Professor Charlie Bassett Remembered

 

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I played varsity soccer for Colby for 4 years, and during my

time at Colby, Charlie never missed a single home game.  In fact, he

made it to the majority of our away games as well.  His presence at

the games eventually became one of the hallmarks of our games on

Mayflower Hill.

Michael Jarcho ’03

 

The primary reason I went to Colby was not because my father ('68) or my brother ('04) had gone and had great experiences during their time in Waterville. It was not because of a top 20 ranking in US News and World Report, although I am grateful to have gone to a place that has such a strong academic reputation.  The main deciding factor was mostly because I had an English teacher in high school, Erik Mortenson '91 that called us toads when we walked into our 11th grade American Literature class and referred to us as communists when, at the age of 15, we had not yet read the complete works of Charles Dickens.  As you could imagine, my English teacher had stolen these endearing names for his students from Bassett, as he himself was a former toad and recovering communist.  I looked up to Mr. Mortenson and figured if he had a good experience and was able to get me, a previously less than remarkable student, excited about poems and short stories, I should make my way up to Mayflower Hill.  

My brother Dave had helped Charlie with some of the more technical aspects of his "Jazz with Chaz" weekly radio show on WMHB and through their friendship I was instructed to go seek out Charlie.  I did not really know what to expect other than he had gained the respect of some people I had looked up to and that he had the teaching award named after him.  I could not be more grateful for the opportunity to get to know him both in and out of the classroom.  First and foremost, I had a blast in his EN-115 class.  Reading American short fiction with Bassett was to experience someone completely immersing themselves in their craft.  Were there better scholars? Probably.  Were there professors who were probably a little bit more contemporary with their pop culture references? Absolutely.  However, I was able to see an individual truly love what he did, and his excitement encouraged me to continue down the often criticized, yet as I progress in my career, incredibly useful English major track. 

Over the years, I would go over to his house over on Martin Ave, not far passed what is now the Colby Gardens, and help him clear his gutters and rake leaves as he would drink beer, discuss Champions League Soccer, and tell story after story after story.  He would tell stories about Colby, John O'Hara, South Dakota, the Modern Language Association...the list goes on. Instead of butcher some of the stories he told me, I would prefer to share what I had the opportunity to learn from him.  

He taught me that he was the 4th most notable living scholar of John O'Hara in the country.  He would follow this fact up by saying there are only five.  He told me that if you stick around a place long enough, they will let you pace the sidelines behind the soccer team.  He taught me that there are places you have never even heard of that you might call home one day.  He taught me to remember that there are in fact real people from South Dakota, contrary to what the popular opinions of some New Englanders might lead you to believe. One of the last things he taught me is the power of sharing your life with another person.  The last time I went up to visit Bassett about a year and a half ago, he asked, "Do you have somebody to be sweet to on a Saturday night?" At that point, I did not, and he told me, "Well keep your eye out, it's important."  I share that story with you not merely because there is an old-timey, yes Midwestern, earnestness element to it that I find rare, amusing, and endearing.  No, I share that story with you because it speaks volumes about Charlie's belief in the power of relationships.  

He taught short stories, he developed an American Studies department, he had a teaching awards named after him, he shared his opinions, he drank too much beer.  He did all of these things, for better or for worse.  However for me, above all of those things, Bassett served as an example that the ability to connect with another person, to build a relationship is truly the pinnacle of the human experience.  It is the joy he got out of the connections he made with the thousands of students he had over the years that kept him at Colby.  While he loved literature, I believe he loved teaching it so much because of the way it allowed people to connect with one another.  Charlie Bassett, with all of his flaws, taught me that I can, with all of my flaws, leave the world a little bit better than I found it, just as he did through the friendships he fostered and the laughs he shared. For that lesson, and gift, I am extraordinarily grateful.

Steve Sandak '07

 

Senior year, and I'd turned in the big paper for the American Studies seminar. I was walking toward the library and Charlie was coming the other way on another path, deep in conversation with Phyllis Manocchi. He had on his frumpy overcoat, and was leaning forward as he walked along, intent on what was being said. When he looked up and saw me, some thirty yards away, he stopped walking, stood upright, and pointed a gloved finger at me.

“Good paper!” he called over, using his hand for emphasis. “Damned good paper.” He held my gaze for a minute to make sure the message had reached me, then walked on. It was one of the highlights of my years at Colby.

Chris Landry ’82

 

Prof. Bassett demanded your honesty and reciprocated with his enduring friendship. I had not met Prof. Bassett until my senior year at Colby, but he accepted me as a "special project" when I applied for the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. Over long hours of discussion at his home, he helped me to discover my story and my self, and determine how best to convey my past and my future plans in my application. And while I was honored to win the Fellowship, it was equally an honor to have become friends with such a talented, caring and genuine person. When we spoke a few months ago, we reminisced about my wedding and how I hoped to see him the next time I was home in Maine. I will miss him dearly.

 Gillian Morejon Gutierrez ’00

 

 

Professor Bassett taught a city kid to write. First mark I got at Colby was a D+ from Charlie Bassett. Tore my paper to shreds. Told me to talk to him. All he said was "don't give up, stick with me and Ill make you a better writer". I did and he did. An inspirational educator mixed with a bit of vaudeville. Go good places Charlie.

           Peter McNicholas ’75

 

 

I am an English major from the class of 1978.  Charlie was not simply a great English professor, he was an entertainer.  Strutting the stage in Lovejoy 101 and making a grand entrance. What a joy and privilege to have such a great professor make education so memorable.

  As a trustee I am fortunate to process with the classes on graduation weekend.  Colby tradition has the longest tenured faculty first in the line.  So there was always Charlie and Sandy. Students in their adulation would always stop to give hugs. Charlie loved it.  I know that Charlie remembers all of those hugs and his students with great affection.

John Devine ’78 

 

 

After taking my first American Lit class with Charlie in 1977, I became an American Studies major.  His passion and enthusiasm for the writing and history of our country was infectious; and his wit and sharp sense of humor was enjoyable, unless you were on the receiving end.  Charlie Bassett was a legend on Mayflower Hill, and anyone who took a class from him will have fond memories.  Some of my best ones are of Charlie deciding that it was a beautiful day and abruptly moving the entire class out to the lawn, Charlie putting his head down and dejectedly shaking it after some student made a really dumb remark, or just that gravelly voice of his calling you by your last name.  He was an inspiration to so many students at Colby College, and he will truly be missed. 

Mimi Brodsky Kress ’80

 

I loved Charlie. And as all Colbyites know, I was not alone in feeling that way. He was my teacher, my advisor, my mentor, the sponsor of my independent thesis, and my friend. I ran into him a few years ago at my 30th reunion, having not seen him for probably 10+ years. He greeted me like a long lost son, hugged me and then chided me as only Charlie could by saying, "You know, Thorndike, you could have done a lot better if you'd actually done the work." I didn't disagree with him and we both roared with laughter. The word "great" gets used too often these days, but I think it's fair to say that Charlie was a great teacher and an even greater man.

Ben Thorndike ’78

 

Simple truths, elevated to inspired theory, taught with spellbinding theater. How privileged we are to have known, learned from and remember Charlie Bassett.

Hal Marden ’76

 

Charlie Bassett was my freshman advisor and English professor. He may well have been the first college professor that I ever had a one-to-one conversation with. In our first meeting, I wandered into his office as a somewhat clueless 18 year old, and we discussed what might be a good set of courses given my very tentative ideas about my major (either accounting, economics, politics, or none of the above). Somehow his advice got me headed in the right direction onto a career as academic economist. It also led me to taking his freshman English composition class. I remember we read what seemed to be a whole lot of books, but somehow 27 years later I don’t remember what they were. What I do remember is that Charlie must have spent at least half hour covering my first essay with swaths of red ink. I went into that class thinking that I was a good writer, I came out understanding that I needed to be more precise and structured with my prose. It was a lesson that I never forgot. I saw Charlie periodically after my freshman year and he always remembered who I was. I’m not sure he ever knew how much he had influenced me.

Professor Andrew Seltzer ’87

 

What made Charlie Bassett such a beloved person and professor is that he combined great enthusiasm for teaching American literature, a broad and deep understanding of the subject, a wonderful sense of humor, and a personal interest in each student that extended well beyond the classroom.”

Doug Scalise ’86

     

Charlie exemplified something that is particularly great about Colby; faculty that are fully engaged with the college, the students, the alumni, and the community.   I never had a class with him, but it was impossible to be a student there and not know who he was since he was there and fully part of the life of the college.  I only really got to know him as an alum. When he came to DC, it was always a pleasure to give him a ride around town just to hear what he had on his mind.  Whenever I was up for reunion, he was always there and wanted to talk. That Colby has faculty like Charlie is what makes it so great and it’s been clear to me why the alumni award for faculty members is named for him.  Charlie will be missed by all of us, but he set a great example for others who are continuing to do as he did many times over.

Kevin Fahey ’80

Charlie was my advisor, mentor, professor and most of all, friend.  He recognized the potential in each student and brought out the best in his students.  I can still hear him say, "Think, Mitchell, think," when he pushed me to go beyond the easy answer.  It was a privilege and an honor to have had him as a professor and his impact on my life remains to this day.  He was far and away the best teacher I ever had and I will always remember him, the same way he always remembered his students years after they graduated.  Charlie was one of a kind and Colby was lucky to have him for all these years.  Rest in peace Charlie, you were the best.

Leslie K. Mitchell ’80

 

I was one of the very first American Studies majors, and consequently Charlie Bassett paid a lot of attention to me. For that, I will be forever grateful. To be honest, I don't know who I would be today if he hadn't engaged me, in his prodding way of teaching. Thanks, Bassett. You were one of a kind.

Wendy Knickerbocker ’73

 

When he first opened his mouth in "Realism and Naturalism in American Literature" (Fall, 1969?), I thought: "This guy must be Henry Fonda's brother."

Martha Smith Mickles '71

 

Charlie Bassett was my English Professor and my Senior Year Advisor. I will always remember him as one of my favorite teachers during my time at Colby. He was witty and had a good senses of humor. Because my name was Laura Thornton when would me he would say "Thorny how's it going". or "You can do it Kid". He always gave his students the confidence and motivation to do well and he will be a memory I will never forget. I will miss him but please know that he has made an impact on my life that will be never forgotten.

 Thornton Pellegrino ’89

 

Charlie Bassett was truly my favorite professor at Colby. (I was an English major, ’80) I have fond memories of Charlie and Sandy Maisel arguing with each other over their different interpretations of the political novels we read in the joint ENG-GOV class.

Charlie, who seemed old to me then, was always animated and outspoken in the classroom.

What a gift!

Susan Horwitz Kerr ’80

 

Charlie Bassett changed my direction in life.  As my Senior Scholar advisor, he guided me cheerfully through the arduous walkabout of writing a novel and then saw me off to the Iowa Writers Workshop, after which I became a very successful...teacher!

Dennis Gilbert ’72

 

I'm a Colby '95 grad, with a degree in Physics.   Though I was a science major with absolutely no need to step foot in Charlie's class, I absolutely refused to graduate without taking it.  I had heard too many fantastic things about it and wanted to make sure it was a part of my college experience.  I was first refused admittance because the class was so oversubscribed and they needed to prioritize English majors and minors.  But I persisted and audited and Charlie finally let me in.  Thank goodness he did, because it was by far one of my favorite classes at Colby.  Charlie was everything a great college professor should be:  inspiring, brilliant, funny, self-deprecating, not pompous, crazy, and wildly engaging.  I will never forget Charlie and despite not having talked with him since I graduated, I have thought about him and his class many times.  He was an inspiring teacher who will live on in all of us.

Mike Rosenthal ’95

 
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