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The University of Nebraska at Kearney campus is mourning the loss of well-respected emeritus math professor Dayle Fitzke, 79, who passed away Tuesday, Dec. 11. Services are set for 2 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14, at First Lutheran Church in Kearney.
Described as “…gentle and compassionate, an exceptional gentleman,” many shared personal stories of how he mentored them as faculty and students.
Dr. Jim Roark, a UNK chemistry professor and former vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, described Fitzke saying: “He was a very serious, very competent mathematician. He treated everyone with respect. He was uniquely able to connect with everyone–students, staff, faculty, administration and the community. Everything he did, he did well. As the faculty athletic representative, he solved problems in a logical manner.”
Dr. Roark summed up his feelings for Fitzke: “He set a standard as a leader that made him a role model. Outside of my family, no one had a greater impact on me than Dayle.”
Fitzke grew up in Glenvil, just south of Hastings, and attended UNK, then known as Nebraska State Teachers College (NSTC), graduating in 1951 with a degree in education. After graduating, he taught for the Roseland Public Schools and became superintendent of schools. He went on to earn a M.Ed from the University of Nebraska and an M.A. from the University of Illinois. He joined the Department of Mathematics and Statistics in 1956, where he taught for 40 years.
During his tenure, he was the recipient of numerous major campus awards. In 1981, he was the first to receive the Pratt-Heins Excellence in Teaching Award. A little more than a decade later, in 1992, he received the Pratt-Heins Excellence in Service Award. He is one of only a few to have garnered two of the three prestigious Pratt-Heins Awards. In 1996, the year he retired, he was Inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame and was awarded the coveted Distinguished Service Award.
As an undergraduate student at NSTC/UNK, Fitzke played basketball. When he joined the faculty, he became the faculty athletic representative, and was the liaison between faculty and athletes. It was up to Fitzke to verify athletes’ eligibility. He held the position when UNK was a member of the NAIA and then transitioned to the NCAA Division II Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
Dick Beechner, UNK men’s golf coach and former UNK athletic director, said: “I never met a more conscientious individual. Work with the athletic department seemed second nature to Dayle. He always went beyond the call of duty. We have lost a good friend.”
Dr. Charlie Pickens, emeritus professor and former chair of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, remembered Fitzke as, “…very gentle. In 40-plus years, I never saw him angry. He was a great teacher. No one ever complained about him. If a student did not do well, they knew it wasn’t Dayle’s fault.”
Dr. Pickens also noted Fitzke’s sense of humor. “He wasn’t one to tell jokes, but he loved to ‘pull people’s legs.’ There were times I had to turn away from conversations Dayle was having, so they wouldn’t see me smiling.” The Pickens family wasn’t immune to Fitzke’s humor.
“I was away at an institute one summer, and Dayle stopped by the house to see if there was anything he could do for my wife Bev, who was home with our two small children. Bev needed help with the garden, which Fitzke helped her with, but when Bev asked how much the supplies had cost, Fitzke quoted an inflated price, which Bev believed and tried to pay. Both Bev and Fitzke had a good laugh when Bev realized she had been ‘had.'”
Stan Dart, emeritus professor of geography, echoed Dr. Picken’s observations, saying, “He was one of the most gentle and compassionate people I’ve ever known. He was an exceptional gentleman.”
In addition to teaching a full class-load and serving as faculty athletic representative, Fitzke worked with the summer orientation program on the campus and was involved with Campus Lutheran. He often taught off-campus classes in North Platte, Grand Island, Columbus and Broken Bow, as well.
Dr. Doyle Howitt, emeritus dean of Continuing Education at UNK, said: “Dayle was the consummate university professor–dedicated to his discipline and committed to enriching the lives of students in any way that he could. His footprint on this campus is huge.”
After retiring in 1996, Fitzke volunteered at the Museum of Nebraska Art. Memorials may be made to MONA.