the Baltimore Symphony Chorus with experienced vocalists and world-famous conductors, and none of these men has impressed me as much as Brother Wilberg. Some of them have his high standards of musicianship, but none of them have his magical ability to motivate people. He consistently manages to make inexperienced, immature singers sound and behave like professionals, and that is great teaching.

—Cathy Mooney Koncurat, ‘94, Baltimore, Md.


I am nominating Dr. Mack Wilberg as a professor who has had a profound impact on my life, not only while I attended BYU, but even to this day. I had the extraordinary opportunity to participate in the Brigham Young University Men’s Chorus for five years.

Attending choir practice was the highlight of each day. Performing in the chorus built self-confidence, love of song, desire for excellence, friendships, and perhaps most endearing, a host of rich memories and experiences that will travel with me all the days of my life. Those days were days I look back on with a sentimental fondness and longing.

Currently Dr. Wilberg is serving as the associate director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I have a mixture of sorrow and excitement for this recent change—sorrow for the BYU community, which will indeed miss his rare mix of talent and tolerance, and excitement for the rest of the Church (and in reality, the world), which will have the opportunity to be moved by his gift of music.

In 1990 I was asked to write a tribute to Dr. Wilberg and to my experience in the Men’s Chorus. Following is a copy of that letter:

To whom it may concern:

I have been associated with Dr. Mack Wilberg for over four years. During this time I, as a member of the Brigham Young University Men's Chorus, have been privileged to observe his teaching style and interpersonal skills.

Dr. Wilberg's demand for excellence and precision in performance and performer alike is uniquely tamed by his genuine concern and respect for each choir member. This respect and concern motivates students to realize their potential without the unnecessary pressure that often stifles learning and desire. While a high level of achievement is required of each student, this demand is not hypocritical. Dr. Wilberg is consistently well prepared, and he maintains efficient use of class time.

Furthermore, he is flexible and able to adapt rehearsals to concentrate on problem areas, thus maximizing efficiency in class instruction. Occasionally, however, unscheduled rehearsals became necessary. These rehearsals are always planned with the convenience of the students in mind and, when time allows, enough in advance to permit the majority to attend. In these situations Dr. Wilberg is always mindful of the students’ busy schedules and is flexible with his own demands.

Frequently opportunities were given to students to excel as individuals in leadership positions, as soloists, in weekly spiritual devotionals, and in a variety of performance-related activities. These opportunities made the choir a choice and rich experience rarely offered by other instructors. Indeed, this blend of collective and individual growth is definitely in harmony with the university's goals and overall mission.

Dr. Wilberg fosters variety—not only in musical genres, but also in opportunities for musical performance. Each semester the choir had numerous performances. Some of these included Cougar Club pep rallies, professional recording sessions, combined concerts in various tabernacles (including Temple Square), high school performances, devotional assemblies, Homecoming, general priesthood meeting, and a funeral service, as well as the traditional biannual Men’s and Women’s Chorus concert and seasonal combined choir performance.

The growth of the choir is another convincing, tangible indicator of Dr. Wilberg’s success as a choral instructor. In 1985 the chorus had approximately 85 members. Since then the chorus has doubled in size—to well over 180 members.

I have been an alumnus of BYU since April 1990. In retrospect, I do not consider myself a particularly gifted or talented musician. I cannot say that Dr. Wilberg has brought out in me some latent musical talent which will inspire many. Instead, I can say with conviction and deep respect and admiration that Dr. Wilberg has inspired in me (and I am sure in others) a strong desire to continue throughout my life in the things that were taught: to realize my musical potential through progressively challenging opportunities, to seek after good music, and perhaps most importantly, to inspire others with the same love of song that he so aptly inspired in each of us. In summary, Dr. Wilberg wonderfully combines an intense passion for music with an obvious love and respect for his students—two qualities that are paramount to productive and successful learning.

Sincerely,

Jeffrey Rice


It is with great admiration and appreciation that I nominate Dr. Wilberg as one of the best instructors at Brigham Young University.

—Jeffrey Rice, ’90, Boxford, MA

Joseph S. Wood, Professor of History (2 nominations)

Without question my nomination for Professor of the Century is Dr. Joseph Wood, history professor in the late 1960s, early 1970s. After a stellar career as an accountant, he returned to the vaunted, or is that haunted, halls of academia to pursue his love of history. I remember the day he walked into class as Benjamin Franklin addressing us in character throughout the entire lecture. Dr. Wood had the great and rare ability to make history live for himself and especially for his students. I, along with my brother Wayne Voorheis, who now works for the university, was fortunate to take several classes from Dr. Wood. Dr. Wood would refer to Wayne and me as the "brothers from New York," making reference to the Smith brothers, Hyrum and Joseph.

A few years after graduation, I was on a return visit to BYU when I became aware that Dr. Wood had suffered a severe stroke which had left him partially paralyzed with little mobility or ability to speak. Wayne and I visited him at his home in Salt Lake, where we found him overcoming just one more obstacle in life with the same zeal and goodwill that he brought to his classroom. I was moved to tears by the inspiration of that man. Few teachers have ever inspired me with the confidence to succeed as did Dr. Wood. Professor of the Century? Better yet, "Teacher of the Century"—a more fitting title!

Now I, at age 50, have entered graduate school to secure a master's degree in teaching, in large part because of the example and inspiration of Dr. Joseph Wood. Perhaps I'll be fortunate enough, after my 28-year career in business, to become an effective enough teacher to positively touch some young person’s life as positively as Dr. Wood has touched mine. And maybe someday, when I am "old enough," I'll come and teach at BYU. Thanks for listening!

—Melvin L. Voorheis, ’71, Trumansburg, N.Y.


Without a doubt—Joe Wood, history professor. It has been over 30 years since I took history from Brother Wood, but I do remember that he is the only history teacher I ever had in college or high school that made history anything but boring. His lectures made it seem as if we (the students) were actually there at the historical event he was describing. He would add some of the less-known facts that helped to humanize many of the historic characters of which he spoke. In short, he made the study of history actually fun.

—Steven Taff, ’69, Gig Harbor, Wash.

David H. Yarn, Professor of Philosophy

I nominate David Yarn, a religion teacher hired in the early 1950s.

—Daniel R. Allen, ’52, Paradise, Calif.

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