On June 6, 2010, Charles Crupi, emeritus professor of English passed away after 35 years of teaching British Literature, Shakespeare, and Greek & Roman Literature, leaving a lasting legacy for generations of Albion students. During his Albion College tenure, he also directed plays, served as English department chair for 19 years and was continually active campus-wide. Here, friends and colleagues recall some of their best moments shared with Charles.
Russell Aiuto, emeritus professor of Biology
The death of Charles Crupi on June 6, 2010, marks the end of a thirty-five year era at Albion College. It is difficult to ascribe to a single individual the character of a period in a college’s history, but, as attested to by the many tributes that students and colleagues have offered since his death, it seems that Charles defined an era.
In addition to his being a superb teacher, as countless of his former students have testified, he brought to the campus an intellectualism — an easy and non-threatening intellectualism — that few faculty before him were able to do. It produced a climate of easy collegiality, of intense curiosity, and the real feel of a place of learning, without being stuffy or pedantic.
How did he do this? He certainly didn’t set out to be the significant figure he became. Being scholarly, caring about students, caring about learning — these traits emanated from him as a non-threatening aura. He didn’t ask to be the leader; he just was, simply because of who he was.
My years with Charles on the Albion campus were 1975 to 1985, when I left. I had been at Albion for some ten years before Charles arrived. As a matter of fact, the year that he arrived I was off campus, on sabbatical.
Those ten years, I believe, were a Golden Age for Albion. Along with Inge Baumgartner, Tom, Doran, and other faculty about the same age at that time, a climate of intellectual and educational adventure existed, much of it catalyzed by Charles. I am sure there were (and perhaps are) other Golden Ages, but, looking back, that was a special time. The Honors Program came into existence. Numerous distinguished visitors came to campus — Angus Wilson, Zhores Medvedev, Ring Lardner, Jr., and many more. Symposia generating much excitement were held — on the New Genetics, on Work, on Violence. Basic Ideas, established in the early 1960s, was flourishing as a program. The Nature Center came into existence. While it might not have seemed so at the time, the campus was on fire. Without exception, looking back, every academic department was active and alive.
One seemingly unimportant event was the founding, by Charles and me, of the Albion College Woman’s Softball Team, an enterprise so filled with disaster and unintentional humor that it defied explanation. By the third year of the team, we were able to field a respectable group, and after that, the Athletic Department quite rightfully took the adventure off our hands.
For myself, I can say without hesitation that whatever professional success I have achieved (neglecting the failures) was because of Charles. We wrote three plays together — actually, he was the creative force and I was a contributor — and these plays suddenly gave me a sort of academic notoriety that was not altogether deserved.
I suppose that some remember Charles as “eccentric.” If by that word they mean distinctive — even unique — they are not far off the mark. Burning holes from his pipe in his sport coat pockets, writing beyond the chalk board and onto the adjacent walls, celebrating each Spring his determined annual rite of producing more tomatoes than could be consumed by a family of five — all of these are part and parcel of his uniqueness.
One cannot talk about the Crupi Era without talking about the “other” Crupi, Tamara. After the establishment of the Whitehouse Nature Center, some few years later Tamara became its director, and made it an integral part of the campus community. The Crupi home became a comfortable salon, primarily because of Tamara, where a number of us would spend long evenings in all sort of talk, some of it profound, but always witty. Tom Doran and Charles would argue over Bach. For Charles, Bach was the paragon of music, despite Tom’s best efforts to point out that a fair amount of music had been written after Bach. Charles concession was that he would acknowledge their existence, these “modern” composers, but reluctantly. Tom, Inge, and Tamara would challenge each other with meals that were beyond gourmet quality, while Charles poured the wine.
Most of all, as many will agree with me, Charles was the consummate friend, always supportive, never critical, never judgmental. He was the same with his students.
It was a privilege to live during those times, particularly because it overlapped the tenures of older faculty who were exemplary — Irwin, Gilbert, Stowell, Crump, Strickler, and many others — and the younger faculty of that time who are now approaching retirement.
But, most of all, the era (although he would reject the suggestion) belonged to Charles Crupi.
Judy Lockyer, Professor of English
Some time in every day I think about Charles Crupi. His life and his death matter to many people, I know. For me, his not being here is still shocking, too abrupt a trauma. We remember him as he was—the smart, wry man whose funny “stumble and recover” way of not running into anyone was as graceful and respectful of us as was his ability to listen and hear us.
Charles was the only mentor I ever had and for that I am deeply grateful. Teaching was his calling, and a gift to every one of his students. I am thankful he was a real colleague. Charles was also my friend—a kind, witty, honest man. He gave me books to think about because he really was interested in my research. Every time I found a note or a clipping from him in my mailbox, I was proud that Charles had thought of me. He could find anything. Once he recorded the song—“The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”—for me. I had remembered from my childhood and wanted to play it for my American Lit I students. He handed me the tape only a few days later.
Our hall, our department, Albion College is emptier without him. I feel that loss every day I come to school, but I also know that he has made life better for his being here with us.
Ian MacInnes, Professor of English
As I write this, there lies before me Charles Crupi’s battered teaching copy of Aeschylus’ Oresteia, kindly passed on to me by Tamara Crupi. The careful notes in the margins, tiny, sometimes cryptic, always deeply thoughtful, bring back vividly Charles’ amazing presence in the classroom. As a very young addition to the English department in 1994, I came to know Charles first as a mentor and friend. Later, when it became clear that I would inherit some of his teaching responsibilities, I had the privilege of sitting in his classes throughout a semester and of experiencing first-hand the gentle passion of Charles’ teaching. Today, with his notes in hand, I can see that he has marked out for special reference the famous passage in the Agamemnon where the Chorus reflects on the wisdom gained from suffering: “Still there drips in sleep against the heart / grief of memory” The words ring so true to my memory of this dear colleague.
Julie Stotz-Ghosh ’92, Visiting professor of English
When I was a student at Albion, I had the fortune of taking two classes with Charles Crupi. His classroom was a world. From the moment he rested his navy blue blazer on the back of his chair, Charles was fully engaged in the moment of the class, and so was I. His knowledge and passion for his subject was evident in his voice and his fury of abbreviated chalk notes and drawings—he always left with chalk dust on his clothes and in his thick, dark hair. He engaged us, drew us out of ourselves, helped us feel beyond the language of the literature. I often asked myself on my journey to becoming an English professor, how did he do this? I told stories in grad school of this man who was the kind of teacher I aspired to be. I had no idea then that I would have the additional fortune of working with Charles as a colleague. It seems to me now, that among his many creative accomplishments, teaching was one of Charles’ stunning works of art.
Nels Christensen, Assistant professor of English
I didn’t know Charles Crupi when I decided to pursue a career teaching and studying literature. But I realize now that Charles nonetheless played a large part in that decision. Back then, I imagined the academy as a place full of Charles Crupis, a place where men and women loved to read and write and talk about books and why they mattered. Eventually, experience disabused me of that idealized view. But when I met Charles, I knew that he was precisely the kind of teacher and scholar I had always hoped to be—one who quietly, courageously, and with a wealth of imagination and spirit did the hard and rewarding work of living a life guided by the love of reading.
Sally Jordan, Associate professor of English
When I came to Albion for my on-campus interviews, Charles Crupi gave me a tour of the town and the campus. In the years that followed, he continued to guide me both professionally and intellectually, a kindness he provided to many. Charles was wise and generous, always willing to give advice or answer questions. (And his astonishing erudition—he had read everything and forgotten nothing—equipped him to answer nearly every literary question I ever posed him.) His brilliance inspired, his wit delighted, and his compassion comforted untold students and colleagues in his long career.
But I think that the quality I most loved in Charles was the joy he took in life. He had so many passions: for Shakespeare, bird-watching, the opera, the Yankees, and his wife, to name but a few. And thinking of that joy consoles me a little for the loss of my friend; although Charles’s life was too short, it was well- and richly-lived.
Jason Sebacher ’08 alum, Chicago, IL
It seems impossible to try and memorialize Dr. Crupi, to attempt to find and articulate the impact of so great a man. What can one individual say? Personally, I took all of the classes he offered, though usually I was too busy paying attention to him the man than to the content. His CV looks like an Ivy League victory lap. His teaching was positively mesmerizing. His personality was endearing beyond reason, and his erudition, well, goes without saying. He taught classes on writers generally acknowledged to be geniuses, and, in turn, they had a worthy representative. All of these traits are remembered by an entire generation of English majors, English major converts, and other Britons lucky enough to have had him. But there
are also smaller, quieter moments that I remember with Charles, moments in which the public displays of quirkiness were put on hold and he shared something personal. I also remember imitating him when I played the villain in a Brecht play I was in. I remember him watching us play croquet, after politely refusing an invitation. I remember him asking to see me in his office, immediately forgetting that he did so, and then giving me a series of suspicious glances as I followed him to his office. I remember his impossible quizzes, his endless Socratic questioning, his pictures, his tangents, and, of course, his acronyms.
But, again, all of this is shared, and it is also a somewhat disingenuous way to memorialize him: through his eccentricities only. His teaching was that of legend. He had a way of insinuating the attention of even the most disinterested student and directing it toward the subject matter, which was difficult to do, I’m sure. His teaching attracted so many students from so many diverse disciplinary backgrounds, many students ended up just picking up a Minor in English. And, you see, this is his major accomplishment, I think, above all: his ability to bring people to Shakespeare, people of all walks of life. He did not condescend, he did not bring Shakespeare to people, Dr. Crupi brought them—up—to him. I’ve found in my own teaching that it takes a special kind of knack to present Shakespeare in such a way so that his is able to be understood. Teaching Shakespeare is hard. Usually, most teachers—and me included—might dilute Shakespeare’s genius, his wordplay, his familiarity of the overwhelming complexity of human nature; these teachers might diminish his towering genius. The same can be said of Dr. Crupi’s treatment of Homer, too, and Chaucer. He was gifted with this rare power. People understood this, somehow innately; he triggered something in the subconscious of everyone he met, and he acted as a magnet to all sorts of people, leading them to journeys of new academic heights and personal self-discovery. Dr. Crupi achieved this for an entire generation. This is his memorial, and it is living.
As a teacher, Charles has affected me—not in any particular way, but in spirit. I hope to develop that rare power he had, which may never happen, but if it does, it will happen after teaching just as long as he did. At a point at which I am trying to carve out my way, I remember Dr. Crupi to keep my focus, to remember what I’m here for, and to motivate me to make my vocation from my avocation. All of us hope to achieve what Dr. Crupi did. His life serves as a model for how to live our own.
Andrew Kimball ’09 alum Seoul, South Korea
For me, Charles Crupi references are inextricable from virtually any retrospective conversation I have about Albion. Never have I met with a man who could so captivate an entire classroom with no effort other than that which required him to be himself. Long after Crupi’s class ended, my fellow classmates and I would still be playfully musing over his delightful eccentricities–whether it be his intentionally comic display in trying to express some buried, complicated thought, or the way the classroom gradually grew hazy with chalk dust after about an hour of his brilliant teaching. Charles wasn’t a professor you simply liked, he was a professor you adored; you wanted him as a relative, or you hoped you would become him if you ever were fortunate enough to grow into a seasoned intellectual.
As my tenure at Albion came to a close, however, what truly struck me about Charles Crupi was his gentleness. I came to realize, as I spoke with him more personally during the last weeks of my senior year, how much of an incredibly kind and tranquil man he was. Of all qualities he possessed (wittiness, humor, tactfulness, honesty, need I go on?), it was this pureness of character that made him most great, and it is for this quality that I will miss him most. Farewell, Dr. Crupi. There simply is never enough time.
Use the comment box below to leave your own memories of Charles Crupi.
Photos courtesy of Ian MacInnes.
Thank you for this article. An encyclopedia probably wouldn’t be big enough to hold all of the ways in which Dr. Crupi was so tremendously special as a professor, advisor, mentor, and friend, but each of these tributes helps capture his gentle, quirky, wonderful essence.
What a wonderful surprise to see the poignant Pleiad headline tribute of our beloved friend and faculty colleague Charles Crupi.
My time with Charles was a pitifully short five years and our association was mainly through music. Music at St. James Episcopal Church where we sat together in choir, or in discussion with his close friend Tom Doran (my predecessor in the tenured piano faculty here at Albion), or as often was the case, simply in our occasional conversations about music of all styles. To some, this may seem odd, to have spent so much discussion with a humanities colleague on musical topics but that was the remarkable qualities that made Charles such a renaissance man. How I wish I had made the time to sit in his Shakespeare classes, particularly after reading the countless tributes and descriptions of his teaching. Yes, we all thought there was more time to be had with Charles.
On the other hand, I will never ever regret for one moment that many priceless hours I had in frequent conversation with him. He was truly my greatest mentor as a musician and most importantly as a human being.