A Staff Member Who Made the Difference
Gordon L. Bremenkampf holds a Bachelor's of Science in education (1963) and a Master of Arts (1967).
I first shared this story with a group of School of Education alumni from the Class of 1967 who were gathered at a fiftieth anniversary luncheon hosted in 2017 by Dean Elizabeth Birr Moje.
In the fall of 1962, three weeks into my junior year in the College of Engineering, I finally came to grips with my dissatisfaction with my pursuit of a career in electrical engineering; I had long wanted to become a teacher, but had chosen instead to satisfy my father’s ambition for me.
I made an appointment with the dean of the College of Engineering to discuss my desire. It was a frustrating and fruitless conversation. After listening very briefly to me, he proclaimed this, in his words, to be an “idiotic idea.” If I pursued this change I would regret it for the rest of my life. He continued by predicting that I would return in ten years and confess to him that this had been a terrible decision. In dismissing me, he concluded that I needed to abandon the idea...and grow up. I departed his office feeling dispirited.
I wish I could recall who first suggested that I make an appointment with my eventual savior, Ms. Virginia B. Passon, Registrar of the School of Education. Our initial conversation couldn’t have contrasted more with that of the Engineering dean. After expressing my strong wishes, she sat silently for several minutes thinking. She then proclaimed that this could be accomplished, but it would take considerable effort by both of us. For me, the sun was beginning to rise. I had complete faith in her; I was profoundly grateful to her; I committed to do everything she asked of me.
As I sat in front of her desk, she made numerous phone calls on my behalf. For example, she received permission to transfer credits for my electrical engineering classes to equivalent classes in the physics department. She searched successfully for other equivalencies that would enable me to maintain credits toward graduation. Afterward, she made a list of persons to whom I must call, write letters and petition.
Then there was the matter of revising my schedule, three weeks into the semester. Having already amassed over twenty credit hours in mathematics, that was my logical major. The credit hours in physics would give me a teachable minor. She made a list of professors who would be helpful and open to my request for late admission to their classes: Dr. Joseph Payne (my wonderful, eventual undergraduate advisor), Dr. Robert Dixon, Dr. Fred Walcott. After many hours with Ms. Passon, my desire was rapidly coming to fruition; this was really going to work out.
Bottom line: I didn’t lose a single credit hour. To graduate on time, I merely needed to complete one summer session.
After graduation, I commenced on a wonderfully satisfying forty-five year long career teaching mathematics at Dearborn High School and Henry Ford College. I never returned for a follow-up conversation with the dean of the College of Engineering to say that my decision was not idiotic, but was the wisest I ever made. Of much greater importance, I deeply regret not visiting Ms. Virginia B. Passon again to express my profound gratitude for her invaluable understanding, empathy, wisdom and assistance. I hope my emotional tribute to Ms. Passon that I made at Dean Elizabeth Birr Moje’s luncheon, and this written expression of gratitude, will begin to assuage my guilt.