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German Pro­fessor Eberhard Geyer is retiring. BRYNA DESTEFANI | COURTESY

When senior German major Emma Eisenman visited Hillsdale as a prospective student, she already had her heart set on attending a dif­ferent college. Her meeting with the head of the German department during that visit, however, changed her mind. 

“Dr. Geyer is the reason I am here, and I am so thankful for it. I didn’t know I wanted to come here until I met with him,” Eisenman said. 

Eberhard Geyer, current chairman and pro­fessor of German, and director of German Study Abroad Pro­grams, has taught at Hillsdale for almost 35 years. This semester will be his last, as he retires in December. 

During his time on campus, Geyer has built the German department from the ground up. 

“When I started here in 1985, I inherited a German department which was in decline and had some 35 to 40 stu­dents total,” Geyer said. 

Now, the German department is thriving.

“This semester, we have 30 stu­dents in just one course, the upper level lit­er­ature class, all of whom are either minors or majors,” he said. “That’s phe­nomenal.” 

“The fact that we have three full-time faculty is unusual for even a good college of the size of Hillsdale,” Geyer said. “At many other col­leges, unfor­tu­nately, German has dis­ap­peared. Lan­guages are a bit in trouble, but I think we are doing really well here because of the insti­tu­tional support, the department’s ded­i­cation, and the willing and very ded­i­cated liberal arts stu­dents we have here at Hillsdale. Hillsdale stu­dents can be exposed to such won­der­fully crazy works as Faust to be read and dis­cussed in German.” 

The German department has reached beyond the classroom as well. Assistant Pro­fessor of German Stephen Naumann describes how the stu­dents carry what they learn in class into their day-to-day lives through con­ver­sa­tions in German over lunch and greeting each other in the hallways. 

Hillsdale’s German department begins the study of lit­er­ature quite early. Starting at the 201 level, stu­dents are already reading a full novel. Upon com­pletion of 202, all stu­dents can begin taking the lit­er­ature courses. 

Geyer has taught these lit­er­ature courses, which cover canonical lit­er­ature from the clas­sical era of Goethe and Schiller, the 19th century and its roman­ticism, realism, and nat­u­ralism, up through the 20th century, reading works by Kafka, Mann, and Zweig. 

“To my very last teaching day, I will walk into a lit­er­ature class with a good sense of ‘cre­ative’ panic,” Geyer said. “I have certain key items in mind that need to be dis­cussed, and then I just start talking. Teaching for me is having a con­ver­sation with an inter­ested and caring partner.” 

Junior Kathleen Hess said Geyer’s approach encouraged her to speak more in class. 

“I fell in love with his class on the first day of freshman year,” Hess said. “He encourages you to talk and has a fun dynamic in class. For a lan­guage setting, that really helps.” 

Throughout his time at Hillsdale, Geyer has greatly influ­enced stu­dents and faculty alike. Pol­itics pro­fessor Mickey Craig described Geyer as “a good man, an out­standing teacher and scholar, and a great friend.”

“He instills into his stu­dents his own love for lit­er­ature,” said Naumann. “He has a gift for reaching stu­dents with the types of ques­tions and ideas that are in a spe­cific work. We owe an awful lot to him for his hard work and vision in building the program into what it is today.”

Many related how much laughter and joy Geyer creates. Despite heavy topics in the lit­er­ature read in the German department, stu­dents say they are able to laugh in class because Geyer brings the stories to life. 

“There was a scene in the book we were reading that the class just didn’t under­stand,” said sophomore Tricia Becker. “So Dr. Geyer acted it out. At one point, he acted out a lamp. After­wards, we all under­stood the scene so much better. It was really funny, and made it really easy to under­stand.” 

French pro­fessor Anne Theobald has had an office on the same floor as Geyer for four and a half years. 

 “I think what I will miss most when he retires is his infec­tious laugh,” she said. “During the two periods of the semester when he 

con­ducts oral exams in his office, I fre­quently hear him laughing with his stu­dents. It’s the same hearty laugh that he shares on a daily basis with col­leagues.”

Geyer’s classes have impacted many stu­dents’ lives. Junior German and music double major Zsanna Bodor fondly remembers Geyer’s lit­er­ature course she took last year. 

“We lis­tened to Schubert and Schumann arrange­ments of beau­tiful poems by Goethe,” Bodor said. “When we studied Schiller’s “Wilhelm Tell,” Dr. Geyer brought in a yodeling CD. I can still remember that feeling of pure delight, sitting in class on a warm autumn afternoon, sun­shine shim­mering through the golden trees into our classroom, lis­tening to the sweet strains of Inntaler Sänger.” 

Among the many oppor­tu­nities the German department pro­vides, one of the most loved by stu­dents is its study abroad pro­grams, both pio­neered by Geyer. Running since 1986, the Würzburg Intensive Summer program offers stu­dents the oppor­tunity to study and live in southern Germany for a month. The semester-long Saarland Uni­versity Exchange Program has been in oper­ation for the last 22 years, enabling stu­dents to study immer­sively at an inter­na­tional uni­versity. 

“I think the addition of the two overseas pro­grams has been a cat­alyst to the success of the German program,” said Geyer. “I think it is a proud achievement that, at a small school such as ours, the German department has its own bona fide exchange with a German uni­versity in addition to a very popular summer study program in beau­tiful Würzburg.”

Hess com­pleted the Würzburg program the summer after her freshman year. 

“It changed my life,” she said. 

Eisenman just returned from the Würzburg program this past summer. Without Geyer’s encour­agement, however, she may not have gone. 

“He really pushed me when I was trying to be too prag­matic about college. I think I needed that push,” Eisenman said. “I needed someone to say, don’t go into it with any expec­ta­tions. It’s your own adventure, go live it. The Würzburg program felt like the cap­stone to my German study in a sense, but it also made me realize that my study in German is just beginning.” 

Asso­ciate pro­fessor Fred Yaniga has taken over the role as head of the German department. 

“It is a daunting task,” he said. “I have even more respect for him every day. It is a lot of work that requires vision, and Dr. Geyer cer­tainly had that vision. He is a con­summate pro­fes­sional. He has demon­strated how to work col­le­gially both with his coworkers and with his stu­dents. He has won­derful rapport with stu­dents. He is incredibly caring and pro­fes­sional with them. He often main­tains rela­tion­ships with them. He does all of this from behind the scenes.”

Geyer’s work has left a wide-reaching mark on Hillsdale and its stu­dents. 

“I am reminded of the scope of this program among our alumni,” said Yaniga. “There are people working in Central Hall, Moss Hall, the library who are all his stu­dents. The legacy that he leaves behind him is a legacy of people whose lives he has touched through his classes, his ideas, his words. That won’t be for­gotten.”