It is with great sadness that the English department informs our community that former Professor Joseph Voelker '69 passed away on October 31 at his home in Massachusetts.
His obituary was published in the Daily News of Newburyport, and a tribute by his colleagues in the English department is found below.
We invite the Franklin & Marshall College community to share their remembrances and condolences of alumnus and former F&M English professor Joseph Voelker '69 on this memory wall.
Joe was a 1969 F&M grad who taught in the English department from 1974, when he and his wife Cathy lived for a year in Schnader Dorm--long before anyone would have thought to call him a don--until he left to take on administrative responsibilities at the University of Hartford in Connecticut. At the time of his death, Joe and Cathy had moved from Connecticut to Massachusetts to be closer to daughter Julia, her husband Matt and their beloved grandson Max.
During his time at F&M, Joe was a wonderful mentor and guide to a generation of faculty in the English Department. He brought joy, playfulness, beaming intelligence, and decency into the lives of his students and colleagues. He was hired and served in tandem with colleagues Jeff Steinbrink and Anton Ugolnik, who will dearly miss him. Along with others in the department at the time, Joe was responsible for hiring the "triplets"--Tamara Goeglein, Padmini Mongia and Patricia O’Hara--colleagues who famously changed the character of the English Department for decades to come. And soon after, Joe was chair when Judith Mueller was hired. Thus, Joe oversaw and nurtured the department’s transition to one that had been entirely male to one that welcomed this new generation of women colleagues.
He is remembered very dearly as a most excellent lunch companion--an initiator of such lunch breaks--back in the days when we left our desks and shared a midday meal. He understood how food and drink draw people together, and more than once did the department gather at Joe’s to enjoy his exceptional cuisine and hospitality. Joe originated the tradition of departmental retreats accompanied by food, and he orchestrated many departmental discussions of thorny issues with grace and humor. He was an ever-welcoming mentor to the women who joined the department, the department he so loved. He was forthright but never unkind. He was a natural teller of stories, and a consummate professional admired greatly by his students. Rarely, if ever, was his office door closed.
Tamara Goeglein writes that “Joe was a blessing. His too-early death brings me great sadness but also brings me gratitude for having “grown up” at F&M with him on the third floor of Keiper Hall. Memories unbidden that come back to me now are, strangely, right out of I Love Lucy--his embracing the hilarities, and humiliations, of teaching students to read, to write, and to do whatever we’re trying to do. When I was in Joe’s company, I felt it was okay to say: “Teaching is so hard, Joe, and it is so funny.” I could say this because I knew he took teaching so seriously and wore his learning so lightly.”
Reflecting on Joe’s many years of teaching and his service as Associate Dean of the College, Alan Caniglia reflects that “I learned a great deal from Joe, both as a friend and as a colleague, and I now realize that he was in many ways a mentor. He helped me learn how to think about possibilities and choices with fewer constraints. He was one of the first colleagues I had a strong collaborative working relationship with when I was a new administrator, and those experiences were formative for me. I was inspired by his breadth of interests, both within and outside of work, and I have strived toward the model he set. We worked together, and we worked out together, and I cherish those memories. I have missed him since he left F&M, and now I miss him more”
In a department and a college that prize great teaching, Joe was an exceptional teacher and a recipient of the Lindback Award. Having come of age himself at an almost all-male F&M, he did hilarious impressions of what might be called pedagogical styles of the good old days. He was admired by his own students for his ability to brighten a path into, say, Irish literature without dumbing it down, and he was loved by them for his abiding generosity and his quick, playful intelligence. One alum, Jim Miller (’92), sent this recollection of a time when he and some friends started a campus humor magazine and persuaded Joe to serve as its advisor:
"After the first issue of Conundrum, which featured my verbose article on the academic benefits of reading on the toilet for enhanced comprehension, he left a note in my mailbox: "Loved the article, but my legs fell asleep.”
“That's exactly the Professor Voelker I remember,” Jim writes. We should all be so lucky.