James T. Ault III was a hard professor with a soft side.
Burly and bearded, he would spend hours in his office telling stories and helping students who cared about doing well in his sociology and statistics classes.
He worked as a Creighton University faculty member for more than 45 years and was still teaching this year.
His office included teddy bears — symbols that while he and his classes could be intimidating, he was a teddy bear on the inside.
Those are the reflections of former students who went on to become Creighton professors themselves.
Ault, 77, died on April 26. He had struggled with heart disease.
“He had high standards,” said Laura Heinemann, chairwoman of Creighton’s department of cultural and social studies. Heinemann was a Creighton undergraduate in the 1990s and had been one of Ault’s students.
“Oh, he was a great professor,” she said. “He loved teaching. He loved to mentor students.”
Ault’s memorial service was Thursday at Christ Community Church in Omaha.
He taught difficult classes, including statistics, geographic information systems (a class on mapping through data), demography and others.
Rebecca Murray, associate dean of arts and sciences at Creighton, said Ault was a tough grader who assigned a lot of work to his students. She knows because he was her adviser when she was an undergraduate at Creighton in the 1990s.
The subject matter, such as statistics, could be dense, and he could be confusing, Murray said.
But he welcomed students into his office, and he would give them lots of time — even two hours — to talk and work through class problems, Murray said.
She said he was exceptionally smart and a complex thinker.
“When I first met him I found him a little intimidating,” said Roger Bergman, who is retiring this month as Creighton’s director of the Justice and Peace Studies program. “He was kind of a softie, I think.”
Ault would enthusiastically describe to Bergman new ways to make statistics and geographic information systems interesting by incorporating current events and other strategies, Bergman said.
Ault’s curriculum vitae shows that he was ABD — “all but dissertation” — from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
He had a conflict with his doctoral adviser in the early 1970s over his dissertation and walked away without getting his doctorate, colleagues said.
Creighton hired him anyway, a sign of how impressive he was, Murray said.
He encouraged women to enter academia, she said. She was a new faculty member in 2005 and had just had a baby. He told her to put a crib in her office and to bring the baby with her to class.
Heinemann said Ault was an early adopter of computer technology. His résumé shows that he was director of Creighton’s social science data lab in the mid- and late-1970s and did it a second time for almost 20 years until 2012.
He also was director of information services at Creighton in the 1980s.
Survivors include his wife, Rose, of Papillion and daughter, Livvi Bechtold, also of Papillion.