Longtime BHSU professor, philanthropist retires

Dr. James Hess was honored Friday by friends, students and colleagues. Hess is retiring after 38 years teaching at Black Hills State University. Pioneer photo by Alex Portal

Click to purchase this photo

SPEARFISH — After nearly 40 years of heading up the psychology program at Black Hills State University, Dr. James Hess was praised Friday during a retirement celebration in honor.

“Jim, it is really our honor to honor you here today because you are such a legacy here at Black Hills State,” said Dr. Laurie Nichols, president of BHSU during the luncheon celebration.  

Hess received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Oklahoma State University in 1973, his master’s degree in counseling from Oklahoma State in 1975, and his doctorate in counseling psychology from Oklahoma State in 1978. In 1981 Hess moved his private counseling practice to Spearfish. Hess began teaching at BHSU in 1983, at that time, the university didn’t offer any psychology majors which meant Hess was the only faculty member in the department.

“Jim was solely responsible for getting the psychology major approved through the Board of Regents, and after that he was instrumental in growing the faculty from just himself … to four faculty within 10 years,” Nichols said.

Today, BH offers several psychology majors, and the department has expanded to include six full-time members, as well as several part-time and adjunct members.

During his time as a professor, Hess spearheaded several initiatives which enhanced the department’s curriculum including an internship program and the nitration of undergraduate research into the program.

“(That’s) something that we really see as kind of a gold star for our academic programs today,” Nichols said.

Hess was officially named the chairman of the department in 2007, and in 2011 he became the chairman of the School of Behavioral Sciences. In that same year, Hess was awarded the BHSU 2011-2012 Distinguished Faculty Award. In 2014, he received the Difference Maker Award and established the BSHU Make a Difference Initiative by committing a $1 million endowment, which provides scholarship opportunities for students at the school of behavioral sciences and encourages them to create sustainable projects that highlight change and betterment for the community.

Throughout his years living and teaching in Spearfish, Hess has been a community advocate as a business owner, offering his expertise to local non-profit social work groups, and serving as an expert witness in local legal cases.

Along with many heart-felt accolades from friends and colleagues, Hess received the gift of a modern day buffalo blanket from Jace DeCory, retired professor of American Indian Studies at BHSU.

“Blankets are given to native people typically and he’s native in heart; he’s from Oklahoma he has to be part native,” she said with a laugh. “So we’re giving that to him for his leadership.”

He was also immortalized on campus by having a class room in Jonas Hall named after him. Dr. Cheryl Anagnopoulos, a fellow psychology professor at BHSU, said Jonas 302, will now be known as the Dr. James Hess Classroom. Anagnopoulos read from a plaque, which will hang, adjacent to the room, containing an excerpt from Hess’s speech from when he was awarded the Distinguished Faculty Award.

“Here is your charge: go out and find happiness on a daily basis by making a difference in the lives of others and when someone asks you how you could possibly be so happy in such a difficult world, with all its problems, teach them your secret, teach them to make a difference,” she read. “So Jim, I hope you can see from the celebration and by the people who gathered here that you made a difference.”

Hess said he’s enjoyed a very fulfilling career at BHSU, although it was never something he thought he’d get into.

“I’ve enjoyed the last 38 years, from the time when I was probably the youngest faculty member on campus to about a dozen years now I’ve been one of the oldest ones,” he said. “The day I got my doctorate if you’d have asked me if I’d ever be a college professor, I’d have laughed and said, ‘no, it’ll never happen.’”

Hess said his decision to retire had nothing to do with his recent cancer diagnosis, but from the signaling of the passage of time.

“People coming up to me – student’s and saying, ‘my mother or my father said to say hello.’ I was terrified someday they’d say, ‘my grandmother said to say hello,’” he explained with a laugh.

Hess said he was touched by the showing of appreciation during the ceremony, and although he will miss the relationships and the rewards of making a difference in the lives of his student, there are somethings to look forward to in the next stage of his life.

“My entire adult life has been built on schedules, either teaching or clients or those kinds of things. I’m looking forward to getting up in the morning and thinking, ‘well what the hell am I gonna do today,’ he said. “I thank you more than you know, I’m very touched. Thank you”

To read all of today's stories, Click here or call 642-2761 to subscribe to our e-edition or home delivery.


(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.