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Saws, bells and bison: What faculty did on their summer break

August 2012 | by Craig DeVrieze


Michael Opar, PhD, a professor of engineering, took surfing lessons in the Gulf of Mexico.

Barbara Ehrmann '02, '07 DPT, an assistant professor of physical therapy, rang (yes, rang) the national anthem before a baseball game at The Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati.

English Professor Barbara Pitz, PhD, explored Incan ruins and climbed the highest part of Machu Picchu in Peru with her son.

John Byrne, PhD, a professor of marketing, raced across the sky in a Colorado ultra-marathon, while Micah Kiel, PhD, an assistant professor in theology, hiked through Norway with his family.

Heather Medema-Johnson, PhD, an associate professor of kinesiology, hung out (if just briefly) with Mario Lopez in San Francisco; Biology Professor Kirk Kelley, PhD, made a cameo appearance in an Apolo Ohno website video outside the Olympic Village in London; and Rev. Robert Grant ‘80, PhD, professor of theology, had a hike held up by a herd of bison in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

And you thought St. Ambrose faculty members spent their summer mornings sawing logs?

Well actually ...

Nancy Hayes, PhD, a professor of English, brought home a pink ribbon from the recent Iowa State Fair in Des Moines after finishing fourth in the ladies bow saw competition.

Yes. Hayes went. She sawed. She nearly conquered.

"It has been just a silly thing," said Hayes, who got drafted into bow sawing when she and her husband, John, attended Heritage Days at the 2009 fair. "When the ladies bow saw contest came up, they didn't have enough participants and asked for some. I did well and had a ball."

Some months later, Hayes found a saw with a bow on it under the Christmas tree. Now, she's a serious sawer. She even practiced in advance of this year's event.

Ehrmann, meanwhile, is an old hand at handbell ringing. She is a resident ringer at two Davenport churches and a member of the Handbell Musicians of America. And she was among 200 bell ringers who were drafted to play the "Star-Stangled Banner" before a Brewers-Reds contest at the organization's annual convention in Cincinnati over the summer.

Kelley was with family in London doing genealogical research earlier this month. He was standing in line to ride the Ferris wheel along the Thames near the Olympic Village when he spied Ohno, the heavily decorated Winter Olympic speed-skating star, across the street filming a segment for NBC's Olympic website.

"I was the first one to recognize him, " said Kelley, who crossed the street with his brother and sister-in-law to ask to take a picture. Before he knew it, he wound up with a two-second cameo in a segment that now lives on via YouTube.

Medema-Johnson was attending a conference in San Francisco and found herself staying in the same hotel as Lopez, who current students may know from "Dancing with the Stars." Alumni, however, certainly remember him best as A.C. Slater on "Saved by the Bell."

It was a bit of a thrill, she said. But when you really get down to it, Slater's no Screech.

"You can say that again," Medema-Johnson said.

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Other faculty summer highlights:

Kathleen Anderson ‘01, executive assistant to the president, honored a promise to her late mother when she and her sisters attended the Air Force Reunion in Colorado Springs. There, a group called the 50 Fallen Stars, airmen who lost their lives in airplane accidents from 1965-67, were memorialized. That group included Anderson's uncle, 1st Lt. Thomas J. Fiedler, who once attended the St. Ambrose Academy.

Albert Chan, PhD, an assistant professor of philosophy, had a Mickey Mouse vacation in China. He researched the Disneyland theme park in Hong Kong and explored a future Disney resort park in Shanghai.

Jessica Gosnell, PhD, associate professor of philosophy, joined Mara Adams '82, '95 MPS, PhD, professor of theology, for her third straight summer visit to Northern Ireland to explore the lasting impact of "The Troubles."

Michael Hustedde, PhD, professor of English, went to New York's Ellis Island to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his maternal grandfather's arrival there.

David Krupke, clinical instructor of speech and language pathology, visited California and crossed the very Golden Gate Gate Bridge under which his father sailed en route to what was to be an invasion of Japan in 1945.

Nicole Pizzini, PhD, an assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice, re-created the Robin Williams movie "RV," travelling the west in a camper with family. (Probably a better family activity than re-creating "Death to Smoochy.")

Chemistry professor Art Serianz, PhD, a professor of chemistry, and his wife Rachel, PhD, a professor of teacher education, walked their 20th Quad-City Times Bix 7 together in July. (Read about it.)

And we will let Dan LaCorte, PhD, a professor of history, explain his summer: "Harvested 'madder root' to dye some cloth according to the manuals of the middle ages. Started building a Hurdy Gurdy from a revised plan from the 12th century—YouTube 'Led Zepplin and Hurdy Gurdy' to see what I am up to there. Harvested my winter wheat that the medieval farmers used as one of their staple crops. Worked on my translations of ninth century texts from Latin into English."

(That Dan knows how to party like it's 1399.)

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