Shortly after Dean Gammon died, his wife Lila was breaking up his personal library and giving Eureka College’s faculty members his books—to remember him by. She gave me Writers on Ethics by Katz and Stover. In the “Preface,” these editors wrote that this book “offers the reader a comprehensive selection of basic readings and related studies in the field of ethical philosophy.” Indeed, it is a wonderful touchstone for my many memories of Dean Gammon. For those of you who did not work with him, you may question “Why?” As Katz and Stover noted, they “differ markedly in their own philosophical orientations . . . [and they] have tried to do justice to the great variety of classical and contemporary approaches to ethics.” That is exactly what Dean Gammon did at Eureka College (EC) in Eureka, Illinois.
As Dean of the College at EC, he supported my work at EC as I started the Writing Center, taught English classes, published the Echoes books, finished by dissertation, and began to publically share my creative writings. He encouraged the faculty members to dream our professional dreams and then encouraged us to make them take form. Exactly how he did that, I’m really not sure. When I remember those years in the 1990s, I remember having four different course preparations and then pleading with Dean Gammon to allow me to add additional preps so that I could teach creative writing, both prose and poetry, because I wanted to teach them. He allowed the faculty to do more, and by doing such, he gave the students a true liberal arts education and added intrinsic life-satisfaction to the faculty members.
Just because a course or an event had never existed at EC did not preclude the possibility that it could exist. This is not to say that Dean Gammon was willy-nilly; he was far from that. He always required a logical explanation of what I/we wanted to change or add, and he required careful rationale, usually in writing, to persuade him. But he could be convinced.
Except when he couldn’t.
Then Dean Gammon and I would disagree. Sometimes for years on a single topic. Most memorably was my absolute conviction that “sexual orientation” should be added to EC’s non-discrimination statement. He was a Traditionalist on this issue. And I was a stubborn (my word, not his) activist (my word, not his) that this change was long overdue.
In spite of our differences on this and other issues, our conflict on a single issue, no matter how contentious, did not preclude his support on other ideas. One such idea was the High School Student Creative Writing Contest/Workshop on EC’s campus paired with a nationally known writer who spoke at the banquet for the high schools students and then gave a public reading after the banquet. Dean Gammon actively supported Dr. Loren Logsdon’s and my plea to help make this annual event happen. And the event did happen, year-after-year-after year, beginning in 1994.
Dean Gammon led by challenging, disagreeing, and supporting, a rare combination of traits. Always, always, he did what he believed was right and ethical, and amazingly, he let each of us on the faculty challenge and disagree if we believed what we were doing was right and ethical. This honest exchange of passionate ideas, clashing and clanging, made me examine my arguments and sharpen my logic, as well question the ethicasy of my stand.
I had, and have, huge respect for Dean Gammon who led the intellectual community at EC, who started the Honors Program, who celebrated the Writing Center, who supported the Coffee House (which was originated, coordinated, and led by Jane Groeper, his Administrative Assistant/right hand), and encouraged academic excellence and honest dialogue. “The loss of this gifted
colleague . . . has been a bitter one,” wrote Katz and Stover of one of their colleagues, and so it is for Dean Gammon. I am grateful for the time our paths were the same path at Eureka College and for his tutelage in ethical discussions, even when we were at opposite ends of a continuum on a specific issue. He led by example, he lived by ethics, and he is remembered by what he contributed to EC and to individual’s lives he enriched.
Published as “A Special Tribute to Dean Gary Gammon’s Intellectual and Ethical Leadership.” Stories from ‘neath the Elms: Eureka College: 1970-2014. Ed. Loren Logsdon. Eureka: Eureka College, 2015. 345-347. Print.