Two hundred million years ago, most large land animals went extinct from the face of the earth. For reasons even clever scientists can’t figure out, only the dinosaurs galumphed on . . . and the Jurassic Age began. Those awkward-looking creatures have become even more popular recently thanks to Michael Crichton, Steven Spielberg, and Kentucky’s Creation Museum (where dinosaurs are shown wandering around with Adam and Eve. Actual scientists agree that dinosaurs disappeared millions of years before we Homo sapiens took over their turf).
Their current avatars, a group of retired Centre professors, were first called “dinosaurs” by a young tyke during a contentious faculty meeting. The debated proposal subsequently passed, the name stuck, and Milton Scarborough (philosophy and religion) bought his victorious senior colleagues small stuffed dinosaurs that they still proudly display.
Retired race horses are put out to pasture; retired Centre professors and longtime staffers now gambol over to the Cheek Emeriti House. Beloved historian David Newhall first dubbed their house “Jurassic Park.” At this three-story Victorian home on Maple Avenue two doors from Craik House, the College provides the dinosaurs computers, tech support, user-friendly colleagues, and a congenial place to continue their academic research, write student recommendations, and expand their involvement in organizations as varied as the local airport board, national conservancy and conservation groups, and international exchange agencies. The relationship is attractive and greatly appreciated by both parties. Few if any colleges offer their retired professors such digs, or any digs at all.
Jurassic Park is “one of my favorite parts of the College, a point of personal pride for me,” says John A. Roush, Centre’s president.
Like their earlier namesakes, Centre dinosaurs share a common genus (Magister a.k.a. professor) but represent different species: Magister psychologia, Magister mathematica, Magister gubernacular, etc. Currently 13 different species inhabit Emeriti House. During the Jurassic Park reception at Homecoming, alumni can observe them—and even talk with them—beneath photographs of all past retirees.
Centre faculty now teach six courses a year, but when the Jurassic residents began their Centre careers in the 1970s and 1980s, faculty taught a daunting eight courses, leaving much less time for their own scholarly research. For some, retirement has allowed a new intellectual blooming. It was only in his Jurassic years, for example, that David Newhall began writing and publishing articles in French publications. A few retirees have written major books in their disciplines, one has made 20 conference presentations and published seven articles, another is about to publish his fourth children’s book with Kentucky’s leading folk artist, another has continued working on a mathematical problem that eluded her (and everyone else) for the past 50 years. Moreover, some remain connected to the College by advising students, consulting with younger colleagues, and even teaching a class when needed.
To survive for 160 million years, actual dinosaurs probably had some social instincts and means of communication. Centre dinosaurs have both. Their namesakes gathered at ponds to munch on plants and have a drink; at 9 every Monday morning that the earth is rotating, a dozen or more retirees gather in the large Jurassic den over coffee to massage the week’s events from their different academic perspectives. During one recent Monday morning the conversation skittered from NASA’s discovery that an asteroid the size of a whale had unexpectedly sailed by Planet Earth, to the fact that women can now drive in Saudi Arabia, to Crown Prince Salman’s locking up 11 members of the royal family in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton, to Putin’s victory-lap stop in Syria, to the fact that German beer causes less of a hangover because it doesn’t have preservatives, to the Brexit border issue between Northern Ireland and the Republic, to Bitcoin’s meteoric rise, to the 1605 Guy Fawkes plot to blow up Parliament, to Orson Wells’ innovative use of mirrors in his 1947 film The Lady from Shanghai, starring Rita Heyworth. And it wasn’t even 10 o’clock!
By 10:30, energized less by the coffee than the fast-moving, scintillating colloquy, the group dispersed, some to their Jurassic Park desks, perhaps to recall lines by a fellow retiree, Tennyson’s Ulysses:
How dull it is to pause, to make an end
To rest unburnished, not to shine in use.
In 46 years at Centre, Milton Reigelman taught English, directed study-abroad efforts, and served in other administrative posts, including acting president 1997-98. He retired last summer.
by Milton Reigelman, Cowan Professor Emeritus of English