Throughout the 30 years he taught at Wabash College, Dr. Lester Hearson grew to view many of the young men he interacted with on campus as something more than students.
“Many of them became sons,” Hearson said with a smile while sitting inside his quiet Crawfordsville home.
During his time at Wabash, Hearson taught and mentored countless students who went on to have distinguished and fulfilling careers in the health sciences.
Two of those students include Dr. Randy Williams ’83 and Dr. John Roberts ’83.
“Dr. Hearson had this unique combination of being someone who had incredibly high standards but was also compassionate and empathetic about each of his students,” said Williams, a first-generation college student who became a cardiologist and founded Pharos Innovations. “We were, academically and personally, better students and men because of him.”
Williams said he also leaned on Hearson as a guide after Wabash as he attended graduate school and later started his professional career in medicine.
“I’m not alone in this, and I didn’t feel like I was deserving of any special attention from him, but I always got it nonetheless,” Williams said. “I have always felt a debt of gratitude to him.”
Roberts said Hearson put in so much effort, in and out of class, to engage with his students.
“As my professor and advisor from day one, I looked up to him as a father-figure,” said Roberts, a Wabash College physician, founding member of the committee that brought the Montgomery County Free Clinic to life, and who spent his career as a family physician in Crawfordsville.
“One fond memory I have is when his wife Pat would bake sourdough bread and he would bring it to his advisees’ living units during finals week,” he said. “Dr. Hearson was always supportive and made sure we were taken care of.”
As a way to show their gratitude and to celebrate Hearson’s continued impact on the College and its alumni, the two took a giant step for students and established an endowed scholarship in his honor.
The Dr. Lester L. Hearson H’70 Scholarship will provide support for Wabash students in their junior and senior years who have achieved academic excellence and intend to pursue a career in the health sciences.
In addition to their financial contributions, Williams and Roberts have also played an essential role in gathering funding from a growing group of supporters who were impacted by the work of Dr. Hearson. So far, more than a dozen other alumni have contributed to the scholarship.
“We hope this scholarship continues the legacy that Dr. Hearson started. We want to give students, who are heavily invested in academic excellence and have compassion for others, the ability to pursue health sciences at Wabash and beyond,” Williams said. “Health sciences are the perfect manifestation of (Hearson), what he’s good at, and what he invested in us. Now it’s our (alumni’s) turn to invest in future generations of young men.”
News of the scholarship came as a surprise to Hearson, a soft-spoken, humble man who doesn't demand accolades for the tireless effort he has given the College and Crawfordsville community.
“I feel a great sense of appreciation and honor,” Hearson said. “What made Wabash students so special was their dedication.”
He held a stack of heartfelt handwritten letters addressed to him from former students — most of which had been delivered many years after Hearson’s retirement from the College in 1998.
One note, in part, read: “I continue to reflect often on how grateful I am to you and Wabash for helping me get to where I wanted to go. My life would have been much different without you.”
Another read: “As I look back on it, an 18-year-old freshman, pre-med student, away from home for the first time, can be a rather fragile and pitiful creature. I would have never made it without your patience, advice, and encouragement. What I learned from you goes well beyond any particular classroom or degree.”
Hearson came to Wabash College in 1967 to teach developmental biology after earning degrees in biology and chemistry at Kansas State University and a Ph.D. in zoology from Michigan State University.
He also took on the role of registrar in 1985 and acting director of financial aid in 1991, and continued to teach while in both administrator roles until retirement.
His dedication to students earned him the McLain-McTurnan-Arnold Excellence in Teaching Award in 1972 and the Outstanding Professor of the Year Award in 1974 from the Sphinx Club.
“I loved Wabash. My years spent there were special,’” said Hearson, who was named an honorary member of the Class of 1970 by the National Association of Wabash Men (NAWM).
“My goal with teaching (in courses like embryology and anatomy) was to make my lectures and all the materials interesting and enjoyable, but also profitable so that they could see in a realistic way, how it pertains to their lives or future careers,” he said. “The students were always willing to do the work. Their dedication transferred and inspired me to be more dedicated.”
Beyond campus, Hearson served the community for more than a decade as a member of the Crawfordsville City Council. His community service also includes serving as a member of Family Crisis Shelter board, MUFFY board, Boy Scouts, president of the Crawfordsville Community School Board, and founder of Crawfordsville Main Street. He also chaired several boards and committees at First United Methodist Church of Crawfordsville.
Williams said his goal for the scholarship is to also unify alumni and friends of Hearson’s around a common goal of supporting future Wabash men.
“I thought there’s no better way to honor Dr. Hearson,” he said, “and to bring together people, whose lives he impacted.”
Those interested in participating or learning more information about the Dr. Lester L. Hearson H’70 Scholarship are asked to please contact Dr. Randy Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Wabash Advancement Office can also be reached at email@example.com or 877-743-4545.
301 W. Wabash Avenue, Crawfordsville, IN 47933