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UPDATE: Kent State Professor Emeritus Dies After Being Hit by Car

Memorial service for Dr. Gordon Vars tentatively set for March 10 at his beloved church.

Editor's note: This article was updated at 2:30 p.m.

A memorial service is tentatively set for March 10 for retired professor Dr. Gordon Vars, 88, who died late Tuesday night after being hit by a car near his Fairchild Avenue home.

The Summit County Medical Examiner’s Office and report that Vars was crossing Fairchild Avenue at the intersection of Woodard Avenue when he was struck by a westbound Volkswagon Beetle at 10 p.m. Tuesday.

The transported Vars to Akron City Hospital, where he died of his injuries at 11:32 p.m. An autopsy is scheduled for today.

Kent Police report that alcohol is not a suspected factor in the crash, which is still under investigation. The driver's name will be released upon completion of the investigation.

The Rev. Melissa Carvill-Ziemer of the said a memorial service is tentatively set for March 10 at the church, where Vars was “a very loyal and devoted member” since February 1967.

Carvill-Ziemer said she was with Vars’ widow, Alice, this morning as she gave a television interview.

“Alice was reviewing things about his life – and he was a really remarkable man,” Carvill-Ziemer said. “He was very active in his loves, but very careful about allocating his time. He was just finishing up the editing phase of his newest book; he was always defending the (Kent) bog. He loved birds, he loved people. He was just a wonderful man – very warm and friendly.”

Carvill-Ziemer said Vars’ dedication to the church was unwavering.

“I’ve been here six and a half years and can count on one hand the number of Sundays he hasn’t been at church. He was so faithful. He sat in the same seat every week. He was still stinging in the choir,” she said.

Vars taught Sunday school classes for UU middle-school age children for “many, many years. There are many people who still called him Dr. Vars because they remember growing up with him as their Sunday school teacher. He participated in so many activities, social events and adult education events.”

Carvill-Ziemer said the church will keep the community updated via its website and its Facebook page about the memorial service tentatively set for March 10.

Emily Vincent, director of media relations at Kent State, said Vars was an emeritus professor of teaching, leadership and curriculum studies.

According to the 2005 book “The Encyclopedia of Middle Grades Education,” Vars was co-founder and first president of the Midwest Middle School Association, precursor of the National Middle School Association.

“Gordon Vars has been a proponent of core curriculum since his first education course as an undergraduate at Antioch College,” the book stated. “His career has been devoted to teaching about and advocating for core curriculum – a person-centered, democratic approach to education.”

The book stated that Vars started at Kent State in 1966 as a professor of education in the Department of Teaching, Leadership and Curriculum Studies and as coordinator of the Middle School Division of the Kent State University School of Education.

In 1975, the book reported, he became coordinator of the Kent State Junior High/Middle School Staff Development Program, a field-based graduate concentration to assist current classroom-based educators to improve their middle school grades teaching practices. He remained in that position until his retirement in 1993.

Throughout his career, Vars authored numerous research papers and books on topics related to middle school education.

He was a very active member of Friends of the Kent Bog, a group "dedicated to the protection and preservation of the Tom S. Cooperrider Kent Bog State Nature Preserve for the education, enjoyment and inspiration of present and future generations."

* February 01, 2012 at 05:52 PM
This is so tragic. Do most people even look for pedestrians while driving? Are people behind the wheel aware that when the light is green for you to go straight and you are turning left or right onto another street, there could and should be assumed that there are pedestrians in that crosswalk as that is their designated time to cross? I was almost hit by two cars Monday evening. As I attempted to cross downtown on the designated walk signal across Main St., a man in a truck going south on Water St. and turning east on Main tried to "teach me a lesson". I'm in the middle of the intersection, defenseless, in the middle of the crosswalk when he sped toward me, hit his brakes then honked and pointed to the walk sign. Yes, the walk signal. WALK. And he still thought I was the one in the wrong as he barely missed me and sped off. People have NO IDEA the laws and seem to care more about getting to wherever it is they are zooming to than any other person out there. Kent, despite being a city with a bustling university, is one of the most unpedestrian friendly city I've lived in. Especially crossing in front of the police station. You run for your life.
Matt Fredmonsky February 01, 2012 at 06:50 PM
I'll never forget all the planning commission meetings I sat through with Dr. Vars about the apartment complex that was proposed across from the Kent Bog. He was relentless in making sure the plans wouldn't have a negative effect on the preserve. He will be missed.
David Badagnani February 01, 2012 at 06:53 PM
Exactly the same thing happened to me a few months ago at the intersection of Main and Water--the driver of the car saw me crossing, then swerved and sped right toward me at a frighteningly fast rate of speed, clearly to "teach me a lesson," forcing me to run for my life lest I be hit. I thought I was the only one--is this some kind of Kent or Ohio tradition?
David Badagnani February 01, 2012 at 06:54 PM
Gordon Vars was a true gentleman and scholar, a person of conscience and thoughtfulness, and always a pleasure to speak with.
demo rat February 01, 2012 at 06:58 PM
A wonderful man and a horrible loss for the Kent community - but let's wait for the police report before we use our words to attack the driver of the vehicle. It was dark, wet and the accident occurred at the top of a hill - there is a lot we don't yet know. My sympathies to all involved.
Chris Mallin February 01, 2012 at 08:31 PM
Dr. Vars never stopped giving his time and energy to the community. Only six weeks ago he gave a presentation on the status, needs, and future plans for the Kent Bog State Nature Preserve, to the Kent Environmental Council winter planning meeting. He made a point that someone younger would be welcome to guide the future of the Nature Preserve.
Dan Smith February 01, 2012 at 08:47 PM
Dr. Vars was a genuine pleasure to talk to and work with. My thoughts and prayers go out to family and friends...he will be missed.
Chris Carman February 01, 2012 at 10:47 PM
This is a terrible tragedy for so many reasons. Gordon Vars was always willing to come in to my Environmental Science classes at Roosevelt High School to tell them about the Kent Bog and its importance in our local geology and environment. Just this summer, I was able to recruit a handful of current and former students to clear off part of the bog walkway at Gordon's request because he made the bog meaningful to us. He was a good and honorable man and deserved a more fitting and peaceful end than this.
Scott Carson February 01, 2012 at 10:55 PM
Gordon Vars was my teacher for the eighth grade way back in 1971-1972. He was one of the best and most formative teachers I have ever had. To this day I can remember the lessons that he built around practical principles guided by theory. In our mathematics class, for example, we applied what we were learning about number theory by planning and building architectural models. His lectures on world history were made more vibrant and fascinating by his first-hand accounts of his service during World War II. And even though I am no great speller, I still remember his four-part instructions on how to form correct plurals and possessives of nouns (he said of his mnemonic device, "It's as easy as one, two, three, four!"). It is largely due to his influence that I went on to become a professor myself, and I deeply regret his passing, even while rejoicing in the marvelous impact he had on so many young people over the years.
Lesley Pownall Bahr February 02, 2012 at 02:08 AM
There are people who bring us full circle in life. Dr. Vars was such a person in my life. He was my teacher at (Kent State) University School from 1972-1976. He co-taught us "E.S.S.G." (English, Social Studies and Guidance.) By example, he taught us to be unafraid, to be curious, and to enjoy what we did for the intrinsic joy which learning brings to us individually and collectively. My earliest and first experiences of wilderness were because of Dr. Vars. Who else would take a group of seventh and eighth graders wilderness camping with such enthusiasm? He was a trailblazer when it came to teaching 6th graders sex education--so that we were informed about the changes taking place in our bodies before and during those changes. No big surprises, Dr. Vars' well measured presence grounded us. He shared with us his love of ham radios which came from his service in WWII. He gave us a window into a larger story, by the doing and sharing of activities. No doubt he saw the worst at a very young age and he wanted to affirn what was best in life---communication, love of nature, and engagement in life. When Dr. Vars met his future wife, Alice, he glowed. He told us he had met someone very special. We understood with few words, that true love was possible, no matter what the age. We are so grateful for his gifts, and he will be sorely missed by so many. We send our deepest condolences to Alice and all the family. Lesley A. Pownall Bahr
Laurie Wunderle Knuth February 02, 2012 at 02:50 AM
I echo Scott's comments. Dr. Vars was my 6th and 8th grade teacher,1969-71, at KSUS. He was a gentle giant amongst educators. Dr. Vars used innovative ideas to teach us and provided us opportunities to grow as human beings. The middle years, a time to find purpose in our lives. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The nation was in turmoil over a war that made no sense. It was Monday, May 4th, I was 12. Dr. Vars escorted the Middle School students to the gym, we were in lockdown and we were terrified. We were not allowed to go home, there was gunfire, we heard about snipers on our roof. Kent was at war. Dr. Vars helped us get through that terrifying time with his calm demeanor. School closed May 4th, violence was everywhere. Summer started early. Kids cheered, But our streets had tanks, soldiers, helicopters, search lights, curfews and chaos. I was 12, school was out for the summer. So we thought, we were forced to finish our education in JULY. We didn't want to go back. Our teachers helped us process the nightmare by providing us opportunities to write and speak about the foreign sites we experienced. Dr. Vars was my hero, he was a great educator, and gentle...man. Because of his leadership, I was a teacher for 11 years and am currently a counselor at Stanton Middle School in Kent. I love my job, I loved what he taught me about the developing mind of a middle school child. God bless! Oh, and I used soapbox spelling for years,kids loved it! He invented it.
Sally Burnell February 02, 2012 at 01:54 PM
Gordon was a gentleman in every sense of the word. I admired his fierce environmental advocacy, in particular, on behalf of the bog. He would come to our "Where's Walden" outings at the UU Church and lead us on nature walks, pointing out things we might not otherwise have seen had he not shown us. I will deeply miss him and I wonder if his name might somehow be attached to the bog he loved so much for his many years of advocacy on behalf of it. That would be a lasting tribute to his years of work to preserve it from the ravages of development and his founding of the Friends of the Kent Bog. Now who will be its advocate, its voice, its protector and who will lead the Friends group now that he's gone? Can we find some way to attach his name to the bog to pay tribute to his years of work on its behalf? Perhaps the walkway can be called the "Gordon Vars Memorial Path" because he wrote the seasonal pamphlets of sights one should see along the way on the path. Can we do that? Please, it's only fitting.
* February 02, 2012 at 03:38 PM
Great idea!
Sally Burnell February 02, 2012 at 04:03 PM
I wrote to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources asking that the path in the bog be named the "Gordon Vars Memorial Walkway" to honor his tireless advocacy on behalf of the bog. Here is their hopeful sounding response from someone named Dee Hammel at the ODNR: Sally, Thank you for your email. We learned about Dr. Gordon Vars accident yesterday and were saddened by the news. We are in discussions on how to make some type of memorial to him so we appreciate your suggestion. We will work towards making something happen in this regard. Thanks again for your suggestion! Dee
Sally Burnell February 02, 2012 at 04:36 PM
Well, Chris, I am leading the charge to have ODNR name the walkway at the bog in his honor for his years and years of tireless advocacy on its behalf. Tom Cooperrider is a very close family friend whose kids I grew up playing with, so to have the bog bear the name not only of its discoverer, Dr. Tom Cooperrider, but the name of its staunchest advocate, Dr. Gordon Vars, would be a fitting way to honor him for all time so that future generations may remember that it was he who led the charge when encroaching development threatened the place he loved so very much and fought so terribly hard to preserve. His launching of the Friends of the Kent Bog group I am quite sure was instrumental in staving off developers whose encroachment would have threatened the fragile ecosystem there. God bless such a wonderful man whose impact on our community has been so profound that the bog deserves to bear his name in addition to that of Dr. Cooperrider.
Matt Bowes February 02, 2012 at 05:39 PM
I think it's important not to jump to conclusions. If Dr. Vars was crossing Fairchild, and the car was heading West, then the car was likely not turning (although I don't know that for a fact.) Despite the many improvements being made in Kent, many of the streets are still terrifyingly dark after sunset, which is a sad state of affairs in such a walkable city.
* February 02, 2012 at 08:06 PM
I'm not jumping to conclusions. I make no assumptions/conclusions about the driver who struck Dr. Vars. Kent is harsh to walk through, and if there is snow, it's worse. It is a fact. I traverse several miles daily, on foot, through Kent. I encounter angry people incensed that they have to take precious moments out of their life to yield to a pedestrian be the person on a sidewalk, crosswalk, or anywhere else. And to make it even more interesting, as I walk I look at those driving to see how many are on their cell phones. The amount of people who aren't looking at the road but are glued to their "smart phones" is purely asinine.
Michael February 02, 2012 at 11:21 PM
I was a student at the Kent State University grade school during the 1970s. Dr. Vars was my health education (read sex education) teacher when I was in the 6th grade, probably about 1974 or 1975. The class was coed, so you can imagine the giggles and nervousness exhibited by all the students. Dr. Vars, on the other hand, was both a calming and reassuring figure during this particularly uncomfortable time. I can remember him like it was yesterday. What a tragic end for him - may he rest in peace.
* February 03, 2012 at 03:04 PM
Thank you for getting the ball rolling. This is fantastic. Thank you!
Pamela Groomes February 03, 2012 at 04:18 PM
I am saddened to learn about the death of Gordon Vars. He was my social studies teacher during the1960s at the Kent State University School. I had reconnected with him several years ago when visiting the Kent Bog and had no idea of his involvment. I learned about his connection by reading the pamphlets he had written about the plants, nature walks, and rules and regulations of the bog on the back of recycled paper. I called him from the bog and asked if he remembered me...he didn't. I went on to explain to him that I was his student 40 some years ago and that my grandparents, Harry and Olive Stark, owned the farm where the bog was located. He was surprised to hear my story. I was leaving the next day to go back to Florida but he had time to meet with me that day and we had a great chat. Gordon and I became reacquainted and I felt a great appreciation for him once again. I am an advocate of the Kent Bog, not only because of my family, but also out of my concern for the importanance of this precious ecosystem and its protection. I knew that I could always count on Gordon to be a mighty advocate for the bog. He was dedicated and tireless with his work and commitment. He mentioned to me several times that younger blood was needed to carry on the work. I only wish I were back in Kent to carry on, maybe someday I can return to help. I agree that the walkway should be named in honor of Gordon Vars. God rest his soul, he will be greatly missed. Pamela Groomes, Palm City Florida
Tarpet February 04, 2012 at 10:16 PM
My dear friend was the driver of the car that hit Gordan Vars. He stepped out in front of her car. She never saw him at all. She is the kind of person who will scoop up a spider in a paper and put it outside rather than kil it. She, like Gordan Vars, is very involved in her church & was a church secretary for years. She is so distraught about this that her family has not left her alone since it happened. Everyone who knows her is broken hearted for her. She is the best & kindest person I have ever met and it pains me for people to think that she might be a careless, angry or distracted driver. Her heart is breaking for his friends and family.
Kasha Legeza February 04, 2012 at 11:41 PM
Thank you for sharing this perspective, Tarpet. What a tragedy for everyone involved ...
GChung June 13, 2012 at 08:54 AM
Well, that was serious loss to all.
Michael L. Hays January 25, 2014 at 05:23 PM
I came late to this news of Dr. Vars's death out of curiosity at a very late date about his career. I bear no ill will to the man or his memory, but my experience with him was very different from the experiences reported on this blog. In the summer of 1962, when I was the first enrollee in a Ford Foundation program in secondary education, Dr. Vars was my assigned director in Cornell University's School of Education. For reasons, if any, unknown to me, Dr. Vars disliked me from the moment when I first walked into his office. I was the first student teacher at a remote site which had not wanted to participate in the program. Dr. Vars tried to sabotage my experience there. The Dean intervened, had me re-assigned to another remote site, and made Dr Vars promise to give me the grades which my supervisors there gave me. When they gave me 95s, he reduced them to 85s. When I asked him about his reasons and his promise to the Dean, he said that he gave the grades and did not care about his promise to the Dean in this matter. When he threatened to fail me after my oral exam, the other two professors, who regarded my performance as entirely satisfactory, threatened to go to the Dean to report his intention as entirely unwarranted if he carried it out; he did not. In the following spring of 1963, the department faculty elected me to membership in Phi Delta Kappa; I believed even then that, in honoring me, it was sending a message to Dr. Vars, not then a member. I completed my work in early 1964 and received my degree later in the year, after I had entered the Army. Years later, on a return visit to Cornell, I learned that Dr. Vars had left Cornell in 1966. I suspect, but do not know, that he was denied tenure. I am pleased that he has proved a better teacher for so many for so long at Kent State and prefer to think that his behavior toward me was anomalous.

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