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Longtime HCC professor retires

June 20, 1999

Richard MontgomeryBy BRUCE HAMILTON / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




As he was cleaning out his office last week, Dr. Richard Montgomery found grades from 1968, the first class he taught at Hagerstown Community College.

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His office and the surrounding wing of the Science building were unbuilt ideas in that year. He was a new professor, and the old guard at HCC seemed ancient. His present students were not yet born.

"They weren't around when the (space shuttle) Challenger blew up. Everything is digital to them. It's interesting what they haven't experienced," said Montgomery.

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The grandfather of five and father of four is retiring at the end of this month.

"Change is gradual, so it creeps up on you," he said. "All of a sudden, you're 65 and you wonder where the time went."

After 40 years of teaching biology, the chairman of HCC's Science and Mathematics Division is ready to retire. Missing the students clearly saddens him, but Montgomery is looking forward to a new occupation.

"It's like a career change," he said. "You really have to think and work at retirement."

The veteran educator said he learned continuously as a teacher and plans to pursue knowledge forever. "You never stop. When you stop, you're dead," he said.

He wasn't always a keen student. He began life in blue collar Philadelphia, Pa., the son of a postal worker. He was the first generation in his family to continue education beyond high school.

Westchester University was the only school his father could afford. Montgomery was a "late bloomer," an average student who struggled through his freshman year, he said. When he got all A's in his senior year, he was shocked.

But he didn't stop with a bachelor's degree. Montgomery went on to attain a master's degree in biology at American University, a master's degree in education at Johns Hopkins University and a Ph.D. in biology and education at the University of Maryland.

He also spent two years as an analyst in the intelligence corps of the U.S. Army, drafted shortly after college. When he left the service, he took a teaching job at Milford Mill High School in Baltimore County.

After nine years there, he moved with his wife, Adele, to Hagerstown. "The first thing I noticed when I came out here, you walked down the street and people talked to you," he said. "I wasn't used to that."

He grew used to the college, which has grown from an enrollment of about 1,000 to 3,000, according to Montgomery. At the same time, the number of full-time faculty has decreased from 72 to 57.

Over the years, the students have changed, Montgomery said.

"Things are a lot more casual than we used to be," he said. Students have elaborate lifestyles to support. "When I was a student, I ate hand-to-mouth. I had no car."

Today's generation is also more work-oriented. They build their lives around work and make it their first priority, according to Montgomery. "That's a big difference from my day," he said. "But most are really good people."

His field is also different. "I didn't even learn about DNA in college. When I think about the biology I teach, most of it I never learned in college," he said.

Biology and chemistry melded and advancements in genetics have caused technological revolutions.

"This is the century of biology," he said. "The things we are learning are going to change the world. It has great potential for use and abuse."

Montgomery and fellow professor William Elliott, also retired from HCC, recently finished writing a laboratory manual. W.H. Freeman is set to publish "Investigations in Biology" in the spring of 2001, he said.

He wants to spend more time with books. "I'd like the opportunity to be able to sit down and read a book for two hours without being interrupted," he said.

Montgomery also wants to travel. In August he will take an Alaskan cruise and in October go fishing on North Carolina's Outer Banks. He plans to research his family tree in Ireland, attend elder hostels and explore the Antarctic.

The professor may be retiring, but he's not tiring. "I can't imagine being bored," he said.

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