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September 3, 2003

Max Putzel, Emeritus Professor,
Former Grad School Official, Dies

Max Putzel, an author and scholar who taught at the University for two decades and directed the design and construction of the Whetten Graduate Center, died Aug. 19 at his home in Captain Cook on the Big Island of Hawaii. He was 93.

Putzel was the author of The Man in the Mirror, a biography of turn-of-the-century editor William Marion Reedy; and Genius of Place; William Faulkner's Triumphant Beginnings, a study of how Faulkner developed the characters, themes, and settings used in his writings.

The Man in the Mirror, first published by Harvard University Press, was reprinted in a new edition by the University of Missouri Press and translated into several languages, including Chinese. Genius of Place was published by Louisiana State University Press as part of its Southern Literary Studies program.

Putzel, who earned his bachelor's degree from Yale College in 1932, worked as a journalist and Missouri farmer before returning to Yale in the 1950s for a doctorate in English.

He joined the faculty of the English Department at UConn, where he taught English and American literature. He also was associate dean of the Graduate School, and was charged with building a center where graduate students and faculty could conduct research, write, and exchange views with colleagues.

The University cited his work years later as enabling many scholars to write books that otherwise never would have been finished or published. The Nathan L. Whetten Graduate Center is still home to graduate education and research.

Putzel, who was born in Denver, Colo., in 1910, grew up in New Rochelle, N.Y., and St. Louis, Mo. After graduating from college in the midst of the Great Depression, he began an apprenticeship in journalism at the Granite City, Ill., Press-Record, then joined the staff of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where he worked as a copy boy, feature writer, and drama editor.

In 1937, he went to Europe and reported on the gathering clouds of war as he traveled through Germany, Austria, France, England, and Czechoslovakia. He returned to the United States after the Munich Agreement in September 1938 that set Hitler on the road to conquest.

He had nearly completed his first book, a political plea to keep the United States out of war, when the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The sneak attack ended any serious debate about U.S. participation in World War II, and Putzel's book, Marching as to War, was never published.

He applied for exemption from the draft as a conscientious objector and joined the U.S. State Department, where he spent the war years working for Nelson Rockefeller's Office of Inter-American Affairs, an aid program that worked to keep Latin America from falling to the Axis powers.

When the war ended, Putzel became a farmer, first in Virginia, where he worked as a tenant farmer, then in the Meramec River Valley west of St. Louis, Mo., where he bought and worked a family farm.

He gave up farming to return to graduate school in 1952 and spent the rest of his career teaching and writing. He retired in 1980, moved to France for several years, then built a home in Georgeville, Que., where he lived until moving to Hawaii several years ago.

He remained active until he had a fall in May. He died peacefully at home with his family.

Putzel is survived by his wife, Marion Richardson Putzel; nine children; 13 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

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