Retiring Tabor prof ready to adapt new environment

As an ecologist, Max Terman knows it can be difficult for an organism to adapt to life outside its natural environment.

So it’s a good thing that after 37 years in Tabor College’s biology department, the recently retired professor won’t be leaving his natural habitat completely.

Terman still has an office in the S.L. Loewen Natural Science Center he helped design nearly a decade ago and has inhabited ever since.

“When (Tabor) built this building, Dr. (Allen) Hiebert and I said, ‘Hey, you know, when we retire, we’re going to need two offices for ourselves,'” Terman said. “So we planned in those two extra offices.”

Filling Terman’s position is Carrie Rathbone, who had applied for the biology teaching position formerly held by Richard Wall and recently filled by Jeff Henderson.

“They’re both just excellent people,” Terman said of Rathbone and Henderson. “It’s good to get two young professors into Tabor, and also one of them being a young woman. I think we’ve needed more women on our staff at Tabor.

“I just felt the good Lord tapping me on the shoulder, saying, ‘It may be time for something else.'”

Those “something elses” have not been slow in coming over the past year. From the Marion County Water Conservation District and the Prairie Dunes Golf Course in Hutchinson to the Greenville (Ill.) College biology program and the Au Sable Institute in northern Michigan, Terman’s ecological expertise is in high demand.

“It just seems that things are opening up with consulting and using my environmental energy/expertise,” he said.

“That’s kind of what I think I’m going to be doing.”

Terman returned to Au Sable last week to teach an ecology course for the rest of the summer-something he hasn’t done in 15 years.

“It should be a good reunion,” he said. “I hope I’m up to it, with all the walking-in-the-field portion of it.

“Being 61, it could be a challenge,” he added with a laugh.

Terman is ready for new challenges throughout the rest of the next “school” year, although he said he might still be up for teaching a class or two at Tabor.

“If something comes up over (January) interterm, I might be interested,” he said. “But I’ll kind of like to keep a free schedule during the regular semesters.”

Animal behavior and ecology are Terman’s specialties, but he said he enjoyed teaching other courses, such as environmental science and botany.

In many of the classes, he spent time with his students at the 15 acres of personal property he named the Terman Environmental Study Area. Terman said he’ll likely hold seminars and events out at TESA, as well as allow students to conduct studies out there as a class or as individuals.

Terman said he also relished taking students on January field trips to study biology in locations like Florida and Belize.

“The whole 37 years was really kind of a highlight film,” said Terman, an Ohio native and graduate of Spring Arbor (Mich.) College and Michigan State Unviersity. His Tabor position was his first and only teaching job.

“That’s why I stayed here-I just never left.”

While he and wife Jan have plenty of extended family to visit in Ohio and Michigan, they plan to stay in the Hillsboro area for the foreseeable future, living in the environmentally friendly earth-sheltered house Terman designed and built back in the 1970s.

“I like the open spaces,” Terman said of Kansas. “The land here is still relatively undeveloped and un-urbanized.

“When I go back to Ohio and Michigan, everything’s paved over and there’s people everywhere,” he added. “I like the more free and open life out here.”

Their daughter, Carrie, has two children in Peabody that Grandpa and Grandma Terman will continue to visit often, he said. Jan may use her experience in children’s ministries at Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church to do some area consulting of her own.

“She has a lot of good ideas about how children should be taught and about their experiences in church, so I think she’ll be active there,” he said.

“I think we’re both going to be consultants.”

Terman has been using his own consulting experience as research for a book called “The Ecology of Golf: A Scientist Examines His Game.”

Drawn from the self-confessed golf addict’s consulting work at Prairie Dunes and a year spent traveling around the world with the U.S. Golf Association, Terman’s recently completed manuscript seeks to answer a larger environmental question: How do you develop land in a ecologically sensitive ways that protect animals, plants and wildlife?

“We have not developed in a way that preserves creation-we’ve destroyed it,” Terman said. “So, really, we need to revise our ways of development.

“I’m using golf as an entry point, because it’s such a socially high-profile game,” he added.

“Golf courses and ecologists have not exactly been friends-but things are changing.”

Another good entry point for Terman’s environmental expertise is the recent rise in energy costs.

“The rougher things get, the more people think about environment stuff,” he said. “When gas was high-priced back in the ’70s and ’80s, we had people coming by, calling all the time.

“Then things loosened up and that interest died, Now, gas prices are up again, and people are starting to wonder, Hey, how can I save money on that? How can I be more energy-efficient?”

Terman said he will be happy to help friends and neighbors tackle those types of questions, but the project that will take much of his time in the near future actually has nothing to do with the environment. Terman wants to make history instead.

It’s a project that’s been marinating since Terman’s teenage years, when he learned he had an ancestor, Hiram Terman, who fought in the 82nd Ohio Regiment in the Civil War despite his pacificist Anabaptist background.

“He went against his religion, joined up with the Civil War army there and then fought in all the big battles,” Terman said. “He was captured in Gettysburg, then sent down to Andersonville (prison camp) and survived that horrible place.

“The more I learned about him, I thought, boy, this guy has a story that should be told,” he added. “So I’m going to try to write either a novel or a documentary on his adventures-go to the places where he was, take photographs and see if I can publish a book on that.”

As he leaves his teaching position, Terman hopes his students of the past 37 years have learned the main lesson he tried to teach them both in word and deed.

“One thing I say a lot in class, and I hope they remember this, is that in everything you do, try to be a part of the solution rather than the problem,” he said.

“Try to live your life in a way that accepts people, that gives them a chance to express their ideas, that works toward community, that does not exclude and that works on solutions to problems-that brings about the kingdom of God in a way that saves creation, that redeems people, that fights selfishness.

Of course, nobody gets it perfect, including himself, Terman added with a smile.

“But you try.”

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