May 3, 2011— -- When Professor William Kielhorn found himself in the intensive care unit to deal with chemotherapy complications from treating his stage four colon cancer, he was quite put out.
At 79, Kielhorn was just one class short of finishing 45 years of teaching without missing a single day.
With his perfect attendance at risk, Kielhorn reminded his oncologist at Good Shepherd Medical Center in Longview, Texas: "I have class tomorrow at 3 o'clock."
That's when his daughter, Martha Croft, and granddaughter, Courtney Bellamy, came up with a plan and started making arrangements for Kielhorn to give his last class via teleconference from the hospital.
"Either we were going to break him out or they were going to bring the Skype in," Croft said with a laugh.
So on April 28, Kielhorn put on his glasses, took out his textbook and gave his last lecture through a laptop that was perched on the dining table of his hospital bed.
"I felt the students had paid for the courses and the least I could do was show up and teach," Kielhorn said.
Kielhorn gave the engineering lecture in his hospital gown with IVs still attached to his body while about 15 students watched from a classroom at nearby LeTourneau University.
The class was called "Manufacturing Processes" and the final lecture was a review for the students' final exam, which will take place this week.
Kielhorn had been teaching three classes a week until his hospitalization, but the day of his last lecture he was so weak he could barely speak.
But Bellamy, who was in the room for her grandfather's last class, said the moment he began talking to his students his voice transformed.
"It was perfect, it was strong, it was just unbelievable really," she said. "I had not seen him talk like that in a long time."
Janet Ragland, director of university relations, was in the classroom with the students as they watched Kielhorn's lecture on a projection screen.
"His love for his students is very obvious," she said. "They seemed to appreciate his dedication."
Ragland added that to her knowledge Kielhorn was the only teacher in the school's history to go 45 years without missing a day.
Croft says her dad has always been dependable – she remembers spending a lot of time with him as child and going into work with him on the weekends.
She said watching the end of her father's teaching career as he said goodbye to his students brought her to tears.
"He just loves it, he's always loved it," Croft said. "If he gives you his word that he's going to be there, then he'll be there."
Forty-five years of teaching was a personal milestone Kielhorn had set for himself.
"It was a wonderful feeling of accomplishment being able to meet that goal," Kielhorn said.
Thursday, the university will hold a ceremony for a newly renovated lab that will be named in Kielhorn's honor. His family plans to attend.
Kielhorn has been moved out of the intensive care unit, but is still hospitalized and struggling with health issues.