Dr. Gene Heasley and Dr. Leo Finkenbinder are two men whose names have become synonymous with Southern Nazarene University’s science department. The two taught a combined 75 years at SNU with Dr. Heasley having taught 40 years and Dr. Finkenbinder having taught 35 years. While both professors have moved on from SNU, the legacy of these two men is still felt to this day as a result of the thousands of students they shaped and molded into some of today’s finest professionals in the field of science.
It wasn’t just the expert teaching that Dr. Heasley gave his students in chemistry or Dr. Finkenbinder’s expertise in teaching biology that proved to be the most impactful to their students. Instead, it was the way they invested their lives in each students with the goal of bringing out the very best in them both in and out of the classroom.
“I hope that my attitudes toward students and especially my concern for their success and well-being came under the discipline of Christ,” said Heasley. “In my later years I worked hard on developing relationships with students because I became convinced that their academic success was closely tied to myriads of more personal issues such as goals in life, discouragement, sense of self-worth, strategies for learning, etc.”
Dr. Finkenbinder said his interactions with students was some of the most inspiring moments for him as a professor whether it was teaching in the classroom, advising students, or giving them practical experience on a field trip.
“I enjoyed watching students’ eyes light up as a concept came to life and watching their expressions as I would bring in different props like tarantulas, snakes, or frogs,” said Dr. Finkenbinder.
Born in Burnips, Michigan, Dr. Heasley and his wife Donna currently live in the same house he grew up in. He credits his father for instilling within him his love of science. His father had a good understanding of science from his broad program of study at Michigan State Teacher’s College and from his constant reading of many kinds of books, which he often discussed with his family during meal times.
While an undergraduate student at Hope College, Dr. Heasley said it was his chemistry advisor Dr. Garrett Van Zyl who encouraged him to consider graduate work instead of working towards a vocation as a high school teacher.
“In my junior year I discovered organic chemistry and saw that it was a field in which I could invest my life,” he recalled. “Dr. Van Zyl further whetted my appetite by talking up research and taking the chemistry club on a field trip to Upjohn Pharmaceutical where we saw high level applied science in action.”
Dr. Heasley took a leap of faith in 1958 when he visited SNU at the prompting of two graduates, Frank and Nettie Rice, who often hosted graduate students in their home for dinner and fellowship. After being asked by Dean Harold Ripper to come and visit the university, Dr. Heasley was immediately impressed by the campus’ impressive facilities and small faculty. He found himself in a place he would call home for the next 40 years.
“The idea of a calling from God was lodged in me when I accepted God into my life,” explained Dr. Heasley. “I would have preferred to have found that calling in more familiar territory but no such offer came along, so I accepted BNC as God’s place for me.”
Like Dr. Heasley, Dr. Finkenbinder’s interest in science came at an early age as a result of his parents and his growing up on a ranch on the Colorado line in southwest Kansas. Dr. Finkenbinder said he grew up in a family that was always curious about how things worked and each evening they would read from the Encyclopedia Britannica. He said he was first exposed to biology when two geologists visited his family’s farm when he was eight and showed Dr. Finkenbinder and his brother Darl fossilized protozoa on rocks called Foraminifera.
After having taught science at a small high school in the Oklahoma panhandle, Dr. Finkenbinder decided that he would like to pursue becoming a college professor while working on his Master’s degree. One of his first choices to teach at Southern Nazarene University and Dr. Harold Ripper made SNU a reality by inviting Dr. Finkenbinder to SNU.
“We talked for a while and he invited me to the campus to have a formal interview with faculty and President Cantrell,” he recalled. “After chatting with Dr. Robert Lawrence I knew I wanted to come to BNC if they asked. They did and I went.”
One of Dr. Finkenbinder’s most significant contributions to SNU’s science program was his work in creating the Quetzal Education Research Center (QERC) in San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica. Dr. Finkenbinder conceived the idea following a sabbatical in 1986 in Costa Rica where he realized that there were few research stations at such a high altitude. This led to his putting pen to paper that ultimately became the QERC. Not only has the QERC had a tremendous affect on SNU and its students, but it also has had a strong affect on Dr. Finkenbinder’s life.
“It has impacted all aspects of my life from the scientific and cultural to the spiritual,” said Dr. Finkenbinder. “It has kept me aware of my stewardship responsibilities given by our Creator.”
While both men have been integral parts of the rich legacy of SNU’s science department, they are also very mindful of the program’s future and importance of supporting the Campaign for the Sciences. Dr. Finkenbinder believes upgrading the university’s science facilities will prove instrumental in recruiting future generations of scientific world changers in the form of both professors and students.
“For professors it keeps them motivated in their discipline knowing they have the most modern facilities available to help them teach and do research,” he explained. “A project like this helps so much in the recruitment of future students. Those students are looking for places of excitement in the field in which they want to study."
Dr. Heasley said students have many choices when it comes to which university they will attend to pursue their scientific education, which is why it’s vital that SNU invest in improving its scientific facilities for the future.
“Students must have good facilities and equipment to receive the best scientific education,” he said. “They will choose to attend colleges which provide excellent facilities.”