Longtime University of Central Arkansas professor Dr. Jerry Manion died July 18 at age 73. He was well-known for his enthusiastic dedication to teaching and his talent for music.
Manion’s son, Danny, said his father became the first chairman of the chemistry department at UCA in 1965, the same year he earned his doctorate at the University of Mississippi. He said his father taught more years than any other professor in the school’s history.
"He taught at UCA for 49 years. He had an incredible effect on a lot of his students. They started a scholarship at UCA a few years ago, and one of Dad’s former students said he would put up the money for the endowment if they would name it after Dad."
Manion’s other son, Mike, said, "He just loved teaching. He was going through the process of retiring at UCA, and he couldn’t stand it. He was loving teaching, and he told them, ‘I want to be carried out of the classroom,’ which is pretty much what he did. He loved his students. He loved the faculty."
At one time Manion also taught chemistry at St. Joseph School in addition to his duties at UCA, his sons said.
"St. Joseph was in need of a chemistry teacher and couldn’t find one. Dad stepped in and taught chemistry at St. Joe for several years and just donated the salary back to the school," Danny Manion said.
Tom Courtway, president of UCA, said, "He was a great teacher and mentor who influenced and changed the lives of many, many students. Dr. Manion was an asset to UCA, his community and his profession, and for me personally, he always had an encouraging word and solid advice on any subject."
In addition to his love of teaching, Manion also enjoyed playing music.
Mike Manion said, "He played with a bluegrass group with several other science professors. They played bluegrass festivals, at nursing homes, at UCA. He also played with the UCA Dixieland Band."
Fletcher Smith of Conway grew to know Manion well through a mutual love of music.
"I ran into Doc Manion in the late 70s, and I heard him play with The Professors. He was so good on the banjo it intrigued me. I wanted to learn, and he said, ‘Meet me at the science center.’ He sat down with me and taught me a lick — eight notes. He would put me in a separate room, go to two or three other people he was teaching at the same time, and then come back. If I could play it, he would teach me another one. He got the biggest kick out of teaching somebody something. It didn’t matter what it was. He spent countless hours teaching many people to play the banjo."
He added Manion was always happy, smiling and generous with his time.
"I’ve never seen anyone who would spend more time with their students for no monetary gain," he said. "He just loved teaching and got the biggest kick out of it when they learned it. It didn’t make any difference to Doc Manion what you wanted to learn. If he knew it, he was going to teach it to you."
One of Manion’s former students, Kofi Boahene, is a doctor at Johns Hopkins and a leader in the field of plastic facial reconstruction, but he almost didn’t get to go to medical school. In an article in Johns Hopkins Medicine online, Boahene credits Manion with helping him get his start. A standout student throughout his school career, Boahene, a native of Ghana, almost gave up on his dream of medical school because he did not have the funds. Manion co-signed on a loan for him because he believed so strongly in Boahene’s abilities. Now he repairs faces in war-torn countries and reverses cleft palates in children in poverty.
"That’s a lot of lives touched," said Danny Manion.
Smith commented, "I think everybody who came into contact with Doc Manion is a better person for that, because he was such a class act. I’ll never forget him."
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