Coming upon her retirement this semester after 63 and a half years of teaching, Assistant Professor of safety management, Wilma Cavill, 85, said she always thought about being a teacher ever since she was four years old. She said when she was growing up, her mother told her that she would always try to teach the little boy down the street from her home. It wasn’t until eighth and ninth grade at New Castle Junior High School that she decided that she wanted to teach health and physical education. During her high school years, Cavill said graduates of Slippery Rock State Teachers College mentored her. Soon after graduating from New Castle Junior High School in 1948, she enrolled in college at Slippery Rock State Teachers College.
“I didn’t ask if I was going to college, I announced that I was going to college,” Cavill said. “So, my mother and I hit the streets to look for money because we were poor and I was looking for scholarships, and at that time, there were no scholarships for schools like Slippery Rock State Teachers College, so I had to pay my own way through school by working.”
When Cavill graduated Slippery Rock State Teachers College in 1952, she went back to her hometown to teach physical education and swimming for six years at New Castle Junior High School, and then became an aquatic specialist. During this time, Cavill said she also had the privilege of supervising student teachers from Slippery Rock. One day, Cavill said, she got a call from President Weisenfluh inviting her to come coach men and women’s gymnastics at Slippery Rock State Teachers College in 1958.
“I received a call that I was wanted in the president’s office,” Cavill said. “That’s like being called to the principal’s office, but I didn’t worry because the president had been my ethics professor when I was an undergrad. So, I went over to visit him and we had a nice talk, but he quickly started talking about gymnastics and I thought ‘oh wow, he’s going to ask me if I want to coach,’ but I didn’t want to coach, I just wanted to teach. Coaching is teaching, just not the way I think of teaching, but he didn’t ask me if I wanted to coach, he told me I was going to coach.”
Cavill finished coaching gymnastics in 1976 and picked up extra classes in health and physical education, which was renamed allied health and then further renamed as safety management.
After teaching for a total of 63 and a half years, Cavill now holds the record for the longest serving professor at Slippery Rock University and in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE). Cavill said after 63 and a half years of service, she will be retiring at the end of the fall 2015 semester. With all the changes that have occurred since she first started teaching at Slippery Rock State Teachers College, Cavill said she has loved every second of teaching and that she will miss her students and colleagues who she has come to know and love.
Cavill said teaching has always been a treat to her and she wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“I love teaching,” she said. “I’ve had a marvelous career, and some people would say, ‘how could you stay in one place for so long?’ but every year has been different. The students are always different, and they change every semester, but so do responsibilities, duties and opportunities.”
Cavill said the difference between SRU now and when she went to Slippery Rock State Teachers College is that the institution had only 800 people when she started college in 1948. Cavill said SRU offers a numerous amount of programs compared to what Slippery Rock State Teachers College offered when she was in school.
Cavill said although adapting to the changes of SRU as an institution was easy, she said that she had a hard time adapting to all of the technological changes.
“I’m not a fan of technology,” Cavill said. “I have a cell phone and it’s in my car and it’s locked up and it’s off. This computer is here [in my office], but I don’t have a computer at home.”
After she retires, Cavill said she plans to have as much fun as she’s had in her career. She said she has friends in locations, such as Oklahoma and Tampa that she can now visit. She also said she will volunteer at various places and sit in on some classes and brush up on her French. Cavill said her secret to staying healthy this long is her good gene pool.
Joseph Cali, chair and professor of safety management at SRU, 62, said he came to Slippery Rock University in 1989 as a faculty member and that he’s known Cavill ever since. Cali said the safety management department will miss her as a professor and as a person, and her historical perspective that she brings of where safety management started and where it is now.
Cali said to have the longest serving faculty member of Slippery Rock University and the PASSHE system in the safety management department is a unique benefit to the whole Slippery Rock community because everyone knows Cavill and all that she has contributed to the community. Cali also said that both faculty and students can learn a lot from Cavill.
“They can learn the personal touch that she has,” Cali said. “She affected students and faculty personally. She’s the person, versus the teacher or the university employee that came in contact with you and made an impact. When everybody leaves and we retire, we’ll remember Wilma and the impact she had on each life.”
Cavill said after retiring, the one thing she hopes that she can keep is her parking spot and her bench outside of the Strain Behavioral Science Building (BSB). Cavill said she acquired the parking spot after teaching for 50 years. She said every year the university has service awards where they give awards to faculty and staff who have been at SRU for several years.
“That’s a funny story because my friend in South Carolina had told me that they had a Chinese auction and the administration had put up a parking spot,” Cavill said. “Everyone was bidding on that space and one of her friends won the parking space and me and her laughed about it.”
Cavill said when she came back after her vacation, she told the story to President Smith at lunch and he said Cavill having her own parking spot is a good idea.
“I remember he said, ‘well, I think it’s a good idea, what do you think about it?’ and I said, ‘not much.’”
Cavill said the next thing she knew, they were giving her a parking space. She said the bench outside of BSB was awarded to her for her 55 years of service.
“When Dr. Norton came here, it was during my 55 years of service and she said, ‘5 years ago, Dr. Smith gave you a place to park your car, so this time we gave you a place to park yourself,’” she said.
Assistant professor of safety management, Angela Bernardo, 40, said that she first met Cavill when she had her as a professor in the spring of 1997. She said as a professor, Cavill brings a lot of years of experience and great and classic stories about the university.
“She can tell you so many stories about this campus because she was a student here,” Bernardo said, “You can always ask her something and her institutional knowledge of everything is just amazing. I’ll miss her stories.”
Bernardo said she’s excited for Cavill to retire because she sees how excited Cavill is about retiring.
“I’m glad to see that she made her decision,” Bernardo said. “She deserves it.”
One thing that Bernardo said she learned from Cavill is to not sweat the small stuff.
“She always was the person that stayed calm no matter what the situation was,” Bernardo said. “If there was a student that wasn’t doing well, she was always calm about it or if it was an academic situation, she always stayed calm about everything.”
Cavill said she will miss her students and her colleagues because they have always been a joy to her.
“When you like teaching, you have to have someone to teach and so the students have always been very important,” Cavill said. “The standard thing around here is people are coming up to me saying, ‘I’ve heard a rumor [about your retirement]’ and I’d say, ‘it’s not a rumor.’ Did they think I was going to be here my entire life and die with my boots on or something?”
Wilma is wonderful! I wish her joy in her retirement, and I hope her travels will bring her to Clarion once in a while.