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Retired Fallon professor Doris Dwyer praised for her love of teaching, community service

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FALLON — For more than three decades, retired Western Nevada College Fallon educator Doris Dwyer touched the lives of hundreds of students, either through her teaching of various history courses or her performances in Chautauqua, living history presented on the stage to newer generations of inquisitive minds.

Since the Cincinnati, Ohio native arrived in Fallon 35 years ago, she wholeheartedly embraced the western way of life. She quickly assimilated into the daily life of a small, agricultural city on the edge of the 40-mile trail. She earned her Doctorate in History from Miami University of Ohio after completing her master’s and undergraduate degrees at Eastern Kentucky University.

The regents’ highest award

Dwyer’s devotion to her teaching and her students, who loved the various communities in the western Nevada landscape and community service, received recognition from numerous individuals and institutions.

The Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents is recognizing Dwyer, who retired almost nine years ago, with their highest award. She was selected earlier this month as a Distinguished Nevadan and will be recognized at the University of Nevada, Reno’s commencement exercises in mid-May. Dwyer, who taught history classes and the complete sequence of core humanities courses, said she was humbled to learn about the award and nomination by Jeffery Downs, a regent elected in 2022 and former WNC colleague.

At the Regents’ first quarterly meeting of the year in March, Dwyer said a friend was watching the livestream of the meeting and witnessed the approval of the Distinguished Nevadan awards.

“He (Downs) called me in December, and I was in Kentucky on Christmas vacation,” Dwyer recalled. “He said he needed some information from me, so I sent him the information. He didn’t explain the procedure to me.”
Dwyer said Downs emphasized the need for her information based on public service.

The pioneer woman

“So, I did talk about my teaching a little bit because I did rural outreach and Chautauqua … something I focused on for 27 years beginning in 1994,” she pointed out. “I received a call from Nevada Humanities that sponsored it, and they asked me to do a pioneer woman and immigrant woman. I could choose the woman I wanted. I did several characters altogether.”

As a historical figure in the programs, Dwyer performed in the Great Basin (now Nevada Humanities) Chautauqua program and performed in at least 10 states. One of her favorite stops was in Greeley, Colorado, at their Chautauqua festival.

Among her character portrayals were Sarah Royce, a pioneer woman from the California Gold Rush of the late 1840s who became a writer, teacher and pioneer; Margaret Sanger, a pioneer in women’s rights; and Margaret Breen, a Donner Party survivor. Dwyer created the Breen character for the 150th anniversary of the parks’ commemoration west of Truckee, Calif., in 1996. The Donner Party encountered one of the harshest winters of its time when crossing what modern-day travelers know as the Donner Pass.

“On Oct. 31 (1846), they tried to cross the summit,” Dwyer said of the group. “They got within two miles of the pass and had to turn around. If they had gotten there earlier, though, they would have made it through.”
Dwyer had said in a previous newspaper article that Breen was a strong woman with an incredible devotion to her family. The Breens had joined the Donner Party midway through their journey.

“As a member of the Nevada Humanities Council’s Speaker on the Road program, she provided humanities programming in numerous Nevada venues, in large centers such as Reno, Las Vegas, Carson City and Elko as well as more remote locations,” Downs said. “In connection with her Chautauqua experiences, she has offered numerous workshops in Nevada museums and elsewhere to train young students in the art of Chautauqua.”

Dwyer’s teaching also showed that same passion.

Harry “Bus” Scharmann worked with Dwyer when he was dean of the Fallon campus before retiring in 2011.

“She is so deserving,” Scharmann said of her honor. “She is one of the best professors I have met. She was great.”

Scharmann said she brought quality to the WNC campus and the history department.

“She participated in everything we asked her to teach in other areas, and she would do it.

Dwyer was just as passionate about her college as she was about portraying pioneer women. One of the committees on which she participated was the Restore Our College Campus Committee (ROCCC). The committee comprised community members and WNC staff, and the group looked at ways to restore programs to the campus after the college incurred class and instructor cuts.

Scharmann said the ROCCC sought solutions to help restore the Fallon campus as a vibrant, contributing member of Churchill County.

Reinventing herself

In addition to taking classes at WNC’s main campus, she traveled to surrounding communities.

“It was so much fun to go out to Fernley, Yerington, Hawthorne and Lovelock to teach there,” she said. “They were very good students and very reliable. I learned a lot about the state from those students and from.”

Dwyer also noted the six years she was on the humanities committee.
Over time, though, the personal visits to the other communities diminished with web classes. She said something is lost with that personal touch. Eventually, students had to show more discipline to receive their instruction via a computer. That ability for Dwyer to re-adjust with her students kept her instruction just as meaningful and relevant even with the passing years.

“With the advent of interactive video classes, she embraced this technology to facilitate the completion of course requirements for outlying rural students, in addition to her core student base on the Fallon campus,” Downs said.

Dwyer didn’t allow age to become a barrier. She continually re-invented her approach to teaching. She said interests change over time, as do the classes students take.

“When I came to WNC in 1981, I was 31 years old, and the average age of my classes was 32,” she mused. “As the years went by, that age gap widened.”

Dwyer praised the students who have attended and are attending WNC. She said many “wonderful” students took classes on the Fallon campus; year after year, most chose to participate in graduation and be recognized. Many continued their education at a four-year university.
Likewise, the WNC campus aided Dwyer’s growth as a person and educator. Downs said Dwyer’s educational expertise has been recognized numerous times during her 35-year career.

“She was five times voted outstanding teaching faculty member by the Fallon campus students and received the WNC Outstanding Faculty Member by her peers,” Downs said.

From 1994 to 1999 and 2011 to 2023, Dwyer served on the Nevada Board of Museums and History and is a previous recipient of the Governor’s Humanities Award and the Nevada Regents Teaching Award. Other public service boards included the Nevada Humanities Committee, the University of Nevada Press Board, the Nevada Historical Society Quarterly Editorial Board, the Advisory Board of Historic Preservation, and the evaluator for the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
Nationally, Dwyer served on the U.S. Department of Education Organization of American Historians Community College Committee and the Organization of American Historians executive board.

Steve Ranson
Steve Ranson
Steve Ranson is Editor Emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News.

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