Colleagues, students reflect on life of long-time history professor

An undated photo of Jack Thacker teaching a class in Glasgow remotely via satellite. Photo submitted by Kentucky Museum Archives

Sydney Rae Davis

On Nov. 18, WKU’s students and campus suffered a loss with the passing of 75-year-old Jack Thacker, a professor in the history department since the 1960s.

Many remember Thacker for his kindness and his passion for teaching, said fellow history professor and friend David Serafini.

“Jack truly loved the art of history and truly loved teaching. He loved recreating the past, especially in his military history courses,” said Serafini. “He could talk about the most minute detail of a battle and make it come to life as if you were in the trenches in France during World War I or landing at Normandy.”

History department head Robert Dietle said Thacker taught until the final day of the spring 2015 semester. He was on medical leave for this semester but eager to return to the Hill.

“Even while in the hospital, Jack expressed his eagerness to return to the classroom. I think it is fair to say that teaching was Dr. Thacker’s life,” Dietle said.

Thacker began his career on the Hill in 1964. At that time, WKU was still called Western Kentucky State College.

Thacker would continue teaching in the history department for the next 51 years. His courses covered a variety of topics: world history, military history, Nazi Germany, the Holocaust, World War I, World War II and modern Germany.

In 1971, Thacker won the University Award for Teaching and was a visiting professor at the U.S. Military Academy in 1982.

Although Thacker is often remembered for his kindness, Dietle also remembers him for spirited debates.

“I was a friend and colleague of Dr. Thacker” he said. “We spoke every day he was on campus — usually disagreeing vehemently on political issues.”

Thacker’s funeral was held with J.C. Kirby & Son at their chapel on Nov. 23.

While Lawrenceburg junior Taylor Gilkinson did not have a class with Thacker, she met him a few times at various history department events.

“As a member of the history department, his passing saddens me greatly,” she said via email. “I know of a lot of people who had him in class and loved him. I also know that he was very passionate about teaching and loved what he did.”

More than anything, Serafini said, Thacker’s loss will impact his friends.

“The department just isn’t going to be the same without him, and for me, this is a very personal loss as he was my buddy,” he said. “Like Morgan Freeman said in ‘Shawshank Redemption,’ ‘I guess I just miss my friend.’”