North Central College lost legendary teacher and academic visionary Richard Morse Eastman (H) ’93, professor of English emeritus, on June 17, 2009. He died at his longtime Naperville home at age 92.
After his 36-year career as a professor and dean and vice president of academic affairs, Eastman’s influence continues to be acknowledged by countless alumni who, under his dedicated tutelage, became better writers, readers, speakers and thespians. Many give him direct credit for their successful careers.
“I have used many teaching techniques that I learned in his creative writing class,” says Mary R. Oran ’63. “I have thought of him often—his obvious love for literature, his dramatic flair, his humor and also his high standards. I received a lifetime of lessons from him. When I think of North Central, I think of Dr. Eastman and I smile—I really do.”
“Dr. Eastman literally changed my life when he asked me during my senior year whether I had considered graduate school,” says Joyce Quiring ’65 Erickson. “Until then I hadn’t. Fast forward 40-plus years and I’m still involved in higher education, having earned a Ph.D. in English.”
Eastman arrived at North Central in 1946 after serving in the U.S. Army in World War II and graduating from Oberlin College. While teaching, he completed a master’s degree and doctorate at the University of Chicago. He made an immediate impression on the students arriving from service in World War II. “I wrote a short story called ‘The Wrecktangle’ reflecting upon an experience I had in World War II,” says Dwight Freshley ’50. “He related engagingly with his students without ever losing any respect from them.” Adds Jarvis Spreng ’50: “Because Dr. Eastman started his career with the Class of 1950, we always considered him an honorary member of our class.”
By 1952, Eastman had been appointed chair of the English department and worked to boost its reputation. “We’ve been consistently trying to build one of the strongest ‘little college’ English departments in the state,” Eastman told the Naperville Sun in 1959.
Students learned that Eastman’s high expectations included daily writing assignments, multiple revisions and punctuality. “Dr. Eastman, having trouble with late arriving students for his 7:30 a.m. classes, locked the door promptly at that time. Late students assumed he would wait awhile and open the door. He never did. I think it solved the problem,” says John Sippy ’60.
Eastman served as dean of faculty from 1970-1976, shaping the College’s academic life through Project Phoenix, still the foundation of the curriculum. It was a time of financial stress for the College, a fact not lost on James Kane ’74. “I worked as editor of the newspaper when the school was undergoing radical transformation in curriculum and social life rules, facing a financial and identity crisis … He and I had weekly meetings, which weren’t always pleasant, given the … paper’s penchant to take an adversarial line with the administration. After my term as editor, he had me … over to his house for dinner, a purely social occasion that showed he harbored no ill will. That meant a lot to me.”
Eastman and his wife Vivian were known for their generous hospitality. Arlynn Patrick ’81 Presser was first invited to their home when she was 17 and spent Sunday dinners and holidays with the family. The North Central English major later asked Eastman to be godfather to her son, whom she named Eastman in his honor. Eastman Presser, 17, spoke at the memorial service held June 20. “Sometimes I get a hard time about my name, but I love the fact that I know who it comes from,” says Presser, who coincidentally plans to attend the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester.
Cindy Clark ’82 Krystosek had the unique experience of attending Eastman’s very last English class before he retired in 1982. She learned that Eastman always rang a bell at the start of class when he first started teaching. “[Dean of Faculty James Taylor] wished that a bell be rung by a student at the beginning of the last class and I was the one to do it,” she says. “I thought Dr. Eastman might have a heart attack! But he remembered and Dean Taylor told the story. He was a great professor and a very dear man.”
Over the decades, Eastman authored several textbooks and works of fiction. His most recent, The Eastman Tales, was published in 2006. He touched writers outside the College with his Naperville Writers Group, founded in 1987, and still convening weekly. He also became an accomplished musician, composing for and playing the recorder until he lost his left arm in 1997. He switched to the synthesizer and continued to make music.
“When the time for retirement came, it was unbelievable to many of us,” said Don McVicker, professor of anthropology emeritus, speaking at the memorial service. “He certainly retired to a more diverse and fulfilling life than simply retiring. We shall all miss Dick greatly. I take comfort in knowing that he has simply retired from this world to experience the next.”
Eastman was preceded in death by his wife Vivian and is survived by his three daughters, Clare, Susan and Julie.
North Central NOW Fall 2009