Professor’s career one for the IWU history books

2013-06-05T05:00:00Z Professor’s career one for the IWU history booksBy Lenore Sobota | lsobota@pantagraph.com pantagraph.com

BLOOMINGTON — After 47 years of teaching at Illinois Wesleyan University, history professor emeritus Paul Bushnell is looking forward to traveling, getting more exercise and reading books he doesn’t “have to” read.

But his immediate project is clearing books from his office.

“There’s got to be over 1,000 here,” Bushnell said as he glanced around at mostly full shelves and boxes. “I’ve got to be out of the office by the end of July.”

It’s a daunting task, but the 83-year-old isn’t known for shying from challenges.

As a graduate student at Vanderbilt University in the early 1960s, he was involved in sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in Nashville, Tenn. He was present at the founding of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in North Carolina, where he met the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“That intensive experience at the beginning of the movement was very educational for me,” said Bushnell, who launched a black history class at IWU in 1968, before such courses were common.

He also was involved in the Bloomington-Normal Black History Project.

IWU history professor Mike Young said it will be difficult to replace Bushnell, who started as a specialist in European history, then moved to U.S. history, particularly 19th century America, slavery and civil rights.

“How many people would it take to cover all those bases?” Young asked, saying Bushnell “revolutionized the curriculum” at IWU and has been “so good at talking to students and establishing a rapport with them.”

Elizabeth Robb, chief circuit judge of McLean County, is a graduate of the American studies program created by Bushnell and English professor Robert Bray. She described Bushnell as “a treasure for the university” who continues to have “a deep, genuine interest in his students” — past and present.

“The thing that impressed me about him is he truly loved history,” Robb said, and his excitement rubbed off on his students.

“With Paul, it was more than just studying history,” she said. “He lived it, especially with his involvement in the civil rights movement. He explained how movements like that change history.”

Bushnell has always kept a couple of cotton bolls on his desk as “a reminder of the kind of manual labor we don’t know.”

“My kids detasseled corn. I encouraged it,” said Bushnell, a father of four. His wife, Dorothy, owns The Garlic Press in Normal.

Getting a good education for his children was among the reasons he moved to Illinois, but not the only one.

“I thought IWU had real prospects to become a fine institution,” Bushnell said. “It’s been gratifying to see that happen.”

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(5) Comments

  1. ladybee
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    ladybee - June 05, 2013 2:44 pm
    It just doesn't get any better than this!!!! Thank you Sir!
  2. Ocracoma
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    Ocracoma - June 05, 2013 10:27 am
    I remember sitting in Dr. Bushnell's Survey of American History to 1877 course back in the fall of 1988 as an 18 year freshman that had no clue what I planned to major in, or for that matter do with my life. Bushnell walked in ten minutes late, as was his custom that semester (but very forgivable from my perspective) and proceeded draw me in with anecdotal stories and points of view of American history that I had never heard before. The following spring I had the pleasure of taking his Civil Rights course and I was hooked. Dr. Young posed the question "How do you replace that (him)?" The answer is you don't. This man is an artifact himself from one of the most significant movements in American history. He brought James Meredith to speak to our class, he shared back stories about movement events (including one about rescuing Marion Barry [pre crack smoking days] from a racist mob) that would never get written up in historical narratives. Bushnell went on to serve as my advisor and mentor, and is THE reason that I entered the classroom myself. He gave me a B in student teaching. A disappointment at the time, but it sparked a desire in me to figure it out and do it the right way. Something that I still strive to do in the ever evolving career that is education as I complete my 21st year in the classroom. Educators inspire. Dr. Bushnell was the educator in my life. Congratulations on a well deserved retirement. Oh, and I remember numerous meetings in his office when I feared those stacks of books on the floor to ceiling shelves would come crashing in, killing both of us. You had to experience it to know what I am talking about. Rich Baldwin - IWU '92.
  3. ChubbyAlaskaGriz
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    ChubbyAlaskaGriz - June 05, 2013 9:40 am
    A wonderful piece about a man who himself, seems wonderful.

    In the words of the fantastically-funny Redd Foxx: "Only one thing kept me from college- high school!"

    But seriously- I was never cut out to be a student- but that doesn't mean I don't love and value learning. And wisdom. Seem like this gentleman had a lot to offer his students over the years. And that's good. :-)
  4. OGPaints
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    OGPaints - June 05, 2013 8:51 am
    Your office is cluttered.
  5. mestizo
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    mestizo - June 05, 2013 8:31 am
    Have a great retirement! Thank you for your contribution to society.
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