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Carthaginians offer memorial tributes to Professor Patrick Pfaffle

May 28, 2019

The whole Carthage community mourns the loss of beloved biology professor Patrick Pfaffle, whose vibrant spirit rubbed off on students and infused humanitarian work 3,000 miles away.

Prof. Pfaffle passed away Saturday, May 25, from pancreatic cancer at age 59. He had taught at the College since 1997, chairing the Biology Department for 15 of those years.

Carthage biology professor Patrick Pfaffle (second from right) started the J-Term study tour to N...Carthage biology professor Patrick Pfaffle (second from right) started the J-Term study tour to Nicaragua. Faculty colleagues Matthew Zorn (left) and Paul Martino (right) offered tributes to Prof. Pfaffle, who passed away May 25, 2019.“Pat represents the very best of what Carthage is and has been,” says President John Swallow. “He demonstrated extraordinary dedication to his students and their learning, growth and development; he was a community-minded colleague and friend to his fellow faculty members, staff, and administrators; and he made important connections between Carthage and our community.

“His impact is felt virtually everywhere on campus, and he will be truly missed by all.”

Professor Paul Martino, the current department chair, marveled at his colleague’s “ability to mesmerize students” with passionate teaching.

“A Pfaffle classroom was always encouraging, energetic, and fun,” he says. “Pat had a way of being honest while always making students and colleagues feel like he was on your side.”

Prof. Pfaffle helped launch the innovative Phage Hunters course, featuring research that’s now incorporated into the College’s introductory biology curriculum. Most recently, he taught courses in genetics, biodiversity and evolution, and recombinant DNA technology.

“He always tried to learn about what made a student tick and then use that as an introduction to tough conversations,” says Prof. Martino. “He never forgot what it was like to be a young person and was indeed young at heart until the end.”

Professor Patrick Pfaffle, an avid pilot, is shown flying past the Carthage campus in his 1947 Er...Professor Patrick Pfaffle, an avid pilot, is shown flying past the Carthage campus in his 1947 Ercoupe. The longtime faculty member died May 25, 2019.Prof. Pfaffle is perhaps most associated with the enormously popular J-Term study tour to the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua, a country that had captivated him since his time as an exchange student in high school. More than 1,000 students have participated since he first offered the course as a medical mission in 2002.

In 2005, he brought geospatial science professor Matthew Zorn on board, and they soon became best friends. While approaching the material from different sides of the scientific aisle, they meshed in just about every way, Prof. Zorn says, from sense of humor to vision for the course.

“Pat and I had a chemistry. The students could sense that,” he says. “They would always see us clowning around, sharing life experiences — pretty much like brothers.”

Theirs is the only study tour the College offers multiple times per year, based on sustained interest that Prof. Zorn attributes to its rewarding service component. Besides the course’s original health care focus, the two faculty members expanded its scope to include water supply and renewable energy projects benefiting the island’s impoverished residents.

With support from a small group of donors, faculty and students together built Carthage’s first international field station in 2013. Named Finca Esperanza (“Hope Farm”), the complex will remain a tangible testament to Prof. Pfaffle’s work.

“It’s just expanded so much, beyond our wildest dreams,” says Prof. Zorn, who is scheduled to lead another group of students to Nicaragua in early June along with biology professor Scott Hegrenes.

With a doctorate degree in biochemistry from the Medical College of Wisconsin, Prof. Pfaffle held a faculty position at Indiana State University before coming to Kenosha. He won research awards from the National Institutes of Health and Abbott Laboratories.

Living a few miles from campus in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, Prof. Pfaffle and his wife, Kathy, were married for 30 years. His other surviving relatives include daughters Oksana and Nadya; his mother, Carol; and five siblings.

Friends in the Carthage community plan to honor him by installing a wayfaring sign that points toward Nicaragua and by establishing a scholarship fund for students who otherwise couldn’t afford to travel for the study tour. To contribute toward either initiative, please use the online giving form or contact Bridget Haggerty, executive director of institutional advancement, at bhaggerty1@carthage.edu or 262-551-6572.

A lasting legacy

Nicaragua Field Station