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Keuka College News

Keuka’s White Knight

This year has been deja vu all over again for Professor of Biology Jim White. When White first arrived on the Keuka College campus in 1962, the Millspaugh building was brand-new, and faculty members were still unpacking boxes, searching for equipment and teaching materials.

Now, 38 years later, with the $3.1 million renovation of the Millspaugh Science Center  recently completed, faculty members are again unpacking boxes.White, along with Professor of Chemistry Gary Hickernell and Associate Professor of Biology Tom Dickinson, worked directly with the architectural firm, SWBR Architects of Rochester, N.Y. , and LeChase Construction, also of Rochester, to plan the Millspaugh renovation. He also supervised the move and personally carried much of the lab equipment back and forth.

“He was a human dynamo,” said President Joseph Burke. “His performance during this renovation will be long remembered by faculty and students.”

“He’s the father of this building,” said Professor of Biology Joan Magnusen, adding
that White has been known to crawl up into the ceiling to repair ductwork himself. “Not
only does Jim decide what needs to be done, but he does it.”

“He’s always been the essence of Millspaugh,” agreed Kathleen Dougherty, manager of prospect research, and a 1997 Keuka College graduate with a bachelor’s degree in a student-initiated major in biological illustration and a minor in chemistry. “He has always felt responsible for the building.”

“He has a tremendous role in keeping the place up,” said Hickernell.
Of course, White’s role at Keuka extends far beyond building maintenance
and planning. White, who teaches Anatomy and Physiology and co-teaches Organisms in
the Environment with Assistant Professor of Biology Kasey Klingensmith, ” is one
of the most knowledgeable in his field that I have come upon,” Magnusen said.

“He knows seven terms for every structure and can explain the derivation
of every term.” White is extremely knowledgeable about anatomy and physiology, she said, adding that “his patience makes him willing to state things over and over.”

“He’ll do anything he can for the students,” Hickernell said. Magnusen said that when she came to Keuka for her initial interview before being offered a faculty position, she met with
students and asked them what courses they liked most to take. The answer: “Anything Jim White teaches.”

“He’s got a mind like a steel trap. He knows faculty and students going way back and remembers them,” Hickernell said.

“He has an enormous capacity for remembering details,” Magnusen agreed. “Much of the lore of this division is in Jim’s head.”

In fact, White can produce a photograph of the science majors in the Class of 1964 and  describe what kind of student each one was at the time, and what she went on to do after graduation. White grew up in Punxsutawney, a small town in rural Pennsylvania. He from Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., and a Ph.D. in zoology from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. While in graduate school, he met and married his wife, Cynthia. After
spending a year teaching at Parsons College in Fairfield, Iowa, White then joined the Keuka faculty. Part of what attracted him to Keuka College was the location.

“By training, I’m a vertebrate ecologist, so l wanted to be out in a rural area where I could do ecological work, and it was closer to our families,” he explained.
What made him stay was the community atmosphere.

“I enjoyed the place. My wife and I decided this would be a good place to raise a family,”  said  White, whose daughters Wendy and Anne were born in 1965 and 1967. “Of the faculty here most of them were very much dedicated to the institution,” White said, adding that most faculty members lived close to campus. ” It was a whole community. There were a lot more social events.”

White specifically recalls that when the Lightner Library was built in 1972, each faculty and staff member pitched in to carry a box of books from the former Strong Library to the new building. Being a part of that community often meant becoming involved in extracurricular activities. White served as a faculty representative on the Student Senate and was Keuka Park fire chief off an on from 1968 to 1993.

“We passed it back and forth,” he said, adding that he’s still an adviser to the Keuka Park Fire Department. White served as chair of the biology department for almost 30 years
before passing the baton to Hickernell in 1997. Magnusen then became chair in 1999.
Having gone from a single-sex atmosphere at Rutgers University to teaching at the coeducational Parsons College, White said he enjoyed returning to a single-sex  environment when he first arrived at Keuka.

“I enjoyed working with the young women,” he said. “They were all a pretty dedicated group. They didn’t all have TVs, all these other things that distract people from doing their work.” white recalled that students would study in the Millspaugh building at night, and, because there was no real athletic facility at the time, they would often gather and do aerobic exercises in the hallways. While the turbulent political climate of the 1960s had some impact on the College, it did little to distract students from their real purpose.

“They had some marches and demonstrations, but that was a minor part of what was going on,”White said. “The attitude wasn’t anti-establishment at that point. They were protesting politically, but not what was going on at the College. They were here to get their  education.”

In the 38 years he’s been at Keuka College, much has changed, not only in student life and politics, but also within the realm of science. In particular, White noted the miniaturization of scientific instrumentation. “Microscopes have many more gadgets,” he said, adding that ” one of the difficulties at a place like Keuka is trying to keep up with the changes in instrumentation.”

Another change has been in the focus on environmental issues. “They were still doing nuclear tests when I first came here,” White said, but since the first Earth Day was held in
1970, the public has become more environmentally conscious.

“That’s when they began to push public awareness,” he said. But one thing hasn’t changed:
Jim White’s commitment to the College. “He’s been an anchor throughout
the time he’s been here,” Magnusen said. “He gives–and has given–not just
his mind but his heart and soul to this division.”

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