Milton R. Stern, professor emeritus of English, died on July 26, at the Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Needham, Mass. He was 82 years old.
A passionate advocate of public education and social responsibility, he was dedicated to the idea that the experience and understanding of literature and the arts could be a means to personal and community transformation. As founding chairman of the Connecticut Humanities Council, he sought to spread literacy and bring cultural programs to the state. He pioneered a program at the University of Connecticut to take education beyond the confines of academia and make it available to a working adult population. He believed that teaching was his most important responsibility, and he earned national distinction as a scholar of American literature.
Stern was born Aug. 22, 1928, in Boston, the son of David and Elizabeth Stern, immigrants from Eastern Europe. He graduated from English High School in 1944, and received a scholarship to attend Northeastern University. He met his wife-to-be, Harriet Marks, at a youth organization in Boston and they married in 1949, the same year he earned his BA from Northeastern University. He received his master’s degree from UConn in 1951 and his Ph.D. from Michigan State University in 1955. After teaching at the University of Illinois, he joined the English Department at the University of Connecticut in 1958, where he remained until his retirement in 1991.
His specialty was American literature, with an emphasis on Herman Melville, the transcendentalists, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. He was the author of several books of literary criticism and of numerous articles and reviews, as well as co-editor of an anthology of American literature.
He received many distinctions, including a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies in 1960, the Outstanding Teacher Award at University of Connecticut in 1969, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1971, and the first Alumni Association Distinguished Professor award at the University of Connecticut in 1976. He was a Fellow at the National Humanities Institute at Yale University in 1977 and a fellow at the Modern Media Institute Center in St. Petersburg, Fla., in 1979. He was named Outstanding Alumnus in Arts and the Humanities by Northeastern University in 1981. In 1983, he was the first recipient of the Wilbur Cross Award conferred by the Connecticut Humanities Council to honor outstanding contributions to the applied humanities.
Stern was a member of many professional organizations, including the National Council of Teachers of English, the American Association of University Professors, the American Federation of Teachers, the Society for the Study of Southern Literature, the American Culture Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of the Humanities. He was president of the Melville Society in 1984, named a Celebrated Teacher by the Associated Departments of English Program of the Modern Language Association in 1985, and was made an Honorary Life Member of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Society in 1996.
He served as a guest professor at the University of Wyoming and at Smith College; a Fulbright professor at the University of Warsaw, Poland in 1964-65; and taught American literature at Harvard University during the summer of 1982.
Stern was also devoted to family and community. Known to all as Mickey, he cherished his personal connection to his grandchildren, his neighbors, the mailman, the University President, and the waitress at Friendly’s.
He loved traveling, eating exotic foods (all foods, really), and playing poker with English Department colleagues. The UConn women’s basketball team could have had few more ardent supporters. He was an avid do-it-yourselfer, and he transformed his rough land in Storrs, Connecticut into lush gardens and pathways. He was also working on a long memoir.
He leaves his wife Harriet Marks Stern, a daughter Kathy and son-in-law Jack Beinashowitz, a son Paul and daughter-in-law Beth Zeeman, and three grandchildren Alex, Anna, and Isabel.
There will be no funeral service. Since those connected to Mickey are far flung, there will be an online memorial designed to share stories, recollections, and pictures. Please email contributions to email@example.com and they will placed on a website to be launched on Aug. 22 at www.mickeystern.net. All are invited to contribute.
The family suggests that in lieu of flowers, contributions in Stern’s memory be made to the Connecticut Humanities Council to help fund reading and cultural programs. Gifts can be mailed to the Connecticut Humanities Council at 37 Broad Street, Middletown, CT 06457, or online at http://www.ctculture.org/chc/support_chc/online_donation.asp.