In Memoriam: Donald P. Hartmann

One of my professors from the University of Utah, Donald P. Hartmann, recently passed away.  I took one of Don’s advanced classes as an undergraduate and, during that class (with about 8 students in it), he invited me to consider doing some research.  I later joined his Peer Lab and spent quite a bit of time learning the ins and outs of academic scholarship: interviewing kids, coding data, reading peer-reviewed articles, etc.  In many ways, I have Don Hartmann (and Francis Friedrich) to thank for my academic career today.

peer lab 2-17-2002 7-01-71

Here is my condolence I added to Don’s obituary in The Salt Lake Tribune:

Add me to the list of students Don mentored over his many years as a faculty member at the University of Utah.

I took one of Don’s child development courses and, toward the end, Don asked me to consider joining his research team. As a naive kid from rural Utah, I owe a lot to Don and his guidance and mentoring.

I learned the importance of reaching out to students, particularly those who may not know how the academy works.

I learned that calling yourself a Druid was a successful tactic to prevent evangelism; a tactic that no doubt came in handy in Utah more than once!

I learned that academic conferences are for more than sharing research; they are the academic’s opportunity to see and experience the world (Don taught me this in New Orleans).

I learned the importance of not taking things too seriously and trying to see both the humor and absurdity in life.

Finally, I should note that Don and I had a very long discussion about graduate school just before I left Utah. He accurately predicted that I wasn’t going to remain a Mormon for very long if I really did dedicate myself to studying religion from a social scientific perspective. I was incredulous when he said that in his office (the one with spider plants everywhere and a beautiful view of the mountains). But I now look back on that discussion with fondness – he was preparing me for my future without me knowing it.

He will be missed.

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Leon Woodfield (1934 – 2013)

Leon Woodfield (1934-2013)

My Uncle Leon recently passed away.  He was a very kind and insightful person.  He was also very influential in shaping my career.  I spoke with him several times about academia and graduate school because he was a Professor at BYU.  At the request of my father, I recently wrote up a specific memory of my Uncle Leon:

I don’t remember whose farewell it was, Josh’s or Katie’s, but I know that I had just been accepted to graduate school at the University of Cincinnati, so this would have been in the Spring or Summer of 2001. My Aunt Janet and Uncle Leon came to the farewell, and at the lunch afterward I made my way to Uncle Leon to ask him about what I should expect in graduate school. I remember precisely where we were. We were standing in what used to be my parents’ garden – at the bottom of their yard, overlooking the valley, and we both had drinks in our hands.

As we talked, he gave me some really amazing advice, advice that I have since passed on to many of my students. He told me that I needed to find an adviser in graduate school with whom I could get along. While it is important that your research interests align, he told me that it was more important that advisees be on good terms with their advisers. He also compared the adviser/advisee relationship to the master/apprentice relationship that was once common in learning a trade. As he explained it, “Your adviser will make or break not only your graduate school experience, but your career. You need to pick the right person to be your adviser.” He told me about a student he knew when he was in graduate school who had been working on his PhD for close to ten years who was eventually told to leave because he was never going to get his degree, in large part because he and his adviser did not get along and did not agree on the projects required to complete the degree.

That advice proved invaluable. I found an amazing adviser in graduate school. Our personal interests didn’t align perfectly (he loves baseball and Jazz, neither of which hold much appeal for me), but we got along very well and he has been incredibly influential in shaping my career in academia. In all likelihood, I would not have made most of the professional contacts I currently have – which have helped me publish most of my research – nor would I have the job that I have without my adviser’s guidance and help. And that is all due to the sage advice of my Uncle Leon. In very tangible ways, Uncle Leon has helped shape my career.


Here’s his obituary from the Deseret News:

After a life filled with love, joy, and many miracles, Leon Warren Woodfield returned to his loving Heavenly Father on October 2, 2013. Leon was born on January 13, 1934 in Ogden, Utah to Ray Weldon and Vera Jane Campbell Woodfield. He had three brothers and one sister: Norman, Keith, Arlo, and Mary Lou. He was raised in North Ogden where he learned the importance of family and hard work as the family worked together herding cows, riding horses, and harvesting crops. Leon’s love of horses, dogs, and a “well-groomed field” continued throughout his life.

Leon met the love of his life, Janet Cragun, on the first day of 1st grade. The childhood crush turned into a true love that was solemnized when they were married in the Salt Lake LDS Temple on September 10, 1953. Leon always considered Janet his greatest blessing and loved her with all of his heart. They recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary.

Leon put his family first and foremost. He showered much love and attention on his five children and their spouses: Janalee and Steven Hallmark, Heidi and Bill Woahn, Melia and Steve Fidel, Craig and Marilee Whiting Woodfield, and Chris and Lesley Ponder Woodfield, 22 grandchildren, and 10 great grandchildren.

Education played a vital role in Leon’s life. He received an associate degree from Weber College, Bachelor of Science and Master of Business Administration degrees from the University of Utah, and a Doctor of Business Administration from Michigan State University. Leon worked as a certified public accountant at the Arthur Young Accounting Firm in Los Angeles. He then taught as a professor in the Accounting Department at Brigham Young University for 40 years, where he served as department chair and received various awards and recognitions. Leon is esteemed by his colleagues and loved by his students to this day. He considered himself blessed to have a job that he loved.

Leon had an unwavering testimony of our Savior. His life is his witness. Leon served The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a bishop, high councilor, councilor in a stake presidency, teacher, temple worker, and dedicated home teacher. He and Janet served as full-time missionaries in Oklahoma.

Leon was an avid fan of BYU and the U of U (except when their teams played each other). He enjoyed worldwide travels with his wife and family, maintaining his beautiful yard, and time with family and friends at the Fairview cabin. He would beam with pride as he attended his grandchildren’s sporting, school, and performing events. Leon had a deep respect for his ancestors and loved to share their stories. He was a member of the Sons of Utah Pioneers and active in community affairs.

Leon understood what was important in life: he loved his wife, nurtured his children, and played with his grandchildren. As his family, our hearts are broken because we will miss his gentle, wise influence, yet we rejoice because we were able to know and love this humble, great man. We take comfort in the fact that he always told each of us he loved us, that we were his “favorite,” and that we all look just like him! He said he was “a man of adequate ability,” but we know better: we are what we are as a family because of Daddy.

Leon endured his years of declining health with dignity and patience. He always tried to be cheerful, helpful, and loving to those around him. We thank friends and neighbors, the Springville 3rd Ward, medical staffs, DaVita Dialysis and iCare for their loving service to Leon and his family.

A celebration of Leon’s life will be held on Monday, October 7 at 11:00 a.m. at the Springville 3rd Ward LDS chapel, 355 E. Center Street, Springville, Utah. Well-wishers may greet the family on Sunday evening, October 6, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at Wheeler Mortuary, 211 E. 200 South, in Springville and before the service from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. on Monday at the church. A graveside service will be held at the Ben Lomond Cemetery, 526 E. 2850 North, North Ogden, Utah at 5:00 p.m. that evening.

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California Trip – day 9 – Travel Town Museum and Griffith Observatory

This was our last day in California.  Debi was in her conference most of the day, so Toren and I went on another adventure.  I found out that the Travel Town Train Museum was giving free tours in the morning.  Toren likes trains but doesn’t love them.  I thought it would be fun and it was okay.  He liked the fact that he got to climb into a couple of engines and play with the levers:

After the train museum, we drove to Ferndell Park so we could hike up to the Griffith Observatory.  Toren fell asleep in the car on the way, so I let him sleep for about an hour, then we hiked up to the Observatory (about 2 miles round trip).

on the way up to the Observatory
on the way up to the Observatory

Toren liked the Observatory for the most part. We didn’t get to watch a show as they only allow kids 5 and older to see them. But we looked over most of the exhibits and did get to look through the telescope.

Just before looking through the telescope
Just before looking through the telescope, which is right behind him

After we hiked back down we headed back to the hotel. Just as we arrived, one of my friends from graduate school called. He saw a couple of the photos I had posted on Facebook from our trip to Griffith Observatory and realized that we weren’t far from him. He had just moved to Irvine to work for Oculus (I didn’t know he had moved as he only moved a couple weeks earlier). He was able to arrange us a tour of Oculus where we got to check out the tech (it’s really amazing) and catch up with him, which was even more fun since I hadn’t seen him in ages and he’s a really great guy.

We then got dinner and headed back to our hotel.

That pretty much did it. We flew back to Florida on the morning of the 13th.

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California Trip – day 8 – work

Today was my second work day.  I know a few people who live/work in the area and one of them is a professor at Pitzer College who happens to be using my new book for his current class.  I emailed him ahead of time to see if he wanted to do lunch and he invited me to guest lecture in his class, too.  So, I met him for lunch at his university then presented in his class, which was a lot of fun.

After that I headed to UCLA where I gave a presentation to the Bruin Alliance of Skeptics and Secularists.  The students were a great group.  They asked good questions and really seemed to enjoy the presentation.  I went out to eat with them afterward and we had a good discussion.  I got back to the hotel very late, after Debi and Toren were already asleep.

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California Trip – day 7 – Page Museum and LA Science Center

It was science day on our trip.  Our first stop was the Page Museum and La Brea Tar Pits.  When we arrived, parking was limited because they were filming a TV show there – Trophy Wife?!?  I’d never heard of it, and I wasn’t really all that interested, but we watched them film a couple scenes at various times.

We checked out the museum then went out to see all the tar pits.  Here we are in front of the big pit:

By the big tar pit at Page Museum
By the big tar pit at Page Museum

As we walked around the pits, we came across these statues of giant sloths:

Toren riding a giant ground sloth
Toren riding a giant ground sloth

After visiting all the tar pits, we saw this interactive art exhibit at the LA County Museum of Art that is right next to the Page Museum and Toren immediately ran into it and began to pretend that he was being eaten by “alien snakes”:

After Page Museum and the alien snake attack, we headed to the LA Science and Exposition Center where the recently retired Endeavour space shuttle is now located. USC had a football game that evening, so we didn’t want to stay too long, but we did check out about half of the museum, which was very cool (and free) before stopping by the shuttle:

Toren and I in front of Endeavour
Toren and I in front of Endeavour

After we saw the shuttle, we headed back to the hotel then went out to eat with Debi.

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crank mail

I think you’ve officially arrived when you begin receiving “crank mail” (i.e., incomprehensible ramblings from crazy people). Well, I just received my first piece of crank mail today.

And, of course, for it to be authentic, it has to be paper mail and include something in addition to the letter (no idea what it is; looks like a voodoo doll or a burnt piece of wire):


The letter was kindly forwarded by Tom Flynn and the good people at Free Inquiry. Please enjoy my first piece of crank mail – I know I did.

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cheetah party

Debi just asked Toren what he wants to do for his birthday party.  His response, “I want a cheetah party.”

Then Debi asked what you do at a cheetah party.

Toren explained, “You just run, and you eat, and you play, ’cause cheetahs like to do that.”

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Busch Gardens creatures

I mostly film Toren when we visit Busch Gardens, but I ended up filming a couple of other creatures while we were there one day.  Here’s an ant eater giving it’s baby a ride on its back:

Toren insisted I film the mother giving the baby a ride.

Toren found this snail crawling across a sidewalk and I wanted to see if my new phone camera could capture it, so I shot a couple of short clips:

Perhaps not the most exciting videos, but I was impressed with the quality of the videos on my phone.

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first cancelled class… in 5 years

I will have taught at the University of Tampa for five years at the end of this semester.  During that time I’ve cancelled classes for conferences, which I usually know about well in advance.  I also cancelled classes once when my brother Mark died.  But I’ve never cancelled a class because I was sick or had some other minor issue.  Well, it finally happened.  On my way in to teach one morning I hit something in the road and it literally blew out my tire:

There were two smaller gashes in the tire as well.

Even with a blown tire I thought I’d have enough time to get to class.  But, alas, my spare tire was flat, which I found out after I put it on.  I ended up cancelling two classes that morning while I went to the auto shop to get my tire replaced.  Ugh!

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