Kenneth B. Cummins

Kenneth Burdette Cummins was born on July 27, 1911, and grew up in the village of New Washington, near Bucyrus, Ohio. Following his graduation from Ohio Wesleyan University with Phi Beta Kappa honors in 1933, he taught mathematics, science, Latin, and music at Sulfur Springs and New Washington High Schools for 24 years. In 1939 he completed a master's degree under Professor Frank Ogg at Bowling Green State University. His master's thesis was "An Elementary Study of the Cubic Surface."

In 1957, Cummins joined the mathematics department at Kent State University, and the following year he completed his Ph.D. in mathematics and mathematics education at The Ohio State University. His dissertation, A Student-Experience-Discovery Approach to the Teaching of Calculus, was directed by Dr. Harold P. Fawcett. At Kent State, Dr. Cummins served briefly as the mathematics department chair in the 1960's, but he was better known for the more than thirty grants that he received from the National Science Foundation to conduct summer and academic year institutes for high school mathematics teachers. Over the years more than 1000 teachers took advantage of these professional development opportunities.

In 1970 Kenneth Cummins teamed up with his former teacher, Harold Fawcett, to write The Teaching of Mathematics from Counting to Calculus. This textbook on teaching methods has influenced countless mathematics teachers across Ohio and the nation. Dr. Cummins also made more than 100 presentations at meetings of the Ohio Council of Teachers of Mathematics (OCTM) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). He served as president of OCTM from 1962 to 1964, and he was one of its first Patron (Life) members. He was also a frequent speaker at the Ohio Section of the Mathematical Association of America and the annual fall mathematics and statistics conferences at Miami University.

Every summer, from 1934 through 1997, Dr. Cummins directed the New Washington Band in Saturday night concerts at the gazebo on the village square and at area festivals. Actually, he directed with his right hand and played trumpet with his left, which must have been a delight to watch and hear. He organized the New Washington Community Chorus in 1944, which he also directed in performances of Handel's Messiah and other cantatas and oratorios.

Cummins was still teaching some classes at Kent State University as late as the fall of 1993. In September, 1997 he presented a paper at Miami University on "The Construction of the Center of Curvature at a Point on a Parabola." His last formal presentation was at the OCTM/NCTM regional conference in Cleveland in November, 1997, where he spoke about "Using the Power of the Student: Capitalizing on Student-Discovery."

Kenneth loved geometry, and his papers always had a geometric flavor, no matter what their principal topic might be. He was also famous for including some Latin quotations in every talk that he gave. His students remembered him fondly and often attributed their own love of mathematics to a course or workshop that they had taken from him.

A true polymath, Cummins loved to learn in several languages and in several disciplines. In the last month of his life, he was studying an advanced geometry text in German and, during the 1997-98 school year, he was tutoring some New Washington students in chemistry and mathematics. He passed away on May 13, 1998.

In 1981, when OCTM initiated the Christofferson-Fawcett Award to honor long-term, dedicated, and inspired service to mathematics education in Ohio, Dr. Cummins was the clear choice to receive the first award. He always enjoyed sharing the excitement of a new idea that he had recently studied or developed. He was gifted in teaching the concepts and conveying the thrill of learning to others. Kenneth Cummins clearly embodied Geoffrey Chaucer's characterization of the clerk as the ideal companion on the road to wisdom, "for gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."

Article by
Richard Little, Baldwin-Wallace College
David Kullman, Miami University


Little, Richard, "Dr. Kenneth Cummins Our Friend and Teacher," Ohio Council of Teachers of Mathematics Newsletter, No. 57 + n, (Sept. 1998) pp. 1, 3.