You might not think ostriches and higher education have much in common. But if that’s the case, you probably haven’t gotten to know Dr. Rick Spellerberg.
Having grown up on a farm, Spellerberg, a professor of mathematics at Simpson, always had a passion for raising animals and being outdoors. But it wasn’t until a conversation with a Simpson colleague that he became introduced to the idea of farming ostriches.
“I think I responded the way most people would respond,” he recalled. “Ostriches? Really?”
Still, his interest was piqued. Being a mathematician and scholar, Spellerberg made sure to do the necessary research before making a move. Even though he knew farming ostriches would be a risk, it would be expensive and would seriously limit opportunities for vacations since it would be hard to find someone close by to properly care for the birds, he decided it was too intriguing an opportunity to pass up.
“I saw this as something that would get me back into my farming roots, in an interesting and unusual way,” he said. “Having a bunch of ostriches running around is a pretty good conversation piece.”
And it was.
Although he never incorporated his distinctive hobby into his curriculum at Simpson, that’s not to say his students didn’t get plenty of “learning” opportunities with the ostriches. Such as one student’s impromptu lesson in crisis management.
“She drove by my place and apparently saw an ostrich that had gotten out, and was lying on the ground with its head missing,” he explained. “So when she got to campus she was pretty frantic and was telling everyone about it. So I went out with a couple students to check on it, and as we got close I saw a sheriff ’s car sitting in the middle of the road. I thought something definitely wasn’t right. But then as we gotthere, we found that the sheriff ’s car was there because someone was moving a house. One of the birds did get out, but its head wasn’t missing. The students and I got it back in.”
After time, and his family’s growing desire to go on a vacation without worrying about how the ostriches were doing, Spellerberg made the decision to bring that particular adventure in farming to an end. He still has friends who farm the birds, and remains very active with the Ostrich Co-op of Iowa.
Ostriches and higher education may not have much in common. But as for what the experience taught Spellerberg, and what he thinks others could learn from it, it’s simple
“If there’s something you have a passion for, don’t be afraid to take a risk,” he said. “When I bought those birds, that was a big risk. But it was worth it. You’ll never know what you’re missing out on if you don’t follow your heart sometimes.”
Even if it means giving up a few vacations.