to Charles Van Riper

Many clients, students, colleagues and friends may wish to write a short "tribute" to Charles Van Riper. They are welcome to submit a tribute by emailing to Judy Kuster

posted to stutt-l, C. Woody Starkweather (September 27, 1994)

I am sorry to have to announce that Charles Van Riper died yesterday morning in his home in Kalamazoo, after a long illness.

Dr. Van was one of the early giants in the field of speech pathology, and I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that he was one of the founders of the field, although he came a bit later than some of the others. His book -- Speech Correction: Principles and Methods was the first textbook in the field and made more money for its publisher than any other book they ever published. Since they were the largest publisher in the world for many years, that is quite extraordinary.

Born in the wilds of the Michigan Upper Peninsula, the son of a country doctor, Van had a very severe stuttering problem from an early age. He struggled and fought with the problem until, in his twenties, he discovered that by giving up the struggle and "letting go" as we would say today, he could speak much more easily, although not with perfect fluency. But he realized that perfect fluency was not something anyone else had either. He also realized as a young man that his stuttering was made much worse by his the power that he gave to his listeners. When he took this power back to himself, his stuttering improved even more. In my opinion, these two principles are still at the heart of recovery from stuttering.

He was an energetic and poetic writer. In addition to Speech Correction, he wrote The Nature of Stuttering and The Treatment of Stuttering, which were the authoritative books on the subject for a number of years. After he retired in the 70's, he wrote a number of fictional works, which were published under the pseudonym of Cully Gage.

I had a very special connection with Dr. Van. When I was a young editor, working for Prentice-Hall, I was given the Fourth Edition of his book to edit. This assignment resulted in two things -- a long correspondence with the author, and my decision to become a speech pathologist. Van helped me with advice and letters of recommendation and introduced me to the then Speech Foundation of America (now the Stuttering Foundation of America) whose meetings I attended for a number of years. I was fortunate also to be able to edit both The Nature of Stuttering and The Treatment of Stuttering in the 70's.

Dr. Van Riper was a man who influenced my life greatly. For it was his therapy approach that allowed me to release the bonds and consequences of my stuttering, allowing me to become a much more fluent, free speaker. The two speech pathologists who helped me become more fluent were both people whose stuttering had been dramatically changed by Dr Van's influence on their lives. During my time in therapy with these two friends, I heard numerous and interesting stories about Dr. Van Riper and his work with persons who stutter. I became intrigued with what I heard. What a tough, caring, open, and somewhat eccentric man he seemed. Then one day in 1991, many years after I had started my present job at the University of Colorado, I received a letter addressed to me with a type written "C. Van Riper" in the upper left corner. I was thrilled as I opened the letter to discover a personal letter from Dr. Van. He began by saying we had professional friends in common, Barry Guitar and Krisann Fluckey. He was encourageing about some of my work in stuttering he had read over the years. More importantly, he invited me to begin to correspond with him, which I was thrilled to do. After a year or so of letter exchange, I received a correspondence from him inviting me to spend some days at his 140 year old farm house in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He said he was getting old and I should come for a visit while he "was still extant." I believe he was 84 years old at the time. A few weeks later I was on a plane headed to Chicago. Upon my arrival, I rented a car and drove to Kalamazoo.

The days I spent with him were some of the most memorable ones of my life. He told me stories about some of the "Greats" he had known such as Robert West, Wendell Johnson, Oliver Bloodstein, Malcolm Fraser, Joe Sheehan, Stanley Ainsworth, to name just a few. But something he said to me as he reflected on his career that ultimately influenced the direction of my writings in stuttering, is as follows: "If I had to live my career over again, one of the things I would do differently is focus my energy more on children who stutter. If we are to solve the riddle of stuttering, we must learn more about the early stages of stuttering onset and development. And, when stuttering is identified, we must intervene early. If we do this, there will be far fewer adult stutterers out there agonizing over their stuttering."

I miss your wisdom, humor, and caring, Dr. Van Riper. Your influence on my life, and the lives of thousands of others is heartwarming.

Peter Ramig, Ph.D.
Professor of Speech-Language Pathology
University of Colorado - Boulder, CO.

I loved Charles Van Riper, but I never knew him. His words jumped off his pages and stuck in my heart. He was very real to me. I read his books and articles beginning in the '60's at The University of Texas, Austin. His eloquence, kindness, and intelligence radiated. In the late 60's, I saw him speak once in San Marcos. He was everything I expected. Some people are irreplaceable.

Trish Donaghey, Speech Pathologist

Dr. Van by Gerald and Maxine Johnson

I have been reading and laughing and crying and printing the posts you have been so gracious to provide for those of us who will never forget a lifetime of of knowing Dr. Van. My husband came to see what I was doing and he joined me in this silent and mournful and happy celebration of a life lived for those of us who needed him.

I once told Dr. Van that he will live on in those whom he helped. I never have done therapy without thinking of what he had done for me and all the things he taught--mostly to THINK. At this age of 66, I still think of ways to do things that I had not considered before. In this later part of my life I am still amazed at what he taught us--he would think of new and better ways to do things and then we would try them and teach us. Even today, I keep thinking: there's a better way to get this done!!!

Gretchen Guck Fifer
WMU 1954, University of South Carolina 1979
added April 2, 1999

Although I never knew Dr. Charles Van Riper. I am writing just to say I feel a connection to his work.

My father's name was Charles Harold Van Riper, from New York State, Finger Lakes Region. He had 4 daugthers and 2 sons (1 died when he was only one). We all had to overcome medical difficulities and always attributed our ability to do so because of my father's dedication to his family's health and welfare; I had epilepsy, another sister stuttered and had a tear duct problem, another sister had a severe hearing problem, and my brother had a hip deformity and crossed eyes.

Thanks to my father's dedication to his family, his interest and training in medicine we all overcame our childhood difficulties and never thought of our conditions as handicapping. I guess it takes good people, such as those named Charles Van Riper, to make this place a better place to live.

I wish my Dad could have met him before he died in April 1990.

Thank you for making this site available on the W.W.W.

Bonnie Van Riper-Balok (New York State-Finger Lakes Region) e-mail:

added April 28, 2000

When I was a student at WMU from 1960-1964, I had the unforgettable privilege of having Dr. Van Riper as my instructor for two classes. He was the BEST instructor I've ever seen! I loved his assignments, his class discussions--& especially his "scavenger hunt type of tests!" What I remember him with love for was when he allowed me to take my final exam early so I could leave for Argentina the next day in June of 1963 (I had my reservation before I checked with him!). He had me promise that I wouldn't share my answers with anyone...& I didn't!

Throughout the 31 years I've taught, I've always shared with my students how Dr. Van Riper's delightful personality far outshined any challenge he had with stuttering. I think his inspiration truly helped me overcome many of the challenges I've had to face in my own life. I'm recently retired, but I continue to think about the man who taught me how to speak without saying, "! I'll be forever grateful to him! :)

Sharon E. (Sanderson) Liles
added April 28, 2001

There are many people that I would love to have met in my life, but none more than Cully Gage. I only started to know Cully as Dr Charles Van Riper in the late 1980's. Much to my surprise as I was sitting at a friend's kitchen table and I noticed a book on it that was written by Dr Charles Van Riper. Now the name Van Riper is not an all too common one, so I decided to ask my friend about the author. He told me that Dr Van Riper was known as the father of speech pathology. He seemed to know this Dr Van Riper pretty well, so I asked if it could be a Van Riper who grew up in Champion, Michigan. Could he be the son of a very well known Dr that practiced in this small town for many years. My friend thought that he had heard that Dr Charles Van Riper was from Northern Michigan. With a little back ground work I was able to find out that yes in deed it was the same Cully (Dr Van) that wrote the books about his life growing up in Champion, Michigan. These books had kept me sane when I could not be at my beloved cabin in Champion on a little lake (Fish Lake) that Cully had fished and swam in when he was a boy. The cabin that I brought my Bride to, as my Parents had done before us. As I read Cully's latter books I began to see more of the man, not just his love for the land and its people. Even though I drove past his boy hood home each time I was able to come up to our Cabin, I did not know that the man was world renowned for his other job!! I had the chance to meet him once in 1990. I had stopped at his family home in Champion, there was a man working in the front yard and I thought it might be Cully. He said that "no he was not Cully" but that he was at his Cabin up the Grade and he could give me directions, if I would like to meet him. I said no, that I had some people that were coming to my camp and I would try to do it another year. Oh what a fool I was, opportunities lost. I have read all his books till the covers have worn off. Just one more book Cully, just one more.

David Pansing
Cincinnati, Ohio.
added November 17, 2003

I was four years old when I had my first therapy experience. My mother made an appointment with Charles Van Riper because of delayed language. I had only two or three words at 4 and they were unintelligible. Van Riper encouraged my mother to start stimulating me for speech which unfortunately resulted in the onset of severe stuttering. I was fortunate to have spent my entire childhood living in the Kalamazoo area which afforded me the opportunity to receive most of my speech therapy from Van Riper and his students at Western Michigan University.'

Although I was encouraged to enroll in Western's Speech Pathology program following high school I decided to pursue other dreams. I took a BA in English from Hope College in 1966 whereupon I got drafted into the army. I served for four years the last three in Germany.

Mixing English and German was a nightmare and upon being released from the army I stuttering more severely then ever in my life. I begged Van Riper to take me back for one last therapy regimen. In six weeks I was recovering nicely and decided to make a career in speech pathology. I was chosen to train under Van Riper to beome a stuttering specialist in the public schools, and began intensive training to work with children who stutter. All my therapy sessions were recorded for viewing in the late afternoon and evenings. Van Riper had spent most of his life working with adults and came to the conclusion late in life that perhaps his time would have been better spent with children. We were attempting to modify adult stuttering therapy (MIDVAS) and adapt it to children. Certainly, there were many changes, sometimes large and other times subtle that were required if we were to be successful with children who stutter. I was 30 at the time, an army veteran, former college football player and all around tough guy. While watching video of my therapy he relentlessly demanded to know, "Why did you do that?" "Why did you say that?" "Why did you move your arm that way?" "Why don't you shut up and let the child talk?" I remember occasionally going to the restroom where I would wipe tears of frustration and anger from my face then going back into the video room for more criticism. It was intense with many shouting episodes during those sessions. I learned to appreciate how every word, every action was important in the therapeutic process. He was teaching me to be a therapist. Although it was disorder specific I have found over the years those skills are applicable across disorders. I have been forever grateful for my year as Van Riper's student clinician/punching bag.

Carl Dell
added March 11, 2008

Brian Johnson ( emailed on 12/20/09 at 9:14 AM

At 12 years old I spent time in Michigan's UP with my family. Never a book reader but I found myself reading the NorthWoods Readers by Cully Gage. It left a strong impression on me and I grew up wishing I was Cully and living those stories. Years had gone by and I continued to think about those books and always thought about finding the hidden money in the lost well and thoughts of other tales in those books. I was excited to find those books in a box years later and just at a time when we had purchased the family cabin. It was my children's turn to hear the tales.

To this day I am a slow reader with difficulty absorbing what I read.The list of books I have read in my life is less than ten but the Cully Gage books make up most of those.

This morning my wife gave birth to our 7th and final child. "CULLY GAGE JOHNSON" was born at 4:30 am December 20th 2009 at a huge size of 10 lbs. 13 oz. and 8 days beyond his due date. At this time he lays wrapped in his red and black northern themed blanket at the hospital doing well after a very difficult delivery. He certainly looks like a Cully Gage to me and I only wish I had the toy smokers pipe to lay next to him.

A couple weeks ago I typed Cully Gage into the computer and found an article about him. I was so surprised to find he was a highly respected gentleman living in the lower state. I thought how exciting it would be to deliver the news to him of our new son and our fondness of his tales, to introduce our son to him and get a photo of them together. How upset I was to look him up again last week and find the article to be written in 1990 and learn that he had passed.

It was nice to read what a fantastic man that he was outside of the great stories he wrote.

At this time, after a very long night with my wife at the hospital I am going to catch up on some rest before dashing back to the hospital and holding Cully... And Julie...

added December 22, 2009

Fred Murray (personal correspondence)

Charles Van Riper is the person to whom I owe the greatest gratitude for showing me for the first time in my life, the path leading to an untangling of a stumbling tongue that had rendered me immobile in its tenacious grip. Years of ineffective therapy for stuttering had all been aimed at preventing and suppressing what had become highly apparent abnormal behavior with frequent struggle, accompanied by overwhelming anxiety. Van Riper's plan of therapy allowed for continued stuttering but focused on modifying reactions to verbal interruptions. I was given choices of response to these occurrences and encouraged to reduce habitual avoidance of speaking situations. Gradually, progress became evident via smoother speaking. If a severe stutterer can stutter with a minimum of abnormality and a maximum of "moving forward" and not "holding back" the final product is rewarding oral communication.

added August 21, 2014

My times with Dr. VanRiper were not through treatment or academia. From sometime in the late 80's until days before his passing in 1994, I was the guy who cleaned the chimney at the old farmhouse on Milham Road. He delighted in my annual visits as I appeared in full regalia as chimney sweep. He must have loved his fireplace because the chimney always needed a cleaning. I think I charged about $45, but the greatest payment was on at least 3 occasions he gave me copies of his "Northwoods Reader" books, which he penned under the name Cully Gage. He always wrote something inside the cover like, "To Jim, who keeps my home fires burning brightly."

The last time I was at the house was in 1994. By then, his physical decline was evident and he had a helper in the house. Although nearing the end, by gosh he wanted that chimney cleaned! I was phasing out of chimney cleaning and working on a Masters in teaching students with learning disabilities. I chatted with him about this. Upon parting, the last thing he said to me was, "That a' boy, you can do it!" I will never forget that.

In this life we cross paths with many people. Often, it is a pleasure. Sometimes, it is also a great honor.

With Warm Regards

Jim MacKenzie

April 6, 2016