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Great teaching, great teachers

More than 350 students and their scholarship benefactors listened to and learned about a true Renaissance man, Byron DeHaan, who gave the keynote address on behalf of donors at the annual Scholarship Luncheon on March 30th in the Michel Student Center ballroom.

Staci Tons '11 with Byron DeHaan at the annual scholarship luncheon.

Video: Watch Byron DeHaan's speech from the 2011 Scholarship Luncheon

After a 42-year career with Caterpillar, Byron DeHaan and his late wife Sylvia might have migrated to a warmer climate where Byron, a golfer since high school, could have hit the links everyday. Instead, the DeHaans decided in 1991 to remain in Peoria.

Byron golfed, continued singing and performing with his guitar, and returned to something he hadn’t done since 1948 in Kansas. He became a student again. After enrolling at Bradley that fall, Caterpillar’s retired director of public affairs continued taking classes, and then more classes, for 12 years. His Bradley transcript shows a phenomenal 186 credit hours with almost all A’s. DeHaan rejected the possibility of auditing courses, preferring to write the papers and take the tests like his classmates. He has a 3.94 GPA.

“I thought, ‘I’ll just take a few courses’ and one thing leads to another,” said DeHaan, now 84. “I enjoyed being with the BU students.” DeHaan valued the interaction and fellowship with the teachers — many of whom he counts as friends today. In 2000 he was named an honorary Bradley alumnus.

DeHaan believes that Bradley’s primary strength is great teaching. There are too many professors to list, but he singled out several by name: Dr. Kyle Dzapo, Dr. John Jost, Dr. Bob Fuller, Dr. Merrill Foster, Dr. Kevin Stein, Dr. Greg Guzman, Ken Hoffman, and Randy Carlson.

“Bradley gets it,” DeHaan noted in his remarks. “It’s very clear to me that Bradley is well aware of its field of excellence: great teaching by great teachers.”

With a lifelong love of music, many of DeHaan’s courses were in the music department. He was a member of Bradley’s Community Chorus from 1989 until 2007. He also enjoyed art and art history courses and became adept at oil painting and the potter’s wheel. Courses in Shakespeare, history, historical geology, and oceanography helped him more fully appreciate annual trips to Europe with his wife. “If you have an education about a country and then you go there, it doubles the pleasure,” he noted.

Encouraged by Illinois poet laureate Kevin Stein, DeHaan began writing poetry. In 1999 he won the Sipple poetry prize at Bradley for his poem, Requiem for Mozart and Us. With endorsements from Stein and Illinois Central College (ICC) English professor Jim Sullivan, DeHaan’s book of 32 poems was published by Converse Publishing in 2004.

Mens sana in corpore sano, or a sound mind in a sound body, is a motto of Cicero that DeHaan embraces. “Education helps you better understand and enjoy life,” he said simply. Following his dozen years of Bradley courses, DeHaan earned 40 credit hours at ICC. He has participated in numerous classes and trips sponsored by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Bradley. According to DeHaan, OLLI is extremely well run — high praise from a retired executive.

An avid Bradley basketball fan, DeHaan doesn’t miss a home game. He and his wife funded one endowed scholarship in 1989, which benefits a student in communications, and they endowed another in music. They were founding members of Bradley’s Friends of Music group in 1994 and continue to support the program.

Byron DeHaan closed his remarks with a musical tribute to the beauty of Bradley’s teaching and scholarship mission with the singing of For the Beauty of the Earth.