This issue: Summer 2021

Memorable Mentors

Six professors with a combined 185 years of service retire this summer, ending careers of incalculable impact on students

By Sean Patterson

Mark Weinert sitting in Caulder lecture hall

Mark Weinert: 39 Years

He arrived as a 30-year-old professor in the early 1980s, when he was often mistaken for a student. He retires this year “as a senior citizen on Medicare,” he jokes, after crossing paths with thousands of students and colleagues across nearly four decades.

Still, while his youthful appearance, styles and “the times” have changed, Mark Weinert says one thing hasn’t.

“We often remark on how so many things have changed in our students and in our culture, but in the things that matter, students haven’t changed at all,” he reflects. “My students have never aged. They’ve been 20 years old the whole time. They’re trying to find their way as they launch into the first years of their adult lives. They wrestle with faith as they find themselves deciding these eternal matters on their own, usually for the first time in their lives.”

It’s the invigorating thrill of helping shape those lives that kept Weinert, a member of the history department faculty for 39 years, at George Fox for so long. “It’s a delight to watch them move from tentative freshmen, feeling their way into this new world of independence, to confident and well-spoken young adults, ready to move into their next years. I have been privileged to share in that process year after year.”

In addition to teaching history, Weinert spent years as an administrator, taking on everything from directing the overseas study and Juniors Abroad programs to serving as dean of humanities, dean of records and faculty evaluation, director of the Portland Center, and associate dean of the seminary.

It was in the classroom, though, that he thrived. He most enjoyed teaching an introductory history class, The History of Western Civilization – in which, he estimates, he taught 3,500 students – as well as Presidential Elections (taught every four years since 1984), and Baseball and American Culture.

Outside the classroom, he’s visited nearly 30 countries on 20 trips with 400 students as a Juniors Abroad leader, and developed several close friendships among his peers, including a group he’s done weekly lunches with for 20 years. “One of God’s great gifts to me has been the friendships I’ve found at George Fox,” he says. “This isn’t something you think about when taking a new job, but I’ve found the best friends of my life here.”

Weinert says he’s retiring “just in time.”

“I’ve taught many children of former students and think I am retiring just in time before I have the grandchild of a former student in class,” he laughs.

His future plans include continuing as pastor of a small church he’s led the past 12 years, doing archival work for his church’s denomination, adding to the list of major league ballparks he’s visited, and catching up on “about 30 years’ worth of deferred yard work that needs to be addressed.”

John Johnson standing in front of a whiteboard with math equations on it

John Johnson: 37 Years

He doesn’t consider himself a matchmaker by any stretch of the imagination, but when you’ve been in one place for more than three decades – or, in John Johnson’s case, 37 years – you’re bound to discover that, in some small way, your class had a profound impact on lives.

Whoever said calculus was just about math?

“I had one of my students tell me his parents met in my calculus class,” Johnson recalls. “When I shared that in class, another student said, ‘Mine too.’”

Stories like those make Johnson, who retires after teaching in the math department since the Reagan administration, appreciate the personal connections he made in the George Fox community.

“I guess I loved almost everything about the job – explaining difficult math details to students, encouraging them to become good students and better people, and having outstanding colleagues, many of whom have been my good friends,” he says. “I felt I was doing something I was good at and enjoyed.”

Johnson served as department chair the past 12 years and specialized in teaching advanced mathematics courses. His favorite, he quips, was “probably Probability because the math is sophisticated yet has interesting applications.”

In addition to teaching, he enjoyed the challenge of scholarship. In one case, he discovered one of his accomplishments in a most unusual way. “I had written an article about a problem I had solved that was published in Mathematics Teacher, a National Council of Mathematics journal. Fast forward a few years. I was teaching our course in linear algebra and prepping my students for the first exam.

“At the end of the chapter were some review problems. As we went through them, a student interrupted me and asked, ‘Problem 29 … is that yours?’ Sure enough, next to problem 29 was a citation: ‘John M. Johnson, George Fox College.’ It was a question I had asked at the end of the article I had submitted years before. It was kind of surreal.”

Looking ahead, Johnson plans to pursue hobbies he enjoys and take a long vacation in the fall.

Kenn Willson sitting at a piano

Kenn Willson: 32 Years

Long before the university adopted its Be Known promise, music professor Kenn Willson made it a regular practice to know students personally. In fact, he made pupils his own promise: He would learn their names by Friday of the first week of classes.

“Other than teaching, getting to know my students was one of my favorite things to do,” says Willson, who leaves the university after teaching in the music department for 32 years. “I had a unique situation in that I taught one-on-one in applied piano. I was able to talk with each student every week to find out how they were doing. They would share things that stressed them and things they were excited about. They’d also talk about their families. These conversations gave students the knowledge that they were cared for.

“I enjoyed working with them, teaching them, watching them understand concepts, and do well on their assignments and pieces. It was a joy to see them become better musicians over the four years they were here.”

Aside from impacting students’ lives, Willson’s most lasting legacy to the university was his role in George Fox’s purchase of three Bösendorfer grand pianos – acquisitions that led to the Bösendorfer Series, an annual concert event that drew some of the world’s most accomplished pianists to Bauman Auditorium.

The series also included “Monster Piano Concerts” in which six to eight pianos were played simultaneously by 20 pianists, all of whom were students, alumni or pupils from Willson’s private studio. It was also a forum for his own scholarship project, the “Encounters with …” series, which showcased classical composers.

His dedication to the instrument culminated in 2018, when he received a Distinctive Artist Award from the Bösendorfer piano manufacturer of Vienna, Austria.

Willson plans to continue teaching piano and performing his “Encounters with …” series, and he hopes to present master classes, adjudicate festivals and judge competitions. Spending more time with family – including his two grandchildren – are also on his to-do list.

Deb Worden sitting in the baseball stadium

Deb Worden: 27 Years

An avid supporter of the university’s baseball team, business professor Deb Worden has been a fixture at Bruin home games for the better part of two decades. It wasn’t unusual, then, for a player or two to occasionally drop by her and husband Paul’s place for a bite to eat.

Or, in one instance, the whole team.

“One Sunday, at the end of a home series, Paul and I invited a handful of players up to our house to eat,” she recalls. “Before you knew it, almost the entire team showed up. We scoured the kitchen, fridge and freezer for anything and everything that Paul could put on the smoker and I could whip up. They stayed all evening.”

Impromptu dinners, a love of teaching business and road trips to ball games – including spring training in Hawaii one year – were just a few of the reasons Worden stayed at George Fox for 27 years. Tops on the list by far, though, was the countless relationships formed.

“My husband and I do not have children of our own, so some of my students became our family,” says Worden, who began befriending baseball players in 2002 upon learning many of them were business majors. “There are many who are still vitally important in our lives, and we love spending time with them.”

In fact, before the pandemic, the Wordens spent most holidays with the extended family of one alumnus and his wife, who affectionately call her “Nana Deb.” Deb and Paul have also attended several of her students’ weddings and baby showers. “We count all these young families as beloved treasures in our lives,” she says.

In the classroom, she relished the opportunity to explore the intricacies of business – particularly macroeconomics – and loved the paradoxical fact she was a student herself. “There are always new things to learn, which, by the way, is why I love teaching,” she quips.

There are too many fond memories to mention, but one in particular stands out: the day she and a contingent of supporters greeted the baseball team at Portland International Airport after the Bruins won the NCAA Division III College World Series in 2004.

Her plans moving forward include devoting more time as a board member and treasurer to the Newberg Animal Shelter, purchasing a small greenhouse to get a jump-start on the growing season, and volunteering with the Safe Families for Children social services organization through her church, Wayside Friends.

Carl Lloyd standing at the Portland Center

Carl Lloyd: 27 Years

Ask Carl Lloyd to recall his most indelible George Fox memories and a tidal wave of stories begin to flow. He shares the account of one of his students, a single mom, who would bring her infant son to the house so Carl’s wife Connie could babysit while she went to class. Or the countless times he hosted an open house during graduation weekend so students had a place to change into regalia and grandparents had a couch to rest on before attending the big event.

Another story brings a tear to his eye: The time an LGBTQ student, facing a $3,000 medical bill she couldn’t afford, was gifted $3,500 when someone in her Adult Degree Program cohort passed a collection hat around class.

“She was in tears, I was in tears, the entire cohort was weeping,” he reminisces. “She said she had been so rejected by other Christians over her sexual orientation that she was humbled because so many in the room were evangelical, conservative believers.”

Moments like that make it hard for Lloyd to imagine life after George Fox. He retires this summer after 27 years at the university – five as chair of the social work and sociology department (1994-99) and 22 as a professor in the ADP program, including stints at the university’s Eugene, Salem, Tigard and Boise sites.

His reasons for staying so long? He provides four: “students, students, students and colleagues,” he laughs.

“I have enjoyed the transparency of my students, their clear desires to serve others, and their growing commitments to Christ as Lord,” he says. “My students have always known they could share anything with me via their writings and class conversations, and these materials remain forever confidential. They came to trust me, which was a huge blessing for all of us. I also tried to remain transparent in class, so they could also get to know me.”

Lloyd admits he would like to continue working despite being 69 (“good genes,” he laughs) and is seeking teaching and therapy/clinical positions in the region.

Mark Terry sitting in the pottery lab

Mark Terry: 23 Years

It was when Mark Terry went on sabbatical one year that he realized just how much he missed interacting with students on a day-to-day basis. Then, a chance meeting with one of his students whetted his appetite for campus news – and ultimately birthed a weekly gathering, Tuesday at Terrys, that drew groups of up to 30 into his living room to share food, conversation and tea.

“It all began because of this conversation I had with a student, which resulted in an invitation for her to come to our house for a meal,” says Terry, who retires from the university’s art department after 23 years. “She ended up having such a good time she asked if she could return with her roommate and cook for us. A new tradition was born.”

Tuesday at Terrys convened each week for more than 10 years, making an impact far beyond anything Terry could have ever imagined. “At least one marriage had its first seeds planted there, careers were launched, and countless life lessons were shared,” he reminisces.

It was a tangible reflection of his passion for students. Beyond teaching them his beloved craft – ceramics and art history were his favorite subjects – he invested in their lives.

“I suppose one of my own best personal measures of success, as well as an anecdote about the effect of our Be Known promise, is that I – or my wife Missy and I – have been asked to be active participants in six of our students’ weddings over the years, including once as a groomsman, another where I got to escort the bride down the aisle, and another where Missy and I were asked to serve the wedding communion.”

Terry’s career at George Fox, which included 10 years as chair of the art and design department, didn’t end as he expected. COVID-19 made the particular work he did in the ceramics lab dangerous for him and his family, prompting an early retirement. But, while he won’t be on campus regularly, he will still pursue art, putting the finishing touches on his wood kiln, working on art commissions, and “looking forward to what God has in store for the next season,” he says.

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