Former professor dies of liver cancer

Students, faculty and community members packed the Ecumenical Religious Center on campus Tuesday for the funeral of UW-Eau Claire Professor Emeritus Richard deGrood, who is remembered for his personal and professional contributions to the university.

The former professor of philosophy and religious studies, who retired in 2001, died Feb. 8 of liver cancer that doctors diagnosed in the fall.

“Nobody could believe it, because he was in the best of health,” said Deirdre deGrood, his wife. “I still can hardly believe it … it still doesn’t seem real.”

DeGrood came to the university in 1974 and served as department chair of philosophy and religious studies from 1989 to 1997, said Jim Brummer, professor and current department chair.

“He provided tremendous leadership for the department,” Brummer said. “He was just a terrific person, a great human being, a tremendously valued colleague.”

DeGrood helped students feel comfortable exploring their spirituality in a non-confrontational way, Brummer said. And he always put students first, grading papers before completing his department chair reports.

DeGrood also was involved with the Center for International Education, and spent three semesters teaching American study abroad students at Harlaxton College in Grantham, England.

Convincing students of the value of international education and mutual respect between cultures was always important to deGrood, said Karl Markgraf, director of the CIE.

“Dick was an outstanding person,” Markgraf said. “He was the kind of person who promoted international education every day of his life in his teaching.”

Spending time at Harlaxton was a highlight of her husband’s teaching career, Deirdre deGrood said. He enjoyed watching students go out and travel after arriving in a new place nervous and anxious, she added.

“He loved the students,” she said. “He really, really missed the students … He didn’t miss anything else, but he sure did miss the students.”

DeGrood’s Christian faith helped him cope with his illness, his wife recalled.

“He used to complain and complain if he had a cold,” she laughed, “absolutely moaned and groaned. But I never heard him complain about having cancer, and he never said, ‘Why me?’ He fully accepted it right from the beginning.”

Although the onset of deGrood’s illness came as a surprise, Brummer said he handled it well.

“(He was) very much a model of how to die with great dignity,” Brummer said. “He wasn’t afraid to tell individuals he was dying.”