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Ward W. Weldon, an associate professor of educational policy studies and one of the College of Education’s longest-serving faculty members, passed away Feb. 12 after suffering a stroke. He was 77.
A world traveler, teacher, and scholar, Weldon joined UIC in 1969, shortly after the campus moved from Navy Pier to Little Italy, while it was still known as University of Illinois-Chicago Circle. During his four decades at UIC, Weldon developed an expertise in school finance, and his research focused on school improvement and the financial support of school reform. He also studied how school programs contributed to student achievement. As an associate professor, Weldon taught courses in school finance, collective bargaining in education, administrative practice in education, foundations of education, educational supervision, philosophy of education and urban school policy.
“He always told us he wanted to leave this earth while doing what he loved best--teaching and working with students--and that is exactly what he did,” said Victoria Chou, dean of the College of Education. “Ward was beloved by successive generations of students and it is hard to believe that he's gone.”
Known throughout the college as a kind and polite man, ever-ready with a joke, Weldon was a gentleman who was never too busy to greet colleagues or students in the hallways to inquire about their lives.
“Ward was my teacher here about 25 years ago,” said Joshua Radinsky, an associate professor of Curriculum & Instruction. “When I first came to work at UIC many years later, he not only remembered me, he also remembered a paper I had written in his class, and asked me about my journey in between. He was a beautiful soul.”
William H. Schubert, a curriculum and instruction professor who retired last year from the College of Education and worked with Weldon for nearly 40 years, remembered him as a deliberate, attentive and gracious man.
“In doctoral dissertation exams he invariably surprised us with his wise comments, insightful questions, thoughtful listening, references to an immense array of literature and language sources, and hopeful outlook,” Schubert said.
“He often said,” he added, “that he was so glad to make a living by doing what he loved most -- teaching, consulting, and engaging in what Alfred North Whitehead (whose Aims of Education he often used in classes) said that education should be: ‘the imaginative consideration of learning.’”
That was something Weldon took to heart. Whether he was in the classroom or at home, Weldon embraced the needs of those before him and worked to shepherd them to success.
“All my memories of him dealing with students who would call the house -- he would have no problem speaking with them as long as it took. He seemed to enjoy that. It was not an imposition,” said Mark Weldon, his oldest son.
“He treated his children the same way,” he added. “He would give us his time whenever we asked. I think he saw himself as a teacher and his success would be made possible if whoever he taught succeeded, too.”
Simple yet profound
Weldon’s influence on students, by most measures, was deep, reaching educators and leaders in Chicago and around the world.
He could solve the most perplexing problems with simple, yet brilliant advice, recalled Victor Simon, an EdD student who serves as chief of schools for the Pershing Network in Chicago Public Schools.
“He would look at you and grin and rock back in his chair a bit, and say something like ‘you know, we don’t have to make things so complicated,’ and he would come out with this wonderful advice that was just so simple and profound in nature at the same time,” he said.
Mary Zeltmann, who earned her doctoral degree in public policy analysis in 1991, recalled how a chance encounter with Weldon one rainy day nearly 22 years ago changed her life.
She was then a teacher at Andrew Jackson Language Academy on Chicago’s Near West side, and had been asked by district administrators to take an interim principal position at her school. She wasn’t sure she should. Because she was finishing her degree, she headed to the College of Education later in the day. On her way in, Zeltmann bumped into Weldon. He stopped to chat, and when she asked for advice, he encouraged her to take the job.
Later, when she interviewed for the permanent position, Weldon spent hours coaching her through the process. She got the job, and served as principal for 16 years. She credits her success to Weldon.
“Sometimes I think: What would have happened to me if he hadn’t been there?” she said. “I believe he made all the difference in my life. I truly do.”
An unorthodox and adventurous path led Weldon to academia.
One of his first jobs was helping his father with his beekeeping business. As a teenager, Weldon labored long hours in the fields collecting combs and transferring honey to jars.
He once shared with Dean Chou early in her deanship how the Zen-like nature of beekeeping shaped his life.
“There comes a time suddenly when the nectar is no longer flowing and then you’re done for a year,” she recalled him saying. “It does something to your personality to work in the bee fields. It makes you contemplative. You have so much time afterwards when you don’t have anything to do.”
While Weldon maintained his introspective nature, idle time was rare for him. When he was not teaching, he was traveling the world for consulting jobs. When he wasn’t traveling, he was learning – whether a new language or new dictation software, as he was doing in the weeks before he died. Even as his body betrayed him, Weldon’s appetite for knowledge burned strong. He often remarked that those he loved considered him a workaholic. But he believed he was pursuing his calling, and was dedicated to it to the end. “I enjoy the teaching so much,” he was known to say.
He was indeed in a hurry to attend college, his son, Mark, said, so Weldon left high school during his junior year to attend Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa.
Then, eager to travel the world, Weldon moved to Colombia, where he began teaching English. The director of Colegio Bolivar, the school where he taught, saw Weldon’s talent and named him principal. Weldon was only 20.
He later left Colombia to go to Germany, where he helped build housing for Hungarian refuges displaced by the 1956 revolution. Shortly after, Weldon decided he should serve his own country, too, and joined the Marines. He chose teaching along with the infantry, and soon his enthusiasm for instructing became so well-known that his fellow troops nicknamed him “Teach.”
After his active duty ended, Weldon returned to college, and earned a BS degree in journalism from the University of Kansas in 1958 and an MA degree in public relations from the University of Iowa in 1961. During those years, he worked as a public information director and editor at several organizations, including Evanston Township High School and the National Foundation for Funeral Service.
Weldon then went on to earn his MBA from the University of Chicago in 1968 and his PhD in philosophy of education from Northwestern University.
A candle in the dark
Weldon has published more than 35 papers in recognized journals, co-authored a book, contributed several chapters to textbooks, and lectured at numerous conferences.
He also won many awards, including an Excellence in Teaching Award in 1994, the Friend of Education Meritorious Award in 1991, and the Award of Commendation from the Office of Statewide Planning at the University of Illinois in 1991.
His keen interest in global education issues and school improvement drove his desire to travel the world. Weldon, in consulting or teaching roles, traveled to Paraguay, Ecuador, Colombia, Cook Islands, New Zealand, Russia, Ethiopia, Korea, U.S . Virgin Islands and Alaska. His grant-funded work has been supported by the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, United States Agency for International Development, and other organizations.
His dedication was equally great at home. For example, he worked in Pilsen to bring technology to a local school to help improve student achievement and consulted on many projects aimed at improving classroom and after-school instruction in inner-city schools. From 1975 to 1980, he consulted on a project that worked to improve educational administration and services in the Cook County correctional system.
“I use a proverb,” he once reflected in his professional records: “Better to light a candle then to curse the dark.”
And for educators, students and school children across the world, that is what Weldon did.
Weldon is survived by his wife, Rosalynne of Glenview, Ill.; sons Mark and John of Mount Vernon, Iowa; and a daughter, Elizabeth Usselmann of Breese, Ill.
A memorial service for Weldon will be held Mon., March 4 at 1 p.m. in the Illinois Room in Student Center East. Click here to visit an online form to contribute your memories of Dr. Weldon or send condolences to his family. We will post more information soon.