The end of three eras

LR says goodbye to faculty who have shaped the university's direction for more than 50 years

Three faculty members retiring in 2024 number among the longest-serving faculty in Lenoir-Rhyne University history: physics professor Charles Cooke ’59, Ph.D., biology professor Marsha Fanning, Ph.D., and assistant director for Rudisill Library Burl McCuiston.

Charles Cooke in front of a chalkboard in the lab in 1984
Charles Cooke teaches a class in 1984.

Charles Cooke ’59, Ph.D., professor of physics (1964)
Cooke earned a doctorate at the University of North Carolina before joining the physics faculty at Lenoir-Rhyne in 1964 – just five years after receiving his bachelor’s degree from LR. However, according to his sister Mary Lou Cook Hall ’43, Cooke actually taught his first class at LR during his first year as a student, covering instruction for a French class while several professors were out with the flu.

While it’s easy to calculate the number of years Cooke has spent on campus – 48% of the university’s existence – his influence on the students and community here has been immeasurable. He played a direct role in bringing LR to the cutting edge of technology in the early days of computing and the internet, in advocating for faculty voices in decision-making processes and even in the expansion of athletic programs over the years.

“I don’t want people to think my work is about my own glory,” said Cooke. “I just wanted to make LR a better place.”

Charles Cooke with lab equipment in 1966
Charles Cooke in the lab in 1966.

Shaun Williams, Ph.D., dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics said, “Dr. Cooke has been a stalwart of the university. His dedication and love for LR and our students are unrivaled. Just as he helped steer LR through institutional challenges, he has helped guide countless students through their own challenges. Regardless of the students' academic interests, they all love Dr. Cooke.”

One of those former students, Fred Zayas ’86, once worked with Cooke as a laboratory aide and now serves as director of mission assurance for Axiom Space. He credits Cooke for helping launch his decades-long career in the aerospace industry.

“Dr. Cooke’s technical excellence and ability to teach inspired me to explore the world and beyond. I felt his calmness and caring in every lecture, and those continue to be characteristics that I aspire to emulate each day with colleagues and students. I fondly recall the engaging physics laboratory classes enabling us to learn the fundamentals of physics through experimentation,” Zayas wrote. “Those skills have been invaluable as I have designed, manufactured, tested, deployed, and operated missile systems, deep watercraft, space satellite and human-rated spacecraft. I and many thousands of students have been blessed to be students in his class. Thank you, Dr. Cooke, for all that you have done for me and the generations that will benefit from your provided education and exhibited humility.”

Charles Cooke at an alumni function in 2023
Charles Cooke at an alumni event in 2023.

Associate professor of physics Doug Knight ’88, Ph.D., spoke from a unique perspective, having worked with Cooke first as a student and later as a colleague.

“As both a student and faculty member, Dr. Cooke's impressive intellect, honesty and enthusiasm for physics and engineering at LR has been an inspiration to me,” Knight shared. “He has changed generations of students for the better. Even though Dr. Cooke would never admit it, he is one of the giants of Lenoir-Rhyne University."

Marsha E. Fanning, Ph.D., professor of biology (1973)
Starting at Lenoir-Rhyne in 1973, Fanning has been a formative influence on the biology program and the overall landscape of scholarship in the sciences at LR, as a professor and later coordinator of the biology program and chair of the School of Natural Sciences. She has played a vital role in building the research requirement for biology majors and has supervised countless students through projects fulfilling that requirement.

Marsha Fanning in her office in 2976
Marsha Fanning in her office in 1976.

“Dr. Fanning hired me and was instrumental in helping me through my first years as a faculty member. Her dedication to helping me improve my teaching was exceptional,” Williams said of his predecessor and her legacy. “I do not believe that I would be the educator that I have become without her. Dr. Fanning has also shown a deep dedication to the sciences at Lenoir-Rhyne. Her leadership in the College of Natural Sciences helped merge the three programs into a cohesive whole.”

Biochemistry major Salma Ramirez Sanchez ’24 shared her experience with Fanning and her expertise, saying, “Dr. Fanning is probably the best resource when you have a question or a problem. She has so much experience that she knows about absolutely everything. She has given me the best tips or answers when I was in a difficult situation and did not know what to do – and not just in relation to academics, but also on personal matters.” 

Biology major Bethany Perry ’24 affirmed the student experience by adding, “Dr. Fanning has been such a light to this university. As her advisee I have had many experiences with her and enjoyed getting to know her and her dog Goldie. She has been dedicated to LR from the beginning, and it shows. She has left an impact on my life that I will carry forever and for that I am very grateful. She is such a wonderful person and I wish her well in her retirement.”

Dan Grimm, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology, added his thoughts about Fanning as a colleague and friend.

“It's hard to know where to begin. Marsha Fanning is the heart and soul of the biology department at Lenoir-Rhyne and has been for decades. She is a born leader, an optimist, a problem solver, a brilliant naturalist, a student-centered educator and a good friend. I always felt (and still do) that I worked directly for Dr. Fanning. I am enormously grateful that she hired me when I was at an age when most workers are preparing for retirement. These last ten years I've been with LR have been the most satisfying of my career, thanks in large part to Fanning's leadership and her infectious love of teaching. Her focus each day she spends on campus is on educating her students and preparing them for their future careers. Dr. Fanning is a spirited and tireless leader with a talent for organizing events and minding the behind-the-scenes details that make our biology activities run smoothly and successfully. Our university is losing an invaluable resource, a large part of its institutional memory, and a wonderful human being. I will miss her terribly.”

Marsha Fanning instructing a class in 2023
Marsha Fanning teaches a biology class in 2023.

Fanning shared her own thoughts about wrapping up an era lasting more than five decades and the mark LR has left on her in turn.

“As I have been clearing out my office and going through old papers, I have been reminded of all the wonderful people and experiences I have had during my 51 years at LR. I couldn’t have asked for better colleagues, starting with those that hired me all the way to those I’m now leaving to continue the traditions of biology at LR. We’ve gone through a lot together, working with students in labs, on field trips, and on research projects. We’ve celebrated many successes with our graduates and even were able to see a new science building become a reality. It’s been quite a journey, one I am glad I have been a part of. It makes me proud to be an LR Bear.”

Burl McCuiston, assistant director for Rudisill Library (1975)
Just shy of 50 years of service, McCuiston is the longest-serving member of the Rudisill Library staff. He started as a reference librarian in 1975 and has been an essential resource to the Lenoir-Rhyne community since. As assistant director he has played a key role in developing the library’s collection and has worked closely with faculty members as a liaison for several academic programs.

Burl McCuiston stands with a reference book at a podium in 1976
Burl McCuiston in 1976.

“Burl has worked diligently over the years to help guide the decisions that always kept the best interests of the library and the campus community it serves first and foremost in mind,” shared Dawn Behrend, interim dean of university library services. “More importantly, Burl is a genuinely kind, caring, and gracious person. It has been an honor for all of us at the Rudisill Library to work alongside him. He will be deeply missed.”

Health sciences librarian Patrice Hall added, “To say Burl is the heart and soul of the library might sound trite, but it is so very true. He has been a wonderful friend and colleague.  I have always admired his expertise and dedication in providing services and resources for our library patrons. Whenever I’ve had a particularly obscure or difficult reference request, I knew I could turn to Burl for help, and he would be able to find the answer. He’s truly the librarian’s librarian.”

Most notably, McCuiston’s work with the university’s archives and special collections – combined with intellectual curiosity and commitment – have made him the foremost campus resource for knowledge about the long history and traditions of Lenoir-Rhyne.

“Often people will talk about long-serving employees' retirements as a loss of institutional memory, and that's no small thing. But in Burl McCuiston's retirement after 49 years of service to Lenoir-Rhyne, we're losing, yes, institutional memory, but also an irreplaceable jewel,” said Frank Quinn, Ph.D., dean of university library services from 2018 to 2024. “Burl has been the consummate professional – generous with his time, patient and forgiving, and the best of listeners. His devotion to this institution, its history, and its students and faculty has been matchless. Burl will be missed by his library colleagues but also by everyone he's ever had the privilege of teaching and helping.”

Library staff member and LR history buff Devin Osborne, ’24, MPH ’25, described the extent of McCuiston’s knowledge and his full impact as part of the university’s institutional memory.

Burl McCuiston
Burl McCuiston in 2023.

“Burl has been a huge asset to not only the Rudisill Library, but the LR community as a whole. As a student who has a lot of interest in LR history, there is no better historian than Burl McCuiston. He truly knows everything you could even imagine about this campus, and you can see the eyes light up with pure joy each time he has the chance to talk about LR's history, even just for a moment.”

In addition to praising McCuiston as a colleague, associate librarian and coordinator of instructional technology Jessica O’Brien also expressed hope that he would spend some of his retirement preserving his extensive knowledge for posterity.

“Burl’s nearly 50-year tenure at Lenoir-Rhyne is characterized by an unwavering commitment to excellence, a profound love for sharing knowledge, and an exceptional work ethic. For the past 16 years, I have had the distinct pleasure of working alongside Burl, and I appreciate and admire his dedication and the meticulous care he brings to every aspect of his work. Throughout his career, Burl has assisted countless students and faculty members with research guidance, likely setting a record for the number of reference questions answered. His patience and thoroughness are unparalleled, and his commitment to the library has been remarkable. As Burl enters retirement, I hope he will document his extensive knowledge and experiences in writing. His insights and the history he has witnessed would serve as an invaluable resource for future generations. Burl's career stands as a testament to the profound impact one person can have through dedication, passion, and a genuine love for their work.”

Deby Mitchell

Lenoir-Rhyne has named veteran classroom teacher and school administrator Deby Mitchell, Ed.D., as the university's new director of disability services.

View More
Six members of the grant writing team for the Noyce scholarship program stand in the George Hall lobby

Awarded through the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, the funds will diversify STEM education by providing scholarships for Master of Arts in teaching students specializing in STEM subjects.

View More