By Saje Mathieu
Professor Emeritus Allan Spear
It is with tremendous regret that the Department of History learned of Professor Emeritus Allan Spear's passing after suffering complications from heart surgery. Spear, who was 71, was a beloved professor of history and a Minnesota state senator respected for his ability to inspire even those seemingly opposed to his views. Spear served in the Minnesota senate from 1972-2000, with the last seven years as Senate President. Allan made history of his own when in 1974 he told a Minneapolis Star reporter that he was gay, making him the second openly-gay legislator in the country at the time.
Spear championed the cause of the disposed and pursued social justice causes with inexhaustible resolve. His many accomplishments include heading, for a time, the state senate's judiciary committee (the first non-attorney to do so) and winning his nearly twenty-year battle for a state Human Rights Act outlawing discrimination based on race, religion, and sexual orientation. A nationally recognized civil rights activist, Spear co-founded the National Association of Gay & Lesbian Elected and Appointed Officials and served on the board of OutFront Minnesota PAC.
Before taking his charm and wisdom to the state senate, Spear began his career at the University of Minnesota. His first book Black Chicago: The Making of a Negro Ghetto (1967), penned in the heat of a turbulent decade, catapulted Spear to national acclaim and remains an important founding text in African American Studies and Urban Studies. Spear earned his Ph.D. at Yale University and spent his academic career at the U's Department of History, where he shaped and inspired students for over 36 years. A mentor and generous colleague, Spear nurtured young faculty and fostered lifelong friendships in the process. His work both in the senate and at school earned him the distinction of being named one of the 150 most influential Minnesotans in honor of the state's sesquicentennial.
Affectionately known for his rapier wit and for being a bon vivant, Spear's culinary skills were as legendary as his senate speeches against hunting mourning doves. He is survived by his life partner Junjiro Tsuji and is missed by all fortunate to have known him.
Two Department of History graduate alumni also passed away in 2009: Jon Gjerde and Bill Wilcher. Jon Gjerde (Ph.D. '82) suffered from an apparent heart attack at the age of 55. A respected historian of U.S. immigration, Gjerde is best known for his books From Peasants to Farmers: The Migration from Belestrand, Norway to the Upper Middle West and The Minds of the West: Ethnocultural Revolution of the Rural Middle West, 1830-1917. Gjerde served as Chair of UC Berkeley's History Department before becoming Dean of Social Sciences in 2007. He is survived by his wife Ruth and their two daughters Christine and Kari.
Lastly, Bill Wilcher, one of Russ Menard's former graduate students, also passed away after complications from heart surgery.