‘You should learn all your life’

Over the past 23 years, Laurier has been home to one senior student whose time here is about to come to an end. Wilf Tschirart first enrolled at Laurier when he retired in 1986 at the age of 65.

“My wife was very clever,” explains Tschirart, fondly referring to her as his “little Irish lady.”

“She said ‘if you hang around here we will both go crazy,’” he said with a smile spreading across his face.

Enrolling in the biology department, Tschirart planned to study one of the subjects for which his passion and interest has never faded.

“I have always been interested in nature,” he said, while sitting on the couch in the cozy sunroom of his St. Agatha home.

From here Tschirart summons up fond memories of his childhood.

Growing up on a farm in rural Ontario, he would sneak away from the one-room schoolhouse he and his brothers attended to spend the day submerged in nature.

“I only had grade 10,” he divulges about his formal education as a child.

Tschirart explained that as soon as he and his brothers were old enough to be of use on the farm they were taken out of school.

Tschirart gives his perspective on the environment in a modern age

Growing up in the Great Depression meant that any extra income a family could bring in was essential.

“I couldn’t work in the barn, on account of my allergies,” Tschirart says, which is why his family ended up contracting him out to a construction company.

It was there that Tschirart developed his interest for structural engineering.
Eager to learn more about the subject, he made studying fit into his life, even while serving in the Second World War.

“I studied structural engineering by correspondence then,” he humbly recalls of his days when he was stationed on the East Coast of Canada. Tschirart served with the Canadian military from 1942-46.

“I’ve lived so many lives … now I have to find a new life.” -Wilf Tschirart, 88-years old

As Tschirart’s studies in biology at Laurier continued, he was forced to accept that a degree in biology was not in his cards. “On account of my eyes I couldn’t properly use a microscope,” he said sadly, “God bless those profs, they really worked with me. I stuck with it long enough to get a minor, but then I switched over.”

Geography and environmental studies was the next best thing for Tschirart, so he began his journey, unaware that in 23 years, he would be walking across the stage at Laurier to collect his doctorate in this very subject.

Midway through our meeting, Tschirart shows off pictures of his two granddaughters, informing us that one of them is following in his early footsteps and majoring in biology at Laurier.
He was able to compare notes with his granddaughter, as both of them were students in one biology class instructed by Jane Rutherford.

Tschirart was pleased to note that Rutherford has continued updating the content of the course since he was a student, staying very current in the field.

Tschirart’s graduate and PhD studies, which focus on the holistic approach to the conservation and management of Southern Ontario’s more protected areas, were both joint degrees with the University of Waterloo.

When asked how he felt about the two institutions, Tschirart speaks very highly of Laurier.
“I must say I did prefer Laurier, it is more collegial,” he said, making a motion of closeness with his arms.

And of the professors at Laurier, Tschirart thinks for a moment and states, “They are younger and more current [at Laurier]… I can’t say I had a poor prof at Laurier, during my undergraduate studies or grad.”

The desire of all senior students to continue learning can serve as a reminder that the accumulation of knowledge is enough to make the act of learning worthwhile.

And when asked what is next for him, Tschirart responded that he wasn’t completely sure yet, but that he wasn’t letting anyone in on what he was considering, not just yet.