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EIU Department of Physics

Dr. P. Scott Smith and His Class Head for the Pond

Alumni recently wrote to wish Dr. Smith well on his 90th birthday. Many shared stories of Dr. Smith’s dedication, humor, and style. One recurring story that many shared was the day Dr. Smith’s Quantum Mechanics I class threatened to throw him into the campus pond. Jim Allen (1979) recounts the class and some of the events leading up to the Pond incident.

“The classroom in which the quantum mechanics course was held was not used in the hour before our class.  About the middle of the semester, I started going to the classroom early and writing a note on the board about once or twice a week that would be something silly like, “Today’s Lecture: Wave Analysis of a Running Squirrel’s Motion by Professor Percival S. Smythe.”  All of my classmates knew I was doing this, but Scott did not.  He never made a comment about any of the notes and just calmly read and erased them when he would begin the lectures.  After I had done this about six times, Scott finally decided to find out who was doing it and caught me in the act.  He said, “I thought I recognized the handwriting, but I never thought it could be you!”  We all, including Scott, had a good laugh about it.  Of course, that was the end of my “Today’s Lecture” series.

For a couple of weeks before the last lecture period of the semester, we junior and senior physics majors taking the course put together “anonymous” notes where we cut individual letters out of various magazines and newspapers and pasted them on sheets of paper that we slipped under his office door over that 2-week period. I don’t remember how many notes we did, and even though they were all different, they had the same general message: “If you give a regular lecture on the last day of class, you will be thrown in the campus pond.” On the last day I had reinstituted the “Today’s Lecture” series for this final class. For that last lecture, Scott came to class dressed in a suit and tie (not his normal attire) and started his lecture. We immediately stopped him, and marched to the campus pond and the little arched bridge that crossed it at the time, with Doug Davis tagging along behind with a camera taking pictures. When we got Scott on the bridge, he made a couple of pleas: “This is my best suit! You don’t want to ruin my best suit, do you?” (He made it clear he wore the suit on purpose as a deterrent to the “threats”.) When the suit plea didn’t seem to work, his last plea was, “You all know what the water quality of the campus pond is. If you throw me in, I swear I’ll drink it, and my death will be on your heads!” Of course, we had no intention of going through with it. The last thing we did was have Doug Davis take a photo of Bryce Ford and me pretending to throw him in. We then all went back to the classroom, where Scott gave a full lecture to finish the semester.”

Another former student, William Greenwalt (1978), remembers this episode quite clearly and even had pictures of the entire event!

Jim Allen added: “Scott always came to class with an enthusiasm and passion for physics that was contagious, and he deeply cared about his students.  In the years since, I’ve been privileged to visit with Scott on several occasions while he still lived in Charleston after he retired.  I never saw his love of physics wane at all, and any conversation with him that turned to physics always brought out his boundless energy and joy of studying how the wondrous universe around us works.  When I find myself wanting to study something like differential geometry for fun, I realize Scott was and is my inspiration.”

We spent some time researching this event and found that the group consisted of Patrick Druez, Jim Allen, Bryce Ford,Bill Greenwalt, David Oakley, Juanita (Bock) Robinson, Jim Hill, and David Jones. There are others and we would be glad to have them identified if anyone out there knows who they are. Other participants are welcome to submit their account of the incident to Dr. Daniels.

Bringing this story together with input from several Alumni had one unexpected benefit. The Alumni used this as a catalyst to renew friendships. Some of the e-mails between these long time friends are added below. Shared experiences lead to some of the greatest connections between people. This was certainly an important moment in the life of several EIU Alumni.

Bryce Ford wrote:

I can't believe there are still pictures around. I thought we agreed to destroy all the evidence. It's great to hear all the stories again. I'm glad Jim was able to remember most of the names. It's just amazing he didn't flunk us all.

Bryce L. Ford
Vice President of Atmospheric Programs SpectraSensors, Inc.


Brian Greenwalt (aka Bill and William) wrote:

As I recall he did threaten to flunk us all! The faculty all knew we were going to do this to Dr. Smith and I remember they were waiting in the hallway to see if we would. Dr. Davis actually accompanied us to the lake. I'm not sure if he was there to protect Dr. Smith or us or both.

Brian Greenwalt

Patrick Druez wrote:

This group looks like a fun rock band from an era long gone. I tried to categorically deny any involvement but my wife knows me all too well… I did sent the picture of the tall blond guy with a moustache to my son (guess what he looks exactly like that after a long day on the movie set) and I can’t wait for the Christmas dinner conversation on the subject.

So, gentlemen, how about we stop this business of communicating once year to be politically correct and start re-kindling those warm and strong friendship? Surely we have more stories to tell… may be of someone hiding in a lab bench, or that of old folks with married children and, yes , grand children…

I’ll get working on the first shot and get back to you all.

Fondly looking back at some of the greatest moment of my life, thanks to each of you.

Patrick M. Druez
International Business Development
Boeing Mobility Division

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Physical Sciences Building Room 2131
Eastern Illinois University
600 Lincoln Ave
Charleston, IL 61920
(217) 581-3220

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