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Bernard Sternsher, 1925-2011: BGSU history professor noted as teacher, scholar

Bernard Sternsher, 1925-2011

Bernard Sternsher, a Bowling Green State University history professor respected equally for his teaching and scholarship, died July 16 in Kingston Residence of Perrysburg of complications from lung cancer. He was 86.

He studied and wrote extensively on the Great Depression and the New Deal -- the policies and politics of the era, but also the effects of the economic collapse and President Franklin D. Roosevelt's response on urban dwellers, small-town residents and farmers, and African Americans.

"Until two days before his death, he was still reading and researching on the New Deal and the Great Depression," his son Daniel said. "He was the quintessential academic researcher. He just wanted to find out the historical truth."

Gary Hess, a retired BGSU history professor, said: "That was the way his mind worked. He was always anxious to learn more and was always engaged in some pretty serious reading."

Mr. Sternsher, a longtime Perrysburg resident, retired in 1992 as a distinguished university professor. He arrived 23 years earlier as an established scholar hired to help develop a doctoral program in history.

"[He] became a central figure in that program," Mr. Hess said. "He brought considerable academic stature to the department."

Professional organizations honored him for his scholarship. He regarded teaching of equal importance.

"He was committed to making sure his students got the most up-to-date interpretation of American history," Mr. Hess said. "He spent a lot of time on teaching, and he worked very hard at it."

He was born March 3, 1925, in Fall River, Mass. Coast Guard service in World War II interrupted his studies at the University of Alabama, from which he received a bachelor's degree in 1948. His ship, the cutter Jackson, sank in a hurricane off Cape Hatteras, N.C., in September, 1944. He was one of 19 survivors rescued after clinging to life rafts for more than two days.

"Dad was a very gentle man. He had no interest in having a conflict with anybody about anything," his son said. "When you're 18 or 19 and have that experience, I suppose you don't look at things the way the rest of us do." In 1945 and 1946, he was with a patrol flotilla in the Philippines.

He received a master's degree and his doctorate from Boston University. He formerly taught at Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Rochester, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Seton Hall University, and Rutgers University.

Surviving are his wife, Carol, whom he married Aug. 26, 1961; sons, Daniel and David, and a granddaughter.

Services will be at 2:30 p.m. July 31 in Witzler-Shank Funeral Home, Perrysburg, where the family will receive friends after 12:30 p.m.

The family suggests tributes to Hospice of Northwest Ohio or the children's ministry of Perrysburg Alliance Church.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: or 419-724-6182.

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