Since he became director of the James and Myra Hume Jones International House Program at Jacksonville State University fourteen years ago, Dr. John J. Ketterer has spent 5,110 days on the job, has seen at least three classes of college students through their entire college careers, and has directly impacted the lives of at least five hundred students. But, as he planned for his retirement on July 1, these staggering numbers represent only a portion of what he has accomplished during his career, and only hint at what is yet to come as he begins the next chapter of his life.
Dr. John Ketterer had international education experience before his employment as director of JSU’s International House organization and program. He worked four years in Paraguay and six years in Mexico as the superintendent of schools and four years in Nicaragua and Peru as secondary administrator for grades seven to twelve. These high school education systems were multicultural and multilingual, which prepared Dr. Ketterer for his next career development, the move to JSU. Dr. Ketterer took his position as director in fall 2000 and was joined in Jacksonville by his wife, Ivania, and their two children, Genevieve and Jack.
However, it was not only Dr. Ketterer’s experience in international schools that brought great success to the International House. Jeff Clark, who serves as International Programs coordinator, explained the leadership of the International House by saying, “Because Ena Aguilar, the International House coordinator, was here prior to Dr. Ketterer’s arrival, she had a wealth of knowledge that allowed them to jump in and work immediately as a great team. When he came in it was almost like a marriage of cultures. Ena’s sons came through the program and her heart truly is with the program. With their pasts in Latin American cultures, they both shared a great understanding of cultural blending.”
Dr. William Jones, son of the International House founders, said, “Ivania really helped breathe life into the program, too. Dr. Ketterer already had an international background, especially in education. Ivania has helped to create a hospitable environment for the students. Even his personal life really fed the program...There have been four directors and I think what Dr. Ketterer has done has benefitted not only the program, not only JSU, but also the world.”
In a personal letter to Dr. Ketterer, Jeffery Smyth, who is a board of trustees member for the Jones International House Program, wrote, “Take a deep bow!...The territory is not always friendly, but you have been on the right side of history and you can always take personal satisfaction from your very great contribution to that ideal.”
Speaking of history, it would be a great injustice to not recognize the history of the program, as it is one of the very few international housing programs in the country.
The sixtieth anniversary of the International House, which took place in 2006, was celebrated by a large reunion and the creation of a DVD, which chronicles the history of the program. Dr. Ketterer and Ena Aguilar have played the reunion video as part of the International House freshman orientation. Appropriately, the video itself says there is no true way to recap the magnitude of history that program covers: the inspiring people who created the program, the ambassadors and professionals who have visited, the incredible amount of work that took place, and the exceptional alumni.
At the reunion, Dr. Jones read a letter that his mother wrote in 1964 to Dr. Houston Cole, saying, “We have tried to hold fast to our faith in the possibility of building a better world. And a with a little more goodwill, it is doubtful that any of us have any real comprehension of the power inherent in simple human kindness.”
Dr. and Mrs. Jones provided the spark that lit a fire with Colonel Clarence Daugette, Jr., Dr. Houston Cole, and Mrs. Kitty Stone. After all had witnessed a deteriorating Europe following World War II, they longed to create a program to bring diversity to the campus and also to represent the positive side of the American way of life. While Jacksonville State University was still known as Jacksonville State Teacher’s College, the program was founded and centered on the ‘Maison Internationale,’ which in French translates to International House.
The ‘Maison Internationale’ remains today, located in the heart of Jacksonville State University’s campus. Its Grecian columns have welcomed the majority of the JSU community through numerous and diverse events.
The International House organization and programs include connections with the English Language Institute (ELI) and the International Student Organization (ISO), which Dr. Ketterer has helped to advance. The International House is the nucleus of all international activities, from ISO parties to visa renewals.
The Alabama Federation of Women’s Clubs and The Anniston Rotary Club District 6860 have both been very influential and supportive of the International House Program from its origin. Dr. Ketterer is a Rotary member and has been very active with the club. Such ongoing relationships have cemented friendships, provided new opportunities for the international students to interact with the surrounding communities, and continue to bring positive exposure for the university.
Dr. Ketterer has also greatly contributed to the creation of JSU’s international cultural exchange programs with Chinese universities, such as Taizhou University, Wuhan University, and the Zheijang University of Media and Communications.
In 2004, he led a two-year restoration of the house including the dining room, lobby, and basement areas. In 2006, he had the attic restored and redesigned as an archive for all international records.
Dr. Ketterer commented on the restoration of the house, humbly saying, “Mrs. Ena Aguilar spent an entire summer in the hot attic just rescuing all the files! It’s been a team effort. Just yesterday I looked through every United Nations Day Tea program from the year 2000.”
The United Nations Day Tea is one of the greatest traditions of the house.
Ena Aguilar said, “Dr. Ketterer was the one who suggested that we have the event outside, and truly moved for the great amount of talent that’s always within this house to be shown through performances. It’s always a treat now to see the students showcase their cultures.”
As director, Dr. Ketterer has brought forth great change in social clubs, academia and student life. Many of the students will agree.
Ruben Herrera, an International House alumnus (’01-’03), said, “It [the International House] is a place for personal and professional growth. Whether you like it or not, you will always find yourself getting out of your comfort zone. I really believe that those years in the house changed me forever. It made me see the world more colorfully! It was not so much black or white or even grays; rather, it was an interesting mixture of all sides of life.”
The students of the International House affectionately refer to Dr. Ketterer as Dr. K, as that’s how he introduces himself at orientation. He immediately opens an environment of warmth to the students both in ISO and the International House.
Herrera said, “I could not tell you how grateful I am to them. They [Dr. Ketterer and Ena Aguilar] treated me like family, like real family! And when you are hundreds of miles away from home, in a foreign place, knowing that you can always count on them makes a whole world of a difference. Their kindness is compared to none. They are people that I will always have close to my heart.”
Saloua Lahlou is an International House alumna (’05-’07). She said, “Whenever I look back at the people who made a huge difference in my life, Dr. Ketterer stands at the top of them. He always reaches first and helps before we even ask. I went through a difficult period in my personal life, where his love and support made a huge difference. He is an amazing human being, a great leader, compassionate father and the perfect director.”
As Dr. Ketterer celebrated his tenth year as director, alumnus Milic Zecevic (’05-’09) wrote Dr. Ketterer a personal letter stating, “You showed me and my fellow international students the true value of the program. You are a true leader; you showed us how to be respectful, tolerant, open minded and, most of all, noble to each other. You showed us many useful things and you were our parent away from home... You sacrificed time from being with your own family in order to create us our International House family. I thank you, Mrs. Ivania, and your children for that. The America you represent is the America we want to live in...
“A great man once told me ‘It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.’ You should listen to this great man, Dr. K, because we – the International House members and alumni - need you. The world is a better place with you in it.”
When asked if the International House facilitated the same abundance of his personal growth as it did the students’, Dr. Ketterer solemnly said, “I am still a person who is becoming what I will be next. The house has demonstrated to me that there are good people everywhere and it only takes being open to see that and the possibilities to make a part of that goodness part of your life. The house is a part of my life.”
Dr. Ketterer sighed, leaned his chair back, and began to smile. Friends of Dr. Ketterer know that this is usually followed by a familiar piece of advice: “Don’t grow up too fast, kid.”
What is next for this man who has impacted so many lives at JSU?
Dr. Ketterer has accepted the position of superintendent of the U.S. State Department-sponsored school in Honduras. The discovery school is accredited by SACS and is characterized as a Montessori type school with over forty nationalities in small class sizes.
Jacksonville State University is grateful for Dr. Ketterer’s contributions to our university here and abroad, and wishes him the best as he begins the next chapter of a very colorful and meaningful life.
Photo: Dr. John Ketterer in front of the Clarence W. Daugette, Jr. International House. (Steve Latham/JSU)