Oberlin Alumni Magazine

Spring 2011 Vol. 106 No. 2 OAM Home | Oberlin Online


Victor J. Stone

Honorary trustee Victor J. Stone ’42, honorary ’83, died November 26, 2010. A University of Illinois College of Law emeritus professor, Mr. Stone was a passionate advocate for civil liberties and civil rights and a lifelong champion of the First Amendment. He cofounded the Champaign County (Illinois) chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has since named its highest honor the Victor J. Stone Award for Lifetime Service in the Cause of Civil Liberties. In 2002, the national organization awarded Mr. Stone its highest honor, the Roger Baldwin Award, which recognizes "a lifetime commitment to civil liberties."

An economics major at Oberlin, Mr. Stone was editor-in-chief of the Oberlin Review. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy after graduation and served in the South Pacific. He earned a law degree at the Columbia University School of Law, and he worked as an attorney and as a research associate before joining the University of Illinois faculty in 1955.

An active member of the Oberlin Board of Trustees from 1982 to 1997, his postgraduation service to the college began decades earlier, when he took part in a 1955 career conference for students. He served the Alumni Association in many capacities. He was president of the Class of 1942 and of the Chicago alumni club. He was also a member of John Frederick Oberlin Society.

Mr. Stone is survived by his wife, Susan; their children, Mary, Jennifer, and Andrew ’80; and five grandchildren.

Dr. Ronald W. Casson

Dr. Ronald W. Casson, emeritus professor of anthropology, died at his Oberlin home on July 25, 2010, after a long, debilitating illness.

Born in Chicago in 1942, Ron attended the University of Illinois, majoring in journalism and attaining his undergraduate degree in 1964. He then studied anthropology at Stanford, receiving a master’s degree in 1967 and PhD in 1972.

A first teaching position at Duke was followed by Ron’s Oberlin appointment in 1976. Only a few years out of graduate school, he had already established a publication record that could only be the envy of people much further along in their careers. Those early publications in major linguistics and anthropology journals established the course of a research program that remained at the frontier of linguistics, language, and culture, and, later, cognitive anthropology. His scholarship was matched by his fine teaching, marked as it was by an easy classroom presence, a respected scholar’s quiet confidence, and a wry, self-deprecating sense of humor. With Ron’s Oberlin appointment, linguistics found its center in the anthropology department, where his outstanding mentorship inspired numbers of students to pursue advanced study. For Ron, teaching and research were seamlessly bound together. On the Oberlin-in-London Program, for example, he gathered much valuable data on dialect and accent in the city, which he then incorporated into his courses.

As a graduate student at Stanford, Ron entered anthropology as part of a movement variously referred to as componential analysis, ethnosemantics, or the new ethnography, emphasizing the use of linguistic models for the study and analysis of culture. It was to set the course of his scholarly career. His field of ethnographic expertise was the Middle East, particularly Turkey, where his village research examined kinship and social organization. Summers frequently found him in follow-up fieldwork in the village or in Istanbul, accompanied by his wife, Banu Ozertug, a Stanford-educated medical anthropologist.

Ron published widely, including original articles, review articles, and commentary in prestigious journals; he also contributed to edited volumes on cutting edge issues in linguistic and cognitive anthropology. His book Language, Culture, and Cognition (Macmillan 1981) became a widely used text and reference work. He also served as an associate editor of the American Ethnologist.

Beginning in the late 1980s, Ron’s interests in culture and cognition focused on color categories. He published articles on color shift and the evolution of color terms; English secondary color terms; and brightness and color categories. When he became ill, he was working on additional articles exploring linguistic innovation in English and Turkish color terminologies and Old and Middle English words for color. At that time, Oberlin’s Department of Anthropology hosted a meeting of the Northeast Ohio network of anthropologists at which Ron presented his latest research on color categories and perception. It was to be the basis for a projected book, Where Do Colors Come From?: Color Categories from Origins to Novel Creations. Beyond the heartbreak that family, friends, and close colleagues feel, anthropology has lost a splendid researcher and writer, stricken at the height of his career.

Ron read widely, venturing far beyond his own professional concerns. Like all attentive and critical readers, he was interested in writing style and value. Whether it was a novel or the latest sports profile in the New Yorker, he relished the opportunity to discuss his latest reading pleasure. Baseball was a particular passion, and he sometimes observed that more than any other sport, baseball could inspire poetry. An undeterred fan of the Chicago Cubs, Ron felt that tragedy, too, had its place. Anthropology, baseball, recent fiction, and countless other subjects consumed hours of convivial conversation around the Casson dinner table, where many friends through the years relished the talk, the warmth, and the hospitality so much a part of the Casson home.

Ron was an extremely modest man with little to be modest about. He was a renowned scholar, an esteemed mentor, and the steadiest and most loyal of friends. Always amused by self-promotion and the puffery endemic to much of the academic world, Ron would have none of it. He didn’t need it because he was secure in himself. His own professional and personal achievements and his human qualities spoke eloquently of the man, and now it is this bright memory that remains.

Ron is survived by his wife, Banu; their son ,Aksel, an archaeologist; and their daughter, Ayse Dunlap, her husband, Mike, and their child, Liam. Ron also leaves his brothers, Bob and Richard, and a sister, Nancy Matiya, and their families.

A large community and family gathering paid loving tribute to Ron at the Casson home on August 21. Tears and laughter flowed abundantly, befitting the feelings of loss amid the celebration of a life well and gracefully lived.

Jack Glazier is a professor of anthropology at Oberlin. This Memorial Minute was adopted by the General Faculty of Oberlin College on November 17, 2010.

Dr. William Burns Renfrow, Jr.

Dr. William Burns Renfrow, Jr. was born on January 30, 1914, near Charlotte, N.C. From 1944 until his retirement 34 years later in 1978, he was a member of the Oberlin College faculty. I have known him since being a student in his general chemistry class in the spring semester of 1950. We were colleagues for many years in the department of chemistry.

Bill got a fast start in higher education and in the profession of chemistry. At age 15, without finishing high school, he enrolled at Wingate Junior College near Charlotte. After two years at Wingate, he continued as a chemistry student at Furman University in Greenville, S.C., and graduated in 1933. He enrolled in graduate work at Duke University and finished a PhD in organic chemistry in 1937 at the age of 23. This work, which resulted in 12 publications, was done with the eminent chemist Charles Hauser. Bill then taught for a semester at Florida State College before beginning work as a research chemist at United Gas Improvement Company, which produced commercial gas for the city of Philadelphia. In 1940, he concluded that industrial chemistry was not for him and accepted a postdoctoral appointment at the University of Minnesota with another eminent organic chemist, Lee Smith. Three papers and a patent on the practical delivery of vitamin E came from his work with Smith. While at Minnesota, Bill met Antoinette (Toni) Schoonmaker, a student in nursing education. They were married in New York City in August 1941. Established as a skilled experimentalist, Bill was offered a second postdoctoral with Paul Bartlett at Harvard but chose instead to take a position in the chemistry department at Occidental College near Los Angeles in the fall of 1941. Bill was highly valued at Occidental, where he rose from instructor to associate professor in three years. In 1944, in the midst of WWII, he was persuaded to move back across the country and join the Oberlin College faculty. His appointment began at the unusual time of November 1.

At Oberlin, Bill mostly taught organic chemistry at several levels. Over the years, many of his students commented appreciatively on Bill’s teaching. His advice in the instructional laboratory was particularly appreciated. Imitating Bill’s deep southern drawl, students were fond of telling good stories about him. Bill took a special interest in premedical students as their academic advisor and as writer of innumerable letters of recommendation. He also took a term as chemistry department chair at a critical time when the practice of having department heads "for life" was ending. At the national level, Bill served several terms on the Committee on Professional Training of the American Chemical Society, an important committee that oversees approval of college and university chemistry programs.

During his tenure at Oberlin, Bill continued to do research, with Toni Renfrow serving as an active participant in the early days. Five papers have Toni as a coauthor; Oberlin students are coauthors of others. Bill was not only a skilled experimentalist, but he was also a fine glassblower who enjoyed doing artistic as a well as scientific glasswork. Bill was an author of 35 publications. Two notable and productive sabbatical leaves took Bill and Toni overseas, one to England and one to Australia. Another productive sabbatical leave was spent in the research laboratory at Hercules Powder Company in Wilmington, Delaware.

Bill developed a love for tennis as a youngster and continued to play avidly into his early 90s. The tennis court, which Bill and Toni had built at their Oberlin home, was a focal point for tennis players in the community. The Renfrows were imaginative and gracious hosts in additional ways and were remembered particularly for assisting new faculty members and entertaining students. Their interest in tennis was matched by an interest in the game of bridge. After retirement in 1978, Bill participated around the United States in tennis tournaments for seniors and spent winters in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The Renfrows were founding residents of Kendal at Oberlin. When Toni developed Alzheimer’s, Bill devoted his time to her care. William Renfrow died in Oberlin on December 10, 2010. He is survived by his son, Terry Renfrow of Wakeman, and by two granddaughters.

Norman C. Craig is Emeritus Professor of Chemistry and Bio­chemistry at Oberlin. This Memorial Minute was adopted by the General Faculty of Oberlin College on February 16, 2011.