Davis retires from Peru State after 33 years

Davis retires from Peru State after 33 years

11:30 a.m. August 15, 2017
Jason R. Hogue, Director of Communications, Peru State College, jhogue@peru.edu, 402-872-2429

Peru, Nebraska – Dr. Spencer Davis, professor of history, has retired from Peru State College. His last teaching semester was the spring of 2017 with an official end date in August.

In an e-mail about his tenure here, Davis writes, “I came to PSC in the middle of the 1984 spring semester to fill an unexpected, temporary opening . . . and stayed for 33 years!”

Dr. Dan Hanson, president of Peru State College said, “Spencer Davis is an excellent example of the extraordinary faculty and staff Peru State depends on to engage students academically in our communities. I am grateful Spencer is planning to continue his involvement in our campus even after retirement.”

Davis earned his Bachelors in History from Brown University in 1968 and his Masters in 19th Century American History from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1972. He received his Ph.D. in History, with an emphasis on Modern Britain, from the University of Toronto in 1982.

“When I arrived a building program was beginning and each administration has overseen continuous transformation. It’s been fun to watch and benefit from the substantial improvements.”

Dr. Clyde Barrett, former vice president of academic affairs, writes, “Spencer was a dedicated faculty member and Peru State was fortunate to have a professor of this caliber serve for so many years.”

Davis "won" the chance to kiss a pig in 1991. Photo courtesy of the Peru State Times.

Davis “won” the chance to kiss a pig in 1991. Photo courtesy of the Peru State Times.

“I was fortunate in joining the Peru State faculty when the administration was encouraging innovation. I was selected to be the first coordinator of the Honors Program,” Davis continues, “I helped developed its curriculum and have taught Honors program courses throughout my career.”

In a 1987 letter, former Peru State President, Dr. Jerry Gallentine, writes that Davis’ tireless effort “was instrumental in the development and the implementation of the Honors Program at Peru State College.”

Davis appreciated teaching at Peru State because of the college’s openness to creating new curriculum and courses.

“The part I enjoy is the freedom to teach different courses and to originate new courses,” Davis said. “At bigger schools, professors were hired to be in a specific field. I like that I can teach many different things and propose new courses if I want.”

While his teaching assignments at Peru State called largely for classes in American history, Davis has taught a wide variety of history and social science classes in the last 33 years, including Introduction to Philosophy, Modern Middle East, American Political Thought, World Mythology, African American History, Modern Africa and more.

Davis teaching philosophy at some point in the 1990s. Photo courtesy of the Peru State Times and restored by the Omaha World-Herald.

Davis teaching Introduction to Philosophy. Photo courtesy of the Peruvian and restored by the Omaha World-Herald.

“Some students wanted a course in African American history, and I was pleased to develop it. To learn more about the subject I joined and then became a volunteer at the Great Plains Black History Museum in Omaha, and it was there I met my wife Vivian.”

Former Vice President of Academic Affairs and Interim President, Dr. William Snyder, wrote in 1991, “Prior to Dr. Davis, our curriculum was void of any course related to the black experience. We now have several courses that offer all students a broader understanding of our past. The courses are a result of his leadership.”

Dr. Anthony McCrann, former professor of English, writes, “[Davis] founded and chaired our Multi-Cultural Affairs Committee, a body paying special attention to the needs of our minority students.”

Snyder continues, “[Davis’] scholarship is excellent, his commitment to the study of the black experience is evident, and his interest level is apparent.”

Davis adds, “In later years I helped diversify the curriculum further by developing courses in African history, Middle East history and World Mythology.”

“I have been fortunate in having energetic colleagues to join with and learn from who believed in the curriculum beyond the classroom and brought speakers, plays, contests, poets, politicians to campus. I like to think I played a part in that effort to create a richer academic community on campus, and I benefited from some of the amazing trips they planned.”

In his Education Philosophy, Davis wrote, “I believe that the history lectures must interpret events, since events cannot be organized into a coherent narrative without an interpretive framework. I also believe that—with care—history can provide useful comparisons with current events.”

Since coming to Peru State, Davis has been greatly involved with college organizations and community events. He served as an advisor for Phi Alpha Theta on campus and as a Teacher Education Committee member.

He has also served as vice president of the Peru State College Education Association. On occasion, Davis wrote columns for the Peru State Times as well.

Davis writes, “Faculty governance occupied a good part of my time at Peru State. I served as the last chair of the Faculty Association and the first chair of the Faculty Senate. Subsequently, I served two more terms as Faculty Senate chair.”

Dr. Sara Crook, professor of history, writes that Davis also spent many years as Nebraska State Education Association (NSEA) Negotiator for Peru State, “Dr. Davis was always the consummate professional and had the foresight to always think long term regarding the negotiations.”

“He was always on point, philosophical and yet pragmatic. He had the ability to think beyond the immediate issues and instead probed the long term consequences of any changes to the contract. He was an advocate not just for the faculty, but also for the best interest of Peru State and the State College System in general.”

Dr. Bill Clemente, professor of English, cites other Davis-led initiatives including the creation of a faculty handbook and serving as the lead writer for an accreditation visit.  Davis’ efforts also included both co-chairing a reform of general education with Dr. Bill Snyder and a second review of general education later.

Dr. Davis with his wife Vivian. Photo courtesy of the Nebraska State Historical Society Foundation.

Davis adds, “The strength of Peru State College is its faculty, dedicated to, and genuinely enthusiastic about, full-time classroom teaching and their students.”

McCrann continues, “[Davis] is tireless in suggesting books and articles to his colleagues. Somehow, amidst the endless meeting and details of our professional lives, he helps our department to maintain its focus on the academic pursuits that join us together.”

In Dan Sullivan’s book about the history of Peru State, former student Michelle Kaiser said, “Dr. Davis is always able to recommend a book that will be helpful and insightful, no matter what the topic in question.”

Davis’ education efforts extend to bringing area high school students to Peru State. He has been a part of organizing Quiz Bowl and History Day for regional high schools.

The College’s “Quiz Bowl: A Competition of the Mind” was a double-elimination, academic tournament in which teams of four competed against each other, answering questions from all areas of a general, liberal arts education. The event lasted for more than twenty years.

“I joined with several administrators to revise the Quiz Bowl for junior and senior high schools that Peru State hosted and saw it grow steadily through the years it existed.”

While Quiz Bowl is currently on hiatus, Peru State hosted its 33rd annual History Day in the spring of 2017 where more than 300 students presented history projects. Community members judged the projects and winners received prizes, scholarships and some were eligible to compete at the state competition in Lincoln.

Crook adds, “Dr. Davis’ support and encouragement of the District History Day Contest was unsparing – and crucial given our two-person department! He served as head judge for most of the 33 years that Peru State has hosted the District History Day Contest and he’s often volunteered to be a State History Day Judge, too.

Davis has also played a major role as a speaker at several national historical anniversaries in local communities. His interest in all things historical extends to serving on numerous groups and projects.

Barrett continues, “[Davis worked to promote [everyone’s] interest in historical events through his participation in local, state and national events.”

Davis writes, “I arrived [at Peru State] in time to participate in the Bicentennial of the Constitution (1987) and later in the Bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth (2009), the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War (2011) and currently the Centennial of WWI.”

Davis was also a member of the Sesquicentennial Executive Committee, planning events at the college for the 150th anniversary. He also was a speaker for the Charter Day Speaker Series.

Dr. Davis speaking at Peru State's 150th Anniversary "Charter Day" in June.

Dr. Davis speaking at Peru State’s 150th Anniversary “Charter Day” in June.

“I was also fortunate in being on faculty for the sesquicentennial of the college. It has been an honor to be a member of the Sesquicentennial Executive Committee and contribute to its activities, in particular Charter Day.”

In the community, Davis served on multiple boards and worked with organizations, including the Nebraska State Historical Society Board of Trustees, the Humanities Nebraska Speakers Bureau, Mayhew Cabin and Museum, the Sarpy County Museum, the Great Plains Black History Museum, Durham Museum, Papillion La Vista Library and Plattsmouth Chautauqua.

Davis speaking at the Sarpy County Museum on the reactions of prominent Nebraskans William Jennings Bryan, Willa Cather and Senator George Norris to entering World War I.

Davis speaking at the Sarpy County Museum on the reactions of prominent Nebraskans William Jennings Bryan, Willa Cather and Senator George Norris to entering World War I. Photo courtesy of the Omaha World-Herald.

When pressed about his retirement plans, Davis volunteers, “Kayaking, mountain-climbing, [or] RAGBRAI are not in the cards. I hope instead to continue scholarly reading, writing (my wife expects a book), participating in conferences and public service programs.”

“I also hope to continue attending Phi Alpha Theta programs and other programs on campus.”

In reflection on his time at Peru State, Davis concludes, “I have been very, very lucky. Lucky in the time I joined the faculty, lucky in talents and cooperation of my colleagues, lucky in the student and public interest in the subjects I taught.”

“And most of all lucky in meeting my wife as part of faculty development!”


Ashley Peiman contributed to this release.