Those are the words on a small plaque located on the bookshelf in the office of Cleveland State Humanities Dean Fred Wood.
“I got that when I became dean,” Wood said. “Michaelangelo said it when he was 87 years old. The translation is, ‘I am still learning.’ Even after he had created some of the great works of art — the Sistine Chapel, the statue of David — he said was still learning.”
Wood knows something about the subject of learning, because he has been an educator for 43 years.
Wood is now only days away from cleaning out his bookshelf and leaving the Cleveland State campus where he has shared his passion and love for English and literature with countless students who have passed through the school’s classrooms.
“As I grew up I always leaned toward teaching,” Wood said.
The decision became a more serious one as the necessary decision on establishing his college major dawned.
It was Wood’s “To be or not to be” moment.
“I had some really, really outstanding professors as an undergraduate,” he said.
Wood said he went to the dean of the English department to discuss the matter.
“His name was George Conner and it was the University of Chattanooga, a private school, at the time,” he recalled.
“I told him the reason I was there. I was getting ready to register for my junior year and I needed to declare my major.”
“He didn’t hesitate for a moment,” Wood said. “He just looked at me for a moment. He said, ‘Fred. English. What else is there?’”
“I declared it and never regretted it and loved every bit of it.”
The teaching aspect of his career may have been in his DNA all along.
“My mother’s side of the family had a number of teachers,” Wood said. “They were the ones who became doctors, lawyers, judges and teachers.
He said his father’s side of the family were more business-oriented and were very successful.
“I was very blessed to have parents who appreciated the value of an education,” Wood said.
He said there have a number of students over the years who have expressed doubts about starting into college.
“In my family, there was never any question. There was never any discussion. It was just understood that I and my older brother would go to college,” Wood said. “That was a given.”
He went to the University of Tennessee and while in Knoxville he was exposed to some of the great minds of the subject on which he had decided to focus his career.
“I was very fortunate to have some of the most outstanding and highly respected people in the discipline,” he said. “These were nationally and internationally known scholars. I was fortunate to have seminars with those people and it inspired me even more.”
Wood finished his master’s degree and had to decide whether to proceed with his doctrinal studies or “take a break.”
“They had just built [Cleveland State] in 1968. The college was very young and they were still hiring. So, I thought I’ll just send a letter if they’re looking for anyone to teach English and I’ll take a few years off from graduate school and earn a little money,” Wood said.
He noted the process of hiring was much more straightforward then than now.
When he met with the chairman of English and Humanities, he was taken on a tour of the campus and then to the president’s office where the dean was asked, “Would you like to have him in your department?”
“She said, ‘Absolutely.’ The president turned to me and asked if I would like to come to work for her. I said, “Yes, sir.”
When Wood was asked if he needed time to ponder the decision, he asked for a moment.
The moment only lasted for a few seconds when Wood responded, “Yes.”
The president picked up the phone and asked the secretary to draw up a contract for Wood’s services.
“I don’t know I would go through everything you have to go through now,” he said. “But I’ve never regretted it.”
Wood said he felt no apprehension or nerves when he faced his first class.
“I was just out of graduate school, and there were some students in that class that were the same age. There wasn’t really a problem with being able to identify with them or for them to identify with me,” he said. “I just had a conversation with them.”
He admitted he knew most of them were there only because the class was required.
“I told them my philosophy was learning should be fun. It doesn’t mean you won’t have to work. Anything worth accomplishing requires some effort,” Wood said. “I told them we would learn together and don’t assume I’m the only person in this room you can learn from.”
He said the new technology access to reading material is good because it can encourage reading. But, that comes with a concern.
“I have had friends tell me one day there will be no need for a library. It will all be electronic,” Wood said. “That is not an idea I like to think about. There is something special about going through a book and turning the pages.”
Wood says his favorite book is “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee.
“It is truly a great novel and one I can read over and over again,” he said. “It’s one of the few novels that was faithfully portrayed in the film.”
His personal library is not exclusive to fiction or the classics, there are many titles involving American history.
Wood does not belittle any type of literature, noting the opinion of any reader is subjective.
“I always quote Robert Frost saying his work was just on the verge of saying something more,” he said.
He jokes that his career does not mean he corrects his wife or proofreads letters and cards he gets.
Wood says he already has a list of books for his retirement and might even attempt to write one of his own.
Just like Robert Frost, retirement only means Fred Wood is on the verge of something more.