SAHEC Instructor Finds Mathematics to Be the Pick of the Crop



Dec. 5, 2005 –When asked by a Roman ruler to show him an easy way to do geometry, Greek mathematician Euclid, said, “There is no King’s way.”

Sikeston Area Higher Education Center (SAHEC) mathematics instructor Asa Kinnaman uses this analogy in preparing his students for the consistent effort required in his course work. Yet, he also assures them that as a reward, math is consistent and dependable in return. 

Kinnaman graduated from Southeast Missouri State University in 1965 with a double major in English and mathematics.  He married his wife Patti shortly after beginning his first job teaching eighth grade math and serving as head basketball coach at Portageville, Mo.

 Kinnaman says with a laugh, “I knew math, but I didn’t know much at all about coaching.”

After teaching only a couple of years, he was drafted into the Army in the middle of the Vietnam War.At the time he was drafted, Kinnaman completed a questionnaire about his interests and skills and was given aptitude tests. This information was then transferred to a punch card and entered into a computer. Then, depending on classification and the military’s need, military assignments were made.

Kinnaman showed an interest in computers, and his math scores were high.

“Math probably saved my life,” says Kinnaman.

As a result, he was sent to the Pentagon to work on computers.  When he arrived, there weren’t any vacancies in computers, so he ended up using his English skills.  Kinnaman edited and typed award certificates and worked in briefing and debriefing personnel, he said.

At the same time he was rubbing shoulders with top brass in the Pentagon, he was moonlighting at a Montgomery Ward department store.

It was there, a chance conversation made a profound difference in his life and in the lives of hundreds of high school and college students.  A co-worker at the store asked Kinnaman his thoughts about a poem he was reading.

“I had nothing to say about it.  It was like a light bulb went on in my head, and I realized I had finished college by memorizing and not really learning anything,” says Kinnaman.

This defining moment prompted him to take education more seriously at the American University, where he took math courses until his release from the service.

In 1969, Kinnaman left Washington, D.C., relocated to Sikeston, Mo., and resumed his teaching career. While teaching, he spent his next four summers at the University of Missouri-Rolla finishing his master’s degree.

Around this time, Kinnaman and his wife moved near Bloomfield, Mo. They purchased the farm where they now live and raised their two sons, David and Jerry.

Over the next 35 years, Kinnaman taught various math courses for several educational institutions throughout Southeast Missouri.

“Kids are so much fun to teach, and teaching them is intellectually stimulating to me,” he says.

He served as a math department chairman for the Sikeston School District from 1969 to 2000 and was active in the SEMO Council of Mathematic Teachers. Kinnaman said he also enjoyed attending meetings and learning as a member of the Missouri Council of Mathematic Teachers.

In 1999, he retired from the Sikeston School District and a few years later, he persuaded his wife to retire too, so, together, they could pursue a shared passion — orcharding. 

In the early 1980s, Kinnaman’s father-in-law, a well-known fruit grower, gave Kinnaman and his wife 50 peach trees.  The fruit trees were the perfect crop for a farm with cleared areas on hilltops that weren’t appropriate for grain crops.

Today, with the help of a farm hand, Kinnaman does the growing and harvesting of his orchards, while his wife handles the sale of the fruit.  He tends six acres of orchards growing peaches, nectarines, plums, apples and pears. Patti Kinnaman sells the fruit directly to the public in Poplar Bluff and Sikeston, Mo., and on Highway 25 not far from the family farm.

He and Patti ride around the farm on their ATVs, collect butterflies and moths that happen upon their acreage, and fish off a pontoon boat anchored in the farm’s lake. 

“We both enjoy the outdoors,” Kinnaman says. “She and I like to do the same kinds of things and find our involvement in nature relaxing and exhilarating”

To Kinnaman fruit is pretty to look at and growing it is challenging.

“Years ago when I was instructed on how to prune a tree, it was so complicated for me,” he said.

“Now, I can look up at a tree and without thinking, know where it needs to be cut.”

When Kinnaman started farming 25 years ago, he relied on other growers’ experiences, but today, he uses the Web to search for new techniques in orcharding. 

“Once, I asked the advice of a horticulturist from the University of Missouri-Rolla, and he referred me to who he thought was the most knowledgeable grower around.  Ironically, the grower turned out to be my father-in-law.” 

Kinnaman seemed content in retirement, but his strong commitment to promoting the importance of the math profession drove him to return to the classroom at SAHEC when they needed a math instructor. He is now currently employed as an adjunct faculty member teaching algebra.

“Math is universal, yet there is a lack of technical professions in the United States,” Kinnaman says.  “I find math and science teachers aren’t glorified in the public eye like other professionals, but our country’s global competitiveness relies on Americans’ technical skills.”

Kinnaman finds his profession fulfilling.

“It isn’t necessary for everyone to go to college, but there are those whose interests and goals involve getting a college degree.”

Kinnaman says a degree is something to fall back on when times are uncertain.  He says SAHEC helps make a college degree more attainable by offering the high quality education Southeast is known for, at a more convenient location.

“For me satisfaction in education comes when I observe students actually learning the subjects I teach and gaining the power of knowledge — something I was fortunate to have grasped the second time around.”