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Supportive Teachers Make all the Difference


Alfred Sommer '63
Alfred Sommer '63

Originally published in the Union College Magazine, Spring 2014

A few weeks before he came to deliver the Founders Day address, Alfred Sommer ’63 sat down with his yearbook to remember his professors.

A biology major and history minor who would serve as editor-in-chief of Concordiensis, Sommer was an engaged student whose “think-outside-the-box” style was first nurtured by a host of Union faculty.

Among the faculty he recalled:

  • Clifford Pierce, psychology, encouraged Sommer to investigate his hunch that students who took an interest test a second time would answer questions in a more socially acceptable way. His research, which would never be published, confirmed Sommer’s theory.
  • William Winne, biology, a “down to earth and hysterical professor” who during class studies in Jackson’s Garden calmly assured students that fecal matter left by dogs was part of the natural environment.
  • Henry Butzel and Ray Rappaport, biology, original and cutting-edge researchers, asked Sommer to assist in their lab.
  • Hans Hainebach, a modest and reticent professor of German, became a personal friend of Sommer and his future wife, Jill.
  • President Carter Davidson, austere and serious, always kept his door open. “I could always see him in there with all the books,” Sommer recalls. “It all looked so serious.”
  • C. William Huntley, the dean, was approachable and business-like.
  • Egbert Bacon, chemistry, wrote the book on quantitative analytical inorganic chemistry. Sommer, who admits to taking sloppy measurements, tried in vain to use the philosophy of compensating errors to arrive at the right answer.
  • Leonard Clark, chair of biology, gave Sommer access to an old GE x-ray machine on which he did a research project.
  • Joseph Finkelstein and John Bradbury, history and English, respectively, encouraged Sommer in independent research projects.
  • Myron Weaver, the college doctor, drove a Cadillac, a detail not missed by some pre-med students. Sommer, less interested in the car, asked him questions about the medical profession.

 “These were wonderful, simple personal relationships,” Sommer said. “And they were possible only because Union was such a small place.”