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Dr. Ron Heckleman: Beowulf, Banter, and Baseball

posted Mar 21, 2011, 6:28 PM by The Voice   [ updated Mar 21, 2011, 9:18 PM ]
By Keatin Reagan

Deep within the offices of the new G Building, amid the work crews busily finishing minor details in the new construction, lies an island of aged refinement. It is the office of one of the longest-tenured and respected members of both LSC-Montgomery’s English department and the faculty as a whole: Dr. Ron Heckleman.

His office is stuffed to the rafters with books, many of them with yellowed, dog-eared pages, a testament to many years of constant use and gentle care, arranged into a trio of large bookcases that take up much of the room within. Everything from anthologies of medieval literature to the works of Franz Kafka can be found, and they show the varied tastes and cross-genre expertise of the office’s occupant.

Hecklemen certainly looks the part, with his white beard and bushy eyebrows conjuring up images of the academics of ancient Greece.

But there is one subject that Heckleman is passionate about that is obvious upon entering: baseball.

“You could say I enjoy it,” the Chicago native and life-long White Sox fan says, grinning over the set of VHS tapes on baseball sitting on his desk.

His passion for baseball goes beyond a mere hometown fandom; Heckleman sees the game, or more accurately the culture that has grown around it, as a metaphor for life’s journey.

“In baseball, you try to leave home, and then spend the rest of the time trying to get back home. That’s kind of the journey most of us go through,” he explained.

Heckleman guides students through the various methods of examining this metaphorical journey in an English 1302 course that is called “Writing About the Culture of Baseball.” He also pioneered the “thematic” English 1302 classes focused on one particular group of subjects, with his own current class on writing about baseball being a good example.

His current project for the last few years has been the creation of a joint English-Art “learning community” where students are taught World Literature and Art Appreciation concurrently in team fashion by Heckleman and art professor Denise Lorenz. Both teachers remain with the class for the entire three-hour block of learning, which also features hands on art projects based on the literature being studied at the time.

This idea is already beginning to spread like the thematic classes did, with similar partnerships between departments beginning to form, once again thanks to the pioneering efforts of Dr. Heckleman. However, that is far from all this very busy academic he does here at LSC-Montgomery.

Apart from his normal schedule of classes, Dr. Heckleman is also involved with the “Writing Across the Curriculum” program, a literary journal that collects and displays student-written works across virtually any subject that have been submitted by their professors. The journal released its latest annual volume this past fall, which is its sixth volume since Dr. Heckleman and fellow English professor Martina Kusi-Mensah founded it. The journal is definitely a point of pride for the 13-year veteran of the Lone Star Montgomery campus.

Not least of all, Heckleman also was one of the founding advisers of SWIRL, the campus’ very own literary magazine. While he no longer has an active role in the magazine, he is very pleased with its continued existence. “It was very exciting to be able to do things here [like SWIRL] that are just not possible at larger institutions,” Heckleman said.

The good doctor should know; he was awriting and literature teacher at University of California-Irvine and Rice before an agent from the then brand-new Montgomery College found him at a teacher’s conference. “The school was new. It seemed like an exciting opportunity.”

When asked about his teaching style, Heckleman was quite adamant about his preference for an emphasis on class discussion. It certainly shows when one sits in on his English-Literature class; it is rare to not hear everyone say something or get involved in a discussion at least once per meeting. Dr. Heckleman uses this almost-Socratic style for a reason: his respect for his own students.

“I love the variety of students here, all the different perspectives present. So many of them balance work and family and still make the effort to get an education, and I respect that very much,” said Heckleman. The drive that many students display also earns his respect: “The harder a student is working to succeed, the more I want to help them.”

While he keeps himself busy with schoolwork for the most part, Heckleman does set time aside for a few hobbies, chiefly reading, though he enjoys gardening and cooking as well. He also has a soft spot for just relaxing by a roaring fireplace and enjoying the ambiance of it.

Dr. Heckleman, a two-time winner of the Outstanding Faculty Member award during his tenure at Lone Star Montgomery, hopes to continue his career here for some time to come, and his lively classes will continue to fill up and get rave reviews. The ever-humble professor is just happy to help his students and expand their knowledge and enjoyment of writing and literature.

When asked what he most wanted to express to the student body, Dr. Heckelman, perhaps unsurprisingly, used a saying attributed to one of baseball’s all time greats, Yogi Berra: “’It ain’t over till it’s over.’ It’s only over when you quit, when you make that choice.”