In Memoriam of John Mohan

It was with great sadness that Grinnell College informs faculty, students and staff that John Mohan, friend, colleague, and beloved professor of Russian, passed away unexpectedly Saturday evening, April 5, 2003. Cause of death was heart failure. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with John's wife, Joan, his sons John Paul and Joseph and the rest of his family, colleagues, and with his many, many students, past and present.

"John was the epitome of a fine liberal arts college professor with his eye on the overall education and well-being of his student," said Russell K. Osgood, president of Grinnell College. "He had a deep understanding of the human family and a love for beauty in all of its forms."

John Mohan joined the faculty at Grinnell College in 1973. John received his B.S. from Mount St. Mary's College, an M.A. from Middlebury College, and the Ph.D. from Cornell University. A full professor since 1991, John helped establish the Russian Department in the early 70's, and for the last 29 years was widely known for his service to the College and profession, knowledge of Russian literature and culture, humanistic values, excellence in teaching and mentoring, dedication to students, and his kindness and keen wit.

An accomplished scholar, John wrote on a number of topics in the field of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian literature. He served the college with great dedication in many capacities — as Russian Department chair for many years and most recently as chair of the Humanities Division and member of Executive Council. He also was an active advocate of Russian studies in the U.S. and served for almost a decade on the Board of American Council of Teachers of Russian. John taught all levels of Russian and literature in translation and was legendary for his courses on Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. John created and nurtured a network of Russian Department alumni, and remained close to many of his former students over the years. John will be missed by his family, friends, colleagues and students, as well as the entire Grinnell community.

Reminiscences of John Mohan

We have not only a common origin, but a common fate as well--death. That being the case, why can't we be a little kinder to one another?

John M. Mohan 1936-2003

Many of you will know or remember that outside ARH there stands an oak tree planted in memory of John. At the base of the tree is a plaque with the inscription above. In past weeks, however, there has been an addition to John's fitting memorial: someone has knitted a sweater for the tree. We have no idea who made this lovely garment, but we are certain that John would have been most pleased. It did seem to appear over alumni weekend, so perhaps one of his former students made this kind gesture? Many, many thanks to whomever it was!


Follow the link above to find a collection of reminiscences from alumni that were sent to us immediately after John's death. Other alumni since then have sent in their thoughts and reminiscences, and we include them below. Please feel free to submit your words on John.

Stephen Ahearn '94 took John's Tolstoy course while a student at Grinnell and John asked him, as he was the only math major in the course, to comment on the integration passage at the beginning of book XI. Some time later, after Stephen began teaching calculus, he corresponded with him about the passage. In the summer of 2004, he finally wrote an essay about the passage and he dedicates his essay, "Tolstoy's integration metaphor from War and peace", which was published in The American Mathematical Monthly 112 (2005), 631-638, to his memory.

Ben Johnston, '85 writes: John Mohan used to crack a joke when asked about what you could do with a Russian major. "You could go manage a male strip club, or you could go to medical school. Or, if you're Ben Johnston, you could do both." I think John's best advice when I was considering a Russian major was..."Ben, this is the only time in your life when you can study something you love for the pure joy of studying it. The major is rigorous, but you will be well prepared to do whatever you want after you graduate. If you want to go to law school, be a Russian major and take the required pre-law classes. If you want to go to medical school, be a Russian major and take the required pre-med classes. But don't miss this opportunity to intellectually immerse yourself in something you love and enjoy for four years."

John was wonderful man and made a deep impact on me. And as aside he was right. When I applied to medical school, I got tons of interviews and one of the contributing factors was that I was a Russian major. As described to me by one of the medical school admissions officers, they have stacks of applications on theirs desks. The stacks are sometime two to three fee tall. The largest are the pre-med, biology, and chemistry majors that "have always wanted to be doctor so they could help people." If the admission officers have to sit through hours of interviews, they're going to choose interesting people. "I wonder why the hell a Russian major wants to go to medical school..." and sets the application in the small pile of applicants to the interviewed.

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