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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

In memoriam: Richard James “Jim” Metscher, 1943-2009

by TJ Guese
Special contributor

Richard James “Jim” Metscher, adjunct instructor of sociology, touched the lives of thousands of students in his 35 years with Columbia College, many of whom have expressed how much they were influenced by him, said Dr. Terry Smith, executive vice president and dean for academic affairs. The void created by Metscher’s death can’t be filled, said Smith.

Metscher was an instructor with the college’s Day and Evening campuses, and he was one of the first Evening Campus instructors. In the past year he taught exclusively in the evening.

Metscher’s colleagues remember him as outgoing, friendly and always ready to give time to anyone who needed it. Jack Barnhouse, Evening Campus English instructor, was not only a colleague but a close friend. “Jim and I would play pool every Friday and discuss philosophy at my house,” said Barnhouse. He said that Metscher was dedicated to teaching and that he had a kind of intimacy with his students -- he really connected with them. “Neither of us considers it (teaching) a job,” Barnhouse said. “It is what we love.”

Barnhouse said that one of Metscher’s strengths was encouraging students to think -- not just about the facts but to think through their logic. Mike Morrison, adjunct professor, agrees with Barnhouse. Morrison was not only a colleague but also Metscher’s former student.

Morrison said that Metscher was a big reason he continued his education after Columbia College, opening his eyes to many different disciplines. “When I was a student trying to write the best paper possible, he would point me in the right direction. He would write all over the paper,” Morrison said. “Jim never turned anyone away when they needed advice.”

When Morrison came back to teach at Columbia College, Metscher was there as a colleague. “Jim helped calm me down when I was first starting out,” said Morrison.

Morrison and Metscher had been collaborating on the development of a new course, Political Sociology, for the Evening Campus that they would team-teach.

Another former student, senior Robert Schultz, remembers Metscher from a sociology class he took two years ago. “Metscher allowed more discussion in his class. It wasn’t all facts,” Schultz says. “He was very knowledgeable about his subject, and if he didn’t know an answer, he would find out by next class period.”

Schultz, like others, was hoping to take another course with Metscher before graduating.

A current student, senior Allyson Lesinski, found she was taking so many of Metscher’s sociology courses that she is now a double major in sociology and criminal justice. “If you were having a bad day, you would come into class and see him smile, and your spirits would immediately be uplifted.” Lesinski says. “I have taken nine classes with him, and there was never poor attendance in his classes.”

Smith described Metscher as a professional friend and said the two of them exchanged books that challenged their thinking. “He was a Renaissance thinker,” Smith said.

“Jim looked like a college professor,” Smith said. “Seeing a picture of him one would know, if nothing else, he teaches college.”

Patti Skinner, Evening Campus director, spoke about Metscher’s lessons in a eulogy at the Sept. 26 memorial service. “We must take the gifts Jim has given us and generously share them with others,” Skinner said. “We must teach them about the excitement of exploration, learning and the pleasure of simple living. We must teach them kindness and respect for all people they encounter.”

Metscher’s colleagues stepped in to help complete his August session courses and to assist students without taking his place, Skinner said. Students in Metscher’s classes were offered an administrative drop if they didn’t feel they could continue. Skinner said she is working with Morrison and James Earhart, sociology instructor, regarding the October session.

Kelly C. Enright, Online Campus administrative assistant, is compiling a collection of accounts describing Metscher’s impact on people’s lives. This compilation will be presented to Metscher’s wife Lizbeth, Humanities instructor at the college. Thoughts and memories may be sent to

Another way to honor Metscher is through contributions to the Richard James “Jim” Metscher Memorial Endowment at Columbia College. For more information, contact the Office of Development at (573) 875-7563.

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