The Colgate Scene
May 2001
Table of contents
Four fond farewells

John Cochran
John Cochran

by John D. Hubbard

Not surprisingly, Professor of Chemistry John Cochran is spending his last sabbatical working with students.

     The hands-on approach and collaborative spirit of his scholarship is a hallmark of the department and a tradition that Cochran has nurtured since arriving here in the fall of 1966.

     He came to replace Harris Rogers '20, having discovered he enjoyed teaching during a two-year stint at Randolph-Macon. Students have kept the job fascinating ever since.

     "There's the great diversity of students one sees and interacts with. Unfortunately, as one grows older you lose a closeness -- or maybe it was a function of the '60s and '70s when connections were closer and we interacted on a much broader spectrum of issues."

     Cochran believes students have "become intellectually more capable" over the years while continuing to be marked by "a motivation to do well in the world, regardless of how that's defined."

     While teaching general chemistry, organic and advanced organic (though never a core course) Cochran has additionally "tried to foster within the department a mutual respect and support for one another and maintain a positive atmosphere." He has served as chairman of the department.

     Scanning his career, Cochran points emphatically to undergraduate research as the most important development during his tenure.

     "It's a way of bringing students out of the textbook," explains Cochran. "When we do scholarship in chemistry it is with the students. It is a much more collaborative type of research in which closer ties are formed with the students." Over the years Cochran has co-authored papers with more than 40 students.

     "Undergraduate research was practically unheard of when I came here. A lot of credit goes to Dave Lewis [former colleague and now acting president of Connecticut College], and together we made it an integral part of our program."

     From 1976 to 1978 Cochran served as associate dean of students for freshmen. "I saw the other side and gained a much broader view of students and the pressure and traumas they go through outside the classroom. It came at the mid-point of my career and maybe I could have become more cynical without that experience."

     Working with a Dreyfuss Foundation grant this summer, Cochran, aided by two students, will bring closure to half a dozen research projects that for various reasons were never completed. Other plans for the future are vague, though undoubtedly involve four grandchildren (John and Ann had three children, Eric and Jill, and Todd, who passed away in 1980).

     Accessibility is a point of pride for John Cochran -- indeed it is for the entire department -- and even in his new, more out-of-the-way office, he is easy to find. It is there he reminisces and admits it is an emotional exercise.

     "I feel like one of the luckiest people in the world to have gotten this job, to have stayed at Colgate, to have raised our kids in Hamilton, to have lived in Hamilton."

Ross Ferlito
Ross Ferlito

by Frederick Luciani

When Ross Ferlito came to Colgate in 1964 after doing graduate work at Tulane University, he was coming (nearly) home. He had grown up in farm country near Oswego, and had done his undergraduate degree at the University of Rochester. He returned to Central New York with a wealth of linguistic and cultural experience: in addition to his work at Tulane, he had spent a year in Rennes, France, and another year with a Rotary fellowship at the University of Florence, where he met his future wife Malva.

     At Colgate, Ross began what was to be a more than 35-year career teaching French language and literature, and with his abiding love of Italian also developed courses in that language. Under Ross's direction, Colgate's Italian program has flourished. All who have taken a course with Ross have benefitted immeasurably from his energy, imagination and enthusiasm for innovation. He was a pioneer in computer-based language instruction at Colgate, long before it became standard in the field. His impact in the classroom has even been felt beyond Colgate: one year he piloted a distance learning project that united, through the computer screen, students at Colgate and at Hamilton College in the study of Italian.

     Ross has served the university not only as a pedagogue of the first order, but as an excellent administrator, during a term as assistant dean of the faculty and as chair the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures. With his talent for organization, Ross was instrumental in developing not only the Venice, but also the Madrid, study groups at Colgate. Ross must be a contender for the record of Colgate study group directorships: seven times as director of the Dijon group, three times as director of the Venice group.

     At home, Spanish has had a significant role in Ross's life as well, since Malva is from Argentina (she also teaches both Spanish and Italian at Colgate). With such linguistically gifted parents, with an extended family of Spanish and Italian speakers, with schooling in Dijon as well as Hamilton, it is not surprising that the Ferlito children, Eric, Andrew and Alissa, should also have become proficient in French, Italian and Spanish. Nor with such parents is it surprising that they have remained loving and close, although married now and geographically scattered.

     In preparation of this piece, I asked colleagues in the various language departments to share some thoughts about him. Here are a few that capture the tenor of those conversations: "The incarnation of colleagueship." "Gentle, soft-spoken intelligence." "A complete gentleman." "Supremely loyal and responsible." "Has a humanity about him independent of self-interest." "Equal grace in any circumstances."

     Ross is much loved at Colgate. His qualities as a human being, as much as his many accomplishments in a profession and university that he has served so well, are his enduring legacy to his students, colleagues and friends.

Hans-Jürgen Meyer-Wendt, 1976
Hans-Jürgen Meyer-Wendt

by Dierk Hoffmann

Let me begin with a multiple-choice quiz item: Which of the following do you associate with Hans-Jürgen Meyer-Wendt? a) Nietzsche, b) Tennis, c) Music, d) All of the above. The following collage of tributes from friends may help you find the correct answer.

     Alan Swensen, Jürgen's departmental heir in Nietzsche studies, writes, "What distinguishes Jürgen as a scholar is the interdisciplinary nature of his thinking. His formal training was as a Germanist, but over the course of his career he has acquired an impressive knowledge of philosophy, art, music, modern science and political and social history. A wide-ranging mind is particularly valuable when working on Nietzsche, since Nietzsche himself drew on multiple perspectives: he was a philosopher by choice but a classical philologist by training, was also well-read in modern European literature, followed developments in natural and social sciences in his time and was a passionate musician.

     Jürgen's broadly roaming intellectual habit may at times be misperceived as wandering, but it is clear that colleagues and students who know Jürgen well, know better. A few years ago I ran into a former student of Jürgen's in Freiburg. When I found out that he had returned to Freiburg to study philosophy -- focusing on Nietzsche -- I asked him how he liked the program. The first thing he said was that he missed Professor Meyer-Wendt's ability and willingness to examine Nietzsche's work from perspectives outside the customary boundaries of philosophy."

     The "Nietzsche and . . ." from the title of Jürgen's dissertation Der frühe Hofmannsthal und Nietzsche set the agenda for his research and teaching. Jürgen is the born teacher filled with a genuine love and "old-world appreciation for culture: art, architecture, literature, music," as Professor of Mathematics Tom Tucker states. "He brings to the life of the mind the same energy and enthusiasm he brings to the life of the body: 30-mile bike rides, double diamond skiing, building (and falling off) porches, three-hour tennis matches and, of course, wine and food (and burning geese). The dearest times Mollie and I have had in recent years are the times we have spent with Jürgen and Barbara touring -- the Freiburg or Strasburg cathedrals, seeing the Isenheim altarpiece, visiting the Barnes collection, jumping from mansion to mansion on the Hudson -- accompanied by running commentary, and finished off with conversation (or a `lecture') on Cezanne and German expressionism, or the Enlightenment, or Emerson and Nietzsche, over a dinner of German sausages and white asparagus. With Jürgen, there is always something to enjoy, always something to be passionate about, and it's always exciting to be along for the ride."

     It is just these qualities that make Meyer-Wendt an ideal guide for the study group. The overwhelming urge to explain a text, a picture, a piece of music to someone else lies at the root of Jürgen's being. His energy and enthusiasm is untiring. Martha Dietz looks back fondly: "I only stayed in the German department for five years. However, I remained an honorary member of the department. Jürgen always included me and made me feel welcome. Now, if someone were to ask me what Jürgen means in my life, I would say: Jürgen is my friend. In addition to an interest in German literature, Jürgen and I shared a deep interest in music.

     He had been a member of a now-defunct committee that oversaw the Colgate concert series. He then joined the board of the Utica Chamber Music Series, helping arrange their programming and writing program notes. And it was Jürgen who introduced my husband and me to the Syracuse Friends of Chamber Music. As a member of the Colgate Orchestra and committed concert-goer, I had a habit of scanning the audience at musical events. Jürgen and his family could always be counted on. They supported music at Colgate. He also made it a point of attending recitals and student performances, particularly when one of the German department students was participating."

     Michael Coyle, associate professor of English, adds another aspect of Jürgen's role at Colgate, "I've known several different Jürgens: the tennis player who is constantly on the lookout for a new challenge; the jazz buff who, when encountering someone familiar with the playing of a favorite musician, is suddenly transported with excitement; and -- most fundamentally of all -- the teacher whose deep conviction that one can never really know enough keeps him fresh year after year. In these three arenas we met in different ways: I could never match him in the first, but could probably outdo him in the second (ask this man who so loves Schoenberg and Webern what he thinks of `free' jazz). But in the last regard I've found for many years now a real colleague, and oftentimes an inspiration. Always alert to new ideas, never shy about questioning what seems to him a dubious premise or conclusion and impatient with careless or desultory historical research, Jürgen is an intellectual of real passion. Core 152 staff meetings may be calmer without him, but I hope that he leaves something of his spirit behind. And I also hope that someday, on some tennis court . . ."

     Professor of Economics Emeritus Oz Honkalehto concludes, "Jürgen and I have long shared a passion for tennis. Looking back over just the main details of our respective careers at Colgate, and despite an interdisciplinary barrier, it now seems that it was almost inevitable we would end up in a more broadly connected friendship based upon this common interest. And to reflect further, it is a bit ironic that such a friendship, with many shared academic and nonacademic experiences off the tennis courts, could have been founded on an activity whose personal satisfactions depend so much on each of us being both tenacious and effective as the other's opponent."

     The answer to the opening quiz, of course, is D, all of the above. Jürgen Meyer-Wendt will be missed on the tennis court and in concert halls, but primarily, in the classroom.

Dexter Morrill '60
Dexter Morrill '60

It is quiet in McGregory Hall, and that suits Dexter Morrill '60. There are deans beneath him, mathematicians above him and computers all around him, but he is working on a concerto and the building gets a fair share of credit.

     "McGregory is so quiet, it's helped my composing a lot. In composing you need to have focus and quiet in order to get the music to come out."

     The ideas are coming out, too, as Morrill retires or, more accurately, swings into a new gig as archivist of the newly created Bob Blackmore '41 Jazz Collection.

     There's the book ("I'll probably never finish") on American string quartets and thoughts of collecting the ballads he's written ("Maybe some of them would catch on") on a CD. In April the Morrill Retrospective Concert, performed by a host of musicians, filled the Chapel with an eclectic look back through his nocturnes, medleys, fantasies and Getz Variations. And before that, Morrill, who at turns has been a jazz man, classical composer and computer music pioneer, gave a charming colloquium on "The Great American Pop Singers in the Age of Recording," filling the Ho Lecture Room with the sounds of Billie Holliday, Frank Sinatra and Karen Carpenter.

     It is not easy to categorize the soon-to-be-emeritus Charles A. Dana Professor of Music. He is at once the hipster who might have taken to the road as a teenager with the last of the big bands, and the scholar who has created at Colgate one of the finest computer music labs in the country.

     A self-described poor student in high school, Morrill says, the reason occurred to him as a teen one day. "Oh, my God. Whenever I'm not talking, I'm thinking about music. Thinking singing, working the vocal mechanism that generates all music. All day long, all night long, I was singing. I wasn't processing French or anything else."

     The trumpet dominated Morrill's time as a student at Colgate and Bill Skelton helped him create a major in the arts (there was no music concentration) that led to Stanford, where he "worked morning to night" to catch up in composition.

     A Ford Foundation Fellowship and later, a Ph.D. at Cornell, prepared Morrill to return to Colgate. Then in the early '70s he saw the computer music system at Stanford and was wowed.

     "Man, that's it," said Morrill, who was off on a whole new path.

     "My jazz experience and skill at improvisation, which had hurt me in graduate school, really helped a lot."

     A former chair of the music department, Morrill has conducted the Concert Orchestra and written for the chorus, brass choir, jazz ensemble, theater productions and commencement ceremonies. He and his wife Barbara have two daughters, Jennifer and Allison.

     Morrill looks back over years of "remarkable transformation. Colgate has been very upwardly mobile while I've been here and it has realized most of its dreams from the '50s. It's been ideal to balance teaching and composing."

     As Dexter Morrill heads to the library to oversee the Blackmore collection, he leaves knowing

     what he has built at Colgate is in good hands, and he departs still singing. JDH

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