Retirement Bio of John Dersch

Teachers affect eternity; they never know where their influence ends.

I’ve wanted to teach since I was twelve.

In 7th grade I wanted to be a 7th grade math teacher.

In 8th grade I wanted to be an 8th grade math teacher.

After spending a couple years among high school kids I decided that I’d rather teach in college.

At graduation my goal was to earn a PhD in mathematics and teach at the university level.  A year of grad school taught me that I wasn’t smart enough for a PhD, but my Masters was enough to land a temporary teaching position at Calvin College.  A couple weeks into the semester, on a Monday night, I got a phone call from the Head of the Physical Sciences Division (Bud Elve) at Grand Rapids Junior College.  He had heard that I taught math and wanted to know if I would take a night class at JC.  Its first meeting was earlier that evening.  The class had no assigned instructor.  He asked if I could start Thursday.  My brilliant response: “Where’s Grand Rapids Junior College?”

Thursday night I went to 411 North (Cook) and introduced myself to a somewhat annoyed but bemused group of adults, most of them my senior by many years.  I did the best I could.  So did they.  It was the beginning of my calling.  For while Elve was responsible for hiring me, it was JC students who compelled me to come back.

That was more than forty years ago.  Much has changed.  Not all change is progress.  But the incredible diversity of our student body has never wavered, and pedagogically related changes in our students have not been significant.  I’ve been a part of the lives of adults who struggle with basic grade school math, of those who excel far beyond the highest levels of math that we offer, and of those everywhere in between.  Our students still inspire me to do my best.

In late December 2017, during a layover at O’Hare on our way back from visiting family in Seattle, my wife and I ended up in a hospital.  Mary had severe pain and dangerously low blood pressure.  After many hours, the cause was determined and emergency surgery was scheduled.  It was near midnight.  I had gotten very little sleep the previous 36+ hours.  Desperately needing to talk with someone on her surgical team, I was directed to a young woman.  She looked familiar.  After kindly and professionally answering my questions, she asked if I still taught at GRCC.  She had been in one of my night classes a decade earlier.  She thanked me, mentioned that the intellectual challenges of her GRCC experience helped prepare her for med school, then helped save Mary’s life.

My sincere thanks to everyone who helped me during my JC/CC career.

And heartfelt gratitude to Mary, my bride, best friend, and patient math widow, for her love, understanding and support.  It was she, as a 16-year-old budding librarian, who introduced me to the History of Mathematics.  She has also affected eternity.        

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