For thousands of university students, and for those who care about the written word and the masterpieces of American literature, the death this week of Dr. Kenneth E. Eble was a profound personal loss.
Dr. Eble, professor of English at the University of Utah, was one of the nation's leading spokesmen for American literature and his books and research were highly regarded. Yet the focus, the passion of his life, was not just research and writing, but teaching - and teaching undergraduate students at that.He had a national reputation as a teacher and it was well-earned. He had a knack for finding the ideas and feelings that put student and teacher on a shared level of understanding. His lectures were never dull, but were punctuated with a wry wit and a puckish, humane humor.
He sometimes dressed up as his favorite authors and put on a theatrical performance in class. He and another professor costumed themselves as Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson and delighted classes with a conversational dialogue taken from the writings of the two philosophers. It was such a success that the pair were often asked to take their "show" on the road for other audiences.
Despite the fun and a basic sympathy with virtually everybody, Dr. Eble was serious about his subjects, tough-minded in his expectations, and demanding of his students. Above all, he wanted excellence in higher education. His writings often showed impatience with frills and such activities as collegiate athletics.
His books, academic honors, and awards would make a long list. But his greatest achievements - in his own eyes - was touching the minds of undergraduate students, of seeing the spark of learning kindled into flame. More than three decades of teaching had not diminished his enthusiasm for the classroom.
Dr. Eble leaves behind the best of all possible monuments. His life and his teachings will continue to echo through the years in the lives and achievements of those privileged to be his students, his colleagues, and his friends.