The Keene State community lost a recently retired adjunct professor from the science department.
According to The Keene Sentinel, Clifford Lerner (Cliff) died on September 7. He was 65-years-old and taught at KSC for 12 years, as well as Keene High School.
From Lerner’s resume, provided by the Dean of Sciences and Social Sciences Dr. Gordon Leversee, Lerner lived in Spofford and had a wife and three children. Between his time at the high school, being an associate professor at Antioch University and Keene State, Lerner taught science for 42 years.
Leversee said he knew Lerner in a number of ways. His daughter had Lerner as their high school science teacher, and then Leversee knew him when he came to Keene State in 2005.
“He was just this enthusiastic person and enthusiastic about life in general. He has a contagious passion for ecology and the natural world and enthusiasm for teaching students and having them share his passion,” Leversee said.
According to Leversee, Lerner is known locally for his field trips he takes students on to Belize and other tropical countries.
“He was just a really special guy,” Leversee said.
Lerner had developed brain cancer about two years ago.
Leversee said Lerner started to notice having trouble in his teaching, meaning he was having trouble retrieving words. Once being looked at by a doctor, it was discovered that he had a fatal brain tumor.
While at Keene State, Leversee said Lerner was active with his relationships with faculty and students within the department. “Every year, I review student evaluations of all of our faculty and he always got rave reviews from students for knowing his material and bringing his best to the class and I think bringing the best out of the students. He was able to relate to students in any class,” Leversee said.
Leversee mentioned how Lerner had a great presence. “He was always kind of acting like he was going to let you in on something important. Cliff just had a way of body language and a great voice that every teacher would give a lot to have.”
Retired biology professor Ken Bergman taught biology from 1979-2016. He described his relationship with Lerner as “multi-pronged.” Soon after Bergman began teaching at KSC, he received a request to go in and speak to one of Lerner’s classes. “I went there and he asked me to talk about viruses or something and I probably put his students to sleep, but he was really gracious. I could see that he just had such a warm personality. He interacted with his class in a way I found admirable,” Bergman said.
The two had talked occasionally over the years after that day. Bergman said they shared similar interests. Bergman’s daughters, like Leversee’s, also had Lerner as a teacher at Keene High School. Bergman’s daughters also had the opportunity to go on the trips Lerner was known in the community for leading to different tropical countries. Bergman said his daughters believed “the trips were life changing.”
“If you were to watch Cliff Lerner for five minutes, you would just realize this man has more energy than any other 30 or 40 people combined.”
“At his funeral, I did a small piece and I said, ‘I think he probably got up each morning and just sprang out of bed at four or five in the morning just impatient for the day’s events to begin.’”
Up until Lerner’s last days, Bergman kept close contact with him and visited him often. He saw him just the day before he passed. “Here’s the irony, just about six years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer and had to leave the college for half a semester to begin treatments and he covered for me. He took one of my courses and finished it. I just wish I could do something for him to relieve this.
Bergman said Lerner was a part of a clinical trial. He said Lerner’s wife said it probably gained him seven or eight months, which is a lengthy amount of time for brain cancer.
“He always remained optimistic, but he was also realistic. He knew with the nature of the diagnosis he was going to die of this thing. He was a fighter,” Bergman said.
Bergman reflected on who Lerner was as a person. He said, “His voice, his energy [and] his persona were undiminished until possibly right near the end. He was a titanic force of nature and just an extraordinary body of energy. He just swept you up and he was an incredibly inspiring person.”
Emma Hamilton can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org