Wilmette, Community

In Tribute: Longtime Wilmette resident Garstecki remembered as visionary in field

Northwestern professor’s research changed treatment of hearing loss

As a nationally recognized expert in the field of hearing and hearing-loss management, Northwestern University audiologist and professor Dr. Dean Garstecki researched a wide range of auditory challenges. 

Among the topics Garstecki, a longtime resident of Wilmette, researched was why so many older adults suffering from hearing loss were unwilling to use hearing aids despite their proven benefits. 

“Impaired hearing and the use of hearing aids are often perceived negatively. … Many adults deny hearing loss and reject amplification, in part due to such stigma,” wrote Garstecki, who died Sept. 4 at age 75. 

Longtime Wilmette resident Dean Garstecki.

His extensive pioneering research at Northwestern’s Roxelyn and Richard Pepper Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders shed light on the reality that different people treat their hearing loss with different degrees of urgency. His work, in turn, helped open eyes, improve lives and influence industry marketing approaches.

One person touched by his work was Chris Woodside. 

“I’m so glad people like him were doing the work that they were doing,” said Woodside, who cited Garstecki’s work in an article she wrote for Woman’s Day about her own emotional battle with hearing loss. In that article, she concluded, “Now I realize it was vanity that kept me struggling for so long.”

“I interviewed him for the story because he was one of the foremost experts in hearing loss,” she told The Record. “I had hearing loss my whole life and I really didn’t feel comfortable telling anybody about it until I was well into adulthood and then I realized this was pretty common. He was able to articulate that hearing loss is kind of mysterious and it’s gradual and you feel like something is wrong with the world and you are just missing something.”

Garstecki also expressed frequent concern about the dangers posed by misuse of earpods, earbuds and headphones, particularly by young people, and said that sound waves created by excess volumes do in fact damage the inner ear. 

“We’re seeing the kind of hearing loss in younger people typically found in aging adults,” Garstecki said. 

He strongly recommended that users follow the “60/60 rule,” meaning using headphones for no longer than 60 minutes a day and at less than 60 percent volume. He also suggested that using classic earmuff style headphones can decrease outside noise, allowing listeners to turn the volume down. 

During Garstecki’s 35 years with the Roxelyn and Richard Pepper Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, he served 11 years as the chair of the department. 

“He led many structural changes in the department and shaped the department to be the intellectual, teaching and clinical powerhouse it is today,” said Sumitrajit Dhar, the associate dean for research at the Hugh Knowles Center. “The programs in speech-language pathology and audiology are ranked second and fourth in the nation. Many of the successes the department is enjoying today would not have been possible without Dean Garstecki’s visionary scientific, intellectual and organizational leadership.”

Garstecki, a native of Milwaukee, earned a bachelor’s and master’s of science from Marquette University and his doctorate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

He had teaching appointments at the University of Illinois, UC-Santa Barbara and Purdue University before joining Northwestern University. He also held an appointment in the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery, was a founding fellow of the Hugh Knowles Center for Research in Hearing, and retired as professor emeritus.

Over the course of his academic career, Garstecki taught graduate courses in hearing impairment, hearing loss management in older adults, research in clinical audiology and professional ethics. He also published dozens of articles in leading scientific and professional journals, authored chapters in more than two dozen professional textbooks, and delivered hundreds of professional presentations on topics in hearing loss management.

Garstecki was a fellow of the American Academy of Audiology and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, and was president of that association in 1997. At Marquette, he was awarded the Alumnus of the Year in the School of Speech (1987) and Distinguished Alumnus of the Year in the College of Health Sciences (2013). At the University of Illinois, he received the Distinguished Alumnus of the Year in the department of speech and hearing science (2007).

Garstecki met his wife, Kathleen, when they were at Marquette. They were married for 52 years and have lived in Wilmette for the past 42. 

“He had a great sense of humor, he loved entertaining and a good laugh, he was very patient, and his colleagues called him a mentor,” she said.

He is survived by his wife, Kathleen. He was the son of the late Clemens and Lonita Garstecki; brother of Dawn Serio and Dale (Joanne) Garstecki; brother-in-law of Frank (Paulette) Morrissey and Cindy (David) Guss; uncle of Russ Brewer, Kristen (Mark) Ward, Andrew Garstecki, Patrick Morrissey, Daniel (Denise) Morrissey, Elaine (Sean) Cartwright, Andrew (Stefanie) Guss and Ben (fiancée Kristin Ritley) Guss; and great uncle of Sydney Ward, Berlyn and Mason Garstecki, Alison and Kevin Morrissey, and Fiona and Noelle Guss. 

A private funeral Mass was held at St. Francis Xavier Church on Sept. 12. 

Alan P. Henry

Alan P. Henry is a New York Times bestselling author, six-time national fiction contest prize winner, and 35-year newspaper veteran with the Chicago Sun-Times, Boston Globe, Boston Herald, 22nd Century Media and The Record.

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