A man by any other name, is still the same

(11-08-2010)

McNeilsmith -- activist, humanitarian, champion of us all

Interesting facts about Ted Paul McNeilsmith

  • Born Paul Edward Smith; always called Ted (a nickname for Edward).
  • Married to Judy McNeilsmith.
  • 20 months after marrying Judy, with the adoption of their daughter, Elizabeth, combined their two surnames, "one word, no hyphen" and he became Ted Paul McNeilsmith.
  • Wears dogs tags, from his service with the Oklahoma National Guard, and a large peace sign pendant (bought in 1967) to protest US overseas military involvement.
  • In regards to above, does agree with Obama's decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, "even an old fart can change his mind."
  • Carries a bottle Cholula hot sauce, "nectar of the gods" to season his food, often donating a bottle to his favorite restaurant haunts.
  • Enjoys county western music.
  • Inherited a bad heart from his father, who died when Ted was three.
  • Was trained as a medic with the National Guard.
  • Considers himself a pacifist.
  • In regards to above, would, if a family member, friend, or stranger, was being harmed physically "pick up a baseball bat and beat the assailant."
  • Married first wife, Joan, at age 20, divorced when they "drifted apart," stayed married, even though separated, in order for Joan to continue to receive free tuition, a benefit for employees at the university; continues to have a friendly relationship.
  • Started college as a history major.
  • Considers his profession, sociology, social studies, not a hard science, is "enamored" with criminology.
  • Although claiming no allegiance to any organized religion believes the golden rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" could bring lasting peace if practiced universally.
  • Three children, all adopted, Stuart Charles Smith; Elizabeth Rachel McNeilsmith; and Kendall James McNeilsmith.
  • Believes, just like Lou Gehrig, he is the "luckiest man on earth."
  • Will cry openly if so moved.
  • Suggested to Judy's father, instead of a big wedding -- family and friends donate the money to charity; the father didn't go along with the idea
  • He and Judy have a large collection of art in their house from local artists
  • At his retirement party, had guests from across the country across the decades of Ted's life.
  Ted McNeilsmith said the course, Rural Sociology, "was a fitting capstone to his 41-year teaching career." Pictured, left to right, Karen Henderson, McNeilsmith, and Colin Henderson, discuss organic farming.

Ted McNeilsmith said the course, Rural Sociology, "was a fitting capstone to his 41-year teaching career." Pictured, left to right, Karen Henderson, McNeilsmith, and Colin Henderson, discuss organic farming.

When Dr. Ted McNeilsmith, emeritus professor sociology, retired from Adams State College in the spring of 2010, he was out of work less than a month before accepting a position with the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad. As one of their passenger car attendants on the route that goes from Alamosa east to La Veta, McNeilsmith immediately began passing along information about the train to all his colleagues and acquaintances. With sincere enthusiasm, McNeilsmith was prepared to leave a traditional classroom for the teaching arena of a railroad car where he constantly extols the preeminence of Adams State College's quality education to prospective students and their parents.

This same zest for imparting knowledge and love of profession earned McNeilsmith his reputation throughout the college campus and community. When accepting his Adams State retirement gift last spring, McNeilsmith sported a variety of political buttons and numerous plastic wristbands supporting a diversity of causes. He is probably one of the few men in this state that comfortably carries a large shoulder bag filled, no doubt, with material that will help cure the ills of the world and set the population back on a more progressive track.

Dawn Carmin, Adams State graduate of '00, received a bachelor's degree in communication with a minor in sociology. She met McNeilsmith for lunch in Denver, before President Obama had secured the democratic nomination. "I hadn't seen Ted in a while and when I walked into the restaurant, he was clad from head to toe in buttons, hats, stickers, t-shirts and other Obama garb. It made me smile. That's often the image of Ted I conjure when I think about him."

It is doubtful if anyone has met McNeilsmith or spent any time with him they don't know exactly where he stands on human rights - he is the beacon of equality, liberty, and justice for all. Tara Martin, Ph.D., teaches sociology classes at Central New Mexico Community College and is a part-time Spanish GED instructor at Catholic Charities. "Ted was the first man I met who attested to being a feminist. I was so struck by his courage to assert that. I always tell everybody how he and his wife melded their two names together. It shows that he walks-the-walk of social justice, not just talks-the-talk."

His burning passion for sociology and teaching continues to influence many of his former students. "Ted's classes woke within me a curiosity about the world and the way power and privilege plays out within it," Carmin said. Seeking an opportunity "to push" herself and learn more about the world, Carmin became a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kokaha, Cote d'Ivoire, West Africa, as an education volunteer. "I have lived, worked and volunteered around the globe. During the months I find myself at home in Colorado, I seek out experiences and work that aim to break cycles of poverty and oppression. I have Ted's guidance and education to thank for opening doors to this way of approaching the world."

Recent graduate Christine Preiss '10, and current prevention specialist at the San Luis Valley Comprehensive Community Mental Health Center, said McNeilsmith is open-minded, and the most "compassionate person" she knows. "He has the most giving heart of anyone that I have met. He loves to be involved and will continue to be involved and make a difference in his community. Dr. McNeilsmith encourages his students to always keep learning and learn from everyone."

Adams State tenure

Throughout his eighteen years at Adams State, McNeilsmith was a professor and administrator and, in any capacity, his philosophy of students coming first never wavered. He taught a variety of courses including Introduction to Sociology, Crime and Delinquency (formerly Criminology), Criminal Justice (new offering), Social Control Systems (new), Correctional Systems (new), Deviance and Control (new), "Race", Class, and Gender (formerly Minority and Ethnic Relations), Sociological Theory, Power and Inequality, Gender Roles in Society (new), Social Inquiry, and Sociological Theory.

McNeilsmith also taught several enrichment courses: The Holocaust: Fifty Years Later, The Mismeasure of Woman, The Ultimate Athlete, Institutional Corrections: America's Prison Dilemma, Gender Roles and Social Control Systems, and Malcolm X: The Man and the Myth. He also taught 2 non-credit courses through Extended Studies: Hate: A Sociological Analysis and Malcolm X: The Man and the Myth

McNeilsmith chaired the First-Year Seminar Committee and taught the 2 courses under that rubric: First-Year Seminar: The Examined Life and First-Year Seminar: Searches for Truth and Meaning.

"I remember discussing powerful issues in dyads, in pairs, which taught students how to really listen to, and hear, others," Carmin said. She also "vividly" remembers him telling his students, once they understood issues of power, class, race, and privilege they wouldn't look at the world the same again. "That has held true for me and has structured my approach to life and work."

A 1995 graduate, Sherri Shortridge currently works at Ortega Middle School as a special education/resource teacher. She said McNeilsmith used resources from everywhere to make the subject meaningful. "He was incredibly organized and always well prepared and very funny." Although she is not directly involved in the sociology field, Shortridge said the courses gave her "a good grasp of looking at things from different perspectives."

Approachable and caring

His humble attitude attracted Preiss. "He looked at all of his students as peers and scholars that he could learn something from. There was always such an open and inviting atmosphere in his class room. He did a wonderful job facilitating a sharing environment."

Knowing McNeilsmith genuinely cared about his students appealed to Shortridge. "I really liked his "Axis of the Earth" assignment to collect things that demonstrated the concepts we were learning. I am probably one of the few who appreciated the chance to write about my own reactions to things and know that he would read every word. And I can write a lot."

"When I was ready to quit, Ted always supported me and made me feel I could do anything," Shortridge said.

Although McNeilsmith is dedicated to his personal philosophy and political ideals, he refrains from belittling views opposite of his. Paul Gabaldon, a '97 sociology major graduate with an emphasis in criminology, is the Yavapai County detention manager, Yavapai County Juvenile Court Center, in Prescott, Ariz. "He always respects opinions and I never observed him judge anyone or anything, not even in the thirteen years I've known him post-graduation."

Gabaldon respected McNeilsmith's willingness to continue relationships outside of the classroom; it made his time at Adams State memorable. "Since my graduation, I know Ted as a friend and we've had several long conversations about life over lunch." Gabaldon continues following McNeilsmith's advice about conducting research before drawing conclusions. "With over thirty staff and fifty detained youth to manage these days, those words have become something I've lived by for many years now."

Verbally or in writing, McNeilsmith encouraged and supported his students. The Children's Program Coordinator with Colfax Community Network and a candidate for the Foreign Service Junior Officer for the US Agency for International Development, Development Leadership Initiative, Carmin said McNeilsmith is an advocate for her, including writing "wonderful" letters of recommendation for graduate school and various programs. "It has been a real joy to have kept in contact with him and see him when he visits Denver, or when I visit Alamosa."

McNeilsmith helped students with career goals through internships as students and by demanding excellence in the classroom. "His combination of compassion and excellence in work was what I seek to follow in my own pursuits," said Martin. "His value for my ideas and opinion were key. Moreover, his push for excellence in work prepared me for the rigors of grad school."

Teaching Excellence

His determination to spread the love of teaching and connect with all students motivated McNeilsmith to join Adams State administration as the director of the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT), a Title V funded faculty development project, from 2000 until 2005. For those five years he was also the coordinator for the First-Year Seminar; and from 1994 until 2001 was the coordinator for the criminology emphasis in sociology.

Martin said she remembers how McNeilsmith valued student input. "I especially remember his 'Axis of the Earth' activity." The class had to find 50 articles, advertisements, etc., and explain how they related to sociological concepts covered in class. "It was so inspiring to all of a sudden realize that sociology was all around us." The experience shaped Martin's teaching style. "One of my strong suits, at least according to student evaluations, is that I have the ability to relate complex sociological concepts to everyday life, so students can more effectively understand what I am teaching; that skill is a direct descendent of Ted McNeilsmith."

McNeilsmith's teaching career spanned four decades including teaching at New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico (1 year), Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas (10 years), Green River Community College, Auburn, Washing (11 years), and 18 of the "best years of his career" at Adams State College.

McNeilsmith received his doctorate from the University of Washington, Seattle, in 1969; a Master in Arts from New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, in 1966; and his bachelor degree from East Central State College, Ada, Oklahoma, now known as East Central University, in 1964.

McNeilsmith is very active in his community and among the many committees or boards of which he is or was a member is the Alamosa Live Music Association (ALMA). Julie Mordecai is one of the founding members of ALMA. "Ted was very active in making ALMA a success by being one of the first board members. He is extremely passionate about his community and is always thinking of ways to improve life in the San Luis Valley." He also served for eight years on the 12th Judicial District's Judicial Performance Commission and he has been on the 12th Judicial District's Community Corrections Board since 1993. He was elected in September of 2010 to the Valley Food Coop Board of Directors.

By Linda Relyea