In Memoriam

Max Morenberg
Professor Emeritus of English

Max Morenberg walked the corridors of Bachelor Hall with a smile and usually a song. He told his colleagues that the only thing he ever wanted in his obituary was, “We often heard him singing in the halls.”

Frank Jordan, Professor Emeritus of English, called Max’s singing as he walked the halls, “…a kind of blessing to us stuck in our offices, as were the occasional pauses for impromptu conversation about whatever was on his mind at the moment. I loved Max’s little chuckle--can hear it now. The occasion for one I remember had to do with the word ‘untoward,’ the upshot of which was my giving him the epithet of ‘Max the untoward.’ For some time thereafter I would greet him with it, just to hear that chuckle, and he always obliged.”

Those of us who knew and loved Max were always happy to hear him and see him, and so we are missing him now.

Max was born to Benjamin Morenberg and Ida Scherper on March 14, 1940, in Manhattan, New York. He died on January 17, 2012, of a massive heart attack at his home in Pembroke Pines, Florida. He is survived by his former wife Avis; their three grown children Ara (Mickey Cochran), Cori (Ralph Padilla), and Adam (Nathan DeWaele); a sister Ethel Bishop (William Bishop); and his loving partner Lucie Guzman.

Max grew up in Miami Beach, Florida, and after high school enlisted in the United States Air Force and later became a member of the first class of Miami-Dade Community College, where he earned an A.A. degree in 1962. He then attended Florida State University, earning his bachelor’s (1964), master’s (1968), and doctoral (1972) degrees there. Max taught at Leesburg High School in Florida and at the University of Southern Alabama before coming to Miami University in 1972 as an assistant professor.

During his thirty-one years at Miami, Max distinguished himself as a teacher, scholar, and program director. He directed the Linguistics Program, served as Director of College Composition, and—most important—in 1980 became the Founding Co-Director, with his colleague Mary Fuller, of the Ohio Writing Project, one of the nation’s most effective and enduring programs in teacher development. During Max’s years, the Ohio Writing Project earned six million dollars in grant money and offered training to over 165,000 Ohio students for the Board of Regents. With Fuller, for three years Max edited the Ohio English Language Arts Journal with a readership of 6,000 teachers.

Working closely with his Miami colleagues, Don Daiker and Andy Kerek, Max won several major grants from the Exxon Education Foundation to fund research in sentence combining and the teaching of writing. This research led to the publication of a scholarly monograph, Sentence Combining and College Composition, as well as to articles in journals such as College Composition and Communication, Research in the Teaching of English, and WPA: Writing Program Administration. He codirected three national conferences in composition held at Miami, each producing a published volume of conference essays. With Daiker and Kerek and then with Jeff Sommers, Max co-authored the popular textbook The Writer’s Options, now in its eighth edition.

But the scholarly achievement that made Max most proud is his book Doing Grammar, a practical and lively guide to discovering how the English language works published by Oxford University Press and now in its fourth edition. As one reviewer wrote, “Morenberg is clearly a master teacher who is not only fully in command of this complex subject matter, but is also capable of relating to the needs and comprehension level of the average undergraduate.”

Both as a master teacher and colleague, Max was known for his decency and kindness. Those of us who worked closely with Max—Don Daiker, Mary Fuller, Rich Hofmann, Andy Kerek, Tom Romano, Jeff Sommers, and Janet Ziegler—remember how easy it was to collaborate with him—how well he got along with us, how we worked on proposals and courses and books and articles with Max and never fought. Never quarreled. Never. So we remember Max as a good person—gentle, caring, funny, generous, affectionate, unpretentious—a genuinely kind man.

English Professor Emeritus Steven Bauer recalled two of Max’s passions that ring true to all of Max’s friends: Max’s passionate belief in Apple over Microsoft and his even more fervent love for his German Shepherd, Flagler. Bauer writes that he knew everything he would ever need to know about Max— his gentle firmness, his tenderness, his sense of himself, his attitude toward the world, his wonder at creation—by watching Max and Flagler jogging together on Fairfield Road. “Thinking of the two of them out for a walk—no hurries, no worries, just two friends out having a dialogue with the world—fills me with joy. It’s how I’ll think about Max in the days and years to come.”

Max, however, would probably be happiest in knowing that he had inspired the respect, affection, and even love of countless Miami students. Timothy Reisert refers to Max as “the grammarian who inspired me to see writing in a new and wonderful way” and the man who “cared to know who we were.” Thia Wolf called Max “one of the people who really guided me in growing up. . . . I admired and loved him.” Grant Greenman wrote, “Taking Max’s grammar class was like Keanu Reeves in the movie The Matrix, when he can finally see the matrix, how everything fits together--a light went on, and I could finally see how each part of a sentence worked together. I stopped by Max’s office occasionally just to talk and ask for advice; I never had that connection with any other teacher. He was the hardest, most demanding, most sincere, most knowledgeable, funniest, warmest, most effective teacher I’ve ever known. While I was still an undergrad, Max was kind enough to take me under his wing and allow me into the OWP, opening my eyes to what the teaching of writing should look like in a perfect world. Max’s passion for language and teaching still inspires me to work to create that perfect world--even if just in my classroom. When a writing lesson gets dull in my classroom, it’s Max’s voice I hear, like a Jedi knight speaking to me. I can see him hopping mad and yelling, “Don’t put pigs in jars!”

Max’s former student Renee Dickson Farrar, who became his co-teacher with the Ohio Writing Project, voices the affection of many in the poem that she wrote after learning of his death:

To Max

I took you for granted. I figured you would always be where I could find you--if needed.
Better than a parent, who too often has to wade through his or her own
expectations, hopes and concerns,
you accepted me at face value.
Actually, you went deeper than the face and challenged me to
look so much deeper into myself.
I know if you had a choice, you did not go gently into the night.
You would rage at imbeciles, slackers, excuse makers.
I know, because now and then, you gave me a needed lecture.
But you always, always, were gentle with my ignorance,
knowing that sometimes a person just needs a good teacher.
You have always been mine.
No, you would not go gently. You loved too many earthly treasures:
Friends, music, literature, writing, family, students.
I took you for granted and assumed that you always knew
So that I didn’t have to keep telling you, over and over again,
all you have meant to me in my life. I think you knew.
But you never asked for thanks. You just asked that
I continue to be a passionate educator,
keep writing, especially poetry,
keep examining and celebrating my Jewish heritage,
keep enjoying the humorous jokes and stories you emailed
keep loving my friends, music, literature, family and students…life.
You never asked anything for yourself.
I will miss you dear good man. I will never, ever take for granted
what you have given to me and all of us that celebrate your life.
With love,
your student and friend,
Renee (Dickson) Farrar

Linda Tatman, another of Max’s OWP co-teachers and longtime friends, recalls that she and Max used< to recite lines from T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” to each other. One of Max’s favorite lines was always “I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each./ I do not think that they will sing to me.” Tatman said, “I always told Max that the mermaids would sing to him because he always sang to all of us.”

To family, friends, colleagues, and students who love and remember him, Max will always be singing to us.

Respectfully submitted by Don Daiker, Mary Fuller, Brit Harwood.