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Archive for Thursday, February 18, 2010

Former KU social welfare professor, ‘campus radical’ Norman Forer dies at 84

Normas Forer visited Iran in early ‘80s during hostage crisis

February 18, 2010

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A former Kansas University social welfare professor who once went to Iran on his own to try to resolve the hostage crisis in the early 1980s has died.

Norman Forer, who was 84, died Feb. 12 after years of battling Alzheimer’s disease.

“He was the campus radical,” said his son, Bob Forer. “Anybody who had a cause would come to Norm Forer.”

Tim Miller, a KU religious studies professor and 30-year friend of Forer’s, recalled how Forer went to Iran with another KU instructor, Clarence Dillingham, to meet with students who had taken Americans hostage inside the U.S. embassy there.

“I think, in very good faith, he just wanted to do something to improve the relations between the United States and Iran,” Miller said.

He had met some of the leaders of the Iranian revolution through some students on campus. Miller recalled how the move rankled a number of people, including then-Chancellor Archie Dykes and state legislators, as they thought his taking diplomacy into his own hands was seditious or traitorous.

“Had it gone the other way, and he come home with the hostages, he would’ve been a great American hero,” Miller said.

Forer always seemed to be working on a project, whether it was local or international, Miller said. Forer had a hand in unionizing the city’s sanitation workers, working against a campus janitorial contract that didn’t provide for people with developmental disabilities among many other causes throughout his life.

“I think it was his Jewishness,” that led him to be so devoted to social causes, Forer’s son said.

“In his mind, a good Jew was someone who stood up for the community, Jew and Gentile alike,” Bob Forer said. “He stood up for all people.”

A private ceremony was held last weekend for family and close friends, and plans for a larger memorial service are pending.

Comments

devobrun 4 years, 10 months ago

Norman Forer died, I'm sorry.

This article is a cheap shot. Those who opposed his views are unable to respond while his views are championed.

He was genuine. Those of you who loved him still do.

Those of you who didn't. Take the cheap shot and shut up.

Richard Crank 4 years, 10 months ago

I took a class with Norm in the early 1970's. During that particular semester, the Yom Kippur war broke out and our class discussed it. There was an Iranian student who expressed his dissenting view and Norm instantly engaged him in a dialogue. I'd not experienced such a vibrant classroom interchange to that point and never have since. I'm sure that conversation formed the basis of his efforts on behalf of the U.S. embassy hostages later. I could add more about his actions to help people he knew or didn't know, but will simply say he was a good man. We should all be sad at our loss.

3ofClubs 4 years, 10 months ago

Wow. I had Norm as a professor back in the day. The instructors during that turbulent time of the early '70s were the true social workers, the cream of the crop, who tried their best to teach me something about life: Norm Forer, Ed Dutton, Lou Frydman, Dennis Dailey, Dr. Katz, Aase George, Margo Schutz, Forrest Swall. Goodness, the list goes on and on . . . . but did I learn? I can look back now and say I am still learning from all of them, whether they are still with us on this earth or not.

Norm was a good mentor to anyone who wanted to learn. I'm sorry to hear about his passing.

eligold 4 years, 10 months ago

Not much of a "story" on Norm to be found here. I realize it is possible editors made this story so lacking in the expression of all that Norm accomplished in his life and all that he was as a human being. I'll give the writer of this "story" the benefit of the doubt. However, in any case it is very disappointing, but not surprising coming from the Journal World. I suppose, coming from a newspaper some of us used to refer to as the Urinal World, it could have been worse.

Norm would have said not to worry about it. He would have said why bother with a story about him anyway. He would have told us all to get on with our work of repairing the world...and so we shall Norman, so we shall...but you will be missed.

ivalueamerica 4 years, 10 months ago

The story is ignorant and does little to display everything Norm did for Lawrence and KU.

He was one of the Professors who taught me a lot and I will miss him deeply.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 10 months ago

"Take the cheap shot and shut up."

Devo struggles mightily to take a cheap shot without really taking a cheap shot. But it was still a cheap shot.

trinity 4 years, 10 months ago

i never had Norman Forer as a teacher while i was a student in the SW school; however i was privileged to have had Frydman, Swall, Dailey, and some other absolutely wonderful teachers while in the school. it sounds as though Forer was a really great guy-i would like to hear more about him. the article was rather brief. my condolences to family&friends.

ahyland 4 years, 10 months ago

To those who say the article was overly brief — there were many stories I could have told, but due to space and time considerations couldn't get to them all. Though I didn't know him, those who did assured me an entire book could be filled with Norm Forer stories.

For those wanting more, here's just one more story I heard from his son, Bob. In the middle of his fight to unionize city workers, Norm was addressing the city commission during a contentious meeting when the mayor threatened to cut off public comment before many in the rather large crowd had spoken.

Norm admonished the commissioners, saying something like "If you all can't take the time to listen to these good citizens, then why don't you go home, and we'll run this meeting ourselves." Bob, who was 14 or 15 at the time, then recalled being utterly surprised when the crowd let out a huge roar, and the commissioners actually got up and left. But, later, he said, the commissioners came back and listened to every last comment.

"That's probably why Dad liked it here in Kansas," Bob told me. On the east coast, he probably would've been handcuffed and beaten, his son guessed. But in Kansas, he said his father was always impressed with the level of decency and fairness his adversaries showed him, and, from what I heard from many, he tried to treat them with respect, too.

To those wanting some opposing viewpoint — I realize that Norm's views were often contentious, and I certainly didn't mean to create a endorsing his views in any way. I just tried to document the story of a man who made an impact on our community. While the merits of his views and stances is a discussion we could all have, I don't know if this is the time or the place where that discussion should take place.

Thanks to all for reading.

Andy Hyland KU reporter

Bob_Forer 4 years, 10 months ago

NORMAN FORER December 31, 1925 – February 12, 2010 JEWISH WARRIOR FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

Graveside Eulogy Delivered by His Son, Bob
B’Nai Israel Cemetery, Eudora Kansas February 14, 2010

My Dear Family and Friends:

We come here today to eulogize Norman Forer, our dear father, grandfather, uncle, and friend--an impossible task, perhaps, given the gravity of our grief, and the brevity of the bereavement ceremony. It is thus both fitting and proper that a public memorial service be scheduled for a later date, with a participatory invitation to the many people whose lives my father and my mother touched.

Who was Norman Forer? Assorted newspaper editors characterized him as a publicity hound, a nay-sayer, a disgruntled academician, an elitist. His enemies spoke of him both publicly and privately, as a malcontent, a rabble rouser, a trouble maker or a subversive, and at polite cocktail parties perhaps spoke in whispers about "that __ pushy Jew."

At best, the general public, uninformed, ill-advised and unacquainted, perceived him as an enigma--the proverbial and somewhat misguided Quixotic do-good-er. At worst, he was described in words best left unspoken.

But to the thousands and thousands of people whose lives he touched with his sweat, blood, and tears, with the warmth of his embrace, with the twinkle of his eye and the welcoming smile of his haimish face, with eloquent words both scribed and spoken, but most importantly and profoundly with the courage and conviction of action instead of mere professions of opinion, desire or belief, Norman Forer, was, in a word, a Mensch.

In the salty air of Far Rockaway, a predominantly Jewish community on the shores of Jamaica Bay in Queens, New York, where he grew up, he was affectionately referred to by his extended and loving family, and close friends, at various times, as Norm, Normie, Normala, Normankay, bubbala, and kinder.

To his dear, now deceased brothers, Mortie and Herb, he was a third of an exclusive adolescent club, "The Junior Musketeers," complete with a thoroughly unoriginal and predicable slogan--"All for one and one for all"--perhaps suggested by the penetratingly simple philosophy of their Yiddisher mamele, a peasant woman with but a few years of education, born in a shtetl near Minsk, who taught her three boychicks that “one hand washes the other” all while grasping and rubbing her two hands together in exaggerated fashion. Sam and Mollie also instilled in the boys the importance of “Rochmanes,” a Yiddish word translated in English as “compassion.”

At schul, and in Hebrew School, he was officially known by his Hebrew name, Noach, son of Schmuel and Monia.

(Continued)

Bob_Forer 4 years, 10 months ago

At Far Rockway High, he ran for Class President as “Rattlesnake Forer” (with an moniker like that are we surprised he lost?), edited the newspaper, was widely respected for his skills as a budding writer, poet, and playwright, and graduated at age sixteen, a hefty task for a richly academic school, a school world-famous, at least in a few isolated sections of Far Rockaway, for having graduated three future Nobel Laureates.

To the crew of his B-17 in the Army Air Corps of WWII, he was a Corporal Forer, sidegunner, radioman, comrade-in-arms and friend.

To many of his college classmates, he was “the star of Queens College” writing and producing plays, publishing short stories and poetry in the school's literary journal, and publicly speaking on the many pressing issues surrounding the aftermath of WWII.

He was mentored by Oscar Shaftel, a widely respected Professor of English, who showed my father's work to Maxwell Geismar, a prominent New York Literary Critic, who secured Dad an agent. Shortly after graduation, and based on the promise of an single, opening chapter, a major publishing house advanced him two thousand dollars, not a small sum in those days, to complete a novel, with the hope that it would be on par and received similarly to that of a contemporary young Jewish author who had recently published a novel entitled The Naked and The Dead. As Jewishness and humility are sometimes said to go hand-in-hand--notwithstanding the fact that the most frequent sentence uttered by a Jewish mamele begins with the words “My son, the Doctor”--I won't drop that author's name.

Our family used to tease Dad that he “never finished nothing ....... mowing the lawn, painting the house, finishing the revolution. Nothing!” So it should be no surprise to learn he never finished his novel.

In a partially autobiographical short story entitled Class Justice, which he started writing in the late fifties, periodically tweaked and kvetched over for …...... let's say four decades, give or take a little, until it was finally published a few years ago in a somewhat obscure literary journal, Dad wrote:

The Day arrived when I no longer wished to write on paper. Instead, I wanted to write on people, to create the inspiration for a mass
withdrawal from Factory Row to ascend the hill to the old school house from which height all could see from whence they had come and the distant Big Titty for which they had lusted.

Bob_Forer 4 years, 10 months ago

And write on people, he did. From the red-clayed back roads of Georgia where he organized African-Americans to vote, village by small village, and served as bodyguard for Larkin Marshall, a Black newspaper publisher from Macon and the first southern African-American to run for Congress since Reconstruction to the grimy factory-packed streets of Long Island City, Queens, New York, where he successfully organized workers in a small button factory.

From the dark threat of Selma, where he marched with Dr. King, to the excitement and hope of August 29, 1963, where he joined hundreds of thousands of Americans to hear Martin deliver his Dream, Norm and Una Forer were there.

It is with great pride that I can state, unequivocally, Norm Forer reported for duty and was in action at every major social movement of the twentieth century:

He flew with the Army Air Corps in the fight against fascism.

He bravely fought in the civil rights movement for over half a century, starting in 1948 and ending after the new millennium, his last struggle, where he fought for housing recollection benefits for the mostly poor and black folk of Union Hill near Crown Center, Kansas City.

The fight for workers’ rights. Norm was there.

The fight against antisemitism. Norm was there.

The fight against unjust wars. Norm was there.

The fight for women's rights. Norm was there.

The fight for free speech. Norm was there.

The struggle for peace amidst the taking of hostages in Iran. Norm was there.

The fight for Native American Rights. Norm was there.

The fight for gay, lesbian and transgendered rights. Norm was there.

In Dad's favorite novel, The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck. in his early chapters shows us the importance of the family. But as the novel progresses, Steinbeck stresses the importance of transcending biological boundaries in order to embrace one's fellow human beings. Steinbeck stresses that only when “I” becomes “we” and “my” becomes “our” can progress be made. Such solidarity is critical for survival and true survival must be survival together.

While hardly a Steinbeck, Norm Forer, in writing both on paper and on people taught us there is redemption in the struggle ……when all is for one and one is for all.

And while our dear father's person has exited this great world, his teachings, memory and spirit live on. To paraphrase Ma Joad, “Because [Norm Forer, Jewish Warrior for Social Justice is of] the people, and the people go on.”

rbwaa 4 years, 10 months ago

@invinoveritas -- you don't know much do you?

rbwaa 4 years, 10 months ago

Bob, Thank you for that beautiful, illuminating eulogy. Your father was an inspiration to me as a sw student and i feel fortunate to have known him.

eligold 4 years, 10 months ago

Thank you, Bob. That was beautiful and it described the Norm Forer I knew to a tee...

ivalueamerica 4 years, 10 months ago

Bob, Norm would have been embarassed by what you wrote because he was a humble man.

However, I do not think anyone could have said it better than you did, thank you.

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