Nursing professor never quit encouraging students

Nick Walton

Zeller started fund before death to help with research costs

The five words Ruth Ludwick used to describe Richard Zeller at his eulogy were warmth, kindness, generosity, humor and energy.

Up until a week before Zeller died, Ludwick, director of international initiatives at the College of Nursing, said Zeller was keeping in contact with students through e-mail. He had taught statistics for the College of Nursing. Despite his condition, Ludwick said Zeller was still encouraging his students.

“He had e-mailed a student who had gotten a rejection letter from a publication and he said, ‘Don’t be discouraged,'” Ludwick said.

“He’s dying of cancer, and he’s telling her don’t be discouraged when she gets rejection. I just think that’s powerful that you’re dying of cancer and you know it, and you don’t close yourself off – you’re still open to other people and how you’re going to help them.”

Zeller died April 16 after living with melanoma for 35 years.

One of Zeller’s last contributions to the College of Nursing was starting the Dr. Richard A. Zeller Nursing Research Fund with his wife Joan Zeller. The purpose of the fund is to support the field and research expenses of graduate students and junior faculty seeking research support in the College of Nursing.

Laura Dzurec, dean of the College of Nursing, said the fund represents Zeller’s dedication to his profession.

“Rich loved the College of Nursing, and he loved nurses in large part because of the experiences he had during his many years of struggling with cancer,” Dzurec said. “He understood nursing, and he understood the kinds of issues they were looking at. I think this gift is an ongoing celebration of his life and his regard for nurses and the College of Nursing.”

Zeller worked with Ludwick as a consultant and co-author for research projects she was working on. Some of Zeller’s other accomplishments included working on international research projects and writing three books and more than 90 published professional research articles.

Zeller retired in May 2008 but still participated with the college. Dzurec said it was difficult for the college to go through this transition.

“It was tough on everybody because Rich was much loved and very productive, and there was a lot of sadness around knowing his time was limited,” Dzurec said.

Because of his continued contributions, Ludwick said she feels Zeller never retired.

“I knew all the way up until the end that I was able to call him up and ask him a question,” Ludwick said. “For me, he never did retire, he was active.”

Ludwick said Zeller’s lasting legacy at the college will be jump-starting the research career within the college.

“I think (he) propelled us into a different stage, both of student productivity as well as the faculty productivity,” Ludwick said. “He made statistics fun, gave us confidence and he showed us how we can believe in ourselves and produce.”

Contact health reporter Nick Walton at [email protected].