MADISON- Bob Koehl age 93 fought prostate cancer for over a year then decided on his terms to decline more treatment. He died where he had lived since 1977 early in the morning as the sun was rising. Bob joined the faculty of UW- Madison Department of history in 1964 and served full faculty until he retired in 1997.
His life in Madison reached far beyond the university and he is beloved by many over the decades for saving lives and turning around messed up lives literally. He was also an avid historical site visitor, music collector, stamp collector and train and trolley supporter. And, he was an Internet whiz with an IPad that was state of the art.
He was awarded upon retirement professor Emeritus status by Wisconsin 1997 and continued to supervise students for years. Bob also was a founder of the Department of Educational Policy Studies and specialized in comparative and international education. Many of his students are world leads in international education and still close to Bob.
Bob Koehl is a graduate of Harvard College and University, BA , MA and PhD as well as member Phi Beta Kappa. He received a scholarship and worked his way through college. Bob's studies were interrupted by World War II. He served in European theater occupied by Germany and Axis. Bob was in US Army Intelligence in the war where his knowledge of language was useful as an interrogator. Helping defeat the Axis Powers Germany and Japan 1945 made the world a safer and more dignified place just as it helped frame Bob's world view and priorities. As man of peace and opportunity for all he knew evil waited and had to be known to be defeated. Bob wrote about European history and specialized in NSDAP Nazis and fascism. His World War II course was extremely popular all the years he offered it.
Bob also taught at MIT in Boston, University of Nebraska and UW Madison.
Bob married Lilo Eisenhardt during the war and had three children Stefan, Jeremy , Sarah. Born in Chicago and raised in Kenosha Bob loved the Midwest and personified a Midwesterner in his hard work and achievement. He married Jane Hopper 1977 to the present and died at home in Madison where he wanted to be, surrounded by adoring love and intense grief.
Bob is survived by his wife Jane , his brother Richard, three children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews and many very close loved friends and family whose lives have intertwined with his in significant ways for decades. Listen to them all and be joyful. He made a difference and was blessed. His gifts he shared, use it or lose it. Oh how we will miss him. Thank you for your service to the United States. Rest in Peace, dear Bob, as he moves to Eternal Life.
A memorial service will be held at CRESS FUNERAL HOME, 3610 Speedway Rd, Madison on Friday, July 24, 2015 at 3pm. A visitation will be held from 1:30pm until the time of service.
Cress Funeral Home
3610 Speedway Road, Madison
I was saddened to learn about Professor Koehl's death. He took me on (my undergraduate marks were not stellar) as a MA student at Wisconsin in 1985, encouraged my foray into slave trade research (outside his area of specialty), and then encouraged me to continue on with a PhD on the British slave trade. He helped me attain my first university jobs teaching History (in Iowa) and then kept in touch with me/my academic career after I started work in 1999 at Victoria University of Wellington. He always impressed me with his great historical curiosity and enthusiasm. I had the very good fortune to work with him as a graduate student and to get to know him as a person.
It is sad that I am just learning of Professor Bob Koehl's death today, November 2, 2015, three months after his passing! Bob was one of the biggest influences on my three decades of American sojourn and of my professional career. Nine years ago, together with two friends, Didacus Jules - one of Bob's former international students of the 1980s and early 90s, now Director General of Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, and Dallas Browne, a retired Professor of Anthropology, I edited a festschrift to honor Professor Bob Koehl and his friend and fellow professor, Bob Tabachnick in a book titled, Current Discourse on Education In Developing Nations: Essays In Honor of B. Robert Tabachnick and Robert Koehl. Bob Koehl's passing is a witness to the felling of a major tree in the endangered desert of scholarship with dignity and humanity. This was a great scholar who never placed his own scholarship above his students' progress, and never beat the drum of his well-earned fame. I borrow verbatim the words of Professor Kohl's children - Stefan, Jeremy, and Sarah, which they wrote in the book of essays that, "Through his example and words, he (Bob) conveyed the dignity and equality of all people and the possibility of building a better life for people everywhere by drawing upon a thorough understanding of what has happened in the past. Altruism is not enough, he would tell us, the road to hell is paved with (people) with ill-informed, good intentions. We share our dad, Bob, with his students, for whom he also cared deeply. May his scholarship and idealism continue through them too." I say a loud "Amen," and cannot agree more with Bob's children. May all those Professor Robert "Bob" Lewis Koehl has left behind be comforted, and may his legacy of seriousness of purpose, humility and compassion live on!
Michael O. Afolayan, PhD
Bob was my grandfather. My earliest memory of him was one evening when he and Jane invited my family over for dinner. Among other things, he and Jane made vegetable tempura. I thought it was delicious and very exotic! I have had a life-long love of "foreign" food which I believe I shared with him.
I am very thankful my family and I were able to see Bob one last time just a week before he died. We were able to talk about his reason for studying Persian which had interested me. I think it is commendable and testament to his drive to always be learning something new that he started that endeavor in his later years. I remember in an earlier conversation with him he had said his Persian accent was not very good, but that he was pressing on!
I've known Bob and Jane as fellow tenants in the Oakland Apartments since I moved here in the early 80s. They were already well ensconced when I arrived. So my relationship with Bob was based on everyday interactions--doing the laundry, taking out the garbage, getting mail and general coming and going into or out of the building. We would chat briefly, but I learned much about (and from) him through such casual interactions.
Bob had a truck he kept in the parking lot that gave him great pleasure. When the truck was gone, I knew he and Jane were on a trip somewhere and the destination would not always be clear. He had amazing storage in the basement with equipment for every conceivable situation or calamity (to my mind). I was never quite sure what might be in those storage areas. He always found what was required--like a magician opening a hidden trunk on a quest with consequence. He was purposeful. When we spoke, he was very clear and deliberate, thoughtful. This was someone you knew you could count on--even as a casual friend in a building.
In Walden, Thoreau talks about building his house. He notes he would not be one of those who might foolishly drive a nail into mere lath and plaster: "Give me a hammer and let me feel for the furrow. Drive a nail home and clinch it so faithfully that you can wake up in the night and think of your work with satisfaction." That is how Bob did everything.
He lived with integrity, grace, determination and courage--all in short supply these days. That's what I learned from him. He had it out on his own terms right to the end. I will miss our random, peripheral interactions and mourn the loss of civility, intelligence and character that he inspired with each of our encounters. Fare forward traveler.
Bob was my uncle. I have many fond childhood memories of family get-togethers, picnics in Madison, lively and spirited discussions, and spending time with his children, especially Sarah. I admired his intellect, his travels, and his passion for teaching. His wanderlust runs in the bloodline, as I'm out of the country and will miss the service. My sympathies are with his family. I shall miss him very much.
I am sorry to hear about Bob. I have fond memories of him from when I was a youngster. I remember a visit to the Boston area in the late '40s when your family was living in barrack-like housing. He made a simple toy bow and arrow and taught me how to use it. It was also when we sat around the breakfast table and squeezed the margarine to get its color to become a buttery yellow instead of white. I would hear much later of some of the adventures he had (his sabbatical in Germany, his visit to Africa). He had a long life filled with excitement. It is probably hard for all to see it end for him. I hope he did not suffer long
Bob and I were close friends for more than 30 years.We spent a great deal of time over coffee discussing the worlds and more mundane topics. I always admired his drive to learn new things, like his latest interest in learning greek so he could read the bible in that language.
I am sorry that I will be unable to attend the memorial service since I will be in Portland Oregon visiting grandchildren. Best wishes to all of you. It was very nice to have met all of you. It meant a great deal to me after hearing of you for many years.
I knew Bob Koehl as my colleague in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at UW-Madison. While he seemed a bit formidable when I first interviewed for the job as a young scholar subject to his rigorous questions, I soon learned that he was readily willing to be helpful to me. Even though he had no particular responsibility to assist or oversee me, when I had to take the lead in some unfamiliar duty I turned to him for an orientation. He would patiently explain the process in a very helpful step-by-step way.
Bob had a wonderful combination of empathy and compassion that in no way undercut his scholarly rigor. I particularly remember an oral exam for the masters degree that I was chairing early in my career for which Bob was a committee member. The candidate was an international student from a developing country with a responsible job in the ministry of education at home. She had written a solid masters essay, but she was floundering in response to the general questions that I was asking her. I was surprised and we were suffering together, when Bob stepped forward and starting asking her a series of much more concrete questions that led her cumulatively through the issues at hand. She responded clearly, confidently, and competently. I watched and learned a great deal that day about the intellectual process of questioning, about social responsiveness, and about cultural difference.
Bob had a no-nonsense focus both on getting things done and doing what was right , with little patience for personal fuss or drama. In doing departmental business he could be very firm, but with such insight and common sense that it felt like a gift. I remember an occasion after I had attained some knowledge and seniority, when I was on a departmental committee with Bob and a third colleague. Our task was to develop recommendations to the department on matters that raised difficult issues about which our colleagues disagreed. One day I arrived early for a committee meeting in the third colleague's office and we started to discuss the issues with mounting tension. Bob arrived, quickly sensed the hot character of the discussion, and asked each of us what we were attempting to accomplish. After listening, Bob told us firmly that this was "old garbage" we had already settled and we needed to move on. He then took the lead in advancing the discussion. I had been settling in to hang on to my position, but his response felt like a great relief and the third colleague and I both moved on without making any more waves.
In the long monthly faculty meetings in which all Educational Policy Studies faculty discussed issues in depth and at length until we could reach something like consensus, Bob did not do much talking. But when he did choose to speak, he usually shed considerable light, one might even say wisdom, on the matter at hand.
I didn't know Bob well, since our fields and responsibilities only occasionally gave us an opportunity for extended conversation. However, I remember the few opportunities to talk one-on-one that we did have as both pleasant and richly informative.
Bob was an important part of my experience in Educational Policy Studies and he played a significant role in making it the productive and civil working context that it was over the twenty-eight years that I worked there. He made that little part of the world--and I am sure other parts of it that he touched--a better place for his presence among us.
Professor Koehl played a crucial role in my career, and I am sure that I would not be where I am today without his kindness and support. When I came to the University of Wisconsin in 1975, I was just a kid trying to get a start in life, and he helped me to get that start. Professor Koehl--I never called him Bob--was my major professor in history at the University of Wisconsin from 1975 to 1985. I also served as a teaching assistant for him, and although we differed politically--I was more conservative than him in my interpretation of history--he never held that against me. In fact, we remained friends after I graduated and went off to work in Washington, DC. I often sought out and respected his opinion. Since graduating, I have returned home to Wisconsin every year, and most years, I also saw Professor Koehl, as well as his devoted wife Jane, and we always had wonderful visits. I am glad that he lived so happily and so for long. I will miss him. A good man.
I had the fortune of meeting Bob in 2002, when I was at the end of my rope after most of my life spent in addiction's clenched fist. By the looks of what I'm reading now, Bob had been retired for 5 years at that time. He regularly attended our group and ran a recovery meeting on campus.
Though 4 decades separated our age, he always treated me like a kindred spirit and he was a very gentle and yet no-nonsense kind of a guide. I'm sure it was his style that would inform, as it still does, my ability to grow up and find some comfort in my skin. Whether I broke my own heart out of learned practice or brushed the dust off and gave it another go, he taught me the fundamental discipline of "one day at a time."
He never bragged of his scholarliness or accomplishments and instead we'd have coffee or lunch relating our personal vulnerabilities, which in itself could be slightly embarrassing, having to almost holler for his poor hearing, or meander in conversation over snippets of philosophers who excited the wonder of god's love and human time.
One of my favorite and recent reflections from Bob was that, at 85, he decided to learn Persian that he might read Rumi in his original verse, when, after 5 years of study, he found out most of the verse he was hoping to read was, in fact, in Farsi. His cataracts having obliterated most of his eyesight, he could only offer a laughing "Dammit" to his lack of foresight.
Bob had the qualities of an extraordinary intellect and a spiritual interest and curiosity which I hadn't been blessed with in a grandfather, so surely there was some projection on my part. We shared a love of cultivating plants as a hobby more than an obsession.
If I had raised beds at home or a community plot, I would make sure to bring he and Jane to show the progress of the season.
I'm confidant that he gave me my first glimpse at my right to embrace my coming middle age and look forward to even more decades of experience and growth. Not as a curriculum, but more a product of some hard-won serenity that was a goal worth striving for.
I'm very thankful for the friends who have continued to visit him at home and to Agrace for providing great care and dignity to him through his decline.
I'm very privileged to have been with Bob and Jane for his last week. To give him prayer an assurance to the end, and to accompany him and give ceremony, ritual, and hope as his body was committed to ashes. To be of service and to carry a message.
On Rumi's tomb in Konya, Turkey, his epitaph reads: When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earth, but find it in the hearts of men.
Thank you for your humanity in all fields, Bob.
Bob has been very supportive of me since 1989, when I started my Ph.D. program in EPS at UW-Madison. In September that year, just weeks after the semester began, the positive comment and encouragement from him after a teaching session--he told me my inputs in the class was brilliant--made me start to believe in myself. I got an 'A' from that class. During the winter break, Bob asked my permission for using the term-paper I wrote for that class as reading assignment for a graduate seminar he would be teaching in the next semester.
In 1996, when I returned from fieldwork in Hong Kong and Singapore and started writing my dissertation, Bob, though not my supervisor officially, met me every three weeks in his office in History Department. This practice continued for three years, after he retired in 1997 and until after my oral in 1999. These meetings, which lasted for a couple hours each time, are among my most memorable and valuable moments in Madison. Bob's geneous support and encouragement helped maintain my spirit throughout and enabled me to complete a dissertation which would be revised into a book manuscript and published by Routledge in 2002.
In the past 15 years, after I went to Taiwan, I regularly emailed him to share my life and to seek his advices--not only on research, but also on matters in private life. I have a historical dimension in my scholarship because of him. And he inspires me, helping me to figure out what kind of person and scholar I want myself to be.
It is hard to accept that Bob is no longer with us. But I can at least find some comfort that I have visited him in hospital this April when I visited Madison after a conference in Chicago. I will miss Bob forever.
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