John C. Bierk

SEMO English Professor John C. Bierk 1966This is going to sound like a contradiction that John C. Bierk would have marked me down for, but the English professor was one of the handful of instructors I remember from SEMO, but, for the life of me, I can’t recall why.

I had him for Freshman English, the year before I shot this photo of him for The Sagamore (which has been consigned to the dustbin of journalism). He wasn’t an engaging lecturer like Arthur Mattingly, the history prof who taught American History in the present tense and could make you see the enemy sneaking up over the rise. He didn’t have the easy style of speech and debate teacher Fred Goodwin.

He was a man who set high standards for his students and wouldn’t accept anything less than their best. I ran across my old SEMO transcript not long ago, but don’t know what grade he gave me. I had a 3.75 grade point average when I transferred to Ohio University, so I couldn’t have done too badly in his class.

I did quick Google and Southeast Missourian searches without finding much. One surprising thing was that he became a prolific Letters to the Editor writer after his 1957-1987 academic career. He was a lot more liberal than I would have thought from his class demeanor.

Did anyone else have him? What do you recall about him?

25 Replies to “John C. Bierk”

  1. Oh, am I the first to comment?? Goody, goody! I’m so glad I got up at 3 a.m.!
    I also had Mr. Bierk for Freshman English, and I agree that he was a stickler for details. As I remember, he particularly enjoyed biting satire, before I learned how to bite. He had us write daily half-page assignments, and he liked the one in which I wrote rather sarcastically about my experiences at a sorority “rush” party.
    However, I was more influenced by his mentor, Dr. H.O. Grauel. The man simultaneously terrified and inspired me. I took every class I could under him, and he furthered my love of Shakespeare. Those two are undoubtedly the reason I became an English teacher.
    The history department had some inspiring teachers at that time, too. Price for English and Russian History, and Northrup for Medieval History. They had me on the edge of my seat with their lectures!

    1. Madeline, the blog lives and time-stamps in Eastern Time instead of Central which explains the hour difference. We could probably change that but I’m not sure what else that would affect


  2. I didn’t know him as a professor, but I do remember him as an avid tennis player. He often played with Dad at the college tennis courts on Henderson.

  3. John Bierk was an expert in the use of the Socratic method of teaching. He would ask a question, then re-phrase it as many times as necessary, in provoking us into thought. When I became a professor, I used what I’d experienced as a student with him and Fred Goodwin in developing my own skills as a teacher.

  4. I had him in the fall of 1960 as a replacement for MS. Phillips who began as the instructor of the English Comp class. It was a totally different class under him but although he was difficult it was a class I remembered. As a pre-engineering student English was not my best subject but his was very interesting and I felt like I earned my C.

  5. Dr. John Bierk was an excellent professor, former tennis player, and person whom I had for one undergraduate class and several graduate classes. Too, I became familiar with Dr. Bierk through membership in Sigma Tau Delta International English Honorary, which both Drs. Bierk and Graul sponsored and held regular meetings in their home.

  6. I took a two classes with John Bierk and he remains my image of what a professor should be. To this day I cannot write something without imagining him looking over my shoulder and shaking his head. I had the good fortune to attend a few more famous universities later in my academic life but few faculty members I encountered ever rose to the level of John Bierk. I am certainly not one of his more memorable students but I try to visit him whenever I am passing through Cape Girardeau. It is always refreshing to get the chance to talk with him.

  7. I had him for Honors English my freshman year and loved him. I remember taking a late paper to his house ( not unusual for me to procrastinate ) and he was very forgiving. He even had a little amused look in his eye as I apologized.
    My paper on Lord of The Flies would have gotten me an A but instead he gave my a B+ because I was late— pretty much sums up my freshman year. He was very approachable .

  8. Did not have Dr Bierk as a professor but he and Dr Grauel were always out and about around town. Dr B use to have a seat at Semo basketball near ours but have not seen him there the last few years. And yes he was a very good tennis player. Wish I would have had Dr Matingly in school but instead I am fortunate to have him as my backyard neighbor!

  9. I was fortunate to have Dr. Bierk for American Short Story and Modern Poetry. He was an inspiring and challenging professor. I always put off writing his papers until the last minute because there was always a little more research I could do or a new approach I could take. Also had Dr. Graul for Shakespearian Tragedies and English Grammar. Does anyone else remember his grammar numbering system? And Dr. Graul was responsible for getting me a job in the English department which helped me stay in school in those years before student loans.

  10. I was privileged to have Dr. John Bierk for honors English my freshman year. I remember him being very tough In his grading but you always knew how you could improve. I also knew him to be an avid tennis player and I think he still plays. Most importantly to me was that he was an excellent neighbor to my parents when they were neighbors until my mother’s health declined and they move to the Chateau. John would often check on them and also often made them homemade soup. A wonderful and kind neighbor.

  11. Fantastic teacher and generous person. He helped me get a teaching assistant position that changed the course of my life.

  12. Dedicated to John C. Bierk (From one of many teachers mentored by this most effective of teachers):

    God’s Only Party in 2016

    Note: Some readers will notice that I have revised and updated this poem several times already. My only defense is the evidence of a fluidly changing situation best described, I believe, as not only scary but a telling indictment of human nature.

    According to them, they’re God’s only party,
    Entitled to claim the “high ground”.
    To scripture about the least among us,
    The Social Darwinists will not be bound.

    They pander to the working poor.
    They prey on anger, hate, and fear.
    They claim to be the saved elite,
    But Jesus’ words they do not hear.

    I’ve often thought to send a list
    Of sparrows in my hometown,
    To churches that have somehow missed
    The needy all around.

    In Heaven they will walk the streets,
    Shamefaced with much regret.
    They’ll meet their maker’s eyes with pain,
    For negligence they did abet.

    In denial they embrace gullibility.
    It’s hard to maintain one’s civility.
    They listen to hacks,
    No regard for the facts,
    False witness defines their virility.

    On Earth they endorse misogynists
    In candidates quite unadorable.
    They hem and they haw,
    It sticks in one’s craw,
    And their motives might just be deplorable.

    One megalo takes his cue
    From his pop and Roy Cohn.
    Miss Universe he berates,
    Kellyanne Conway just placates,
    And he tweets his defense by phone.

    Credit must be given, one must admit,
    To give clout to someone so unfit.
    To win by deceit they have to please
    Both white lower classes and Pharisees.
    The FBI and Russia engage in preclusion,
    And WikiLeaks adds to the confusion.

    No wall, no peace, no wage increase,
    No reasons to bring the masses surcease.
    They beg him to use his magic wand,
    Cry out for scapegoats now they’ve been conned.
    He leaves our nation direly mired,
    And we cannot just say, “You’re fired.”

    Bannon as Goebbels dupes the Alt-Right.
    They’ll embrace him till Doomsday, quite willing to fight.
    Violence toward Muslims and blacks and gays,
    On vicious know-nothing heart-strings he plays.
    The circle always comes around;
    Flirtation with fascism breaks no new ground.

    Till Time itself ends…

    It’s crucial to remember
    One’s choices, in November.

    Sam J Duckworth
    (a poor, old, Southern white man)

  13. Wow! I had Dr. Bierk for Freshman Honors English and consider him one of my finest teachers. His half-page writing assignments were brilliant — not a word could be wasted. We read extensively – and we quickly learned that he instantly knew whether you’d read the assigned literature. Though I don’t include chat posts as examples, Dr. Bierk taught me how to write, and how to “edit by subtraction.” A great teacher!!

  14. Hi Ken,
    I too had John Bierk for English and he struck me as being pretty liberal. He was one of two “good” faculty at SEMO I had (the other being Neal Peterman). What I found interesting about his course was that he wanted you to get at the roots of your beliefs. Forty plus years after I took his course, I was searching for an essay we read called “Getting at the truth”. I wanted to coney the ideas contained therein to a class I was going to teach, even though I’m a mathematician. Couldn’t find it anywhere. I called him anticipating a perfunctory conversation, starting with “I’m sure you don’t remember me, but…..” Of course he didn’t remember me but he was extremely gracious, sent me a copy of the essay, and we have continued a regular correspondence. If you call him, I know he would appreciate it.

  15. I had Prof. Bierk for Modern American Poetry in 1967 and he introduced poets of whom I knew nothing. I ran into Dr. Bierk at the gym this week and introduced myself to him. He looked to be in great shape and was very cordial. Jerry Durham, SEMO 1968.

    1. You and I might have been passing through there about the same time. I ran across something he put together called The Craft of Poetry: “A Momentary Stay Against Confusion.” It was a 19-page collection of poetry that proved my belief now that poetry is wasted on your people who haven’t had enough life experiences to understand it.

      It’s a great selection stuff I had read, had forgotten and should have read. I may have to post it sometime.

  16. Here’s a strange comment! I have no idea why I am even doing this. But — I had no classes with Mr. Bierk but I did work for three years with/for him on the college yearbook “The Sagamore.” He was inspiring, challenging, tantalizing, frustrating, and bewildering — all at the same time. “Gosh, that’s nice” was the most encouraging thing I ever heard him say until the night after I graduated when — after a couple of glasses of inebriate, he ventured to urge me to “go ahead” with “yes.” ‘Nuff said.

  17. John Bierk and I had no interaction in class but I did work on the college yearbook (The Sagamore) for which he was the faculty sponsor. The day I graduated, we had an encounter during which he urged me to “go ahead” and I did.

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