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Richard T. Stavig, Professor Emeritus of English, Director Emeritus of Foreign Study

Professor Stavig died on Sunday, Easter morning, April 5, 2015. He was 87 years old. During his tenure at the College Professor Stavig established his legacy in several areas. Generations of students remember him for his inspired teaching, careful scholarship, preparation and dedication to excellence. Colleagues at home and abroad owe a great deal to his skills as a gifted administrator. The College community benefits from the legacy of his high ethical and moral standards.

In 1955 Professor Stavig began his 37-year career at Kalamazoo College as an assistant professor of English. Some 30 years later–in a speech he gave on Honors Day (October 31, 1986) about the beginning of study abroad at Kalamazoo College–he described his feelings on being chosen to accompany the very first group of 25 K students to experience three months of foreign study in the summer of 1958:

“Wonder of wonders, a thirty-year-old untenured assistant professor of English who had been at K only three years, who had never been to Europe, and whose oral language skills were minimal was selected to take the first group over [on the ship Arosa Star, departing from Montreal on June 17] and give them–what else could he give them–minimal supervision. Plans had been carefully made, but there was simply a lot we just didn’t know. We did know, however, that we were involved in a great adventure, an adventure that had tremendous implications for us and our college. And we knew we had the responsibility for making it work.”

That same year he accompanied the first group of students to study abroad Professor Stavig also was promoted to associate professor English.

He became a full professor in 1963 and served in that capacity until his retirement from K in 1992. And he did much more. In 1962–the year the K-Plan launched as the College’s curriculum–Professor Stavig became K’s first director of foreign study. In this role he established procedures and goals that are still valid today. Five years later he was named dean of off-campus education. He served in both of those posts until 1974.

In 1982, Stavig was awarded the Florence J. Lucasse Fellowship for excellence in teaching, the highest honor for pedagogy, and one conferred by one’s faculty colleagues. Stavig’s speech accepting the award is a study in keen and humble insight into the art of teaching. In the speech he shares 11 observations about the profession of college professor. Among those observations one finds these favorites: “2) Education is life for the students, teachers, and others who are engaged in it. Each of us should, therefore, seek to provide pleasure, satisfaction, rewards, and a sense of worth for all those who participate; 5) Anyone who claims to understand completely what happens in the classroom is either a fool or a liar. Each class, each day, is inevitably a new adventure. Sometimes everything clicks and the world is beautiful; sometimes, for whatever reasons, nothing works and one wonders what sins could possibly have earned such punishment; and 7) The longer I teach, the less concerned I am with supplying good answers and the more concerned I am with asking good questions.”

Rightly considered one of the founders of the K-Plan, Professor Stavig loved, believed in and advocated for the educational leaps that result from foreign study. He credited study abroad in large part to the vision of his friend, English department colleague, and fellow K-Plan architect, Larry Barrett, who also died on an Easter morning. “Larry Barrett saw foreign study as a unique opportunity for us to experiment and innovate,” said Professor Stavig, “to see if a boldly different kind of educational experience could be made to work. And he wanted this because he always wanted education simply to be better for the students.” And so, too, did the man who wrote those words about his friend.

Max Cherem ’04, the Marlene Crandell Francis Assistant Professor of Philosophy

Max  is one of four persons in the country honored with the prestigious Humanities Writ Large Visiting Faculty Fellowship for the 2015-16 academic year. He is spending this year as a research resident at Duke University and working in the Kenan Institute for Ethics. His work focuses on human rights, specifically the ethical challenges created by “externalized” state border controls: policies that try to prevent migrant arrival by projecting or outsourcing a nation’s authority over migration beyond its regular territorial borders. He gave an interview at the Kenan Institute explaining his research. Max earned his bachelor’s degree at K in philosophy and studied abroad in Nepal.

Conrad Hilberry, Professor Emeritus of English

Conrad HillberryIn a speech he gave in 1987, Professor Emeritus of English Conrad Hilberry said,”When I think of poems that I am especially drawn to, I find they often have a silence, a mystery at the center.”

Today Con is that silence, a life now part of a “mystery at the center” into which words will penetrate insufficiently at best, the way sunlight beneath the surface of a deep ocean shimmers a few meters at most then disappears.

Con died on January 11, 2017. Several weeks previous, his daughter, Jane, wrote that her father had written to her that he planned to “make his exit” after Christmas but wasn’t sure he could endure that long. He endured and then died from complications of cancer and pneumonia. He was 88 years old.

Con earned his B.A. at Oberlin College, his M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin. Attracted to “the promise of a college that was willing to try things,” Con was recruited to Kalamazoo College by Larry Barrett, a colleague in the English department and later a dear friend. Con started his career at K in 1962, the first full year of the bold and quirky curriculum called the K-Plan. He retired in 1998. In between, countless students of all majors and liberal arts inclinations fondly recall his literature and writing classes and especially his poetry courses. He wrote 11 volumes of poetry. His latest, Until the Full Moon Has Its Say, he wrote in his mid-eighties, and many of its poems are villanelles, a demanding form Con seemed to execute with ease. Like his friend and colleague Larry Barrett, whom he eulogized in 2002, Con was “in business right to the end.”

His prolificity as a poet sometimes obscured the fact that he was a marvelous writer of prose, author of the genre-bending creative nonfiction piece, Luke Karamazov, and countless essays and chapel talks, often on poets such as John Donne and Galway Kinnell, two he particularly loved, though there are many many more. Con loved to illustrate with poems the ideas he articulated in his prose as if to remind us that poetry (as he once said) can be a brief and invigorating elevation from the “lowly ground” of our inward selves–not that such ground is bereft of beauty and mystery, only that our souls seek a glimpse of something abundant beyond our own inwardness. Con often found that abundance, “a pool of meaning,” in the ordinary.

He was a remarkable teacher, entirely and joyfully at home in the “arches and vaults” of the liberal arts, created when the seemingly separate disciplines lean together and conjoin. He continually sought inspiration for his own work (both his teaching and his poetry) in the subject matters of his colleagues and friends in biology, mathematics, religion, philosophy, physics and psychology, to name just a few. Often he’d audit courses in different departments as grist for his imagination, for example John Spencer’s seminar on Alfred North Whitehead and David Evans’s class on ethology. What he learned in those classes found its way into his poems, intentionally or not. Most of all he loved K students, and the effect on them of the K-Plan: their genius, he wrote, “for combining academic work and off-campus experience in just the way to allow themselves the most dramatic growth.”

In 1995, three years before his retirement, he began teaching night classes in poetry at the Stryker Center. These he continued for some 15 years, and many of his ex-students and members of the greater Kalamazoo community attended. Con helped poets make and publish their poems, and the list of these writers is impressive, including, among others, Susan Blackwell Ramsey, Corey Marks, Gail McMurray Martin, Marie Bahlke, Kit Almy, Gail Griffin, Rob Dunn, Hedy Habra, Marion Boyer, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Jane Hilberry, Amy Newday, and his lifelong student and friend, Pulitzer Prize finalist Diane Seuss. His beloved wife of 60 years, Marion, who died on April 8, 2008, often joined him in these classes.

In an essay he wrote on Galway Kinnell, Con described the opposition between poems and the notion of the final word. Comments on poems we perceive as “right on certain points and wrong on others,” he said. “But no one sees [those comments, even if they are the author’s] as the last word, equivalent to the poem itself. We always assume there is more to be said as the complexities of the poem take different configurations from other readers….Whenever a reading is taken as final, the poem is diminished.”

He managed his classes like that, starting things off, then sitting back to listen and provide space for students’ voices–for that peculiar confluence of text and the texture of readers’ lives, from which arises meaning. “I just need to choose the right books,” he once said. “Then the students notice things about the poems, and they teach each other.”

He was a poet and teacher of the people, deeply involved in the city of Kalamazoo’s Poetry on Buses program during its heyday. Often, with fellow poets (and friends) Herb Scott and John Woods (English professors at neighboring Western Michigan University) among others, Con would bring poetry into public middle schools, somehow managing to engage that always potentially intractable audience into the “best poems,” which Con considered an ineffable harmony of vividness (which the junior high students loved) and wholeness (where, often, the work began). He served as an editor of the Third Coast anthologies of Michigan poets and seemed to be a friend to every writer therein.

In his teaching prime Con’s presence was unforgettable, especially his red hair and ready smile. His limp and the rattle of his bike always suggested some past accident that had had no effect on his love of biking steep grades, celebrating gravity. And why not celebrate the force that holds us in what he called our “borrowed dust” for our short while on earth–the best, the only place for love.

In his last chapel talk (2001), using a line from a poem by Stanley Kunitz, Con said, “I have walked through many lives, some of them my own.” Indeed, Con contained multitudes.

Near the end, when Con was in the hospital, before he came home for hospice care, he said to his daughter, Jane, “I still have some talents left.  One of them is sleeping.  Another one is laughing.”

So like Con: able to sort by scent the smoke of sleep and laughter. He was, to the very end, the poet of the ordinary’s miracle.

Frederick Strobel, former Stephen B. Monroe Professor of Money and Banking

FredStrobelFred, who taught economics and business administration at Kalamazoo College for two decades (1974-1994), died on December 22, 2016. He was 79 years old.

Born and reared in Quincy, Massachusetts, Fred earned a bachelor’s degree (accounting) and M.B.A. from Northeastern University, and he earned his master’s degree (economics) and Ph.D. (economics) from Clark University. He served as a lecturer at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Clark University, and he was a professor of economics for three years at Holy Cross College. Prior to joining K’s faculty he served as senior business economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. At K Fred was the Stephen B. Monroe Professor of Money and Banking. In that position he developed meaningful relationships with executives in the banking industry, and he planned and presented the annual Monroe Seminar on campus. That day-and-a-half event–“a vital, enriching contribution to the department and the College as a whole,” according to Fred’s colleague, Professor Emeritus of Economics Phil Thomas–featured a prominent keynote speaker and always a capacity audience. Fred, too, used the occasion to deliver major talks on the economic outlook of the region, country and world.

He was a prolific scholar who published articles in Business Week, The American Banker, The Eastern Economic Journal and the Journal of Economic Issues. He was a much sought-after viewpoint writer for the Kalamazoo Gazette, the Detroit News and other daily newspapers, and he was a frequent radio talk show guest on the subjects of the decline of the middle class and the creation of a two-class society in the United States. Fred wrote two books, Upward Dreams, Downward Mobility: The Economic Decline of the American Middle Class (1993) and The Coming Class War and How to Avoid It (1999). His thinking was prescient; according to Phil: “His books identified and documented the decline of the middle class long before the issue entered the national consciousness and policy debate.”

In 1992 Fred received a six-week appointment as visiting professor of economics at Moscow State University, where he taught a course in money and banking to a group of 60 Russian undergraduate and graduate students.

In 1994 Fred became the William G. and Marie Selby Chair of Economics at the New College of the University of South Florida in Sarasota. He taught there until his retirement in 2008.

Fred is survived by two daughters, Heidi Strobel and Gretchen Strobel. Heidi is a K graduate, class of 1990. A memorial service for Fred will occur in Stetson Chapel on Saturday, February 25, at 3 p.m. A reception in the Olmsted Room will follow the service.

Elizabeth (Ryder) Napier ’72

lizabethNapierElizabeth, a professor of English and American literatures at Middlebury College, has written and published the book Defoe’s Major Fiction: Accounting for the Self (University of Delaware Press). According to the publisher, “The book focuses on the pervasive concern with narrativity and self-construction that marks Defoe’s first-person fictional narratives. Defoe’s fictions focus obsessively and elaborately on the act of storytelling—not only in his creation of idiosyncratic voices preoccupied with the telling (and often the concealing) of their own life stories but also in his narrators’ repeated adversion to other, untold stories that compete for attention with their own.” At K Elizabeth majored in English and studied abroad in Bonn, Germany. She earned her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia.

Péter Érdi, the Luce Professor of Complex Systems Studies

Péter is the co-editor of a new book titled Computational Neurology and Psychiatry. He also is the co-author—along with two K students, Takumi Matsuzawa ’16 and Tibin John ’15—of a paper included in that book. The paper is titled “Connecting Epilepsy and Alzheimer’s Disease: Modeling of Normal and Pathological Rhythmicity and Synaptic Plasticity Related to Amyloidβ (Aβ) Effects.”

Sometimes seeing more is a matter of new ways of looking. Such “new ways of looking” include the emerging scientific fields of computational neurology and computational psychiatry. The key word is “computational.” Researchers apply math and computer science to create computer models that simulate brain structures and brain activities associated with specific disorders (epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease, for example). Such simulations—and new techniques of analyzing the copious amount of data that emerges from such simulations—have the potential to reveal elements of brain structure and function associated with disease and disorders, elements that have heretofore been a mystery. In other words, these “new ways of looking” may result in seeing what’s never been seen before.

Computer modeling also offers advantages of cost and convenience compared to older ways (animal experimentation and laboratory set-up) of trying to model and see brain structure and (mal)function.

A book that pioneers these new scientific fields is exciting and important, says Péter:  “Adopting advanced computational methods such as modeling and data processing raises hopes that one day we will more effectively treat neurological and psychiatric disorders.”

In other news, Péter has been appointed Vice President for Membership of the International Neural Network Societies.

Babette (Sellhausen) Trader, Retired Dean of Academic Advising

Babette died on May 12, 2014, in Sarasota, Fla. She served nearly 20 years at Kalamazoo College in various positions in the department of student affairs, including dean of students and dean of academic advising.  She received her B.A. from the University of Maryland and her master’s degree from Indiana University. In addition to her work with students at K, Babette served at two other colleges: Randolph-Macon Woman’s College (Lynchburg, Va.) and Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo, Mich.). In 2002, she received the Weimer K. Hicks Award from Kalamazoo College for distinguished service. Her professional affiliations were a source of great pride. She was a member of Alpha Xi Delta, a fraternity devoted to education for women, and received the Order of the Pearl award for 60 years of membership in the fraternity. Other professional affiliations included president of the State of Michigan Association of Women Deans, Administrators and Counselors; the Michigan Student Personnel and Guidance Association; and Delta Kappa Gamma. She was a former member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. On April 19, 1949, she married Robert B. Trader. After their successful careers in Kalamazoo, they retired to Hilton Head, S.C., and then to Sarasota. Babette loved to play tennis, mahjong, and bridge. She was an avid reader and volunteer. She was preceded in death Robert; at the time of his death, they had been married 54 years. Babette is survived by her daughters, Christine Burris and Diane Trader, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren.

Joe Brockington, Ph.D., Associate Provost for International Programs

Joe died on August 12, 2015. In addition to his post in the Center for International Programs, he also served as professor of German language and literature.

He earned his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D degrees from Michigan State University, and began his career at Kalamazoo College in 1979 as an instructor in German language and literature. During his 35-year career at K, Joe served in several roles in the Center for International Programs before being named associate provost in 2000. He was recognized internationally as a safety and risk management expert in study abroad programming. During his career he served in various positions of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, including chair of the Section on U.S. Students Abroad and member of the International Education Leadership Knowledge Committee. He also served as a member of the founding board of the Forum on Education Abroad, the Association of International Education Administrators. Joe published and presented numerous papers on modern German literature as well as a variety of study abroad topics, including orientation and re-entry, international programs administration, and campus internationalization. He led best practices workshops in legal and risk management issues and co-edited the third edition of NAFSA’s Guide to Education Abroad for Advisers and Administrators.

“Joe interacted with generations of K students,” said President Eileen B. Wilson-Oyelaran, “and increased their opportunities for independent research and service learning abroad. He was a faithful advocate for international students at K, working with colleagues to ensure a full and productive K educational experience. Joe significantly expanded K’s reputation as a leader in study abroad and international programming. He will be missed by many in the K family and throughout the world.”

In the fall of 2008 Kalamazoo College celebrated its 50th anniversary of sending students abroad. Joe devoted his career to that important educational tradition. Some 80 percent of K students have studied in programs ranging from China and Japan to India and Israel; from Kenya and Senegal in Africa to Ecuador, Costa Rica, Chile, and Mexico in South and Central America. Their options have included European programs in Greece, Hungary, Denmark, Italy, and England as well as the opportunities that have continued (since the program’s origins) in France, Spain, and Germany. Most students study in a foreign language and live with host families. And most participate in an Individualized Cultural Research Project that requires them to get out into a community, participate in a service project, and write a report about the experience. All of that is part of the legacy of Joe Brockington. “The goal,” he once said, “is to help the student look at other cultures, other peoples, and say ‘we’ instead of ‘they.’”