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Donor honors former English professor with new UD award for writing excellence

By Dave Larsen

A new award for excellence in writing at the University of Dayton was created by a former student to honor a beloved English professor who taught him the value of literature and the humanities. However, neither the student nor the professor was affiliated with UD.

Bart Ng, dean and professor emeritus at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, wanted to make a gift in honor of John D. Groppe — professor emeritus of English at St. Joseph’s College in Indiana, where Ng received his bachelor’s degree in 1968 — and his spouse, Rose Marie Groppe.

“The day I left St. Joe’s, I felt I must do it because it was such a life-changing experience for someone like me,” said Ng, a first-generation college student who was born in China shortly after World War II. “I am lucky that I am in a position now to actually deliver, but unfortunately my alma mater no longer exists.”

St. Joseph’s College closed in 2017 after 128 years.

Ng and the Groppes considered a number of institutions to house the John D. and Rose Marie Groppe Award for Excellence in Writing, including those where the Groppes’ children attended school or now teach, as well as Benedictine University, where Ng served as dean of science for five years after he retired from IUPUI in 2011.

A Catholic college or university wasn’t a “must,” but it was an important consideration, Ng said. Their focus was on an institution with a strong writing program that offers a course in rhetoric as a foundation for preparing students for public reasoning and leadership positions.

Ng said they chose the University of Dayton because of its “robust writing program,” exemplified by the UD Department of English’s Line by Line: A Journal of Beginning Student Writing. The honorees’ daughter, Elizabeth Groppe, is a professor of theology in the UD Department of Religious Studies.

They worked with Andy Slade, professor and former UD Department of English chair, and Margaret M. Strain, professor and director of the writing program, to bring the Groppe Award to Dayton.

“I feel very comfortable it will be in a good place,” Ng said. “It will be a welcoming place for ideas, as well as responsible stewardship for the endowment.”

The first Groppe Awards were presented in March at a luncheon ceremony in UD’s Kennedy Union attended by Ng and John Groppe, along with many of Groppe’s children, a grandson and several of his former students.

Groppe, award winner, 2024

The recipients were Daniel C. Napoli, a junior English and adolescent to young adult education major from Highland Heights, Ohio, and Eleanor Yates-McEwan, a junior philosophy major from Centerville, Ohio. In addition, the UD Department of English’s Barbara Farrelly Award was presented to Alexandria Ford, a sophomore English major from Kettering, Ohio.

In his remarks, John Groppe noted the differences among rhetoric, which involves argument and persuasion; essays, which are more personal and reflective; and academic papers, which focus on procedure and evidence. He said the three winning papers were “excellent examples of the academic genre.”

“I hope to see, and I think Rose Marie concurs, that the awards in the future represent the full spectrum of human experience — argument, reflective essays and very careful procedural analyses of all aspects of experience,” Groppe said.

John McCombe, professor and interim UD Department of English chair, extended his thanks to Ng and the Groppe family. “Professor Groppe has inspired Dr. Ng and so many other students in their commitment to language, writing and studies in the humanities,” he said.

St. Joseph’s alumnus Ray Leliaert, a retired reporter, city editor and business editor for the South Bend Tribune, recalled taking several writing courses with Groppe. During his senior year, he sent writing samples from those courses to the Tribune.

“As a result of that, the day after our graduation I was in the South Bend Tribune newsroom writing stories,” Leliaert said. “That would not have happened without John’s influence.”

Ng, a mathematician who holds a doctoral degree from the University of Chicago, said he had no interest in the humanities when he arrived at St. Joseph’s College and couldn’t be bothered with “any ideas or principles that can’t be boiled down to some equation.”

Ng said Groppe took him under his wing and changed his mind about writing.

“He made me appreciate the humanities — that people outside of science can actually think about things in as rigorous a way as a scientist would do,” Ng said. “Perhaps they even have a much harder time because in science you have many guideposts and can easily discern what is valid or not valid, but in the humanities, you are facing a much bigger challenge. In any case, writing is the foundation of it all.”

For more information, visit the UD Department of English and Line by Line: A Journal of Beginning Student Writing websites.

Groppe, award, 2024

Photos, top: John Groppe (left) and Bart Ng. Middle: UD Department of English’s Barbara Farrelly Award winner Alexandria Ford (right) and Professor Margaret Strain. Bottom: John Groppe speaks at the ceremony.

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