Professor Ed Tywoniak Retires After 40 Years at the Heart of Saint Mary’s

Professor Ed Tywoniak celebrates at his retirement party.

Professor and past Chair of the Communication Department Ed Tywoniak ’75, a true Lasallian, is retiring after 40 years at Saint Mary’s. Tywoniak answers to many titles—professor, SMC alum, music lover, music maker, and scholar among them—but may be best known for his warmth and joyfulness, and his dedication to the Saint Mary’s community for the past four decades. Well-wishers commented on his collegiality and inspiring endeavors at Tywoniak’s bustling retirement party held on May 8 in the Faculty/Staff Dining Room.

“Ed embodies Catholic and Lasallian education, caring for students, colleagues, and the College in ways beyond describing,” said Communication Professor Ellen Rigsby in her speech at the ceremony. “He has done more service than anyone at the College. I’m not going to tell you here all that he has done, because the list is so long it will boggle your mind. What his service and advising speak to is how generous Ed is with his time and affection. He is the epitome of collegiality.”

And Tywoniak speaks just as affectionately about the College.

“Retiring feels incredible, it feels liberating, it feels exciting, but it’s also very bittersweet because my dear friends and colleagues here for all of these years are going to be sorely missed,” Tywoniak said. “I’m going to miss the students, and I’m going to miss the College itself. This has been my home for nearly half a century, and I have literally grown and matured here both professionally and personally—and those two personal realities are tightly interwoven. When we say we teach to the whole student, it requires us to teach from the perspective of a whole teacher—personally and professionally. We have to be able to model that which we profess, and literally, growing up here at Saint Mary’s as both a student and staff member has afforded me that opportunity to experience that in a profoundly experiential way.”

Even Tywoniak marvels at the length of his tenure here: “I’ve actually been at Saint Mary’s and working for the Christian Brothers for 47 years, counting my time here as an undergraduate. I didn’t think I’d even live that long back then, let alone be at one place working for that amount of time! You have to remember that coming of age in the 1960s meant assuming you were totally washed up and over the hill at the age of 30. This was the flowering of the youth movement. But now at this stage of life, one realizes that wisdom comes from having the good fortune to have lived long enough to have perspective. It’s a wonderful place to be, although I do find myself wishing more often for my 30-year-old body back.”

Tywoniak’s road has surprised him. “I had no plan whatsoever. I came to build a little radio station for KSMC and that led to a 40-year career, literally. It’s funny how life works out. It’s very serendipitous in that way. The best testament that I can give is that I was nurtured every step of the way by the Brothers. I really do owe them my career. And each Brother I have known over the years has contributed a small piece to the mosaic that is my life and my career. Two, in particular, I need to mention as foundational mentors for me. The first is Brother Mel Anderson, who arrived at Saint Mary’s as president just two years before I arrived as an undergraduate and has been a role model since then in so many facets of my career. And the other is our recently departed Brother Dominic Berardelli, who was such a dear friend and will always be, for me, the closest I’ve ever been to a saint.

“I’m so proud of the many accolades and honors that I’ve received over the years, especially as they relate to our mission of service to students,” Tywoniak added. “But I must say that I was especially proud when my dear colleague and friend, Ellen Rigsby, gave a wonderful presentation at my retirement party about my scholarly achievements. I’ve quietly built an international reputation as a leading scholar in the field of media ecology, the intellectual legacy of two of the founders of media studies, Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman. And like Neil Postman 50 years ago, I was editor of the journal ETC: A Review of General Semantics, for which I won the Edmund S. Carpenter Award for Career Achievement in Editing from the Media Ecology Association. I’m very proud of those achievements and the opportunities I’ve had to grow as an academic.”

What’s next for the scholarly, much-loved professor? “I’m going to do the one th Professor Tywoniak with Brother Camillus that people say don’t talk about, and that’s talk about my grandkids. I have such a wonderful family that does include two darling grandchildren; and yes, I’m going to enjoy every moment I can with them while they’re still so young and precious. I’ve also got a very rich life outside of the College. I’m going to play a lot of music and listen to a lot of music. I’ll be reading a lot, especially my favorite genre, pulp science fiction. I’ll be hanging out in the mountains at our mountain house, and enjoying the seasons and the luxury of the simple life. I’ll be snowboarding in the winter with my son and teaching my five-year-old grandson how to board. My wife and I will be travelling and enjoying spending time together. And there’s going to be lots of naps and hopefully a whole lot of days of doing nothing—because it is retirement after all. But perhaps the best part of all is that I’ll wake up in the morning and not feel like I HAVE to check emails. That, my friends, is liberation!”

Adoring Colleagues Speak

“While Ed is a beloved colleague and co-worker, I don’t think most of you realize his career trajectory as a communication scholar,” Rigsby said at the ceremony. “One of my early memories of Ed’s work was a music installation in the Chapel that brought his music to the heart of the Catholic side of the College.  His love of music aligned with his early teaching career as a production specialist. He advised the radio station and TV station for several years, and in fact, his early scholarship is about music. Most notably his article, “Music as a Metatechnical Thema,” published in The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, looks at the rhetorical nature of music. 

“But even more important to Ed are his advisees,” Rigsby continued. “The last time I was department chair before the creation of the concentrated faculty advisors, I remember Ed had 54 advisees. There are always students outside of Ed’s office. Back in the day, there were lines of them. And he talked to every one of them multiple times per advising session.  In addition, he was faculty advisor to the football team and then the basketball team. In fact, Ed has told me multiple times that this is the most important part of his job at SMC. His students genuinely love him, and they grow to meet his academic challenges to them.”

“So many of us have spent joyous moments with him, laughing, talking and playing music. Even though the technology of mixed tapes is long gone, the Communication Department will be dancing to Ed’s playlist for a long, long time.”

Added Rigsby recently: “More than anyone else at the College, Ed Tywoniak taught me what the Lasallian charism is.”

Professor of Philosophy Wayne Harter took a lighter tack when talking about Tywoniak. “Ever since I arrived at Saint Mary's, Ed has been older than me,” he quipped. “He also has been something like a mentor. He never tired of explaining things I couldn't make sense of. ‘Ed, what is Life's Journey?’ ‘What is Redefining Liberal Arts?’ ‘Is it like that Lasallianism thing?’

“Ed was a wise man. He knew many wonderful things, spoke strange languages. I shall dearly miss him, especially at Commencement,” added Harter.

Tywoniak has served on the faculty in the School of Liberal Arts for 40 years.  He also is the director of the W. M. Keck Digital Studies Laboratory. Tywoniak completed undergraduate studies at Saint Mary’s in 1975 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology. He went on to earn an MFA in Electronic Music Composition from the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College, and a doctorate in Educational Leadership and Technology from the Institute for Catholic Educational Leadership at the University of San Francisco. 

Tywoniak is a member and past chair of the Division for Communication and the Future of the National Communication Association, a trustee of the Institute of General Semantics, and president of the Media Ecology Association. He has written articles and scholarly papers, and lectured on a broad array of topics, including the effects of mobile mediation on contemporary society, social movements of the 1960’s, the cosmology of Australia’s indigenous peoples, Pythagoras and the classical Quadrivium, 3D technology and the making of the movie Avatar, and the audio technology of the Grateful Dead. He is co-author of the undergraduate Communication textbook Communication and Social Understanding (Kendall Hunt, 2009) and is the past editor of ETC: A Review of General Semantics.

Please join us in congratulating and thanking Professor Tywoniak for his 40 years of service to Saint Mary’s.