History Professor Practices What He Teaches

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History Professor Practices What He Teaches

Steve Dodson, history instructor at Allen Community College, shows some weapons, uniforms and other gear he’s acquired for Civil War and Revolutionary War re-enactments.

Steve Dodson, history instructor at Allen Community College, shows some weapons, uniforms and other gear he’s acquired for Civil War and Revolutionary War re-enactments.

Allen Community College photo

Steve Dodson, history instructor at Allen Community College, shows some weapons, uniforms and other gear he’s acquired for Civil War and Revolutionary War re-enactments.

Allen Community College photo

Allen Community College photo

Steve Dodson, history instructor at Allen Community College, shows some weapons, uniforms and other gear he’s acquired for Civil War and Revolutionary War re-enactments.

Bruce Symes, Flame Advisor

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Employees are usually encouraged to leave their work at the office, rather than take it home with them, lest they risk getting burned out. Steve Dodson, longtime Allen Community College instructor, doesn’t mind.

In fact, he has, for decades, overlapped personal and professional interests regarding the nation’s, nay world’s, history to bring the past to life for students. Dodson has taught 27 years for Allen, the first three years as an adjunct instructor and the past 24 as full-time professor at the Allen campus in Burlingame.

This fall, however, he will teach two courses Thursday mornings at the Iola campus: World History to 1500 and The American West. Depending on the interest in those inaugural offerings, he will return in the spring and, possibly, add Kansas History to his course schedule in future semesters. Kansas History hasn’t been offered on the Iola campus since 2000. Both fall classes are virtually full for the upcoming semester beginning Aug. 19, so the likelihood is great that Dodson will be making more trips here next spring and beyond.

While the social sciences help college students meet degree requirements, Allen always encourages community members to take courses on any of its campuses — Iola, Burlingame or online. Tuition is reasonable, and the Scarlet and Black program offers tuition-free courses for Allen County seniors to continue their learning.

 

DODSON CAME to Allen after teaching eight years at Topeka West, Tribune and Bern high schools. His career path was set at an early age. Dodson decided to be a history teacher when he was a sophomore in high school, his passion perhaps ignited by family stories of baseball through the previous 100 years and an interest in military history sparked, again, by his family’s involvement.

An example is the story of his great-grandfather who lived in West Virginia in the mid- to late-1800s and fought for the Union Army in the Civil War. The border state was especially torn by the conflict, seceding from the Confederate state of Virginia to be part of the Union. The split caused great agony for Dodson’s family as the war pitted cousin against cousin, uncle against uncle on the battlefield.

A particular battle in which Dodson’s great-grandfather was involved took place in 1864 and 1865 outside Petersburg, Va. Soldiers from the Union and Confederate sides dug in – literally — for what would be a nine-month campaign.

“It was the first use of trench warfare,” Dodson noted, “which was later used in World War I. It was very bloody and very deadly.”

Still, during respites from fighting, soldiers on the Union side found time for the great American pastime. A baseball field was built behind the Union position, albeit not far enough behind, as it would turn out.

“My great-grandfather learned the game of baseball during that battle, and he was hooked,” Dodson said. “They were playing a game right behind the siege lines at Petersburg and the Confederates shot and killed the left fielder during the game.”

The Union would prevail in the Siege of Petersburg, and Dodson’s forefather later mustered out of the army and snuck back home to West Virginia, often steeling through the dark of night to avoid being shot by Confederate loyalists, perhaps some of whom might have been family.

“The first thing he did when he got back home was build a baseball field,” Dodson said. “Then, after the war ended, there were teams that played there that included emancipated slaves.”

Great-grandfather Dodson eventually would leave West Virginia in 1894 and move to Kansas. Others from West Virginia joined him and his family in settling at Clay Center, Kan., and, again, his sport passion was foremost on his mind.

“The first thing he did when they came to Kansas was build a baseball field, even before he built his house,” Dodson said.

In addition to baseball, the Dodson clan has put education at the top of the list. Schools, in addition to baseball fields, were important to the family, as he learned in a visit to West Virginia with his father in 1978 and as he traced the family history from there to Kansas.

 

THE DODSON men would continue the tradition, and talents, of playing good ball. Dodson’s grandfather and father both played in the New York Yankee organization, and he and his brothers were accomplished as well, playing at the college and professional levels.

“I played a lot of baseball at the college and semi-pro levels,” Dodson said, “but my dad had told me I needed a fall back career. Not everyone makes it in baseball.

“So I became a teacher, and I love it. I wanted to eventually teach at the college level,” he added.

His “fall back” didn’t preclude Dodson from pursuing his own passion for the sport. After excelling as catcher in his own right, he managed teams in the Topeka leagues for 17 years, winning titles in 13 of them.

It’s a legacy,” he said of his family’s baseball tradition.

(As an ancillary achievement, Dodson has participated in throwback games at Humboldt celebrating that town’s local heroes – Walter “Big Train” Johnson of Washington Senators fame and Billy Sweat of the Negro Leagues.)

Dodson’s own interest in teaching also harkens back to those early days in West Virginia and adolescent Kansas. The Dodson family has always placed much importance on education, he noted.

“The only two things they cared about was baseball and schools,” he said. “He didn’t know us at all, but that’s what we’ve been passionate about through all these years.”

 

ADD TO THE LIST of things Dodson cares about a third pursuit: 1) education; 2) baseball; and 3) war re-enactments. The latter is an automatic source for Dodson to use for energy and enthusiasm in his classroom as he lectures about the Revolutionary War, Civil War and historical conflicts around the world.

The interest began in the early 1980s, when his family research found that another family member, Stephen Dodson Ramseur, the great-grandfather’s cousin for whom Dodson was named, fought in the Civil War. The travel to authentic sites, the friendly relationships among enthusiasts, the opportunity to dress in period uniforms and carry replicated weapons fed his love for history and learning.

Dodson has had opportunity to re-enact in Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi and Pennsylvania, among other places. He was captain in the 8th Kansas Union Army during orchestrated skirmishes at Linn County’s Mine Creek Battlefield. He has “served” with the 3rd Missouri Confederate unit in re-enactments at Wilson’s Creek (Springfield, Mo.), Pea Ridge (Ark.) Battlefield, Gettysburg (Pa.)  and Vicksburg (Miss.). He’s also been an extra in the Civil War cinematic dramas Glory (1989) and Gettysburg (1993).

In the 30-plus years of war re-enacting, Dodson has participated in 200 exercises and plans to continue for the foreseeable future.

“I’m going to do it until I’m, minimally, 65 – if my heart lets me,” he said.

Again, this interest has become a family affair as his sons started in re-enactments as drummer boys and have graduated to full-fledged soldiers.

“Nice people; good camaraderie,” Dodson said of the re-enactment ilk.

 

DODSON ENVISIONS continuing to incorporate his personal passions into his lessons at the Iola campus.

Baseball, he expects, would be very much a part of Kansas History class, as would Maj. Gen. Frederick Funston, Civil War battles and Piqua native Buster Keaton.

“The first years I taught Kansas History here at Burlingame, I had a lot of older students, rather than traditional age college students, who wanted to learn about our area,” he noted.

“In world history, I emphasize military and social history, and I cover some political history, but I don’t go overboard on it,” Dodson added. “You need a mix, to give it all context.”

A certainty will be that Dodson will use his many years of teaching experience, his personal connections and his own excitement for history and learning to keep students enthralled.

“I want to bring the people from throughout history back to life,” he said. “It’s important to know our world history, as well as our local history. It can help us figure out why we are where we are today.”

 

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