Retirement bittersweet for longtime FHSU professors

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

Charles Wilhelm remembers 1969 as quite a year.

"(It) was a great summer for some things," he said. "That was when we landed the first U.S. guy on the moon, Woodstock ... Rick and I showed up at Fort Hays."

Now, 43 years later, Wilhelm and Richard Zakrzewski are both retiring from Fort Hays State University at the same time. Wilhelm, 70, was a professor of communication disorders. Zakrzewski, 71, is a professor of geosciences who has served as chief curator at Sternberg Museum of Natural History; he retires June 9.

"I never thought I would be here this long," Zakrzewski said.

Hays was a good place to raise kids, and Fort Hays was a good fit.

"We found a lot of fossil sites, stuff to work on, research, so there were things that kept me here," Zakrzewski said.

Wilhelm, meanwhile, planned to stay at FHSU.

"I managed to survive 40-plus years, didn't get myself fired, or whatever happens to college teachers," he said with a laugh. "(I) had a couple other offers that came along, but I've been very satisfied with the way things have gone here at Fort Hays."

FHSU has grown through the years, and so has Wilhelm's department. Back in the day, the department was included in the speech department, with just three teachers.

"Fort Hays has changed in a very positive way," Wilhelm said.

The two professors served under three school presidents: John Gustad, Jerry Tomanek and Edward H. Hammond. They each made their mark on the school, Wilhelm said.

"Fist president I served under, John Gustad, was the one that got Gross Memorial (Coliseum) going over there; Jerry Tomanek restored what is now Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center; Ed has done a tremendous job ... of making the campus nice," Wilhelm said.

Wilhelm's job has evolved through the years.

"I started working with young children, started moving into the medical side of things," he said.

In retirement, Wilhelm plans to become more involved with organizations he belongs to, now that he has the time. He still has his pets, and even a fish pond to look after.

That last day in the classroom was tough, Wilhelm said.

"Kind of mixed emotion would be the best way to describe it," Wilhelm said. "I'm so very proud of what our students have done, and accomplished.

"At the same time, I was sitting there thinking, 'Gee, I'm going to miss these kids,'" he added. "A lot of the students that were here I consider to be great personal friends."

Even after Zakrzewski's retirement becomes official next month, he still will be checking in at Sternberg from time to time.

"I'll do some volunteer work out there, and I also have a number of research projects," he said. "I have had some significant health problems the last four years, haven't been able to do the research that I had committed to."

With those health problems, Zakrzewski hasn't been able to walk long distances, making it difficult to visit his children.

"I want to get in better shape again," he said.

Zakrzewski admitted it felt a little strange cleaning out his office after all these years.

"Moving stuff out of my office is bringing it closer to home, closer to reality," he said. "It's sinking in slowly."

There have been changes at FHSU -- and in Hays -- since Zakrzewski's arrival in 1969.

"There was no (stoplight) on Vine and 27th when we moved in," he said with a laugh.

Zakrzewski said "part of the reason I took the job here was on account of the museum."

Now the professor known to one and all on campus as "Dr. Z" can still be involved in retirement -- just without all the committee meetings and filling out of forms.

"What I'm going to do is concentrate on the fun stuff. When people complain, I'll just smile," he said.