Whitman College received dozens of responses in reaction to news of the death of longtime biology teacher Arthur Rempel on May 1, 2007. He was 97.
Rempel retired in 1976 after 37 years of teaching at the college and several more decades of educating alumni on excursions. The following are excerpts from some of the messages sent to the college by alumni.
Maria (Weissenberg) Barrows ‘47 wrote:
“I have remained in contact and did receive this news through my foster brother Gordon Riess ’49, who just recently had a good visit with the Rempels. And of course, I did write to Lucille (Rempel). Dr. Rempel and his nephew came to stay with us in Sumatra in 1985 and together we visited the old Mission of Muarasipongi, where Dr. Rempel’s mother spent the first 10 years of her life as the daughter of Missionaries. I cherish the unforgettable memories of visiting the Orangutan (Indonesian word for man of the forest) reserve in North Sumatra with them. Although we mourn his passing, he was ready to leave this world and certainly left a most wonderful legacy for friends and students.”
Brian Griffin ’54:
“Arthur Rempel and his powers of influence on my life and the lives of so many others intrigue me to this day. I was not the greatest of students in my time on campus 50-plus years ago but Arthur Rempel inspired me in his natural history classes to get the only HH’s of my college career. I have often thought about how a quiet, socially awkward person like Dr. Rempel could have inspired and fascinated us so. How did he transmit his delight in nature’s wonders to so many of us? He was surely not a dynamic lecturer or a classroom showman. I think his secret had to have been in his own ongoing sense of wonder and his almost childlike excitement about the natural world.
“Of all my teachers, Dr. Rempel alone has gone with me through my life, his fascination with nature’s works and his demanding classes are surely two of the inspirations that caused my interest in the Orchard Mason Bee, which resulted in my starting a business educating the public about the native bees of our continent. At our 50th reunion in 2004, I presented Dr. Rempel with my two books about native bees suitably inscribed with my thanks to him. I found myself with tears in my eyes as I presented them to him, such are the emotions engendered by a great teacher. I consider myself fortunate to have known the man. There will be many who mourn his passing but share my thought that his life was indeed a triumph.”
Dr. J. Bruce Beckwith ’55:
“All teachers provide information, but Art’s special gift to me and countless others of his students was inspiration. His passionate love for the miracle of life was communicated, not by eloquent oratory, but by his whole being. Though a shy and quiet man, his emotions were always near the surface. No less than his love for biology was his love for his students, and untold hundreds of us remained in close touch with Art through all the years since graduation. His poetic Christmas message describing events of each year was a special treat, but best of all were visits from the dear professor whenever his travels brought him near the home of a former student.
“Art lit fires in me that have burned brightly ever since, inspiring, motivating and directing my entire career. Three pivotal moments illustrate the essence of Art Rempel:
“1) During his introductory lecture on the first day of Embryology class, in his characteristic quiet manner he ended a description of a course with the following statement: ‘…, but I want each of you never to forget that you are studying a miracle.’ That phrase was a bolt of lightning that went straight to my soul. In that moment, I knew I would devote my life to the miracle of development. Recalling those words still sends shivers down my spine.
“2) Art was not one to express particular praise to his students during courses but after our graduation ceremonies in 1954, as we were leaving the amphitheater, Art came beside me and quietly uttered words that were both surprising and infinitely motivating. ‘Bruce, if you don’t achieve something special with your life and career, I will be very disappointed in you.’
“3) In 1980 I was privileged to receive an honorary degree from Whitman that I suspect was largely due to Art, though he never said so. At the end of the ceremony, I noticed Art sitting in the front row with tears running down his checks. That moment was the most meaningful honor I have ever received.
“There are legions of Art’s former students who feel as I do, and have experienced comparable beautiful moments in the presence of this unique and wonderful human being.”
Shirley (Quine) Coffin ’56:
“On The Passing of Art Rempel:
“He was my major professor, my mentor, my friend.
“He was an inspired and inspiring teacher, a rare combination of enthusiasm, grace, humor, and an astounding scientific mind.
“I remember hours of rigorous class time, such as the vision of Dr. Rempel rapidly covering the chalkboard with diagrams showing the evolution of the circulatory system, all the while giving a full lecture with his back to us students! I remember his lantern slide programs detailing the development of the fetal pig! I remember his demonstrating various physical characteristics on himself while marching up and down at the front of the classroom. I remember periodic evening ‘fireside chats’ held in Rempel’s cozy living room where we ‘majors’ debated the wonders of biology (and other subjects!). He was a master teacher who often illustrated his story with humor and rhyme. His formidable stature did not deter him from getting prone on the ground to photograph a bird in the nest or to climb to heights to capture the sky. His outdoor tours were filled with enthusiastic minute details of all we could see around us.
“Over the years my family and I have continued to periodically share and enjoy Art’s and Lucile’s gracious hospitality, and have hosted them in our home on several occasions. There was always at least one topic during those visits which focused on the natural world … be it an interesting tree or bird in the yard, or an exciting observation on his last trip to far parts of this planet.
“Our memories include sharing a Panama/Costa Rica ‘coastal cruise’ with some Whitman alumni. Art Rempel, at age 86, was on board as one of our ship’s resource lecturers. He detailed the migration of flora and fauna north and/or south across the Isthmus of Panama over the ages … and his signature delivery of two hours at a time with no notes amazed all of our fellow passengers, except the Whitman contingent! We remembered!
“I have these and many similar visions of Art Rempel’s remarkable ability to make everything an exciting story and a teachable moment. That is the true and eternal legacy he has left to all of us who were privileged to share his world of ‘the miracle of life, the wonder of living things…’ I mourn his passing.”
Dr. Milton R. Watson ’56:
“Dr. Rempel was by far my favorite teacher during my entire educational experience. It was a great pleasure for me to visit him at his home recently during my 50th Whitman College reunion.”
Dr. Rolland Dibble ’59:
“I graduated in 1959 and loved the man and the knowledge he gave to us all. For me he became my mentor.”
Nick Hansen ’60:
“I’m so glad that I was able to see Dr. Rempel at last year’s reunion. He was certainly a shinning star from my Whitman years that I will never forget.”
Paul Knostman ’61:
“Much has been said, and will continue to be said, about Dr. Rempel’s incredible teaching skills. I would like to add the following tribute: Art Rempel had no favorite students. He regarded each and every one of us with the same patience, understanding and unwavering confidence in our eventual success. I don’t think he ever forgot one of his students. We certainly will never forget him.”
Terry Carter ’62:
“It is with great sadness that I receive this news, but I will have the days ahead filled with memory of the man and the inspiration he gave. I feel sorry for friends who never were exposed to a man like Art Rempel, friends who cannot wander in nature and think of a walk with Dr. Rempel. Yes, a walk with Dr. Rempel will forever be one of my most cherished memories of Whitman.”
Dr. Joanne (Bednarz) Prashad ’65:
“(Dr. Rempel) was one of the greatest professors I have ever known. I will miss knowing I can drop him a letter and receive a reply, sharing his love for science, biology and the progress of the world toward peace and understanding. Along with Mrs. Rempel, we have lost a valuable and valued, well-loved friend.
“Dr. Rempel was instrumental in my developing love for science. After a disastrous first year at Whitman, when one of my first-year chemistry professors wrote in my file that (paraphrased) ‘Miss Bednarz has no aptitude for the field of science and should seek another major,’ I started in on the embryology and comparative anatomy courses, and I found a professor who demanded excellence and helped the students to achieve it. He helped me toward my goal of becoming a scientist, despite a worrisome beginning.
“In tribute to Dr. Rempel and to his courses, my classmate, Karen (Colliander) Thurner ’65, and I wrote that great paean to the embryology course (sung to the old tune ‘H A DOUBLE-R I G A N spells harrigan.’)The words are as follows, and can be recognized as something composed during or after studying all night for a final exam:
“E-M-B-R-Y-O, That’s the way to spell EMBRYO.
When you take this course from Rempel,
You will find it’s not so very simple.
E-M-B-R-Y-O, that’s the way to spell it, you see.
Write as fast as you can,
Changing pencils from hand to hand
“Walk right in. Sit yourself down.
Start copying pictures from the board.
Don’t forget the red notochord.
How does he make those dotted lines on the board?
E-M-B-R-Y-O, That’s the way to spell it, you see.
Gee, this course is really great, But will I ever graduate
“(Now that I see it in writing, I am almost afraid to send it in this message.)
“Dr. Rempel gave me an opportunity to see what being a teacher, and becoming a professor in my own right, would be like, in the fall of 1965. I was going to graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin, to start in September of that year. Dr. Rempel had been given an opportunity to travel and was to be out of town for that semester, but so were two of the other Biology Department professors. He could not accept the opportunity to travel unless someone could cover his teaching for him. He asked me if I would delay starting graduate school for a semester to teach the laboratory course part of his Embryology Course; another biology department professor was willing to teach the lecture portion. Of course, I was thrilled to be asked to do this. It was a golden semester for me, getting a taste of what being a teaching professor would be like, learning how to be enthusiastic, well prepared, a resource for the students, and a VERY junior ( and temporary) colleague to the professors I had known for the past four years.
“I have never forgotten the honor he did by giving me that opportunity. After finishing graduate school, I became a professor of microbiology at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. I carried the example of Dr. Rempel into the lecture hall and into my research laboratory each day. I never felt I was able to reach his level of excellence; however, I always aspired to it, and worked toward it.
“I feel sorrow at Dr. Rempel’s passing. I feel so lucky to have been his student, to have sat in his classes, to have studied for major exams at his house, to have sung funny biology songs in his living room, to have received the Rempels’ hospitality (and sweet cakes and cookies). I will miss his and Mrs. Rempel’s kind welcoming at class reunions. It is not possible for me to be there physically for Dr. Rempel’s memorial service. I will be there in my heart, however. And I send my condolences to all of you at Whitman for the loss of this wonderful person.”
Stephen K. Farrand ’67:
“I am tremendously saddened by this news. (Dennis) McNair ’67 had organized a group meeting for biology majors from the class of 1967 with Dr. Rempel and Lucile just last Saturday afternoon. While I thought that Dr. Rempel looked frail, he certainly retained his sharpness, wit and curiosity.
“Dr. Rempel was one of three professors at Whitman who made me the best person I could be (the other two being George Ball and Bill Soper). I can assure you that he similarly influenced many other Whitman students. His passing is to me a personal loss. But indeed, his death marks an end to an era, both for biology and for Whitman.
“The school will continue to grow, prosper and excel. But Whitman will never quite be the same for its loss.”
Elaine E. Rost ’67:
“What a sad day this is in losing the most inspiring teacher I’ve ever known. His classes and the wonder he induced in all of us are as fresh today as they were 40-some years ago when he told the story of life in a way we had never heard before. Equally vivid is the time we returned to campus from an eastern Washington field trip at sunset, and Dr. Rempel sang ‘America the Beautiful’ to all of us. There were no dry eyes in the Whitman limo that evening. He was a hero, a mentor, and a friend. I will always be grateful to have participated in two of his African safaris in the late 1980s thus being exposed all over again to his love of life, nature, and particularly his wonderful birds, each with its own story.”
Mary Norton ’71:
“I had had the opportunity to visit with Dr. Rempel at our class of 1971 cluster reunion. As at previous visits, he was interested to see former students and excited to hear what people were doing. He was amused to report that his successor had now retired, and discussed the current DNA evidence confirming phylogenetic relationships established by careful observation — a typical wide-ranging conversation with this very special and interesting man.
“I am glad I had the opportunity to be one of Dr. Rempel’s students, and will always appreciate his broad interests and passion for the natural world. We will all miss him.”
Dr. John Hawes ’78:
“Little did I know after taking Zoology in 1974, in what I believe was Dr. Rempel’s last year of full-time teaching, that I would be sad at age 51 from learning of his passing. No teacher has had more influence on me than Dr. Rempel, and I feel so lucky to have been his student. Though my occupation is that of a physician, I will always consider myself a biologist first and foremost due to Dr. Rempel’s teachings. Whitman has truly lost one of its icons but has been blessed to have had such an outstanding mentor for all those decades.”