Wayne Zade, Teaching Legend and Jazz Aficionado, to Retire After 40 Years

PHOTO COURTESY OF WESTMINSTER COLLEGE.

PHOTO COURTESY OF WESTMINSTER COLLEGE.

BY COURTNEY GALLAGHER
EDITOR IN CHIEF

After four decades as a professor at Westminster, Wayne Zade will retire at the end of the semester, leaving countless contributions to the English department where he has worked since joining the faculty in 1976.


Zade attended the University of Notre Dame, where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree, and went on to receive two master’s degrees — his Master of Arts in English from the University of Wisconsin and his Master of Fine Arts from the Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa.

During his time at the college, Zade has worked with other professors in the English department to create a series of visiting writers, bringing many distinguished writers to campus over the years. He has also developed new courses that combined his love of poetry, literature and jazz.

When asked what he is most proud of accomplishing at Westminster, Zade said, “Without a doubt, it’s teaching classes that link jazz and modern American literature.”

His courses have included “The Harlem Renaissance,” “Jazz, Blues, and Poetry,” “The Beat Movement,” and “Jazz in Japan.”

“Over the years, I’ve found that I’ve been inspired to teach based on what the needs of the campus are, and what the wants of the campus are,” Zade said. “I’ve taught things that I never imagined I’d be teaching.”

He said he was always fascinated by jazz and grew up in Chicago listening to it on radio stations. Referring to the music as “the sound of surprise,” he said, “It goes along with creative writing — not always knowing what you’re going to write and then surprising yourself by what you do write.”

Zade said he enjoys jazz because of its universal appeal and how it has helped him understand issues of race in America.

“Jazz is, to me, a healing music,” he said. “It brings people together.”

He added that he is also very interested in sports for this reason.

“Sports links together all kinds of things — biology, psychology, sociology, business, religion,” he said. “When you think about it, sports are a huge, huge part of American life. I’m sure that in some way or another, people’s enthusiasm for sports goes back to that great sense of adventure, that sense of exploration of settling the country. … I think there’s something very American about sports.”

Zade said his interest in sports may by surprising to some people.

“I’m not athletic, I don’t look athletic, I never played on sports teams in high school or college, yet I have an absolute love of sports as a spectator,” he said.

His enthusiasm for sports led him to create and teach a freshman seminar centered on the relationship between gender and sports.

“Professors are encouraged to come up with exciting new ideas,” Zade said, adding that this is what surprised him the most about teaching at Westminster. “Things that they always wished they could teach, but maybe didn’t always have a chance to teach in their department. The seminar program has always stretched that, and it’s been great fun.”

Junior English major Bailey Mitchell reflected on her experience taking Zade’s seminar: “When I first enrolled at Westminster, current and former students told me that if I could get into Professor Zade’s seminar, I should. I listened to what they had to say and, come August, was sitting in his Men and Women in Sports seminar section. It only took a few days for me to realize how special Professor Zade is and what he means to this campus. From poems about sports, to guest soccer mom speakers, he made the class more than I could have ever expected.”

Mitchell said that her first class with Zade led her to continue to want to be his student. She took his classes three out of her next five semesters, and he soon became her adviser.

“His continued support for me in the English department, as well as on the basketball court, is unlike any other on campus,” she said. “Professor Zade has been one of my favorite parts of all of college — his kind demeanor, passion for teaching, and love of sports, jazz music and poetry make for a combination unlike any other. He will always have a special place in my heart,” she said.

When asked where his passion for teaching came from, Zade said he had been thinking about his journey to becoming an English professor a lot recently.

“Literature and creative writing were natural feels that I kind of gravitated to,” he said. “I saw the power that literature can have and how it can really make a difference for the writer, and there’s the additional gift of being able to pass it along to other people and to widen the conversation.”

When talking about teaching, Zade said, “I was very, very influenced by my favorite professor in college, James Dougherty. He was a kind of role model for me. He kind of opened me up to literature in a way that I hadn’t been opened up to literature before. He was a generous, patient and kind man. I wanted to be like him.”

Faculty and students agree that Zade will be remembered as a highly regarded and esteemed educator at Westminster.

“I will always be grateful for the culture of kindness, respect, collaboration and support that Wayne and his erstwhile colleagues, Dave Collins and Carolyn Perry, fostered in the English department,” English professor Dr. Heidi LaVine said. “Wayne is a man who laughs out loud in delight when he hears a turn of phrase that pleases him. He is a man who takes the time to say, ‘How are you today, my friend?’ and truly wants to hear the answer. He is a scholar who revels in new knowledge and unexpected intellectual combinations. And he is a gifted poet with many stories left to tell. For each of these reasons and many, many more, he is an irreplaceable colleague, mentor and friend.”

Dr. Carolyn Perry, who has worked with Zade for 25 years, said his contributions reach outside the English department.

“Wayne brings out the best in other faculty members,” she said. “He helped develop the faculty mentoring program on campus, and then went on to be the most effective mentor I’ve ever seen. Just ask faculty — you’ll hear again and again that he was the one who helped them understand what it means to teach with excellence, and you’ll sense his influence not only in English classes, but in math or accounting classes, as well. His impact on the college is profound.”

Zade said that his biggest hope for his students is that they continue to read writers they are introduced to when they are no longer assigned on a syllabus, and “that questions we consider during the class and questions we leave hanging … will keep students thinking after we leave class.”

Senior Maria Donovan, who is majoring in English and secondary education, is one of Zade’s students who continues to seek answers.

“Professor Zade is the professor who not only turned me into a better writer and reader, but turned me into a better thinker,” she said. “During his class discussions, he always asked his students to look at the text and characters from different perspectives and never failed to ask us ‘why?’”

As a soon-to-be teacher, Donovan added that Zade has been a role model to her, much like his own college professor.

“I’ve used his questioning style in my own classroom during student teaching to great success,” she said. “I hope that I can affect and inspire my students half as much as Professor Zade has inspired me in my life and in the lives of my classmates. He truly cares about the success, daily lives and futures of his students. I feel so blessed that I was able to experience this incredible professor, and I wish him a retirement full of good books, family time, poetry and lots of jazz.”

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