On this page, the Alumni Review notes the relatively recent passing of former faculty members as well as friends of the College who, in varying ways, served the Hill community.
Frederick Reese Wagner, professor of English emeritus and an exceptionally dedicated and fondly remembered teacher, died on October 28, 2012, in Utica, NY, at the age of 84. A member of Hamilton’s faculty from 1969 to 1995, he acquired a devoted following among Hill students for the excellence of his teaching and for his personal warmth and genuine interest in them.
Professor Wagner, affectionately known as “Fred,” was born on April 15, 1928, to Fred R. and Mildred Bridener Wagner, in Philadelphia, PA. He grew up in New Jersey, where he was graduated in 1945 as co-valedictorian of his class at Haddonfield High School. He went on to Duke University, where he earned his Phi Beta Kappa key and B.A. degree summa cum laude as class valedictorian in 1948. He stayed on at Duke to acquire an M.A., and then taught English for a year each at the University of Oklahoma and at Duke before being called into military service during the Korean conflict. In 1953, he was released as an Artillery lieutenant after two years in the U.S. Army. Thereafter he entered the book publishing field and became advertising manager for Prentice-Hall and subsequently promotion manager for Harper & Row in Manhattan.
However, in 1965, after a decade of promoting books that were often, in his judgment, of dubious quality, Fred Wagner decided to return to “something of value,” teaching. He engaged in postgraduate studies at New York University and then returned to Duke to pursue his Ph.D. By the time he obtained it in 1971, he had already joined Hamilton’s faculty as an assistant professor. Named chairman of the English department in 1978, he retained that post until 1990.
In the meantime, in the classroom and seminars in his office on the second floor of Root Hall, he charmed students not only with his insightful erudition but also his geniality, hearty laughter, and openness to their expressions of opinion on the literature they had read. In courses ranging from introductory surveys of British and American literature and British and American drama to a seminar on “Faulkner and his Southern Contemporaries,” his favorite course, he acted not as an authoritative lecturer but as a gentle prod to student thinking. To him, teaching and learning were fun, and he was highly successful in conveying his own enthusiasm to his students.
Another course he especially liked to teach was “American Literary Autobiography,” reflecting his strong personal interest in the lives of such literary lights as Bronson Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau. A former president of the Thoreau Society, he published numerous scholarly articles focusing on those three. Earlier, while he was still engaged in the book publishing industry, he also penned a number of works for young readers, many of them dealing biographically with historical figures.
For Fred Wagner, teaching remained uppermost throughout his academic career, “the center of my life,” as he once remarked in retrospect during his retirement years. Not only was he an outstanding teacher but also a mentor offering encouragement and kindly but challenging guidance. In small discussion groups he was at his best, and there he brought out the best in his students. Beyond his extensive office hours, he was always available by appointment, and he could be readily reached by phone. His gentle humor, infinite patience, and true commitment to free expression endeared “Daddy Wags” to those fortunate enough to find a place in his courses. Fittingly, in 1990, the Leavenworth Professor of English since 1979 became the first occupant of the Christian A. Johnson “Excellence in Teaching” chair.
His activity and energy curtailed by a stroke in 1992, Fred Wagner took emeritus status three years later. In retirement at Acacia Village in Utica, he continued to read widely, take up bridge playing again, and enjoy visits by former colleagues and students.
Frederick R. Wagner is survived by a son, Christopher A. (Alex) Wagner ’73, and a granddaughter, Alexandra. Graveside services in the College Cemetery will be held next spring. The family has suggested donations in his memory to the Frederick Reese Wagner Prize Scholarship Fund, established by his former students as a tribute to him and the profound and lasting influence he had on their lives.
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Comfort Cary Richardson, assistant professor of physical education emeritus, who pioneered in bringing women’s athletics to College Hill, died on October 26, 2012, in Kennett Square, PA, at the age of 94. She was the widow of Channing B. Richardson, whom she had married in 1948. The couple came to Hamilton in 1952, when Professor Richardson joined the government department’s faculty. He would teach at the College for 31 years until his retirement as the Henry Platt Bristol Professor of International Affairs in 1983.
When Kirkland, the coordinate women’s college, was established in 1968, it had no athletic program for its students. The following year, responding to student demand, Comfort Richardson was asked to create such a program. With support from Hamilton’s athletic department, she not only developed but also administered it, and coached tennis, the first female varsity sport on College Hill, as well.
After the two colleges were combined in 1978, Comfort Richardson joined Hamilton’s physical education department and played a major role in developing its coeducational program. By the time she retired as assistant professor and associate director of athletics in 1982, women’s sports were flourishing at Hamilton, and today women participate in no fewer than 15 intercollegiate sports at the College. In recognition of her pioneering leadership, Professor Richardson was presented with the Alumni Association’s Bell Ringer Award in 1997.
A few years after their retirement, the Richardsons moved to Kendal-Crosslands, a Quaker community near Philadelphia. Comfort Richardson was still residing there when she died. Predeceased by her husband in 2009, she is survived by two daughters, Margaret Morris and Anne Poore, and two sons, David C. and Eric C. Richardson.
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Patricia Tolles Smalley, a Life Trustee of the College, died on October 4, 2011, after a valiant battle with cancer. She was 71 years old. The daughter of Patricia and Winton Tolles ’28, dean of the College from 1947 until 1972, she came to College Hill at the age of 7, when her father was appointed to that post. Known as “Trix,” she was educated at Smith College and went on to hold administrative positions with governmental agencies and nonprofit organizations. She was deputy commissioner of New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs from 1994 to 1996.
In 1994, Trix Smalley was elected a Charter Trustee of Hamilton and named a Life Trustee in 2010. This past June she was the posthumous recipient of the Alumni Association’s Bell Ringer Award in recognition and grateful appreciation for her exceptionally devoted service to the College and its community.
Patricia Tolles Smalley is survived by her husband, David V. Smalley ’56, whom she had married in 1964. Also surviving are two sons, Brian W. ’93 and Gregory Smalley, as well as two grandsons and a brother.
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Carolyn Crawford Ellis, the widow of Professor David M. Ellis ’38, who taught American history at Hamilton from 1946 to 1980, died on November 4, 2011, in Albany, NY, at the age of 100. A former professor of home economics at Cornell University, she was married to David Ellis in 1953. While residing with her husband on College Hill, she became active in community affairs, especially as a member of the board of the Presbyterian Home. She and Professor Ellis moved in 1993 to the Albany area, where he died in 1999. Carolyn Ellis is survived by nieces and nephews, including David E. ’65 and Richard J. Blabey ’68.
William H. Hamilton, Jr., assistant professor of religion and dean of the Chapel from 1951 to 1953, who went on to fame and considerable notoriety as a major figure in the “Death of God” movement of the 1960s, died on February 28, 2012, in Portland, OR, at age 87. He was a professor at Colgate-Rochester Divinity School in Rochester, NY, when Time magazine caused a national stir in 1966 with a cover article querying, “Is God Dead?” Professor Hamilton’s unorthodox views were liberally quoted in the article and it led to his pariah status at the Baptist divinity school. He left its faculty to join New College in Florida and later taught at Portland State University until his retirement in 1986. Surviving are his wife, the former Mary Jean Golden, and three sons and two daughters.
Albertine Angel Santamaria Hamlin, the widow of Professor of French Franklin G. Hamlin, was still residing in Clinton when she died on January 7, 2011, at age 90. Born in Algiers, North Africa, she met her future husband when he was stationed there with the U.S. Army during World War II. Known as “Titou,” and blessed with quick wit and a remarkable memory, she had a special affection for animals. Her husband, who taught at Hamilton from 1948 to 1980, predeceased her in 1990. She is survived by four daughters, including Suzanne Hamlin-Smith K’78 and Janet Hamlin ’83, and nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Lee Page Kreinheder, a longtime resident of College Hill who was an ardent supporter of the Root Glen, died at her home on November 8, 2011, at the age of 102. A former school teacher, she came to Clinton in the mid-1960s with her husband, John H. Kreinheder, when he was appointed as director of planning in preparation for the construction of Kirkland College. He died in 1981. Lee Kreinheder stayed on at their home on Griffin Road and became the secretary and “point person” for the Root Glen Advisory Committee. Her devotion to the Glen was recognized in 1996 when its peony garden was named in her honor. Survivors include nieces and nephews.
Jerrald L. Townsend, an instructor in history at Kirkland College from the time it opened its doors in 1968 until 1976, died in Gambier, OH, on February 26, 2011, in his 70th year. While he was a member of Kirkland’s Humanities Division, he helped to develop its interdisciplinary curriculum. After leaving the Hill, he went to Yale Divinity School and was ordained to the Episcopal priesthood. He served parishes in Ohio and Michigan until his retirement in 2002. He was among the first openly gay priests in the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio, and he is survived by his longtime companion, Robert E. Bennett.
Mildren Conkle Yourtee, the widow of Professor of Chemistry Lawrence K. Yourtee, died on August 19, 2009, in Windham, NH. She was 92 years old. Born in Alabama, she grew up in Georgia and was married to Professor Yourtee in 1941. She came with him to Clinton in 1948, when he joined Hamilton’s faculty. An enthusiastic amateur ornithologist as well as a gardener and gourmet cook, Mildred Yourtee graced the College’s community for almost 50 years. She was predeceased in 1997 by her husband, who had retired from the faculty in 1982. Her survivors include a son, Edward Yourtee, and three grandchildren.