October 19, 2018

Webster professor ‘Papa’ remembered for a love of family, teaching

Speech Communications Professor Alan Shiller’s funeral service lasted for nearly two and a half hours. He had made all of the arrangements weeks in advance, and it was during this time that he delivered his final lecture.

Shiller taught as an adjunct faculty member in Webster University’s School of Education department for more than 20 years. He worked as a college professor for more than 40.

“Every professor needs to give their final lecture. As a communication teacher, I would be remiss if I didn’t take one more opportunity to give a speech,” Shiller’s final lecture began. It was entitled “How to Change the World One Relationship at a Time.” As Alan requested, it was read by his dear friend, Ken Cottle. The service was held on Thursday, Jan. 2.

Shiller passed away on Dec. 28, 2013 at the age of 62. He had undergone planned open heart surgery on Thursday, Dec. 19, which his wife Bonnie said was initially successful. However, after one day out of the intensive care unit (ICU), he had to be moved back to the ICU. He had stopped breathing and Bonnie said doctors spent eight hours trying to stabilize him before he died.

Three weeks before his surgery, Bonnie Shiller said she considered the ‘what if?’ — the possibility of surgical complication, and the possibility of losing her husband. When she approached Alan Shiller with this concern, he reassured her that he was already taking care of everything.

“Alan said, ‘oh Bonnie, I’ve been working on this, and I need you to know I’m in the process of writing my last lecture. It will be completed before I go in for surgery. Bonnie, I have planned out my entire funeral service, who is going to be my pallbearers, who is going to read my last lecture, who is going to sing Man of La Mancha’s The Impossible Dream,’ so Alan had all of those details planned,” Bonnie Shiller said.

Bonnie said that if asked what he was most proud of in his lifetime, Alan Shiller would have said his children. The couple has two sons, Scott and Casey.

Scott Shiller is the vice executive director of the Arsht Performing Arts Center in Miami, Florida. Casey Shiller is the coordinator of baking and pastry and an instructor at St. Louis Community College — Forest Park. He was featured on “Cupcake Wars” three times and walked away from those experiences with two wins and one loss.

Alan Shiller’s favorite hobbies were attending theater performances and dining at new restaurants. Taking the careers of their sons into consideration, Bonnie said this was only partially a coincidence.

She recalled a semester when their entire family of four worked as teachers, a fact that she said Alan Shiller got the “biggest kick out of.”

“It was just a legacy to who Alan is and what he did,” Bonnie Shiller said. “Everything Alan did was educational and teaching.”

 

Alan’s Passion for Teaching  

Alan Shiller taught more than 10,000 students. His career as a teacher began at the University of Georgia and brought him to Missouri, where he taught at Lindenwood College before going to work for Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) in 2000. There he was president of the non-tenure track faculty union. Bonnie Shiller said that as president of the group, her husband wanted to set “the most incredible example,” which is why Alan Shiller kept a secret about his professional life outside of SIUE.

“This is going to be a shock to anybody who hears this because Alan kept this private,” Bonnie Shiller said.

She went onto explain that he taught anywhere from 12 to 14 classes per semester. A full time professor typically teaches four. She said he did this because adjunct faculty are paid so minimally; Alan Shiller needed to provide for his family.

Webster had approached Alan Shiller years ago and asked if he would deliver his last lecture there, Bonnie Shiller said. But he feared the publicity would reveal his work overload, so he turned down the offer.

“When he told me that, I thought what self-sacrifice that in the name of sacrificing for his union, he gave up the most incredible opportunity of a lifetime,” Bonnie Shiller said.

His obituary states that, over the years, he taught at “St. Louis Community College — Meramec, Webster University, Central Methodist University, St. Louis, Maryville University, and Deaconess College of Nursing.”

Alan Schiller’s work ethic was not the only thing people learned about after his death. Attendees were informed of a shift in his religious beliefs, and his son Scott Shiller learned that his dad used to put his love of music to paper.

He also worked as a Santa Claus for 25 years in addition to teaching, but this Bonnie Shiller said, most people did know.

 

The instructor called “Papa”

Webster alumna Elma Šljivo had Alan Shiller’s Communication in Education class her freshman year.

“I never had a professor that was so enthusiastic,” Šljivo said. “He truly loved his job. I looked forward going to his class. He made it interesting. It wasn’t a textbook-lecture class. In fact, we didn’t have a textbook.”

Šljivo said she has always been one to talk with her hands, and Alan Shiller taught her that body language was “good and normal and needed.” She said her fondest memory of the professor was his inquiry of her trip home to Bosnia the summer after she finished his class. They had run into one another the next fall, and Šljivo said he took the time to ask about her summer away.

“For the first time at Webster, I truly felt like a professor cared about me,” Šljivo said.

Alumna Maggie Zehner had Alan Shiller for the same class.

“He insisted we call him Papa,” Zehner said.

According to Bonnie Shiller, this nickname grew out of her husband’s reputation for being the person to send students to who had an “incredible fear of public speaking.”

“Even though he would still have very, very high standards of what students had to go through, he would say (to these students), ‘that’s alright, that’s alright come to Papa.’ Or he’d say ‘listen, don’t worry about it, this is Papa,’” Bonnie Shiller said.

Alan Shiller’s last lecture was structured like a final lesson – to his students, his family, his coworkers and his friends.

“Through our interaction with all the people we come into contact with,” he wrote, “we will change the world one relationship at a time.”

his son Scott Shiller learned that his dad used to put his love of music to paper.

He also worked as a Santa Claus for 25 years in addition to teaching, but this Bonnie Shiller said, most people did know.

 

The instructor called “Papa”

Webster alumna Elma Šljivo had Alan Shiller’s Communication in Education class her freshman year.

“I never had a professor that was so enthusiastic,” Šljivo said. “He truly loved his job. I looked forward to going to his class. He made it interesting. It wasn’t a textbook-lecture class. In fact, we didn’t have a textbook.”

Šljivo said she has always been one to talk with her hands, and Alan Shiller taught her that body language was “good and normal and needed.” She said her fondest memory of the professor was his inquiry of her trip home to Bosnia the summer after she finished his class. They had run into one another the next fall, and Šljivo said he took the time to ask about her summer away.

“For the first time at Webster, I truly felt like a professor cared about me,” Šljivo said.

Alumna Maggie Zehner had Alan Shiller for the same class.

“He insisted we call him Papa,” Zehner said.

According to Bonnie Shiller, this nickname grew out of her husband’s reputation for being the person to send students to who had an “incredible fear of public speaking.”

“Even though he would still have very, very high standards of what students had to go through, he would say (to these students), ‘that’s alright, that’s alright, come to Papa.’ Or he’d say ‘listen, don’t worry about it, this is Papa,’” Bonnie Shiller said.

Alan Shiller’s last lecture was structured like a final lesson – to his students, his family, his coworkers and his friends.

“Through our interaction with all the people we come into contact with,” he wrote, “we will change the world one relationship at a time.”

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