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Ohio University Zanesville campus professor Mike Kline leaves legacy

Published: July 22, 2021 Author: Isaac Miller

When Ohio University history professor Mike Kline passed away at age 80 on June 30, 2021, copies of his “15 Great Truths of Learning,” tips that would help students excel academically, started showing up on alumni social posts. 

Kline was an associate professor of history at Ohio University Zanesville for nearly five decades. However, his legacy wasn’t just that he was the first full-time instructor at Ohio University Zanesville. His legacy is five generations of students who came to him with questions and always found inspiration and encouragement.

“My father was not a prolific researcher,” Bob Kline, Mike’s son, said. “He focused his attention on the students.”

Bob Kline remembers his father running into students from his first class. He bonded with that group of students. Larry Denbow was one of those students and would eventually go on to be Mike’s best man. 

“He was the toughest prof I ever had, and I had him a lot,” Denbow said, whose son, Pat, also had Kline as a professor. 

Pat Denbow said Kline was someone students could go to if they had problems. Even students who weren’t in Kline’s class at the time would come to him if they had issues. “He would listen, and if he could help, he would,” Pat Denbow said. 

Associate Professor Korcaighe Hale said Kline was positive and showed enthusiasm for his work. He also called himself “an old hippie from the ’60s.”

Mike Kline grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and attended a Jesuit boarding school in Wisconsin called Campion. He attended the University of Dayton and was a founding member of the school’s first Greek organization. Professor Sandy King inspired Kline to study history. King, who was in the first wave on D-Day, influenced Kline as a person and professor.

“Sandy cared deeply about students personally and as students,” Bob Kline said. “My father carried his legacy throughout his career.” 

Kline later got his master’s degree at Ohio University and accepted a position at Ohio University Zanesville in 1965. He would work there until 2011.  He was the campus’ first full-time faculty member. The campus was on the top floor of Zanesville High School at that time. 

“To say the least, it didn’t act or whatever as the university would,” Larry Denbow said.

Larry Denbow said Kline talked them into forming fraternities and sororities at Ohio University Zanesville. He became a faculty adviser to a fraternity and took pride in bringing Greek Life to a regional campus. 

Dr. Reed Smith, left, a longtime colleague and now professor at Georgia Southern University, and Mike Kline at the 50th anniversary of Ohio University Zanesville
Dr. Reed Smith, left, a longtime colleague and now professor at Georgia Southern University, and Mike Kline at the 50th anniversary of Ohio University Zanesville. Smith and Kline collaborated on the Great Truths of Learning.

Kline taught all kinds of classes, from study skills to Chinese history. He developed a list of truths, which he called the “15 Great Truths of Learning,” that could help students excel academically. Hale said several of Kline’s former students posted their copies to Facebook when they found out he passed away. 

Kline would sometimes lecture from the top of his desk, Larry Denbow said. He would sit up there with his legs crossed and lecture for hours. There was even a time when he became ill in the ’90s and was sent to a nursing home. He continued to teach his class at the nursing home.

“He never stopped,” Larry Denbow said. “It didn’t make any difference whether he was barely walking or whatever.” 

Pat Denbow had Kline in his first college class. The class was a study skills class that used Kline’s 15 Great Truths to teach students to do well. He also had Kline for a world history class, saying he was a tough professor, but he made it interesting and fun. He would record his lectures on tape recorders and would have the tape available in the library. 

“His lectures were amazing,” Pat Denbow said. “He was more of a storyteller, especially when it came to the history class.” 

Pat Denbow said he would help Kline organize his office but actually used it as an excuse to hang out with him. 

Hale worked with Mike during his final decade of teaching, and he supported her research and work. He welcomed her to the campus and the community with enthusiasm. 

Pat Denbow recalls being in Kline’s class when 9/11 happened. He turned on the TV and let them watch the events. 

Kline was teaching some of his first students’ grandchildren by the time he retired. Hale said they had a regular lunch schedule after he retired, and he always spoke to everyone in the restaurant. He remembered students whom he had not seen for years. 

Kline was more than just a college professor. Bob and his sister, Ruth, knew him as a dedicated father who would do things with them and volunteer for their youth leagues. 

“Many of my favorite memories are going to concerts with my dad and George Ware, an English professor,” Bob Kline said. 

Kline enjoyed listening to blues music and would play it in his office, Hale said. He would try to get students interested by loaning them his CDs. He also enjoyed tennis and used to play it on a daily basis.

He was dedicated to his community and served as historian on the Zanesville city Design and Review Board. He was also involved in the history of Muskingum County and Southeastern Ohio. Pat Denbow got to work with Kline on the Design Review Board. Their job was to review applications for properties within historic districts. He would put a lot of energy into the decisions the board would make. 

George Ware (left), an English professor, with Mike Kline at Ohio University Zanesville, between innings during an old-time baseball game.
George Ware (left), an English professor, with Mike Kline at Ohio University Zanesville, between innings during an old-time baseball game.

“I always knew that with Mike, every decision that he made personally was going to be extremely well thought out and extremely professional,” Pat Denbow said. 

Kline and Larry Denbow once went to a conference with all of Ohio’s living governors and their administrations. 

“It was the most dramatically fantastic thing in my life, and he brought me to that,” Larry Denbow said. 

One of Kline’s Great Truths of Learning is to look for opportunities when others see failure. Bob Kline said that truth sticks out to him and has served him well in his life.

Kline’s teaching style influenced a large number of students and teachers. Larry Denbow was a history and government teacher and was influenced by his lecturing style. 

“He wanted everyone to feel special,” Bob Kline said. “He gave people the opportunity to be their own person.”

Kline wanted contributions after his death to go towards scholarships for students. Click here to donate to the Muskingum County History Mike Kline Scholarship Fund at Ohio University Zanesville.