C. Kenneth Keffer, Jr., the H.W. Stodghill, Jr. and Adele H. Stodghill Professor of French and German at Centre College, retired at the end of the 2015-16 academic year after 37 years on the College faculty.
Keffer, a truly unique and beloved Centre personality, has been recognized nationally for creating courses that offer students unique opportunities. His course “The Art of Walking,” which examined Immanuel Kant’s “Critique of Judgment,” was profiled by the New York Times and featured in “Coolest College Class” lists over the last 14 years, not to mention being featured on JEOPARDY!.
Some of Keffer’s favorite memories as a professor were seeing courses like “The Art of Walking” transport students—literally and academically.
“The highlight of my career at Centre College occurred at the beginning. In 1980-81, my second year at Centre, [Professor Emeritus of French] Charles Vahlkamp and I went on the first of our many ‘larks,’” Keffer says. “We walked our introductory French classes westward to a barn standing at the edge of what is now Millennium Park.
“It was there, standing in the fragrant hay, that our students learned to talk a bit of French about farm life and farm animals—‘la vie à la ferme,’” Keffer continues. “They gently lifted some newborn goats upon their shoulders and felt their tiny, racing hearts. This was for me a source of incomparable joy.”
Keffer has been a perennial student favorite among Centre’s storied ranks of professors, partly because of the unique moments his courses offered. As he looks back on his career at Centre, Keffer finds meaning in these memories of his students exploring and experiencing the world.
“Looking back is looking forward,” he explains. “Cortney Miller ’11, whom I taught in Humanities and Art of Walking, had a T-shirt made for our class. It said, ‘We are facing the future together.’ So when I look back, I see Cortney Miller pointing to the future. If you look back, you see yourself looking forward.”
Keffer earned a bachelor’s degree in French and English from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and both master’s and Ph.D. degrees in romance languages from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Upon joining the Centre faculty in 1979, Keffer received the College’s “Rookie of the Year” award that same year. He has held the Stodghill Professorship in Modern Languages at Centre since 2004. He received the David Hughes Memorial Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1988 and 2010. The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching named Keffer the Kentucky Professor of the Year in 2010.
Keffer directed Centre’s study abroad programs in Strasbourg and London numerous times. His scholarly articles have been published in both English and French, as has his book on the Essays of Michel de Montaigne. In his retirement, Keffer will have the opportunity to explore his many interests, including scything, which he is certified to teach.
Despite his many accomplishments, Keffer’s love of learning has never been sated.
“In all my classes, I have simply tried to be the best learner,” he says.
For both Keffer and the students he taught, the subject matter at hand made learning enjoyable.
“What I have most taught at Centre College, year in and year out, on campus and off-campus, is enjoyment itself!” he says.
by Elizabeth Trollinger
July 7, 2016