Gone too soon: Meramec adjunct professor Alan Shiller, 63, dies over Winter Break

Posted on 29 January 2014 by admin

Family, colleagues reflect on Shiller’s life and career

Meramec adjunct instructo Alan Shiller holds his award for Outstanding Adjunct Award in May 2013. Shiller taught at Meramec for 27 years and in a 40 year career, Shiller taught more than 10,000 students. Shiller, who also taught at Webster University and Southwest Illinois University-Edwardsville, would teach 10 to 14 classes a semester between three and four colleges.

Meramec adjunct instructor Alan Shiller holds his award for Outstanding Adjunct Award in May 2013. Shiller taught at Meramec for 27 years and in a 40 year career, Shiller taught more than 10,000 students. Shiller, who also taught at Webster University and Southwest Illinois University-Edwardsville, would teach 10 to 14 classes a semester between three and four colleges.

By: SPENCER GLEASON
Editor-in-Chief
Story Expanded 2/4/14

Following Speech Communications Professor Alan Shiller’s two-and-a-half hour funeral ceremony, the majority of some-two hundred people came to his wife, Bonnie, to tell her how amazed they were with the magnitude of Alan’s interests — even their oldest son, Scott.

“I said to Scott, ‘Did you learn anything about dad at the funeral?” Bonnie Shiller said. “He said, ‘Yea, I didn’t know dad was a songwriter.’ I said, ‘Yes. The man who doesn’t have a voice and you don’t want him to sing.’

Shiller used to write Christian worship choruses.

Along with teaching more than 10,000 students in a career that spanned across 40 years, Shiller, an adjunct professor at Meramec, enjoyed theatrical productions, checking out the newest restaurants and being a “family man.” Shiller, 62, died of complications while recovering from open-heart surgery on Dec. 28, 2013.

The open-heart surgery had been planned since October. They replaced his heart valve and did a maze procedure, in which a series of incisions were made on the heart to make it beat in the right pattern, a minimally invasive procedure.

On the eighth day, following the procedure, Shiller was out of the intensive care unit (ICU) and in a private room. But only for 24 hours, before they took him back in.

‘HE WAS SOMEBODY WHO WAS SUPPOSED TO BE TEACHING’

Shiller, who taught at Meramec for 27 years, was also part-time at Webster University and full-time at Southwest Illinois University-Edwardsville (SIUE). While most fulltime professors teach four or five classes a semester, Shiller taught 10 to 14 per semester between three or four colleges.

“There are some faculty that are just supposed to be teaching. And that’s what he was. He was somebody who was supposed to be teaching,” Acting Department Chair for Communications Susan Hunt Bradford said. “I’m sad for him that he’s not doing this here anymore. And I’m sad for future students — that they don’t get to experience him and for his coworkers and other faculty. We all can learn from great teachers like that.”

There was no place Schiller would rather be than in a classroom. Fellow adjunct Meramec instructor, Jill Dupy, only heard rumors of how much her friends enjoyed Shiller’s classes while attending SIUE in 2007.

“I had never had a class with him. I had heard so many good things about him,” Dupy said. “When I was a student, even then, students loved him. Students talk. We know who’s good and who’s not. We talk about what we liked and what we didn’t like. I’ve never heard a student say a bad thing about him.”

Over the years, students had given Shiller the nickname ‘Papa.’ The term of endearment came to describe how students felt about him.

“It says something about the relationship,” Dupy said. “Not all professors have relationships with students outside of class — mentor, caring relationships where students feel like he genuinely cares. And he did genuinely care.”

‘WE WERE JOINED AT THE HIP’

The teaching gene was in the Shiller family. Bonnie Shiller, who is involved with the early childhood education program at both STLCC and St. Charles Community College, would often talk to her husband about teaching and education, in general.

The two met during the summer of 1972. For Bonnie Shiller, it was her first week of college. Her future husband was finishing up his senior year at Emerson College.

Two years later, they married.

“From there, our romance bloomed,” Bonnie Shiller said. “We were joined at the hip. We finished each other’s sentences. We had exact thoughts at the same time. He was my best friend and my mentor.”

From the outside, looking in, Dupy could see the love shared between Bonnie Shiller and her husband of 39 years. This June would have been their fortieth wedding anniversary.

“He doted on her. You could tell he adored her. I loved being around them because they had a great relationship and you could tell that they just got each other,” Dupy said. “They had this great sense of humor together. Just to sit and listen to them talk to each other was comical because they’d been married for a long time and you could just tell that they had a deep connection.”

‘HIS FAMILY WAS FAR MORE IMPORTANT THAN HIS CAREER’

His family was why Shiller did not go for his doctorate. He was a “family man.”

“Alan would say, ‘All of that time I would have to spend time studying, publishing and researching, it would really take away the dimension of my family life,’” Bonnie Shiller said. “His family was far more important than his career.”

Scott and Casey Shiller stood before friends and family at their father’s ceremony and told stories of “dad.”

They grew up with Broadway show tunes in the car and with his “famous” pasta and butter sauce meals. They grew up with a dad, who played Santa Claus at Christmas parties and a dad who loved trying the next new restaurant.

Both Scott and Casey Shiller’s careers have followed in those footsteps.

Scott Shiller is the Executive Vice President of the Archt Performing Arts Center in Miami, Fla., a Broadway Producer and Tony Award voter.

Casey Shiller is the head coordinator of baking and pastry at STLCC-Forest Park. He also works as the director of pastry at Jilly’s Cupcake and Bar Cafe and has been featured three times on the Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars”, winning twice — the most recent victory coming last spring.

“His proudest accomplishment was his sons,” Bonnie Shiller said.

With life’s hustle and bustle of both their sons and their wives, it was never easy to gather everyone for the holidays. The last time the close-knit Shiller family spent time together was this past Thanksgiving. It was also their first time spending a Thanksgiving all together.

‘LOOKING TOWARD TOMORROW’

He made sure the oil had been changed in the car. He made sure all the bills had been paid for December. He wrote his own obituary. He planned his entire service — all so his wife did not have to.

He planned for the “what if.”

Shiller wrote what would be titled his ‘Last Lecture’ and finished it before his surgery. He wanted it to be read at his ceremony by his dear friend, Ken Cottle.

Within his ‘Last Lecture’, Shiller told of how he was a born again Christian, as was Bonnie Shiller. Born Jewish, Shiller adapted Christianity and — in his mind — combined the two. Along with his wife, who was born Lutheran, the two would often joke whether they would raise their kids ‘Jewthran’ or ‘Luthrish.’

“His family didn’t really didn’t know that until the end. The reason kept that quiet was because he honored, loved and still celebrated his Jewish faith. Our children were raised with both,” Bonnie Shiller said. “Alan was a peacemaker at all costs. He knew if he shared any of that information with his family, it would create incredible conflict. Alan did not wish to do that.”

His ‘Last Lecture’ was about relationships and peace.

For Bonnie Shiller, her sense of peace comes in a message from her husband many times before. In every birthday, holiday and thoughtful card ‘Looking toward tomorrow’ was the way Shiller would sign every one he gave to his wife.

“That was his signature on every card for me and he would sign his name. Since Alan’s loss, I have begun signing everything, ‘Looking toward tomorrow,’” Bonnie Shiller said. “Some days it’s hard to, but the bottom line is I do look toward tomorrow because with that incredible pain, look at the learning; look at the love that Alan and I shared within our life. We were really true in every sense of the form soul mates.”

 

 

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