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UMFK campus community mourns the loss of Professor Richard Dinsmore

November 4, 2005

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UMFK Professor of European History Richard Dinsmore teaching a class in the late 1980's


The University of Maine at Fort Kent campus community is remembering its professor of European history, Dr. Richard B. Dinsmore, as a teacher and scholar with a passion for learning and even greater zeal for sharing his knowledge with students and others.

Dinsmore, who spent the past 22-years on the faculty at UMFK, passed away on October 30 at the age of 64, after a valiant battle with cancer.

Before beginning his more than two decade career in Fort Kent, Dinsmore held faculty positions at Berry College in Mount Berry, Georgia, University of Nebraska in Lincoln, Nebraska and Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan.

In 1983, he accepted the position of acting associate professor of European history at UMFK and in 1985 was appointed associate professor of European history. In 1987, Dinsmore was granted tenure.

Last fall he was promoted by the University of Maine System Board of Trustees to the rank of full professor. The good news of his promotion came at about the same time Dinsmore was diagnosed with cancer.

In the year since his diagnosis, Dinsmore fought through the pain, and according to family members and colleagues, found comfort in remaining committed to his teaching and his students, even through his hospitalization less than a month before he succumbed to his illness.

"Teaching was really Richard's life," said Dinsmore's wife Toby. "He was so dedicated to his students that when he was in the hospital, he was thinking about how he was going to get to the computer to answer his students' e-mails. When he was having radiation and chemotherapy in Presque Isle, I would drive him back and forth so he could always save his strength to teach his classes. He was afraid that if he wasn't teaching the full three hours, he wasn't giving them his all."

The dedication Dinsmore had for his students was equally recognized by campus administrators and his fellow faculty members.

"Professor Dinsmore was a serious and devoted scholar/teacher and at the same time, an engaging gentlemen. He really studied humanity through the lens of history," said UMFK President Richard Cost. "He would drop in at odd moments and chat with Naomi Nicolas (administrative assistant to the president), and would stick his head in my office and visit for a time to discuss a campus issue, some current event, or just to talk. He was deep in thought, but always pleasant. I enjoyed his visits and will miss him personally."

"As I meet with students and graduates, many list Professor Dinsmore among the people they remember fondly for the time he devoted to preparing excellent lectures and for the time he always took to engage them in thought-provoking discussions. He challenged students, but offered the reward of genuine intellectual discourse. This entire campus community has suffered a loss in his passing," concluded Cost.

The loss is one especially felt by Dinsmore's colleague Dr. Jim Killarney, professor of psychology and education. Both began teaching at UMFK in the fall of 1983, and the two are well-known on campus as strong advocates for individual and faculty rights.

"Across those 22-years, much history has transpired, in the world around us, and within our smaller campus community. Richard, with his dogged determination, would often remind his students and colleagues of the dangers of not understanding history, and of how history would, undoubtedly, repeat itself. He was a brilliant teacher of history. I have heard from many of his students that, no matter what grade they may have achieved, they learned history from him. He told history as a story, not as a collection of names, dates, and places. His students were able to appreciate history as the story of life, as Richard was a gifted storyteller. Richard will be remembered as a gifted professor, who taught his students the story of how our civilizations came to be, and how to use this understanding to escape the atrocities of the past," said Killarney.

Dinsmore's love for teaching history and talent for storytelling were greatly enhanced by his visits and explorations around the globe, especially in Europe.

He traveled extensively in France and Germany, as well as visited more than a dozen other countries including Poland, Russia, Tunisia, Greece, Turkey and Egypt.

Dinsmore's journeys were never taken as a tourist, but rather as a historian and history teacher. He would use his travels to further his understanding of history and enhance his teaching on the subject matter, which was appreciated by students like Ian Gilchrest, a 1998 graduate of UMFK.

"His passion for his lessons was irrepressible. The opportunity to teach what he loved is what stoked his fire, and it was obvious. He would orally delineate the historical framework for a given period, with the requisite teaching of dates and players, but would then regale the class with intoxicating tales of long lost lands and conflicts and thoughts that would ultimately shape the world, just as they were shaped by the world. His classes were far and away the most intense classes I had as either an undergrad or a grad student, but they were also the most rewarding," said Gilchrest.

Many of Dinsmore's current students echo Gilchrest's sentiments.

"Richard Dinsmore was a teacher and a friend, as well as one of the most knowledgeable and compassionate men I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. He inspired many students to view the past as a living, breathing thing, and was able to make time for his students regardless of the circumstance. Most of all, he was a man willing to stand up for ethics in the classical sense, and his personality and way of carrying himself made him an iconic figure of the University. I will remember Dr. Dinsmore, like so many others, regardless of where life takes me," said student Stephen Dean.

His students were not the only beneficiaries of his knowledge and extensive travel. Dinsmore shared his experiences with the campus community and residents of the St. John Valley through open forums and slide shows on his visits to distant lands. His presentations included visits to local elementary and high schools.

On campus, Dinsmore served on numerous working groups over the years, including the peer review and faculty development committees.

"He was a gentlemen and a scholar," said Professor of history Roger Paradis, UMFK's senior faculty member. "His service to the campus was extensive and included the development of several new courses and significant contributions toward revising the general education requirements."

Dinsmore's life was celebrated by his family, friends and UMFK colleagues at a funeral service on Saturday, November 5 at Christ Congregational Church in Fort Kent.

His legacy to the UMFK campus community will be remembered through a university scholarship fund.

Individuals who wish to donate in his memory should send contributions to the Richard B. Dinsmore College Scholarship Fund, c/o UMFK Development Office, 23 University Drive, Fort Kent, Maine 04743.

In addition to his wife Toby of St. Agatha, Dinsmore is survived by one son Peter and one daughter Angelique.