Barbara Mack’s classes on Friday, Aug. 24, were the most challenging ones her students endured in her 26 years teaching at the Greenlee School.
Students arrived to class on time, something Mack had instilled in them in just the first two days of the semester, and waited to see what would happen. The traditionally difficult courses, which were being taught by the woman known as a master of law and ethics, didn’t have any pop quizzes or agendas of any kind. Mack had passed away unexpectedly the day before and nobody was sure what to expect, sitting in the classes she’d taught just two days before.
“Her classes started eerily quiet,” said Katherine Marcheski, Greenlee junior who was taking both Mass Communication Law and Media Ethics. Mack’s classes were visited by Greenlee School administrators and grief counselors and turned into 50 minutes of storytelling and tears, Marcheski said.
Mack’s students, colleagues and friends from Iowa State gathered two weeks later at a memorial on Central Campus to commemorate the legacy that Mack left behind.
Stories of people’s experiences with Mack both in and out of the classroom painted a clear picture of a woman whose intelligence and wit bettered everyone around her. Speeches given by her colleagues and former students highlighting her rigorous grading, rambunctious demeanor and caring personality invoked laughter and tears from the audience.
“I was concerned that Barbara would have thought that she didn’t need a horse and pony show, but she would’ve appreciated the memorial,” said Nicole Paseka, Greenlee alumnus. “She would understand that people needed this to grieve.”
Many of her students like Paseka began their relationship with Mack fearing her. Paseka recalled being summoned to the front of her Introduction to Mass Media class to perform a demonstration on nonverbal communication. After that day she sat in the balcony to avoid more embarrassment.
Throughout her college career, Paseka got to know Mack better and in her senior year applied to be the editor-in-chief of the Iowa State Daily with Mack’s encouragement. When she went to give her proposal to become editor before the Daily’s editorial board, which Mack sat on for 13 years, Paseka realized that she was no longer the terrified freshman who sat in the balcony of MacKay Hall. With Mack’s guidance, she had become a much more self-confident person.
Recently, Paseka and Mack maintained their relationship, exchanging occasional emails and frequently meeting for coffee, lunch or brunch. Recently Paseka had asked Mack to help her pick out a wedding dress because she knew she could trust her word and that she’d help her make the best choice.
Marcheski and other current students didn’t have the same opportunity to get to know Mack, but her presence made immeasurable differences in their lives nonetheless. Before she signed up for her law and ethics courses, Marcheski had only encountered Mack in the English Usage Test course she offered. At a time when she didn’t know whether she’d pass the test and continue school as a journalism major, Mack’s teaching was a major reason that Marcheski is a member of the Greenlee School today.
“I signed up for her classes because I knew she was retiring,” Marcheski said. “Everyone told me to take it because she was the best.”
Though the classes now have different professors, Marcheski said that there is still some emptiness in the two she is taking and she knows it will never be filled. Despite the change of instructors, Marcheski still makes sure not to be late for her first two classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and to think before she speaks. She, like all of Mack’s students, will forever live by her example.