Lux Æterna

By Tim Butler | Posted at 3:37 PM

I found out today that my undergraduate advisor, Dr. George Hickenlooper died last week. Dr. Hickenlooper's English Comp I class was my first class on my first day as a college student. I still remember the assessment test he gave that first day and how the very professorial professor described in the reading comprehension portion of that test reminded me a bit of my new professor. He just was a professor. A good professor.

Dr. Hickenlooper's enthusiasm in class was contagious. I sought out more of his classes during my first couple of years in college and it was not long before I became an English major. I naturally asked him to be my advisor. I took almost every class he offered.

He thrived doing dramatic readings in class; those times were so much fun. Usually a very quiet, gentle man, he would often choose a particularly dramatic part in a play we were studying and act it out with a room filling performance. It would be all the more striking, afterwards, how he would return to his usual self: he would carefully put his yellow ruled notepads back into the brown plastic cases he always carried them in and quietly shuffle out of the room.

Dr. Hickenlooper took providing feedback on assignments so seriously that it made me want to put all the more work into assignments. I knew he would appreciate careful work. He encouraged me in my creative writing and when I tried my hand writing plays outside of class, he provided just as thorough and helpful of feedback for those plays as he did assignments. I still have those notes from him tucked on my bookshelf.

Incredibly, he could grade something, and include all that detailed feedback, so quickly it seemed almost like a superhuman act.

I remember particularly well one time that I handed in a final exam to him. He was up by the podium looking through student assignments just as he was on the final exam day I snapped the picture that begins this post. I was always the student who turned in the exam and then — this being the era before electronically posted grades — asked if I could contact the professor at some point to find out my exam grade. (I would fret until I knew and I always wanted to know how the exam went, not just my course grade.)

Dr. Hickenlooper asked if I wanted to know my grade right then.

When I responded in the affirmative, he asked me to turn around. A couple of minutes later, he told me to turn back around and gave me a fully graded, carefully commented upon exam. That was Dr. Hickenlooper.

During my time as a professor, I never was able to grade with that sort of speed. However, his care to provide genuine, useful feedback that respected a student's work by treating it seriously and worthy of comment, was always on my mind as I graded my own students papers.

I didn't see Dr. Hickenlooper ever after my time as Lindenwood's chaplain came to an end, but I always hoped to visit with him again or send him another piece of writing for feedback. As I write this, I can imagine his swiftly moving red pen sweeping over my words, landing every so often to provide genuinely meaningful feedback.

Thank you for all the times you did that, Dr. Hickenlooper.

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