MU professors share their love of philosophy and the arts

Saturday, May 7, 2011 | 5:24 p.m. CDT; updated 8:39 p.m. CDT, Saturday, May 7, 2011

COLUMBIA — Philosophy professor Bill Bondeson’s devotion to the arts is undeniable. As he recounted memories of past experiences in his career, one moment stuck out in his mind.

That moment was when he conducted Handel’s "Messiah" with little prior notice. Bondeson said he’d always wanted to conduct the piece, and it was one of the most glorious experiences of his life.

“To have the feeling of being in the presence of intense beauty is an experience I’ll never forget,” Bondeson said. “I could go through many more memories like that.”

Throughout his “Last Lecture,” at 2 p.m. Saturday in Bush Auditorium along with former colleague Professor Stuart Palonsky, he quoted many great thinkers and philosophers whose ideas he admired.

Bondeson has retired after working as a philosophy professor and community medicine professor at MU since 1964. Palonsky will be leaving for a year after 20 years as director of the Honors College.

Palonsky, who introduced his colleague and friend Bondeson, began the lecture by making philosophical jokes, which had the audience laughing. This introduction was part of a tradition for the two men when they worked in the Honors College, Julie Melnyk, the associate director of the Honors College, said.

“You have to realize how inspirational he was,” Palonsky said of Bondeson in the introduction.

Bondeson thanked many colleagues who influenced him throughout his journey. “They got me where I am today,” he said.

Bondeson’s love of education and the arts was apparent, and he was an advocate of learning for learning’s sake.

“We’re here to help people live in those wider tents,” Bondeson said, speaking of widening one’s scope of knowledge.

Bondeson also said he would like to see a performing arts center at MU. He specifically mentioned KU’s performing arts center “at the risk of getting shot.”

“I’d like to pick that thing up and bring it here,” Bondeson said, which resulted in laughs from the audience. 

Bondeson wished, above all, for intellectual and spiritual development for the university.

“I wish the cause of teaching gets continued,” Bondeson said. “It’s been a grand, grand time.”

Bondeson plans to travel with his wife, Linda Cupp, now that he is retired.

“Linda and I have a travel schedule that knows no bounds,” he said.

Cupp said although Bondeson isn’t officially teaching anymore, he will come back and do so occasionally.

“Teaching is his calling,” Cupp said. “There’s no doubt about that.”

Also in attendance for the lecture was John Berlau, a former student of Bondeson’s who flew from Washington, D.C., to visit his family in Kansas City and see Bondeson’s lecture.

“I remember he really made thinkers from Descartes to C.S. Lewis come alive for me,” Berlau said.

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