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Spitz, MC history professor from 1957-96, dies at 84

Barry McNamara
04/28/2010
Doug Spitz
Douglas R. Spitz Sr., professor of history emeritus at Monmouth College, died at his home in Iowa City, Iowa, on April 23 following a brief illness. He was 84.

Spitz’s first and only college teaching position began at Monmouth in 1957. At the end of nearly 40 years on campus, he was one of three retiring faculty members who delivered the 1996 commencement address.

“I had to make a decision – did I advance my career through research and publications, or through teaching? I liked teaching too much not to do it,” he said of his lengthy stay at Monmouth. “A small, residential liberal arts college is my vision of undergraduate education, and that’s what Monmouth is.”

Spitz’s time at Monmouth was not limited to campus, however. He spent sabbaticals in India in 1988 and 1991. His latter trip resulted in the paper, “The RSS and the ‘Hindu Awakening’ in South India,” which he presented at the 14th Annual Third World Conference. He also traveled to or had academic experiences in Europe, Asia and Africa.

Spitz, who received the Burlington Northern Foundation Faculty Achievement Award during his Monmouth tenure, said his outlook on his occupation changed from his early years fresh from graduate school to the professor he would become. He learned it was important to “keep an open mind” and, along with that, “an open heart. For many of the things we experience, we need a big heart – one that’s full of compassion and tries to understand. I also have found it’s an awful lot of fun to meet new people, learn new ideas, gain new perspectives.”

“Douglas Spitz Sr. was my long-time faculty colleague and remains my admired and close friend,” wrote the late religious studies professor Charles Speel in 1997. “He is a sound scholar of American and European history and government, particularly British. Moreover, he is a very able scholar of modern political and cultural life in India, the Middle East and sub-Sahara Africa. He has helped hundreds of students to enlarge their knowledge and increase their understanding of these cultures.”

One of those students was Don Hellison ’60, who went on to be a professor himself at the University of Chicago.

“I had never had as good an academic training as I did with Doug Spitz,” Hellison said. “By the time I got to graduate school, I thought it was pretty easy because he expected so much from you.”

“Doug Spitz never failed to provide a good conversation,” said his long-time colleague in the history department, William Urban. “He never seemed to sleep, and there was no important book that he hadn’t read. He was a scholar’s scholar. You could bring up any subject and he would, in his very humble manner, bring out aspects of it that people had never thought of before.”

“An image that characterizes Doug Spitz for me was his college office, full of books and papers on shelves, in boxes, in stacks and in heaps – all signifying not a cluttered mind but a mind richly stocked with knowledge and insights that he was eager to share with students and colleagues,” said professor of English emeritus Jeremy McNamara.

Spitz was born and raised in Rochester, N.Y., graduating from Brighton High School in 1944. He received his bachelor’s degree from Swarthmore College in 1949 and earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in history from the University of Nebraska.

He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Nell, their four children – Douglas Jr., Michael, Christopher and Maria – four grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

Wrote Speel of Spitz’s family, “His wife, Nell, a long-time nurse and teacher of nurses, and all their children and grandchildren are intelligent, talented and delightful. Indeed, talent, intelligence and creative ideas are abundant in the Spitz family along with a strong commitment to Christian service and high ethical standards and justice for all peoples of every nation.”

Funeral services for Doug Spitz were held April 27 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Iowa City. Following the service, his body was donated to the University of Iowa. At a later date, his remains will be entombed at the church columbarium. Memorials may be directed to Trinity Episcopal Church, 320 E. College St, Iowa City, IA 52240.