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Professor's friends, colleagues remember his 'quiet brilliance'

June 20, 2012 at 4:18 pm

In a campuswide email* Wednesday (June 20), President Scott Bierman shared news of the loss of one of our own, Dan Shea. The anthropology professor passed away in Chile June 19, where he was conducting field research with five Beloit students, Beloit alumnus Justin Dodd’03, and colleague Mario Rivera. The students who were with Shea at the time of his death have returned home (one continued on with travel plans in Peru).

UPDATE: An on-campus memorial service is being planned for the beginning of the fall semester. In the interim, and with the blessing of the family, a scholarship fund has been set up in Dan's honor. To make a gift to the Dan Shea Memorial Scholarship visit the college's online giving form, select "Financial Aid" as your designation, and include “Dan Shea” in the remembrance field. Additionally, the college is asking Dan’s friends, former students, and colleagues to contribute memories and tributes for the fall memorial service via an online memorial form. You can participate by clicking here.

As this news spread throughout the Beloit community, several of Shea’s friends and colleagues—as he has been a faculty member at Beloit for more than 40 years (since 1968), there can be many counted in that number—shared their memories of him. These individuals commented on his “quiet brilliance” and “Irish stoicism,” noting that it was comforting that his passing took place while he was doing one of the things he loved best: fieldwork with students.

“When he talked about the field school and his research, he always just lit up—it was truly his passion,” says Csilla Macsari, assistant to the provost and dean of the college.

Dan Bartlett, museum studies instructor and curator in the Logan Museum, says, “I keep thinking today about how I just turned 50 and Dan has been teaching here since I was 8 years old. Think how many students’ lives he touched in that time.”

According to colleagues, those students were lucky to study under such a brilliant teacher. “Dan was an incredibly intelligent individual,” says fellow anthropology professor Nancy Krusko. “His ability to combine qualitative and quantitative information was unsurpassed.”  

His depth and breadth of knowledge was impressive. “I always tell students in class that ‘Dan Shea is the history of anthropology,’” says anthropology and history professor Rob LaFleur. “I tell them that it has nothing to do with age. He has read everything, and is interested in everything.”

Outside of the classroom, Shea was a fixture on a Thursday-night trivia team, with whom he’s pictured below (he's on the far left) at Bushel & Peck’s in downtown Beloit. “We would often count on him to come up with the answer to obscure questions when the rest of us were stumped,” says Russian professor Donna Oliver. “We’ll miss him.”

Dan Shea group

“Dan was so quietly brilliant.  At trivia, he spoke rarely and sometimes only when asked, but he always had the right answer,” Macsari adds. “He just had a ‘presence.’ He was there and he was solid and you knew that he was quietly enjoying himself and the company. I'm glad to have had him in my life and will miss him a great deal.”

The Terrarium will provide further details about memorial services and the like as they become available.

*some students reported not receiving Bierman’s morning message in stuboard; the Dean of Students office will re-send the email Wednesday (June 20) afternoon.