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John Wettaw: Academic and Political Icon

Wettaw“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”       

What more fitting words for native Illinois scholar and legislator John Wettaw, Ph.D. than those of world-famous Illinois attorney, later U.S. Representative and ultimately, President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

The “…life in your years” phrase is most apt for Wettaw, who is now 75.

With the end of spring semester at Northern Arizona University, Wettaw will retire, having served 47 years as a professor in the Department of Chemistry. He worked for six university presidents.

That is only the intro to a career of achievements.

Few can match someone who has done the following:

  • Holds the record in Arizona history for the most consecutive years – 28 – served by a Republican in the Arizona Legislature. Wettaw, elected to the Arizona House of Representatives in 1972, served for 20 years. He then was elected to the Arizona Senate, and served eight years. He left the legislature in 2000. He survived nine governors.
  • Has a major academic facility on NAU campus named after him: Wettaw Biology and Biochemistry Building, so designated in 1999.
  • Named NAU Homecoming Dedicatee 2002.
  • Named Arizona Legislator of the Year by Arizona Students Association and by Arizona Retarded Citizens Association.
  • Recipient of honorary doctorate from NAU in 2008 for “…service to education and to people of Arizona.”

Wettaw’s list of honors, awards and accolades would fill a student’s notebook. Perhaps more important is what selected colleagues and associates say about him:

  • “John’s unfailing good humor, as well as his loyalty to NAU and his students made him a joy to work with – most the time.  John’s a marvel.  I always thought they’d have to drag him out with his boots on.” Jane Dee Hull, Arizona governor, 1997-2003.
  • “John’s truly a treasure to and for Arizona. Why did it take so long to really recognize all he has done?”   Rose Mofford, Arizona’s first woman governor, 1988-1991.
  • “Rep. John Wettaw was the best of the bunch. John treated staff as equals and accomplished great things for Arizona. If a law impacted the state budget, John had his fingerprints all over it.”   Rick Collins, former chief of staff, Governor’s Office.
  • “Tough – and fair. Treated the thousands of students he taught with dignity but high expectations. He is warm, friendly, personable, intelligent – and generous. And as a legislator, he always kept the welfare of the state at heart. He could negotiate with both parties. He was a man of integrity.”   Eugene M. Hughes, professor of mathematics and president (emeritus), NAU, 1970-1993
  • “John is first a teacher with a passion to make every student successful. He also is a public servant with years of experience in the Arizona legislature, where colleagues from both political parties admired his ability to compromise. Finally, he is a loyal NAU supporter and personifies NAU’s history and culture.”  John D. Haeger, professor of history and NAU president, 2001-2014.
  • “You could always depend on John to be honest. He was willing to help in any way he could for the benefit of the community and state, irrespective of political parties.  He was dependable, and always looked out for the good of NAU without hurting the other universities.”  Douglas J. Wall, NAU professor of business and legal counsel, 1958-1985; and Arizona Board of Regents, 1988-96.
  • “John has received many honors. Governors, cities and towns have recognized him with special days. NAU Presidents Lawrence Walkup, Gene Hughes, Clara Lovett and John Haeger have acknowledged the key role John played in the progress of NAU and the other two public universities. But John’s most important constituency: his students.”  Frank Besnette, NAU professor of business, 1967-1992; executive director, Arizona Board of Regents, 1992-1999.
  • “I’ve never known a faculty member so interested and caring about students. He always had time to talk to them, no matter what. He was never pretentious, and he always would spend extra time with students.”   Scott Savage, NAU professor; chair of chemistry, 1963-1997
  • “We’ve known John ever since he came to Flagstaff from Illinois and Michigan. He forever maintained his Midwest value system – a man’s word is the most important thing a man can have, followed by a handshake.”  Margaret T. McClanahan, Flagstaff, CPA; and Sam McClanahan, NAU professor of curriculum and instruction.
  • “I took Chem 101 from Dr. Wettaw, and he was able to demonstrate how chemistry is part of our everyday life. He made it interesting. He was always willing to answer student questions.”  Sheri Anderson, Tucson, NAU bachelor’s degree, 1980; and MBA 1984
  • “When I was editor of the Kingman Daily Miner years ago, Dr. Wettaw once stopped to brief me about legislative activities. I found him to be one of the most candid, forthright and absolutely open legislators I’ve ever known.”  Tim Wiederaenders, Prescott, NAU M. Ed. 2002.

Given all the accolades and honors he has had over the years, including being named to the Southern Illinois University Alumni Hall of Fame – he earned his bachelor’s degree there –Wettaw is exceptionally unassuming and humble.

“Everything I’ve done, I’ve done with other people who have helped make those efforts successful. I’ve been honored to work with such fine constituents and colleagues during my career,” he said. “I especially admired Burton Barr, who for more than 20 years (1964-1986) was a Republican majority leader.”

Wettaw went on to say he admired the way Barr used wit and civility to bring measures to the legislature “… for the good of the people”

“I’ve no big plans for the future – no books to write or travel. I’ll do some pro bono work for the department and the university and the community,” he said. “I’ve had a good life in Flagstaff and Arizona. And I’m for sure going to stay in Flagstaff.  Nowhere else would want me,” he said with a laugh. FBN


One Response to John Wettaw: Academic and Political Icon

  1. Stacie Wagner August 26, 2018 at 12:36 PM #

    John you’re a good man and I welcome you to stay in Flagstaff forever!!! I believe we are better for having you here. Thank you for all of your service to our state and our home.

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