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Professor Jonathan Helmreich -
an Allegheny Historian Extraordinaire
When the class of 1966 arrived on the Allegheny Campus as freshmen in 1962, Allegheny also welcomed their new history professor, Jonathan Helmreich. What a treasure of a professor they got with Jonathan Helmreich… a man who spent his entire illustrious career at Allegheny!
Surely Jonathan was meant to teach college history. His father, mother, and brother all taught modern European history with side courses on Russia, Central Europe and the Soviet Union. His father taught at Purdue briefly, but a majority of his career was spent teaching at Bowdoin, a small liberal arts college in Brunswick, Maine. His mother taught at Randolph Macon, Newcomb, and Vassar but when she married and move to Brunswick, there were no college teaching opportunities. At the time, Bowdoin did not allow female professors. Over the years, all the Helmreichs often exchanged exam questions and course reading materials.
According to Jonathan, “One of Dad's first student advisees at Bowdoin was a Lawrence Pelletier; among his last was Lawrence Pelletier, Jr.”
When asked how his family impacted his interest in history, Jonathan responded “If my interest in history was not genetically set, it was environmentally encouraged by spending seven months in Europe in 1950 with my family, as Dad was doing research in Germany. The ruins, devastation, and legions of maimed people led me to ask, even at the age of 13, how could this happen?”
When Jonathan went off to college, he planned to be a chemical engineer. It didn’t take long for him to change his mind, realizing just how much he enjoyed history. And even in high school his friends predicted he would teach. Virtually growing up on the Bowdoin campus and witnessing the cultural and social richness of faculty life, it didn’t take long for his scholarly history goals to be established. Helmreich graduated from Amherst College in 1958 and received his MA and PhD degrees from Princeton University.
According to Jonathan:
I hoped eventually to teach and do research at a respected small liberal arts college. While in Belgium on a Fulbright, I wrote letters of application but had little luck, as all institutions required an interview and I could not afford to travel back. Fortunately, Princeton, when it learned of the opening at Allegheny (through Allegheny's advertisement), sent out my placement dossier, unbeknownst to me. I later learned that the Allegheny history department reviewed all the dossiers received and mine came out on top. Prof. Cares took the dossiers to President Pelletier and mentioned they could not go with the top one because that individual could not interview. Pelletier asked for the dossier, looked it over, and said to Cares, "Go ahead if you want. I know this person and I think he will be OK." (Pelletier taught for a while at Bowdoin, and during those years he knew me, and once I baby-sat for him on New Year's Eve.) For Cares and the department, this was a pleasing situation. If I worked out, fine. If I did not, then the fault was the president's.
I had interviewed with the historical office of the State Department before I left the States. They had offered me a job and gave me 12 months to accept. I had decided to accept if by April 1 I did not have a teaching post. Dean Ross's offer of the job at Allegheny arrived on March 27.
During his long career at Allegheny, Jonathan chaired the program in international studies, served as faculty secretary, and was Academic Dean for 15 years. He returned to teaching in 1981 and introduced Allegheny students to the Meadville area by teaching courses in local history. Soon he was editing and writing short works on the history of Northwest Pennsylvania, Crawford County, and the College.
Allegheny President Richard J. Cook asked Helmreich to serve as the college historian on a volunteer basis when he retired from the history department in 1998. In 2001, as volunteer historian, Helmreich authored a book about Allegheny’s founder, Timothy Alden. But his most significant effort as volunteer historian, was writing the history of Allegheny. While the task was complicated a bit by the lack of organization of the college’s historical documents, Helmreich persisted and in 2005 a priceless book was published… Through All the Years, a History of Allegheny College by Jonathan E. Helmreich. There are 532 pages of facts, figures, stories and photos that bring back special memories to anyone who ever spent time at Allegheny. It is available through the college book store.
Much information and many photos from Through All the Years can be seen throughout this reunion website.
Every alumni would love this extraordinary book…. and as Jonathan suggested… “It also works well as a doorstop, as I can attest, as it is serving that purpose as I write you, preventing the Florida breeze from blowing my door shut. "
How many of you remember Professor Helmreich?
Vicki Wolfram Muckinhaupt remembers him well:
As a freshman, I had Jonathan, "Professor Helmreich", for History 101. His teaching absolutely blew me away, and changed my whole attitude about history. Can't thank him enough.
I played big-band music with him in our Cambridge Springs community orchestra, later called "The Sentimentals", for several years until it disbanded last spring. He played a mean trombone solo to the swing arrangement "I'm Getting Sentimental over You" which Tommy Dorsey made famous. He actually remembered me sitting in a front seat in his history class, decades earlier, wearing a blue sweater as a freshman in college. My roommate Pam and I were into knitting then and we made matching thick, baby-blue cable-knit sweaters. I wore mine a lot, though I had forgotten all about it until Jonathan mentioned it.
I have his book, too! It's an incredible display of his talent and scholarship as well as pride in Allegheny.