Former Economics Professor
H. John Thorkelson, professor emeritus of economics, died Dec. 26 after a brief illness. He was 86.
A resident of Mansfield Center, Thorkelson joined the University faculty in 1950 and retired in 1983.
Gerald Sazama described him as a man of "warm brilliance. He was a very warm person, very bright, and reasoned things very carefully," says Sazama, a longtime friend and colleague.
"He came to the University as an econometrician but, being a Renaissance person, he taught and loved the history of thought," says Sazama, a professor emeritus of economics. "He was an excellent teacher who reached out to students and was supportive of younger colleagues."
Sazama praised Thorkelson's work on the University Senate concerning minority representation and enrollment. Thorkelson also helped organize the Urban Semester Program, which for three decades has sent UConn students into inner cities to work and learn. And he was instrumental in the growth of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) at UConn and the Federation of University Teachers.
A Wisconsin native, Thorkelson was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1945 during World War II, and then commissioned as a second lieutenant. He served in the military government in Berlin, Germany, from 1946-48, locating housing for many displaced people.
Thorkelson received a bachelor's degree in economics from Carleton College. After graduating, he worked for a year in industry and entered the University of Wisconsin Graduate School in 1939. He worked in the Department of Agriculture and the Budget Bureau in Washington, D.C., from 1941 to 1943, and for the education department of the United Auto Workers in Detroit from 1943 to 1945. In 1950, he returned to Wisconsin to complete his graduate work.
Thorkelson lived in Caracas, Venezuela, from 1963 to 1964, where he was an economic planner for that country's government. From 1966 to 1967, he was in Canada teaching economics for the University of Saskatchewan, Regina.
Outside academics, Thorkelson was known for being the father of Peter Tork, a member of the 1960's rock group The Monkees.
Thorkelson's wife of 61 years, Virginia, died in 2002. He is survived by four children and seven grandchildren.