In memory of Hal Blostein

Recently, I received the following e-mail at the Gmail account for this blog:

You probably don’t remember me, but we both went to college in Kearney and were in Hal Blostein’s class together at least once. I’m trying to put together a brief (pardon the pun!) bio on him to be downloaded to If you have any recollections or anecdotes of him or his class(es), I would appreciate reading them for inclusion in this memorial.
Bruce Kelly
Boone, Iowa

Bruce, on the contrary, I do you remember you. And, I am ever so glad you wrote.

If you search the Internet, you will find virtually nothing about Hal. Tucked away on page 20 in a University of Nebraska Alumni magazine entitled UNK Today, Spring 2008, you will find Hal’s obituary: “Hal Blostein of Cochiti Lake, New Mexico, died December 24. Blostein was a professor of political science at UNK from 1964 until his retirement in 1991. He was 80.” A similar brief remembrance appears in New Mexico Obituaries, “Harold Leon Blostein, September 22, 1928 – December 24, 2008, Cochiti Lake, New Mexico.”  That’s it. I can’t find anything else of value. Not even an image. For a man who influenced so many lives, the absence of tributes to Hal’s time on this earth hits me hard. He was, after all, a great teacher.

What do I remember about Hal? Here are some of the things:

* Hal did not have a PhD, although the college (but certainly not Hal) insisted that we refer to him as “Dr.”  He had a law degree from Chicago.

* He constantly smoked a pipe. In fact, I remember him in a cloud of smoke. I copied him. I started smoking one while taking his classes, and I still smoke a pipe today. Lord, how I wish I was as smart as Hal with or without a pipe

* I still have the text-book he used to teach classical political thought. The cover has fallen off, and that makes me love the book even more. (William Ebenstein, Great Political Thinkers, from Plato to the Present, Holt, Rinehart and Winston (3rd edition, (March, 1961). Over the years, that book has influenced me at least as much as any other book I have ever read.

* Hal was a Democrat until he became a Republican.

* His use of the Socratic method was far better than any professor I encountered in law school, save perhaps for the brilliant Harvey Perlman. I learned more about the life of the mind from Hal than any other person I have encountered. For that, Hal has my eternal gratitude.

* Hal was not a warm person, but he was not unpleasant either. His life and manner were like cold-rolled steel and that generated an unusual attraction for those around him. He loved ideas, and regarded with obvious affection those who shared his love.

Henry Adams said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” When applied to Harold Leon Blostein, no truer words were ever written.



One response

  1. Teaching doesn’t reap immediate rewards from students for teachers. Sometimes the connection is made, which is hugely gratifying for a teacher, but in my experience as a student, there were few teachers worthy of a later reflection, and fond, appreciative thoughts for what they opened my eyes and mind to.

    One, in fifth grade, taught us many traditional songs in foreign languages. Just the other day, I caught myself humming to a Christmas carol and realized I was thinking of the words in Japanese. Thank you, Mr. Taylor.

    Every once in a while, Dylan Thomas is mentioned and I hear the scratchy recording of the man reciting over and over, “And death shall have no dominion…” In junior high, we smart-assed punks mimicked the performance ruthlessly, but thank you, Dawn Assay, the broad-minded teacher who introduced us to his fierce art.

    A lifetime later, when I designed and taught a class in seamanship, kayaking, power boat-handling, conservation ethics and navigation, I was disheartened to see how many students lacked natural curiosity. When asked who their heroes were, the answers were pop stars and pro athletes.

    This was a week-long course, and during that time, I took them on what I knew was an enchanted journey. Many of their parents understood the gift they’d been given, but it would be decades, if ever, before they’d look back and comprehend the real meaning of the experience.

    Good for you, Hal, for the inspiration. And good for you, Rich and Bruce, for looking back and acknowledging. You got it.

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