Biology professor pays tribute to former colleague with memorial hike

Biology professor pays tribute to former colleague with memorial hike

Feb. 9, 2015

When Dr. William Paschal, Professor of Biology, decided to participate in last year's #Panther Promise, he saw it as a great opportunity to honor Dr. John Hurd, his late friend and colleague.

"Not a day goes by that I don't think of him, and it's made me feel good to keep his memory alive," he said.

#Panther Promise is a social media campaign that was launched last May. It featured five professors with a collective 105 years of teaching at LaGrange College—Kim Barber Knoll, Dr. Joe Cafaro, Dr. William Paschal, Dr. Lydia Rosencrants and Dr. Jack Slay.

Each professor made a video message for alumni explaining that if at least 35 alumni "voted" for them by making an online gift to support LaGrange College students, he or she would carry out an individual promise.

If he received a minimum of 35 gifts, Dr. Paschal pledged that he would organize a hike on the Pine Mountain Trail to honor the memory of Dr. Hurd. He reached that goal and more, leading his fellow participants with a total of 45 contributions. The campaign raised more than $4,000 to support LaGrange College students, and it helped increase alumni giving participation.

"It really touched my heart to see how many responses we received to honor John," Dr. Paschal said. "It also was touching and fun to reconnect with so many former students on Facebook and email."

More than a dozen people, including members of Dr. Hurd's family, gathered on Jan. 25 for the hike. Even a recent knee surgery didn't keep Dr. Paschal away.

"Although I couldn't actually do the entire hike with them, I sent them off with two challenges," he said. "The first one involved an apple."

Dr. Paschal said the popular biology professor was known for the way he ate an apple.

"He would always finish with only the stems and the seeds left in his hands," Dr. Paschal said. "Several of our hikers were able to complete that challenge."

Then the adventurous participants were given a more difficult assignment.

"They were told to find a special tree with a huge burl at its base," he said. "A burl is an abnormal growth caused by some sort of infestation. Dr. Hurd loved those kinds of natural abnormalities, so we named the tree the 'Hurd Tree' in his honor."

After documenting the special tree and concluding the seven-mile hike, the group gathered at a nearby restaurant to share stories of their beloved teacher.

Dr. Paschal said he enjoyed seeing former students and hearing their remembrances of Dr. Hurd. He also said it was special to be able to share the event with Dr. Hurd's widow, Margaret, and son, Johnny.

Rebecca Roth, Senior Director of Development, said the #Panther Promise campaign was so successful that it will be reprised in the late spring.

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