Written and read as a part of the memorial service for Walter Havighurst; February 19, 1994. Reprinted with permission of the author.
Member of a distinguished academic family, Walter Havighurst was born on November 28, 1901, the son of Freeman Alfred Havighurst, a member of the faculty of Lawrence College, and Winifred Weter Havighurst, who was also a faculty member until her marriage. An older brother, Robert, became a famed educator at the University of Chicago; brother, James, became a prominent attorney in Cleveland; younger brother, Alfred became a well-known historian at Amherst College; and sister, Miriam Johnson, a retired librarian, lives in Batavia, Illinois.
Growing up in college towns in Wisconsin and Illinois, Walter
Havighurst was much influenced by his older brother Robert,
who preceded him in enrollment as a student at Ohio Wesleyan and
then in faculty appointment at Miami. Robert was serving as
professor of Chemistry at Miami when Walter visited the campus for the
first time. The next year, when Robert went to the University of Chicago,
Walter was appointed instructor in English and a resident advisor at
old Fisher Hall in 1928. Before coming to Miami, Walter had completed
his Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Denver in 1924, a
BachelorÕs degree in Sacred Theology at Boston University in 1928,
and a MasterÕs degree from Columbia University in 1928. Along the way,
he also studied at Kings College, London.
Searching for challenge and meaning in his life, Walter Havighurst tried his hand at a number of vocational and avocational pursuits: he had served as a deck-hand aboard Great Lakes steamers, and then on ships in the merchant marines in the Pacific and around the world; he had also pastored a New York City inner-city Methodist Church. But it was on the Miami campus that he found his niche in life. One who helped him find it was Marion Boyd, an instructor in English at both Miami and Western College, with whom he shared a departmental office, and then, after their marriage in 1930, his life. Another was Joseph M. Bachelor, an honor graduate of Miami and Harvard, who returned to Miami as a member of the English faculty and an authority on vocabulary after editing the New Century Dictionary. It was Marion, an accomplished author in her own right, who encouraged Walter to realize his potential as novelist and regional historian. It was Joe Bachelor who invited Walter to become his assistant in 1928, and who also helped persuade the young instructor to try his hand at writing.
Through the years, Walter gained a mastery of the English language equaled by few. He possessed a rare talent for using words, finding through their combinations melody, harmony, and tone. L. Scott Bailey, a 1948 Miami graduate, once said of Walter that "he could set my soul humming with the music of words."
The music of words. Think about it. Then think of beautiful prose composed by Walter Havighurst during the half-century that he lived and worked and wrote in the home in Shadowy Hills that he and Marion shared at the edge of MiamiÕs formal gardens.
Almost all of Walter's writing centered on the land between the Great Lakes
and the Ohio River--he called it the heartland of the nation. Whether
fiction or fact, his works always had historical setting. In explaining his
early and abiding fascination with History, Walter once reminisced:
". . . I began to find in myself a dual curiosity, wanting to recall the
Midwest of early times while trying to understand its present. Now every
scene is two scenes, the land as it was and as it is; the wild free earth of
the Indians . . . and the tamed, possessed, toiling, striving, hugely
productive American Midwest.
To generations of Miami students, Walter Havighurst was Mr. Miami, the one who better than any other knew and loved the University, its history, its traditions and folklore. His book, The Miami Years, one of the finest college histories ever written, is still used as a text in the History of Miami course offered on this campus each year.
Let us recall for just a few moments the titles of some of the other nearly forty volumes written by this truly great, though modest, man of letters. Note the recurring themes of the Great Lakes, the rivers, the Midwest, and most particularly, his adopted Ohio, the state "shaped like a wind-rippled flag," in Walter's words.