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Pioneer Club

Sue Helderop, Senior Director of Engagement
University Advancement
507 Golf View Lane
Rochester, MI 48309-4488
(248) 364-6135

Pioneer Club

Sue Helderop, Senior Director of Engagement
University Advancement
507 Golf View Lane
Rochester, MI 48309-4488
(248) 364-6135

Table with I heart O U sign and other Oakland University spirit and cheer items.

Pioneer Profiles

Special thanks to Joan Rosen for writing our Pioneer Profiles. Joan is a professor emerita of the Oakland University department of English and an active member of the Pioneer Club.

Joan directly impacted the educational experience of countless students during her 37 years of teaching. She continues to make an important difference in advancing writing in all disciplines at OU and, with husband, Robert, provided a founding grant to establish the Oakland University Writing Center. The Rosens also contributed to the Joan Rosen Writing Studio and the Rosen Fellowship for Undergraduate Writers and Their Supervising Faculty.

If you would like to be featured in a Pioneer Profile, please email oupioneerclub@oakland.edu.

A group of four people smiling for a photo

Jackie and Bob Wiggins

A man outside, smiling.

Mel Gilroy

OU is Still Home During Retirement

Rhonda Saunders

Retiree Spotlight: Jo Hairston

Jo Hairston

A Vision for Engineering and Computer Science Education

Glenn A. Jackson

New Retiree Spotlight: Geoff Upward

Geoff Upward

Pioneer Club Thanks Joan Rosen

Joan Rosen

A Calling to Teaching that Continues in Retirement

Alice Horning

Lifelong dedication to higher education

William W. Connellan

Longstanding Leader and Friend of OU

Eleanor Reynolds

A Calling to Service that Endures

Ron Kevern

A career of care across campus

Ann Dunlop

Profile of Jerry Compton

Jerry Compton

Geraldine "Gerry" Palmer Coon

Geraldine “Gerry” Palmer Coon, who passed away on January 9, 2018, had been writing our Pioneer Profiles since the launch of the Pioneer Club. Gerry joined the School of Education and Human Services as an Administrative Professional in 1971. She served as an administrative assistant and adjunct faculty until her retirement. She played an integral role in furthering the club’s mission to keep OU retirees connected with the University and the community. Since 2014, Gerry interviewed fellow retirees for the popular Pioneer Profile feature in our monthly eNewsletter. Gerry was a talented writer and her much-anticipated profiles offered readers a delightful glimpse into the lives of our retired colleagues.

Below are a few of Gerry's more recent profiles. If there is a particular Pioneer Profile you'd like to see that isn't featured here, please email us oupioneerclub@oakland.edu with your request.

Brian Murphy

By Gerry Coon

Professor Emeritus Brian Murphy classifies himself as a “second generation Pioneer,” citing Gertrude White, Rosalie Ficker, Bob Hoopes and Tom Fitzsimmons as the first generation. But there was no generation gap when the second generation (Brian, Helen Schwartz, Bob Eberwein, Jane Donahue and others) arrived. From elegant high teas at the White residence, where eloquent discussions of 18th and 19th century literature were the order of the day, to riotous drum/piano jazz sessions at the Murphy’s, the combined staff of the Department of English was a serious but fun-loving group, full of enthusiasm and collegial energy.

Brian arrived at OU in 1969, straight from his doctoral studies at the University of London, after finally opting for a degree in English rather than Music or Politics. He had decided early on, while campaigning for his father, that he was not cut out for politics, and later reluctantly conceded that, while he was passionate about music, he was not going to be really successful at it as a career. He devoted himself to his chosen field, writing his dissertation on “The Political Novels of Disraeli and Trollope.” During the three years he was in London, Brian also wrote film reviews for Films and Filming. So, when Bob Eberwein decided to experiment with classes on film at OU he found a ready cohort in Brian Murphy. Together they taught film classes and constructed a preliminary syllabus for film studies in the English Department. (Bob went on to be one of the foremost authorities on film studies, and the film studies program is a popular one at OU.)

A charismatic instructor, Brian states that he has always considered it an honor to stand in a classroom. He claims to be a “romantic hedonist,” and once advised a commencement group to, “…live your life in such a way that you have fun—I have.” He feels he has done that at Oakland University by “…taking what is and making it my own.” Performing was never out of Brian’s mind, and, as an actor in several OU theatre productions, he starred in three Shaw plays (Candida, Man and Superman, and Pygmalion) all directed by Adeline Hirshfeld-Medalia, and Equus, directed by Tom Astin.

A true Pioneer, Professor Murphy likes to get involved with progressive programs, help get them started, then hand them over to a successor. He became very interested in what Dr. Manuel Pierson, then Associate Director of Upward Bound, was doing in the Pontiac Schools—encouraging the students there to entertain thoughts of college and coming to OU after high school graduation by immersing them in the exciting world of academia. Brian and his wife, Toni Sanchez, became involved with Dr. Pierson’s program, turning it into an annual affair, with a trip to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival as a culminating experience. “Taking two busloads of high-schoolers on a trip like that is sometimes frightening, but it always seemed to turn out all right,” he admitted. This outreach program morphed into the Department of PreCollege Programs, and Brian moved on.

Around the middle of his career, Professor Murphy took on the challenge of directing the Honors College for, it turned out, seventeen years. This gav Retirement also offers new opportunities for family activities. Their daughter, Lauren, and his son, John, and John’s wife and three children visit once during the summer. Every night the house rocks with music, with everyone playing an instrument or singing. Once each winter, they meet again somewhere out West for Grandma’s Ski School. Toni has taught everyone, including Brian, how to ski and they are all enthusiasts. Adding to the family fun this year will be Lauren’s wedding on New Year’s Eve. “This has been the summer of weddings,” Brian commented, and began to list them all, including Nicole Freeman’s, this year’s recipient of the Mark Murphy Scholarship for photography studies that the Murphys established in honor of his deceased son. “We’re often invited to former students’ weddings,” says Brian, “and it’s also a thrill when occasionally a student will come up to me and tell me how much he or she enjoyed my class.”

As for the music, he’s still at it. Though he started as a drummer, and now plays nearly every Friday with an OU group (calling themselves The Mongrel Dogs Who Teach), he also greatly enjoyed taking part in Dave Daniels’ conducting class. He also plays the piano almost every night on a new baby grand piano, a birthday gift from Toni. He finds the instrument a bit intimidating; “I think it deserves a better player than I am,” he says modestly. But, hey, he’s having fun, and living life well.

Toni Walters

By Gerry Coon

Professor Emerita Toni S. Walters was honored at the Oakland University Leadership Conference this month for her outstanding contributions to the field of teacher education. When asked about other awards, Toni admitted to receiving National Black Child Development Institutes Guardian Award (2008), the Distinguished Faculty Award from the Michigan Association of Governing Boards of Colleges in 1998 and the Presidential Diversity Award in 2005. “But,” she added, “The award that I cherish most is the Oakland University Award for Teaching Excellence, because working with students was my love. That’s what I really enjoyed most during my career.”

It was Toni’s dedication to teaching that prompted Paula Webster, one of her doctoral students, to ask her to come to Paula’s home town during the spring break and work with teachers. Toni agreed, and that visit to Kingston, Jamaica, began a nine-year journey (1998-2007) for Toni, traveling during school breaks and sabbaticals to instruct teachers and set up literature centers at teachers’ colleges throughout the island.

Visiting colleges and rural schools, Toni soon discovered the dearth of educational materials available to the island’s teachers and students. She began collecting books from faculty and friends, buying many herself, and carrying 50-60 books each trip in an extra suitcase. At one point she showed up at the ticket counter with one suitcase and twenty boxes of books, only to be told that she would have to pack the boxes back in her car because there was a Christmas travel Box Embargo in place. Fortunately, Paula had foreseen the problem and had contacted a vice president of American Airlines. Toni was permitted to embark with a ticket marked, “one suitcase plus twenty boxes.” Another time she purchased a huge barrel for “barrel shipping” and filled it with books. Within the first year they were able to send a traveling library of 30 books to every Basic school on the south coast of the island.

On one visit to the Alcoa School in a rural area, Tony and Paula expected only a few teachers to attend the in-service. That 90˚ day found a perspiring Toni sharing her teaching pedagogy with over 60 teachers who sat on hard wooden benches all day, stopping only for a lunch of rice and peas.

There were other developments in this Jamaica Project beyond staff development for teachers, demonstrations in rural schools and the establishment of traveling libraries. Toni was present at the ground-breaking for a large brick building erected to house the Literary Research and Development Center, dedicated to promoting an OU style reading curriculum on the island. Dr. Donald Wilson, head of the education department at the University of West Indies in Jamaica, collaborated with OU to provide master’s degree studies to four students a year over four years. Of the eleven who graduated, all returned to Jamaica to establish reading programs similar to Oakland’s in their respective teachers’ colleges throughout the island. Rather then a twelfth graduate student, Jossett Smikle (now deceased), came to OU as a visiting professor from the University of West Indies and returned to develop a reading master program based on Oakland’s curriculum at her university. Reading textbooks donated by OU faculty and other sources went toward building a professional library at a rural college deep in the mountains.

Toni was forced to abandon the Jamaica Project in 2007 when her husband, Ken, developed a serious illness and needed her help at home. Ken Walters and Toni Cole were married in 1967, shortly after her college graduation from Central Michigan University. Though not officially an OU Pioneer, Toni is truly a native Grizzly. In 1976 she earned a master’s degree in Early Childhood at OU and finished her PhD in Reading and Language Arts in 1984. In 1989 the Reading faculty invited her to join the staff and she finally agreed, taking quite a cut from a teacher’s salary to do so.

Ken and Toni raised two daughters: Wendy, an Associate Dean at Parsons in New York and a published poet and librettist; and Jamie, Director of Creative Services and Programming at WDIV/Local 4 in Detroit. An unusual feature of the Walters’ family home in Troy, Michigan, is a dance floor installed in a small portion of their family room. “Ken had a large collection of music—jazz, country, reggae, rock and roll, rhythm and blues and everything in between. Ken loved all music. We enjoyed the dance floor, but we were just as likely to be found dancing in the kitchen while waiting for dinner to finish cooking.”

After Ken succumbed to cancer in 2010, OU graduates put forth the idea and initial funds for a scholarship. Generous donations from Toni and others enabled the Toni S. and Ken Walters Endowment Scholarship Fund for dedicated reading education teachers committed to working in ethnically diverse communities. Since 2013 two student scholarships have been awarded annually.

Since her retirement in 2011, Toni continued to co-author with reading department PhD graduates Jonella Mongo and Vivian Johnson a recurring column “Between the Covers,” focusing on African American authors and illustrators of children’s literature. For 13 years they voluntarily provided that column for the National Black Child Development Institute’s publication, Child Health Talk, two to four times a year along with well received annual national conference presentations. Overall, Toni’s retirement years are busy ones with the symphony, photography, theater, seasonal gardening, getting together with friends, a bit of writing, and of course frequent travel.

In addition to her many trips to Jamaica, Toni has traveled widely, from the East to West Coast of the United States and to one country at a time throughout Europe. On one of several trips to Egypt she met a children’s author who donated 40 of her books for Toni to use at an in-service with teachers. Next month she has a trip scheduled to the Panama Canal and she will greet the New Year in Iceland. Of course she spends a lot of time with her daughters and their families: Wendy and Dan and their eight-year old Isaac in New York City; and Jamie and Vince and their four-year-old Theo and two-year-old Roxie in Detroit. The three grands often visit Grandma at the house in Troy, learning to garden and cook, and of course spending a lot of time with books.

In reviewing her time at OU, Toni had this to say: “I did my tour of duty on committees, but it was the teaching I loved.” And that love has been returned to her by countless students, both here and abroad.

Jan Schimmelman

By Gerry Coon

It would not be fair to say that Jan Schimmelman is retired. Although she no longer teaches classes and attends meetings at Oakland University as Professor of Art History, she is fully self-employed as owner/founder, researcher, writer, typist, editor, proof-reader, layout artist and publisher of Collodion Press, which specializes in books on 19th Century photography. “A truly one-woman operation,” she admits. Jan’s first Collodion Press book, Warren Avenue & West Side Industries, was published in 2010. It reproduced a promotional photo album that was made in 1920 to encourage the growth of business along Warren Avenue from Detroit to Dearborn.

In addition to her new life as an on-demand publisher, Jan is also a scholar of 18th and 19th Century American art and has had her work on art and architectural imprints published by the American Antiquarian Society, the Winterthur Portfolio, G.K. Hall, and Oak Knoll Press. For nine years she was editor of the Photogram, the newsletter of the Michigan Photographic Historical Society.
Jan was a student at Oakland from 1967-71, received her PhD from University of Michigan in 1980, began teaching at Oakland in 1976 and retired in 2011. During her 35-year tenure at Oakland she met and married Professor John Cameron, and together they traveled and collected. Yearly visits to Paris produced a collection of over 3,000 glass stereoviews dating from 1852 to 1908, which were the pride of John’s extensive photographic collection. After John’s death in 2008, Jan established the Cameron Endowment in Art History at OU and then went on to publish The Glass Stereoviews of Ferrier and Soulier, a book featuring his collection from the work of the French firm, Ferrier and Soulier. This book is the seventh Collodion Press publication, with three having been offered to and accepted by the Library of Congress, and five more in the planning stage. Her books are available through Blurb.com.

In addition to glass stereoviews, Jan and John collected American tin--types and daguerreotypes, 19th Century drawings, ancient Roman glass, medieval thimbles, cast iron windmill counterweights and many other things, always keeping aesthetic and historic value in mind.

One of her favorite collections consists of mahjong sets from the 1920s and 30s. She can trace the history of mahjong tiles from bone and bamboo to celluloid and then to Bakelite. Although she uses them when family and OU friends get together, she fiercely protects one rare bone and bamboo set from the 1920s that depicts Chinese soldiers engaged in war. Since she researches everything she collects, it is not unusual for her to publish her research and illustrate it with examples from her collection. Her first such combined interest resulted in her book, The Tintype in America 1856-80, was published in 2007 by the American Philosophical Society. She has collected tintypes since 1992, and has one of the finest individually owned collections.

Asked for advice for novice collectors, Jan replied, “Collecting is a knowledge game. You need to know what you are looking for, then do the research and determine its market value.” She then cited her early mistake when buying a little orange plastic hen that laid an “egg” (actually a white marble) when pushed. It reminded her of a similar tin toy that was once owned by her great aunt. She bought it on impulse, later finding that she had greatly overpaid. She now buys them when she sees them and keeps the row of little hens on display as a reminder. What does Jan wish for the future of the items in her collections? “I hope that someday someone else will buy them. I consider myself a preserver of these memories of the past so that someone from a future generation will find them and get joy from them, just as I have.” Spoken like a true art historian.