Between teaching, writing and spending time with a family divided between two states, one professor in the Mass Communications department has his hands full.
Long ago when Rick Wilber started teaching full-time, and as he sits back in his office on the third floor of the Communications building, he calculates how long it’s been.
“I realized just now, this is the 30th consecutive year that I’m a full-time college instructor,” he said, surprised at himself.
But that alone isn’t enough to celebrate. For the past 17 years, Wilber has taught Mass Communications and Society, Beginning Reporting, Magazine Feature Writing and occasional courses for the English Department. He has also published more than a thousand essays, short stories, features, profiles and reviews in major magazines and newspapers and has authored books on baseball, science fiction and journalism.
A St. Louis native, Wilber is the son of major league baseball player Del Wilber. The young Wilber and his four siblings spent summers wherever their father was playing.
“It was great; I was a member of a sort of large family of baseball people,” he said.
He said he remembers running around Fenway Park at an early age and spending time in the dugout of the White Sox in Chicago.
Wilber said he discovered science fiction at an early age. He made it a practice to read 100 books during his summers. In high school and college, Wilber was an all-around athlete and participated in track, football, basketball and baseball. It wasn’t until high school that Wilber realized he liked to write, he said. In college, he was a chief copy editor and wrote news, features and sports for his school’s daily paper.
Wilber graduated from Southern Illinois-Edwardsville University with a B.A. in journalism. While he was working on his master’s in English literature, the head of the journalism department offered him an adjunct teaching position in a reporting class. He accepted, and by the time he earned his master’s, he was already a full-time college teacher.
His first journalism job was as a sports writer for the Bradenton Herald, and from then he has had work published in The St. Louis Dispatch, Football Digest, St. Louis Globe Democrat and many others. His book, Where Garagiola Waits and Other Baseball Stories, was one of the finalists for the 1999 Dave Moore Award for Most Important Baseball Book of the Year. He has also received great praise for his other books, such as The Cold Road and To Leuchars.
Wilber’s childhood love for science fiction was ever present, and in 1978 he was admitted into Clarion, a famous workshop for beginning science fiction writers.
“I was very fortunate; I learned a lot,” Wilber said of Clarion.
It was after Clarion that Wilber began selling his science fiction short stories.
Wilber commutes weekly between Florida and Lewiston, a small town in New York where his wife and daughter reside. He also has a son diagnosed with Down syndrome who lives with him in St. Petersburg. Wilber plays basketball with his son every week, and his son seldom loses.
“He never tires of the weekly victories, and I never tire of the weekly joy of losing to this great guy,” Wilber said, smiling.
There is much more to Wilber than journalism, family and books. He also directs USF’s Irish Summer School in Contemporary Writing and administrates the Isaac Asimov Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing.
Though he has accomplished so much, Wilber said he still has unfinished business. He is currently working on a memoir about his father, who passed away from prostate cancer and associated ailments. For the last 15 months of his father’s life, Wilber was his caregiver. Even while he was taking care of his father, Wilber said he felt like he owed his father because he gave Wilber such a wonderful childhood.
“That was a debt, and I paid him back,” he said.
Next year, Wilber is switching things up a bit. This fall will be the end of his full-time teaching career. Starting in January, Wilber will be going into phase retirement, meaning he will teach one semester a year for the next five years.
“My primary focus will be spending more time with my family,” Wilber said.
His primary business focus will be on writing.