Summer 2023
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A Lasting Impact

Three professors retire this summer after serving a combined 91 years at the university By Sean Patterson

Don Powers

Don Powers - 34 years

It’s always been biology professor Don Powers’ contention that the best work a faculty member does occurs outside the classroom – in the hallways, in their office, lab or home, and, in his case, the great outdoors.

In short, teaching was always about the relationships formed and the lives impacted.

“Building relationships works best when you can interact with students in smaller groups, or even better, one-on-one,” says Powers, who retires this year after 34 years at George Fox. “I often spent time on campus during the summer because my work with students was never confined just to the academic year. To this day, I continue to maintain relationships with many of these students, and I believe that most of them continue to value the time we worked together.”

He estimates he mentored between 70 and 80 student researchers during his career. In each case, his fascination with the natural world – and in particular his love affair with birds – inspired them.

In fact, his ornithology course continues to impact those who took it years ago. “This class was frankly life-changing for many students, regardless of what they ended up doing professionally, because it provided an avenue to enjoy and appreciate this tiny corner of creation for the rest of their lives,” he says. “Many students who took it as far back as the start of my career still connect with me to ask about good birding spots near places they plan to travel or what the best bird book is for a particular region.”

His passion for the hummingbird, in particular, took him all over the world on research expeditions to work with renowned experts, and he contributed to countless papers on the subject – including one piece that landed in the prestigious Nature scientific journal.

All the while, he remained at George Fox because of his passion for seeing students fall in love with biology.

“I have been blessed to have a job that was not really a job,” he says. “My work here has been my mission, and my calling has been to help train a generation of scientists who could be both respected professionals and lights for Christ.”

Outside the classroom, his favorite memories include hosting James Bond movie nights – when a five- to six-course meal with an ethnic theme (Powers loves to cook) was followed by watching one of 007’s flicks – and exploring the outdoors with students.

In one such excursion this spring, Powers and his charges went to Hagg Lake to look for wood ducks. After not seeing any, they were about to give up when he blurted out a prayer: “God, this is my last ornithology trip to Hagg Lake. Please give us a wood duck!”

Within two seconds, about 10 wood ducks suddenly descended on the scene. “Students’ jaws dropped to the ground in disbelief,” he chuckles. “We had a good laugh about that the rest of the morning.”

Looking ahead, Powers and his wife Theo plan to move to the East Coast to be closer to their two baby grandchildren, Cody Danger Powers and Milo Rocket Powers. He also plans to return to Oregon periodically, as some equipment central to his research projects is housed on campus. “Who knows, there might even be a student or two who would benefit from the mentorship of an old retired guy,” he laughs.


Bill Jolliff

Bill Jolliff - 29 years

If English and honors program professor Bill Jolliff had a singular goal in his 29-year teaching career at George Fox, it was this: to help students embrace reading texts with the great questions always in mind – and to be faithful to those questions himself.

In doing so, “I think my students and I helped each other stay honest and focused,” he says.

Jolliff retires this spring after nearly three decades of sharing his love of literature with thousands of students. In particular, he enjoyed probing the depths of some of America’s greatest poets and authors.

“I felt called to this work in part because of my passion for American literature – reading it and writing about it – as a way of seeking truth,” he reflects. “So my favorite classes to teach have always been those that most effectively allowed such ways to open. I suppose this most often happened for me when some fine text by Thoreau or Emerson was on the table. But you never really know where truth will break in.”

Among other truths, Jolliff discovered that the everyday – “the mundane” – matters. It’s why he always tried to give students’ written words his best attention, and why he didn’t balk at the opportunity to go deeper with a student wrestling with the meaning and ideas in a given text.

“Occasionally a student found a particularly challenging text engaging and was unsatisfied with the level of understanding that can be accomplished in regular class sessions,” he says. “One young man visited me for an hour or more each week – for half a semester – to talk about some of the challenging ideas in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays. That obviously took a lot of time, but we got to know each other, as well as Emerson, a lot better.”

Among his most memorable moments was the day a student bounded into his office to tell him that Rita Dove, the former poet laureate of the United States, had called to tell her how much she loved her work and encouraged her to join the program she was teaching. “I can still see the joy and deep satisfaction on that student’s face,” he says. “That’s a moment I carry with me.”

Moments like those – and an atmosphere that welcomed tackling some of life’s deeper questions in a faith-friendly environment – made going to the classroom a joy.

“I believe deeply in Christian higher education. I believed in it 40 years ago, and I believe in it more strongly now,” he says. “For me it would have been impossible to approach the study of literature as a truth-seeking phenomenon in a context that excluded or downplayed the great questions of faith. Fox does not exclude those questions, but in fact welcomes them.

“My approach to reading is to live my way into the depths of great texts. That often means reading them many, many times. I was privileged to be able to do that very thing – and then to discuss them with 20 bright young minds in the room. I brought some experience to each text, and they brought fresh, creative perspectives. We often worked well together.”

When asked what he plans to do next, Jolliff turned pragmatic: “I’ve lived in the same house for 29 years. I suppose it’s time to clean the garage.”


Dan Brunner

Dan Brunner - 28 years

While some might frame Be Known as a commitment related to the relationships between faculty and students – or between student peers themselves – Dan Brunner has another take on the university’s promise.

As he sees it, the significance of Be Known goes far beyond human relationships and interactions.

“First and foremost, I want students to know and experience that they are known by God, and that God’s ‘knowing’ of them is grounded in love – not condemnation, guilt or shame – revealed through Jesus Christ,” says Brunner, a professor of Christian history and formation at Portland Seminary. “The grace of realizing that God’s primary way of knowing us is through love lies at the heart of transformation.”

Secondarily, he always strived to let himself “be known” through a reflective, non-narcissistic vulnerability – one that allowed students to know of his humanity without making the lesson about him. “I’ve gotten better at this over the years, but must also confess many shortcomings and some regrets,” he admits.

To that end, he made himself available to students through office hours, after-class chats, candidacy interviews, academic advising, spiritual direction sessions, book groups and small-group Zoom discussions.

Brunner is retiring this year after 28 years at the university. He started teaching at Western Evangelical Seminary in 1995, the year before its merger with George Fox, and has served in various administrative roles at the seminary and on numerous university committees ever since.

He was inspired to pursue a teaching career by the college and seminary faculty members who faithfully poured themselves into his life as mentors, models and companions. “Their example changed my life and became something I wanted to emulate,” he says.

He, in turn, has dedicated himself to serving as a guide to students seeking to hear God and do his will. It isn’t surprising, then, that two of his favorite courses to teach were relationship-based: Awareness and Identity, in which he helped students on their spiritual journey through the practice of centering prayer, and Pastoral Ministry, a master of divinity course focused on the nitty-gritty aspects of what it means to be a pastor or chaplain, like conducting funerals, officiating at weddings, and shepherding with tenderness and compassion.

“Teaching is my primary vocation, and George Fox and Portland Seminary provided me the space and opportunity to live out my calling from God,” he says. “It may be cliché, but teaching has been more than a job to me. It is a gift from God, a passion, and when I teach, I feel God’s pleasure.”

His reasons for teaching for nearly three decades are many, but ultimately it boils down to two: the opportunity to work with “wonderful colleagues” and the students themselves. “There is no greater privilege than to be able to journey with women and men who come to seminary for all the right reasons, out of a hunger and passion to serve the God they love by becoming the people that God created them to be.”

As for his future, Brunner says he will spend time with his children and grandchildren, travel, get started on a “stack of books,” finish up some writing commitments, continue his practice as a spiritual director, and serve as a resident theologian for SoulFormation and its Academy of Spiritual Formation.

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