Arthur J. Hoare Scholarship Fund


"Professor in the dark"


by Lura Lincoln Cook

What can a mon do when his light is spent ere half his days? (Reference, Milton, Sonnet XIX, "When I consider...")

Arthur J. Hoare, who came to Fairmount College as a professor in 1906 and retired from the Municipal University of Wichita in 1944, lost the precious gift of sight in mid-career. He was not to regain it until after his retirement, when a former Fairmount student, Dr. Victor Rambo - proposed and performed a surgery that proved to be successful. But in the meantime, Hoare has persevered; and his personal brilliance had illuminated the lives of friends and students over the years. This is his story.

I remember him with his massive forehead and neatly parted white hair, standing tall and ramrod-straight in from of my college calculus class. He had just worked through and involved integration on the blackboard. "Isn't that pretty!" he beamed from behind the dark glasses that he always wore. "Isn't that a beauty!" He saw our class in his mind's eye only, for Arthur J. Hoare was almost totally blind.

After class he quickly switched from the role of mathematics professor to that of my Uncle Arthur and walked home to lunch with me. He and my aunt, childless themselves, had made it financially possible for me to attend college by inviting me to live with them. In these college years I learned to appreciate the indomitable spirit of this man, who, in spite of his handicap, carried a full teaching load and acted as chair of the mathematics department at the University of Wichita.

In 1883, when Arthur was 6 years old, his parents had sailed from England with their six young children to settle in Michigan. His father eventually opened a bakery shop in Manistee, and there Arthur graduated from high school.

In accordance with the traditions of the Old World, his father expected Arthur - the oldest son - to join him in the bakery business. But life in the New World had filled the boy with other dreams. Determine to become a teacher, he enrolled at the University of Michigan.

There followed four years of struggle. He sandwiched a wide variety of odd jobs in with the Greek and Latin and mathematics. During the summer holidays, he traveled from house to house in western Michigan and norther Ohio selling dictionaries, copies of The Progressive Speaker and assorted stereopticon views. His graduation from the university with the "Century Class" of 1900 was a triumph of resourcefulness and persistence. After several years of teaching high school while working for a master's degree, he accepted a position as professor of mathematics at Fairmount College, a small liberal arts institution in Wichita, Kansas.

The young professor, who married Lucia Lovewell from Michigan in 1907, became a leader in the academic life of the college and the area. He organized Fairmount's first summer school in 1909, and was in charge of summer school from 1911 to 1918. He established the Kansas State Association of Collegiate Mathematics in 1913 and was president for two years. Along with his teaching duties, he served first as registrar and then (beginning in 1911) as Dean of Fairmount College for nearly a decade. He stepped in as Fairmount's acting president for a six-month period in 1914.

Arthur's busy career was abruptly interrupted by tragedy in October 1919, when he awoke one morning to darkness. A condition, diagnosed as atrophy of the optic nerve, had totally destroyed the vision of his right eye and taken all but 3 percent of the vision of his left eye. He and Lucia used their meager resources in vain to seek help from specialists in Chicago and St. Louis. At last they had to accept the hard fact of his blindness. Lucia became the wage-earner for the couple by taking a teaching position at the nearby Indian Institute, but Arthur could foresee that she would not be able to work many more years since she was becoming increasingly crippled by arthritis.

Arthur was a born teacher, and he did not believe that the Lord meant him to sit out the rest of his days with folded hands. He learned to type and read Braille. He tutored the delinquent mathematics students sent to him by his colleagues. But he looked on these activities as stopgaps. He was possessed with an overwhelming determination to resume his interrupted career as a full-time professor of mathematics.

The first step toward realizing this ambition was his teaching of an evening extension class of Wichita secondary school teachers. When he had demonstrated that he could do this successfully, he was given one or two regular college classes to teach. At last, having proved his ability to satisfaction of the administration, he resumed a full-time teaching schedule in September 1922.

How was it possible for this blind man to stand, day and day, before his classes and lecture on subjects as integral calculus and differential equations? With a yardstick and compass, he drew precise diagrams on the blackboard, more by the feel than by the tiny fraction of vision in his left eye. His feats of memory were phenomenal. Every lecture had to be worked out and mastered so thoroughly that he could deliver it without notes or reminders of any sort. At one time, he was teaching five different subjects, and yet he knew each textbook that he used - the order of the chapters, the articles, the steps of the proofs and the numbers and subjects of the problems.

Facing his classes, he looked into darkness; but he knew the name of each student in every class and where he or she sat. During recitation period, no one could hope to be forgotten. His students treated him with affection and respect. On one occasion, a young man took advantage of the professor's sightlessness by cheating on a test. When that hapless student stepped out into the corridor afterwards, he found himself surrounded by five or six brawny fellow math students. "You do that again and you'll wish you'd never set foot on this campus," they told him. He never did it again.

Only Lucia could appreciate the strain that Arthur's daily routine placed on him. Although often a friendly colleague or student accompanied him, he frequently walked alone, keeping track of his location by the barely-visible silhouettes of trees and houses along the way. He refused to carry a cane but walked with apparent confidence when he crossed his classroom or descended the steps of the library. His secret was that he knew the exact number of steps between any two given objects in his familiar haunts. Of course, that knowledge did not allow for the unexpected - a know of heedless students blocking the stairs or a child's wagon left on the sidewalk for him to trip over. Year by year, the lines of tension etched themselves more deeply into his face.

Arthur acted as administrative head of his department until 1938 and taught until 1944. During these years, little Fairmount College was transformed into the Municipal University of Wichita. He expanded the mathematics department and raised its standards to keep pace with the change.

Soon after retirement, he lost he beloved Lucia. Wise, humorous, understnading and brave, she had - her friends thought - kept herself alive for years by sheer willpower because she could not bear to leave Arthur alone in the world.

The road of life held yet another turn. Arthur had so long accepted the permanence of his blindness that he was scarcely prepared for the hope of improvement held out to him in 1946 by a former student. Dr. Victor Rambo, a medical missionary home from India on furlough, told him that his right eye was hopelessly blind but that the vision of his left eye could perhaps be improved. Arthur decided to let his friend perform two operations to cut away the membranous growth that had been discovered in Rambo's examination. The operations were successful, and gradually the vision of the left eye improved until it became about 10 percent of normal.

To Arthur, the change was like a miracle. Suddenly, he was able to see the aging faces of friends he had last seen in their youth. Everything amazed him - automobile designs, short skirts, modern architecture. And colors! He could find no words glad enough to describe the gold of the dandelion carpet that covered the campus nor the spring glory of the Kansas redbuds.

Arthur died in the spring of 1961. When I returned to Wichita for his funeral, I found tangible reminders of him on the campus - his portrait in the LAS building and the Arthur J. Hoare mathematics Scholarship for needed math majors. More significant than these were the tributes of those who had known him - the informal talk at his funeral service by then-President Harry Corbin, the music of Arthur's solos played by the church organist, the request for a book from his library by a graying alumnus of the Class of 28, the affectionate words of the Shakespeare professor who had been his friend for 40 years.

Great universities are made by memories and traditions as well as books and classrooms. The University of Wichita has become The Wichita State University and expanded beyond recognition. One of its invisible foundation stones will always be the man who taught in the dark, Arthur J. Hoare.

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