Archive for Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Jim Seaver, KU Western Civilization fixture, volunteer and opera enthusiast, dies

March 15, 2011

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Jim Seaver surrounded by his opera collection at his home on Louisiana and Sixth Street.

Jim Seaver surrounded by his opera collection at his home on Louisiana and Sixth Street.

Jim Seaver was an opera lover, a whiz on the tennis court and a fixture of the Western Civilization program at Kansas University.

He was also the uncle of baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver, a world traveler and, along with his wife, Virginia, a volunteer extraordinaire for Douglas County Senior Services.

“He was closest to a Renaissance man as I could think of,” said Lois Clark, who met Seaver 53 years ago when her husband arrived at KU as a graduate student.

“He was a good model,” she said. “They just don’t make them like that any more.”

Seaver died Monday night at age 92.

Seaver is perhaps best known for his weekly radio show “Opera is My Hobby,” which ran Friday nights on Kansas Public Radio. The show’s debut was Sept. 19, 1952, four days after KANU (now Kansas Public Radio) signed on the air.

It was one of the longest running shows in radio history. Seaver produced his last show a week ago and was thinking of the program up until the day he died, KPR general manager Janet Campbell said.

“It was more than a hobby, even though that is what he called it,” she said.

The success of Seaver’s radio show was largely based on his extensive collection of one-of-a-kind opera recordings, many of which he kept in his attic.

Campbell wasn’t sure what would become of Seaver’s show, but noted they had many years of recordings from which to draw.

“I don’t see it going away in the immediate future,” she said.

Seaver came to Lawrence in 1947 as a history professor at KU. A California native, Seaver was the captain of the tennis team at Stanford University and later coached the KU men’s team to a Big Seven Championship.

Seaver spent almost three decades as the head of the Western Civilization program. Late Roman history was his specialty and, along with opera recordings, he collected ancient coins.

“He was really committed to the university in a way that is rare now,” said Don Marquis, a KU philosophy professor who in 1967 became the assistant director of Western Civilization. “He had a real following.”

Another great passion of Seaver’s was traveling. He led tours to the sites of ancient civilizations in Rome, Greece, Turkey and Egypt. For those who couldn’t come, Seaver would host “trips” as part of the senior center’s Armchair Travel for the Leisure and Learning Program.

“He was a living library,” said Douglas County Senior Services executive director John Glassman, who had lunch with Seaver about once a month.

“When you are around someone of that level of intelligence and articulation, you know it. I could tell why his students loved him so much and stayed in touch with him over the years,” Glassman said.

Along with sharing his travel experiences, Seaver and his wife delivered hot meals to homebound seniors for years. Their volunteer work inspired Douglas County Senior Services to create the Jim and Virginia Seaver Volunteer Award in 2007. It has been presented annually since.

“He was such a good gentleman,” Glassman said. “This community is going to be poor without him.”

Seaver is survived by his wife and three sons, Richard, who lives in Leawood; William, who lives in Lawrence, and Robert, who lives in Italy.

The family is working with KU to arrange funeral services.

Virginia said she remembers her husband had once told her of an ancient philosopher who wanted his gravestone to read that he made a difference.

“And, I think he did make a difference for a lot of people and that is what he aimed to do,” she sad. “He influenced his students, and he influenced a generation of radio listeners.”

Comments

jhawkinsf 4 years, 3 months ago

We're a better community for having had Mr. Seaver here for so long. A really good teacher.

rhd99 4 years, 3 months ago

Great information source on opera and the arts. RIP, Dr. Seaver.

jcopeau 4 years, 3 months ago

Jim gave me a lot of help when I directed "Lend Me a Tenor" at the LCT. He was such a delightful man. Rest in Peace.

Jonathan Kealing 4 years, 3 months ago

Reading about Jim's death reminded me of a story I wrote on he and his wife almost four years ago now, when the Senior Center named the award after them. They were a fascinating couple. We'll certainly miss having Jim in our community.

Bobo Fleming 4 years, 3 months ago

Had him for Western Civ. Great teacher. Great man.

bigdogks 4 years, 3 months ago

Jim Seaver represented the highest aspirations of a humanist. Though learned, he was not condescending; he never ceased to thirst for greater knowledge and deeper understanding. Those of us who came to know him over the years will mourn his loss as a personal one, as well as a diminution of the Lawrence community, and the University of Kansas has lost one of its truly outstanding representatives. My thoughts go out to his family at this time and I know they appreciate the outpouring of sentiment from the community and from his extended "family" of instructors who worked with him in the Western Civilization Program for many, many years.

Joe VanZandt

tashtego 4 years, 3 months ago

He was a fine teacher and wonderful guy. I had him for several classes and sometimes we met at his house in Old West Lawrence. A couple of years ago, I sent him an e-mail, not having talked or seen him in decades and promptly received a lengthy handwritten response.

A few years before I had classes with him back in the early to mid '70s, my father called him up to talk about opera and he was out of the office, I think playing golf, but on hearing that someone wanted to talk about opera, he called my dad back and first thing said he couldn't wait to share experiences. A friend here in Houston is also a friend and now I have to call him to break the news.

RIP.

Allan Brain

Steve Bradt 4 years, 3 months ago

Many years ago I took a class, Rome - Biography of a city from Dr. Seaver. It was a survey class spanning many disciplines. The class class was taught by many of the "old guard" professors at KU. Seaver, Francis Heller, Dan Politoske, Ed Eglinski, and others. It was a magical presentation. The final class period was a round table, with all of them discussing what made that city special. Hackneyed though it may sound, it was a life influencing experience, especially the last session, wherein they discussed why Rome meant so much to them. Dr. Seaver's story was among the most moving. Bless him for his input into so many lives. My best to Virginia in her loss of a world class gentleman. I hope that my children are privileged to have such a font of historical wisdom to learn from.

Jimo 4 years, 3 months ago

Goodness, I haven't thought of Francis Heller for years.

Thomas Kurata 4 years, 3 months ago

I was very saddened to learn of Prof. Seaver's passing today. He was truly a giant at KU and a pillar of Lawrence for many years. My heartfelt condolences go to his wife, Virginia, and to his sons, Richard, Bill and Robert. Even though I opted for eastern civilization at KU during the early 1970s, I still had many opportunities to share a common passion with Prof. Seaver and his sons, Richard and Robert, and that was tennis. From the time we were little kids to the time we reached KU, Prof. Seaver taught us so much about the game, how to improve our ground strokes, our serves and footwork. And I will always fondly remember Prof. Seaver taking us to the local A&W root beer joint near 6th and Michigan St. after we finished playing. He had one of the most graceful and potent first serves in tennis that I had ever seen. His overhead smashes were without equal, always hit with authority without chance of return, leaving opponents gasping and dumbfounded. Hidden behind his calm and stoic exterior was one very tough and determined competitor on the courts who knew how to win during the hot and humid summers of Lawrence. It was always thrilling to watch Prof. Seaver and the late Prof. emeritus of chemical and petroleum engineering at KU, James O. Maloney, battle each other in singles matches during the Lawrence Open tournament. Their matches were replete with some of the most suspenseful, long and steady rallies graced with the steadiest ground strokes and punctuated with stinging, decisive put away volleys that you could imagine. The level of intelligence and strategic thinking both of these men demonstrated on court when we played with wood raquets is hard to find in today's very fast and furious game. Even though I did not experience Prof. Seaver's knowledge, passion and wisdom in a KU lecture hall, I am grateful for the lessons he taught me and others on the tennis courts of Robinson Gym and the field house. Thank you Prof. Seaver. I wish you great peace and tranquility.

oldbaldguy 4 years, 3 months ago

i listened to Mr. Seaver when I first started listening to KANU in 1980 up untill last week. I will miss him. What a great man.

Lawrence Morgan 4 years, 3 months ago

He was a wonderful man. I had him as a teacher of Western Civilization in Pearson Scholarship Hall. I'm sorry to have him go. Lawrence

Beth Meyers 4 years, 3 months ago

I had the privilege of being Dr. Seaver's engineer for "Opera Is My Hobby" from 1977 to 1988. I wasn't prepared for someone so vibrantly alive, so delighting in scandalous stories about ancient Romans and long-dead opera performers, so warm and genuine, but with such a towering intellect. He was an excellent raconteur, and more than once, I found myself laughing so hard at some story or anecdote he'd told that I could hardly breathe. His stories about how he met his lovely Virginia and their first date were funny, poignant and romantic all at the same time. After his travels, he would come in to record his show renewed, and with even more stories with which to regale me. Those stories made me almost feel I had gone with the tour group. Dr. Seaver and Virginia were also tireless volunteers for the Senior Center and Senior Meals, but they were never tiresome. They had FUN! no matter what they were doing. When Dr. Seaver was named Director of Western Civilization at KU, both "After Dark" and "The New Yorker" magazines saw fit to comment on that achievement, with "After Dark" saying that the University of Kansas had appointed a Director of Western Civilization, and we certainly needed one. In Dr. Seaver's view, the deadliest sins were ignorance and apathy, and he warred against them both. I truly learned more from him while engineering his show than I did in many formal classes I took both as an undergraduate and a graduate student. He was always hungry to learn new things, new approaches, new places, and always with his beloved wife and cherished boys beside him. I remember one time, after he'd received some accolade, that he didn't mention it at all, focusing instead on the accomplishments of one or more of his sons. There was never any doubt about his immense love for his wife and children; at the mention of any of them, he'd light up like a Christmas tree. When he talked about Virginia, he would beam like a love-struck teenager. That capacity for love extended to his incredible roster of friends from around the world, too. I am proud and honored to have known him and called him friend. No matter how long he was on this planet, he is one of the youngest people I have ever known. His influence on my own life will last forever.

Beth Meyers 4 years, 3 months ago

I had the privilege of being Dr. Seaver's engineer for "Opera Is My Hobby" from 1977 to 1988. I wasn't prepared for someone so vibrantly alive, so delighting in scandalous stories about ancient Romans and long-dead opera performers, so warm and genuine, but with such a towering intellect. He was an excellent raconteur, and more than once, I found myself laughing so hard at some story or anecdote he'd told that I could hardly breathe. His stories about how he met his lovely Virginia and their first date were funny, poignant and romantic all at the same time. After his travels, he would come in to record his show renewed, and with even more stories with which to regale me. Those stories made me almost feel I had gone with the tour group. Dr. Seaver and Virginia were also tireless volunteers for the Senior Center and Senior Meals, but they were never tiresome. They had FUN! no matter what they were doing. When Dr. Seaver was named Director of Western Civilization at KU, both "After Dark" and "The New Yorker" magazines saw fit to comment on that achievement, with "After Dark" saying that the University of Kansas had appointed a Director of Western Civilization, and we certainly needed one. In Dr. Seaver's view, the deadliest sins were ignorance and apathy, and he warred against them both. I truly learned more from him while engineering his show than I did in many formal classes I took both as an undergraduate and a graduate student. He was always hungry to learn new things, new approaches, new places, and always with his beloved wife and cherished boys beside him. I remember one time, after he'd received some accolade, that he didn't mention it at all, focusing instead on the accomplishments of one or more of his sons. There was never any, ANY doubt about his immense love for his wife and children; at the mention of any of them, he'd light up like a Christmas tree. I am proud and honored to have known him and call him friend. His influence on my own life will last forever.

CarolynGage 4 years, 3 months ago

This is a shock! (I just found out.) Dr. Seaver was my very favorite professor at KU, and I remember him so well all these years later. He even came to my sorority's square dance as a chaperone and I always hoped he had a wonderful time. He was a great man (and mah jong player) with great accomplishments. My very best wishes and prayers to his family.

Tone Mendoza 3 years, 1 month ago

Seaver was a great guy, even when I knocked on his and Virginia's door, high. Friday night, they at supper, sat me down in the living room and said "Stay put!" and resumed their meal. Very normal and not nonplussed, they came into the room after dinner and we watched a little TV. Then Seaver said that if I felt like I could physically move Virginia would drive me home, safely. She did and ordered me not to leave my apartment for the evening. I followed orders. Neither asked what, why, how. They just handled the situation in front of them (very Zen). They met and married when they were at Cornell. All said and done, and through ups and downs, they just seemed so right for each other. In time and from classes with him, Seaver got me to do what I thought was impossible: come to love opera, as well as civility in thought and action just by his and Virginia's example. Seaver has indeed left his mark in this world--more than he could ever know. Thank you, Thank you, and again, I thank you.

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