The year is 1985 and everything is going as well as it can for Professor Herbert Zettl. He’s happily married with four healthy children, he’s the first ever women’s soccer coach at Springfield College (1980-1997) and he is an established and well-respected history professor with 15 years of teaching experience and five years as the department chair (1972-1977).
While everything seemed to be going well on the outside, internally Zettl had been experiencing some health concerns.
“When I was in my early 40’s I didn’t hear as well as I normally did and sometimes, when I turned my head really quickly, I got a little dizzy. That went on for quite some time. I didn’t think much of it,” Zettl explained.
Despite some changes in his health, Zettl continued on with his life, continuing to pay little attention to these insignificant health concerns. He continued to coach the women’s soccer team to numerous victories, and continued to teach his students with his trademark passion and charisma.
Eventually his wife Rhoda, who he met while at graduate school in the University of Vermont, decided that she had enough of Zettl putting off his health concerns and convinced him to go see a doctor, but nothing in the world could prepare Zettl for the news that he was about to receive.
“My wife noticed it more than I did, so I went to the doctor and after some treatment, they diagnosed it as a [brain] tumor,” Zettl recalls. “Wow, I was 44, [I had] four children, you know, prime of my life so to speak. I was at Springfield [College] for 15 years, and I just started to coach the women’s soccer team and then you’re hit with a big medical diagnosis.”
Zettl’s world as he knew it was rapidly changing. While in the process of removing the tumor, the doctors who were performing the surgery accidentally severed a facial nerve, causing severe paralysis on the right side of his face. Zettl recalls this as being a common possibility with the kind of procedure that he received, but he thought nothing of it at the time.
Distraught at first as anyone would be, Zettl didn’t understand why he was the one that this happened to. On top of that, there was his career to think about and whether or not he could continue teaching as he always loved doing.
“Some people suggested to take an early retirement, but I was not about to do that,” Zettl said. “You just say it could be worse. You think about [how] there are always some who have it worse. [Some] that are struggling more than you.”
Zettl’s determined attitude propelled him back to the top of his career, where he has stayed at Springfield College for 27 years. Although there are some lingering effects from his treatment, such as loss of hearing on his right side and some blurred vision, Zettl continues to be as charismatic as ever. His undying passion and love for teaching and Springfield College is still at an all-time high.
“If I was to point out someone who has the highest regard for meeting the mission of Springfield College, [Zettl] would be in the top two percent of 40 plus years of faculty that I have had the chance to work with,” said Charlie Redmond, Dean of the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation.
It is unquestionable that Zettl’s journey to Springfield College has been nothing but interesting, filled not only with determination, but courage.
Now, Zettl is well into his 44th year of teaching at SC. Along the way he has earned the gratitude, respect and love of fellow teachers, and most importantly, his students. It is no mystery why Zettl is such a legend here at Springfield.
“Herb Zettl is best described as a fine bottle of wine; he just gets better with age,” chuckled Dr. Peter Polito, chair of the Computer Science and Physics Department.
Despite all the enormous struggles Zettl has encountered throughout his life, he now looks back at all of them with a sense of acceptance.
“The best years of my coaching and my teaching were after that,” Zettl said with a grin on his face, referring to his brain tumor.
All great things have to eventually come to an end, but with no set plans on retiring anytime soon, Zettl plans on taking it “year by year,” and Springfield College could not be happier to hear it.
“There will be a big hole in [the] Political Science and History [Department] and in the institution when Herb retires. If he retires,” Redmond added with a laugh.
But when that time does come, Springfield College will mourn the loss of an esteemed teacher, former coach and friend who will forever be remembered as a man who dedicated his spirit, mind and body to a place that he holds so very close to his heart.