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Robert Eustis Morsberger

Film buff, swordsman, traveler, longtime Cal Poly, Pomona English professor

Robert Eustis Morsberger, film buff, swordsman, traveler, and longtime English professor at Cal Poly Pomona, died peacefully at home with his loved ones by his side on June 18.

Born September 10, 1929 in Baltimore, Maryland, Bob was the son of Eustis Espey Morsberger, a printer and newspaperman, and Mary Burgess Morsberger, a teacher. He went to elementary and high school in Baltimore and attended the Peabody Preparatory School of Music for classes in piano and percussion. He earned his BA in history from Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University, which his father had also attended, in 1950.

After college, he served in the Korean War. Because he was fluent in German, he was stationed with counterintelligence services in Nuremberg and Garmisch-Partenkirchen. He always maintained that this probably saved his life.

He used the GI Bill to go to graduate school, receiving his MA and PhD in English from the University of Iowa, where he met his future wife, Katharine Sanderson Miller. After a whirlwind romance, they were married on June 17, 1955. They celebrated their 64th anniversary the day before he died.

Mr. Morsberger taught in the English departments at a number of universities before landing at Cal Poly, including Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where his daughter Grace was born; Utah State University; Michigan State; New Mexico State University in Las Cruces; and Eastern Kentucky University.

While at Michigan State, he spent two years at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka, which had a sister university relationship with Michigan State. Family lore states that he came home in the middle of a brutal Michigan winter and asked his wife if she’d consider moving to Africa and she replied, “When do we leave?!”

As a professor, he took the admonition to publish or perish to heart, producing several books and countless articles throughout his career, on topics ranging from swordplay on the Renaissance and Elizabethan stage to the French Revolution to a playful rant against commercialese entitled “Ramathon and the Ness Monster.”

His publications included the first critical biography of James Thurber; two grammar textbooks, noted for their use of cartoons and popular culture to make the subject more palatable, How to Improve Your Verbal Skills and Commonsense, Grammar and Style; and a biography, coauthored with Katharine, Lew Wallace: Militant Romantic. He also edited the Dictionary of Literary Biography. A specialist on John Steinbeck, Mr. Morsberger co-edited the Steinbeck Quarterly with Tetsumaro Hayashi for many years and wrote introductions to a couple of Penguin reissues of shorter works by Mr. Steinbeck, including The Short Reign of Pippin IV and Zapata, as well as to The Mark of Zorro.

A nature lover and historian, he enjoyed using his summer breaks to work as a seasonal park ranger at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for seven summers, where he led guided hikes, gave campfire talks on the Trail of Tears, and learned to play the autoharp.

He was an avid film fan and a walking encyclopedia of film lore, able to reel off the titles, directors, stars and costars of countless films as well as to bang out their soundtracks on the piano.

He and his wife Katharine were also theater critics, contributing reviews to the Claremont COURIER for many years of plays at the Los Angeles Music Center and the South Coast Repertory, among others.

In the days before audio books, Mr. Morsberger also contributed to the community by using his sonorous voice and impeccable diction to record readings for the blind. And he remained politically engaged, and outraged, to the end.

He is survived by his beloved brother, the painter Philip Morsberger; sister-in-law Mary Ann Morsberger; wife Katharine; daughter Grace Morsberger and son-in-law Rich Stern; grandchildren Emma and Jake Stern; niece Wendy Morsberger; great nephews Ben, Jesse and Elan Morsberger; and countless Morsberger cousins in Catonsville, Maryland.

He was predeceased by his nephew Robert Edward Morsberger, a musician.

“The past is an old armchair in the attic, the present an ominous ticking sound, and the future is anybody’s guess.”—James Thurber

“for life’s not a paragraph and death i think is no parenthesis” —ee cummings

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. this Sunday, June 30 at Christ Church Parish, 1127 N. San Antonio Ave., Ontario. A short reception will follow the service.

In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to the Alzheimer’s Association at alz.org; PEN America at pen.org/give; the ACLU at aclu.org; or the Southern Law Poverty Center at donate.splcaction.org.