Saturday, April 4, 2009

Emeritus Professor Gennaro Santangelo, 1929-2009 | R.I.P

Literati and Friends in the College of Arts and Letters,

Once again mala Fortuna visits and I am called upon to forward sad tidings.

Professor Emeritus Gennaro A. Santangelo, an outstanding retired member of our faculty has passed away. Santangelo was an amazing mentor to me my first years here on Montezuma Mesa--funny, wise, brilliant, and well-versed in the mysteries of academe. Join me in sharing my condolences to his wife Beth and his entire surviving family. Riposa in pace.

My thanks to Emeritus Professor Federico Moramarco for bringing this to my attention; Fred writes: "Gennaro's the guy who interviewed me at MLA and recommended I be hired at SDSU, so had a pretty large impact on my life."

Please send your pictures, written memories, reminiscences, and the like to me at this address,, so that we can honor Professor Santangelo with a memorial on our web site.

William A. Nericcio

Memories of Professor Gennaro Santangelo

Fred Moramarco reading a poem on the occasion of Jerry Santangelo's retirement--also pictured, Bill Rogers and Jerry Farber. Picture courtesy of Carey Wall.

Gennaro Santangelo was the Department's town crier. (Except for the negative and generally feminine connotations of the word, I would call him the department's "Yenta," but he would know I mean that very lovingly.) No one ever knew anything about the department before Jerry knew it, not even the chairs. He had his fingers on the pulse of the university and was a familiar figure in the hallways of the Adams Humanities Building talking to one person or another to one person or another about the latest administrative outrage, and lobbying for what we used to call in more innocent times, "department autonomy." Unlike many faculty members, Jerry loved being at SDSU and conveyed a sense of pride about the department and the university. He and his wife Beth were also the semi-official department host and hostess for many years, holding various gracious and generous parties at their beautiful, art-filled Mt. Helix home. He practiced what we Italians call "convivio," making people feel welcome and comfortable when hosting them. He loved to travel and did so widely, to virtually all parts of the world. He loved to visit museums and galleries and to talk about connections between literature and art, which was the subject of his favorite course. He was a passionate art collector, especially of high quality limited edition prints which he had a special feel for. Over the years he suffered from various physical ailments, and had difficulty walking, but he rarely complained about it, and walking across campus with him at his slow, measured pace, was a kind of revelation. When I did so, I always noticed things I usually breezed right by. Though I saw him rarely recently, I did visit him just a week ago and even though he looked very ill, he remained curious, interested in what I had to say, inquisitive about the department and my family as always, and the same old Jerry underneath his frail and ravaged body. I will miss his presence in the world.

Federico Moramarco
Emeritus Professor
English and Comparative Literature, SDSU

In the fall of 1991, I was one of twenty or so students in the Monday night Introduction to Graduate Studies seminar at SDSU. We were an enthusiastic bunch, eager to engage the work of pursuing a graduate degree. But for all of our gusto, our collective understanding of the realities of life in the academy was, at best, myopic. Fortunately for us, the professor assigned to teach the class was Genarro Santangelo. And one could not hope for a better or more benevolent taskmaster for what lay ahead.

From the moment he walked in the room on the first night (I can still see his purposeful entrance, taking us all in, nodding and smiling genially) he began giving shape to our enthusiasm, making us into the teachers and researchers we would become. The next fifteen weeks would be a series of challenges in learning the finer points of teaching, research and writing. Whether we were navigating the stacks of Love Library in search of an answer to one of his carefully considered research problems or preparing for the daunting task of the in-class presentation, Santangelo sat at the front of the room, Yoda-like, smiling and nodding at our attempts at insight, questioning that which was unclear, encouraging that which showed promise. He was exacting (and at times, demanding) but his standards were always tempered with fairness and kindness, and we learned a great deal that term.

But beyond the course material, Santangelo provided insights into the culture of the profession. Using terms like "expert," "professional" and "colleague," he provided countless examples of just what we had gotten ourselves into. Outside of class he led seminars on applying to doctoral programs and job searches, providing practical anecdotes from his own experiences from a life spent in academia. I fondly remember the class party he and his wife hosted at their home. With the entire seminar seated in the living room, Santangelo held forth on topics as wide ranging as the relationship between art and literature to how the Chargers were faring that season. In these times and others, he gave a sense of our future selves, and with that emerging picture came the lesson of the obligations that came with such aspirations.

His constant reminder that we were all "here to learn" has served me often and well; it is a mantra that I now repeat to my own students, and I cannot repeat it without hearing it in Jerry's voice. I am saddened to hear of his passing, but I am grateful for the good fortune to have had him as a teacher and thankful for the lessons he taught me.

Michael Harper
Professor of English
Mount San Antonio College

Jerry Santangelo was one of my oldest and dearest friends. I first met him in Binghamton, New York, in the mid-1960s, where he was a faculty member and I was a faculty wife and independent (read "unemployed") researcher. At that time I had the pleasure of reading Jerry's doctoral thesis on George Eliot's Romola (which I found marvelous--and told him so).

When I moved to San Diego in 1971, our friendship continued as Jerry and his wife, Beth, welcomed me with generous hospitality. Over the years, as colleagues in the Department of English and Comparative Literature, Jerry and I enjoyed countless hours of schmoozing over coffee or over lunch. Jerry loved discussing a wide range of subjects, including literature and art (about which he was passionately interested and extremely knowledgeable).

We shared a London Semester of teaching, going to plays, and taking field trips in 1988. In our retirement, we--with our spouses--travelled together in Italy and in Mexico.

I treasure memories of our shared adventures, discussions, and friendship--both abroad and at home. I shall miss him terribly.

Elsie McKaskle Marini
(formerly Elsie B. Adams)
Professor Emerita
English and Comparative Literature, SDSU

Jerry Santangelo at his retirement dinner, 1992, the Gaslamp, San Diego--picture courtesy of Carey Wall.

Genarro ("Jerry") Santangelo was, as he was for Fred Moramarco, the SDSU professor who interviewed me at the MLA meeting in NYC, December 1968. A quality that struck me about him even in that first meeting, and continued to impress me through the years I knew him here, was his genuine happiness about his colleague's accomplishments. He was lacking in jealous envy of others' work and rewards, and was glad for them and what they had done. This is, perhaps, sadly, not a virtue as wide-spread in academia as it should be, and made Jerry stand out as a model for me.

Ron Gervais
English and Comparative Literature, SDSU

Hi, I was a long-time friend of Gerry's, being a fellow philatelist. We'll certainly miss him as he was a fine philatelist as well as a good friend. In 2007, he received an award in Los Angeles, at SESCAL 2007. You might take a look at for the award presentation speech.


Jerry Kasper

1 comment:

Jo Ann Frater, DC said...

Dr.Jerry Santangelo will always be remembered as one of my preferred literature professors at SDSU. He was indeed a remarkable figure and an excellent representation of the quality of teaching staff. My condolences to Beth and his sons.