Springfield, Ohio — For more than 35 years, 1958 Wittenberg alumnus Richard P. Veler, professor emeritus of English, university editor and general secretary emeritus of the university, added a personal touch to everything at his alma mater prior to his retirement in 2000. His love of literature and his willingness to assist students in and outside the classroom have also inspired generations of alumni, including his 1958 classmates who recently raised $200,000 toward the creation of an endowed chair in Veler's name.
Spearheaded by fellow '58 graduates Richard Ballentine and Richard Ogle, co-chairs of the 1958 reunion, the challenge to establish the chair began last year as the class prepared to celebrate its 50th reunion during Wittenberg's Homecoming activities Oct. 10-12, 2008. Marc Swartzbaugh and Patricia Hamm Wagner agreed to serve as co-chairs of the class' gift committee, and Veler learned of the effort during a special gathering on campus in June 2008.
Benefiting significantly from the class' effort to secure one of the largest class reunion gifts in recent history, the Veler Endowed Chair fundraising drive will continue until the $1.5 million needed to establish the chair is reached.
"It is our intention to pursue other gifts in the months and years ahead from former students of Dick Veler's, and other alumni and friends of Wittenberg," Ogle said. "We will also issue a challenge to the class of 1959 to exceed our gift total and will urge them to consider adding it to the Veler Chair fund."
Along with providing a stipend and program/research support, an endowed chair represents one of the most prestigious achievements for college faculty members at American universities.
During his time on campus, Veler consistently earned the affection of students as a brilliant teacher. At the same time, he perfected the art of balancing careers as teacher, as university editor and as strategic planner, culminating in his appointment to the position of general secretary of the university in 1995-2000.
"The ethos of this place has stayed the same, and it's one that has made me comfortable and one that I have believed in throughout the years," Veler said in the fall 2000 issue of the university's alumni publication, Wittenberg Magazine.
It was that ethos that drew him to Wittenberg as a student in the '50s and that called him back as a professor in 1965. "The chair for my dissertation at OSU told me, ‘go where you'll be happiest because it's there that you'll do your best work,'" Veler said.
He listened and for more than three decades has helped students appreciate the power of literature. A firm believer in literary critic Benjamin DeMott's conviction that literature gives people significant resources for living, Veler put "flesh and blood" on literature in all of his classes. "There are so many life lessons there," he said in the magazine.
In 1977, Veler received Wittenberg's top faculty prize, the Alumni Association Award for Distinguished Teaching. Former associate dean of the college and chair of the English department, Veler also served as president of the College English Association of Ohio in 1980-1981. In 1981-82 he was Visiting Professor of American Literature in England, where he pursued research on American writers who lived or visited there.
In addition to serving as general secretary of the university and university editor, Veler taught courses in American literature and modern literature, a Mark Twain seminar, and the introduction to literature course while at Wittenberg. He also edited Papers on Poe, has authored several essays, and frequently delivers papers at professional meetings.
Following his graduation from Wittenberg, Veler earned his M.A. from Harvard University and Ph.D. from The Ohio State University. Since his retirement, he continues to read and research Mark Twain, and enjoys traveling, antiquing and music.
For more information on the Veler Endowed Chair, contact Rick Stenberg at (937) 327-7460 or by e-mail.
Written By: Karen Gerboth