Eighteen years ago, when Jon Witt received an advertisement in the mail for a sociology position at Central College, he slid down his Chicago apartment’s hardwood floor in his stocking feet, Risky Business-style, to show his wife Lori the ad.
It was a moment that changed their lives forever. Both now teach at Central—Jon as a professor of sociology and Lori as an associate professor of history. The two are a well-known husband-and-wife duo on campus, both successful in their fields and dedicated to teaching, almost to an “obsessive” degree, according to Jon.
High school sweethearts and beyond
Jon and Lori have been together since high school. They attended different high schools in Wisconsin but met in a Campus Life youth ministry choir. Both went on to Trinity College in Deerfield, Illinois. They didn’t make their college decision together, but the coincidence was a boon for the couple. “It was convenient that we went to the same college” Jon says with a smile.
The couple graduated from Trinity in 1984 and were married that summer. Jon went immediately on to Loyola University Chicago to begin work on a master’s and then a Ph.D. in sociology. Lori took a year off to work but soon followed in Jon’s footsteps, earning a master’s in American history.
“It hasn’t been on purpose, but Lori and I, since we started dating, have followed a very similar path,” says Jon. “We’re both really interested in answering questions and thinking things through and participating in the whole college experience. Being at Central together has allowed us to continue to grow together in that way.”
After that fateful mailing in 1993, Jon came to Central to teach sociology. He had gone to graduate school with a dream of teaching at a liberal arts college, and Lori had grown up in the Reformed Church in America in Oostburg, Wis.—a small, mostly Dutch town. So Central was the perfect place for them. After having their kids—Emily and Eleanor—Lori finished her Ph.D. in American history. She began teaching at Central full time in 2003.
Both Jon and Lori have been incredibly happy at Central over the years. “We’re definitely free to explore and pursue our interests and tie them to the classroom, because teaching is very important here,” says Lori. “That gives us a good connection to the students.”
Jon and Lori like that the college allows them to balance their personal and work lives, something that can be difficult in a home with two college professors. Plus, they can keep tabs on each other’s departments, which is especially useful since their disciplines complement each other so well. Lori’s specialty is social history, with an emphasis on how gender, race and class influenced the course of events. And Jon jokes in his classes that the correct answer to everything is “the Industrial Revolution.” He explains, “You have to have some grounding in history to understand what’s going on now.”
Still, two college professors living and working together can be challenging, particularly when it comes to the stress of teaching. “It’s the nature of the job,” says Lori. “Teaching can suck your whole time. There’s always research to be done. There are always questions to think about.”
One reason the stress in the household can be intense is because Jon and Lori are dedicated to teaching. They often give each other advice on how to improve, sometimes to the other person’s annoyance. “I’m way too much of a bossy know-it-all,” Jon acknowledges.
Even when he’s giving advice—mostly about mistakes he makes himself, Jon admits—he has the utmost respect for Lori’s teaching. He calls her the most caring and compassionate person he knows. “I’m convinced that the quality of someone’s teaching has less to do with the particular content they provide—though that’s important—than with the kind of character the person has,” Jon says. “Students pick up on the fact that she’s passionate about her subject. She’d bend over backwards to accommodate a student.”
Lori appreciates Jon’s tech savvy and his knowledge of the most recent trends and statistics in his field. “It’s a deceptive style of teaching,” Lori says. “It’s kind of laid-back, but it has a point.”
Outside the classroom
Despite their focus on teaching, both Jon and Lori have been able to contribute to their fields. Lori specializes in sports history, particularly Division III athletics. She has presented at a Sports and American Culture Conference sponsored by the NFL, collected oral histories from Central alumni and published, along with professor of religion David Timmer, a book of collected sermons by Central’s first president.
Jon, too, has been active in publishing, authoring two textbooks, The Big Picture: A Sociology Primer and SOC. The latter, which is entering its fifth edition, is an introduction to sociology done in a magazine style, with lots of photos, glossy paper and more approachable writing. Revising the book for each edition takes up most of the summer, a demanding schedule that can cause stress for Lori and the rest of the family. But Jon enjoys the writing, and Lori is proud of his work.
When they’re not teaching or writing, Jon and Lori spend time at their kids’ events, especially marching band, show choir, drama and jazz band. They also have season tickets to the Green Bay Packers, though they don’t get to the games as often as they’d like.
Their oldest daughter, Emily, is a junior in high school and has started visiting colleges with her parents. “As college professors, it’s really interesting to look at college from the side of the parents now,” says Jon. “To be sitting in the seats listening instead of standing in front talking. It makes me much more sympathetic to, and better able to help, the prospective students and their parents whom we meet as they consider Central College.”