Retired professor reflects on time at Bradley

January 9, 2012

By Dr. Tony Bedenikovic, Associate Professor of Mathematics

Life after retirement from the Bradley University mathematics department has been a busy enterprise for John Haverhals. Since his retirement in 2008, he and his wife of 48 years, Bernice, have settled into a new home on the East Bluff, have taken several big trips and have continued their work for civic and charitable causes. I asked John to take a break from retired life to stop by my office for a conversation, and John promptly obliged, which did not surprise me. Declining the request would have been out of character for John, who has always proved to be a good departmental citizen. Calm, a little tan — in a worker’s way — John talked with me about life after retirement and reflected on his 45 years of service to Bradley University.

Life after retirement

“The intention was to downsize,” John says, smiling, referring to the move from the West Bluff to the East Bluff soon after his retirement. When they decided to list their home for sale in spring 2009, John and Bernice intended to move into a smaller house. However, the view of the Illinois River from the East Bluff changed the scale of their plans and pulled them to their new house, a large, historic river-view residence just north of downtown Peoria.

Built in 1900, the house was designed by Frederic Klein, a noted architect of the time whose work remains a great source of pride in Peoria culture. Klein’s work includes the Madison Theatre in downtown Peoria and the Japanese bridge in Lower Bradley Park. In spite of its promising beginning, John and Bernice’s house had experienced years of neglect and was in need of epic repair when they moved into it. After a lengthy renovation, started by the previous owner, the house finally matches the grandness of its view. It now truly feels like home, John says.

Life after retirement also has allowed for a continuation of travel and community service, activities which John values highly. Since his retirement, John and Bernice have trekked to Australia, New Zealand, Spain and Morocco. John counts that he and Bernice have visited more than 60 countries, with a trip to six South American countries planned for later this winter. When not in the air or away, John is on the ground in Peoria, volunteering for civic and charitable causes. He is president of the Moss Bradley Revolving Fund, an organization which buys houses in disrepair in West Bluff neighborhoods and seeks single-family buyers. John beams over a recent success for the Fund. This year the organization sold property at the corner of Moss Avenue and North Union Street, property held by the Fund for 30 years, waiting for a suitable buyer. In addition to his work for the Revolving Fund, John serves on the Peoria Historical Society Board as a member of its finance committee and serves on the buildings and grounds committee for the Peoria Riverfront Museum.

After mowing the grass and raking the leaves on his own lawn, John often walks next door to help maintain the grounds of the Flanagan House, the oldest standing house in Peoria, dating back to 1837. It bears stating that these projects reflect a lifelong disposition for service by John. In 1987 he was recognized by the Illinois Section of the Mathematical Association of America with its distinguished service award, an honor shared with his colleague and dear friend, Gary Tippett. In 1991 John was honored by Bradley University with the Francis C. Mergen Memorial Award for Public Service.

The Bradley years (45 of them)

Just married, John and Bernice arrived in Peoria in the summer of 1963. John’s adviser at the University of Iowa had suggested that Bradley University “might be a good place to work,” and Bernice, a nurse, was glad to see that Peoria had several hospitals. Bradley Hall had been destroyed by fire earlier that year and was still in ruins as John began his academic career. He and Gary Tippett, both new to the math faculty in 1963, were assigned offices separate from the rest of the department. Their offices were in a building on Duryea Street, John remembers, while the remaining members of the department had offices in a building behind the shell of Bradley Hall. This early arrangement helped foster the good friendship that John and Gary enjoyed throughout their academic careers.

Despite the fire that destroyed the main building on campus, the 1960s were a stable time for Bradley University. Enrollments increased, as baby boomers sought college educations, and the economic mood at the University was peppy. The mood changed quickly in the 1970s, though, when the wave of boomers ebbed and enrollments declined. This led to financial hardship for the University, which in turn stoked uncertainty and tension on campus. Fearing for their jobs, faculty members commonly politicked colleagues for support. Many difficult decisions were required during this time. John recalls that several members of the mathematics department left Bradley University during the 1970s.

Nonetheless, John (and Gary) waded through the turmoil, and the health of the institution soon turned for the better. John remembers the 1980s and 1990s as times of rapid change, both personal and departmental. Trained in algebraic geometry in graduate school, John began to attend professional growth workshops in linear algebra and combinatorics. Meanwhile, technology began in earnest to transform culture and altered how mathematics was taught. Handheld calculators appeared in classrooms, and desktop computers buzzed on faculty desks.

In light of this sea change, John began to rethink course content and teaching methods. He conscientiously worked to adapt. Sadly, it was during this time of rapid change that John experienced a sudden and notable loss. Gary Tippett, colleague and good friend from the start, died unexpectedly in March of 1992 after suffering a brain aneurysm while riding his bike home after a long day of yard work at a Revolving Fund property.

John is perhaps best known on campus for his role in the actuarial science program. When the mathematics department decided to (re)start the program in 1998, John agreed to direct it. He did not have formal training in the field, but he did have a good deal of practical experience and had always held an interest in finance. It happens that one of his daughters was beginning a program in actuarial science at Drake University at the same time. Mary now works from home as an actuary for Marsh & McLennan Companies in Louisiana. Her three children, baby triplets, persuade their grandparents to visit them often. John and Bernice’s other daughter, Anne, works as a civil engineer for the National Forest Service in Wyoming. “I was spoiled by the actuarial science students,” John says, using the same tone to refer to his students that he uses to refer to his own children. “They were very focused and knew what they wanted.” John served as director of the actuarial science program until his retirement in 2008.

Advice for colleagues and current students

John and I returned to the present. He mentioned that he needed to run his next errand, and I admitted that I needed to prepare a lesson plan. In closing, I asked John, before running off, to give advice to colleagues in the department and to students currently in the program. Without hesitation, he advised colleagues to take care with their teaching. He emphasized the need to do it well and always to seek to do it better. He added that faculty members should be flexible and should look for ways to help the department. A willingness to help his department was a trademark of John’s career at Bradley University.

For students, he advised looking at the big picture, looking at a current position as merely a point in a lifelong trajectory. Seek educational opportunities and develop work habits, he advised, to begin a path toward a successful career. Certainly John’s life trajectory demonstrates the value of creating opportunities and working hard.