By Cadi LaCourse , President
Farmington’s Nordica Auditorium was filled with the family, friends, students and colleagues of Dr. Walter Sargent recently as the University at Maine Farmington (UMF) community gathered to pay tribute to a man who had enriched their lives before his sudden passing on January 28, 2013.
UMF President Dr. Kathryn Foster began the ceremony by describing Dr. Sargent’s career and contributions to the university and community. Dr. Sargent came to UMF six years ago from Winona State University in Minnesota. During his time at UMF he served as chairperson for the Curriculum and Academic Policies Committee and faculty advisor for the UMF History Club. Dr. Sargent also served the community as a member of the Board of Trustees for the Washburn-Norlands Living History Center and as a Maine National History Day judge. Dr. Foster described the atmosphere on campus as subdued in the days following the loss of a much loved and respected member of the university. She concluded by offering a poem by Mary Oliver that she hoped would help to ease the grief being felt throughout the UMF community.
Dr. Sargent’s brother, David Sargent described his brother as a life-long scholar, recalling that as a child, his brother had read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. He shares fond memories of time spent with his brother restoring a boat and building a hot-rod together. He remembers his brother’s love of music and his career in the music industry before becoming an educator. He said that his brother felt as though he had found his true home in Maine, having lived in Wilton with his wife Bonnie.
Dr. Sargent’s nephew, Jason Happel speaks of his uncle’s love of history. He was a man who was curious to learn about all aspects of history. Dr. Sargent was particularly interested in the social aspects of history, having done extensive research on the social aspects of the rank and file soldiers of the Revolutionary War era. He described his uncle as an avid historian, with a desire to share his knowledge as an educator.
Fellow history professor Dr. Chris O’Brien said that he was there to tell stories, to celebrate the life of a man that will be profoundly missed by all those who knew him. He recalls an incident involving Dr. Sargent and another professor, Dr. Allison Hepler. Dr. Hepler planned a living history lesson for her students, where she would demonstrate the process and tools that a shipwright of the seventeenth century would have used to construct a boat mast from a tree. Her partner Rob, a boat builder, helped in the demonstration bringing the huge log and tools to the Roberts Learning Center parking lot. Dr. Sargent brought his class as well and was not shy about picking up an ax and jumping into the action. Dr. Sargent was a man that was always ready to try something new. He was an innovative educator that made history come alive for his students. He was a man that dedicated his life to the pursuit of knowledge and found his true calling in education.
The impact that Dr. Sargent had on the students of UMF was evident when three of his students offered their remembrances. Each of them described Dr. Sargent as a source of inspiration and encouragement. In an interview after the memorial service another student of Dr. Sargent, UMF senior, Emily Herrick, said that campus will not be the same without him. She wishes that she could have had the opportunity to take more classes with him and said “he was one of my favorite teachers.” She, like the rest of the UMF community will miss seeing his happy smiling face in the halls of the Roberts Learning Center. She recalls the last time that she saw Dr. Sargent when she handed in her final exam for her Civil War history class. She said that he had a smile on his face and told her that he had enjoyed having her in his class. This is a fond memory that she will carry with her.
In an interview after the memorial service Dr. Hepler remembers Dr. Sargent as a dedicated historian. She described him as an educator that was always interested in new ways of presenting material, exposing people to new ideas about history, teaching the subject in a way that made it relevant to today. Dr. Sargent was a man that clearly loved the subject that he taught. He was a warm and caring person; his door was always open to any student that needed help. At the memorial service Dr. O’Brien said, “He was a profoundly good man whose life touched ours and left us bettered.”
The loss of such a beloved and talented educator will have a great impact on the UMF community, but the imprint that he made on the lives of those who knew him will keep his memory alive in their hearts.