Larry Peery Concludes 46 Years In CMU Classroom
Plans to remain involved with University
Advances in science and technology come at a staggering pace; it often seems as if the only constant is change. But for science students at Central Methodist University, since 1967 there has been one other constant: Dr. Larry Peery.
That constant came to an end with the close of the Spring 2013 semester when Peery, CMU professor of physics, walked away from his Fayette classroom for the final time. Thus ended an almost unheard-of 46 year run, teaching at the same institution.
Not bad for a person who learned of the faculty opening at Central purely by chance while in graduate school at Oklahoma State University - though as a native of Moberly, Peery certainly knew of then-Central Methodist College.
Central's legendary "Dean T.," college Dean James Thogmorton, and Larry Dimond, then head of Central's education department, happened to be at a conference in Stillwater, Okla. in '67. Dimond knew one of Peery's classmates and mentioned the faculty opening, and the classmate relayed the tip to Peery.
The next thing he knew, Peery was flying a small plane with his expectant wife Carolyne to Fayette to interview. With no teaching experience beyond a graduate assistantship at Oklahoma State, Peery was hired - though he readily admits he wasn't certain he would spend his career teaching, much less in Fayette.
"In graduate school I did some research and consulting for NASA," Peery reflected, including involvement with the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space projects. That was after he had done some work with the McDonnell-Douglas Corp. as an undergraduate student in Rolla, Mo. at what was then known as the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy.
"I thought we might stay here (Fayette) for two or three years, and then I would either go teach at a larger institution or go to work in industry," Peery said. "But we became involved in Fayette, and we liked it as a place to live and to raise a family.
"I had freedom here, the ability to choose what I wanted to work on, including research. It (Central) grew on us," he said.
Peery, who had joined the Navy while at Oklahoma State, also had the flexibility to remain active in the Naval Reserve; he retired in 2006 with the rank of Captain. Another advantage of his teaching schedule at Central was the ability to complete his doctorate from Oklahoma State during summers.
Much has changed at Central during Peery's years of service. He has worked under five different presidents; remarkably, he worked for the three who served longest - Ralph Woodward (1950-1970), Joe Howell (1977-1995) and soon-to-retire President Marianne Inman, who joined CMU in 1995.
The college itself "has grown, certainly, yet it has preserved its heritage," Peery said. "I applaud President Inman for putting the University under sound financial management, for strategic planning, and for leading a planned approach to expansion."
Students have changed, too, "but not as much as you might imagine," he said. The biggest change "parallels the breakdown of family."
With the advent of social media, students have withdrawn into their own social media bubble; they often don't know the student sitting next to them in class, Peery observed.
"Scholastically, if you look at technological change, students today are more knowledgeable about the ability to use it, but they aren't as curious as to why it works and how to make it better," Peery said.
Peery also reflected on change involving faculty."When I came here, most faculty lived in Fayette and there was a lot of social interaction. That's no longer the case and it makes it harder to maintain that collective sense of faculty," he said.
The trend toward more part-time or "adjunct" faculty and the growth of online programming has been another major shift, not just at CMU but in higher education in general, he noted.
While Peery is best known to his Central colleagues and to current and former students for his work in the classroom, he is perhaps more widely known for his role at Curator of the Morrison Observatory at CMU. As with his initial appointment to the Central faculty, it came about more by chance than by design.
"The college had downsized its faculty and programming during some lean years around 1980," Peery reflected, "and astronomy was one of the programs cut. I recognized the importance to astronomy, of how it can help cultivate the next generation of scientists.
"So I learned to teach astronomy," he said matter-of-factly, and Peery took over management of the Morrison Observatory.
Peery's successor, both in the classroom and with the Morrison Observatory, has already been determined. It comes as little surprise that it is one of his former students, Kendal Clark, who actually began work at CMU earlier this academic year.
While Peery plans to remain active with the Morrison Observatory, and to perhaps work on grant-writing for CMU science programs, his priorities will shift. He and wife Carolyne look forward to more time with their two, children, Larry J. and Laura Beeler, and four grandchildren.
There is also more work to be done advocating for regional water and wastewater systems, something Peery has long been involved with.
Gardening, landscaping, restoration of an old car and truck are also on his agenda. After 46 years of dedication to Central Methodist, he'll finally have the time for it.
Originally posted May 10, 2013
Posted July 16, 2013