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Arlan Gilbert taught at Hillsdale College for 38 years. Arlan Gilbert | Courtesy

While con­sid­ering the job offer for College Pres­ident several years ago, Larry Arnn came across a his­torical novel about Hillsdale College — and it was partly what inspired him to take the job.

The novel was written by a former history pro­fessor named Arlan Gilbert, who taught at the college from 1960 to 1998. Arlan Gilbert taught a record number of stu­dents, worked as the chairman of the history department for seven years, and wrote four non-fiction his­torical novels about Ransom Dunn and the college’s history as a school and during the civil war.

“I always wanted to teach in a good small college and Hillsdale met those require­ments,” Arlan said. “There was an emphasis on the facts of history and moral char­acter built into the stu­dents and the back­ground, and if you do well in both of those you can make it a really good story where you’re talking about the growth of a very good private college.”

His passion for the subject expanded past campus walls into his per­sonal life where he took his family of four on summer road trips that covered all the states, except Hawaii and Alaska, vis­iting every civil war bat­tle­ground like the rural Ante­bellum South or the renowned Get­tysburg bat­tle­field in Penn­syl­vania.

“Every summer we would travel all over the United States and see all the bat­tle­fields,” Gilbert’s daughter Angie Berry said. “He was very pas­sionate. We even had a dog named Gun Powder.”

Gilbert wrote his first novel “His­toric Hillsdale College: Pioneer in Higher Edu­cation, 1844 – 1990” first-handedly, which helped its story come alive as if he was there. He was able to get into this himself due to his training from graduate school, but Joe McNamara, who is also named after McNamara concert hall by a trustee, helped him throughout, Gilbert said.

“The minute I started having an interest in the college’s history, he sup­ported me and we were able to run off four books,” Gilbert said. “He was a tremen­dously great editor, it really helped having someone organize my ideas and read my work over and over again.”

Before retiring, Gilbert said he remem­bered the incredible growth of the history department. The high stan­dards set by the history department attracted a great number of stu­dents and Gilbert said he enjoyed working with those wanting to learn more.

“Not to brag, but if you’re pretty good, some of the better stu­dents are going to enroll, and you have to make it inter­esting to the point that they are gaining some­thing first-hand. In that way, they will appre­ciate what the college has been and is now,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert taught a number of courses including American Her­itage, Sec­tion­alism in the Civil War, American Eco­nomic History, and U.S Con­sti­tu­tional History. Pro­fessor of History David Stewart said many stu­dents admired Gilbert’s friendly and approachable per­son­ality, adding that they took Gilbert’s classes simply because he was the one teaching them.

“Another word a pro­fessor used to describe him is ‘pas­toral.’ He wants to talk to you and know how you’re doing, who you are, and where you’re from,” Stewart said. “It wasn’t just a business trans­action in office hours. He engaged with stu­dents like they were people.”

At the very least, Gilbert’s casual and laid-back teaching style showed Stewart that it was okay to not be so serious while lec­turing.

“He was still serious about the material and what he was doing, without being serious the whole time,” Stewart said. “He made it okay for me to be weird, but he didn’t make me weird.”

Gilbert not only helped the college through teaching, but he also donated money for the history seminar room in the fourth floor of Delp Hall. This is just one of many ways in which Gilbert has shown great gen­erosity to the college over the years, Pro­fessor and Chairman of History Mark Kalthoff said.

“He’s been a strong sup­porter of the college, always popular with the stu­dents,” Kalthoff said. “He’s been excep­tionally kind and cheerful and he was known as that for a department member. For all of his suc­cesses, he’s always been very humble, so he’s very easy for people        to like.”

Gilbert’s teaching wasn’t restricted to campus grounds. Kalthoff said Gilbert tutored stu­dents who needed extra help outside of class and office hours at his house, ensuring that they under­stood the material.

“I think Arlan Gibert saw that a college pro­fessor has to succeed by living up to a certain standard, but also has to hold the hand of and mentor stu­dents so that they flourish and succeed,” Kalthoff said. “I think that Gilbert was patient in that way with stu­dents and wanted them to do well.”