Meet the Climbers – Kurt Thurmaier

We are now one week from the 2019 Kilimanjaro Climb officially beginning! Our climbers are all making their last preparations for the long journey to Tanzania, and are eager to get things underway. Today, we are featuring a climber that almost all in the TDS community are familiar with, co-Founder and President, Dr. Kurt Thurmaier. Professor Kurt, or Baba Anna, as locals in the Mara region know him, is no stranger to Kilimanjaro. This will be his third, and last (or so he says), trek to Kili. Read on to hear what motivates him to continue returning to Tanzania. You can also donate to his personal fundraising goal and help us get closer to our overall goal of $75,000 by visiting Professor Kurt’s fundraising page.

Q: Who are you?

A:Kurt Thurmaier

Q: What do you do?

A: Presidential Engagement Professor and Chair of the Department of Public Administration at Northern Illinois University, and Volunteer, Donor, and President of Tanzania Development Support

Q: Do you have any hobbies? Of course you do! What are they?

A: I like traveling to new countries to explore new cultures, meet new people, and taste new foods. I enjoy camping, hiking, canoeing, biking, and swimming for recreation.

Q: What makes you want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro?

A: This will be my 3rd climb to the summit of Kilimanjaro, Uhuru Peak. It is a major challenge physically and emotionally; it takes determination and perseverance. The first two climbs we raised money to build the Madaraka Nyerere Library and Community Resource Center in Nyegina. This time we will fill it with more books and computers, and make it a 21st century learning center for the students and their families in the Nyegina area. The challenges they face in getting a 21st century education are much more difficult than climbing Kili. The money we raise in this climb will help them overcome these challenges and help them escape poverty for themselves, their children, and their children’s children.

Q: How are you preparing to hike to the top of a 19,341 foot mountain?

A: I swim longer and more often, walk instead of drive or ride my bike to work, and go on more and longer walks, especially on weekends. And I will add more weight to my pack in the last month (about 5-7 pounds) for the hikes to get my shoulders ready for the 6-8 hour hikes carrying my water each day on Kili.

Q: What animal do you want to see on Safari?

A: All of them.

Q: Do you have any past experience with TDS? If yes, please explain.

A: Yes, this is my 3rd fundraising climb, and I am also co-founder and president of TDS.

Q: How important is reading and writing to you on a daily basis?

A: I read three newspapers daily and write every day. I read scholarly articles and books as part of teaching.

Q: What is your favorite book?

A: Currently reading Parker Palmer’s book, The Company of Strangers. Published in 1981, it is prescient 40 years later: we need an active public life to strengthen our private life and nourish our souls. Serving others heals our souls and is a guiding compass to help make the world a better place.

Q: What is your favorite memory from school?

A: Which school? I have a newspaper clipping from when I was in primary school, 3rd grade. My classmates and I raised money, I think to buy the school a shovel! (Not sure why, but it was 1965 in Virginia.) I still exchange Christmas cards with my first grade teacher, Mrs. Reba McClanan. My family surprised me by helping her fly to our wedding rehearsal in rural Wisconsin in 1983. She later was elected to the Virginia Beach city council and I heard her praised from the city manager who was attending the International City/County Management Association conference that year. She was a dedicated public servant and “all in” council member, according to him.

I enjoyed high school at Stevens Point Area High School (in Wisconsin) and especially enjoyed the fun mentoring relationships with most of the teachers. One April Fool’s Day in advance algebra class we decided to create a math scavenger hunt for the teacher. He couldn’t find the dreaded red pencils unless he followed the equations that gave him distances and angles to get to his pencils. At the end was a stool with a dunce cap, which he willingly donned for a picture that appeared in the year book. He must have appreciated all of the work we put into building the equations!

I just learned that my favorite English teacher, who was also the high school debate team coach, died in February. Mr. Bonikowske loved teaching and loved his students. My favorite memory from debate was when we won the 1974 state championship. Bonikowske was in heaven. As a teacher myself now, I can only imagine the joy he felt for all the work he and his students had put into crafting and honing the arguments to win the debates.

The reason these are some of my favorite memories is that they are about teachers who inspired me, who engaged with their students, who were so dedicated to the teaching experience that they went above and beyond the 8-4 classroom (as most teachers I know do). I hope that the help that TDS is giving to provides teachers and students with the books, tablets, and training they need for a 21st century education will help create these moments and memories for them as well.

Q: What about traveling to Tanzania are you most excited for? What are you most nervous about?

A: I am looking forward to meeting my friends in Nyegina and Musoma again. I’m looking forward to working with Azizi Msuya and his incredible Trek2Kili guides and porters. If I’m nervous about anything, it is getting all the volunteers to Moshi on time, without delays caused by airlines. Once we are all together in Moshi, everything and everyone will start clicking together.

Q: Why is it important that your friends, family, or acquaintances donate to your personal fundraising goal?

A: My family and friends share my commitment to community service. They volunteer in so many ways to make their communities better places to live. They also know that when they donate to TDS, their gift is having 100% impact on the girls and boys we are helping to educate in Tanzania. Our TDS track record is excellent over 10 years. We built a modern dormitory for 160 girls. We built a library, computer labs, a teacher resource center, and a community classroom for adult education. Now we are filling the library and computer labs with books and computers to make the facility come alive. In a few short months, Nyegina will have the largest single library collection of Swahili language books in Tanzania! With generous donations from family and friends, we are going to help our Tanzania friends and families create a thriving 21st century learning community.

Q: Is there anything else you want TDS followers to know about you?

A: I am very excited that I will be climbing Kili with 4 of my student alumni from the NIU study abroad programs to Tanzania. What will be most special for me is that they will be going back after several years to see the dormitory and library that they helped build. They helped pass sand bags and rocks to pour the floors, painted window frames, and did other tasks that helped create a 21st century learning center for boys and girls whom they will never know, but who will know that they were blessed with the help of my students and other TDS volunteers. I am a man with many, many blessings.

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