Ahead of his time

Even his pop quizzes didn't stop us from loving him
By Maryon Smith Crouse ('54)

Originally published in Spring 2007, this is just one of many stories from Madison magazine's award-winning Professors You Love series, written by JMU students and alumni, about the professors that have made the most impact on their lives — then, and now.

Hank Bowers

Biology professor Stephen Bocskey visits with Madison College students on the Quad by Wilson Hall just before commencement (circa 1950s). "Professor Bocskey pushed us to be independent," says Maryon Smith Crouse ('54).

Surely, some still remember him. My freshman year and my Madison Experience would not have been the same without him.

Quiet, humble, unpretentious Stephen Bocskey never wore his mortarboard when faculty members donned their robes and academic finery to walk to Wednesday assembly. But like his beautiful personality, the golden tassel on his academic robe showed through — revealing his position as professor of biology, respected member of the Madison College science department and beloved teacher at Madison in 1951.

If I close my eyes and listen, I still hear his gentle voice nudging me and my classmates to always do better. We all enjoyed his "down-home philosophy."

"Now girls," he would say. "Just don't sit around all day eating chocolate bonbons." In 1951, Mr. Bocskey's constant push for female independence was quite a bit ahead of the times. We hung on his every word, his every suggestion; and we learned, oh how we learned.

A quiz every Thursday — complete with its bonus question — was a new phenomenon for us freshmen. The only bonus question I remember was for 10 extra points. "What is the difference between a jackass and a maple tree?"

I really thought I was a smart young lady when I answered, "I've never been taught by a maple tree!"

I got my 10 bonus points.

Professor Bocskey had a wonderful sense of humor. I never even thought about cutting his class. I might miss some interesting something from his biological world taught in his logical way. His introduction to the mysteries of the human body were taught so well that I remember most of the lessons to this day. And there were the little perks that he shared. A break from lab to smoke a cigarette (it was OK then), Cokes from his personal refrigerator or the personal chats with a real college professor. What a great beginning to my college career.

When I was teaching, I would often stop, think and try to remember just what it was that motivated this art major to become so turned on by an unassuming science teacher. I can find no answer. I truly believe professor Bocskey was a gift from God, given to those of us who were fortunate enough to be in his classes.

I wish I could find words to express what a difference he made in the lives of my fellow freshmen — and probably in those freshman classes that followed mine. I wish I could write it in one big book and title it How to Teach: A Method that Works. Then and only then, would I be able to share the gift of Stephen Bocskey with the rest of the world. He was the best.

About the professor
Stephen Charles Bocskey taught biology at Madison College from 1947 to 1960. He left Madison to teach at Ferris State University, where he taught until he died in 1964. He also taught at Notre Dame (his alma mater) and Chicago Teachers College. The professor spent many Madison summers teaching at the nursing school at the C&O Hospital in Clifton Forge. Bocskey's son, Charles, who is married to Rebecca "Becky" Lee Bocskey ('64), says he remembers his father laughing heartily and sharing Crouse's "10 bonus points story" for years.

About the author
Maryon Smith Crouse ('54) of Altamonte Springs, Fla., is a retired art teacher from the Crealde School of Art in Winter Park, Fla.