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Dr. Vardaman Begins His Second Retirement

Meg Cullar

When legendary Baylor history professor and Master Teacher Dr. James Vardaman ’51 retired from Baylor in 2000, he didn’t really quit teaching. Since then, he has just been lecturing to a different kind of student. But September 28 marked his second retirement—this time from his career as a stalwart of the Baylor Alumni Association’s (BAA) Lifelong Learning in Retirement (LLR) program.

Vardaman’s class for the fall semester—“Historical Invasions of England”—was the eleventh that he has taught for participants in the continuing-education-style program. And after his fourth and final class session, the LLR students surprised the professor with a luncheon, during which the BAA announced a scholarship named in his honor.

Part of the association’s new Legacy Scholarship Program, the Dr. James Vardaman Scholarship allows donors to make a gift in his honor, and each year, one of the Baylor scholarship recipients will be named the Vardaman Scholar.

Vardaman was a faculty member at Baylor for thirty-three years and was the Jo Murphy Chair in International Educatiton. He traveled extensively with student groups on international trips and was the director of the “Baylor in the British Isles” program from 1981 to 1992. He earned his master’s degree in history from the University of Minnesota and his doctorate from Vanderbilt.

Vardaman began teaching continuing education classes through the university, but the BAA took over that program in 2004 and maintained the class curriculum for retirees. Vardaman’s class in the fall semester drew sixty participants—people from the Waco community and nearby who register as members of the group and also pay a per-class fee.

Vardaman said that, although he loved his Baylor students, he has enjoyed a different kind of learner. “I like seeing people who are just interested,” he said. “They don’t have to be there; they’re not trying to get credit. They are people interested in facts and ideas, in visions and conclusions, in meaning.”

Tom Purdy ’60—a Baylor development officer for fifteen years before retiring in 2006—has attended several of Vardaman’s classes. He said he enjoys them because he always learns something new. “He helps you to understand the complexities of what happened, yet he makes it understandable,” Purdy said. “That’s a fantastic gift.”

Purdy added, “It is a great experience to be in his class. He will always give you things that you never would even think of.”
Bill Ravenscroft, a native of England, has also enrolled in several of Vardaman’s classes in the last few years. “He’s always interesting and has such a depth of knowledge,” Ravenscroft said. “And he’s entertaining to listen to.”

Ravenscroft is the vice president of LLR this year and was chair of the curriculum committee last year. As such, he said, he’s proud to be partly responsible for Vardaman’s participation during this last semester and deeply appreciative of the many years the professor has given to the LLR program.

“He is an amazing teacher with a long and illustrious career at Baylor,” Ravenscroft said. “It is impossible to replace him, but we will have to look for others now.”

Vardaman said that one of the reasons he has enjoyed teaching in LLR is because it draws in people like Ravenscroft, who have no connection to Baylor other than living in Waco.

“I think it’s good for Baylor,” Vardaman said. “It brings together a group who might not otherwise have any connection with Baylor. It brings them into the Baylor orbit, and I think that is a very good thing for the Waco-Baylor interconnectedness.”
He also said it was important that the BAA picked up this program six years ago. “I don’t think enough people realize what the alumni association did in maintaining this link with the community,” he said.

Bob Anne McMullen Senter ’63, coordinator of LLR for the BAA, said the BAA’s leadership truly appreciates Vardaman’s participation over many years, noting that he is also a supporter of many other BAA programs, including the Heritage Club and the BAA’s travel program. Vardaman has led several BAA group trips, including one in the summer of 2010.

“I didn’t really know Dr. Vardaman until I began working with him in the BAA travel program,” Senter said. “I’ve traveled with him, and he’s always professional and, of course, an interesting and entertaining lecturer for the travelers. He has generated a lot of friends for Baylor and for the BAA.”

By the end of the luncheon held for Vardaman, several LLR members had already made a donation to the scholarship program in honor of the professor. Alumni wishing to make a donation may now do so online at the Legacy Scholarship Program page  on the BAA website. Be sure to click the box to designate your gift for the “Legacy Scholarship Program / Vardaman Scholar.”

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