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MSU Home :: Fran Helphinstine: celebrating one of MSU’s longest-standing faculty members

Fran Helphinstine: celebrating one of MSU’s longest-standing faculty members

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As part of our 125th anniversary celebration, we are honoring a few of the many individuals who have been instrumental in the history of the University. Dr. Frances Helphinstine (63), professor of English, came to MSU in 1959 as a student and has remained to become one of our longest-standing faculty members, serving in the English department for 46 years.

To honor Helphinstine, one of her dear friends and a retired professor, Mary Jo Netherton (66) reflects on her time at MSU and the influence she has had on generations of Eagles.

Frances Helphinstine, affectionately known as Fran, or “Dr. H” to her students, is one of Morehead State University’s priceless treasures. As long as I have known her (45 years), she has been an inspiration to me and countless others. Since we worked in the same office suite for many years, she inspired me by example in her interactions with students and talent for putting people at ease.

Helphinstine has played an influential role in the lives of many students across MSU. Several former students, now educators, have tremendous memories of “Dr. H” to share.

Erin Conley (03), an educator at Bracken County Middle School, recalls, “I was a nontraditional student and mom of two. Right before my student teaching semester, I couldn’t get my schedule to work out, so Dr. Helphinstine agreed to do an independent study so I could stay on track. I could always count on her for a much needed smile and encouraging words.”

Maggie Prater (08), at Mason County High School, praises her beloved professor, remembering, “Very few undergraduates look forward to an 8 a.m. class, especially on Shakespeare, but seeing Dr. H’s smile first thing in the morning is a great way to set the tone for your day. I will never forget her greeting us, ‘Good morning, my superstars!’”

As I watched Fran from close proximity, I admired her relentless pursuit of excellence in all endeavors. She conveys this love of excellence to students through high expectations they eventually come to embrace. Frank Olson (92), a former graduate student and a retired educator, recalls, “She set the highest expectations and standards and budged not one iota. She was gentle and humane as she cajoled and demanded that we reach her expectations.”

The better I have come to know Fran over the years, the more I admire her for her tireless work ethic, which sustains her. She arrives by 7 a.m. every day to immediately begin marking papers and preparing meticulously for classes. Indeed, Fran is a “professor for all seasons” as she normally spends winter and spring breaks writing for professional conferences, and summer vacations preparing for the coming year.

Fran continues to engage in serious scholarship. After earning her Ph.D. with specializations in Renaissance Literature and Dramatic Literature from Indiana University in April 1978, she received National Humanities Council grants for continued studies with other outstanding scholars.

This dedication to learning also drives her service as scholarship advisor for Epsilon Theta Chapter of Chi Omega since 1979, successfully encouraging academic achievement through pep talks, individual conferences and personal letters.

When Dr. H is not in the classroom, researching or promoting student scholarship, she mentors colleagues, serving the University and community. She is deacon and longtime secretary for the Board at Morehead First Christian Church. Service seems to energize her, and combined with the hour a day she spends exercising to remain physically fit, she retains boundless energy.

While many can reflect thoughtfully on their experiences with Helphinstine, her impact at MSU is immeasurable. Lives have been touched, enriched and improved through the many talents of this special and unique individual, and those who passed her way are better for having done so.

Mary Jo Netherton, former associate professor of French at MSU, retired in 2005 after 40 years as an educator. Netherton was very involved on campus and served as a personnel advisor to MSU’s chapter of Chi Omega from 1969 until her retirement. She worked closely with Dr. Helphinstine for more than 40 years, considering her not just a colleague, but a friend.

A special thanks to Kathy Mincey (73), associate professor of English, for assistance in editing and gathering student testimonials.

We sought insight from Dr. Helphinstine on her time as an educator.

What made you decide to go into teaching?
My first grade teacher, Jessie Hall, let me feel the joy one has when a student makes progress by making me her assistant to mentor to some of my classmates. After school, while waiting for the school bus to come from the high school nine miles away, she also taught me the school art techniques she was learning in her class at MSU (to finish her teaching degree). She planted the vision for my life which I continue to follow.

You’re one of our longest-standing faculty members; what keeps you going?
My students energize me by sharing their interests and insights concerning the topics they generate from our class readings. Their sharing stimulates my further exploration, which gives me the continuous joys that come from lifelong learning.

Can you describe a particularly memorable experience from your time as a teacher/professor?
Earlier in my career, I taught developmental writing. A fellow faculty member in the regular composition classroom showed me that one of my students from the previous semester had identified his developmental writing teacher as “Miss Help Shine.” That’s my focus. That’s the reason I was moved to tears last spring when one of my early students, Jeff Spradlin (86), how with a child of his own here at Morehead, nominated me for the University of Kentucky “Teachers Who Have Made a Difference” award, which I received.

Is there any advice you would give to a beginning teacher?
Share the excitement that working with your subject matter brings to you. Communicate to your students that you are there to share tools that will bring them awareness of new ideas and enable them to achieve excellence.

What do you hope your students learn most from your class?

I want my students to increase their internal confidence, which will demonstrate to each of them that they have control over themselves and their lives. I want them to realize that it is their internal confidence that will lead to their success.

Share your reflections on your time at MSU and your students.
From the time I entered MSU as a student in 1959, supportive staff and leaders have enriched my life here. Dean Saunders, who had been my high school history teacher, worked to be sure I received a scholarship. Vic Venetozzi (68) encouraged me to add English as a second major and became my advisor. Dr. Lewis Barnes and Dr. Ruth Barnes insisted I apply to a Ph.D. in English program; Dr. Adron Doran supported me by granting me a 15-month sabbatical to complete my residency requirements. To this day, I treasure those on campus who carry on the traditions established by my mentors.

During my years here, many bright capable students have given me innumerable joys. When I learn of their later major contributions to society, I rejoice.

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