Dr. Cook retires after 40 years

PLAINVIEW - It's not every day that college professors get to hear a student vocally express his dislike for a class. But after more than 35 years in the classroom that is exactly what Dr. Don Cook faced a few years ago at Wayland Baptist University.

"I hate poetry," a student told Dr. Cook after being called on several times.

The student had sat through class without his text "or, apparently, his brain," Cook said. "I told him that I didn't expect him to love poetry, but to try to understand it."

Again the student responded with, "I hate poetry!"

That's when Dr. Cook did something he had never done before. For the first time in his accomplished career, Dr. Cook kicked a student out of class.

"It made me think I should have done it more often," he joked.

It was the final class before Spring Break and Dr. Cook wasn't sure the student would return. As it turned out, he did return . this time with his textbook and his brain, and an enthusiasm that lasted the remainder of the semester. Dr. Cook now considers that student a good friend.

The Louise Joachim Professor of English is one of two long-time Wayland professors who have officially retired with the end of the Spring 2004 semester. Dr. Phillip Almes retired after 20 years of teaching at Wayland. Both professors were honored with the title Emeritus professors in their field at Wayland's Spring Commencement ceremony last Saturday.

Dr. Cook, who started teaching at Wayland in 1964, holds an undergraduate degree from Hardin-Simmons University, a master's degree from the University of Texas and a Ph.D. from Texas Tech University. Prior to coming to Wayland, Cook taught high school English and Spanish, served as an elementary principal, coached girls' basketball, sponsored the senior class and the yearbook and he drove a school bus.

Since joining the Wayland faculty, Dr. Cook has received numerous awards, including the Louise Joachim Endowed Chair in Literature, the Maloney award for excellence in teaching and he has twice been selected as Wayland's nominee for the Minnie Stevens Piper Professor award. Dr. Cook is also an accomplished writer of poetry, having work published in many journals throughout the southwest and in several anthologies.

Dr. Cook, who chaired the Division of Languages and Literature for 33 years, has been with Wayland through some good times and some not-so-good times, admitting that he has kept an unwritten list of "Top 10" disappointments. He was quick to point out, however, that none of them was serious enough to make him want to leave Wayland.

In 40 years, Dr. Cook has seen many faces wander the halls and has worked with six administrations. He has watched Wayland grow, expanding its reach around the world. But the most telling tale of his longevity may have come recently when he realized he was teaching the grandchild of a former student.

"It made me feel a little bit older than I wanted to feel," he chuckled.

Even though Dr. Cook is officially retiring, he said he will continue to teach. After all, he says there is nothing better than watching students come to grips with advanced grammar and linguistics, or discovering that Shakespeare didn't always pen literary masterpieces.

"Just because everybody thinks Shakespeare is the greatest writer in the world doesn't mean that all of his plays are good," Cook said. "He wrote some dogs. When students see his superiority along with the inferiority, I think they have a better appreciation for the difficulty of producing good literature."

Dr. Cook also discovered early in his teaching career that maintaining a relaxed atmosphere in the classroom helped students better grasp the material.

"My first two or three years, I had an image of what an English teacher should be like based on the teachers I had," he said. "I found very quickly that that wasn't necessarily the way I wanted to be.

"I found that while education is not pure entertainment, students responded to literature better when there was some levity in the classroom. I have never felt that the classics were to be so revered that you couldn't parody them and make light of some icons."

Dr. Cook has no major, life-changing plans for his retirement. He is looking forward to spending more time with his wife, Lannie, his three children and six grandchildren. The Cooks will celebrate their 46 th wedding anniversary in August. Lannie has been a major part of Dr. Cook's professional life whether she was typing his dissertation, entering grades in the grade book or proofreading and editing his writing.

"She has been extremely supportive," he said. "We will enjoy each other's company. We have had some practice at it."

Cook said he will miss seeing new students in his classes and watching them as they grow into successful adults. He will also miss the relationships he has built at Wayland. Several of the people he is leaving behind were here when he began 40 years ago: Dr. J. Hoyt Bowers, Dr. Bill Hardage and Joe and Freda Provence.

"We use the word family ." Cook said. "I like to think we are a little bit better than a family. A lot of families I know squabble all the time. I think we are above that. It is really a very warm relationship . professionally and personally."