As a member of the Bellarmine debate team, John Van
De Walle met a young woman named Sharon at one of the tournaments, where she
had been asked to be a timer. By senior year they were engaged.
John was immediately sure about Sharon, but his
education plans ended up taking a different turn. He originally wanted to be an
engineer. But, Sharon says, “It was Dr. James Leahy, a Bellarmine math
professor, who changed John’s thinking about engineering, and ultimately
changed his life.” John graduated cum laude from Bellarmine in 1965 with
a degree in mathematics.
John earned a scholarship to St. Louis University
in math and obtained a master’s degree, then enrolled in a doctoral program in
math education at Ohio State. In the last year of the doctoral program he
worked in a school with children, and, Sharon says, “His life changed
again.” This led him to write and publish the Van De Walle Professional
Dr. Van De Walle would become one of the most
renowned mathematics educators in the country and the author of Elementary
and Middle School Mathematics: Teaching Developmentally, which, in its
seventh edition, is the leading resource in the United States and Canada for
teaching K-8 mathematics. Sensitive to the feelings of women coming back
to school who were intimidated by math courses, he used the royalties to create
a scholarship specifically for such students.
He retired in 2002, but continued to write and work
with teachers to promote mathematics education. He always ended his
presentations to teachers with this advice: “Believe in your kids.”
John died suddenly in December 2006. To honor his
memory and the place where he discovered his calling, Sharon created the Dr.
John A. Van De Walle Endowed Scholarship. It provides financial assistance to
undergraduate students who, like John, “just love math.”