During the past week, friends from Colby have emailed me two items about the icon of Colby Community College, Dr. Max Pickerill. Pick is 82 years old and this semester marks his 100th semester of teaching. Pick's been a teacher for 58 years. I fully expect the man to die either in his office, or in his beloved classroom.
Pick wasn't only a colleague of mine, he was also my teacher many years ago. I didn't need Chemistry, I already had my science credits; but I decided to take chemistry anyway, just to be able to say that I was once one of Picks students. I took General Chem.
Pick was in his early 60's then. He looked much the same as he does now, oh, maybe he was a little taller. But his hair still hasn't grayed and he was an ornery then as he is now.
I remember watching in disbelief as he lit up a cigarette using the Bunsen burner while he lectured. I remember loving his lectures. Why? Because he related Chemistry to everything!
Let's see what I remember...
I remember him explaining why heaven was hotter than hell. He stood there, and quoted scripture to us describing where heaven is. Then, using the ever-present chalk, he wrote down equations showing heaven's location in relation to the sun. Then, he reminded us that Hell was simply fire and brimstone. Brimstone is sulfur. And Sulfur burns at... (I don't remember that part). Therefore, heaven, with it's location charted out and it's local related to the sun was actually hotter than burning sulfur. Oh, yes, and...if you happen to wind up in hell, don't ask for a drink of water, you'll explode. Pick ended that lecture by telling us that he told a preacher this fact once and was...kicked out of the church. (And Pick is a PK, a preacher's kid!)
Another lecture centered around the structure of atoms, with the nucleus in the center with the electrons in orbit around it. Then Pick asked us what the solar system looked like...an atom. He told us that scientists who didn't believe in God couldn't see the evidence in front of their faces--the same design of an atom and the solar system.
Pick also used to do a magic show. He'd do parts of it in class and bring out different elements to show us different reactions. He had a chuck of sulfur and one of phosphorus in their glass jars filled with water and kerosene. He'd tell us about their instability and then show us. He'd also share stories about previous students who "borrowed" some and dropped it in Villa High Lake, or in toilets, or in sinks... I remember him turning water into wine. I know phenothaline (probably spelled wrong) was involved and he'd chew phena-mint gum and then spit into his "water" mixture. It would turn purple and then he'd add some more water and turn it clear again. I wish I could remember exactly what he used, but I can't. But I remember loving it when he'd "experiment" like that in class.
When I was a student there, Max (Pick) was invited by NASA to come watch a shuttle liftoff. This was in 1982 or 1983, before the Challenger blew up. It was an honor for him to be invited. He went and had the time of his life.
I remember his poster. It was of a bathing beauty, but her measurements were given in metric. Pick had that poster hanging up for years--until one of our Dean's made him take it down because someone might decide to sue him and the college for sexual harassment. That would have been the least of Picks potential charges for sexual harassment. The man liked women...and he liked sex. He always said what he thought. Now, it bothered him if he upset anyone. But Pick is so straightforward and outspoken that he just said things without thinking.
Picks biggest influence on me was when he called me a dumb ass. Yes, he, my teacher, called me a dumb ass. Hey, I deserved it. We were taking a test, balancing equations. Pick was walking around between our desks looking at our work. He paused at my desk, pointed at an equation, and said "what's 5 times 2, dumb ass, fix it!"
No it didn't offend me. Because it was a dumb mistake. But, Max is Max. When he's gone, CCC will lose many many students. I can't tell you how many kids come to Colby just to take a class from Max. Max has been wooed by NASA, many big companies, and by many government departments. He was an early leader in alcohol fuel production in the 1970's. He could have left Colby several times over but always chose to stay. Why? Because he loved teaching and he loves his students. He's on campus every morning, drinking coffee, still smoking, visiting with his students before class, after class, after school at night. He gets to know those in his classes and even those who never set foot in the Chemistry lab. He's simply an icon.
Congrats Max on teaching 100 semesters. You're one of a kind and I love you.