Walter Muelder (STH’30, GRS’33, Hon.’73), School of Theology dean emeritus, 97, died on June 12, ending a lifetime of ethical leadership and activism.
The son of Epke Muelder (STH’09, GRS’13) and Minnie Muelder, he graduated from Knox College, and then earned degrees at STH and GRS. Ordained, like his father, in the Methodist Church, Muelder spent a year as a pastor in Wisconsin before beginning his teaching ministry, first at Barea College in Appalachia, where he was active in college and town socialist organizations, and then at the University of Southern California, when his activism focused chiefly on racial issues, such as the internment of Japanese during World War II. In 1945, he began 27 years as dean of STH, and then an additional 21 as a classroom teacher.
“Though mystical experiences are not alien to me,” Muelder said at a University celebration of his 90th birthday, “neither are faculty meetings or analyses of institutional factors.” A deeply devout Christian and committed socialist, ethicist, and activist, he was also a skilled administrator; under his guidance STH grew in size, perspective, and service. When he became dean, the faculty was, in his words, “essentially” Methodist, and 10 of 11 regular full-time members had done their graduate work at BU. When he retired, more than half the 41 regular faculty members had earned their highest degree elsewhere and 16 represented several Protestant denominations, the Greek Orthodox Church, Hinduism, and Islam, and the University rabbi taught part-time. The number of courses had tripled, with significant offerings in church music, pastoral care, social ethics, and ecumenics, and students were urged to extend their individual curricula with courses at BU’s schools of education, arts and sciences, social work, law, or medicine, for example.
Admission to BU has always been without racial restriction. Well before President John Kennedy introduced the phrase, Muelder practiced affirmative action by waving traditional entrance requirements for promising black applicants he believed capable of meeting his rigorous academic standards, by helping them find jobs, and by eliminating restrictions in non-BU housing rented to STH students. Between 1952 and 1962, half the U.S. doctorates in religion awarded to blacks were earned at BU. Among myriad southern civil rights leaders publicly grateful for Muelder’s academic, philosophical, and religious influence was Martin Luther King, Jr. (GRS’55, Hon.’59).
Muelder advanced ecumenicism as a leader in the Methodist Church, the World Council of Churches, and the Boston Theological Institute, of which he was founding president. He published seven books and several hundred articles on philosophy, theology, and social ethics. Three days before his death, he urged a gathering of retired Methodist ministers to continue their ethical leadership.
Contributions in Muelder’s memory may be sent to the Theology Foundation, School of Theology, Room 108, 745 Commonwealth Ave., Boston 02215.
Murray Yaeger, a COM professor emeritus of communication, who inspired countless broadcasting and film students during his 30-year career at Boston University, died in Kennebunkport, Maine, on June 13. He was 75.
Yaeger was the “quintessential professor,” says former student Jay Roewe (COM’79), senior vice president of production for HBO Films, “scholarly, worldly, intelligent, witty, energetic, dramatic, loved and often feared at the same time.” He taught at BU until 1988.
Yaeger was known to prepare tirelessly for lectures and spend hours mentoring students outside of class. He persuaded fellow professors to write longer course descriptions to give students a better idea of what their classes would cover, and he lobbied for a faculty lounge to increase cohesion among the staff.
In 1997, Yaeger was honored by COM as the professor having had the greatest impact on students. In 1979, he received a Metcalf Award for Excellence in Teaching, one of BU’s highest faculty honors.
Yaeger’s career took him to Cairo to instruct the first Egyptian television broadcasters, to Saudi Arabia to train television weathermen, and to Germany to teach the staff of the Armed Forces Network.
He also taught at the University of Texas, the State University of Iowa, the University of Southern Maine, and the University of New England. Yaeger was a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso, and the State University of Iowa.
The Murray R. Yaeger Fund and the Web site www.bu.edu/alumni/yaeger have been established to allow friends and former students to pay him tribute.
Edward Wagenknecht, a CAS English professor from 1947 to 1968, died May 24 in St. Albans, Vt. He was 104.
A prolific author of biographies and critical essays, Wagenknecht once said that after reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz at age six, he knew he would become a writer. He pursued his passion well into his late 90s.
His first major work, The Man Charles Dickens: A Victorian Portrait, was published in 1929. He published his last, 65 years and 70 books later, a study on Willa Cather, in 1994. Among the subjects of his many volumes were Mark Twain, Henry James, William Shakespeare, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. His study of silent films, The Movies in the Age of Innocence, remains one of the most popular and well-respected books on the subject. He also composed numerous Christmas stories and supernatural tales.
Wagenknecht, who was born in Chicago, also wrote book reviews and other articles for the Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Herald, and others. For a number of years he wrote a weekly column, “The Book and Record Parade,” for the Waltham, Mass., News-Tribune.
Most of his personal writings, scrapbooks, and manuscripts are held at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Mugar Memorial Library.
In addition to working at BU, Wagenknecht taught English at the University of Washington at Seattle and the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Wagenknecht attended high school in Oak Farm, Ill., where he was the valedictorian and a classmate of Ernest Hemingway. He graduated from the University of Chicago and received his doctorate from the University of Washington.