N. Dakota History Professor Wraps up 50-Year Career
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — After 50 years of teaching history to young adults at Bismarck State College, Mike McCormack is finally ready to read some fiction.
First, he will have to pack up the hundreds of books on historical topics that fill his office shelves.
He’s quick to clarify his literary interests won’t change too drastically despite his retirement.
“It will be historical fiction, of course,” he said.
The 74-year-old is one of 13 BSC employees to retire this year, and he has been at the college the longest.
McCormack started as a student, studying under Army Col. Wesley Wilson, who became a history professor at then-Bismarck Junior College.
“Here’s the irony,” McCormack said. “He’s the man who mentored me, and his death gave me his job.”
Three years after McCormack left BSC to continue his education, he returned to work alongside his former professors. A young college graduate, he had only a fraternity blazer to wear the first few months he taught.
But his wardrobe adapted as he got into the swing of teaching courses on western civilization and western frontier history.
He came to understand that, while facts may be certain, each historian sees them differently.
McCormack, for one, noticed his views changing the longer he taught.
This happened with the origins of Christianity and the establishment of the Catholic church.
Catechism, he said, teaches one perspective. But those who study the subject at a college that’s not religiously affiliated learn another.
“I’m much more secular than I used to be,” he said of himself as a teacher. “I see religion as one of the most important elements of human history — not the most important element of human history.”
Over the years, he incorporated new technology to enhance his lessons.
History channel documentaries have been particularly helpful. So have online features, including a virtual tour of the Colosseum in Rome that students can access on their phones in class.
“What a way to teach,” he said. “If I were starting over my career, I would be a technology geek.”
McCormack’s colleagues describe him as a legend. Not only is he active in the community outside BSC, he has shown up to numerous school events with his Nikon camera to document the occasions. That is, when he is not the one serving as emcee.
“He has come to all our parties. He has known all our kids growing up,” said Perry Hornbacher, who will be the college’s lone history professor next year once McCormack leaves.
Joe Vuolo, an associate professor of accounting who works a few doors down from McCormack, will miss his jokes.
His retirement coincides with several other longtime professors on the same floor. Combined, McCormack; James Wright, business department chair; Henry Riegler, social sciences, humanities and education department chair; and Marv Mutzenberger, associate professor of sociology, have dedicated 155 years to teaching at BSC.
Vuolo said McCormack has played a significant role in building a longstanding camaraderie on campus.
“We are losing some of the people who built that,” he said. “We are looking for people to carry that forward.”
McCormack has been at BSC so long that the past few years he has taught the grandchildren of some of his first students.
He takes delight when his students “get it,” demonstrating they understand the significance of history.
So when his final group of students walked out of the classroom, he got an idea.
“I was going to take a picture with my smartphone,” he said.
But he decided the empty room wasn’t worth a photo. What’s more important, he said, are the memories that happened there.
Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com