Personalizing American history

Raymond Dingledine Jr.'s enthusiasm for history was contagious
By Anita Hill Spain ('76)

Originally published in Spring 2008, 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.

Raymond Dingledine Jr. showed Anita Hill Spain ('76) how exciting and interesting history can be.

Raymond Dingledine Jr. showed Anita Hill Spain ('76) how exciting and interesting history can be.

It was only happenstance when — as a sophomore at Madison College with a history and library science major — I selected Dr. Raymond Dingledine Jr.'s U.S. History class. Why? His class met at the time I wanted, and that was the only reason I chose his section. This course was required for history majors, so the large class met in a large lecture room in Jackson Hall.

Dr. Dingledine was an excellent lecturer. He brought in trivia and lesser-known facts about American history, and his tests were long and thorough. That meant that you needed to attend lectures, because just reading the text was not enough to pass his tests.

That December when Harrisonburg got a huge storm that crippled on-campus traffic, a graduate assistant started the class until Dr. Dingledine could get there. When he arrived, he immediately began lecturing — even as he removed his black buckle-up rubber boots, scarf, knit hat and gloves — and picking right up where he had left off from the previous class. I selected his second semester U.S. History course and was not disappointed.

I got to know him better when I selected his Virginia history elective course the following year. We met at 8 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The class size was small, and Dr. Dingledine sat in the midst of us while lecturing. His love of history and details came forth in every lecture. He made history personal by telling us stories from his life. He earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Virginia and was playing tennis when he heard that Pearl Harbor was bombed.

As a rising senior, I designed a summer independent history elective on the history and importance of Virginia railroads, which Dr. Dingledine agreed to supervise.

Before I attended Madison, I enjoyed history. Then, Dr. Dingledine showed me how exciting and interesting history can be. In my mind, I can still see him smiling while lecturing and adjusting his black plastic frame glasses, yet never losing his place. His enthusiasm was contagious. My thirst for history continues, and while I never became a teacher, I do have a tendency to buy more books and materials for the history section of my middle-school library. I search for books about the lesser-known facts or unusual people. Dr. Dingledine was the best.

About the professor
From 1948 to the mid-1970s, Raymond Dingledine Jr. served as a faculty member in Madison's history and social science department, but he had been a member of what some refer to as Madison's "royal family" his entire life. (Read more at www.jmu.edu/centennialcelebration/ dingledines.shtml). He served as an adviser to the Honor Council from 1948 to 1971 and was instrumental in establishing the Honor System still in use today. In 1959, he published the authoritative history of the school:
Madison College, The First Fifty Years: 1908-1958. He achieved two milestones in 1984 when he retired and was awarded the James Madison Distinguished Service Award for his leadership and years of faculty service.

About the author
Anita Hill Spain ('76) earned a B.A. in library science and history from Madison and a master's degree in library science from the University of Maryland. The beginning of the 2007-08 school year marked her 31st year in the Loudoun County school system as well as her 28th year as a librarian at Seneca Ridge Middle School in Sterling, Va.