Getting to the heart of it

Joe Kastantin retired after a long-term career teaching accountancy at UWL. He also spent 14 years working and teaching in Europe, including a Fulbright grant to research and teach in Slovakia. In retirement, he has found a new interest volunteering in prisons. On a common thread, he recently reviewed the book “Overcriminalization” by Douglas Husak for the Thomas Book Group.

Long-time accountancy professor donates fall semester salary to scholarships

A long-time UWL accountancy professor has given students a big boost. Professor Emeritus Joe Kastantin and his wife, Linda Kastantin, chair of the UWL Alumni Association Board of Directors, donated a semester’s worth of his teaching salary to support UWL student scholarships.

“In accounting, debits go on the left and credits go on the right. In between the debits and credits, one will usually find a human with a heart,” explains Kastantin. “Linda and I were very pleased to be in the position to make this final financial contribution at the end of my teaching career to our present and future accountancy majors.”

Kastantin retired from the Accountancy Department in June 2016, but came back to work in September 2016 after the department had a last-minute vacancy in a high-demand course. The course, Auditing, makes up about one fourth of the Certified Public Accountant examination. In the fall, 40 UWL students had signed up — the vast majority seniors who needed it to graduate.

“This is a truly unbelievable display of both generosity of time, talent and treasure,” says College of Business Administration Dean Laura Milner.

But the move wasn’t out of character for Kastantin. Much of his life has been dedicated to teaching students, serving others and showing compassion. To accomplish his personal objectives, Kastantin often took on work that others showed no interest in doing, thereby creating some remarkable opportunities, he says.

Kastantin spent 10 years in the U.S. Army in Korea and Vietnam before starting his teaching career. He taught accountancy in the College of Business Administration, but also lived and taught abroad for 14 years in Europe.

During a semester-long teaching assignment in Dalkeith, Scotland, he took a weekend trip to visit the site of the crash of Pan Am Flight 103, the plane brought down by a 1988 terrorist attack known as the Lockerbie bombing. At a memorial wall, Kastantin met the father of one of the victims whose grief struck him so deeply that he wrote a poem about the personal grief he felt from the complete stranger. He wrote about the 17-year-old victim, “Tracey Jane and Lockerbie,” in a poem later published in a sociology journal.

Kastantin has published many works throughout his life — particularly for academia. He developed a writing partnership with Barry Minkow, a former businessman, pastor and convicted felon. The two have published several business fraud case studies even while Minkow was still serving sentences.

After his second retirement in January, Kastantin has continued working with prison inmates. He has volunteered at Oxford Federal Correctional Institution in Wisconsin and Nebraska State Penitentiary. At the latter, he was volunteer for Defy Ventures, an entrepreneurship, employment and character development training program for incarcerated people. Kastantin calls Defy’s program a “win all around.” The training program drastically reduces the tendency of a formerly incarcerated person to re-offend to a rate of less than 5 percent, according to the Defy Ventures website. After making five visits to Nebraska State Penitentiary thus far, Kastantin plans to return to continue work with Defy Ventures in early August. Linda, who joined him in April, plans to go again in August.

Joe Kastantin giving high fives to participants in the Defy Ventures program.

In retirement Joe Kastantin has been volunteering to work with prison inmates. Here Kastantin congratulates a group of participants in the Defy Ventures program at Nebraska State Penitentiary during their May 3 graduation ceremony.

Kastantin is still processing the connections he made with inmates at Nebraska State Penitentiary whose life stories touched him deeply — the same way Tracey Jane’s father did.

Helping prison inmates turn their lives around is a different kind of work than helping a UWL student solve an accounting quandary. But it’s motivating in the same way for Kastantin. What the two tasks share in common is the satisfaction that he gets from digging in and helping others — sometimes when no one else will.

It’s not a question of debit or credit. It’s much more powerful. It’s about delivering human heart.

A history of giving 

Joe Kastantin and his wife, Linda, are long-time contributors to the UWL Foundation. In 2001, they started their own scholarship that provides about $1,000 to accountancy students annually. The recent additional donation will allow them to pay out an additional $4,000 each of the next five years. At the Spring Accountancy Banquet, the first $5,000 scholarship was awarded to Ethan Young.