Math prof’s frugality adds up for future students

By Clint Talbott

John H. “Jack” Hodges, a former professor of mathematics at the University of Colorado

John H. “Jack” Hodges, a former professor of mathematics at the University of Colorado

Growing up in the Great Depression, John H. “Jack” Hodges learned to be frugal. As a professor of mathematics at the University of Colorado, that discipline led him to pack sack lunches for 35 years, even as many of his colleagues lunched at the University Club.

Hodges might have forgone some collegial fellowship, but future students will gain more access to higher education. The retired professor’s frugality helped him sink a tidy sum into an Individual Retirement Account, part of which he has dedicated to a new scholarship fund.

The John H. “Jack” Hodges Scholarship will be awarded for the first time this year. The $1,000 annual award will go to undergraduates in math who have financial need and are good students.

Hodges had considered bequeathing the scholarship funds. But, he observes, “Who knows how long anybody’s going to last? I’d like to do it while I’m still around.”

There are not many scholarships for undergraduate students of mathematics, Hodges observes. “My emphasis in my career was on undergraduate affairs,” particularly teaching, which Hodges did demonstrably well.

In 1968, he received the CU-student-initiated Teaching recognition Award, previously won by such outstanding faculty members as Reuben Zubrow of economics and Hazel Barnes of philosophy.

Hodges also won the Teaching Excellence Award from the Boulder Faculty Assembly in 1990. He was also honored in 1993 by the BFA for his service to the university. In 1992, he also received the Burton W. Jones Distinguished Teaching Award, a regional teaching award given annually by the Rocky Mountain Section of the Mathematical Association of America.

Hodges’ path from Pennsylvania youth to university professor was not pre-ordained. “As a kid, I was pretty good at arithmetic and things of that sort,” Hodges notes.

But at 18 years of age, Hodges found himself with three obvious options: get drafted, work in the Steel mills or join a special-training program in the military. He took the special-training route in the Navy, which he recalls as a “great time” and “a big adventure.”

After the Navy, Hodges used the GI Bill to attend college. He earned his bachelor’s degree in three years and went to graduate school at Duke University.

The day before classes began, the department chairman assembled the grad students in a room. The chairman, a “blunt guy” wielding an armload of books, “slapped a book on an armchair and said, ‘Hodges, you’re an algebra teacher.’”

“He was right. I loved it,” Hodges notes. “I was in heaven, because I loved teaching, … and that’s been my life.”

“In awarding scholarships, we would keep in mind Jack’s particular interests and contributions to our department’s educational mission,” says Eric Stade professor and chair of the Department of Mathematics.

One of Hodges’ passions is “helping people get over the fear of mathematics” and even helping them appreciate the beauty and logic of math. As his career progressed, Hodges focused his attention on prospective elementary-school teachers.

Those enrolled in his course for prospective schoolteachers were often older women who’d gotten a degree in, say, English. “I was sympathetic to those people,” he says.

That class was the “least prestigious course in the department,” so there was no competition to teach it, Hodges notes. But, “It was a course I loved.”

The course is called “The Spirit and Uses of Mathematics” which Hodges likens to a mathematics-appreciation course.

Hodges says it’s not adequate to concentrate on the mathematics used before 1600. “So what I did was to take very contemporary math and taught it at an intuitive level,” he says. “This is something people don’t normally get in a high-school mathematics course.”

To Hodges, mathematics is “an art, not a science.”

Stade notes that Hodges was “very passionate about and successful in training many of our future teachers.” Stade frequently teaches (and continually directs) the course Hodges started.

Stade adds: “The math department is very excited about and grateful for this new opportunity to recognize our best and brightest undergraduates, especially considering the constraints the present economy puts on our own finances, and those of our students.”

Hodges and his wife, Jean, retired in 1995 and have traveled extensively since, visiting Australia, New Zealand, China, Turkey, Africa and Southeast Asia. The couple is active in the group Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays, a cause about which both of them are passionate.

Meanwhile, Hodges reflects on his motivation to create a scholarship. “I had the GI bill,” he notes. “It was a blessing for our whole country. The GI bill changed the character of education of the United States.

“I feel some desire to help carry that on for other people.”

To learn more about making a planned gift, which may carry tax advantages, contact Gift Planning at the University of Colorado Foundation, 303-541-1335.

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