Don Bytner showed up in my office one afternoon and started talking. Well, not really, I requested an interview with Don and also with Bill McCamey, two retiring instructors in Western Illinois University’s LEJA program. Bill promptly agreed and asked that I send over questions. Of course, he was to be out of town the following day when I sent them over. He replied that he would respond to them as soon as possible. It was a Monday, and I imagined that he was enjoying the freedoms that retirement affords, like going out of town on a Tuesday. He seemed to be a straight to the point kind of person; actually my favorite type of person. Efficient and thorough are words that spring to mind.
I assumed that Don just hadn’t gotten to his emails yet. When he did, I would get a similar response. He definitely got his email because he proceeded to drop by unannounced and full of stories and easy laughter; it was a wonderful and very entertaining break from the regular work day. I could easily see how these two gentlemen could have been such a significant part of the Law Enforcement and Justice Administration department.
Bill McCamey had been a full-time firefighter for the City of Canton, Illinois and a Criminal Investigator for the Fulton County State’s Attorney’s Office, acquiring approximately ten years of fire investigation experience, when he started his employ with Western. Bill’s initial interest in teaching at Western in the BGS Program sprung from teaching various trainings over the years. He was also impressed that “The courses were prepared by the National Fire Academy and afforded firefighters access to higher education that would not have been possible with the typical 24hour/48hour shift rotation. “ What he found when he got to Western and began working with the students and staff was more a community of learning where knowledge was reciprocal. Of BGS students Bill remarks “I soon realized that the students in the BGS program were a tremendous source of knowledge. Over the years BGS students have significantly contributed to the fire courses I teach. They have helped me stay current concerning the major changes that have occurred in the fire service.”
This is a sentiment echoed by Don. He stated that teaching BGS students was very different than teaching traditional aged students. They both have their endearing qualities, of course, but he found that with BGS students the relationship was more of a peer based interaction instead of the mentor/mentee relationship inherent in teaching students with no or very little practical experience with the concepts and precepts being discussed in class. Don said that working with BGS students was very much like sitting down to have a cup of coffee with colleagues, with friends. “I learned as much from them as they learned from me.”
Don began his career as a firefighter in Macomb, IL in 1972 after graduating with a degree in Industrial and Technical Education from Western Illinois University. In 1979 the chair of LEJA (then called LEA) asked Don to teach in the burgeoning Fire Administration arm of the department. When asked how he began working specifically with BGS, Don said “I was the fire guy; I was the one that taught it at that time so it was just dropped in my lap.”
Both Don and Bill mentioned the conversion from correspondence courses to online as a major change to have taught through during their time here, as both an exciting thing to have witnessed and personally educational. For Bill, the curricular enhancement was the big gain “The online classes prepared by the NFA were a huge asset as they encouraged interaction with students and permitted them to view videos, web sites and submit assignments using virtual fire investigation techniques.”
According to Don, he had difficulty with completing the most basic tasks on a computer without his children’s input before teaching online courses. Now he owns three computers and uses them with ease. He credits Western and the BGS staff for making transitions like that and teaching in general seamless. In his experience, the staff have always been very positive, energetic and even intuitive. Teaching for BGS, says Don, was always smooth sailing. He reasons that no bumps in the road must equal lots of work from behind the scenes, making his job that much easier and that much more student focused.
Life after leaving Western won’t actually be completely leaving for either Bill or Don as both intend to teach a little during their retirement. Bill is also currently President of the Cuba Fire Protection District which protects 90 square miles, a Director of the Illinois Association of Fire Protections Districts and a Merit Commissioner for the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office. In his remaining free time, he and his wife, Jody, own a farm and recently planted 5000 trees. And of course, he’s going to spend plenty of time with his family “We are very blessed as we regularly see our three grandchildren. We also have a young Cockalier dog named Jasmine who keeps us very busy.”
Don says that he will be now working for his wife doing the odd jobs that are needed. He’s got some work that he plans to do on a property he owns, and is looking forward to having more time with his grandchildren.
What will they miss the most? Unanimously it was the people at Western Illinois University. “I will sincerely miss the interaction with students and my colleagues in LEJA. I taught for 30 years at WIU and can honestly say there was not one day that I regretted coming to work. Some of most fond memories were the years I spent at Western.” Bill writes. Don says that it may sound a little cliché but it’s the truth. “I’ll miss the people here…and maybe the feeling of being in the loop” although Don still plans to visit us and ‘make trouble.’
We’ve been so fortunate to have these two gentlemen working with our students and our program. We sincerely thank you for all of your hard work. Enjoy your well-earned retirement!