A toast to a great teacher, Orv Menard

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Orv Menard didn’t want a funeral.

Instead, the professor emeritus of political science at UNO left instructions that he just wanted people to gather at the school’s alumni house for an afternoon of conversation and sparkling French wine – Cremant – all on his dime, and some good Dixieland music.

They did.

Former students came in droves, even though Orv had been retired 15 years. That’s because many of Orv’s students had become his dear friends, too. They toasted him along with everyone else that afternoon last January, raising glasses of Cremant as they stood with a microphone and told stories of their old professor.

They spoke of his sense of humor, his generosity, the sparkle in his brown eyes.

They spoke of his great teaching awards he’d won – the highest at UNO – and for his love of all things French, like Cremant.

Others sent letters and emails to his widow. The theme of it all was this: Orv Menard made their minds better, but also their lives.

“These are all the notes I received.”

Darlene Menard sits on a floral couch in their Omaha home. Beside her is a thick stack of notes. She smiles, tears in her green eyes, as she reads them again.

… My first class with Dr. Menard, Intro to Political Science, changed my life forever. Our “textbooks” were political fiction novels. …

… I will always be eternally grateful that I was fortunate to have such a wonderful and motivating person teaching me about politics and history of our wonderful country and our beautiful city of Omaha …

… He was a true inspiration …

Darlene shows a photo of her husband’s most famous student, Chuck Hagel. The photo was taken a few years back when she and Orv flew to D.C. as special guests to watch Hagel get sworn in as U.S. Secretary of Defense.

For my dear friends, Dar and Orv, with fondness and appreciation.

Your student, Chuck.

Many of the notes in the stack on the couch are from him.

To Orv, all his students were great. They all held great potential.

… for without his mentoring and teaching skills, I doubt I would have been motivated enough to finish my college education. …

Some became professors themselves.

… My students have no idea how much they owe him. …

Great professors live on. They keep teaching. (Orv even donated his body to UNMC, Darlene says, because he wanted to help the med students to learn.)

That’s the lesson Darlene has learned in the months since she lost him on Jan. 10. That knowledge has brought some comfort.

She’s seen how great professors live on not just in the books they write or the papers they publish, but in the lives they change. That’s why she and Orv, both Burnett Society members, made estate plans to establish a faculty fellowship as well as a scholarship fund and a fund for excellence at UNO.

After Orv died, Darlene asked people to give any memorials in his honor to the Darlene and Orville Menard Scholarship at the University of Nebraska Foundation.

“I have another story,” she says. “I was always embarrassed when we started the scholarship – that it had my name first. I did not teach. But he absolutely insisted that my name be first. Finally one day he told me, ‘You made it possible for me, because you worked while I went through school. You were ‘the wind beneath my wings.'”

Many of those letters of praise and stories of the great professor, Orv Menard, also included the name of another teacher. His greatest inspiration.

His wife.

… Dear Darlene …

… Nearly 60 years of marriage is quite extraordinary, and many of us who knew Orv knew you as well…

… Darlene, It was an honor to be there with you and Orv. It was meant to be. I think Orv would have been proud of how we honored his memory and legacy and for the Cremant toast.

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