Remembering former Baker professor Doudna

Remembering former Baker professor Doudna

John “Charles” Doudna had a soothing voice, a calming tone.

He had the ability to make someone listen, to make a student turn around in class or peer up from his or her desk long enough to tune in, to pay attention.

Doudna, a retired Baker professor of philosophy and religion, had the improbable ability to make a college student care, if only for one class or one semester, about something new and unfamiliar, about something special and true.

At least that’s what his former students remember about him.

“He was very good at telling stories and getting you to essentially feel like it was present day that you were listening to,” Roger Boyd, senior professor of biology, said. “He made it come to life.”

Boyd took a course from Doudna about 40 years ago, but he still can remember how it impacted him as a person and as a student.

“I remember the course,” he said. “I don’t remember that many courses in that period of time. So the fact that I remember that course means that I thought a lot of Dr. Doudna.”


In many respects, University Minister Ira DeSpain envies the life Doudna lived.

When the 101-year-old died Feb. 22, family members cried, good friends and former colleagues paused to remember him, to honor the person he was and the life he left behind.

“His life made a lot of sense,” DeSpain, who was a student at Baker while Doudna still was teaching, said. “He lived the kind of life I pray for everyone to have.”

Doudna and his wife, Evelyn, of 68 years, lived in Baldwin City for more than 50 years.

The couple moved to Vintage Park Assisted Living in 2003. Evelyn died last year.

Charles was honored at a memorial service March 8, where Baker faculty and friends paidtribute to their former friend and colleague.


First and foremost, Doudna was a minister, a man of God.

But in many ways, Doudna’s daughter Christine Grand-Jean would argue that her father’s real love was teaching.

“He had a very personal relationship with kids,” she said. “I think teaching was more him even than preaching. It reached all aspects of him.”

Doudna, who served as an army chaplain during World War II, came to Baker in 1953 as chair of the philosophy and religion department.

“He completely loved it,” Grand-Jean said. “It was just a thrilling new beginning for him.”

He remained at Baker until retiring in 1975, but he continued teaching part time for the university for three more years.

“Even after he retired he kept teaching,” Grand-Jean said. “He just loved to teach.”

Doudna was inducted into Baker’s Faculty Hall of Fame in 1999.


Boyd remembers his former teacher as a renaissance man.

It was his forward thinking and openness that helped kick start Baldwin City’s annual Maple Leaf Festival.

“Back in the mid ’50s, he and my dad (Ivan) came up with the idea of the Maple Leaf Festival,” Boyd said. “They visited other fairs and things in the region.”

In addition, Doudna was co-founder of the Santa Fe Historical Society and helped build the Santa Fe Depot.

“He was interested in a tremendous variety of things,” Boyd said. “Always open to other people’s opinions.”


DeSpain remembers Doudna as a patient man.

He was patient in teaching, patient in preaching, patient in reaching young minds and touching young hearts. He was patient in life.

“When you’re 18 to 22 years old, you’re rebellious,” DeSpain said. “I remember Dr. Doudna’s patience with that.”

DeSpain said Doudna taught him that it was OK to struggle in college. That it was OK to make mistakes and question one’s faith. He taught him that it was OK to learn and grow.

“It’s OK to struggle, to doubt, to fear, to hope,” DeSpain said. “He was willing to help you through the struggle.”

Above all else, DeSpain said Doudna taught him the value of faith in the college setting, the value of opinions and beliefs, the value of self.

“He believed you don’t need to leave your passions and faith stance when you enter the classroom,” he said.