Obituary – Dr. Harold Martin Stahmer, Jr.

Dr. Harold Martin Stahmer, Jr., UF Professor Emeritus, passed away Friday, October 23, 2020, at home, surrounded by his family. Harold was known as Hal to his friends, Dad to his three daughters and Grandfather to his six grandsons. He was born in Brooklyn, NY on August 7, 1929, the son of Harold Martin Stahmer, Sr., and Anne Truntz Stahmer.  He grew up sneaking into Ebbets Field to watch the Brooklyn Dodgers, drawing and painting even as a gifted young child and later taking courses at the Pratt Institute for the Arts, and developing a love of chocolate ice cream while working at his Uncle Henry’s soda and candy shop in Flatbush. 

He possessed a profound intellect, graduating from Brooklyn Technical High School with top honors as winner of the All Tech Medal out of a class of 650 students, and then Dartmouth College, where he majored in religion.  There he was introduced to his longtime mentor, Professor Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, a renowned German scholar and vocal anti-Nazi who immigrated to the U.S. in 1934. At Dartmouth, Hal became a champion rifle marksman and was asked to join the U.S. Marines’ Olympic rifle coach team after graduation, an offer he declined.  After receiving his M. Div. from Union Theological Seminary in New York City under Reinhold Niebuhr, Hal spent a year in the famous German Benedictine Monastery of Maria Laach to study German and Church Latin. While at Laach, he formed a close friendship with Fr. Ceasarius Lauer, O.S.B., a controversial monk, through whom he first met Martin Buber and with whom he later engaged in a brief Worker-Priest initiative of community service in France.  A local Bishop drove them out, wrongly fearing Hal and Ceasarius were communists.

On the ship home he met Jean Craig Smith, whom he married in 1955. Shortly thereafter they returned to Europe, where he completed his doctorate work at Clair College, Cambridge University, under the tutelage of Dr. J. A. T. Robinson and Professor H. H. Farmer, with a dissertation on Martin Buber.   Dr. Stahmer was then made Professor of Religion at Barnard College in N.Y. C. and there became the youngest Chair of Religion. In 1965, Hal spent a year attending Columbia University College of Law, with Advisor Harry W. Jones, studying the topic legal definitions of religion. In 1966, Hal also acquired a television presence for delivering 57 lectures on CBS’s Summer Semester series, on “Contemporary Western Religious Trends”, in which he frequently commented on the religious wellsprings of the civil rights movement.  During these years he continued his interest, already manifest in his high school years, in the civil rights movement and marched with Martin Luther King in Selma, Alabama, in the summer of 1965.  In 1967-1969, Hal was Director of the landmark Harvard-Yale-Columbia Intensive Summer Studies Program, a three-year summer program to prepare gifted black students for graduate and professional study in arts and sciences, law, medicine and related fields. Hal personally did much of the recruiting for that program, frequently traveling in Southern states where his Yankee car plates and his visits to traditionally black campuses usually drew the ominous and persistent attention of pick-up trucks sporting outfitted gunracks. In 1968, Hal received the Danforth Foundation E. Harris Harbison National Distinguished Teaching Prize. He received numerous other awards and recognition, too long to list here.

In 1969, the University of Florida hired Dr. Stahmer as Associate Dean. He served the university and the community at large tirelessly: he played a central role in the campus’ racial integration of students, faculty and administrators, and in the establishment of the Women’s Studies Program, the Center for Jewish Studies, the Center for Gerontological Studies, and the Criminal Justice Program. In 1972, he served on Governor Askew’s 1972 Committee to Study Capital Punishment, which recommended abolishment of the penalty. While at Barnard and UF, Hal invited and introduced many notable speakers, including Malcolm X, Castro, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rozensweig scholar Dr. Nahum Glatzer, liberation theology activist Dr. Richard Schaull, and linguist Noam Chomsky.

Hal was also a vocal supporter of students whose protests of discrimination and of the Vietnam War made them vulnerable to University sanctions.  Dr. Stahmer was a popular teacher, teaching courses as diverse as History of Christianity, Philosophy of Religion, Liberation Theology, and Modern Jewish Thought.  Dr. Stahmer authored and edited many books, including “‘Speak that I May See Thee!’: The Religious Significance of Language” [ about J.G. Hamann, Rosenstock-Huessy, Franz Rosenzweig, Martin Buber, and Ferdinand Ebner] (Macmillan 1968). Hal was always proud of receiving The Black Student Union John Brown Service Award in 1978, “for actively working to improve conditions for black students at the University of Florida”.  Before and after retirement, Hal continued to write and to participate as a featured speaker in countless venues in the States and abroad.

Harold and Jean had three daughters:  Sarah, Jennifer and Hannah.  He is remembered by his daughters as a loving father who, along with their mother Jean, created inspired adventures for the family. These included camping across Europe in a VW van and spending summers on Grand Bahama Island exploring remote reefs.  He enjoyed fishing for Spanish mackerel in Cedar Key and snorkeling the springs in Alachua and Gilchrist Counties.  He and Jean were  passionate and forceful advocates for the underrepresented and underserved and encouraged their daughters to speak up – loudly – in order to be heard. He and Jean took them on marches and protests in defense of human rights, showing them what may be necessary to create change.

He cared deeply about animals and the quality of their care, and this led to trips to Costa Rica to rescue sea turtles with UF Professor Archie Carr, famous scientist and conservationist, and the creation of turtle sanctuary ponds in his own homes. Dogs were an important part of his later life; there was no time when he did not have one at his side. Pumpkin, his pit rescue, and his grand dogs Little Bit and Annie were with him when he passed.

In 1985 he married Paula Huessy. They lived happily in northwest Gainesville for the last 35 years, and were active in many social and environmental causes in Alachua County.  Paula was a devoted companion who cared for Harold with gentleness and grace, especially in his later years.

Dr. Stahmer is survived by his wife Paula Stahmer and his three daughters, Dr. Sarah Stahmer of Durham, NC; Jennifer Kramer of Harrisville, NH; and Hannah Stahmer of Gainesville; his six grandsons; two great grandchildren; and his dog Pumpkin.

Funeral arrangements are entrusted to the Chestnut Funeral Home. A memorial service will be held at a future as yet undetermined date. In lieu of flowers, donations are encouraged to organizations such as the Alachua County NAACP, the ACLU, Pet Rescue, and/or Rooterville, a local animal sanctuary.

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