“Knotty” Rembert

I'm not quite sure why they called him "Knotty."  

Of all the reasons I've read, the one I like best, the one that sort of goes to the heart of teaching and mentoring, is that Dr. Rembert was always asking questions that were difficult to answer, posing problems that made students think.  Or perhaps it was because he worked his students hard.  One story is that he kept after one student to take one of his Greek courses for the better part of a year, and finally the student responded, "Doctor, I'd like to take that course, but I want a little little time to play tennis."  

Students being students, the nickname probably had something to do with his looks.  By all accounts, he was a skinny fellow with a thin neck and wild hair that went in all directions.  Maybe he had big, knotty hands.  Perhaps he had some unusual habits as well.  Students liked to repeat the stories they had heard of Rembert's student days – that he would stay out late, come home, put his feet in hot water, and read Greek until the wee hours.  Not exactly typical of a Wofford student of any day.  Descriptions of him as the rumpled professor abound, and he could be seen walking to and from his home on North Church Street twice daily, coat flapping, arms swinging, and his mind no doubt consumed with some topic on which he was planning to engage his classes.  

Arthur Gaillard Rembert was born in Charleston in the last months before South Carolina seceded from the Union, and grew up in the port city.  He came to Wofford in 1880 and graduated in 1884, winning distinctions in his work.  He took a master's degree from Wofford the next year.  After teaching elsewhere for a year, he returned to campus in 1887 to serve as the headmaster for the Wofford Fitting School, the preparatory school that the college used to operate.  He continued in this capacity for eight years, then moved to the college faculty as professor of Greek.  He also taught Bible and psychology during his thirty-eight years on the faculty.  

Were this his complete biography, forty years of service to Wofford, that might be impressive enough.  However, Rembert was one of two Wofford faculty members – Henry Nelson Snyder was the other – who attended the meeting where the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools – SACS – was founded.  Rembert helped set the standard for membership in SACS higher than Wofford could then attain – and he knew full well that the Fitting School that he had been running for the previous eight years was one of the things that would keep Wofford out of SACS until the 1920s.  He also continued to undertake graduate work in the summers, usually at the University of Chicago.  

Students held him in high regard.  In faculty meetings, when questions of student discipline came up, he always took the side of the student.  That's not to say he was a pushover, for as some students noted, he always asked the question when you weren't paying attention, always caught you when you weren't thinking.  He was always thinking, the students said.  When students started coming late to his class, he solved the problem by quizzing the last arrival thoroughly on the day's assignments.  Students scrambled not to be the last to arrive.  He took over Dr. Carlisle's "Students Class" in the Central Methodist Sunday School, which ended up meeting in the sanctuary because of its size.  He taught Wofford men and Converse women in that class.  

When he died in 1933, tributes from colleagues and students alike poured in.  Dr. Snyder, who had known him virtually all their professional lives, wrote, "The classroom was his kingdom, and the teacher's desk his throne.  It is to be doubted whether he really had any other ambition than that of being simply a teacher of men."  He continued, "He was not only a great teacher but a great educator as well, that is, he taught more than his subject and the mastery of it.  All over South Carolina there are men who may not remember a great deal out of the books Dr. Rembert taught but they will never forget that they learned much of how to live more richly and more nobly because he awoke in them the forces that give worth and dignity to human character."

And isn't that what we hope for from our teachers.  

Photos: The young Rembert, Rembert in 1915, the year the students dedicated the Bohemian to him.