Edmond Willis, professor emeritus of psychology, retired from Central this spring with no real plans but to relax and wait for God to show him what’s next. “I’m ready to retire and continue into the next phase of my life, whatever the future holds,” he says. “And I haven’t got a clue what the future holds.”
Willis’s career at Central began in the late 1960s. After graduating from the State University of California at San José with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in general psychology, Willis arrived on Central’s campus with no previous intention to pursue a career in teaching. “It had never occurred to me to be a college professor,” says Willis. “I was a born-and-bred California boy. I thought I would stay here for a couple of years and then move back to California.”
Those few years stretched into 44 enjoyable ones in the psychology department. During his first years at Central, Willis took a brief hiatus from teaching to attend Iowa State to get his Ph.D. in general experimental psychology. Willis knew that he would return to Pella. “I fell in love with Central College and Pella, and that’s my story,” Willis says. “It’s been a wonderful journey.”
Willis says his job has been delightful because he’s had the opportunity to interact with great colleagues and students. “Over 44 years, I can count the number of times on one hand that I’ve gotten up in the morning and thought, ‘I wish I didn’t have to go to work today,’” says Willis. “That’s really a blessing.”
Willis lights up when he talks about his classes and teaching. “I recently got a book in the mail,” Willis says. “The first thought I had was: ‘Man, it would be fun to teach that book.’”
That passion for teaching was not lost on Willis’s students. Psychology major Peter Fegley ’11 affirmed that Willis was interested in the way his students learned in the classroom. “Ed has the unique ability to take information in a textbook and give it life through activities, experiences and examples,” says Fegley.
Willis not only taught different fields of psychology but also used different academic disciplines in the classroom, including philosophy, social science, anthropology and religion. Fegley says this made the classes “educational, entertaining and thought provoking.”
To help bring outside sources to the classroom, Willis taught four times in the Yucatan as a part of Central’s study abroad program, becoming an expert in the field of Mexican psychology. “It enhanced my teaching here,” says Willis, “because I was able to internationalize my classes by taking psychology out of the American perspective.”
With so much passion for his students, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Willis has been involved in the community over the years. Willis has contributed to the Athletic Committee, the Yucatan Teachers Association Task Force and the Executive Committee of the Central Iowa Classis of the Reformed Church in America, among many others. He will eventually continue his work within Pella, particularly at his church. But, in the meantime, Willis wants to take some time to refresh. “Do I have to have something to do?” he jokes. “I thought I retired.”
Although he may not know exactly where his life will take him, Willis is grateful to have wonderful people in his life that encouraged and supported him throughout his career. “The things that I love the most are my God, my family and the opportunity to be a college professor all my life.”
Q&A with Ed Willis
Q: What are your plans for retirement?
A: I don’t have a big goal right now. My life has been a series of movements and rests. I’m tired and could use a rest. And that’s exactly what I will be doing until God has something for me to do. I just want to get recharged until that next step.
Q: What are your hobbies?
A: I like to fish and golf, and I really like to read. I’m an avid reader. I go through about one book every other day. I like to hunt, but I don’t like to shoot. I just like being outside.
Q: Who has influenced you the most?
A: There have been three people who have been really influential for me at Central. One of them was an economics professor by the name of Don Butler. When I first came here, you didn’t have faculty housed by departments. I didn’t know up from down about college teaching, but Don took me under his wing and became my mentor. He taught me that being a liberal arts professor isn’t about teaching your ‘ology,’ it’s about teaching your students.
Harold Kolenbrander taught me about how to be a contributing member of the broader college.
Jim Shultze became a really deep, dear friend. He helped me on my path to self-discovery. He was one of those guys who, probably without knowing or intending to do it, opened doors that gave people opportunities to grow and develop.
Q: What do you hope you imparted to your students over the years?
A: I hope my students learned some compassion. Compassion needs to be nurtured. We are naturally pretty selfish. Life is about relationships, and I hope my students came to realize that.
Q: What do students not know about their professors?
A: I don’t think the students see that the faculty has a lot of fun. For instance, some faculty men would take a Boundary Waters trip every year. We would sit in graduation, and while the ceremony was going on, we would pass around our checklist to make sure we had everything. As soon as graduation was over, we jumped in the car and headed to northern Minnesota. We would fish for the rest of the week and just be boys again.
Watch Willis talk about his time at Central: