Long-serving Professors JoEllen Vinyard and George Cassar will retire in August 2018. Between them, Drs. Vinyard and Cassar have completed a remarkable 109 years in the professoriate, 82 of those years at Eastern. Provost Longworth has recommended both of them for Emeritus status, and we will celebrate their careers at a retirement dinner in September.
After fifty years of teaching European history to several generations of students, Prof. George Cassar will officially retire in August 2018. Over his years as a teacher and scholar, Prof. Cassar has taught hundreds of students, and kept up a vigorous schedule of research and writing. At the time of his retirement, Prof. Cassar will be the second longest serving faculty member on Eastern’s campus, having started teaching here in the fall of 1968.
A Canadian by birth, Prof. Cassar received his Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree from the University of New Brunswick (1962, 1963). He then went on to earn his Ph.D. from McGill University in 1968. His first job teaching history took him to Northern Michigan University, where he taught from 1966 to 1968, while he was still working on his doctoral degree. Finding winter conditions in the Upper Peninsula harsh, he wanted to move south and teach in another university. Driving down through Michigan on his way to Montreal, he stopped in Ann Arbor to spend the night, and during a stay at a U of M fraternity someone suggested he consider applying to Eastern Michigan University for a job. Prof. Cassar followed up on this suggestion, and visited Eastern’s campus. He talked with the chairperson of the Department of History, and after an interview, he was offered a position.
Over the years Prof. Cassar has found the atmosphere of the department to be very collegial, partly because the many chairpersons under which he has served were first rate, and party because there was no friction among the faculty. He also appreciated the proximity to the University of Michigan library, which has enabled him to keep up a vigorous program of research and writing. During his tenure at Eastern, he has authored dozens of articles and eleven books, which have made him an international authority on World War I and the British politicians Lloyd George and Horatio Kitchener. Among his more recent books are Lloyd George at War, 1916-1918 (London, 2009), Hell in Flanders Fields: The Canadians at the Second Battle of Ypres (Toronto, 2010), Trial By Gas: The British Army at the Second Battle of Ypres (Washington D.C.,2014), and Kitchener as Proconsul of Egypt, 1911-1914 (London, 2016).
Shortly after his arrival at Eastern, Professor Cassar introduced three new history classes that strengthened the teaching of modern European history on campus. The first of these was a general survey of French history since the French Revolution. This was followed by a course on European history from the end of the French Revolution to the end of World War I, and another course that traced European history from the end of World War I down to the present. He also worked to establish the two 100 level survey courses in European history as well. Over the years he taught hundreds of graduate students in his seminars on the French Revolution and Napoleon, and in his Special Topics in 20th century European history course.
In retirement, Prof. Cassar wants to continue researching and writing. But for the near term, he also plans to travel to Italy and Greece to visit art museums and galleries, and to explore the ancient ruins in these Mediterranean lands.
Although she was born into a family of passionate teachers, Professor JoEllen Vinyard at first wanted to be a nurse. But she soon began to develop the same strong interest in teaching as her family had before her. Her motivation took her across the country to obtain an education. Eventually Prof. Vinyard settled in Michigan where she began her teaching career at Marygrove College in 1964. She then went on to receive her Ph.D. in social history at the University of Michigan in 1972. Prof. Vinyard joined the History faculty at Eastern Michigan in 1986 and since then, she has been changing students’ lives for the better. She will officially retire at the end of winter term 2018, after 32 years on the History faculty at Eastern.
The thing that Prof. Vinyard is most proud of is her teaching. Working with students and fostering their educational development as they grew into professionals has been her greatest pleasure. Recently she was able to connect one of her current graduate students with one of the very first students she taught years ago at Marygrove College. She knew that the Marygrove student had done some archival research that her Eastern student could make good use of. One of her favorite experiences here at Eastern has been to connect with the incoming freshmen in her survey course on U.S. History, and to enthrall them with the discipline of history. Over her thirty some years, Prof. Vinyard has taught numerous classes in U.S. History, many of which focused on social and political history, and reform movements. With her Michigan History classes, she would regularly schedule a bus tour of Detroit, where students saw firsthand some of the historic locations and buildings they had been studying. Certainly it was an experience that many students carried with them long after the class ended. On the graduate level, two of her more popular classes were Hist. 529 History of Detroit, and Hist. 535 Studies in the History of the Family in the U.S.
Even though teaching was her true passion, Prof. Vinyard also enjoyed the research she has done over the years. A few of the many publications that she has under her belt include: The Irish on the Urban Frontier (New York, 1976), For Faith and Fortune: The Education of the Catholic Immigrants in Detroit 1805-1925 (Champaign Urbana, 1998), and a textbook on Michigan History that is used by fourth graders in Michigan schools. Her latest book, Right in Michigan’s Grassroots, From the KKK to the Michigan Militia (Ann Arbor, 2011), has gotten some attention in response to topical national events. Prof. Vinyard’s expertise on right wing militia movements has been tapped by NPR and also by news agencies in Canada.
In retirement, Prof. Vinyard is looking forward to reading some new books, spending time with her grandchildren, and setting aside time for relaxation. A few books that she is planning on reading include Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury on the Trump presidency, and Bobby Kennedy by Chris Mathews. She also plans to spend time with her three grandchildren, ages nine, twelve, and fourteen. With two boys and one girl, she knows she’ll be busy watching them play sports and ride horses.
Looking back, Prof. Vinyard is astonished at all the positive changes in History at Eastern over the years, and is grateful to have worked with such an amazing staff and group of colleagues. She has derived much joy from her students, and is genuinely proud of each and every one of them. She is delighted every time a past student comes by to visit or reaches out to contact her. Looking back over her career with great joy, Prof. Vinyard concluded, ‘I’m amazed I’ve been paid to do this!’