The student-run community news site of Vermont State University - Johnson

Basement Medicine

The student-run community news site of Vermont State University - Johnson

Basement Medicine

The student-run community news site of Vermont State University - Johnson

Basement Medicine

Going D-Town

Going+D-Town

Editor’s Note: I can confidently say that Dan Towner is one of the best professors I’ve had in the three years I’ve been on the Johnson campus. No piece I could write could completely give him the credit he deserves. He’s opened my eyes to literature, stimulated my inquisitive mind, and made me more open to exploring others’ thoughts and opinions. Who knew I didn’t have to be right all of the time? Honestly, thank you, Towner.

After nearly 50 years of working in education, Professor Daniel Towner will finally be able to retire at the end of this Spring 2024 semester. He had delayed his retirement, selflessly agreeing to teach a few literature courses to combat the loss of courses and staff. Now, he is on his way to exploring new territory.
Professor Towner – or, simply, “Towner,” as students have taken to calling him, began his teaching career in 1973 after being a “mediocre” student who “almost didn’t graduate high school.” It wasn’t until his third year at Ohio University that he began taking himself seriously, and “by pure luck” fell into a love of media, poetry, and literature.
“I started teaching (a polite term for my blundering) as a graduate student at the main campus of Ohio University (Athens) in 1975,” wrote Towner. Later, he moved to work full-time at the Chillicothe regional campus of OU.
“Southern Ohio wasn’t a good fit for me, so I was very fortunate to get the job at Johnson in 1989. This job, in this place, has been a godsend.”
During his time at Johnson, Towner served as Department Chair for the Writing and Literature Department, and continued to be a powerful presence on the campus and for the community.
“I don’t think I actually ever teased him to his face about it, but I teased myself about it that Dan is like future me,” said Jensen Beach, an English professor at the Johnson campus. “Talking to Dan about teaching has been a real joy, a real source of comfort.”
“I don’t think he ever liked being department chair,” said Tyrone Shaw, a recently retired English professor. “I don’t know who would admit to liking being a department chair … but Dan was very, very good at it. He was really careful. He was very collegial, very, very democratic and self-effacing as an administrator and as a colleague.”
Said Russ Weis, adjunct professor in the English and Education departments, Towner was like a mentor to him when he came to Johnson, providing a welcoming environment and supportive feedback.
“It was clear that he just wanted me to become my best teaching self,” said Weis. “We’ll certainly miss his calm, leadership presence around here. I hope he enjoys retirement. I hope he goes to Town.”
“You can tell he’s very thoughtful and analytical in the way he approaches a piece of writing. Talking to him one-on-one, I think that’s when you really see this shine through,” said Emily Mixon, Johnson alum and former TRiO adviser. “He really held us to a high standard, which I think is one of the most flattering things a professor can do.”
Said Professor Liz Powell, “We tend to organize ourselves through words, and that’s why poetry can explain the ineffable to us. Dan Towner’s knowledge of the great lineage of literature has shown students how to have a relationship with writers across time.”
Students and faculty commended Towner’s true appreciation for the content that he teaches in his courses. His discussions prompt students to think more critically about the movies, poetry, and literature that his classes explore, and though the content can be difficult to get through at times, Towner’s knowledge and genuine interest in what he teaches makes the courses entertaining.
“I had a class with Dan just about every semester while I was at Johnson. He’s a witty fellow with a passion for what he teaches,” wrote Hannah McMahon, a recent graduate from VTSU-Johnson. “I swear he had a personal anecdote for just about every book he taught.”
“I distinctly remember loving Rappacini’s Daughter by Hawthorne, and I’m still thankful that Professor Towner exposed me to that story,” said Mixon.
Said Beach, “The students kind of tease Dan a little bit about constantly talking about Huckleberry Finn and Moby Dick, et cetera. But that’s what he knows. He’s an expert on American literature.”
Some colleagues of Towner often described him as a “scholar,” agreeing that he would likely recoil at the term, and know him to be a quiet, gentle soul. Students, on the other hand, have a slightly different perspective, remembering him for his humorous attitude in the classroom.
“One of the beautiful things about Dan, he is unexpected, and it’s easy to underestimate him in that respect,” Shaw said.
Said Mixon, “One of my favorite emails from a professor was a day Towner had to cancel class. He opened the email with ‘Lucky you, I’m sick!’ I feel like people don’t always appreciate how funny he can be with his dry humor.”
Students laughed while recalling times when, during their classes, Towner would go off on a tangent to talk about something mildly related to the discussion, shocking them all with his monotone deliverance of a joke.
“Senator Doyle was once faculty here, and he used to get into the refrigerator and get into people’s lunches,” recalled Sandy Noyes. “Dan went to eat his lunch one day, and half of it was gone! He didn’t think it was funny, but I laughed. I hope no one steals any parts of his lunch.”
While sad to see him go, the Johnson community is glad Towner is finally able to move on with his life.
“Don’t be like Tyrone,” said Beach. “Forget how to get here. Feel free to call and e-mail anytime, but enjoy retirement. You deserve it.” 

“I don’t think Dan needs any advice from me,” said Shaw. “I would repeat the advice that a former Chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges, Tim Donovan, gave to me, which is, don’t think about next steps for a year … Life doesn’t end with retirement. As far as Jensen’s advice to him, it’s probably damn good advice.
“He’s got a lot of years ahead of him, God-willing, and he’s a very smart guy. He’ll figure out what he wants to do. We all have to do that,” Shaw concluded.
Said Towner himself, prompted for advice for the community, “The best advice that I could give would be: be a lifelong learner. Your curiosity is the most powerful learning tool you have.”
“I would like to say thank you to the community,” he continued later, “because this job has not only provided me with a living, but it’s also provided me with my own education, which has included not only academic stuff, but also how to interact with people. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to talk about stuff I love, and it’s going to be hard not to have a captive audience anymore.”
Powell added, “I admire Dan Towner’s dignity, which comes, in part, from his deep understanding of literature and its sacred stories about how we might live … I always think of Dan Towner when I reflect on this quote by Robert Frost: ‘Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.’ Dan’s a gem. We’ll miss him and all the excellence he brings to this community.”

 

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Dayne Bell, Editor in Chief
Dayne (he/they) is a creative writing student who has probably already told you where he's from. His zodiac sign is Pisces, which tells you everything you need to know.

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