VOL. 111 | NO. 180 | Friday, September 26, 1997
By SUZANNE THOMPSON
Love of language
Rhodes professor of Spanish Don Tucker went from loathing foreign language to loving it
By SUZANNE THOMPSON
The Daily News
When Donald Tucker was in college, he did not want to take a foreign language course.
"I went in kicking and screaming," he said.
But, once he got into it, Tucker developed a love of romance languages that has lasted a lifetime.
He credits his turnaround to a college professor at Davidson College in North Carolina, Tuckers alma mater.
"I had a sort of Damascus Road experience," he said.
Tucker received such outstanding tutelage from this professor that it inspired him to become a teacher in the hopes of passing the love of language he developed on to others.
After completing his undergraduate degree, Tucker went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he received both his masters and doctorate degrees in romance languages.
Tucker nearly went to work for the U.S. Information Agency, but because they could not guarantee him placement in a Hispanic-speaking country, he decided to pass on the job.
He took a job teaching at Davidson College, where he worked for four years before coming to Rhodes College.
Tucker recently was honored with the Diehl Award for Service, one of three annual awards made to faculty members.
He said he believes participating in teaching the Search for Values courses at Rhodes was an element in earning the award for outstanding service.
Search, he said, is a general humanities course which about half of the first- and second-year Rhodes students take.
Students use a book compiled by Rhodes faculty members which contains select readings from a number of different authors, saving them the expense of buying each individual authors work.
Tucker translated sections of Dantes Divine Comedy and Machiavellis Prince from Italian to English for use in the compilation. He said this is work of which he is particularly proud.
Tucker said in his work teaching Search classes, he found himself in the role of student and teacher simultaneously.
"You never learn anything quite so well as when you try to teach it," he said.
Another way Tucker has shared his love of language and culture with Rhodes students is through the creation of a program called Maymester.
Maymester is an abbreviated, accelerated language course in which students travel abroad to experience Hispanic culture first hand. When the program first started in 1969, he took students to Mexico, but they now go to Spain. During the trips, students live with natives in their homes, Tucker said.
Natives are offered rent as an incentive to participate, and often, the accommodations are modest at best.
He said he believes the program benefits the students because it teaches them life lessons.
"It shows them that most of the world doesnt live the way Americans live," he said.
But, despite the cramped quarters, Tucker said the students rarely complain, and he thinks they come back richer for the experience.
Not every trip goes smoothly, however.
Tucker said on one of the first trips, on which there were 18 students, he advised them they could only take two bags on the airplane.
At the end of the trip, as the students assembled with their mentor at the airport, he noticed one student had brought an additional bag, a gunny sack, loaded to the brim with Mexican mementos.
He said nothing.
As the group headed for the aircraft, he heard the young girls shriek.
"Professor Tucker, they wont let me get on the plane," she cried.
He turned to see the girl laboring to drag the huge bag, which was far too heavy to lift.
"Ill never forget the sight of Lucy struggling across the tarmac toward the plane," Tucker said.
In fluent Spanish, he said a few words to the objecting crew member, who finally threw the bag into the luggage compartment.
During last years trip to Madrid, the students had a long weekend and decided to travel to Seville. They wanted to take an early train, so they stayed up all night partying and met at the station.
All, that is, except for one student, who never showed up. His roommate had all his belongings, including his wallet.
The rest of the group went on to Seville with Tucker, and they learned later that the absent student had come to Seville behind them but never found them.
It was Monday morning before they saw him again.
Tucker is now in his 34th and final year teaching at Rhodes. He plans to continue teaching, even in his retirement.
His wife, Sybil, is associate director of Memphis Inter-Faith Association, which runs a program called the Hispanic Connection. Tucker said he wants to offer English lessons to immigrants through that program.
Tucker estimates the Memphis Hispanic population at about 50,000. Only a fraction of them, he said, can speak English fluently.
He said he believes this is because the many Hispanics who came to Memphis when the Mexican economy collapsed in 1993 think of themselves as temporary residents who do not need to learn English.
Tucker said he hopes he can help to change that and plans to begin working with the Hispanic Connection this summer.
name: Donald Tucker
date of birth: Nov. 17, 1932
place of birth: Greensboro, N.C.
education: Davidson College, 1955
B.S., business and economics
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1958
M.A., romance languages
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1961
Ph.D., romance languages