Faculty & Student News
We Wish Them Well
Saying farewell to this threesome is no easy task. Mercedes Akers has taught at Baylor for 26 years, Schaack Van Deusen ’61 (left) for 35, and David Harris for 41. We wish them well in retirement and know that they have left a lasting influence on Baylor School.
by Rachel Schulson
Baylor assistant wrestling coach SCHAACK VAN DEUSEN ’61 played a significant role on teams that won 13 state championships. His many accolades include induction into the 2004 Greater Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame, the 2008 National Wrestling Hall of Fame, and the 2011 Baylor Sports Hall of Fame. He has also taught drama and directed two plays per year since joining the Baylor faculty in 1977. He was recognized by the Class of 1989 at their 10-year reunion with the Conrow Miller Award, given to the faculty member who has contributed most richly to their Baylor experience. He was selected again for the award by the Class of 1994.
As a Baylor student, Van Deusen wrote for the school newspaper; played varsity football, baseball, and tennis; and was a Mid- South wrestling finalist. But he never went to a Baylor play and never acted until he attended the University of Chattanooga.
He then taught English at Notre Dame High School, directed plays, and coached wrestling for five years. He spent the next five years acting, earning a master’s degree, and studying acting as a participant in a National Endowment for the Humanities seminar in Stratford, England, and studying directing at a directing institute at Yale. He also co-founded and directed a Chattanooga theater company.
Van Deusen applauds many of the changes since his appointment in 1977, such as “the healthy addition of girls and the blossoming of a fine arts department,” but he is concerned about students’ “cell phone addiction.” What hasn’t changed, he says, is “young people rising to a challenge and teachers loving to teach.”
Van Deusen had long planned to retire when his daughter Sarah ’12 graduated. In addition to spending time with his wife, Beth, “I’m going to raise [fourth-grade daughter] Elizabeth, play golf, re-read all those great books, learn to cook, and volunteer.”
MERCEDES AKERS, who grew up in Argentina with a father from Yugoslavia and a mother of Italian ancestry, spoke Spanish and Italian throughout her childhood.
After earning a teaching degree at Salta’s Colegio de Jesús, Akers received a Rotary Club scholarship to study at Shorter College in Rome, Ga., where she earned her B.A. in English. She met her husband, Lee, at Shorter, and she has lived in the United States since.
Akers taught Spanish at Newport School for Girls and the Naval War College in Rhode Island and then worked in libraries for several years.
She joined the Baylor faculty as a Spanish instructor in 1986 and says, “I have been fortunate to meet so many wonderful kids from so many different backgrounds.”
In 1993, Akers received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to study the folklore of her native region. In preparation for her travel, she studied photography with the late John “Doc” Miller, sparking a lifelong interest in photography. A photo she took in Argentina won the Kodak International Photography Contest and was on display at Epcot for one year.
For the eight years before she moved off campus, Akers served as head of Baylor’s first girls’ dormitory. “The construction of Lowrance Hall had a great impact on the school as well as on me. While the admittance of girls to Baylor was certainly a big and welcome change, having both boys and girls boarding for the first time really changed the overall feel of Baylor. As the first head of Lowrance, I was able to witness these incredible changes firsthand. What a ride!”
As a retiree, Akers plans to work more in her yard, do volunteer work, take adult education classes, improve her shooting skills, travel, and spend more time with her family. Akers has two adult children, Camby and Brad, and a grandson, Nikolas ’17.
DAVID HARRIS ’66 grew up on the Baylor campus. His uncle, Tom Harris, chaired the English department, and his father, Bryce Harris, taught math from 1938-1977, chaired the math department, and was interim headmaster for two years. (See page 5 for more about Bryce Harris.)
David Harris was valedictorian of his class, yearbook co-editor, a varsity soccer player, and a member of Round Table and the Amateur Rocket Society.
He earned a B.A. in ancient history from UNC, where he was a Morehead Scholar. He taught at Darlington School for two years before returning to Baylor. Harris says that his favorite thing about his 41 years on the Baylor faculty has been the relationships and interactions with students. Harris has done everything from chairing the social studies department to coaching soccer and the chess team to advising the yearbook staff. “Co-education is by far the best change [during his tenure] — it humanized the place.”
Harris will spend his retirement doing more of what he already enjoys: making pottery, gardening, traveling, and writing. He already has some writing experience, having written the textbook for Western Civilization I (now European History). “I learned more putting that book together than I learned in college,” he said.
Harris studied in Rome and Athens on a grant from the Lyndhurst Foundation and traveled to France more than once with his wife, Ginnie, who taught French at Baylor until her retirement in 2011. He has combined his love of travel, reading, and study with his innate enthusiasm to keep students engaged and entertained. Harris’s students — and those in nearby classrooms — are familiar with his hearty and contagious laugh. The Baylor Players were always glad to have Harris in the audience when they presented comedies.Harris has two daughters, Sian and Rachel, and three grandchildren.
The Baylor Players presented Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” as the spring play, marking the end of an era with the retirement of Schaack Van Deusen ’61, who has served as head of the school’s drama program for 35 years. The play featured the talents of 33 students and 17 crew members who enjoyed sold-out performances, including the final Sunday matinee attended by a full house of Baylor Player alumni. Pictured from left to right are Allie Haskew, Robbie Epps, Chase Dixon, Sarah Van Deusen, Teni Butler, Tyler Blackmon, and Grace Hudson.
New Faculty Chairs
Three faculty members have accepted additional leadership responsibilities as department chairs. Pictured (left to right) are David Conwell, history department chair; Beth Gumnick, art department chair; and Brad Holroyd, foreign language department chair. .
Joli Anderson Receives Endowed Chair Honor
Community Service Director Joli Anderson is this year’s recipient of the Glenn and Mallie Ireland Chair for Distinguished Teaching. Anderson was selected by her colleagues for exemplary teaching and other significant contributions that support the mission of the school.
In her 16 years at Baylor, Anderson has built a program that has touched the lives of thousands of Baylor students and countless children in the greater Chattanooga area and in Kingston, Jamaica. As head of the school’s largest non-athletic extracurricular program, Anderson is a visible and passionate role model for servant leadership, diligently instructing students each day on the importance of having compassion for the least privileged in our society.
Ireland Chair appointments are for three years and include a stipend for each year and an additional $2,000 to purchase school-related equipment and supplies or for professional development activities beyond those provided by the school. The program was launched in 2008, and recipients thus far are Heather Ott, Floyd Celapino, Judy Millener, Chris Watkins, Perry Key ’81, and the late Joe Gawrys.
These endowed chairs are made possible thanks to the generosity of Glenn Ireland II ’44 and his wife, Mallie.