Professor of Biology Jim White’s area of expertise is vertebrate ecology, but he can just as easily talk history—when it relates to Keuka College over the last half-century.
That’s because White has been a member of the faculty for the last 46 years.
“He’s our parliamentarian,” said Marianne Jahnke, chair of the Division of Natural Sciences, Mathematics, and Physical Education and professor of biology, and White’s colleague since 1990. “There isn’t much that he doesn’t know about how the College is run.”
White has worked under more than a handful of College presidents and at least three temporary or acting presidents.
“I’ve served on every committee at least once and chaired many [committees],” said White, who served as chair of the Division of Natural Sciences, Mathematics, and Physical Education from 1968 until 1997.
White retires at the end of the academic year and will assume faculty emeritus status upon his retirement.
Jahnke credits White with shaping their division.
“He was division chair when many of us were hired, so he had a profound influence on who came Keuka,” said Jahnke, who added that White has been a “warm friend and supportive colleague” since her arrival on campus.
White it comes to biology, his knowledge is “encyclopedic,” said Jahnke, “which has come in handy so many times.”
In addition, Jahnke said White has “kept us going when times were lean,” repairing microscopes and the like.
Having come to Keuka in 1962—just after Millspaugh ScienceCenter was built—White “has seen a whole generation of Millspaugh,” said Professor of Biology Tom Carroll, White’s colleague for the past 26 years. “He saw it go from a brand new building to a very used building. And, he was the lead faculty member in its renovation.”
Indeed, White worked with the builders to inform them what was needed in the new space during the renovation in 2000-01. He even measured space in the new chemistry lab to discover that benches from the original chemistry lab—first housed on the fourth floor of Hegeman Hall—would fit in the room, according to Carroll.
“Sometimes he can overdo it, and do too much himself,” said Carroll. “He’d show up in overalls on the days when he was helping [work on the building]. I remember one time, he came to my office with a crowbar” to ask if Carroll wanted anything saved from the walls before the painters began their work.
White keeps the blueprints for Millspaugh and Jephson in his office.
He also keeps a photo of biology students from the Class of 1964—a gift from the students—in his office.
“They were a particularly good group,” said White, who knows what each of the women went on to do and is proud of their successes. “You never know what students are going to do. It’s been fascinating for me to watch students change over the years.”
And he’s seen many students through their four years of college. During the early years, White’s classes were larger than they are today given the popularity of the nursing degree back then.
“My Anatomy and Physiology (A&P) classes had between 50 and 60 nursing students,” said White.
“If you multiply the number of freshmen he had in his A&P class (second semester) times 30 years, he must know more than 1,000 nursing graduates—and he remembers names,” said Carroll.
“He’s an excellent teacher and generous, loyal and faithful to his faculty,” added Carroll. “He’s selfless—generous for the sake of being generous. So many others give when there’s something in it for them; Jim just helps.”
“He’s such a nice person,” echoed Associate Professor of Biology Kasey Klingensmith, White’s colleague since 1997. “Every time you go to his office, the first words out of his mouth are ‘have a seat.’ He always has time for you and I’ve never once heard him get angry or speak loudly.”
And his care and concern for others extends to the Keuka Park community.
White has volunteered for the Branchport/Keuka Park Fire Department since 1968, serving as fire chief off and on until 1993.
A graduate of Dartmouth College (A.B.) and Rutgers University (Ph.D.), White didn’t spend his entire teaching career at Keuka. He taught for one year at Parsons College in Iowa before seeking a change.
The rural setting of the Keuka Park campus made an impression on White—who was raised in small town Punxsutawney, Pa.—during his interview. Also, he and the faculty he met “got along well.”
Keuka Park proved to be a good place for White and his late wife, Cynthia, to raise their two daughters, now both pediatricians with children of their own.
Some of White’s fondest memories involve the weekend field trips that the science faculty and students used to take—to Portland Head Light (Maine), the rocky shores of New Hampshire, the Jersey coast, Delaware, and the Adirondacks, to name a few.
“The students got a lot of out the trips and I got to know them better,” said White. The trips ended in the early 1980s.
White also enjoyed participating in Field Period visitations, which was something faculty used to do.
The Keuka College campus looked different in 1962. The Weed Physical Arts Center, Davis Hall, and Norton Chapel didn’t exist when White began teaching at Keuka.
And, since there wasn’t a library, students would study in the classroom buildings.
“This building was full of people all the time,” said White of Jephson.
And he won’t be a stranger to the building after his retirement. White’s office will remain and he plans on “doing some things around here” that he hasn’t had time to do while teaching full time.
White uncovered the Flahive ornithology collection—contained in the display cases on the second floor of Jephson—in storage. He says there are other collections—“a mineral collection and fossil materials collection”—that he hopes to bring out of storage and put on display.
He also wouldn’t mind “sleeping in later,” since he’s consistently taught 8 a.m. classes.
To honor White, the College has set up The White Scholarship Endowment Fund. The fund will be awarded to an incoming student in need who possesses a high GPA in science and the potential for excellence in natural sciences.
“Jim doesn’t need a lot to keep him happy—he’s not really into material things,” said Klingensmith. “The scholarship is a way to show him respect and honor him for his years of service.”
If you are interested in contributing to the fund, contact Andi Lippincott, manager of annual giving programs, at ext. 5313.