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Personal: Arra Garab

Damn. For a year or two, I've been trying to remember the name of a professor I had in English at NIU, who had made a strong impression on me, and who had particularly given me some words of encouragement at a critical point that turned me toward graduate school instead of the "safer" option of starting to work right out of undergraduate in being a high school teacher. Tonight, I thought of him again and made another stab at finding him––and did so, only to discover that he died this week.

Marvin Powell, my mentor in the History department, had been getting on me about transferring to a school with a more prestigious name, all for playing the "credentials" game in graduate school applications. I was reluctant to do so and Marvin razzed me, guessing that I was staying for a girl, which was ironic, since my girlfriend was actually at the University of Illinois, to which he was suggesting I should transfer. In fact, my reluctance was based on the quality of friendships I was enjoying at NIU and the strong combination of scholarly and spiritual formation I was getting for myself, whereas I had a pretty good idea that at the U of I, I would end up having less access directly to my professors and more to graduate students.

A little after this, as I headed into my senior year, I was reading Philip Roth with Professor Arra Garab. I had written a strong essay for an exam, taking advantage of my (relatively rare, for contemporary students) biblical literacy as well as my growing competence in the history of thought in order to talk about the way Roth's vision of Judaism in America in the mid-20th century was playing out in the text. When the blue books were handed back, Garab hesitated for a moment, and then launched into what was clearly an extended aside to the class. He said that he knew that many of us sometimes worried about the perception of the quality of our educations, as NIU was not at all a "name" school. (As an educator who has been in the "name" schools himself, I can now say that I was lucky in having direct exposure to world-class scholars who taught at NIU, and who went out of their way to work me, and that the student body was widely diverse, having both world-class students as well as students who couldn't reason their way out of a paper bag.) I tried not to look too terribly anxious about was Professor Garab was saying, but those thoughts had been bothering me, not least because I'd had professors raise them to me. Garab himself, Columbia educated, had all the credentials he would ever need, and so he made a point of saying that the grading here in his class reflected the grading that would be at any great university, and that the student who got a perfect grade on this exam, for example, was a student whose work would be considered exceptional at any university in the world. As he finished and as students began collecting their materials for the day's lesson, I slid back the cover of my blue book, and saw the "100% - A" written in red ink at the top of his comments. I needed to hear that right then, and even though I don't think we had talked too much outside of the course (which he was team-teaching for only part of the semester), I think he somehow knew that. I certainly felt as though he were talking to this self-conscious student from the provinces.

It had occurred to me to find him, to pass on that story in a note of thanks, recognizing it as a mile marker I had needed to see in my own naive journey toward higher education, and this time I quickly found his name – only to see that he had passed this very week. Once again I hit the curse of being too late to thank a teacher who certainly deserved it. Peace be upon him.
NIU mourns passing of Arra M. Garab

The Rev. Arra M. Garab, a retired NIU English professor and former chaplain of the university’s police department, died Monday, Aug. 22, in Rockford. He was 81.

Garab began teaching at NIU in 1966. Five years later he became a full professor. The classes he taught before his 1995 retirement included rhetoric, English composition, poetry and several classes that explored the classic works of Shakespeare and Chaucer.

He was also an ordained Episcopal priest and author or editor of five books and many scholarly articles. Often he joined his knowledge of writing with his enthusiasm for his faith and wrote about the two.

Garab’s other works explored the careers and relevance of such authors as William Butler Yeats and Hovhanness Toumanian, a 19th Century Armenian writer.His books included “Beyond Byzantium: The Last Phase of Yeats’ Career” and “Theology of Hope and Despair in English Literature.”

He served as assistant at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in DeKalb and St. Jude’s Church in Rochelle, as a regular lecturer in theology at Loyola University in Chicago and chaplain of the DeKalb Fire Department

Garab held degrees from Columbia University in New York City (Ph.D., 1962 and M.A., 1952) and from Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pa. (B.A., 1951). He also studied for two years, from 1968-1970, at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston.

After joining NIU, the Woodcliff, N.J., native garnered several awards, including NIU’s prestigious Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching award in 1992.

Years earlier, in 1968, he was appointed to a 12-member committee that created the university’s master plan for the 1970s. Garab and his colleagues were also charged with defining NIU’s role in regional and statewide higher education communities.

Along with other interests, he was drawn to law enforcement and served as chaplain for the university’s police department during the 1970s. For years, he worked with officers and students during their difficult times.

His work encouraged him to write about law enforcement from the viewpoint of a theologian and private citizen.

A memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27, at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 206 Somonauk St. in Sycamore. A reception will follow in the church parish hall.


+++


ARRA M. GARAB (1930-2011)

The Rev. Arra M. Garab, Ph.D., 81, of DeKalb, Ill., died peacefully Monday, Aug. 22, 2011, at the Rockford home of his daughter, Lisa and her family, after a long and courageous battle with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

Born May 24, 1930, in Woodcliff, N.J., to his Armenian immigrant parents, Garabed and Varsenig (Kiremidjian) der Garabedian, he married Suzanne Alice Anderson on June 16, 1956, in Hornell, N.Y.

After graduating from Tilden High School in Brooklyn, N.Y., he attended Swarthmore College, receiving his Bachelor of Arts with high honors in English in 1951. He then enlisted in the United States Army, serving as aide to the Honorable Luis Munoz Marin, Governor of Puerto Rico. While stationed in San Juan, he taught English as a second language to the Puerto Rican army personnel. Upon his discharge from the military, he enrolled at Columbia University in New York, N.Y., earning his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in English and comparative literature. The subject of his dissertation was William Butler Yeats, and he was considered the foremost authority on Yeats' life and career. Professionally he was most proud of the publication of his book, "Beyond Byzantium: The Last Phase of Yeats' Career," still required reading in Stanford University's Creative Writing Program.

Dr. Garab spent his entire life following his passion of teaching young adults. While pursuing his graduate degrees, Dr. Garab taught at the City College of New York as an instructor in the English Department. In 1957, Dr. Garab moved to Waterville, Maine, where he was an instructor and then an assistant professor in the English Department at Colby College. In 1963, he moved to Kent, Ohio, as an assistant professor of English at Kent State University. In the fall of 1966, Dr. Garab came to Northern Illinois University and was a professor in the English Department for 37 years. He "retired" in 1995 and was awarded the distinction of professor emeritus. Because of his love of students and teaching, he continued to teach until his ultimate retirement in the fall of 2003.

While at NIU, Dr. Garab edited the book, "A New University," commemorating the inauguration of Rhoten A. Smith, NIU's sixth president. In 1990, he was named Faculty Member of the Year by the NIU Pan-Hellenic Association. In 1992, his commitment to his students was recognized when they nominated him and he received the Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award.

In addition to his on-campus teaching, Dr. Garab spent many years teaching inmates at Statesville Prison in Joliet. He also spent the summers of 1986 and 1987 teaching modern British literature at Oriel College at Oxford University in Oxford, England.

Dr. Garab spent much of his free time editing numerous publications. Most notably, "Hovhannes Toumanian: A Selection of Stories, Lyrics and Epic Poems." Being asked to edit the works of an Armenian scholar was a source of great pride.

In addition to his commitment to modern British literature, Dr. Garab was a lecturer at Loyola University School of Theology from 1972-1982. After graduating from Seabury Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, he was ordained a deacon in the Episcopal Church on May 23, 1970. He faithfully served as the deacon assistant at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in DeKalb; later serving as deacon-in-charge at St. Chad's and St. Jude's Episcopal Churches in Loves Park and Rochelle, respectively. Ordained a priest on March 29, 1996, he continued to serve the congregation of St. Jude's as the priest-in-charge.

Balancing academia, theology, family and friends truly kept Dr. Garab grounded. His development of the course, The Bible as Literature, is evidence of his ability to blend his two true loves. He served as the chaplain of the NIU Police Department as well as the chaplain of the City of DeKalb Fire Department.

He is survived by his wife, Suzanne; daughters, Varsie (Mark) Geisler of DeKalb and Lisa (Dan) Larson of Rockford; son, Gary (Joy) Garab, also of Rockford; and grandchildren, Suzie, Alex, Gwen, Zula and Andrew.

He was preceded in death by his parents; an infant son, Gregory Garo Garab; and his brother, Haig Gary Garab.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27, at St. Peter's Episcopal Church, 206 Somonauk St., Sycamore. The Right Reverend Jeffrey D. Lee, bishop of the Diocese of Chicago, will preside. Full military rites will be provided by DeKalb County Honor Guard. A reception will follow in the church parish hall. Cremation has taken place at Anderson Funeral Home Crematory. Private interment of ashes will take place at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, memorials are preferred to The Alzheimer's Association or The National Parkinson Foundation and can be made to the Arra M. Garab Memorial Fund, in care of Anderson Funeral Home Ltd., P.O. Box 605, 2011 S. Fourth St., DeKalb, IL 60115.

For information, visit www.AndersonFuneralHomeLtd.com or call 815-756-1022.

Published in Daily Chronicle from August 24 to August 28, 2011
Tags: academia, education, niu, obituary, old stories, personal, teachers
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