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More than an instructor

UW-L History professor honored, remembered at memorial service

By Lauren Seidl
On February 16, 2011

  • Friends and family gathered Sunday, Feb. 13 at Myrick-Hixon EcoPark to celebrate the life of UW-La Crosse Professor Don LaCoss, who passed away Jan. 31. Lars Roeder - The Racquet

Friends and family filled the Myrick-Hixon EcoPark on Feb. 13 to say goodbye to UW-La Crosse history Professor Donald LaCoss. Only standing room remained as loved ones paid tribute to a man described as intelligent, witty and genuinely caring.

Donald LaCoss, better known as Don, began his career at UW-L in 2001.  He taught a variety of History courses, including World History, the Holocaust, African Civilizations and the Middle East. Students who were fortunate to have Don as a professor appreciated his vast knowledge along with his easy-going temperament. Many felt comfortable discussing almost anything with Don without the worry that he'd judge them based on a lack of knowledge or a differing opinion.

"He was more than an instructor, and he made learning exciting and relevant to world events," said UW-L history major Darren Kinder, "Don taught me how to read, analyze and interpret historical information more effectively and efficiently.  He didn't just think outside the box—Don blew the box apart and rebuilt it with his own brilliance, wit and courage. I will remain forever grateful for his support and encouragement."

On a blog set up to remember Don, student Kelly Nussbaum wrote, "As my professor, he was the quick-witted man who introduced me to all of the bureaucracy in the professional history field. As an awesome person in general, he made me a tougher, more concise and more sarcastic historian, showing me you don't have to sell out to play the game. He was truly a shining light among academics and will forever remain one of my favorite professors and mentors at UW-L."

Not only was Don an admirable and well-liked professor, but he was also a loving partner and father. He was involved in his six-year-old son's elementary school and other parent/child groups around La Crosse. Snow angels were made during the memorial as a suggestion by his son's kindergarten teacher. Friends and family were also encouraged to make collages displaying their memories of and tributes to Don.

At the memorial Don's passions were displayed for loved-ones to see in the form of artwork and scholarly writing. Don wrote many pieces on surrealism and anarchism that have been published widely, and his visual art has been exhibited around the world.

Friends and colleagues spoke of Don's insightful observations on the world, witty sense of humor and never-ending curiosity. Those who came in contact with him felt like they were sincerely appreciated for who they were and truly listened to no matter what they had to say.

"We have to have rituals like this as part of letting go," UW-L English professor Darci Thoune said of the service, "Don would be blown away and amazed with how loved he is."

English Professor Virginia Crank, who helped organize the memorial service, said, "It was nice to see he meant so much to so many people. I feel sorry for all the students who won't get to have him as a professor."

UW-L students and colleagues were lucky to have been graced by the knowledge and friendship of Don. He taught students that it's good to have differing opinions and respectful debates. UW-L English Chair and Don's partner, Susan Crutchfield, said, "His students really are his legacy."

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