Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
March 30, 2009
University honours ardent educator Ralph Himsl
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
LETHBRIDGE — A passionate educational leader and mentor, Ralph Himsl is known for having spearheaded several initiatives that have enriched education in Alberta.
In recognition of his accomplishments, the University of Lethbridge Senate has selected him as a recipient of one of its honorary degrees for 2009.
Himsl, 80, will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree May 28.
“I feel quite good about it,” the WCR columnist said from his Lethbridge home March 23. “It’s a surprise and it does make me happy.”
The surprise comes from the fact Himsl hasn’t been officially active in education since he retired as superintendent of the Lethbridge Catholic School District in 1993. However, he spent 44 years in education and left a legacy.
Over the years Himsl developed several educational approaches that his peers say have gone a long way to improve the quality of education in Lethbridge and Alberta. He is credited with spearheading Blueprints, a conference for Catholic administrators, and Spice, a conference for teachers.
In the mid-1980s he served on the Committee on Tolerance and Understanding set up by the province following the Jim Keegstra affair.
In the years prior to his retirement he introduced a program called skills of intelligence, which is based on the belief that intelligence is a behaviour that can be taught and learned.
Schools, Himsl said in 1993, should be builders of hope, places where children are given skills to become life-long learners. They should be encouraged not so much to memorize concepts but to ask questions.
“Asking questions keep them curious because they keep making discoveries.”
Terry Fortin, former superintendent of Edmonton Catholic Schools, who now serves as an aboriginal education consultant, said Himsl was his mentor when he was a high school principal in Lethbridge from 1981 to 1987.
TRUE EDUCATIONAL LEADER
“This is very well deserved,” he said of the honorary degree. “It really honours a true educational leader.”
Fortin was one of several people from across Alberta who wrote letters to the Lethbridge University Senate recommending Himsl for the doctor of laws degree. He and Himsl and other educational leaders still meet regularly four times a year to discuss education issues.
“He inspires other people around him,” Fortin said. “He is a renaissance man, truly interested in teaching and learning. He truly loves the process of learning. One question leads to another question and he is so respectful of people and their ideas. He listens with an open, welcoming mind.”
Chris Spearman, the trustee who formally nominated Himsl for the degree on behalf of the Lethbridge-based Holy Spirit School division, describes Himsl as an “outstanding superintendent” for more than 20 years. “He was a leader in Catholic education (who) started the Blueprint process where Catholic educators get together for a week to do reflections on Catholic education.”
Spearman described Himsl as a “very friendly, gentle and humble man” who did himself what he asked others to do.
“He was kind of like a philosopher, sort of implementing these ideas like the thinking skills concept.”
In an interview Himsl marvelled at the impact computers have had on the classroom, saying they have affected pedagogy in a good way. “Students now have information at their fingertips. It’s a big benefit.”
Nowadays Himsl, a father of eight with 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, spends a good part of his time caring for his wife Joyce who has taken sick.
Born north of Moose Jaw, Sask., Himsl taught high school for several years in Saskatchewan before becoming an administrator.
In 1959 he became superintendent of Catholic schools in Moose Jaw. Two years later he became superintendent in Prince Albert. In 1968, Himsl left school administration to do research in adult education for the federal government in Prince Albert. In 1973, he returned to the school scene as superintendent for Lethbridge Catholic. He served until 1993.