Teaching at Simpson for a lifetime


by Nikki VanHoever

There are a few professors at Simpson College that haven’t only made a career out of contributing to the development of young minds, but have also spent a lifetime here. Joe Walt, professor emeritus of history, Professor of Music Robert Larsen and Professor of Chemistry Cliff Meints have each been here for around 50 years.

Walt started teaching at Simpson in 1955 as an assistant professor of history. He is now retried, but continues to teach one History of Western Civilization class.

“This is my 51st year of teaching western civ. Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 11 [a.m.],” Walt said.

However, Walt is planning to make this his last year at Simpson.

Walt was educated at three separate universities – UCLA, the University of Tennessee and Northwestern University. During World War II, Walt served in the Navy .

From 1946 to 1949, he lived overseas in Switzerland. It was while in Switzerland that he visited the small country of Liechtenstein. His ancestry traces back to this small country and he is currently writing a history of Liechtenstein.

“That’s my great love,” Walt said.

In the 50-plus years Walt has been at Simpson, he’s been the Academic Dean twice.

“I enjoyed it, it was fine, but my great interest is in teaching,” Walt said.

Walt decided to come to Simpson because he liked small colleges.

After being at UCLA, he disliked never being in a class with less than 200 students and not meeting any of his professors. After transferring to Tennessee, Walt realized small colleges were more than he thought.

“I always thought a small college was small because it wasn’t good enough to be big, but that’s not true,” Walt said. “I just fell in love with a small college. You can do so much more here.”

Larsen began his teaching career at Simpson in the fall of 1957. He studied at the University of Michigan for his graduate degree and served as chairman of the music department for 33 years.

In his time here he has put together the opera program, founded the Madrigal Singers and taught a number of music courses. Currently he is teaching Medieval and Renaissance Music, 19th and 20th Century Music, Advanced Conducting and Romanticism in the Arts.

He is also an accomplished pianist, which enables him to be an accompanist to many of his students. Larsen has been playing the piano since he was 11 years old.

“I think piano is most important of all to me,” Larsen said.

Although Larsen has been here for 49 years, he felt Simpson was going to be a first job.

“I thought I would stay here a short period of time, but ended up staying for a lifetime,” Larsen said.

This may not have been possible if he had taken the assistant conductorship that was offered to him by the Metropolitan Opera in New York when he was 26.

Larsen wasn’t ready to leave the education field behind.

“I decided I would try to make professional opera and working in the world of education happen,” Larsen said.

After all these years at Simpson, Larsen has no intention of slowing down.

“As long as I’m youthful and can contribute, I’ll be here,” Larsen said

Meints has also been at Simpson for 49 years.

While the experience has been memorable and worthwhile, he could have seen himself doing something completely different.

“Have I enjoyed teaching? Yes. Have I had frustrations? Yes. Has the total effect been more positive than negative? Yes. Would I do it over? I don’t know,” Meints said.

In the years he’s been at Simpson, Meints has done just about everything in the chemistry department.

According to Meints, he served as the head of the department until he was able to pawn it off on a co-worker.

While he enjoyed being the head of the department, he feels it is more beneficial to not have to worry about the administrative aspect of the job.

“It’s not as much fun as teaching,” Meints said.

Meints has taught classes such as math, microbiology and computer science. He’s currently doing work on initiating the forensic science major in the chemistry department.

Freshman and forensic science major Cassie Lacina has been impressed with his teaching style so far.

“He’s a good teacher,” Lacina said. “I really like his class.”

Originally from northeast Indiana, Meints has been all over the Midwest in pursuit of higher education.

He began at Purdue University, went on to Ohio University and finished at the University of Oklahoma, before finally settling down at Simpson.

Meints chose Simpson because it was available and in the Midwest.

He also looked at the opportunities he would have as a professor here and decided that this would be the place where he would be able to teach the way he wanted to.

“He gets excited about weird stuff; it’s funny,” Lacina said. “He really enjoys teaching.”

While attending conferences with professors from other schools, Meints realized complaints of others were far worse than his own; he felt he had it good here at Simpson.

“I didn’t see any particular advantage in moving elsewhere,” Meints said.

Like Larsen, Meints is in no hurry to get away from Simpson.

“I’ll be here until Robert Larsen decides to retire,” Meints said.