When Mark Dintenfass arrived on the Lawrence University campus in the fall of 1968 to teach fiction writing in the English department, he hadn’t planned on sticking around all that long.
“I was told Lawrence was a great place to start your career,” Dintenfass recalled.
Thirty-eight years later, Dintenfass admits it is not a bad place to end a career, either.
Dintenfass and biologist William Perreault, who together have a combined 73 years of teaching experience at Lawrence, will be recognized with professor emeritus status Sunday, June 11 as retiring members of the faculty at the college’s 157th commencement. They will be awarded honorary master of arts degrees, ad eundem, as part of the graduation ceremonies that begin at 10:30 a.m. on the Main Hall green.
Dintenfass admits he has become a bit more “realistic” with the aspiring authors in his fiction writing class during the past few years. The changing publishing landscape has made an already tough field an even tougher nut to crack and he doesn’t want to encourage any false expectations.
“That doesn’t discourage the good writers,” Dintenfass noted. “But anyone who gets to be a published writer today has to be a bit lucky. To become a well-known writer, you have to be good and lucky.
“It’s a rougher business now,” added the Brooklyn, N.Y. native. “Publishers use to be interested in good writing. Now they’re all just looking for the next Dan Brown. Good writing has taken a back seat to marketability.”
When Dintenfass cautions his fiction-writing students about the perils and pitfalls of a writing career, he does so with the experience and perspective of someone who has managed to have six of his own novels published. “Make Yourself an Earthquake” was published by Little, Brown the year after he started at Lawrence. His 1982 work, “Old World, New World” (William Morrow) was a Literary Guild Alternate Selection and came within a few thousand copies of creeping on to the New York Times best-seller list.
His other works include “The Case Against Org,” (Little, Brown, 1970), “Figure 8” (Simon & Schuster, 1974), “Montgomery Street” (Harper & Row, 1978) and “A Loving Place” (William Morrow, 1986).
The Wisconsin Library Association honored Dintenfass as a Notable Wisconsin Author in 1986 and the following year, presented him with its Distinguished Achievement Award.
More recently, Dintenfass has turned his attention to theatre, stepping outside the classroom to direct nearly two dozen Lawrence and Attic Theatre productions during the past 25 years, among them Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit” and Neil Simon’s “Jake’s Woman.”
“Writing is solitary, but one of the great things about theatre is you get to work with lots of talented people,” Dintenfass said.
While he’s noncommittal about the prospects of a seventh novel getting written in retirement, Dintenfass will continue to pursue his theatre interests, directing Attic’s production of “Lunch Hour” later this summer.
Perreault, professor of biology, arrived on the Lawrence campus in 1971 with an infectious curiosity about cells — plant as well as animal — and how they operate. And three-and-a-half decades of teaching courses on genetics and microbiology have done little to dampen his spirit of enthusiasm. He still relishes the challenge of trying to coordinate molecular techniques with microscopy techniques and the interplay between them in search of a better understanding of how cells work.
During his 35-year career, Perreault has firmly established himself as Lawrence’s electron microscope guru. When Lawrence was planning its new Science Hall in the late 1990s, Perreault personally designed the plans for the building’s microscopy suite. Over the years, he has individually tutored more than 100 students — and a few faculty colleagues along the way as well — on the finer points of using either Lawrence’s transmission electron microscope or the newer $200,000 scanning electron microscope.
“I’m extremely proud of that,” said Perreault of his work with the TEM and SEM.
Before arriving at Lawrence, Perreault spent seven years in the U.S. Army, reaching the rank of captain. Two of his years in the service were spent as a microbiologist at the U.S. Army Biological Laboratories at Fort Detrick in Maryland.
Originally from Cohoes, N.Y., an upstate mill town near Albany, Perreault often has served as the biology department’s “welcoming face.” He taught the introductory course “Principles of Biology” for 33 of his 35 years. He took particular joy in teaching it because the course typically attracted a fair number of students from disciplines outside of the sciences.
“I like to think part of my legacy will be the sheer number of students who received an understanding of the beautiful science of biology because they took my intro class,” said Perreault.
Two of those former students — Beth and Bart De Stasio — went on to earn their doctorate degrees and returned to Lawrence, where they have spent the last 14 years as Perreault’s biology department faculty colleagues.
“At least I didn’t turn them off to biology,” Perreault said of the De Stasios with characteristic good humor. “Part of my legacy is having them both back here. I may not have been the ‘main man’ when they were students here, but I played a part.”
Perreault says he’s approaching the final days of his residency in the third-floor office of Science Hall with the expansive view of the east end of campus with decidedly mixed emotions.
“I’m not too fond of cold weather mornings and 8:30 classes, but I love this place and I love my job. I will miss my colleagues, but mostly I will miss my students.”