Timeless Faculty: A man of many words

herr-blake

Whether he was teaching German to a class full of students, translating scientific papers into German, French, Swedish, Italian or Dutch, or he was attending an athletic contest at the College, Professor George Blake put his heart into anything that supported Marietta College far beyond his 31-year tenure.

Known to campus as Herr Blake, the German equivalent to Mr. Blake, the multi-lingual scholar came to Marietta in 1929 to teach for the Department of Modern Languages. A feature in the Aug. 13, 1975, edition of the Kennebec (Maine) Journal by writer Mieke Stevenson provided a glimpse of the then 80-year-old emeritus professor.

“This oft-mentioned man is George H. Blake, Ph.D., a tall, big-boned man with a slight stoop to his broad shoulders, a dry sense of humor, modest about his achievements and appreciative of others, and with an old fashion gallantry toward women,” Stevenson writes.

Herr Blake was born on Jan. 31, 1895 in the same Mount Vernon farmhouse where he and his wife Ruth retired to in the 1960s. He was the eldest of five children born to Clara Brown and George Blake. After attending grammar school in Mount Vernon, he attended Dean Academy, a prep school in Massachusetts before enrolling in Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. He graduated magna cum laude in 1918 and was elected to its chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

But shortly after graduating, he enlisted as an infantry officer in the U.S. Army and served during World War I. After the war ended, he taught in Mexico and at the University of New Hampshire. During this time, he took summer courses at the University of Berlin and at the University of Chicago. Eventually, he enrolled at Harvard University, where he earned his Master’s Degree and met his future wife, who taught English at the prestigious institution. The couple married on June 21, 1926.

Soon after he earned his graduate degree and was named an Austin Scholar at Harvard, Herr Blake was hired at Marietta to teach German.

“He appeared as an anomaly,” notes an article in the August 1960 edition of The Marietta Alumnus. “The popular picture of him as a quiet scholar with umbrella, an unfailing gentleman — a ‘Mr. Chips’ — somehow never squared with his devoted attendance at Marietta athletic contests [and] his deep interest and acquaintance with the contemporary sports scene…”

The Blakes settled into their 321 Sixth St. home in Marietta as Herr Blake settled in as a faculty member in the Modern Languages Department. In 1936, the Blakes had a son, George Edward Blake. In addition to his hobby of translating German poetry, he also enjoyed painting houses.

During the years Herr Blake was at Marietta, he was actively involved with a variety of committees and activities that helped bolster the quality of education and college life offered here. In January 1942, the faculty established a new, self-governing body after the College’s president, Harry Eversull unexpectedly resigned shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Herr Blake was elected as one of six faculty to lead Faculty Council. Four years later, he was among the first group of instructors to be lifted to the rank of Associate Professor. In 1949, he was raised to full Professor.

Though he contributed greatly to how the College operated, Herr Blake’s first and foremost role at Marietta was to expand the minds of the students with whom he interacted — whether that happened in a German class or at a student mixer.

“The Blakes spent much of their free time with the students, chaperoning many student affairs,” writes Stevenson. “The esteem in which students held the pair is illustrated by the voluminous correspondence he still maintains with the students. He also averages about four letters per year to each of his 50 classmates of 1918.”

In 1960, Herr Blake retired with his wife back to his childhood home in Mount Vernon. During the 1961 Founders Day celebration, President Bay Irvine presented him with an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities.

After his retirement, he spent his time researching the history of his hometown, helping his wife with her spectacular garden and tending to his church’s lawn.

“In answer to a question about which part of his life was best,” Stevenson writes, “he replies, ‘The best time of my life is all of it. I’d like to do it all over again, the whole heap of it.’ ”

Herr Blake passed away at the age of 97 on Sept. 6, 1992, leaving behind his wife of 66 years, his son, four grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.