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  Sharpless, John
NameJohn Sharpless
, Wisconsin , United States
Born 00, 1945 (73 years)
ContributorBarack O-blame-a
Last ModifedAndy
Oct 17, 2008 06:51pm
InfoJohn Sharpless, who has taught American History at the University of Wisconsin for nearly twenty years, is a life long Midwesterner. He was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1945. His father - John B., Sr. - was reassigned soon after John, Jr., was born, and the Sharpless family moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Until he was nine years old, the Sharpless' lived in a tiny apartment in Minneapolis. Only after many years of scrimping and saving was it possible for John's mom and dad to afford the building of their dream home in the country.

They built near an old, run-down boathouse which for years had served as the family's summer cottage. The change for John was profound. He was no longer a city boy. His home for the next two decades would be in the small town of Wayzata, Minnesota, located just west of the Twin Cities. John's mom, Portia Sharpless, had grown-up in a Nebraska farming community. And, while the five acres in Wayzata could hardly be called a "farm," she taught the Sharpless kids to till and weed the large family garden, raise pets and farm animals, and appreciate the bounty of nature's gifts.

It was there he grew up with his brother and sister near Lake Minnetonka, exploring the deep woods, open marshlands and grassy fields which are now sadly lost to suburban development. He camped in the forests, fished the streams and swam in the lakes. The years passed and his horizons grew as he canoed the rivers and sailed the lakes of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Perhaps it was only natural that in his teens he would be a YMCA camp counselor and canoe guide in northern Wisconsin. His love of the wilderness and his great affection for the people of the Upper Midwest was forged during these years.

After completing high school, John went on to the University of Minnesota. When high blood pressure excluded him from a NROTC scholarship, he set aside his dream of being a deck officer in the Navy and settled into an active student life on the Twin Cities campus. In 1967, he graduated with honors, receiving a Bachelors of Arts and a Bachelors of Science, both in Economics. The following year he received a Masters in the History and Philosophy of Religion. Although he also earned a secondary education teaching certificate, he set aside plans to teach high school, deciding instead to go to graduate school in history at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

John completed the doctorate in American History in 1975 and immediately came to the University of Wisconsin. He settled with his young family on Madison's west side near Camp Randall Stadium. It was there he raised his two children - Burk and Megan - both of whom attended Randall Grade School, Van Hise Middle School, and West High. Currently Megan is attending San Francisco City College and pursuing a career in acting and screen writing. His son Burk, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin, is an artist living in New York City.

Over his years at the University of Wisconsin, John has taught courses at both the undergraduate and graduate level - among the most popular being "American History Since 1945" which traces social, political and economic trends from World War II down to the present. Moreover, John quickly established a reputation as an extraordinarily popular teacher. In 1991 he was voted "Best University Professor" in the Madison Magazine annual Best of Madison reader's poll. The Wisconsin Badger Yearbook featured John as the College of Letters & Sciences "Professor of the Year" in 1995, describing him as "... charismatic, inquisitive and colorful ..." In a history department known nationally for its exceptional teaching faculty, such praise is noteworthy.

John's research focuses on various aspects of American social and economic history as well as current trends in public policy. Most recently he has written about the relationship between population growth, natural resource issues, and United States foreign policy. Over the years, his research has received support from the National Science Foundation, Social Science Research Council, Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Archives. In 1985-86 he was a Fulbright Professor of Demography at the University of Papua New Guinea.

While living in New Guinea he continued his fascination with the wilderness and the open ocean, traveling with his son throughout this tropical nation of 4.5 million people and sailing among remote islands of the South Pacific. Often John would wander the Highlands of New Guinea alone, traveling the rain forests, the deep river valleys and mountain tracts to remote villages.

His keen sense of adventure, however, continues down to the present. In 1989 and 1995, he helped organize successful skiing and mountaineering expeditions to the Canadian Arctic. But adventure lies at home as well. His hobbies include sailing on Lake Mendota, mountain biking at Governor Dodge State Park, rock climbing at Devil's Lake, backpacking in the great Wisconsin North Country, and trout fishing at his cabin near La Crosse.

In the early seventies, John's father died and his mother moved to a farm about a half hour west of La Crosse, Wisconsin. His sister, Nadine, soon followed and married Jim Wise, a local bricklayer and farmer. They too have a farm near Caledonia, Minnesota, where they live with their three children.(Only his brother, Jim, has broken with the family tradition of living in the Midwest, moving to Nevada after eight years in the Air Force to work for a research and development firm.)

For the whole family - for John, his brother and sister, as for their children - "Portia's Farm" has become a center of their lives - a place to which they return for the warmth and reassurance of family, to find again the spirit of land and to reaffirm the values of the American Midwestern heartland.


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