Taylor eyes final year

Bonnie Alger

Dan Taylor, Hiram A. Jones Professor and Chair of the Classics Department, has been at Lawrence for what may seem like an eternity to college students.
A 1963 alumnus, Taylor has been on the faculty here since 1974. He became chair of the classics department in 1975, attained full professorship in 1988, and received the named professorship in 1991.
Taylor’s initial aspiration was to be a basketball and tennis coach. Realizing that he would probably also need to teach something in order to coach, he chose Latin.
Later on he put aside coaching, deciding he’d rather just teach Latin and be a scholar.
A native of Covington, Kentucky, Taylor found Lawrence through a college ranking done by the Chicago Tribune.
Lawrence was listed among the top 10 liberal arts colleges in the country, and Taylor was looking to get out of his home state.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to major in. I was interested in languages – Latin of course – but modern languages as well. English and history, geology,” Taylor said.
“The only problem was I didn’t have any money. Ted Roberts, director of admissions, wrote back and said, ‘Don’t worry; we’ll find a way to give you enough financial aid.'”
Lawrence held its end of the bargain, and Taylor attended LU while working numerous jobs.
“I was a mailman six days a week. Senior year I washed dishes in the frat house. I worked summer jobs.”
Taylor was able to cover half of the cost in scholarship money and working campus jobs. “I like to tell people I got through by the grace of God and good luck,” he said.
After Lawrence, Taylor went on to earn a master’s and doctoral degree from the University of Washington in Seattle, where he met his wife.
Upon completion of his graduate work, he accepted a professorship at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, where he stayed for six years.
It wasn’t long before Taylor’s mentor from college, Maurice Cunningham, handpicked him to be his successor in the Lawrence classics department.
Cunningham passed away in February 1978, but Taylor still recalls fond memories of his teacher and friend.
“I miss him. I especially miss Friday afternoons. I would stop by his office around 4:15 or 4:30, and we would argue Latin grammar,” said Taylor.
“Some things in life are worth arguing about, and Latin grammar is one of those things,” he added with a smile.
Taylor’s dedication to his students has won him the honor of being this year’s speaker at the senior class dinner.
“I think [students and faculty] are a lot closer now than we were in the ’50s. I like it,” he reflected.
The word he is using to describe his upcoming speech is “spoudogeloios,” an ancient Greek adjective referring to a type of writing or speaking, and meaning “blending jest with earnest.”
Retirement is in the near future for Taylor. At the end of the 2006-07 year, he will wrap up his 39 years of college professorship. He plans on moving to Colorado’s Rocky Mountains and becoming a “full-time skier and scholar.”
Taylor also hopes to return to Italy and France, where he has spent significant amounts of time. He warns, though, that “Italians ski the way they drive; you better get out of their way!”
Taylor attributes much of his success to Lawrence, and said, “It’s been a great ride here; it’s been marvelous. I’m going to miss my students terribly, but I think you need to make a break. I believe in surgery – cut if off, you’re done.”
In his final year, Taylor is donating some of his books to students. The rest he will sell to used bookstores, with the exception of his books on Varro, the Roman scholar Taylor has focused on in much of his. “Those are in my will,” he said. “Those go to Lawrence.”
One big decision is still left regarding his retirement, however. “I can’t ride a moped up the mountain,” he quipped. “Do I get a motorcycle or give up the two-wheeler?