Ohio Northern University was a very different place 50 years ago.
“There was no Meyer Hall,” explained former Director of Sustainability and Professor of Biology Emeritus Terry Keiser. “There were none of the newer buildings- no engineering building, no art building, no law building. Residence halls were different.”
There wasn’t a business college or a sports center either. The engineering building was located eight blocks north of campus, and the Getty College of Arts and Sciences was referred to as the College of Liberal Arts. Construction was underway to expand the student union, now referred to as the Macintosh Center, by adding White Bear Inn, more second-floor conference rooms, and a larger bookstore.
It was at this time that Keiser, ONU BSEd ‘64, stepped onto campus as a first-year biology instructor. Since then, he has made remarkable strides as an educator, community member, and contributor to the university, helping it become what it is today.
“One of the hopes we have for our graduates is that they leave here and are able to make significant contributions to their professions and their communities and Terry has done that,” said university president Dan DiBiasio.
Keiser started as an Instructor of biology and soon rose to the rank of professor. Vice president for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Adriane Bradshaw talked about how Keiser impacted his students. “For many years Terry taught in biology and he touched I don’t know how many lives, thousands probably, at this point,” she said. “I remember students just being excited about learning and being involved in his classes and the projects that he would have going.”
The students were what contributed to some of Keiser’s proudest moments. “You see them now after all those years of being successful and it makes you feel good to be a part of their growing up,” he said. “They had to do it all themselves, but it’s nice that you helped them out along the way.”
As such an influential educator, Keiser eventually became chair of both the Department of Biological and Allied Health Sciences and the Division of Mathematics and Natural Sciences. “Obviously, he’s risen through the ranks as a professor, but more important than that, I think he’s been on the cutting edge of seeing some program development during those many decades,” said DiBiasio.
Keiser has made several contributions to the field biology program. He was fundamental in shaping ONU’s Metzger Nature Center in Tuscarawas County, an area naturally equipped with streams, springs, gulleys, forests, and fields, making it an ideal location for field research.
In addition, he put great efforts toward establishing Tidd-Oakes Farm, the university’s 300-acre wetlands restoration project. Not only does this site focus on habitat restoration, but it offers a unique research setting in the glaciated plains of northwest Ohio. It has been home to several research projects through the university, including a characterization experiment of the algal and macroinvertebrate communities that was presented at the Joint Aquatic Sciences Meeting in Portland, Oregon.
Keiser did not just focus on field biology, however, but all aspects of the biology department.
He was instrumental in developing the biology program into one that incorporated more molecular biology on top of the already established field program. The now well-established molecular biology program at ONU gives students the chance to participate in the Polar Research Experience Program in Molecular Biology, or PREP-MB, to prepare them for further research experiences or graduate school.
More recently with the addition of allied health to the biology department, Keiser helped push for the university’s nursing program, a program that is now among some of the top programs in Ohio.
“There was a need in the marketplace to have more baccalaureate-trained nurses and Terry was part of the leadership team that recognized that need with his colleagues to get that program started,” said DiBiasio. “It’s really been a marquee program for us and our placement rates have been through the roof.”
Keiser also helped advance the physical building that houses these programs as he was involved in the planning and construction of the Mathile Center for the Natural Sciences. He has received several honors and awards for his many contributions to the biology program and field in general, including a membership to the Ohio Academy of Sciences and the 2017 Herbert Osborn Award presented by the Ohio Biological Survey. The Keiser Distinguished Lectureship in the Life Sciences was named in his honor in 2007.
And as if his impact in academics was not enough, Keiser’s influence also spread throughout the university and the larger Ada community.
According to Bradshaw, he helped launch the creation of the Bear Cave in the Macintosh Center after it was a bowling alley. “It was sitting dormant and it was a concern of mine just because Macintosh Center itself at that time just wasn’t a student center,” Bradshaw said. “It didn’t have much vibrancy and there weren’t many reasons for students to come here except to eat and pick up mail and that was it. ”
A conversation she had with Keiser about recycling led to ideas about how they could use the space. “He was in on those initial discussions and we talked about how we could make this space beneficial for students and for everybody,” Bradshaw said. Eventually, they arrived at a proposal to create a multi-purpose area that could be used for academic and other purposes.
“I think what impresses me so much about the arc of his career is that he’s done so much in the academic community here but he’s also done quite a bit in the greater village community as well,” DiBiasio said.
Keiser served as president of city council for numerous years and was also a director and chairman of Liberty National Bank. He was recognized for his service in 2009 when he was named the Ada citizen of the year.
“I think the lesson is involvement reaps a lot of rewards,” DiBiasio said. “You make your place better but you probably gain a lot of satisfaction as well. [Terry] is an exemplar of being engaged in the community year-in, whether it’s your profession as a professor and a good university citizen or whether it’s a member of the community.”
Keiser recently served as the university’s director of sustainability, where he oversaw the installment of the three university wind turbines off of Klingler Road, the geothermal wells in the residential commons, and the 2-megawatt solar field south of campus. He also worked on an Affinities Gardens program aimed at growing fresh produce for local food banks and helped push to make ONU a certified tree campus.
Bradshaw laughs when she recalls a conversation involving trees in one of her recent meetings. “I was in a meeting yesterday and we were talking about landscaping and something that we probably needed to bring in a landscape architect to look at,” she said. “We started talking about trees in the area and somebody said ‘well we need to get Terry Keiser involved to find out about which ones are rare and which ones we should be keeping.’ So I think having been here 50 years, he’s been the go-to person when it had anything to do with plants or just nature in general.”
Keiser retired in August after dedicating over half a century to the university and local community, but looking back, he is satisfied with his career. “I think it has made my lifetime enjoyable, the time I was here,” he said. “It’s been fun and I’ve enjoyed the relationships I’ve made with students and coworkers. It’s just been a great career.”
He said he will miss these relationships with colleagues and students the most, as well as a spirit of working together to accomplish good things. His influence will undoubtedly persist throughout the community and all those who he has touched.
Bradshaw admires most about Keiser his ability to distribute wisdom, his great institutional memory, and his voice of input on important topics. “I’d just like to thank him for all of his service to Ohio Northern University,” she said. “It would be a much different place if he had not been here.”
DiBiasio shares the same thanks and remains optimistic about Keiser’s contributions in the future.
“While it’s sad that he’s retiring, I’m glad that he’s not leaving,” he said. “He’s still going to be in the area and he’ll be volunteering in a number of ways, so we are still going to benefit from Terry Keiser and that makes me smile.”
Keiser’s impact at ONU has been long and enduring.
“I think it has made my lifetime enjoyable, the time I was here,” Keiser said. “It’s been fun and I’ve enjoyed the relationships I’ve made with students and coworkers. It’s just been a great career.”