For Lanny Grigsby, associate professor of mathematics, it's always been about numbers. This academic year Lanny hits a significant one: 50 years as a professor at BVU (54 if you count the four years he spent as a student). There will be a special recognition dinner at this year's Homecoming in his honor.
During his tenure Lanny has taught every math class (foundations, algebra, trigonometry, and calculus to numerical analysis, and mathematica), and some slightly outside his field (mechanics in physics, basic programming and theory of baseball). He's even taught bowling, ping-pong, and racquetball when BVU required physical education classes. He has impacted countless students, some who he now calls colleagues.
"Professor Lanny Grigsby was my mentor my first year at BVU and has remained so ever since," says Timothy McDaniel, BVU assistant professor of mathematics. "The scope and depth of his dedication to the university -- not just the mathematics program and majors, but also to the institution as a whole and all students -- is nothing short of amazing. He has a curiosity and desire to learn about things, including mathematics, that remains strong and insatiable."
"Professor Grigsby always pushed his students to do well in and outside the classroom," says Ashlee Johnson SL'09. "I learned a lot from him in terms of calculus, probability, and statistics but also in other aspects of life. I could tell he was passionate about what he was teaching and that encouraged me to try harder when I easily could have just given up. It's professors like him who helped instill a good work ethic that I will use for many years to come."
A native of Aurelia, Lanny, along with his brothers Marlan and Charles, was the first in the family go to college. Lanny was an exceptional athlete and one of the best in the region, playing baseball, basketball and football. Recruited by several colleges, including Morningside and Westmar, he settled on BVU after being visited by BVU football coach Dean Laun. While there were offers following college to play baseball at the next level, the mathematician in him did the calculations.
"I realized my odds of making it to the big leagues were slim," he recalls. "And I loved mathematics. Getting the chance to do it every day for my job was appealing."
His love for math outweighed his love of sports by a few percentage points. In 1960 he received his diploma and BVU teaching contract on the same day.
Math has always come easy for him.
"I love puzzle-solving. When I was three or four-years-old, I would play dominos with my grandmother, which was great at teaching numbers. We'd also play Chinese checkers, which introduced me to patterns."
He credits his high school math teacher Gordon Fett SL'49 with getting him interested in mathematics.
"He was very good," recalls Lanny. "He was so good that I learned all the algebra and trig you could ever learn. Because of him I never needed to open my college math textbooks."
When Lanny sets his mind to something, his success rate is nearly 100%.
At Buena Vista he played baseball (earning four letters), football (earning four letters) and basketball (earning two letters). He was inducted into the BVU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1971.
His Beavers coaching career has spanned three decades and included being assistant coach of football (1961-1990), baseball (1962-1994, head coach from 1991-1994) and basketball (1972- 1980), winning a handful of conference titles.
He was a high school basketball and football official from 1963-2005. In 2005 he was presented with the Iowa High School Athletic Association and National Federation of Officials Association "Football Official of the Year" award. That same year he was inducted into the state official's hall of fame.
He's seen BVU go through many changes over the years, including having class in Old Main for two weeks before it burned to the ground. He also recalls some slightly interesting exams; ones you most certainly didn't want to fail.
"Freshmen had to know the fight song and sing it if asked," he recalls. "If not you would be dunked in the water tank or thrown in the lake." He can still sing the fight song, if prompted. Even after 50 years he still gets excited with each incoming class. He passionately recalls recently grading the papers of three different students.
"Each one had a different way of finding the answer and each one was right," he says. "A couple of ways I hadn't even thought about. That's when I really enjoy it. I enjoy their energy and enthusiasm and learning alongside them even after all these years."
He always has high expectations for his students, while always offering help.
"Lanny is a true gentleman, and a professional who always has the best interests of his students foremost in his mind," says Benjamin Donath, associate professor of mathematics, who has taught alongside Lanny for 32 years. "I regularly see him go far beyond what would normally be expected in order to help students. He is a thorough teacher who challenges his students to be the best they can be."
"Professor Grigsby challenged me to think in new ways, to go above and beyond in order to excel," says Gail Hartsock SL'09, who is beginning her studies in the mathematics Ph.D. program at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. "He often encouraged me to consider graduate school, which I ultimately chose as my path after BV. His support and high standards helped me to become a more successful student."
Regarding his future, Lanny puts his chances of teaching past this year at 50-50.
"You gotta love college," says Lanny. "How can you beat it?"
Five decades later, he's come to the conclusion you can't.
* The Lanny Grigsby 50th Year at BVU Recognition Dinner Saturday, October 11, begins at 6:45 p.m. in Dows Conference Center. The event is open to the public; tickets are $15. RSVP to Diann Pedersen, Alumni Relations, 712-749-2101.