The most memorable final exam that I ever took happened at a dinner party over thirty years ago. Dr. William Tyznik invited his Ruminant Nutrition class to his home for dinner and conversation. He believed that a student who truly understood the principles of feeding ruminants should be able to discuss them in a social setting.
Now this was a course that many who were gunning for admission into vet school took, so the competition was fierce. I often wondered what I was thinking enrolling in such a class. I was an ag econ/ag ed major, but I quickly figured out that I preferred taking classes from professors who loved to teach. The art of learning critical thinking, analyzing and problem solving could be developed in any subject. But only the truly gifted professors really understood how to teach this. And Dr. Tyznik was special, the absolute best that Ohio State University had to offer.
And his dinner party/final exam turned out to be another learning experience. The students observed a world-renown expert outside of the classroom and saw that he was also a devoted husband with an incredible wife, Bette. That night, I met one of his daughters and discovered that he enjoyed engaging his children in animated discussions about current events and social issues. He also had a dog that threw up on the living room carpet. Perhaps the canine was not amused at the students invading his territory or maybe a nutrition student indulged his begging a little too much. At any rate, the mishap didn’t faze Dr. Tyznik, and the conversation continued.
Some 30 years later, I still recall how some of the uber-smart pre-vet students had difficulty talking coherently and were sometimes incorrect in their responses. Rote memorization and use of big words did not work in this setting. We were all so young then; I often wonder how others recall this night. I remember leaving there relieved but very impressed with the entire Tyznik household. Success was clearly about more than prominence in your chosen career.
Academic achievements came early and often to Dr. Tyznik. A 1944 high school graduate at the age of 17, he left the family dairy farm in Thorp, Wisconsin and enrolled at the University of Wisconsin. He was awarded his B.S. in 1948, his M.S. in 1949, and a Ph.D. in 1951, at the age of 24. That same year, he joined The Ohio State University. Three years later, in 1954, he was named the first “Professor of the Year.” Dr. Tyznik became a full professor of Animal Science in 1959. He received Distinguished Teaching Awards in 1970 and 1986.
Dr. Tyznik was famous for memorizing the names of his students in every class every quarter. And he remembered them years later. I’ll never forget watching him call on students by name. I had law professors that couldn’t master that task with a detailed seating chart in front of them.
He loved to pose questions to the class. A favorite — what is the most essential nutrient or nutrients for livestock? The answer — the one or ones that are missing in their diet.
He was also well known for having more advisees than any other professor would ever contemplate dealing with. When the door to his office was open, it meant that students were welcome to stop by for his assistance. Dr. Tyznik had a rare combination of brilliance and common sense. And he was delightful to listen to because of the life experiences he could draw from while providing guidance.
Dr. Tyznik defied the old adage that “those who can’t, teach.” While excelling at teaching and research, he was also an astute businessman and entrepreneur. He founded Tizwhiz horse feeds. He formulated Cycle dog food. And he invented Frosty Paws frozen treats for dogs.
Dr. Tyznik once told me that he never worked a day in his life, because work meant doing something that you had to that you didn’t enjoy. And he said he loved every minute he was teaching, researching, advising, creating, formulating and inventing.
For 41 years, Dr. Tyznik brought a dedication and a passion to his faculty position at Ohio State that touched an immeasurable number of lives. I know my experience at OSU was profoundly richer because I elected to take his courses. Enrolling in his nutrition classes were some of the best choices I have ever made. I retained enough nutrition knowledge to irritate the feed and fairy dust salesmen that frequent our farm. Thanks to Dr. Tyznik, however, I incorporate critical thinking, analysis and problem solving skills daily. Moreover, I had the opportunity at a young age to see how a true professional lived his life.
Dr. Tyznik passed away on Friday, May 3, 2013, from an aortic aneurysm shortly after his 86th birthday. Bette, his beloved wife of 62 years, his older brother, his five children, seventeen grandchildren and three great-grandchildren survive him. My sincere sympathy to his family.