So Long, Professor Blodgett

In the kitchen of Tank Co-op is a stove with a single word stamped on it—BLODGETT. Not so coincidentally, my favorite professor had the same name. A few weeks ago, I learned of his death, and I couldn’t help remembering how much he meant to me during my time at Oberlin. Broad-shouldered, ruddy-skinned, Geoffrey Blodgett would enter class, leave his lecture on the podium, and head for the blackboard. In all caps went the terms and names—TOWN AND COUNTRY, GRAMSCI, DEWEY, TRANSCENDENTALISM. He would spin, eye the class, return to the podium and the lecture, and begin. The voice sharp. Phrases swift and lean. Chicago—the city of big shoulders. He was a man on the make. The cadences and well-punctuated crackles of his voice pulled me away from the perennial depression of Oberlin’s gray skies, illuminated things I never thought I would care about—architecture, the tumult at the turn of the last century, the prison notebooks of some Italian. His lectures? Not simply jewels, pearls before this swine. He could highlight the contradictions of the Puritans, the aspirations of the Transcendentalists, the curiosity of America’s first psychologists with blazing drama. And even better, he wrote his lectures with note-takers in mind—four major tenets of the Puritan faith, the two critical distinctions between Emerson and Thoreau. The complexities, the deeper treasure, were made transparent. Blodgett made me feel smarter. After his lectures, we would have a short Q & A, and he would talk with us as peers, admitting when he didn’t know something and then researching it to bring up at the next class. In formally informal attire of sport coat sans tie and by announcing himself at the beginning of each semester with the gruff and always short, “My name’s Blodgett,” he could put us at ease and yet draw us in to the world of ideas. I think I heard the word malaise for the first time from him; hegemony was another; I could feel just a little bit smarter around him even if I was only a dopey first-year who could get excited about words like malaise and hegemony. I could get lost looking for South Hall; I thought I could find meat at Harkness; I tried hard to get into a class on Milton! What he’ll never know is how he saved my life—in a manner of speaking. My parents had always longed for me to go to Notre Dame and were stunned and saddened that I chose such a liberal place as Oberlin to attend. Fearing their critical eye during Parents Weekend, I brought them to Blodgett’s American Intellectual History class. Sport coat, red face, sharply parted silver hair, the man of broad shoulders, he did, of course, what he always did. It pulls me up short just writing about it now. My father, dismayed, muttered to me afterward, “Well, if all your classes are like that one, I can see why you wanted to come here.” Life at home was a bit easier after that, a bit warmer. A cast-iron stove named BLODGETT makes sense—fiery crimson and full of life, waiting to kindle the spirits of those who draw near.

Kevin Ward ’94
St. Paul, Minnesota

I was saddened to learn of the loss of Professor Jeff Blodgett. He was one of the paradigmatic professors of my life, epitomizing quality and style in teaching for me. I remember in his History of Architecture class when he pointed out the paucity of 19th-century architecture in the South, I called out, “That’s because you Yankees burned it all down!” Without missing a beat, Blodgett responded with that gravelly rumble, “Still waving the bloody shirt, Mr. Silverman?”

Joel Silverman ’93
Atlanta, Georgia

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