On Sunday, Nov. 14, staff, faculty and alumni celebrated the work of three iconic professors who are finishing their careers at Newman University. Larry Heck Ph.D., taught for 48 years at Newman University, Jane Weilert, Ed.D., for 34 years and Joan Melzer R.N., M.S. for 29 years.
A career of caring
Since his start year in 1973, Heck has served as a professor, division chair, director of financial aid, coordinator of a Title III grant, planned giving officer and assistant dean. He most recently held the positions of professor of sociology and assistant undergraduate dean.
Since 1973, he has also been a part of Pi Gamma Mu, an international honor society in social sciences that recognizes students in the field for their accomplishments. In 2010 Heck and his wife, Robbi, established the C. Larry and Robbi C. Heck Scholarship for sociology students. Heck retired in July 2020 but has continued to serve as a member and chapter sponsor of Pi Gamma Mu.
Reminiscing on Heck’s role
Professor of Psychology Greg Smith, Ph.D., felt called to share a few words about Heck during the retirement celebration in the Tarcisia Roths, ASC Alumni Center.
“Larry has been a part of my Newman experience since the beginning,” Smith said. “I couldn’t even begin to list the number of things that Larry has done for Newman.”
Smith said the word care always comes to mind when he thinks of Heck.
“I see him as this force for caring that is just rippling out through the lives of everyone he’s touched,” Smith said. “He deeply cares about his family, the university, his students, his major, Pi Gamma Mu, United Way and I’m sure that’s only a fraction. He continually rises to every call and I’m so grateful for the care you’ve shown me and all of us here. Thank you.”
Heck said he feels “indebted to the ASC sisters” for his time at Newman.
“The ASCs enabled me to have this wonderful profession that I’ve enjoyed for so long,” Heck said. “The dean that hired me is in this room, Sister Tarcisia (Roths). And my next dean was Sister Therese Wetta. I just feel like the relationships go back so far.”
Leaving her mark on Newman
Weilert, who most recently served as associate dean of the School of Nursing and Allied Health, started working at Kansas Newman College in 1982. Weilert’s efforts helped transition the Newman nursing program from a two-year registered nurse program to the well-regarded four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.
In 2006 Weilert left for a brief period to teach at the University of South Carolina, but returned to her Newman home in 2010. Weilert is the recipient of a Health Care Heroes award, which she earned in 2016. The Newman Board of Trustees awarded Weilert with the status professor emerita in the winter of 2019, and she officially retired in May 2020.
“When I started, I knew nothing about higher education, nursing education, nothing about curriculum,” Weilert said. “But I grew up here at Newman and learned an awful lot about all those things and am so grateful for the people I stood on the shoulders of, from Dr. Joan Felts to Bernadette (Fetterolf), Sister Therese, for all the wonderful people who’ve been here at Newman.”
Weilert added, “I’ll never regret spending the rest of my career at Newman, and I want to thank everyone so much for your time and your support, all the faculty and staff and ASC sisters, I can’t say enough. I appreciate it.”
Words from those Weilert has impacted
Bernadette Fetterolf, Ph.D., who served as the associate dean of nursing and allied health and worked at Newman for 22 years, described Weilert as “one of the most giving, heartfelt and committed people I’ve ever met.”
“There isn’t a community agency that doesn’t know Jane,” Fetterolf said. “I really feel that Newman University and anybody who has ever worked with Jane has truly been blessed. She is committed, she’s willing to help out with anything. She volunteers all the time.”
She added, “There just isn’t anything that Jane wouldn’t do for the health of the community and for Newman University.”
Director of Nursing Teresa Vetter, M.S.N., is impressed but not at all surprised that Weilert has continued to work as a nurse, even though she has retired from her teaching career.
“I can’t say more about an individual as a nurse than the person who’s out there every day, and Jane is,” Vetter said. “Thank you, Jane, for what you did for us but also for what you continue to do.”
29 years at Newman University
While Melzer taught nursing in the St. Francis Hospital diploma program in 1972, she simultaneously attended Newman University, then Kansas Newman College. She graduated in 1975 with her bachelor’s degree in psychology and went on to receive two master’s degrees in education and nursing.
In 1992, Melzer started working at Newman University, where she has been ever since. In 2012, she was one of only 11 nurses from across the nation to be selected as a volunteer item writer for the National Council of State Boards of Nursing Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Melzer was nominated by her students and received the 2013 Teaching Excellence Award.
A student who nominated Melzer for the Teaching Excellence Award wrote that Melzer “sets you up for success in every way possible. She challenges you and makes you think of ways to apply the knowledge to the work and life settings.”
Another wrote, “Professor Melzer has opened my eyes to new avenues of nursing as well as making me think of ways to change for the better of my patients, my family and myself.”
Melzer will retire at the end of the fall semester.
A lasting impression
At the retirement party, Associate Professor of English Marguerite Regan approached the microphone to share a story.
“I didn’t have a whole lot to do with nursing, but Joan is a colleague of mine and what I’m going to say is just a small brushstroke in the canvas of the work and experience of Joan at Newman,” Regan said.
Regan went on to share that she remembers a meeting from 14 years ago, when Melzer helped with her infant son.
“I had no choice but to bring him to this meeting and he was a pretty fussy infant,” Regan recalled. “I thought I could just strap him to my body, bring him to the meeting and he would sleep, but that wasn’t happening. I grew very frustrated about it and it was irritating to others in the room, but Joan, you have the heart for children and the heart for your colleagues, the heart for a person who’s really frustrated and struggling, and you picked up my baby and you made him well and I’ve never forgotten that.”
She added, “It’s just a tiny little thing but it demonstrates the level of your care and your responsiveness to other human beings, and I thank you for that.”
Melzer said her 29 years at Newman have flown by.
“It’s been a delightful ride, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every day of it and I will miss this place,” she said. “I’m winding up one piece of my life but will enjoy social activities and athletics and things like that. Thank you all for the wonderful memories, thank you to the ASC sisters for everything you do day in and day out.”
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