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Retired UF faculty share knowledge, camaraderie


Members of the group Retired Faculty of the University of Florida gather for their weekly meeting at the Harn Museum of Art.

Doug Finger/Staff Photographer
Published: Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 21, 2014 at 2:49 p.m.

At the front of a small auditorium in the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, Louis Schilling fiddles with his laptop, which sits atop a lectern. He looks out at the audience of about 100 retired University of Florida faculty, many of them Fulbright scholars with strings of academic degrees, and announces the day’s topic: bat poop.

Facts

IF YOU'RE INTERESTED

The group Retired Faculty of the University of Florida (RFUF) meets every Wednesday from 9:30 to 11 a.m. at the Harn Museum of Art for coffee and donuts, and to hear a guest speaker. Retired faculty members older than 55 can join RFUF for an annual membership fee of $20. For more information, visit retiredfaculty.ufl.edu

Members of the Retired Faculty of the University of Florida meet at the Harn every Wednesday while the university is in session to rub elbows and listen to a selected speaker. The tradition began about 40 years ago and culminated in an official university organization that now has a newsletter, president and board of directors. The group has about 350 members, some of whom are bussed from retirement communities, including Oak Hammock, The Village and Atrium.

On this particular Wednesday, Schilling, the architect who headed the repair of the UF bat house and the construction of the nearby bat barn, walked members through the design and building process of what has become a popular stop among campus visitors.

Schilling’s design prevented the accumulation of heavy bat guano, which had contributed to the house’s collapse in 1991.

In the past, speakers have addressed such topics as nanotechnology, the Arab Spring and the rise of political Islam, and why people love and hate curse words. The speakers are experts in their fields, usually professors or researchers at UF.

Carol McCusker, curator of photography at the Harn, presented in early December. She talked to the retired faculty about the photography currently on display at the Harn, as well as a future exhibition on war in the 21st century.

“They’re one of my favorite people to speak to,” she said. “They’re very present and interactive.”

Every week, the group brings an energy to the museum that is important to its vitality, McCusker said.

“On Wednesday mornings, they’re our resident scholars,” she said.

Retired faculty members are often asked to be on advisory committees for the museum, McCusker said. Staff consult them to better understand exhibition topics. For example, the coming exhibition on war in the 21st century could use the expertise of historians with a specialization in war, she said.

Anita Spring, professor emeritus of anthropology at UF and president of the group, said people are living in a new age of retirement.

“Organizations like the Retired Faculty of UF are living proof of it,” Spring said. “A number of our members are still travelling the world, and many of them come to the meetings for intellectual stimulation.”

Members also come for the camaraderie, said Hank Conner, a former professor of radio and broadcast production and the group’s president-elect.

“We sit around and tell the same old lies,” said Sid Pactor, a former broadcast writing professor.

At his recent presentation, Schilling flipped to his first slide, which read, “Inside the Bat House (Or more than you want to know about guano).”

The audience let out a chuckle.

Presenting his work is intimidating, Schilling said. He’s acutely aware of his audience’s level of sophistication.

“I have a bachelor’s (in) architecture,” he said. “I’m surrounded by Ph.Ds.”

During the question-and-answer period, a battery of arms spring up.

Members ask if elevation affected the number of bats and how the bats deal with cold snaps, among other things.

Schilling, who also is a member of the group, said questions usually have to be cut off for time.

Before the presentation, members mill outside the Harn’s auditorium for coffee and donuts. Friends greet each other while their coffee cools.

Willis Bodine, a former music professor, spots Schilling from across the lobby and strides over.

“How’s the guano business?” Bodine asks and claps him on the back. Schilling, who’s frequently addressed as “Batman,” said he’s used to this.

But no one is safe from friendly jabs.

Conner, sitting at the same table as Schilling, overhears the exchange.

“Bodine was the university’s carillonneur, you know,” he said to the people at the table. Meaning he rang the bells in Century Tower and taught students to do the same. So you could say, Conner points out while sipping his drink, that Bodine was the Quasimodo of the university.

When the presentation ends, members drift toward the exit but inevitably stop for conversation. Clusters of people gather near the doorway.

Bill Wharton, a former visiting professor at UF and project coordinator for a 15-year research study on cleft palates, stands among one of the groups.

He looks up from the energetic discussion about bat guano to gesture toward the lingering men and women.

“Cantankerous bunch, but a mine of knowledge,” he said. “This is continued education, at its best.”

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MEET THE FACULTY

A short list of members:

Dale Canelas: Was the director of the university libraries for 23 years. She spearheaded the creation of Library West. Her favorite aspects of the library are the round computer booths, which she said were inspired by similar ones at the University of Chicago.

Alex Green: Was a part of the Manhattan Project.

Madelyn Lockhart: The first woman dean at UF. When she first took the job as dean of the graduate program in the ‘60s, the salary was too high for a woman. So she said she was given an additional job as head of international studies to balance it out. Before coming on as a dean, she was appointed to the President Johnson’s Council of Social Advisors and President Nixon’s National Task Force on Revenue Sharing.

John Scott: Retired art history professor. Although he’s not a docent, he often gives private tours of the Harn after the RFUF meetings.

Joe Shands: Was head of the division of infectious diseases at UF. The hospital, UF Health Shands, was named after his uncle.

Ann Smith: Began teaching at the UF College of Nursing and went on to help open North Florida Regional Medical Center.

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