Of all of the jobs in the world, I’ve got to have the greatest. For 34 years I’ve walked into college classrooms at Winona State University and have done my best to educate my students about the science of economics. Because I’ve always been excited about economics, the enthusiasm is natural. You can’t fake enthusiasm; a student knows in a nanosecond if you’re for real.
I enjoy my job for two reasons. First, I think economics is important. Knowledge of economics is important in evaluating the statements of politicians and business leaders. It is important for starting a business and for making many of life’s most important decisions. And, contrary to what you might think, economics doesn’t just involve choices about money; it involves choice-making in many aspects of life, from deciding on an occupation to deciding whom to marry. Second, I get to work all day with young people. Young people are simply great! They are naïve, they have a lot to learn, and they often make mistakes, but they are insanely positive! It’s nice to be around people who are positive. It beats the heck out of being surrounded with people who are old and negative.
When I was an undergraduate student at Graceland College (now Graceland University) in Lamoni, Iowa I had some great professors. Jerry Runkle was the most exquisite economics professor I ever had; even better than some really super professors I encountered in Graduate School. Jerry was a master teacher; it was no coincidence that four of us from the 1971-73 classes at Graceland College went on to receive our doctorates in economics.
There was another economics professor at Graceland College; a guy who used to walk into the classroom with cow manure on his boots and a big smile on his face. There was no doubt that he reveled in his job. His enthusiasm was contagious. He explained economics well and made it fun. His name was Frank Hough and he changed my life forever.
Hough had a PH.D from the University of Missouri and was just 10 years my senior. He taught economics and he raised beef cattle. He had his hands in a lot of enterprises. Compared to Runkle, Hough was a bit “rough around the edges”. You would never see Runkle at a cattle auction or share a thick steak with him at the Sale Barn Cafe. You would never drive Runkle’s pickup or accidentally break up his farm equipment. During the four years I studied at Graceland I never went to one of Hough’s classes without learning some new lesson about the “real” world. He was a story teller supreme, and his stories usually related to economics in one way or another. His sense of humor was incredible. He could put a whole class on the floor laughing.
Sometime around my junior year I decided that Frank Hough had a pretty good life. He could teach and had a heck of a good time doing it. He had the time flexibility to start and run businesses. Could anyone have a better life than Frank had? I thought not, and headed off to Kansas State University to work on my PH.D.
After 34 years of teaching at Winona State University, and dabbling myself in some business enterprises, I’ve lived the Hough dream. I don’t have any regrets. Like Frank, I’m a story teller. Like Frank, I can’t wait to go to work in the morning. Like Frank, I’ve loved every minute.
Unfortunately, Frank has had some serious health problems over the past few years. He still lives in Lamoni with his wife Carol. He gets around in a wheel chair with a joy stick, quipping that he is once again a “teenage” driver. Frank, after the inspiring life you’ve lived, it must be terribly frustrating to not be able to communicate like you once did. But know that for 34 years I’ve done my best to emulate your style here in Southeastern, Minnesota. Who knows, Frank, maybe there’s a kid in one of my classes who might want to emulate his story-teller professor who instead comes into the classroom with metal chips stuck to his shoes. Maybe he will thank me by writing me a letter 34 years later. God bless you, my best of all economics professors. I can never thank you enough for showing me the way to a meaningful life. You’re the man, Frank! I’ll always love you.