Professor Emeritus Kent Bales, scholar of American literature and respected administrator, died October 8, 2012.
Professor Emeritus Kent R. Bales passed away October 8, 2012, in Minneapolis. A two-time chair of the Department of English, Bales was an effective and collegial administrator, mentoring staff and colleagues, finding common ground on divisive issues, and encouraging a sense of community through festive dinners at his home with his wife Maria Gyorei.
Recalls Professor Michael Hancher, who served as director of Graduate Studies during Bales' first five years as chair: "It was a pleasure to work with him; he had a ready leadership style that made shared work for a common cause enjoyable."
A scholar of American literature, he was well-known for his writing on Hawthorne--which was intimidatingly knowledgeable, as Edelstein-Keller Professor of Creative Writing Charles Baxter noted when Bales retired in 2008.
Born in Kansas, Bales excelled in sports and academics at high school in Salt Lake City. Yale University offered an academic scholarship, and he played tackle for the Yale football team, serving as captain when he was a senior. In 1958, he graduated with a BA in American Studies. He received his MA from San Jose State in 1963 and his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1967.
That same year, Bales joined the English faculty at the University of Minnesota, where he would teach American Literature for 41 years. Bales was awarded the prestigious Fulbright Scholar Award twice and went on to serve on the National Fulbright Committee. His wife a native of Hungary, Bales traveled there often and worked with the Hungarian government to organize a conference on American literature and to encourage reciprocal student exchange. He was also a visiting professor in Salzburg, Austria. He acted as dissertation adviser for many graduate students, even as he spent increasing amounts of time in administration.
In his two stints as chair of the department, 1983-88 and 2000-03, he provided critical support for controversial initiatives on creative writing and feminist studies. Several faculty members remember his tactfulness and cogency in tense meetings at the department, college, and University level. According to Professor Gordon Hirsch, "Kent was a model citizen in such settings: articulate, forward-looking, forceful, and open-minded."
Bales directed Graduate Studies (1991-94) and Undergraduate Studies (1999-2000), while also taking on leadership roles in the wider University community: Director of Graduate Studies for Liberal Studies, 1994-96; Chair, Senate Committee on Faculty Affairs, 1997-99; and Chair, Senate Joint Committee on Faculty Appointments, 1997-2000.
As the assistant to the Director of Graduate Studies, Karen Frederickson remembers Bales as her "ideal first boss" in the department: a kind and thoughtful mentor. "Kent used to stand in the doorway of the graduate office," she goes on, "greeting people who walked up the stairs or came down the hall, saying hello and falling into conversation with them if they had a little time to spare. I liked this friendly approach."
Bales is survived by his wife, daughter Liza and son Tom, and five grandchildren. Memorials preferred to the Alzheimer's Association or the Sierra Club.