A never-ending story
Two teachers who dedicated their lives to teaching now commit their resources to students.
The rat’s influence on society may seem an unsavory subject, but hearing about it attracted Marquette students in droves. If you were in the audience at the wildly entertaining history lectures by “Dr. Ron,” you’ve not likely forgotten them — or him.
Flamboyant. Energetic. Consummate showman. Intellectual heavyweight. That’s how Professor Ron Zupko’s colleagues describe him. That’s also, they say, what made him a favorite of students. “He is a great storyteller,” says Dr. John Krugler, who worked with Zupko since 1969 in Marquette’s History Department. “He is filled with excitement for his topic and teaching, and the students picked up on that.”
“He has a cult following, for sure,” affirms former student Peter Sandroni, who remembers the gusto with which his favorite professor re-enacted scenes from the Crusades. “He would get so animated, it was crazy,” he laughs. “I was hooked on him after my first class.” But, says Sandroni, it was fun with a purpose: “He really motivated us to work hard.”
Zupko spent 40 years inspiring Marquette students. His wife, Kay, is perhaps the only person whose energy and dedication match his. A teacher with Milwaukee Public Schools since 1971, she worked hard to ensure a strong educational foundation for her students, primarily first-graders, and to foster their zest for learning.
She had a following, too. “Kay was one of those teachers parents would request,” says Helen Harris, a former principal of Lloyd Street School where Kay taught for 32 years. “She took each student individually to heart,” admires Ron. And she was persistent. “She was a teacher who didn’t give up on them,” says Harris. “She was willing to work with every student.”
“For 35 years it was all school,” says Kay, a bit wistfully of life before retirement. They may not be in the classroom anymore, but the Zupkos’ dedication and traditions of excellence will live on. Their generous $1 million pledge toward a namesake perpetual endowment will fund, starting by 2015, four-year full-tuition scholarships for high-performing MPS students with demonstrated financial need. Once at Marquette these Zupko Scholars will be expected to continue to achieve academically.
Though their student bodies were vastly different, the Zupkos shared a conviction about teaching them. “If they were having fun, I was doing my job,” says Kay. “If you laugh and have a good time, you’ll learn,” Ron says.
Both approached teaching as a dynamic, interactive process between teacher and student, and that fueled their enthusiasm for the profession. “Every day was different because of what the children may have brought in that day. It’s a give and take,” says Kay. “I had to be inspired. Devotion, inquisitiveness, drive — I can’t teach well if I have boring students,” Ron says. “The classes and information have to be made worthwhile,” he adds. “I viewed each lecture as a whole, as a gem. I wanted them to remember it that way.”
Kay spent summers taking classes and wondering what new things she could offer students. Ron tended to research, in addition to lecturing. “He was a stalwart of the department in both the art of teaching and his scholarship,” says Krugler. Ron’s efforts were recognized with a Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence in 1977 and an invitation to the prestigious Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton for a year of theoretical inquiry among some of the best minds in the world.
A medieval historian, Ron specializes in the science and technology and economic history of the Middle Ages. He is an authority on metrology, the study of weights and measures. “He is a world-recognized scholar,” Krugler says. “He has an international reputation.” Marquette’s library archives will house Ron’s extensive research collection.
Ron says he’s not sure what he and Kay will do with their staggering museum-quality clock collection. Over the years they amassed 3,000 clocks. They’ve downsized a bit, to 200 large and 800 small clocks, and will give a Joan of Arc statue clock from Rheims Cathedral — the oldest in their collection — to Marquette with hopes it will grace St. Joan of Arc Chapel.
The Zupkos also will continue to give the Golden Eagles support. Avid men’s basketball fans, they have had season tickets for years. It’s no surprise where their seats are located: right where the energy is — near the student section.
The scholarship fund is a way to keep their connection to students alive. “It just combined both our careers and that we both know the value of a good education,” says Kay. “Bright kids who otherwise would not graduate from college — the point of the gift is to give them that opportunity,” says Ron.
There is also personal significance: “Fulfillment. A legacy. Something to remember. So the name Zupko won’t die. I’ll still be having an influence on the lives of these students,” he adds. — KB
Ron and Kay urge their former students, alumni, faculty and staff who would like to add gifts of any denomination to the Ronald E. and Kathleen M. Zupko Endowed Scholarship Fund to contact Corinthia Van Orsdol (414) 288-7270 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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