By: Matthew Hunter
This article is going to be a bit different from the ones I usually write, as the subject for today is quite more personal. On the afternoon of Monday, February 12th, the campus community received an email from President Farley’s office informing us of the sudden death of Dr. Jim Kerbaugh. When I got that email, I initially thought it was about the death of a trustee member or a former professor from IC’s past, which is indeed tragic enough. Instead, the email told me that a man whom I held in such high regard, had unexpectedly died. That’s a hell of a lot to take in, especially on a Monday.
For those of you who missed out on having a class with Dr. Kerbaugh, he was a professor of English who specialized in medieval and classical literature. He began teaching at Illinois College almost thirty years ago as a visiting professor. I had the privilege of being in four of Dr. Kerbaugh’s English courses. Two of them were about authors of the medieval period, such as Dante Alighieri, Pearl Poet, and Geoffrey Chaucer. I also took his science fiction literature course and his creative writing class, both of which he taught me and many other students the finer points of literary analysis, writing styles and structure, and most importantly, the importance of having fun when reading classical readings.
He was well-known across campus for his dry wit. His sense of humor was subtle and dark, but once you understood the joke, you could not stop laughing. A favorite expression I remember him often saying was “if you should see me running, you should run too.” He often combined his deadpan humor with the class material so that we would not only have a good laugh once in a while, but so that we would also better understand what we were reading about.
He was also a very well-respected poet. Throughout his academic career, he had more than sixty poems published in literary magazines and journals throughout the country. His passion for poetry showed when he served as a faculty advisor for the Forte literary magazine at Illinois College.
I think the most important thing I will remember about him was that he was always willing to help out a student in need. He would always take time out of his schedule to make sure that they were caught up in class or help them if they were having trouble with a paper. Even if you wanted to just sit down and chat about things, whether it was about academics or life or whatever, he would make the time to have a sit-down with you. As I’m getting ready to graduate, I didn’t expect I’d see much of Dr. Kerbaugh anyway, but I never expected I would never see him again. All I can say now is that I’m going to really miss talking with him, and I think there are a lot of others who will too.