Advocate Editorial Board opinion: Colleague pays tribute to Victoria College professor, historian
On the first day of my sophomore year at Victoria College, several classmates and I, while waiting for our professor to arrive, were asking each other whether anyone knew anything about the Spurlin guy listed on the class schedule. No one did because it was that guy's first semester at the college.
A tall man opened the door, walked to the front of the class and introduced himself. His friendly, outgoing manner immediately made us feel comfortable. In the hall after class, we discussed whether this was going to be a good class, and the consensus was yes, it would be. And it was.
We were the first of thousands of Victoria College students who would have first day experiences with Charles Spurlin. Unlike us, they would know what to expect thanks to testimonials from those who had taken his class. Those testimonials made him a very popular instructor.
Almost exactly four years later, I was proud and excited to become a member of the history faculty at Victoria College. However, I was not quite sure about what it would be like to be a colleague of my respected former professors, particularly Mr. Spurlin, since I was assigned to be his officemate. Characteristically, he immediately made me feel comfortable, and from that day forward, he was no longer Mr. Spurlin - he was Charles. For about 15 years, we shared a less-than-spacious office, and we got along swimmingly. Not once was a cross word spoken between us, which says a whole lot about Charles.
Charles was gregarious and a master at cajoling and persuading. He was an organizer and a dreamer. He dreamed of expanding the role of the college in the intellectual and academic life of the entire community.
Hence, he was the prime mover in creating the Victoria College Social Sciences Symposium, now called the John Stormont Lectures on South Texas. Featuring literary and historical scholars from around the state, the symposium offered continuing education credits for school teachers and enrichment for other members of the community.
Charles also envisioned bringing nationally and internationally renowned speakers and performers to the brand new Victoria College Fine Arts Auditorium, and the Victoria College Lyceum was born. The name lyceum was chosen because its purpose was the same as Aristotle's Lyceum and the popular 19th century Lyceum Movement in the United States.
Charles loved research and writing and kept his always supportive wife, Pat, actively involved in his work. With her at his side, he produced an impressive body of books and articles. When he asked me for proofreading and editing assistance, he instructed me to spare no punches, and I didn't. When I returned the material to him, I told him to use what he wanted and deep six the rest. He deep-sixed a lot, a whole lot, but I was honored that he asked me to help him.
Many statewide, regional and local historical associations were beneficiaries of Charles' unbounded energy, historical knowledge and organizational talents. He developed an informal statewide network of admiring friends and colleagues. That network played an important role in Charles' tireless efforts to organize in Victoria the acclaimed conferences on the Civil War, Korean War and Vietnam War.
His interest in the Korean War was more than academic; he served in Korea and earned a Purple Heart. On the rare occasions when he would comment on his dedicated service, it was only in response to pointed questions. The same was true about his long, valiant war against cancer.
I am proud that Charles was my teacher, colleague, mentor and, especially, my friend.
Michael Hummel is a historian and professor emeritus at Victoria College.