Alumni, Faculty and Staff Profile: Dr. Ronald O. Kapp
Dr. Ronald O. Kapp taught more than 2,500 students during his 32 years at Alma College. Teaching was more than just a job for him, though. He took a genuine interest in impacting and shaping the lives of the students he taught.
Even when he was named provost and vice president of academic affairs in 1969, his focus continued to be on his students. In addition to teaching a Spring Term course that included a weeklong field trip to the Southern Great Lakes region, Kapp continued his research work with students. More than half of the papers he published were co-authored by students.
The affection was mutual. Former students and colleagues have raved about Kapp, who began his career at Alma as an instructor of biology. The Ann Arbor native has been called “the glue that held the College together.”
Kapp helped to enhance Alma’s reputation through measures such as the Oberlin Undergraduate Science Group. Gaining acceptance into the group made the College one of the 50 leading liberal arts colleges that play a vital role in preparing students for science careers. He also is responsible for installing Phi Beta Kappa at the College.
Saying Kapp loved his academic field is likely an understatement. When workers discovered the new football field was being built on top of an old peat bog, their bulldozers sat still as Kapp took samples. When farmers discovered mastodon bones, he was already programmed into their speed dial.
He also administered the Africa Fellowship Program, which sent a student to Nigeria to spend the year teaching. Known for his compassion, high energy and love of people, it is no surprise that Kapp would go to a student’s dorm room, sometimes late at night, to break the exciting news that he or she had been chosen for the fellowship.
In early 1990, the Board of Trustees announced the new $4.5 million science building would be named for him. Kapp had already resigned from his positions at the College, due to a pressing health issue. Shortly after this, he passed away.
Though the campus grieved, classes were not cancelled. Always a champion of education, Kapp insisted that students should “go out and learn some more.” No one was going to get in the way of that, not even him, especially not him.
When he wasn’t faithfully serving the College, Kapp was outside earning his nickname of “Mr. Natural Area” through his involvement with the Michigan Academy of Sciences and the Michigan Wilderness and Natural Areas Advisory Board.