By Shedeiky Hamilton
The Ending of an Era
By: Shedeiky Hamilton
Over 43 years ago, Joel Feimer accepted a job as a professor at Mercy College, teaching Medieval Literature from the 12th to the 15th centuries. And with 43 years comes dozens of colleagues, thousands of students and millions of memories.
This will be his last full semester at Mercy.
“I will be retiring,” added Feimer. “It’s been a great ride.”
The co-author of the English 109 custom made text book, Tales of Wonder From Around the World, will embrace his retiring years by saying his goodbyes to Mercy College.
“For 43 years people have paid me to do what I love – reading, writing and travelling. Being paid to do the thing you love, my goodness, what a gift!” added Feimer.
A native of Harlem, Feimer moved to Peekskill where he started his first job working with his grandfather and father, in the family’s automobile business.
“I started working in the garage at nine years old doing what kids could do, like pumping gas, checking oils, and learning to fix automobiles,” said Feimer.
This leisure translated into a scholarship of reading and writing that Feimer became engaged in. He used his passion for vehicles and transferred it into his love of precision.
“You have to be precise when putting an engine together or it won’t work, likewise, you have to put an essay together in a way that people will understand,” said Feimer. “They are both logical and precise, and demand a very logical approach.”
It was this approach that steered Feimer to enroll in Manhattan College in 1965 to earn his bachelor’s in English Literature and later in 1967 his master’s at Stony Brook.
After graduation, a close friend of Feimer told him about an English position at Mercy College and urged him to apply. That he did, and that same year, he accepted his new role.
“I had no formal training as a teacher; I taught myself on the job,” he added. “I was thrilled to be at Mercy because I was employed full time and the students were so eager to learn.”
Mercy College was run by the Sisters of Mercy and Feimer’s first boss, Joannes Christie, was one of the sisters.
In 1971, Feimer enrolled at the City University of New York to earn his PhD. It took him 12 years to finish, and in 1983 Feimer completed his doctorate in Comparative Literature.
During this time, he was still a professor at Mercy, taking his students to different sites related to the Middle Ages.
“My favorite places to live are in the Middle Ages because of the color,” Feimer adds.
Feimer also enjoys going to the Cloisters, which is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum that is devoted to the architecture and art of Medieval Europe.
“The Cloisters is a complex made up of medieval buildings that were dismantled and broken up in Europe, numbered, and then brought here in America, where they put them back together like a puzzle,” Feimer said.
Although he has somewhat perfected the art of teaching about the medieval age to undergraduates, Feimer now teaches two sections of Medieval Literature to graduate students. He also teaches two Junior Seminar courses, research writers for the McNair Scholarship program and the Bible as Literature online.
Feimer believes that the English Department has gone through a number of changes since 1967. At first, Speech, Literature and Journalism were in the same division. However, it is now the School of Liberal Arts, embracing Mathematics, History, Media Studies, among many other majors.
According to Feimer, there have also been changes to the types of students enrolled at Mercy. Students now are more diverse, although each generation has its own challenges and rewards.
“In the many years that I have been here, I have also seen different changes and two full generations of students. How about that?” said Feimer. “And every year, the students have different joys and fun.”
Feimer has also made a lot of faculty friends, but most of them have retired.
“I’m likely the oldest,” joked Feimer. “The last man standing.”
Teaching has given him the opportunity to grow in the subject that he loves, learning more as he goes along, while being able to share that with his students. Some of these students, he explained, weren’t easy to work with, but seeing them change was a blessing and a reward for Feimer.
“One of the true pleasures of this profession is to be able to turn a student around, which is one of the greatest gifts that a student can give to me,” Feimer added.
During his tenure at Mercy, Feimer has had some major achievements which contributed to the school population and the college community on a whole. Among his accolades is the establishment of the Master’s English program, now in its eleventh year. He has been an integral part of the Mc Nair’s Scholar Program and the Honors Program for over 20 years.
Feimer also wrote the English 109 text book Tales of Wonder from Many Lands with Dr. Howard Canaan, also an English professor.
He has written a collection of stories and essays designed to help people learning to write compositions. This collection includes scholarly essays that can be found in various books and journals.
In order to be effective in teaching all these historical classes, Feimer has to travel to numerous places to experience the culture and history of the places that he teaches about. His travels have taken him to England, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Russia, to relive the stories told of the medieval ages.
To add to his list of places traveled, Feimer will take a short trip to a conference on Medieval Studies in Sarasota, Florida. There he will be reading an essay on Shakespeare adaption of one of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the Knights Tale.
This professor’s dream is to one day go back to the stage, where he can use his acting skills to relate information to people while sharing his sense of humor. However, he believes that teaching is a combination of both writing and acting.
“I feel like I have been doing my dream job for years because teaching combines both in many ways. However, I wish to go back on the stage someday,” he added.
This self-described “shy” professor has been married a number of times and has five children He shares five grandchildren and is ready to become a grandfather again as his son is expecting a child.
“Grandchildren are the source of the greatest joy for me,” Feimer adds.
Feimer would not change anything about his life because he believes that life has its sadness and happiness. He is happy with who he is, and believes that he is the sum total of his experiences, If he changed anything, he wouldn’t be himself.
“I am a happy person,” he added. “Happy with what I’ve done and what I plan to do.”
As Feimer closes the last chapter in a book he started over 43 years ago, he shares all his sentiments of achievements with his students and hopes that one day he will be able to write books with stories that people would love to read.
“My students are my legacy. I have taught tens of thousands of students, whom I have helped over the years. It will be hard to leave them behind, but I believe that I have contributed a whole lot of talent to society.”