Campus News

Emeritus Professor Jim Helm Dies

October 31, 2018

Communications Staff

tree blossoms
Photo credit: Sela Miller

Jim Helm, emeritus professor of classics, passed away on Monday, October 29, 2018.

­­Helm earned a bachelor’s in philosophy from Elmhurst College (1959), a master’s in divinity from Union Theological Seminary (1963), and master’s (1965) and doctoral degrees (1968) in classical studies from the University of Michigan. Except for between 1978-79 when he was a visiting associate professor of classics at Scripps College in, he spent his entire career, from 1967 to 2003, at Oberlin. He reached the rank of professor in 1982. He served as associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1986-89, acting dean of the college in 1991-92, and interim dean in the spring of 1996.

Helm’s work on committees was frequent and efficient. He quickly earned the respect and trust of his colleagues and served on every elected committee multiple times, including chairing EPPC during his time as associate dean.  His service to the Classics Department was equally valuable. He was chair from 1976-82 and 1992-96 and acting chair from 1999-2000. Helm possessed excellent administrative and organizational skills, and he provided the department with meticulous records his colleagues came to rely on. Among other things Helm will be remembered for, he is credited with beginning the tradition of Oberlin’s “Bardic Reading,” an event that has taken place since 1993, in which classics students read aloud works of classical literature, such as The Iliad and The Odyssey.

In the scholarly realm, Helm published articles on Aeschylus, Catullus, on the concept of Koros, defined as “satisfaction,” in Greek literature and philosophy, and several articles on computer applications to classics, a field just emerging during his early years at Oberlin. His most important publication was a commentary on Plato’s Apology for beginning students, which was developed over years of teaching the dialogue in the second semester of elementary Greek at Oberlin. The book has remained in print for decades and is considered one of the best works of its kind in the field.  

After Helm’s retirement from Oberlin College at age 65, he remained active in the local community through various groups and organizations, such as Kendal at Oberlin and as a supporter and former board member for Oberlin Shansi.

Helm impacted the lives of many in the Oberlin community and beyond. Kirk Ormand, professor of classics, shared some thoughts on Helm’s life:

"Jim was a humble, kind, and principled man with a sly sense of humor and a fondness for terrible puns. He will be remembered for many accomplishments, virtues, and characteristics...Jim always did the right thing, simply and quietly, with principle but without demonstration, no matter the cost to himself...As will all of us, I will miss Jim a great deal."

A memorial service will take place at 3 p.m. on Sunday, January 20, 2019 at Kendal at Oberlin.


[Editor’s note: Emeritus Professor Tom Van Nortwick contributed to this article.]

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