Terrence Cole says he immediately fell in love with Alaska and Fairbanks when he arrived in the state with his brother Pat in 1970. Pat was coming to UAF and Terrence realized he wanted to follow suit. As it turned out, his identical twin brother Dermot and their two younger sisters would also be drawn to the school. But Terrence Cole admits in college he had no inkling he would eventually be an historian until he fell under the spell of Bill Hunt and Hunt’s book on the Alaska gold rush era.
“I just love the gold rush stories and that book sort of really inspired me to think, ‘Gosh. I’d really like to be a writer, but I don’t have anything to right about. Heck, I could write about this,’” Cole said.
Cole has penned more than a dozen books about the gold rush as well as leading figures and institutions in Alaska. Cole says he enjoyed his time in grad school at the University of Washington in Seattle and working for Alaska Northwest Books and editing the Alaska Journal, but he wanted to return to UAF. He got his wish in 1988 when he joined the history faculty.
“You know, I’m so lucky I got to work at the University of Alaska Fairbanks because I don’t think my style would necessarily fit in at most other universities,” Cole said.
Beside chalking up an impressive list of publications, Cole’s teaching style became legendary. He says he wanted to keep his students guessing.
“I would set the classes up so that people wouldn’t know what I was gonna do next,” Cole said. “Now this is sometimes a problem when you forget what you’re gonna do next.”
Nevertheless, Cole earned top marks from students for enthusiasm and garnered many awards for his teaching, writing and research. Several of the honors he’s received over the years were awarded jointly with his brother Dermot, a well-known journalist and columnist.
Last year, Cole learned he had inoperable gastric cancer, which prompted his decision to retire. While he’s receiving chemotherapy he’s also finishing a book on the gold rush. The same humor that inspired his teaching is evident as he discusses his so-called final lecture tonight at UAF.
“As Dermot’s wife Debbie said, just because it’s my last lecture doesn’t mean I’m gonna stop pontificating,” Cole said.
That lecture is scheduled for tonight at 7 p.m. in Schiable Auditorium.