Barry McNamara  |   Published September 23, 2020

Lotz Honored for Excellence in Teaching

Stacy Lotz says her successes as an art professor come from long line of mentors, love of teaching.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Shortly after Monmouth College’s Center for Science and Business opened in 2013, art professor Stacy Lotz stopped by the sparkling new $42 million building to have a look around.

In the chemistry wing, she came across several Oscar award-sized Scotsman statuettes in professor Brad Sturgeon’s work space that were awaiting a coat of protective glaze.

STACY LOTZ: 2020 recipient of prestigious Hatch Award for Excellence in Teaching. STACY LOTZ: 2020 recipient of prestigious Hatch Award for Excellence in Teaching.“I said, ‘Brad, I’ve got to have one of those,” said Lotz, who specializes in sculpture. “He said, ‘Stacy, you can’t just have one of these. They’re for awards that the College gives out to alumni and faculty. You have to earn it.’”

Seven years later – after a lifetime of lessons from outstanding teachers and her unique, formative experiences – Lotz earned it. She is this year’s recipient of the College’s prestigious Hatch Academic Excellence Award for Distinguished Teaching and the Scotsman statuette that goes with it.

Galesburg roots

Some of the formative experiences that led to Lotz being where she is today happened at Galesburg High School, where she worked with three art teachers – Jimmie Crown, Russ Benjamin and Jared Lacey.

“I enjoyed school, but I ENJOYED school,” said Lotz of her experiences at GHS and, later, as a college student. “In high school, I mostly hung out in the art room with Mr. Crown. I wasn’t preparing for college.”

While hanging out with Crown one day, Lotz and her teacher had a conversation that changed the course of her life.

“Jimmie Crown was pretty much a legend at GHS from the 1960s through the mid-’80s,” said Lotz. “He said to me, ‘What are you going to do next year? Are you going to college?’ I said, ‘To do what?’

“Anyone who knew Jimmie Crown knew that he looked like Pavarotti and he sang like Pavarotti. He had a huge personality. He just laughed at me. And then he said in that deep voice of his, ‘I think you’ll make art, is what you’ll do.’ I said, ‘And then what?’ He said, ‘You’ll probably teach one day.’”

Coming to Monmouth

Crown didn’t get to see that happen – he died of cancer in 1987 – but while enrolled in a ceramics class at Carl Sandburg College, Lotz met Cheryl Meeker, who was a grad student at Northern Illinois University.

About a decade later, it was Meeker – who went on to be a Monmouth art professor for 28 years – who told Lotz of a part-time opening at the College, which evolved into Lotz’s current position. She’s taught at Monmouth since 1995, closing in on the length of Meeker’s tenure.

During her interview for the Monmouth position, Lotz was prepared to discuss her curriculum vitae in detail with the three members of the search committee. But one of the members was chemistry professor Richard “Doc” Kieft, who took the discussion down another path.

“Let’s talk about Busch Stadium,” said Kieft of a part-time position that Lotz had while earning her master’s degree in art at Washington University in St. Louis.

MAKE ART: A sculptor, Lotz still regularly creates art, but she is even more passionate about her... MAKE ART: A sculptor, Lotz still regularly creates art, but she is even more passionate about her work with students.“Basically, that was the whole interview,” said Lotz. “And that’s the full circle. It’s about ALL your life experiences. Everything you do helps shape you into the person you become.”

Lotz joined an art department that included Meeker, as well as George Waltershausen and Harlow Blum.

“Doc’s vote of confidence and the welcome and support from Cheryl, George and Harlow laid the groundwork for the amazing experiences that I’ve had, and continue to have, here at Monmouth College,” she said.

Impactful experiences

If Kieft had asked Lotz about her time as a student at Sandburg, Eastern Illinois University and WashU, she first might have told him about learning welding from Crown, a sculptor who was often commissioned to create public works. She could’ve spoken about taking her first sculpture class at Eastern and her “Oh, yeah! Yeah!” reaction to the visual art.

Then Lotz might have told Kieft about teaching art classes “to my peers” at Eastern and realizing, “I loved it. I think that was the ‘a-ha’ moment: teaching could be the thing.”

Then she would’ve likely shared her story of working at WashU with another larger-than-life art teacher, Jim Sterritt.

“Early on, he called all of us graduate students into his office one a time. He reached into his desk drawer and pulled out a bus ticket to Galesburg,” she said. “He told me, ‘You’ve got about three weeks to prove yourself. If you do, I’ll tear this up.’”

In response to the challenge, said Lotz: “I worked my ass off. And it all tied in to what I’d been told from the very beginning by Jimmie Crown. He expected you to make good things and be serious about what you were doing. You could laugh at yourself and have fun, but there was a seriousness, too. So from high school through Sandburg through Eastern – all of that was preparing me for what I needed at WashU.”

Despite the advice, encouragement, mentoring and some motivational kicks in the rear from select teachers, perhaps the best thing that was said to Lotz came from her dad, David Ashton. The advice came one weekend, not long after she had brought home a few friends from Eastern.

“We were pretty much acting like smart-ass college kids,” said Lotz. “I remember my dad telling me, ‘Don’t come home with this know-it-all attitude.’”

“Every encounter with a student is different. They all have so much to offer, and I enjoy hearing the stories they have to tell. You know what? It’s just fun. I’ve only got so many years left to work, so I want to do the thing I really, really love, and that’s teaching.” Stacy Lotz

“Every encounter with a student is different. They all have so much to offer, and I enjoy hearing the stories they have to tell. You know what? It’s just fun. I’ve only got so many years left to work, so I want to do the thing I really, really love, and that’s teaching.And then, said Lotz, he delivered a statement she still carries with her today: “You have to remember who the (bleep) you are, and where the (bleep) you came from.”

Lotz elaborated: “My parents (her mother is Jean Ann Ashton) were blue-collar people, often working two jobs at once. They worked hard. They were proud of who they were, and I was proud of who they were. I’m still proud of who they are. So I took what he said as a pep talk versus a scolding. It made me just go, ‘Yeah, I know who I am, and I just need to relish every opportunity that I’m given.”

Paying it forward

Lotz says that she feels a special connection with a lot of Monmouth students.

“I think many of them are very much like myself,” she said. “A number are first-generation students like me. I relate to them and their struggles. They worry about making a lot of mistakes. But it’s not the end of the world. I tell them not to be discouraged, and that they don’t need to change to try be somebody else.

“It’s easy to be sucked into trying to be something you’re not. Your core is always your core. When you embrace that, you can change. You can become something even more than you imagined you can be. Mr. Crown used to say, “Think BIG, work BIG and you shall be BIG.”

HARD WORK: Lotz says she has no problem getting her hands dirty and loves the physicality of maki... HARD WORK: Lotz says she has no problem getting her hands dirty and loves the physicality of making art. Credit: � David Aaron TroyNow, it’s Lotz who has the pleasure of looking for potential in her students and helping set them on a good path.

“My whole life, I’ve been a student,” she said. “Everyone’s always showing me a new path. I feel very fortunate to have had such great mentors. Now, I think of my students as my teachers. They’re the ones that are influencing me now.”

Lotz said her father’s pep talk helped pave the way to specific events in her life, such as creating art installations featuring corn and other agricultural themes, but also in a very general way. She is proud of being a regional artist with Midwest, blue-collar roots. She’s also proud of being a teacher to students like herself.

“I love so much what I do,” she said. “Every encounter with a student is different. They all have so much to offer, and I enjoy hearing the stories they have to tell. You know what? It’s just fun. I’ve only got so many years left to work, so I want to do the thing I really, really love, and that’s teaching. I am one lucky dog.”

Listen Up …

Hear Stacy Lotz discuss her educational journey and love of teaching on the 1853 Podcast.

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